Gay marriage

40 Comments
Posted April 25th, 2009 in Politics. Tags: , .

Many issues in American politics confuse me, but the widespread opposition to gay marriage truly boggles my mind. In a bizarre turn of events, California banned same-sex marriage, then Iowa struck down a similar ban. Until just recently, the U.S. was one of the few western nations that refused to decriminalize homosexuality. Miss California became a GOP star last week because of her opinion on this issue. My personal reaction, on the other hand, was similar to Jon Stewart’s:

STEWART: Same-sex marriage is a very difficult situation and I was freaked out by it too. You know that.
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KING: Why?
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STEWART: Well, until I found out that it wasn’t mandatory, because I love my wife and I’d hate to have to leave her for a dude. So I didn’t want that.
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KING: You thought it was mandatory.
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STEWART: You never know. They said “gay marriage” and people got upset, so I figured, well clearly this means that there’s a law being passed that we all now have to be gay.
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KING: Oh, I see.
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STEWART: Once it was explained to me that it was only for gay people, I seem much more comfortable with it. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.
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I’ve tried to seek out differing opinions on this issue, to see if it’s possible to oppose gay marriage for thoughtful reasons. Here’s what I found:

Gay people already have the right to get married; they don’t need special rights!

How is this argument any different from saying that paraplegics already have the right to use the stairs, so they don’t need wheelchair ramps?

Activist judges are pushing gay marriage on us!

Activist judges are probably judges who make decisions you don’t like. There are many flaws in our current model of government, but this isn’t one of them. Constitutional republics such as our own differ from pure democracies by setting limits on the will of the majority. For instance, the Bill of Rights restricts the majority of voters from removing a group’s right to free speech or right to bear arms. This issue isn’t fundamentally different.

Marriage has been defined as man-and-woman for thousands of years!

At different points in history, marriage has been defined as an arrangement where a man bought his wife with a dowry and subsequently owned her, beat her, and held the unilateral right to add more wives later. Deuteronomy says that a virgin rape victim should be forced to marry her rapist (her father gets fifty shekels of silver, so it’s fair). Women are still forced into arranged marriages, occasionally before puberty. Either way, by definition a wife couldn’t be raped by her husband. Divorce used to be impossible, especially the variety initiated by the wife. Marriage has been denied to couples of particular races, castes, and interracial couples.

During the hotly debated reforms that incrementally abolished these prejudices, the opponents of expanding individual rights made similar arguments. They didn’t seem to realize that the nature of marriage has been changing for centuries. More fundamentally, they made the mistake of equating “the way things have been done in the past” with “the way things should be done.”

Gay couples can’t conceive children!

Neither can straight couples containing a man who’s had an effective vasectomy, a woman with a successful hysterectomy or a post-menopausal woman. In fact, lesbian couples are probably more fertile than some of these straight couples because they have access to the same in vitro fertilization procedures available to straight couples. But what’s the point of this kind of comparison?

Next we’ll have to let people marry horses!

Are the people who make this argument really serious? I’ve never once met a person making plans to marry an animal. However, I’ve met quite a few gay people who wanted to be able to get married.

Furthermore, a marriage is a type of contract. Signing any contract requires sapience and full awareness of the responsibilities involved. That rules out child marriage (depending on each culture’s reasonable definition of adulthood) and horse marriage (unequivocally).

These bizarre claims tend to distract attention from the real issue, which is that married couples receive over 1,000 tangible benefits. For instance, married couples are allowed to:

  • Visit their spouse in the hospital, and make medical decisions if necessary.
  • Simplify their taxes and finances in a well-rehearsed manner.
  • Get property and inheritance rights, even without a will.
  • Get discounted “family” rates for many types of insurance.
  • Receive Medicare, Social Security and veteran’s benefits for a spouse.
  • Adopt children.
  • Take bereavement and funeral leave.
  • Transfer property tax-free between spouses (including on death).
  • Enter a prenuptial agreement and change surname upon marriage using standardized forms.
  • Obtain domestic violence protection orders.
  • Visit their spouse in jail.
  • Etc.

The only “slippery slope” argument of this variety that’s worth mentioning is the polygamy issue. Polygamists modify the usual marriage contract by allowing for more than two partners. This modification remains a valid contract between adults, so it’s not a strawman argument. The distribution of benefits to each spouse would, however, require careful thought. For example, a default polygamous contract where one partner has a high-paying job would likely need to specify that each of the other spouses would divide up the benefits that would usually go to a single person. Otherwise polygamists would be prohibitively expensive to hire, among other disconcerting effects. But this doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult accounting problem.

Gay marriage is bad for children!

There are two versions of this argument. One asserts that homosexuals are morally equivalent to child molesters, which doesn’t deserve a serious response.

The second asserts that both male and female role models are important in a child’s emotional development. Quite frankly, this is the only argument I’ve seen that makes the slightest bit of sense, even if it only applies to couples who intend to conceive or adopt children. Furthermore, I’m very skeptical of the claim that the lack of a strong role model for one gender is worse than (or even comparable to) being one of the half million children stuck in foster care right now.

Disturbingly, this rationale seems to suggest that children should be taken from single parents who aren’t actively searching for an opposite-sex partner. I’ve also never seen any discussion of how this problem could be mitigated by ensuring regular interaction with an opposite sex role model– can anyone provide links here?

Gay marriage would cheapen traditional marriage!

Only if your sole reason for getting married was to taunt gay couples. If you got married for some other reason, like mutual love and commitment, then how do other marriages affect your bond?

The Family Research Council points to statistics on gay relationships to show that they’re shorter, more promiscuous and more violent than heterosexual relationships. Questions of skewed sampling jumped to mind, so I searched for the first reference they cited to support their claim that “Lesbians, for example, suffer a much higher level of violence than do married women.” (Incidentally, cohabitating lesbians should be compared to heterosexual cohabitating unmarried women otherwise two variables are changed at once.) Imagine my surprise when I found the paper and read the following paragraph:

Women living with female intimate partners experience less intimate partner violence than women living with male intimate partners. Slightly more than 11 percent of the women who had lived with a woman as part of a couple reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a female cohabitant, but 30.4 percent of the women who had married or lived with a man as part of a couple reported such violence by a husband or male cohabitant. These findings suggest that lesbian couples experience less intimate partner violence than do heterosexual couples; however, more research is needed to support or refute this conclusion.

