On Nov. 6, the citizens of Minnesota will vote on whether or not to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. As with any other constitutional amendment vote in Minnesota, any ballot submitted without a vote for the marriage amendment will be counted as a "No" vote. A mid-September poll of likely voters by The Star Tribune showed that 49 percent supported the amendment, 47 percent opposed it and 4 percent were undecided.
Views | Sara Shady and Carrie Peffley, professors of philosophy, for The Clarion
Professors Sara Shady and Carrie Peffley plan to vote "No" on the marriage amendment. | Star Tribune
In the Oct. 11 issue of The Clarion, Professor Dan Ritchie wrote arguments in favor of the Minnesota marriage amendment. While there are many problematic arguments being used to support this amendment, Ritchie focused specifically on traditional views of marriage as they relate to procreation and family, and so we’ll primarily respond to these.
According to Ritchie, "Moving away from natural marriage toward gay unions will invite vexing moral and legal questions. . ." That is true, but we would like to argue that keeping our traditional definition of marriage and family also creates and perpetuates vexing moral and legal questions that cannot be ignored. In fact, we believe Ritchie’s argument in favor of traditional definitions leads to several problematic consequences.
Let’s begin with the “traditional views of marriage” argument. What exactly are “traditional views of marriage”? The traditional view that women are property? That if a virgin is raped, the man who rapes her just pays her father and becomes her husband? That a man can have many wives? That people of different races cannot marry each other? That a woman is not equal to her husband? We are thankful that we are moving away from the “traditional institution of marriage.” This country already redefined marriage when it allowed inter-racial marriage, and when men and women became equal partners in marriage. And we would argue that these are good redefinitions of marriage. We would urge caution to those who argue that we must preserve “traditional marriage.” Traditional marriage, in many ways, hasn’t been a moral form of relationship.
The underlying assumption of the “traditional views of marriage” argument is Natural Law: gay people can’t get married because “marriage is for the purpose of having and raising children.” But this isn’t the case. Marriage isn’t tied to the production of children. If this were the case, there are many people who couldn’t get married: an elderly widow, an infertile couple, a woman who has had her uterus removed due to cancer and people like me (Professor Peffley). As a woman who does not want children, I shouldn’t have been able to get married, since I clearly didn’t enter into marriage with the goal of producing children. If the advocates of this constitutional amendment are serious about marriage being about having children, then we should be adding many more constitutional amendments to make sure that people like me can’t get married.
Ritchie also argues that a child has a right to be raised by its biological mother and father. There is no such right. If there were, a child could sue its single mother or father. But this also raises questions about adoption in general.
I (Professor Shady) am the parent of two boys. One, Gavin James Shady, was born biologically to my husband Jamie and me. The other, Mintesnot James Shady, became our child through the process of adoption. Mintesnot is an Ethiopian name given to him by his birth mother, which means “nothing is impossible for him.” In order to honor his heritage and celebrate the meaning of this name, we have kept it as his first name. We chose James as his legal middle name as a symbol that his relationship to Jamie is equal to the relationship between Jamie and Gavin. If Ritchie’s line of argument is correct, this affiliation is not equivalent, because it is not biological. Is it moral to respect parental affiliations other than to one’s biological parents? Absolutely. It would be wrong of us to fail to recognize the equal moral status of adoptive parent-child relationships.
Advocates of this amendment argue that good things come with stable marriage. This is absolutely correct! We believe this wholeheartedly. This is why we believe that people already raising children should be allowed to marry, so their children are protected under law. Gay people are already allowed to adopt children in this state, but their children are not protected. These families are denied over 500 basic familial rights, and this lack of rights hurts their children. This amendment will not protect children. It will hurt the 20,000 children already being raised by gay couples. If what we really want is to protect children and provide stable homes for them, we should vote NO on this amendment.
Finally, we’d like to address Ritchie’s claim that “Christ to the ‘progressives’ is merely tolerant and open.” Christians have long discussed whether Christ’s ministry was primarily about “tolerance and openness” or “purity and doctrine.” While this is an interesting debate, it is not relevant to this amendment, because this is not an amendment to Christianity. It is an amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution. We live in a pluralist society, not a theocracy. So while it may be important for Christians to debate Christian perspectives on marriage, it is not fair to force all Minnesotans to have the same ideals. Whether we like it or not, not all Minnesotans are Christians. Forcing religious ideals on non-believers is a violation of the separation of church and state. And, to use Alexis de Tocqueville’s words, it is a tyranny of the majority. What happens when the majority of Minnesotans are no longer Christian? Are we willing to accept the precedent this amendment sets – that the dominant religion can force their beliefs into law? If not, we suggest voting NO.
There are many other arguments that Professor Ritchie makes that we do not have the space to address here. We invite conversations about what we’ve written here, as well as how we would respond to his other arguments.