• Christopher Tanner

Is there a Secular Reason to Be Against Gay Marriage?

Whether there are any legitimate arguments against gay marriage that do not ultimately come back to “it’s icky and God said so” is a question I see many atheists contemplating. Today, I am going to attempt to answer this question by looking at common criticisms I have seen people use against it. Of course if we really try hard enough, we could find reasons to be against gay marriage, the logical conclusions of such reasons would lead to a rather authoritarian society, which goes against many Western values such as freedom. As a result of these initial thoughts, gay marriage should probably be legalized.

I have looked through many sources, and most arguments against gay marriage ultimately come back to religion. Here, I will attempt to address only secular ones that do not seem to be based solely on religious beliefs. The website ProCon seems to do the best job at presenting arguments both for and against gay marriage, so I will focus my analysis by looking at this group of arguments.

“The institution of marriage has traditionally been defined as between a man and a woman.“

So what? One of the great things about secular morality is that it is supposed to serve us, and we can change our social institutions however we like to meet our goals. Marriage does not have to be defined this way, definitions can change.

“Allowing gay couples to wed will further weaken the institution of marriage.“

The rationale for this argument, based on Procon, seems to be that divorce rates already threaten the institution of marriage, and therefore redefining what marriage is weakens the institution even more. To this I say again: so what? Why would that be a bad thing? Marriage is an institution intended to serve us, and if it’s weakened by change, then so be it. Perhaps it is not such a strong and necessary social structure after all. It seems like proponents of this position seem once again motivated by the preservation of tradition, which is something I am completely unconcerned with. This article also mentions high divorce rates, which I do not see as particularly relevant, because let’s be honest, what does more to damage marriage: a gay couple that wants to spend the rest of their lives together, or Britney Spears’ 55 hour marriage?

“Gay marriage could potentially lead down a “slippery slope” giving people in polygamous, incestuous, bestial, and other nontraditional relationships the right to marry.”


This is just nonsensical. It is literally a fallacy, and the name of the fallacy is literally in the argument itself. Some of these forms of relationships, like bestiality, or pedophilia, which I hear people claim it would lead to at times, flat out would not happen. This is because gay marriage is about consent. Both parties consent to be married. The same cannot be said of an animal or a child. As long as we keep marriage among consenting adults, then that is fine. As for incestuous marriages, incest can actually be pretty damaging if children are involved, so I can see a compelling state interest in keeping it illegal. It does lead to a high level of birth defects after all.

Polyamorous marriages would either be sexist or too confusing to practically implement in my opinion. Traditional polyamorous marriages normally involve one man marrying multiple women; this generally involves the man being dominant over the women and the women not having the same rights. In an equal rights society, women would be able to marry other men, and men other women. This could lead to some pretty complex relationships going on. Person A and B would be married, but A would also be married to C and B to D. Those people could be married to more people, and so on and so forth.

What if all parties do not agree to such marriage? Should all parties agree to allow more people to enter a “marriage”? What would be the implications of multiple people getting married in this way? What about the public health risks, since STDs spread through such polyamorous relationships like wildfire? There are a lot of potential hurdles polygamy would need to overcome to be legalized in the first place, and these are issues that should be dealt with as they arise. Until then, we are talking about a relationship between two consenting adults, and I fail to see how such relationships are harmful to society. It seems to me people just naturally resist change or innately distrust new definitions.

“People should not have their tax dollars used to support something they believe is wrong.”

If you actually buy into this argument, my family would like all our money back spent on the Iraq War.

But seriously though, if people chose with their tax dollars what to support, some administrations would have too much money, and some would not have enough, and the government just would not work properly. This is an awful argument.

“Gay marriage may lead to more children being raised in same-sex households, which are not an optimum environment because children need both a mother and father. “

Looking at the explanation for this argument, it seems to conflate parents not being there with needing parents of specific sex roles. It points out girls without a father are more likely to become pregnant earlier than ones with one, but could this not be due to single parent households, and not homosexual households? It also mentions studies that people are more likely to be homosexual if they have homosexual parents, but as we know in modern times, being gay is not a choice. It is also funny that the argument cites that zero percent of people with heterosexual parents have homosexual relationships, but that could be due to a number of things, like being in the closet, or a poor sample size, for instance. In short, it appears that this argument relies on cherry-picked evidence that goes against current thinking on the subject.

“Gay marriage will accelerate the assimilation of gays into mainstream heterosexual culture to the detriment of the homosexual community.”

