Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another Failed Anti-Gay Marriage Argument

Out of all the controversial and difficult political issues out there, there's only one position I am absolutely unable to understand: opposition to gay marriage. I've mentioned before that I have yet to hear an argument that makes sense to me. Matt Novak has come closest, but his argument - that male-female relationships are different because they can produce children, and thus deserve special recognition - is still incomplete (there's a "why" missing there). But I'm open to reading new arguments. You're up, Katherine Kersten from Minneapolis, MN:
On Nov. 2, the family -- and marriage as we know it -- will be on the ballot in Minnesota.
Aw, Christ. Two sentences in and the rhetoric's already so overheated it could fry an egg.
Next year, Democrats will likely try to steamroll same-sex marriage through. If Dayton or Horner is elected, the governor will be on board -- perhaps even leading the charge.

Tom Emmer takes a different stance. He's the only gubernatorial candidate who supports marriage as the union of one man and one woman, as it has existed in Western civilization for 2,000 years.
Still overheated, but at least her facts aren't as specious as the "never before in human history" crap. Of course, marriage as an institution today would be all but unrecognizable to people from 2000 years ago.

But that's kinda ticky-tack, so I'll let it go. Continue:
Notice: Neither Dayton nor Horner mentions the stakeholders who have the most to win or lose in the marriage battle -- children.
Oh, this isn't gonna be pretty.
Though Dayton and Horner may be loath to admit it, marriage has been a male/female institution -- across the globe and throughout history -- for a simple reason, rooted in biology. Sex between men and women creates babies. It's the only kind of sex that does.
OK, wait. You're gonna get us all panicked about the demise of Western civilization and the certain torture of children just to make Novak's argument? Granted, she's the only person other than Novak that I've heard make this argument. Maybe it's a Minnesota thing.

Anyway, seems like a waste of a good outrage to get all worked up and then make a rather mundane argument. At least it's not crazy or idiotic, though.

Oh, hey, wait, there's another page:
Marriage is a "conjugal" concept, based on the sexual complementarity of men and women. It channels the powerful male/female sex drive to positive ends, to ensure that children will -- whenever possible -- have the love, support and guidance of both their mother and father. By linking fathers to their children, marriage strengthens an otherwise tenuous bond that is vital for both children's and society's well-being.
Aaaaaaand we're off the rails.

Hey, yo, Katherine. Single dad here. There's not a goddamn thing "tenuous" about the bond between me and my kid. I give my kid love, support, and guidance because I love her, not because of my marital status vis-a-vis her mom. And guess what? Her mother feels the same way. And there are parents of both genders who are married who could care less about their kids. The idea that the only reason men take care of kids is because they get to fuck the kids' mommy is colossally, unbelievably, and incredibly stupid.

Oh, and do you really think it's better for a kid to have a father who doesn't love them tied to the family by marriage? Seems to me that'd create a lot more problems than it'd solve.

But continue. Let's see how deep this rabbit hole runs.
First, they portray the purpose of marriage as being simply to encourage, and publicly affirm, adults' "love and commitment" -- Dayton's words. If we grant this premise, it becomes a denial of "equal rights" to withhold marriage from two men or two women who care for each other. "How will my same-sex marriage hurt your marriage?" gay-marriage supporters ask. They expect the answer to be "not at all."

But marriage is not primarily about affirming "love and commitment." Otherwise, government would regulate friendships as well as marriages. At its core, marriage is a social institution, whose public purpose is to structure male/female sexual relationships in a way that maximizes the next generation's well-being.
Well, actually, marriage is about two people agreeing to certain property-sharing, child custody, and mutual care arrangements through a legally binding ceremony. The reasons two people get married range from "we're meant for each other" to "we want to have a family together" to "really, we're just young and impulsive." But yeah, you just go ahead and tell us what it's all about.
But most traditional-marriage supporters don't "fear" or "hate" homosexuals. On the contrary, they invite gays to live as they please. They simply believe that every child needs and deserves a mother and a father. And they suspect that the radical redefinition of marriage will have damaging, unpredictable long-term consequences for all of society.
I'll wait for all the sociologists and anthropologists to stop laughing.

Still waiting.

