Same-Sex Marriage Revisited

by Harry on January 10, 2007

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions concerning anti-same-sex marriage readings for my contemporary moral issues course. I was quite nervous about the topic, because I anticipated very strong feelings among the students, especially because we discussed it in the wake of the entirely unsurprising to me but shocking to many of them success of the anti-same-sex-and-civil-unions amendment in November. I emphasized at the beginning of the segment that I wanted the full space of reasons to be explored, and encouraged them to look for both anti- and pro- arguments, and reminded them that when someone argues for a claim in class they should be taken just to be exploring a reason, so there should be no presumption that they are committed to an undesirable conclusion. All to no avail. Not one student was willing to speak up against same-sex marriage, despite the fact that an anonymous survey revealed that 15% of them are strongly opposed. Interestingly, and in my view rather optimistically, conversations that I had with a number of pro-same-sex-marriage students coming from the Wisconsin heartland revealed that their views were completely at odds with those of their parents (well, their fathers) but not those of their fellow high school students, including those who remained in the towns from which these students came. Is there good survey data about the distribution of opposition to same-sex-marriage across age groups?

I used Margaret Somerville’s The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage, Lee Harris’s The Future of a Tradition, and Stanley Kurtz’s The End of Marriage in Scandinavia. And the truth is that the case against same-sex marriage seems pretty weak, unless someone can come up with some much better papers. Fortunately, I had some disagreements with Ralph Wedgewood’s excellent pro-same-sex-marriage paper which we also used. But the anti-papers are not very strong at all. I’ll focus mainly on the Somerville paper, then make a couple of comments about the others.

Somerville regards marriage as having a single justifying purpose: “Institutionalising the procreative relationship in order to govern the transmission of human life and to protect and promote the well-being of the family that results. It is not a recognition of the relationship for its own sake or for the sake of the partners to the marriage”. It can succeed in institutionalizing that relationship, she thinks, only because it symbolizes the reproductive potential between the partners. Furthermore she thinks we should establish a presumption that children have a valid claim to be raised by their own biological parents (because this is so vital for the serving of children’s basic interests – see David Velleman on Family History for an elaboration of this). While society should not invade personal freedom of parents, “it must not facilitate the creation of situations that are not in the best interests of the child”. This is the argument against allowing the use of reproductive technologies which result in children being raised by non-genetic forebears. (Adoption is fine, for Somerville and Velleman, because the children involved already lack the opportunity to be raised by their genetic forebears, but allowing anonymous donation of gametes is not).

So what does all this have to do with same-sex-marriage? Allowing same-sex marriage would undermine the ability of marriage to perform its institutionalizing role (because same sex marriage is inherently not procreative) and it would create pressure to allow same-sex couples to procreate, which would facilitate the birth of children who would not be raised by their biological parents. Against the obvious objection that this account counts against marriage among the elderly and infertile, Somerville responds that it would be unacceptably invasive to inspect people’s level of fertility. (Because she eschews appeal to religious premises she can’t appeal to the possibility of miracles, which is my favourite move on this one).

So what’s wrong? First, Somerville provides no argument at all that her preferred purpose is the defining, justificatory, purpose of marriage. I’m strongly sympathetic to the idea that we should promote marriage among people with children, because it is, on the whole, good for most children to have married parents. And I’d go further than Somerville seems to concerning the freedom of adults; once you have kids your freedom is quite properly curtailed for their sakes, and additional impediments to divorce, wisely designed, would not in my view infringe any fundamental liberty of adults. But the child-centered goal can be achieved while allowing other people who manifestly have no intention of having or ability to have children to marry. And most institutions serve several purposes. I’m also sympathetic to an adult-centered purpose of marriage—that, for example, it might facilitate the longevity of intimate sexual relationships in a way that helps people’s lives have some sort of unity, and fosters meaning. My sense, completely anecdotally, is that this support is precisely what many gay men who want to be married, want. I want a reason to pick out her purported purpose as the, single, justifying one.

She might respond that her purpose, though not the only legitimate purpose, is the primary and most important purpose of marriage, and that allowing people who manifestly eschew that purpose to marry will prevent it from fulfilling that purpose. She doesn’t directly make this, causal, claim, which could only be a conjecture at best. Knowing what we know about institutions there’s no reason to make that conjecture. There’s no real reason to suppose that the behavior of ultra-left opponents of marriage who participate in it to subvert it – think of Britney Spears – has any real impact on the institution itself. If the purpose of church-going is to worship God, that purpose survives in the face of the fact that within any congregation some number of people are know perfectly well by the rest to be attending for social rather than religious purposes, as long as those people do not overwhelm the congregation. More on this when we discuss Kurtz.

Finally, I think that she places too much weight on a single interest that children have – an interest in knowing their own genetic forebears. I agree that this is one interest, but in any upbringing some interests are going to be served well and others less well, and this is not the most important interest children have. So, for example, the interest in having a loving and attached relationship with one’s rearing parent is much more important, in my view, and should be a much more central focus of public policy than assuring that children have knowledge of or acquaintance with their forebears. Somerville clearly thinks that allowing same-sex marriage will increase the size of the lobby for allowing anonymous gamete donation, thus making something that she thinks is bad more likely to happen. If so, she may well be right. But there are other effects to consider. Normalization of same-sex marriage, especially if combined with measures to bring into closer alignment the barriers to adoption and to childbearing by assisted reproduction may increase the demand for adoptive children, which would be a good effect. Anyway, as someone pointed out on the original thread, if anonymous gamete donation is the problem, argue for its prohibition directly.

Onto Harris, whose piece is really worth reading for everything he says except what he says about same-sex marriage, at which point he enters a bizarre rant. He’s right that there’s a lot to be said for tradition that can’t be said if you think of tradition in the way that I think of moral principles; as claims that have to be justified from first principles and where the burden of proof is as much on the defender as on the opponent. Regarding traditions as recipes for living enables us to scrutinize them, not rationally, but reasonably. But then, suddenly, we get the claim that “The high solemnity of marriage has been trans-generationally wired into our visceral system” and then this:

The intelligentsia have no idea of the consequences that would ensue if middle America lost its simple faith in God and its equally simple trust in its fellow men. Their plain virtues and homespun beliefs are the bedrock of decency and integrity in our nation and in the world. These are the people who give their sons and daughters to defend the good and to defeat the evil. If in their eyes this clear and simple distinction is blurred through the dissemination of moral relativism and an aesthetic of ethical frivolity, where else will human decency find such willing and able defenders?

Even the most sophisticated of us have something to learn from the fundamentalism of middle America. For stripped of its quaint and antiquated ideological superstructure, there is a hard and solid kernel of wisdom embodied in the visceral code by which fundamentalists raise their children, and many of us, including many gay men like myself, are thankful to have been raised by parents who were so unshakably committed to the values of decency, and honesty, and integrity, and all those other homespun and corny principles. Reject the theology if you wish, but respect the ethical fundamentalism by which these people live: It is not a weakness of intellect, but a strength of character.

Middle Americans have increasingly tolerated the experiments in living of people like myself not out of stupidity, but out of the trustful magnanimity that is one of the great gifts of the Protestant ethos to our country and to the world. It is time for us all to begin tolerating back. The first step would be a rapid retreat from even the slightest whisper that marriage ever was or ever could be anything other than the shining example that most Americans still hold so sacred within their hearts, as they have every right to do. They have let us imagine the world as we wish; it is time we begin to let them imagine it as they wish.

Decency, honesty, and integrity are all jolly good things, and we need more of them, But middle-American fundamentalists do not have a monopoly on them, nor are they so incredibly intellectually defective that they are incapable of reflecting carefully on such questions as whether the marriage should be slightly adjusted to allow people of the same sex to marry one another. They’ve already made a much bigger adjustment (not necessarily for the better) in their attitude to marriage, which is that they have come to regard it as a conditional and temporary rather than an unconditional and permanent state. Sure, a change like same-sex marriage should not come from the intellectuals and the courts all at once. It should come as a result of democratically made decisions, after the political work of winning the hearts and minds of a substantial portion of the population as been done. Again, winning the hearts and minds of much of middle America cannot be done (probably) by in-your-face bumper sticker politics. Advocates of same-sex marriage should use careful argument, presentation of real examples, and would do well to follow Harris’s subsequent advice:

gay men and women want to create their own shining examples, they must do this themselves, by their own actions and by their own imagination. They must construct for themselves, out of their own unique perspective on the world, an ethos that can be admired both by future gay men and women and perhaps, eventually, by the rest of society.

And of course that is precisely what many are doing. But as they do so, they can explain why they want, and should have the right, to exactly the same benefits that heterosexual couples, however deviant and reprehensible their behaviour, enjoy; if middle Americans find that insulting and disruptive, well then they should take a quick refresher course in the great virtues of decency, honesty and integrity that characterize them.

