Sunday, May 03, 2015

"the right to marry"

On one of my favorite blogs, I read this disappointing claim:

What’s being decided in this case isn’t whether homosexuals have the right to marry; of course they do. (It may seem facile to point this out, but any homosexual of either sex has the same right to marry as anyone else, as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex.)

Jack has a deadly milk allergy: one touch of milk, and Jack goes into anaphylactic shock and dies. Unfortunately for Jack, he lives in a country, Lactosia, where everyone drinks only milk. Jack can imagine—and actively wants—drinks other than milk, preferably something totally milk-free so that he doesn't croak after the first swallow. He approaches his town's Trinkmeister, Wilfred, and asks for a Coke.

"Sorry, Jack," says Wilfred. "No Coke for you. Only milk. You know that's the law."

"I didn't choose to be born with this deadly allergy, Wilfred!" says Jack. "Don't you think it's a bit oppressive that I can never have a drink?"

"What? Who said you could never have a drink?" says Wilfred, sincerely nonplussed. "You have the same right to have a drink as everyone else, as long as you have milk."



Malcolm Pollack said...

But Kevin, you didn't give the full context. The point was that what's under examination here is the right to define what marriage is. Do you disagree? Marriage has had the same definition for all time; and now it is to be changed, perhaps by a single vote on the Supreme Court. That's what's at issue in this case.

Tony said...

NONE of the arguments against same-sex marriage are any more convincing than "It's Adam and EVE nor Adam and Steve."

I think it's a powerful indictment of the conservative movement that their leading legal minds on the Supreme Court are resorting to childish logical fallacies that would make an MRA proud.

SJHoneywell said...

Pretty much.

The fight has never been for the right to marry. It's always been for the right to marry who someone wants to marry. Framing the issue that way is an equivocation...and that's dirty pool.

John (I'm not a robot) said...

If I had my druthers the state would have absolutely no involvement in marriage, gay or straight. It makes no sense to me why the state should have any interest who chooses to marry and whom they choose to wed.

And yes, that would mean doing away with the state-sponsored incentives for marriage, like tax breaks. I'm down for a flat tax that everyone pays without exception and without deductions.

The less the state has to do with the personal decisions we make in life, the better off we will be.

Kevin Kim said...

Bill Keezer comments:


I think what needs to be recognized is that the union of two people legally and religiously are two different things that have been conflated by our history. This is one area where the separation of church and state has not occurred and should. I think it is scandalous that a minister is an ex officio government officer when performing a marriage. The states interest is in the equitable settlement of separations, an even playing field on the initiation of a union, and a concern for the welfare of any children associated with the union. Calling the union of two homosexuals a marriage is a slap in the face to most Christians, and I think it violates freedom of religion in a subtle way. I am strongly behind civil unions for EVERYONE, and let marriage be whatever and wherever the couple wants it.

Kevin Kim said...


"Marriage has had the same definition for all time; and now it is to be changed, perhaps by a single vote on the Supreme Court."

1. An annoyingly mistake-ridden post that nevertheless makes a good basic point.

2. The NYT's 2013 take doesn't deal with the history of the word's/concept's evolving definition, but does note some semantic plasticity.

3. Arguably the most direct response to your claim can be found at The Week.

So I would say that the definition of marriage has evolved quite a lot over time.

Also, in my defense, I did link to your post, so it's not as though I've tried to hide or otherwise obscure the full context. My main concern was with the dubious claim inside the parenthetical.


Dr. Vallicella, the philosopher I read and often disagree with, contends that the state does have a vested interest in the institution of marriage. I talk about this here.

Tony and Steve,

Hear, hear.

SJHoneywell said...

Malcolm--the meme that marriage has been defined as a man and a woman "for all time" is dismissed by nothing less than the Bible. According to Christian scripture, the following are perfectly legitimate versions of marriage:

1) One man, one woman
2) One man, the wife of his dead brother (Genesis 36: 6-10)
3) One man, one woman, and multiple concubines (Abraham had two. Solomon had 300)
4) One man and his rape victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
5) One man, a woman, and her slaves (Genesis 16)
6) One soldier and his spoils of war (Numbers 31: 1-18)
7) One man and many women (Solomon again--he had 700 wives. Jacob had 2, as did many others)
8) One male slave, one female slave (Exodus 21:4) Slaves could be given wives, who were forced to submit sexually, to their new husbands

The definition of marriage has changed substantially from that listed in the very book the majority of "one man/on woman" believers use to make that claim.

It's inherently specious. And even if that's not where your claim comes from, it stands as evidence that the concept of marriage has changed substantially during that period known as "for all time."

For what it's worth, words don't really have definitions. They have usages and agreed meanings, and those meanings change, as evidenced by the changes in the word "marriage."

Malcolm Pollack said...


I've never said that marriage has been defined as "one man, one woman" for all time; an obvious counterexample is Islam, which has always permitted multiple wives.

