Last week, as the Vermont and Maine legislatures’ and the Iowa Supreme Court’s progress toward equality under the law for all people was in the news, Pennsylvania State Senator John Eichelberger decided to once again dredge up that tired old refrain and introduce a bill to amend the Pennsylvania constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman – a measure that has already been attempted twice (in 2006 and 2008) and failed both times.
Eichelberger told the Altoona Mirror that he introduced this bill, despite the fact that same-sex marriage is already illegal in Pennsylvania, to prevent state courts from ever ruling unconstitutional the denial of the civil and legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. And why does Eichelberger imagine gay marriage to be so dangerous that Pennsylvanians need multiple layers of defense against it? “Legalizing same-sex marriage would weaken it and lead little-by-little to other ‘models’ like polygamy and pedophilia,” he told the paper.
Hearing this, one can’t help but hearken back to the infamous man-on-dog argument, made by former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum. In a 2003 interview with Associated Press reporter Lara Jakes Jordan, Santorum opined that if antiquated sodomy laws typically used to punish homosexuals (though it would be difficult to claim with a straight face that many – perhaps even most – heterosexuals are not engaging in acts that meet the definition of “sodomy” too) were repealed, “man-on-dog” sex would ensue.
Jordan, understandably startled by this segue, was a bit taken aback. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think I was going to be talking about ‘man-on-dog’ with a United States senator,” she said. “It’s sort of freaking me out.”
The man-on-dog theory has also been promoted by Santorum associate Hadley Arkes, who has warned that gay marriage could lead to “cross-species involvements” and who asked in a 2003 National Review column disagreeing with the Supreme Court ruling that struck down Texas’s anti-sodomy law, “If people practice sadomasochistic sex or bestiality, if they have sex with animals in forms familiar and novel, would Kennedy truly contend that the rest of us are obliged to respect virtually everything that is done?”
Putting aside questions of what is wrong with these men that they go around thinking about man-on-dog sex (and apparently dreaming up “novel” ways of having such sex), the argument that allowing gay and lesbian couples to receive equal treatment under state and federal law will lead to people having sex with their family pets is just silly. Removing gendered language from marriage statutes is not a slippery slope. Americans in states that permit gay marriage, where they were previously permitted to marry one consenting woman/man who was capable of making a legal contract, may now marry one consenting adult who is capable of making legal contract. Marrying children, pets, inanimate objects, or multiple people or things is a far cry from allowing adults a free choice with respect to who will be their marital partner. Marriage remains a legal – and, in some cases, religious – partnership between two adults who share responsibilities and provide for their mutual support cooperatively.
Santorum, Arkes, Eichelberger, and others who subscribe to their theories seem to be operating under the assumption that a gay or lesbian person is not truly homosexual, but rather is a heterosexual with no sexual impulse control at all – a person who will attempt to have sex with anyone or anything that has the misfortune to cross his or her path. That this claim is not supported by any factual evidence does not seem to bother them. For example, copious research has disproven the idea that homosexuals are more likely to molest children than heterosexuals, yet Eichelberger is still citing pedophilia as a concern addressed by his bill.
Pennsylvania has much more important issues for our legislators to be spending their time on than man-on-dog sex. The economy, health care, education, environmental degradation, violence…the list goes on and on. Let’s concentrate on the real problems, rather than inventing wild and unfounded threats to our state and its people.
Becca in Harrisburg
See Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial here