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September 30, 2004

Bennies and Legitimacy

In the comments to the previous entry, Chuck Anziulewicz responds to the suggestion that the same-sex marriage movement is more about legitimacy than benefits by writing:

No, you are simply wrong. What Gay couples are most interested in is equal treatment under the law. We don't really care if you don't consider our love and commitment "legitimate." Evangelical Christians don't consider any religions but their own to be "legitimate" faiths. So what? You can't be forced to accept something you won't accept. Equal treatment under the law does not mean forced brainwashing of an unwilling heterosexual majority.

To reuse my too-frequent introductory phrase: as with everything in this debate, in evidence in Chuck's argument is the distance between the first principles on which everything else is built. It's certainly understandable that a homosexual person in a committed relationship, as Chuck is, would skip a step of dispassionate logic, but he strides right over the point that the traditionalists are making, leaving him (apparently) no room to comprehend what they are saying short of hearing a complaint against brainwashing.

For an inequality according to the law to exist, all other circumstances must be equivalent. It is not unduly discriminatory, for example, not to give carpenters a tax break for teaching supplies. You teach, you get the break; you don't teach, you don't. Chuck is like a carpenter claiming that, since both professionals buy supplies, he deserves the tax break; this presumes that no relevant difference lies between the two vocations. In the terms of the same-sex marriage debate, the legitimacy that Chuck claims not to demand is inherent in the claim of inequality. Same-sex relationships are assumed to be as legitimate an arrangement for public recognition as opposite-sex marriages, and the argument proceeds from there.

Chuck is somewhat unique, however, in that he sincerely wants no more than the ability to provide for his partner in the same way that spouses are able to provide for each other. The difficulty with this position, however, is that it is morally untenable once the emotional plank of inequality is leveraged. Unequal is unequal; if we can't assert enough difference to justify discriminatory policy assessments with respect to Social Security, for example, then on what basis do we assert enough difference to offer opposite-sex marriages any distinction, including the name of the relationship?

The case to be made — by homosexuals who truly desire only commitment's fruit of public benefits — is that their relationships deserve that degree of recognition, without more reference to marriage than as an example. This is actually the fair compromise that I've long advocated: ensure that laws creating civil unions will do so on an item-by-item basis, and allow the states to determine what rights and privileges ought to be included — on their own merits. Unless there have been changes since I last analyzed it, that is precisely the scenario that the Federal Marriage Amendment would create.

It is not, however, a compromise that many homosexuals would accept, whatever their protestations of indifference about fundamentalists' opinions.

Posted by Justin Katz at September 30, 2004 6:27 PM
Marriage & Family
Comments

"You can't be forced to accept something you won't accept." Tell that to the folks in Gaymarriagechusetts.

Posted by: ELC at October 1, 2004 7:11 AM

Uh, no. All the people in Massachusetts who opposed marriage equality for Gay couples probably say the same thing: "I don't care if they are allowed to marry. I will never accept it."

Has "traditional marriage" changed in Massachusetts? Not really. Gay couples have simply been allowed to participate. Does this mean that Straight couples are no longer allowed to marry? That Straight people are being forced to marry persons of the same sex? That married couples are divorcing more often? That families are falling apart? That Straight people are deciding to "turn Gay?" No on all counts. "Traditional marriage" for heterosexual couples will always be the norm, regardless how many Gay couples decide to tie the knot.

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at October 2, 2004 8:16 AM

Chuck:

Why do you quote "traditional marriage", alongside an acceptance of Gay marriage? The social pathologies you mentioned are irrelevant with respect to the issue.

Perhaps you're being honest, but maybe not. "Marriage" cannot have variations, such as "traditional" or "Gay" and still be marriage. This is the essential dishonesty in your opinion, and why I earlier suggested that your side argue for the abolition of state-sanctioned relationships and be done with it.

What's your answer? You need to define your proposed institution in and of itself and stop comparing it to something else.

Posted by: Rhod at October 2, 2004 8:58 AM

Oh c'mon, Rhod. What's so difficult to understand? You accuse me of being dishonest, and all I'm trying to do is explain why so many Gay couples think this is such an important issue.

Ask yourself why Straight (i.e. heterosexual) couples decide to get married. Straight couples don't need to get married to have sex or to have children. The reason they get married is to declare before friends and family that they are willing to pledge themselves to each other, ideally for life, and make a solemn commitment to one another's well-being. Of course, marriage has never prevented couples from subsequently betraying each other, being unfaithful, or ultimately divorcing. But marriage in principle is an inherently GOOD thing, and our state and federal governments provide a broad range of financial and legal incentives to keep such couples together.

