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  • Am I Wrong About This?

    Posted by James R. Rummel on April 4th, 2005 (All posts by )

    In this post I linked to an essay by the incomparable Megan McArdle, where she says that there may be some unintended consequences to gay marriage. (Amongst other things.)

    One of the readers who was kind enough to leave a comment to my post, a proponent of gay marriage, had this to say.

    I want to live in a country where people are not denied rights.

    This is a position that many who favor gay marriage assume. That refusing to grant legal sanction to marriages between same sex couples is actually refusing them some basic human right.

    I have a problem with this.

    Many people want to make sure that their values are in the strongest possible position if it comes down to a debate. Often I hear rhetoric being applied in the most inappropriate manner, usually using emotionally loaded terms that are carefully calculated to make their side seem good or superior in some way. (For example, Liberals are now calling themselves Progressives even though they cling to discredited policies like Socialism or Communism.)

    The bottom line is that I dont think there is such a thing as a right to get married. Im not married myself, and I think that my sanity would be questioned if I demanded that the government provide a mate on the grounds that my civil rights were being violated. Unless Im way off base on this, I cant even sue a woman and ask the courts to force her to marry me if she turns me down when I get down on one knee.

    Please keep in mind that Im referring to traditional marriage, something that everyone agrees is legal and an important part of our culture and society. If that isnt a right then gay marriage certainly isnt a right.

    So why do people use these loaded terms even though they dont apply? I think that theyre simply trying to convey how important they view the issue, and so they use the strongest language they can without being offensive. It does give the impression of a calculated effort at propaganda, though.

     

    57 Responses to “Am I Wrong About This?”

    1. Lex Says:

      James, Mary Ann Glendon wrote a book on this exact topic called Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse.

      People talk in terms of rights because it is to their advantage to define their desires as a right. If you can convince a decision-maker that you have a right to what you want, then you ought to get it. Probing into the question of whether there is or is not a right is something proponents of a right will probably resist. Plus, interests have to be balanced, and political persuasion and negotiation are the means of obtaining some interest. But a right, once established, trumps interests and contrary claims and even consequences. So, if you want something, it is to your advantage to convince people it is a right for you to have it. Plus we have gotten used to the idea of rights, since they seem to be about human dignity, while negotiating to obtain an advantage is seen as mere self-interest and a little bit dirty. So, by presenting yourself as a proponent of a right you cloak yourself with the mantle of freedom fighters and liberators and others motivated by high ideals. This, again, is a source of advantage if you can get people to accept it and is a source of inspiration to the people who think this is what they are doing and their allies. Moreover, there is a large community of people in this country who are either of independent means or who are willing to endure a monastic type of poverty, who are a permanent “movement” which will swing into support for whatever progressive cause is currently popular. To say you are asserting a right and are part of this general world view allows you to tap into the skills and energy and networks represented by this floating community of activists. This is a huge advantage, too, if you can pull it off.

      So, saying that two gay people getting married is the equivalent of, say, allowing black people to vote or to learn to read or not be lynched, provides a tremendous set of advantages to the people who make this equation.

      No, you are not ought of line raising this question.

    2. Steve Says:

      Lex, you rightly mention the important role of the “decision-maker” in the dubious discursive method James is berating.

      Without the third-party “decision-maker” to arbitrate and rule on these “rights,” this trend would falter.

      Could this be why the “progressives” see the fight for our nation’s judiciary as warranting their anti-democratic filibusterings? They cannot sway the necessary minds to muster the required numbers in a national election – the true theater of our nation’s discursive battles, so they have decided to take their claims of “rights” to their favored Über Gott for “His” ajudication.

      James, until I met the right lady, a shot-gun wedding forced by lawsuit was the only way I thought I’d ever get a gal!

      -Steve

    3. chel Says:

      Hi James,

      I don’t think everybody should be entitled to a marriage. Of course I don’t want a world where a you can, “sue a woman and ask the courts to force her to marry me if she turns me down when I get down on one knee.” It’s just like the right to bear arms… it doesn’t mean that everyone has to own a gun. It doesn’t mean that everyone should be provided a gun by the government (or at least I don’t think that’s what it means.) I just don’t think the government should be in the business of dictating what gender a person must be in order for another person to marry them.

      James asked, “So why do people use these loaded terms even though they dont apply?” Well, I do think the term “right” applies. In the United States, marriage is a legal entitlement with benefits that heterosexuals are allowed to enjoy while homosexuals are not.

      We live in a country where it isn’t necessarily illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, not just in marriage but in other areas too. I think this holds people back, and hurts them. I acknowledge that this is difficult to see, especially since we’re inside of a society that basically seems like it’s working okay. I mean it’s really easy to just be like “Eh, it’s not a big deal, a gay couple can be committed life partners. What’s the difference? No biggie.” Though I’ve never been anti-same sex marriage I used to think like this — just thought it wans’t a big deal. I can also see how folks in the South could have been like, “Eh, it’s not a big deal, a Black person can just drink from the other water fountain. What’s the difference? No biggie.”

      So this is some insight into my personal support for gay marriage.

    4. lindenen Says:

      Yeah, but unless you’re a felon or not of age, they can’t refuse to sell you a gun; whereas, someone can refuse to marry you.

