May 19, 2004

Being a vote-getter in the South does not make it right

Posted by Curt at 07:52 PM in Uncategorized Current Events | TrackBack

As the unimaginable tide of idiocy surrounding this gay marriage debate swells to ever-higher levels, this article provides a pretty good example of this closeted thinking which blinders even many of the supporters of gay marriage. I should say first of all that I absolutely agree with the first point that the author makes, which is that the slippery-slope argument against gay marriage is a total sham. I particularly like this formulation:

“Since few opponents of homosexual unions are brave enough to admit that gay weddings just freak them out, they hide behind the claim that it’s an inexorable slide from legalizing gay marriage to having sex with penguins outside JC Penny’s.”

Completely true, as far as I can tell from my dealings with opponents of gay marriage. At the same time, the author, admittedly well-meaning, attempts to prove that it is not necessarily a slippery slope from gay marriage to bestiality. This point in and of itself is perfectly valid: there need not be any such thing as a slippery slope if each case is considered under its own merits. If people find gay marriage to be socially acceptable but not bestiality, there is no inexorable law which dictates that they most accept both. Then she tries to demonstrate that bestiality, incest with children, pedophilia, etc. are not valid extensions of the principle behind allowing gay marriage. Again, mostly valid. But then she also claims that there is no slippery slope leading from gay marriage to polygamy, incest, polyamory, etc., and in so doing violates my first axiom of political and social philosophy:

Fully morally independent beings should, provided that they do not violate the wishes of another or cause them harm, be allowed to do whatever the fuck they want to do.

In the case of bestiality, pedophilia, I think it’s pretty clear why the idea of marriage is inapplicable: children and animals are not fully morally independent beings, so a union involving them could not really be consensual. These would always, then, be implicitly coercive and hence illegitimate. That seems like a sufficient fundamental principle to rule out these practices, though I am not persuaded that there are compelling “health reasons” why bestiality, for example, should be forbidden.

But in the case of polygamy or incest, she attempts to claim, for example, that polygamy could not be accepted as a form of marriage, even though gay marriage could, because “The desire of a group of seven people to marry simply does not intuitively fit into that binary sphere of intimacy.” But does it occur to her that this argument from the properties of marriage is exactly the basis for the opposition to gay marriage? She thinks that the fundamental quality of marriage is that it is “binary”; opponents of gay marriage think that it is that it is only between a man and a woman. That argument is unwinnable. But it also totally misses the point. The point is the freedom of morally independent people to do what they want. Why the hell should polygamists not be allowed to get married, provided they are all consenting adults? If they, or gay people, or transvestites or whoever else want to get married and can find a church or some other such institution which is willing to approve it, why should we stop them? And as for those arguments that marriage is meant to encourage healthy and stable families rather than simply satisfying the desires of the participants? Please. I will believe that argument when married couples are required by law to have children and divorce is made illegal. As it is, pretty much any man and woman can get married under any circumstances, stable, healthy family or no. They can choose to be a childless, loveless couple if they so choose, which just proves how bankrupt the argument is.

Now I am aware that the government sanctioning marriage is more than just allowing people to do what they want: it is to some extent a symbol of the approval of the government. Fair enough. But again, given that the consent and volition of the participants is basically the only determining factor in approving heterosexual marriages, I cannot think of any compelling reason why this should not also be the standard when it comes to gays, transgendereds, kissing cousins and whoever else, other than the fact that it is icky to think about.

Of course, this is not really an argument for why gay marriage, polygamous marriage, etc. should be legal, simply for why gays and all the rest should be treated equally to straight people. Therefore, there are two alternatives, as I see it:

1. Recognize anyone as married who wants to be married (if they are adult, morally independent, etc.).

2. Don’t recognize any marriages.

As far as I am concerned, both of these alternatives are equally valid, at least logically, and the second even has the advantage that it implicitly makes clear that the strength of a union of love does not depend on the government’s stamp of approval. However, aware that this alternative would probably be even less popular than recognizing bestial marriages, as a practical matter the first alternative should be the position of conscientious, freedom-loving souls.

p.s. It would appear, based on my summary perusal of Reason magazine, that the libertarians are falling for the totally vacuous it-shouldn’t-be-allowed-because-it-goes-against-tradition argument, but I will not be able to confirm or deny that until I have read the article more thoroughly.

p.p.s. I know that some people think that gay marriage, in addition to being a violation of the concept of marriage and leading the way to even more perverse sexual practices, will also somehow undermine heterosexual marriage, I suppose either by making straight people give up their marriages in a huff over having to share their legal privileges with gay people, or by convincing them to abandon their families and start gay marriages. In the case of the first, (a) I can’t imagine anyone actually doing this and (b) I also can’t imagine why we should make special accomodations for a selfishness that pure and invidious. As the for the second, as far as I can tell, it can only arise from that archaic-yet-persistent belief that homosexuality is voluntary rather than genetic. Of course, even if you believe that homosexuality is chosen, I am not sure which aspect of the gay lifestyle you think proves more attractive to straight people: the social stigma or the constant threat of contracting AIDS. Of course, I think we all know deep within ourselves that the real threats to marriage and healthy families are alcoholism, divorce and over- or under-investing oneself in one’s children, among other things, so perhaps people should concern themselves with solving those problems rather than worrying about the marginal effect of the few married closet homosexuals who might decide that it is finally safe to come out into the open.

