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June 22, 2003

The Conservative, Atheistic Argument Against Homosexual Marriage. What is it?

Had a question bubble to the surface after digesting Jonah Goldberg's article dealing with Canada's recognition of same-sex marriage in conjunction with a few other posts on current homosexuality memes.

Do social conservatives ever win something that could be considered a lasting victory? I assume that they do win at least the occasional battle in the cultural wars, though for the life of me I can't recall the last one. Prohibition, I suppose, and that can hardly be considered lasting in nature. It would seem that at best a social conservative can only hope to slow down the process of time, that conservative bulwarks in the culture wars are always built upon sand.

My guess, and that's all that is is right now, is that socially conservative values tend to draw mostly from a religious source, (not that it is axiomatic that religious feeling and social conservatism go hand in hand) and religious influence in Western culture has been on the wane since the Renaissace. It's been a long fall, but since the Church held a mostly unchallenged sway over the West for hundreds of years before the Renaissance, it had a great distance to fall in the first place.

It's easy to name major social conservatives, but they all tend to have a strong affiliation with one religion or another; Bill Bennett (Catholicism), Dr. Laura(Judaism), Jerry Falwell (The Southern Baptist flavor of Protestantism), which leads to another question.

How many atheistic, agnostic or irreligious conservatives are there who also opposes homosexual marriage, and on what grounds do they oppose it?

I could be wrong, possessing a blindspot or a odd lack of information when it comes to the makeup of social conservatism, but I don't think there are many, or that their arguments are considered among the first weapons deployed by the Social Right on the issue.

This lack of visible atheists or agnostics means that in any faceoff between the Social Right and the Social Left, all the Left really has to do win is convince the audience that the argument deployed is some variation on the words "God wants it this way." If Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson appears on Nightline to debate a particular topic, the opposing side barely even has to state an argument.

"God wants it this way" is a statement of faith, and is thus absolutely useless when it comes to argument, especially in a nation that is still essentially Protestant when it comes to matters religious. Disagreeing with others over religious interpretation is a staple of Protestantism, it's why there are so many Protestant sects. The issue of homosexual ordination will likely split off a few more. Protestantism is built on the edifice of personal interpretation of the Bible, and telling me that God told you he wants something one way when I know damn well he wants it the other way is a recipe for disaster rather than cultural influence.

Supposedly religious affiliation in the United States is growing. If so, then the Social Right may be able to build another temporary bulwark against cultural change, but there aren't many signs of one in the making.

Right now, Republicans control of every branch of the federal government there is, and I do count the Supreme Court, yet on every issue that matters to the Social Right, paragraphs like this one from the Salon review of Sex and the City could be written

Without a doubt, sex and the city have changed a lot since 1998, when the girls first danced and dined and dished all over town. For one thing, the show should take a lot of the credit -- and the blame -- for making sex talk seem downright mundane. Somehow all of the possible avenues -- big penises, malfunctioning vibrators, oral sex, cheating -- have become cliché overnight. The thrill of hearing four women discuss the G-spot or bikini waxing or faking orgasms has faded significantly.

The heck with control of the government. What the Social Right needs is control of HBO.

Update: Andrew Sullivan makes a similar argument.

Posted by Bigwig at June 22, 2003 02:13 AM | TrackBack
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As a religious social conservative, I try not to get too exercised about all this. If Peter and Paul could exhort the first century Christians to respect their government and simply live and teach the principles of Christianity, then surely I can do the same no matter how socially liberal the United States becomes. I oppose gay marriage and will vote accordingly when possible, but I won't get out and demonstrate or otherwise waste my time trying to defeat it. After all, what does this really change? I find it hard to believe that there are homosexuals out there who refuse to practice homosexuality because they can't get married.

Posted by: Kevin at June 23, 2003 08:43 AM

I think your guess is probably correct--that most people base their opinions on issues of gay marriage (if they are opposed) to a religious teaching.

Well, here are two folks (Kim and myself) who are opposed to gay marriage and we're both atheists.

I'll let Kim speak for himself (if he chooses), but the disagreement is likely based on a religious teaching, but not on religious grounds. In the same way that I understand not to "cry wolf" without needing to believe there IS a real wolf.

I would have absolutely no issue with (and would readily support) a state equivalent, such as an easy to obtain "partnership" agreement, that for all intents and purposes, offered the same protections and benefits as marriage.

My objections to gay marriage are based more on the slippery slope argument than any other AND the fact that I find the political correctness bullshit much the reason for its adoption. The term marriage has meaning. It MEANS something. We don't get to change the term to mean something that it doesn't mean, simply to prevent offending people. The term is intentionally exclusionary and defines a broad scope of the law including a commitment between a man and a woman, their property, and the parentage of their offspring (regardless of the biological parentage) brought into the world through their union.

