Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Why Did Only 53% of Maine Voters Say No to Same-Sex Marriage?

The recent same-sex marriage referendum in Maine saw only 53% of voters say "No" to same-sex marriage (by voting "Yes" on Proposition #1). Yes, that's a majority; but a small one. Why such a small majority?

The reason is not hard to figure out when one examines the arguments made by both sides during this election campaign over Proposition #1, which outlawed same-sex marriage. The pro-same-sex marriage argument said that if you believe in equality and fairness you should vote "No." The "vote Yes" side's strategy (judging by its leading organization's web page, Stand For Marriage Maine) was not to explain what was wrong with same-sex marriage but rather to warn those who were already opposed to it that they better take the trouble to vote in this off-year election because if Proposition #1 failed then the public schools would start teaching children that same-sex marriage was good.

The "vote Yes" side waged a terribly ineffective campaign because their message was aimed only at Catholics and others whose objection to same-sex marriage was based on a religious conviction that God does not approve of same-sex marriage. Their campaign strategy ignored the many voters who, either because their church (like many Protestant ones) supported same-sex marriage or because they were not particularly religious, did not believe that God condemned same-sex marriage.

The "vote Yes" side didn't tell these people the non-religious reason why same-sex marriage is bad: that giving a couple a marriage license means giving them formal social approval to produce a child, and in the case of a same-sex couple this is wrong because the only way a same-sex couple can produce a child is with donated sperm or egg, which necessarily inflicts on the child the psychological pain that comes from not having a normal bond with its biological mother and father.

The "vote Yes" side didn't explain the secular role of marriage and laws restricting who can marry: We don't have laws about who can be business partners, or roommates, or friends etc. because these relationships do not produce children. The only reason laws about who can marry are legitimate is because society has a legitimate interest in who it approves of producing a child. We don't approve of siblings or people infected with syphilis producing a child, so we have laws against such marriages, and everybody knows these laws have nothing to do with hatred of siblings or denying people equal rights.

The "vote Yes" strategy should have been to explain why opposing same-sex marriage is about defending the psychological welfare of children, just as opposing sibling marriage is about defending the genetic welfare of children and opposing the marriage of syphilis-infected people is about defending the health welfare of children, and that none of these restrictions on who can marry have anything to do with denying anybody equal rights.

Had the "vote Yes" side waged this kind of campaign, I am quite certain that many of the people who voted "No" would have been persuaded to vote "Yes" no matter what their beliefs were about religion and God. People who understood the psychological pain that adopted children feel because of the absence of a bond with their biological parents, and who understood that adopting parents are not the cause of this pain but that couples (same-sex or otherwise) who use donated sperm or egg to conceive ARE the cause of this pain would have voted "Yes." The ones who would still have voted "No" would have been the people who think that the bond between a child and its biological mother and father counts for nothing. Such people are a very small minority.

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