This week’s F5

I don’t know why, but I cannot load Rob’s F5 question blog at my home. I mean, I can do it with an anonymous proxy like unipeak, but not without one. I cannot imagine why Hanaro Telecom would choose to block Rob’s site, so I’m guessing it’s some glitch in another blockage, which I can’t do much about. But anyway, I’ve had trouble connecting there and I’ve also been dreadfully busy, which is why I haven’t posted anything lately under the Friday Five section of the blog. But today, I’m picking up with the most recent question, a headache of a question which was submitted by none other than yours truly:

This should give you a headache. What I want you specifically to do here is to choose the side of the same-sex marriage debate that you disagree with, and posit five supports for the position. For example, if you are currently, in real life, pro-same-sex marriage, I want you to make the five strongest arguments you can against it. Similarly, if you are against it, I want you to make the five strongest arguments you can for it. If you wish, you may substitute the debate on abortion, on teaching evolution in schools, free trade, or whatever. But please be scrupulous in making the five best arguments you can against your real-life position. As an added exercise, you may proceed to refute them, as I suspect I shall have to do.

Okay, so the topic I’m choosing for this exercise is Same Sex Marriage, and I’m choosing it for the American situation, since, after all, in my own country it’s been legalized and the “debate” centers more on the whining of a smaller selection of bigots.

But before I commence the exercise, let me be explicit about this: I believe that the legislative mobilization against Same Sex Marriage is nothing less than a new, somewhat more politically-correct version of Jim Crow. However, at the same time I can find some very interesting reasons why one might actually oppose Same-Sex marriage. I’ll present a few of them now, and then for the gratification of those who are still interested in what I really think, I’ll offer whatever refutation I can to my own arguments.

  1. Administrative Reluctance and The Truth About Marriage: First off, the thing is, one would think gays would appreciate the fact that they have, up to this point, been blissfully free from the horrors of divorce. If you haven’t noticed, half or more marriages are ending in divorce these days. From a bureaucratic point of view, even a small addition of more workload is going to increase the costs. If marriage laws are to be expanded to include same-sex marriage, marriage laws also need to be expanded to include more strict rules concerning the cancelation of the marriage pact. Until some formulation of marriage law is made which reduces this workload in terms of court-hours and money wasted on lawyers and the legal process, there’s no sense in availing even more people of the hassle. In other words: marriage as we know it is broken, and even just from an administrative sense, there’s no point in bringing more people on board until it gets fixed.
  2. This is Not a Step Forward: Gay culture has, for a long time, enjoyed the difficult but proud status of an alternative culture, and in certain ways perhaps an experimental vanguard culture as well. This is not to say that it’s right for gays to have suffered for so long as denied entry into “normal status” in our society, but rather to say that, under that pressure, they have constructed a semistable society of their own, with its own rules, conventions, and values. They have not only done without marriage; they have constructed a whole subculture that puts the lie to the received notion that marriage, as well as other facets of conventional life and morality, are absolutely required for social stability. In a time when straight people are more and more realizing that this is just not absolutely true, and in broad terms live freer from those kinds of assumptions than even before, it’s culturally speaking a backwards step for gays to embrace this institution. Far better it would be, should it be a consensus that the benefits of marriage are needed to be more fairly distributed, that they agitate for those benefits to be distributed outside of the bonds of marriage. In other words, giving up on their current alternative social structure would constitute a loss far greater than the gains won by successfully demanding that mainstream government recognize their alternative social structure in an equitable way.
  3. Timing and Method of Demand: Demands for gay marriage are only going to antagonize an ignorant, bigoted polity and make them increasingly unsympathetic to the rather reasonable demands that, fundamentally, gays are making. The simple fact of the matter is that mainstream America is biased against homosexuals, and very little can be done in the next generation to improve this. Steps can be pursued, but right now, pushing for a change in marriage–at a time when both of the major political factions dominating the landscape of the discussion are reluctant to grant it, and one of the factions is using it as a major tool of distraction from far more pressing issues bearing down on the nation–is only going to alienate the people whose sympathy you need to demand in such a way that they cannot withhold it. One of the reasons the civil rights movement in America won so many people over in sympathy against institutional racism was because the rhetoric of the church was used to construct irresistible demands for treatment worthy of fellow-Christians; the fellow-Christians element was even more profound than the fellow-Americans part, which I suspect is one of the major reasons why there is a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America, but no Malcolm X day. I understand that one tires of waiting for sympathy and acceptance, and I am not advocating that; but when one demands acceptance, one must find a way to demand it using language that forces a reluctant mainstream to give it. I believe that this may well be the only effective way of changing the minds and hearts of a reclacitrant, bigoted populace. So the point is that demanding this change, without having first changing the minds of the American people, is less likely to bring about the sought-after change than it is to provoke a backlash of frightening proportions, even up to something as insane as a Republican Amendment of the Constitution.

