Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Gay Marriage: A Reader Replies

Damn. Who knew someone was actually out there reading my blog?

What follows is an email I received from Andrew Sefton, who argues the case against gay marriage. I reprint his letter here, with comments.

[email follows]

I think it interesting to note the polls at present in Canada, (link found here),
that for those who agree with extending the definition of marriage to
include same-sex couples, a smaller minority will decide for whom to vote in
the 2004 Federal election depending on how their current elected official
(Member of Parliament) votes on this issue.

For those who disagree with extending the definition of marriage to include
same-sex couples, the majority claim that they will decide for whom to vote
in the 2004 Federal election depending on how their current elected official
(Member of Parliament) votes on this issue.

Your writing has conveyed to me that despite your desire to seek a
well-reasoned argument (for or against?), the matter is not crucial to your
continued existence. On the other hand, I feel (perceived or reality?) that
the issue is crucial to my survival and the survival of society, and that
those who feel the same way, also believe in the importance of the issue
(enough to punish their current elected official in the coming election).

You see the issue as the equality of rights to be bestowed upon all or the
idea that no one person should be excluded from what is available to the

I see the issue as a violation of representative government, a promotion of
secularism (I am not affiliated with a religious organization, but I
recognize that one of the first paths to Socialism is the removal of
religion), an attempt to diminish the sanctity of the institution of
marriage, an attempt to weaken the traditional definition of family as the
basis of society, and an attempt to detract from the continued procreation
of the human species.

And on top of all of the above, this is the last straw (I say that all the
time but I have yet to vote with my feet, but I am investigating).

I recognize that the issue did not suddenly appear. The issue is a
culmination of acts of government, in the name of special interest groups,
over the last forty (40) years, actions that have eroded the moral fabric of
our society.

A personal dilemma, that I hope to rectify through discussion, is whereas I
am a strong proponent of equality to opportunity, I am not in favor of
extending marriage to same-sex couples because I view marriage as both a
privilege and a sacred institution.

(I think the dilemma stems from the government's assumption of
responsibilities in managing marriage and religion's rightful position in
defining marriage)

The following are your categories with my responses:

1. Marriage is a basic human right?

In Canada, under the Charter of Humans Rights and Freedoms, the
objective sought had been to not discriminate. Thus, the issue of marriage
as a basic human right is secondary to discouraging discrimination.
In an article in the National Post, found here:

To judge whether a law is discriminatory, Canadian courts have
devised a clear but complicated procedure. Only members of
discriminated-against groups can claim to be the object of discrimination. A
discriminated-against group is a group that has been subject, among other
things, to disadvantage, stereotyping, prejudice or "vulnerability" in the
past, as homosexuals clearly have been. But past discrimination isn't
enough. The group also has to be the object of current discrimination.

As a result of earlier court cases, the federal and most provincial
governments have extended spousal benefits to same-sex couples. On the other
hand, before enjoying them, such couples have to wait until their common-law
relationship is recognized. By contrast, heterosexual "married couples have
instant access to all benefits." Moreover, some benefits of marriage -- for
instance, the splitting of assets when the marriage ends in divorce -- are
simply not available to common-law couples. The court concludes that
substantive discrimination therefore continues.

How do you judge whether a person's dignity has been offended? We
don't use the customary legal test of what a "reasonable person" would
think. Rather we use a "subjective-objective" test -- I kid you not -- of
what a "reasonable person, dispassionate and fully apprised of the
circumstances, possessed of similar attributes to, and under similar
circumstances as, the group of which the rights claimant is a member" would
think. Appropriation of voice may be verboten to authors, but it's
apparently de rigueur for judges. Heterosexual judges have to try to imagine
whether a dispassionate homosexual (and would it be possible to find such a
person on this issue?) would suffer a loss of dignity by receiving a civil
union certificate that was identical in all respects to, and conferred
exactly the same benefits as, a marriage certificate except that it was not
called a marriage certificate.

I would be interested in hearing from a Canadian constitutional
lawyer as to the legitimacy of the claim as to whether marriage is a "basic
human right" in Canada, before and after the adoption of the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms.

As a digression, it is interesting to note some American-based
responses to the E.U. Constitution, which also contains notions of rights
and freedoms bestowed upon all people by their governments. Those negative
responses, I believe, are correct in their skepticism, as the result of such
an adoption in legislation will result in what you are seeing and reading
about in Canada.

a. Provincial or Federal

In Canada, the definition lies with the Federal government.
The management of marriage lies with the Provincial government.

