Could We Please Quit Pretending It’s About Marriage Equality?

By Tom Gilson Published on December 4, 2016

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education is opposed to marriage equality. Representative Tom Price, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of HHS, is also opposed to marriage equality. Three other Trump Cabinet selections are against marriage equality, according to the strongly pro-gay Human Rights Campaign. Vice-President-elect Mike Pence has been working against it for years.

Brian Soucek, an acting professor of law at UC Davis, views all this with alarm. He wants to ward off “the threat to marriage equality in California” by repealing Proposition 8 — in case a future U.S. Supreme Court repeals its recent pro-gay marriage ruling.

I hate to tell him, but whether or not Proposition 8 is repealed, there’s going to be marriage inequality either way. There’s marriage inequality even now, under Obergefell v. Hodges. The case was always billed as a battle for marriage equality, but that was never what it was about.

It’s time we quit pretending. It isn’t just Donald Trump’s Cabinet that disbelieves in marriage equality. It isn’t just Jimmy Seibert, controversial pastor to HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines. It’s Brian Soucek, too. It’s the Human Rights Campaign, along with virtually every other gay activist. It’s all of us.

No one believes in marriage equality.

No one, that is, except members of the hyper-radical fringe who want to do away with marriage altogether. They’re the only ones who really believe in marriage equality. Otherwise “marriage equality” has never been anything but a slogan.

Rhetoric in Action

It’s a good one, as slogans go; I’ll grant it that. Borrowed straight from America’s most magnificent noble ideals, it’s got the all right stuff to pack a a powerful rhetorical punch. Why shouldn’t marriage equality be self-evidently a human right, just as much as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Who could possibly oppose such a positive vision?

Consider what would happen if we took equality seriously as a primary principle for deciding what should count as marriage.

But it gets better. The phrase also trades in the guilt we’ve felt over falling short of our country’s founding ideals. No sensitive human being would be caught dead being against it — not after all the ethical and social failures we’ve been guilty of for so long. We’re not making those mistakes again!

There’s a problem, though. For all its rhetorical usefulness, “marriage equality” can’t be a self-evident human right if it’s self-evidently self-contradictory and impossible — which is exactly what it is.

What “Marriage Equality” Would Mean, if Anyone Really Meant It

Consider what would happen if we took equality seriously as a primary principle for deciding what should count as marriage. It would mean calling an end to all of our exclusionary biases, like our prejudice against father-daughter marriages, multiple-partner marriages, sibling marriages, indeed, any relationship that anyone wants to label “marriage.” If you want marriage equality, that’s the only way you’ll really get it.

Of course LGBT activists are always quuick to tell us “No! That’s not what we meant!” They’re not at all interested in setting the stage for polygamy or incestuous marriages, they say; and I believe them. I just have trouble believing the part where they tell me at the same time they’re for marriage equality, because clearly they believe in marriage inequality, too, beyond their chosen line of marriage demarcation.

We All Draw Our Lines of Equality and Inequality

We all have lines of marriage demarcation. Marriage conservatives place our boundary in the space between opposite-sex relationships and same-sex relationships. Couples on one side of that line may be candidates for marriage; couples on the other side cannot. Couples on one side all deserve fully equal access to marriage (certain other reasonable conditions being in place, of course). In other words, we believe in marriage equality, but only up to a certain line; beyond that there is inequality, as we freely admit.

LGBT activists believe in marriage equality, but only up to a certain line; beyond that there is inequality, as they freely admit.

Marriage revisionists draw a line that looks almost exactly like our line, other than including same-sex couples. They, like we, are quick to exclude underage persons, incestuous relationships, polygamy and so on. As one pro-gay commentator wrote on the day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, “Justice Kennedy today wrote the opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, finding state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and securing full marriage equality for gays and lesbians across America.” Marriage equality extends to gays and lesbians, now, but no further. In other words, LGBT activists believe in marriage equality, but only up to a certain line; beyond that there is inequality, as they freely admit.

Now I’m sure you’ve caught it already, but it bears repeating: we all believe in marriage equality up to a certain line, and inequality beyond that line. We all agree on marriage equality, and we all believe in marriage inequality. Our only disagreement is over the location of the line.

