Same-Sex Marriage Does Threaten “Traditional” Marriage

Recently on Facebook some friends were passing around a quote by comedian Ellen DeGeneres who was responding to the charge that same-sex marriage will “threaten” heterosexual marriages. Ellen quipped:

Portia and I have been married for 4 years and they have been the happiest of my life. And in those 4 years, I don’t think we hurt anyone else’s marriage. I asked all of my neighbors and they say they’re fine….

I get you, Ellen, but you’re missing the larger point. Same-sex marriage does threaten “traditional” marriage.

Marriage equality is a threat to those who do not believe in equality between the sexes in general. Some who oppose marriage between two women or between two men believe that homosexuality is a sin, or that same-sex marriage harms children, or that it will lead to more divorces. But as I listened to the “protect traditional marriage” ralliers outside the U.S. Supreme Court hearings last week one unified message came through loud and clear: same-sex marriage threatens traditional marriage because it challenges ideas about proper gender roles.

Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as June and Ward Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver. (ABC/Wikimedia)
Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as June and Ward Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver. (ABC/Wikimedia)

Same-sex marriage makes a lie of the very foundation of traditional gender roles. Same-sex marriages say that a woman can run a household, or that a man can raise a child. This does not square with those whose lives and beliefs and relationships depend on upholding and living their lives based on differences between the sexes. Over and over on C-SPAN I hear people in 2013 arguing that both a mother and a father are needed in order to raise children — indeed, that children have a right to both a mother and a father. (And so, you see, proponents of same-sex marriage are not actually supporting the granting of rights, but rather the taking away of rights… of children. The twists in logic are mind-boggling.)

I am struck by the continual references from the traditional marriage camp to “the protection of the father” and “the tenderness of the mother.” To a view that only fathers can or should be breadwinners and only mothers can be caretakers. Traditional marriage defenders believe that a man is needed to protect and provide for a family — and a woman is needed to nurture a child. That a man/father/husband is the rightful head of the household and that a wife must submit to her husband in all things.

"The Andersons" from Father Knows Best. (CBS)
“The Andersons” from Father Knows Best. (CBS)

It’s easy to eye-roll on this one, since many of us take for granted already that there are different forms a family can take and multiple or varying roles that individuals, rather male or female, can fill within a family — from single working moms to stay-at-home dads to grandparents raising children to egalitarian marriages. But it goes deeper than that. Same-sex marriage threatens the very foundation of what it means to be a woman/wife or be a man/husband. Who is in charge? Who will submit? Who will raise the children? Who is the man and who is the woman in the relationship? These are not questions of sex or sexuality, they are questions of gender. And when it comes to gender, same-sex marriage reveals the questions themselves as flawed.

I am struck in listening to the opposition to same-sex marriage by the persistent denial that gender is a socially constructed role. This is a “traditional” view of marriage in the sense that it is grounded in “biology is destiny,” or specific roles assigned based on sex. It is an extremely narrow view of “marriage” based on specific roles assigned by sex, rather than marriage as an emotional and physical and social partnership between two individuals. Most telling, it is a view that denies that heterosexual people can be in egalitarian marriages, or should be. It is a belief in “traditional” marriage as hierarchical. Not as a true partnership of equals, but as a microcosm of society with a power structure that flows from husband to wife to children.

Therefore, opposition to marriage equality is opposition to equality.

I don’t doubt that most if not all opponents of same-sex marriage have a strong religious opposition to homosexuality itself and do not want to see the behavior sanctioned by law and society. Surely, they see the decline of civilization in the public hand-holding of Ellen and Portia. But make no mistake — this is not just an opposition to homosexuality. This is the same opposition to single mothers. The same opposition to working mothers. And the same opposition to no-fault divorce. It is the opposition to feminists harping about men doing half the housework, and men doing it. And it is the same source of opposition to reproductive rights. What does same-sex marriage have to do with reproductive rights? Everything.


An even more frightening argument against same-sex marriage that is blasting from my TV is that the state has an interest in “procreation” — i.e. who does it and under what circumstances.  This argument is not simply about who can or should raise children — indeed, it was pointed out by a lawyer during the U.S. Supreme Court hearings that many states already allow gays and lesbians to adopt and foster children, not to mention that some individuals in same-sex marriages (like their heterosexual counterparts) are raising children from previous unions.

But the discussion about same-sex marriage and children goes deeper. It is about who should bear children and under what circumstances. In other words, controlling women’s reproductive behavior. We often hear the case of Loving v. Virginia (1967) — the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case undoing the ban on interracial marriage — brought up as an example or precedent for expanding civil rights when it comes to marriage. But equally as relevant to the current political climate, I would argue, is the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that married couples could use contraception. Let me repeat that: the United States Supreme Court had to decide that a married woman could practice birth control. And if you think that decision is untouchable and safely entrenched in the history books, then you haven’t been paying attention to threats to access to not only abortion, but birth control, in recent political battles.