The term currently means the 'joining of two houses' of a man and a woman. If we are redefining it to mean the joining of any two houses, which may include a man and a man, why not redefinine it more thoroughly: a man and a man and a woman, a man and a man and a man.

One of the purposes of marriage (as a legal concept) was to determine how assets are owned and controlled at death. When you have competing interests (multiple husbands) the issue becomes cloudy on assets and on things such as burial, etc. Power of attorney, which are automatic, can become confused with multiple spouses.

There is absolutely nothing stopping gay partners from having a ceremony, cementing their vows in public. The "legalization" of gay marriage is intended to provide legal protections for the union--which can be easily accomplished by making domestic partnership agreements easier to obtain. The legalization issue is a ruse. It is intending to "sanction by the state" gay marriage to become "acceptable." Why and for what purpose?

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit at June 23, 2003 09:21 AM

As to what purpose, man-woman marriages gain several economic benefits that other partnerships don't, including preferential tax treatment, ownership of property as tenants by the entirety, (in some states), and community property (in others). I think there's at least a credible equal-protection argument to be made for offering those benefits to committed same-sex couples, even if that argument has not been persuasive to the American polity as a whole to this point.

I think Mrs. du Toit is conflating the ecclesiastical and the contractual aspects of marriage. The state determines the rights of the parties in marriage, and if Mrs. duT. is advocating "marriage in all but name" for same-sex couples, then I'm not quite sure if I even disagree with her. It seems to be a nomenclature quibble more than anything else, and the ecclesiastical side (what does a marriage really mean?) seems to be up to the two people involved and the person who solemnizes their union.

Posted by: Dave at June 23, 2003 11:13 AM

I think I'm doing just the opposite of conflating, Dave. Marriage is two seperate things: legal and religious. The moral aspects of marriage fall into the domain of morals and the state has no opinion (or should have no opinion) on the matter. The state has an opinion on marriage, because the historical record proves that the marriage union aids, clarifies, and simplifies complex legal matters.

Nothing is stopping anyone from calling themselves "married" or making vows to commit to another person.

The legal state of marriage is clearly defined for purposes mentioned above.

One doesn't have anything to do with the other and can exist exclusively.

A few states already have domestic partnership agreements, making it very simple for same-sex couples to have all the legal protections and benefits of marriage. Since partnerships (or nearly all contractual agreements) in one state must be recognized in all other states, the partners need only file for a domestic partnership in a state that offers it to get the benefit.

Since people are still fighting for something, which clearly already exists, there is something more to this battle than the legal protections.

The state cannot demand that religious institutions offer the marriage ceremony to same-sex couples. That would be a direct (and I certainly hope clear) violation of the First Amendment.

So there is no battle here. I don't understand why people are still debating this. I see ulterior motives.

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit at June 23, 2003 12:44 PM

Here's one.

Assuming you think society needs laws to restrain human behavior at times, you must think that we have a bit of the beast in our human nature.

But you must also realize that society doesn't work just because of its laws. It has laws to function as restraints on behavior - to protect us from each other. But I know you inveigh against overly intrusive government -- so you must think that you can have too much law. How then to constrain the destructive bits of human behavior, in the absence of a police state?

Two other things - internal motivations and restraints, and social institutions - keep our inner beast from getting out of control and running rampant through society indulging itself.

The greater the strength of internal checks on behavior, the less social institutions (churches, civic groups) and laws are needed. An intensely moral society wouldn't need a lot of external controls -- the inner morality of the people would keep the joint in order. We aren't that people.

To maintain a civil society then, we need either strong social institutions, or laws, or some combination thereof, to take up the slack.

The nuclear family consisting of a man, a woman and kids, is biologically natural and has been found to be a good civilizing force. We humans have tried other arrangements, and this is the one we settled on in the West. (Keeping in mind of course that the plural marriage experiment is still ongoing in those fortresses of enlightened though, Utah and the Middle East).

Why does institution of marriage work? I don't know, but social research proves that when the man sticks around the woman and they have kids, the kids grow up less troubled, more productive, and carry on the species well. There are some exceptions but it's generally true. Additionally, communities peopled with stable family units (including extended family units) tend to be good places to live. The kids have some checks on behavior beyond what Officer Clancy can provide, and the parents make better neighbors than the six singles sharing a ranch and imitating MTV's Beach House.

