Column: Questions For Preserve Marriage Group

February 18, 2016

[Opinion column written by Jason Benevides]

After reading Bernews’ report on the Preserve Marriage [“PM”] news conference on Feb 4th, I feel compelled to comment on and raise some questions in response to the statements PM made.

The first speaker at the PM press conference was Dr. Henry Dowling who stated that “Representatives of Preserve Marriage welcomes dialogue with the LGBT community and the supporters of same sex marriage in a respectful manner.”

As a supporter of the premise that those who wish to engage in same sex marriage [“SSM”] should be permitted to do so, I would like to accept Dr. Dowling’s invitation and initiate a respectful and public dialogue with PM by inviting PM to respond the following comments and observations, and answer the questions which I pose.

20-minute video of the PM press conference this column references:

PM states that they are a body of people of faith and non-faith, and implies their reasoning for wishing to preserve “traditional” marriage is not based on a religious edict [though the religious beliefs of those members “of faith” do coincidently align very well with the outcome for which PM advocates]. Rather they rely upon what they present as a rational and evidence based consideration of what is best for society at large.

It seems to me that the crux of the argument PM presented in its press conference is that society benefits when children are raised in stable, low conflict family environments where both the biological mother and biological father are present. This representation then seemed to lead PM to the conclusion that, therefore, SSM must not be permitted. However, it is unclear how such a representation can be logically followed to the conclusion that PM reaches.

This makes me wonder:

  • 1] If, as seemingly represented by PM [and at a basic level supported by biological fact], procreation is only possible through the combined actions of a man and a woman, and SSM involves either pairs of men or pairs of women; then in what way does a married same-sex couple who cannot procreate cause damage to society through their child rearing when presumably they will not have any children to raise? If the response is that the primary purpose of marriage is for the purpose of raising children then is PM advocating banning marriage for those opposite-sex couples who either are unable or unwilling to produce and raise children?; and
  • 2] If one looks beyond the simplistic fact that some contribution of male and female are required to provide the inputs necessary for conception, one will quickly see that via various methods of modern medicine or long existing social practice [i.e. IVF, surrogacy, adoption] it is possible for those not able to reproduce through “natural” means to become parents. When one considers that it is reality all throughout the world there are many children raised in environments other than low conflict marriages between biological parents, how is the possibility of a family unit comprised of married same-sex partners any socially worse than any of the many other potential child rearing circumstances which already exist [e.g. single parents, un-wed but cohabitating opposite-sex parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, un-wed same sex partners, etc.] in a society which legislates the “traditional” opposite-sex only definition of marriage? Is not a committed, engaging, and positive parenting relationship not the greater factor in positive social outcomes for children than the particular gender composition of the rearing [but not necessarily biological] parent[s]?

In the PM press conference, Dr. Melvyn Bassett asked “How can we reinforce in our society that fathers are essential if our laws re-define marriage to make fathers optional?”

Throughout PM’s press conference I was left with the distinct impression that each reference to “father” or “mother” was meant to indicate the biological father or mother of a child. If PM is using a narrow biological interpretation of who constitutes a “father” and a “mother” to represent only the genetic parents of a child, then following this line of thought a step further, it would seem to be impossible that a father could ever be “optional” as the existence of a child MUST indicate the existence of a father. This leaves me perplexed by Dr. Bassett’s suggestion that law or re-definition could make a father [in the context in which PM seems to use the term] “optional”.

I further wonder, how the legality of SSM would make fathers any more or less optional either in law or in society than the status quo that PM seeks to maintain?

There is no legal requirement at present for any biological father to be married to a woman before inseminating her, nor to be actively or productively engaged in rearing his child [whether in a socially appropriate manner, or at all], nor even to be known to the child.

It is an entirely false assertion to state that permitting SSM will redefine the role of a biological father. The existing “traditional” definition of marriage does not define a father’s role, so how would the expansion of marriage to same-sex couples re-define the role of a father?

Mr. Jock Stewart explained that one of the objectives of PM is to advocate that the legal definition of marriage be “fortified to preserve marriage between a man and a woman for the benefit of our children and society”. He went on to state that studies show that “children tend to be best protected, nurtured, and fare best when raised by their biological parents in a low conflict marriage”.

