A secular case against same-sex marriage

Marriage and family

Note: this post has a twin! Its companion post on a secular case against abortion rights is here.

Roxeanne de Luca challenged socially conservative bloggers to write a non-religious case against same-sex marriage, so here’s mine.

I can’t possible cover everything, but I will make three arguments.

  1. Same-sex marriage is bad for children
  2. Same-sex marriage is bad for civil society and business
  3. Same-sex marriage is bad for public health

Let’s look at these in order.

1. SSM is bad for children

Traditional marriage is beneficial for children for 4 reasons:

  • traditional marriages last longer than same-sex unions
  • traditional marriages are more peaceful than same-sex unions
  • traditional marriages offer children male and female influences
  • traditional marriages model life-long love between men and women

Space permits me to only discuss the first two, using this paper from the Family Research Council, which cites data from mainstream sources like the Department of Justice, peer-reviewed studies, etc.

That research paper compares same-sex couples and heterosexual married couples, in the following ways:

  • relationship duration
  • monogamy vs. promiscuity
  • relationship commitment
  • number of children being raised
  • health risks
  • rates of intimate partner violence

It turns out that same-sex unions are not as good for children as traditional marriage, on those measures.

Relationship duration

Claim: about 58% of traditional marriages last longer than 20 years.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001)

Claim: about 5% of same-sex unions last longer than 20 years.

Source: 2003-2004 Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census

Monogamy vs Promiscuity

Claim: 85% of married women and 75.5% of married men report being faithful to their spouses. For homosexual males, the number is 4.5%

Sources: Laumann, The Social Organization of Sexuality, 216; McWhirter and Mattison, The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop (1984): 252-253; Wiederman, “Extramarital Sex,” 170.

Rates of intimate partner violence

Intimate Partner Violence

Married men and women experience significantly less intimate partner violence than do homosexual men and women.

Sources: “Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence,” U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: 30; “Intimate Partner Violence,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report:11.

There is a lot more evidence cited in the research paper. Read the whole thing.

Consider this article by Dr. Trayce Hansen about which family configuration is best for children. The title is “Same-Sex Marriage: Not in the Best Interest of Children”.


Only mother-father families afford children the opportunity to develop relationships with a parent of the same, as well as the opposite sex. Relationships with both sexes early in life make it easier and more comfortable for a child to relate to both sexes later in life. Overall, having a relationship with both a male and female parent increases the likelihood that a child will have successful social and romantic relationships during his or her life.(5)

Moreover, existing research on children reared by homosexuals is not only scientifically flawed and extremely limited (6,7,8) but some of it actually indicates that those children are at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes.(6) Other studies find that homosexually parented children are more likely to experiment sexually, experience sexual confusion, and engage in homosexual and bisexual behavior themselves.(5,6,9) And for those children who later engage in non-heterosexual behavior, extensive research reveals they are more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders, abuse alcohol and drugs, (10) attempt suicide, (11) experience domestic violence and sexual assault, (12) and are at increased risk for chronic diseases, AIDS, and shortened life spans.(13,14,15)

It shouldn’t be surprising that studies find children reared by homosexuals are more likely to engage in homosexual behavior themselves (16,9,17) since extensive worldwide research reveals homosexuality is primarily environmentally induced. Specifically, social and/or family factors, as well as permissive environments which affirm homosexuality, play major environmental roles in the development of homosexual behavior.(18,19,20,21)

The rest of the article, with references, is here.

Research from the Heritage Foundation shows that traditional marriage is the safest place for women and children – women and children are much less likely to be the victims of domestic violence or violent crime when they are in a married home. Another Heritage Foundation research paper shows that child poverty is greatly reduced when children grow up in a married home.

So what do we learn from this? The evidence is clear: traditional marriage is better for children than same-sex marriage.

2. SSM is bad for civil society and business

SSM will increase the power of the state to regulate civil society and business. Let me quickly summarize the evidence for this to give you an idea how it would work, using Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse’s testimony to the Rhode Island legislature.


Far from limiting the power of the state, your version of equality has become a tool for the hostile takeover of civil society by the state. Churches are already under attack for daring to dissent from the new state-imposed Orthodoxy that marriage is whatever the government says it is.7

Parents are losing the right to direct the education of their own children.8 Foster parents in the UK must submit to the state’s views about marriage.9 Reputable adoption agencies have been put out of business.

And the pettiness of some of the complaints brought by same sex couples is simply staggering. Christian bed and breakfast owners have been sued for not allowing unmarried couples to stay in double rooms. They would have gladly rented them separate rooms, but that was not good enough for the thought police.10 Same sex couples have brought legal complaints against wedding photographers, as if there were a constitutional right to have your picture taken by the person of your choice.11

The details of the events she is describing can be found in the references for her speech.