In Canada, I believe, a constitutional amendment is

2. Hell in a Hand basket

a. Is 3% of the population a threat to 97% of the population?

The threat is not a possible physical assault, but an
assault on the values of the majority.

In the least, I would expect that you would agree that as a
result of allowing same-sex marriage, consequences will result. I seek to
hear the positive consequences that you may claim.

Why now do I invoke the precautionary principle so loved by
ideological environmentalists when I oppose it for environmental causes?

I do not believe I am being pre-emptive for I see that
action of allowing same-sex marriage to be one event amongst a chain of
events that seek to further erode the traditional family.

I believe that negative consequences will result and use for
my proof the studies that attest to the value of a traditional family on
family members and society.

People continue to liken the discrepancy akin to the
abolition of slavery, the recognition of women's rights to vote, and the end
to miscegenation laws. If, and only if, marriage can be deemed a "right"
then can these arguments be successful.

(Point...obvious. Obvious...point)

b. Degradation of society?

It is only by assuming marriage as a basic human right that
you are able to argue that same-sex marriages are better for society.

I do not seek the removal of the management of marriage from
the state, but were I religiously affiliated, I might seek to have marriage
returned to the religious institutions.

You failed to list any advantages to expanding the
definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage.

The legal disadvantages, which will cause social
disadvantages, I see are real, such as those outlined by Stanley Kurtz in
"Beyond Gay Marriage", link found here.

c. Marriage as proprietary "My"

From my perspective, the proprietary term that should be
applied to "Marriage" is "Our" in that we are all responsible for the
betterment of our society and the continuation of our species.

I would never support a secular society because I do not
believe humans capable of defining right and wrong (Sorry, humanists, but
Socialism proves me correct), and in that, I do not support the narcissistic
efforts of special interest groups in placing themselves above society and
humanity. Society should not be inclusive, allowing for all manner of things
to be permitted, and society should not idol worship the individual and the
desires of those individuals.

3. Not Natural

a. Prevalent in the animal kingdom

Nature vs. position has no bearing on the
homosexual community, for if not the homosexual community seeking to broaden
the definition, it would be another group.

I seek to protect the traditional family from further
assault and will engage in my actions without consideration for the origins
of homosexuality.

b. American Psychiatric Association deemed homosexuality

Recently, the American Psychiatric Association began
discussions to consider whether to normalize pedophilia,
link found here.

As mentioned previously, allowing same-sex marriage is the
culmination of efforts that have spanned the last forty (40) years in an
effort to diminish the traditional family and supplant the importance placed
on society for the worship of the individual.

In the future, will you be argue that an adult and a child
should be permitted to marry?

Will you have an argument to dispute such a position?

c. Can homosexuals change?

As mentioned prior, my position has no bearing on the
origins of homosexuality.

The advantage of asking such a question is to force the
religiously-affiliated group to present religious-based arguments against
homosexuality, thus portraying them as "fundamentalists".

(as opposed to the "well-reasoned" and "progressive"
arguments presented by those who support same-sex marriage)

4. The "uniqueness of the hetero experience " issue

a. Procreation

If not the defining point of marriage, then what should be?

b. The evolution of marriage

Never before, in the history of man, has the vehicle for the
continuance of the species sought to undertake such a change as to introduce
the option of unions not based on the continuance of the species.

5. The "marriage is about family" argument

a. Reason

I concur that "there is nothing inherently destructive about
reason", but I would ask from what foundation can reason be assessed as
constructive or destructive?

When contacted, my Member of Parliament stated that 75% of
respondents were not in favor of extending the definition of marriage to
include same-sex couples, to which my Member of Parliament remains
supportive of extending the definition of marriage to include same-sex

Aside from my questioning to what level my elected official
believes in representative government and what recourse is available to me,
I am cautious, recognizing my personal bias, when citing such an informal
poll because it bit me on the ass with the War on Terrorism and the US
response to Iraq when my elected official informed me that a majority of
respondents were not in favor of the conflict (although later formal polls
released in Canada showed a majority of Canadians were supportive of the US
action in Iraq).

Suffice it to say, 75% of respondents have reasoned that
they are not in favor of allowing for same-sex marriage.


Andrew Sefton

Regarding this:

You failed to list any advantages to expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage.

