My Answer to Ellen

In 2008 John McCain appeared on the Ellen show and gave an awkward and inarticulate answer when challenged about her own desire to be legally married. (This is before the Supreme Court required states to recognize same sex marriage). In a blog that is long since defunct, I posted my own imagined response to Ellen if I was interviewed on her show. I reproduce it here for historical interest.

John McCain, appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show as part of his 2008 presidential campaign.

In my last post I asked you what you would do if you were faced with a question like Ellen posed to John McCain. It is only fair that I present my answer here, though obviously with the benefit of a lot more time, and the magic of a word processor, to present a much more coherent answer than John McCain did. Continue reading to find out how I would have replied if I had been a guest on Ellen’s show.

[We pick up where Ellen says she wants to get married because she wants to “celebrate our love.”]

Me: I’m not sure what you mean by that. Are you saying that you would love Portia more if you could call your love “marriage”? I am surprised to hear that. I can think of many ways you can celebrate your love, and I imagine you have already been able to do that. That is good. I am happy for you, I congratulate you on finding love, and I wish both of you the best.

But you are misunderstanding the state’s role in marriage if you think its interest in marriage is to encourage celebrations of love. The state is not interested in whether two people marrying each other love each other, though some religious marriage ceremonies mention that. Now, there’s nothing wrong with love, I think it is a wonderful thing. But as you realize, you do not have to be married in order to love.

Marriage should be limited to a man and a woman because the purpose of marriage, and the reason why the state has a compelling interest in limiting it to a man and a woman, is because we believe that it is best that a child be raised by its biological father and mother.

Ellen: But many gay couples want to have children.

Me: That is a good point, and I’ll get to that. But I think you and your audience would agree, in an ideal world, every child that comes into the world would be born with a mother and father who are committed to each other and to her. You can also see, I hope, that a society cannot survive if it cannot perpetuate itself.

Ellen: But isn’t the world already overpopulated?

Me: I’m afraid I have to disagree with you there, Ellen. Certainly, too many children born in places where they live in squalor and poor health. But if a society is to preserve and extend the values important to it, the best way for it to do so is to make sure that the highest proportion possible of its children are born in an environment where they can learn the values and culture that have made this such a wonderful country to live in. And we have determined that the ideal environment for that is where children are born and raised in a stable home with their biological mother and father. And in a society, like ours, that teaches its children to respect our laws about violence, respecting the environment, and democracy.

Ellen: But adopted children can be taught many of the same values.

Me: That is true, but I’d like you to look at it from the non-gay point of view. Marriage isn’t about gay people. It was designed to solve a problem that you and Portia don’t have. I have to make what should be a basic point, but it is often lost. I hope I do not offend you when I say, the most important reason any of us exists is because each of us had a mother and father who had sex. While the sex you have with Portia, or the sex a gay male couple may have, may be a wonderful expression and celebration of your love for each other, we can be certain that a child will never result from the kind of sex gay people have.

That is not meant as a criticism–of gay people anyway. It is meant to highlight a particular hazard of heterosexual sex. If a heterosexual woman goes to a bar, gets drunk, and has sex with some guy, there is a very real risk of her becoming pregnant. Indeed, we all know this sort of thing happens all the time. We all could list the many sad consequences of irresponsible heterosexual sex.

But if a gay person does the same thing, she may wake up with many regrets, but she will not wake up pregnant. Pregnancy is not one of the hazards of gay sex.

Marriage was designed to solve a problem you don’t have. As a society, we want to create, promote, and preserve an institution that encourages the most heterosexual sex as possible to occur within a stable marriage, so that the children that result from heterosexual sex can be raised in what we consider to be the ideal environment to promote and preserve the values important to our society.

So in an ideal world, there would be no children born outside of stable committed marriages. Of course, we do not live in such a world, and so I think it is great if couples, heterosexual and homosexual, who have the resources and commitment, will adopt such children and raise them as their own. This is a way we can all help to make sure children, and society, do not pay too heavy a price for irresponsible heterosexual behavior.