Comments

Fully morally independent beings should, provided that they do not violate the wishes of another or cause them harm, be allowed to do whatever the fuck they want to do.

I can't say as I much like the "violate the wishes" bit (presumably, if I choose to use drugs, I'm "violating the wishes" of those who think drug use is bad), but other than that, right on.

1. Recognize anyone as married who wants to be married (if they are adult, morally independent, etc.).

2. Donít recognize any marriages.

Option 2, please.

Posted by: shonk at May 19, 2004 09:07 PM

Perhaps "violate the wishes of" would be better phrased as "impose upon anonther against their will," without, let us be clear, this imposition being interpreted in a too narrowly physical sense.

Posted by: Curt at May 19, 2004 10:40 PM

Fair enough.

Posted by: shonk at May 19, 2004 10:55 PM

children and animals are not fully morally independent beings, so a union involving them could not really be consensual.

If the child or animal consents, then the union is consentual. The latter is improbable, but the former is a possibility; thus you have a consentual marriage between adult and child.

Posted by: mock at May 21, 2004 10:48 AM

If the child or animal consents, then the union is consentual.

I think Curt's point was that neither a child nor an animal is capable of giving meaningful consent in this context. While this is a debatable point, and depends heavily on what one means by a "child", I think he's basically correct.

Posted by: shonk at May 21, 2004 12:01 PM

I guess all I'm saying is, while it's easy to see why an animal can't give meaningful consent, I'm having a hard time picturing a situation where a child couldn't. Clearly, a toddler babbling nonsense might agree in some haphazard occurence, but what about a twelve-year-old girl? Is her consent valid?

Posted by: mock at May 21, 2004 02:30 PM

It doesn't really matter where you draw the line, whether it be at 12 or 15 or 18 or 21, but unless you think that newborns are morally independent beings you will have to concede that for practical purposes there is a certain age beneath which people cannot give meaningful consent, and hence cannot participate in marriage. As for animals, you would have to propose some way by which an animal could even communicate its consent to anything before the idea could be considered at all seriously.

Posted by: Curt at May 21, 2004 10:55 PM

Not that "consent" has always and everywhere been considered a necessary component of marriage. Sometimes it has been actively discouraged.

Posted by: Andy Stedman at May 24, 2004 03:38 PM

One of the prices you pay for having a weblog where you invite people to respond to your posts is that you have people like me who will inflict their opinion upon you in return. For instance what about gay marriage? To me there are two arguments against it. One is the argument of tradition and the other is the yuk factor. Why now after ten thousand years of marriage being between man and woman should we change things this way? As a libertarian I have always supported the right of consenting adults to do what ever they want in privacy but I donít want to know about it. That is why I was glad to see sodomy laws overturned. Now this is considered the Neanderthal position. Why do things have to move so frickin fast? According to the proponents of change, it is because of the horrible injustice of being thought of as being different and therefore, per see, inferior. If marriage is so great how come so many people get divorced? But if gays think the grass is so much greener, why not work for change by moral persuasion and appeals to communal good will, instead of judicial fait and aggressive political pressure. The issue is framed as a civil rights issue. We are expected to believe that the denial of gay marriage which has existed since time immemorial is as bad as slavery or racism. Well it isnít. It shows how little people really have to complain about that they would make such an issue of this. Hay, I donít really hate it all that bad anyway. I got used to guys with ear rings and Iím getting used to girls with tattoos bigger than a Marineís and besides Iím a big Andrew Sullivan fan. It will make for an interesting future though, such as the first gay president or the first gay King of England. What would you call his partner?

Posted by: Dave at May 24, 2004 10:06 PM

Dave,

I can't speak for Curt, but I've pretty consistently been a proponent of the idea that all marriage should be privatized, be it straight, gay, incestuous, polyamorous, whatever. In other words, it shouldn't be the state's (or, necessarily, anyone else's) business who can or can't get married.

Posted by: shonk at May 24, 2004 10:19 PM

"For instance what about gay marriage? To me there are two arguments against it. One is the argument of tradition and the other is the yuk factor."

