Same-sex marriage poses no threat to phantom family unit

Justin Huggins

Gay marriage seems to be everywhere these days, and yet it’s almost nowhere as well. As a polarizing issue, it draws a good amount of attention from the press and from politicians. But still, same-sex marriage is legal in only a few states.

Last week, however, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional rights of equal protection. On April 24 Iowa will join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only states that permit same-sex marriage.

In similar news, the Vermont Legislature voted on Tuesday to override the governor’s veto of a bill that permits same-sex marriage. As a result, Vermont is now the first state in the union where lawmakers – not the courts – legalized same-sex marriage. Add another tally to the list of states permitting same-sex marriage.

Of course, some folks aren’t pleased with this news out of Iowa and Vermont. Many of these opponents of same-sex marriage base their arguments on two things – religion and “”the family unit.””

The religious argument against gay marriage is a perfectly fine one. It’s simple enough, too. But at the end of the day your religious beliefs should have no bearing on my life. Save yourself and I’ll fend for myself in this life and the next.

The arguments that really perplex me, though, are those that relate to this concept of the quintessential family unit. The general argument seems to be that same-sex marriage will somehow degrade and destroy the family unit that serves as the pillar of our society. It’ll harm the children, some opponents scream, and that just won’t do.

According to the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization “”dedicated to the promotion of marriage and family and the sanctity of human life in national policy,”” gay marriage poses a direct threat to the institutions of marriage and the family.”” The FRC’s brochure, “”The Slippery Slope of Same-Sex Marriage,”” outlines key arguments against gay marriage.

My favorite part of the brochure is titled “”What about the Children?”” In this section, the FRC relies on the “”exhaustive examination of human history”” by Giovanni Battista Vico, who lived from 1667 to 1744. Because, really, our understanding of human history has changed so little in 250 years. The crux of the FRC’s argument regarding the children boils down to this statement: “”Vico warned that chaos would ensue in the absence of strong social norms encouraging marital faithfulness and the loving care of children born to the union.””

The FRC’s implication, of course, is that legalizing gay marriage will somehow undo these societal norms that encourage marital faithfulness and the loving care of children. Although the FRC likens gay marriage to a “”frat house with revolving bedroom doors,”” it should be obvious that gay couples are just as capable (or incapable, for that matter) as their heterosexual counterparts when it comes to monogamy and loving care of children.

Opponents of gay marriage need to realize that the sacrosanct family unit they envision is a phantom. They say gay marriage threatens the family unit. I ask what family unit? We all know the current divorce statistics in our country – roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. Dad has the kids on weekends and every other holiday, mom has them during the week. Just a big happy family, eh? Families exist, yes, but there is no generic “”family unit”” machine that churns out beautiful, intelligent, successful children.

Take the case of Bristol Palin, for instance. The 18-year-old daughter of former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin caused quite a stir when news of her pregnancy came out during last year’s campaign. Many hailed her as a pro-life hero and a champion of teen pregnancy. She quickly announced her plans to marry her boyfriend, and to everyone’s delight the nuclear family would prevail.

But alas, the family unit was not to be. She and her boyfriend split up following the birth of their son in December. The breakup has turned ugly, too, complete with fingerpointing, name-calling and even an appearance on “”The Tyra Banks Show.””

If anything, the case of Bristol Palin shows us that there’s no right way to have a family. Families are often non-traditional – single parents, divorced parents, adopted children, foster children, children raised by aunts, uncles, grandparents and on and on. Families aren’t cookie-cutter. Hell, some are even downright dysfunctional. But all the same, a family is a family, period.

Saying that the family unit – the happily married mom and dad with their 2.3 biological children – is the ideal severely undermines the many “”atypical”” families that exist and function just as well in our society. Family is the ideal. As long as wolves aren’t raising our kids, I think they’re going to make it in this strange world of ours.

Quite simply, gay marriage won’t harm the ideal of the family unit any more than heterosexual marriage currently does, mainly because the family unit is a flexible entity without any correct formula for success.

Gay marriage is here to stay, and it’s coming to a state near you. But don’t fret, the family – in all its diverse forms – is here to stay as well.

-ÿJustin Huggins is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.