The “best argument” against marriage equality is demeaning, doesn’t hold water

So, the National Organization for Marriage has a new web commercial out, in which they compare Steve Jobs to Big Brother because Apple censored NOM’s iPhone app. It’s really silly, and ignores the reality that while the right to free speech means you can say anything you want, it doesn’t mean that Apple is legally required to sell your discriminatory views to its consumers. Also, the commercial is laughably over-dramatic.

While it’s easy to giggle at this totally ridiculous commercial, it’s important to remember that NOM has some pretty serious brains running its operation. One of those brains is Robert George, a professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton and the chairman of NOM.

Recently, legal scholar Kenji Yoshino analyzed what he calls the best argument against gay marriage – it’s an argument constructed and championed by George. George, who Yoshino calls “a conservative heavyweight in debates over same-sex marriage,” has published a new article that lays out a two-pronged argument against allowing gays and lesbians to marry. In “What is Marriage,” published in The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, George declares that same-sex marriage is wrong because it cannot result in children the way “real marriage” does, comparing same-sex marriage to, in Yoshino’s words, “a recreational activity more like tennis than like marriage.”

Offensive, right? George also compares procreative married couples to “winning” baseball teams and non-procreative ones to “losing” teams. And he suggests that parents who conceive using reproductive technologies like egg or sperm donation aren’t really the parents of their children, since according to him, “children … can have only two parents—a biological mother and father.”

Robert George is a very intelligent, remarkably learned man. His co-authors, one of them a Princeton graduate and current Rhodes Scholar, are clearly not unintelligent either. It’s disappointing to see such brilliant intellects being used in the service of discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. I dearly look forward to the day when George, his co-authors, and all opponents of marriage equality will be recognized for what they are, which is on the wrong side of civil rights and on the wrong side of history.

Of course, George would say that he’s not discriminating – he’s simply defending the sanctity of “real” (World Series-winning) marriage, which would be demeaned and devalued if gays and lesbians were allowed to tie the knot. But as Yoshino notes, the argument that “real” marriages are the ones that produce offspring and that adoption and reproductively-assisted parenting can never be “real” parenting backfires. It doesn’t defend the institution of marriage at all. “In its broad and unforgiving sweep,” writes Yoshino,” this argument is self-destructively over-inclusive. It succeeds only in diminishing the institution of marriage itself.

This is bigotry and prejudice disguised as intellectualism and cloaked in terrible sports analogies. And it’s purportedly the best they’ve got. It’s hateful, but it’s also hackery. It doesn’t hold water. As hurtful and infuriating as these kinds of arguments are, the fact that they fall apart under scrutiny ought to give us some hope. If comparing Steve Jobs to Big Brother and comparing making babies to playing baseball really is the best NOM has got, I don’t expect they’ll be around to spread their hate, or their genuinely awful analogies, for much longer.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • nazza

    The end of Patriarchy, I predict, will be couched in sports analogies.

    • Emmett J Doyle

      Hey, everything regarding sex and sexuality already is, why not extend it to all gender-related issues?

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    What a natalist crock. And I can only imagine the wives of men such as these must feel really special—love of the person who’s your partner is not the the reason for marriage. Merely their ability to produce children. What a sick, loveless worldview being used to justify irrational hate.

    And yeah, the sports analogy is pathetic. Like everyone cares about sports.

  • Joe

    Someone needs to learn how to use analogies in argument.

    Off topic (reason for re-post): I don’t think most people know how to use HTML tags. There must be a nicer way to do this.

  • Kenia Perez

    I’m sure Yoshino mentions this in his analysis (I haven’t had a chance to read it), but everytime I hear this argument, I think:
    A) If it’s illegal for same-sex couples to marry on the ground of inability to procreate, then it should be illegal for hetero couples who are infertile to marry due to the same exact reasoning. And that would mean that one would have to be legally required to get a fertility test before being granted the right to marry….*or* legally required to divorce if unable or unwilling to produce any off-spring,
    B) if preserving the sanctity of marriage is SO important, why don’t they fight to make divorce illegal?? And,
    C) This definition of a “real” marriage is based on religious belief. Where is the seperation of church and state in making same-sex marriage illegal??

    Ridiculous argument…fails to uphold logic and reason from at least these three points. I’m surprised that such “intelligent” people fail at basic rhetoric.

    • SamBarge

      Regarding (C), this is obviously an attempt to argue against gay marriage on secular grounds so that the argument cannot be made that the government is allowing religious doctrine to affect government actions.

      It is, ofcourse, grossly flawed and still religious in nature. The argument that marriage is for the procreation of children is actually a religious argument. You don’t even have to go as far as Quiverfull-type Christians to find it either. It’s a part of the service in Catholic and Anglican wedding ceremonies.

  • Claire Macomson

    I’d love to see this man face the catholic-wrath of my friend’s adopted parents. Don’t ever tell them the frustration and pain they faced receiving their children doesn’t count. Also, my parents put in alot of time and energy and money trying conceive me and my sister. My parents were no less married then than when they had my ‘accident’ of a brother 6 years later. While I might be a bit biased, I still think these people aren’t living up to their intellectual potential.

    The only sham marriages that exist are between people who get married out of obligation. People who marry when they shouldn’t because someone else is telling them they should. The marriages that involve cheating and lying and someone waking up one morning to realize their loving partner is not who they thought they were. Marriages that involve antiquated sexual expectations that leave both partners unsatisfied and unhappy. Maybe NOM should be working on that instead.

  • gatta melatta

    Nothing worse than an educated idiot.

  • Jessica

    Geez, haven’t any of these people ever heard of playing a sport for fun, you know, win or lose you still have a good time. Do these intellectuals also promote the idea that heterosexual married couples should only play ball when they are most likely to win a baby?