The standard talking points for legally redefining marriage go like this: same-sex attracted individuals are a minority akin to racial or religious minorities. So excluding them from marriage and other legal arrangements reserved for opposite-sex couples is no different from discrimination that excludes any minority from full participation in cherished institutions. Denying two men or two women the “right” to enter a legal marriage, we’re told, is no different from denying that right to an interracial couple or to a couple from different faiths.
Activists for same-sex “marriage” have achieved stunning success with this line of argument, both in courts and in the public imagination. The equation of traditional marriage to discrimination rooted in prejudice has played a crucial role in voiding marriage amendments like California’s Proposition 8, and this year helped overturn the Defense of Marriage Act at the U.S. Supreme Court.
But there’s a fatal flaw in the discrimination argument: It proves too much.
If we must legally recognize same-sex couples by awarding them marriage certificates based on the idea that failing to do so violates equal protection, then why stop with same-sex couples? Don’t other sexual relationships between consenting adults, like polyamorous and incestuous arrangements, deserve recognition as well — particularly since LGBT activists argue that homosexual attraction arises from an innate orientation? Surely polyamory (sexual relations with multiple partners) represents just another orientation worthy of legal protection — especially if your religion approves it. Shouldn’t we allow people to follow their consciences and orientations when it comes to their number of spouses?
That’s precisely the argument Kody Brown, the fundamentalist Mormon who stars in the reality TV series Sister Wives, successfully made last month in federal court. Brown, who ignores the Mormon Church’s current prohibition on polygamy, has four wives, and his popular show on TLC centers on those relationships. Some time ago, Brown sued the state of Utah to rescind its “ban” on polygamy, claiming it violates his religious freedom. Last month, district judge Clark Waddoups agreed with him, declaring the state’s prohibition on polygamy unconstitutional. The state is expected to appeal the ruling. But if higher courts uphold Waddoups’ decision, Utah will become the first state to extend marriage beyond couples to groups of people.
For those who make the discrimination argument in favor of same-sex marriage, this raises some tough questions. If denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples constitutes unfair discrimination, isn’t it also unfair discrimination to deny recognition to polygamists and any other group that claims a minority status? After all, if opposite sexes are not necessary to marriage, why is the number two? If we carry the discrimination argument to its end, it will dissolve marriage as a definable public institution. But if, as is more likely, LGBT activists have used the discrimination argument as a special plea, they will have to create a new definition — one that includes their favored minorities but excludes others who demand the right to marry.
This is why Christians insist that the real question in this debate isn’t “Why should same-sex couples be denied the right to marry?” but “What is marriage?”
If marriage exists in the public square, it must have a definition. The biblical definition, accepted for millennia, is a man and a woman for life. But if marriage can mean anything, it means nothing. That’s why the discrimination argument fails. It doesn’t extend marriage to minority groups. It defines marriage out of existence.