Ok, on to Kurtz. Now, I should say that whatever the case for same-sex marriage it is only going to be a prima-facie case. Suppose that there were a good adult-centered justification for same-sex marriage (along the lines made in Macedo’s classic article, “Homosexuality and the Conservative Mind”) but it turned out that same-sex couples were, to put it bluntly, spectacularly bad at raising children, so bad that no child could be raised by them decently. That, I think, would put a big damper on the case for same-sex marriage, because a marriage without permission to raise children is not what people are fighting for, but people who can be shown to be really really bad at raising children shouldn’t be allowed to do it. I hasten to add that there is no evidence at all to this effect. Whereas child-centered interests in my view override adults’ interests in these cases, when the interests of different adults conflict things are less clear. But if, like me, you think marriage is a very valuable social institution which it is legitimate for the government to restrict people’s freedom of action somewhat in order to maintain then the claim of some right wingers that legalizing same-sex marriage will undermine marriage (in the senses of triggering a significantly higher rate of divorce or a lower rate of marriage or both) is worrying. Of course, it is not necessarily decisive. The gain to same-sex couples of being able to marry might outweigh the loss of, say, a minor drop in the successful marriage rate among heterosexuals. But if it had cataclysmic effects, that would count strongly against it. Kurtz claims to find such cataclysmic effects in Scandinavia. When I was told about the claims of this piece, and that they were empirically sound, I was unnerved (and surprised). But, it turns out that the claims are not empirically sound. Sure, there has been a decline in marriage in Sweden and in some other Scandinavian countries since the recognition of same-sex civil partnerships, but Kurtz offers not shred of evidence that same-sex civil partnerships are causally implicated, and even reveals that he knows that social scientists tend to attribute the decline to features of the welfare state which are unimaginable in the US. I don’t like to attribute bad motives, but this makes me suspect him of a certain amount of intellectual dishonesty, or at least of seeing the evidence through an ideological prism.

All in all, then, this is a request to philosophers who oppose same-sex marriage. Please write a really good paper opposing it so that I can teach the subject again in my contemporary moral issues course. Something as good as Don Marquis’s “Why Abortion is Immoral” would be ideal, but I’m not setting the bar that high. I don’t need to wait till it’s published – post it on the web, so I can use it, and drop me a line…..

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1

American Citizen 01.10.07 at 1:09 pm

Just to pick on one thing, why is it important for children to be raised by their genetic parents? My kids don’t know or care who their genetic parents are, they only care who their parents are (if you’re curious, their genetic parents are their parents, we meet RW familial standards). My daughter has never said “biological daddy, I LOVE your new haircut” when the barber runs the #2 clippers over the top, sides & back. I think Shaq put it best in a rap song called “Biological Didn’t Bother”.

It’s only important to be a real parent, no matter how you’re in that role.

2

Ted 01.10.07 at 1:27 pm

As a practical matter, it could be important in that one’s genetic history is useful for knowing one’s predisposition to certain genetic diseases – for example, knowing whether my birth father was an alcoholic might be important to me when deciding whether I should start drinking alcohol; knowing whether my birth mother was a diabetic might be relevant to knowing how much candy I should be allowed to eat as a child.

3

Matt 01.10.07 at 1:30 pm

Kurtz also seems to attribute backwards causal powers to same-sex marriage in Scandinavia since the declines he mentions started, I believe, before the recognition of same-sex marriage. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to attribute bad motives to him. It’s either that or idiocy.

I also wonder if the “what about the children?” arguement can bear as much weight as you seem to want to give it, in part because I’m not at all sure that all the things you (and Vellman, etc.) seem to think are very important for kids are really all that important. It’s also worth mentioning that right now one must be _extraordinarily bad_ at raising kids before we don’t allow them to raise children. We let lots of people who are manifestly very bad at doing so raise them (in part because of the reasons you otherwise give a lot of weight to above). So, unless one held, against every bit of evidence, that homosexual couples were worse at raising kids than almot all heterosexuals I don’t think the arguement you mention above deserves even the amount of charity you give it here.

As a side note, you might find Amy Wax’s paper, “The Conservative’s Dilemma: Social Science, Social Change, and Traditional Institutions”, 42 SAN DIEGO L. REV. 1059 (2005) of some interest. It’s pretty good- the best anti-same-sex-marriage paper I’ve read. It certainly sounds better than the above. I may have suggested it in the original thread, but it deserves attention. (I’m not, in the end, convinced by it at all, though.)

4

John Sides 01.10.07 at 1:30 pm

>Is there good survey data about the distribution of opposition to same-sex-marriage across age groups?

There are large differences in support for gay marriage across age groups. Below is some quick-and-dirty analysis from the 2004 American National Election Study. Respondents were asked “Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry, or do you think they should not be allowed to marry?” Below is the percentage who said “allowed” in each of 4 age groups:

18-30: 51%

31-45: 42%

46-60: 33%

61-90: 30%

The age groups could be defined in various ways but these generational differences will always emerge. This is not because of any differences in educational attainment between young and old. Even if you limit the analysis to those with at least a college degree, there is still a substantial divergence of opinion across age groups.

5

Ted 01.10.07 at 1:31 pm

Also, on Harris’s article, I don’t know which implication of his “argument” is more offensive and stupid: the idea that as a member of the intelligentsia I don’t regard decency, honesty, and integrity as virtues but as “homespun and corny” principles, or the idea that exposure to “moral relativism” will immediately cause the good people of America to abandon those virtues because they’re apparently incapable of developing or finding reasons for having them and have to take them on faith.

6

engels 01.10.07 at 1:33 pm

Just to pick on one thing, why is it important for children to be raised by their genetic parents?

There was a long and heated discussion of this issue here.

7

Steve LaBonne 01.10.07 at 1:49 pm

A comment on the positive generational trend- I live in a fairly conservative area of exurban Cleveland, OH, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that my daughter has openly gay friends who apparently come in for little or no hassling at her (smallish- everyone knows everyone) high school. I don’t know anything about attitudes to gay marriage among her schoolmates, but even a live-and-let-live attitude toward gay people is better than I would naively have expected.

8

Rich B. 01.10.07 at 2:02 pm

Nice summary, but two comments:

1. Did none of the articles discussed raise the issue of the “wavering bisexual”? It seems to me that there is some philosophical claim to be made for the “Value of Stigmatization” or some such. If it’s all the same to me as a bisexual, and I’m indifferent to children, why not a strong government policy that pushes me in a direction where procreation may be likely later.

I don’t say, of course, that this should be controlling factor, but it strikes me as a weight on the “anti” side of the scale.

2. A common retort from the “antis” is that, while their arguments may prove too little, their opponents’ prove too much (as they would lead to plural marriage, incest, or whatever, between consenting adults). It strikes me, though, that the “anti” argument may prove too much as well.

If my sister is a single mother with no “genetic father” in the picture, what is their “Policy” argument for why I shouldn’t be able to marry my sister, thus allowing the two of us to together raise our “biological” child in a two-opposite-sex parent home?

9

a 01.10.07 at 2:37 pm

“And the truth is that the case against same-sex marriage seems pretty weak, unless someone can come up with some much better papers.”

Now there’s an academic talking! Perhaps there’s a strong case but it just hasn’t been made in an academic paper? Or is existence equivalent to existence in an academic paper?

10

harry b 01.10.07 at 2:46 pm

a — fair enough — what I mean is that as far as I can see no-one has made the anti-gay-marriage case in anything like a careful and rigorous way in an academic paper or serious piece of journalism. I’d be surprised if it had been made in a careful and rigorous way in any other arena, given that so few other arenas reward seriousness and rigour even to the extent that academia and serious journalism do. Of course, though, there good be a completely knock-down case that no-one has made anywhere either because no-one can be bothered or no-one has discovered it yet — and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise (but my actual words do imply otherwise, as you rightly point out, so sorry for that). Still, a great case that no-one has made is not much use to me in my class!

11

No Longer a Urinated State of America 01.10.07 at 2:51 pm

How did you deal with the counterargument that if gay marriage is OK, so is polygamy/polyandry? I have the gut feel that polygamy/polyandry is just rife with opportunities for abuse, but haven’t found anything rigorous against it.

12

engels 01.10.07 at 3:05 pm

I fear we are overlooking the Gödellian argument against gay marriage: that there exists a true, unprovable English sentence, and it entails that gay marriage is wrong.

(continues scraping barrel…)

13

RBL 01.10.07 at 3:09 pm

Two sociology articles that may be of use for your question re: differences in attitudes by age:

Loftus, Jeni. 2001. “America’s Liberalizing Attitudes Toward Homosexuality, 1973-1998.” American Sociological Review 66(5): 762-782

Rosenfeld, Michael J. and Byung-Soo Kim. 2005. “The Independence of Young Adults and the Rise of Interracial and Same-Sex Unions.” American Sociological Review 70(4): 541-562.

14

Hindu 01.10.07 at 3:29 pm

I wonder why same sex marriages are not such a major religious/political issue in cultures of the east.

“Advanced” communities such as those in Scandinavia, and the progressive states in America seem to have less of a problem with the issue. Middle America seems violently against it, and the poorer (dare I call it third-world?) nations are apathetic towards this issue. Wonder if there is a sociological pattern there.

15

H. E. Baber 01.10.07 at 3:46 pm

Seems to me that the primary purpose of marriage is to create a contract that’s difficult to break in which people are bound together to provide financial support, housing and personal contact. These contractual relationships are very important–without them we’re continually scrabbling and scrounging, never safe and know that if we’re down on our luck and when we get old, we’ll be dumped and isolated. We’ll be in a situation where we have to perennially strive to sell ourselves, to be appealing to others, and never be secure.

Sex isn’t important, children aren’t important, biology isn’t important. What matters is security, being able to lock others in so that we aren’t continually pressed to perform socially. That’s why the family is important–because, given current laws and customs, it provides that kind of security, where we don’t have to perform, don’t have to be likable and can count on financial support and social contact. We have children so that we won’t be alone on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and to support us in old age. The more contractual arrangements we have that provide that kind of lock-in the better.

