Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The "civil rights" fallacy.

There's an internal contradiction in position of gay marriage supporters who insist that marriage is a civil right, but claim that civil unions not called marriage but affording full marriage benefits are not sufficient. Is it the "rights" you want, then the rights you should get - why should you care what they're called? The answer, of course, is that what they want is to be considered "normal," so they want to their relationships called the same thing that "normal" relationships are called. By insisting on the name, you're changing from a negative right to a positive right - you want to force others to have to call you married, no matter what their consciences tell them to do.

Neither am I convinced by the argument that two gay people married doesn't affect whether my husband and I get divorced. It's my kid that I'm worried about, the culture she's going to grow up in. I want her to grow up and get married to a husband she loves so that she can experience having children of her own. I want to have the legal right to teach her morality and to express a preference for heterosexual marriage within the strictures of my conscience and faith without having her public school teachers undermining me. I want children in need of adopting to have the opportunity to be placed in a home with a mother and a father. I want religious-based adoption services to be able to express a preference for heterosexual married couples without being shut down (see: Catholic charities in Massachusetts).

Definitionally, marriage cannot be between two people of the same gender. Marriage is between a man, a woman, and God. Homosexual behavior is forbidden by God. So that's where the religious people are coming from. Calling a state-sanctioned homosexual union a "marriage" is an affront to their beliefs. That's not negotiable for people of faith. But I think they do a disservice to the cause of religion in general by stopping there, because the fact is, a lot of people hear you say "God" and go, "that doesn't apply to me." I think religious people should do better explaining why marriage should be between a man and a woman in secular terms when appealing to secular people. Otherwise, they are going to think that your statement of faith is merely arbitrary bigotry and they're going to become even more prejudiced against believers.

I think there are purely secular reasons for allowing the state to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The state has a HUGELY compelling interest, I would say primary interest, in its own self-preservation. Procreative unions are necessary both for the continuation of the state and the continuation of the state-as-we-know-it. Husband/wife led families can raise children who are knowledgable and comfortable with the idea of procreative unions of their own. Can gay people raise heterosexual children? Of course, but if you're talking about incentives, pushes, that could make the next generation engage in reproductive unions occur earlier and more frequently. With birth rates falling to below replacement rates in industrialized nations around the world, I think the governmental differentiation between hetero- and homo-sexual unions passes legal muster. It makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than other government social engineering plans (see: mortgage interest deduction).

I also see danger in expanding the definition of marriage because it is susceptible to being defined out of existence. I don't have a problem with the state recognizing heterosexual marriages that will not result in children because of the enforcement problem - bad enough for the state to interfere with one's uterus, but God help us when it starts burrowing up into the ovaries to take a peek before issuing licenses. But if definitionally non-reproductive unions are permitted that are called "marriage," protected by law from having people express any preferenecs contrary to those unions, but conferring all the same benefits, that 1) dilutes the benefit to the state that accrues by favoring heterosexual marriage and 2) in doing so, places a higher calculus on legal reasons, as opposed to procreative reasons, when determining whether to bond. I don't think even the gay marriage activists can deny that allowing two people of the same gender to "marry" requires a radical cultural shift from any kind of understanding of "marriage" that has existed in the past. The nonmarried will feel like suckers for not marrying, for example, their college roommates to get in-state tuition as a married spouse, because everyone knows that you just sign a piece of paper and get benefits. Unlike heterosexual marriages, there is no accompanying risk of children to offset that legal benefit.

I see the defining out of existence thing happening with "human" rights. Animal rights people who want to grant some limited rights to chimpanzees as our nearest human relatives (see: France), and then how it's a violation of animal rights to eat meat at all, even though humans have been doing so since the dinosaurs (that's a Sarah Palin joke), but purportedly serious people think that robots and plants should have rights too (see: "flowers shouldn't be decapitated needlessly" people - which, flowers don't have heads, those are really their reproductive organs you're cutting off when you pick a bloom, but that's not somewhere you really want to go, do you?). And then human rights mean nothing, people wonder why we treat chimps any different than babies, and actual human fetuses aren't entitled to everything because we're all the same and we eat meat, so why should that matter. Ditto animal-human hybrids geneticists work to create in the name of medical research. WTF? Conclusion: You start defining things away from their essential meanings, and then your definition no longer means anything and the meaning itself is devalued.

I hate the way these gay "rights" debates have created and calcified divisions in our society. These debates always seem to presuppose that, for example, I am a heterosexual because I am wholly fulfilled in a relationship with a man, notwithstanding that there are extremely few men and probably a very few women with whom that could be the case. There are so many ways for human beings to be intimate with each other, sexually, emotionally, psychically. But if one kind of intimacy is stimulated by one kind of situation, you have to jump into the gay box or the straight box or the bi-box. If you enjoy/need emotionally intimate relationships with girlfriends, even physically affectionate relationships, then you're a lesbian, even though you may not want those same girlfriends touching you certain places (I'm thinking of Anne Shirley's "bosom friends" - people don't touch each other the way they used to). And because I don't get out much, I'm thinking of Dumbledore and Grindelwald - here we've read about this faceted, intense, tumultuous, and meaningful relationship between the two men, but then here comes J.K. Rowling months later saying "Dumbledore is gay" and now we're not thinking about the relationship in its uniquely fascinating ways, we're thinking (I'm thinking) oh, Dumbledore likes male members in a certain portion of his own anatomy, throw him in the queer box, now we know where to put him.

Everything about today's debate reduces human relationships to orifices and appendages. I think it's sad.

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