June 3, 2006

In the Land of the Short-Sighted, the Long-Sighted Man Is...

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal (which, to build an incidental point on Andrew's previous post, Matt Jerzyk believes to be too conservative) continues its support for same-sex marriage:

Time, however, may be on his side. Despite various state drives to ban same-sex marriage during the 2004 elections, it appears that the idea of such unions is gaining acceptance. Society is better off when any two adults can make a commitment to care for each other. And more and more Americans believe that sexual orientation should not bar anyone from enjoying the rights accorded by marriage.

In that spirit, we extend best wishes to Attleboro's most prominent newlyweds -- and to all who may be exchanging vows in a new bridal season, regardless of sex.

Those who've followed this debate for awhile will spot the (probably unintential) revealing of the chute down the slippery slope: If society "is better off when any two adults can make a commitment to care for each other" — the Projo's gender-free paraphrase for marriage's purpose — why can't those two adults be related? Why, for that matter, must it only consist of two adults?

One final question: can the thinking behind an editorial position be both short-sighted and blind?

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Justin,

As you've correctly pointed out, when you get beyond the concept that marriage is between one man and one woman (who weren't already closely related to begin with) being defined as "marriage," then the word becomes whatever you want it to mean -- the ultimate result being, it comes to mean very little to just about anyone.

The liberals know that. They also know how to use incrementalism well, getting what they want bit by tiny bit, until they get most if not all they want over time. Once you redefined it as two "people", there is no intellectually consistent reason to exlcude polygamists or just about any other marital arrangement, that you can possibly imagine. If I had the hots for my sister, under this brilliant logic, who is the state to say that I cannot marry her? How about if I have the hots for mom? Having a government set a basic standard for what a concept or word means, doesn't automatically mean that it's discriminating against everyone else; it's just using common sense -- which sadly, is in short supply today.

Posted by: Will at June 3, 2006 9:03 PM

Actually, I think the more detrimental outcome would be if the "hots for" construction were removed. If it becomes all about mutual care, then marriage would be just a means of buddying up for emergencies, which, as much of a practical good as it may periodically be, means that marriage would be doing absolutely none of the crucial cultural work that it once accomplished.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 3, 2006 9:57 PM

Justin, as much as I enjoy reading rehased "slippery slope" arguments, please read Dhalia Lithwick's interesting article on Slate about this line of reasoning.

Your entire argument is based on the idea that marriage is a static institution, which it is not. The institution of marriage has changed over thousands of years, depending on the societal context: polygamous and biracial marriages, for example, have been both acceptable and unacceptable in different times and places. The slow introduction of same-sex civil marriage into the secular West does not mean that marriage is going to devolve into a meaningless institution. It simply means that our society is beginning to accept gay and lesbian couples by recognizing them as equals under the law. The fact is that the issue at hand - same-sex marriage - deals with same-sex couples, not polygamists or incestusals or whomever. Equating a gay couple with an incestual relationship (as you do in your post) is an overdramatic stretch. If you'd like to actually make the argument that there is negligible difference between a gay couple and an incestual couple, I'm sure that such an extreme argument would be, at the least, entertaining.

Your opposition to same-sex marriage (and your hiding behind a slippery slope argument) may come from a fear of and repulsion towards homoexual sex, as is the case for many visceral opponents of same-sex marriage. Absolutely, confronting something different can be threatening. And the argument that "I don't care what you do in your bedroom, just don't shove it in my face" indicates that the person can't get over their visceral (and somewhat immature) "ick factor."

The bottom line about whether same-sex marriage should be allowed boils down to whether you think that gay people pose a threat to society and thus should be barred from its institutions, or whether you think that gay people are a productive and acceptable segment of society and should thus be allowed to fully partake in its institutions.

One final note that I feel has not been getting the attention it deserves: my opinion is that parallel institutions set up specifically for gay couples - domestic partnerships (in California) and civil unions (in Connecticut and Vermont) - are legally risky institutions. It not impossible for a straight couple to win a suit to become domestic partners or civil union partners, in which case there would be both marriage and "marriage lite" options available for straight couples, if not gay couples as well. What has the potential to ultimately weaken the institution of marriage is the creation of parallel, competing institutions - and not the opening of marriage to other segments of the population.

