Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Apr/09

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A Secular Case Against Gay Marriage?

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New York Governor Dave Paterson made some curious remarks on the gay marriage issue yesterday. The gist of them, so far as I can understand it, was that (a) opponents of gay marriage are motivated by their religion, and (b) the present opposition is vitiated by failure to speak out against the hell on earth (“beaten and often brutalized”) that homosexual college students endured before … well, before some unspecified event that enlightened everyone and made it all stop. Gov. Paterson’s accession, perhaps.

It’s all pretty incoherent, but that’s our Gov. for you. It did get me thinking, though, in the secular-right context, of the non-religious conservative case against gay marriage. There certainly is one, composed of some the following elements, mixed in proportions according to personal taste.

(1) Anti-Minoritarianism. The majority has rights, too.

(2) The social recognition of committed heterosexual bonding has been a constant for thousands of years. No-one of a conservative inclination wants to mess lightly with that. Counter-arguments like “so was slavery” are unconvincing, as the occasional slights suffered by homosexual couples are microscopic by comparison with the injustice of human beings buying and selling other human beings. Gay marriage proponents make much of the cruelty and injustices of the past. I must say, though, being old enough to remember some of that past, I am unimpressed.  I was in college in the early 1960s. There were homosexual students, and nobody minded them. They seemed perfectly happy. Certainly they were not “beaten and brutalized”; and if they had been, I assume the ordinary laws of assault and battery would have come into play. I can recall even further back, known homosexual couples keeping house together in my provincial English home town in the 1950s. People made jokes about it, but nobody bothered them — though sodomy was illegal in England at the time! I don’t think private consensual acts should be illegal; but that aside, I don’t see much wrong with the mid-20th-century dispensation, based as it was on the great and splendid Anglo-Saxon principle of minding your own business.

(3) There really is a slippery slope here. Once marriage has been redefined to include homosexual pairings, what grounds will there be to oppose futher redefinition — to encompass people who want to marry their ponies, their sisters, or their soccer team? Are all private contractual relations for cohabitation to be rendered equal, or are some to be privileged over others, as has been customary in all times and places? If the latter, what is wrong with heterosexual pairing as the privileged status, sanctified as it is by custom and popular feeling?

(4) If you have a cognitively-challenged underclass, as every large nation has, you need some anchoring institutions for them to aspire to; and those institutions should have some continuity and stability. Heterosexual marriage is a key such institution. In a society in which nobody had an IQ below 120, homosexual marriage might be plausible. In the actual societies we have, other considerations kick in.

(5) Human nature exists, and has fixed characteristics. We are not infinitely malleable. Human society and human institutions need to “fit” human nature, or at least not go too brazenly against the grain of it. Homophobia seems to be a rooted condition in us. It has been present always and everywhere, if only minimally (and unfairly — there has always been a double standard here) in disdain for “the man who plays the part of a woman.” There has never, anywhere, at any level of civilization, been a society that approved egalitarian (i.e. same age, same status) homosexual bonding. This tells us something about human nature — something it might be wisest (and would certainly be conservative-est) to leave alone.

(6) There is a thinness in the arguments for gay marriage that leaves one thinking the proponents are not so much for something as against something. How many times have you heard that gay marriage is necessary so that gay people will not be hindered in visiting a hospitalized partner? But if hospitals have such rules — a thing I find hard to believe in this PC-whipped age — the rules can be changed, by legislation if necessary. What need to overturn a millennial institution for such trivial ends?

No thoughtful, humane person wishes any harm to homosexuals; and if harm is done, it can and should be punished under long-standing laws. Let people live and love as they want. Human nature is what it is, though, and no-one of a conservative outlook can take lightly an attempt to carry out a radical overhaul of a key human institution, in a direction pointed directly at widespread (though I think normally mild) human emotions of disdain and disgust.

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162 comments

  • Another Alan · May 10, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Is this a right wing blog – sure couldn’t tell from the commenters?

    The fundamental issue is that the word “marriage” has been used to define the union of a woman and man with at least a key end of having and raising children.

    So two points:
    1. Is not “marriage” different than “gay marriage”?
    2. Is not “marriage” more valuable to society than “gay marriage”?
    3. Is it not important to use different words to describe different things?

    The fundamental issue is one group forcing another to regard two different things that share some similarities as the same and equal. It is forcing people to think a certain way.

    Not only does that way lie insanity for our culture but stupidity as well.

    Given the subtitle of this blog, I can summarize this argument thus: reality (a does not equal b) and reason (we must not call a and b the same thing) .

  • Danilo · May 10, 2009 at 7:17 am

    No, they can’t, the slippery slope is not an argument. You can randomly grab any unrelated things and throw them together and call it a “slippery slope”. For example, if we allow women to vote, soon we will allow children and dogs to vote, then soon we will allow household appliances to vote.

  • Hannon · May 10, 2009 at 7:28 am

    The slippery slope is here and present. We have been sliding down it for some decades. The argument against it, with respect to homosexuality in the modern age, is null and void.

