Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Clear Thinking About Redefining Marriage

Given what is going on at the Supreme Court this week, it seems only fitting to add some commentary on that for my post of the day. I know, because so few people are, I thought I'd fill the much needed gap. ;)

First, I'll offer some past commentary I've written on the subject. As I guess many people have, I've been pondering this subject in some depth for many years now, dare I say, "wrestling" with it. I seem to recall my first attempt to gather my thoughts on paper about it was back in the summer of 97 or maybe 98, but I no longer have that. And before and after that initial attempt, I have had innumerable (it feels that way anyhow) discussions with people about it.

Note Well: I should mention that I have family members (yes plural) who self-identify as homosexual. I have also worked with people who have identified as homosexuals--people I consider friends, and I have neighbors currently who make no secret of their sexual orientation. This issue is not something I take lightly nor dismissively, nor is it based on some kind of prejudice, nor is it based on simply quoting biblical passages, nor is it even based on what the Catholic Church says on the matter. It is quite simply based on natural law--something we can reason to based on natural evidence and considerations.

I would love nothing more than to just go with the pop cultural flow on this topic--especially these days with the increasing normalization of irrational hate and bigotry on the side of advocates of gay marriage, but as someone who makes an effort to try my best to understand the truth of things and to live accordingly, I cannot simply ignore what seems to me to be the truth of things in this matter.

The earliest writing of mine that I can readily track down of my writing on the topic is this post back in 2006:
On the Good and "Right" of Marriage - This one is still a pretty good reflection of my thoughts today, although I think/hope they've been refined a bit and maybe I'm a little more aware now of my own prejudices than I was then.

Review: Sexual Authenticity - In 2009, I read this great book written by a former lesbian. This book, probably more than anything I've seen or read, helped me to better appreciate the struggles folks in those situations face (inasmuch as I can), as well as to recognize prejudices I still had, even despite my efforts to be open minded about the subject.

Marriage Must Be Strengthened, Not Redefined - Also written in 2009, it was an attempt at restating a holistic consideration of the matter.

Speaking of Abominations - A 2010 response to/rant against those opponents of homosexuality that mainly rely on prejudice and simple-minded quoting of biblical passages to act in bigotry towards homosexuals.

Who Cares Who Gets Married - A 2011 rant/response to the stupid statement, "who cares who gets married?" that is often used as a way to dismiss the issue entirely.

What If My Child Were Gay? - A 2012 reflection on this question, one that is often posed by advocates for homosexual unions as a way to try to guilt people into caving on the issue.

And that's it of the publicly, readily available writing I've done on the subject. The rest is lost to time or locked in walled gardens like Facebook, G+, and elsewhere, but this sampling is I think a pretty good reflection on most of the issues and concerns involved.

I would set all of this up against what any advocate for homosexual unions has to offer (specifically with regards to the desire to redefine marriage to include these unions). As time has progressed, I have watched as the argumentation on the other side of the discussion has devolved to the point that it is rare to have someone engage thoughtfully and reasonably. More common by far is the throwing of epithets, the false comparison to the racial civil rights movement (and concordant demonizing of opponents of redefining marriage), and essentially a simple dismissal and refusal to rationally engage in dialogue.

Allow me to summarize the arguments advanced in the cause of redefining marriage:
1) By far, the most common and usually unspoken argument is that it feels right. It feels good to feel openminded and so "tolerant" (this moniker itself being just another dishonest rhetorical device, implying as it does that to hold an opposing position is "intolerant" and made even more absurd by the extreme, real intolerance shown towards defenders of marriage).

It feels good to feel like you're in with the crowd--all the kids are doing it, after all. Nearly every show (quite disproportionate to reality) has a token homosexual, and usually they are portrayed as the most fun-loving, lovable, and good persons. Sadly, the homosexuals I've known do not match up with this presentation. At best, they are just regular folks with all the usual foibles.

The efforts in popular media have largely succeeded to normalize homosexuality, which is of course the intent, but more than that the goal is to make it seem as if that if you don't go along with it, you are bad, you are a bully, you are intolerant, you are a bigot, which again is ironically exactly what this sort of thing encourages in reverse.

And boy, how telling is it that as I write this, my wife is watching a Crossing Jordan in which a pregnant homosexual woman is killed and her baby ripped out by a hateful religious bigot. What utter, evil bullshit, and yet, that is the caricature pushed by the popular media on those who oppose redefining marriage.