I can’t seem to think of any more points to add, so I am going to proceed straight to my refutations.

  1. Refutation #1–Administrative Reluctance and The Truth About Marriage: Frankly, while it’s understandable from an administrative point of view, it’s just not equitable. Marriage may be broken, but people still, consistently, turn to it as a method for organizing their lives. If individuals who happen to be gay wish to enter into marriage contracts–regardless of how dysfunctional we all know they are–they ought to have just as much right to commence and to terminate such contracts as anyone else. And from an administrative viewpoint, marriage basically is an issue of contract commencement and contract termination. Nobody would accept bureaucrats making marriage between blacks or of everyone born after 1982 illegal for the sake of bureaucratic inconvenience. So as messed-up as modern marriage is, this is no reason for one group of people to be selected for a bar against entry. If marriage indeed is this broken, then fix it!
  2. Refutation #2: This Is Not a Step Forward: This may well be true, but it is not the responsibility of gay people to be the vanguard of experimental social life for our society. Regardless of whether the subculture as a whole, or groups within it, chose to forge a new way of living in the face of a society that barred them from the ostensibly “normal” way of living, this does not mean that they ought to remain barred from it. One imagines a parallel argument about how black people ought to live in America; one would begin by noting that the biggest innovations in American music came from black musicians, and that a lot of it emerged from pressure-cooker situations of police persecution and brutality, drug-culture, and pervasive racism and even widespread poverty within the black community. Noting this as a historical fact is fine, but as soon as one begins advocating this as a status quo that ought to be returned to, in order to continue American musical innovation led by American blacks, one has crossed into a very twisted Frankenstein experiment of social proportions. It’s just plain wrong. If gays want to enter into the mainstream–or try–then I can’t see why anyone should stand in their way, regardless of what it costs them as a subculture, and us as a society. (And perhaps, really, what would follow is more of an enrichment and much less of a loss than this argument assumes.)
  3. Refutation #3–Timing and Method of Demand: While this argument is the closest of the three to being actually convincing, the problem is that every civil rights movement has provoked a backlash. Weathering and defeating the backlash is simply the only way to succeed, because the backlash is honestly inevitable. The challenge faced by gays in America and not faced by blacks, women, and other groups in America is twofold: first, there is not much within Christian scripture that can help against bigots who find support for their bigotries in Christian verse. Those people are willing to ignore thousands of declarations against poverty, and settle upon a few verses dealing with sexual taboos, and to let manipulations of those few taboos determine their voting habits even when those they’re voting for simply do not square with the fundamental values that appear again and again in the scripture they’re quoting. So using Christian Ethics against them is not going to work in the same way it did for blacks, women, and other groups in America, unfortunately. The deck is stacked. And secondly, unlike visible minorities, gays are able to conceal their identity, or, rather, simply to choose not to disclose it; and in a bigoted society, they stand to gain by doing so. Therefore there’s not necessarily the same kind of pressure to push and push with everything on the line. If a gay man stands to lose his job because he is gay, it’s certain the thought will cross his mind to keep to himself that fact about a part of his life that is, after all, private. Unlike a black man, he can keep it to himself. Both of these problems suggest that if a major confrontation, and a major backlash, do not come in the foreseeable future, then the future probably will not change. It might just be true that the issue needs to be forced, for the sake of forcing the issue, and that avoiding it will do more harm than it can good.

