Gay Marriage: The Myth of Governmental Neutrality

Often, when the topic of homosexual marriage comes up, there is an argument raised that suggests that even if we think marriage is between one man and one woman, we should not force our morality on others who disagree. The government, it is declared, should be neutral.

Now if we really spell this out, it quickly becomes apparent that governmental neutrality on this issue is impossible. The argument is essentially saying that since the government should be neutral, it should recognize, validate, and honor marriages between same-sex couples. But is a government that recognizes, validates, and honors same-sex marriages really neutral? Of course not, it is saying that same-sex marriages are valid, and if anyone refuses to recognize them the courts will step in to make sure that they do. In reality, the moral acceptance of gay marriage will be forced on people with differing moral views; the very thing that those who make this argument say the government should not do.

The crux of the argument is that the government should be neutral on controversial moral issues, but the absurdity of this becomes clear when we understand that the idea that “the state should be neutral on controversial moral issues,” is itself a controversial moral issue. Not everyone agrees with this. This would mean that the government should be neutral on whether it should be neutral or not, which is an absurd impossibility. Just like the idea that the government should be neutral on homosexual marriage.

Doug Eaton

13 thoughts on “Gay Marriage: The Myth of Governmental Neutrality

  1. Your blog addresses this issue – about homosexuality – more than any other blog I have read. 🙂

    I don’t mean that negatively, or insinuating anything. I was just saying.

    Interesting thoughts to consider.


  2. Homosexuality and the rights of homosexuals is still largely a controversial issue that has caused a lot of debates, often very heated ones. A few issues need to be considered when we debate about issues of homosexuality and its place in society. One such issue is whether we should be objective or subjective in our approach and considerations, or perhaps we should incorporate a careful blend of both. In one of my posts called Response to Homosexuality I comment on an article posted by another author. Am I being subject or objective? It is difficult even for me.


  3. Scottl,

    The reason you are getting a heavier dose than usual on this topic is because it is on the ballot here in California. We are being bombarded with tv ads, signs and posters every day promoting it.



  4. First, the government injects morality into society every time it makes a law. Second, your arguments are almost identical to those made be segregationist supporters of illegal miscegenation, or the marriage of people of two different races. By this I do not mean to insinuate that you are a racist, merely point out that the Equal Protection Clause was applied there and it should be applied here.

    I am at a loss to understand why you Christians are so up in arms over a civil matter that has absolutely nothing to do with your ritual integrity. The First Amendment guarantees your right to be as wrong about homosexuality as you have been for the last two thousand years, so why are you in such a lather. Do you think that the exercise of free agents, damned or otherwise, can possibly have any effect on you. Those of us outside the ecclesia are not bound by its strictures. We follow different philosophies and should be able to marry, particularly after Brown v. Texas.


  5. Can we stop using terms like “homosexual”? If I refered to heterosexuals as “HETERO-SEXUALS” in every sentence, you’d be annoyed, no?

    Do you really NOT see the spirit, the SOUL behind the expression of sexuality, which for many of us is an expression of a deep and God-like love?

    Why not “homo-loving”? God instilled in me the ORIENTATION to fall in love with the same gender. We are persecuted because of our LOVE. How immoral.


  6. please help me understand why this does not work. marriage remains a religious tradition and can be celebrated/practiced as religions want without interference by government. likewise, the legal contract ordained by a “marriage license” (probably should be renamed, e.g. “union license”), is the domain of federal government (since equal rights/protection are at stake here, not state governments), providing certain advantaged instruments (i.e., joint tax return) to the union of two people.

    i see the two as very separate (especially being a wacky aethist and all).

    i’ve never heard an argument to this that makes any sense. please provide me one. maybe i’m missing something, and i always enjoy a thoughtful debate.


  7. It is the governments responcibility to be the leader! Would it be ok if our President was gay and engaged in a same sex marriage!!!No it wouldnt! The bible says homosexuallity is an abomination! It would do our nation good if we started to listen to our bibles again! To pray to god to release our country from bondage!