Posted by: Jack at June 4, 2006 1:09 AM

Jack,

It is apparent that you aren't really sure what my "entire argument" is, inasmuch as you attribute to me points that I don't make and argue canned pro-SSM points that I've addressed over the five years that I've been considering this issue. (See the Marriage & Family archives on my personal blog, which goes back as far as January 2004.)

The institution of marriage has indeed changed in its particulars, but apart from very rare cultural instances (which most modern homosexuals would find unacceptable in their specifics), it has always had the feature of opposite-sex (i.e., procreative) spouses. The Projo's paraphrase, as I say, that marriage is mainly important so that "any two adults can make a commitment to care for each other" rejects that historical purpose.

If you would actually take the time to think beyond your cause enough to understand what your opponents are saying, you'd see that I'm not referring to "incestual relationship[s] [as] an overdramatic stretch," implying a romantic involvement. What I mean is this: if marriage is mainly about mutual care (the essential similarity between same-sex and opposite-sex couples as the law applies), then I see no reason that a daughter shouldn't have access to the institution to help her care for her widowed mother, or that a group of three couldn't argue that their family structure is as capable of fortifying mutual care as a homosexual couple's. And even with regard to incest, perhaps you just need to get beyond the "ick factor" and realize that you have no right to judge the relationships in which other consenting adults engage. (Yes, I say that sarcastically.)

"The bottom line about whether same-sex marriage should be allowed boils down to" whether you think that marriage, as an institution, is mainly meant to unite children with their biological parents. Especially when the SSM movement is phrased in terms of "marriage equality," it represents a straightforward refutation of that meaning for marriage.

Perhaps a long evolution — moving democratically from society through the legislature, rather than beginning with the judiciary or even pressure-group leverage on legislatures — could bring homosexuals into the marriage fold without undermining its utility in the culture. But gay rights activists don't seem inclined to do the one-mind-at-a-time cultural work that would require respecting their more traditional fellows. Even admitting that the change that you seek would represent an unprecedented experiment seems too much, considering that you specifically want that experiment to be performed right in the heart of the institution, rather than in a separate arrangement.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 4, 2006 8:07 AM

Dear Justin,

Wanted to know what you thought on the following:

If Homosexuality turns out to be at least 10% genetic, which I believe it is, then doesn't that create a protected class? If so, how can you outlaw science?

St. Thomas Aquinas, I wear his medal every day, teaches us that we must accept reason because reason prepares for the revelations that faith will provide.

Simply put, much like during Gailileo's time, the church and you folks in the soially conservative wing, although your hearts on in the right place, have the science wrong.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at June 4, 2006 8:13 AM

Although I'll confess that I don't follow the step-by-step progress of your argument, Bobby, I don't see how the cause of homosexuality in the individual has one bit of relevance to my position on marriage's purpose. I don't believe the "equal rights" argument has any merit in the SSM debate, because I don't believe that opposite-sex and same-sex relationships are like in kind. One is potentially procreative; the other is not; marriage is about the former.

(And if you're going to take the sterility/infertility line, please do me the favor of perusing the above-linked archives in order to save me some time.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 4, 2006 8:27 AM

Great discussion, and one that I need to hear. As a politically aware and opinionated person, it's rare for me to be "torn" by an issue. On one hand (the right I guess), I believe marriage is a spiritual union. If a government must recognize it, it must respect that spirituality. Before ACLU types get in a huff, I'm not suggesting a recognition of a specific religion, but rather a position that is not an affront TO religious institutions.

My seemingly reasonable suggestion (from the left hand perhaps) if that the government could simply remove itself from recognized marriage. Instead, the civil union could be the government institution, and marriage could be left defined by churches.

However, Justin's position is exactly right. What would stop a single man from declaring his roommate a "partner" and demanding his employer provide health benefits as well as other benefits afforded to married couples?

One opinion I am sure about. Both sides should leave the "ick factors" of gay sex and incest out of the argument as they do little to enhance any position.

