Same-Sex Marriage and Philosophy Revisited
“How Academic Philosophers Are Trying to End the Gay-Marriage Debate—and Getting it Wrong” is the title of a new article in the National Review. Written by University of Colorado Ph.D. student Spencer Case, the article picks up on a discussion had here at Daily Nous about the matter back in November.
Despite their field’s reputation for interminable controversy, academic philosophers do consider some topics resolved — and a number now think the same-sex marriage debate is one of them. The case in favor of same-sex marriage has been so firmly established, they believe, that further dialogue is at best a waste of time, and at worst an affirmation of bigotry.
The article mentions my “temperate” remarks on the matter, but Case’s main concern is to show, first, that the question is not resolved, and second, that, because of this, it is a mistake for philosophers to view and treat those who favor different marriage rights for heterosexual and same-sex couples as necessarily appealing to a “presumption in favor of tradition” or as “vile hatemongers with views beyond the pale.” I’d be curious to hear about instances or ways in which philosophers, in their professional roles as teachers and researchers, are falling afoul of the concern expressed in Case’s second point. Comments on Case’s arguments for his first point are welcome, too, bearing in mind that they were presented in a column for a political news magazine, and not an academic journal, and so were likely abbreviated and simplified. (Also, he notes in an email that the title, subheading, and some wording in the article were not his choices.)
If Mr. Case doesn’t like the shoe that fits, perhaps he should shop in a different shoe store.Report
I too was puzzled when I read the original post that claimed there were zero plausible arguments against gay marriage. It seems that the only requirements for reducing philosophical arguments against gay marriage to implausibility are the passing of a few years and a successful campaign by LBGT groups to label people against gay marriage as bigots.Report
OK, let’s hear one.Report
In my role as a teacher, I don’t discuss this issue, but it’s not *just* because I think that it has been settled. Rather, it’s because I have to make pedagogical decisions, and I think it’s more valuable to teach debates on which I can present what I take to be a persuasive case for multiple views. On the gay marriage issue, I simply cannot do this: I can’t believably put on the worldview of someone who thinks that the arguments against gay marriage are sound.
Now, I’ll admit that if this were a frequent fault of mine — being unable to persuasively present the case for a view I don’t believe — that this would reveal a flaw in me as a teacher. But there is no obligation to teach this particular issue, there are very many others worthy of being taught, and there are very, very many debates in which I don’t have this flaw. For instance, I have a well-developed view on abortion, and my students never know what it is (I regularly ask them what they think I believe); although I think that the arguments for one view on abortion are sound, I understand the power and perspective of opposing positions, and I present them forcefully.
Note that I have talked only about my abilities: while I think it’s true that there are no plausible argument against same-sex marriage, I’ve just shown that there is good reason for me not to teach the issue based on facts only about what I can successfully teach. And unless someone thinks that being an ethicist strictly implies a particular duty to teach this particular issue (which seems wildly implausible given the scope of the topic), I can’t see why there’s anything wrong with this, *even if I’m wrong about the merits of the arguments*. As a teacher, then, I’ve ended the gay marriage debate in my classroom, but it doesn’t look like I’ve done it wrongly.Report
I’m not thinking of particular arguments here (and I have no wish to get into a debate on the pros and cons of gay marriage) – I’m expressing surprise at how popular opinion (in my view) seems to have been the main driver of whether arguments against gay marriage are seen as plausible or not – rather than the veracity of the arguments themselves. Perhaps that’s characteristic of moral debates?Report
Travis expresses my thoughts exactly. It’s important to me to teach controversial topics on which reasonable people disagree, and I’ve found (especially over the last four or five years) that same-sex marriage just isn’t one any longer.
In part, my decision’s based on the fact that try as I might I can’t find sound arguments against SSM that aren’t also premised on particular religious belief. (Like Travis, I work to make sure my students have no idea what I think, and I consistently support any thoughtful side of an argument I present.) I always ask my students to find ways (in class) to support their views that don’t automatically appeal to (meaning, stop at) religious principles. For example, there are many ways to support the moral principle “Don’t kill innocent people” that don’t rest on divine command theory. I talk about this difference with my students early and often, not as a way to demean religious belief but to carve out a different space for what philosophical reasoning is up to (at least in my classes). Since I truly have not found a sustained and meaningful argument against SSM that doesn’t also require religious belief, it doesn’t fit with how I choose to teach ethics.
But more importantly to me, my students aren’t even interested in it any longer. I remember when this started happening three or four years ago; I was teaching the SSM debate and my students had the attitude of “why are we even discussing this as if it’s a question?” This has only increased over the years. It’s become clear to me that it isn’t a productive topic to teach (as Travis says, given the plethora of others to choose from and our limited classroom time).
I highly doubt philosophers have the power to declare a debate settled; speaking for myself, it’s a reflection of the changing dynamics in my classrooms and how that affects my pedagogical choices for my students.Report
I beat up a bit on Mr. Case in an earlier thread, but now I’ll defend what he says, since I have some sympathy for his arguments this time. I am disappointed when philosophers pronounce a topic as “closed for discussion” or certain opinions as obviously not worth discussing. Philosophers should always be willing to engage ideas, even those we find incredibly offensive. Socrates is here a perfect model. To be perfectly honest, I think the idea that these things are permanently settled is intellectually dishonest, especially when what is officially settled merely tracks “respectable middle class” opinions on the topic. Moreover, Mr. Case has a point when he says that what marriage is and what sex is are perennially up for grabs and changing, and that what currently passes for marriage is not exactly without it’s obvious contradictions and problems, just as what came before it. Moreover, to think that what we used to call marriage is just crazy or weird is also puzzling to me, as if humanity was just completely off the rails about marriage until the late twentieth century, when suddenly a few conservative thinkers like Andrew Sullivan suddenly grasped the truth of things and set everything right. I can’t imagine anyone actually thinks this, and when we discuss what marriage is, we ought to take seriously someone who thinks that more traditional forms are correct. Not because we agree necessarily, but because, in the ways that Mr. Case has pointed out, it helps us to think things through honestly, which is what philosophers are supposed to do.Report
It’s not characteristic of debates in moral or political philosophy, nor would I say it’s a feature of the debate about gay marriage. I think Justin asked for an argument (just one) against gay marriage in order to illustrate that there aren’t any particularly compelling arguments against gay marriage. While I don’t want to say that philosophers never let their political commitments guide their assessments of arguments, I think that in the case of gay marriage things are mostly the other way around: philosophers saw there weren’t (aren’t?) any promising arguments against it, and shifted their politics accordingly.Report
One more thing: It is a separate question whether there are other good reasons to avoid teaching sex and marriage as topics in a philosophy class, and that’s a prudential judgment. Student interest, course goals, time constraints, university policies, etc play an important role here. I have not found that my students are uninterested in these questions, but I teach in the South, where the traditional view may have more traction. But if they were bored by it (they were incredibly uninterested in talking about pornography, which surprised me), then I would drop it too.Report
I think the argument “everything should be debated in philosophy classes, so whether gay marriage is good should also be debated” doesn’t work. Because a philosophy class isn’t a space for debating any question: for example, whether really slavery is good and it benefitted blacks, whether anti-Semitism is right, and so on. One kind of virtue is knowing which kind of debate is passé. This is easy to accept for a philosophy classroom if it is accepted that teaching virtues is part of a philosophy professor’s job (of course, there can be disagreements about which habits are actually virtuous). But this is not possible if it is said that philosophy classrooms are objective in some value-neutral sense, for then one can’t be teaching virtues.
I read Case’s essay as posing a challenge: either give up the idea that the philosophy classroom is value-neutral, or accept that contested issues like gay marriage really are open issues. But one can’t have it both ways.Report
(I was typing this while Jake’s comment, above, came in.) “Bigbird” says that popular opinion which was the “main driver of whether arguments against gay marriage are seen as plausible or not”? Here’s another story: as society liberalized in sexual matters, certain norms which had long been taken for granted were subject to philosophical scrutiny in a way that they previously hadn’t. This philosophical scrutiny then led to fairly strong and compelling criticisms of the differential legal treatment of straight and gay marriages.Report
My recent article – Gregory, M. (2014). The Procedurally Directive Approach to Teaching Controversial Issues. Educational Theory 64(6), 627-648; DOI: 10.1111/edth.12087 – is about facilitating classroom discussions about same-sex marriage. It draws on Michael Hand’s distinction between issues that are still rationally controversial and those that are only controversial in fact, but suggests that the same procedures be used.Report
“I think Justin asked for an argument (just one) against gay marriage in order to illustrate that there aren’t any particularly compelling arguments against gay marriage. ”
That wasn’t his claim – it was that there are zero plausible arguments – a much stronger claim.
Let’s take the argument that marriage is a human good, and its structure has been a significant and positive contribution to society. It seems plausible to me (and others) to argue that for this reason we should be cautious in redefining marriage. I would agree it is not a compelling argument.Report
Maybe I’m missing something, but “there aren’t any particularly compelling arguments” sounds equivalent to “there are zero plausible arguments.” But in either case, I wonder why philosophers should be expected to teach debates in which one side doesn’t have even prima facie plausible/compelling arguments.Report
Jennifer writes, “Philosophers should always be willing to engage ideas, even those we find incredibly offensive.” Just to be clear, the possible offensiveness of the view that straight and gay marriage should be treated differently plays no role in my assessment of the plausibility of the arguments for the view. Nor does it factor into my decision about whether to teach the topic (though it may factor in to some pedagogical decisions about *how* I teach it).Report
Perhaps this comment is inapposite, but I can’t help but notice the tendency of people like Case and George and Girgis to cast this debate in terms of metaphysical questions — “What is marriage?”, “Can an institution that has polygamous relationships within its ambit still count as marriage?” I don’t know whether I speak for the majority of same-sex marriage proponents, but I must confess I don’t care one whit about these questions. The relevant question seems to me to be: “Would it be valuable, in virtue of, among other things, the connotation of the world ‘marriage’ in our corner of civilization, to call some same-sex arrangements ‘marriage’.” My psychological hypothesis is that what’s driving some of these people is a need to see the world as having a rich metaphysical structure, in the way most people did in the Middle Ages; what threatens this worldview is not the growing tendency to favor same-sex marriage so much as the growing tendency to see these metaphysical questions as silly, and as utterly irrelevant to the practical question. The latter tendency is seen as having a disenchanting effect.Report
Whether slavery benefitted blacks is an empirical question, not a philosophical one (and, as an empirical question, it seems pretty much settled, like the causes of global warming). Whether “anti-Semitism is right” is also not a traditional philosophical question, and I don’t know why it would suddenly become one (it was, for some time, a theological question of sorts, at least on a certain interpretation of what anti-semitism amounts to–i.e., if it is more than just a placeholder for a wicked animus against Jews). What marriage is and what sex and its proper circumstances is are both perennial questions for philosophers (because perennially important to human beings), and worth thinking about. So let’s not set up these straw man arguments anymore.
We can argue about what it means to “teach virtue”, or whether that is even remotely possible in the modern university, but let’s not pretend that this is an easy or obvious topic. Arguably, to teach virtue, one needs to teach humility and openness to opinions one does not like. But this thread does not seem like the proper forum for that conversation.Report
I’m not sure Bharath was setting up any straw men, Jennifer. Whether slavery benefitted blacks isn’t just an empirical question, in part because “benefit” is a normative concept. Similarly, I’m not sure we can say that questions such as “Is anti-Semitism right?” isn’t properly part of the philosophical tradition; there have been interesting discussions for a long time about what counts as anti-Semitism, what sorts of treatment people are entitled to in virtue of their religious commitments, etc. Also, I’m not sure anyone suggested that philosophers not talk about what sex is, or what marriage is, or when people should engage in them (a friend of mine is teaching a whole course on these subjects right now!). But you could think all of these are important questions worth discussing in a philosophy classroom, but still hold that the question “Should gays be afforded marriage rights?” isn’t similarly philosophically interesting.Report
Echoing Travis and Hannah: it’s worth keeping in mind that there was a lot more debate about SSM ten years ago. People entertained all kinds of arguments against it. Some were sophisticated and humane, and rightly received careful and charitable attention. (I seem to remember one on the now-defunct left2right blog that turned on subtle issues about adoption and one’s relation to one’s genetic history.) But even the best of them turned out to face straightforward and evidently decisive objections.Report
I do not think marriage equality is a genuinely controversial issue, and I would like to say it’s because I haven’t come across any plausible arguments against marriage equality, but a more honest and accurate way of putting it is that I have a strong and basic intuition that there is no reason to oppose marriage equality other than homophobia (or at least heterocentrism).
It might be helpful to consider an analogy with female suffrage. Like in the marriage equality case, I have the intuition that it is not a genuinely controversial issue whether adult, sane females should have the right to vote. Imagine a situation in which a group of ‘conservatives’ (i.e. misogynists) take an anti-female suffrage position, and a graduate student posts an article saying the following:
“Conservatives prefer to frame the female suffrage debate around questions such as, “What is democracy?,” “What significance does the practice of voting have in one’s overall political engagement?,” and “What sorts of people should be eligible to vote?”
Proponents of female suffrage generally decline to give answers to these questions, preferring instead to make their case on the alleged arbitrariness of the “only adult men” norm.”
I realize this is not a great analogy, because the case against female suffrage is even weaker and more bigoted than the case again marriage equality. However, I think that in both cases there is some degree of bigotry and disrespect behind one of the positions in the debate (the anti-female suffrage and anti-marriage equality positions), and it may be enough to warrant excluding them as topics of debate in tutorials or classrooms.
General philosophical questions about marriage are good discussion topics, but discussion on those can be had without debating whether gay people have human rights.Report
Surely “compelling” is a stronger term than “plausible”. I can agree someone has a plausible argument without finding it compelling. A compelling argument would mean I would need to consider changing my position – a plausible argument means I can see there’s logic there but I don’t personally find it persuasive.