  • Sever · May 10, 2009 at 10:02 am

    The basic problem with the pro gay marriage argument is this. Liberalism holds that all men and women are equal under the law. To the extent that the state has any business in recognising marriage it holds the married to have different rights and responsibilities under the law. Therefore there is inequality under the law. That inequality is between the married and the unmarried, not between the gay and the straight or the ugly and the attractive. Permitting gay marriage does not promote equality. It creates a further inequality. It is therefore illiberal.

    This is why the so called “slippery slope” argument is valid. When we legalise gay marriage we are saying that the gay marriage partner should have more rights than the second wife of the Mormon polygamist, those gay or straight who have a committed relationship with their sibling, or the two old spinsters who have cared for each other for decades. The “slippery slope” is itself a questioning of why this legal privilege exists, and why we should extend it to a group that have our sympathy while others we do not view in the same way (polygamists, adult consensual incest) are made more unequal under the law by doing so. We do not create equality, we extend inequality, but to what purpose? For such an illiberal thing as state recognised marriage to exist there must be a good reason. If we do not know that reason then we cannot justify extending more equality to cherry picked groups and not others. Therefore an argument from “equality” is fundamentally unsound. We must know that marriage serves a good purpose and that gay marriage will serve further that purpose.

    There may, for example, be a good reason that police officers should have more rights of arrest than members of the general public. There may be good reasons to fight for genuine equality, that all citizens should have the same rights of arrest as police officers. However there is no valid argument, on the grounds of equality, that greengrocers should have the same rights of arrest as police officers while everyone else has lesser rights. Such an argument can only be illiberal.

  • Brandon · May 10, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    OK then no slippery slope. Homophobia is an leftist intellectual contruct (just like gay marriage) and should be avoided by people who call themselves, in any form, a conservative.

  • Danilo · May 12, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I find both Sever and Brandon’s opinions incoherent. No offense, I just do not understand what the message is. My point is this: a slippery slope only exists if there is a logical link between two things. There is no link between gay marriage and the other things you described, or if there is than it also exists between heterosexual marriage and polygamy, spinsters living together etc. If a man can marry a woman, why not three or four women? Why not his sister? If you can answer these questions with regards to heterosexual marriage, then it doesn’t take brains to reach the same reasoning with regard to same-sex marriage.

    There is especially no logical link between same-sex marriage and polygamy. They are simply polar opposites. One presupposes a radically sexist society such as the Islamic world where polygamy exists, the other presupposes gender equality. In fact, there is much more of a logical link between heterosexual marriage and polygamy. If a man can have one wife, why not three or four? What a coincidence, polygamy is always heterosexual.

    The slippery slope is just a fallacy covering for an emotion-based argument. The root of it is an idiotic heterosexist mindset that thinks “anything that is different from me is wierd, and therefore I can put it in the same category. Polygamous Muslims and gays are both wierd to me, so there must be some similarity between them” It reminds me of a very dumb secretary in my office who asked two of my colleagues (one German, one Argentinian) “when you’re both not speaking English, can you understand each other?” Yeah, really smart.

  • nobody · May 12, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Danilo, let me present the argument in a series of stsps.

    1. Assume marriage between two people of the same sexual chromosomes is created by the legislature.

    2. After some period of time, two 1st cousins of the same sex, or two brothers, or two sisters, desire to marry each other. How can you deny them, logically, the privilege of marriage? Based upon the entire edifice of homosexual marriage, to deny an incestous marriage between two people of the same sex would be a monstrous wrong, no doubt motivated solely by hatred and bigotry. You might well find brothers marrying each other to raise an “ick!” reaction, but supporters of homosexual marriage have denounced that reaction as any basis for legislation or law interpretation so it is off the table. No possible deformed offspring can result, either. So once homosexual marriage is in place, there is no real barrier to incestous marriage so long as it is homosexual in nature.

    3. Once the precedent is established that brother may marry brother, sister may marry sister, there likewise is no logical reason to deny a mother who discovered late in life that she is not really heterosexual the privilege of marrying her dearest and best friend, her daughter. Likewise there’s no real reason to deny a father who has finally come out of the closet the right to marry his son. A somewhat more touchy, but not infeasible, situation might be an adopted son marrying his homosexual father. Again, so long as everyone is over 18 and is consenting, you have no logical reason to deny marriage to these people. Sure, this may well be something that only 1 in a million or one in 10 million people would ever want. So? Proponents of homosexual marriage are prepared to redefine marriage for the benefit of at most 5 %, and more likely 3%, of the population. Once that precedent is set, then redefinition to include even the most tiny of minorities fits the same logic.

    4. Once intergenerational incestous homosexual marriage is legal, it is clearly discriminatory to deny such an arrangement to heterosexuals where no children can result, so the post-menopausal mother who wishes to marry her son, or the father who has had a vasectomy who wishes to marry his daughter, cannot be denied. Surely advocates of same sex marriage wouldn’t want to discriminate against a sexual minority who have been persecuted throughout history, who are people just like the rest of us except they love differently? Of course not. So after homosexual incest-marriage comes heterosexual incest-marriage. It would be discriminatory and certainly unjust not to do so, by the logic of promoters of same sex marriage.