By the end of Mr. Stewart’s comments it was quite clear that the entire thrust of the rationale for PM’s objection to SSM is that SSM is bad for children and as a consequence bad for society generally. If one is to accept that the noble objective of protecting and nurturing children for the greater good of society requires legal, low conflict marriages between biological parents, then would it not logically follow that PM should not just be advocating to maintain the status quo definition of legal marriage, but rather be advocating for legislative change to prohibit all situations counter-productive to the perceived optimal marriage and child rearing arrangement?

I wonder how PM would respond to the following questions:

  • Should it be illegal to create children at all other than within a legally sanctioned opposite sex marriage? What penalties should society apply or what action should be taken where citizens produce children outside of marriage [opposite sex only, of course]?
  • Should adoption be outlawed when a biological parent is still living?
  • Should divorce be banned if any children have been conceived as a result of the relationship?
  • If society i] retains the right of any individual to legally procreate notwithstanding his or her marital status or marital intentions; ii] permits foster and adoptive parenting when biological parents are alive; and iii] permits divorce of couples who have conceived children who need to be raised; then in what way is the potential of a same-sex raising a child within a legally recognised marriage more potentially harmful to society than any of these situations which already exist, and are inherently problematic based on PM’s representation of the ‘ideal’ family unit, and which PM does not seem to be agitating to change.

PM’s Pastor Gary Simons in his comments asserted that “the redefinition of marriage results in re-ordering society, restructuring the family, and radical cultural change such as changes in education, changes in gender, etc.” He further stated that “redefining marriage reorders society. This includes changes in counselling agencies, in education, in the family unit, and the radical changes in society.”

Having listened to his remarks, I ask Pastor Gary the following:

  • How does the legal recognition of same-sex marriages restructure the family? Same sex couples may now be family units with or without children, and may if they choose adopt children or otherwise participate in conception of children biologically related to one member of the couple via various assisted reproductive methods. If these couples are granted the status of legally married, then that new status may enhance some of their rights and legal protections [such as inheritance rights, medical directive rights, etc.], but how exactly does it restructure the family they already have or are already entitled to have?
  • In what way are changes in education required by the granting of legal marriage rights to segment of society which has to-date been disadvantaged by lack of practical legal protections in many areas of their relationships?
  • How does SSM create “changes in gender”? I am rather lost on that argument.
  • In what way must counselling agencies be changed because more couples or families have enhanced legal protections?…and how exactly are those changes, whatever they are, a reasonable justification to prohibit SSM?

Following Pastor Simon’s comments PM offered comments from Bishop Jones who was then followed by a young woman who stated [emphasis mine] that PM “would like to invite all young adults, women, and single mothers who believe that our children deserve both a mother and a father to stand for what we know is best in our society”.

Does it not strike anyone else as peculiar for PM to represent that the marriage of biological mothers and fathers is essential to the productive rearing of children for the good of society but then call up on single mothers to participate in a rally to preserve a specific form of an institution in which they apparently do not participate [i.e. marriage]?

The young man who spoke next called on “young men, both married and single” to “stand for our most unprotected, our most impressionable, and our most precious people, those are children in our society. We need to stand strong to know what is best for them.”

Here again PM’s overriding theme of ‘protect the children’ quite obviously is conveyed. However, what is not clearly conveyed is how PM can possibly know what is best for every child in every family circumstance in the country. As a society, are we generally not better off by providing an equal set of rights to all members of society and then allowing citizens to make the choices that best suit their unique preferences, circumstances, and needs?

Can PM not imagine any situation within society today where children [being clearly PM’s greatest concern] and by extension society would be better served by the existence of a family unit headed by a loving and legally married same sex couple than:

  • a] In a single parent family with less financial stability and emotional support than the SSM might provide; or
  • b] In a family where there is constant tension, conflict, or unhappiness between biological parents [perhaps due to mismatch of sexual gender preferences]; or
  • c] In a same-sex cohabitation [but not legal marriage] arrangement where the financial and legal protections that a marriage provide do not exist [e.g. what if one partner dies but the surviving partner then has no rights or inadequate resources to continue to care for children to whom he/she was the only other real parent the children have known]?

The members of PM have a viewpoint, to which they are very much entitled. However, the entitlement to hold one’s own point of view should not extend to the right to override the rights of others to receive equal opportunity and treatment in society. It seems to me that keeping a right for themselves while denying it to others is precisely what PM wishes to do.

