Tuesday, November 24, 2009

There Are No Sound, Rational Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage

After looking at some of the reaction to my last political blog, I realized that this isn't acknowledged often enough. I'm not saying this is an absolute truth, just an observation. That said, I often think there's not enough of an effort to understand why people oppose gay marriage. I don't want to seem pedantic, but I feel as though I must break down this issue as clearly and basically as possible.

Not to offend anyone, but in all sincerity, expounding arguments against people who oppose gay marriage is a bit like arguing against religious people or creationists. They're wrong, but there are many levels at which a person can be wrong. A person may incorporate many correct ideas into a worldview or philosophy that is fundamentally wrong, and vice versa. Furthermore, unless you know a person well, it's difficult to tell whether or not they're being intellectually honest about being wrong. With that, let's just dive right in...

All of the arguments against gay marriage I've ever heard (though I do not rule out the possibility that there are arguments I have not heard that might be sound and rational) can be categorized one of four ways:
  1. Religious arguments1
  2. Appeals to tradition2
  3. "Slippery-slope" and other idiotic, fear-based arguments
  4. "Social-engineering" arguments
Furthermore, in my relentless effort to be masochistically thorough, (and though some of them may seem like strawmen, I assure you that you could find at least some people who will need to be convinced of any given item on this list), and as a reminder to everyone just how far the discussion needs to progress in (at least parts of) the U.S., let me assert that the following items have been established far (miles, light years, even!) beyond reasonable doubt:
  1. Attraction and a person's sexual orientation are not "choices," neither can they be influenced simply by being around people of another sexual orientation.

  2. There is no "cure" for homosexuality (just as there is no "cure" for heterosexuality).

  3. There is no "agenda" to try to "turn your kids gay."

  4. God is not going to pour judgment upon us if we legally recognize gay marriage.

  5. The "gay lifestyle"3 may be something of a "choice," but not only is that completely irrelevant when it comes to the question of whether or not gays should be allowed to marry, but also, I find it difficult to believe that a married gay person would even be able to maintain that "lifestyle."

  6. The idea that the prohibition of same-sex marriage is not discriminatory just because "gays can still marry people of the opposite gender" is fallacious. In what other area is there mandated by law any similar type of "one-size-fits-all" policy?4 Doesn't that sound a little communist to you?

  7. On a related note to the previous item, it is unreasonable to suggest that a gay person who wants to get married should just marry someone of the opposite gender. How would you like it if you were forced to marry someone to whom you were not (nor possibly could be) attracted?

  8. Gay marriage (and the struggle for the legal recognition thereof) is analogous to interracial marriage ("and [...] thereof") because in both cases, we're talking about a pair of consenting adults.5

  9. On a related note to the previous item, there is not a "straight line" (nor, I would assert, any clear or reasonable or probable or plausible pathway) between legalizing gay marriage and "legalizing marriages" other than those between two consenting adults, and to claim that there is such a "slippery slope" is propaganda and a scare-tactic, completely detached from reality.

  10. In the long run, anything other than full marriage-equality (as long as there is something called marriage that is recognized by any level of government) for consenting adult gay couples is just "separate-but-equal-2.0" and is in direct conflict with both our founding documents (you know, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and stuff) and the idea(ls) of America, not to mention that mantra they indoctrinate children to recite daily in our public "education" camps (which, if I may add, was written by a SOCIALIST!!!1!11cos(0)).

  11. This issue is not about obtaining "moral approval" of gay couples (or homosexuality in general) from anyone, although that couldn't hurt. Nor is it a partisan issue. It's about equality under the law (equal recognition, treatment, rights, and responsibilities).
Ok. Now that we have those items settled, let's continue...

Too often, same-sex marriage-proponents (SSMPs) ignore categories 2 – 4 of the opposing arguments or conflate them with the religious category, which, among other things, gives cover to people who use those types of arguments, allowing them to say things like, "Hey, I'm not religious! Don't pigeonhole me with those people! There are other reasons to oppose gay marriage!" But that doesn't mean there are any good reasons!

Another practice that is too common is for SSMPs to accuse gay marriage-opponents of hatred. Again, I don't want to be or appear pedantic, but people should always be careful about accusing other people of things like hatred (or racism) because it generally shuts down discussion and escalates tensions. In any event, no one should jump to such conclusions about anyone else (Joe Wilson, Sgt. Crowley, Barack Obama, anyone?). Besides, you don't have to hate gays to want to deny them the right to marry a fellow mutually consenting adult, [just like a person doesn't have to be a racist to be an asshole (again, see the example of Sgt. Crowley)]. We should be able to recognize that these traits aren't necessarily connected. We should realize that everyone is human and not demonize anyone over a simple disagreement (or even a disagreement resulting from bad faith or ignorance). On the other hand, we shouldn't be afraid to call people out when we have solid evidence that they're lying (or being intellectually dishonest, or hateful, or racist, or whatever).

