Let me be clear on two points, before I begin.
- I am a strong gay marriage supporter, though I think it should be fixed on the federal level. Forcing a couple to stay in a specific state, in order to keep their marriage benefits, violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. I believe that Prop 8's passage actually, ironically, provides a far better chance at winning federal recognition of gay marriage than if the proposal had been defeated. (Though, of course, had I lived in California, I'd have voted "no" with most of the rest of you.)
- I am absolutely not making a moral equivalence between being gay, and committing incest.
That said, I haven't seen the incest issue raised much in the current diary discussions, and it's worth examining -- not just as an intellectual exercise, but as a way of perhaps explaining why some otherwise liberal individuals still oppose gay marriage.
If you do a google seach for "gay marriage" and "incest", you will indeed find quite a few excellent articles and editorials. There was a flood of them in 2003, when the Supreme Court was set to rule on the legality of sodomy. Here's an excerpt from a Slate piece:
This week, the Associated Press published an interview with Rick Santorum, the third-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate. Referring to a pending case involving sodomy laws, Santorum argued, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery."
David Smith, the communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's leading gay rights organization, accused Santorum of "disparaging an entire group of Americans." "He's advocating that a certain segment of American society be disavowed from constitutional protection," Smith charged. "The outrageous thing ... is he put being gay on the same legal and moral plane as a person who commits incest. That is repugnant in our view and not right."
Let's leave adultery and polygamy out of it for the moment. Let's set aside morality and stick to law. And let's grant that being attracted to a gender is more fundamental than being attracted to a family member. Santorum sees no reason why, if gay sex is too private to be banned, the same can't be said of incest. Can you give him a reason?
I have struggled with this one myself. My parents both oppose gay marriage, and the "what about incest?" counter is usually brought up by them at some point as well. Of all the arguments I can refute, the incest question is the only one that genuinely stumps me.
The key issue, as I understand it, behind gay marriage equality is this: two consenting adults have the right to marry each other, and it's none of the government's business who you've fallen in love with. I wholeheartedly agree.
And yet bans against marrying your cousin, sister, father, etc., are probably supported by more than 95% of Americans. In most states, it's even illegal to marry step-siblings or step-cousins with no biological relation at all. It is illegal for the sole reason that the majority of Americans find incest repugnant.
"But, but, birth defects!" someone will inevitably shout. But this is an absurdly weak argument when you think about it. For one thing, the risk of birth defects among first cousins does go up, but not significantly: "only 2 percent more of a chance of having children with birth defects as compared to unrelated couples," according to ABC News and other sources. Risk of birth defects among incestuous siblings is higher, but still we're still talking 8-10% numbers (as opposed to 3-4% of unrelated couples.)
More importantly in debunking the birth defects argument is the simple fact that we never, ever forbid someone to marry because they have a greater likelihood of children with genetic disorders. There are all sorts of conditions one can have that causes a higher rate of birth defects. Hell, if you're a woman on the acne drug Accutane, with causes birth defects more severe than thalidomide, I'm pretty sure you'd still get to marry who you choose to marry. Would anyone really deny a couple the right to marry if, for example, they both contained the genetic markers to cause a diabetic or cancer-risk child? Of course not.
So what's left? Other than, we have a gut-reaction against it, an opposition based on morality alone? If marriage should not be denied to any two consenting, legal-aged adults, what would be the legal, rational justification -- not moral, but legal -- for forbidding the rights of a cousin to marry a cousin, a mother to marry her son, a brother to marry his sister, or a father to marry his father?
Now, people have been throwing the word "bigot" around to describe those who supported Prop 8. I am a non-believer and a strong Prop 8 opponent, but I refuse to believe that my parents, my friends, and my extended family are all "bigots". That's simply too strong a word, and it offends me. Marriage has been taught as the union between a man and a woman for countless generations. You can't just expect hundreds of millions of people to forget something they've been taught their whole life, overnight. How long do you think it took the average citizen to go from believing the world was flat, to believing it was round?
Of course gay marriage is the fairest resolution, and most logically protected by law. But remember, "same-sex marriage" is a pretty new legal concept anywhere in the world. The first nation to legalize same-sex marriage -- in human history -- was the Netherlands, in 2001. In fact, even legally recognized "civil unions" for gay couples is a brand new thing -- the first legal same-sex civil union happened in 1989, in Denmark. If you've been taught and believed your entire life that marriage was a God-given right reserved for one man and one woman, it doesn't necessarily make you a "bigot" to, for example, support gay civil unions instead.
So for those of you who continue to insist that anyone who doesn't support gay marriage is hopelessly bigoted, uneducated, or just plain evil, think about how you would feel if there was a proposition to eliminate all incest-related laws, and legalize and formalize any and all marriages, incestuous or otherwise. Each and every argument in support of gay marriage would still apply -- a brother and sister getting married wouldn't affect your marriage, after all, why would you deny the rights of two fellow citizens the chance to love each other, solely on the basis of your own moral opposition?
I must admit, I'm stumped. Morally, it still feels to me that incestuous marriages are wrong, and should be illegal. But I have absolutely no intellectual, rational reason for this belief -- and as such, aren't I a hypocrite for supporting gay marriage, and not this?