Why did we settle on the traditional family unit as the basic building block of society? Probably because it worked better for more people than did harems or other ways of organizing society. The way we live - the traditional way of doing things - wasn't handed down from upon high. Our society evolved into the things we call "traditional".

But tradition is stupid. WHy hang on to it? Because the good things - the traditional things - are the things we keep because they have some intrinsic value over time. We discard things only when they are no longer of use. A good example is buggy whips, which we stopped making when cars became popular.

But why not have homosexual marriage, it will be a stable force in the community, right? Wrong. Homosexual marriage is in many ways a challenge to the traditional western notions of family. That thing about morals and God -- which still matters pretty intensely to a lot of people around the world, making it a social reality if not a physical one -- is interconnected with the purely social institution of marriage. If the traditional nuclear family loses its primacy in either religion or society, its status as the basic building block of society will have been jettisoned. It will be just one more contractual arrangement, no more important than the cable guy's agreement to be there by 10:00 AM.

Moreover, if two guys can be a married couple, why not three? "All we want is the same thing other people have" is a bogus argument, because Harry and Sally isn't the same as Harry and Fred. The fact that two people love each other does not make it the same situation as marriage. The right presently asserted - "I have the right to marry anybody I choose" - is an open-ended right that is just as valid when asserted as to one life partner, or 10. Why not have plural marriage, if they are a loving threesome? Right? Or a foursome, for that matter... Other than the fact that our ancestors, for some reason, rejected that formulation.

Then we get to the heart of the conservative point: rejecting the tried, and true, and successful, in favor of some untried notion of "progress" is foolhardy. Life isn't a social experiment in which a handfull of supreme court justices should test out new social ideas.

You want to try gay marriage here in the U.S.? Let's see how it works out after a generation in Canada. If it works out okay, I'll be all in favor of allowing it. But just a week into Canada's experiment, there are already noises about the hate crimes law there compelling the Catholic Church to marry gays. Go ahead, laugh all you want at the irony of that, but ask yourself, what right a couple gay guys in Toronto have to dictate religion to my Church.

Like a lot of social "progress" I'd be fine if it stopped with one thing or another. But the radicals (in the French revolution sense) don't oppose injustices, they oppose everything that isn't new or part of their new top-down scheme to make society a better place. If you want to get a sense of this, take a look at the reaction of the gay rights groups in Canada to that problem of churches refusing to perform gay marriage. Their' thoughts range from "just wait" to "you wanna bet?" Somehow, I don't think the right to gay marriage is the end of the line; I think the point of the issue is to first rais gay marriage to the equivalent of marriage between "breeders" (the derisive term for us straights, BTW), and then to force any institutions that hold heterosexual marriage in a privileged position to renounce that default position. If you can't see how that is destructive of an important social institution... well, then I guess you don't buy into the idea of social institutions being important from the get-go.

Finally, your attempt to remove morals from the discussion is ridiculous, because morals very often parallel and precede things we take to be secular norms. For example, if you were to argue about why it's wrong to kill people, I guess you would eventually get back to the 10 Commandments. So other than "God said it", can you come up with one good secular reason not to kill other people? If morals are irrelevant, then so is the whole discussion about same-sex marriage, because marriage either has morals or it does not. It is either (1) a secular institution consisting of a bundle of contractual rights and no morals; or (2) a social institution that has moral flourishes beyond the contractual agreement. If it is the former, then why bother with gay marriage, when you can just cut a contract or use a civil union? If it is the latter, then morals are relevant.

Posted by: Omnibus Bill at June 23, 2003 12:55 PM

I apologize for over extending my invitation here, but a quick response to Omnibus regarding the law/morals issue:

Criminal laws, murder (for example) WERE based on religious laws/traditions. Civil law was not. A quick check of the Founder's words, I think it was Jefferson (or Madison) who said, "the civil laws were not based on religious laws."

Marriage (from the State's perspective) is a civil matter.

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit at June 23, 2003 01:04 PM

"Marriage (from the State's perspective) is a civil matter."

Funny, but in classical-era Germany, so was murder. No concern of the religion - which at the time was probably pantheistic nature worshiping of one type or another. In the Post-Roman Empire Europe, in contrast, marriage was an almost purely religious matter -- though the state would notice marriage.

And to clarify and simplify my own personal opinion - which is not the secular argument asked for by Bigwig: I have no problem with civil unions, but it is a state-by-state matter. There is no federal right implicated, because equal protection is not implicated. Gay men are as free to marry a woman as straight men; and lesbians are as free to marry a man as are straight women. Marriage in this country does not encompass the right to marry someone of the opposite sex - well, not until that right is granted, and I say granted because it would be really hard to see that as a traditional right reserved to the people.

