Saturday, April 02, 2005

Some thoughts on gay marriage

An interesting post on gay marriage by Megan MCardle, with some important observation. I find especially insightful the observation of the liberal argument for gay marriage, which is, essentially, "Your a stupid bigot."

Her post is close to my view on gay marriage, a view that I really haven't written much about. Although I agree with many of the points I made in the column on gay marriage, I wrote it more because I wanted to show that a libertarian defense was possible of an anti-gay marriage view, and to show people that the gay marriage debate isn't as black and white as they think.

I'm perhaps unique in the gay marriage debate in that my views have changed signifcantly, multiple times.

First, I opposed gay marriage along essentially religious, Catholic lines. This was a pretty unreflective view, and more of a default answer if someone would ask me about it. This view changed, not because I think religious beliefs shouldn't be translated into law (well, actually I'm not sure on whether they should be, but I'm giving it a lot of thought lately), but because 1) if I wanted to convince other people, I would have to reach beyond religious views, 2) Andrew Sullivan makes a somewhat compelling argument that maybe gay marriage isn't so much against Catholic theology as we might think, and 3) I was becoming more libertarian, and saw the government illegalization of gay marriage, just like if the governmetn were to illegalize sodomy, or raise taxes, to be immoral along Catholic lines (it seemed to met that Jesus wouldn't say, "if two men have sex, through them in jail" which is what illegalization, in the end, does, but would try to convince them of their wrongness, and in the end, let them decide on their own free will what to do. He would also never condone stealing from one man, even to help another in dire need, which is why I saw taxation as immoral).

Second, I moved on to a somewhat peculiar position, the conservative argument FOR gay marriage, which I still believe is a stronger case (see Andrew Sullivan again) than the liberal argument for gay marriage (insofar as it can be called such).

The truncated version of the conservative argument for gay marriage: it is exactly because marriage is such a great institution that it should be extended to homosexuals. It is not good for the health an institution if some are excluded that wholeheartedly want to join in, and others are included that might not be so committed. Such an exclusion could, like acid, eat away at the foundations of marriage. Also, gays are especially in need of the benefits of marriage. The promiscuous bathhouse culture has lead to an explosion in AIDS cases. To combat this, we must make clear to gays that this behavior is NOT okay, and that we expect for them to get married. When gay marriage is not legal, gays could use this as a justification for not committing to one person, and so lead a dissolute lifestyle. Thus, from a religious perspective, it seemed to encourage sin to leave gay marriage illegal. Surely it is less sinful for a gay person to commit themselves exclusively to another person than to live a promiscuous gay life--that is, we should choose from the lesser of two evils.

Third, I became against gay marriage from a conservative viewpoint. A lot of the reasoning came from this Stanley Kurtz column, that gay marriage was part of a slippery slope toward much worse--that if you could see no distinction between it and real marriage, then you could also see none between polygamy, and more worringly, polyamory (marriages of any number and combination of men and women). I no longer find this view very compelling, because I believe distinctions CAN be drawn (even if, down the road, liberals will argue that they don't exist, and that polyamory should be legal too) and that it IS the place of the law to draw somewhat arbitrary lines.

As part of my conservative argument against marriage, I also believed that gay marriage would weaken regular marriage be decreasing its "specialness"--that is, if we recognized it essentially as a contract, why bother? Also, I used the reasoning that if everyone was elligible for a medal of honor no matter how significant the wound, then it would decrease the importance of the medal of honor. I don't know if this latter reasoning is valid, but I still hold that it would reduce the specialness of regular marriage to continue redefining it.

Third, as I continued to become more libertarian in my views, I began to think that government shouldn't be into the business of marriage at all. I believed that anyone should be allowed to marry, but no one should be eligible for special government benefits.

Fourth, well, here I am. I'm still fleshing out my views, but I'm tentatively against legally recognizing gay marriage. "Legally recognizing" being a phrase that I know realize is imperative, for two reasons. One, as I said in my column, government cannot define who is married (in the real, emotional/spiritual/loving sense) and who is not, except for in a totalitarian society (even then, probably not). I also realize that if government said that gay marriage was marriage and so eligible for benefits, it would only be legally recognized as marriage, not actually gay marriage.

The phrase "gay marriage" is a contradiction in terms. It is an absurdity. It is a moral, spiritual, and semantic imposibility. It cannot be. Not to demean whatever relationship two gays might have with each other, but it is surely lying to say that that relationship is "marriage," because marriage is inherently and exclusively one man and one woman.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that Hayek has much to say on the gay marriage issue (and Megan touches on what his writings tell us). I have more reading to do (and, in any case, need more writing time) before I can possibly explain it. Jonah Goldberg does a good job explaining most of it. It is basically a veiw that calls for a little humility on our part as too changing a millenia old institution. We shouldn't modify marriage because, as Jonah says, that would be like a person with no knowledge of cars trying to fix their engine by messing with random parts. Society is surely infinitely more complex than a car, so we should take care too only tamper with its basic institutions when something serious arises.

In my column, I tried to explain why marriage is as it is--because procreation and subsequent societal propagation through a stable family structure is of immense importance. I also made the libertarian argument, that it should thus be subsidized because it would increase liberty in the future (libertarians are all about liberty, you know) becuase stable families need less government help. I agree with all of this, BUT I still realize that these are only my speculations as to what some of the benefits could be. I can have no sure idea as too what the "purpose" of marriage is, or even that it has a unified, expressible one, because marriage arose through a process of cultural evolution. The latter part of that sentence about cultural evolution might be a bold statement (which I will write about later after some more Hayek reading is done), but I think we should all realize, simply out of our own humility and recognition at the limits of our knowledge, that we cannot know what the purpose of marriage is, and so what the effects of gay marriage would be.

Megan does a better job of explaining this, and in her conclusion she writes:
If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.

Which is what is the main point of this meandering post. Gay marriage is a complex (and, I think, philosophically interesting) issue. I have never read or heard a compelling liberal argument for gay marriage, but I realize there are compelling arguments for gay marriage. The issue has two sides. Liberals would do well to acknowledge this.

(a ps: I didn't proofread this post, and I wrote it rather quickly, so please forgive any errors, or gratuitous comma usage--an addiction, I've been trying, to, kick for some, time.

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