    5. GUYK Says:

      chel-maybe that is part of the problem, ie, married people have legal rights that others don’t have. Could be if the tax code was reformed so that childless couples and singles were not subdizing those who opt to have children the issue would not seem as important.

    6. James Says:

      I’ve always thought a large part of this debate is over those financial and other benefits accorded to married couples. Beyond that, there’s a language debate between using “marriage” or “civil union” — although I’ve seen both lefty and righty bloggers advocate the use of “civil union” for ALL marriage contracts, at least in the eyes of the government.
      Whether gay marriage is a right is a legitimate question. Certainly, if marriage itself, in the governmental outlook, is merely a contract, then it’s tougher to limit it. But your post shows how this is not nearly as simple as some dispute over whose morality is right.

    7. lindenen Says:

      GUYK, like I posted in the other topic. This isn’t true. It is those who have children that subsidize the existence of the childless. In addition to giving birth to the childless, the people who have children subsidize the social security of the childless. Why do they get tax breaks? They provide a public good. They provide the future.

      It’s also quite obvious that the cost of raising a child is not anywhere near being equaled or even exceeded by tax breaks.

    8. James R. Rummel Says:

      I can also see how folks in the South could
      have been like, “Eh, it’s not a big deal, a Black person can just drink
      from the other water fountain. What’s the difference? No biggie.”

      I think that this is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. When gay marriage advocates compare this issue to the civil rights movement, they’re automatically portraying the opposition as racist, close minded bigots.

      This is inflammatory, unfair and outrageous. Support for gay marriage is sure to wane as long as these tactics are employed.

      James

    9. James R. Rummel Says:

      James, until I met the right lady, a shot-gun wedding forced by lawsuit was the only way I thought I’d ever get a gal!

      Congratulations, Steve!

    10. Ginny Says:

      The responsibiity we have for the next generation and to give aid to the older one seems lost. The rights of children – who do not speak, do not form interest groups – seems lost. Just as the hole in the middle of Susan Faludi’s Backlash was her complete obliviousness to children, so does this talk about rights here. This seems to me painfully at the middle of this discussion, an empty center around which the discussion takes place.

    11. dick Says:

      My whole problem with all this rights talk is that if one person gets a right, then someone else loses a right. As an example if I do not want to rent to a gay couple and the state decides in its infinite wisdom that I can’t refuse to rent based on some form of discrimination, then I will be forced to give up my right to live with the people I want to and instead rent my apartment to people I would not want in my own home. I know that is bigoted but that is what this means. BTW this is only an example, not my belief.

      What bothers me is that I really have almost no say in what rights I am willing to give up and which rights I think I should not have to give up. Even worse the representatives I vote for may also not have choice in what rights I will have to give up or not. Instead some judge whose position I didn’t even vote for can just arbitrarily say that because some foreign country believes thus and so he will rule on the rights question in a certain way.

      I know there has to be a balance of the rights in question, but I just think the choice of that balance should be determined by the legislature rather than the judiciary.

    12. chel Says:

      James,

      I think I’m being misunderstood. I never called you or anyone here a “racist, close minded bigot.” In my comment I did not intend to portray you or anyone here as such.

      What I was saying (and please go back and look at my quote) is that I can certainly understand why people wouldn’t think that gay marriage wasn’t a very big deal or see it as a right. I was responding to your original post where you were making light of people seeing it as a right. That’s why I drew the water fountains-in-the-south analogy. At first that seems silly too — that it should be a basic human right all people should be allowed to use all water fountains.

      Really, if I thought I was dealing with bigots I wouldn’t enter the conversation.

    13. LotharBot Says:

      Chel,

      The danger is that by drawing the analogy to the civil rights movement at any level — as so many people have done — people will naturally fill out the analogy, and recognize that their position is being compared to that of the racist closed-minded bigots. More often than not, the comparison is intended. It’s rare for someone to bring up a comparison to Nazi Germany without intending to hint that their opponents are rather like Nazis, or for someone to bring up a comparison to slavery or Jim Crow without intending to hint that their opponents are rather like the racists of yesteryear.

      You might mean something completely innocent by bringing up the drinking fountain analogy. If so, that makes you rare among those who debate the subject. Most who make such comparisons fully intend their opponents to be characterized as bigots. This really, really hurts their credibility.

      I’ve had people who know me quite well and who’ve seen me interact with people of all different races and religions and political parties — people who KNOW I’m pretty accepting of anyone — degenerate into ranting about what a horrible bigot I am because of my stance on gay marriage / civil unions (which, by the way, is fairly liberal.) The level of rhetoric that flies around on this topic is absurd. Because of this, anyone who wants to have a sensible discussion absolutely has to stay away from trying to make off-the-cuff civil rights movement analogies. There’s too much vitriol around to let yourself be percieved as even hinting that your opponents are bigots.

    14. lindenen Says:

      This article from PolicyReview has quite a few interesting things to say.

      “The advocates of the deconstruction of marriage into a series of temporary couplings with unspecified numbers and genders of people have used the language of choice and individual rights to advance their cause. This rhetoric has a powerful hold over the American mind. It is doubtful that the deconstruction of the family could have proceeded as far as it has without the use of this language of personal freedom.

