(Posted a few minutes ago at The Gay-Atheist.)
One of the most common arguments I hear from people who support banning same-sex marriages is that gays are fighting for a right they already have. “A gay man has the same right that I have,” a straight fellow might say, “to get married to a woman.” I suspect I’m preaching to the choir here, but just in case you, dear reader, are one of my fellow heterosexuals who opposes same-sex marriage on those grounds, I invite you to join me in a little thought experiment.
In our imaginations, let’s take the paradigm of human sexuality and flip it upside down, so that homosexuality is the orientation of most people — or normal, if you prefer — and heterosexuality is perceived as the aberration. As a result, same-sex marriage is the bedrock of our proud Judeo-Christian tradition, the backbone of our families, and is naturally nice and legal. But you are not among the majority of Americans who identify themselves as homosexual. For whatever reason — a slight variance in your genetic code, some subtle aspect of your upbringing, or just because you like it — you are straight.
And you’re in love. You’ve found the person of your dreams, a member of the opposite sex who represents everything you could possibly want in a partner, a lover, a companion. If you were gay the next step would be obvious: pop the question, and hope to spend the rest of your life content in wedded bliss. There’s a problem, though. Huge sections of your country, including it just so happens the area where you live and hoped to keep living, refuse to recognize your opposite-sex marriage. Some areas even have amendments to their constitutions specifically banning heterosexual marriages.
This is frustrating for you and your partner, and one day you decide you’ve had enough. You decide drastic action is needed, so you march right into the office of your member of congress, a conservative old queen who prides himself on his pro-marriage, pro-family voting record. You stand there in front of his desk and tell him your story, tell him you’re a human being the same as he is, a citizen of this free country the same as he is, and you’ve found the person of your dreams who just so happens to be of the opposite sex, and goddammit you don’t want any special treatment, you just want the same right to get married that gay people have.
Your congressman, who has been listening all this time, leans forward and pulls off his glasses and says, “You do have the same right to get married that I have. You can get married any time you like — to a person of your own sex.”
How do you feel? When he says that, does it make sense to you? Does it sound fair? Does it feel like your rights as a citizen are being respected? Because that’s not how it feels to me.
The debate over same-sex marriage is really about whether or not we want to live in a truly free society. It’s not about the rights of men to marry other men, or women to marry other women. It’s about the rights of all of us to live our lives the way we see fit, to do what makes us happy so long as it doesn’t intrude on the rights of another person. Consenting adults of the same sex who want to get married aren’t intruding on the rights of anyone. They just want to be able to do what straight folks have been able to do in western cultures for millennia — marry the people they love.
This thought experiment isn’t a very good rational argument, I’ll admit. It relies entirely on an appeal to the emotions. But I think it’s a decent rhetorical play, if the person you’re trying to convince isn’t persuaded by things like logic, reason, and basic principles of fairness. It’s difficult to get someone to actually walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (there are bound to be sizing issues, for a start); but sometimes just getting them to pretend a little can be a help. Because the honest answer to the questions I asked earlier is, of course you feel discriminated against. What good does the right to marry a person of the opposite sex do a gay person? It’s like affording swimming privileges to a cat, for Christ’s sake.