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Divided over gay marriage

Opponents of same-sex unions aren't necessarily religious or politically conservative, and many of them fear how the debate is being shaped.

March 12, 2004|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Not everyone who opposes gay marriage is a Bible-thumper, a conservative -- or even a heterosexual. As the California Supreme Court stepped into the feud Thursday by halting same-sex nuptials in San Francisco, other voices were already weighing in against the idea.

They include: a member of alternative rock station KROQ-FM's comedy duo Kevin and Bean; a Florida newspaper columnist who "loves gays"; and a professional thinker from Palo Alto.

Some profess enthusiastic support for gay rights, including civil unions, but they draw the line at marriage. One reason is a belief that gay matrimony could open the door to legalizing polygamy and group marriage.

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"This gay wedding craze is starting to spread around the country. Today a guy in Utah married five other guys."

-- Jay Leno

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Leno's joke isn't too far off the mark, says Stanley Kurtz, a scholar at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University. In Utah, lawsuits to overturn the state's ban on polygamy are already winding through the courts. Although legal experts question the merits of those cases, polygamy may be losing some of its taboo status.

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman recently wrote: "What's the difference between a polygamist and ... a casual philanderer? Twenty-five years in prison? ... The state is on shaky ground when it tries to criminalize sexual relations or the consensual living arrangements of adults."

Many gay leaders are quick to dismiss analogies between polygamy and homosexuality. "Polygamy is a choice; sexual orientation isn't," says writer Andrew Sullivan, an eloquent supporter of same-sex marriage. "Polygamy is also terrible for society. It abuses women, creates a class of unmarried males [by leaving a shortage of single females] and leaves children unclear about their parents."

Nevertheless, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who backs gay marriage, says court decisions upholding same-sex matrimony could be interpreted to permit multiple spouses. He suggests even incest between consenting adults could end up decriminalized, despite the possibility of inbred children: "After all, we don't generally ban marriages between people who have serious genetic diseases, even if the odds of a defect in their children are much higher than for brother-sister marriages."

Some gay activists are already campaigning for such changes.

Paula Ettelbrick, a law professor who runs the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, recommends legalizing a wide variety of marriage alternatives, including polyamory, or group wedlock. An example could include a lesbian couple living with a sperm-donor father, or a network of men and women who share sexual relations.

One aim, she says, is to break the stranglehold that married heterosexual couples have on health benefits and legal rights. The other goal is to "push the parameters of sex, sexuality and family, and in the process transform the very fabric of society."

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"Leaving God out of the equation, it is irrefutable that Nature had a well-ordered design. Male + female = offspring."

-- Kathleen Parker,

Orlando Sentinel columnist

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Another common objection to gay marriage involves children.

"If it were not for kids, I would have no problem whatsoever with gay marriage," says Kevin Ryder, a morning DJ on KROQ-FM. Children need both a father and a mother to thrive, he explains. "That's the ideal, and that's what should be upheld.... To purposely start without one of the sexes makes it worse on a kid."

Although KROQ listeners skewered Ryder when he stated his views on the air recently, countless scientific studies back him up, according to David Blankenhorn, author of "Fatherless America" and president of the Institute for American Values. Children are psychologically better off when raised by the mom and dad who brought them into the world, Blankenhorn says.

The audience for such reasoning is limited, partly because many heterosexual families also don't live up to optimum standards. As the National Review magazine noted, if research on ideal households is used to attack gay marriage, "a large part of the public will flinch."

Meanwhile, because homosexuals are already becoming parents, conservative gay commentator Sullivan suggests it would be "far better for those kids to be protected in their families by legal marriage than to live with instability and possible custodial problems."

Blankenhorn disagrees, arguing that such a move would fundamentally alter the definition of parenthood by erasing the words "mother" and "father" from the law and replacing them with androgynous terminology. "Parental unit," perhaps?

Saying that children need mothers and fathers might come to be regarded as a form of hate speech, he adds.

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