I intend the following post to be my last for now on the Same Sex Marriage debate, as I have other business to attend to – including the delightful prospect of setting up a “Subversion” suite (sorry, it’s a web dev thing – has nothing to do with politics and culture).
The first comment, which is also a last comment or intended to be, was written in response to the latest return from Sam Wilkinson, who has over the last few days done me the service of stubbornly defending a position that I find highly susceptible to criticism. I’m also appending some earlier comments and excerpts, including yet another attempt, this one by way of logical illustration, to address a common argument that I consider fallacious, and that I have addressed previously in other ways (including in recent posts, but see esp. “the belief that gay people are evil” including accompanying comments, and “The Marriage of Equality and Inequality – 1: Bigotry” and following).
For a full consideration of the opposing views, the reader may of course follow the links, but my purpose here is the possibly vain one of archiving my own comments in the hope that some day I might be able to prepare a more systematic development of the argument without having to start all over again from scratch and without having to track down the originals on someone else’s site.
The “last” comment – on a place if any for heterosexual eros in law and custom, not to be regarded as “homophobic”:
Your position is confusing to me, Sam. You say you want these people heard, but you do not want it to be believed that they have an argument possibly worth listening to. Now you say you want an “accurate understanding of their arguments and why they’re making them,” but you previously stated that you do not care about what people “choose to argue,” but care only about “what they do.” You admit that you are using a “controversial” definition of “bigotry,” but then claim that their “position” is “plainly bigoted.” When you say something is “plainly bigoted,” you are suggesting that the position is bigoted non-controversially, bigoted in a way that should be obvious to all. Ludicrously, you say you are “shocked” that that your opponents do not welcome being tagged with a “moniker” that you associate with “monstrous”-ness (at least when you’re taking the position that it has anything to do with how people feel or think). In order to support this ludicrous notion – this notion that people should welcome being described as monsters – you then attribute to them “universally” a belief that they are “superior” to gay couples. The last is either a trivial example of a truism – because I believe my argument is better than yours, I in that weak sense implicitly view myself as your superior in relation to it, just as the team that scores the most points is superior to the losers on that day – or is hypocrisy and projection, since what’s much more likely and much better supported in and by all of your statements from the first words of your post to this latest comment is that you view yourself as superior to these bigoted monsters.
I am tempted to put a trigger warning on this next part, since even describing the following point of view has been declared offensive and painful by frequent participants in these discussions. It also tends to receive excited and rather chaotic, as well as judgmental and personally aggressive responses from some of those same participants.
I see no reason to believe that marriage as a concept and institution, in any of its many varied configurations across the millennia, was developed with homosexuality or homosexual eros chiefly or even significantly in mind. Its chief purpose all along has concerned the regulation of heterosexual eros, which, to say the least, manifests itself in numerous ways, most significantly from the point of view of the survival of the species via the production of offspring. The significance of heterosexual eros also extends beyond “the birds and the bees speech,” however. Genetic inheritance and, a different thing, the meaning attributed to it play major constructive roles in all societies, and natural science has lately come around to the view, or has returned to the in fact traditional view, that preference for one’s kin is “built-in” or instinctual – which doesn’t mean, of course, that it is the only basis for human relationship or motivation, or that it always trumps all other human relationships or motivations, or that it is a good thing or bad thing, only that it produces a universal background tendency, force of social gravity, and decisive potential (especially under conditions of stress).
It seems a simple observation of stubborn facts that homosexual eros does not bear upon this unique set of social, or authentically “sociobiological,” concerns in the same way that heterosexual eros does. To accept as much – even in our so very advanced post-industrial techno-state where we look forward any day now to the production of human beings via cloning vats, where we in the meantime contrive multiple alternative methods for the distantiation from the procreative sex act of the two primary participants, and where we seem as much to discourage as encourage family formation along traditional lines – has nothing to do with any arbitrary will to punish. Nor does an argument that heterosexual eros needs to be addressed as such in the law and custom, and in that sense needs to be treated differently and sooner or later separately from homosexual eros, rest in any sense on some arbitrary will to punish.
As I’ve argued elsewhere and noted frequently in these discussions, the implications of this line of reasoning – which can be thought of as the outline for a “scientific natural law” argument – may not lead where the traditionalists presume it must. I consider it worth examining, wherever it leads, and whether or not partisans find the discussion pleasing or helpful.
The existence of moralists who do believe in the discouragement of homosexual eros – and sometimes of all eroticism as such – and who are attracted to this topic does not affect the above argument, though it may certainly have had an important political effect (in favor of the other side). The question of hospital visitation rights, to use one of your favorite proofs of an objective will to punish, is likewise irrelevant to the above argument: Altering the definition of marriage or the allowable definitions of marriage retroactively and uniformly across all 50 states was not the only way to loosen or broaden ICU policies.