I would guess that at bottom the worry about same-sex marriage is that instead of creating further opportunities for contractual lock-in it will somehow undermine the contractual lock-in of families, currently the only social arrangements on which we can really depend for security. If so, then the case to be made–if it can be made–is that same-sex marriage provides more opportunities for individuals to lock themselves and others into socially secure relationships and does not undermine the security conventional family relationships currently provide.

16

Jim Harrison 01.10.07 at 3:50 pm

On a metalevel, social conservatives differ from the liberals not merely in the particular social practices they endorse or abhor but in denying the possibility that the same practice may have a very different meaning depending on circumstances because moral principles operate at a higher level of abstraction than simple empirical rules.

Does support for same-sex marriage mean that one of these days we’ll be legalizing polygamy? Who knows? It’s easy to imagine demographic conditions in which polygamy would be a rational and moral social practice under the same ethicial principles by which it is rightly rejected in our little part of history. You blow on your hands because they are cold, and blow on your soup because it’s hot. That’s not relativism.

I take it that same-sex marriage is a salient issue now because under contemporary conditions, people just don’t spend as much of their lives and energies reproducing as they used to. There is a need for new institutions that provide another basis than child-rearing for intimate association between people.

17

engels 01.10.07 at 4:15 pm

H.E.Barber – The immediate problem with the argument you sketch seems to be that if marriage really is, as you say, the “only social arrangement on which we [ie. heterosexual people] can really depend for security” then deliberately denying such a basic opportunity to a minority (ie. gay people) while extending it to everybody else would appear to be manifestly unjust. I don’t see how it could be an adequate defence of the present situation that, as you seem to suggest, perpetuating such an injustice might greatly benefit the rest of us.

18

Tim McG 01.10.07 at 4:40 pm

I’m kind of curious (in a morbid sort of way) about an even further point: Has anyone made the case that homophobia and the repression of (most, if not all) sexual desire are instrumentally good? That is, are you familiar with any defense of homophobia (and acknowledgment of what it comes along with) that doesn’t rest on some type of either divine-law or natural-law argument?

19

Matt 01.10.07 at 4:52 pm

Tim- you might look at Michael Levin’s work on homosexuality, such as “Why Homosexuality is Abnormal” from _The Monist_, 67:251. It’ pretty unpleasent and not very convincing. But, it’s not either divine law or natural law (in a traditional sense, at least) stuff and does argue that revultion from homosexuality is good.

20

engels 01.10.07 at 5:01 pm

Has anyone made the case that … the repression of (most, if not all) sexual desire are instrumentally good?

I believe there are many defences of marriage… (Sorry.)

21

Crystal 01.10.07 at 5:13 pm

#11: I don’t know about polyandry, but polygyny (which most people mean when they say “polygamy”) usually involves the coercion of underage girls and the denial of their individual rights. Even in traditionally polygamous countries and cultures, there are now grass-roots, women-led movements against it and for good reason – polygamy usually gives all the rights to the husband and none to the wives. I cannot imagine it catching on widely here. Certainly I don’t know anyone who thinks that forcing a 16-year-old to drop out of school and become the fifth wife of a man old enough to be her father is a terrific idea.

The marriage of two men or two women won’t really change anything about marriage as it is set up in Western countries. Whether it’s Harry and Sally or Harry and Hubert or Sally and Susan doesn’t make a difference to Social Security, taxes, estate planning, etc. Now if you introduce three or more people into the mix and there is all of a sudden a huge complicated legal web to untangle. Another reason why legal polygamy probably isn’t going to catch on soon.

22

H. E. Baber 01.10.07 at 5:39 pm

You’ve got me wrong, engles. I’m not arguing against same-sex marriage but in favor of it. I’m suggesting that to make the case it’s crucial to show that it won’t undermine the security that heterosexual marriage and conventional family relationships provide but extend the option of contracting into secure relations to same-sex couples.

As far as polygamy and other sorts of relations go–fine. The main thing is that they be secure and unbreakable. Quality doesn’t matter–security at all costs. I’d much rather be a plural wife in a secure but loveless polygamous relationship than an insecure wife in a monogamous love match.

Anyway, I’m convinced that what conservatives are afraid of is insecurity. What matters is knowing that we won’t be alone for Christmas, have someone to support us in old age and won’t die alone. Everything else is bs.

23

leederick 01.10.07 at 6:03 pm

I think gay marriage will destroy marriage.

Married people get a series of benefits, funded by the public, as a result of being married. I feel the main historic reason for this is because of sentimentality surrounding women and childrearing. If women didn’t, for example, inherit their spouses estate without paying tax or weren’t entitled to their spouses pension many of them would have been many of them would have been plunged into poverty because of their role in childrearing. There was a large enough coalition of people willing to support (or at least tollerate) awarding these benefits to avoid women suffering.

With gay marriage, and without the figleaf of marital children, I can’t see how these transfers can be justified. I think pro-gay marriage supporters fundamentally recognise this – they support SSM in terms of ‘equality’ (with married, not single people) rather than trying to justify why they deserve these transfers from single people. Has anyone objectively tried to justify SSM in terms which would justify creating the institution in a world in which heterosexual marriage didn’t exist? Not as far as I’m aware.

There are other social changes too, but gay marriage really showcases how out of date the system is. It was designed for time when women vitually all married, had large numbers of children, and were dependent on men. As this becomes more obvious I feel the coalition supporting transfers from single to married people will not be sustainable.

24

engels 01.10.07 at 6:08 pm

H.E. Baber – I was referring to the argument you outlined; I wasn’t assuming that it was your own view. My point was that I don’t think that argument works, for the reasons I gave, ie. advocates of gay marriage would not need to “show that it won’t undermine the security that heterosexual marriage and conventional family relationships provide”. If marriage provides such a crucial good to heterosexuals that you suggest it does then it appears to be an injustice to deny this opportunity equally to gays and such an injustice would have to be corrected, even if doing so would have serious adverse consequences for heterosexuals.

25

engels 01.10.07 at 6:24 pm

I have the opposite issue to Leederick as I worry that gay marriage will breathe new life into the moribund institution of marriage. This would be a serious setback to the real goal of abolishing marriage, the family and all the other morbid accoutrements of bourgeois social “life”. But I believe that this would be a price worth paying for the principle of treating everybody equally here and now. There you go, Harry, I’m not in the “ultraleft” anti-marriage column: I’m willing to compromise…

26

David Wright 01.10.07 at 6:25 pm

I’d like to suggest that you spend some time with your class discussing a related and all-too-often unasked question: what is the case for government-sponsored marriage of anyone? That is, why should government bless certain kinds of consensual romantic relationship and not others? Why should it push romantically involved people to adopt a certain standard set of contractual obligations to each other instead of letting them negotiate their own? What bad things would happen if the government just stopped marrying people?

27

Kenny Easwaran 01.10.07 at 7:11 pm

Re 14:

I don’t think the third world is apathetic to these issues. If anything, they’re more actively hostile than middle America. Some Episcopal churches in Virginia and other areas have decided that they’d rather be part of a Nigerian or Ugandan bishopric because of its more congenial attitudes (to them) on same-sex marriage. In India (as in parts of the US until 3.5 years ago) same-sex sex is still illegal. In Nigeria, anything which even hints of same-sex sex (possibly including going out to dinner with a known homosexual) may soon be criminalized. As far as I know, they’re not trying to do that in Nebraska or Ohio or anywhere else in the US. In fact, I haven’t heard a single outcry about the fall of anti-sodomy laws since Rick Santorum made his “man on dog” comment back in 2003.

28

sara 01.10.07 at 7:13 pm

There’s no real reason to suppose that the behavior of ultra-left opponents of marriage who participate in it to subvert it – think of Britney Spears – has any real impact on the institution itself.

Since when did Britney Spears — ok, I admit the atrocity of her marriage and impending divorce of K-Fed — join Cindy Sheehan?

Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.

29

engels 01.10.07 at 7:20 pm

Sara – I have a sneaking suspicion that that may have been a joke.

30

Brett Bellmore 01.10.07 at 8:03 pm

“But the child-centered goal can be achieved while allowing other people who manifestly have no intention of having or ability to have children to marry.”

Why can’t we preserve the present meaning of “marriage”, and let them “garbleflink”, or whatever, which is functionally equivalent, but permits people who are married by present definitions to mention that they’re married, and not have to immediately clarify that they’re married to somebody of the other gender?

IOW, if a functionally equivalent relationship by another name doesn’t satisfy, this is less about rights concerning one’s own behavior, and more about forcing changes in the language.

31

MQ 01.10.07 at 8:14 pm

Re #14 and #27: a religious African I met, who was quite left-wing on economic and power issues, once tried to convince me that Bush was God’s revenge on America for tolerating open homosexuality and gay marriage. Not an argument you see often from the left here.

My impression was that her community regarded gay marriage with horror.

32

Steve LaBonne 01.10.07 at 8:50 pm

Why can’t we preserve the present meaning of “marriage”

Why can’t we acknowledge that nobody appointed you as guardian of the word “marriage”?

33

Uncle Kvetch 01.10.07 at 9:03 pm

permits people who are married by present definitions to mention that they’re married, and not have to immediately clarify that they’re married to somebody of the other gender?

Gee, I’d never thought of that, Brett. If push comes to shove I guess you’re just going to have to resign yourself to having the words “I’M NOT GAY” tatooed on your forehead.

Christ.

34

JR 01.10.07 at 9:07 pm

Well, this was going along quite nicely until #32 had to get all ad hominem. Hope it can get back on track, but more likely more “so’s your old man” commenters will step in and overwhelm the thread.

