The debate over same-sex marriage
in the United States is a contentious one, and advocates on both sides
continue to work hard to make their voices heard. To explore the case
against gay marriage, the Pew Forum has turned to Rick Santorum, a
former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and now a senior fellow at the
Ethics and Public Policy Center. Sen. Santorum is also the author of
the 2005 book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, in which he makes the case for promoting families anchored by a married mother and father.
A counterargument explaining the case for same-sex marriage is made by Jonathan Rauch, a senior writer at The National Journal.
Rick Santorum, Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Former U.S. Senator
David Masci, Senior Research Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
In this Q&A:
Why oppose gay marriage?
The "go-slow" approach
Question & Answer
Gay rights advocates and
others say that gay and lesbian people want to get married for the same
reasons that straight people do - they want to be in caring, stable
relationships, they want to build a life and even start a family with
someone else. Why shouldn't they be able to do this?
See, I think that's the foundational flaw with this whole debate.
The law is as it has been for 200-plus years, and so the burden is on
them to make the persuasive case as to why they should be married, not
just for their benefit but for what the impact is on society and
marriage as a whole, and on children.
I would argue that the gay community has not made the argument. They
may have made the argument as to why they want it, but they have not
made any arguments as to why this is beneficial for society. They have
not made any argument - convincing or otherwise, that I'm aware of - as
to what the impact would be on heterosexual marriages and what the
impact would be on children.
They have no studies. They have no information whatsoever about what
it would do to the moral ecology of the country, what it would do to
religious liberty, what it would do to the mental and physical health
of children - nothing. They've made no case. Basically the case they've
made is, "We want what you want, and therefore you should give it to
So you're saying that advocates of same-sex marriage are not seeing the big picture?
Yes. I have a book that was written a few years ago called It Takes a Family.
In that book I have a chapter on moral ecology, and I explain that if
you go to the National Archives, you will come to a section that has,
as far as the eye can see, rows and rows and rows of environmental
impact statements, because we have laws in this country that say before
you go out and you put in a bridge across a creek, you have to go out
and see whether what you're doing is disturbing the landscape there.
Yet when it comes to something that I happen to believe is actually
more important than a particular plot of land - the entire moral
ecology of our country, who we are as a people, what we stand for, what
we teach our children, what our values and ethics are - people argue
that we can build the equivalent of a strip mall without even thinking
about what those consequences are.
Some people in favor of gay
marriage have argued for a "go-slow" approach, acknowledging that we're
in largely unknown territory and that a majority of Americans are not
yet comfortable with same-sex marriage. Does that attitude allay any of
No. They want the convenient accelerator of the courts to put this
in play, and then they want the judicious temperament of the American
democratic system to govern it. I don't think you can have your cake
and eat it too. Same-sex marriage advocates are not going to state
legislatures, except in some cases for civil unions. They are using the
If the courts are going to be your accelerator, then get ready for a
ride. And if the courts ultimately say, "Marriage must be allowed
between anybody and anybody," the gay rights advocates are not going to
say, "Well, you've gone too far." No, I think the go-slow argument is
there to make us feel better, but it doesn't hold water.
Another argument made by
gay rights advocates is that with or without marriage, gay families are
already a widespread reality. They point out that we already have gay
couples living together, some with children. And they ask: Isn't it
better that they be legally married to each other, if for no other
reason than for the benefit and the welfare of the children?
The answer is no - because of the consequences to society as a
whole. And again, those are consequences that they choose to ignore.
What society should be about is encouraging what's best for children.
What's best for children, we know, is a mother and a father who are the
parents of that child, raising that child in a stable, married
relationship, and we should have laws that encourage that, that support
What you're talking about with same-sex marriage is completely
deconstructing marriage and taking away a privilege that is given to
two people, a man and a woman who are married, who have a child or
adopt a child. We know it's best for children and for society that men
and women get married. We know it's healthier. We know it's better for
men. We know it's better for women. We know it's better for
What we don't know is what happens with other options. And once you
get away from the model of "what we know is best" and you get into the
other options, from my perspective, there's no stopping it. And also
from my perspective, you devalue what you want to value, which is a man
and woman in marriage with a child or children. And when you devalue
that, you get less of it. When you get less of it, society as a whole
Do you feel confident that if same-sex marriage became the norm in our society that we would get less traditional marriage?
The answer is yes, because marriage then becomes, to some degree,
meaningless. I mean, if anybody can get married for any reason, then it
loses its special place. And, you know, it's already lost its special
place, in many respects, because of divorce. The institution of
marriage is already under assault. So why should we do more to
discredit it and harm it?
of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has written extensively about
this, about what the impact is in countries that have adopted same-sex
marriage. We have, in fact, seen a decline in the number of marriages,
a delay in people getting married, more children being born out of
wedlock and higher rates of divorce. None of those things are good for
society. None of those things are good for children.
But can you lay these changes at the feet of same-sex marriage?
Yes, I think you can lay them at its feet. Kurtz notes that the
marriage rate in the Netherlands was always actually one of the lowest
in the EU. And once same-sex marriage was put in place, it broke below
As a person who
has positioned himself as a defender of Christian values, why is gay
marriage particularly opposed to those values?
Well, the laws in this country are built upon a certain worldview,
and it is the Judeo-Christian worldview. And that worldview has been
expressed in our laws on marriage for 200-plus years. Up until 25 years
ago, we would never have sat here and done this interview. It would
have been beyond the pale. And so it is clearly a dramatic departure
from the Judeo-Christian ethic that is reflected in our laws that say
marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman.
When you look ahead, do you feel optimistic that your side in this debate will ultimately prevail?
What I've noticed about this debate is that fewer and fewer people
are stepping up and taking the position I'm taking because they see the
consequences of doing so. I don't think there is an issue that is a
tougher issue for people to stand up against in American culture today
than this one, both from the standpoint of the mainstream media and the
popular culture condemning you for your - they can use all sorts of
words to describe you - intolerant, bigot, homophobe, hater. The other
side takes it personally. And so it makes it very difficult for folks
to stand up and argue public policy when the other side views it as a
personal, direct assault on them. So it's very, very hard for me to be
optimistic when we have a battle of ideas and one side is universally
hammered for being intolerant bigots and the other side is enlightened
and tolerant - which I think is false, but it is the pervasive attitude.
We know that the American public doesn't approve of same-sex
marriage, but they are uncomfortable about it because, again, the
public perception is if you feel that way, you're a bigot or a hater.
And if the culture continues to send that message, if our educational
system sends that message, which it does, you know, eventually the
culture will change and people's opinions will change.
The push back is what most people know: that mothers and fathers
bring something unique. I mean, I have six children. I know that two
mothers would not be able to give to my children what a mother and a
father can give to my children. For instance, my daughter's
relationship with men is, in many respects, formed by her relationship
with me. There are volumes of evidence showing that if little girls
don't have a father, it impacts their ability as adults to bond with
men in healthy relationships.
What do we know, really, about children raised by same-sex couples?
We're into, in many respects, an unknown territory. There is already a
difficult environment for children in America today, at least from the
traditional Judeo-Christian perspective. So I think this is a fight
worth fighting, even if it's not a popular fight.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.