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Jay Lake
Date: 2009-09-04 05:03
Subject: [politics] More on religious objection to gay marriage
Security: Public
Tags:politics, religion
In comments here, hkneale bestows the Clue Fairy on me, and takes me to task for being an antireligious hater. I am respectfully disagreeing, at length.

I fail to see how someone objecting to homosexuality due to their religious beliefs to be considered "unprincipled".

I think we are significantly misunderstanding each other, partly through my abbreviated choice of words. Let me try again.

First of all, I'm not a "hater". My belief in others' freedom of religion is as absolute as my belief in others' freedom of speech. As a staunch atheist, I could hardly think otherwise. To force people to deconvert is just as repugnant as to force them to convert, perhaps more so.

That being said, those very same freedoms guarantee that I am not required to agree with or obey your speech. Neither am I required to agree with or obey your religion.

As for religious commandments themselves, by definition, they are an Argument From Authority. This is certainly true in the Abrahamic religions, and so far as I know, it's true in most or all other world religions. The Argument From Authority is a logical fallacy in and of itself. Furthermore, religious commandments only apply within the framework of their religion. Just because they believe it, doesn't mean it's true.

This is not to say that many religious commandments don't have equivalent social principles. Exodus 20:13, "Thou shalt not kill", has a pretty broad application in any functional society. (As an aside, note the nuance that the original text, such as we understand it, could more accurately be translated as "Thou shalt not commit premediated murder", but the idea holds either way.)

On the other hand, many more religious commandments don't hold any water as social principles. Leviticus 11:12 states "Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you." (Likewise Deuteronomy 14:10.) Not eating shrimp doesn't have any application in a functional society, at least not one with decent refrigeration.

In other words, you can't base principled social policy on religious commandments. As a society, we don't even base religious policy on religious commandments. Otherwise all Jews and Christians would look and act like Orthodox Jews. Religious principles are selective, and in my opinion, quite necessarily so in order to ensure the long term survival of the religion over generations.

That is decidedly not the same thing as saying that persons of faith are not principled. Neither is it suggesting they shouldn't be permitted, or even encouraged, to state their beliefs, as you suggest I'm intending, further down in your comment.

The point I was trying to make is that we can't frame a social policy based on religious principles. Otherwise we'd all be subject to either majoritarianism, or the principle of maximum of offense. The evils of either of those options should be obvious.

Social policy gets framed based on cost-benefit analysis, moral considerations, and the social context. Our American political equivalent of religious commandments is the Constitution, and the body of legislation and case law which descends from it. Yes, those are Authority, but they're consensual authority established by our society, and malleable as our society changes.

A lot the people of my personal acquaintance who are against the practice of homosexuality (and therefore are standing against gay marriage) have reasons other than "God commanded it so." I know because I've asked them.

What are those reasons? As I said in my original post, I've seen no arguments that don't boil down to either antigay bigotry or religious commandment. What have you heard otherwise?

Would you respect them any more if they failed to stand firm by their principles? Probably not.

Not in the slightest. But neither do I think religious principles per se are a basis for framing social policy. If they were, we'd be a theocracy, and we all know how well that turns out.

When it comes to this whole gay marriage thing, I get much bemusement out of human behaviour. Those who openly support it are getting very hateful and malicious in their attitudes towards those on the fence, even when they are not normally hateful and malicious people. That's probably the last sort of attitude one should adopt.

You're implying it's hateful and malicious of me to stand against those who oppose secularism, equality under the law, and individual rights. I am almost certain I misunderstand you here, but let's be clear. I am quite capable of being deeply snarky about damned near anything (including myself), but I don't think I've ever been hateful and malicious about opposition to gay marriage. I simply think that such opposition is profoundly wrong headed and not grounded on the social and moral principles of our society. It is certainly in many cases grounded in the social and moral principles of individual religious belief, but those are not equivalent and do not apply within the framework of American constitutional democracy.

Don't be one of the haters.

Thankfully, I'm not.

