Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Non-Religious Case Against Same-Sex Marriage

It’s not going to surprise any regular readers of this site that I think homosexual relationships are sinful. It might surprise you that I don’t think they should be illegal.

I think the government should stay out of our lives as much as possible and those sins that only do serious harm to those who are willing participants – e.g., bedroom behavior – shouldn’t be legislated against.

I agreed with Justice Thomas on Lawrence v. Texas that Texas’ sodomy law was “uncommonly silly” (but constitutional).

But I think same-sex marriage (SSM) should be illegal. Is that a glaring contradiction? I don’t think so.

A Religious Case
The Bible is pretty darn clear that homosexual behavior is wrong. It takes some pretty amazing feats of eisegesis to determine anything else. But not everything that is wrong needs to be illegal. I don’t think lying should be illegal, nor should adultery, and neither should homosexual behavior.

But there is a difference between not making something illegal and smiling on it. Same-sex marriage would be our society blessing this behavior. It’s not saying, “what you do is between you and your maker;” it’s saying, “what you do is perfectly fine.”

The Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good” (Is 5:20), and I can’t see how SSM could be anything but that. God does not say “woe” lightly; we do not want to become a society who blesses what God calls evil.

A Case of Questionable Data
Of course, we can’t just make a religious case against SSM. We don’t live in a strictly Christian society, so merely appealing to the Bible in not sufficient. We need to argue based on reason and those values we all hold in common.

The most common such case against SSM says making marriage mean anything makes marriage mean nothing – that when just about anything qualifies as marriage, then marriage loses its value as an institution. The result is said to be that heterosexual, child-producing marriages become less common.

A decline in marriage results in a declining birthrate and/or increase in out-of-wedlock births – neither is good for a society.

People point to Europe as an example of this phenomenon, and various European nations do appear to be in various states of this situation.

But I’m not at all sure whether we have an example of causation or merely correlation: Are the declining birth and marriage rates a result of SSM or are all of these products of something else? I’m not sure we can say with much confidence, so I don’t think we’re going to get far with that argument.

A New Case
I recently came across a novel argument against polygamy that is obviously applicable to same-sex marriage too.

There is one important question to ask: What if everyone did it?

If everyone married a person of the same sex, our nation would die. We need reproducing couples for our society to continue. We must have traditional families.

If government cannot allow everyone to do it, it cannot allow anyone to do it. It can’t tell these people they can marry whomever they please, but those people have to marry a member of the opposite sex. Why not? Why because we’ve already declared (if we have SSM) that everyone has a right to marry whomever they please.

“But we limit things all the time.” Yes, but that is given limited resources – e.g., there can only be so many radio stations on the dial – which doesn’t apply here. And, again, we’ve already established that everyone has the right to marry whomever they please.

“But everyone doesn’t want to marry a member of the same sex.” True but irrelevant. The question isn’t whether everyone wants to but what if everyone did. That such a thing would be catastrophic shows that this is a bad thing.

It would be different if we were talking about something that had always existed, but we’re not; we’re talking about something government is essentially creating. It should not create something that is obviously not good for our society.

Everyone can’t marry their own sex. Everyone can’t marry a dolphin. Everyone can’t marry their brother.

Everyone can marry a member of the opposite sex. That is the union government can rightfully, safely put its stamp of approval on.

Your turn: Tell me where you think I’ve made an error in logic.

29 comments:

Nancy said...

Sin followed to its conclusion will always lead to death... that is why it is sin. God is the creator of all life and promotes life and life giving activity. Those activities or relationships that are against nature(proclivity to life) are against God.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I'm not sure the "what if everyone did it" argument is all that successful either. There are plenty of things that would lead to terrible results if everyone did it that we don't have rules against, never mind laws. If everyone went to medical school, it would be a waste of money, because there wouldn't be a need for that many doctors. If everyone played goalie, you'd never have anyone shooting goals. If everyone became professional musicians, society would be very unproductive.

So I'm not sure such an argument would work unless you already presume moral wrongness, and you can't do that here unless you have a prior argument. Lots of things are ok (or are ok to allow legally) but only if relatively few do them. But here we've got almost a guarantee that only a few would do it. In places where it is legal, not even all gay people are getting married, and it's only a small minority of the general population who are gay to begin with.

ChrisB said...

Jeremy,

Sorry for taking so long to get back to this; I wanted to take some time to mull your comments over.

Obviously this isn't a slam dunk case, but I thought it'd be more convincing than it apparently is when I first encountered the idea.

But the objection "what if everyone went to medical school" and such sidesteps that we're 1) not talking about a situation of limited supply and 2) talking about government creating something. I think that second point is the clincher -- can government create something that it can't let everyone do? I guess governments are free to engage in self-destructive policies, but should voters permit it?