OK, I think we're good. Other cultures survive despite the fact that their concept of the family is radically different from just "mother, father, kids." Hell, that was only true in our culture starting about 1950 or so. Kids need a strong, loving support structure, and it really doesn't matter whether the people providing that donated a sperm or an ovum to the process or not. Two men and two women can provide just as much support to a child as an opposite-sex couple. So can a mother and grandmother, for that matter. Or a father and grandfather. Or a father and uncle. Or a mother and uncle. Or two friends.

And as for the "damaging, unpredictable long-term consequences"? Munroe's Law.
I've got questions for Dayton and Horner:
This'll be good.
If we abandon the conjugal idea of marriage -- and redefine marriage as appropriate for any two caring adults -- on what grounds can we continue to limit the institution to two people? If love and commitment are sufficient for two, why not three or more? "How does my polygamous marriage hurt your marriage?" Same-sex marriage supporters have no logical answer.
Because you're not discriminating against anyone if you just say "this legal contract deals with property sharing between two people." There's a difference between telling some people "you can't have this contract" and limiting the number of parties that can take part in a contract, and if you don't get that difference... I can't help you.
And how can we logically limit marriage to people in a sexual relationship? If marriage is simply about caring adults, why shouldn't a grandmother and daughter raising a child together have its benefits? Going forward, on what grounds can we discriminate against people simply because they don't have sex together?
We don't discriminate against couples who don't have sex together now. You do realize that that's, like, 20 percent of married couples already, right? What would you prefer, a system where couples had to report each time they had sex to the government, and if it wasn't enough, their marriage would be dissolved?

Kids, this is proof that when your teacher says there are no such things as stupid questions, they're lying.

OK, what's the next question?
Really? That's it? That's all you got? Kinda thought there'd be more there.

So sorry, Ms. Kersten, you fail at arguing. Try again later, I'm sure you have it in you.


Matthew B. Novak said...

Hmm... I come up a lot in this. Nice to know I've made an impression.

I've taken issue with Kersten before - she's been on the warpath against Dayton for some time now, and hasn't been real responsible about her editorializing.

For the record, I've pretty much shifted entirely to a "let's call all legally recognized relationships 'civil unions' and leave 'marriage' to religion" camp. I've pretty much been there for a while, and I'm growing more and more comfortable in that spot. (Though I've long been a proponent of also allowing civil unions for same-sex couples.).

Strangely enough, the Catholic Church in MN put out a message (they got a large donation from a donor who wanted to push the cause) highlighting what the Church thought of marriage (and why it should be only heterosexuals). The gist of the position is really a kind of neat take on marriage - that it isn't a human institution at all, that it's a relationship ordained and governed by God. As such, redefining it in civil terms is inappropriate, thus the Church says you should vote against same-sex marriage, because that's a redefinition.

Of course, what the Church didn't make explicit, but what follows naturally from this logic, is that any definition of marriage imposed by civil society flies in the face of the God-directed institution of marriage.

This makes me even more comfortable with the civil/religious distinction. Let's call them different things because they really are different things. Religious marriage is about God's law, eternal union with a partner, child-creation and rearing the child to follow God's law, service to the other, vocation, etc. Civil marriage is really about property division and taxes and visitation rights and custody disputes. Very very different things.

(Oh, and to answer the "why" posed back in your very first paragraph... I have long maintained that people could disagree about child-creation being a relevant difference between same-sex marriage and traditional marriage. I just always challenged them to do so. I think child-creation is enough of a social good that it justifies some reward. Others would disagree. That's fine, it's values question. I always took umbrage with people saying there was no difference between the two marriages, when there clearly is. But again, I think the better fight isn't against equality in the law, it's for seperation of legal and religious marriage.)

Jeff said...

Yeah, Matt, I think I'm with you on that one. Thing is, they're basically separate institutions now - you can be legally married without having a religious marriage ceremony and, in theory, vice versa. Changing the name of the government-sponsored one would just make that official.

Seems odd that this whole hot-button issue that arouses such passion is attributable to a semantic issue, eh?

Monado said...

The "marriage is about children" argument completely blows up when you consider people's attitudes towards old codgers in nursing homes getting married. They are past reproducing age so their marriages shouldn't be valid, if that's really what it's all about. Ditto anyone who's infertile or invirile or couples who are mutually infertile. Maybe even ditto anyone who decides not to have children. The modern marriage is about companionship and, yes, legal rights. That makes is appropriate for any two adults.