Posted by: mike at June 4, 2006 11:26 AM

Justin,

You are spot on with your argument. The Feminist party in Sweden is pushing legislation to end marriage altogether.

From the Copenhagen Post, "We want a new legislation for two or more people, who live together, and have joint finances and belongings," said Tiina Rosenberg, one of the women spearheading the group.

I wonder if Tiina is any relation to our own Rosenberg (at least ideologically)?

http://www.cphpost.dk/get/90842.html

And of course Norway now approves polygamist for civil union.

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/421

The results are that children will be raised without two parents.
54% in Sweden, 49% in Norway (as high as 82% in one area), 46% in Denmark, and 65% in Iceland. Nuff said.

http://www.straight-talk.net/gay/international.shtml

Posted by: bill felkner at June 4, 2006 11:51 AM

I don't always agree with ProJo editorials, but it sounds like they got a shot of realism up on the fourth floor (I'll bet you theirorporate overlords in Texas, though, are just a little bit cheesed at this dsiplay of impudence...er. independence).
Gay marriage is nothing to fear, despite what Bush, Frist and the dead-enders in Congress would have you believe. Massachusetts didn't turn into Sodom overnight. Heterosexual marriages didn't fall apart because the girl next door married another girl. If anybody's hetero marriage has been ruined by gays having the right to marry in Massachusetts, please inform and correct me.
Methinks some of the voters in Ohio who got bullied by the homophobic right in '04 are realizing they and their nation have been cheated. These phobic politicians are currently making their one trip to the well too many.

Posted by: Rhody at June 4, 2006 12:01 PM

>>The bottom line about whether same-sex marriage should be allowed boils down to whether you think that gay people pose a threat to society and thus should be barred from its institutions, or whether you think that gay people are a productive and acceptable segment of society and should thus be allowed to fully partake in its institutions.

Jack -

You're engaging in your own version of a "slippery slope" argument.

One can be opposed to "marriage equality" without being "bigoted" against "gay people" (at least under any reasonable defintion of bigotry and not, e.g., one fabricated by "Act Up").

Biology 101 tells us that homosexuality is abnormal - that it occurs with some statistical regularity does not alter this fundamental conclusion - all kinds of biological conditions occur with statistical regularity, but are not the "normal" condition for a particular species.

Does this mean that homosexual human beings are evil, or people that one couldn't or shouldn't like, or that they aren't or can't be productive members of society? Of course not.

What it means is the those individuals are afflicted with an unfortunate condition (if given a choice, what parent would choose for their child to be homosexual?).

But that does not mean that society must or should artificially embrace that condition as being "normal" or "equivalent" simply because those laboring under it desire to be considered normal. And isn't this the real agenda?

It is interesting that the "gay rights" movement, which has shown such success in advocating funding for HIV research, doesn't appear to be advocating for research to find a treatment or cure for homosexuality.

I have sympathy for gay people - and know a number that I like - but that does not mean that I can or should turn a blind eye to basic biology (or common sense) and consider their "sexual preferences" to be normal.

Likely you will brand me as a bigot for what I have just written and/or a "homophobe" who can't get over his "ick" factor.

Im not going to participate in that game (any more than I'll play it with, e.g., blacks - just because I oppose "affirmative action" doesn't make me a racist) - the technique of silencing the opposition by pulling out the "racist" "bigot" "homophobe" card has become tiresome.

Posted by: Tom W at June 4, 2006 12:35 PM

Rhody,

Tremendous show of argument by insult and bad faith! Bravo.

As I said in the post itself: your approach (and the Projo's) is short-sighted, if not blind. Nobody serious has ever argued that Massachusetts would "turn into Sodom overnight," nor has anybody serious argued that any current marriages would be "ruined by gays having the right to marry." These are cultural matters and, as such, will take decades (at least a generation) to unfold. (Such is the history of Progressivism: "what could go wrong," followed by either "how were we supposed to know" or "I never said that this consequence would be bad.")