      But this rhetoric is deceptive. It is simply not possible to have a minimum government in a society with no social or legal norms about family structure, sexual behavior, and childrearing. The state will have to provide support for people with loose or nonexistent ties to their families. The state will have to sanction truly destructive behavior, as always. But destructive behavior will be more common because the culture of impartiality destroys the informal system of enforcing social norms.

      It is high time libertarians object when their rhetoric is hijacked by the advocates of big government. Fairness and freedom do not demand sexual and parental license. Minimum-government libertarianism needs a robust set of social institutions. If marriage isnt a necessary social institution, then nothing is. And if there are no necessary social institutions, then the individual truly will be left to face the state alone. A free society needs marriage.”

      This article makes a powerful argument that the deconstruction of marriage will lead to essentially socialism and statism as families become more and more unstable and more and more people mainly women and children become dependent on the government for help. I suggest everyone READ IT especially if you care at all about limited government and freedom. The author’s right.

    15. Mitch Says:

      Chel, the missing piece is agreement on the limit of a right. No right is absolute, and declaring a right does not end the discussion. The right to life, for example, does not excuse a soldier abandoning his post under fire (conflict with a pre-existing duty). The right to keep and bear arms does not permit you to hunt on my property (conflict with another’s right).

      The resolution of conflicting rights is called justice. The nature of those rights, and how they may be realized in a just manner, is outlined in our constitution, although their source is elsewhere. We have until recently let our legislatures deal with the larger issues of justice and the courts with the administration of those decisions.

      Why are the advocates of gay marriage resorting to the courts?
      1. They can expect a sympathetic hearing from the courts, which may not represent the opinions of the electorate. A couple of years before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the Commonwealth to recognize the right of gay marriage, they refused to recognize the right of the people to call a constitutional convention on this same issue. This was an outrageous usurpation of the people’s right of self-government in favor of the right of gays to marry.
      2. This method, which I believe is very destructive to a democracy, has in the past yielded good results. This may be a reason why the comparison to African-American civil rights is so often invoked. The example encouraged other courts and other plaintiffs to make law to do justice, rather than leave this to the legislatures or the people.

      I would very much prefer that new expressions of right be made through the law-making process. The intervention of the courts in the civil rights cases took place in because of obvious inequity, legislative paralysis, and immediate danger of severe harm. None of these conditions apply to the current situation. The resort to the courts for new rights should be made about as often as we engage in civil war for the same purpose.

    16. Steve Says:

      Like Ginny, I’m concerned that there is no mention of children in this thread. I guess they’re just confetti at the parade of a lot of adults’ desires.

      Likewise, the definition of “gay” needs to enter here. If a category is easily breached, is it a true category? If I was gay in my twenties, and straight in my thirties, was I really “gay?” On the flip side, I know many people who are “experimenting” with being “gay” in their fifties, now that the kids have left home.

      If the gub’ment gets into the business of codifying laws around false categories, it seems it makes a mockery of the serious business of legislating.

      But if it focuses on what’s best for a firm category, the unrepresented “children,” then it can’t be faulted.
      -Steve

    17. Mitch Says:

      Frankly, Steve, I’d be happier if the government would just leave my kids out of it. My wife and I are most closely concerned with them, and I really don’t appreciate the interposition of the governments judgments, however well-intentioned. Their previous expressions of concern resulted in AFDC and severe damage to American families. I’d love to see an analysis of how their concern with higher education resulted in inflated tuition.

    18. Ginny Says:

      Single women vote for a stronger central government; married women for a weaker one. One expects the state to provide the support that we’ve traditionally sought within the family. But a state can do much to encourage and much to discourage family. ADC is a pretty good example of the latter. Tax breaks for nuclear families raising children is an example of the former. The state is going to affect us no matter what. We might want it to affect us in a way that we see is good for us, our children, our libertarian principles.

    19. GUYK Says:

      lindenen: I have heard this argument that those who opt to have children are subsidizing those who do not. On the surface it logical just as on the surface socialism is logical.”Tax those who can afford to pay for the good of society.” But what is not said is that generally chidless couples do not depend near as much on social security for their old age as those who have raised children-just a matter of being able to keep more of their earnings. The argument is about as logical as a progressive income tax. Depends on which side of the economic scale you are on.

      The irony is that I could really care less whether gays have the right to marry or not. I can’t see that it would make a heck of a lot of difference in my life or the life of any one else excepting for the gays in question. First of all, gays live together now and most don’t have children. The only thing they will gain by marriage is the financial gain of head of household for tax purposes, employment benefits for partners, and inheritance rights enjoyed by legal marriages. It appears to me that the only losers are state and federal departments of revenue!

      Most arguments I have heard are morality based. These I reject out of hand because I reject any argument that imposes a religious based morality on me. Gays are humans. I suspect that they have little choice in their sexuality. Why would anyone
      choose a lifestyle that includes the persecution and civil limitations imposed on gay people in the USA unless they had no choice?

    20. incognito Says:

      By the same logic of rights, they should allow polygamy. Claim religious persecution and sue.