This argument is essentially that the “gay community” has a nice culture that will be assimilated and go away if we allow them to get married. My retort is,“So we should just discriminate against them instead?” Do we not want homosexuals to be integrated in our culture rather  than discriminated against? This seems to be a weak argument based more on fear than evidence.

“The institution of marriage is sexist and oppressive; it should not be expanded but weakened.”

This, in my opinion, is not an argument that should justify the discrimination of homosexuals. If we want to get rid of marriage, by all means do it. I am not necessarily opposed to getting rid of marriage. I’m very neutral on the institution and could care less if it survives in the future or not.  However, I think allowing homosexuals to get married would make marriage a lot less sexist in the first place because because when pre-established oppressive practices are challenged it is usually for the better..

“Same-sex marriage has undermined the institution of marriage in Scandinavia.”

This argument cites that fewer people got married in Scandinavia after gay marriage was legalized, and that there are more out of wedlock births. My counterargument is, once again, so what? What is so special about marriage if one is not religious? It is a social structure that is there for our benefit, and if we outgrow it, then so be it. There is also a possible case of correlation not equaling causation in this respect. Marriage may be weakening for other reasons, and it may simply be that the legalization of gay marriage is more indicative of society’s attitudes toward marriage to begin with, rather than gay marriage being a cause of marriage dying.

“Marriage is a privilege, not a right.”


Marriage is whatever we want it to be, as I have discussed above. Basically, this argument cites the fact that we established marriage to encourage procreation, but honestly, do we ever actually try to make people procreate? We do not discriminate against infertile or “childfree” couples and stop them from getting married, so why should we stop homosexuals? We value freedom in society over procreation, and it just seems silly to then turn around and discriminate against homosexuals.

“Marriage should not be extended to same-sex couples because they cannot produce children together.”

It is strange ProCon included this one after essentially hinting at it in the comments of the last one. Once again, in our society, we value freedom over forced procreation. It should also be mentioned gay people can adopt kids and care for them that way.

“Marriage is a religious rite between one man and one woman.”

Oh boy, here we go. I guess it was coming. Yes, marriage has a religious component to it, but we have a society based on separation of church and state too. Marriage is a civil matter if it involves the government, not a religious one, and while I would certainly allow people representing religious private institutions abstain from performing such marriage ceremonies as a token of enforcing separation of church and state and protecting religious rights, this is about making gay marriage legal, nothing more, nothing less. Homosexuals can always get married in their local courthouse.

“Gay marriage is incompatible with the beliefs, sacred texts, and traditions of many religious groups.”

Then once again, they do not have to get gay married or perform gay marriage ceremonies. This is not about them. This is about gay people having the same legal rights as everyone else. Religions should butt out of the public sphere and not tell other people how to live based on their dogmas. This is about freedom and equality. This is about two people wanting to live their lives as they want, without hurting anyone else. People should stop trying to control people based on personal beliefs that are apparently not grounded in reality.

“Same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue, and conflating the issue with interracial marriage is misleading“

This argument reads as if gay marriage should not be compared to interracial marriage because racial minorities have historically had it worse. Essentially the three characteristics used to meet this criteria are widespread discrimination, economic disadvantages, and characteristics that cannot be changed. To me, homosexuality does meet some of these characteristics. It is hard to discriminate against someone unless they’re open, but in the past, open homosexuals have had it bad. Some may have faced economic consequences due to their homosexuality for instance. I know this seems particularly prominent among the acting community, but it likely applies to other industries as well. Also, as argued above, being gay is not a choice, so the characteristics are indeed immutable.

Even if it were not a “civil rights” issue as defined so narrowly, does that justify the discrimination or make the cause to allow people to live their lives in peace any less noble? This is not a good argument against gay marriage; it is an argument intended to diminish the importance of the movement, and to essentially discredit it.

As we can see, the crop of arguments against gay marriage are pretty pathetic. Many seem based on religion, are appeals to traditional definitions of our institutions, or are based on slippery slope arguments. The attempts at more valid arguments, such as the idea that it is there to encourage the procreation of children, seem to have massive holes in it, and logically taking such points to their conclusion would lead to a massive loss of freedom. I really do not see any good arguments against gay marriage that are not based on cherry-picked information that can be easily refuted by a five second google search, do not make some logical fallacy, appeal to the status quo for the sake of appealing to the status quo. Quite frankly, this is an issue that should be pretty much resolved in this country, and it makes me sad that there is actually still an active discussion going on in the United States about it. It seems pretty clear that this debate should be settled, and that it should be legalized.

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