Make no mistake, the “traditional marriage” camp is coming from the same quarters as the continued opposition to and attacks on contraception, abortion rights, or no-fault divorce. Along with same-sex marriage, all of these things do threaten so-called “traditional” marriage because they empower individuals to make choices about their sexual and procreative lives. They threaten patriarchy, which is the real tradition here. But to supporters of “traditional” marriage, the issue of marriage itself is not about privacy or sexual freedom. Indeed, I heard a traditional marriage activist say today that marriage has “nothing to do with personal intimacy.” That might come as a shock to those of us who view our committed relationships (legally married or not) in exactly those terms.


Instead, the conservative/traditional view of marriage is grounded not in the pursuit of personal freedom or individual happiness or rights, but in gender essentialism — in the belief that the purpose of marriage is procreation and that woman’s highest role is as wife and mother. The questions in the Griswold case are the same as those in the debate about same-sex marriage today: What is the definition and meaning of marriage if it’s not about procreation? How to define the sexuality of women if not exclusively around reproduction?

Just as the Pill separated sex from reproduction, same-sex marriage threatens to finally separate gender from marriage.  (This is not to say that gays and lesbians in same-sex couples do not ever take on gendered roles within their relationships, only that same-sex marriage exposes the lie that gender is directly related to biological sex.) The lawyer arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court last week admitted that “the main concern [for opponents of same-sex marriage] is redefining marriage as a genderless institution.” Let that sink in for a moment.

Opponents to same-sex marriage reject the idea that marriage should be redefined as “genderless.” Feminism has been arguing for genderless marriage — for marriage equality — for decades! Most of that focus has been on equality within marriage — in matters of housework, childrearing, and sexual satisfaction. Same-sex marriage is the next step in the struggle for marriage equality, but also in the broader struggle for gender equality. So, yeah, same-sex marriage does threaten traditional marriage. And that is why it is being resisted as vigorously as women’s rights and African American civil rights were (are) resisted. It’s not just a matter of a “right to privacy” or live and let live. We are trying to argue it as such. But it’s more foundation-shaking than that. The opposition to same-sex marriage is opposition to a half century of feminist redefinitions of and challenges to “traditional” marriage that have brought us to this historic moment. To quote Ellen one last time, “Asking who’s the ‘man’ and who’s the ‘woman’ in a same-sex relationship is like asking which chopstick is the fork.”

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Thank you for this very insightful article! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it because it makes so much sense!


I guess you missed the part where the Bible’s original definition of marriage is one man, many women.

So why did our christian government go after the mormons when they did this?

Oh, right. You guys want to boss around everyone else and tell them how they should live.

Imagine if the satanic church got to decide whether you could get married? That’s how you make the rest of people feel.


What an unusual argument – maybe it makes sense in America but my wife and I have always endeavoured to maintain equality in as much as we are able – except that I am male and she is female – and together we have produced a wonderful family that we love and value immensely. I’ve probably used the vacuum more, cooked as many meals and certainly changed as many nappies – sorry, I can’t give birth or breast feed. I would have to say I am not threatened by gay marriage. What I have is infinitely more fulfilling, natural and through grandchildren already generational. Unless evolution somehow comes up with a solution for children to be born of same sex couples there is a rather obvious reliance on traditional sexuality, adoption or complicated, expensive and time consuming medical procedures to provide families for gay couples which however it’s done will not be the product of each other.


I’m not sure if you have thought about this, or if someone else has posted it already. Think about how gay men are treated vs lesbian women.

Why is society angrier at the male? Because he is giving up his power. He is turning his back upon the notion that the male is meant to rule the female. A MAN is saying that genders in our society are equal.

This threatens the patriarchal view much more than a female thinking she is just as good as a man (by being a lesbian). Because they know she isn’t, it’s just her being weak/stupid.

Todd Pollard

Under 4 years of this president, America had gotten away from Bible law and become more wicked than in all the other years of our country combined.

Theresa Etter

OMG, Todd. I am SO glad I read to the end of the comments. That is priceless. Priceless!


Let people love and marry who they want to love and marry. Why should anyone think that they themselves are better then anyone else to judge who they can marry?


I agree that an argument for traditional marriage fails when you deny the concept of gender. However, the author cannot escape that there’s some distinction between men and women by her acknowledgement of the difference between hetero-homosexual relationships. Therefore, if the author acknowledges a distinction between these two relationships, logically, it seems to indicate a difference in gender. Another thing I find lacking in her argument is her use of sources. Many people who believe in traditional marriage do not believe women need to stay at home while the men bring in the income: this is an unfair representation. There are plenty of egalitarians who’d say, “Though we are equal, we are in a sense different.” Her iconoclastic quotes from a leave-it-to-Beaver representation of the traditional approach with Ellen DeGeneres as the icon to the same-sex approach, leaves the casual reader ignorant of several complicated factors. Some of these factors include numerous psychologists who acknowledge the emotional-psychological effects of children without a father. Studies have been shown than have proven that little boys who are raised without a father are more prone to violence than boys with stable fathers (See the book “Raising Cain).

