Gay “Marriage”

An all-too-typical conversation (semi-paraphrased):

Associate: “You really don’t think that gays should have the right to marry?”
Chuck: “I don’t know what you mean, for good or for bad, gays do have this right.”
Associate: “No they don’t. For example, they can’t marry here (in N.C.).”
Chuck: “But surely they can. Traditional marriage is open to gays.”
Associate: “Yes, but gays can’t marry other gays.”
Chuck: “Wrong again. For example, as the law stands, a gay woman can marry a gay man.”
Associate: “Yes, but homosexuals can’t marry homosexually.”
Chuck: “Heterosexuals can’t marry homosexually either. Why can’t you see the equality of the situation?”
Associate: “But homosexuals don’t prefer to marry heterosexuality. They are not allowed to legally marry in accordance with their preference.”
Chuck: “This misstates the situation. We just do not legally or socially recognize non-heterosexual marriage. We also do not recognize non-monogamous marriage. Indeed, there are an indefinite variety of possible forms of relationships which are not eligible for recognition as marriage — homosexual coupling is just one of many.”
Associate: “But gays still can’t marry.”
Chuck: “We already went over this. Gays can marry. Homosexual marriage is just not on the menu.”
Associate: “But that’s wrong. Everyone should have the right to marry as they want.”
Chuck: “You mean: All possible forms of relationships should be recognized as marriage?”
Associate: “Yes.”
Chuck: “Why?”
Associate: “Because it’s unfair to socially and legally privilege some forms of relationships and not others.”
Chuck: “So you think that granting legal and social status to a form of relationship privileges it?”
Associate: “Yes, of course”.
Chuck: “Doing so privileges one form of relation relative to other forms?”
Associate: “Of course.”
Chuck: “What about relative to people who do not prefer to be a part of one of the possible forms that could be privilege?”
Associate: “What do you mean?”
Chuck: “Well, imagine that N.C. privileged an indefinite number of forms of relations, so that any grouping of people could have their relation legally recognized as marriage. But imagine that some people abstained from this future marriage just as some people abstain from the present form of marriage. Would those who were married be privileged relative to those who were not?”
Associate: “And those who were not had the right to marry?”
Chuck: “They could enter into a relationship and have this sanctioned as marriage — an arrangement which according to you has privileged status. But they happen to prefer not to.”
Associate: “Because they have a right to marry they are not unprivileged.”
Chuck: “So you agree that since gays have a right to heterosexual marriage they are not unprivileged?”
Associate: “No, that’s different because gays want their relationship to be privileged but their relationship is not allowed to obtain this status. The people you talk about don’t want to be in any privileged relationship.”
Chuck: “You mean: they don’t prefer to be in a relationship: as a result, it is not wrong that they are unprivileged?”
Associate: “Right.”
Chuck: “But imagine that at least some of them didn’t want to be unprivileged. That is, they preferred not to be in any relationship and yet they resented that people who preferred to be in a relationship were privileged. They would rather that everyone, both those in a relationship and those not, had the same status. Just as we imagined above a more general class of possible marriage formations — people in any relationships — relative to the traditional one, we can imagine an even more general class relative to yours: all people. Your marriage merely privileges a wider set of people than traditional marriages. How is that more right?”
Associate: “This doesn’t make any sense. Marriage is by definition a contract or agreement between multiple individuals.”
Chuck: “Would you wish to propose that as a state amendment? And if so, why? So you can exclude a single person from half of the tax breaks that two married people get?”
Associate: “Why would anyone want to marry themselves?”
Chuck: “That’s not the question. The question is: “Why privilege any set of individuals over any other?” Why can’t you see the similarity here: privileging certain heterosexual relations over certain non heterosexual relations and privileging relations over non relations? — or have you changed your mind with regards to whether or not granting legal and social status to a form of relationship privileges it? Or do you think that relationships can only be privileged relative to other relationships? Maybe we need to reexamine what we mean by privilege.”
Associate: “But this doesn’t make excluding gay people from marriage right.”
Chuck: “How many times must we go over this. Gay people aren’t excluded from marriage. Rather marriage between homosexuals, like marriage for polygamous groups, like marriage for singles is just not recognized.”
Associate: “But it’s not right that gay marriage is not recognized.”
Chuck: “What is justification for privileging as married homosexuals who wish to publicly announce that they are in a relationship and who are willing to go through such and such formalities?”
Associate: “The same as that for homosexuals?”
Chuck: “Which is….?”
Associate: “You tell me.”
Chuck: “We both recognize marriage to be a socially and legally privileged state. We both recognize that there will always be some unmarried individuals. And, therefore, on this account, some unprivileged individuals. We both recognize that privilege needs to be justified. You are the one arguing for the expansion of the institute — so you are obliged to offer an expanded justification. The more you expand it, the more — not less — justification you need, until you expand it to everyone. So what is your justification?”
Associate: “So you agree that heterosexual marriage is unjustified?”
Chuck: “I agreed to no such thing. The classic justification was that it encouraged the procreation and rearing of the next generation; this is a social good of sufficient standing to make right whatever privileges are afforded.”