    21. GUYK Says:

      incognito: if someone is nuts enough to want more tha one wife and can afford more than one then what the hell? Who am I to complain. I’m not sure just when monogamy started-the Hebrews of old had more than one wife for sure. Islam recognizes up to four wives. But, in the USA marriage appears to be out of style. Doesn’t it seem ironic that gays want to get married but the hetros just want to shack up?

    22. oregano Says:

      I can’t believe I’m defending gay marriage. By faith and reason, I do not agree with the lifestyle. However, it seems to me that the “right to marry” would fall under “pursuit of happiness”. Also, the ideals of “small government” would dictate that the government will not intrude on our lives by restricting the definition of marriage. It is not up to the government to give you a platform whereby you may exercise your free speech; only to protect your right to exercise it should you choose by free will. It is the same thing with marriage (I think my pastor would be very upset with me right now). Can somebody get some grease for that hill?

    23. GUYK Says:

      oregano-you have supplied the grease for the hill.Each of us should have the right to persue happiness however we choose provided we are no harming others. The moral code that we live by again should be by our choosing provided that we do not infringe in the freedoms and rights of others. I believe that each of us has enough to do minding our own business and what others do is no business of ours until it starts infringing on our rights. I just can’t see where gays getting married will infringe on any right I currently enjoy.

    24. lindenen Says:

      Well, it gets worse:

      “I have seen the future of American family law, and her name is Elizabeth F. Emens. A whiz kid with a Ph.D. in English from Cambridge University and a J.D. from Yale Law School, Emens, who teaches the University of Chicago Law School, has published a major legal and cultural defense of polyamory (group marriage). In “Beyond Gay Marriage,” I showed that state-sanctioned polyamory was rapidly becoming the favorite cause of scholars of family law. Yet not until now has anyone offered so bold, informed, intelligent, and comprehensive a brief for polyamory. Emens’s breakthrough article is a sign that the case for mainstreaming polyamory is finally being…well, mainstreamed.”

      “Pursuit of happiness” isn’t in the Constitution. And perhaps the government should not intrude in our lives by changing the definition of marriage.

    25. Rick in NY Says:

      Here is a thought that I cannot get beyond: assume for the purpose of illustration that our laws are amended so to allow for two men or two women to marry one another. By what logic and reasoning would that law not allow three women to marry one another? Three men? Three women and two men? Any combination for that matter? If we want to live in a society with no discrimination – to wit, anarchy – why would this not logically flow from the deconstruction of the institution?

    26. Ginny Says:

      Well group marriage may be useful in those societies (India, China, and now Indonesia) that have a surplus of males.

    27. lindenen Says:

      Several women for each man when there’s a shortage of women and a surplus of men? I doubt the men are going to want to share women and I doubt you’ll see women with multiple husbands.

    28. GUYK Says:

      lindenin: no,persuit of happiness is not in the constitution. However, equal protection under the law is part of the constitution. Gays and other singles as well as married couples who are childless or who have raised their children are not afforded equal protection under the law when it comes to taxes.

      I concur that the government should not cahange the definition of marriage. It is not the governments business to sanctify marriage whether it be man and woman or gay marriage. It is a matter of money and how much the government can extort-

    29. oregano Says:

      By greasing the hill I am inferring that limiting rights in this country sends us on a slippery slope. Do I agree with gay marriage? Absolutely not! However, I don’t want to go down any path that limits freedoms in this country.

    30. Pogo Says:

      Rights rhetoric is indeed invoked as a trump card, in order to silence those who disagree and render moot further discussion.

      This tactic is employed for nearly every human desire. For example, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes not only a right to health care, but a right to a job with paid vacations. By claiming SSM as the moral high ground, rights talk intends to limit further debate.

      These new “rights” lack any historical provenance, and ignore the role of marriage as a pillar of civilization. Jane Galt’s excellent piece reminds us that pulling away these pillars has unintended consequneces which may prove disastrous.

      Extending the language of rights to serve a desired but complex social end may unnecessarily polarize the debate. Such assertions discourage reasoned discourse and degenerate into alternating assertions and denials. I say, “all citizens have a right to marry whomever they please, in whatever gender, age, or numbers they please,” while you say, “citizens have no such right.” Is there anything to be learned from such exchanges?

      If rights are simply “things I prefer”, then the term has lost all meaning, and there are no inalienable human rights. That is, rights become merely whatever the state grants at the moment, much as in Roman times. But remember, what the state grants, the state can take away. The SSM option may be imposed by legislative fiat today, leaving the greater posssibity the same force will remove your right to free speech and religion tomorrow (e.g. see “hate speech” laws in Canada).

    31. Posse Incitatus Says:

      Debating gay marriage

      This is an accidental post. The Posse was looking for a comment on Chicago Boyz and we stumbled upon this thread.

    32. Posse Incitatus Says:

      To save space, my extended comments are here.

    33. GUYK Says:

      POGO: The UN’s UNiversal Declaration on Human Rights is a socialist movement that attempts to force those who produce an excess of what they need to share with those who have for various reasons failed to produce their immediate needs. To use this argument to support an anti-gay marriage argument is using a strawman argument You are correct about government and rights and once government is allowed to take away constitutional rights (such as equal protection under the law) then it is indeed a slippery slope for the rest of our rights.

