One recent addition to the same-sex marriage debate is the claim that by advancing arguments that civil marriage ought not to become gender-neutral, conservatives have “blood on their hands,” having committed the polemical equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theater, especially given the tragic recent suicides of gay sexual harrassment victims.

As the argument goes, young gay teens witness the battle over the public meaning of civil marriage, and conclude that traditional marriage threatens their future—even the worth of their own lives—causing depression and suicide among the emotionally vulnerable. In other words, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes might describe it, it’s a case of deciding whether advocacy for the status quo on civil marriage constitutes a “ clear and present danger ” to public mental health.

There are at least three preliminary objections to the “clear and present danger” argument. First, it is highly dubious to claim that proposals for same-sex marriage have a logical connection to the gay rights movement. The nuts and bolts of same-sex marriage, after all, merely propose that civil marriage law be changed so as to be indifferent to gender; this in turn refocuses the purpose of marriage on adult preferences, and away from solidifying the archetypal environment for child-rearing. This setup is logically not “gay marriage,” because two men civilly marrying need not identify as gay for the contract to be recognized.

There are no plans to test prospective couples for gay self-identification; this, among other things, would discriminate against groups like bisexuals, or the arguable majority of others who take their “nontraditional” sexual orientations to be more fluid than to fit into strict categories of attraction. It is true, of course, that gender-neutral marriage is conducive to the novel kinds of family structures many public intellectuals are now positing, but the broad identification of same-sex marriage with the ordinary human rights of self-identifying gay people is simply a logical mistake.

The second and third objections are more pragmatic and political. There’s the obvious fact that the accusation of blood on conservatives’ hands is an appealing way to shut down reasonable argumentation about marriage law, reframing the debate as one between advocates of toleration and parties complicit with violence. And then there’s the further shame of using suicides as a fulcrum on which to swing an inherently political debate.

There’s still another objection, brought to bear by Maggie Gallagher yesterday in the New York Post , which garnered a vicious response in New York Magazine , and a positively depraved set of reader comments, some with intimations of violence against Gallagher.

In the piece, she mentions that in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been the legal norm for years, gay suicides remain unchanged, as well as the other social woes particular to the group. In particular, she points to the fact LGBT youths’ suicide attempt rate remains four times higher than other students, pointing to the continuing problem of anti-gay bullying—not the same-sex marriage debate—as the real culprit.

San Francisco just filed a brief in the Prop 8 case, saying 7 million Californians who voted to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman are responsible for high rates of suicide among gay people.

Apparently, either we all agree that gay marriage is good or gay children will die.  . . .

The deeper you look, the more you see kids who are generally unprotected in horrifying ways that make it hard to believe — if you are really focusing on these kids’ well-being — that gay marriage is the answer.  . . .

Whether you are looking at their faces or looking at the statistics, one thing is clear: These kids need help, real help. They should not become a mere rhetorical strategy, a plaything in our adult battles.

Articles by Kevin Staley-Joyce

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