Here are a few more examples of this infringement on civil society and business:

Notice how same-sex marriage impacts businesses, clergy, non-profits, etc. and even leads to polygamy. Once you decide that marriage is not about putting guidelines around sex and producing and nurturing the next generation, but about letting consenting adults do whatever they want, then there are no rules.

Now consider this article about how the breakdown of marriage changes society and government, written by Dr. Frank Turek.


The law is a great teacher, and same sex marriage will teach future generations that marriage is not about children but about coupling. When marriage becomes nothing more than coupling, fewer people will get married to have children.

So what? People will still have children, of course, but many more of them out-of wedlock. That’s a disaster for everyone. Children will be hurt because illegitimate parents (there are no illegitimate children) often never form a family, and those that “shack up” break up at a rate two to three times that of married parents. Society will be hurt because illegitimacy starts a chain of negative effects that fall like dominoes—illegitimacy leads to poverty, crime, and higher welfare costs which lead to bigger government, higher taxes, and a slower economy.

Are these just the hysterical cries of an alarmist? No. We can see the connection between same-sex marriage and illegitimacy in Scandinavian countries. Norway, for example, has had de-facto same-sex marriage since the early nineties. In Nordland,the most liberal county of Norway, where they fly “gay” rainbow flags over their churches, out-of-wedlock births have soared—more than 80percent of women giving birth for the first time, and nearly 70 percent of all children, are born out of wedlock! Across all of Norway, illegitimacy rose from 39 percent to 50 percent in the first decade of same-sex marriage.

Anthropologist Stanley Kurtz writes,“When we look at Nordland and Nord-Troendelag — the Vermont and Massachusetts of Norway — we are peering as far as we can into the future of marriage in a world where gay marriage is almost totally accepted. What we see is a place where marriage itself has almost totally disappeared.” He asserts that “Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable.” But it’s not just Norway. Blankenhorn reports this same trend in other countries. International surveys show that same-sex marriage and the erosion of traditional marriage tend to go together. Traditional marriage is weakest and illegitimacy strongest wherever same-sex marriage is legal. 

You might say, “Correlation doesn’t always indicate causation!” Yes, but often it does. Is there any doubt that liberalizing marriage laws impacts society for the worse? You need look no further than the last 40 years of no-fault divorce laws in the United States (family disintegration destroys lives and now costs taxpayers $112 billion per year!).

No-fault divorce laws began in one state, California, and then spread to rest of the country. Those liberalized divorce laws helped change our attitudes and behaviors about the permanence of marriage. There’s no question that liberalized marriage laws will help change our attitudes and behaviors about the purpose of marriage. The law is a great teacher, and if same-sex marriage advocates have their way, children will be expelled from the lesson on marriage.

So there are financial and social costs to the breakdown of marriage. The more government has to spend to deal with the problems SSM creates, the higher taxes will go, and the less money is left in the hands of working families to accomplish their own plans.

To be fair, I think that sex education and no-fault divorce are worse threats to marriage than same-sex marriage. I would like to see more research to persuade people that chastity before marriage is important, like this research , so that we could see our way clear to push for policies that encourage young people to wait longer before having sex. And I would like to see other measures taken to strengthen marriage from no-fault divorce, such as a shared parenting laws. But SSM is the current topic, so I’ll stick with that here.

3. SSM is bad for public health

Now we come to the sensitive part. We should not be encouraging SSM because it normalizes homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle is associated with harmful behaviors.

Consider this recent Centers for Disease Control study. Life Site News discusses the findings in this article.


Students who report being gay or bisexual are more likely than heterosexual students to engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual risk behaviors, suicidal behaviors, and violence, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study reported: “the prevalence among gay or lesbian students was higher than the prevalence among heterosexual students for a median of 63.8% of all the risk behaviors measured, and the prevalence among bisexual students was higher than the prevalence among heterosexual students for a median of 76.0% of all the risk behaviors measured.”

Specifically, gay or lesbian students had higher rates for seven of the 10 health risk categories (behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management).

The study also found that only 1.3% of students self-identified as gay or lesbian at the eight sites where they were asked their “sexual identity.” A median of 3.7% said they were bisexual.

Researchers analyzed data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted during 2001–2009 in seven states and six large urban school districts. These sites collected data on high school students’ sexual identity (heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual, or unsure), sex of sexual contacts (sexual contact with the opposite sex only, with the same sex only, or with both sexes), or both.