In any case, all of the above constitutes what is largely an intellectual exercise. Basically, I think that the fight against gay marriage in America is ridiculous, and that eventually it will just be legal in some states, and performed regularly in those states, and the hicks and bigots will simply have to accept the fact… just as they simply have to accept the fact that gays can marry in several countries around the world. But it’s always an interesting exercise to try construct arguments against what you really believe, just as an imaginative experiment.

6 thoughts on “This week’s F5

  1. Hello Gord,

    That was quite an interesting, and challenging, exercise.

    As you know, like a majority of your countrymen, I disagree with you on this issue. That is not why I’m posting this comment, though. I have come to believe that debate on this issue, and most others that face us, is utterly futile. It is next to impossible to convince an opponent whose worldview is diametrically opposed to one’s one.

    I come with a sincere question. The opponent of homosexuality might appeal to Confucius, Divine Authority, the Book of Leviticus, or Natural Law. These authorities the defender of homosexuality rejects as mere human contsructions.

    My question is this: is there any reason to ban incestuous marriage? Now that modernity has given us efficient methods of contraception, sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia, any genetic concerns are largely removed.

    Is it not Jim Crow bigotry to think it wrong for a brother and sister, son and mother, or father and daughter to have sexual relations? This assumes, of course, that both partners are of the legal age of consent determined by a duly-elected legislature (i.e. 18 in the US, 12 in Holland, 9 in Iran).

    My question came about after reading a thoughtful and provocative statement by gay choreographer, Bill T. Jones, which I quoted in A Choreographer Asks a Question I’d Like to See Answered. Here it is:

    In part of the performance, for instance, a voice is heard reading from Leviticus (“Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister,” “Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife”), a selection intended, Mr. Jones said, to prompt his secular audiences to ask themselves why it is that they abide by certain biblically derived proscriptions on sexual conduct while maintaining that others have no validity. Here he is involved in an act of self-interrogation as well. “Why do I think it’s O.K. to lay with another man,” Mr. Jones pondered over the phone one day, “but not to sleep with my sister?”

    Joshua Snyder

  2. Hello again Gord,

    One last question: Is is not unfair to limit marriage to just two people? What about group marriage?

    If we cannot define marriage as being between a man and a woman, why can and do we define it as being between just two people?

    I hope you do not find these questions unfair or pointed. I’ve never seen anyone on your side address these issues, so I’m genuinely curious to get an answer.


  3. Interesting questions, Joshua, which I take at face value.

    I’ll answer the second one first: I see no reason why we don’t define marriage in a group sense, for those who wish to have such marriages. Such arrangements have existed in the past, but were partriarchally determined. Perhaps in aour more liberated society, polygamous relationships might be more viable and less prone to abuses and nasty power dynamics.

    However, as anyone who’s been married can tell you, the dynamics between two people in a marriage are complicated enough, and since “marriage” is a bond predicated on long-term hoped-for stability, it seems more easily maintained between two people (of whatever combination of sexes) than it would be between 3 or more people. I could be wrong here, but I should think that 3- and 4-member marriages would have a lot more risk of irreconcilable differences and divorce given the current makeup of our society.

    But a very few Mormons aside, I don’t see a lot of people agitating for polygamy… so I think the delineation exists because of general social convention. It’s not as if gays or straights are, en masse, demanding polygamy rights. But all gays are asking for is a two-person marriage contract basically the same as straight couples have.

    I’m not so sure my worldview is so diametrically opposed to yours. Not unless you think YOU know God’s will somehow, unerringly, infallibly. I don’t think you’re that arrogant, and I don’t think you’re arrogant enough to impose what you think you know of God’s will on others. So basically, in the end, it’s about living and let living, isn’t it?