Jeremy Pierce said...

That's better, but it still targets too many things that are perfectly ok. We can't all be President. We can't all be Secretary of Homeland Security.

Also, it doesn't target the case-in-point. The government isn't making people gay. All it's doing is allowing gay men to marry each other and gay women to marry each other instead of restricting marriage to male-female pairings. So it's extending a benefit to more people, not creating a situation where some limited resource is only going to be available to a few. The resource is available to heterosexual couples either way. It's not self-destructive unless it encourages heterosexuals not to get married, but there's no reason to think it does that.

ChrisB said...

Jeremy,

What do think about the religious argument I offered above?

dobson said...

I think you confuse sexual activity with marriage: I have 2 kids but I am not married to my partner.

You argue that gay relationships are in some way novel, but homosexuality and homosexual couples have existed for a very long time, since long before the founding of America or Christianity.

What is more novel is the state and religious denial that such relationships do exist or have value to society.

The "what if everybody did it" argument seems iffy to me. There are plenty of things that would be very bad if everybody did it, but quite good in moderation: Driving a car?

Likewise there are many heterosexual couples who choose not to have children? What if everybody did it... it would be a disaster but luckily most people like kids and it will never happen. The what-if argument is just silly because it contemplates something that could never occur.

ChrisB said...

Dobson said:

"You argue that gay relationships are in some way novel"

No, I said same-sex marriages are novel. Same-sex relationships, while nothing new, were never equated with marriage before.

"There are plenty of things that would be very bad if everybody did it, but quite good in moderation"

As I said in the post, there are some things that require control because of limited resources, etc, but we cannot take that approach to SSM because we've said that everyone has a right to marry whomever they please. We don't say anyone has a divine right to drive.

"Likewise there are many heterosexual couples who choose not to have children"

But they're not asking the government to get involved in that decision.

"silly because it contemplates something that could never occur"

Of course (I hope) this would never happen, but it points out the flaw in the pro-argument by showing that this is asking government to create a toxic arrangement.

dobson said...

As I said in the post, there are some things that require control because of limited resources, etc, but we cannot take that approach to SSM because we've said that everyone has a right to marry whomever they please. We don't say anyone has a divine right to drive.

No, driving and civil-marrigage are both secular or civil rights.

I agree that everybody should have a right to form a civil marriage contract with whoever they please, however I still do not see in what sense that marriage might be thought of as something which could ever be controlled due to a "limited resource".

Of course (I hope) this would never happen,

You hope? Thats like hoping that day follows night. Most people are not gay and have no inclination to be gay. People who are afraid of a gay population implosion need to get over that fact.

but it points out the flaw in the pro-argument by showing that this is asking government to create a toxic arrangement.

I'm not seeing how allowing same-sex couples to form marriage contracts is "toxic"? Other than their inability to produce offspring which we have both noted I cannot see any difference... perhaps there is an unstated assumption in your argument that you believe the purpose of marriage is to provide an environment for children? I personally believe that civil marriage can serve many other purposes.

My own position: I strongly support religion's rights to bestow or deny their sacraments on whomsoever they wish - it's really none of my business whom Catholics, Scientologists and Hindus choose to marry.

I do think we should not confuse the many religious sacraments of marriage which are ultimately derived from their respective religious laws with civil marriage (which despite being a historical derivative of the judeo-christian marriage tradition) is a form of secular contract enshrined in civil law.

I feel that governments should have no right to dictate to religions whom they should be allowed to marry. Likewise no single religion should be able to dictate who should be eligible for civil marriage.

ChrisB said...

"driving and civil-marrigage are both ...civil rights."

A matter of opinion, I suppose. I don't think either are rights at all.

"I strongly support religion's rights to bestow or deny their sacraments on whomsoever they wish"

It will never work that way. Once the state says that same-sex "marriages" are legit, religious groups who object will find themselves pressured to comply.

dobson said...

It will never work that way. Once the state says that same-sex "marriages" are legit, religious groups who object will find themselves pressured to comply.

There are plenty of things permitted by secular laws but denied by religious laws: My country's laws permit pork to be butchered and eaten. I'm not aware of any tendency amongst faithful Jews and Moslems to embrace pig-meat.

Do you think that your own church would change it's religious laws to match the secular laws? In what way would this pressure be applied?

A matter of opinion, I suppose. I don't think either are rights at all.

If you have a valid driving license, have paid your road-taxes and have legitimate access to a vehicle then the law of many countries grants you the right to operate that vehicle on a public road. It's an example of a right which you have as a consequence of secular laws... that in the broadest sense is what I mean by a "civil" right.