As already noted above, marriage is as much a system of constraints and responsibilities as an implied set of privileges, benefits, or perquisites. The availability of the latter to married people do not bear upon the main question either except, perhaps, in the following sense: I believe that an argument could be sustained that the perqs and benefits are mainly to be viewed as compensatory in relation to the sacrifices of personal freedom that couples make in order to achieve “respectability.” The movement toward exclusive and absolute transactionalization of the marriage bond, acccompanied by a simplistic and naive, propagandistic depiction of the marital state as itself simultaneously a reward and a necessity of life will be problematic, since it turns the “rewards of marriage” into rewards for nothing or rewards for self-indulgence, while resorting to the argument for contributions to social stability points to the justification for the heterocentric and procreation-centric institution (or sub-institution).
In regard to the argument we have been conducting on these threads, the ineligibility of non-married individuals for this notional respectability is, from the traditionalist perspective, simply definitional. Noting and enforcing it would not be a punishment, unless every incentive or compensation of every type is always a punishment to those who do not receive it, and all human equations are zero sum, and your gain, or your child’s gain, is always my loss and my child’s loss (speaking metaphorically here, I don’t have a child).
I’ll break off here rather than to try to develop the theme further, since doing so will either repeat other writing I have already done on the subject, or tend to pre-empt and distort an inquiry that deserves to be handled more carefully than I think we, or at least I, can manage here.
“Logical illustrations” on exclusion without derogation:
I’m going to focus in this comment strictly on a logical point, and by way of illustration that may be taken as minimizing by some, but is meant to avoid, for now, all of the other bases of our disagreement, including some historical or sociological and legal assertions you make that I consider to be inaccurate and ill-founded.
Before we go any further, however, I must correct you on a separate issue: Other than on a trip to the Pacific Northwest rather too many years ago that reached Vancouver and its island, which latter I have for all of the intervening period misidentified in my mind as “Prince Edward Islands,” when the actual Prince Edward Island lies all the way over on the other coast, it seems according to Google, I have never been to Canada, and my only other personal connections to Canada and Canadians are through my bandwagoning LA Kings fandom, and the fact that there is a McLeod, if not a MacLeod, who I believe is a Canadian, and does post at this site. I’m a United Statesian, lifelong mostly Southern Californian (son of California natives though, as it happens, I was born in a third country).
Now to the main discussion, or to the one aspect of it on which I would like to focus, since it comes up in the “ardently pro-SSM” discourse so frequently, even more frequently and centrally than the “how come it’s OK for old people but not gays?” question (which I have called a political cliche):
The main presumption that in my view colors your claim as to the non-existence of a conceivable middle ground, and that I consider logically flawed, is that the existence of an exclusionary standard must imply derogation of or animus toward those excluded. This premise is, it seems to me, obviously false.
If I form a club for ugly, loathsome, middle-aged Southern Californian men, then the very basis of the club might in fact be my recognition of the superiority of everyone outside of it, especially of handsome, attractive, youthful non-SoCals. My purpose in forming the club might be just for the sake of finding any friends at all, or finding a place where I might be accepted for what I so loathsomely am.
Likewise, if I were to form an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, and we decided to invite family members or friends of alcoholics, but to exclude people who are interested only out of idle curiosity, or restrict them to observing or non-participating roles, then this decision would not, it seems to me, by any reasonable standard or usage, imply hatred, or animus, or bigotry toward non-alcoholics and the only-alcoholic-curious. It would indicate a sincere interest on our part in alcoholics and their problems, and a desire not to be distracted from this issue of serious concern to us.
If I form a chess club, and over many years of operation I find that previous officers and qualified members have voted to include and sponsor Go and Checkers enthusiasts, out of a to them reasonable judgment (that I do not happen to share) that Go and Checkers are closely related board games, and that playing Go and Checkers is conducive to better Chess, and is likely to help spread the wonders of Chess to people with similar inclinations, then I may prefer to leave the policy unchanged rather than upset people.
When, however, a new initiative arises to include Monopoly players, or Call of Duty players, I might choose to draw the line. I might find allies who also never really liked the admission of Goists and Checkersists, and there might even be some among them, perhaps the most vocal and committed backers of the anti-Monopoly faction, who really did think that there was something wrong with people who didn’t play Chess and prefer it to all of those lesser games. I, however, might not share that view. I might greatly admire skilled Monopolists, and even secretly wish that I had been taught Monopoly instead of Chess, but also recognize that it was too late for me ever to become as skillful a Monopolist, or to open a Monopoly store as successful as my Chess store: I might simply lack the energy or opportunity to switch from Chess to Monopoly.
For you, apparently, the only possible word for me in that situation is “bigot.” Likewise, AA members obviously must be thought invariably to be motivated by monstrous hatred toward non-alcoholics. Likewise, ugly loathsome SoCals should not be allowed to exclude pretty attractive non-SoCals from their ugly loathsome meetings.
