Sense of Entitlement

When Australia wants to improve its position on human rights, one of the big hurdles is Christianity. Yes, while there's a prominent Christian lawyer and active human rights campaigner on the committee to garner input from Australians, there's also the Australian Christian Lobby that really aren't happy with the idea.

Let's look at some of the spin:

It delivers increased power to vested interest groups who have failed to win their case for change with voters

Ummm, hang on. There's some code here. What they really mean there is that it grants normal human rights to same sex couples.

It turns rights into a tool for conflict through rights assertion

Translated: Conflict is bad. Leave things the same. Anyone who actually needs help with their rights should just shut up and stop making waves.

It fails its stated objective of protecting the vulnerable in society

Which means: it doesn't protect us vulnerable right-thinkers and our insufficiently insulated children from the invashun of teh gays.

However the point that tugged on my heartstrings was bullet point #3

It puts at risk important freedoms Christians take for granted by putting them on a level playing field with other "rights"

Oh cripes! This human rights business is all about bringing specially entitled Christians down to a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD!
Wouldn't that mean that Australian Christians end up with merely equal rights? The sky is falling!


I'm not sure if you can stream this is Australia or not, but here is a U.S. version of the gay marriage, um, debate:

*is still chuckling*

I think I want to have Stephen Colbert's babies.

You did notice that "them" in the sentence you bolded refers to "important freedoms", not to "Christians", right? "Level playing field" is still funny, I agree.

About gay marriage itself, I think that there are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides--the question hinging on what the function of civil marriage is anyway. Of course none of the debaters are objective, but when is that ever the case?

Judah notes: "hinging on what the function of civil marriage is anyway."

Bingo. That's an important observation. What are the contenders for marriage function?
* having babies - in which case we should be denying the right to marry for couples who intend to remain childless, and that includes anyone who can't reproduce due to disability or age;
* nurturing children - in which case any type of couple (or extended union) should be allowed to marry if they can provide a nurturing environment for one or more children;
* legal asset-sharing based on a long term non-familial emotional bond - the sexes of the participants really don't matter here;
* forging political bonds between family groups (or kingdoms) - ditto;
* asserting ownership and sexual access rights of one person over another - ditto;

There are probably more (potentially socially useful) functions one could attribute to marriage. I haven't tried to produce an exhaustive list. I'd be interested in hearing of any that specifically require opposite sex couples. I want to hear the reasonable arguments for the anti-same-sex position.

I think your list is pretty good. In particular, the goals of having and raising children seem to me to be the most important ones to society at large. (Legal asset sharing can be important to individuals, but surely there are other ways than marriage to accomplish this. In fact, considering the number of bitter divorce cases one hears about, I would tend to call legal asset-sharing a necessary evil of marriage rather than a reason to marry. Political bonds between kingdoms were quite important back in the day: do you think that that is how marriage gained importance as a civil institution? I never thought of that, but perhaps there is some merit to the thought. In any case, same-sex marriage would never have worked for uniting kingdoms, of course, but kingdoms are no longer as pressing issues as they were.)

So to come to the reasonable arguments for the anti-same-sex position: you've already inferred them and addressed them. You say that if the purpose of marriage (to society) is having babies, "we should be denying the right to marry for couples who intend to remain childless, and that includes anyone who can't reproduce due to disability or age." That's a fair point, in my opinion, but not a telling one. Reductio ad absurdum is not always a safe way to argue: I could counter by saying that if the purpose of marriage is to facilitate an emotional connection between two beings (or anything else that includes same-sex marriage), then it should be extended to people and animals. (Fortunately, the bestiality community is not big enough to make this a real issue and complicate the matter further.) No matter where you draw them, unless you are a really hardcore nihilist, lines have to be drawn, and it is not always easy to draw them with mathematical formalism.

To address your specific point, about what the difference would be: I'd say that the difference is one of kind: biologically infertile couples fall into the class of heterosexual couples, which as a whole, is the class that produces (and usually raises) new members of society. Homosexual couples fall into a different category. Of course you can attack this thesis fairly easily, as I have not provided any outside justification for this division into classes; if you want I can try to take up that end of the debate, but my real point is that categorizing things is hard to avoid, and also hard to do in some empirically/theoretically airtight manner, if such a manner even exists. Do you think that you can do it? How do you distinguish between man and wife, man and husband, owner and pet, even narcissist and self, for instance?

As I said, arguments can be made for both sides, but ultimately I think that an element of subjective judgment is inevitable. Unfortunately, however Justice is depicted, judgment is seldom blind.

I agree that laws and lines of demarcation generally come down to making some category decisions, and I can see why many people are happy to make a marriage category decision on the basis of different-sex (a potentially reproductive union) vs same-sex (a traditionally non-reproductive union), even though physical problems like age may not be consistent with the reason for making the distinction. In traffic regulations we take blood-alcohol content to be a proxy for driver impairment, even though an experienced driver with high tolerance for alcohol who's over the limit might be far safer than a less experienced driver who gets giddy and disoriented after one drink. We try to make laws based on the actual thing we want to regulate, but in practice we need to use proxy measures that are correlates of the really important factors.

So with marriage, if one assumes that the most important reason to support marriage as a civil institution is to ensure the propagation of the species, then using same-sex vs different-sex as a proxy for reproductive fitness is a fair call. In this crowded world of over 6 billion people, with far more children than can be adequately cared for, my disagreement is with the assumption that we should be making any rules to favor increased reproduction.

We don't have a problem with lack of children, yet we have traditional institutions geared towards making as many of them as possible, regardless of the social and environmental consequences. Maintaining a traditional system that encourages further population growth is a recipe for a Malthusian nightmare, which can only lead to increased conflict and suffering on massive scales if growth outstrips the organizational and technological changes we need to support it.

What we have in our westernized societies is a social acceptance of birth control, of reproduction being an option rather than an imperative, of quality of life and relationships being a suitable substitute for fulfillment through reproduction. We've reached the stage where our society is better served by letting people live satisfying lives without any pressure to procreate. The biological urge to make babies and raise children won't magically disappear because we accept childlessness as a morally supportable lifestyle decision.

As humans we have all sorts of natural urges. Most of them had their usefulness from an evolutionary development perspective. A lot of them need to be artificially limited now that we've already been fruitful, multipled, and covered the face of the earth. Some ideologies and traditions would have us shun birth control, shun relationships that allow emotional and sexual fulfillment without reproduction. Anyone with the mathematics to understand geometric series will see why I consider these ideologies to be blind to reality and morally repugnant.

Biological urges don't change quickly. Societal mores can change drastically within the space of a few generations, and we need to let them. China has adopted a fairly draconian approach to dealing with the overpopulation problem - their one-child policy. Why should we value relationships that can produce offspring over ones that can't? Allowing and even encouraging same-sex relationship options delays the time when our reproduction laws curtail the rights of those who want babies.

The categorization issue doesn't need any supporting argument. It's the root values that sex categorization is a proxy for that need reexamination. Why should our society still favor making more babies?