PM members seem to wish to be able to avail themselves of their extant legal right to enter legal marriages with partners of their choosing [which, based on their beliefs, would be only opposite-sex partners]. However, they seem also not to want to extend the same right of free choice to other members of society whose choice of partner does not meet the gender preference of PM.

Further, PM’s reasoning for why society should prohibit certain citizens from being able to enter legal marriages with a partner of their choosing [regardless of gender] does not seem to me to pass the test of logical scrutiny.

PM has invited a respectful dialogue on this topic and their views. I hope I have shared my comments and questions in respectful manner and invite PM and others to respond to create a meaningful dialogue.

- Jason Benevides

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Comments (31)

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  1. hmmm says:

    Well said.

    • Jimi says:

      On the contrary, I don’t think this ridiculously long-winded essay is inviting a response from anyone lol..

      Most of the questions he poses have obvious answers, depending of course on which side you support.

  2. serengeti says:

    One of the most well-written columns I’ve seen in a long time.

  3. David says:

    Well said, Jason.

    I have a two quick questions for Preserve Marriage:

    If that is your obsession (morality, marriage between a man and a woman for the benefit of children and society), why not rally to make it illegal for unwed couples/individuals to have children?

    It’s clear the negative effect that has on society. Surely, you would agree that having children under those circumstances on one of the most expensive countries on Earth is far more irresponsible and immoral than two men or two women loving each other, no?

    • Jimi says:

      1) Because it is not practical..?..people get divorced..?…

      2) Why would you expect PM supporters to agree with that statement??

      • Build a Better Bermuda says:

        Because that is exactly what they say they are advocating for, and those circumstances of failed or non-existent marriage structures are in fact worse conditions for child raising than the circumstances a stable and supportive SSM couple could provide. Every study that has been done that focuses on the development of children in stable SSM family environments shows that the children are in fact as advantaged as the children in stable different sex family environments. Organizations such as the American Socialogical Association have come to this conclusion.

        http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/gender-society/same-sex-marriage-children-well-being-research-roundup

        https://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/MarriageandFamily.pdf

        The final consensus among the scientific community is that the same factors that allow for raising children in successful environments are as present in same sex families as they are in different sex families.

        • JustAnotherIslander says:

          As a Bermudian currently pursuing a Ph.D in sociology (BA and MAs in anthropology as well) and focusing on social inequality to boot, I concur. All serious social scientific research that has been carried out has demonstrated that children raised by loving, stable, SS couples are just as well developed and adjusted as those raised by equivalent DS couples.

          What really messes children up are broken homes, abuse, teen births etc.

          I am studying in Canada which legalized SSM years ago, and there has been now serious degeneration of the Canadian moral fiber, no explosion in crime rates, or all the other apocalyptic stuff opponents of SSM seem to think the practice would bring.

          On the flip the particular city I have done my studies in off and on for a decade has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the country, and there is a lot of data to show that that has lead to deleterious social impacts.

  4. Rich says:

    These are talking points that pseudo-intellectual Dr Ryan Anderson used to use in the US before the Supreme Court mandated marriage equality.

    A bit of history – before 2003 in the US, it was the regular practice of anti-gay rights crusaders to make predictions of doom and gloom for society should any rights be extended to LGTBQ+ folks. Homophobic commentary was pretty mainstream. Most such commentary was grounded in religious sentiment, and individuals would regularly point to their ‘religious freedoms’ to hold and express anti-gay views.

    Then in 2003, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s anti-sodomy laws. Not only could religion not be invoked to justify withholding rights to LGBTQ+ individuals, ‘moral disapproval’ could not be used as a justifiable basis for enacting discriminatory laws.

    As a result, campaigners were stuck in a hard place. They could not employ the arguments that they had previously used.

    So some decided to reframe the debate away from moral disapproval of homosexuality to pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo about ‘complementarity’. Which is really just a made up principle from Dr Anderson and his ilk which refers to the role of families as factories of procreation. An active decision was made to downplay the role of religion to avoid citing ‘moral disapproval’ – as Preserve Marriage with the laughable contention that athiests and agnostics also support their position. (If this is the case, I would bet that you could count these people on one hand.)