There are many ways, Ellen, that you and Portia can celebrate your love and commitment to each other, but so far, as a society we have only come up with one way to ensure that the most children possible who come into this world are wanted and cared for by his or her biological parents. And that is by limiting marriage to heterosexual couples who can have children.

Ellen: But infertile couples are allowed to marry.

Me: In some places, people are not allowed to marry because of various kinds of genetic incompatibility, and those have withstood scrutiny by the courts. For instance, cousins are not allowed to marry in many states because of the fear of genetic defects and inbreeding. Some states require you to take a blood test before marrying. And historically, marriage has sometimes been limited to fertile couples. I don’t think that is necessary, but as you say, it is logical and some places that is what happens.

In a larger sense, I think you’re making a category error. While it is true that certain individual heterosexual couples here and there cannot have children, as a class, homosexual couples cannot have children without external parties getting involved. In other words, if there are children born to homosexual couples, that never occurs by accident. Gay people are not going to have children accidentally.

Ellen: But how does allowing gay people to get married affect heterosexual couples?

Me: If marriage were just about love, it would not. But I believe society’s interest in marriage is to encourage the creation and stable raising of children. In California, there many avenues available if gay people want to celebrate their love or commitment to each other. There are legal mechanisms here where things like hospital visitation and end-of-life directives, inheritance law, joint property, and so on, can be spelled out between two people of whatever gender.

Ellen: But it still sounds like you’re saying, just because I’m gay, I have to sit at the back of the bus, or ride a different bus altogether, like interracial marriage or “separate but equal” school segregation.

Me: You are not denied marriage because you are gay, Ellen. Perhaps it seems academic or insulting to point out, but the state doesn’t ask if you’re gay when you get married. It doesn’t care if you’re gay, it cares if you are marrying a man. When you try to get on the marriage “bus,” no one makes you pass through the gaydar detector on the way to the altar.

Ellen: But so much harm and pain has come from marriages where homosexuals force themselves into an identity that denies their basic personality.

Me: I agree, and I would never encourage such a thing. I hope anyone getting married does so with the ability and desire to commit to it. I am just saying, as you know all too well from your prior relationship to Anne Heche, for some people their sexual identity can change. And when it changes, they are allowed to marry heterosexually. They are not discriminated against because they may have, or may even still, consider themselves gay. And I do not think they should be.

But on a more basic level I think there are some very important differences between interracial marriage and gay marriage. First of all, interracial couples can have children, and if they do have children, I think they should be married and committed to each other when they do. And that was certainly the case with Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple.

Things are also very different now. Unlike the environment they lived in, if you and Portia are seen walking down the street holding hands, the police are not going to show up at your doorstep and arrest you later. You are allowed to express and show your love openly. Richard and Mildred went to jail when they did that. I think that was wrong then, and I think it would be wrong now for you as well.

Here’s what I think is so interesting, Ellen. For over a hundred years, homosexuals have been persecuted for how they wanted to live their private lives. They have fought for decades to get the government out of their bedrooms. When the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, you gained that right. In this country, it is no longer legal for the government to beat down your door and arrest you because of what you want to do with someone in the privacy of your own home.

So why, just a five years after gaining that hard-fought privilege, are some gay people all of a sudden demanding that government come back in their bedrooms? They of all people should be skeptical of government involvement into what is, and what I believe should remain, a private matter between consenting adults.

The end of my fantasy interview gives me the last word, makes me better-looking, and gives me a lot longer to explain my position, than would happen in a real interview with me. However persuasive you may find the arguments I raise here, I want you to notice two things about this pretend interview: It is possible to articulate a position against gay marriage without (a) invoking religious justifications, or (b) disparaging homosexual behavior. What I have laid out here is what you could call the secular argument against gay marriage. It is an argument that has almost always prevailed in those courts where it has been presented because it presents a “compelling government interest” in limiting marriage privileges. Discrimination is allowed if the government can show that it has a “compelling interest” in doing so. Since this argument tries to show that the very preservation and perpetuation of society depends on heterosexual marriage, it is able to pass this very high threshold. Interestingly, this is not the argument Jerry Brown’s California Attorney General Office made when it was defending Proposition 22 before the California Supreme Court.

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