    5A. Somewhere along the line, believing Muslims will step up and demand, under the 1st Amendment free practice of religion, the right to polygamy. They will promise to limit themselves to no more than four wives, as per the Koran. Who will deny them? Who will be the hate-filled bigot that will step up and deny brown-skinned immigrants their cultural and religious heritage? Will any advocate for homosexual marriage, for incestous marriage, then turn around and say “Oh, no! we must draw the line at more than two in a marriage!” with any credibility? How can they, when their own arguments about discrimination demand that Muslims be fulfilled. No doubt some study can be whipped up to show an inborn tendency in some men to desire more than one wife.

    5B. Another alternative: group incest marriage. Why should a loving mother be forced to choose between her two sons, why can’t she marry both? Why should loving siblings be forced to exclude a sibling, why can’t all the sisters/brothers in a family form a group marriage? What kind of bigotry, what kind of hate, what kind of narrow-minded person would deny them their right to the love that they feel?

    Many have pointed out that once marriage is redefined from “one man and one woman” to anything else, the gate is open to any other form, because the principle of “no one may be excluded from forming the marriage they want” has been created. I’ve demonstrated one possible route to poly-marriage. Please feel free to attack my logic, but kindly refrain from attacking me personally.

  • meanmathteacher · May 13, 2009 at 5:42 am

    @ nobody
    Your argument seems a bit convoluted to me. A more direct slippery slope argument toward poly-marriage is via bisexual rights. One could argue that if homosexual marriage is condoned it is then unfair not to allow the bisexual person two spouses, one of each gender. or perhaps a bisexual couple another such couple to round out their family. This all seems far fetched at the moment, but then homosexual marriage seemed far fetched not that long ago. Perhaps in 50 or 60 years when, presumably, we can’t see why homosexuals were ever not allowed to marry we will think differently about marriage. That, I think, is the traditionalist conservative problem with making such changes.

  • Danilo · May 13, 2009 at 7:43 am

    What I am saying is, the “slippery slope” which you see, nobody, already exists between heterosexual marriage and all those things. Any of those people can already petition the courts (maybe they have in the past, certainly the issue of Muslim and Mormon polygamy has already been amply dealt with in the laws), even without gay marriage. There is no connection.

  • Carlo · May 13, 2009 at 9:05 am

    @nobody
    I was first tempted to argue your point by showing how farfetched it is, but I decided instead to take a different tack, and respond by saying: so what?

    Let’s say incestuous marriages, both same-sex and opposite-sex, intergenerational or not, are legalized. Sure, it’s incredibly creepy and gross, but they’re going to comprise far less than 1% of all marriages, so what’s the big deal? As long as steps are taken so no children can be born from genetically related individuals, and everyone involved is a fully consenting adult, can you think of a legal justification why this should be stopped?

    And then on to polygamy. Again, why not exactly? As long as polyandry is also allowed, and as long as every participant in the marriage consents to each new addition (meaning, both the husband and wife have to consent to adding a second wife, and so on), and so long as laws against spousal abuse are strictly enforced, what exactly is the problem?

    And then you mention group incestuous marriage. I can’t actually imagine anyone wanting such a thing even if it were legal, but let’s say there’s a vanishingly small minority that does demand this right. It’s creepy beyond belief, but if these groups of people truly love each other so much that they’re willing to endure the disgust of their peers to legally commit to each other in marriage, why deny them that?

    I’m sure there are all sorts of practical and sociological problems with such arrangements (tax forms alone would be a nightmare!), but from a civil and human rights perspective I’m not sure I see a problem. I am, of course, incredibly ready to be convinced otherwise.

  • JohnC · May 13, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    @nobody The problem is that you are trying to link things abstractly that are in no way related in the real world. The majority of societies have been both polygamous and largely endogamous (approving, at least, of cousin marriages and disapproving of inter-racial and inter-ethnic marriages), quite independently of their stance on same sex relationships. The Judaic tradition is a good example, and the “Christian” stance on these issues (eg anti-polygamy) actually arose from its incubation in the Hellenistic world.

    The nub of the issue here is that “traditionalists” (who seem remarkably ignorant about the history of marriage) oppose same-sex marriage because they oppose the normalising of same-sex relationships that such a change would imply. That’s a valid position, but this slippery slope argument is not a valid defence of it. Anyone who thinks marriage equality will open the door to incest or polygamy, etc, clearly knows next to nothing about the history and sociology of marriage: a return to greater endogamy is inconceivable in Western societies given their sheer physical, social and ethnic mobility; attitudes against polygyny have radically hardened as a result in the revolution of the status of women.

    Though the mechanism for same-sex marriage is juridical, its rationale is embedded in the sweeping changes in attitudes towards same-sex relationships. To propound that this social change bears on attitudes towards, for instance, parent-child sex is ludicrous.

    The entire argument is a crock, and obviously so to any half-educated person.

  • Qohel - Australia's Leading Independent Conservative Blog · May 16, 2009 at 3:03 am

    [...] Some non-religious reasons for this view are discussed on Secular Right. [...]

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