“But in either case, I wonder why philosophers should be expected to teach debates in which one side doesn’t have even prima facie plausible/compelling arguments.”
I don’t think there is much value in debating this particular topic in teaching situations, simply because strong opinions are held on both sides and those opinions can cause considerable upset to the opposing side.
As to Justin’s claim that the case in favour of gay marriage is firmly established, perhaps you or he could tell me if there are any publications that cover this.Report
I think Corvino does an excellent job in many of his articles and talks, and also in the Debating Same Sex-Marriage book.Report
I wonder if the more relevant analogy is with interracial marriage. Interracial marriage used to be illegal in large sections of the US and was a controversial issue in its day. But it would obviously be a bad idea to teach a class on the pros and cons of permitting interracial marriage, even though questions relating to sex, intimacy, and marriage have philosophical importance (and it would be a bad idea in large part because the argument against interracial marriage are extremely weak, to put it mildly). In my own view, the gay marriage debate is similar to the controversy about interracial marriage. Yes, these debates are related to philosophical questions that are important, but these debates are not themselves philosophically very interesting.Report
“But even the best of them turned out to face straightforward and evidently decisive objections.”
I’m not so sure. I think rather that a successful campaign changed the tide of public opinion, and that has swept all before it. No-one wants to be called a bigot, and framing the debate in terms of “marriage equality” made it appear that opponents were anti-equality. No matter that they considered gay marriage a contradiction that required redefining what marriage was.
If you are happy to redefine marriage as something other than between a man and a woman, then of course most arguments against gay marriage dissolve – the terms of the debate are utterly changed.
I think the most plausible arguments are those that argue marriage shouldn’t be redefined – for example the human good argument I mentioned earlier. Spencer Case also argues on similar lines – if you are redefining marriage, why keep it to two people?Report
There seems to be an ad populum fallacy lurking here… If there weren’t any respectable arguments against gay marriage, then why are so many people against it? I don’t think most philosophers would or should find this point compelling. Lots of people believe things for bad reasons or for no reasons at all, but that doesn’t mean we should entertain such views in philosophy.Report
Is there much evidence for this philosophical scrutiny?Report
I would be very interested to hear the variety of moral and political theses that people hear take to have ‘no plausible’ / ‘no particularly compelling’ arguments in their favor and that nonetheless a significant segment of the population takes very seriously. For example: do the commentators here think that the wrongfulness of contraception is a view that has no plausible arguments in its favor? It would help me to see whether I should judge that they have an inability to see such arguments or there really are none such.Report
To answer this quickly: I take there to be no plausible arguments against pre-fertilization forms of contraception; I do think there are plausible, though ultimately unconvincing, arguments against post-fertilization forms of contraception. Other topics that I think have plausible (distinct from convincing) arguments on both sides include: abortion, assisted suicide, creating any people whatsoever, creating people with “disabilities,” various forms of genetic engineering, eating animals, using certain kinds of drugs… to name just a few.Report
This seems an implausible reading. It seems more likely that they think of traditional marriage as something like a ‘homeostatic property cluster,’ exhibiting a variety of mutually supporting desirable features. Reshaping institutions in a way that does not fit with the traditional understanding strips away some of these features and makes it less morally desirable and less socially stable. I imagine that they would agree that even the first moves away from traditional marriage — no-fault divorce, for example — were problematic in just the same way that SSM is.Report
The Pew Center’s “Global Views on Morality” data set provides some additional examples: http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/04/15/global-morality/
There aren’t plausible arguments for the intrinsic wrongness of lots of these: gambling, homosexuality, premarital sex, alcohol use, and divorce.Report
“I’m not so sure. I think rather that a successful campaign changed the tide of public opinion, and that has swept all before it. No-one wants to be called a bigot, and framing the debate in terms of “marriage equality” made it appear that opponents were anti-equality.”
Oh, good, armchair sociology.Report
It’s disturbing that no one here has yet noted that the issue of same-sex marriage is but one of a number of issues at the core of the problem of pervasive injustice and oppression perpetrated against gays and lesbians. This is not just about a single right. This is about people being killed, beaten, bullied, and ostracised for a benign trait that they cannot control. This is about the devastating harms of having one’s loving relationship being denied even basic recognition by one’s community. This is about those, as Hollywood has recently reminded us, who are pushed to the margins as a result of these vile and repugnant attitudes. What’s at stake in the debate is the worth and dignity of homosexual individuals. Characterising the question as a matter of the value and definition of marriage is seriously fucked up.Report
Really quick replies:
Jake: It sounds like you think there is something philosophically interesting in the question of “whether anti-semitism is right and that good work is being done in this area.” Ok, but then presumably if its philosophically interesting its fair fame in a philosophy class. I wouldn’t know, so I won’t pretend to have an opinion. The slavery comparison is still bogus to me. Does anyone think that whether same sex couples can have “marriage” rights as opposed to “domestic partnerships” rights or some other legal arrangement similar to marriage is remotely comparable to the question of whether it is licit to kidnap, sell and purchase, and then work human beings to death? The question of chattel slavery, and whether or not it should be legal, is not legally or morally analogous to the question of whether the right to marriage should only be extended to couplings of men and women or whether it should be open (only) to same sex couplings. To pair them together is already to paint anyone on the side of so-called “traditional” marriage as a kind of monster. I think we all know this. I don’t think that those who oppose redefining marriage–be they students, colleagues, family, or friends–are moral monsters, whatever I make of their arguments.
Komal: Why do we no longer ask the question whether women should have the right to vote? That’s a great question, actually, and I take the answer to be that no one is seriously arguing about this anymore (occasional rants by Ann Coulter aside). But we are still seriously arguing about marriage, about abortion, about torture, etc. If some political group in the US who advocated denying women the right to vote came into prominence and it was an issue in our courts and legislators, I take it that we might take this up again and look at the arguments with our students. If there comes a time when our culture (not just professional elites, but our actual culture) seriously considers marriage “settled,” then yes I think there is little case for making those arguments a part of class, other than as a historical aside. But we are not there yet. At least, not in my corner of the world. And just as Roe v. Wade hardly settled the culture wars about abortion, I doubt that whatever the Supreme Court rules will settle it with regard to sex and marriage. But history may surprise me.
Very quickly, let’s talk about moral monsters. I regularly give Thasymachus, Callicles, and Nietzsche their due, even though their views are insanely offensive to me and even though I don’t personally find their arguments persuasive in the least. Why? It’s precisely because I feel challenged by the clash of values, and because there are always students who side with these guys over that goody two shoes, Socrates. A similar clash of values arises when we debate anything truly important, including sex marriage; we find in that debate (when we take it seriously) competing notions of the human person and human sexuality, of the relationship between metaphysics and value, the purpose of law, interpretations of the constitution, and so on. I find this clash of value inherently challenging and worth thinking through and so do many of my students. I am puzzled by those who find it boring or not worth discussing. It’s a veritable gold mine of important issues worth discussing, no matter where you stand at the end of the day.Report
Thanks for clarifying your position, Jennifer. In your first response to Bharath, you seemed to suggest that the reason anti-Semitism and slavery don’t deserve much serious attention in a philosophy classroom is because they aren’t part of the philosophical tradition and/or aren’t philosophically interesting. I suggested that that isn’t the case, nor did Bharath mean to suggest otherwise, and you’ve helpfully clarified: you think these issues aren’t worth discussing because the answers are obvious or (potentially? I’m not sure…) only very bad people would entertain philosophical discussion about them. That may be your view, but again, I’m not sure that’s what Bharath meant when he was referring to them.Report
I think there are plausible arguments against SSM, and I sometimes teach them though ultimately I disagree. I have in mind arguments claiming that legalizing marriage for all further institutionalizes state preference for monogamy when there is no good reason for this. ( the abolitionist position)
Perhaps this isn’t what the NR had in mind, but at least it shows that we all make choices about what positions to consider.Report
Plausibility is, of course, relative to a person. I have an argument for the moral impermissibility of same-sex marriage, but I do not expect most people to find it plausible. Here it is:
1) The Bible asserts that same-sex marriage is morally wrong.
2) For any p, if the Bible asserts p, then p.
3) Therefore, same-sex marriage is morally wrong.
I expect that Justin (and many others!) will deny (2). I don’t have an argument for (2). I have been trying to convince myself that (1) is false for a long time, but I’ve been unable to do so. So I think I’m in possession of a sound argument that same-sex marriage is morally impermissible. Note that this argument does not say that same-sex marriage should be illegal.
The next question is whether I’d bring this argument up in class. I do. I phrase it as a conditional: “If you think (1), and you think (2), then you ought to think (3).” But that’s a tautology, since the argument is obviously valid. I bring it up because I think it’s the only remotely plausible reason to think that same-sex marriage is wrong.Report
I’d be interested, Justin, in why you think there are plausible arguments for the claim that assisted suicide is morally wrong, or why abortion is sometimes morally wrong.
An interesting thing (at least, it’s interesting to me) that this debate shows, assuming most of the participants in it are right and Jennifer Frey is not, is that Peter van Inwagen’s claim, in _The Problem of Evil_, that there are no decisive arguments for substantive philosophical conclusions, is wrong. One could simply say, “sorry, Peter, but the following positions have arguments for them that are decisive: same-sex marriage is morally permissible; there is nothing intrinsically disordered about homosexuality; there is nothing morally wrong with premarital sex; there is nothing morally wrong with gambling.” What could he possibly say in response?
That said, I wonder what people would make of the following argument: “(1) Cultural relativism is correct; (2) in some cultures, same-sex marriage is immoral; (3) therefore, same-sex marriage is, in many part of the world, immoral.” I assume no one would accept this argument; so is it fair to say that the arguments in favor of the moral permissibility of SSM decisively refute cultural relativism? (Or, for that matter, ethical subjectivism of the “it’s true for me” variety?)
Finally, I’d be interested in hearing whether people think that there are any plausible arguments for the following positions: theism; libertarianism about free will; libertarianism in political philosophy; and natural law theory in ethics.Report
Robert, I am using “plausible” as an intermediate position that lies somewhere between “clearly mistaken” and “convincing,” so some plausible arguments, in this sense, may turn out to be unconvincing. (By the way, if there is better terminology to use here, let me know.) I think an argument qualifies as plausible if its premises aren’t clearly false, and a premise isn’t clearly false if you have to do more than just a little work (more than say, a quick counterexample) to show that it’s false. I admit that there are a lot of weasel words in this explanation.
So, regarding assisted suicide, I had in mind the question of the morality of legalizing it (or of giving people a legal right to it). I am, for broadly consequentialist reasons, in favor of legalizing it, but I think, for example, that there is something to Velleman’s argument against having a right to die. For a couple of reasons I am not convinced by his argument, but it doesn’t strike me as resting on “clearly false” premises. Regarding abortion, it strikes me that a total consequentialist view in conjunction with some fairly well-recognized claims about human psychology and some empirical assumptions about how lives tend to go, suggest that it might be the case that it would be all things considered better if no babies were aborted. Since I don’t take total consequentialism to rest on “clearly false” premises, I don’t take this particular argument against abortion to be implausible, even if, at the end of the day, I am not convinced by it.
To respond to your general query: though I’m an atheist, I think there are plausible arguments for theism. Similarly, I also think there are plausible arguments for metaphysical libertarianism, political libertarianism, and natural law theory, even though I don’t think either of the three views, at least as they are typically understood, are correct.Report
[Disclaimer: This may not be obvious, but the following is *not* an endorsement of the argument.]
Alleged Non-homophobic Argument against Marriage Equality (or against marriage itself)
We have two options: (A) have a public institution of marriage, (B) have no public institution of marriage.
If B, then there should not be *any* kind of publicly supported marriage.
But most people think we should have legal marriage. Otherwise, the issue isn’t about allowing same-sex marriage as much as it should be about prohibiting marriage.
So, assume (A).
1. If (A), then the model of marriage should serve some public purpose.
2. The man-woman model serves the purpose of promoting social posterity (i.e. procreation).
3. The model of marriage that permits same-sex marriage serves no public purpose (or, at least, a purpose that wouldn’t also force us to permit polygamy or incestual marriage)
4. So, the same-sex marriage model should not be publicly supported.
The issue is about what the purpose of marriage could be that permits same-sex marriage that would also prohibit polygamous or incestual marriages. (That is, unless one is for FULL marriage equality: http://marriage-equality.blogspot.com) This is not homophobic. It assumes we want to prohibit the other types of public marriage and claims that whatever we offer to prohibit these other non-traditional types of marriage will also force us to prohibit same-sex marriage.
The argument I tried to present (which, again, is one I reject) considers the “model” of marriage, not individual “cases.”
So while an infertile male-female marriage may not be able to procreate, they would fit the model.
Here’s the thought: the only way to have legal marriage confined to heterosexual couples is to treat marriage as a type and individual marriages are tokens.
And then it seems reasonable to ask if we are going to publicly endorse (e.g. with our tax dollars) a particular marriage *type*, what that type should be.
Here’s a sketchy dialectic of how I think “traditional” marriage folks take themselves to be going:
Anti-Marriage Equality Person A: So you want to publicly affirm some type of marriage?
Marriage Equality Person B: Yes
Person A: What type?
Person B: The type of marriage that would permit same-sex marriage.
Person A: What’s the basis of this marriage type? And would it allow us to also prohibit polygamous or incestual marriage?
