In my contemporary moral problems class this semester we've been discussing same sex marriage. We paid close attention to the Supreme Court oral arguments on Prop. 8 and DOMA last week. We've been reading articles "pro" and "con"...and, honestly, it seems to me that all the best arguments are "pro". I'm definitely in favor of legalizing gay marriage. That said, lately I keep wondering: what if I were in a debate club, and I were assigned the "con" side? What would I say? What's the best argument you could construct for marriage inequality? Perhaps it's mischievous of me (since I do support same sex marriage), but I find this an interesting question. So, here goes: the best I can do on the "con" side.
The best case I think you could make against gay marriage has to do with procreative issues. The problem, in a nutshell, is that same sex marriage normalizes donor-assisted reproduction. Marriage goes hand in hand with creating a family, and same sex couples can't procreate without a sperm donor or egg donor. Now, dependence on gamete donors doesn't make same sex couples unique. In some situations, infertile heterosexual couples use donor-assisted reproduction too. But there's a difference: when heterosexual couples resort to gamete donation, they almost always regard their situation as abnormal--like having a broken leg. Infertile heterosexual couples will typically spend years pursuing medical remedies, so they can avoided donor gametes. When they do go the donor route, it's fair to say they see that as second best, not at all as normal. By contrast, for a same sex couple it's completely normal to need donor gametes. It's in the nature of a gay or lesbian relationship--the only route same sex couples have to making a baby with a biological connection to either partner. If gay marriage puts same sex couples on an equal footing with opposite sex couples, donor-assisted reproduction is also going to wind up on an equal footing with ordinary reproduction.
Now, you may ask, would that be bad? Is there anything really wrong with donor-assisted reproduction? Where's the problem? I think we can point to a problem, so long as we don't think of "problem" in some medical sense. Problems don't have to involve a patient--someone in need of pain relief, medical care, psychiatric treatment, or what not. Donor assisted reproduction doesn't yield people who are badly off in the "now we have a patient" sense. It just creates children who don't have the usual connection to both parents. Donor-origin children have to live with the thought that the parent they came from, in the biological sense, was a mere egg or sperm donor. That gives the child an existential problem, not a medical problem. It's not the biggest problem in the world, but we wouldn't want to head toward a future in which lots and lots of children have that problem. And, the argument goes, creating a class of married couples who by nature must reproduce that way will lead us in that direction. This is not just because of their donor-origin children existing, but because of the message that same sex marrying sends: "this way of coupling and creating a family is perfectly normal and no worse than the heterosexual way."
Now, is the procreative message really inevitable? Could the message be, more simply, "this way of coupling is perfectly normal and no worse than the heterosexual way?" (That's surely a perfectly good message.) Could gay marriage normalize the coupling, but leave it open whether donor-assisted reproduction is just fine, or not just fine? Easier said than done. Once you normalize the coupling, it's hard to hang onto the idea that there's something not entirely good about the procreating that often results from that sort of coupling. It's hard to say that the marriages of same-sex couples are fine, but their only means of biological procreation is at all problematic. Again, this is not so when it comes to heterosexual infertile couples. They know that donor-assisted reproduction is problematic. They don't want it, as evidenced by the vast amount of money and time they typically put into avoiding it. So you can't "reductio" the present argument by saying it leads to a prohibition on the marriage of infertile couples: it doesn't.
Bottom line: we're heading for a revolution in our thinking about reproduction when donor-assisted reproduction is the norm in an identifiable group of married couples. Solution: don't let them be married couples. Keep their coupling second class, precisely to avoid normalizing their approach to procreation.
There you go. That's the best I can do. Since I'm for marriage equality, I can't possibly accept all of this. I find it interesting to ponder the argument, though, to the extent that I also don't reject all of it. I think there's some truth in the argument. There are true premises and there are also false premises. All to be teased out in part II of this post...coming soon.