(I do not mean the phrase in the same context as "the civil-rights movement".)

It's a good comparison with marriage, because it is subject to some limitations: e.g. small children will not be issued driving licenses.

Usually these limitations are imposed for some greater public good. The case I think you need to argue is that denying same-sex couples the right form civil marriage contracts serves some public good which substantially offsets the couple's loss of personal liberty.

Also I think you need to deal with the consequences of any argument you make: For example civil marriage grants you rights of inheritance, visiting rights if one's spouse is sick in hospital.

What public good are we serving by denying these rights?

ChrisB said...

"Do you think that your own church would change it's religious laws to match the secular laws?"

I think the churches would be forced to change their behavior and possibly their teachings to be in line with public policy. This can be done via tax policy, law suits, or, if they're brave enough, by jailing dissenters (as has happened, infrequently, in other countries).

"If you have a valid driving license, have paid your road-taxes and have legitimate access to a vehicle then the law of many countries grants you the right to operate that vehicle on a public road."

All those ifs show it isn't a right. I don't have to get a license to practice free speech. Driving is a regulated privilege. As is civil marriage (i.e., one that carries with it certain legal privileges).

dobson said...

I think the churches would be forced to change their behavior and possibly their teachings to be in line with public policy. This can be done via tax policy, law suits, or, if they're brave enough, by jailing dissenters (as has happened, infrequently, in other countries).

Do you have any strong evidence to support this fear? SSM is legal in the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium and Canada. Perhaps you could point me to an example of a religious person being persecuted for their views in those countries?

Civil laws are generally far more permissive than religious laws (at least in Western Democracies). I previously gave an example about Jewsish dietary laws which are much more strict than FDA food-standards.

American law permits anybody to eat pork and yet Jews choose not to. As far as I am aware the state has no problem with this. None of my Jewish friends seem to have a problem with the fact that many non-jewish enjoy a ham sandwich.

Why couldnt SSM work the same way?

As is civil marriage (i.e., one that carries with it certain legal privileges).

This is the point on which we agree: Both civil marriage and driving on a public road are freedoms granted by the state subject to some restrictions. They are both things that government does not allow everyone to do ... hopefully for good reasons.

My comparison with driving was intended to demonstrate an example of a freedom which government restricts for non-religious reasons. Let me give you an example of the kind of argument I think you could make:

Is it fair that small children are not allowed to drive? The government will only issue driving-licenses to adults. This is a sensible restriction because experience shows us that most small children lack the ability to drive responsibly. The child's loss of freedom to drive can easilly be balanced against the rights of other road-users not to be be injured by badly driven vehicles.

Now can you make a similar kind of case to justify your original argument?

How might it harm society if this minority of couples were allowed to form civil marriage contracts? Can you show that this harm is both plausible and significant enough to deny gay couples something that heterosexual couples consider to be a basic right?

Also...

Can you explain the logic behind your original argument, specifically the idea that something which "if everybody were to do" would be bad, then nobody should be allowed to do it? Do you still feel that this is a strong argument even after I pointed out that this argument was based on an implausible fear?

dobson said...

For discussion:

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1885190,00.html

Marisa H said...

I am not saying this in open agreement or disagreement with your opinion. I am saying this just for the fact that you need to take some things into consideration. I must say that there are many holes in your argument. Your religious case is strong, but only if one already agrees with that position. However, this is a matter of religious opinion, so arguing it would be futile. The non-religious argument is at several points, with all do respect, somewhat ridiculous and easily torn to shreds. The claims regarding the declining birthrates and marriage rates can be easily refuted. There is dangerous overpopulation world-wide, and, in America alone, the divorce rate is over 50%. The claim that traditional families are needed for society's existence is not a strong one because most families today are not traditional. And the hypothetical 'What if everyone did it?' scenario is, in a word, ludicrous. There is an infinite number of 'what if' type arguments that could be used against you. And, there is no way that this particular scenario is in any way plausible because approximately 85% of the world's population is still heterosexual and would not consider marrying a member of the same-sex.

dobson said...

Marisa,

I agree - ChrisB's "non religious argument" makes no sense at all because it's an appeal to extremely implausible fears.

Now that Vermont and Iowa have permitted gays to marry we shall see if ChrisB's fears come true. And if they do not, I hope that ChrisB will have the integrity to admit that he was wrong.

By the way, we should also be talking about the religious objections to homosexuality. I think it's a more interesting topic.

Nitz said...

"If everyone married a person of the same sex, our nation would die. We need reproducing couples for our society to continue. We must have traditional families."

There are so many things fundamentally wrong with this argument. Please stop using it.