It goes without saying that marriage – under any definition – is a different matter than games or substance abuse or personal self-esteem. It may very well be that the main resistance to marriage equality has been from bigots. Simply as a logical matter, however, it would be quite possible for someone, rightly or wrongly, to prefer or to believe in a different standard utterly without reference to any emotions or beliefs at all regarding the character or practices of those excluded, or even to exclude not on the basis of hatred or animus, but out of admiration and envy.
In regard to same sex marriage specifically, and this will be the only point on the issue that I address in this comment, there has been in fact a group representing that last view whose existence you apparently consider impossible, and which your analysis, followed consequentially, would define as impossible.
I am referring to the group, whose best-known contemporary representative I believe is Justin Raimondo (there have been many others throughout the ages, going back most famously to the ancient Greeks), who, unlike you and your allies, consider the institution of marriage and the bourgeois norms associated with it to be nauseating if not contemptible. You might call Raimondo et al anti-marriage bigots, but they would deny this claim. They would argue that their derogation of marriage, like Engels’ or like the arguments once heard much more frequently among “hippies” and “radical feminists,” was completely well-reasoned. They would have preferred that those pursuing the ideal purity of homosexual eros, the love unhindered by practical or banal consequences, uncaring of approval by a society not worthy of respect, stayed away from the dreary middle class institution whose main purpose is to re-produce the oppressive patriarchal structures of the state.
This sensibility as not a fringe perspective but in fact as a somewhat popular one was best captured by the term that my gay friends used to apply to heteros (even the ones not seeking or likely to seek children): “breeders.” It this expression was “bigoted,” it would be so only by the most diluted definition. As far as my gay friends were concerned, I think it was, at worst, a bit of social jiu-jitsu of a familiar type, converting the standard of their derogation into an expression of their pride.
Whatever else you want to call the usage or say about my friends Jim and Sal and Eduardo and the other Jim and Blair (okay, I didn’t really know Blair very well), and their friends, the fact they grouped me with the breeders was not something I found offensive, even though in point of fact I wasn’t at the time trying to breed anything with anyone, and didn’t go on to breed. I bring them up not to point out that “some of my best friends are (or were) gay,” but only to assert from my own personal experience the recognition of a difference that was not perceived or experienced as bigoted, or unjust, or aggressive, or hateful. I’m pretty sure they didn’t hate breeders – even deep down. Some of their best friends were breeders, and they loved, and were trusted guardians and beloved companions of, their breeder friends’ children. Many of them went on to get married or to support marriage equality – they weren’t Raimondo-esque ideologues, but they weren’t uncomfortable with the concept of homosexual supremacy either.
More to the main point, I think they loved each other, but knew and accepted that they were different in some way, different in a way that was a better way for them, but not for me, and we were totally OK with that fact as far as I ever could tell. According to your pseudo-logic, we were all monstrous bigots, and could not be anything else. I reject that claim. I find it offensive and irrational. Your continued pursuit of it against reason, and for the purpose of expressing animus toward those with whom you disagree, without seeking to understand their views, I find much more clearly and certainly deserving of the term “bigotry.”
Responding to commenter “Francis” further on the exclusionary fallacy:
If everyone is invited into your clubhouse except 5% or less of the adult population, your claim that you hold no animus to the tiny remainder outside the door doesn’t have all that much credibility.
That’s an opinion based on pure assumption, without reference to the cited basis of exclusion. We can come up with many different approximate 95% vs 5% divisions of the population – rather common on certain political issues – in which the 5% excluded are hardly even thought of by most of the 95%. My club for people who think the Earth is round and rotates around the Sun bears no animus toward those who think its flat and that the Sun rotates around it.
From the point of view of traditionalists, gays were inalienably excluded from the institution of marriage in the same way that a, e, i, o, and u were not included in the list of English consonants – which isn’t to deny that such exclusion applied to human groups often leads to status assumptions, or even less to deny histories of homophobic oppression. .
Either way, there is a world of difference between “opposition to SSM has been driven by bigotry” as a general description, and the kind of logic Sam insists on, and which in one way or another others on this thread insist on, specifically and even openly in the interest of shutting down discussion, as per Alan Scott above, where he pleads that the very “sanity” of his victim class depends on our ceasing to discuss the matter at all. It should go without saying that a rule against discussions that might hurt people’s feelings or make people uncomfortable would be a rule against discussion at all. It should also go without saying that usually one way to ensure continued discussion is to insist that people shut up.
