Yesterday I got involved in a long and perhaps fruitless discussion on Facebook of the President's announcement. I tried to restrict my comments to civil marriage, but religion has a way of creeping in. I made an argument there which I had first heard made at the Chautauqua Institution by the Rev. Oliver Thomas, a lawyer and a Baptist minister. Thomas argued that religious people need to make secular arguments when they engage in public policy discussions in order to be effective. I said that arguing that God prohibits same-sex intimacy simply is not an effective or perhaps even valid argument in a discussion of civil marriage equality. For arguments to be effective they need to address the question of whether marriage equality contributes to the common good. I understand that framing the question this way would seem unnecessary if we believe that marriage is a right, but I find that that argument, like the religious arguments, is not particularly effective.
A few of those posting comments did accept the challenge to frame their comments in secular terms. Two arguments against marriage equality were made, one focusing on the procreation and raising of children, and the other on a perception that gay and lesbian people are not capable of fidelity. The latter argument is a mean-spirited red herring that it is almost impossible to engage. Over time I thnk that warped perception will disappear as people have more and more friends who are married to persons of the same sex. The argument about children is worth engaging, although we do not require that married couples procreate. The evidence is that children raised by same-sex parents are just as healthy as children raised by opposite-sex parents. The idea that children must be raised by a father and a mother is a new one in human history, as children have, until recently, been raised in extended families and other wider circles of adults. The modern nuclear family is, in fact, not at all good at raising children by itself, nor matter the sex of the parents.
After reading an excellent post at Tobias Haller's blog In a Godward direction, I found myself translating a religious argument into a secular one. In the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, the purposes of Christian marriage are laid out. Only after listing the couple's "mutual joy" and "the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity" does the description of purposes include "the procreation of children." That purpose statement seems to me to be a valid one for any marriage. If we believe that marriages have played an important role in the making married adults better people, people who contribute to the common good, then why would we deny the society the benefit that will come from allowing same-sex couples to marry?