35

SG 01.10.07 at 9:08 pm

How on earth can any change to the institution of marriage undermine it, when no-fault divorce laws exist? Marriage cannot protect children because you can exit at any time. In many countries de facto partners even have similar inheritance and custody rights after breakup (I think), so this protective aspect of marriage is lost. With these two legal changes marriage has simply become a ritual people choose to engage in. It says nothing about your future security except that, if your partner considers marriage essential, you know you`re in the shit if they won`t marry you.

For this reason #15 is wrong, but also on a more abstract level the comment there is completely cynical. We enter close, loving relationships on the assumption that they are close and loving enough not to need some special law to prevent us being dumped in old age, or left scrabbling. We enter these relationships so that they can sustain us for their own sake and under their own steam.

The slippery slope argument (first gays, then siblings, then dogs, etc.) is, like all slippery slope arguments, shonky. I`m with Engels – the more Britney Spears and gay marriages undermine this already completely moribund institution, the sooner it will die by itself.

36

JR 01.10.07 at 9:08 pm

Boy, before I even finished typing my post (#34) #33 snuck in with another bitchy 2 cents. This thread is now officially toast.

37

engels 01.10.07 at 9:36 pm

Brett – Any pointers on why you feel it would be essential to “immediately clarify” that your marriage is a heterosexual one?

38

Peter Levine 01.10.07 at 9:39 pm

In 2004, my organization (a href=”http://www.civicyouth.org>CIRCLE) asked a nationally representative sample of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25 whether they favored various rights for gays. The respondents favored legal marriage (31% strongly, 26% not strongly), civil unions (34% strongly, 33% not strongly), and adoption righrs (32% strongly, 23.5% not strongly). We couldn’t include older adults in the same survey, unfortunately. But other polls (e.g., by CBS News) have never found an outright majority of adult Americans in favor of gay marriage.

I thought it was especially interesting that of young Americans who called themselves evangelical Christians, 43% favored gay marriage.

39

Crystal 01.10.07 at 9:53 pm

I’m also in the camp that says that if marriage offers benefits to those who enter it – whether it’s raising children in a two-parent family, taxes, security in old age, not having to brave the lions of the dating arena, what have you – then it’s bigoted, unfair, and indefensible to deny these benefits to gays.

I really don’t know that marriage evolved in deep antiquity, ancient Sumeria, or wherever, to give people all these benefits. Stephanie Coontz argues, persuasively, that marriage began as a way to foster ties between communities and families, creating allies and helpers. If there are no taxes and people die at 35, then old-age care and saving on taxes is moot.

Re #22: Call me a selfish only child who doesn’t like to share, but I’d far rather have love and monogamy. I’d rather have the love and exclusivity and take my chances on being abandoned. I doubt a loveless, polygamous union does much for a woman’s chances of being cared for in her old age anyway, unless she has lots of kids (in traditional polygynous cultures, this means sons).

40

vivian 01.10.07 at 9:56 pm

Well, if JR (36) is right, here’s a request for the next topic: Harry, your dad was quoted in the BBC commenting on the government minister who is sending one child to private school because the state school was inadequately addressing his dyslexia (she put it more diplomatically than that). I’d love to hear more rigorous talk about kids with special academic needs, and obligations and social priorities and such. Any chance you’ll write about this, or arrange a guest post?

41

Brett Bellmore 01.10.07 at 10:20 pm

“Brett – Any pointers on why you feel it would be essential to “immediately clarify” that your marriage is a heterosexual one?”

FYI: I don’t. Nor am I particularly opposed to same sex marriage, provided that it’s achieved by normal democratic processes, rather than imposed by judicial fiat.

But we’ve just had a pretty good demonstration of why Harry couldn’t find any of his students willing to speak up against same sex marriage, despite having a poll showing a significant fraction of them opposing it, and the reality of living in a society where the majority are so opposed.

42

Colin Danby 01.10.07 at 10:37 pm

I’m still trying to get past

“The high solemnity of marriage has been trans-generationally wired into our visceral system”

Lamarckian cultural-digestive anthropology?

Anyway what came of the earlier suggestions to use David Velleman’s skeptical writings on gay marriage? You can say a lot of things about DV, but last I saw he wasn’t arguing on the basis of visceral wiring.

PS #26 has a sound point, and it’s interesting that most opponents of gay marriage won’t abide it — they *want* gov’t stepping in. There’s a weird statist nominalism that wants analyzing.

43

Matt Austern 01.11.07 at 12:02 am

I suppose you’ve considered the possibility that you haven’t yet seen a compelling argument for restricting marriage to mixed-sex couples because there is no such case to be made, right?

I haven’t seen any such argument either. The closest I’ve seen boils down to “ick!”, and that’s at best an argument-shaped object, not an argument.

44

brooksfoe 01.11.07 at 12:23 am

Anecdotally, on the Kurtz book: as the spouse of a Dutch woman, and having lived for some time in Amsterdam, I can unequivocally attest that the causality runs in the opposite direction from that asserted by Kurtz. If there is a relationship between the ease with which gay marriage was accepted in Holland and the lower or declining marriage rate, it is that marriage is much less highly valued in Holland than in the US, and therefore its extension to gay couple was even less of a problematic issue than it might otherwise have been. Marriage in Holland is considered, both legally and to a great extent informally/socially, to be indistinguishable from long-term domestic partnership. That has been true since the late 1970s; same-sex marriages were not approved until the end of the ’90s.

45

Andrew 01.11.07 at 12:24 am

Indeed, Matt. The thing that has always puzzled me about the whole “devaluing marriage” objection is: how? How, practically, will the fact that gay people can marry mean that any specific married heterosexual couple will think less of their own marriage, or anyone else’s? Who would change their estimation of any specific hetero marriage, based on a change in the law as it applies to people not involved in that marriage? And why?

These questions to me seem nonsensical. In practical terms I can’t think of a way in which legalising gay marriages would affect any real non-gay marriage at all. “Ick!” does really seem to be the extent of the argument, to me.

46

Observer 01.11.07 at 12:50 am

Harry,

what’s the time frame for this paper?

Are you looking for a philosophical argument, a tactical argument or some combination of both?

47

Teddy 01.11.07 at 2:50 am

Harry, you tried to encourage your students to express different opinions on gay marriage by telling them that “there should be no presumption that anyone is committed to an undesirable conclusion”. Don’t you think that this could have had exactly the opposite effect? They could have taken this as the confirmation of their fears that there is indeed an undesirable conclusion in this debate, and most probably it was quite clear to them what that was.

48

daelm 01.11.07 at 4:31 am

ref: third world countries and homophobia

south africa

while much of the population is homophobic, the government, rightly, values principle over popularity.

49

Pauls Way 01.11.07 at 5:47 am

I have never supported an anti-same sex marriage way of life. It is Pauls Way to believe that anything that is not harmful to others should be allowed. There is no proof that same sex marriages damage the children involved any nore than an opposite sex marriage can. On the other hand, there is no study to say that same sex couples raise a child better. There is a fight to keep same sex couples from sharing insurance, but can anyone say why? Stability cannot be judged as an issue either. I have recently published a small post along these lines, check it out for more!

50

aaron_m 01.11.07 at 6:04 am

RE: #41

Hey everybody lets vote on whether or not Brett should ever be allowed to get married.

I vote NO, but just for the point’s sake. I am sure Brett would make for an acceptable husband.

51

Brett Bellmore 01.11.07 at 6:52 am

You’re a bit too late, Aaron, but aside from that, you seem to be missing a point.

When policies result from the normal democratic process, rather than judicial fiat, it has several beneficial implications.

Chief among them is that it requires proponents of a policy to actually bother to persuade people they’re right. Only slightly less important is that the people on the losing side of the policy debate are far more inclined to accept the outcome as legitimate, and resign themselves to it.

A number of states now have unambiguous bans on same sex marriage, making it harder than before for the democratic process to result in legal same sex marriage. This is a direct result of advocates of same sex marriage deciding to skip public persuasion and democracy, and just find a judge willing to cram the policy down the public’s collective throat.

Rule by judicial fiat backfires.

If I thought the arguments that same sex marriage is constitutionally required were at all persuasive, I’d say, let’s have it though the heavens should fall. That’s what it means to be a constitutional Republic, after all: The Constitution is law, and must be enforced until duely amended, even if it’s not popular in a given instance.

But they’re not. It’s sophistry, meant to excuse using the courts to impose an unpopular policy on the public. And it’s pretty obviously such.

So not only does imposing same sex marriage via the courts result in a backlash against same sex marriage, which makes it harder to achieve in the end, it also serves to further delegitimize the judiciary. Which is already suffering in that regard.

So, achieve it by the democratic process, or don’t achieve it. I don’t think same sex marriage, however desirable, is worth the cost, especially considering the extent to which one can achieve functionally equivalent status which lacks little more than the word, “marriage”.

Constitutional bans on same sex marriage, and increased public disdain for the judiciary; That’s a pretty high price to pay for a word, isn’t it?

52

MR. Bill 01.11.07 at 7:23 am

I’m not so sure about your backfire theory, Brett.
I live in a part of the world (state of Gerogia, USA) where intstitutionalized racism (and ‘negro slavery’) were considered norms until they were ended by judicial and executive fiat. Yeah there was a backfire, but those things were ended.
In the longer term, opposition to gay marrige will be seen as the same thing as another marriage issue, oppostion to interracial marriage.

53

aaron jason silver 01.11.07 at 7:43 am

Is gay culture a healthy culture? Could we do better?