2) It is progressive and youthful to advocate for redefining marriage. Again, the media portray opponents as old, ignorant, backwards, stuck in their ways. Only rural, uneducated, bible-thumping old folks could possibly object, and, as the argument goes, it's only a matter of time--these folks will die off and become increasingly irrelevant, just like the racists of yore.

Well guess what? I know plenty of young, educated, intelligent, charitable, and thoughtful folks who don't go in for redefining marriage. Further, and perhaps more importantly, this is ageism. Progress is no reason in itself. Youth is no measure of wisdom (usually quite the opposite).

3) "Why are you so obsessed with what people do in their bedrooms?" I got news for ya. We are not obsessed with that. This is a variation on the "Who cares who gets married?" question. See the above post--same answer applies here. The short answer is that we are not the ones who brought the subject up. Maybe the subject deserves to be brought up, but in doing so, it opens the door for people to debate and discuss it. It is the hot button topic of our time, and so it is normal that we are talking about it.

It is only our peculiar contemporary cultural insanity with regards to sexuality and marriage that has occasioned this being a significant social issue. Marriage, more than other things in our society, is an ancient and well-tested institution that pretty much has always in every culture meant to mean the union of man and woman in a stable (ideally life-long) relationship ordered towards procreation and raising of the children from the biological mother and father in said committed relationship.

It would be better to ask, why are advocates so obsessed with flaunting their sexuality in public? We really don't want to know about it--keep it in your bedrooms.

4) "Redefining marriage to include homosexual unions is the 'civil rights' issue of our day." This is simply an untenable, reprehensible co-opting of a still-emotionally charged issue as a means to bully advocates of traditional marriage into silence and submission. After all, who wants to be like a racist, right? Racists are almost universally agreed upon to be a pariah in our society, and rightly so.

There are two problems with this assertion.  First, there is a rather large burden of proof to make the case that redefining marriage is on the same level as the racial civil rights movement. (Hint: it's not possible to show this.) But more to the point, even granting that there are some superficial similarities (i.e., a minority group advocating for some perceived right), the similarity itself is actually no argument at all. Again, it is just a rhetorical tool, and a particularly vicious and dishonest one (not to mention the injustice it does to African Americans).

5) "I know so-and-so who had a very sad personal event (usually death or something healthcare related) that was made worse because of the legal status/not being married." This, again, is more of a rhetorical device than a valid argument. There are legal tools made to address such situations, and where they are still lacking, I think no right thinking person would oppose their creation (and not just for homosexuals but for any people in a loving relationship). Nobody wants people to suffer worse due to bureaucratic red tape.

There are two issues here as well. First, the problem can be fixed without redefining marriage. I think in terms of expediency and practicality, it may be hard to argue against that the redefinition of marriage is legally easier than addressing the problem in other ways--but that doesn't make that solution right. We can create a legal solution that is both correct and sufficient without redefining marriage.

Second, even marriage these days does not guarantee the elimination of bureaucratic red tape. I have been advised by multiple attorneys that I need to have a will in place, ideally also a living will, and a power of attorney--for my wife (and vice versa). This is needed due to the general breakdown of marriage in our society that has slowly eroded spousal privileges (because they have been abused and because marriage is so easily cast off these days). The point is, marriage itself doesn't fully address the bureaucratic red tape problem, so redefining it won't effectively solve this issue. We should have a simple way to designate any other person or persons to have the various rights, powers, and responsibilities over us and ours. Redefining marriage is not the best solution for that.

6) "I know so-and-so has had a hard time feeling accepted by society because of their self-identification as a homosexual." Again, no right thinking person would advocate against loving people regardless of their sexual orientation. Mistreating and abusing anyone due to their sexual orientation is wrong. Bigotry is wrong no matter what the cause.

But that does not mean we need to redefine marriage to solve this. Not being able to marry another homosexual person does not make homosexuals second class citizens. As above, this term "second class citizens" is another emotional bullying term. There is nothing (legally) stopping homosexuals from marrying a person of the opposite sex--that's what marriage is, a union of a man and a woman. Just because they don't want to marry a person of the opposite sex does not mean they are second class citizens.

There have always been individuals who don't want to marry because they value something else more highly (be it their personal freedom, not liking children, their religious vows of celibacy, their lack of interest in the opposite sex--whatever). The fact remains, they are completely free to marry a person of the opposite sex under law--they have that equal right, but they choose not to. The case is no different for a homosexual person. Merely wanting to live an alternative sexual lifestyle--no matter how deep seated one's sexual desires are--does not entitle one to redefine marriage to include that lifestyle.