      When the voters approved a progressive income tax they never dreamed it would effect them. However, it has and effected some severely. It was some years after the approval of income taxes that congress decided to give married people a head of household exemption and exemptions for those with children. All this was was salve to smooth over the pain of taxes for the majority of middle class income earners. Other salves were added such as write offs of interest for homes. But the fact still remains. Gays are not treated equally under the law for tax purposes because they are not allowed an exemption for a dependent nor allowed to file a joint tax return.

      I still contend that every argument that I have heard on anti-gay marriage still boils down to a religious morality argument. And, the only effect that I can see on our society is the loss of government revenue. Denying gays equal rights will not stop gay couples from living together.Allowing them a civil contract of some type that gives them equal protection under the law(put the current concept of marriage back into the churches where it originated)will correct a wrong that has been imposed by religion on the gay population.

    34. Anonymous Says:

      Let’s ask the question this way: is there any heterosexual posting here who believes it would be perfectly OK for the government, or their next-door neighbor, to deny them the right to marry the person they choose to marry?

      IOW, does anybody here not believe they have the absolute right to marry the person they love, as long as that person consents? Imagine somebody trying to forbid it, if you can.

      (And please: no fallacious “What about incest?” arguments. There are perfectly legitimate reasons to forbid incest; it would destroy family life if it were permitted generally, and of course there’s the genetic factor. There’s no similar argument against gay marriage.

      Polygamy? There’s no “orientation” towards polygamy, no broad movement to allow it, and how many modern women would go for that, anyway? How about “one to a customer? It seems to work. Again: no similar argument exists in the case of gay marriage.)

    35. Anonymous Says:

      Further, how does gay marriage “deconstruct” marriage itself? It enhances marriage, by virtue of the fact that people want it who are now forbidden it. Besides, haven’t heterosexuals done by far the greatest amount of “deconstruction”? A 50% divorice rate? Britney Spears? Come on.

      The idea that a population that comprises no more than 5% of the population can wreak the sort of havoc people are talking about is almost laughable, really – particularly when one looks at the current situation. Gay people aren’t to blame for any crisis in marriage; we aren’t part of it in even the smallest way.

      Here’s the reality: nobody will know the difference, at worst, and society will be more stable overall, at best.

    36. James R. Rummel Says:

      …is there any heterosexual posting here who believes it would be perfectly OK for the government, or their next-door neighbor, to deny them the right to marry the person they choose to marry?

      Certainly, but you’re refusing to listen to the two compelling circumstances: incest and polygamy.

      You say that you refuse to listen because the arguements are fallacious, but I disagree. Closely related family are banned from marriage even if they can no longer have children. Allowing such a precedent is recognized as being too great a danger. Slippery slope and all that.

      The same goes for polygamy. You say that it simply wouldn’t exist so far as gay marriage is concerned. I’m having trouble figuring out how you can be so sure. What’s to prevent gay couples from argueing that the main reason for monogamy was for inheritance, since there’d be a reasonable assurance that the heir was your kid. No reason for gay couples to restrict themselves to two-person unions since they don’t have to worry about that.

      Same goes for incest. Since gay couples can’t breed, and the main reason why incest is forbidden is because of the risk of a genetically damaged child, then….

      If you’ll be so kind as to click on the link to Megan’s essay that I included in my original post, you’ll see that it’s just these sort of unintended consequences that give her (and me) pause.

      You’ll also see that Megan said that she’s most wary when she’s confronted by the very same arguements that you are employing. (“Oh, c’mon! It’ll never, ever happen!”)

    37. GUYK Says:

      April, all of the arguments that I have heard have a basis in a religious belief. As I stated before, it doesn’t bother me. My wife and I chose each other over 42 years ago after we both has suffered through disasterous first marriages. As I tried to get acroos to one of the Christian right, I would rather my wife be around gay women than the religious types. She has yet to have a gay hit on her but I can’t say that about the bible thumping hypocrits.

    38. James R. Rummel Says:

      April, all of the arguments that I have heard have a basis in a religious belief.

      Who’s April?

      James

    39. Anonymous Says:

      Closely related family are banned from marriage even if they can no longer have children. Allowing such a precedent is recognized as being too great a danger.

      This is what I just said: incest should be forbidden, in every case, because allowing it in any case would be a “slippery slope.”

      You’re the one who doesn’t recognize that there is no relationship between gay marriage and incest. None. Zero. If you can find one, name it.

      You might have a case for polygamy – but of course polygamy has been legal and still is in some places. What’s your objection to it? If you can relate this objection in any reasonable way to “gay marriage,” please do so.

    40. James R. Rummel Says:

      You’re the one who doesn’t recognize that there is no relationship between gay marriage and incest. None. Zero. If you can find one, name it.

      This is a straw man. We’re discussing the legalization of gay marriage and the potential unintended consequences.

      Since same sex marriage isn’t an institution, there’s no way to tell if incest would be a problem.

      Let’s see if you like some of your own medicine. Find a society in all of written history which embraced gay marriage without any problems.

      (And, yes, I know that there’s never been a society that enacted gay marriage. I’m just using it as an example of constructing a straw man.)