Fear can be a very powerful political tool. There are many people who seem to believe that allowing gay people to marry each other will have catastrophic social consequences. Well, as it just so happens, I saw a post on Andrew Sullivan's blog a few months ago (in response to a post by Steve Chapman in the reason.com blog) in which he addressed that concern, and I can only say that such fears are (at best) wildly over-hyped.

Some people seem to think that the main reason people get married is to raise children, but that ignores all the other reasons people get married: love, security/stability (financial or otherwise), etc. Some people seem to think that society will be better off if only straight couples are allowed to raise children or (at the other end of this segment of the spectrum of possible views on this topic) that, all other things being equal, children will be better off if straight couples raise them (there are, of course, positions in between those two). Even if this is true, which I doubt, it is not a compelling reason to deny gay couples either the right to get married or the right to raise/adopt children (or to damn children who could otherwise be part of a family to childhood as orphans).

Another point of contention in this issue regards implementation. The "standard" thinking on the pro- side is that the "definition" of marriage should be expanded to include couples of the same gender (where it's not already, remember, this is a state-by-state deal...), although there doesn't seem to be a consensus on how to do this. There are generally three ways: (1)popular vote, (2)legislation, (3)state supreme court decision. This can become complicated, depending on how far down the rabbit-hole you want to go (in terms of analysis). I could possibly write an entire blog post on this topic alone.6

The "standard libertarian" thinking on this issue is that marriage should be "privatized," which means that two (or more) people can formulate whatever agreement or have whatever ceremony they want among themselves, and the government will not be involved at any level. Then, if the people want, they can ask that the government sanction or recognize unions in some way. The details don't really matter as long as there's no discrimination of the aforementioned types. This seems, to me, like a better solution, although I've never heard anyone, anywhere, actually propose anything like this.7

Let's remember my main point here. On the most fundamental level, I'm not talking about implementation or federalism or any of the other minutiae accompanying this issue. The most fundamental point I have to make is that gays are just as human, just as American, as the rest of us. The love between two gay people in a committed relationship is in no way inferior to that between two straight people in a similarly committed relationship. Neither is there any reason that their relationship should be considered inferior (or different) by the law.

We must acknowledge that the most important consideration in this discussion is empathy. Sometimes it's easy to believe that certain people (let's call them "conservatives") lack this characteristic. They so often emphasize personal responsibility, (which is, of course, important), but sometimes (seemingly) at the expense of acknowledging the possibility that everyone may face circumstances beyond their control. But I know (or believe) that most of them do take that into account. I sometimes think that if everyone who opposed gay marriage really knew gay people with whom they could empathize (specifically, gay couples who wanted to get married), their opposition would fade. Is that too much to expect?

1These can be dismissed out of hand, as a government policy based explicitly on a principle from any religion or combination of religions would be a clear violation of "separation of church and state," or the "establishment clause," if you want to get technical.

2These, too, can be dismissed assuming we've established that a proposed policy is more pragmatic than the current, "traditional" policy, and/or that the protection of human rights/liberties necessitates the abolition of the tradition in question, which is certainly the case in the present example!

3For now, let's give people who use this term the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're talking about something that actually exists in the real world, however stereotypical or cartoony or strawmanish it sounds.

4Well, in hindsight, I suppose that characterizing the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples as a "one-size-fits-all" policy isn't "entirely accurate." Perhaps I stated this idea more accurately in a previous post:
Legally, in the U.S., marriage is simply a contract (that happens to come with many privileges and responsibilities). I see no reason and can think of no other example in which we deny two individuals the right to engage in a voluntary legal contract that harms no one!
5We can talk about recognizing unions between pairs of consenting adults who are, for example, closely related to each other when there's a demand for it, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

6Ok. I'll take a stab at this. To those who think that rights should be determined by popular vote, I must ask, "How would you feel if you had to ask 260 million people for permission to marry the person you love?"

7On a related note, why aren't there more libertarians in this country? Or are there a lot of people who are libertarian, but just don't know it? Someone help me out here! Thanks.

1 comment :

  1. Good job! I like how you cover all the points you've heard, and not just the "typical" ones. :)