Person B: ……..Report
I’m confused about what it means to teach or have a philosophical discussion about gay marriage. It seems that just mentioning gay marriage as an example or presenting an argument that has a consequence for gay marriage (but for a number of other social practices) isn’t sufficient to qualify the discussion as being about gay marriage. So long as we think teaching or thinking about marriage is interesting, gay marriage is going to come up in any number of ways, but that seems really different than coming to class or writing a paper saying, “All right, let’s sort out this gay marriage thing!”Report
“Oh, good, armchair sociology”
Just because it is folk psychology or sociology doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
If you are against gay marriage or “marriage equality”, you get called a bigot, or “seriously fucked up” (according to JT on this thread). And who wants to be accused of that?Report
I have heard of faculty dramatically falling afoul of these requirements. In one instance, a graduate student who argued against recognizing same sex marriage, was invited to debate with a faculty member in front of her ethics lecture class. In her “cross examination,” the professor openly called the graduate student a bigot, in front of dozens of undergraduates. Although I think these issues have been decisively resolved in favor of more liberal marriage laws, I think the way this graduate student was treated was appalling.Report
Popular opinion doesn’t just magically change though. Popular opinion has changed because people were brought to think about the issue more so than in the past and when the arguments against it can pretty much always (at least as far as I’ve seen) be boiled down to, “because GROSS!,” “because Jesus,” “you’re trying to change what a word means,” “children will be confused,” or “it will somehow destroy the lives of heterosexuals,” reasonable people stop taking the opposition seriously. It’s that implausible arguments made by those opposed to gay marriage are what drove popular opinion to what it is today, not that popular opinion just changed and now people don’t like the opposition arguments.Report
“Here’s another story: as society liberalized in sexual matters, certain norms which had long been taken for granted were subject to philosophical scrutiny in a way that they previously hadn’t. This philosophical scrutiny then led to fairly strong and compelling criticisms of the differential legal treatment of straight and gay marriages.”
That doesn’t seem to fit with the timeline of the strong change in public opinion in favor of gay marriage in just the last ten years.
This story also ignores the equal legal treatment of gay or straight couples in civil partnerships.Report
I agree that the anti-SSM lobby generally did a poor job of articulating their arguments. It didn’t help that many *were* bigots.Report
Many societies don’t keep marriage to two people, and haven’t for centuries. One of the strangest aspects of the arguments against gay marriage is the worry that sanctioning them will inevitably lead to new kinds of marriage, where those kinds have already been thoroughly vetted on their own terms, whereas gay marriage — because gay people were considered evil, sinful, deviant, etc. — never was.Report
Jennifer Frey @ 7: ‘ Mr. Case has a point when he says that what marriage is and what sex is are perennially up for grabs and changing, and that what currently passes for marriage is not exactly without it’s obvious contradictions and problems,’
jennifer Frey @ 17: ‘What marriage is and what sex and its proper circumstances is are both perennial questions for philosophers (because perennially important to human beings), and worth thinking about’
I have some sympathy with Jennifer Frey here, and also with the idea that philosophers should be Socratic gadflies who refuse to see any issue as settled beyond doubt. So, why not manifest one’s commitment to that ideal by focussing on the question of whether so called ‘traditional’ or heterosexual marriage is morally defensible? It seems to me that this raises a far wider range of issues and is of potential relevance to a far wider range of students than a focus on SSM. (One might then, I suppose, ask what implications the views one developed in response to this question had for that further question.)
(Incidentally, I’m puzzled by the suggestion @29 that it was only when no-fault divorce became available, that traditional marriage came under pressure. Allowing married women to own property and releasing men from the obligation to marry their deceased brothers wives strike me as far more significant and socially far-reaching changes to what has been called marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition.)Report
Jennifer, do you think Washington and Jefferson are monsters? Is every man that has opposed the most basic aspects of gender equality a monster? Every person who opposed integration? etc. Don’t get me wrong, I think all of these things are monstrous actions and monstrous positions. But does it make the people themselves monsters? It’s harder to make that claim. It might still be the right one to make, but shouldn’t we leave room for distinguishing advocating a monstrous position or doing a monstrous deed or taking part in a monstrous societal institution vs. actually being a monster? So I see why you don’t want to call your students and such monsters, but isn’t it the case that otherwise decent people do monstrous things/support monstrous causes for all sorts of reasons, some of which are potentially somewhat excusing of them in terms of their moral culpability and some of which aren’t? So maybe anti-SSM folks are monsters and maybe they aren’t. That’s a separate question from whether the *view*/*treatment* is monstrous. And doesn’t it seems absurd to reason that since your students, friends, relatives hold position x/do action x, then it can’t be a monstrous thing to think/do? Surely those whose relatives were slave owners but otherwise decent people would have reasoned the exactly same way, no?! (I’m reminded of Unger’s Living High and Letting Die and these issues about how we can actually tell whether we are essentially the moral equivalent of slave-owners in terms of similar monstrosity. Surely if we were, we wouldn’t know it! And I would think if our students and friends and relatives were, it would be really hard to recognize that as well wouldn’t it?)
Further, it’s interesting your use of “redefining marriage” as the main issue at stake. Is THAT what the debate–not just the philosophical debate, but the cultural debate since you seem to have suggested earlier that where you teach the tide has not turned in favor of SSM (or lgbtq rights generally I assume) and the fact that it is still a live issue is a reason to teach it–is about? Not how are we actually going to treat gay people; are they disgusting; are they destroying heterosexual marriage; can we fire them just because, should we have to treat them with the most basic level of dignity and respect; is it okay to purposefully degrade their families; may we deny them the most basic sorts of familial recognition and legal protection when it comes to things like legal parenthood, custody, visitation, child support; and then the 1000+ material benefits that currently come along with marriage? THIS is what the debate has been about in the anti-SSM state I was living in until this year (Michigan). In fact, the so-called “anti-SSM” ballot proposition that was passed in MI in 2004 was purposefully written in such broad terms that it ruled out not only marriage, but ANY kind of relationship recognition whatsoever. It was then interpreted by courts to do away with domestic partner benefits for public employees and the like. The cultural debate in the U.S. at least was never and is not now just about “redefining” marriage–it was and is about the entire gamut of rights and recognition for lgbtq people. (Just notice the absurdity of the situation that in something like 29 states one can still be legally fired for the sole reason of being lgbq even though given recent court rulings it is now legal to marry one’s same-sex significant other in those states!)
Now perhaps within the philosophical literature it is somewhat more accurate to cast the debate that way as I do believe that some of the philosophical opponents to SSM are not oppose to *all* lgbq equality issues. (Though notice, if the primary reason for teaching the SSM debate is because it is an ongoing cultural issue, then teaching that philosophical literature is not actually getting to the heart of the cultural debate at all.) But even here this “redefining” talk seems a nice way to simply gloss over what we are actually talking about in terms of real people’s lives. How about if we put it this way–the students, friends, etc. you have in mind, at least a good number of the anti-SSM philosophical types as well, want to make it the case that the same-sex couple headed families (a group that has traditionally been subject to significant and ongoing social animus and stigmatization) are publicly held out as of a lesser standing than heterosexual couple headed families and advocate denying access for those families to a wide variety of materially and legally important benefits in ways that they THEMSELVES (e.g. numerous of the opponents testifying in cases like Perry v. Schwarz. ) often know and admit will make SS families and their children worse off even though no decent evidence whatsoever has been put forth to show any negative aspects of allowing SSM for anyone and there are abundant and constant examples of the negative aspects of subjecting lgbq people to degrading social hierarchies and denying them material and legal rights afforded to straight people/families. You don’t find that monstrous? Really??Report
I’ve never had to teach this topic – and it seems to be far less of an issue in the UK, where I’m based, than the US – but I would have thought that there would be all sorts of interesting ways to present disagreement over SSM as reflecting a broader disagreement between liberals and communitarians. Of course, you might think that even communitarians wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) oppose SSM, but surely some of the arguments might be recast in those terms? In turn, while I’m a liberal, I don’t think it’s blindingly obvious that communitarianism is false, so I guess I can imagine teaching this topic in a way which wouldn’t present SSM as uncontroversial. Would that avoid Case’s concerns, or am I missing something? (As I wrote this comment I worried that maybe changing views of SSM count as some kind of problem for communitarianism, but that’s a different issue…)Report
@ihateforcedidentification (for comment #43): Word!Report
It seems to me that the only compelling arguments against same-sex marriage are the arguments against marriage more generally: that is rooted in patriarchal roles, that it paints a picture of idealized relationships that is not conducive to flourishing, etc etc. But if the institution is already taken to be good (or at least ‘a’ good) then I should be counted among the ranks of those who think there aren’t any compelling arguments against same-sex marriage specifically.Report
Seeing a lively discussion here motivated me to go read the article in the National Review. Now that I have, I find that what makes some of Spencer Case’s arguments plausible is by the same token that which partially guts his point, namely, that all the things one can say about gay marriage’s debatability are things one can say about the debatability of marriage simpliciter. Indeed, feminist philosophers have done so very well for decades. Therefore, if debatability enjoins us to cover the topic of gay marriage, then debatability enjoins us all to consider the arguments related to the worth of marriage. I do hope those who find same-sex marriage continually controversial are conducting students through robust units on the excellent scholarship on marriage, including all those detailed feminist articles, lest they “adopt a smug, and sloppy, intellectual intolerance” for hosting such an obviously complex discussion.Report
I take it we just teach Mill’s arguments about allowing minority viewpoints to at least be heard, just to kill time in class. Mill argues, IIRC, something like, even if a view appears patently false, there is value in letting it be heard as 1) it avoids philosophical dogmatism (which I take it Mr. Case is trying to point out to you philosophers) 2) there might be some truth to it (such as in this case, there might be _something_ wrong with state marriage as it is or was) and 3) it really might be right (which I take it we can just reject because, you know, a priori, or [invoke Rawls here]. . .). But if we, as a profession, can just sit around and insist that there is nothing about SSM worth teaching about, we are telling our students and each other that we don’t take such arguments seriously, we just make undergraduates memorize them, because, hey, philosophy!
Much of the discussion here seems to be exactly what Mill is talking about.Report
Further to the comments of destroyingmarriagesince2010. Jennifer’s remarks about the pro-slavery arguments suggest that the defenders of slavery thought it was OK to purchase people and work them to death. This suggests that she thinks that their views can be known independently of bothering to look at what they actually said. A central argument on the pro-slavery side, in the US, after the end of the slave trade, emphasized the importance of the slave-owner’s investment in his stock of slaves. The (idealized) slave-owner was going to treat his investment prudently — and working a slave to death was not what a prudent slave-owner would do, any more than a prudent farmer would work his oxen to death. Slave-owners in the upper south, especially, were exporting slaves; they were breeding slaves for export to other parts of the south. (And the defenders of slavery almost invariably ignored the profound horrors of the domestic trade.) Slaves who were ‘worked to death’ were hardly going to return the kind of profit that the slave-owners wanted. The debate about slavery, as it shaped itself, reflected a profound racist paternalism, that ignored all sorts of odious features of slavery as practised in the South. The paternalism embedded in most forms of pro-slavery arguments allowed defenders of slavery to point to the treatment of poor free workers in the industries of the North and of England: if they were worked to death, no one lost an investment in them. The image of the ‘happy slave’, supposedly better off than the free laborer of the north, was important in the ideology of the South. The slavery debate is actually an interesting thing to consider, precisely because we are at a distance from it, and can think about what may be involved in not seeing what (to us now) seems obvious.Report
Are there plausible arguments against incestual marriage that aren’t ultimately paternalistic?Report
Depending on what you mean by ‘ultimately paternalistic’. Does the ‘consent can’t be genuine under certain power structure’ kind of argument count as paternalistic? I myself find this kind of argument compelling re parent-child incest, but less so re sibling incest.Report
I’m not opposed to same sex marriage, but I spoke to someone who was a few years ago. He explained his opposition as having to do with the social benefits that come from marriage: you can’t be compelled to give legal testimony against your spouse, there are tax-related benefits to being married, etc. If we allow same-sex marriage, then perhaps (the argument goes) we’re on a slippery slope. Not only does incest become a live possibility, but so are group marriages. In fact, why couldn’t 100 people get married all together, or the entire Mafia? It’s difficult to say exactly where to draw the line and why. There’s plenty of good stuff here that merits serious discussion.
Another line of argument, and I think this may be Spencer Case’s line, is that there’s allegedly some decent empirical evidence that shows that children raised by gay parents don’t tend to do as well as children raised by heterosexual parents. Personally, I’m quite skeptical about this evidence, though I haven’t yet had a look at it (someone wrote the name of the book down on a slip of paper I’ve got somewhere).
Neither of those arguments is strictly paternalistic.Report
I think the point you make may, indeed, count as paternalistic. (But, it’s obviously THE primary worry.)
There are, of course, some cases in which the power structure between the individuals may nullify consent. But this is true for any relationship, not just incestuous ones. There seem to be perfectly fine cases of parent-child incestuous relationships that do not run afoul of the consent worry.
So, unless there’s a way to adequately adjudicate consensual relationships from non-consensual ones, we may be ultimately forced to accept incestuous marriage.
Whatever one thinks of this, I believe that many who are anti-SSM take this to be a reductio to permitting SSM rather than as a reasonable consequence of its acceptance.Report
I strongly support gay marriage, and I still agree with Case. Deciding that a topic, particularly one involving moral judgment rather than, say, scientific fact, can be closed to discussion seems weird to me for a profession that is still debating some of Aristotle’s theories.
I am also thinking that going even a few years back results in public support of gay marriage plummeting, even among self-identified progressives. I don’t know if there were even polls done on the subject in the 90’s, but I remember it enjoying very little support back then, with most self-identified progressives supporting civil unions instead. That being said, I suspect that some of those arguing here that opposing gay marriage is morally reprehensible bigotry were likely against it themselves if you go far back enough.Report
nicodemus – is it “weird” to treat the ethics of slavery and women’s suffrage as settled issues?