I believe that many of the issues facing gay culture such as our struggle for equal rights have a lot to do with the perception that has been formed by the dominant heterosexual culture about gay culture in general. Being gay myself and having written a book on this topic gay culture and it’s many dysfunctional behaviors that gays have become so used to they now believe that they are normal. During the research process for the book I had conversations with many “straight” people and gay people all of varying lifestyles. I was very curious about what bothered them about gays. One very important issue is that for one, there are a lot of generalities about all gay people based on the stereotypical behaviors they often see on T.V. or in restaurants etc. Many of these include behaviors left them with the impression that gay culture is; very self-serving and superficial, partying all the time using drugs, and the over consumption of alcohol and the wearing of gender blurring clothing. We only need to read many of the statistics to know that gays are twelve times more likely to become alcoholics, also a much higher incidence of drug abuse and suicides. We need to ask ourselves why? What is it about being gay that causes these self-destructive behaviors? There are members of particularly the urban gay culture that tend to be what I call the out and loud crowd, making there sexuality a big issue rather than treating their sexual orientation as a neutral issue instead of being obnoxious about it and purposely making a point to shove it into peoples faces. We are often seen as crass by many straight people. Many of the stereotypical behaviors concerning the gay culture I believe are true and I believe it is time that we, as gay people need to own up to many of these behaviors and start to question the culture as a whole and what the cultures priorities are and why there seems to be by all accounts more psychological problems. I believe I do however understand why many dysfunctional and self-destructive behaviors within the culture are largely based on childhood wounds. So very many gay men have had shared experiences in school. They were very often picked on, felt isolated and felt like outsiders. They were demeaned for many years which would surely have a tremendous impact on a person’s sense of self-worth. When they finally are out of school they usually seek out and find the safety and security of the gay community with its pre- established norms and ways of behaving that often are not considered to be healthy attitudes or behaviors. They also don’t promote healthy lifestyle choices in the new young men joining the gay culture in order to feel some sense of camaraderie for perhaps the first time in their lives. One need only imagine how it feels to finally find a group of people that accept who you are. It feels so good that they tend to take on the established behaviors of the gay community which was also founded by emotionally damaged individuals that had similar childhood experiences. I believe if we all take a good long hard look at ourselves and try and imagine how foreign our culture must seem to the dominant culture. So often, what we don’t understand we fear. Since they are our largest voting constituency I believe these stereotypes are getting in our way of gaining the equal rights that we deserve under our constitution. We, as a culture can begin to change these stereotypes by behaving in an honorable and respectful manner when we are out in public. We need spokes people that don’t fit the stereotypes that make straight people feel even more alienated from us. I’m not at all saying that men that are more effeminate should start trying to act like something they are not. Male behavior as does female behavior runs on a scale from very effeminate to very masculine. Neither is right or wrong. They ought to be considered neutral issues. We do however need to be more honest with ourselves about the image we are sending to the world at large. This may be a helpful first step in changing impressions about who we are as a people. Thank you, Aaron Jason Silver http://www.aaronjasonsilver.com

54

MR. Bill 01.11.07 at 8:06 am

And let me add that I am in sympathy with your arguement that gay marriage advocates could have gotten civil benefits of marriage without the word “marriage”. Indeed, I think that this is mostly an arguement about symbols rather than actual results: the symbols of ‘marriage’ and legitimacy are the prize here. Ultimately, this is also an arguement over homosexuals and how icky we find the things they do.
BTW, I’m a gay single parent (2 kids and a foster kid). I have a great boyfriend, but we have no intention of marrying. I only know one gay couple who intend to marry and they are elderly lesbians who want to go to on a New England vacation.
I know plenty of gay folks with kids, so the ‘what will happen to the children’ is an arguement that can be settled by real socilogical research. (as if that settled anything for bigots..)

55

MR. Bill 01.11.07 at 8:06 am

and forgive my lousy spelling. it’s early…

56

abb1 01.11.07 at 8:14 am

Will I be the only one here again to come out for Britney Spears – against marriage as government-sanctioned religious institution? Well, here it is then.

Why should any secular person care about arguments pro- and contra- female priests or gay marriages or any other particularity of religious practices? Let’s just leave to the religious authorities, the Pope knows what’s good for the Catholics – by definition.

57

MR. Bill 01.11.07 at 8:16 am

Well, the Unitarian Universalists (where I go to church) will marry gay folks. Who’s to tell us that it shouldn’t have a state sanction? We’re being discriminated against…

58

brooksfoe 01.11.07 at 8:26 am

But they’re not. It’s sophistry, meant to excuse using the courts to impose an unpopular policy on the public. And it’s pretty obviously such.

Brett returns us to the “Bowers v. Hardwick” position that the claim that the Constitution protects a citizen’s right to engage in anal sex is “facetious”. Such claims often appear “facetious”, “sophistical”, or simply amusing to those whom they do not affect. To those whom they do affect, they are the very essence of the claim to be equal citizens, entitled to live normal lives. I believe most of us Jews, among other minorities, should empathize: The true terror of being an oppressed minority is of having one’s status as a normal citizen stripped away, while the “regular folks” look on and laugh.

Southerners in 1830 would have found the claim that the Bill of Rights was incompatible with slavery, or that black men had any rights at all, to be “sophistry”. Only people have rights; negroes were not people. Later, people found the claim that the Constitution prohibited private establishments from excluding blacks or Jews to be “sophistry”. Neither of these problems were resolved through the political process, and it is easy to see why not: blacks and Jews are MINORITIES.

59

aaron_m 01.11.07 at 8:36 am

#49

I am well aware of the preferability of arriving a just policies via the democratic political process as opposed to having them imposed on a political community. But the problem is the implication that it is morally defensible to deny gays the same social and political recognition as heterosexuals if this choice is made democratically.

Let’s say that it is morally wrong for a country to prohibit gay marriage irrespective of what is democratically chosen. The fact that there would be costs to the society as a whole associated with implementing the just policy via judicial review does not make it less wrong. That would be like saying that because there are high social costs to catching the person who stole your car we are not even going to try (which we don’t), and that in turn this makes it less wrong that they stole your car. What we might say is that our inaction is justifiable, but in the case of gay marriage what we end up with following this logic is that it is justifiable for the society to treat you in a morally wrong way because of the benefits to society. A difficult argument to defend to say the least.

Rather the usual counter argument to my position is, a la Waldron, that we can’t say that we actually know if giving gays the same social and legal status as heterosexuals or giving women the right vote is in fact demanded by justice. But if it was true that we cannot know these kinds of things we would also not be able know if democracy was the morally most preferable form of political association. Thus the argument from not knowing what should count as treating individuals as moral equals would also undermine the argument that we ought to decide things democratically. This is because the argument for democracy is fundamentally bound up with a commitment to the premise that each individual is a moral equal.

60

harry b 01.11.07 at 8:44 am

I’m very sympathetic to Brett’s claim that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be achieved by judicial fiat, because it short-circuits a democratic process through which advocates have to win the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. Whether that is true or not depends on the issue and the context, and sometimes the harm done by the wrong is so serious that any means necessary might be a good policy. I suspect abortion and same-sex marriage, in the US today, are both in the “better to win through democratic politics” camp.

teddy — I think I’ll talk to some students to see what they think of your hypothesis. I don’t think what I did had that effect; I was pretty clear that I was recognising the reality that they all recognised which is that there were very strong feelings on both sides, and that I didn’t want those feelings to get in the way of open discussion any more than was inevitable. We’d already covered abortion, about which feelings are also strong and raw and, as usual (perhaps because I am very experienced with the topic and have more skill with it) all views came out very nicely and clearly, without any (apparent) ill-will. I deliberately covered the issue late in the term by which time they would have worked out that, for me, no conclusion is off the table. My TA might well be reading this, and can chime in with her impressions.

colin — I did use some of DV’s work (which did double duty on this topic and cloning) but I haven’t seen a published paper where he directly argues against S-S Marriage. I’ll ask him.

vivian — are we all to be embarrassed by our parents? I’ll take your suggestion under advisement, though any post I do will probably point to resources rather than express opinions because I find that topic very difficult to think about. I can’t get my dad to guest-post because he can’t type…..

Oh, david wright: discussion of the justification of marriage tout court occupied a fair amount of our time, as it lies at the root of these arguments. I’m teaching a course in the Fall in which I’ll focus on that in a lot more detail. Suggestions?

sara — it was a joke — but in the light of yoour quote it is a better joke!

61

Steve LaBonne 01.11.07 at 9:03 am

Will I be the only one here again to come out for Britney Spears – against marriage as government-sanctioned religious institution? Well, here it is then.

No, you’re not the only one. I’ve long thought that it’s a huge error for the state to have taken over from religious bodies the role of “solemnizing” “marriage”. The state should do nothing except regulate and enforce civil-union contracts between consenting parties, whether or not they are of opposite sexes; the word “marriage” shouldn’t even appear in the law. Leave that word and its definition to the church, synagogue, mosque, or what have you.

62

Uncle Kvetch 01.11.07 at 9:44 am

I am well aware of the preferability of arriving a just policies via the democratic political process as opposed to having them imposed on a political community.

To echo Andrew (#46), would somebody please flesh out this “imposition” business? What exactly is being imposed on heterosexual people (or, to use Brett’s more colorful formulation, “crammed down their throats”) as a result of SSM?