    Your selection of authorities leaves out many of our great thinkers in the world tradition, or had you not noticed? Socrates, to begin with, and the chain of “buggers” stretches down through many artists, poets, philosophers, mathematicians, and other people who built the world you are lucky enough to enjoy. Hell, as I recently posted, a gay man directed the project in which the first modern digital computer was constructed.

    So it’s not about personal viewpoints, really, or which individuals in world history we choose to appeal to. For every bigot you dig up, I’ll find a defiant “sodomite” to hold up in response… and in the end, I’ll be quoting Jesus to you about that log in your own eye that never seems to come up in discussions of the morality of others’ lives. That game will get us nowhere, but it will give me the upper hand since your Messiah explicitly instructed against falsely pious judgmentalism and was pretty obviously disgusted with religious legalism (letter of the law religiosity) and all kinds of other things.

    And the game really, truly means nothing. Because the question is not about whether we personally agree with how gay people decide to live their lives. Your and my opinion aren’t really relevant in a legislative sense, and anyone who thinks his opinion on religious matters is relevant to national legislation is an arrogant fool.

    What I mean to say is, even if I agreed with you in your objections to aspects of the lives that homosexuals lead (I don’t agree with you, but it’s irrelevant) I wouldn’t take it upon myself to (a) decide for everyone that my opinion was right and ought to delimit others freedoms, and (b) I would never seek to actually impose it on others.

    For a more mundane example, I think that women having to wear makeup when men don’t is a ridiculous state of affairs, pathetic and rotten and indicative of so many things. But regardless of my disdain for this situation, it’s not as if I would ever imagine imposing a makeup ban on anyone else in the world. Talking about it, okay, protesting, maybe. But people have a right to live as they like, ie. to live free from YOUR personal religious convinctions. I never signed up for your church, so I’ll fight tooth and nail when the government tries to cram it down my throat. Tooth and bleeding nail.

    And finally, I don’t understand this slippery slope thing with incest. Incest is taboo in almost every human culture we know of, isn’t it? Whereas homosexual behaviour was practiced either widely or in generally tolerated minorities, in a number of human cultures throughout history. You’re creating a false “hetero historiographic” universal narrative here, and I’m sorry but I have to call you on it. Anyway, I don’t know of a culture in which incest (at least of the brother-sister kind) was enshrined in marriage and was tolerated and/or widely practiced. I remember vaguely some mention of it somewhere, but it was a monarchc pair of siblings. Incest provokes horror here in Korea, even among non-Christians; it horrifies people in China, in Egypt, in Latin America… so I hardly think it’s a “biblically derived” value. That’s just ignorance resulting in some fool assuming all traditional or “normative” morality in his society comes from the bible.

    I’ll add that the injunctions against incest probably aren’t universal for all people in human history. I’d be surprised if early humans didn’t do it a lot–the resulting birth defects probably go a long way in explaining why it’s so taboo, actually; and I’ve be even more surprised if the human ability to commit incest isn’t one of the reasons we exist today, with at least one major evolutionary bottleneck in our past — you know, where bad conditions reduced the early human population to a small, small number and they bred like mad and made a comeback. I think I read about this a few years ago, but think of that: the survival of humans may be predicated on pre-historical cases of incest. It’s quite possibly true. So your argument (to which you linked) about how secularists would respond is basically putting the wrong words in my mouth.

    Iran’s representatives are duly-elected? Hmm.

    As I see it, the fight for gay marriage is basically an extension against the legal proscription of marriage; in fact, it’s the main conclusion of that fight on a legal level.