What’s weird, I think, is the assumption (apparently shared by many in this thread) that one can’t reasonably come to the conclusion that certain moral views are both atrocious and rationally unsupportable. Surely it could be true, as a matter of normative fact, that a view be both morally atrocious and rationally unsupportable. And if so, surely careful thinkers could come to know this fact. I don’t see why coming to have this kind of moral knowledge should necessarily constitute any form of “intellectual dishonesty” (as Jennifer Frey seems to assert up-thread).
As I recently argued on my blog, we should all recognize that it’s a *substantive moral question* which views are “beyond the pale” in the sense of being both morally atrocious and rationally unsupportable. One can’t just assume (again, as many here seem to do) that no views could possibly belong in this category. One must rather assess any given case on its merits, and recognize that it’s an open possibility that one might well come to the strong conclusion that a particular view is indeed beyond the pale.
P.S. It’s also not clear what the philosophical significance is of the sociological fact (if it is one) that many who currently recognize the indefensibility of a certain view previously (perhaps due to various cultural obstacles preventing them from considering the matter seriously) failed to recognize this. Sometimes we learn things, after all — even obvious (in retrospect) things.Report
Jennifer mentioned “obvious contradictions and problems” in marriage, and I think that’s a very important thing to mention. So, for instance, society has no genuine *interest* in policing people’s sex lives, EXCEPT that it does have an interest in keeping the biological mother and biological father of a child in the same house with the child. This is not only an arrangement that science shows to be the safest for the child, but it is also an arrangement which has been at the core of just about every prosperous society that we know of. (Cf. Aristotle’s comments on marriage, in the Politics.)
Does the state have any interest in policing gay relationships, or non-reproductive relationships? I’m not sure why they would. I see no problem with giving tax breaks and the name “marriage” to these relationships, but those who say that these latter relationships are not relevantly similar to child-bearing relationships between those of the opposite sex have a point.
Can one make a sensible conservative argument against gay marriage? I don’t know. But one can certainly make a sensible argument that there should be a special arrangement that men and women can make between one another, in order to make it harder (legally) for them to separate in the future, so as to provide greater stability to their children. I’m not sure if the justifications here would extend to couples that needed biological material from outside of the marriage in order to reproduce. A lot hinges on whether the manifold studies that show non-biological parents to be (statistically) more dangerous to children also apply to gay parents. (There are reasons to think they would, and reasons to think they wouldn’t. I’m concerned about the objectivity of researchers here, on both sides).
Obviously, my speculations are based on somehow revising no-fault marriage laws, or introducing a new type of marriage which one can only leave for cause. There are arguments against such a step, certainly — though I do think it would be much better for children. And if gay couples were made capable (through science) of having biological children with genetic material from both spouses, they should be allowed into this type of new arrangement too.Report
And surely, Justin, you think there are valid considerations on both sides on the question of whether certain regulations should be in place concerning the raising of children. If you think of the gay marriage question as a narrow question concerning whether, say, all children have a right to a mother, perhaps you’ll see the other side’s view better.Report
I’m disappointed that so few people in this conversation seems to have taken JT’s point @32 seriously.
The only commenter to directly acknowledge it (@41) grossly misreads it. What is “seriously fucked up,” according to JT, is treating the gay marriage debate as though it were simply an isolated argument about the nature and value of marriage, while ignoring the real meaning of that debate – and the significance of treating it as a mater worthy of debate – for the people whose lives and relationships it is about.
I think Bharath Vallabha’s slavery comparison is apt for the reasons Cora Diamond gives, and let me suggest that one good place to look is Frederick Douglass’s 4th of July speech, where he directly addresses the request for more argument from abolitionists.
But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? …
In that context, treating the slavery debate as simply another matter open for argument wasn’t simply an expression of open minded willingness to engage in dialogue. It involved treating Douglass’s own status as a human being as an open question.
The point is not that the harms of prohibiting gay marriage are comparable to the harms of slavery. The point is that treating gay marriage as a matter of reasonable controversy involves treating the full social and moral standing of gays and lesbians (and so, in the classroom, some of our students) as an open question.
I don’t think these considerations settle the question, but JT is right that it’s seriously fucked up to simply ignore them.
(P.S. Douglass goes on to give a very good anti-slavery argument immediately after that passage, one which works well in Ethics and Political Philosophy classes to illustrate the real world application of moral principles and moral arguments. Cora Diamond’s remarks suggest that teaching more of the slavery debate might actually be quite pedagogically valuable.)Report
A few recent comments have referred to “evidence” that it is better for children to be raised by heterosexual parents than gay parents. I’m very curious about this evidence because it is VERY surprising news to me. I assume this evidence has come in just the past few years post-Perry because that case as I’m sure you know involved a quite thorough investigation of all the potential empirical work attempting to show that being raised in an different sex couple was best for children and none of the supposed evidence in fact was able to show that. (Largely because the studies in question do not actually compare same-sex couples and different-sex couples as parents at all!) Also as someone who works on sexuality issues within philosophy this is kind of embarrassing–because I am completely unaware of this evidence that contradicts decades worth of ongoing evidence showing perfectly good (and sometimes BETTER outcomes) for children raised by same-sex couples. I have a number of close colleagues/friends specializing in the social sciences on the exact issues of sexuality and parenting/family as well. They also appear to be completely unaware of this body of literature, as does the APA, ASA, American Academy of Pediatrics, etc. Oddly even the anti-SSM folks seem unaware, since in recent SSM cases they don’t seem to have been making use of this evidence. What is up with that? Please do give me citations! I will pass the word on to all of the above mentioned people and organizations!Report
It sounds like you are saying if we think of the gay marriage question as being a totally different question altogether that is really neither here nor there in terms of marriage, then we’ll see the other side’s view? *That* is supposed to be a plausible anti-SSM argument?
This sort of thing has been tried in the courts and lost. It lost because it’s totally obvious that in fact whether same-sex couples can get married or not is not rationally related to whether all children have a right to a mother. There are already lots of kids out there being parented by same-sex couples as well as single-parents who do not have a mother or a father. Whether or not same-sex couples get married does not change this one bit. To change this, one would have to ban same-sex adoption, ban adoption by single people, ban the use of donor gametes and/or change the legal situation so that those who donate gametes count as legal parents of the children produced, get rid of the marriage presumption (that holds that a child born to a married woman is legally presumed to be the child of her spouse even if it is known that the child cannot be biologically the offspring of that spouse), and probably put strong incentives against engaging in dangerous occupations like military service after becoming a parent, etc. But of course, other than banning same-sex couples from adoption and perhaps the use of donor gametes, the anti-SSM folks aren’t attempting to do any of that. Instead they focus virtually all of their attention on preventing same-sex couples, many of whom *already* have children and/or have no interest in having children from having any of the rights/privileges/social recognition of marriage.
Yes, sounds totally plausible!Report
I’m not sure if you’re referring to me, but I didn’t discuss such evidence. What I *did* discuss was a large array of literature, spanning for over 50 years, that says that children are best off when they are raised by two people who are their biological parents. None of that research has been refuted — nor is it even in dispute, so far as I can tell — and so all we can say is that various studies on same-sex parenting raise a puzzle for social science. We can hardly say the science is settled.Report
Anonymous @57: “there’s allegedly some decent empirical evidence that shows that children raised by gay parents don’t tend to do as well as children raised by heterosexual parents.”
The “study” I’ve seen cited most often about this, by Mark Regnerus, is not to mince words intellectually dishonest trash. It arrived at its conclusion by counting children whose parents divorced after one came out as “children raised by gay parents.” More on the scientific literature here. I don’t think philosophers are any more obligated to give credence to this kind of empirical research in classroom discussion than we would be, say, to let a discussion of the argument from design get diverted into a discussion of gaps in the fossil record.
Arthur Greeves: “[society] does have an interest in keeping the biological mother and biological father of a child in the same house with the child. This is not only an arrangement that science shows to be the safest for the child, but it is also an arrangement which has been at the core of just about every prosperous society that we know of.”
This strikes me as very dubious historically. Have you read the Tale of Genji? Studied Sparta?
Now there probably is an interesting discussion to be had about the philosophical underpinnings of marriage. But framing it as “Should gay and lesbian people be allowed to participate in marriage?” seems as pernicious as framing a discussion about the epistemology of testimony as “Should we believe things that [members of oppressed group X] say?” (And that has been treated as a live question throughout history.) As JT and Derek Bowman say, when you frame your question as whether gays and lesbians in particular should be barred from the institution of marriage, you’re denying the humanity of people who still face a lot of discrimination and prejudice. And I have yet to see an argument that even rises to the level of plausibility for “We should keep the institution of marriage as it is except ban same-sex marriage.”Report
I recommend http://johncorvino.com/debating-same-sex-marriage/ to you all. If you have a chance, invite John Corvino http://johncorvino.com/about/ to your campus to give a (popular) presentation. As the coordinator of the university-wide popular lecture series at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY, I did that in September 2014 http://www.chautauqua.eku.edu/sites/chautauqua.eku.edu/files/files/2014_letter_color.pdf & http://www.eku.edu/news/2014-15-chautauqua-series-explore-strategizing, and it was one of the most wonderful presentations during my 5-year tenure as lecture coordinator. How did John discuss the twin topics of same-sex marriage and homosexuality? With respect, with humor, with charm, with civility, with compassion, with clarity, with wonderful analysis and arguments that philosophers are known for. He engages his opponents and takes their arguments seriously. He does not call them “bigots,” “hatemongers,” and the like. As I said, his presentation was an absolute success. The 320 people who showed up loved it. John was personable, gracious, thoughtful, and humble. As a philosopher myself, I was pleased he really gave academic philosophy a GOOD NAME.Report
@ Derek Bowman
Yes that is how I read JT’s point as well and I was also disappointed that almost no one seemed to see his point. I take it the vast majority of commentators here taking either position are straight, which is why the debate is cast in such very abstract terms–“redefining” a term–as if there are no actual consequences to real people’s lives.
Perhaps here’s a way for others on this thread to think further about the point make appealing to Douglass. Imagine you were going into a classroom in which you knew every single person was lgbtq. Could you have a debate in which the question was–is it just to allow access to the institution of marriage (which of course involves significant social status as well as significant material benefits and legal rights) *only* to different-sexed couples? Would you expect to get robust discussion on that issue in that context? Or would it be uncomfortable? Would it feel like, perhaps, you are somehow insulting the very personhood of the people in your class by seriously suggesting that they debate whether they should be treated as so significantly unequal to others in society? I think anyone being honest has to admit that of course it would be uncomfortable, of course you wouldn’t expect robust discussion on *that* question, and of course it would seem to be a moral insult to even ask the students to discuss the question as a live possibility. (For comparison, similarly I think the topic of whether women ought be permitted in professional jobs or whether blacks were better off under Jim Crow would have the same result in a room of all women or all blacks. In contrast, whether reparations are the best approach to rectifying past racial injustice, whether (and when/for what reasons) abortion should be permitted, and whether outing is a legitimate strategy for responding to closeted politicians and social commentators who take anti-gay positions are all positions I think would not be insulting and could generate robust debate.Report
Yes Arthur I was replying to you (the embeded reply didn’t work).
How is it puzzling? The literature you are talking about compared married heterosexual biologically related parenting to other kinds of cases–step-parent, adoption, single parenting etc. and found the married hetero bio related children to do better (or something along these lines) I take it?
If so, the researchers (or those who summarize the research I suppose) simply were mistaken in taking the conclusion to be that “that children are best off when they are raised by two people who are their biological parents.” That conclusion is completely unwarranted since they never tested one alternative to being raised by the two people who are one’s biological parents–being raised by one bio parent and one non-parent in a same-sex couple in which your birth was planned and your parents were both part of your life from conception onward. Studies that have looked at that alternative find little if any difference from the hetero married bio parent case. I don’t see how it’s puzzling. It’s just a case of making an overly broad statement based on research that, we now realize, can’t actually support that broad a statement.
Perhaps we can’t blame those who 30 years ago were insisting on that claim, but it is surely disingenuous to continue repeating it today in light of the current state of the literature on same-sex families (which is exactly why that claim when made in Perry was found completely unconvincing in light of testimony from numerous experts on issues of same-sex parenting.)Report
Owen Schaefer has published some interesting thoughts about these questions in a post at Practical Ethics. (I can’t respond at the moment but will try to by later today.)Report
I don’t think a valid criticism of Case’s position is that he is asking metaphysical questions, at least among philosophers on a philosophy blog when discussing philosophical discourse. I mean, this is the last place where I would have expected metaphysics to be a dirty word.Report
It seems that several commentators fail to see that the issue isn’t simply about whether two people can *say* that they’re married. As far as I’m aware, anyone can *say* that they’re married.
Legalizing any type of marriage is open to scrutiny because when we legalize marriage, we ultimately bestow economic benefits on the individuals in question. And these economic benefits come at a cost to everyone else.
Is it ok to ask for a reason why *I* should incur these costs? Sure it is, even if I’m ultimately willing to accept them.
I’ve pressed the incestuous and polygamous line of reply above in order to try to show the problems for prohibiting certain types of marriage. But there is a similar worry regarding permitting marriage in the first place.
Consider the following cases:
A. Dick and Jane just met today in Las Vegas and got married.
B. Jack and Jill have been in a relationship for ten years and are not legally married.
C. Dick and Jack have been best friends for twenty years.
Oddly, we bestow economic benefits on Dick and Jane beginning on the day they first met. But we deny these same benefits to Jack and Jill.
What justifies giving economic benefits to individuals in A but not B or C?
Jack and Jill seem like they may have a claim to economic benefits. If you disregard their relationship, you seem to be disregarding and discounting the long term relationships and lives of millions of people and committing the same sort of sin that JT accuses others of committing.Report
I think the best[/least bad] arguments against gay marriage are almost always made allusively or implicitly, because they follow from a sort of elitist conservatism. In a nutshell: if you suddenly and drastically reform the institution of marriage, particularly in a way that is contrary to the teachings of the religious institutions that have promoted and sanctified marriage for millenia, and that places the law in opposition to the publicly expressed will of those religious institutions, you undermine both  the authority of those religious institutions and  the sanctity and mystique of the institution of marriage itself. This all leads to increased godlessness, sin, infidelity, divorce etc and other harms which outweigh the injustice of denying marriage rights to a small minority.
I don’t agree with this argument, mainly because I see these “harms” more as fringe benefits of gay marriage, but I don’t think it’s insane or worthless, and I think it’s what many intelligent conservatives think.
The reason I wouldn’t want to conduct such a debate in a classroom is that at a time when this is a live controversy, and one of the enemy’s weaknesses is their almost total lack of intellectual credibility, it would feel like a real betrayal of my gay brothers and sisters to concede any such credibility to them. I don’t so much mind debating slavery, because it is a dead issue. I don’t mind debating abortion because (sadly) the arguments against do enjoy widespread credibility.
A classroom is not just a classroom.Report
You said you haven’t seen an argument to the effect that “We should keep the institution of marriage as it is except ban same-sex marriage.” I don’t think there is such an argument. I certainly wasn’t saying there was one! I was saying that there are interesting arguments to the effect that we should rethink our attitudes toward marriage entirely.Report
Justin above (@11) speculates that the main driver of whether arguments against gay marriage are seen as plausible or not is that “as society liberalized in sexual matters, certain norms which had long been taken for granted were subject to philosophical scrutiny in a way that they previously hadn’t. This philosophical scrutiny then led to fairly strong and compelling criticisms of the differential legal treatment of straight and gay marriages.”
At least in the larger culture, I’m pretty sure that this is wrong, or at least importantly incomplete. One huge factor is the trend in recent decades of many more gays and lesbians coming out of the closet, so that far more people nowadays know that they know people who are gay or lesbian. (And often this includes same-sex couples.) Once you know particular gays and lesbians well, then considerations of how discrimination against them harms and disrespects them become much more vivid and salient than they were before. And now that SSM has been legalized in many states, and the sky hasn’t fallen, vague fears that “redefining marriage” will harm society or harm children are losing force. The attitude is shifting to “Hey, if gays and lesbians want to get married too, why should we prevent that?”
I suspect that these sorts of considerations also are driving what philosophers find plausible and implausible in argumentation. It’s not so much that there has been a huge shift in the arguments being put forward in the last 20 years and the criticisms of them–although I’m happy to acknowledge the great work people like John Corvino have done–but that social changes and life experiences have made certain argumentative considerations look more vivid and others more silly.Report
(Love the name, by the way…)
Your point that, in same-sex couples, both members of the couple plan the birth, is certainly relevant. That is a potential explanation for why results in same-sex couples would be different than results in other cases. We might study this with straight couples too — your hypothesis predicts that straight couples who conceive by in vitro, with one biological parent, will have the same outcomes as married couples having biological kids. I’m not sure why, though, this wouldn’t apply to adoptive couples too, since adoptive couples deliberately choose to have a child; and yet, the kids of adoptive couples DON’T have the sorts of outcomes that biological kids have. So again, I see two experimental results in social science that are in tension with one another, and more research is needed.
Indeed, the very fact that you are disputing factual premises in the argument I tentatively offered is proof that this subject is not beyond the realm of rational argument. If my reasons were plainly motivated by animus and completely irrational, it would make no sense to refute the premises.Report
Arthur: Again, it seems odd to frame arguments we should rethink our attitudes toward marriage entirely as arguments against (or even concerning) same-sex marriage. After all, the question at issue when we talk about the same-sex marriage debate in the wider world is whether we’re going to keep the institution of marriage just as it is except for banning same-sex marriages. And someone who held, say, that the state should not recognize marriages at all but only allow two people to draw up civil partnerships would not be described as an opponent of same-sex marriage but as an opponent of marriage.
To restate the analogy about epistemology: I could take up the question of whether we know that humans cause global warming in my epistemology class, and I could point out that there is a philosophically significant position on which we don’t know that: the skeptical position on which we know nothing about the external world. But this would have nothing to do with the global warming “debate” as it is practiced, and to describe me as arguing for global warming skepticism when I’m just arguing for skepticism would be bizarre! All I would be accomplishing in this case would be needlessly dragging in controversy and muddying the philosophical point I’m trying to make.
Except at least the global warming example wouldn’t be a direct slap in the face to any particular person. Presenting an argument about the concept of marriage as an argument that you, you particular gay or lesbian person, should be denied the possibility of marriage–when those actual gay or lesbian people face a movement to deny them possibility of marriage for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the argument you’re presenting–that’s a slap in the face. So, if one were planning to teach arguments about whether we should rethink the institution of marriage entirely, I would hope that one would be careful to distinguish them from the current same-sex marriage debate.Report
Arthur–I don’t see how my hypothesis predicts that outcome at all. I’m not sure I even have a hypothesis! I am just stating what the research says about same-sex families. I admit I am much less familiar with the research on straight families of various kinds. I’m not a social scientist. In the case of adoptive couples vs. couples using ART or reproducing the old-fashioned way one MAJOR difference is going to be the very situation of adoption–namely that the child was gestated and born to a person (normally events which in themselves involve significant emotional and physical sorts of bonding) who decided not to parent the child. That in itself is very different than many kinds of ART as well as in the case of old-fashioned reproduction. It is for this reason, as far as I know, that most of the studies investigating same-sex parents specifically avoid adoptive cases. (This is not to say I am suggesting that adoption leads to negative outcomes for children. I think there are reasons to worry about much of the literature on adoption and child outcomes. Sally Haslanger talks about some of these issues in her work [that the literature is far more varied in the findings of outcomes than is often assumed to be the case]. Also I would worry regarding any research going back 50 years on adoption that things have changed significantly in terms of open vs. closed adoption, community support for adoption, stigmatization, honesty to the child from an early age, etc. that I would wonder how trustworthy the older research could be in telling us anything about what outcomes would be like in adoptive families today.) On the issue of predicting that straight couples using IVF and gamete donation, I would actually NOT assume the same outcomes in large part because the literature indicates that straight couples are much less likely to inform the child of the means of their conception and to do so at an early age. Thus often such couples pretend that the non-bio parent is a bio parent and the truth is revealed only well into the child’s adolescence or adulthood and sometimes by accident. So no, I would not think the outcomes would be similar given that in the lgbtq case openness (to the child and to the wider world) is built right into the situation; secrecy and pretending are simply not possible.
On your second point, I don’t think it follows that disputing false claims about the state of the empirical evidence re: what is good for children (which imply that same-sex parents are worse for children than straight bio parents) shows anything about the reasonability of your argument. Just that I don’t want you or others to believe false and disparaging things about gay families. In fact the same court cases I’ve mentioned before have also attacked the overall logic of the sort of argument that appeals to child outcomes. Even if it were the case that children did slightly better in x sort of family rather than y sort of family, so what? How is that reason enough to prohibit an entire group of people from accessing marriage (particularly if it is the case that children in x sort of family do better if the family is an x-married family rather than an x-non-married family!). So yes I dispute the structure of your argument as implausible as well.
Or an easier way to see this point, I saw a humorous facebook post some time ago about some of the literature on lesbian parents seems to find that kids actually do BETTER in those families compared to kids in hetero families (in very small ways, in very small studies, that of course it would be irresponsible to generalize from.) The poster’s comment was “Don’t worry heteros, even though lesbians are better at raising kids I still support your right to get married.” Funny, but seriously, no one would actually take serious the type of argument you are suggesting if the empirical evidence were reversed–that only lesbians should be able to get married “to protect the children!” This problem, too, has been pointed out by the same courts that have rejected the problematic empirical claims: since when do we determine who is permitted to be married based on small differences in child outcomes??? (Oh that’s right, only since gay people started wanting to get married! There would be that animus issue!)Report
I think Andrew’s insight here is actually an important one. As I pointed out in my response to the infamous anti-gay marriage paper by Girgis et al, it seems a major methodological mistake to adopt a “metaphysics first” approach to public policy questions.Report
(That was meant to be a reply to [email protected])Report
“In fact the same court cases I’ve mentioned before have also attacked the overall logic of the sort of argument that appeals to child outcomes. Even if it were the case that children did slightly better in x sort of family rather than y sort of family, so what? How is that reason enough to prohibit an entire group of people from accessing marriage?…”
I didn’t ever suggest we keep people from accessing marriage, or having children. I suggested that we might allow certain people to make lifelong commitments to each other that were not subject to arbitrary divorce, for the sake of their children. I also suggested that we permit gay people to join in such commitments, provided that (a) the social science conclusively shows children of gay couples to have similar outcomes as children of straight couples, or (b) technology would allow gay couples to have children with only their own biological material.
You consistently saddle me with views I don’t hold, which makes it difficult to converse. We have one concrete disagreement, which is whether social science HAS ALREADY shown similar outcomes for gay couples as for biological straight couples. (Do the studies you mention, by the way, include only straight couples who are biological parents, and who do not divorce?)Report
Arthur, sorry I must have missed where you laid out this position clearly earlier in the thread.
But I still do not understand why it is at all plausible to connect gay people’s rights to marry to either a or b. First why in the world assume that straight people should be the measure by which gay people should be measured as parents? Why not the other way around? (Imagine, for instance, a suggestion that blacks should be able to marry so long as their children have outcomes as good as whites’ children. Notice the double difficulty here–first, even if the outcomes of black couple’s children were somewhat worse than whites so what?! How could that justify denying them the right to marry, especially if marriage in itself could be helpful in terms of improving child outcomes? But even more insulting is the idea that whites are the standard by which to compare!)
Second, I do not see what biological material has to do with marriage. Straight people already can and do create children without using only their own biological material both inside marriage and outside of it. And, in fact, some same-sex couples in which one partner has legally transitioned from the sex they were assigned at birth (and so legally they are treated as a same-sex couple and subject to any bans on same-sex marriage) can already use their gametes to create a pregnancy with existing technology.
So there are already some straight couples who can’t reproduce using only their own bio material and some same-sex couples who can. How does it make sense to treat straights and gays differently then? (And more generally, again, for the reasons I already mentioned from the actual court cases on this topic, why should marriage have much of anything to do with all of this children stuff anyway?)
I think it’s clear we have many, many disagreements–not just one! But on the question about the state of the literature, here is a brief from the APA on exactly these issues filed as an amicus brief in a recent SSM case: http://www.apa.org/about/offices/ogc/amicus/gill.pdf The studies discussed there and in similar surveys of the literature are numerous and I can’t say I know the details of each. Also I’ll reiterate, again, I am not a social scientist. I am simply taking large groups of social scientists and experts in the field at their word when they say exactly what I have said on this thread about the state of the literature. Are you a social scientist? Are you basing your understanding of the literature on your own reading of it? Or on the surveys of other social scientists?Report
Sophistry deployed to defend homophobia and heterosexism is no virtue…His National Review article was pure concern trolling.Report
Kate, I hope you had a mic on hand to drop after you submitted this comment.Report
Well, etseq, sophistry deployed to defend homosexuality and undermine heterosexism is no virtue either …Report
I’m quite happy saying that there are no plausible arguments against marriage equality. All of the “plausible” arguments given in this thread have been put to rest already. Justin already mentioned John Corvino’s fine book (‘Debating Same Sex Marriage’ one). I urge people to read it. I think it’s quite good. (I do disagree with his view that it’s easy to stop the slippery slope argument before polyamory, but that’s not a big deal: I’m fine with polyamory. I don’t view a position that commits one to permitting polyamory as a reductio.)
But I’ve still taught the topic in intro because I think it’s important for students to see the arguments and apply argumentation and conceptual analyses to see why the anti-marriage equality arguments are really quite bad. Furthermore, I think it’s important for students to be equipped with good counter arguments when they continue to face the bad anti-marriage equality arguments.Report
It may be important to note that whether or not you believe the arguments plausible or not, the majority of the population of the United States still finds SSM objectionable and usually vote against it. It is only through recent judicial gymnastics that the previously unknown Constitutional right to marry someone of the same sex was discovered, though that itself is still to receive a final determination. The fact that the majority of your fellow citizens believe you incorrect on this question may in itself be enough for it to be considered.Report
80% of the population support mandatory labelling of foods containing DNA. Should we be debating that too?Report
Johannes Young, support for same-sex marriage appears to be at least split, if not coming from the majority of the population, E.g., see http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/support-for-same-sex-marriage-hits-new-high-half-say-constitution-guarantees-right/2014/03/04/f737e87e-a3e5-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html and http://www.pewresearch.org/2013/03/29/yes-more-americans-favor-legalizing-gay-marriage-but-just-how-many-do/ and here for more recent percentages by U.S. region http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/15/gay-marriage-arrives-in-the-south-where-the-public-is-less-enthused/Report
There are no plausible arguments for substance dualism. Should I stop discussing it in my intro philosophy courses?Report
I am not a US citizen, Johannes. I’m Canadian. Most non US developed nations settled the issue of SSM years ago.Report
Responding to some of the above comments and the post at the Practical Ethics Blog (where I also posted this comment).
Let me clarify my view. In considering whether to teach about the moral and legal issues regarding same-sex marriage in a class like “contemporary moral problems,” I have explicitly mentioned two conditions, and implicitly there’s a third. I think that these three conditions, taken together, can justify a decision not to teach a topic. Here they are, in general form:
(a) There are no plausible arguments in favor of what would be one of the main positions in a dispute on the topic.
(b) The topic is not a live or controversial issue for the people I’d be teaching it to.
(c) The topic is not essential to the course, and there are plenty of other topics that could be substituted in for it (of which (a) and (b) are not true) without any detriment to the goals of the course.
When these three conditions are met, it’s permissible for an instructor to not teach the topic.
I think these conditions are met in regards to the claim that straight and gay couples should have different marriage rights, and also in regards to the claim that the moral permissibility of sexual activity depends on whether the activity is heterosexual or homosexual.
This argument does not imply that it is necessarily a bad idea to teach the topic—there could be countervailing reasons to do so. And there could be good reasons to teach something quite close to the topic. So, even though I think these conditions are met in regards to the two claims mentioned in the previous paragraph, I have taught them recently. I’ve taught the former because there are interesting questions of political liberty and compromise that the topic can be illustrative of, and I’ve taught the latter because it gives me a chance to talk to students about the ways in which “natural” and “unnatural” are carelessly bandied about in popular moral discourse.
My position raises a couple of questions, of course, most obviously: what is “plausibility”? I don’t know the literature on this so feel free to help me out here, but as I said in another comment, I am using “plausible” as an intermediate position that lies somewhere between “clearly mistaken” and “convincing.” So some arguments are plausible but ultimately unconvincing.
What makes an argument plausible? Restating what I said in an earlier comment, I think an argument qualifies as plausible if it isn’t fairly easy to show that its premises are false. The premises may in fact be false, and it may be possible to show this, but, so long as it takes more than a quick counterexample or small straightforward moves to do so, we can count the argument as plausible. Granted, there are some vague terms in this account of plausibility, but I don’t think I know how to be more specific about it just yet.Report
“Likewise it is an opinion accepted by all, that it is not right to bring up a child in the lap of his parents. The natural love makes them too tender and lax, even the wisest of them. They are capable neither of chastising his faults nor of seeing him brought up roughly, as he should be, and hazardously.” ~Montaigne, ‘On the education of children’Report
“Most non US developed nations settled the issue of SSM years ago.”
Rachel, I think that is inaccurate and both unfair to the United States (parts of which legalized gay marriage before Canada) and gay couples worldwide who are still being discriminated against.
Using the IMF’s Human Development Index, there are about 49 countries with an HDI classified as “very high.” Only _15_ of these countries allow gay marriage absolutely, with one (the US) allowing it in certain jurisdictions. Of those 15, about a third only began allowing it in the past year or two. The majority of non-US developed nations have certainly not settled the issue of SSM (unless you mean by outlawing it) years ago.
Developed countries that do not allow gay marriage include, but are not limited to:
I don’t mean to come off annoyed, but one of my pet peeves is this general assumption that the United States is a perpetually regressive throwback in an otherwise enlightened developed world.Report
Interesting. This seems like a causal hypothesis but it doesn’t fit my experience at all. I used to teach this stuff so I had to read the literature. I found the arguments totally persuasive. (It’s somewhat ironic, I think, that I first got why marriage was so important from reading Ralph Wedgwood’s fantastic piece on same sex marriage.) When I read this stuff and taught this stuff, I was surrounded by people who thought that same sex marriage was a completely absurd idea. I just have a hard time believing that the main driver of my views about same sex marriage was the popular support for the proposition that you’d find in places like Nebraska or Texas in the early 2000s. The majority of my students and the people I interacted with in my day to day life were clearly opposed to the idea and were still caught in the grips of the idea that homosexual sex was morally defective. That’s just my impression based on my experience. Maybe you’ve done some research on what drove the opinions of people who read the literature. I’m not aware of any, but you can tell me what you’ve read that supports your view.
I think that one thing that popular support can do is help humanize the people affected by things like marriage law. It does help some of us see why the arguments against recognizing same sex marriage suck.Report
that’s a somewhat misleading list, DC.
Two countries in your list in fact have marriage equality:
Scotland: final approval in Feb , 2014, went into full effect in December 2014.
Finland: Marriage equality, November 2014.
Two others are in a middle-state, still more progressive than that of the U.S (until June, anyway):
Israel: Same -sex marriages performed in other countries recognized, marriages not performed
Germany: “Life time partnerships”– yes, it falls short of full marriage equality, but unlike “civil unions” in the U.S. it comes with the full complement of rights and responsibilities
What of the remaining six?
Italy: yes, no same sex marriage. They have the Vatican to contend with. Hasn’t stopped mayors from rebelling against the Catholic regime, including perhaps most notably the mayor of Rome, who after an order from the interior minister not to do so, publicly recognized validity of 16 marriages performed outside Italy in October.
Australia: no same sex marriage. Recent polls, however, indicate marked majority in favor of marriage equality: http://www.crosbytextor.com/news/record-support-for-same-sex-marriage/
Switzerland: Federally Recognized Partnerships– not full marriage equality in that adoption and fertility treatment rights differ for same-sex couples and not-same-sex-couples.
Japan: no marriage equality (as far as I know, nothing even close), and marriage laws that are regressive for non-same-sex couples as well.
I don’t know about Poland and South Korea.
If you’re going to be a stickler for accuracy, be a stickler.Report
I was going by the Pew Foundation’s list (updated January 6, 2015); if there’s any mistake I assure you it’s not because I’m intentionally trying to mislead anyone.
“Two countries in your list in fact have marriage equality:
Scotland: final approval in Feb , 2014, went into full effect in December 2014.”
Granted; the Pew Foundation list was incorrect on this point.
“Finland: Marriage equality, November 2014.”
No; a law was passed but it will not go into effect until 2017 (http://web.eduskunta.fi/Resource.phx/pubman/templates/56.htx?id=7139)
“Two others are in a middle-state, still more progressive than that of the U.S (until June, anyway):
Israel: Same -sex marriages performed in other countries recognized, marriages not performed”
How is that more progressive than the U.S., considering a majority of U.S. states recognize gay marriage?
Germany: “Life time partnerships”– yes, it falls short of full marriage equality, but unlike “civil unions” in the U.S. it comes with the full complement of rights and responsibilities ”
Separate but equal is not, actually, equal. Why are we more charitable towards European countries for things we denounce in the U.S.? Same-sex couples can legally marry in the United States. They can’t in Germany.
“Italy: yes, no same sex marriage. They have the Vatican to contend with. Hasn’t stopped mayors from rebelling against the Catholic regime, including perhaps most notably the mayor of Rome, who after an order from the interior minister not to do so, publicly recognized validity of 16 marriages performed outside Italy in October.”
The cause of anti-equality is not really relevant to my point; the Vatican is not really an excuse. I will grant every country has people in it, including politicians, who are pro-equality, but that’s not the point under discussion.
“If you’re going to be a stickler for accuracy, be a stickler.”
Only I was not being a “stickler,” I was showing the very thesis, that “Most non US developed nations settled the issue of SSM years ago” IS NOT ACCURATE. All you did was move one country to the pro-equality pile. That does not defeat my point. The U.S. has a lot of work to do, but compared to most other developed countries it is comparatively pro-SSM.Report
(correction to my last comment): I was incorrect on Scotland, not the Pew list.Report
Just a limited point on methodology (replying to Andrew and Richard): Sometimes ‘metaphysical’ questions are (reasonably considered) relevant to policy: For harassment/bodily integrity laws: What is/constitutes consent? For abortion/infanticide laws: What is a person?/when does (a rational) life begin? For distinctions relevant to homicide laws: what constitutes an agent’s intention? For a dispute over public funding of some crassly offensive (say, Islamiohobic) exhibit: What is (true) art (for)? I put ‘metaphysical’ in scare quotes because some of these are just questions about the proper analysis of a concept of basic moral significance, or the appropriate/fitting end of a social practice (such as Sandel might ask for, and convincingly discusses the relevance of in his Justice book). The general point is that sometimes policy disputes implicate not just empirical judgments about cause/effect, and moral judgments about what trade-off of costs and benefits is appropriate, just, etc., but also fundamental questions about the structure of the bedrock moral variables (harms or benefits or bad makers or social practices or whatever) at stake, which are inputs for the more familiar empirical and political-moral calculations. I recognize that most people here will disagree that marriage is itself (like friendship, or knowledge, or beauty, for some objective-list theorists) a basic good, whose structure might matter in a way that gives the law some (defeasible) reason to track it over and above the (further) harms and benefits of having this or that legal recognition scheme. But whether the “what is” question is good methodology turns partly on that substantive question. On which I’ll here just note that many arguments for SSM (as well as many pro-SSM rebuttals to certain kinds of “slippery slope” arguments) themselves strongly suggest agreement on the idea that “what marriage is” (understood as a prelegal basic value or good, different in kind from the class of non-romantic friendships) is of basic importance here.Report
Depends on what you mean by “against gay marriage.” If you mean arguments against even *allowing* gay people to have private marriage ceremonies, live together, make medical decisions in emergencies, or leave each other estates when they die, I suppose I agree. But maybe we can think of something more nuanced than that.
So take a step back. Why does the government recognize marriage at all? Because married people are important to each other? Because they really like each other? Nope. Best friends are important to each other and really like each other, and moreover their relationships can be longer lasting and more meaningful than many marriages.
So why isn’t there a special government license for “best friends”? Must be something about “marriage” that is a difference in kind, not just in degree, from other human relationships that can be equally (or more) important to human flourishing.
Whatever could that be?
In my opinion, human opposite-sex marriage is really due to the biological fact that humans are born so early in their development. Other animals are up and walking within minutes of birth, whereas our huge brains mean that we have to be born at a stage of utter helplessness where it takes us a full year to learn to walk, much longer than that to learn to communicate effectively with others, and even longer to be self-sufficient.
Because babies are so helpless, it doesn’t make for a very good society if human males didn’t have a social expectation of lifelong monogamous marriage, but instead acted on the same instinct that other mammalian males have to mate with every fertile female in sight. If that were the standard, our society would be vastly more unequal than it is — women would get stuck (even more than they are) with all of the thankless work of taking care of helpless babies, while men would roam around impregnating women left and right while never bearing the consequences.
Sure, many men try to do that anyway. But the institution of marriage — long-term pair bonding with a partner who might bear children with you — is a mechanism of blunting the conflict between the male instinct to impregnate everything they see (as do dogs) versus the fact that human babies need years of dedicated care and effort. Since we figured out that there’s not really a better option than making the male and female parents take care of their babies (as a default to be overridden in some circumstances), we developed a system called “marriage” and tried to drill it into men’s heads that “this is a really serious promise, you have to stick to this woman and help her with any kids that turn up, and you shouldn’t go running off with other women every month.”
Again, few men ever live up to this ideal, and some fail miserably, but the reason for the ideal shouldn’t really be a mystery — to protect females from being screwed by men who sire children that need help for many years but who don’t stick around to help care for them.
That’s why we as a society worry about male-female sexual relationships in a way that we don’t worry about male-male or female-female relationships. Only the former have even the possibility (not always realized, of course) of producing babies, who then need years of sustenance and help whether they were wanted or unwanted.
Yes, gay couples can adopt, and I support this option vigorously, but being able to adopt is not the same thing as having a relationship that can produce babies from within itself. Similarly, single people can adopt, but we don’t worry that single people are accidentally going to reproduce asexually, nor do we see a general need to confer a special legal status on “singlehood” as something that by nature produces babies.
Another crucial point to keep in mind throughout all of the above is that “marriage” is not a *reward* for being good or worthy. Nor is “marriage” reducible to privileges such as taxation or inheritance or hospital visitation (all of those things can happen apart from “marriage”).
Instead, the real reason for government recognition of “marriage” is to impose extra *duties* on people — duties to share property, duties to share in child-rearing, duties to pay alimony in the event of a split, etc. And again, these duties hearken back to the unequal division of labor that nature has imposed on the birthing of children, the inequality of which would only be magnified if adult males weren’t constantly faced with a legal and cultural institution that creates duties towards children they have sired and their mother.
It is possible to imagine a set of such legal duties being imposed automatically on anyone who has sex, of course, but “marriage” is a way for men to assume those legal duties by a voluntary pledge and for women to seek the advantage of those duties with the law being more on their side.
So the long and short of it is that one reason (the only reason I can think of) to limit the *duties* of marriage to male-female couples is that those are the only pairings that can even conceivably produce children, and these pairings alone need extra legal monitoring and enforcement to ensure that those children are cared for in a way that doesn’t unduly burden the woman alone.
When it comes to same-sex pairings, more power to them! But there is no inherent need to force them into a structure of legal duties designed for something else.
Again, if you really believe that opposite-sex pairings are uniquely in need of extra legal monitoring because of the dangers they create, and that “marriage” is the complex institution that has grown up to serve this purpose, then this whole debate is as if bicyclists started arguing strenuously that they should be subject to the same regulations as big-rig truck drivers. Um, why? Bicyclists do not pose the same dangers to society as big-rig truck drivers. If there’s some way that they’re being treated unequally, rectify that by itself, but it doesn’t make sense for them to be regulated in *entirely* the same way.
[NOTE: I’m not saying that I agree with all of the above — I support gay marriage, in fact — but to act as if there are no plausible arguments is a failure of imagination and intellect. It shouldn’t be hard for a smart person to imagine plausible arguments for all sorts of things, even if you don’t actually believe in them.]Report
WT, your parenthetical “as dogs do” is actually central to your so-called “plausible” argument against SSM. I imagine you could argue for many unjust, paternalistic, or oppressive policies by assuming half of the human species are rationally equivalent to canines.Report
Another argument (if you ever approve posts by me) is related yet somewhat different: pushing “gay marriage” is really more about forcing gays into a conventional heteronormative role. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/homonormativity-101/Report
You are begging the question (“oppressive”) plus arguing against something I didn’t even remotely say (“rationally equivalent to canines”).Report
Put another way Matt, notice that I’m trying to argue that “marriage” is not a wonderful privilege but is itself a form of “oppression.” When there is a “marriage,” we (society) start interfering with the way that people allocate their property, with their freedom to enter into arrangements with third parties, etc. We’re willing to subject opposite sex pairings to that form of interference (oppression) due to the risk that they would otherwise cause to helpless babies that they create. But it’s not clear why we should oppress same-sex pairings with the exact same regulations.