I view the ideologues behind the gay marriage push as leading an attack on the institution of marriage. It isn't a frontal attack, but a lateral attack attempting to water it down and dilute it with redefinition, until like the word "is" in the Clinton White House, it means everything and nothing at once.

It's not my paranoid delusional fantasies either; it comes straight out of the pages of Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse' work. Both marxist revolutionaries insisted that the existing social order had to be destroyed in order to institute a new paradise on earth. Destruction of the existing social order could only occur when "transgressive" actors in society became "privileged" over the "hegemony" of the "dominant culture". This involves favoring the rights of the criminal over the victim; favoring the deviant over the socially normal; privileging the "oppressed" race over whites. Do that, turn the tables upside down quickly enough, and the existing social order could be destroyed, or so Marcuse thought.

It is vaporous left wing psychobabble, yet both authors are incredibly influential in leftist circles here in the U.S. Take a look at the left's upside down priorities, and tell me it hasn't taken root. Maybe 95% of the people who support the left on these issues aren't up on their Frankfurt School philosophers, but the folks at the heart of the movement are.

Oh, and one other thing: Marcusians have captured the universities. If you recognize the terms I used sneer quotes on above, it's because they have become the language of political, historical and literary critique. Professor Kors of U Penn wrote an excellent boook on this, The Shadow University. If you recognize the name, it's because he's now working with FIRE, a group that is litigating to strike down speech codes at schools across the country...

Posted by: Omnibus Bill at June 23, 2003 02:42 PM

Mrs. du Toit, I can name one perk of marriage that married couples have that couples in a domestic partnership do not; that is the tenancy by the entirety, where the shared property of a married couple is exempt from the debts of only one member of that couple. Domestic partnerships do not have any similar protection.

I guess I'm still unclear, after reading what you wrote above, whether you would extend the protection of tenancy by the entirety to the domestic partnership, or not.

(That's just one example; the favorable tax treatment of married couples is not available to domestic partnerships either--couples in a domestic partnership must file as two singles.)

So, do you want to extend all the legal, civil protections of marriage to domestic partnerships, and call them anything but "marriage", or are they to be two separate, unequal institutions?

Thanks for clarifying.

Posted by: Dave at June 23, 2003 02:57 PM

Apologies for following up to myself, but I have this horrid fear that on such a sensitive topic, I may not have made myself clear or may have misunderstood Mrs. du Toit.

My understanding of the gay marriage issue is that there are some protections that are statutorily granted by the state to married couples, for which non-married couples cannot contract. So domestic partnerships do not give to same-sex couples all of the legal protections that marriage does; 90% of them, maybe, but not all.

My own position is that the other 10% ought to be given to same-sex couples as well, and I don't really care if it isn't called marriage.

(SH, thanks for your indulgence.)

Posted by: Dave at June 23, 2003 03:50 PM

Mrs. du Toit, you're welcome here whenever you have a notion to stop by, as are all of you, of course.

The posts are meant to attract comment, after all :)

Posted by: Bigwig at June 23, 2003 04:29 PM

Thank you, Bigwig.

Dave: IMHO, I think that whatever the benefits are to married couples (and all the hassles of getting out of the contract) should apply to a domestic partnership agreement. It does matter (to me and many others) what it is called. These “dissolution” cases are going to be interesting for the family courts to handle.

This creates all sorts of issues for things such as Social Security survivor benefits, health, life and auto insurance, etc. Insurance companies will have a field day trying to average the life expectancy of a partnered male to a partnered male. The tax issues are only one of a zillion issues.

All those benefits also come with all the responsibilities--they must be mutually exclusive contracts (no more than one partner at a time), community property, etc. I can certainly understand why no one wants to open that legal web. But the one-size-fits-all "marriage" contract doesn't work for same gender couples either, so some work would have to be done anyway.

I really don't think it will happen here, so I think it's a moot issue.

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit at June 23, 2003 06:27 PM

Having a newborn is somewhat constraining when it comes to participating in this, but rest assured I am reading the comments. :)

On the nuclear family--it's actually a fairly recent development, brought on as much by the advent of fast, cheap long distance travel as any other pressure. Before the mass transportation system, the typical American family was a much more extended one, with multiple generations under one roof. Whole families moving in with one another during hard times was also very common. It happens today as well of course, but not to anywhere near the same degree.

Just because the nuclear family is the standard familial arrangement at present does not guarantee that it always will be. Societal and environmental pressures have always influenced what a sociey considered a marriage, whether it was nuclear, extended, polyandrous or polygynous.