In a perverse kind of way, you could say that there was some degree of “imposition” in, say, the elimination of Jim Crow laws in the South. Hardwired racists were going to have to share their bathrooms and water fountains and lunch counters with people they considered subhuman, whether they liked it or not. As far as I can see, SSM doesn’t even go that far. The stuff about existing straight marriages somehow being magically mystically devalued because of the existence of gay marriages is simply a more sophisticated expression of the “Ew, gross” factor. Or am I missing something?

63

Uncle Kvetch 01.11.07 at 9:45 am

“Hardwired racists”–I don’t even know what I meant by that. “Hardcore racists,” or, if you prefer, just plain “racists.”

64

Jacob Christensen 01.11.07 at 10:30 am

Just a (slightly OT) note after a skimming of the quoted Stanley Kurtz-article:

I think the idea of Christianity being less deeply rooted historically in the Scandinavian countries than in Continental Europe or the British Isles is wrong. What is absent (since the 1530s) is Catholicism – I’m not an expert on the Anglican Church but I’ve always had it described as Catholic-in-all-but-name compared to “Germanic” Protestantism.

(If I’m not mistaken, then Sweden is in fact the home of the relatively largest charismatic evangelical churches in Europe)

Kurtz talks about the destruction of traditional family patterns in the Scandinavian countries and is very concerned about the situation of children in these countries in general. But why are the birth rates in the Scandinavian countries relatively high by European standards? Kurtz also omits that Scandinavian sociologists frequently show that an overwhelming majority of children under the age of 18 are living with both biological parents.

More on topic could be this consideration: If – like me – you’re not into hard-line social constructivism, the bi- and homosexual part of the population could be considered a relatively small minority and its size relatively static (even if some move between hetero- and homosexual partnerships).

Does it, then, really matter for heterosexuals if homosexuals are allowed to marry? (Yes, I am aware of the children-in-gay-families discussion)

I occasionally have the impression that a lot of anti-gay arguments basically run along the line – “if X is allowed to be homosexual, then I’m not allowed to be heterosexual”.

65

anon 01.11.07 at 10:30 am

#52 has a good point which I think has been inadequately addressed. What kinds of policy is it legitimate to impose through a political-judicial mechanism rather than voting? Can that be distinguished from “policies of which we approve”?

Also, “Not one student was willing to speak up against same-sex marriage, despite the fact that an anonymous survey revealed that 15% of them are strongly opposed.” shows quite nicely how ideological hegemony in higher education works.

66

aaron_m 01.11.07 at 10:34 am

What kinds of policy is it legitimate to impose through a political-judicial mechanism rather than voting?

What kinds of policies are legitimate to impose through voting?

67

Jacob Christensen 01.11.07 at 10:35 am

@uncle kvetch:

I don’t know, but there is something about the term hardwired that seems very fascinating. An interesting neologism. How about hardwired anti-gays?

Maybe hardwired will go on all the way to become the word of 2007?

68

harry b 01.11.07 at 10:47 am

anon — I don’t think it is at all specific to higher education. Go into any institution, and adopt a viewpoint that only 15% of your colleagues agree with about some cultural/political matter, in which you know that the majority of your colleagues strongly disagree with you. You’ll keep quiet about it for the most part. I have I suspect this is what has happened with overt racism in most institutions and a good thing too (I would NOT encourage my students to express racist opinions, even if they had arguments for them, and frankly I stopped teaching affirmative action in the same course because discussing that subject made some people feel free to express racist opinions for which they had no arguments). But, certainly, this is a problem in an environment in which we are trying to explore the space of reasons. But don’t blame the professors — I guarantee you that no-one kept quiet for fear of what I would think or do (in fact the consequence was that when pro-gay-marriage arguments were made I had to eb the person arguing against them, because no other students would do it). Abortion, a case where I’d guess that students believe more confidently that more of their professors hold a liberal opinion, is no problem at all (because anti-abortion students know that plenty of their peers agree with them).

69

No Longer a Urinated State of America 01.11.07 at 10:57 am

“I don’t know about polyandry, but polygyny (which most people mean when they say “polygamy”) usually involves the coercion of underage girls and the denial of their individual rights. Even in traditionally polygamous countries and cultures, there are now grass-roots, women-led movements against it and for good reason – polygamy usually gives all the rights to the husband and none to the wives.”

I think I must not have explained myself well. I can’t see a situation where a third-world type polygyny becomes possible, with the wives having no rights. But I’m looking for a *general* argument for marriage to be restricted to between two people. The argument that polygyny as practiced by e.g. throwback Mormons in the remote parts of Utah is exploitative isn’t sufficiently general for that purpose.

70

Matt 01.11.07 at 10:58 am

‘Anon’ said, “Also, “Not one student was willing to speak up against same-sex marriage, despite the fact that an anonymous survey revealed that 15% of them are strongly opposed.” shows quite nicely how ideological hegemony in higher education works.”

Why does it show this rather than that these students don’t have the curage of their convictions or that they worry that, deep down, maybe they don’t have a good reason for what they believe? It’s true that “I don’t know why, I just think it’s wrong” or “It’s what my church says” don’t get you very far in an academic argument or in any rational argument for that matter, but why does this imply “ideological hegemony” rather than standards of rationality? I’m not (merely) playing with you here. When I’ve taught on this subject (and abortion) I’ve had a hard time trying to get those who oppose them to express their views and would like to know how better to do it. I don’t see how your claim about “ideological hegemony” has much support here, though.

71

H. E. Baber 01.11.07 at 11:24 am

I can see a perfectly good argument for polygny–even of the exploitative 3rd world variety: the alternative, serial monogamy, is worse.

In The Bookseller of Kabul a middle-aged gent of some means takes a 16-year-old trophy wife, much to the dismay of his first wife, who is humiliated, moved out of the bedroom into the common sleeping area and, in effect, demoted. That’s bad. But not as bad as being dumped altogether, and she still gets financial support.

I would certainly rather be demoted than dumped altogether and left out in the cold economically. Of course it would be nicer if middle-aged guys didn’t dump their middle-aged wives in favor of fresh young chickies, but that is what they do–because they can. And given that that’s the way it is polygyny provides a safety net.

I’m amazed that lots of us are such spoiled brats that we not only want but expect a rose garden. Of course one would prefer a loving, monogamous relationship, but most of us can’t get what we most want in most of the time and it’s vital to have fallback positions.

72

engels 01.11.07 at 11:35 am

Anon – It is indeed perfectly possible to distinguish questions on which it is legitimate for the courts to rule from “policies of which we approve”. You have an absurd, paranoiac view of the operation of the legal system.

73

engels 01.11.07 at 11:52 am

Perhaps doing a straw poll of American college students’ views on any given issue might not be the best guide to the size and shape of the “space of reasons”.

74

Crystal 01.11.07 at 12:22 pm

Wanting a loving, monogamous, long-term relationship makes me a “spoiled brat?” Ohhhkaaaay.

That makes 95% of Americans spoiled brats, then.

75

engels 01.11.07 at 1:49 pm

I did use some of DV’s work (which did double duty on this topic and cloning) but I haven’t seen a published paper where he directly argues against S-S Marriage.

I’m sure he could get some more mileage out of his Luke Skywalker argument. (How can a gay possibly understand the erotic frisson between Han Solo and Princess Leia?) Maybe he could even combine it with the Chewbacca defence?

76

Nate 01.11.07 at 2:46 pm

I wasn’t part of the original posting, but if you’re still looking for a good natural law person, Mary Ann Glendon at Harvard Law makes that case. here’s a sample: Glendon, Mary Ann. “For Better or Worse?” Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2004, Op-Ed.
See http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110004735

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raj 01.11.07 at 3:56 pm

Let’s understand something. “Natural law” is an oxymoron. It is a religious construct parading as science.

Let’s understand something else. From dealing with Brett Bellmore over almost a decade, it has become clear to me that he would prefer to subject all rights, except, of course, the right to keep and bear arms, to a referendum. He is interested only in preserving the rights in which he is interested, not in preserving the rights of the Gesellschaft.

78

David Wright 01.11.07 at 4:26 pm

Harry: Thanks for considering my suggestion. I think focusing on the less charged question of the state-sponsporship of marriage will allow students to express a diversity of views without fear of being ostracized for their views.

I’m afraid I’m not a political scientist, so I don’t know of good academic hournal treatments of these issues. Here are a few fairly thoughtful writings on the web:

There is a decent BeckerPosner exchange that touches on these issues.

Jennifer Morse argues for government-sponsored marriage, but couched in a libertarian analysis of externalities.

(Also, Crystal says “That makes 95% of Americans spoiled brats…” That figure sounds about right to me. :-))

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engels 01.11.07 at 4:42 pm

Still, you’ve got to hand it to Brett: it’s not every day you find a “libertarian” who is willing to attack gay marriage and the judicial protection of basic rights, and defend language Nazism in the same post.

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abb1 01.11.07 at 5:01 pm

Oh, man. He was just saying that in his opinion this particular right does not directly follow from the constitution, that’s all.

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engels 01.11.07 at 5:26 pm

abb1 – It was a joke: still, it’s reassuring to find you being as tiresome as ever. The posts are also (i) an attack on gay marriage (although not on principle) and (ii) a defence of ‘language Nazism’ (both rather ironic causes for a “libertarian” to champion). It arguably also expresses scepticism about the standard judicial mechanisms for protecting basic rights in democracy, hence the throwaway remark which apparently offended you.

However, arguing with you is if anything more futile than arguing with Brett, so please consider it withdrawn.

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Brett Bellmore 01.11.07 at 7:36 pm

Look, I’m not attacking same sex marriage. I’m attacking a particular way of achieving same sex marriage.