But your thoughtful concession on “Covenant Marriage” brings up an interesting question that I may someday want to put to the lawyers: If a state can support “Covenant Marriage,” what prevents a state – presumably with a large “dissenting” population – from mandating multiple marriage forms designed in one way or another to encourage stable heterosexual marriages? Put differently, under the new applications of equal protection, what would the state (or the states) be allowed to do that may tend to promote or favor biological parents in stable monogamous relationships, and what would they be precluded from doing… and how would people react to it? (The main argument from people like Sam is that marriage was designed as some kind of gift to hetero breeders, when it can be seen equally as a social system of constraints against disruptive heterosexual eros – and not just sexual passion, either.)
On “the bakers and photographers” (to commenter Will Truman):
Something in me rebels very strongly against the notion of government or the law forcing me or anyone else to undertake a creative act of any type against my will. “The right to be left alone is indeed the beginning of all freedoms,” as one very liberal, but not radical Supreme Court Justice once said.
I suppose if we think about it long enough we could find the difficult borderline cases, but forcing a photographer to go somewhere she doesn’t wish to go, to be among people who do not like her and whom she doesn’t like, presumably smiling all the while and taking photographs expected to evoke the joy of the scene in which in fact she finds no joy, is, aside from being weird, a kind of appropriation by the government, as an alien power, of her being: the conversion of the free citizen into a legally operated marionette.
I’ll skip the further analysis, though we can discuss the matter in more detail if you like. I’ll just say I wonder what we’re supposed to imagine is going to take place at the gay wedding with the cake baked and decorated by the unwilling baker, and the photographs taken by the coerced photographer. Is the idea that twenty years later, looking at the imperfectly exposed, starkly color-balanced, curiously composed wedding pictures, including of the completely banal, minimally standards-satisfying cake (that they could have gotten much cheaper and a little better from Costco), the couple is going to chortle together about what they put those stupid Bible-thumpers through, and never question their decision?
It seems degrading to me for all concerned, unless you really do believe that the political must trump the personal everywhere, always, and completely – which goes back to a difference between liberals and conservatives, in the eyes of conservatives, that liberals, though not radicals, usually are determined to deny, and have associated instead with the supposed “authoritarianism” of their adversaries.
On changing nature of “marriage,” differences between marriage in the law and in custom, comparison to miscegenation laws, and an attempt to re-state the main question precisely.
Francis: And the reason that they could not do so is that the very definition of marriage — as a matter of law — is radically different in 2015 than it was a century before. Yet the single most critical issue regarding the change of definition of marriage, the end of coverture laws, went almost completely undiscussed by traditionalists in the most recent debate.
I don’t have an opinion on the particular importance or lack thereof of coverture laws, but the distinction you point to, implicitly, between marriage as an “institution” and marriage “in the law” is to my mind a crucial one. In a familiar way, the distinction has been suppressed, whether for the sake of convenience or because collapsing it has been a main objective for both sides: Both sides want the law and, as far as possible or attainable, all functions of the state, to reflect their social concept (whether in relation to moral right and wrong, or dignity, or material interests). In the meantime, however, though the legal definition of marriage (direct and indirect) may be, as you say, “radically different” compared to 100 years ago, for a very substantial portion of the population the practical meaning, and related customs and expectations, may be unchanged or less radically changed in key respects.
As for the rest, prejudicial generalizations and characterizations regarding one side or the other or its unstated and unexamined arguments may serve political or emotional purposes, but I don’t find them illuminating. To me, the arguments and constituencies against “miscegenation” and against SSM seem to resemble and overlap each other, but they are not the same arguments and the interests are not the same interests. You may also, like Sam, have your own preferred definition for “bigot,” but I don’t consider the word “bigot” synonymous with “racist”: For me, the former refers to an attitude, the latter to an ideology, and I don’t think it’s such a “fine” distinction unless for you they’re both really just words for “political adversary.”
Either way, the “honestly held view” against miscegenation was first a theory about race and the role of marriage in eroding or promoting racial separation, not the other way around. The parallel argument, that opposition to SSM – or, a different thing, to the actual SSM movement, or, a different thing again, to its strategy, tactics, and arguments – is and must be simply and invariably a mask for homophobia, runs us round the same logical circle that Sam clings to, including in his latest reply on this thread, when he smuggles a resolution on the question that is supposedly under examination into a sentence meant to be explanatory, referring to “those that demand the state treat gay couples as less than straight couples.” That larger question, at least in relation to shared egalitarian assumptions, and at this stage of the larger discussion or potential discussion, is precisely whether the obvious “discrimination” also must amount to derogation, or a treatment of “gay couples as less than straight couples” in the way that Sam is using the word “less” – something like less worthy – in other words whether a) having an institution called “marriage” and reserved for heterosexual couples as such is inherently unjust [ADDED:], and, crucially, b), whether that fact, if a fact, is so self-evidently true that anyone who questions it must be considered disqualified from public discussion – which last is what I take the functional meaning of “bigot” to be for us.