The John Jay Institute, a leadership think tank for religious conservatives, has published a new guide full of talking point suggestions for people opposed to marriage equality for same-sex couples. Championed by the National Organization for Marriage, the new guide, written by Nathan Hitchen, features some bizarre rhetorical strategies for trying to sway people from appreciating how same-sex couples and their families would benefit from access to marriage. Here are five of the strangest ideas:
Highlight Gays Against Gay Marriage
One of the first ideas the guide proposes is to “elevate as spokesmen gay Americans who oppose redefining marriage.” There surely are some gay people who oppose gay rights, but they fail to represent the gay community in any plausible way. NOM has so far only found two, Doug Mainwaring and Robert Oscar Lopez, both of whom live ex-gay lives and engage in some very radical rhetoric. Given that they reject the very identities that supposedly give their positions more meaning, it’s unclear whether their stories even count toward this strategy.
Plenty of other group exceptions can surely be found throughout history, like undocumented immigrants who oppose a path to citizenship, women who oppose voting rights, or people of color who supported slavery. None of these examples have added merit to the arguments they were trying to make.
Become A Pro-Orphans Movement
The guide suggests that changing the narrative could “shift the footing” for equality advocates, and one such change could be “a pro-orphans movement dedicated to emptying the foster care system in a defined timeframe (e.g., ten years) by providing stable homes to orphans.” Emphasizing a “commonly accepted problem,” Hitchen argues, would force the debate to focus on the idea that “marriage’s public purpose is oriented to child rearing in intact families.”
Of course, many same-sex couples are already raising children, a point conservatives regularly ignore. Those families would probably be happy to help empty the foster care system. That argument, though, reminds of the importance of making sure those families have the same legal protections of marriage as other families. It’s unclear how this diversionary tactic helps conservatives avoid the obvious inherent flaw.
Portray Children Of Same-Sex Couples As Victims
The guide hopes that opponents of equality will coin memes, and one it suggests is “Changing Marriage Creates Inequality,” which could be used to “amplify stories of inferior outcomes of children raised without a father and a mother together.” This is one of the most problematic strategies opponents already use: emphasizing research about single mothers or using research that makes fraudulent claims about same-sex parenting to make a case against such families.
The actual children raised in same-sex families tell a very different story than the myths implied with such a meme.
Tell “Bigger, Better Stories” About Moms And Dads
Hitchen suggests that there should be more stories about how moms and dads are unique heroes. Advocates could tell “Why I’m here” stories about “how vital married moms and dads are for the health of their children.” The example he provides is someone telling a story about when his friends divorced and how his parents’ intact marriage taught him an important lesson. Apparently the irony of such an example is lost on Hitchen. Nowhere in the document is there a single example of what makes heterosexual parents unique.
Use Metaphors Like “An Infertile Marriage Is A Profitless Company”
The guide offers several odd metaphors to frame the debate against marriage equality. One suggestion to counter arguments about infertile heterosexual couples is, “an infertile marriage is a profitless company” — it’s just like a business that was properly incorporated as a “valid commercial enterprise” but just failed to turn a profit. Besides being insulting to infertile couples, this metaphor ignores adoption and doesn’t seem to explain why a same-sex couple’s “enterprise” would be any less valid.
Another recommended metaphor is “A marriage is a public structure,” which emphasizes that marriage is just like any other infrastructure that supports the common good. Again, there’s no explanation as to why this wouldn’t equally apply to same-sex couples and their families.
One other suggested metaphor is that “heterosexual unions have unique needs” that separate them from same-sex couples. This is basically the argument that straight people need marriage and its social pressures to keep them together and connected to their children. If same-sex couples don’t “need” marriage, perhaps they are all the more deserving of such legal protections.
Ultimately, this new guide — with its appeals to emotions, narratives, stories, metaphors, and memes — offers nothing new. Some of these ideas are new variations on old themes, but they are no more difficult to debunk — just harder to even make sense of. As always, the talking points ignore the lived experiences of gays and lesbians and their families, preferring to emphasize values that simply imply the superiority of heterosexual couples. It’s a losing cause, and opponents of marriage equality do not show much promise for the future of their fight.