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Jay Lake
Date: 2009-09-06 08:52
Subject: [politics] Another pass through the gay marriage argument
Security: Public
Tags:politics, religion
I've been thinking about the ongoing dialog on gay marriage elsewhere in my blog. In this, as in many other things, my perception of the conservative viewpoint is that it stems from a combination of lack of empathy and failure of imagination.

A question I would put to anyone opposed to gay marriage is this:
Do you really believe the government should be able to restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal minority?

Every opponent of gay marriage belongs to a religion or a gender or a social class or an ethnic group potentially (or historically) subject to exactly that kind of discrimination. The very best guarantee of everyone's rights is a strong protection of everyone's rights. Any other road leads to madness, and oppression based on the next set of cultural and demographic shifts.

To those who would argue we aren't taking away existing rights from our gay and lesbian fellow citizens, I would point out that female suffrage and the Civil Rights movement were subject to exactly the same argument. If you're a woman opposed to gay marriage, would you welcome a rollback in your own rights under the law by that logic? If you're an ethnic minority opposed to gay marriage, would you accept a revocation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under that same argument?

Like I said, lack of empathy and a failure of imagination. Because as soon as you make it possible, even reasonable, to restrict someone else's rights based on your preferences, you make it possible and reasonable to restrict your own rights based on someone else's preferences.

Is that the society conservatives truly want to build?

Originally published at jlake.com.

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User: biomekanic
Date: 2009-09-06 17:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
jaylake put up a challenge on his LJ and facebook for a conservative to come up with an anti-gay marriage arguement that wasn't based either on their religion or flat out bigotry.

I haven't seen any arguements made yet.
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User: bemused_leftist
Date: 2009-09-06 18:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The argument that Obama's team made in FAVOR of the Defense of Marriage Act comes to mind. They said it's not discriminating against gays because it gives them just as much right to heterosexual marriages as heterosexuals have.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2009-09-06 21:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
That's not an argument FOR banning gay marriage. It's just a (quite disingenuous and bogus) argument that banning gay marriage isn't discrimination. (Just like it's not discrimination to outlaw interracial marriage, since everyone would have an equal right to marry someone of the same race.)

It wouldn't be discrimination if we made a law forbidding everyone to wear red shirts, but that's certainly not an argument FOR banning red shirts.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
User: ygolonac
Date: 2009-09-06 19:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The government shouldn't be in the marriage business. That's an inherent problem with separation of church and state.

There should be a civil union that gives all the legal rights and obligations that marriage currently gives and that federal civil union contract should be available to any consenting adults. Then, if they want to be 'married' they can find a church that will perform that religious ceremony for them.

And if some churches don't want to perform that ceremony for certain groups of people, that's their right. Watch as that church slowly withers and dies as the rest of the world moves into the future.

Anything else is wrong.
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User: erudite_ogre
Date: 2009-09-06 19:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, that makes sense to me. Why do need the government to validate anything other than a formalization of two people's status for tax and health care purposes?
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erudite_ogre: Rohan Facepalm
User: erudite_ogre
Date: 2009-09-06 19:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Rohan Facepalm
The answer to your closing question, Jay, is yes, for some of them. They want an environment that honors their perspective and renders it reality for everyone. It is part imposition, part validation of their ideas on the rest of the population.
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User: fjm
Date: 2009-09-06 20:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Is that the society conservatives truly want to build?

I'm afraid that the answer to that is "yes". I can't cite the studies (sorry) but conservatives tend to prefer authority, and will cede their own liberties in return for a clear authoritarian structure of rules that makes them feel safe. You can see this at the minor end of life in things like dress codes.
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User: scarlettina
Date: 2009-09-06 20:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What I find so interesting about the idea that conservatives prefer authority is that it's conservatives who are always shouting about less government. This seems to me to be a contradiction.

On the subject of dress codes, I'll play devil's advocate: How short is too short a skirt to be considered unacceptable? How low a neckline? How low the waistband on a pair of pants; how much undershorts are okay to be shown? How much profanity is acceptable on a tee shirt? Seems to me there's a reasonable point to some school dress codes if the point of school is education and enrichment. Some stuff can be a distraction and can indicate disrespect. I'll say "F*ck authority" as quickly as the next guy, but schools require some authority to function properly and get their work done.
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Kenneth Mark Hoover
User: kmarkhoover
Date: 2009-09-06 20:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a matter of fact, Jay, that is exactly the world the conservatives want to build.

But, you see, they also suffer from a towering wall of cognitive dissonance. They never believe, and will NEVER believe, that their rights can be restricted because they, and only they, are the "real" Americans.

