By Joe Kort
Lesbian comedian Kate Clinton came up with that very funny play on “Mad Cow Disease” in talking about the current media madness surrounding gay marriage. I recall Oprah Winfrey, airing a show on Mad Cow Disease and stating that she’d never eat another hamburger again for the rest of her life. After her on-the-air remark, sales of ground meat allegedly went down; Oprah was sued a cattleman named Paul Engler and other cattleman for that and later, found not guilty. Incidentally this is where she met Dr. Phil.
Imagine if Oprah devotes a show to Mad Vow Disease and says publicly, “I will never marry Stedman or any other man – or woman for that matter – as long as I live.” Heterosexual marriages decline across the nation. She gets blamed for it and hauled into court. Ultimately, she enters therapy with gay therapist Joe Kort, who becomes the next Gay Dr. Phil!
If this sounds absurd, it is. (Well, except for the next Gay Dr. Phil part!) This scenario is as ridiculous as any of the arguments currently used against gay marriage. But why don’t more intelligent, reasonable, rational minded people understand how absurd the arguments against gay marriage are? Whenever I do a talk, someone in the audience admits feeling offended at gays’ right to marry being equated with other minorities not being granted given equal rights. I simply refer to the fact that arguments against gay marriage are the exact same ones formerly used to forbid interracial marriage, African-American rights, and women’s rights.
Usually that stops people short, because it’s true. After that, what more is there to say? However, even the comparison weren’t wholly valid, let’s take a rational, logical look at some of today’s the arguments used against gay marriage and see how they hold up.
First, some people claim that being gay is a choice, while being born a woman or an African American is not. I agree – but only partly. Living out as a gay man with integrity, in congruence for who I am on the inside, is exactly what I want. I also want equal rights for being my authentic self. But I don’t have to live this way. I could try to “pass” as straight or make myself act differently to please others – much as what some light-complected African-Americans tried to do in the past. I’m a big fan of the Supremes, but I cringe when I watch old tapes of them performing in the straight-haired wigs they were required to wear on television, with Caucasians dancing around them. How ignorant and racist that was!
Another argument is defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Historically, that meant one white man and a white woman. Blacks were not allowed to marry. An article in The New York Times quoted a racist who once wrote, “If God meant for the races to marry, he would not have put them on separate continents.” Today we see his argument as ignorant and illogical. However this man – and plenty of others – genuinely believed this, and used it and similar statements to argue why blacks and whites should not marry each other. There were even claims that any resulting offspring would be born retarded.
Another objection is that if same-sex partners are allowed to marry, then will polygamy follow next? The argument against that is simple – gay marriage wants to remove the restriction that same gendered couples cannot legally marry. In other words, gays aren’t saying, “Change the legal contract!” We simply want the same inclusion as blacks, who until the mid 19th century were not free to marry as white couples were, and whose interracial marriages were prohibited until the 1960s. We’re saying that our inability to be recognized as legal couples is an exclusion under the current law, as used to be the case with other minorities. We basically are saying that civil marriage should not only be for heterosexuals.
Yet another argument is that gay marriage will have a bad influence on children. The usually stated reason – not based on any facts – is that gays and lesbians make poor parents. The truth is, studies show no differences between children raised in gay homes versus straight homes. As a therapist, I suggest that instead of looking at a parent’s gender and orientation, we should be considering whether someone can be a fit parent, period. My whole profession is based on helping people, whether gay or straight, who were raised by unfit parents. Isn’t that the problem we should be examining more closely?
Finally, critics complain that the children of gay families will be subject to discrimination. Isn’t that also true for most children of minority-status parents? Children of color or of religious minorities are teased mercilessly and bullied by those who consider them as “different” and “wrong.” Do we bar their parents from marrying and raising children?
I love the argument that marriage was intended for procreation, which is why only men and women should marry. My usual response is that it then follows that infertile couples and elderly couples, no matter how mutually loving and devoted, should also be prohibited from making it legal. If that argument holds, then even more heterosexual couples would be forbidden to wed, including those choosing not to have children.
But the argument that most interests me, as a therapist, is that marriage is feasible only if the couple remains monogamous. This statement bears the covert implication that gay and lesbian couples are not – or cannot be – monogamous. I can’t begin to count the number of heterosexual couples I see in my practice who don’t meet that criterion. They’re either cheating, or else they’ve agreed to open relationships. In short, marriage doesn’t automatically solve this issue.
For me, the most glaring aspect of Mad Vow Disease is the “separate but equal” stance of those who seem to favor civil unions for us, but not full marriages. How can it not be seen as separate but equal? Some say that in years to come, we’ll look back and see all of this more clearly for what it is, as we now do with other bygone forms of discrimination. I want to end the denial and rationalizations today. I don’t want to wait for years and years. I want us to see it now.