      James

    41. Anonymous Says:

      IOW, is there something wrong with the formula: “marriage in the United States shall consist of the legal union of any two unrelated consenting adults?”

      If so, what? Any two opposite sex unrelated couples are allowed to be married, currently. (Although in the past, women were married off at age 13 and nobody thought anything of it; today that would be considered pedophilia.)

      Marriage is quite obviously not only about reproduction, or women past the age of fertility would not be permitted to marry. Infertile couples would be required to divorce after a certain period of time. In fact, why not ask people to divorce after they’re through having children? What’s the benefit to society in having them stay together, if they’re no longer reproducing?

      It’s easy enough to infer that marriage is about something else as well, then: companionship, and mutual help. (This is Biblical, BTW. God creates Eve as a “help-meet,” not as a sexual partner.) Human beings seem to have a deep desire to create partnerships; 95% of Americans marry at some point in their lives. (Guess which 5% is not included in this total?)

    42. Anonymous Says:

      We’re discussing the legalization of gay marriage and the potential unintended consequences.

      Right. Name the consequences.

      If the issue of incest is totally unrelated to the issue of gay marriage – if they have no attributes in common – then logically one can’t argue that consequences will follow.

      Talk about “straw men”!

    43. Anonymous Says:

      But, OK. You believe there will be some sort of horrible consequences (although you can’t point to what they might be, and can’t show how legalizing gay marriage would be any worse than what’s already happening – which gay people are not even in the smallest way responsible for).

      So why all the furor over the experiment in Massachusetts? Don’t you want to actually know, empirically, what these “consequences” might be? Shouldn’t states be allowed to work this out so we can all become aware of what actually happens in real life?

      Are you aware that already there are hundreds of legal gay marriages in Massachusetts? And that civil unions have been a fact of life in Vermont for about 10 years now?

      What consequences have ensued? Please list them.

    44. Anonymous Says:

      (I should add that I personally have no problem with “civil unions” instead of “marriage.”

      But isn’t that a little redundant, in terms of the law? Not to mention a bit, well, precious?

      Nevertheless, I don’t really care. Keep “marriage,” if you must. What people are really after – especially gay families with kids, and there are more and more of these – is the legal relationship so that we don’t have to jump through hoops to make simple decisions about medical issues, and about kids’ needs, that come automatically with marriage.)

    45. Jonathan Says:

      I don’t know what bad consequence might ensue from State sanction of homosexual marriage. My take on the issue is similar to Megan’s: marriage as we now know it has existed for a long time and in many different cultures; it’s prudent to suspect that there are strong reasons why this is the case; we change such things at our peril. You want to rationalize inheritance and insurance regulations to accommodate homosexual couples? Good idea.

      But many people, particularly people with children, regard marriage as being primarily about the protection of children, and see the redefinition of marriage as a lifestyle choice (which is what marriage is mainly about for homosexual couples) as a threat to this traditional meaning. I suspect that they also see the stridence of some homosexual-marriage advocates as evidence of hubris, and of contempt for traditional marriage and of all that it entails. And they probably also resent the efforts of unelected judges to impose homosexual marriage onto an unwilling electorate, as in Massachusetts.

      Maybe after ten or twenty years’ experience with Vermont and Massachusetts, if the results are as benign as homosexual-marriage advocates insist they must be, enough Americans will accept State-sanctioned homosexual marriage to make it a norm. But until then, why push the issue? Doing so only convinces many heterosexuals that the most active homosexual activists are anti-family, as indeed some of them appear to be. This is, at best, an empirical issue whose resolution will require enough time to generate meaningful experience. Why the push to settle everything now? Why the routine accusations that opponents are bigots? Why not wait and see? This is one of those issues where it will be practically impossible to undo the changes if things don’t work out. Best to tread cautiously.

    46. Anonymous Says:

      But it’s really not true that “marriage as we know it” has existed for all time.

      Polygamy has been perfectly legal in many places and at many times. During the Middle Ages, many marriages in the British Isles were of the common-law variety; this is why there’s a body of common-law marriage law in the United States. I’d wager that marriage as we know it – that is, a sort of legal contract issued and controlled by the State – didn’t exist at all in most times and places. The modern institution of marriage contains strands of influence from the Bible, the Enlightenment (and so ancient Greece), the scientific revolution, and plain present-day pragmatism. Don’t forget that most women had no right to own property, or to determine their own futures in any way, throughout much of history. I’m sure all these very same arguments ensued around women’s suffrage, in fact.

      If your claim is – as it seems to be – that marriage is mostly about “protection of children,” then you really ought to forbid it to those heterosexual couples who don’t plan to have children – or any more children. And you should allow it for gay couples who do have children. (What about them, BTW? Is that a “lifestyle choice”? If so, isn’t heterosexuality, and having children, also a “lifestyle choice”?)

      And is having a discussion on a weblog now seen as “pushing the issue”? Am I not allowed to put forth the “pro” argument, either, or point out the fallacies in the “anti” argument? Did I call anyone a bigot?

      Straw men, all. And BTW, how does change occur, so that we can “wait and see,” if somebody doesn’t advocate for it? Confusing indeed.