Despite those incentives, many Straight couples choose NOT to marry, for whatever reasons of their own. If Gay couples are provided those same incentives (whether under the term "civil union" or "domestic partnership" or whatever), many Gay couples will similarly decline to make that social contract. But for those that do, those incentives promote fidelity and stability, just as they do for Straigh married couples. Is this not inherently a good thing?

I am NOT trying to be disingenuous about this issue. I take a rather old fashioned approach to matters of the heart. I believe very strongly in love and relationships and monogamy for both Gay and Straight people. It is good public policy, and it makes good sense from a public health standpoint. Even if all that Gay couples could be granted at this point in time was the ability to designate each other as beneficiaries under Social Security, it would be progress, and it would promote fidelity, however incrementally. Do those who oppose such benefits believe that Gay people simply don't matter, and it's preferable that they are left to simply screw themselves into oblivion?

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at October 2, 2004 10:27 AM

Chuck:

I think you make a good and sensible argument for committed relationships. However, I'm unpersuaded that the idea of "marriage" extended to Gays will promote fidelity and monogamy. Was this Sullivan's (O'Sullivan's?) argument, as a counterweight to the extremely high statistical occurrence of promiscuity (as defined by number of partners in time frame) among gays. I suspect that mentioning this will be construed as a moral condemnation, but it nevertheless is a factor.

The reasons for this are beyond me, but there are reasons nonetheless. These behaviors precede the issue of Gay marriage and will probably have a subversive effect on marriage among gays, not the reverse. Why wouldn't they?

You mentioned things that are wholly voluntary, that is to say public profession of love and faith, covenants and so on, and I agree with you. None of them, however, are dependent upon marriage in the sense that we understand it today.

I am more friendly to your view than you think. But..and this question is still not addressed, "the state" has, in practically every instance we can study, had a reason for sanctioning and encouraging an "institution" more or less like heterosexual marriage. And so far I haven't seen any historical instance where it was ever extended to homosexuals over the life of the civilization or society. There are reasons for this (mentioned earlier) and so far you only mention the romantic and salutary reasons, not the coercive ones.

Marriage at the moment is a requirement IMPOSED by the state on couples, in exchange for advantages, because it can produce children. Period. It isn't a romantic or sentimental arrangement from the state's point of view. There are social rewards and financial advantages because of this. Period again.

What is your view on gay adoption? Are all the expectations (maybe not "rights") consistent with heterosexual marriage to be extended to Gays as well in your world? These are genuine issues; they effect both straights and gays, and so far, the gay "community" tends to skirt them.

Posted by: Rhod at October 2, 2004 12:04 PM

Chuck:

I need to summarize. I've gone on too long.

A) Gay activits appear to have taken the position that some gay issues are civil rights issues.

B) If that is so, it falls under a Fourteenth Ammendment penumbra of Equal Protection.

C) If it's an Equal Protection issue, nothing like "civil unions" is applicable because they don't exist yet. But "marriage" does.

D) What is marriage and what is it for? Do courts decide or do legislatures decide? WHOEVER DECIDES:

E) If the long-standing definition of "marriage" no longer applies, then gays should be allowed ALL the advantages previously reserved for heteros, including children.

Is this what you believe? It's the logical sequence which derives from gay rights as a civil rights issue.

Posted by: Rhod at October 2, 2004 12:29 PM

I want to echo Rhod's statement that marriage is entirely about reproduction from the government's view. That seems ridiculous to an SSM supporter, I know. There are many clever arguments that purport to demonstrate how marriage has nothing to do with procreation. I've probably heard them all by now, and they're all nonsense.

If you want to understand SSM opponents, start here: We are interested in much larger issues than how people attain sexual pleasure. We are interested in reproduction on a large scale as an indispensable component of survival---the continuation of our families, communities, nation, and culture. As technologically advanced as we are, we are still mortal and we still need to produce children if we want our institutions to survive.

In my experience, most SSM supporters have an extremely limited world view, with sexual pleasure at its center. They assume that everyone is as obsessed with sex as they are. From this they conclude that opposition to SSM must be rooted in wanting to deny people sexual pleasure: We have our sex, but we won't let you have yours. This seems profoundly selfish and irrational, so SSM supporters conclude that SSM opponents must be evil, hateful people.

If you support SSM and want to understand the other side, then try to imagine a world in sexual pleasure is not particularly important---it's equivalent to the pleasure of eating a fine meal or watching a movie. In other words, imagine a world in which no one makes their preferred mode of sexual pleasure a centerpiece of their identity. If you can imagine that world, then you can start to understand the perspective of SSM opponents.

