At the root of their argument is an arbitrary definition of marriage using a “conjugal view,” which asserts that there’s something unique about how a man’s penis and woman’s vagina interact — even if they’re infertile — such that marriage must be preserved exclusively for heterosexual couples. Gloating that “there is no inequality in treating fundamentally different sorts of bonds differently,” the authors suggest that none of the legal benefits of marriage require marriage anyway:
But traditional marriage law denies these companionate ideals to no one. It does not discourage anyone from seeking them. Its more specific view of what makes a marriage can even liberate us for emotional intimacy in other bonds. And even if companionate bonds are impaired if deprived of public status, it does not follow that they require legal status. Remarkably, then, one of the most common and powerfully felt objections to conjugal-marriage policy is also one of the easiest to answer. The law simply has much less to do with this than people commonly suppose. We can unpack this all.
Note first that, however the debate about redefining marriage is resolved, two men or two women will still be free to live together, with or without a sexual relationship or a wedding ceremony. (None of this is true, for example, of bigamy or polygamy — crimes rightly punishable by imprisonment.) The debate about same-sex civil marriage is not about anyone’s private behavior, but about legal recognition. The decision to honor conjugal marriage bans nothing.
The line of thinking here mirrors other arguments Anderson has made that opposition to same-sex marriage has nothing to with gay people whatsoever. The authors seem to at least concede that there will always be gay people and same-sex families, but they then proceed to simultaneously erase the lived experience that these families face.
It’s true that through various legal contracts, same-sex couples can access some legal connections between them in some states. Doing so comes at significant legal costs and complications, and even then, they’re not always recognized, as was disturbingly demonstrated by the Missouri couple that was denied hospital visitation despite having power of attorney. All of the protections society grants to committed lifelong partners are defined in the law by “marriage,” and the sole purpose of the marriage equality movement is to ensure that same-sex couples have the same access to those protections for each other and for their children. George, Anderson, and Shirif are either oblivious to the inequitable complications same-sex couples face without access to legal marriage or they are intentionally distorting the truth just to make it seem like not so big a deal.
The attempts by opponents of marriage equality to not sound anti-gay have painted them into strange rhetorical corners, such as having to argue against adoption, even by straight couples. What’s striking is that in their attempts to “protect” marriage from “redefinition,” they themselves are the ones who have redefined it. In this argument, they admit it has nothing to do with legal benefits. By defending infertile straight couples, they admit it has nothing to do with having children. By claiming it has “always been defined as a man and a woman,” they’re admitting it has nothing to do with “tradition” or the Bible. They’ve essentially dismantled every aspect of marriage such that it means nothing except to promote heterosexual supremacy and homosexual inferiority. Of course, that’s all that they’ve really ever argued for anyway.