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Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Defended on Moral Terms, Not Economic Ones

Mark D. White

Sociologist Jaye Cee Whitehead (Pacific University) has a wonderful piece in The New York Times today titled "The Wrong Reasons for Same-Sex Marriage," arguing that the recent arguments espousing the economic benefits of same-sex marriage for cash-strapped states and municipalities miss the point:

Those making these economic arguments probably have the best of intentions. After all, why can’t gays and lesbians have full equality, while also saving the state money and bolstering local economies? Aren’t civil rights narratives consistent with the economic case for same-sex marriage? Shouldn’t supporters use all possible arguments in the hopes that at least one will finally stick?

And yet supporting marriage on economic grounds dehumanizes same-sex couples by conflating civil rights with economic perks. Americans should be offended when the value of gays and lesbians is reduced to their buying power as consumers or their human and creative capital as workers.

Why can’t same-sex couples have access to the same rights and protections as their straight neighbors simply because they are citizens? How would we respond if the right to interracial marriage were based on the prospects that these relationships made good business sense or added to the state budget? While economic arguments were certainly advanced during the struggle for African-American civil rights — in the late 1950s, Atlanta’s business-oriented mayor, William B. Hartsfield, promoted his city as being “too busy to hate” — those rationales are not what we think about when we remember that struggle’s highest ideals.

I made a similar point in my paper "Same-Sex Marriage: The Irrelevance of the Economic Approach to Law," aimed more at academic economic arguments than popular ones, but with the same general thesis: that the argument for same-sex marriage is properly a moral one, based on dignity and equality, not an essentially contingent cost-benefit calculation (particularly one based on current economic conditions).

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