    Here’s a list of countries in which, like in certain American states, homosexuality is illegal:

    Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burma, Burundi, Cameroon, Georgian Russia, Grenada, Guyana, India, Iran, Jamaica, Jordon, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritius , Mozambique, Namibia, Oman, Papua-New Guinea, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zaire, Zimbabwe (source). That’s a none too distinguished list, really, and it includes several of the nastiest governments in the world, as well as very few countries regarded as “developed”. The implications are vast and rich. Of course, the source site seems to be pro-sex-tourism, so I don’t doubt it’s also slanted in presentation.

    By the way, what’s your source for ages of consent in Netherlands and Iran? I found some differing info, which claimed the Netherlands was more strict than that:

    For inhabitants of the Netherlands it is a severe crime to have sex with a prostitute below 18, or any person below 16, anywhere in the world.if a foreigner has had sex with a prostitute below 18, or any person below 16, anywhere in the world, even if this was legal, if this was done at a time that it was already illegal in the Netherlands, he or she becomes a criminal when immigrating to the Netherlands.

    And since extramarital sex in Iran is illegal, it’s marrigable age that matters, and that was only age 9 in Iran till 2002; now it’s 13 for females, and 15 for males. Which is still lower than I’m comfortable with, but you know, in the developed world the age of consert averages out around 14 or 15 years old, so I don’t think it’s necessarily THAT different.

    And one more thing: there’s the fact that in America, people are profoundly hypocritical about sex and sexuality. Young people are experimenting increasingly young and increasingly more widely, and all that apparent profligacy in the Low Countries results in fewer teenaged pregnancies per annum than just across the channel in Britain… which researchers credited to better sex education.

    Finally, my biggest objection to this Christian mobilization against gay marriage is that it distracts self-described Christians from the kinds of things that they really ought to be concerned about. The Bible talks a hell of a lot about struggling against–and wiping out–poverty, but only mentions homosexuality a few times, as liberal evangelical Jim Wallis points out.

    But basically, I think the main fact is that in a non-theocratic country, and one which in its Constitution proscribes the institution of laws based in religion, it’s just wrong for any religious group to argue that its moral codes be legislated and imposed on everyone around them. It’s unforgivably arrogant and prideful.

    I hope my response to these questions has been fair and not too harsh.

  4. Hello Gord,

    Thanks for the detailed answer.

    It was the Ancient Inca royal family practiced incestuous marriage. I did not mention Socrates and other ancients because although they practiced homosexuality, to my knowledge they never advocated anything near homoseuxal marriage. The homosexual relationships of the ancient world were temporary and hierarchical. Gay marriage as we know it is an entirely new phenomenon.

    At the end of the day, the two sides in this debate will never see eye to eye because the words “marriage” and “society” mean different things. For the one side, marriage is a contract (“a piece of paper” as our contemporaries are apt to put it) and the basic unit of society is the individual. For the other side, marriage is a Sacrament (Saint Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, called the marriage bed “an altar”) and the family is the basic unit of society.

    Such opposing Weltanschauungs can never be reconciled. As a friend of mine put it, “It’s time to chose sides and start building those fences.” Indulge me here: Y’all can have New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. We’ll take the rest and sell you food at a fair price. We’ll make St. Louis the capital of the English-speaking parts and Quebec City the capital of a free and independent French Canada.


  5. Well, this is the thing, Joshua:

    I actually don’t necessarily disagree with you about the sacrality of marriage and it’s centrality as one of the conrnerstones of society. Families are the basis of adult minds, of socioeconomic stability; they’re the glue that keeps societies together, and cultures viable.

    I mean, legally it’s just a document, and some marriages really are — or need to be — just a document. A totalizing view of marriage is a mistake, and I certainly don’t feel obliged to take advice about marriage from a bunch of guys who’ve never been married; hell, I have been. I know about marriage in a way they never, ever will. And I think if priests were to be allowed to marry, the Church would liberalize about divorce a lot faster.

