Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Arguing Gay Marriage. Again.

The passing of Proposition 8 in California and the aftermath have re-ignited arguments surrounding gay Marriage. Thought I would address a few…

1. It is not traditional

Certainly the most common. We hear, “Marriage has traditionally been defined as one man; one woman, and to allow something other than that traditional definition would be wrong.”

Why? Traditions change. Laws change. People change. Interest rates fluctuate. Limited time offers end. Believe it or not, humanity managed to muddle on.

Marriage, at one time, “traditionally” meant one man and multiple wives. “Traditionally” required a dowry. “Traditionally” required the father’s blessing. (Tevye sings vociferously on this very point!) “Traditionally” required the church’s blessing. “Traditionally” prohibited mixed races from marrying.

And those traditions changed. This is simply another change.

Yes, we ARE asking what you consider “traditional” to change. So what? Where is it written “Traditional is always, always, always correct. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye?”

This is a horrible argument, because it fails to demonstrate why we must stick with what is “traditional.” (And why didn’t we in the past?) It is a law. It is established by the government. Laws can change. Even Constitutions can change. We are asking for a change in the law. To whine, “Hey, we can’t change” is a pretty stupid argument.

2. Children

There are a variety of arguments under this heading. Gay’s can’t naturally produce children. Children would be harmed by learning of a law allowing gays to marry. Children will be taught in school that gay marriage is acceptable.

First, the thing about gays not naturally producing children. True—but marriage is not defined by “having children.” I thought (see above) the “traditional” definition was “one man; one woman” Not “one man; one woman; one child.” Ain’t it funny in one breath the complaint is how gay marriage violates some definition by asking it to change, and in the next, the person is asking for a change in the definition!

I’ll try to make it clear--Marriage has nothing to do with children. If a couple has a child, and the child dies—are they no longer married? If a couple is married without a child (either by inability or choice) are they not married? If a couple is not married, but has a child—are they married? If a couple leaves Boston on a train going 60 kph, and they don’t have any children on the train coming from San Francisco at 80 kph—are they still married in Kansas?

Second—I hate to tell you, but kids already know about homosexuals. They already talk about it. To pretend they don’t know is to remove yourself from the real world. If you are really interested in what is being taught to your children in school—ask yourself these questions. How many school board meetings have you attended in the past year? How many classes have you helped out? How many field trips have you been a parent helper?

3. It is not natural

Well…homosexual sex has been observed in other creatures, so I am not certain what is meant by “natural.” Are you saying there are penguin marriages? Presided over by Penguin pastors, attended by the little penguin bride and her penguin flower girl? (The penguin bridegroom is formally attired, of course.)

Marriage is a human construct. Yes, some creatures mate for life. But they aren’t “married.” Only humans, by definition of law, are “married.”

This is a re-wording of the “against tradition.”

4. The Bible is against homosexual acts.

Finally. A legitimate argument. Many people don’t like homosexual marriage. In their opinion (and that is all it is—an opinion), they do not want it. They can bolster this by claiming their God says it is wrong.

Hey, if you want to live your life and vote for/against laws by your opinion of what aliens whisper in your brain during sleep—so be it. In the same way, if you want to vote for/against homosexual marriage because of your opinion about some Holy Writing—that is equally your right. Heck, if you want to vote by roll of the dice—you are free to do so.

What surprises me is that this argument is mixed in amongst the others. If one’s god teaches against it—who cares if it is traditional, natural or whether children are involved? If this is a person’s reasoning—this should be the ONLY argument, and more than sufficient.

Here’s the thing—the person is concerned this isn’t convincing. They recognize that maybe—just maybe—other people do not hold their Holy Writing in such high opinion. Therefore they stretch out, trying to bring in other arguments. Other “reasons” (and I use the term as loose as an XXXL shirt on an anorexic) to persuade non-Holy-Writing-believers that homosexual marriage is wrong.

Do they understand by abandoning their own standing of this being the “Word Of God” by bringing in other arguments they undercut any force the “Word Of God” argument has? If they consider their Holy Writing insufficient to be a sufficient argument, and need these other arguments to make their point—why should we consider it a sufficient argument either?

When are we going to cut it to the quick? Lose the dross of “non-traditional” or “not-natural” or “no-children”? Call it what it is—certain people have an opinion against homosexuality; they find support for their opinion in their God, and will vote against homosexuality because of their distaste.

Not because of their concern over re-writing dictionaries.


  1. Hey Dagoods,

    Maybe you've already heard all this, but up here in Canada same-sex marriage was legalized across the board in 2005, though the decision to make it so was not without its detractors. Margaret Somerville is an ethicist at McGill university who had caused a small storm of controversy with her vocal opposition of same-sex marriage before the decision. She takes a strictly secular approach to the matter, which may be of some interest, and her case can be found here:

  2. Thanks for the article, Reuben. I see the author hit most of the arguments I listed. Not the Biblical one, of course.

    I saw many problems with the article’s proposition in methodology. Not to mention some difficulties dealing with our present culture. Did you find the article persuasive?