The rest of us are just pretenders. Since, in their minds this is true, what's the big deal in restricting OUR rights....?
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User: anton_p_nym
Date: 2009-09-06 20:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.
-- Caesar and Cleopatra, by George Bernard Shaw

Frankly, yes, Jay; that is the society that American conservatives truly want to build. The fringe radicals in the US purporting to be "conservatives" see no contradiction between advocating individual liberties and the strictures they favour, because they imagine that the strictures are the only "natural" way to co-exist; other ways are unnatural to them, and therefor abhorrant and doomed to fail to the detriment of everyone anyway. So they see no contradiction, just as they see no contradiction between the Bill of Rights and the arresting of thieves.

-- Steve thinks they're grotesquely wrong, just as the Puritans were when they tried to impose their one true way on England in the 17th century, but it's useful to understand their mindset.
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User: brni
Date: 2009-09-06 21:06 (UTC)
Subject: Irish or Italian need not apply

Back when I was a picture framer, I found an old newspaper - perhaps mid-1930s, as there was a lot of stuff about how Hitler's Germany was a model for failed European states - stuffed in the back of an old frame. We spent some time looking through it, especially the classifieds. Around a quarter of the help wanted ads said "Negro need not apply." Well over half of them said, "Irish or Italian need not apply."

The objects of discrimination are fluid. Anyone who promotes any form of bigotry is promoting the potential for bigotry against themselves.
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User: witchcraft_shop
Date: 2009-09-06 21:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The logical end to the society that will come of that is that you will all be at the whim of JUST ONE MAN.

To borrow from my own recent studies into the Roman Empire, which was by definition a DICTATORSHIP, if that man was Augustus, fine. If it was Domitian, you had better (in the words of Frank Zappa) be wondering if your number is up the next time the wind blows from the Easterly directium.....
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Mister Eclectic
User: howeird
Date: 2009-09-06 22:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
How do you feel about the logical next step, legalization of poly marriage?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-09-06 22:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Personally, I don't care either way. But then I'm pretty much a libertine.

I will point out that there is a distinct, and therefore arguable, difference between poly marriage and dyadic marriage. The current argument is whether dyadic marriage can be restricted based on the gender balance within the marriage, it's not about the fundamental nature of dyadic marriage. Unless, of course, your fundamental definition of a dyadic marriage restricts it to partners of distinct genders; but operationally there's no difference either way. Expanding dyadic marriage doesn't materially affect tax law, property law, custody rules, medical decisionmaking etc. Opening poly marriage under the law would necessitate all sorts of revision.

In a larger sense, there's also not a significant oppressed poly minority out there being targeted by the mainstream.
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User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2009-09-07 01:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> Do you really believe the government should be able to
> restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority
> based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different,
> vocal minority?

As related to the gay marriage debate, that final word should be "majority," at least in some states. (Unless you're going to argue that, voter participation being what it is, a majority of voters is really just a minority, in which case there is almost never a majority in favor of anything in the United States.) But that a minor quibble, since I doubt you would agree that it's OK to restrict gay marriage based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal majority.

But where your imagination fails you is in understanding that almost every action by government restricts the rights and liberties of one minority or another.

Do you support gun regulation? Then you believe the government should be able to restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal minority.

Do you support affirmative action in school admissions and hiring? Then you believe the government should be able to restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal minority.

Do you support minimum wage legislation? Then you believe the government should be able to restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal minority.

Do you support laws against animal cruelty? Then you believe the government should be able to restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal minority.

Do you support age of consent laws? Then you believe the government should be able to restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal minority.
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Peter Hollo
User: frogworth
Date: 2009-09-07 03:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You're right that most government action can be argued to restrict the rights and liberties of one or other group. Government does this to protect its populace as a whole, and individually, and it can be a delicate balancing act between different citizens' rights and liberties.
So, I've no doubt Jay will attest that there can be more criteria for adopting social policy than just the basic principle of not allowing the beliefs of one vocal minority to restrict the rights & liberties of another's.
The question is what the basis is for these other considerations, and whether the parties can have any kind of conversation.

One of the important differences is that there are no shared criteria between those rejecting gay marriage and those not doing so. The Defense of Marriage people and all the rest are defining marriage in a Christian or religious context that is not shared by the group they are seeking to oppress (not to mention many of the rest of us), which means there can be no discussion of which rights are paramount. This is of course pure fundamentalism - there are no other contexts; everyone is subject to ours.

The gun regulation argument admits of dialogue based on the statistics of gun deaths and maimings, at least. Allowing any old person to bear arms could cause harm to others in a way that allowing two same-gendered people wouldn't.
Similarly, laws against animal cruelty and minimum wage legislation are there to attempt to ensure that people don't cause harm to others. Who is being harmed if we allow two people of the same gender to get married and have the same shared legal rights as hetero-gendered couples?