In short, you need to flip your assumptions before you can even begin to grapple with anything I said.Report
WT, in your original post you accuse some of “a failure of imagination and intellect” insofar as they think that “there are no plausible arguments” against SSM. The implication is that you take yourself to have offered such an argument. This argument starts with paragraph starting with “In my opinion…” and extends to the paragraph that opens with “That’s why we….” My response to your offer of a “plausible argument”, a response I still endorse, is it relies on falsely characterizing human males as being driven by “the same instinct that other mammalian males have to mate with every fertile female in sight.” According to your “plausible argument” against SSM, the purpose of marriage is blunt this instinct by generating and enforcing duties to resist this instinct and participate in the “thankless work of taking care of helpless babies.” I read your parenthetical about dogs as a gloss on the line I just quoted about “the same instinct.” Making this assumption about human males is akin to assuming that they, like dogs, lack the rational capacity to guide their behavior in ways that elevate their behavior above the result of mere instinctual drives. (Note this point, for the sake of argument, just goes along with your assumption that male humans even have such an instinctual drive.) I thought the fact that that your assumption implies this claim about the rational capacities of human males was obvious, which is why I allowed myself grounds for an argument against your “plausible argument” something you “didn’t even remotely say.” This is true insofar as you didn’t type those words. It’s false insofar as your argument contains an assumption that obviously has that implication.
I will note that one thing you do not say in your original post, either explicitly or by implication, is that marriage “is itself a form of “oppression”.” Thus I cannot follow your directive that I “notice” you’re doing this.
In order for my use of the term “oppression” to be begging the question against your argument, it would have to at minimum be the case that you and I were arguing over whether or not marriage is “oppressive”, which we’re not. To think so is to misunderstand my response to your offer of a “plausible argument” against SSM.
I can’t imagine what assumptions you think I’m making in criticizing your “plausible argument” for equating the rational capacities of human males and dogs. I suppose I am assuming that claim is false. I see no reason to question that assumption.Report
Sherif — I was not claiming earlier that metaphysical questions are never relevant to policy, just that the particular metaphysical questions that some people, including you, have been focusing on, are not relevant to whether the state ought to recognize same-sex marriage. To lay my cards on the table, though, I do happen to think that metaphysical questions of the form “What is x?” are irrelevant to normative disputes. On the “note” with which you conclude your comment — I’ll take your word for it; it’s a lamentable aspect of politics that it requires forging alliances with your philosophical foes. Finally, I should say that I’m surprised to see you put “metaphysical” in scare-quotes and say that some of the questions you mention are just about the analysis of concepts. None of them read that way to me.Report
Matt– my original post said that opposite-sex pairings are different from other human relationships in that we impose “extra legal monitoring because of the dangers they create.” To impose such extra legal monitoring and “regulations” where they are not needed is arguably a form of oppression, which is precisely why many resources (such as that linked in my second post) say that queer people don’t always see the vision of “marriage equality” as a favor but instead as a heteronormative imposition.
If you don’t agree with that argument, you could provide reasons. But I don’t think it will be possible for you to show that the argument is so utterly senseless that it isn’t even plausible in the first place, which was the original contention.Report
#102–I know you say you don’t believe this argument, but you are suggesting it is at least plausible. Really?
This too was tried in the courts. I believe at least one court bought it. It hasn’t gone anywhere since. Why? Because it’s utterly obvious that even if this story of the origin of marriage were true, preventing same-sex couples from getting married in no way makes things better for heterosexuals, but only makes same-sex couples and their children vulnerable to the very same kinds of things that women (on this story) are vulnerable.
I notice you tie a lot back to reproduction and the female role in it (I assume you mean physical realities like one party being pregnant/breastfeeding, etc.). You mention in passing that same-sex couples can adopt, but make no mention of same-sex couples procreating (using donor gametes of course). That’s odd, since procreation amongst female-female couples has been going on a lot longer than same-sex adoption has been a real possibility and appears to be the dominate way that female-female same-sex couples (who are the majority of same-sex couples with children) become parents. Of course, unlike straight people these cases cannot be accidents, but there are still plenty of ways for the partner who bears the child to be screwed over by the other. In fact, the possibilities under current marriage/family law in many states FAR outweigh the possibilities of a man screwing over a woman whom he has impregnated and/or to whom he is married. Without access to marriage same-sex couples who reproduce cannot make automatic claims to the parentage of the non-pregnant partner as straight people can do. In some states they can access parentage rights through a lengthy, invasive, and expensive “adoption” process which similarly placed straight couples (where the male is not the genetic father of the child) never need to undergo. (Because the marriage presumption holds that a man is presumed to be the father of any child his wife bears even if it is clear that he cannot be the genetic father. And if the couple is unmarried, they can always choose to place the man’s name on the birth certificate and generally unless the man objects, there will be no need for a paternity test and if goes on to hold the child out as his own and no other man claims paternity, he will be treated legally as the father of the child. Obviously not so for a non-bio parent in a same-sex relationship.) But in many states there is no such process available.
And thus you end up with tons of same-sex couples in which the children and childbearing partners are vulnerable in exactly the same way as women are assumed to be on the origin story you tell. Though the non-bio partner agreed to be a parent, helped choose the sperm, was the birth coach, raised the child from birth, etc., if she chooses to walk out the door at any time, she will owe nothing in alimony or child support to the woman and child she abandons. (And similarly, the vulnerability goes the other way as well–should the bio parent decide to remove the child from the non-bio parent forever, generally there will be no legal recourse. I guess in the origin story you tell, men are not supposed to give a crap about their kids though, so protecting male parent’s access to their kids is not part of the point of marriage?) And these situations are not rare–there are plenty of them in the literature on same-sex family issues!
So given all of this, how is this supposed to be a *plausible* argument? The view offers absolutely no indication of how it would be bad for anyone if same-sex couples were able to get married and it is extremely clear that same-sex couples and their children would share in at least some of the benefits the view claims marriage offers straight people (or really, women and children). So I can’t for the life of me see what is plausible about this! (Apparently the majority of the courts could not either.)
And in addition, you mention queer critiques of marriage, but you seem to be badly misreading them–at least any of them I am familiar with. Certainly I can’t recall any view that would buy into any of the sexist/heterosexist aspects in the view at issue (which again I know you are not advocating). Nor can I recall any such position that holds that marriage is appropriate for straight people, but not for queer people! (Maybe there is some literature out there I am not familiar with? Though, being myself queer and ambivalent about the institution of marriage, but very strongly in favor of increasing access to marriage given that it is what we’ve got for now, I think I’m familiar with a lot of it.) The ideas I have seen rather claim that marriage is oppressive for EVERYONE, (in the case of radical feminist critiques of marriage/the marriage equality movement) that marriage is particularly oppressive to women (so the exact opposite of the view you describe), that none of the rights that are tied to marriage ought to be, that marriage is objectionable inasmuch as it presumes monogamy, etc. In other words I can’t see how the queer critique of marriage is at all relevant to the story you put forth; if anything, it seems to be directly opposed to that sort of story.
I suppose it all comes down to what one takes “plausible” to mean, but at least I don’t see how this is any more plausible than any of the other anti-SSM arguments that other commentators have put forth throughout the thread.Report
Anyway Matt, I didn’t mean to offend with my light-hearted reference to dogs. Let me try to rephrase, since that one phrase has led you to write several paragraphs that completely ignore everything else about my posts.
Men generally have a sexual appetite for multiple women that is far out of proportion to the number of children they could conceivably take care of. Far from being irrational, as you put it, this appetite is perfectly rational and unsurprising (see: evolution.) It is also unsurprising to any man who: 1) is capable of introspection, 2) has ever had male friends who talk about their wishes or escapades, 3) has observed what men usually do when in the position to have sex with more than one woman (one could name any number of politicians, rock stars, Hollywood actors, and professional athletes here).
So we’ve developed a number of mechanisms for preventing men from acting out on all these desires and impulses. One way is legal promotion of the idea (unknown to other mammals) that *consent* is important. That was pretty cool of us to figure that out. Another is cultural practices regarding what is and isn’t appropriate/acceptable behavior. And yet another has been promotion of the idea of lifelong monogamy with one spouse. Not all of these practices actually work very well (if you read the news or check police reports, men can still be awful creatures who let their sexual impulses take the reign). But they are all reinforcing ways of taming the male sex drive.
With gays, there’s not the same weighty reason to promote the idea of lifelong monogamy with one spouse or to encourage people to submit themselves to otherwise intrusive regulations of how they divide property, etc. It’s more of a heteronormative intrusion. It’s like applying big-rig safety regulations and driving restrictions to people on bicycles on the misguided notion that “equality” means encouraging everyone to live by the same intrusive regulations whether they need to or not.Report
“You mention in passing that same-sex couples can adopt, but make no mention of same-sex couples procreating (using donor gametes of course).”
That’s not a same-sex couple procreating — what you describe is a woman procreating with a male donor. (And where are his responsibilities to his child, by the way? I worry about that.)
“Of course, unlike straight people these cases cannot be accidents, but there are still plenty of ways for the partner who bears the child to be screwed over by the other.”
There are lots of ways that people can be screwed over in life. In most cases, people being mean to each other is outside the scope of the law. Best friends could turn on each other and stab each other in the back in ways that are very hurtful and harmful; yet we still do not think that “best friends” needs to be a special category of government regulation.
“Without access to marriage same-sex couples who reproduce cannot make automatic claims to the parentage of the non-pregnant partner as straight people can do.”
Automatic claims wouldn’t make sense — the second woman in the scenario you describe could adopt the child, but that is the only way she could possibly be a “parent.” (The real parents are the woman who bore the child and the man from elsewhere who contributed sperm.) And you’re missing the very important fact that automatic presumptions of fatherhood (even when unlikely) are a massive intrusion into the man’s private life — it certainly isn’t a privilege to be stuck with someone else’s child! Making such automatic presumptions is tenuous in any circumstance, but I certainly am not convinced that people who cannot possibly be biological parents should be treated in such a harsh and oppressive way.
” Though the non-bio partner agreed to be a parent, helped choose the sperm, was the birth coach, raised the child from birth, etc., if she chooses to walk out the door at any time, she will owe nothing in alimony or child support to the woman and child she abandons.”
Here, you do have a point. I’m not sure I have a good answer.Report
Okay so it looks like the “plausible” view you are offering simply offers a completely and unapologetically heterosexist conception of family–one according to which gay couples can never be the “real” parents of a child and a system of marriage and parental rights that allows massive harm to come to the children of same-sex couples and to lgbtq parents/partners (and so is on its face horrendously insulting to lgbq people.) And though marriage would protect against this harm just as it already does in the case of straight couples who use ART/donor gametes to have children, the reason is that it would be too “harsh” and “oppressive” toward lgbtq people to offer them equal protect them from that harm as straight couples have?
On the best friends issue, well sure lots of relationships can involve screwing each other over. But so what? What your view would have to show is that lgbtq marriage relationships are more like best friend relationships than heterosexual marriage relationships. So far the only difference you have pointed to between lgbtq relationships and straight ones is that most straight couples can use their own gametes to produce a child and most same-sex couples can’t. Yes, and? Doesn’t EVERY other typical distinction between straight marriages and best friends also distinguish lgbtq relationships and best friends?
On the marriage presumption, I would be very happy to do away with it and move to something more like a consent/intention based way of determining parenthood for any non-gestating parent. BUT, it’s what we’ve got. Yes it is burdensome in some ways, and it is a HUGE benefit in others (not only to same-sex couples and women, but to men who cannot biologically reproduce and yet would still like to have some legal rights to their children). Since, as you admit, the view in question offers no actual practical solution to the extremely significant harms lgbtq families face re: parental rights to children and children’s rights to financial and emotional support from their parents, it’s looks rather clear that lgbtq people have much more to gain than to lose from having the marriage presumption applied to them–at least for now, until we can move to a better system. To think otherwise it seems is just to not take seriously the legal situation of same-sex parents and their children.
This is the problem with essentially every “plausible” view that’s been put forth on this thread that I can recall. Though the proponents of them (even if they don’t actually advocate the views) frame them as “having nothing against lgbtq people” the invariable conclusion is always that even though expanding marriage to same-sex couples harms absolutely no one in any way, but would in fact prevent extreme harm to same-sex families, we should still refrain from doing it. I’m thinking again of the comment that came up much earlier in the thread about Fredrick Douglass expressing outrage at the idea that in order to reply to “plausible” arguments abolition, he’d have to essentially allow his own personhood to be interrogated. Indeed, that is exactly what reading this thread as an lgbtq person feels like. I simply could never find plausible any view that seems to hinge on my deserving less consideration than any straight person, that my family is lesser or not real, or that it would not be obviously unjust for my wife, myself, or my child to suffer and/or continue to be vulnerable to severe harms when there are remarkably easy ways of protecting against them that harm no one. And so in my view this thread is really about whether there are any arguments against marriage equality (of the sort that hold that marriage should continue to exist but only be accessible to straight couples) that are plausible from a straight point of view because it doesn’t seem like any thought is going into whether these could be plausible from an lgbtq person’s point of view. (I’m reminded of the point about Frederick Douglass in the comments above about having to allow his own personhood to be question in order to reply to arguments against abolitionism and his refusal to do it. Similarly, why expect an lgbtq person to allow the realness of their family or the weight of their interests in comparison to straight peoples’ to be questioned, as these arguments clearly do.)Report
WT, you write:
“my original post said that opposite-sex pairings are different from other human relationships in that we impose “extra legal monitoring because of the dangers they create.””