The study, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 in Selected Sites—Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2001–2009,” was published as a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary.

Dr. Trayce Hansen summarizes some of the previously published research on the health care effects of the gay lifestyle.


Non-heterosexual behavior leads to increased risk of psychological and physical disorders

Sadly, the research is also clear that individuals who adopt non-heterosexual lifestyles are more likely to suffer from a host of negative outcomes including psychiatric disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide attempts, domestic violence and sexual assault, and increased risk for chronic diseases, AIDS, and shortened lifespan. Schools should not affirm and thereby encourage young people to adopt lifestyles more likely to lead to such devastation. (To review these specific studies see references 5-10 below).

The footnotes she mentions are in the original article. That article also debunks the “gay gene” myth using identical twin studies, which show that only 10-11% of identical twins have the same sexual orientation.

Consider how society treats the practice of cigarette smoking. Certainly, we don’t want to coerce people into not smoking – we want them to have the choice. But we should definitely not lie to people about the health effects of smoking. It does no good to tell people that dangerous things are not really dangerous. I would rather hurt someone’s feelings gently by telling them the truth than see them suffer real harm after telling them lies.


In conclusion, we have seen three reasons why we should not legalize same-sex marriage:

  1. Same-sex marriage is bad for children
  2. Same-sex marriage is bad for civil society and business
  3. Same-sex marriage is bad for public health

Notice that there are no arguments in this post that require a religious worldview or belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.


Further study

For a more academic case against SSM, see this peer-reviewed paper on traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, authored by two guys from Princeton University and one guy from the University of Notredame. One of those guys is the famous Robert P. George. For some simple, practical tips on defending traditional marriage, check out this tip sheet from the National Organization for Marriage. Here’s another good peer-reviewed paper in the Harvard University Journal of Law and Public Policy. And of course there are the two recent large-scale studies on gay parenting outcomes, and responses to the criticisms of those studies.

You can also watch the videos from a formal academic debate on same-sex marriage held at the University of Central Florida, featuring Dr. Michael Brown. Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse also debated same-sex marriage at Columbia University in a formal academic debate. You can see her give a lecture on same-sex marriage at Houston Baptist University here, as well.

25 thoughts on “A secular case against same-sex marriage”

  1. Some time ago, I posted a link in an IT forum to this post due to some people saying that one cannot be against same sex marriage for secular reasons. The following is the response I received (back in the fall of 2011). I didn’t respond because I said I wouldn’t respond to it in my op because it wasn’t my work and I’m not very good at arguing against same-sex marriage.

    “1. Same-sex marriage is bad for children
    2. Same-sex marriage is bad for civil society and business
    3. Same-sex marriage is bad for public health”

    Number one assumes children are involved. We’ve already pointed out that not all marriages are about having children. For the sake of the discussion, I’ll grant that a pair of heterosexual parents is the preferred model. I won’t grant that a pair of loving homosexual parents is inferior (or superior) to a single parent household. I’ll maintain a stable set of homosexual parents are superior to a heterosexual household where one spouse abuses the other or the children, to a series of heterosexual foster parents, or any number of other family arrangements that exist today.

    The article also makes the point that hetero marriage last longer. Last time I checked, hetero marriages in the US are only batting .500, so ‘we’ aren’t doing too well ourselves. Surely the minority of married homosexuals can’t have damaged the institution in the last few decades as much as the heretosexual majority have inflicted on it over the millennia.

    The second point, about business, raises many outrageous lawsuits. Frankly, outrageous lawsuits in the US are a dime a dozen. Many groups use the legal system to advance their causes, for better or worse. From the same section,

    “The law is a great teacher, and same sex marriage will teach future generations that marriage is not about children but about coupling. When marriage becomes nothing more than coupling, fewer people will get married to have children.”

    Again, the assumption that marriage is about children, not about love; and the assumption that a marriage without children is strictly about sex. Also,

    “Norway, for example, has had de-facto same-sex marriage since the early nineties. In Nordland,the most liberal county of Norway, where they fly gay rainbow flags over their churches, out-of-wedlock births have soared”

    Not a single one of those out-of-wedlock births occurred to a homosexual couple. If homosexuals are getting married and heterosexual are not, who are the ones degrading the institution; those who seek to enter it, or those who shun and deny it?

    It doesn’t matter who the government allows to declare themselves married; it cannot affect my marriage (or yours) in any way. No one can weaken, damage, cheapen, or destroy a marriage except the two people involved. The institution would be in far better shape if more couples focused on their own marriages and ignored the (potential) marriages of others.