  8. Here’s why I am a Christian and pro- gay marriage.

    It’s simple. A civil marriage– which is what government-ordained marriage is– says nothing to my faith or to my marriage. It is Caesar’s. My marriage will be based on a crux of faith, not of a slip of paper. That slip of paper is Caesar’s and we are called to give to Caesar what is his. But my marriage– my union with another’s soul– that is God’s. And I will give that over to God.

    In other words: I have no problem with two consenting adults choosing to express their love with a slip of paper. The government is not the moral authority, God is, and by claiming that the government should ordain morality, you are giving Caesar his due, not God.

    Comment #5,6,7– there are Christians who agree with you 100%. And I’m sorry that Christianity has been used as a weapon against you. I truly am. If it matters at all, I fought for “No on 8!” immediately after church several Sundays. Christianity is not exclusively for heterosexuals or for bigots. There is a lot of good within the religion, and I hope someday the church will return to those roots. You’re starting to see it with churches getting involved in AIDS work, 30 years too late.


  9. Carolyn,

    Thanks for your comment. Based on your final paragraph, it seems that your real reason for wanting to recognize homosexual marriage is because you do not see it as immoral and therefore see it as producing no ill effects on society.

    As to your comment that government is not to ordain morality, if you really believe that, then, since equality is clearly a moral issue, the government should not step in and ordain it, because if it did it would be doing God’s role.

    And if moraliy is not the basis for law, then law has no real basis other than what the people want and choose. And in this case they chose to not recognize homosexual marriages and that it does not violate equality. It seems like your thoughts lead to some unwanted conclusions.



  10. Hi Doug,

    I thank you for missing my point entirely, and focusing solely on my last paragraph, which was designed to bring back into the church those you– and others like you– have alienated. I don’t think that gay marriage creates any more ill effect on society than two people who get married, have kids, and get divorced, no. The Bible loudly calls that out as a sin, yet churches quietly counsel their heterosexual congregants who are divorced. Churches march against gay marriage. Maybe it’d be better if we, as a church, were known for what we’re for (Jesus and supporting the poor and disaffiliated) than what we’re against. Maybe it’d be better if we offered support to married, dating, and single people, whatever sin they are struggling with (lust, gluttony, greed, etc). It’s hypocritical to criticize the lives of those who are not Christians when there is so much sin within the church. We are called to pick up our cross and follow Him, not to tack others’ crosses on for them.

    First off, the role of the government is absolutely not to legislate morality. We are not a Christian nation. However, the country is based on equality. That is not a moral issue; that is in our Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”). Over time, the definition of that equality has expanded from rich, European males of a certain social class to include women, the disabled, the poor, blacks, and truly all men.

    So your argument falls a little flat. The government is not put in place to legislate morality. It is, however, put in place to legislate its founding documents, which includes the Declaration of Independence, and thus, equality. Equality is not a moral issue. It is a legal one; that’s why we have the ADA, the Civil Rights Act, etc.

    I agree with you, however, that the law is based on what the populace wants. However, that does not inherently make it Constitutional. Let’s say that a state wanted to keep couples who do not have parental permission from getting married. The voting population is overwhelmingly for this idea; they even have some scripture they think justify their position. However, it is the Supreme Court’s obligation to overturn this law as being unconstitutional, as it violates the rights of the individual adult. Similarly, the Supreme Court is bound to assuring equality (assuming it does not infringe on the individual rights of another). That’s the beauty of checks and balances: I don’t think that Prop 8 is the end, nor do I think the eventual court case will be the end. I really do love that about our country.


  11. Hi Carolyn,

    You said, “the role of the government is absolutely not to legislate morality. We are not a Christian nation. However, the country is based on equality. That is not a moral issue; that is in our Declaration of Independence (”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”).”

    I’m sure you understand that our founding documents are in fact legislation, and they legislated the way they did because they understood the moral imperatives given to us by “nature and nature’s God.” The point is this, our beloved constitution, and other founding documents we are bound to honor, are in fact themselves, legislated morality.

    Also, if equality is a concept that has no limits, then along with equality for homosexuals you must also be fighting for equality for polygamists and incestual relationships who love each other. If you don’t, then even you agree that the term equality has limits.