    But this focus on family rearing is misplaced. A logical leap is taken from the biological process of conception to imply that only a mother and father, acting in unison, are capable of properly raising children.

    They then cite flawed social science studies (note – not double blind medical or psychological studies) to support the long-debunked notion that being raised in a same-sex headed household is damaging to children.

    For example, Hollingsworth v Perry (ie the Proposition 8 Case from California) led evidence at first instance as follows:

    “[The] substantial body of evidence documents that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are just as likely to be well adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents. He noted that for significant number of these children, their adjustment would be promoted were their parents able to get married. He added that a field of developmental psychology came to the conclusion that what makes for an effective parent is the same both for a mother or a father, and that children do not need to have a masculine-behaving parent figure, a father, or feminine-behaving parent figure, a mother, in order to be well adjusted.”

    Volumes of further evidence from same-sex couples throughout California were used to support this contention.

    So in the USA post-Lawrence and pre-Obergefell, we saw a move from open expressions of moral disapproval to junk science based on raising children, and a move from open expressions of religious sentiment to a downplaying of the religious convictions of opponents to vapid claims of “well the non-religious support our position too!”.

    Sounds remarkably like Preserve Marriage’s well funded campaign strategy.

  5. ProudBermudian says:

    I’ve been following the various actions and articles about this over the last few weeks, and I’m trying to understand PM’s view, but the flyer that was put on my car was inflammatory and misleading, and they seem to ignore so many obvious flaws in their argument; I’m still confused why anyone would want to stand in the way of the happiness of the few people who any change in the law will affect, without a decent rationale as far as I can see?

  6. Pravda says:

    PM – funded by millionaires.
    PM – would deny Human Rights to all citizens
    PM – on the wrong side of history

  7. SANDGROWNAN says:

    Well good luck with getting answers from the mental midgets in “Preserve Marriage”, but don’t hold your breath.

    It’s amazing that the crap Gary Simons spouts is given column inches purely because he has “Pastor” in front of his name. Would I be given the same consideration? I doubt it. Simons is, of course, a well known bigot and anti-intellectual. This argument is not new for him, and he often throws in a good slice of creationism into his offerings.

    In the final analysis, these are silly, frightened people, insecure in their own faith and, dare i say it, sexuality. They won’t be happy until you believe what they believe. They deserve no respect, no respectful dialogue and should be laughed at, ridiculed and treated with contempt at all times.

    • serengeti says:

      Yep. Put the word “Pastor” in front of your name and people for some reason automatically genuflect, when the title should actually arouse suspicion from anyone who bases their opinions on facts.

    • Believer92 says:

      It’s amazing that the things you say are given space simply because youre a human being with a right to free speech…oh wait that’s who he and the main supporters of preserve marriage are. Simons is, of course, a well known Pastor who loves ALL and is very intellectual with a bachelors and masters. This argument is not new for you as you sound very angry and hateful.

      In the final analysis, these are strong, faith believing, society upholding, opinionated people, secure in their faith, and sexuality and as such choose to stand and uphold what they believe to be important as the crux of society and families, a man and woman, mother and father. They deserve all respect just as you deserve respect, and they should be treated with such. No one is laughing or ridiculing the homosexuals, we are simply disagreeing with the lifestyle.

      Have a good day

      • SANDGROWNAN says:

        Simons is a bigot.

        People who wish to force their faith on others, should be treated with ridicule and contempt and I will exercise my right to do just that constantly.

        They are intellectually stunted. They can believe what they want as long as they keep it to themselves. Fortunately, they are a dying breed, religious conservatives have been on the wrong side of…well every issue really..for ever. They will lose here too, they’re just too bloody minded to see that.

      • M.C. Beauchamp says:

        Please let’s not invoke so-called credentials.. Attending bible college hardly qualifies as an intellectual qualification. This is education of the most narrow kind. At least he did’t purchase his credentials from a degree mill where a Phd can be had for sixty hours of study on a correspondence basis and $1500.

      • John says:

        Then simply disagree…but most supporters of PM don’t just disagree with the lifestyle. They are militant in their stance defining these human beings as something less than human, and often look to restrict their rights. Don’t deny it! You simply don’t get to tell me or others what is good or bad for us…you can disagree. But PM spouts lies about SSM’s and their effect in society. It is my opinion that Hetero sexual married couples are doing more harm to the sanctity of marriage with skyrocketing rates of divorce, infidelity, adultry, abuse…should I go in. We are living in an ever changing world…Change, or perish!