If we need reproducing couples for our society to continue, then whey do we allow those who are unable to bear children to get married? Why do we allow the elderly to marry? Are you not allowed to get married without bearing the burden of children?

Our civilization will not die. A sperm and egg do not necessarily need to meet in the bedroom. Science has given us the tools to get around that. IVF and surrogate mothers would keep us in ample supply in the unlikely event that everyone awoke in the morning gay.

ChrisB said...

Nitz, I'm sure you're not going to be surprised that I disagree with you, but you do have the first comment in a while that doesn't immediately make me think you didn't actually read the original post.

"A sperm and egg do not necessarily need to meet in the bedroom."

True enough. But I don't think any of us what to visit the Demolition Man future. At any rate, there's more to child rearing than conceiving (a fact that has sadly escaped many American parents). You can argue that two moms are better than none, but you can't argue that they're better than a mom and a dad.

"If we need reproducing couples for our society to continue, then why do we allow those who are unable to bear children to get married?"

The argument is against expanding the existing definition of marriage via government. That the existing version allows non-reproducing couples does not justify government intervention to broaden the definition.

Mulloy said...

I think your idea of "What if everyone did it" is sound, but the premise you're attempting to extrapolate isn't. Instead of thinking about it in terms of sex, why not think about it in terms of "Marrying someone you love and are committed to." This is, ideally, what marriage is about. Is that something everyone should do? I think so. Is it something that has any preference to sex? No.

For your argument to hold, you'd have to argue that sexual attraction is something you choose. If you don't simply choose whether you like men, women, both, neither, then your slippery slope is not very steep and there is no impending slide to oblivion.

Think of marriage in terms of a union between two loving, committed human beings, not a game of matching plugs to sockets.

Mulloy said...

I think your idea of "What if everyone did it" is sound, but the premise you're attempting to extrapolate isn't. Instead of thinking about it in terms of sex, why not think about it in terms of "Marrying someone you love and are committed to." This is, ideally, what marriage is about. Is that something everyone should do? I think so. Is it something that has any preference to sex? No.

For your argument to hold, you'd have to argue that sexual attraction is something you choose. If you don't simply choose whether you like men, women, both, neither, then your slippery slope is not very steep and there is no impending slide to oblivion.

Think of marriage in terms of a union between two loving, committed human beings, not a game of matching plugs to sockets.

dobson said...

Shoot me down, but I've long believed that the sort of people who try to get the most mileage from the "what if everybody did it" are themselves same-sex-attracted people in denial.

George Rekers comes to mind - the man is so paranoid that America is becoming over-run by gays. Everywhere he looks the poor man sees gayness and he's terrified because when he looks within he sees his own homosexual attraction, which he believes will send him to hell.

Most folks who are comfortable with their heterosexuality understand that no matter how socially acceptable homosexuality is, we are never going to turn gay. It's just not going to happen. Likewise, no matter how much social pressure you put on people you cannot turn a gay person into a straight person.

All you can do is create socially repressed, dangerous hypocrites like Ted Haggard, George Rekers, and all the other closeted right-wing self-hating homophobes.

That popular catchphrase comes to mind:

SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY... NOW GET OVER IT! :-)

ChrisB said...

Hi, Mulloy,

Thanks for commenting. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you.

Marriage has always had restrictions of one sort or another. Our society allows you to marry one willing member of the opposite sex who is of age and not a close relative or already married. All of those restrictions seem logical to me.

That "love and committed" thing sounds great, but marriage isn't really about that. It's about raising the next generation. It always has been. You don't need a piece of paper to be committed. The legal status bestowed on marriage is to aid in the raising of and providing for children.

My argument does not depend on whether SSA is chosen. It is about what kind of relationships we choose to give those special benefits to.

BTW, ignore fake Dobson. He has yet to show any sign of having actually read this post.

dobson said...

Chris, so glad to have you in the debate. It's true, that I am fake but dont blame me... I was born that way. Not everybody can be the REAL James Dobson, sadly I'm one of the billions who are not him. Now onto your points:

That "love and committed" thing sounds great, but marriage isn't really about that. It's about raising the next generation. It always has been. You don't need a piece of paper to be committed. The legal status bestowed on marriage is to aid in the raising of and providing for children.

This exact same argument was made in the Proposition 8 trial... I think it was one of the weaker arguments the Pro-8 team made since they were not able to show any evidence that this was indeed the case.

Ted Olsen pointed out that prisoners on death row, infertile couples and couples beyond child-bearing age are permitted to marry. There's never been a legal pre-requisite of reproductive possibility in order to marry.

