Thursday, January 21, 2010

Debating Gay Marriage

There's been a little debate at my last night's, "Cindy McCain Shills for No on H8 (and Meghan Too)." Actually, some of the comments are not really addressing my arguments, or by now they've moved past them to emotionalism. So, as I've done this before, I'll simply repost some articles I've blogged earlier.

From David Blankenhorn, "
Protecting Marriage to Protect Children":

Marriage as a human institution is constantly evolving, and many of its features vary across groups and cultures. But there is one constant. In all societies, marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood. Among us humans, the scholars report, marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children.

In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its next generation. Marriage (and only marriage) unites the three core dimensions of parenthood -- biological, social and legal -- into one pro-child form: the married couple. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. Marriage says to society as a whole: For every child born, there is a recognized mother and a father, accountable to the child and to each other.

These days, because of the gay marriage debate, one can be sent to bed without supper for saying such things. But until very recently, almost no one denied this core fact about marriage. Summing up the cross-cultural evidence, the anthropologist Helen Fisher in 1992 put it simply: "People wed primarily to reproduce." The philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell, certainly no friend of conventional sexual morality, was only repeating the obvious a few decades earlier when he concluded that "it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution."
And from Susan Shell, "The Liberal Case Against Gay Marriage":
When considering the institution of marriage, a useful comparison exists between how society addresses the beginning and end of human life. Like death, our relation to which is shaped and challenged but not effaced by modern technologies, generation defines our human nature, both in obvious ways and in ways difficult to fathom fully. As long as this is so, there is a special place for marriage understood as it has always been understood. That is to say, there is a need for society to recognize that human generation and its claims are an irreducible feature of the human experience.

Like the rites and practices surrounding death, marriage invests a powerful, universally shared experience with the norms and purposes of a given society. Even when couples do not "marry," as is increasingly becoming the case in parts of western Europe, they still form socially recognized partnerships that constitute a kind of marriage. If marriage in a formal sense is abolished, it will not disappear, but it will no longer perform this task so well.

A similar constraint applies to death. A society could abolish "funerals" as heretofore understood and simply call them "parties," or allow individuals to define them as they wish. Were the "liberationist" exaltation of individual choice pushed to its logical conclusion, would not a public definition of "funeral" as a rite in honor of the dead appear just as invidious as a public definition of "marriage" as an enduring sexual partnership between a man and woman? If it is discriminatory to deny gay couples the right to "marry," is it not equally unfair to deny living individuals the right to attend their own "funerals"? If it makes individuals happy, some would reply, what is the harm? Only that a society without the means of formally acknowledging, through marriage, the fact of generation, like one without the means of formally acknowledging, through funeral rites, the fact of death, seems impoverished in the most basic of human terms.

Like generation, death has a "public face" so obvious that we hardly think of it. The state issues death certificates and otherwise defines death legally. It recognizes funeral attendance as a legal excuse in certain contexts, such as jury duty. It also regulates the treatment of corpses, which may not merely be disposed of like any ordinary animal waste. Many states afford funeral corteges special privileges not enjoyed by ordinary motorists. Funeral parlors are strictly regulated, and there are limits on the purchase and destruction of cemeteries that do not apply to ordinary real estate. In short, there are a number of ways in which a liberal democratic government, as a matter of course, both acknowledges "death" and limits the funereal rites and practices of particular sects and individuals. I cannot call a party in my honor my "funeral" and expect the same public respect and deference afforded genuine rites for the dead. And it would be a grim society indeed that allowed people to treat the dead any old which way--as human lampshades, for example.

Once one grants that the link between marriage and generation may approach, in its universality and solemn significance, the link between funereal practices and death, the question of gay marriage appears in a new light. It is not that marriages are necessarily devoted to the having and rearing of children, nor that infertility need be an impediment to marriage (as is still the case for some religious groups). This country has never legally insisted that the existence of marriage depends upon "consummation" in a potentially procreative act. It is, rather, that marriage, in all the diversity of its forms, draws on a model of partnership rooted in human generation. But for that fact, marriages would be indistinguishable from partnerships of a variety of kinds. The peculiar intimacy, reciprocity, and relative permanence of marriage reflect a genealogy that is more than merely historical.
See also, Vinegar and Honey, "Flabbergasted!"


Unknown said...

Considering that you didn't bother responding to my questions about your argument, I'm not expecting much here.

Instead of engaging in a debate and defending your point of view, you decide to quote some lamentably weak rationales that reflect your prejudices. They don't (can't?) actually defend or support your argument, but they do provide a veneer of credibility?

(Susan Shell's argument is a veritable colander of reason, don't you agree? Do you really want to use death as a metaphor for procreation-based argument?

Not that David Blankenhorn's reasoning is any better. Diverting attention from his lack of any reasonable argument against gay marriage, he decides to veer (and you decide to quote) into unsupportable accusations of "political correctness". He think marriage is about kids, you think marriage is about kids. I guess marriage really isn't about sharing your life with someone simply because you love them? Or about publicly affirming your love, and your mutual desire to share your life?

Anyway - you're more than willing to deny others the rights you enjoy. And so far you haven't proved, beyond a knee-jerk emotional reaction, why others should not enjoy the rights you have. You don't even have to fight for them, they're granted to you simply because you're alive.

You have the right to marry the person you love, but others don't? In fact, you seek to deny them that right based on the idea that because they've never had the right to marry, they never should achieve that right! And also because you think, but can't justify, that marriage is about producing children. (Don't you ignore an entire history of humankind in that? I seem to recall a few bastards influencing global events... And I know more than one or two childless couples. So your argument is actually based on a fairy-tale!

Can you actually tell me, and your other readers, what business it is of the state (or society) to control, to dictate, who marries whom? Why should you be involved in decisions I make about my life? (Can I force the state into yours?) That's the crux of it, isn't it? You want the state to be have a say in matters of the heart. You don't want the state involved in other matters, but when it comes to the heart, you're eager to deny others the rights you enjoy.

Tell me, how is that not the ultimate expression of State Control you otherwise argue against?