I was following one of the blogsnob links served up to my webpage when I came across William Cox’s page Gallamine. While looking about I came across a ludicrous little article on why banning gay marriage is just. So I posted the following comment there, responding to others comments and then to the article itself, and decided to reproduce it here because it’s long enough to warrant reposting and because I think I argue well.
First off, about the commenters: Alt obviously knows absolutely nothing about Darwin. Although idiots have tried to find justification for various actions in science, the theory of Darwin (and evolution in general) cannot suggest that extermination is a necessity in any case… in fact, it is a feature of science as a descriptive discipline that science never suggests morality or impetus for doing. It describes the world as it is.And what does Darwinism describe? It suggests that “extermination” is what nature does to “the inferior” (not morally, but only adaptively inferior), and has already been doing so for millions of years. Meaning that, insofar as homosexuality might be tied to evolution and genetics, its very presence in our world today suggests that it does serve a purpose. If it’s here, it’s probably here for some adaptive purpose, just like all features of living things in a world winnowed by evolution… which suggests precisely the opposite of what Alt (and so many other ill-informed bigots) would have us think.
What might this purpose be? Well, for one thing, if you look at genetics, there are studies that suggest fraternal birth order has something to do with it, at least in some cases. (See: http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/students/SHUMAKE/psy308/Blanchard.pdf) The more older brothers you have, the more likelihood that you will, in our society, exhibit behaviour described as “gay”. Looking at this one theory, and asking what adaptive purpose could this have, can serve as an example of critical analysis that should be used with other scientific theories… that is, if you want to actually understand the evolutionary causes of those tendencies which, in our society, cause people to adopt “gay” roles.
Why would having more elder brothers cause one to be less aggressively interested in heterosexual relations? This is not too difficult to understand, actually. Humans evolved in small groups, with limited resources, both material- and human-wise. Finding enough mates for all the males in a single group of humans might have been difficult, and if all the males in the group were reproducing at the kind of rate that most of us seem to be interesting in doing, the human population probably would have exploded at a much more rapid rate than it actually did. While lemming-like binges-and-purge mating could have been possible, for humans it would have been a boom-and-bust situation in terms of local resources… meaning that those humans who did wish to mate all the time, and did so, and produced the number of babies that is likely to result, would have starved to death once their population got too big. (And of course, the link between male-female intercourse and baby-production wasn’t a total mystery but it also wasn’t so well understood. Look at some of the myths people have about it today to get a slight idea of what neolithic people must have thought.)
Conversely, if there are some males who are less interested in sex that’s likely to create babies, they could remove some of the stress of feeding all group members since, while everyone is still sexual, not everyone is reproductive. And the fact that such males have lesser spatial skills (rendering them less skilled at hunting) goes hand in hand with the fact that they’re usually linguistically more gifted… and thus better at communication. At the level of the group, they serve several adaptive functions. They could facilitate communication between males and females; they could also provide the group with male figures who still comprehend to some degree womens’ thinking.
And that’s just one argument about development and predisposition. There are many, and most of them can be analyzed, from the point of view of evolution, to show fairly sensible reasons why a certain portion of the population would be less interested in heterosexual relationships.
Which is not to say all males with these predispositions are going to turn out gay in our society. The gay role in modern (Western) society is a construction, and it’s not universal. In other societies in the past, gay was not a role or lifestyle so much as a kind of behaviour from among many uman behaviours. It was exclusive of heterosexual relations, for example, neither in ancient Greece, nor in medieval Europe, nor even in Victorian England. (And actually even today it is not.)
What I am saying is that homosexuality and heterosexuality are like modernness, or Americanness… it’s an idea we put on, that we use to make identities and that we allow to determine the ranges and limits on our possible actions. The genetics and developmental issues are different… they can only describe behavioural predispositions, and when we look at those, they seem to have quite a few plausible adaptive functions.
Now, turning to the main post: clever young William seems to think that he has a very smart idea here, by objecting to gay marriage on the grounds that the banning of gay marriage is equally applied to everybody. People universally cannot marry individuals of the same sex.
What’s the flaw with this argument? The flaw is that it’s a semantic shunt. Why do people marry? Not because their partner is of the opposite sex. That is, for most of us, a simple given. We marry people because we love them. One major personal goal for most people in Western private life is the marry someone beloved to oneself. The criteria for marriage for most straight people isn’t, “Is this person of the opposite sex, and do I love them?” It’s simply the latter.
That loving someone of the opposite sex is normative in no way means that the norm should be enforced upon everyone. If straight people are allowed to marry persons whom they love, those practicing homosexuality should be afforded the same right, with the same benefits.