That’s right, one of the references actually contradicted the claim it was used to support. The second reference didn’t discuss lesbian couples at all, unless I missed something while reading it.

Even if this kind of statistical difference really existed, it’d likely be due to the social marginalization experienced by gay couples. In other words, perhaps marriage really is a stabilizing influence, and gay couples are worse off because they’re not as well integrated into society. Marriage would be strengthened, not cheapened, by extending its rights to other couples.

Homosexuality is a choice!

Homosexuality is a fascinating topic in evolutionary biology/psychology, but we don’t yet have a complete scientific description of this facet of human nature. Experiments have suggested that homosexuality is caused by some combination of genetic and prenatal factors, though.

Even without science, the claim that “homosexuality is a choice” confuses me. I say this because– speaking as a heterosexual– I’m having trouble remembering when I chose to be attracted to women. They just began to appear… fascinating… when I was a young boy. I don’t remember having a choice about it. What about you? When did you choose your sexual orientation?

I’m not sure how a gay marriage opponent would react to that question. Perhaps he’d say “May 7, 1985: I decided to be straight so I wouldn’t go to Hell.” Or perhaps he’d say that heterosexuality is the normal orientation, so everyone is really heterosexual. Homosexuals, on the other hand, are choosing to fake a sexual urge that they don’t really feel. This makes even less sense to me, because I don’t think I’d be able to fake an attraction to other men. My sense of duty to science stops here, unfortunately, so I can’t falsify this hypothesis.

Update: Watch these straight people answer that question.

But– more importantly– why would anyone want to engage in such a masochistic charade? Gay people face rampant– sometimes violent– discrimination. They’re drastically outnumbered by straight people, so their dating options are reduced by a factor of ~20.

Homosexuality is condemned by (INSERT DEITY HERE)!

I think this is the only genuine argument against gay marriage. Some people try hard to phrase their opposition in secular terms, but they consistently fail to demonstrate that gay marriage does any harm except to religious beliefs.

It’s true that Allah, Yahweh and Hindu gods are commonly believed to disapprove of homosexuality. For brevity’s sake, I’ll focus on Yahweh’s position:

“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:13

This verse is an unambiguous condemnation of homosexual behavior. Confusingly, though, this verse is an unambiguous condemnation of lobsters:

“And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” Leviticus 11:10-12

Some theologians account for this cognitive dissonance by labeling the homosexuality law “moral” and permanent. But the lobster law is “ceremonial” and later repealed by Mark 7:19, even if Matthew 5:17-19 complicates the matter. The method of determining whether a given verse is “moral” or “ceremonial” appears to depend greatly on the tastes of the person interpreting the verse.

People who quote an ancient book to support their prejudices are able to do so because it’s possible to support just about any position by selectively quoting a sufficiently large and complicated book.

Furthermore, politics is so inherently confrontational (and historically quite deadly) that it’s a really bad idea to combine it with another inherently confrontational (and also deadly) subject: religion. In other words, government should be secular[1] in the sense that political arguments should be made without reference to religion simply in the interest of getting things done without interruption by constant shouting matches.

It might be hard for an American Christian Fundamentalist to understand why our society shouldn’t enforce his particular denomination’s set of holy laws. Appeals to individual rights aren’t likely to persuade him, because those concepts aren’t enshrined in the Bible. But consider this: if America can enforce religious laws on your behalf today, what happens if (or when) America no longer has a Christian majority? It seems like organizing the government in a religiously neutral manner is– in the long run– the only way to guarantee that Christians aren’t persecuted in the future.

The fact that we’re even having this debate is symptomatic of a deeper problem, though. Political debates shouldn’t ever involve religion, but the debate over gay marriage seethes with religious themes. Maybe it’s best to decouple religion from government in matters relating to marriage. Every government document that currently refers to marriage should be changed to refer to a “civil union” that doesn’t discriminate on any basis such as race, religion or sexuality.

Marriage should be a purely religious ceremony, defined and implemented by churches however they see fit. You wouldn’t seek the government’s approval to baptize your child, would you? What about the notion of filling out a government form to get permission to hold a Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation? If it’s a bad idea to allow the government to regulate those sacraments, it’s probably also a bad idea to allow the government to regulate marriage.

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Footnotes

  1. Many people seem to equate the term “secular government” with “atheistic government” by arguing that the removal of religious language from political debate is tantamount to state-mandated atheism. I disagree, because there seem to be three basic ways that governments can deal with religion:

    A completely religious government is best exemplified by Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, and Spain during the Inquisition. Each day the government reaffirms its mission to enforce the rules of the national deity, and punish non-believers or believers in a different deity. Oh, and if they get a chance, maybe they’ll get around to making sure the trains run on time.

    A completely atheistic government is best exemplified by the communist Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Each day the government reaffirms its mission to eradicate all religions, and punish believers. Oh, and if they get a chance, maybe they’ll get around to making sure the trains run on time.

    A completely secular government, on the other hand, has never existed. Each day, such a government ignores inflammatory rhetoric and strives to protect the individual rights of all people– believers and non-believers alike. Making sure the trains run on time is essentially their only concern, along with other theologically neutral responsibilities.↩ back

Last modified April 6th, 2014
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40 Responses to “Gay marriage”

  1. Awesome! Then again Jon Stewart is usually the voice of reason if not silliness when looking at a situation. I haven’t really thought about gay marriage because the heterosexual marriages seem to be unravelling daily. Maybe we should bring back multiple spouses, since folks are quoting from the bible. That would cut down on divorces resulting from adultery, and keep politicians out of less trouble. Although no explanation yet for Eliot Spitzer, still trying to understand this one as there was no intent to marry? Maybe a concubine law?? Dunno? Again, still trying to figure out heterosexual marriage. Perhaps Sen. Larry Craig has the answer. Oh wait… Okay again, when I can figure out heterosexual marriages/dating, then I’ll have time or brain left to focus on other marriages. :o)

    • Well– obviously– those problems are ultimately caused by homosexuals. The mere suggestion of gay marriage is powerful enough to lure a good Christian man like Ted Haggard from his wife. If it’s ever legalized, the result would be a catastrophic downpour of gay people.