This is well-understood by the religionists/conservatives, of course - hence the whole "Defense of Marriage" crap, which attempts to redefine the conversation in terms where religious people are being harmed by the apparent erosion of their hallowed institution of marriage.
Or perhaps it's the concept of marriage itself which is being harmed. As with so many conservative arguments, the fact that historically marriage has been many things, by no means exclusively religious, is an inconvenience only if you care about facts.

Affirmative action can be a thornier issue, depending on how it's implemented. My preferred version says "All other things being equal, employ the minority applicant" - or at least, "If two applicants can do the job up to the standards listed in the criteria, give the job by preference to the minority applicant". After all, somebody was going to be "harmed" in the sense of not getting the job.
Of course the disingenousness in the arguments against affirmative action is how conveniently they ignore the fact that there exist disfavoured minorities in such workplaces, committees etc, against which affirmative action is working.
If affirmative action leads to employers being forced to employ incompetent people, sure that's a problem. At least there's some sort of shared ethical/social policy context in which to have that conversation, though, it seems to me.

I guess with these arguments the lack of shared premises runs pretty deep:
The American libertarian/conservative view (note: I'm Australian) appears to be that the right to bear arms trumps the right of innocent people to expect not to get shot. It's fundamental.
The rights of animals are trumped by the rights of humans to have fun. If it's a matter of the rights of humans to kill for food, well this might arguably not be about animal cruelty any more.
Anti-affirmative action arguments tend to present themselves as arguments for the right of all people to be treated equally, but are disingenuous as I described above - and more likely they're usually coming from the fear of those in power losing their favoured position. Facing a disingenuous opponent makes level-headed arguments based on shared premises impossible, of course...

So, what do governments do? Preferably restrict minority groups' rights/liberties only inasmuch as that restriction protects the rights/liberties of others; balance the needs of different constituent groups. And gay marriage opponents' rights or liberties are not in any way infringed if people of the same sex are legally allowed to marry each other.
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User: roseaponi
Date: 2009-09-07 14:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a conservative, I don't think it's the government's business what anyone's sexual orientation is (unless it falls into the realm of child or animal abuse, of course).

Therefore, if a couple of roommates who are not sexually involved want to create a civil union, binding their financial and legal obligations together and making each other legally permitted to make decisions regarding those obligations in the other's absence or incapacity, then that should be allowed - regardless of the gender of anyone involved.

Instead of taking out the "god bits," why don't we take out the _sex_ bits and put the religious and social responsibility back on the individual where it belongs?

One key element of Christianity, for example, is the _choice_ to follow Jesus. If it isn't your choice, then no one can force you. (Though that hasn't stopped various groups from trying over the centuries. The current American system of religious freedom is quite an improvement - no one gets tortured or imprisoned, though we do need to be much more vigilant about refraining from judging others.)
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User: cj_ruby
Date: 2009-09-07 18:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I consider myself a conservative and I don't think the government has any business in the bedroom of consenting adults. I'm also of the mind that two people regardless of gender should be able to form a legal civil union (call it marriage if you will) and that they be able to have all the good and the bad that it entails.

I also think that the political debate on this issue throughout the country is a good thing. The various States, their citizens and representatives (on the state level) seem to be working this out, in the manner that our federal republic was set up (it's hard to change laws, but that is how the Founding Fathers intended the system to work). It is being made legal in some states by the will of the people and voted down in other states. Thankfully we are not on the verge of another Civil War as we were on the issue of slavery and states rights.

The debate is vigorous and the side against seems to have more passion in this fight right now – even though I think they are wrong-headed on this issue (everyone should be able to experience a bitter divorce). I think the pro side of the issue has been let down by its political leaders. They seem timid on this issue and are unwilling to debate it or bring it forward and support it with their political capital.

>Do you really believe the government should be able to restrict the rights and liberties of a disfavored minority based on the strong, sincerely-held beliefs of a different, vocal minority?<

I see Eric's point on this question. And I think that political debate and the legislative process should play itself out. When this issue is brought forth in Montana I will be on the yea side.

As to the question you asked – I think that it must be settled by the people through robust political debate and be changed or upheld through legislation, initiatives or referendum.

My question is, By what power does the government restrict us? Ultimately its power to govern is given by the consent and will of the people. May it ever be so
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User: spir123
Date: 2009-09-07 20:02 (UTC)
Subject: Gay and lesbian marriages
I aagree that some persons who object to gay and Lesbian marriages belong to some religious groups. I would like to point out, however, that not all persons who belong to religious groups fear gay and lesbian marriages. Some of us United Methodists do not agree with the stance our denominatiion has taken on this subject. Many of us in thehe Western Jurisdiction (Western part of the United States) belong to Reconciling Churches who welcome Gay and Lesbian Members. The church to which I belong is not and probably will not become a Reconciling Church, but my heart can tell me that I wish it were and I can be open and welcoming to persons of all sexual persuasions including transgender persons.
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