Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Same-sex marriage advocates gain a lot of support for their position by painting the opposing side as anti-gay homophobes.  Nobody wants to be thought of as anti-gay, a homophobe, or discriminatory.  To avoid such labels and associations, they acquiesce to the cause of same-sex marriage.  Much could be said in response to this tactic, but I will limit my response to four related points. 

First, as Dennis Prager recently observed, opposition to same-sex marriage is no more anti-gay than opposition to incestual marriage is anti-family.  What one thinks about the union of parts cannot be extrapolated to reflect their thoughts on each component of that union when considered apart from the union.  In the same way that opposition to incestual marriages does not mean one hates brothers and sisters, opposition to same-sex marriage does not mean one hates gays.  One can be opposed to social recognition of same-sex relationships as “marriage,” while fully supportive of gay individuals. 

Secondly, this claim ignores the fact that an argument can be made against same-sex marriage independent of any moral assessment of homosex or sexual orientation.  I have made such a case in “I Now Pronounce You Man and Husband?”: An Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage.

Thirdly, some homosexuals have publicly argued for homosexual rights, but oppose same-sex marriage because they believe it would be bad for society.  This proves that opposition to same-sex marriage cannot be equated with opposition to homosexuality.

Finally, few people who oppose homosexuality, yet alone same-sex marriage, are homophobic.  A homophobe is someone who fears homosexuals.  I have never met such an individual.  I have met a multitude of people, however, who object to homosex on moral and social grounds.  So the next time someone wants to equate your opposition to same-sex marriage with being anti-gay, challenge them on it.

I was reading the San Francisco Examiner the other day, when I ran across a “Viewpoints” article by Wayne State University professor of philosophy, John Corvino (the November 10th edition, page 13).  Mr. Covino was opining on the passage of Proposition 8, a proposition in California that amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as being between a man and woman only (and overturning the state Supreme Court’s recent decision to extend the institution of marriage to same-sex couples).  

In essence, his viewpoint was that this was only a temporary setback.  The tide is on the side of those who favor same-sex marriage, and they will ride that tide in due time.  I hate to admit it, but he is probably right.  Prop 8 passed by a mere 2%.  That’s hardly a safe margin of victory.  What’s worse, popular support for traditional marriage dropped 10% from 2000, when California voters passed a similar proposition (it passed by 62%).  Given the fact that opposition to same-sex marriage is fading by an average of 1.25% each year, and given the fact that those who oppose same-sex marriage tend to be older and more religious, there is good reason to believe same-sex marriage would be approved by the electorate if put to a vote four years from now.  Why?  Older people die at higher rates than younger people, so the anti-same-sex marriage voting block will lose supporters at a faster rate than the pro-same-sex marriage voting block, even if no one in either camp changes their position in the future.  Furthermore, religious conviction is a major reason people oppose same-sex marriage.  Given the fact that religion plays a less significant role in the political views of younger Americans, and it is the largely the young who become new voters, it is unlikely that those who age-in to the social debate will object to same-sex marriage.  Only a major public education campaign and/or religious revival can stop the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States.  

Given the length of the above paragraph, one might think my purpose in writing this post was to evaluate the future of marriage in California.  It’s not.  What I found particularly interesting about Corvino’s article was the following statement: 

A bare majority of California voters sent a discriminatory message: You are not good enough for marriage.  Your relationships-no matter how loving, how committed, how exemplary-are not “real” marriage.  But “real” marriage transcends state recognition of it.  And that’s another reason why this debate will continue.  Because it’s not just about what California should or should not legally recognize.  It’s also about what sort of relationships are morally valuable, and why.  And that’s a debate that, slowly but surely, gay-rights advocates are winning.

Corvino’s claim could not be more clear: same-sex marriage is a right that transcends human law.  This is quite a claim.  Rights have to be grounded in something.  Rights come in two forms: those belonging to us by nature, and those given to us by those in power.  The right to drive is an example of the latter, while the right to life is an example of the former.  To say homosexuals have the right to marry someone of the same gender, even if the political powers that be do not wish to extend them that right is to say the right to same-sex marriage is a natural right that transcends human law, and to which human law has an obligation to conform (i.e. if human law denies homosexuals the right to marry, a moral injustice is being done).  But from whence cometh this right?  What is it grounded in?

It cannot be a natural right, like the right to life, the right to procreate, or the right to believe what one chooses to believe.  Why?  Because marriage is not a fundamental right.  Civil marriage is just society’s way of managing procreation for the good of, and in the interest of society.  But society is under no moral obligation to formally recognize and regulate anybody’s relationships.  They do so only in their own self-interest.  In fact, if they got out of the marriage business tomorrow, people would continue to fall in love, make relational commitments to one another, and continue to have children just as before.  Nothing would stop them from doing so.  If marriage itself is not a fundamental right, then by no means can one argue that same-sex marriage in particular is a fundamental right.

The only other source in which to ground a transcendent right is God.  The problem with this is that no major religion claims God approves of homosex, yet alone same-sex marriage.  It’s kind of hard to ground the right to same-sex marriage in God, when God doesn’t recognize the right! 

If same-sex marriage is not a right that can be grounded in God or nature, then it is not a transcendent right.  It is a legal right, and a legal right depends entirely on the will of the people to grant it.

Many argue for abortion on the grounds that no one knows when life begins.  Unfortunately this is patently false.  We do know when life begins (even if we didn’t, this is good grounds for outlawing abortion, not permitting it).  Embryologists are clear in their affirmation that a new human being comes into being at fertilization.  That’s why informed pro-abortion apologists do not argue for abortion in this way.  Instead, they argue that pre-born human beings are not of equal worth to those of us on this side of the womb, because they are developmentally inferior to us (the emphasis is usually placed on their psychological inferiority).  The real debate over abortion, then, is whether we should consider unborn human beings to be of equal moral worth to human beings who have been born.  The renowned bioethicist and legal scholar, Robert George, conveyed this beautifully in a recent article of his:

When we debate questions of abortion, assisted reproductive technologies, human embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, we are not really disagreeing about whether human embryos are human beings. The scientific evidence is simply too overwhelming for there to be any real debate on this point. What is at issue in these debates is the question of whether we ought to respect and defend human beings in the earliest stages of their lives. In other words, the question is not about scientific facts; it is about the nature of human dignity and the equality of human beings.

On one side are those who believe that human beings have dignity and rights by virtue of their humanity. They believe that all human beings, irrespective not only of race, ethnicity, and sex, but also irrespective of age, size, and stage of development, are equal in fundamental worth and dignity. The right to life is a human right – therefore all human beings, from the point at which they come into being (conception) to the point at which they cease to be (death), possess it.

On the other side are those who believe that those human beings who have worth and dignity have them in virtue of having achieved a certain level of development. They deny that all human beings have worth and dignity and hold that a distinction should be drawn between those human beings who have achieved the status of “personhood” and those (such as embryos, fetuses, and, according to some, infants and severely retarded or demented individuals) whose status is that of human non-persons.