    And if Gay Marriage as we know it is an entirely new phenomenon, so is Straight Marriage (or even “modern Christian marriage”) as we know it. If you actually look at cultural practice, even thoughout Christendom during the Middle Ages, men were selling off their wives and so on. (Chaucer mentions this somewhere, and that brought on a lecture by a prof on the subject.) For that matter, “Gay” (as in, exclusively gay) as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon, probably at least in part formed by the pressures of being “outcast” for “deviant sexual behaviour”. It’s well-known that politically, “gays” have more clout than “bisexuals” do, but again herakening back to the Middle Ages or the Classical Era, people who enjoyed homosexual relations tended not to be exclusive about it; they also tended to enjoy heterosexual relations. Not all: some tended towards exclusivity, but many didn’t. So in the Middle Ages, the excluded social grouping was “sodomites”, people who liked to bugger, or be buggered, and it included a lot of people who were also living basically heterosexual lives.

    But here’s the thing: we don’t necessarily need our worldviews to be reconciled. We don’t need those fences. If you’re willing to be sane and adult — to live in a world where, after all, not everyone bends their knee to the rules you would like them to obey — we can live together quite harmoniously. We’re quite willing, after all, to tolerate your odd and antiquated religious beliefs and all this faith you invest in old men telling you how to think and how to conduct your sex lives — and failing thoroughly to wean you all of your rather unChristian consumerist/capitalist lifestyles — as long as you don’t impose them on us, we don’t much care what you believe. If you’re not willing to be tolerant, then you’re going to have an endless fight on your hands. We won’t sell you technology or energy or telecom at a fair price. We’ll fight dirty if we have to because freedom and tolerance of diversity is a fundamental value for us, one that far outweighs your right to believe something… because the right to believe is not the right to impose on nonbelievers.

    Funny thing: I’m working on a novel where something similar to the situation you describe happens. A kind of once-again Cold War in America, or even across North America. Things is, until now I’d left out religion, but I realized I couldn’t do that and write a convincing picture of America. So I’m studying and reading about the American form of religion. Ever read Harold Bloom’s The American Religion? Quite interesting, and a lot of it seems to make sense. Anyway, I imagine you’re joking but, really, politically, this is how it is in the US now. (I believe it’s different in Canada, where we understand that thing about separation of Church and State a little better.)

    Other funny thing: Gays wanting to get married is an affirmation of the importance of marriage. It amuses me to no end that Christians who oppose gay marriage fail to get and embrace that. They could be saying, “Wow! Even gays are getting married! Hey hey, all you young straight couples, that’s something, isn’t it? Of course, they can’t marry in our church, but… well, you can, and you should.”

  6. Hello Gord,

    Your recommendation and pervious review of Harold Bloom’s The American Religion make me want to read it. I agree that American Protestantism is very un-Christian, and it has infected Catholicism as well. This is nothing new; it was denounced as the “Americanist Heresy” by Pope Leo in the 19th Century.

    Marriage in the Middle Ages was not that different from in our own times, except that it was still a respected institution. From How the Church Built Western Civilization: Interview With Historian Thomas Woods Jr.:

    What I argue is that canon law served as a model for developing Western states seeking to codify and systematize their own legal systems. Harold Berman, the great scholar of Western law, contends that the first modern legal system in the Western world was the Church’s canon law.

    And that canon law, particularly as codified in Gratian’s “Concordance of Discordant Canons,” served as a model of what Western states sought to accomplish.

    Scholars of Church law showed the barbarized West how to take a patchwork of custom, statutory law and countless other sources, and produce from them a coherent legal order whose structure was internally consistent and in which previously existing contradictions were synthesized or otherwise resolved.

    Moreover, the subject matter of canon law was not as far removed from that of civil law as we might think.

    For example, the Church had jurisdiction over marriage. The canon law of marriage held that a valid marriage required the free consent of both the man and the woman, and that a marriage could be held invalid if it took place under duress or if one of the parties entered into the marriage on the basis of a mistake regarding either the identity or some important quality of the other person.

    “Here,” says Berman, “were the foundations not only of the modern law of marriage but also of certain basic elements of modern contract law, namely, the concept of free will and related concepts of mistake, duress and fraud.”


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