Yes, I’m a libertarian. I’m a libertarian who sees constitutionalism and the rule of law as a VERY important restraint on the threat of government to our liberties. Which means that I’m opposed to achieving even real increases in liberty in ways which undermine both these safeguards.

Especially, as I said above, if you can get most of the substance of the liberty already.

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rea 01.11.07 at 8:26 pm

Sensible arguments against gay marriage? Well, just as an exercise, mind you, I’ll try . . .

(1) Gay couples like my partner and me–together for 16 years, mongamous, mutually devoted–will destroy the instituton of marriage as we now know it, by showing up all the hetero couples who marry and then get divorced a few years later.

(2) Bigotry–hatred of the “other”–is the social glue that holds society together. However, for complex political reasons, bigotry directed against blacks, women, Jews, Irish people, etc., is no longer socially respectable. Therefore, we must all hate and persecute gays. Note that gays, unlike their principal rivals for “otherness,” Muslims, don’t have nuclear weapons.

Excuse me now–I have to go wash my brain . . .

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aaron_m 01.11.07 at 8:58 pm

Were I am living it is not socially acceptable to fear gays. As a result we are forced to fear Muslims and feminists.

Culturally we suffer from sever bipolar anxiety.

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engels 01.11.07 at 9:18 pm

Brett – I’m not going take on your wacky and ill-informed views of legal theory, which are only tangentially relevant to this discussion, nor shall I do anything other than raise my eyebrows at someone who claims to be in favour of limited government, yet advocates the courts being kept on the tightest possible leash, in relation to their power to restrain the government.

I’ll merely point out that your first post did indeed argue unequivocally against same sex marriage, claiming that we should instead “let them “garbleflink”, or whatever” and that this affront to individual liberty and equality before the law (helpful hint: equality before the law is usually thought to be a pretty important aspect of the “rule of law”) is justified, in your view, in order to preserve the purity of the English language. If the only purpose of your interventions in this discussion about arguments against gay marriage is to drone on, yet again, about your favourite rightwing talking point (fancy that?) – “judicial activism” – then all I want to say is that you have changed your position quite substantially.

And that if you’re a libertarian, then I’m Donald Rumsfeld.

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Bruce Baugh 01.11.07 at 9:50 pm

I have a practical objection to defenses of marriage based on the crucial importance of keeping children united with their biological parents, which is that so few of the advocates seem to take it seriously enough to practice it. Most of these folks (not all, but most) are politically conservative overall, and some are part of the national conservative scene. They have the opportunity on a regular basis to express disapproval of their fellow conservatives who are adulterous, engaging in serial monogamy and promiscuity, neglecting or abusing their children, and otherwise engaging in exactly the kind of thing that these defenders of marriage condemn as socially dangerous.

Virtually without exception, they don’t.

Now I’m not claiming to understand what motivates any particular individual to advocate a standard in principle and then abandon it in practice when there’s risk of social tensions with one’s community. I do the same kind of thing, from time to time, and I don’t claim to have a complete grasp on why I’m a dope, either. But when someone says that this or that kind of behavior threatens the very foundations of society and then can’t seem to manage to say “…even when it’s done by someone I agree with on other issues and hang out with,” then I feel at liberty to say they’re not that serious about it. They’re asking others to abandon the loves of their lives and children to whom they are deeply attached, and they won’t even edit their own party guest lists or write an editorial pointing out instances of civilization-threatened behavior among otherwise presumed moral and decent people.

Let them show me some commitment to their own principles, and I’ll listen more attentively.

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Brett Bellmore 01.11.07 at 10:05 pm

Engles, you’ve got a liberty interest in what you can do. You don’t have a liberty interest in what other people call it. If Bob and Sue do “X”, and it’s called “marriage”, and Joe and Sam do “X”, and it’s called “civil union”, virtually everything worth caring about from a libertarian standpoint has been accomplished. And the language is even richer, for the fact that a distinction at least some people care about hasn’t been rendered harder to communicate.

If getting from there to calling “X” marriage in both cases requires turning judges into dictators, who just might decide to dictate about something else tomorrow, the price is too high.

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aaron_m 01.11.07 at 10:16 pm

What are you talking about Brett?

Why is the price too high to force society to allow gays to get married but the price is not too high when society prohibits gays from having that legal status (i.e. marriage)?

Is is because gays only make up 5% of the population? If so that is a utilitarian argument not a libertarian one.

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Matt McIrvin 01.11.07 at 11:08 pm

How did you deal with the counterargument that if gay marriage is OK, so is polygamy/polyandry? I have the gut feel that polygamy/polyandry is just rife with opportunities for abuse, but haven’t found anything rigorous against it.

While I don’t think polygamy is necessarily and always abusive, I think that to the extent that it is abusive, that shouldn’t be condoned.

In general, I think that slippery-slope arguments of the form “if you favor harmless thing X then by consistency you have to favor horrible thing Y” can be countered with the reply “no, you just illustrated why I don’t have to.” (On the other hand, arguments of the form “if you insist dogmatically on sweeping principle X then you must accept horrible logical consequence Y” are often legitimate. The key thing is not to assume absolute insistence on the sweeping principle unless it is actually stated.)

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wan 01.12.07 at 12:33 am

The argument that [straight] marriage is somehow “devalued” through recognition of gay marriages invokes a kind of comparison of value, as on a currency market, that is foreign to the intimacy and immediacy of one’s own marriage, understood as one’s own. It is true, however, that one may be brought (perhaps kicking and screaming) to re-examine one’s own marriage, and attitudes toward sex, gender and equality generally, by this issue. And that may be what the opponents are truly fearful of. In that light, the present dispute is but another tremor of the cultural earthquake that began in the 1960s with the civil rights movement and has by no means played itself out yet. (This may be glimpsed in the way in which some of the objections have the flavor of, “And now this, too?” As though it is a final straw, merely the latest and hardest to accept in a long, simmering string of developments that upset what had been unquestioned cultural verities.)

If all this is right, it points to another big, though overlooked part of the difficulty oppoents have with SSM: the implicit equality, not only *among* marriages, but *within* a same-sex marriage. In a same-sex marriage, both partners “wear the pants” (or the dress, as the case may be); at the very least, in a same-sex marriage with an unequal division of labor or power (as in a gay parody of a 50s marriage), the division will have been determined on some basis other than gender, which here provides no ground for distinction. This — gender equality, not merely equal protection of various sexual activities & relations — is still deeply troubling to large swaths of the country.

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Tracy W 01.12.07 at 4:55 am

In response to 11 – I think gay marriage can be distinguished from polygamy/polyandry (I am just going to type polygamy from now on to mean both), based on the practical impacts of the two.

For better or for worse, marriage in the Western countries I know about creates some rights that cannot be created by other contracts. In at least some countries in the world, you cannot be compelled to testify against your spouse in court, and/or if you marry a foreigner your spouse can immigrate to your country and eventually obtain citizenship.

If polygamy was legalised, then as far as I can tell removing the limit on the number of people one person can marry would lead to a lot of “marriages” designed to obtain these legal benefits. For example, all the members of a criminal gang could “marry” each other so they couldn’t be required to testify against each other. There is already a series of marriages made solely for immigration purposes, it seems entirely likely that there would be a flood if polygamy was allowed.

I think it is highly unlikely that the right not to testify against your spouse or the right for your spouse to enter the country would stand against such cases as one person marrying thousands of other people to get such rights. The removal of such rights would therefore affect existing, monogamous marriages, in a way that same-sex marriage does not.

Now perhaps such rights should not exist. However, it strikes me that any proponent of polygamous marriages in countries with such rights should either:
(a) provide some argument as to why legalising polygamy would not lead to abuse of such rights; or
(b) argue also that such rights should not exist.

Tbat’s the difference between same-sex and polygamous marriages.

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daelm 01.12.07 at 5:38 am

crystal, 75:

“Wanting a loving, monogamous, long-term relationship makes me a “spoiled brat?” Ohhhkaaaay.”

no, what she said was:

“…I’m amazed that lots of us are such spoiled brats that we not only want but expect a rose garden.”

it follows that the expectation of (and, I assume, the concomitant insistence on) circumstances suitable for you and you alone, is what makes a spoiled brat. the sentence containing the description ‘loving, monogamous etc’ follows that one. pay attention. the pertinent issue is rose gardens.

(note to self: kudo’s on resisting the desire to discuss the percentage of spoiled brats resident in america.)

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Brett Bellmore 01.12.07 at 6:56 am

“Why is the price too high to force society to allow gays to get married but the price is not too high when society prohibits gays from having that legal status (i.e. marriage)?”

Because it’s a cost/benefit ratio.

Ok, what’s the benefit?

Moving from squat to same sex marriage? Nope, because we’re not at squat right now.

Moving from civil unions to same sex marriage? Nope, because there are other, more legitimate ways to accomplish that, that are just taking longer. But they’ll get us there inevitably.

No, the benefit is getting from civil unions to same sex marraige right away. Without the annoyance of having to actually persuade the voters to agree to it.

What’s the cost?

The cost is further damage to the already battered principles of the rule of law, and constitutional government. The cost is undermining the legitimacy of the judiciary. The cost is encouraging judges to assume power beyond what they’re actually entitled to, which they will then exercise in ways you might not approve of.

And, demonstrably, the cost is a public backlash that actually makes same sex marriage HARDER TO GET.

Doesn’t strike me as a bargain, at all.

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Barbar 01.12.07 at 8:23 am

the cost is a public backlash

Note the packaging of “I don’t like this and will get very upset” as a rational and disinterested cost-benefit analysis.