    As to number three, alcohol and tobacco do more damage to the public health than homosexuality. How about spousal abuse between heterosexual couples? There are multiple programs to protect spouses from their abusers.


    1. At the very least, even if all his points above are valid (and I don’t think they all are), it still stands that this is a case against ssm based on non-religious arguments. That needs to be pointed out. The discussion on the merits of the arguments is thus happening in the public square, not based on divine revelation…which is exactly as it should be.


    2. Um, that’s self-contradictory, you see.

      Point 1: legalising gay marriage increased the rate of out-of-wedlock births.
      Point 2: legalising gay marriage does not affect straight couples.

      Now, correlation does not equal causation, but those two points more logically argue in favour of traditional marriage (i.e. when we further attenuate marriage and childbearing by allowing inherently sterile couples to wed, we further attenuate marriage and childbearing for fertile couples), not againsti t.


  2. I only have one question, then a possible follow-on question:

    If additional scientific studies refuted your three points, would you change your mind and support SSM?

    If not, what would convince you to change your mind about SSM?


  3. Hi, WK.

    I have a few worries about your argument, both in terms of logical structure and in the specific substantive claims you make as premises. I’m giving an exam today, so I will have to be brief. Please forgive the hasty comments below.

    First, in terms of structure, your argument, generalized, runs like this (and please forgive and correct me if I’m wrong):

    If X is bad for children, or
    If X is bad for civil society and business, or
    If X is bad for public health, then
    there is reason to hold that X should not be legal.

    I structure this a disjunctive, because it would seem arbitrary if you insisted that it must be a conjunct of at least these three things to generate reasons to think it should not be legal. So, in other words, I take it that if it became the case that SSM was no longer bad for public health (i.e. granting your claim for the sake of argument), then you’d still hold that SSM should not be legal based on the other two reasons.

    The structural problem, then, seems to be that it is susceptible to any number of reductio arguments. For example, smoking is bad for public heath, so smoking should not be legal. Eating junk food is bad for public health, so junk food should not be legal. Employment opportunities for women seem to have an adverse effect on fidelity (i.e. in countries in which women have few or no economic opportunities [e.g. many countries int he Middle East], there is very little divorce, but in the US where women enjoy more opportunities, there is more divorce [I’ve read a study on this specifically, but I don’t have time to look it up now], therefore employment opportunities for women should not be legal. And, say that we find a particular socioeconomic or racial group that has a higher divorce rate than others; your argument would give us reason to deny even traditional marriage to that group. Surely, though, these restrictions are clearly wrong, but they follow the logical structure of your argument, resulting in a reductio ad absurdum.

    Even more basically, it seems to me highly objectionable that if X has certain bad consequences, then we have reasons to believe X should not be legal. I think publishing, selling, and distributing racist literature has many bad social consequences, as does smoking, misogynistic sentiments, etc., but it is not at all clear to me that these should not be legal. I take it that freedom requires the legality of some things that are not good for society. This leads me to believe there is a serious structural problem for your argument.

    Secondly, it seems to me that social forces are at work in each of your specific premises, and it is those forces, not an intrinsic feature of same sex relationships, that is to blame *if* these points are even true.

    For your first point (i.e. “SSM is bad for children”), you list four benefits for children, and go on to elaborate on two of them (viz. traditional marriages last longer than same-sex unions and traditional marriages are more peaceful than same-sex unions). I have a few worries about these ideas. First, we can argue the structure again. Say that a certain socioeconomic group or racial group have shorter marriages than others (e.g. hollywood actors and actresses) or are less peaceful than others; this would give us reason to think that those (even traditional) marriages should not be legal, but this seems to be a reductio argument as well.

    Secondly, it seems to me that the oppression, ostracization, and social rejection of homosexuals is what makes it true (if it is true) that same sex marriages don’t last as long as others and are less peaceable (if that is true). Same sex couples often face the rejection of their friends and family and society as a whole. There is virtually no social pressure to stay together, in fact there is typically social pressure to split up. It should be obvious that social forces have a lot to do with divorce rates just by looking at statistics by country and religion. Muslims have a very low divorce rate compared to other religious groups, and Asians have a very low divorce rate compared to other ethnicities. Certain countries have extremely low divorce rates (e.g. Sri Lanka), while other countries have very high divorce rates (e.g. the US). If social forces are in large part responsible for marriage fidelity, then it should come as no surprise that groups that receive no positive social pressure, and much negative social pressure, have less fidelity than those with positive and no negative social pressures.

    In fact, then, it seems to me that those who oppose same sex relationships are in large part responsible for exerting the negative social pressures that are responsible for the traits upon which they seek to justify their opposition.