Are the benefits monetary? Yes, but nobody is really fighting over this. Nobody on either side cares much about those benefits, not enough for it to be central to the fight. Are they in terms of power? No, because nobody gains or loses much power in this case.
They are purely symbolic. But we live in a society of symbols, a society which, rather than presenting marriage as a privilege, presents it as a sanction of a relationship.
A much better parallel to this, in contrast to the civil rights movement, would be the question of interracial marriage. A generation or two ago in North America, there was another caveat that was implicit in marriage, which was that the bride and groom be of the same racial stock. (This is still, for some families, the case in Korea, where I live, and actually even in North America there are families who impose, or seek to impose, this restriction.) Saying that people of different races cannot marry wasn’t even necessary, because, like the idea of marrying the same sex, it was simply anathema to polite society. And yet it was ridiculous. The idea that people of different colors or cultures could not come together to generate domestic bliss was absurd, and fell away.
Was it, when it lasted, a just law because it was universally applied?
And on what grounds is the law that is universally applied just? This, you see, is where young William’s argument is fatally flawed. He claims that the law is just because it is universally applied. But the problem is, that while the application of the law is just (it is universal), the law itself is not just.
The only place William can appeal to convince me of the justice of this law is in a particular bit of scripture, the interpretation of which is complex to say the least. He refers to Sodom, and seems blissfully unaware that the most reputable scholars claim Sodom was destroyed because its inhabitants failed to extend the proper hospitality expected to be offered to strangers. In resource-poor areas, human cultures tend to expect hospitality to be offered to anyone who wanders into the area, and a failure to observe such practices was a grave problem, so grave that one would wish to invoke the judgment of a wrathful god when warning against it.
For all other laws in the Torah, I think one would do well to remember that for all those laws we insist others observe, we fail far more routinely to observe many many others. Most of us Westerners eat what we please (kosher or not), wear blended fabrics, do not ritually cleanse ourselves after even the smallest physical contact with any menstruating woman, and so on. We pick and choose the laws we observe, and we pick and choose, extremely selectively, those which we decide to insist others follow. It is disingenuous, selective, sloppy, and a sign of ignorance to appeal this way to the Old Testament… and it suggests that with morality, the main determinant of good and evil is one’s personal opinion or prejudice, and that the Bible is a text which ought not to be consulted for learning, but rather consulted only to be used for whatever ends we see fit.
The Bible, for me and for many people, is simply young William’s favorite religious text, which I need to recognize any authority in (let alone particular readings of that text). No matter what the lad does, he will not find a way to convince people like me that that law is just. An unjust law that is justly applied is still an unjust law. And if the law is, in the absence of Biblical authority, not universally recognized as just, then it has no place in the secular government.
Churches are allowed to have their own laws about marriage and other sacraments. Let those adherents among the Churches battle between themselves over doctrine… any homosexual who wishes to reform his church is entitled to whatever masochism he wishes to inflict on himself. But as for state law, Church and State are separate, and must remain so for a free Western society to function. That is why William’s disingenuous little argument is absolutely unsupportable, at least when we are discussing state law.
Nice try, though, kid.
By the way, sex is a privilege? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s a chore. Sometimes it’s a struggle. Really, though, it’s something we’re wired by evolution to need, want, and do. You sound to me like someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about… because you are speaking using words that sound suspiciously like they are being repeated from lessons or perhaps from cathecism. I imagine once you actually have sex, you’ll learn how much of what you’ve been taught is wrong, misleading, idealistic, or contradictory to your experience. (After all, even the claims of Christian teachers are testable… those who interpret scripture and teach you are not God, after all, and their claims should be examined and questioned, lest they lead you astray and away from God by giving you the illusion that they can teach you all you need to know, and that you need do none of the hard work of thinking about right and wrong for yourself.)
Sex is part of human life, plain and simple. The rhetoric about rights and privileges is all just bluster that people bandy about… as one researcher showed, people tend to answer with a “theologically correct” answer when they recognize a question that is implicitly tied to their religious or theological views; but the research also showed that general thinking and especially general practice shows the real truth about how humans think and feel regarding sex.
And as for banning gay marriage because you think it’s not loving, well, kid, I think you don’t know much about marriage. If you actually believe that everyone who is married is married for unselfish reasons, or is married solely out of love, you have some very big disillusionments coming your way when you grow up and go out into the world. On those grounds, I think a good majority of marriages in the world would lose their sanction…Abre los ojos… Open your eyes.