  3. I want to admit from the outset that discussing this issue is to me little more than an intellectual exercise, where I would like to hold a true opinion on the matter, but do not think that anything hinges upon it insofar as I am concerned. Now that I have confessed myself a complacent citizen, albeit casually interested in social issues, I feel at liberty to air my feigned concerns over the legalization of same-sex marriage. No doubt you are familiar with this line of reasoning already.

    Somerville describes marriage as the age-old institution that, primarily and essentially, symbolizes and engenders respect for the transmission of human life. I do not defend this definition or any other part of her article, but I wonder if the more popular notion of marriage – love and mutual respect between consenting adults, or something of the like – is sufficient to establish the institution. Bear with me for a moment while I point out that this conception would allow for incestuous and polygamous marriages as well. I am not arguing that the slippery-slope will land us in moral bankruptcy or whatever. I am merely making the point that the qualifiers we impose upon marriage are quite artificial.

    Now, one may dislike the fact that strangers have multiple partners, but we do not impose legislation criminalizing the practice. However, we will not recognize marriage between several parties, because society is under no obligation to formally recognize and approve of such unions. But if marriage is defined according to love, mutual respect, consenting adults, etc., then unless we add a numerical stipulation, then individuals in polygamous relationships should also be allowed to seek marriage.

    Incest, on the other hand, is generally criminal and is nearly universally the subject of taboo. However, our definition also admits of incestuous marriage. We may ban it for its harmful biological consequences, but this would be a mistake because 1) technologies to prevent such consequences (i.e.: birth control) are readily available and 2) the state could then make the move to criminalize reproductive activity between, say, persons with particular genetic defects or illnesses. We may ban it for its harmful psychological consequences, but this move is based upon speculation about unavailable empirical data concerning rates of psychological health and happiness in couples. Furthermore, the term incest is itself open to interpretation and differs widely across some cultures, where terms like brother/sister/cousin may be used very differently.

    If this is correct, we seem to be led to one of two viable options. Or maybe there are others.

    First, we may acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with incest and polygamy, and so that there is no problem here. As Stephen Kershnar writes, “I realize a lot of readers find adult-incest relationship and polygamous relationships disgusting, but this is merely aesthetic. The same can be said for those who find the idea of obese people having sex disgusting.” Fine. Quite frankly I don’t care if a person wants to marry their dog or a tree in their back yard (I once heard an ethicist suggest that bestiality was wrong because one party did not consent to sex, to which a sex therapist replied that most animals don’t consent to being eaten either. So I went vegetarian;). But maybe society at large feels differently…

    Second, we define marriage on grounds other than (or that are at least not exclusively) “love, mutual respect, adult consent, etc.,” whatever those grounds may be.

    Done. Sorry for being so verbose. I am very much open to correction on any point.

  4. Reuben,

    I don’t see any correction necessary. I would point out a few points.

    The difficulty in polygamy (and I am not against polygamy, by the way) is more in terms of legal distinctions in divorce and estate matters. Frankly, our divorce and probate laws are simply not equipped to handle it.

    For example, we provide for alimony or spousal support, based upon certain guidelines. After one has been married for so long, we attempt to equalize out the income. As a grossly simplistic matter, if a man made $50,000 per year, and the woman made nothing—after a 25 year marriage we would order him to pay $25,000 per year to equal out. (And this is too simple, and doesn’t ever fall out to such easy mathematics.)

    But what happens if the man has two wives, and divorces one after 25 years? Our laws do not have a way to accommodate for the still-married wife. Yes, it is only a matter of changing a law or two…thousand. The headache is too great—easier to keep a bigamy statute and be done with it.

    The single greatest reason we do not allow polygamy (not that anyone would dare say this out loud) is it would be so much work to overhaul our laws designed for two-people marriages. (In fact, reviewing cases of setting child support for men who have more than one child with more than one woman is demonstrative of the difficulties involved. I saw a case with one guy who had eight kids with five different women (one was his wife). He only made so much per hour—how do you divide that up?)

    What do I care if two women want to marry the same guy? Or two guys want to marry the same woman? As long as fraud is not involved (i.e., as long as they know their spouse has another spouse.)

    Reuben: Furthermore, the term incest is itself open to interpretation and differs widely across some cultures, where terms like brother/sister/cousin may be used very differently.

    This is an astute point. In fact, cultures that do NOT have a word for “cousin” or “niece” or “nephew” do not consider such marriages as wrong. In America, depending on what State you are in, marriages between first cousins either can be or can not be incestuous.

    I have an inherent distaste to incestuous marriages—but that is more from my societal upbringing. I have an equal inherent distaste to eating dog. As you point out, the single biggest problem—genetic problems—can be overcome by birth control.