With this line you evince a baffling misunderstanding of your own reasoning. You did not argue, as you suggest in this line, that the difference between opposite sex and same sex pairings consists in the imposition of “extra legal monitoring.” Such “monitoring,” on your view, is a _result_ of something else, which itself is the source of the difference between the two types of pairings. This something else is (a) the fact that same sex pairings can result in children, coupled with (b) your reductive and essentialist claims about the human male sex drive.
You go on to challenge me to offer reasons against your argument that applying the legal structure of opposite sex marriage to same sex couples would be a form of oppression. However, at no time have I engaged that element of your original post. Rather I have called into question an assumption you make about the nature of the human male sex drive and the limited role that the human capacity for reason can play in regulating it. You make this assumption in an argument that precedes your argument about the supposed oppressive nature of SSM. (Note, by the way, the even if one granted you this later argument it would only have force against a position that argued for some kind of mandatory SSM, which is not a position on the table here.)
You go on to write:
“Far from being irrational, as you put it, this appetite is perfectly rational and unsurprising (see: evolution.”
This entirely, though at this point not surprisingly, misunderstands my references to rationality in previous responses to you. I claimed that your talk of the human male sex drive suggested that human males had no more control over it than males of other species of mammals (such as dogs). I argued that this unjustly discredits the human capacity for rationality as a power to regulate such instinctual drives (assuming, for the sake of argument, that it’s even accurate to assume there’s a univocal sense of “instinct” or “drive” applicable to rational and non-rational animals). This is simply (and obviously) an entirely different claim from the claim you accuse me of making, namely, that the sex drive you discuss is irrational.
Finally, you write:
“I didn’t mean to offend with my light-hearted reference to dogs. Let me try to rephrase, since that one phrase has led you to write several paragraphs that completely ignore everything else about my posts.”
I focused on the phrase about dogs because it perfectly captures the fallacious assumption you make about human males. It has nothing to do with my being offended by it. I’ve ignored the rest of what you wrote in your original post since it relies upon an argument at the heart of which is the mistaken assumption.Report
“the fallacious assumption you make about human males. ”
It is not “fallacious,” nor could it be (since it is a factual claim, not a logical argument). Moreover, it is a true factual claim that males generally have a sexual appetite that goes far beyond their ability to provide meaningful support to the babies that their appetites could create. Nothing you have said contradicts this, and you seem to agree with my claim that we humans have found various ways to behave more rationally than our mere bodily appetites would suggest.Report
“gay couples can never be the “real” parents of a child ”
I didn’t say that at all. I said that one gay person can be the heterosexual parent of a child, and the other gay partner can adopt that child. That’s fine and well.
I also said that I’m wary of automatic presumptions of that are biologically impossible. In the heterosexual context, an automatic presumption may make some sense, because one doesn’t want to have to burden the legal system with litigation or adoption every time a man and woman who are married have a child — it’s easier just to assume that the man is the father and let him prove otherwise if he wants.
But in gay marriages, it is biologically impossible that when one woman has a child, the other woman is the father. You know for sure who the biological father is in that scenario, so at a minimum it is a darn sight more complicated than just blithely pretending to believe that the father doesn’t exist and that a biological woman could have impregnated another woman.
“Doesn’t EVERY other typical distinction between straight marriages and best friends also distinguish lgbtq relationships and best friends?”
Yes, but the other distinctions don’t create any public policy interest that I can see. For example, best friends generally don’t look to each other for orgasms. Yet the fact that a relationship features occasional orgasms doesn’t create a public policy interest in regulating that relationship — unless the orgasms in question are the kind that could lead to helpless babies being created that would then need many years of support.
Gay orgasms are wonderful, but they don’t lead to THAT public policy problem. When gay relationships include children, they are children procured from elsewhere — from hetero donors or from birth parents who gave up a kid to adoption. So I don’t see how that creates a public policy interest in regulating gay relationships qua gay relationships.
Let me try another angle: traditional marriage has included the ideals of being lifelong, monogamous, pair-bonding. All 3 of those ideals are geared around the same objective: preventing males from procreating with many additional females and creating new babies that are helpless and need decades of support.
But there are no inherent reasons to apply these ideals to gay marriages, even the ones that include children. If two women or two men adopt or purchase donor services that lead to children, it doesn’t matter (as a *public policy* matter) if one or both of the women (or men) are non-monogamous, or have a third partner, or don’t stick around literally for life. It’s not as if any extra gay sexual activities on the side are going to suddenly create new babies that become a public policy problem.
So those three ideals don’t really make as much sense for gay marriages. Which might, in turn, lead someone to wonder (as did the source I linked above) why heteronormative ideals are being pushed as if they are the ideals for gay people too, and whether that is really doing anyone any favors.
Indeed, in your horror story case of two women who adopt and then one abandons the child leaving the other partner with the sole burden and expense, we could have a societal institution that prevents this “massive harm” without calling it “marriage” and thereby importing superfluous rules like prohibitions on bigamy. [Please note that the sentence I just wrote cannot possibly be described as being “for” or “against” gay marriage — it’s a little more nuanced and outside the box than that. I would appreciate responses that are not kneejerk reactions.]Report
” In the heterosexual context, an automatic presumption may make some sense, because one doesn’t want to have to burden the legal system with litigation or adoption every time a man and woman who are married have a child — it’s easier just to assume that the man is the father and let him prove otherwise if he wants.”
Again, it’s like the needs and interests of same-sex families just can’t possibly matter as much as those of heterosexuals or even as much as the “convenience” of the legal system! Of course there are plenty of heterosexual cases in which it is “biologically impossible” that the two partners jointly produce a child. (And note that it is not always impossible for same-sex couples to do so, if one partner has transitioned legally.) Yet it is *only* same-sex couples who you are suggesting be denied the benefit of not having to through a process of adopting one’s own kid. Because we wouldn’t want to tie up the courts treating heterosexuals the same way–that would a “burden” and it’s “easier” to just presume men are the fathers in heterosexual relationships. (Or, you know, we could just let same-sex couples get married and treat them the same as heterosexual couples! Where’s the downside of that again? In everything you have said, not once have you actually mentioned anything that would be BAD about allowing same-sex couples to voluntarily marry. Whether norms of monogamy and all that are appropriate is completely beside the point. Nothing at all in the legal contract of marriage requires monogamy, but even if it did, if gay couples *wanted*–for whatever reason–to be monogamous, how in the world would it be bad for them to voluntarily enter an institution which takes that as an ideal?)
Again, a “burden” for who? “Easier” for who? It is sure as heck not easier for lgbq people–the humiliation of having a complete stranger invade your home and try to assess whether you are a good enough parent to the child you are already parenting*, the indignity of knowing that it is only because you are a same-sex couple that you need to go through this, complete lack of familial security you face until the adoption is finalized, the psychological distress this involves (read the literature–or talk to a person, like me!–going through the process; distressing puts it mildly), and thousands of dollars in legal fees–not easier or less burdensome of lgbq people of course. We are inconvenienced in all of these ways and having to jump through the hoops of adopting our own kids still leaves us vulnerable in ways straight people able to marry and have automatic parental rights are not (adoption, after all, takes time and costs a significant amount of money and you don’t get any legal protection until it is finalized.)
So again, it looks like on the view you are advocating it just doesn’t matter very much what the burdens are for lgbq people. Humiliating us, subjecting us to invasive state intrusion into our homes and lives, costing us thousands of dollars straight people don’t have to pay–all to get what we could have gotten for just the price of a marriage license, apparently not a problem. Like I said before, pretty much all the anti-SSM views on this thread, yours included, come down to one thing–lgbq people and families just don’t deserve equal consideration.
* Perhaps the most awesome part of the process is that it’s not just the non-bio parent who is under scrutiny. Nope, the bio parent whose legal parentage is supposedly not at issue–because they actually gave birth to the child–is also evaluated, as is the relationship between the parents, as well as the home the kid has been living in since birth. Got to twist the knife just that much more to make sure the message of inferiority is absolutely clear.Report
Did you read my final paragraph at all? Because that’s where I’m now leaning, and I don’t think it merits such an overheated reaction. (And I’d say that about the whole post, really — I keep trying to say that from my point of view, gays are less of a danger to society and don’t need to be regulated quite as heavily, and you keep insisting that this is an unbearable insult — “No, we really are just as much of a danger to kids! How dare you say otherwise!”)
In any event, put it this way: suppose someone offered you a government license called “Marriage 2.0,” which is like “Marriage” except that it doesn’t have a government penalty for bigamy, because gay bigamy doesn’t run the risk of creating new helpless babies and so there isn’t a government interest in preventing people from having a sex life that is a little more open. Would you view that as an insult as well?Report
Yes it would be insulting to be offered “Marriage 2.0.” Why? Because “marriage 2.0” can never have the same social meaning that marriage does. And because, at least as I understand the suggestion–gays get marriage 2.0 and straights get marriage–does not actually draw the distinction between the two sorts of institutions on the claimed basis at all, but rather draws the distinction on the basis of sexual orientation/make up of the couple, thus reinforcing the social stigma against same-sex couples. (The arguments against this suggestion are essentially the same as those against the “just call it something other than marriage” position. These issues about social meaning and degrading same-sex families have been talked about ad nauseam in political debates and the literature.)
Notice that though it is completely obvious and unquestionable that straight couples in which the woman is over the age of, say, 52 CANNOT be a danger to babies in the same way fertile heterosexuals can, you don’t seem to be suggesting that older straight couples also be denied marriage licenses and given only marriage 2.0 licenses. Similarly, for any straight person who knows they cannot procreate due to certain kinds of infertility (we’ll just stick with the 100% kind–e.g. removal of ovaries or uterus say). Now of course the state can’t know for certain who’s infertile in those ways, so it can’t enforce the rule, but at least in principle on your view, those folks just shouldn’t be getting married, they should be getting married 2.0. Same for the couples in which the woman is clearly post-menopausal–and that the state CAN know if we set a high enough age limit and presume the state can require proof of age. I’m much more amenable to marriage 2.0, you see, if it is actually applied on to everyone who fits the criteria you claim underlies it. (But just imagine suggesting this to straight people–sorry Sally, but you are 53 years old and so we KNOW that you can have all the sex you want without getting knocked up, hence you cannot be part of the institution of marriage, jus this new institution we just created that of course know one will understand when you speak of it.)
But actually this suggestion is even more problematic in another way. You keep saying “gay” people are not threat to children because if they marry more than one person or have sex with others, they can’t produce children. It doesn’t seem you’re thinking very deeply about the variations of sexual attraction and identity here at all. What of the bisexual folks (like myself)? I’m certainly much more a threat to children than 53 year old Sally is, given that I’m quite fertile and quite likely to have sex with men if I were not monogamous. Much more than my wife, as well, who is not attracted to men. Am I married (real married) to my wife, and she is only married 2.0 to me?! Certainly two bisexuals will need a regular marriage, not a 2.0. How will the state keep track of people’s sexual orientations such that they know how likely a particular individual is to be having sex with someone of the same sex in the future? Not to mention, some same-sex couples are made up of one cisgender and one trans individual–meaning that potentially the couple can reproduce together using their own gametes through intercourse. They would need a regular marriage, of course, since they will a threat to children in that they can reproduce inside and for at least one partner outside of their relationship, not a marriage 2.0 on your system, so the state will have to keep track of those who transition as well to determine who gets what type of marriage.
So yes, this idea is quite insulting on a number of levels. It is insulting, for instance, that it doesn’t seem as though you have thought very deeply about what sexuality is or how it works or thought much about the costs to same-sex families of the sort of policies you are advocating. I appreciate your taking my point about the possibility of one same-sex partner abandoning their child and partner with no consequences, but I also find it infuriating that that is a point you had not already thought long and hard about *before* coming on the thread and essentially saying “hey here’s an obviously plausible argument against SSM–duh.” I mean this is my life. The inability to marry/have my marriage recognized and all that brings with it, those are costs that I have to bear, as does my wife and child. Arguments like this–and the feeling of certainty that of course this is plausible–when you have even considered the details of what this means for real life people are exactly the reason that so many lgbq people are in the difficult situations they are in. So yes, marriage 2.0 is insulting. Bringing up the queer critiques of marriage–and repeatedly distorting them, as if they would in any way support offering a two-tiered marriage system based on sexuality–is insulting. Much of this discussion has felt quite insulting to be quite honest. (And this is what many have pointed out as a problem with teaching about these issues in class. It simply can be very difficult to do it and take anti-SSM arguments seriously without essentially undermining the humanity of lgbtq people, because what is really at issue most of the time are the most basic aspects of equal consideration and equal respect.)
Moreover, the view you’ve been offering is just utterly puzzling as I and others have pointed out and you’ve never responded to. Why, since it doesn’t actually harm anyone at all on your view to let same-sex couples get regular married, are you working so very hard with such bizarre moves to maintain a position against it? The whole appeal to marriage being “too” much regulation for lgbtq people in the face of multiple posters pointing out that it is regulation that, for whatever reason, many same-sex couples are perfectly willing to agree to, is just amazingly odd. So what if it is “too much” regulation? Clearly the same-sex couples who want to get married don’t care! And clearly letting them get married doesn’t have any bad consequences (or at least none that you have mentioned anywhere in your posts that I can recall). So what is this argument actually about?Report
Late to the party here, but…
If the society has an interest in keeping marriages together, then why are there essentially no regulations on divorce?
And if the society doesn’t have an interest in keeping marriages together, then what sets apart the marriage relation from the best friend relation, and makes it worthwhile to legally enshrine marriage as a public institution?Report