      It’s a confusing question, I admit. Surely it’s completely normal for people to want a partner to go through life with. Surely any heterosexual would bristle at the idea that they couldn’t marry the person they love; they’d be up in arms about it, in fact. So how can anyone deny it to gay couples? Isn’t this, in fact, a severe breach of rights that you guys take for granted – even though these particular rights have never existed before?

      If it makes you feel any better, I do agree that it would be better to let the legislatures act on this, rather than having the matter decided in the courts. The problem is that they never do.

    47. James R. Rummel Says:

      If it makes you feel any better, I do agree that it would be better to let the legislatures act on this, rather than having the matter decided in the courts. The problem is that they never do.

      I don’t think that’s true.

      Minnesota and Tennesee are going to put it before the voters next year.

      In the mean time, the voters of 11 states have approved of changes in their state constitutions to specifically ban gay marriage. Those states are Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Utah and Oregon.

      The bans won overwhelming popular support in every state where it came to a vote. The closest was in Michigan, where it passed with 55% of the vote in favor and 45% against. The next closest was my own home state of Ohio, where the ban passed with 60% in favor. Most of the other states saw 75% or more of the ballots cast in favor of the bans.

      So far as I know, Massachusettes is the only state where gay marriage is legal. Last month a judge in California ruled that a ban on same sex marriages violated the state constitution, which means that the issue will probably end up on the ballot there some time in the future.

      One last point. I’d have to say that I’m apalled by your tone and your rhetoric. You’ve been snide, insulting, agressive and arguementative on every comment you’ve left. When faced with a reasonable question that was painful to answer you’ve attacked the person who asked. And all of this while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity and refusing to stand up and take responsibility for your position.

      Considering that this is the attitude you take towards an active supporter of the gay community, someone who makes very real sacrifices for it’s members, I’d have to say that there isn’t much hope to sway the public over to your point of view. If these are the tactics that the majority of gay marriage supporters employ, then it’s very doubtful that either civil unions or gay marriage will ever be accepted in my lifetime.

      I think that would be a pity.

      James

    48. Rick in NY Says:

      It is interesting to see that the notion of “rights” can be defined down to “my personal preference”. What about the personal preference of certain Mormon groups in Utah? If a man chooses to have a cabal of wives, who’s to complain?

      The plain fact is that if the societal, legal, and cultural structure around marriage is altered, the institution will lose its structural integrity…and then we can discuss unintended consequences. The original post that we are debating summed it up perfectly. Thank you, Jane Galt.

      Oh, one other thing: someone brought up equal protection under the law. Please explain progressive taxation.

    49. lindenen Says:

      “Let’s ask the question this way: is there any heterosexual posting here who believes it would be perfectly OK for the government, or their next-door neighbor, to deny them the right to marry the person they choose to marry?”

      If I want to marry a person who is incapable of consenting, for example, the mentally ill or comatose, the government should be able to say NO. If I want to marry someone who is not the correct age, usually under 18, a member of my family, a member of the same sex (Who says a straight person couldn’t marry a member of the same sex?), then the government should be able to say NO.

      If the requirement that both should be members of the opposite sex is illegitimate, then all of the other restrictions placed on marriage are illegitimate as well.

      If society has no right to determine the nature of its social institutions, which is what gay marriage advocates are essentially advocating by short-circuiting the democratic process and using the courts to get their way, then society has no right to ban polygamy, polyamory, incest, etc.

    50. Jonathan Says:

      Anonymous:

      -You can advocate anything that you want. I did not mean to imply that you are one of the people I was criticizing, or that you are calling anyone a bigot. But some homsexual-marriage advocates (and these people are not all homosexuals themselves) do characterize people who disagree with them on this issue as bigots.

      -I didn’t say that the currently common pattern of bilateral heterosexual marriage is the way it has always been. But it’s the way it has largely been in our and similar cultures for many generations and it seems to work OK. The same cannot be said of homosexual marriage, partly because there is little experience with it. I am cautious about high-stakes decisions for which there isn’t much precedent.

      -I didn’t mention polygamy but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. However, I think that most Americans aren’t interested in practicing polygamy, and are even less interested in practicing polyandry, either for reasons of economics or taste. Polygamy is mainly relevant here if one thinks that allowing homosexual marriage greases the slippery slope, and I didn’t make that argument. I would be more concerned about slippery slopes in the case of polygamy because it might lead to homosexual marriage.

      -Not all heterosexual marriages produce children, but the rationale for marriage is much weaker without the issue of children. I am sure that many heterosexuals think that personal fulfillment is the main goal of marriage, but that doesn’t make it so, and I suspect that that confusion about the rationale for marriage is part of the explanation for why so many marriages fail. (Note that I am not talking about companionship, which is available without marriage. And indeed marriage is not always a good idea for heterosexuals who don’t want children.) I don’t think accommodating the small percentage of the population that is both homosexual and wants children is worth the risk of destabilizing the institution of marriage.

      -I am also concerned that State sanction of homosexual marriage encourages homosexuality on the margin. While I am sure that many if not most people who consider themselves homosexual are secure in their sexual identity, I suspect also that there are many marginal cases who could go either way, and I think it’s probably better that the State not encourage them to be homosexual. I don’t write this because I think homosexuals are inferior people but because homosexuality is in many ways a handicap. I would discourage it in marginal cases for the same reasons that I would discourage left-handedness.