Originally published at jlake.com.

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Kelly Green
User: saycestsay
Date: 2009-09-04 13:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A lot the people of my personal acquaintance who are against the practice of homosexuality (and therefore are standing against gay marriage) have reasons other than "God commanded it so." I know because I've asked them.

I'm curious about the reasons your personal acquaintances gave you. The only ones I've heard are "It's a sin" or "It's icky." Since I'm pretty opinionated, my friends might not have shared other reasons with me. Could you elucidate?
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User: fjm
Date: 2009-09-04 13:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The whole principle issue is screwed anyway: to use your own analogy, Orthodox Jews don't eat shrimp. They don't, however, insist that anyone else give up shrimp.

So it's a clear principle for someone who doesn't believe in gay marriage to choose not to do it, and perhaps even to say "if you do it I can't see you as part of my family/covenant anymore", but it has nothing at all to do with principle when they then say "and no one else can do it either and I'll shout and yell at you if you try".

Edited at 2009-09-04 02:02 pm (UTC)
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2009-09-04 14:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Exactly. In general any "principle" that involves making *other* people suffer must be looked at askance.
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Ken: Hmmmmm
User: ken_schneyer
Date: 2009-09-04 13:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree mostly. I try not to engage in arguments that involve the validity or utility of religious beliefs or rules, because it tends to get you into a feedback loop.

Your icon threw me for a minute, because it looked like you were questioning whether belief in the planet Earth was valid. Then I figured you were talking about the Gaia Hypothesis, and I calmed down. (I just checked under my feet -- Earth's still there.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-09-04 14:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I feel the Earth moving under my feet..."

Everybody sing!
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2009-09-04 14:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't buy his whole argument. It's basically a "how dare you be intolerant of my intolerance! That makes you *double* intolerant!"

It's principled to hide Jews in your attic when it could result in your death at the hands of Nazis. Opposing gay marriage just makes you an jerk.

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russ: zen
User: goulo
Date: 2009-09-04 16:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"It's principled to hide Jews in your attic when it could result in your death at the hands of Nazis. Opposing gay marriage just makes you an jerk."

Good one! Quote of the day. :)
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-09-04 17:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
/bemusedoutsider here/

Well put, your distinction between 'principles' that come only from Authority -- and principles that are self-supporting, self-evident.
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User: daveraines
Date: 2009-09-04 17:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Re: argument from authority - the question is obviously "is the authority reliable?" I agree totally that the United States is a secular society and that Jay should not have to lay off shrimp if he doesn't wanna. However, contra "bemused outsider," many of Christianity's most important principles are NOT self-evident. "Turn the other cheek"? Please. "Love neighbor"? "Pray for those who persecute you"? Even "an eye for an eye" was an advance for the time, over the endless escalation of clan wars. The Bible has not only (arguably) divine authority, but also millennia of collected wisdom.

Heck, even the first known written statement of equality between men and women is in the Bible - St. Paul. (According to Bruce Cahill. I haven't researched it thoroughly. Argument From Authority.)

Basically what I do as a religious person is grant Jesus a LOT of authority for me and for other believers; and test other ways of life by his.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2009-09-04 18:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Where it breaks down, though, is when the Argument from Authority is applied to people who don't recognize that authority. "Because the Bible says so" is as meaningless a reason to a non-Christian as "Because Obama says so" is to a citizen of Germany. They may agree with the argument because they think it's a good idea independent of the authority behind it, but that's a separate matter.

I've seen some incredibly futile conversations between believers and non-believers because of this exact point. The believers keep pointing to scripture as the justification of their moral points, and don't see why that -- which is a valid technique of debate within their community -- fails when taken outside of it. Not everyone does this, obviously, but it does happen.
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User: bram452
Date: 2009-09-04 20:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
All respect, dude. You know that I am of your tribe, but hating queers in itself may be a principled stand.