Again, all right-thinking people should agree that mistreating someone based on their self-identifying as homosexual is wrong. But this does not automatically imply that we must all approve of that form of sexual activity or see all forms of sexual activities as equally healthful. I think that few people would suggest such a thing--that all forms of sexual activity are equally healthy--so where we differ then is on where we draw the line in terms of what is and is not healthy for a person. And no matter where we draw the line, I guarantee that those who engage in the forms of sexual activity we think unhealthy are going to feel that somehow we are not fully accepting of them and their choices.

But that's okay. There are plenty of people who don't approve of my choice of religion, my choice of food, and many of the choices I make in how I raise my kids. In fact, I know there are people who are more restrictive than I am in terms of what is acceptable sexual behavior. I'm okay with that--similarly, homosexuals that engage in homosexual activity need to learn to be comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to approve of their behavior.

And lest anyone think I am missing the point that homosexual tendencies are not choices, let me assure you that I am not. I do not claim that they are definitely not biological. I do not claim that a person "chooses to be a homosexual." I do, however, make a distinction between biological and psychological dispositions and what we, as free human beings, choose to do with them. One mustn't hold people accountable for their predispositions; however, one can hold people accountable for actions.

This doesn't make those who disapprove of homosexual behavior bad or evil or inherently bigoted, nor does it mean that such people don't accept them as persons, as human beings with human dignity and all that entails. It certainly does not mean those people think they are entitled to mistreat homosexuals, but by the same coin, homosexuals need to deal with that disapproval of their behavior if they want to keep doing it. It's just a fact of life that people are not going to agree with nor approve of everything you choose to do.

Heck, I don't even approve of everything that I do. Does that mean I don't accept me as a person with human dignity? No, it surely does not mean that.

Still, I grant that homosexuals have received more than their fair share of mistreatment at the hands of bigots. And I fully agree that this mistreatment is wrong. I just want to be clear that this doesn't mean that everyone has to approve of homosexual sex to make up for others who have mistreated them, much less do we have to redefine marriage for that reason.

7) "Equal rights!" This is I think the strongest argument offered in favor of redefining marriage. Unfortunately, it is nowhere near as simple as most advocates for redefining marriage like to portray it. Our American culture (especially) is very into "rights" and "equality"--to an irrational extent. So most people who toss this one out, do so more out of this feel-good American sense of equality and some vague notion of "equal rights" than they do from having really thought it through.

Rights involve justice. Justice involves considering not just blanket "equality" but equality that is based in balance, in giving things their due. The lady justice holds scales, and not for no reason--because justice includes this notion of balance. Goods offered by the state, as they are to married people, are offered in relation to the perceived goods of marriage. Therefore, to make the case for homosexual unions being equal to heterosexual marriage, one would have to make the case that they, as a rule (i.e., as the norm), bring with them equal goods.

Chief Justice Roberts hit this nail on the head today:
I’m not sure that it’s right to view this as excluding a particular group. When the institution of marriage developed historically, people didn’t get around and say let’s have this institution, but let’s keep out homosexuals. The institution developed to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.
It is — yes, you can say that it serves some of the other interests where it makes sense to include them, but not all the interests. And it seems to me, your friend argues on the other side, if you have an institution that pursues additional interests, you don’t have to include everybody just because some other aspects of it can be applied to them.
Yes, it really does come down to not only two people in a loving, committed relationship but also 1) the  capacity to normally produce children and 2) the typical raising of those children in a stable relationship by the same man and woman who brought them into this world. Are there exceptions? Sure--heterosexual couples can not have children, and these days, it is possible for homosexual couples to procure children artificially. But these are the exceptions, not the norm. And the law should reflect that. This article by two distinguished professors of law and one of bioethics tackles the intrinsic relationship between marriage and procreation far better than I can. I highly recommend anyone who doubts this connection to read it.

Finally, redefining marriage has other, undesirable consequences:

Before getting into these, I should note, in response to some critiques of this article that focus on these three points exclusively, that the following consequences do not sum up the arguments against redefining marriage. The burden of proof to change such a time-tested human institution belongs with those wishing to change it, and so they must demonstrate a compelling state interest in making the change. As seen above, they have not yet done that. That there are also negative consequences are not the sum of the case against redefinition; these are but part of it. The primary argument against redefinition is simply that marriage is intrinsically a heterosexual union, as illuminated in the article referred to above.

I will add objections to these points and answers to them as they come up.

1) It perpetuates the false notion that children are not integrally tied up in marriage, that their good and their future is unaffected by marriage. We all know such a proposition to be plainly false, and yet many are ready to enshrine that false notion into law by redefining marriage thereby implicitly tossing the normal good of children by the wayside.