Well, I must say that I do admire your honesty in admitting that your only real reasons for opposing gay marriage are tradition and aesthetic revulsion. That being said, I imagine that the reason most people don't admit that these are their real reasons is because they know at some level that they aren't very good reasons. As for tradition, I have never been opposed to tradition as justification when no difference of quality separates various alternatives, but in this case it is easily superceded by higher considerations of justice. As for aesthetic distaste, that is no kind of a principle at all.

"But if gays think the grass is so much greener, why not work for change by moral persuasion and appeals to communal good will, instead of judicial fait and aggressive political pressure. The issue is framed as a civil rights issue. We are expected to believe that the denial of gay marriage which has existed since time immemorial is as bad as slavery or racism."

Well, not to go around stating the obvious, but I actually am trying to persuade you and all the other people of good will in the world by means of "moral persuasion." Of course, you may not be persuaded by the justice of it, but I have never framed the issue in a coercive manner nor have I supported the courts who are "imposing" gay marriage. I am simply presenting my personal view that people with an eye to moral consistency and fairness will see the rightness of my view and change their minds and actions of their own volition. I am no supporter of "judicial fiats" and, like my brother, would just as soon in some ways that this whole tawdry charade of marriage be pushed out of the realm of governmental edict. But, if marriage for some, quid pro quo. Finally, whatever other people think, I have never claimed that the marriage debate is a civil rights issue on a par with slavery or racism, although now that you mention it, at this current moment in our country I would say that both official and unofficial discrimination against homosexuals is probably worse than racial discrimination, since the government does not permit official discrimination on the basis of race, whereas it does officially discriminate against homosexuals both in the military and in the granting of marriage licenses. As for unofficial discrimination, in the past couple of years I have heard of at least as many homosexuals being murdered on account of their sexuality as I have people being killed on account of their race. Not to mention that ministers and evangelists all over the land would not dare to denounce black people, for example, or call dark skin an evil, but they have no problem calling homosexuality, which I might remind you is no more chosen than skin color, a sin and a crime against the Lord.

Posted by: Curt at May 25, 2004 03:36 PM

I would say that both official and unofficial discrimination against homosexuals is probably worse than racial discrimination, since the government does not permit official discrimination on the basis of race,

That's not entirely true, as affirmative action programs, preferential admissions, etc. are forms of racial discrimination.

Posted by: shonk at May 25, 2004 07:00 PM

True, but the victims of this type of official discrimination are typically white people, who don't usually suffer much from unofficial discrimination, whereas the victims of unofficial discrimination are generally racial minorities. Therefore, since official and unofficial discrimination affect different groups, I would say that the overall effect of racial discrimination is more diluted than discrimination against homosexuals, who suffer from both official and unofficial discrimination (I also don't know very many parents who would disown their children because of their skin color, which is not an entirely uncommon response to an admission of homosexuality).

Posted by: Curt at May 25, 2004 07:31 PM

Shonk -ďIíve the idea that all marriage should be privatized, be it straight, gay, incestuous, polyamorous, whatever. In other words, it shouldnít be the stateís (or, necessarily, anyone elseís) business who can or canít get married.Ē
At one time I thought that was the way things were going. The marriage license was just a piece of paper. Gays just wanted the government (the police) to leave them alone. The average gay person scorned state sponsored marriage as a part of the anachronistic system that oppressed them. Then things got crazy. You had alimony and then palimony. Even Liberaceís boyfriend wanted palimony. The latest fad, gay marriage (government enforcement of desired social status), is only peripherally related to justice for gays, which I support. My only plea to gays is to slow down. The average person just gets tired of being told that every thing they were brought up with has to be jettisoned and right now or face charges of bigotry.
Curt, I agree that if perfect equivalence between gay and strait persons be assumed, equality in marriage should follow. Does the fact that the vast majority of humanity feels differently carry no weight? Are people are just stupid or evil? No, there is just something yucky about two men standing up at the front of a church kissing. There are all sorts of prohibitions against people doing yucky things. What about walking around naked or openly urinating on the sidewalk? I canít explain it. It is just offensive. I do realize that this is just cultural, but we are urged to respect others cultures. Why is it wrong to ask respect for our culture? In the mean time gays should be big about it, quit waving red flags and secretly just keep doing like they want, just like everyone else. Is that so horrible?

Posted by: Dave at May 25, 2004 11:39 PM

"What about walking around naked or openly urinating on the sidewalk?"

And quite frankly, except for purely sanitary reasons, I can't think of any good reason why these should be forbidden either. "Indecent exposure"? Please. The "yuck" factor isn't even consistent on its own terms, since you can watch cadavers get slowly dissected on TV but not ordinary naked living bodies.

Posted by: Curt at May 26, 2004 03:48 AM

Autopsies on TV? Ugh! Where is my channel changer? I hope that whatís on TV doesnít set the standards for the real world. Also, if you hear about a town where people go around naked and pee on the sidewalks, let me know so I can avoid visiting there

Posted by: Dave at May 27, 2004 08:51 PM