I always head back for Kant: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

I believe these people can truly will that marginalizing and punishing homosexuals become a universal law. In fact, if I understand correctly, they already think it is a universal law, and one which you and I (by supporting queer equality) are in violation of. They aren't disingenuous or hypocritical. They're working with different axioms, some of which are inhumane, inaccurate, and (as a result) have evil outcomes.

To call them unprincipled is, I think, a failure of imagination and too charitable: it implies that on some level they know better and are acting contrary to their own essential humanity; that hatred, bigotry, and the demonization of the other aren't as much a principle of human consciousness and society as compassion and care. The evidence may not support your position.

That ain't hatred. That's just being realistic. :)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-09-04 20:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I suspect you're right, but I'd far prefer to think of my conservative fellow citizens as mistaken and wrongheaded, rather than simply evil. Or framed another way, I want to think better of them than their deeds suggest.
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User: melissajm
Date: 2009-09-04 21:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A different argument, with rebuttal:

Somebody dear to me once said that while it was none of their business what consenting adults did in bed, they couldn't support gay marriage because as a legal/financial system marriage was intended as a way of supporting children.

I said "Then "Tech Support" and I shouldn't have been allowed to marry, because we've always known that I can't have children."

:long pause: "Good point. I'll have to think about that."
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cyborgsuzy: canter
User: cyborgsuzy
Date: 2009-09-05 04:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, it's hard to support an anti-marriage position when the ONLY difference between hetero couples and gay couples is the gender of one of the pair.

In the county I live in, the computer form that you fill out for your marriage license has a drop down menu for gender for the both the 'bride' and 'groom' sections. I tested it, and you could choose both to be male or both female.

I sat and stared at it a moment as I was filling it out for my own license, and I thought to myself, "that's it. That's all there really is to it. When gay marriage is finally recognized in this county, they won't even have to change their paperwork."
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User: hkneale
Date: 2009-09-05 04:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:John Thornton
What are the social and moral principles of our society?

And how long have these been in place? Compared to the length of recorded human history, not long at all.

There are plenty of people alive that grew up in a society where the social and moral principles were very different than they are today. The Twentieth Century has distinguished itself in that great social upheaval has taken place at an unprecedented pace. (Of course, that upheaval is still taking place.)

I do not think we can trust the current social and moral principles of our society to be an adequate grounds for basing an argument so much as we should trust what our social and moral principles should be. Unfortunately, what those are, is hard to say. What is perfectly tolerant for one group of people is intolerant for another.

So, would you like to see one point of view I came across that argues against same-sex marriage from a completely social principle? I don't know much any more about various laws regarding property rights and protective rights and divorce rights in the US (having not lived there for a while) but the author of the post does, being a practicing attorney. And as he's proven himself to me prior in diverse areas, I'm willing to trust him in his point of view.
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User: bram452
Date: 2009-09-05 17:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

So, would you like to see one point of view I came across that argues against same-sex marriage from a completely social principle?

No, I want to know what *you* think. Dueling links doesn't interest me as much as having a real conversation with you.
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User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2009-09-06 20:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> As I said in my original post, I've seen no arguments that
> don't boil down to either antigay bigotry or religious
> commandment.

Yes, you have: http://jaylake.livejournal.com/1505748.html

Sure, you didn't find it particularly convincing as an argument. But considering that the rights-based argument for gay marriage is something even proponents like jens-fire agree would also apply to polygamy (http://jens-fire.livejournal.com/48168.html?thread=177448#t177448), I don't think you can write it off as such a big leap. Once the legal precedent is there for a right to marry whomever you want, you can be reasonably sure that lawsuits will press it to its logical conclusion.

Therefore, there is at least a rational basis for opposing a major redefinition of the composition of a marriage in order to prevent the legalization of polygamy. That argument does not depend on antigay bigotry or religious commandment (regarding homosexuality, at least. It pushes the religious commandment argument back one step, to polygamy.)
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User: bemused_leftist
Date: 2009-09-07 07:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If we worried about polygamy etc, then the DOMA could have read 'between two persons' or even 'two adult humans.'
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