      • That “catastrophic downpour” video is a parody of this NOM video, which I’m linking because of the author’s brilliant criticism of the original video. He argues that Fred Phelps is proof that homophobes haven’t been deprived of their freedom as the NOM video claims.

        This means anyone arguing that gay marriage would remove their freedom must be referring to their freedom to harass gay people to an even greater extent than Phelps when he pickets military funerals to scream “God hates fags” at the families of slain soldiers.

        The comments are also worth reading– NonyNony and Kit Whitfield were particularly insightful. Fred’s son Nate Phelps (a surprisingly reasonable person) also left a comment; I understand why he’s frustrated but I don’t agree that shutting his father up is worth losing any rights.

      • The gays claimed another victim: California Senator Roy Ashburn.

    • Ben posted on 2009-06-20 at 10:10

      Chip demagogy! This is something of the kind of nationalisation of women in Saratov by Russian Bolsheviks! The revolution liberators are striving to liberate everybody! Blacks from whites, poors from riches (eliminate them completely), Youngs from olds…Liberators changed the problem of gay freedom to gay marriages. Gay freedom must be defended of course, but gay marriages? For what? To grow other children and teach them gay habits? The learned homosexualism is well known (ancient Persia,Greece,Rome) historical and scientific fact! I think free and reasonable gays will elaborate their own alliance! Let’s not nationalise women in Saratov!

      • Well, at least these prejudices aren’t unique to America. Looks like Russia (Moscow according to the IP address) has its own gay marriage opponents. Some of Ben’s arguments are familiar: it’s common to hear Americans claim the existence of an insidious homosexual agenda aimed at turning everyone gay, among other things.

        As I noted in the article, it’s also common to claim that homosexuality can be learned. But I don’t see how vague references to less-homophobic cultures constitute “scientific fact” in any sense of the word. Nor do I see why my reasons for rejecting that argument are flawed.

        I’ve never seen an American compare gay marriage to “nationalization of women.” I don’t have the foggiest idea what that’s supposed to mean. Perhaps this phrase (and “chip demagogy”) makes more sense in Russian?

      • Betty posted on 2009-07-08 at 14:28

        I haven’t read all the comments yet (I get, like, 5 minutes of free time per chunk at present, so bear with me), but Ben has one small point (however irrelevant).

        Alex knows way more about this than I do, so if you have questions I’ll direct them his way and get back to you. I’m pretty sure Spartan dudes had a boy they were mentoring and training. Having the cute young’n service the older one sexually was a common part of the deal.

        In modern Afghanistan, homosexual behavior is also rampant, at least in the countryside. Alex encountered this first-hand. Disturbingly, it’s usually between grown men and young boys, albeit by no means exclusively. Women are for reproduction there and little else. Boys and young men are for fun. I suppose that’s a natural side affect of considering women filthy and keeping them hidden well out of sight. FWIW, Iraq is not like this.

        I guess my point is that I do believe that certain homosexual behaviors can be culturally encouraged and thus more widely accepted and practiced.

        Again, if you want clarification please let me know. I’ll tell you what Alex has to say about it.

      • Hmm… I didn’t know that Afghanistan had so much in common with ancient Sparta. As I said in my response to Ben, it seems clear that a less-homophobic society will appear to have higher rates of homosexual behavior than societies which criminalize homosexuality. I’d previously assumed this was solely due to the fact that gays would be more discreet if discovery would lead to decapitation.

        Laws regarding LGBT issues in Afghanistan seem complicated. The penal code “merely” mandates long prison terms and fines. But Sharia law is still used in some places, and it requires that homosexuality be punished by death. Also, the head of the Afghan Supreme Court declared that sodomy is a capital crime.

        This seems to contradict my hypothesis that a more repressive regime would lower the apparent rate of homosexual behavior. I think you’re right to say that this anomaly is a side-effect of pervasive misogyny. Maybe I should’ve said that a society which represses gay people more than they repress women or heterosexual relations will tend to appear to have a lower rate of homosexual activity.

        I guess my point is that I do believe that certain homosexual behaviors can be culturally encouraged and thus more widely accepted and practiced.

        The apparent rate of homosexual behavior can certainly be influenced by repressive laws for the same reason that more people drink beer in public rather than smoke weed in public. Perhaps the actual rate of homosexual behavior can be influenced to a certain degree, but only because some people are genuinely bisexual. In a society that didn’t stigmatize women but imposed the death penalty for homosexuality, a bisexual man wouldn’t risk having sex with other men. If either of these conditions changed, he’d be more likely to find a male partner.

        But I have a much harder time believing that a heterosexual person could “learn” to be homosexual, based on the scientific evidence I linked in the article and the accompanying personal observations.

        Remember that this is the claim that Ben and the American Religious Right are making. They claim that homosexuality is a choice, which conveniently means gays can be morally condemned. Ex-gay ministries tell fundamentalist parents that they can “cure” their children with shock therapy and psychotropic drugs. These “treatments” often result in serious psychological trauma that can lead to suicide. Ironically, they can’t even cure their leaders and spokesmen. The best example is John Paulk who was identified in 2000 at a gay bar, and responded that he just wanted to use the restroom, not even knowing it was a gay bar. His story changed quickly after eyewitnesses said that he’d spent over an hour flirting at the bar.

        An especially heartwrenching tale (speaking as a scientist) is that of Alan Turing, a British genius who made many contributions to mathematics, logic and computer science. To this day, students of artificial intelligence are taught about the Turing test, and computer scientists use variants of the abstract Turing machine to understand how computers work. The Turing Award is the computing equivalent of the Nobel prize.

        He was convicted of homosexuality by people who thought they could change him by forcibly chemically castrating him. Probably as a result of this barbaric treatment, Turing killed himself when he was 41 years old.