You might as well turn off the heat on a winter afternoon and declare, five minutes later, that the fact that nobody has frozen means that it's safe to remove the burner.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 4, 2006 12:42 PM

Tom W: Most of your statements seem reasonable (though disagreeable), but one of your comments still has me concerned and puzzled: "It is interesting that the 'gay rights' movement...doesn't appear to be advocating for research to find a treatment or cure for homosexuality." Why would I ever want to "cure" part of my identity that I have accepted and embraced? The only way that such an argument could be feasible is if homosexuality is classified as an undesirable disorder or disability. Let's be perfectly clear: homosexuality is an orientation, not a disorder. The American Psychiatric Association made this distinction back in 1976.

I'm glad that this thread has turned into a debate, though it seems that the two sides are like ships passing in the night. The core arguments going are here, from my perspective, are not "ick factors" (as your truly suggested as a possible subtext), or slippery slope arguments (as Mr. Katz has repeatedly suggested). The core of the debate is whether homosexuality is acceptable. (As an important note, just because someone has this attribute would not make the whole person acceptable or unacceptable. As Tom W says, "[I] know a number [of gay people] that I like - but that does not mean that I can or should turn a blind eye to basic biology." Separating the sin from the sinner, in a fashion.)

So, is homosexuality unacceptable? As Tom W states again, "homosexuality is abnormal - that it occurs with some statistical regularity does not alter this fundamental conclusion - all kinds of biological conditions occur with statistical regularity, but are not the 'normal' condition for a particular species." This is where all of us have to be careful with word choice, and I'm sure that I have slipped up before in this regard. So here goes...

Yes, homosexuality is abnormal. The vast majority of sexual relationships are heterosexual, so by mere statistical reality, homosexuality is not the norm. But abnormality does not equal unacceptability. There are many attributes in society that are abnormal yet fully accepted, and there are also many abnormal attributes that are unacceptable. So which side does homosexuality land on? Chances are, I can't convince you of any one position. Debating this is often futile because it strikes at the core of a person's fundamental belief system. Debate over fundamental beliefs is contentious, slow, and often unfruitful.

But it is important to note that same-sex couples are more than just "friends" or "companions," which is what sets them apart and elevates them to the status of being worthy of inclusion in civil marriage. There is a significant difference between a husband or wife and a friend; namely, an intimate sexual relationship and a lifetime commitment.

As a final note, this issue is a personal one. It has a direct impact on my life as a gay man, which is why I argue over it so forcefully. So although many may say that they disapprove of homosexuality and not of people who are homosexual themselves, the distinction is razor thin. Imagine if you heard day-in, day-out that you were unworthy of full participation in society. You wouldn't sit by and accept that. It would be unconscionable.

Posted by: Jack at June 4, 2006 2:03 PM

Well, of course you want the debate to be placed in terms of whether homosexuality is acceptable, because you've strong sentimental leverage on that count. But brothers and sisters' caring for each other is obviously acceptable, too, but that doesn't mean they should be eligible for marriage.

Relying heavily on our culture's remaining reserves of the very tradition that your cause will undermine, you state that marriage involves "an intimate sexual relationship and a lifetime commitment." I'm not inclined to disagree that these ought to be components of marriage, and it might (might) be possible to change the gendered definition of marriage over the very long term without losing such essentials. But bringing the discussion into the modern context — with modern society and especially modern law — I'm not sure:

  1. What interest the government has in codifying "intimate sexual relationships" unless those relationships are presumed to be procreative or you're intending to outlaw them outside of marriage
  2. What makes you believe that our society, much less our law, sees marriage as a lifetime commitment

I've long suggested that homosexuals who are truly interest in marriage for socially conservative reasons would do well to add elements to their cause that would tighten divorce laws and loosen restrictions on personal expressions of disapproval of non-marital sexual behavior (e.g., in hiring, renting, and so on).

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 4, 2006 2:29 PM

Justin,

Let's not forget that, though same-sex couples cannot bear children through procreation, they can (and often do) adopt children. One part of the government's interest in marriage is maintaining a stable environment for the rearing of children, though having children is not a requirement of marriage. So the issue at hand is not procreation so much as it is the raising of children. (Reputable studies are inconclusive as to whether same-sex parents are any better or worse than opposite-sex parents. My belief is that gender plays a small role in raising children; it has much more to do with the ethics, lessons, and love that parents pass to their children.)