My own personal preference is for extended, but the wife, somwhat understandably, thinks that I'm nuts. I would think that strictly from an evolutionary viewpoint it would be in a society's interest to have a number of models available for adoption.

It could of course be argued that the societal need for conformity in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the society outweighs this value, but that doesn't reduce the validity of the, let's call it the "marriage diversity," argument.

Murder -- I think one could make a convincing argument that the recognition of murder predates any religous adoption of at as a sin, at least as applied to members of one's one troop or clan. The idea that without religion murder would be acceptable is ludicrous. Since an atheist would presumably dismiss the idea of life after death, would they not then value human life all the more? After all, to an athiest when a life it snuffed out there is no hope of continuation. Religious thought does not have a exclusive lock on morality.

What do you think, Mrs. du Toit?

Posted by: bigwig at June 23, 2003 10:36 PM

Bigwig, are you okay with a court redefining marriage, and just ordering society to go forward with gay marriage?

Or would you rather that it be done over time, state by state, subject to small "d" democratic methods, as society sees itself ready for the change?

If the former, then what standards would you propose for guiding judges, in determining when to redefine basic components of society?

Posted by: Omnibus Bill at June 24, 2003 12:33 AM

I prefer small d change, of course, but I don't see any way to keep the issue out of the courts. If one state legalizes same-sex marriages, then the remaining 49 are required to recognize them.

Somebody will end up filing suit three minutes after Vermont or Hawaii pass a bill recognizing homosexual marriages, the suit will wend its way up thru the sytem, and then the Supremes will rule on it one way or another.

Posted by: Bigwig at June 24, 2003 11:05 AM

I couldn’t agree more on the importance and preciousness of life to an atheist. After all, we believe we’re worm food (and no more) after death, so this is it. You get one shot. Make the most of it.

I think religion (no offense to religious folks) attempted to define and formalize what the folks walking around the cave had figured out. Some of it was totally illogical (thinking that the earthquake or other disaster was caused by something the tribe had done), but they didn’t have much to rely on, so superstition had to suffice. With that caveat, I think thousands and thousands of years of observation (without having any scientific explanations for anything) has delivered up the rules we live by today. Some things, like plagues, are obviously caused by disease and not heaven-sent thunderbolts, but the way to lessen your risk relies on much of what these wise old folks told us.

So it doesn’t matter as much if these ideas popped into someone’s head because of religion or they came about through careful observation. The important thing is that people don’t discount religious teachings, simply out of hand. ‘We’ have a tendency to want explanations (sound ones) before complying with a societal rule. I think that’s backwards. Comply, then figure out if it makes sense, but you’ll do no harm to yourself or others while in the discovery process. I am incredibly cautious about making sweeping changes to societal rules, with the explanation that it is justified because “well, it’s an old fashioned religious idea.” I want more info than that. Why did religions, especially since many religious share similar tenets, have this as such a big issue? I think they observed that deviations to these patterns caused endless (and preventable) grief, both to the parties involved and the larger community. Throw away the hocus pocus if you want, but there is substance behind it, and I think it is foolish to ignore what the ages taught through parables and oral histories.

Murder is an interesting concept. Taking the life of someone who is trying to kill you is a clear concept. Taking the life of the tribe that's trying to invade your territory is also pretty straight forward. I think most would agree that killing for the sport in it would constitute "murder."

But, taking a member of the tribe and sacrificing them was acceptable for a very long time. Today we'd classify that as murder, but it didn't used to be.

It's my sense that our take on murder is based on the Judeo definition. You cannot take a life except in defense (and they have a nice healthy definition of defense, which includes “risk”).

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit at June 24, 2003 12:58 PM

"Throw away the hocus pocus if you want, but there is substance behind it, and I think it is foolish to ignore what the ages taught through parables and oral histories."

Exactly: let us not ignore the ancient Greek and Roman stories of the beauty of love between members of the same sex. Let us not ignore the acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality that characterized Christian Europe, with a few notable exceptions, up until the 1200s. Let us not throw away the wisdom of the native American tribes who revered the gay male as blessed.

Posted by: Priest of the Void at September 12, 2003 04:16 PM

I try to see all of the posters comments thru their eyes and understand where they are coming from, but it basically comes down to this for me.....or should I say IMHO. Do you believe in evolution or religion?
With all the science and technology availible to man today, how many times more should they 'prove' the Bible wrong before it is to be believed?
Did all life begin in seven days....or seven million years? Someone tell me the truth.

Posted by: Mensa Wannabe at January 21, 2005 01:32 AM
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