Associate: “But not all heterosexual marriages lead to procreation and rearing — and increasingly many non-marriages do lead to this.”
Chuck: “No doubt. Which is why we should reexamine the rational for continuing to privilege marriage in its current form — instead of trying to expand the institution in a manner that makes it less justifiable. It’s possible, though, that traditional marriage can still be justified with the classic justification.”
Associate: “How so?”
Chuck: “By recognizing that potentially procreative, child rearing publicly announced relations constitute a social good. And that child rearing occurs most effectively with exactly two parents. And that all deviations from this state are suboptimal.”
Associate: “This seems like a flimsy justification. So I don’t see the problem with gay marriage.”
Chuck: “Again, the default would be no marriage — if marriage was some sort of privileged state, which you argue that it is. If marriage is as it is unjust, then more marriage would be more unjust. In absence of a compelling justification, you are arguing for expanded marriage and therefore expanded injustice.”
Associate: “But why not another justification?”
Chuck: “Name it. The justification needs to be strong enough to make right the unequal status given to different groups of people. This includes singles and multiples. The starting point is marriage open to none. Work from there.”
Associate: “But why couldn’t gay marriage be seen as a suboptimal form of “traditional” marriage?”
Chuck: “It could, so long as allowing for homosexual marriage didn’t undermine the up till now justification by altering the implicitly socially understood purpose of marriage. Alternatively, one could argue that the introduction of homosexual marriage was too radical of an act and that this would reshape the institution such that it would become unjustifiable.”
Associate: “But what constitutes too radical? Why isn’t allowing seniors to marry too radical. This seems very subjective.”
Chuck: “Objectively, too radical is that which tends to lead to a change in the understanding of the purpose of the institute. Ideally, one would be able to look across an array of societies which had an array of marriage formations and see which promoted and which undermined a particular social understanding. But we can’t do this, so we have to make a judgment.”
Associate: “But what ground is there to think that allowing homosexual marriage will alter the supposed implied purpose of marriage?”
Chuck: “For one, many advocates for it openly state that gay marriage will effect this change. And many are unwilling to even recognize the traditional justification. They don’t even offer an alternative — they just point to the apparent equivalence between hetero and homosexual relations and then sputter. As if that dealt with the moral problem. But I imagined that they do have a justification in mind. The implicit justification for recognizing homosexual marriage is that it elevates the status of people who identify as gay and, more generally, that it breaks down traditional institutions, and that it promotes egalitarian ideals.”
Associate: “But what’s wrong with that justification?”
Chuck: “Granting the implied social good, this might be a fine justification for unrecognizing heterosexual marriage and for recognizing homosexual marriage — but not for recognizing both.”
Associate: “But unrecognizing heterosexual marriage would not be popular and so if the social good X,Y,and Z this would be the most efficient way to achieve that end. So gay marriage could be justified as a means to this end.”
Chuck: “Not publicly, obviously.”
Associate: “Sure, but in the minds of some influentials.”
Chuck: “I appreciate that. I disagree with this social ideal.”
Associate: “Why?”
Chuck: “I have a different vision of the social good and of the ideal society, of course. And, therefore of what privileges can be justified. This debate is not about equality or about discrimination, per se. No one is demanding: “Single rights!” And the courts have made clear that discrimination is justifiable if it advances the social good, as in the case of discriminating for Blacks and Hispanics for the sake of “diversity”. This debate is about the social good and the best way to realize this. And I don’t see gay marriage as promoting my vision thereof — at least not in the present intellectual milieu.”
Associate: “So what’s the point of discussing this. You have one good. I have another.”
Chuck: “To clarify to both of us that this is, in fact, a conflict of goods.”

It’s difficult to make headway in understanding these issues because one constantly has to argue with numbskulls who would deny that there is anything to discuss.

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3 Responses to Gay “Marriage”

  1. B.B. says:

    What do you think of Greg Johnson’s argument for restricting state-recognized marriage exclusively to child-bearing couples?

    • ChazIng says:

      Alan Keyes addresses this way back in 2004: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrD8zvCUtWc

    • Chuck says:

      (edited)

      This makes sense to me. As I see it, the institution as it is is barely justifiable on non progressive grounds for the reasons Johnson discussed. Gay marriage will alter marriage enough such that a new implicit rationale will be needed. But the new ones offered are all basically progressive-egalitarian. So marriage will be transformed into the bedrock of left progressive society. And this is the deep goal. “Conservatives” won’t want to give up the institute of marriage; so they will adopt progressive marriage as an ideal. As usual, they are useful idiots. Johnson’s idea represents a radical restoration of marriage as a non progressive institution — obviously, there would be tremendous opposition to this. So, it’s not a practical solution. But as an ideal it makes sense.

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