Brett, you may have to come to terms with the fact that no matter what happens you are going to feel put upon by the professional feminazi hippy liberal activists. Yada yada yada, they want to shove things down YOUR throat and you just want to be left alone.

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Z 01.12.07 at 10:49 am

The cost is further damage to the already battered principles of the rule of law, and constitutional government. The cost is undermining the legitimacy of the judiciary. The cost is encouraging judges to assume power beyond what they’re actually entitled to, which they will then exercise in ways you might not approve of.

An eloquent description of what I feel is the current cost of prohibiting same-sex marriage, particularly the last part: living in a society that forbids same-sex marriage has always been very scary to me, for if the full power of the law can be used to actively prevent entirely positive (IMO) actions such as getting married (it has in my country, I don’t know about the USA), I can’t see why it wouldn’t be wielded against other behaviours, including some I entertain in my intimity and that I value greatly.

Brett, in order for your position to be sound, you have to give at least some sort of argument why the cost of your potential backlash is higher than the cost of the very actual contempt I and many others now feel for the rule of law, constitutional government and all these lofty institutions in a country that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage.

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Brett Bellmore 01.12.07 at 1:41 pm

“Brett, in order for your position to be sound, you have to give at least some sort of argument why the cost of your potential backlash is higher than the cost of the very actual contempt I and many others now feel for the rule of law, constitutional government and all these lofty institutions in a country that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage.”

Well, it’s nice of you to admit that you have contempt for the rule of law, rather than just contempt for the law in it’s particular manifestation. So few people would make such an admission.

Institutions can be worth preserving even if they don’t create an optimal outcome in every last instance. Destroy them because you don’t win every argument, and you’ll lose a lot more than just that one argument.

Minorities, in particular, should treasure the rule of law, because the alternative to it, in the long run, is not rule by THEM. It’s rule by the majority unrestrained by the rule of law.

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Tracy W 01.12.07 at 5:13 pm

if the full power of the law can be used to actively prevent entirely positive (IMO) actions such as getting married (it has in my country, I don’t know about the USA), I can’t see why it wouldn’t be wielded against other behaviours, including some I entertain in my intimity and that I value greatly.

The full force of the law has been used to actively present actions that in the opinions of other people are entirely positive, that they entertain in their intimity and value greatly.

Such as raping one’s own children (I believe the passage these people have is “introducing them to sexual experience by someone who really cares for them”), voting on behalf of one’s wife, regardless of one’s wife’s views on the matter, beating your wife if she falls short of her duties, presenting views on state television as to the advisability of separation of the races and the inherent inferiority of everyone who is not white, etc.

If you feel contempt for the rule of law because it currently forbids same-sex marriage, then I presume you think these people are equally justified in feeling contempt for the rule of law simply because it forbids their own pleasures.

Government is never going to be perfect. The rule of law, constitutional government etc, may not achieve every single outcome you want, but it provides many benefits. For example the proportion of men who died who died of violence in Western countries in the 20th century, including both World Wars, is less than 1%, in hunter-gatherer societies without the rule of law it ranges from 10% to 40%. (Source, Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate). Dictatorships and anarchy do not have a better track record than democracy and constitutional government, be that in protecting people’s lives or legalising gay marriage.

If you feel contempt for the rule of law, and constitutional government, then logically you are morally obliged to give up the benefits of the rule of law and consitutional government, and move to some country like Cambodia or Zimbabwae which are at least relatively devoid of such public institutions. You should refrain from using publicly-provided goods such as roads, schools, libraries, sewerage systems, etc. Don’t call on the police if you’re attacked or threatened – that’s part of the rule of law you feel contempt for.

Or argue and convince your fellow citizens into approving of same-sex marriage.

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engels 01.12.07 at 5:36 pm

Tracy – It’s you and Brett who ought to be considering re-locating to sunnier and less liberal climes as unfortunately neither of you appears to have the first idea what the phrase “rule of law” means. It emphatically does not mean “majority decision making”. On the contrary, a key principle is to have a check on the power of the majority, so that people who are threatened by an injustice do not necessarily have to “convince [their] fellow citizens” that they are right in order to restrain the government from committing that injustice.

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Brett Bellmore 01.12.07 at 8:02 pm

“It emphatically does not mean “majority decision making”.”

And, equally emphatically, it does not mean judges deciding to read into an existing constitution whatever policies they happen to think would advance justice, without respect to the text or history of that constitution.

As I sad, if I thought the arguments that same sex marriage is constitutionally required were persuasive, I’d be for it no matter how much the public didn’t like it. But I don’t find them persuasive.

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Z 01.13.07 at 2:36 am

If you feel contempt for the rule of law because it currently forbids same-sex marriage, then I presume you think these people are equally justified in feeling contempt for the rule of law simply because it forbids their own pleasures.

Tracy W, you can’t be serious. I am sure you recognise that what those people do directly harms someone else. Getting married to someone doesn’t. Also, please note that “contempt for the rule of law” is a tongue-in-cheek reprise of Brett’s cost analysis (though I admit it wasn’t in the original). Brett, who is seemingly in favour of same-sex marriage himself, nevertheless is opposed to its legalisation (achieved through particular means) on the basis of the cost of the backlash in terms of damage for the rule of law. I am not the only one that have pointed out that in this thread that this position is asymmetric: if you factor the cost of “damage to the rule of law” of legalising same-sex marriage (through certain means), you have to show it is greater that the cost of “damage to the rule of law” of not legalizing it.

To sum up my position, anyone standing for the rule of law and the limitation of arbitrary powers should stand for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage (or the abolition of the legal recognition of marriage), at least as a matter of principle, because it is a direct violation of equality before the law and an abusive restriction of individual consensual behaviour that harms no one.

Each time, power is wielded to prevent one of such behaviour or to introduce distinctions before the law, the burden of proof is on the one wielding it, not on those subjected to it. A libertarian should have no problem understanding this.

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engels 01.13.07 at 9:56 am

Here you go, Brett:

http://www.tx.lp.org/release-20050120.shtml

The Libertarian Party regards prohibitions against same-sex marriage as the government establishment of religious tenets as law, in violation of the First Amendment.

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Dave 01.13.07 at 4:39 pm

First, get this. I think same sex marriage is ultimately a good thing, because it gives private persons what they want and in this case there is no good reason to prevent them from having what they want. At the same time I can’t escape the feeling that there are unexplored ramifications about about the emphasis on this issue. For one thing, what is it about this time in human existence that elicits this bizarre sounding demand? Is it a manifestation of some unrequited human desire that has been cruelly suppressed for tens of thousands of years? If it is there should be some record of it. Where is this record? Did cruel repressive forces crush this drive that some gay people have always felt and which has just seen the light of day in the last few years? All these years persons of good will such as George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King who wanted justice for all were never made us aware of the seemingly unbearable denial of the right for gay people to take on mixed blessings and at times irksome responsibilities of matrimony.
Given the divorce statistics due to the apparent transience marital bliss , it would seem that denial of marital rights to homosexuals has not been too much of a crime, relatively speaking. The real crime against homosexuals has been the centuries of criminalization and intolerance of such activity for no good reason. Now that this has waned, it seems that great celebration should be in order. Not so. Now what was once the goal, personal freedom and the right to be left alone, is no longer enough.
Having gotten 90% of what they want, which is far better than most groups of humans get, they can’t accept their lack of immediate total satisfaction. Never mind that if their goal is just and has produces no negative consequences opposition to same sex marriage will soon melt away. Never mind that there are more important issues in life than the complete social and legal equivalence of sexual proclivities that are biologically not equal to heterosexuality.
The hysteria and the brazenness of the gay marriage movement seems more akin to some type of trendy if transient social thing that is now all the rage than some deep movement toward progress for humanity. Perhaps if it were pursued in a quieter and more dignified manner rather than in an atmosphere of narcissistic hysteria I would not feel the way I do.

I guess the real question is whether there is any situation in which long standing Western cultural prohibitions can be justifiably be used as a brake to social change without said Western culture being guilty of being a bad unjust culture. If we can’t justify anything other than perfect equality of treatment, can other cultures do so? Should gays criticized for expend so much moral capital so much on this issue that marginally affects 1 to 4% of the population instead of somewhere else? Perhaps they should just enjoy life. You asked for alternative opinions.

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John 01.14.07 at 3:07 pm

I stumbled on this and I was surprised that no one caught Steve LaBonne’s historical error in #62. He notes,

I’ve long thought that it’s a huge error for the state to have taken over from religious bodies the role of “solemnizing” “marriage”. The state should do nothing except regulate and enforce civil-union contracts between consenting parties, whether or not they are of opposite sexes; the word “marriage” shouldn’t even appear in the law. Leave that word and its definition to the church, synagogue, mosque, or what have you.

It’s an interesting thought, but historically backwards.

The huge error (from my point of view) was when the religious authorities took over marriage (in, roughly speaking, the twefth century). The Jewish practice of the marriage contract (which predates Christianity) requires the man to give the woman something of value. It’s property law.

Let’s not mistake norms established in the medieval period as being somehow historically transcendent. Besides, while the Church may have taken over some aspects of regulating marriage, the State never gave it all up. (Civil marriage is legal in all fifty states–no clergy required.)

And for a more modern example, in the Goodridge decision, the Massachusetts SJC noted that for several years in Colonial Massachusetts the law prohibited clergy from solemnizing marriages.

And in 2007, I respectfully ask the assembled clergy to butt out of wedding ceremonies to which they have not been invited.

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