While I certainly believe that marriage is a lifetime commitment, that is unfortunately not the case for over half of all marriages. I don't know what the solution to reducing the divorce rate is (more "relationship training" from parents and elders, perhaps?) but changing our law to force people to remain in an unhappy or unhealthy marriage doesn't seem to serve anyone's interests.

A quick note on your final paragraph: Just because many same-sex couples want to join society's mainstream through recognition of their relationships with marriage does not mean that they should automatically also attach themselves to your conservative agenda of stricter divorce laws and weakening of nondiscrimination laws (though certain individuals may do so). There is a clear difference between seeking inclusion in mainstream institutions and seeking the conservative reform of law relating to those institutions.

Posted by: Jack at June 4, 2006 3:04 PM

>>Tom W: Most of your statements seem reasonable (though disagreeable), but one of your comments still has me concerned and puzzled: "It is interesting that the 'gay rights' movement...doesn't appear to be advocating for research to find a treatment or cure for homosexuality." Why would I ever want to "cure" part of my identity that I have accepted and embraced? The only way that such an argument could be feasible is if homosexuality is classified as an undesirable disorder or disability. Let's be perfectly clear: homosexuality is an orientation, not a disorder. The American Psychiatric Association made this distinction back in 1976.

Jack -

I am aware of the APA change of position way back when, though am not versed in whatever debate / factors played into it, though I suspect "political correctness" and lobbying played much of a role (how can the APA say take the position that something is not a disorder when, supposedly, science can't say for sure what the underlying cause is for this "orientation)?

Also, the APA is not the "be all and end all" of the debate, any more than the American Bar Association's support for abortion is the "be all and end all" of that debate.

The point I was making about a "cure" was not that I necessarily expect you to be advocating for same, but that the real agenda of the "gay rights movement" is for homosexuality to be considered a normal variation such as hair or skin color (hence their branding it as a "civil rights" agenda).

>>The core of the debate is whether homosexuality is acceptable ... So although many may say that they disapprove of homosexuality and not of people who are homosexual themselves, the distinction is razor thin."

Perhaps razor thin, but very real. Turn it around, Jack. Most people are "tolerant" of homosexuals and their behavior - may not approve of it, but accept that it exists and take a "live and let live" attitude. This tolerance was what "gay rights" advocates initially said was what they wanted. Now it is not tolerance of homosexuals that is being demanded, but societal "recognition" that it is somehow "perfectly normal" and that engaging in the behavior is to be "celebrated." In other words, that society should not just be tolerant or accepting of homosexuals, but also to condone homosexual conduct - e.g., by recognizing homosexual marriage - so the "razor thin" distinction is being breached by the "gay lobby."

I can understand why homosexuals would want society to embrace them and their activities as "normal" - were I one I might well be advocating for that too (just as, were I born a Mexican, I might be here as an illegal alien, though as an American citizen I oppose illegal immigration).

That said, there is something inherently abnormal about a male desiring to be with a male, or a female with a female. That is the elephant in the corner in this debate.

Certainly from a biological perspective, and (in my opinion) from a societal perspective, homosexuality is something that should be considered undesirable, and so not condoned. It must be accepted insofar as at present there is no cure or treatment, and the people "with it" certainly had no choice in the matter, but that is a far cry from embracing a collective pretense that it is normal, much less a desirable condition (or orientation, if you prefer).

Posted by: Tom W at June 4, 2006 4:02 PM

Jack,

Alright, then. Why shouldn't a brother and sister (or brother and brother, for that matter) have access to marriage to raise one sibling's child? Of course, the question that you elide is how those homosexual couples come to have children, and the answer is that a third party of some form — whether an anonymous donor, a previous spouse, or some acquaintance — enters the equation. Studies aside, it would seem a prima facie matter that stability is most likely when the parents are literally united in the child — genetically and as a result of their shared intimacy — in a line of converging ancestry.