        Other examples can’t be mentioned overtly, for fear of invoking Godwin’s Law.

        Again, if you want clarification please let me know. I’ll tell you what Alex has to say about it.

        Absolutely. First-hand knowledge is far superior to the filtered third-hand reports I can access over the internet.

      • The APA recently said: “Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.”

      • Alan Turing: We’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

      • (Ed. note: these comments were copied from here.)

        Alan Turing did many great things.. but he did break the law of the land at the time which prohibited sodomy. I don’t believe that people who are famous should be treated lightly by the law, and so his punishment was fair and reasonable under the circumstances.. no apology is necessary. [d_jedi]

        … Yet he was judged under a disgusting law (one that condemned people for private action where all participants were willing and free … [gkai]

        Paedophiles could argue the law still DOES do this.. do you believe preventing adults from having sex with children is a “disgusting law” ? [d_jedi]

        In this context, “willing” implies that one is both old enough and mentally competent to give informed consent. Most societies say 18 years old is “old enough.” Arguments could be made (not necessarily by me) to lower it to ~16 in cases when the older partner is ~20 years old, but only child predators like NAMBLA members want to significantly change the definition of informed consent.

        Don’t conflate gay rights with pedophile “rights.” They’re not even remotely similar.

  2. B.G.Sanford posted on 2009-04-27 at 11:49

    How is a gay union any different than a common law marriage? Can a gay couple show me in the bible where it states that being gay and getting married to a gay partner is smiled upon by God? Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s accepted. Ask any black you know if they face bigots on a daily basis, and it probably will continue. You just can’t force someone to accept something, and as much as we’d like to blame the rednecks for all of this bigotry, I have a news flash, it’s main street America. Get “out” more!

    While I’m here, I’d like to promote my new book, “Beth:Love Along The Way…by B.G.Sanford,” and just released by Eloquent Books. It’s a beautiful romance, however tragic. A love affair of a lifetime presents itself to Beth during some of the darkest times in her life. She struggles with what to do about it, knowing fully, what is morally right. Because of the very substance of this book, it can’t be considered “lightweight” by any stretch of the imagination. I hope you have the opportunity to read it as it’s an entertaining story you won’t soon forget.

    All my best,

    B.G.Sanford
    http://www.eloquentbooks.com/BethLoveAlongTheWay.html

    • How is a gay union any different than a common law marriage?

      The phrase “civil union” would replace the word “marriage” in all government documents in order to support the separation of church and state. All currently recognized marriages would be considered “civil unions” by the government. Each religion would then be free to define and implement marriage (a separate topic) in any manner they choose.

      Common-law marriage, on the other hand, is a policy of legally recognizing couples who don’t have the appropriate paperwork. It still discriminates on the basis of sexuality, so it seems like a very different concept.

      Can a gay couple show me in the Bible where it states that being gay and getting married to a gay partner is smiled upon by God?

      I’m not really qualified to answer that question, as I’m not part of a gay couple (or even gay for that matter.) But I’ll quickly note that not all Americans obtain their morality from that particular holy book. Some quote other books, while others read the same book you did but reach very different conclusions. Others– such as myself– don’t obtain our morals from holy books at all. We prefer to think critically about ethics and draw moral conclusions using reason and introspection.

      It’s perfectly okay to discuss religion when deciding whether your particular church approves of gay marriage. But this is a discussion about the laws imposed on everyone by the government. As I’ve noted above, these policy debates should be secular.

      Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s accepted. Ask any black you know if they face bigots on a daily basis, and it probably will continue. You just can’t force someone to accept something, and as much as we’d like to blame the rednecks for all of this bigotry, I have a news flash, it’s main street America. Get “out” more!

      I’m not trying to force you to accept anything. In fact, I’m just trying to point out that you’re trying to force people who aren’t in your church to enforce your religious prejudices.

      The right to believe in any religion– or none at all– is fundamental to freedom. I’ve been careful to say that marriage should be defined by each religion according to their own beliefs. So your church would be perfectly free to refuse to recognize gay marriages.

      But you shouldn’t be able to impose that viewpoint on everyone else by passing discriminatory laws.

  3. Havvy posted on 2009-04-28 at 01:15

    How about this? Legalize civil unions for *all* rational beings, and then slowly wither away the rights that is gained from it, replacing them with other types of contracts, if not destroying them entirely. Let a civil union be purely symbolic, and not something that gives economic and political rights.

    • Civil unions would serve the same legal function as marriages currently do. That is, they remove excessive government interference from couples’ lives. The government usually taxes transactions between private citizens, and treats each person as the fundamental financial unit.

      Instead, a married couple is treated as the financial unit, which is a more accurate representation of the situation. There’s no point to taxing gifts between spouses, or insisting on treating their finances as though they’re separate when they’re actually hopelessly entangled.

  4. Bryan posted on 2009-05-04 at 08:04

    The term “civil union” makes me cringe a bit. I’d prefer it if everyone called a spade a spade and referred to it as marriage. I live in Australia where there is no requirement that marriage must be given by a member of a religious order (I believe this is also the case in the USA). Marriages done at the registry office in front of a government official are still called marriages and are just as legal. Any law to legalise gay marriage can allow gay couples to do the same without going near any place of worship, except maybe a bar for the celebration.

    With all that in mind, it befuddles me why there are so many (mostly) religious people that condemn the idea (as is stated in the piece). Oh, and before anyone comes on here bleating about atheists and their lack of a moral code blah blah – Hi. My name is Bryan and I’m a Catholic.

    P.S – Love your blog Dumb Scientist. First time poster, long time reader.

    • Hi Bryan, thanks for the kind words. Nice to know I’ve got readers.

      The term “civil union” makes me cringe a bit. I’d prefer it if everyone called a spade a spade and referred to it as marriage.

      I largely agree with this sentiment, usually in the context of political correctness which seems to sacrifice honesty and directness in favor of long-winded euphemisms. My choice of the term “civil union” wasn’t an easy one, and it was prompted by the (supposedly) pedantic nature of the debate in the USA.