Some Lines are More Principled Than Others

So how do we all decide where to place our lines of marriage exclusion? Marriage conservatives can make a strong, principled case for the location of our line. It has to do with history, with family and community stability, with the social and physical health of individuals (especially women), and much more.

Those who stand for gay marriage can make no such principled case. Virtually all the arguments they make for gay marriage work just as well for any sort of couple, threesome, foursome, etc. that wants to call their relationship “marriage.” So why don’t these others get “marriage equality,” too? LGBT activists have been quick to say, “We don’t intend that for a moment! We’ve only asked to have marriage equality for gays and lesbians.” But why? From here it looks perfectly arbitrary.

Or maybe it’s not so arbitrary. Their line is in exactly the right place to gain the social approval they’ve needed for their cause. Activist leaders have long cautioned LGBT people against asking for too much too soon, knowing that they would surely suffer a backlash if they pushed too hard. This marriage-equality line of theirs looks suspiciously as if it’s landed where it is because it suits gay activists’ political purposes.

Enough Pretending Already

At any rate it should be clear enough: we all agree on marriage equality up to a certain line, and inequality beyond it. Our only disagreement is over the placement of the line. So let’s call this “marriage equality” slogan what it is: it’s a sham. Marriage equality isn’t real. The slogan exists only to arouse patriotism and guilt, and to make the conservative view on marriage appear morally inferior. Given that we all believe in marriage equality up to a certain boundary, however, it is no moral fault to prefer a principled boundary over an arbitrary one.

But LGBT activists will undoubtedly continue the sham. They don’t dare quit it. They can’t afford to give it up; it’s too much of a rhetorical powerhouse for them. They have to keep on pretending it’s about marriage equality. But we don’t have to keep letting them get away with the pretense.


Tom Gilson is a senior editor for The Stream and the author of the Kregel Publications book Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens.

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  • Howard Rosenbaum

    I recall the lyrics of the memorable Sinatra rendition of the Sammy Cahn & James van Heusen tune”Love & Marriage. It was written when the idea of anything other than a state recognized coupling between a man & woman was anathema to the culture at large. Mr. Cahn’s lyric “love & marriage – love & marriage – go together like a horse & carriage – dad was told by mother – you can’t have one w/out the other ..” He continues, “try,try,try to separate them – it’s an illusion – try,try,try, & you will only come to this conclusion – love & marriage, love & marriage – go together like a horse & carriage ..” Sure, the thought of marriage as a yoke upon a horse’s neck may not be the best metaphor w/which to champion the God ordained institution of marriage, yet I think there is a valid point to be made here. It’s the conclusion that as “dad was told by mother – you can’t have one w/out the other..” Marriage like the functional relationship between that horse & carriage is the bringing together of two somewhat different yet equally yoked potentially antagonistic characters. The beauty of this design is that it works when properly implemented & both are the richer for it. So yes, any admonition to divest oneself from the “traditional”idea of marriage w/out, as Mr.Gilson correctly intimates , compromising philosophical integrity is, as the song states – “an illusion”.

  • Charles Burge

    Here’s why marriage has always been “equal”. The exact same pool of potential marriage partners that was available to me in 2011 (or any year prior) was also available to any other adult man in the country. The only exception is if one of us has a sister. What the LGBT movement wants has never been equity. They want redefinition. It’s really that simple.

    • Gary

      Yes. The US Supreme Court redefined marriage in Obergfell. Something they had no authority to do, by the way. Why we accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition when they had no authority to make that ruling demonstrates how the American people have been conned into accepting whatever the Court says. The Supreme Court could rule that the US Constitution is null and void, and most Americans would accept it.

  • John Stanis

    WE The People, need to put TERM LIMITS on all our
    government Representatives and its Bodies of The Legislation’s
    and, all its parts of the Justice System(s). The court system is
    broken and WE need to replace the worn-out parts that the system of
    governing a country needs and that The People want.