  12. I think everyone is becoming confused and polarized over what are the thinnest of semantic distinctions. Government *is* morality. It is a primary function of government to create legislation which is the practical application of moral principles. Justice, the twin goals of both any moral system and pluralistic method of government–do we need to unpack the moral nature of the act of governance itself? The First Amendment of the US Constitution is not an escape or withdrawal from the business of morality is it merely the liberation of any set system of moral principles allied to a particular religious tradition.

    Look, the vocabulary of government, adjudication and morality are identical. Courts, invested by a particular government, which rules through the assent of the people, pronounce guilt, they declare innocence, they produce sentences of punishment and promote ideals of how good citizens should and must not live. What could be more explicitly moral? While it is true that our nation at the time of its founding was unique among its European forebearers in its rejection of a particular, linear religious tradition, nonetheless, in an effort to resolve the potential chaos of so many contradictory systems of morality expressed by the various religious traditions extent in the colonies, that the government developed its own moral code, one drawn from an almost spiritual notion of self-evidence in the field of human rights and freedoms. From a notion that the People alone had the authority to create a system worthy of their loyalty, a dynamic and living body of moral codes and ethical structure was composed, changed and reinterpreted. No one who reads our nation’s founding documents could be deceived that they are anything but moral expressions!

    It is true that the genesis of this morality is only ceremonially supernatural and the exercise of its civic compromise is conducted by a machine composed of a self-regulating system of evolving community standards, rational debate and representative administration. It was never intended to be the application of a set of laws and standards that originated in faith-based claims drawn from supernatural revelation, but this is the only real distinction. All laws are inherently moral in their conception and application, so I think that it’s important that we dispense with this erroneous notion that somehow governments that we create, maintain and obey act in an intentional moral vacum.

    The question is not whether government has moral authority. For us Americans government is the *ultimate* moral authority in terms of our interactions with one another. The question is what role we as citizens have in determining the limits of one another’s rights. I would argue that if you claim a right for yourself, to marry another consenting adult for example, then you are compelled to extend that same right to me regardless of the gender that defines my choice. It is not a question of how you feel that choice will ultimately be judged in some conceived afterlife or supernatural systems of right and wrong.

    Personally, I have no problem with the notion, conceptually at any rate, that any Christian that teaches their children to believe something based on little to no evidence, is patently immoral. However, that belief, though extremely important to me and a value that I defend, has little relevance in the moral system that I uphold in my civic government. It is just as possible and just as morally defendable for a Christian to determine alone or in concert with their faith community that I, as an atheist, am comitting an immoral act should I attempt to tell my children that Christianity is a lie when I have no more evidence to defend that proposition than Christian would to oppose it.

    It is because we understand the value of extending to our human brothers and sisters the rights that we cherish for ourselves that our secular system of morals has become so terribly important to us. In that spirit, it is that absolute right for anyone to determine that should I, as a man, marry another man, I might be committing an act of unspeakable moral outrage. But to reserve that right for oneself while withholding it from another is the height of hypocrisy. Defenses composed of historical meanderings are ridiculous since such a defense could easily return our nation to a system of exclusive male sufferage or slavery. Defenses based within bean counts are offensive since only a portion of the country votes in any given election, but more fundamentally because there is a limit, wisely imposed, on how much we can erode the rights of our fellow citizens while retaining a superior position for ourselves.

    The Supreme Court of the State of California acted within its legal and MORAL rights when it declared unconstitutional and, therefore, unjust (read: wrong!) the extent system of marriage based on exclusively heterosexual models. The voters on November 4th who struck down that ruling in an odious attempt at constitutional revision based entirely on their own individual or corporate bigotry, were acting legally. Since they succeeded in robbing me of my rights while reserving that same right for themselves, I feel it does not meet an appropriate standard of equity necessary in the proper functioning of our civic sense of right and wrong. It remains to be scene if the current legal/moral arbiters agree.

    And Doug, enough with the retarded comparisons of homosexual marriage to polygamy and incest. (I’m shocked you didn’t throw in the traditional canard of bestiality into the soup.) You sense of equity is off. No one who supports gay marriage is arguing that we should also have gay plural marriages or that there should be some legal ability for brothers or sisters to marry. So your slap at Carolyn is not only flaccid, it’s a deceptive attempt at building a straw man argument.


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