      Some people seem to fixate on the definition of marriage. As a recovering grammar nazi, I have some sympathy for this position. Definitions are important, but only in the sense that many arguments are exacerbated by each person defining a crucial word differently but not telling the other person. So it’s important to be clear about one’s definitions for the sake of effective communication.

      The problem is that their grammatical obsession is depriving some people of equal rights. They argue that they’re different from interracial marriage opponents because the definition of marriage is very important in their religion. They brush off the obvious civil rights issues by saying that gay people should just marry opposite sex partners in order to preserve the definition of marriage. (Presumably, they want their daughters to marry gay men, who won’t be able to repress their true sexuality for long…)

      So my choice of the term “civil union” was intended to remove this mental crutch which they believe distinguishes them from racial bigots. It’s true that marriage is nearly a synonym, but gay couples can already introduce themselves as a married couple– they just don’t yet have access to the legal benefits of marriage. Finally, separation of church and state requires decoupling the state from all religious matters, and if I’ve learned anything from this debate it’s that most Americans see “marriage” as a religious matter.

      I live in Australia where there is no requirement that marriage must be given by a member of a religious order (I believe this is also the case in the USA). Marriages done at the registry office in front of a government official are still called marriages and are just as legal.

      Yes, these types of marriages are legal in the USA too but only a few states offer them to gay couples.

      Any law to legalise gay marriage can allow gay couples to do the same without going near any place of worship, except maybe a bar for the celebration.

      Hmm… I’d never heard a bar described as a place of worship before. Perhaps it is, but the Bar God is a vengeful god who punishes heavy “worshipers” with hangovers.

    • Reythia posted on 2010-02-19 at 16:45

      (Okay, this has been a while, but I’m going through the backlog of Dumb Scientist entries today.)

      Bryan, while I can agree the “civil union” sounds like just a P.C. version of “marriage”, I think it (or something like it) still has purpose. Remember, right now, there are ALREADY two different types of marriages: civil and religious [1]. A religious marriage is typically a ceremony that recognizes a couple’s pairing in the eyes of some God/gods. A civil marriage, on the other hand, is a ceremony (or sometimes just a statement) that pairs the couple for the purposes of the State [2].

      Usually, a religious ceremony will occur at the same time as the signing of the legal document. But that’s just for practicality’s sake, not because it’s required. Theoretically, you could have a religious wedding one day, but never sign the legal marriage license. You would then be unable to get visiting rights at a hospital, dual tax privileges, etc.

      Conversely, I think any religious person would agree that being married in the eyes of the law does NOT necessarily equate to being married in the eyes of God.

      So there really is a difference between religious marriage and civil marriage. It’s just that the two have been blended together for so long that we usually forget. Since there’s a valid difference between the two, it seems rational to me to rename one so that the distinction is more clear. Since the word “marriage” originally meant a religious sacrament, I think it’s only fair to recognize that and courteously change the legal name instead of the religious one. Thus, religious “marriage” but legal/civil “union”.

      [1] At least in the US; I’m assuming it’s so in Australia, too.
      [2] Generally not something confused with the blessings of God! :-P
  5. Lt. Dan Choi’s situation is another negative consequence of these anachronistic laws. It’s difficult to find people willing to risk their lives for us; firing those people (especially officers fluent in Arabic) for nonsensical reasons weakens our national security by diminishing the pool of talent available to the military.

  6. Anonymous posted on 2009-05-27 at 00:47

    It’s refreshing to see that you’re aware of the complications of semantics in all the rhetoric. It’s not something that comes up very often in the many threads of communication.

    Similarly, I have yet read any discussion on if the marriage laws care how the couple feels about each other. Should that be part of the spirit of the law, or is it far too vague to even be addressed?

    Assuming the marriage laws don’t address the feelings of the participants, then would that mean it is simply just a contract between two people, and recognized by the state?

    Currently we have established state sanctioned contracts for individuals of the opposite sex, and clearly there is a strong desire for new variations. Those desiring such can, and have been garnering support for it.

    If this description really captures the situation, then it seems a little sad there is so much anger, attacks, and hatred (whether perceived or real) that complicates things so much.

    • Assuming the marriage laws don’t address the feelings of the participants, then would that mean it is simply just a contract between two people, and recognized by the state?

      From the government’s perspective, yes: personal feelings aren’t relevant. From a cultural/religious perspective, personal feelings are paramount. That’s why I advocate separating “marriage” from “civil unions.”

      If this description really captures the situation, then it seems a little sad there is so much anger, attacks, and hatred (whether perceived or real) that complicates things so much.

      More than a little, in my opinion…

  7. The California Supreme Court upheld the Proposition 8 ban, prompting a potentially foolhardy federal lawsuit. Bizarrely, the two lawyers who’ve teamed up to take this case– Theodore Olson and David Boies– were old foes in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case.

  8. One genuine threat to marriage that I rarely see discussed is polygamy for one gender only. If men can have multiple spouses but women can’t (or tend not to at the same rate as men) then too many young men won’t be able to find a wife. Some countries allow men to marry up to 4 wives. It doesn’t seem like coincidence that these countries are more unstable and violent than countries that don’t allow polygamy.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean polygamy should be outlawed. It’s only dangerous if combined with pervasive misogyny, and the marriages themselves wouldn’t destabilize society. Enough male-dominated polygamous relationships (regardless of legal recognition) would have the same disconcerting effect, and if they’re legal at least the problem shows up in the Census.

  9. (Ed. note: this is a response to Kohath’s comments.)

    As for marriage, why does 3-5% of the population get to decide for the other 96% what a marriage is? … why should 4% of the population get to choose for the other 96% what a marriage is? … Because the 4% are the ruling class and they get to decide?

    It’s true that homosexuals make up about 4% of the population. But it’s completely disingenuous to claim that they’re the only ones supporting gay marriage, and that heterosexuals making up the other 96% universally oppose them. Frankly, I resent your implication that my accidental membership in the 96% majority means that I’m opposed to gay marriage. This isn’t straights vs. gays. It’s supporters of gay marriage vs. opponents; those percentages are less lopsided (sadly not by much) and far more appropriate in this context.