    Therefore, United States Representatives in government and its
    parts is a two headed snake with one body that is poisoning our will
    and rights for We The People and transforming our system into an
    oligarchy for the Elite Secret Party to enslave the world and to
    remove the Holy and Almighty God Teaching and Words. The present high
    court system as done the unthinkable act of accepting and determining
    that same sex marriage is Human Rights under man laws for Liberty and

    However, Marriage(Covenant/Contract/Compact) is between a man and woman
    respectively under, God Law. God created mankind and knows that other
    than its normal function it would cause deadly
    diseases(HIV/AIDS) that occur during sex and
    intercourse engagement with the same sex. Therefore, gay
    marriage is not a Legal or Rights issue. However, it is a LIFE
    ISSUE. Respectfully, JWS

  • BetterYet

    What a great article! The question of where to “draw the (new) line” is a thought provoking question that should cause any thinking person to reconsider any change. I can see myself drawing a scale on a dinner napkin with marrying within your own race at one end and marrying your dog on the other with every thing else in the middle, then asking people “Ok, where is it fare to draw the line?” and letting people have a go at it. That should keep the conversation going for a day or two.

  • Gary

    When someone sues the government for the “right” to marry more than one person at a time, or when someone sues for the “right” to marry their close kin, the same “reasoning” that led the SC judges to vote for ssm will compel them to again redefine what marriage is so that new forms will be included. Now it is possible one or more of those judges might decide to be a hypocrite and not further redefine marriage, but given the moral bankruptcy and disregard for the US Constitution of those court members who voted for ssm, I don’t think it likely that they will suddenly find a reason not to change marriage again.

  • Marcel

    This is a great article and discussion. I have done a lot of searching for answers. I think a lot of us have woken up by Obama actions this past year. My flash point was in 2012 when he got re-elected. How could a man with so much well know and wide spread corruption get re-elected and then in 2016 how could Hillary gain so much admiration I spite of her atrocities at home and in the middle east during her tenure as SOS.
    Since the rhetoric and agenda’s seem to be the same among these activist, I think we need to address this as a religion of sorts. As a religion we need to respect their beliefs, but not be forced to participate or change our faith / culture. To normalize their belief system and present it as mainstream they resist labeling themselves. My label would be “HUMANIST”, the belief there is NO God or that man is god. I am a man of Faith, but in a practical, common sense this doesn’t end well. There has to be a bellwether, a compass pointing to some Truth. A Humanist belief is “relative morality” suited to the individual. So for them there is NO Ten Commandments, No Bible, No Jesus, No Emmanuel ( God is with us ) and most important to our nation that the Constitutional is irrelevant and can be changed by mob rule.
    They will deny being part of those that cross line, but will still bring us down the same rabbit hole. And there will be many lines crossed. Trans, next will be Pedophiles, and who knows what’s next. For a list look up Sodom!
    Seriously Yours, Marcel

    • stevenlehar

      The common label for what you describe is “LIBERAL”, not “humanist”. After all, we know that conservative principles are far more “humanist” in the sense of making humans enjoy Life, Liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Liberals have stolen the classical term for “freedom for the individual” and re-defined it as “power for big government”. Welcome to the new Liberalism, a label the liberals are quickly abandoning in favor of their next new term “progressive”, hoping we won’t notice its the same old thing! Which was the same old thing as Socialism! Which was the same old thing as Communism!

      • Marcel

        Excellent Steven, I agree. However, Look up “The American Humanist Association” web site. advocates progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists, freethinkers, and the non-religious across the country. Actually Progressive have been around for 100+ years and has evolved ( progressed ) Wilson, FDR, LBJ and now BO.

  • Mo86

    Excellently stated!

    The push for same-sex marriage has never been about equality, rights, or even marriage, really. It’s about gaining social acceptance for this lifestyle. And it’s about destroying anyone who will not agree and bow to their demands. THAT’S what it’s really about.

    I prefer if they’d just be honest about it!

  • G Hazel

    I’m in complete agreement with the writer, but I’m curious “why now”? Is the idea that Obergefell could be undone? or what?

    • No, not necessarily (not that it would be a bad thing). The idea is to keep improving our thinking and our interactions on this important issue.

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