The children of homosexual couples have already been denied access to that sort of stability. One should not compound harm with harm, of course, and we should certainly seek honestly to provide the healthiest home for any given child. However, simply by your shift of emphasis of "not procreation so much as it is the raising of children," you are doing unknowable harm to marriage and to future generations.

One key good that marriage has accomplished in society is to bind parents, especially fathers, to the children that they create. In a nutshell: we offer various social and legal benefits to married couples so that responsible, committed people will enter the institution, thus defining a culture of marriage that becomes an expectation for parents — not so that the already-committed couple maintains a stable home for its children, but so that reluctant couples will do so. It hardly serves to fortify this cultural message to tell reckless procreators that they needn't worry about marrying the mothers of their children because marriage is "not [about] procreation so much as it is [about] the raising of children." She can go find somebody else to marry — especially, the father might think, when the biological parents will only make each other unhappy (however that might be defined).

As for the divorce and nondiscrimination points, I wasn't so much negotiating with same-sex marriage advocates to take up social conservative causes as pointing out that those conservative principles of commitment, fidelity, and unique intimacy — on which you rely in making your case for same-sex marriage — are, at best, wishful thinking in todays legal climate and, at worst, anathema to your agenda. In short, you're saying that equal rights under the law necessitate homosexuals' inclusion in marriage because they are fully capable of A and B (while other groups, such as the incestuous and polygamous, are not), but in truth, as a matter of law, A and B are not required for marriage and, moreover, you don't believe that they should be.

And to close: it is only miraculous marriages that manage to be both life-long and uniformly "happy" and "healthy." How can marriage possibly encourage stability if it is not presumed, in some degree, to "force" the spouses to stay together through difficult times?

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 4, 2006 4:22 PM

Justin,

I feel that your two main points in your last posting are quite flawed.

First, you state that procreation creates a special bond between parent and child. Certainly, continuing the generations is important and special. But should we not allow adoptions by straight couples (even if they are fertile) because it does not have that generational bond either? Is this not the "best" scenario, as well? Your logic shows a bias against gays because their adoptions lack the generational connection while you ignore the fact that this is also the case for straight adoptive parents.

Secondly, no one reasonable ever claims that marriages should be "life-long and uniformly" happy and healthy. Such smiley-face ideas are naive. Of course, a huge part of marriage is staying "together through difficult times," but when a marriage simply does not work beyond repair, whose end does it serve to keep a couple in this situation together? Do you advocate the complete abolition of divorce?

While this debate has been interesting, it is slowly turning into a rhetorical back-and-forth where points are being misconstrued or misunderstood. I ask that you look at our neighbors in Massachusetts and Canada while you continue to oppose same-sex marriage. What is so fearful about society in those two jurisdictions that you seek to prevent? What is so fearful about a same-sex couple that seeks to recognize their relationship in society? What are you so afraid of?

Posted by: Jack at June 4, 2006 5:03 PM

Well, I agree that we're not communicating effectively. I don't see where I suggested in any way that adoption shouldn't be allowed. (Citation: "One should not compound harm with harm, of course, and we should certainly seek honestly to provide the healthiest home for any given child." Perhaps I should have written "healthiest home possible.") Along this line, I'm arguing primarily that it is proper for society to hold up procreative relationships as the ideal for intimate couples, with an eye toward encouraging relationships to form among those who have created children, and marriage is the institution whereby that is accomplished.

Since you ask, I do not advocate the abolition of divorce. I do advocate restrictions and additional barriers to exit in order to discourage breaking marital vows.

Finally, I do not take my positions out of fear, but after years of careful (and compassionate) consideration. But perhaps foundationless assumptions about my personal motivation are a fitting way to peter out the discussion.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 4, 2006 8:34 PM

Dear Justin,

I have no doubt that your positions are the result of much introspection and consideration.

The only challenge I have is that every so often dip into the non substantiated. For instance, you allude to homosexual couples not being able to provide "stability".

There isn't a legitimate study anywhere that shows this. On the flip side, what does that say about single parents?

All I ask is during those moments of careful consideration, please make sure to also consult the best scientific resources.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at June 5, 2006 8:17 AM