    Either way, the U.S. is a constitutional republic, not a pure democracy. The Bill of Rights was designed to prevent the “tyranny of the majority” that you’re defending.

    And marriage isn’t a civil liberties issue anyway, unless you think the government is stomping on the civil liberties of brothers who can’t marry their sisters or a guy who can’t marry his second or third wife. … And marriage is not a civil liberties issue. A special government privilege is not a civil liberty any more than a farm subsidy is a civil liberty.

    Your reasoning also shows that Alabama was wrong to legalize interracial marriage in 2001 2000. They already discriminated against brother/sister couples, so it was perfectly okay to discriminate against black/white couples. Keep in mind that 40% of Alabama voters implicitly agreed with this reasoning by supporting the ban on interracial marriage.

    (Incidentally, I’m not against recognizing polygamous marriages but I’ve also noted that– unlike gay relationships– polygamous relationships actually can pose a threat to straight marriage.)

    If all relationships are the same as a marriage, then incestuous relationships are the same as a marriage. If we can’t discriminate against any two people, then we can’t discriminate against any two people. That’s why. … If we’re not going to have privileges based on physical traits, all those Handicapped Parking spaces are going to have to go.

    Some gay marriage opponents bring up “horse marriage” to argue against gay marriage. Others even compare gays to pedophiles, claiming that we might as well allow old men to marry toddlers.

    It’s true that these ridiculous examples are both forms of legal discrimination, but they’re justified by credible arguments. For instance, the DMV refuses to issue driver’s licenses to blind people, and businesses have to reserve handicapped parking spaces. Similarly, discriminating against incestuous marriages is justified by the vastly increased risk of birth defects.

    But as far as I can tell, discriminating against gay marriage hasn’t been justified by any credible arguments.

    It seems pretty obvious how traditional marriage helps society: forming families and providing a structure for the raising of children. That’s why there are hundreds of thousands of years of history of marriages, all more-or-less the same as today’s unions.

    First of all, “hundreds of thousands of years” would be older than recorded history. Citation needed. Secondly, marriage has already been changing (often for the better) for centuries in ways I’ve previously mentioned. At every turn, people argued against these changes because (like you) they either didn’t study history or drew an arbitrary line that magically distinguishes “today’s proposed change” from all previous changes.

    But gay marriages don’t seem to benefit society. And honestly, beyond the advancement of certain political goals, I don’t see how they benefit gay folks either. … gay marriages offer no evident benefit to society. (Can you cite a benefit to society?)

    Can you see how interracial marriages benefit folks who fall in love with a person of a different race? If so, you’ve just seen how gay marriages would benefit gay folks. We shouldn’t be pushing anyone onto the sidelines of society for such a trivial non-reason.

    Also, we benefit society every time individual rights are expanded to cover the oversights of previous generations, every time an injustice is corrected, and every time a second-class citizen is given equal protection under the law. Making the law more impartial increases the respect it deserves from citizens who live under it.

    I agree that the government should stay out of marriage, by the way. But that means stay out of it, not tell people that every relationship is the same as a marriage and you’ll be fined or arrested if you disagree and decide to treat it differently. Fining and arresting people is a civil liberties issue, BTW. … And no one will be free to disagree that they’re married. If you treat them differently because you disagree, be prepared to be fined or arrested (or at least sued) for discriminating. And if your religion says they’re not married, well you can forget your freedom to act according to your conscience. … Their prerogative to use government force against me trumps my freedom then? … No, they’re trying to change the very definition of marriage and force everyone else to agree or be arrested, fined, or sued for discrimination.

    Woah… you’re actually arguing that your desire to discriminate against gay people is a valid basis for denying them the legal benefits of marriage? Are you serious? Does a racist’s desire to discriminate against black people provide a similar basis for rejecting interracial marriage?

    Incidentally, your comments exemplify the pattern described here. You’re rapidly switching between the belief that you represent an all-powerful 96% majority, and the belief that you’re part of an oppressed minority about to be unjustly imprisoned for your unconventional beliefs. Which is it?

    As I’ve mentioned in a previous comment, Fred Phelps is a free man, and he “treats them differently” to an absurd extreme. Are you saying that you want to insult and degrade gay people to a greater extent than Fred Phelps? (He pickets funerals of soldiers and shouts “God hates fags” at the mourning families.) If you’re not planning to top his antics, then you’ll be just as free as he is now.

    Also, that comment linked to NonyNony and Kit Whitfield’s comments. They’re directly relevant to the point you’re making, so I’ll quote NonyNony (but Kit Whitfield’s later followup is also an insightful gem):

    … And that’s what these people are afraid of becoming – the guy that no one agrees with and everyone needs to distance themselves from to be a “good person”. The “freedom” that these people are afraid of losing is the “freedom” to have their opinion on gays be the accepted majority opinion. They hate that – above all they want to be the normal ones, and anything at all that makes them a “freak” is to be hated, feared, and avoided.

    The more gays are tolerated and even openly accepted in society, the more of a freak the person who hates gays becomes to those around him or her. And that’s the “freedom” that they’re afraid of losing – the freedom not just to hate your neighbor (which no one can take away from you, even in the most repressive of societies) and not just to OPENLY hate your neighbor (which in the US we try not to regulate either) but the freedom to hate your neighbor and know that secretly everyone else hates him too.

    -NonyNony, April 21, 2009 at 9:45 AM

  10. (Ed. note: these comments were copied from here.)

    As an example, I’ll use homosexuality. According to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, it’s wrong. But why? [gillbates]

    Because people are fundamentally herd animals, and fear anyone who’s different. This prejudice affects everyone, even the people who wrote those “holy books.”

    I honestly didn’t know the answer. Why would God care if someone found sexual pleasure in a unique way? He wants us to be happy, right? I didn’t find out until after I had married and had a child. … I had *no idea* being a father could be so rewarding. But most homosexuals will never experience this joy, let alone know it exists.

    Neither will single people, couples who can’t have kids, or couples who choose not to conceive. But they’re not all sinners because of their choices (depending on the religion in question and the method of contraception). Also, homosexuals can have children through surrogates and should certainly be able to adopt children.