Objection 1) Marriage is not just/only about procreation and children as seen by the fact that infertile and aged couples can marry, and there is no test/guarantee that fertile couples will have children.

Reply to Objection 1) See the article referred to above. It illuminates the nature of marriage and how it is intrinsically connected to procreation and children. Part 2 of the article also add further clarification on the matter.

2) There are inadequate protections of conscience and freedom of religion for those who do not hold with redefining marriage to include other forms of unions. It is not far fetched to see how, without such protections in place, people could be forced to violate their consciences and/or the tenets of their religion by being forced to marry, participate in such marriages, and/or recognize them in ways that they find morally objectionable. We see this happening with other issues of conscience such as abortion today, and even without the redefinition of marriage, people have been caused to violate their consciences or lose their livelihood. As I said, it's not far fetched at all.

Objection 1) This is a red herring. These rights can be protected without regard to the definition of marriage.

Reply to Objection 1) In theory that is possibly true. However, this is a very real consequence, and it is happening already. Basically, once homosexual unions are recognized as legal marriages, it makes it far easier to bring suits against those who object to them on moral/conscience/religious grounds. If homosexual unions are not granted equal status in law, then there is a much weaker case.

3) By divorcing the meaning of marriage from the normal procreative aspect, it removes any defensible rationale against other forms of state-recognized unions, be they sexual or even asexual in nature. Sex itself, divorced of its procreative nature, has little meaning, much less meaning as far as the state is concerned. Put another way, it should really be irrelevant to the state what the sexual orientation of the people involved is (that's the essence of the equality argument, right?). So as far as recognizing a self-declared committed relationship as "marriage," there is no reason to prevent others--regardless of their sexual orientation or behavior--from declaring they they love each other and want to commit publicly and legally in a "marriage."

Objection 1) This is the slippery slope fallacy.

Reply to Objection 1) This is not a slippery slope fallacy--that fallacy requires that there be no demonstrable rationale or evidence for the connection/consequences identified. On the contrary, the consequences are not remote/extreme nor is this based in an appeal to fear. It is just a simple examination of the rationale advanced in favor of redefinition and the logical consequences of it. We are talking about making marriage have nothing to do intrinsically with sex or procreation--that is the logical consequence of the homosexual "marriage" rationale. Even proponents of redefinition recognize that these are the rational consequences of their position.

Now maybe some advocates find nothing wrong with these other forms of unions. And frankly, if marriage were simply about loving people declaring their love to the world and getting some nice legal benefits for it, I'd as a rule agree that there's nothing objectionable in granting the status to any such persons. By all means--any two or more adults who want to enter into such an arrangement should be allowed--if that's all marriage is. But that's just it--marriage is more than that. It's always been more than that. It is inexorably tied up with (heterosexual) sex and, consequently, children, as expounded above.

The redefinition of marriage to these other forms makes marriage nothing more than a convenient arrangement of two or more people for the sharing of goods, rights, and responsibilities in a manner that has traditionally been seen as part and parcel of marriage. It strips marriage of what is core to it--sexual complementarity that biologically unifies a man and a woman in the communion of a family. That complementarity is by its very nature intrinsically procreative, even if not every sexual act results in procreation, even if there are impediments to the possibility of procreation.

In Conclusion
If we, as a society, want to sap marriage of all the good it does society, then I think we have to ask ourselves, what is all this hullaballoo about? If all it is about is people getting public recognition for their loving feelings toward others, then the state should just get out of the marriage business altogether. There is no reason for it to be involved. Let people have all the public ceremonies they want for that purpose in whatever religion or lack of religion suits them and matches their worldview!

If redefining marriage is about making it easier for loving people to care for each other (or to facilitate the equitable division of goods in the dissolution of such relationships), then by all means, ensure those legal apparati are in place and equally accessible to all. Even marriages are aided by extra legal contracts around individual goods (pre-nuptials). I don't see any reason why such agreements would have to involve marriage. Just write up a contract to handle it. Done. We don't need to redefine marriage for that purpose. Also in this case, the state doesn't need to be involved in marriage to solve that problem.

But marriage is not just these things--they are ancillary to it. Marriage is about both stable loving commitment and intrinsically procreative and child/family-oriented unions. Those conditions only apply to heterosexual unions. I would go further to say that we/society/the state have a lot more work to do to promote and support healthy families as I have previously argued. This is not just about "denying" homosexuals the "right" to marry. It is about recognizing how poorly we are doing as a society in encouraging healthy marriages and families and not letting the state of things get even more confused and deteriorated by further undermining the institution of marriage.