  8. Tom Cooke says:

    A good well written peice, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a reply from PM.. they seem to like spending an awful amount of money in a media which I am sure they are happy to take…

  9. Seriously? says:

    I think if these people paid as much attention to their OWN marriages, and being good Christians the world would be a better place. Take the religious word “Marriage” out of secular law. Do not redefine it, get rid of it!!! The church can have it, but make a legal binding contract (create word for such) for all couples….. if they then wish to get married, they can take their legal binding contract “certificate/license” to the church who can then marry them all they like. OR better yet, let the church marry them, but make that arrangement not legal and binding in the eyes of the law, deny them benefits and rights if they do not gain the appropriate legal binding contract.

    And those of you on the PM side… that are on your second, third or fourth marriage SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

  10. Cow Polly says:

    The Churches complained about opening the grocery stores on a Sunday. But Government did it anyway. They complained about selling liquor on Sundays. But the Government did it anyway. Now you go into the grocery stores and there they all are in their Sunday best with six packs in their trolleys. So why is the Government not passing SSM? May be their scared of who might then be holding the trolley?

  11. Cow Polly says:

    Oh Jason…….. you’re my hero :-)

  12. How? says:

    I just don’t understand how a doctor, a supposed man of SCIENCE, is against SSM. That religious brainwashing makes you defy all odds and logic. Scary stuff.

    • Build a Better Bermuda says:

      It lies in the difference between a scientist, and a christian scientist. A christian scientist operates with the preconclusion that the results they find will fit to the word of the Bible. A scientist works to find what the conclusion is from the results.

  13. George says:

    As argued by the author of the article and RICH above, this debate comes down to nothing more than a question about morality.

    Do you believe same sex couples/unions/marriages are moral or immoral?

    The raising of children has nothing to do with the debate – its a smoke screen!

  14. Island Chick says:

    In the perfect PM world marriage would remain an exclusive legal binding between a man and woman into which happy union they would bring children, who would be happy and well adjusted. Of course. Cut to the real world where we have… uh oh! Divorce, very unhappy marriages, domestic abuse, childless/child free couples, single mothers, latchkey kids raised by extended family due to the need for second jobs in Bermuda’s economy. Ignore all that, because what can you do? Women have the ability to make babies without a husband or the father’s involvement and of course people can divorce when they want (children or no children); and who can insist a married couple have kids? Those people have rights – to live and marry (or not) as they wish. But not THOSE people. You know the ones (nudge, nudge). Those two guys, those two ladies. If they get married they can’t make children – which is what marriage is all about, right? So, yah, under certain circumstances they can make or have kids. But I guess using adoption or invetro fertilization (like a ‘real’ married couple) isn’t the same. So what if they’re a happy couple in love, and great parents, with an income much like everyone else and living in … you know, a home. Wow – that’s bad. Right? Not to mention confusing – with them using words like husband and wife. Like we do. Living just like… I don’t know, people. (Without all the Mars and Venus conflict, maybe the divorce rate would even go down?) Because goodness knows – if gay couples could have the same rights and responsibilities (and support) in marriage as main stream hetero couples, the world would END – like when interracial couples were (finally) allowed to marry. Remember when that… didn’t happen?

    I sincerely hope the law is more inclusive than the people who make up the PM group – who insist everyone should have to live in the narrow minded world they prefer, maintaining the ‘Have’s and the ‘Have Not’s.

  15. Jerry says:

    Like I said before the flock from the church of the poison mind

  16. Takbir Karriem Sharrieff says:

    Preserve Marriage Act and its supporters are the bedrock of our society.It is a good premise to be protected.Though there are failed marriages,and unfortunate circumstances,and challenges that accompany all human relationships.However it remains the best way forward for Bermuda.I support Preserve Marriage.Peace.

  17. steve says:

    I do not share the view of this group, however I respect the delivery/presentation of the message. thanks

  18. Navin Pooty Tang Johnson says:

    enough of this…do the right thing and allow people to love ,live with and marry anyone they want to….Bermuda continues to show just how far we have not come…..

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