    51. lindsey Says:

      I meant to add that, if all that matters is what the individual wants, then anything goes. Regarding incest, if all that matters is what the individual wants, then the fate of any children produced by such a union is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if they’re severely retarded with fingers growing out of their head, all that matters is what the individuals involved want. The effect on society and families is irrelevant.

      The modern definition of “rights” is really just “I want”. “I want”. “I want”.

      Also, G ewirtz, I think your last point is absolutely correct.

    52. Ginny Says:

      I find Jonathan’s reasoned argument attractive.

      I suspect that the people who write on this blog are not anti-homosexual. We do tend toward natural law. Exactly how does the broad acceptance of polygamy in other times indicate that homosexual marriages were accepted? How does whether women owned property or not have anything to do with homosexual marriage? Can’t you see how central this union has been? And why it is central?

      This is getting a bit like legalizing marijuana. At first blush, I didn’t think it was all that bad an idea. The fact that I have yet to get not only a good but even a coherent paper arguing for legalization has made me think that it does indeed waste the brain cells of students who don’t have any to waste. In this case, too, my hesitations have been enforced by arguments that, as rights-driven, emphasize the individual. Marriage isn’t about rights, it is about responsibility; it isn’t about individuals it is about families. The individual accepts, with the marriage vow, the submersion of a separate self into a pair that then may grow into the core of a family; the separate desires are lost in choices for the good not even mainly of each other but of the children they raise. Romantic poppycock and Valentine’s Day are all very nice and keep that marriage a lot more happy, a lot more snug. We like that. But we don’t take that as the essence of marriage. And they are not what the long history of this institution is all about. That is also why marriages planned by parents aren’t necessarily worse than those planned by the casual courtships of modern America. (Indeed, are probably as likely to succeed.) I don’t see homosexuals arguing for such unions, but they must surely see that the blending of families in the children of the next generation is central to many interpretations of this institution – and one in which many of us in heterosexual marriages can understand and even appreciate as bearing many similarities to our own marriages.

      The arguments for homosexual marriage that ignore the importance of exclusive and bonded mating throughout time and ignore the importance of this as a nurturer of children are not very convincing to me. And yes, some homosexuals have children and some adopt. I am not opposed to that, but I’d like to see a good deal more evidence that it is a good thing. I am pretty sure that my generation (those of us that came of age in the late sixties) were sold a bill of goods that divorce is so much better for the children than a bad marriage (and we were only too happy to buy it, since it enabled us to do what we wanted). Our tendencies are toward the “rights” point of view – that is to say, selfishness. This is an institution that offers sexual pleasure, security, affection, companionship as “goodies” in exchange for giving up the dominant, selfish, will.

      Knowing who your father and mother are is a big deal. I figure biology and society have worked out over a long period of time what works. Homosexual marriage is not one of the things that has been proven.

      Those arguments that have begun making me hesitate arise from the sense that these are not phrased in ways that indicate the speakers have thought of long term commitment. I’ve lost respect for Sullivan who wants to enshrine what have clearly been fleeting relationships in the kind of clothes which many of us have thought we were donning for eternity. Rauch seems to argue more persuasively in such long-term ways. And my close friends as an undergraduate have kept their homosexual (male) pairing going for 45 years – a good deal longer than almost all of the heterosexual couples I’ve known. If I were convinced that people intended to take their vows that seriously, their arguments would be more compelling. Sullivan at first seemed to want this to be nationally discussed and voted on. That seemed reasonable. But then he began to see people as bigots that didn’t want to accept the Mass. decisions.

      Clearly many would not accept the arguments of religion, but Ben Franklin, that great old pragmatist, argues about the “rules” religion gives us:

      I grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life; . . . . Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such; but I entertain’d an opinion that, though certain actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them, yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered. And this persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favorable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me, thro’ this dangerous time of youth,

      (Sorry it is so long.)

    53. Ken Says:

      “Several women for each man when there’s a shortage of women and a surplus of men? I doubt the men are going to want to share women and I doubt you’ll see women with multiple husbands.”

      I dunno. If the choice is between sharing and not having a woman at all, I suspect an awful lot of men will warm to the idea.

      Looks like we’ll find out in the not-too-distant future whether the invisible hand can match up supply and demand in this area or not.

    54. Lex Says:

      “If the choice is between sharing and not having a woman at all, I suspect an awful lot of men will warm to the idea.”

      This is where the libertarian and the conservative part ways. The libertarian figures people will work out a sensible response to a shortage of women. The conservative figures that men want women and don’t like to share their women, and that they are more likely to kill each other over women than take turns as if having a woman were like having access to a toaster.

    55. James R. Rummel Says:

      The conservative figures that men want women and don’t like to share their women, and that they are more likely to kill each other over women than take turns as if having a woman were like having access to a toaster.

      For breakfast, I buy a bagel at one of the college coffee shops. They have public toasters you can use.

      So am I a Conservative, a Libertarian, or a Liberal?

      James

    56. lindenen Says:

      You’re a bagel eater.

    57. Mitch Says:

      James: bad analogy. You see where it goes, don’t you?