What has been true always and everywhere is that marriage has embodied the complementarity of the sexes by making a union of male and female, of yin and yang, of the two halves of the human organism that must become one in order to perpetuate human existence. None of the examples you give are exceptions to this.

I'd like to make clear that I am not even staking out a position on same-sex marriage, for which there are defensible views on both sides. The context of my posts on the topic have been with regard to what is actually being debated in the courts (I maintain that it is not the right to marry, but the right to alter the legal definition of what marriage is), and how I think the courts should rule.

My opinion is that SCOTUS should leave this to the states. If the moral zeitgeist really is changing as fast as some say it is, then it should be unproblematic to change the laws by normal legislative means, rather than by an extremely divisive ruling made by, in all likelihood, one man.

Tony said...


You said:

I've never said that marriage has been defined as "one man, one woman" for all time

And yet in an earlier post on this very thread, you said:

Marriage has had the same definition for all time.

Which is clearly not true ... by your own admission!

The homophobes got nuthin'

The so-called christians must have read a different New Testament than the one I read. I didn't walk away with the impression that the most important part of Jesus's message is: Thou shalt hate the homosexuals with all thy heart, and thy hate shall extinguish thy ability to reason.

Tony said...

I also don't think that it's a slap in the face to christians as a group because there are plenty of christians who are supportive of same-sex marriage.

It's a slap in the face to homophobic assholes who are using scripture very selectively to support their homophobia.

And I don't think marriage should be prohibited for homosexuals just because homophobes will be upset. That's taking political correctness too far.

Kevin Kim said...


I agree with your stance re: gay marriage, but I think what Malcolm meant, when he said marriage "has had the same definition for all time," was that marriage, at the most abstract level, is about—as he put it—the complementarity of the sexes, yin and yang. My own reply would be that that's such a threadbare definition of marriage that it's barely a definition at all.

Kevin Kim said...


I should also note that Malcolm can't be a homophobe. He might lean right, but he lives in New York and has worked in the music industry, where he has plenty of friends, including some very famous ones. You can't do that if you hate gays and lesbians. Malcolm's also about as far from religious as it's possible to be. If he were ever to quote scripture, then like the Devil, he'd cite it for his purpose. Heh.

Malcolm Pollack said...

Actually, I haven't even said that I think homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to marry. I have scrupulously avoided staking out a position; my only purpose in any of these posts has been to clarify the issues involved in this Supreme Court case. (Again, I must remind you that I am not arguing the merits of same-sex marriage here, but rather what the appropriate political process for such a change should be.)

As Kevin said, I am not religious, although in recent years I have reluctantly come to understand and acknowledge the importance of religion in stable, and successful, human societies. And as Kevin also said, I have lived and worked in the midst of the New York music and entertainment industry for decades, and have no personal animus whatsoever against gay people. I really don't care what you think, but I am certainly not a "homophobe".

I simply think that this is a big enough question, carrying such an enormous weight of tradition and precedent (and by the universality of the man-woman definition, such an obviously deep grounding in human nature), that proponents of SSM shouldn't kid themselves that the "right" answer is somehow obvious to all, just because it seems obvious to them. And in a supposedly democratic society, that is not an insignificant consideration.

SJHoneywell said...

Malcolm--I get what you're saying. I just don't think it's relevant.

The definition of a word--any word--is a temporary thing, although some are admittedly more temporary than others. To say that we are unable to change or alter the definition of a word is how a language starts to die. Language is fluid and always chnages--those languages that ossify are the ones entering their death throes.

But beyond that, to deny equality to an entire class of people--the ability to marry the consenting adult that he or she chooses--based on semantics feels like a trivial argument. The idea that a single aspect of the concept (different sexes) is changing doesn't change the entire concept (a union of two consenting adults). Words have their usages changed all or in part all of the time.

I am happy to listen to your arguments, but I have not seen a single non-religious argument against same sex marriage that holds up. I haven't seen a religious one, either, but that's beside the point in this case.

Tony said...

Same-sex couple should not be allowed to marry because some people don't like it.

That's what all the arguments boil down to.

It's not very convincing.

And why don't people like the idea? Many (perhaps most) opponents of same-sex marriage don't have much more by way of argument than "It bothers me that gay people will have the same access to marriage that straight people have."

Which boils down to: "I hate it that gay people will have the same rights as straight people."

Again, not very convincing. And very honorable, either.

Malcolm, your reliance on a lame semantic argument does not convince me that you aren't a homophobe. Quite the opposite. Saying "I am not a homophobe" is not sufficient. Your stubborn reliance on a lame semantic argument reeks of the same kind if desperate rationalization that is endemic among rabid opponents of same-sex marriage that would also bristle at being called homophobes.

Malcolm Pollack said...

Again, SJH, as I said above, I am not even attempting to make an "argument against same-sex marriage" here; I am only commenting on the social, legal, and political process by which it appears to be changing. So I think I have nothing more for you to have to listen to.

Tony said...

I'm starting to think it's not about whether a man should be able to marry another man.

No, it's all about ethics in dictionary definitions.