There are also numerous studies on the lack of attachment newborns experience without the affection of their mothers–Bowen’s attachment theory was founded on this principle. The author doesn’t mention these studies or theories. She, like many other trying to advocate for same-sex marriage seem to neglect, or at least fail to engage, in these questions at the expense of a modern fad to be politically correct without seriously discussing the complexity of this issue. I don’t doubt gay parents could be great examples of parenthood; but, should we be so quick to eschew thousands of years of tradition, church history, artists, and poets for a redefinition of marriage because modern culture thinks it’s an essential characteristic of love?

Whether one is willing to make that claim or not, previous traditions might need more introspection in our modern hastiness to redefine, and not be as philosophically irrelevant as the author seems to claim.

John Hedtke

I think we should eschew a great deal of church history for the simple reason that a majority of people in this country ARE NOT CHRISTIANS. Or we could eschew church history for the thousands of years of other traditions: genocide, slavery, subjugation of women, suppression of knowledge, and so on. Or we could look at the supposed “thousands of years of tradition” related to marriage, go read the well-documented “Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe,” and learn that marriage is not what you think it is. Or we could also embrace the church’s history, go back as recently as 150 years go, and recognize that the RCC would marry (their word) priests to other priests. You can find priestly marriage ceremonies fairly easily.

Or you could recognize that this is not a modern “fad” or a desire to be PC, but rather a recognition of a long-standing desire for equal treatment under the law by men and women who simply happen to be gay. As usual, the US is decades behind most other countries when it comes to social progress, but there are many other countries who have instituted marriage equality, just about all of which continue to have higher standards of living than the US.


I don’t think a marriage between a man and woman be called traditional marriage. Nor do I think that a gay marriage should be between two men or two women and be called a gay marriage. It should be call paired not a marriage at all. That way there wouldn’t this thing out here about marriage. People could chose to whom they would want to be with, that way you have a partner.


I don’t recall the name of the person that said, “just call it a civil union, because it’s the same thing as marriage!”, but if it’s the SAME thing, then why isn’t it a marriage?

“You see, we have this school here…for us…white people…then we have this school over here…it’s the same school, teaches the same subjects…just that it’s for those animals..them Negro people…”

DISINTERESTED OBSERVER: “But if it’s the SAME…then why do they have to be separate?”

PERSON #1: “Well, we can’t have them filthy animals in schools with DECENT people…”

DO: “But you said it’s the same…”

P: “Yup. Surely is. Just that we gotta PROTECT good, decent folks from animals like them Negros…they tryin’ to pollute decent folks”

DO: “So if it is the same..why does it have to be separate?”

This goes on forever. Agreeing that “marriage” in general is basically nothing more than a legal contract, with any other meaning attached to it solely by the individuals partaking in aforementioned legal contract, if it’s the same thing as “straight”, “traditional” marriage, then it should be marriage. Period. It isn’t like a piece of paper with glue on it that you call a “sticky note” and I call a “Post-It Note” that actually IS the same thing with a different name, because using my example, one is a TRADE NAME, a BRAND NAME, copyrighted accordingly. So, unless someone whose religion has legally trademarked the word “marriage” and can show their legal documentation that reflects that “marriage” is a trademark and copyright much like “Kleenex” is a legal trademark (what you blow your nose into is “facial tissue”. Kleenex is a protected brand name), then you cannot say, “Well, I get to be married, because I said so, and my religion told me so, and you can’t, because my religion also told me that only my religion is worthy is using the name”, because technically, the STATE owns the name, since they are the ones making the definitions. Hey, my religion is Scientology. I am a firm, devout and steadfast believer that several hundred million years ago, a propeller-less DC-10 flew a bunch of spacemen into a volcano because they were ruled by another evil space alien. Now, because that volcano blew up, that is why people suck today. All the world’s ills were and are caused by one little exploding volcano full of aliens. That, and I kinda opened a box that I shouldn’t have (I’m a rebel. I disobeyed the sign on the box that said, “DANGER – DO NOT OPEN! ALL THE WORLD’S EVIL INSIDE!”). Got it from some hot babe named Pam…Pam Dora was her name. She didn’t tell me her last name. When I asked her what her name was, all I got was “Pam Dora”, and that she had this box…she told me not to open it, but I don’t listen to WOMEN! They’re weak…and probably evil themselves anyway.

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