Opponents of marriage equality need to bust myths and read up on the history

Last Thursday, supporters of traditional marriage gathered at a rally in the Utah State Capitol in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s slated review of whether to take on any of five separate states’ same-sex marriage cases (of which Utah’s Kitchen v. Herbert is one). They represented the same sort of banal, uninformed arguments we’ve heard against progressive social sexuality for a century from “defund planned parenthood” types. The rally’s argument that same-sex couples are unqualified as parents (and the non-sequitur claim that this should prohibit their legal union) is undoubtedly related to the puritan doctrine of Utah’s dominant faith tradition, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The organization’s theological position is adamantly encapsulated in the church’s document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which states “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.”

It’s past time for Mormons to put their persecution complex aside and stand down in their defense of heteronormative marriage. Same-sex unions don’t threaten anyone, except perhaps organizations who have built an electoral/consumer base on the notion that they do (the shadow of the controversial donor politics of 2008’s California ballot initiative “Prop 8” looms large). Do we really need more polemic pushing this point?

The American Sociological Society already weighed in on this issue in February of last year. It filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court outlining research that indicates “children fare just as well” in same-sex or heterosexual parenting situations. At the time, ASA president Cecilia Ridgeway was quoted as saying, “There is no evidence that children with parents in stable same-sex or opposite-sex relationships differ in terms of well-being. Indeed, the greater stability offered by marriage for same-sex as well as opposite-sex parents may be an asset for child well-being.”

Scientific research supporting this conclusion shouldn’t even be necessary in a country founded on tenets designed to protect pluralism. We do very little as a society to legally equalize childhood experience on moral grounds: Single parents aren’t forced to give up their children or legal parenthood status because of a “sub-standard” parenting situation, nor are population control measures carried out against those who have more children than they can reasonably afford. Furthermore, it was already decided in 1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut that married couples are legally protected in not having children — marriage is not legally defined in this country as a union related to having or rearing children.

Utah’s political bullying of gender non-conformists needs to end. The myth that legally-recognized free gender expression threatens families and endangers citizens’ private religious practice only has real-life parallels in its re-tellers’ systematic denial of legal benefits to same-sex couples and attempted democratic enforcement of their own cultural paradigm. If Utah really wanted to codify pro-family ethics, it would look to lower its abnormally high gay teen suicide rate by legislating a culture more inclusive of free gender expression. Utah’s attainment of statehood was dependent on conforming to national/traditional marriage norms via codification in the state constitution — notice that Utah is now resisting its history of fighting for alternative marriage in its third constitutional amendment defining legal marriage as being exclusively heteronormative (the critical law struck down in Kitchen v. Herbert).

The historically complex dialogue on this issue continually seems to elude Utah’s supporters of traditional marriage. The color schema of Thursday’s protest was pink and blue: In her 2012 book Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America, University of Maryland historian Jo B. Paoletti discusses how the two colors weren’t codified into gender-specific children’s clothing until the 1940s as a marketing ploy. The initial promotion of a gender binary image for children can be historically traced to a relatively recent textile industry business move. Like those gender-specific garments for young children, the argument that healthy familial relations are threatened by gender non-conformists owes longevity to its being manufactured out of whole cloth.

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