As a black woman, after the recent vote in North Carolina, I was struck by how the “black vote” on the issue was presented by commentators as a mainly religious response. Black Americans are fully vested in the American experience and have complex views just like everyone else. Yet, in order to explain why the majority of black voters chose to seemly go against their normal voting patterns on this issue, commentators seem reluctant to examine it past what they see as the only logical explanation. That if you are black and you go to church and you vote against gay marriage, your religious beliefs caused your vote.
I would like to set the matter straight and present the third reason blacks and non-blacks alike voted to keep the current definition of marriage as one man and one woman. It is because they have a healthy respect for the union as the only source for continued human existence, whether through marriage or not. I hope, as the debate continues, that it can be explored as more than simply an issue of religion or fear.
The “Against” Argument
Men and women are different. Marrying a woman is not the same as marrying a man. Therefore, a man/woman relationship is not the same thing as a man/man or woman/woman relationship. A society is not being unfair to make that distinction. It’s a real difference. The concept of marriage came from that difference. Marriage is the expression of the high esteem in which society holds the union of a man and a woman. Nothing’s perfect, but the union of a man and woman in marriage is taking two different types humans and making a whole new entity. That entity, marriage, is the foundation of all societies and it has served humankind well. The very essence of marriage is the joining of two halves, a man and a woman into a whole “marriage.” The esteem shown by society to the man/woman union is appropriate because no one on earth today got here outside the joining of the essence of a man and a woman.
The “For” Argument
Societies change, concepts evolve, and science has made things that were once impossible possible. Most people believe humans are more than their biology and a person’s inner being is not always reflected sufficiently by the body. Societies have used the biological outward expression of sex to make decisions about which relationships to endorse. As a general guideline, that has worked and for the most part still works. But, we know, that biology is not the whole story. Whether it’s nature or nurture, sometimes human sexual behavior does not fit the biology. The mores have expanded to reflect this new reality isn’t it time we changed laws in that direction also? Is there still the need to only endorse certain human behaviors through the constraints of biology?
The people, blacks and non-blacks, who voted to keep the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman don’t think it’s necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to acknowledge the changing mores surrounding sexual behavior. They believe there is a real and profound difference in the union of a man and a woman that makes it unique and worthy of a separate definition. For these voters, if either a man or woman is missing from a union, it’s not a marriage. Now that being said, I understand that this doesn’t mean that marriages are superior in character to same sex pairings. It just means that society endorses the biological fact, through the institution of marriage, that men and women are different and through that difference life is continued and affirmed.
I think most people can affirm the male/female relationship as something unique and special without thinking it hurts them or their cause. I also understand that people don’t just get married to have kids, some chose not to have kids and some can’t. However, as I acknowledged, people are not just physical characteristics, there is a male essence and female essence and society chooses to acknowledge those different essences whether or not it actually results in procreation. People are free to express and live their lives as they see fit with whom they see fit. However, society does not have a strong enough stake in non-marriage relationships and for the most part, people believe that government should remain neutral on those relationships.