Maybe I thought it was obvious that, first and foremost, a certain group would no longer be the target of legal discrimination. I don't see what constructive purpose such discrimination serves, in any society. Second, I felt that Andrew Sullivan (cf. my Sullivan-heavy post) articulated the case for potential benefits far better than I did. As I wrote earlier, my own Hominid-heavy post was merely "part 2." Third, I see benefits as naturally arising when people in the grip of irrational fear make the effort to expand their minds a bit.

Mr. Sefton is making the case, I think, that the majority's wishes are not being represented by supposedly representative governments. This may be a claim of "tyranny of the minority," which in some cases is indeed a bad thing, and I think the Maximum Leader's post on the subject hints at something similar when he discourses on the twisting of the notion of equality, and how it seems nowadays to refer to equality of outcomes-- something I agree was never guaranteed by the Founders.

I think, however, that it may be wrong to view certain cases as "tyranny of the minority." The civil rights movement of the 1960s, for example, had to fight an uphill battle against massive prejudice, but in the end, its cause, very much on a minority's behalf, was just. The same, I think, applies to the case of gay marriage.

Mr. Sefton's other argument was anticipated by Sullivan re: how acceptance of gay marriage is an attack on values in the larger realm, a poisoning of the "marriage neighborhood." I suggest reading Sullivan on the matter; he deals with this better than I do. My own comment is that this attitude is precisely the unwarranted alarmism of the person looking at the fallen paint chip and thinking the house is about to collapse.

Ah, yes: Mr. Sefton falls into the dualist trap and asks the following:

In the future, will you be argue that an adult and a child should be permitted to marry?

Please re-read the following from my post:

This cannot be stressed enough: when the nondualist notes the lack of essence in a term, concept, argument, or position, he is not therefore arguing that the term, concept, etc. has no value at all, nor that it should simply be ignored in favor of a "let's do whatever we want" style of living. The same "leap to extremes" tendency that produces the "hell in a handbasket" argument is operative when the dualist asks this question, because he assumes my position, like his, must oscillate between the stark black-and-white of P and not-P. Unable to see past his own dualism, he is often compelled to view situations in terms of their extremes.

So I would never argue that marriage should mean... just anything. When I acknowledge along with Sullivan that the reality behind the term "marriage" is always moving, I am not therefore implying that we can/should start marrying our livestock (to use a Scottish example... cough). If anything, I'm being a realist: the term "marriage" is in fact applied to a rather wide variety of scenarios already (including homosexual marriage, since plenty of gays have already gotten married!). Do you consider mass weddings in the Moonie Church to be "real" marriages? No? Well, too bad: they're called marriages, anyway. To argue specifically against gay-inclusive definitions of marriage is a high-handed attempt to legislate meaning.

Mr. Sefton has just tried this tactic with me. I respectfully suggest meditation.

In the meantime, I remain surprised that anyone aside from a small group of friends I know (and bloggers I've become familiar with) is bothering to read this. Thank you, even if I end up disagreeing with you. Hell, I disagree with my best friends all the time.

UPDATE: I should note that Kevin at IA wrote a hilarious comment to my post, here quoted in full:

The Big Ho goes after gay nuptials. My take: Conservatives are deathly afraid of queens taking over the world and forcing butt-love and donut-rubbing on the general population. Get over it. They just want a piece of paper.

UPDATE 2: Having had the chance to re-read the Maximum Leader's post (he's promising a reply to mine), I can say I have a better understanding of where reason fits into his final argument. Just so everyone knows.

COMMENT: The Buddhist, nondualist argument I forwarded may give readers the false impression that "Buddhism isn't anti-gay." That was never my intention. I firmly believe that religions are as they are practiced, which means you're quite likely to find homophobic Buddhists, especially in East Asia, while also finding plenty of Buddhists who take positions similar to mine re: gay marriage and homosexuality in general.

I should also note that Mr. Sefton feels I'm reposing my argument on a civil rights issue. No; in fact, my argument rests more on the question of bad metaphysical assumptions that lead to the very practical reality of unnecessary suffering. Mr. Sefton says he belongs to no particular church, but I suspect he's a monotheist. There isn't much I can say in response to his religiously-based arguments, because I don't subscribe to the same point of view.

Had a chance to read Stanley Kurtz's article... sheesh. Shrill, alarmist, and missing the point-- another "hell in a handbasket" treatise (he says "slippery slope," but you get the idea).

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