    In a similar manner, someone afflicted with homosexual desires, often simply can’t understand why they would resist temptation.

    Because God creates people with homosexual tendencies (even though He wants us to all have children) just to watch them squirm. If they manage to suppress the desires He gave them, they don’t burn for all eternity. Hey, this sounds plausible and reasonable. Where do I sign up?

    The first time I met a homosexual, it was immediately apparent to me that they were undergoing an epic internal struggle, the least of which concerned their sexuality. Yet, to them, this condition has persisted for so long it felt “normal” And without the ability to defer judgment to another’s experience, they saw no reason to change. Without any understanding that things could be better, they thought of my position as merely trying to take away what little happiness they did posses.

    The first time I met a Christian, it was immediately apparent to me that they were undergoing an epic internal struggle, the least of which concerned their theology. Yet, to them, this condition has persisted for so long it felt “normal” And without the ability to defer judgment to another’s experience, they saw no reason to change. Without any understanding that things could be better, they thought of my position as merely trying to take away what little happiness they did posses.

    I’m just kidding. I don’t really believe that. But it was silly of me to justify a position with such a subjective anecdote, wasn’t it? Maybe calling homosexual desires “afflictions” makes you tend to see more of an internal struggle than can be traced back to the fact that gays live in a world that hates and harms them for no good reason?

    Having actually seen someone die unexpectedly, it is very clear to me that all human life is valued by God. Until that happened, the abortion issue for me had been largely a philosophical exercise. It wasn’t until I witnessed the death of a human being that my mind changed dramatically. But I realize that most reading this have not had that experience.

    Maybe it’s very clear to you how that conclusion follows from witnessing an unexpected death. And maybe all the atheists in the world just haven’t seen anyone die unexpectedly. (I wonder what the odds of this are?)

    Or maybe grief affects everyone differently, and doesn’t imply anything about any deity.

    In fact, most of us will never have all of the experiences which shaped the Torah or the Bible. We simply have to trust that these tenets of morality were written down and copied throughout the ages because enough people recognized the value and truth in them.

    You simply have to trust them. I prefer to think for myself.

    • And maybe all the atheists in the world just haven’t seen anyone die unexpectedly. (I wonder what the odds of this are?)

      Or maybe grief affects everyone differently, and doesn’t imply anything about any deity.

      Zero. Watching my dad bleed to death did not make me think “wow, there must be a loving god in heaven, loving us all enough to make us die from horrible diseases. How wrong I have been”.

      Sorry to be off topic, but thank you for writing that response. Thank you very much.

    • Okay, good for you, you think for yourself.

      But without the relevant experience on which to bring your mental faculties to bear, how can you draw a meaningful conclusion concerning the matter?

      I think you missed the broader point. It isn’t that people haven’t been thinking for themselves, but that morality which seems to an unexperienced person to be completely arbitrary is often the result of a much larger and longer process of thought. Someone without those experiences has no data on which to apply the thought process, and can’t even begin to understand the question, much less find an answer.

      • Yeah, most people who disagree with you do so because they lack life experience (or because they’re vile sinners.) For instance, I’ve never left the operating room in which I was born. What are these “children” and “homosexuals” you speak of?

  11. On New Year’s Eve I was in Baton Rouge with a group of ~20 people taking turns giving a toast every minute. My first one was “to hot lesbians.”

    Yes, I was already drunk. The crowd cheered anyway.

    Many toasts later, I said “Earlier, I toasted hot lesbians…”

    The crowd cheered again.

    I continued… “and now I’d like to toast gay men…”

    People looked at me like I’d just pissed on the table.

    “… because every one of them means one more woman for me!

    Absolute silence, until the host of the party said “I’ll drink to that.”

  12. (Ed. note: these comments were copied from here.)

    …Comparing Don’t ask Don’t tell to the government sanctioned wholesale murder and persecution of gays is ridiculous. One limits their ability to serve openly in the military, the other makes it impossible for them to exist openly at all. The punishment for one is a discharge from the military, the other is death. The reality is Don’t ask Don’t tell would be gone already if it weren’t for the fact that Congress still has a lot of old white men who are from a time when Blacks couldn’t sit at the same lunch counter as them, as they die off the ridiculous policies that exist to placate their homophobia will be gone too.

    I am having trouble understanding your viewpoint; perhaps you could help clarify things for me? I suppose it’s true that I’m somewhat old. I studied at Berkeley from 1966-1970, and participated in lots of demonstrations—including those in support of the Black Panther Party, the Free Huey Newton campaign, and the Third World Liberation Front. Yet, I must have more in common now with those benighted bigots I fought against than you of the (presumably) younger generation—I don’t see what’s wrong with the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

    I understand this policy to mean that mere evidence of homosexual inclinations or private behavior is not an offense as far as the U.S. Army is concerned. It becomes an issue only if individual soldiers choose to make an issue out of their sexual desires and practices. What’s wrong with that? I think nobody should bring their sex life to work, and throw it in the faces of their fellow workers (or soldiers, in this case). I think it’s odious to discuss one’s sexual exploits at work, no matter what one’s preferences are. What is the alternative to “don’t ask, don’t tell”? I can only assume it must be “Do ask, do tell”. In other words, let’s make a big deal out of everyone’s sex lives. And I think that’s repulsive. I don’t want to hear about Corporal Jones having an affair with the Captain’s wife, and I don’t want to hear that Privates Bob and Bruce are getting it on. Please be careful to note what I’m saying: I am not offended by these things, I am offended when the participants insist on telling me about it.

    However, that seems to be exactly what the opponents of the current policy want: homosexuals in the military should be free to tell everyone how wonderful being homosexual is, and what they like to do to each other, and so forth. (If I’m misunderstanding the goal of this movement, please do correct me.) I don’t see why they should be allowed to conduct themselves in a way that I would find unacceptable for heterosexuals. You know, homosexuality has been around for a long time—but sometimes I think that today’s homosexuals believe they just now invented it. Well, it’s not that big a deal.

    • When a straight soldier discusses his/her sex life, it’s a social faux pas as you say- on the same level as evangelizing coworkers during business hours. But when a gay soldier does the same thing, the consequences are significantly more severe: immediate discharge from the service. Double standard, right?

      Besides, I’ve worked with a few homosexuals who eventually trusted me enough to tell me that their “roommate” was actually their partner. I can’t imagine what kind of psychological effects are incurred through being forced to pretend one’s own love life doesn’t exist. I’m not talking about sordid details here (I wouldn’t be interested either) but don’t you have some vague idea of whether or not your coworkers are married? That’s the level of dishonesty that “don’t ask, don’t tell” requires: gay soldiers have to pretend their relationships don’t even exist. Frankly, that expectation seems incompatible with the code of honor I’ve come to expect from the military.

      And that’s even before getting into cases like Jene Newsome’s who followed the rules only to be discharged because the police ratted her out.

  13. You may be right about the disproportionality of the punishments meted out to homosexual soldiers who discuss their relationships vis a vis heterosexual soldiers who do the same thing. But is it really true that heterosexual offenders always get away with little or no punishment. For example, what if a male heterosexual soldier discusses his sexual exploits in front of a woman soldier after she has made clear that she doesn’t want to hear this, and she then lodges an official complaint? I would expect him to be treated quite harshly. I don’t know how the Army really handles this kind of case—though I do know that the Army has always had something of a Puritan streak when it comes to sexual matters, and know for a fact that extramarital affairs have often called down severe punishment on the participants (especially if both are in the military). This is actually quite sensible, as such a betrayal undermines the mutual trust that is an absolute requirement for soldiers who may go into battle.

    If the facts of the case are indeed as they are presented by the blogger that you linked, then I agree that the woman officer’s punishment was outrageous and unjust. However, the link from the blog to the original news article is broken, so I’m left in some doubt about what really happened.

    I’m trying to be reasonable about this. Perhaps I’m not as well-informed as I should be. I had thought that “don’t ask…” meant that homosexuality is an offense only when a soldier flaunts his sexual nature. But now as I think about it, I wonder why there should be special rules for homosexuals. I think everyone should be bound by the common rules of courtesy and mutual respect. What I’m afraid of is that the gay rights crowd wants to make homosexuals immune from all rules—perhaps permitting flagrant sexual acts in the barracks, and (oh, the horror) pink underwear. OK, maybe I’m being silly, but the activists don’t seem to have made their goals clear.

    • For example, what if a male heterosexual soldier discusses his sexual exploits in front of a woman soldier after she has made clear that she doesn’t want to hear this, and she then lodges an official complaint? I would expect him to be treated quite harshly.

      Rightfully so, but notice that there isn’t a law saying that the braggart should be discharged immediately, regardless of the presence or absence of extenuating circumstances.

      This is actually quite sensible, as such a betrayal undermines the mutual trust that is an absolute requirement for soldiers who may go into battle.

      In exactly the same way asking gay soldiers to hide their identities undermines that trust. In fact, “don’t ask, don’t tell” makes gay soldiers susceptible to blackmail for that very reason!

      If the facts of the case are indeed as they are presented by the blogger that you linked, then I agree that the woman officer’s punishment was outrageous and unjust. However, the link from the blog to the original news article is broken, so I’m left in some doubt about what really happened.

      MSNBC covered the story, then the ACLU challenged the police department only to receive this reply which makes it clear that the police officer saw the marriage license through the window. Clearly Mrs. Newsome’s wife needs to answer the charges brought against her (who knows if they’re valid?) but as far as I can tell Mrs. Newsome wasn’t asked and didn’t tell.

      But now as I think about it, I wonder why there should be special rules for homosexuals. I think everyone should be bound by the common rules of courtesy and mutual respect.

      EXACTLY.

      What I’m afraid of is that the gay rights crowd wants to make homosexuals immune from all rules – perhaps permitting flagrant sexual acts in the barracks, and (oh, the horror) pink underwear. OK, maybe I’m being silly, but the activists don’t seem to have made their goals clear.

      That silliness is probably a result of the fact that social conservatives routinely say that gays want “special rights”. Recently, a friend’s younger brother realized he was gay after graduating from college. He’s a very committed Republican, and I was horrified to hear him repeat similarly silly notions like “gays already have the right to get married.” Later, he claimed that legalizing gay marriage would destabilize society, which seems absurd considering that only ~4% of the population is gay. …

      • … It was good to converse with you, as always. While I have had to seriously revise my views on “don’t ask, don’t tell”, I don’t think we see eye to eye on the gay marriage thing…Maybe I will write a short piece on what I think of that issue; writing always helps me to clarify my thoughts (if only because I notice that I’m saying something stupid).

      • Congress just repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.

        Some reactions:

        “I think this is going to be a big burden lifted off of everybody,” said Donna Charett, who served in both the Army and the Navy. Charett said she did not come out as gay to her family and friends until after she served her time.

        “It was really bad,” Charett said. “You never knew whether someone was going to out you. If you put in so many years and you’re close to retirement, you think ‘Oh my goodness, at any moment they can just end my career.’”

        Charett said it was a constant struggle having to hide who she really was.

        “Even the straights had problems,” Charett said. “Living in fear that someone was going to say they were gay because they didn’t like them.”

        No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so. We will be a better military as a result. [Admiral Mike Mullen]

        Admiral Mullen’s earlier testimony is also worth reading.

  14. Ben posted on 2011-10-23 at 07:44

    There are ridiculously few researches about homosexuality (owing to dumb scientists), but some of them support not only the learned type of today’s h-m but that the common opinion defines self-perception of the new generation of gays. Now most of them consider it innate, though some tens of years ago only 10-15% of them thought the same. Science appears the hostage of liberators in this question and mob’s emotions are so fickle.

  15. Lee posted on 2011-11-10 at 06:17

    Gay or not doesn’t really affect me. Makes no difference to me when I meet someone if they are gay or not. But, I do draw the line at marriage….

    Here’s a good article that sums up the issues nicely, imo:

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_3_gay_marriage.html

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