In addition, no part of the constitution gives states or federal government the right to promote or discourage human reproduction. I think none of us would particularly like to live in a country where the government thinks it can promote or discourage human reproduction!

A requirement that marriage be for procreation may exist in your religion, but remember we are trying to find a "non-religious case against same-sex marriage".

My argument does not depend on whether SSA is chosen. It is about what kind of relationships we choose to give those special benefits to.

What you've actually done here is make an appeal to tradition - but even if we accepted that your view was traditional, why should this prevent us from changing the tradition? Must a society be bound by it's most conservative group?

Interestingly enough you will also find that similar arguments made in the laws overturned by Loving vs Virginia: The laws which prevented people marrying based on their skin-colour were once held to be "logical" and "traditional".

I also found it interesting that David Blankenhorn (one of the witnesses for the Proposition 8 proponents) actually conceded that marriage was likely to be good for children of same-sex couples. Since marriage makes for more stable families and automatically confers valuable rights (e.g. spousal hospital visiting) - you'd need to argue that the government has an interest in denying these basic rights to certain kinds of family.

DOBSON (fake)

Jeremy Pierce said...

Dobson, that last argument is actually an argument for civil unions. Since civil unions have such benefits, you don't need marriage to get them. So it argues not for marriage but unions.

dobson said...

Jeremy,

Dobson, that last argument is actually an argument for civil unions. Since civil unions have such benefits, you don't need marriage to get them. So it argues not for marriage but unions.

If you read back through my comments you might see that I've been arguing that society is confused about two distinct things sharing one single name.

We have the secular institution and custom of civil marriage which is administered by government and confers a number of civil rights (of the kinds I mentioned earlier).

We also have the religious institution(s) of marriage. Each religion and sect has it's own idea of what this should be. I feel that a religious marriage should only confer rights and status within the relevant religion.

In some countries (e.g. the UK), if you want both you need to get both. For example, you could have a Hindu marriage in the temple or a Christian marriage in the church. Neither are recognized by the state. You then have to head over to a government registry office to complete the secular part of the arrangement.

I personally believe that since religious marriage is a religious sacrament, it should be entirely up to the religious organization and not the state to set criteria. On the other hand, civil marriage is an instrument of the state, which ought not to discriminate on any grounds, unless of course a non-religious case can be made for discrimination. That is what we were supposed to be discussing here, I thought!

Some Christian churches will most likely never bless gay marriages, others already have no problem with these arrangements, yet more will eventually change their minds. I'm sure you are aware that until the Southern Baptists once opposed interracial marriage, integrated worship and even the abolition of slavery on theological grounds.

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Anonymous said...

Whatever your personal viewpoint on the subject be, there is ample proof that homosexuality is biological, and not a choice. Homosexuals cannot choose to marry someone of the opposite sex, simply because they are not attracted to them. The "What if Everyone Did It" argument is invalid simply because, everyone can't do it. Just as not everyone is heterosexual, not everyone is homosexual. It's not a decision or a choice people can make, it's just something that you're born with.

ChrisB said...

"there is ample proof that homosexuality is biological"

I hear that a lot. I see little evidence presented.

But it's immaterial. Many things that are natural are also wrong. We don't have to give in to our natures; that's civilization.

Salim said...

The position of most reputable scientific authorities is that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. It seems to be defined by a combination of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors, possibly quite a few. Wikipedia has a good summary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_homosexuality

Even though this is a mystery that science has yet to 100% crack, we can be absolutely sure that there's not a shred of evidence to back up the "it's just a lifestyle choice" theory promoted by evangelicals.

It takes a wilful disregard of the overwhelming body of evidence to insist that gay people can simply choose not to be gay.

I can see why evangelicals are keen to promote this fringe-theory: The overwhelming scientific evidence shows up evangelical dogma as cruel and unreasonable. It's no wonder that they'd like to keep on blaming same-sex attracted couples rather than themselves.

Furthermore, a great many anti-gay evangelicals are most likely struggling to come-to-terms with their own same-sex attraction. I'm thinking of Ted Haggard, whose pre-outing anti-gay invective can only be understood as giving voice to his personal frustrations. Most people simply not same-sex attracted. There's nothing to be afraid of!

But lets keep to the topic - I'm still waiting to hear the non-religious case against allowing same-sex couples for form civil marriages. All I've read so far is Christian dogma and apologetics - interesting stuff but it does not count as non-religious.

ChrisB said...

I'm sorry, folks, but I just don't have the energy to respond to comments from people who don't appear to have even read what I wrote. Since that's pretty much all I get at this late date, I'm cutting off the comments on this piece.

If you feel the need to comment on this, feel free to do so via the "contact me" link.