    You describe two points in favor of your position that “SSM is bad for civil society and business.” The second is about the breakdown of marriage, which I think falls under my objection above about social forces. The first you give is that “SSM will increase the power of the state to regulate civil society and business.” The evidence you describe for this seems especially objectionable, but let’s grant it for the sake of argument. Even then, there are problems. If same sex marriage is a civil right, then it doesn’t matter that legalizing it would restrict other rights more. In other words, it is a general principle of political philosophy that one cannot eliminate the rights of a minority in order to gain more rights for a majority (e.g. this is why slavery cannot be justified–i.e. even if enslaving a minority group results in greater rights for the majority, it is unjust). There is much more to say about this, but I’m running out of time for commenting.

    Lastly, you say that “SSM is bad for public health.” Again, all the evidence you cite, if true, seems to me to be caused by the social forces I mentioned above. Plus, it results in the reductios I mentioned above (e.g. smoking, junk food, etc. all are bad for public health, so by your argument we have reason to think they should not be legal.

    My apologies, again, for not being more specific. I have philosophy students who need to take exams, so I only have this brief time (actually, I really didn’t have this time either).

    [BTW: I’m not a blogger, and I don’t have a lot of free time, so I won’t be able to respond to, even good, objections to what I’ve said. I hope others who agree with me will respond if they think my line of thinking is promising.]



    1. Can I just say that I completely accept the consequences you say the argument entails? *Eats potato chip* (HYPOCRITE ALERT!) Of course, these three conditions WInteryKnight proposed are based on a secular concept of morality, so maybe the reductio more properly demands that secular theories of morality be rejected? There’s a thought.

      As for these conditions being met as a result of the social system, rather than by SSM itself, a friend of mine argued that because these people want SSM to be legal, it implied they would be faithful to their spouse, and therefore, there would be fewer partners. This, in turn, would reduce the number of health-risks created in such relationships to the same levels as we see in heterosexual marriage. If he is right, then WInteryKnight’s case flops on the key premise, and is ruined.
      Of course, if I were to try to rebut my friend’s view, I would argue that because our society is treating marriage as valueless, fidelity loses its meaning, and so the very point of making SSM legal has been defeated. People can just stick to having a single lover, and that would solve it.

      I’m not focusing on the evidence right now, the logic alone is worth pondering. If I consider the evidences, and how to weigh them, it probably wouldn’t seem worth the space it would take up on the wall –as if what I am posting now is!


      1. The problem is, the purpose of marriage is child bearing and rearing. The marriage is the central relationship in the smallest unit of society: a family. That is the purpose. The farther you get away from that basic standard, the less valuable the term “marriage” is.


    1. That’s OK. It’s a good disagreeing comment. I would like to see some large scale studies done like the Mark Regnerus study that would substantiate everything that you’ve asserted here.


  4. Hey there, I was shown the graph you have in your article above (the first one about intimate partner violence) and was shocked with the data. I just wanted to verify and find the original source and upon looking at the “Extent, Nature, and Consequences…” study, I can’t find that graph. Here is the link to the study: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf I know it says it is “Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report:11”, but I can’t find that “special report 11” anywhere online, and the full study (cited above) has only part of the data on a chart on pg 30. The next step is a library, but if anyone can provide the link to “special report 11”, I would be grateful. Again, just want to do my due diligence to check the reporting on this, as it is a very profound stat. Thanks!


  5. WK, I got hit that the following from your posting was apples-to-oranges, because it compared hetero marriages with same sex couples (not SSM’s) living together:

    Relationship duration

    “Claim: about 58% of traditional marriages last longer than 20 years.

    Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001)

    Claim: about 5% of same-sex unions last longer than 20 years.

    Source: 2003-2004 Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census

    Monogamy vs Promiscuity

    Claim: 85% of married women and 75.5% of married men report being faithful to their spouses. For homosexual males, the number is 4.5%

    Sources: Laumann, The Social Organization of Sexuality, 216; McWhirter and Mattison, The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop (1984): 252-253; Wiederman, “Extramarital Sex,” 170.”

    I think that might be fair, and replied that the experiment has not been run on SSM, but my opponent correctly pointed out that it had been run for some time in other countries. Is there anything out there (that is not cooked by political correctness) that shows a comparison between hetero and SSM’s or, less preferably, hetero couples and same sex couples in the countries where SSM has been established for some time? All I could come up with was your posting showing that the Australia data WAS, indeed, cooked. The opponent wisely argued that the world has not fallen apart in these other countries, although I do suppose it has, but do not have the data to back it up. Thanks and Blessings!


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