But if you can't imagine that world, then you will never have any idea what we're talking about. Our words will seem like gibberish to you, you'll think we're lying about our motivations and intentions. You will want to scream back at us: “Why can't you just admit that you're all religious fanatics who hate gays?”

Posted by: Ben Bateman at October 2, 2004 5:15 PM

Chuck,

What is your response to those who favor SSM, but do so explicitly because they think it will help break the mold of monogamy? There are gays who support gay marriage precisely because they think it will help push society towards a more 'diverse' view of sexual relationships. And there are various polyamorous groups supporting it for the same reasons. Surely you can see that from the point of view of someone who is against SSM, it is difficult to reconcile your view with theirs - you can't both be right, and the risks of you being wrong are much greater than the benefits if you are right. Even Andrew Sullivan, the foremost proponent of SSM, has publicly extolled the virtues of anonymous gay sex. I have seen almost no serious attempts by 'conservative' proponents of SSM, such as yourself, to address this dichotomy.

Posted by: Mike S. at October 4, 2004 10:58 AM

I just have a comment for this subject. I see that our country is built on people making judgments on subjects like this one. So many people talk (and debate) what is righteous. That word righteous may not sound like the right word for it, but it is. Each of all of us thinks that what we understand at any moment is right.
I am not saying you guys are like this but, even for you and me it is easy to get caught up in talking about something we totally don’t understand the facts of what is really going on with it.
Like this subject with gay people. If you are not gay how can you even begin to judge them in any way. This go's for all things. If we aren't going through the exact situation a person going through, it seems there is no way to judge it, because we are still judging through our understanding of all the things we have seen and heard in our life about whatever the subject is.
Personally I do not understand why gays are being gay. I believe the bible speaks truth. I don’t understand it all. The women were made for the man. It is beautiful. Think about the true beauty of a girl. I really don’t understand what it is that would make a man want to be with a man. It seems weird. That is how much I really don’t understand it. The only understanding that I can come up with that is that they have just been through situations that misunderstood what marriage actually is. That is the only thing I can conger in my mind about it. Truthfully I don’t know if I am totally misunderstanding the truth of it. I am human. We all have our own place and own purpose it seems. I just pray that the lord of the truth of love will have mercy on my sinful soul, and save me from my own misunderstandings. I truly am not trying to cause misunderstanding. I am just trying to add my view to your understanding, that maybe it will help you figure out the truth of what is really going on here in this very complicated world, but look at a young child, they aren’t upset at anyone, they aren't judging. This world is all new to them. Some are born into situations that to some people would be horrible, but maybe to them they are just in love (pure love)with there mommy (really, just try to imagine what they are feeling when they see there mom),even if there mommy is gay, or a drug attic. I am not saying that children don’t get born into families that are real confusing (what ever that really means)There have been many things that I have gone through, and decisions that I have made that make me who I am today. I have done things that some people would say is "bad", and others would say that very same thing is not "bad", though all along I still was the one going through it and experiencing what it actually felt like to do what I have done. Back on the subject of whether I should vote for gays to be allowed to be married legally and accepted by the country that I live in. I feel like that decision that we all have to make is so personal that would should not even talk about it. It seems we would give our most honest vote if we would not talk and debate on the subject, because it seems that when we try to talk about our beliefs. There is one exepttion to that idea. If it is talked about in true love. The love that God gives us freely. Okay well, I guess I wont go any further. Please take me as trying to be truly honest with you (whoever is reading this).

Posted by: Luke at October 27, 2004 10:03 PM

Hi Luke,

I'm reading. ;o)

Just want to comment on this:

If you are not gay how can you even begin to judge them in any way. This go's for all things. If we aren't going through the exact situation a person going through, it seems there is no way to judge it, because we are still judging through our understanding of all the things we have seen and heard in our life about whatever the subject is.

This strikes me as a sort of passive relativism. What of our shared humanity and, in turn, the qualities that we share in God's image? If we can't judge people's choices when they're wrong, how can we do so when they're right? To be sure, judgment oughtn't be done flippantly, but whether we're called to help each other toward God or we're cast afloat in this world, whittling away at the possibility of empathy wouldn't seem to be a helpful intellectual activity.

And besides, with regard to marriage, we aren't talking about passing judgment on the internals of homosexuality. We're deciding how we should structure society — on what principles and to whose benefit.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 30, 2004 8:38 PM