A Case against a Conservative Case against Gay Marriage, Pt. 3

O.k., let's get this over with. Parts 1 and 2 are here and here; here's the post I'm on about.

Here comes argument no. 5.
(5) Human nature exists, and has fixed characteristics. We are not infinitely malleable. Human society and human institutions need to ”fit” human nature, or at least not go too brazenly against the grain of it. Homophobia seems to be a rooted condition in us. It has been present always and everywhere, if only minimally (and unfairly — there has always been a double standard here) in disdain for “the man who plays the part of a woman.” There has never, anywhere, at any level of civilization, been a society that approved egalitarian (i.e. same age, same status) homosexual bonding. This tells us something about human nature — something it might be wisest (and would certainly be conservative-est) to leave alone.
Well, looking at the last few centuries in western societies, egalitarian bonding between men and women seems to be pretty recent, too. In fact, here's an example of how quickly things can change. Heck, the fact that many people already approve of gay marriage shows that there's nothing inevitable about opposing it. And as I sort-of-mentioned in my comments on the first argument, it seems that if something is being made normal by being made legal, people will simply tend to care less about these matters (to take an American example, interracial marriage). If this view is correct, that's an argument for gay marriage: It seems likely to reduce homophobia more generally.

But what is his point anyway? It comes down to the author having a funny feeling something bad might happen. That's not particularly convincing.

Here comes the last point:
(6) There is a thinness in the arguments for gay marriage that leaves one thinking the proponents are not so much for something as against something.
How many times have you heard that gay marriage is necessary so that gay people will not be hindered in visiting a hospitalized partner? But if hospitals have such rules — a thing I find hard to believe in this PC-whipped age — the rules can be changed, by legislation if necessary. What need to overturn a millennial institution for such trivial ends?
I'm not so sure the question whether or not you can see your partner when s/he's dying should be called trivial, but never mind. I don't know the situation in American hospitals well enough to comment on the empirical matter. Let's just say that if the arguments for a position are weak, this doesn't make the case against a position. Sure, point out the weaknesses in your opponents' views, but that should only be the overture before you deliver the killer blows against the position you don't like. You certainly should feel obliged to if you want the government to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Or alternatively, go right ahead and propose a view like this one:
I remember a bit the prop comedian Gallagher did. He talked about a campaign by the Lipton Tea company, eager to increase tea sales, to encourage people to drink iced tea in the winter. Gallagher mimicked Don Meredith saying, “Iced tea in the winter? Why not?” and he responded, “Because it’s f***ing dumb that’s why!”

Gay marriage is f***ing dumb. OK? If you think not you’ve been seriously brainwashed. As Chuck D (not exactly Pat Robertson) said, “The parts don’t fit.”

The real question is *why*, in just a few years, the concept went from an unimaginable oddity to an absolute and non-negotiable human right. If you don’t care about gay marriage you should care about getting cudgeled into submission on some other subject. They *will* come for you next.

Throughout the post I was reminded of some people's reactions to the proposal to strengthen people of foreign descent's integration into German society by making it easier to obtain dual citizenship. The type of reaction I'm thinking of may be paraphrasummarized as follows: "Why? They always want, want, want something from us, and for free!" But of course, no one wants to take away your passport from you - or your marriage. It seems to me that two common features of human psychology come into play here. The first is well known and may be called anti-outgroup bias.

The other is a little harder to explain. It seems to me that the useful human tendency to be suspicious of the freshness of apples which have been in contact with rotten ones spills over into domains where it has no place: If gays can get married, that means marriage is somehow tainted for us. That's why it's useful to argue against X by saying that, surely, Hitler would approve of X. (It has been pointed out that on the basis of this reasoning you'd have to oppose anti-smoking campaigns, vegetarianism and many more things you may not want to oppose.) If you look for the Logic of Tainted, you start seeing it in many places. It needs to be opposed.

As for gay marriage in particular, the arguments failed to change my mind. As you may have guessed by now.


At Secular Right: Author's response to comments. It seems arguments only qualify if they're "conservative". Andrew Stuttaford argues that "it’s difficult to think that the utilitarian objections to same sex unions stack up too well." Heather McDonald opposes gay marriage on the grounds that it may harm African American achievement. Sounds bizarre and there are a lot of holes in the argument, but my time is limited and a lot of good points are made in the first twenty or so comments. (I have not read any further.)

Elsewhere: "Why Republicans should support same-sex marriage, according to McCain's 2008 campaign manager, Steve Schmidt" at Jaltcoh. Will Wilkinson argues against the view that "since the state should not be in the business of marriage, one should not, as a libertarian, have an opinion about how this business is to be carried out."


John Althouse Cohen said...

Here's a great blog post on The Republic of T. about why the rules and regulations really matter to people.The whole post is worth reading, but here's a relevant excerpt:

This weekend, while we were downtown, we ran into a friend of ours and his son. While the two boys played together, we chatted about the election, and he told us that he had spent election day volunteering, doing voter defense in Virginia.

We’ve known him for almost six years. We celebrated with him and his partner — a Black gay couple — when they adopted their son after several disappointments, and again when they married. Two years ago his husband — a healthy man by all appearances — collapsed at work, and was rushed to the hospital. Our friend arrived at the hospital only to be told that without proof of their relationship he could not see his husband or receive any information about his husband’s condition.

Without knowing what was wrong, or whether his husband would survive until he got back, he drove home, retrieved their legal documents, returned to the hospital and was allowed to see his husband, and had time to say goodbye. His husband died a few days later, of a brain aneurysm, without regaining consciousness.

I told that story to our white, heterosexual neighbor. She told me what happened when her husband was rushed to the hospital. She arrived at the hospital and only needed to say three words: “I’m his wife.” She got three words in response: “Right this way.”

pj said...

"Homophobia seems to be a rooted condition in us. It has been present always and everywhere, if only minimally...There has never, anywhere, at any level of civilization, been a society that approved egalitarian (i.e. same age, same status) homosexual bonding."But I think we're all happy to agree that, whatever 'society' may have approved of, homosexuality has been 'present always and everywhere, if only minimally'.

Adding to that your observation that 'egalitarian' heterosexual partnerships are really something of a modern invention - it really does seems like more of an argument for gay marriage, as you say.

With reference to the hospital story - in that situation, as in many many others, 'next of kin' can be interpreted very narrowly - and it is this, and similarly legalistic situations, that lead to calls for gay civil marriage - sure we could create an institution of 'civil partnerships' to achieve the same thing, but what are they other than gay civil marriage under another name?

It seems to me that conservative objections to gay civil marriage have to take one of two positions:

(a) stupidity - the mistaken belief that allowing gay civil marriage has some impact on heterosexual religious marriage

(b) prejudice - the opposition to gay people from having certain civil rights because, at root, you just don't like them

Christian said...

The church has been described as the Mother of the Arts. Michelangelo was supported by popes and other princes of the church in the production of his greatest paintings. The painting itself may not have specifically religious subject matter but may be expressive and in that expression reveal something of the grandeur and misery of the human spirit. The artist who paints religious themes in ways that are religiously powerful might just say I mix my paints with faith.
An interesting website about Religious Art here: