Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Marriage and Childrearing

Readers will recall I was none too impressed with the "dog voting" analogy Keith Burgess-Jackson recently appealed to as grounds for opposing gay marriage. (I was then even less impressed with his reaction to my criticisms.) He has now suggested another argument for his position, though in the end I think it fares little better:

Philosophers are too clever by half. When it's asserted that marriage is a childrearing institution, i.e., that the purpose of marriage is to provide for children, the retort is that not all married couples have children--or even intend to upon marrying. This is supposed to refute the assertion.

It does nothing of the sort. What it does is reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of law. Law is necessarily crude. [...] A rule that restricts marriage to heterosexuals is much less costly to implement than one that restricts it to those who have or intend to have children. This is not to imply that all heterosexuals have children (although most do) or that no homosexuals have children (most do not). It's to make a distinction that correlates with what matters but is less costly to implement than alternatives.

To try to clarify it, one could formalize his argument as follows:

1) What matters is that "all and only those with children should be allowed to marry".
2) A good law "make[s] a distinction that correlates with what matters but is less costly to implement than alternatives."
3) Most heterosexuals [seeking marriage] will have children, whereas most gay couples [seeking marriage] will not.
4) "A rule that restricts marriage to heterosexuals is much less costly to implement than one that restricts it to those who have or intend to have children."
C) Therefore, it is a good law to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples only.

I've tried to be charitable in my interpretation of KBJ's argument here. However, if anyone thinks I've misinterpreted, I'm open to suggestions for improvements. But for now I will assume this is indeed his argument. So, how does it look? In brief: premise one is false, premise three dubious, and premise four (though true as it stands) is too weak for the conclusion to logically follow, and the strengthened version will no longer be true. Let's have a closer look.

The argument's logic requires that banning gay marriage be "less costly to implement than alternatives." But premise four fails to establish this, for it only mentions one alternative: restricting marriage to "those who have or intend to have children". Perhaps there is another, better, alternative. It may have been uncharitable of me to construct an invalid argument. So I'll fix up premise 4 to say what KBJ probably should have argued:

4a) A law that bans same-sex marriage is "less costly to implement than alternatives".

(Presumably costs are assessed in proportion to the measure's correlation with childrearing, so that a small increase in cost would be acceptable in order to achieve a much stronger correlation with the goal.)

Now, I see very little reason to think that this new premise is true. For example, it seems plausible that a stronger correlation to childrearing would be found using age rather than sexual orientation. Anyone over the age of sixty (say) seeking to enter a new marriage, is very unlikely to be doing so for the purposes of childrearing. Yet age is a matter of formal record, so can be easily assessed by the law. It would be no more 'costly' (in this technical sense) to ban geriatric marriage than it is to ban gay marriage. And that's just one example; the possibilities are endless. An even more obvious alternative is to simply allow any couple who wish it to get married (i.e. the liberal position). Using voluntarism as our method of 'distinction' has the lowest cost of all, and probably still correlates reasonably well with childrearing anyway.

As for premise three, I've already made an alteration for the sake of validity. It seemed that KBJ merely argued that most homosexuals do not have children. Which may well be true. But here we're only concerned with those couples that are seeking a marriage. And when considering only marriage-seeking couples, I'm simply not convinced that sexual orientation would be highly predictive of childrearing intentions. It seems to me that for those who are looking to 'settle down', raising children might often be a part of that ideal, even for gay couples. But I admit I'm just guessing here, we would really need some empirical data to settle the matter. (Incidentally, given how I've reworked the fourth premise to include the degree of correlation, I suppose premise 3 would now be subsumed under 4a.)

Premise 1 appears to be the core idea behind this whole argument. And I really don't find it at all plausible. Why should marriage be ideally restricted to only those with children? How is that ideal? If a childless couple wish to celebrate their love and commitment by getting married, how is that a bad thing? I don't understand. And I doubt anybody else does either.

Here's the crucial point:

KBJ has failed to understand the import of the "childless straight couple" objection. According to him, the problem is that the law is a blunt instrument. That is, grand though it would be to exclude childless straight couples from marriage, there is (alas?) no easy way to achieve this in the real world.

But here's the real problem: Does anybody actually believe that claim I put in bold? I mean, seriously, when you see a childless (but straight) married couple, do you say to yourself, "Damn, another undeserving couple slipped through the legal loophole"? Do you truly believe that they really, ideally, ought not be married? Imagine if infertile couples could be easily identified and prevented from marrying. Would you really consider that a good thing? Surely not! Yet that is precisely what is implied by KBJ's argument here.

Childless straight couples are problematic for this anti-gay argument not because we tolerate such marriages, but because we cherish them. Banning such marriages is not some 'impractical ideal', it is not ideal at all! Given this, how could one consistently appeal to this ideal to justify banning gay marriage? I submit that you cannot, and the attempt to do so is simply a feeble rationalization for bigotry. As always, I invite reasoned arguments to the contrary.

KBJ suggests that philosophers have neglected to take into account the crudeness of law (premise 2) when they should, and that this must be why they disagree with him. He couldn't be more wrong. We can all accept that the law is a blunt instrument. What's wrong with his argument is everything else.

P.S. For more on the topic, see my post: Gay Marriage Arguments.

40 comments:

  1. Richard, I'm not sure you're being entirely fair on the childless straight couples issue. Traditionally, at least here in the U.S., the primary justification given for the government being involved in marriage at all was its state interest in maintaining its population; the government was seen as having no power, in and of itself, to allow or exclude any sort of marriage, as such and in itself, at all - what it did have the authority to do was to allow or disallow access to those benefits the state has extended to marriage, taken to be an institution independent of any government recognition or involvement, as the easiest and most feasible way to fulfill its population interest. Under this way of thinking it would be entirely reasonable to exclude childless straight couples from qualifying technically as marriage for governmental purposes, whatever their actual status, so long as it was genuinely feasible to do so. If not, one does the best one can. So I don't really see any problem with this part of Burgess-Jackson's argument.

    In other words, Burgess-Jackson would, I suspect, disagree with your labeling the issue as any sort of 'banning' of marriage; the question is purely a question of state interest for him (hence his repeated emphasis on law), and, I suspect, he would consider marriage to be an institution entirely capable of being maintained apart from this state interest and the government involvement it justifies. (I also suspect he would consider government involvement in the issue of marriage at all to be unjustified apart from this state interest; which, while very much a minority view, isn't at all uncommon.) 

    Posted by Brandon

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  2. Hi,

    I couldn't be bothered reading your entire post after decided you were launching into an opposition to a clearly bad argument. I'm sorry, I just didn't have the energy to watch you tear it apart.

    I don't think anyone wrote down what marriage was for, exactly. It just kind of got assimilated into law a thousand years ago out of Christian doctrine, and non-Christian marriages are older even than that. People do it because it meets a desire of theirs to have their union recognised...

    Ah, I can't even be bothered. He's just so wrong... 

    Posted by Tennessee Leeuwenburg

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  3. In an attempt to defend his point of view he has wandered into rather dangerous territory.
    A classic example, I guess, of argument following ideology as oppose to vice verse.The key problem is that his argument implies harm is done by childless couples. and also implies the government should engage in the easy task of encouraging births in such couples (for example making birth control illegal) maybe he does support that which would probably be more effective method of doing what he wants.  

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  4. Brandon, you seem to be suggesting that one might indeed hold that the 'ideal' here is to exclude childless straight couples from marrying. I agree with you. If someone truly believed that, then they could indeed consistently advocate this sort of argument (though there are still the other objections I brought up).

    However, I am skeptical that those who bring up such arguments against gay marriage really believe in such a principle. If I'm correct about this (if they have no qualms about geriatric marriage, for example), then they are being inconsistent. 

    Posted by Richard

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  5. "But here's the real problem: Does anybody actually believe that claim I put in bold?"

    Legally? Yes, I think a lot of people do believe that claim for the reasons that Brandon stated above.

    I tend to agree with it, too. From the point of view of the state, what is the purpose of marriage laws? I disagree with the view that the laws are there in order to proved recognition for a couple's marriage. The state doesn't recognize many types of relationships. The obvious one is friendship. If the purpose of marriage laws was to provide recognition, then I think we should have friendship laws, too. At the very least, I would need to hear a good argument as to why marriage should be recognized by the state and friendship shouldn't.

    Rather, from the point of view of the state, the purpose of marriage laws are, as Brandon kind of got at, to encourage and strengthen future generations of good citizens. Marriage laws (in theory) encourage strong marriages which, in turn, leads to strong families which leads to children who grow up to be responsible citizens. The better citizens our country has, the better our country will be.

    Many people who argue that the state should recognize homosexual marriage use the argument that KB-J pointed out - that some heterosexual couples can't or don't have children and that some homosexuals have children. I think KB-J's argument is pretty good on this point, since the state often does make laws that balance "accuracy (or precision) for ease of implementation."

    I think one of the problems with how you are treating KB-J's argument is that you are treating it as an argument against homosexual marriage in itself. It's not. What it is, is an argument against an argument against an argument about why marriage laws are the way that they are.  

    Posted by Macht

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  6. Huh, okay, I'm clearly just very out of touch with conservative opinion :)

    But even if the main 'purpose' of marriage was childrearing, how does it hurt to also include childless couples?

    I'm simply stunned that anyone would honestly believe that in an ideal world, infertile couples would not be allowed to marry. 

    Posted by Richard

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  7. From the point of view of the state, what is the purpose of including childless couples?

    In an ideal world, we wouldn't need laws to encourage strong families and I'm not sure the state would have to say anything about marriage at all.

    I wouldn't mind hearing what you think marriage laws are for. 

    Posted by Macht

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  8. "From the point of view of the state, what is the purpose of including childless couples?"

    I don't think the state has any independent "point of view". It's there for the benefit of the rest of us. (I'm sympathetic to Utilitarianism as a moral-political theory, you see.) As a general rule, I consider it a good thing if people can get what they want. People want to get married. I don't see how that harms anybody else. So, I say, let them. 

    Posted by Richard

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  9. "It's there for the benefit of the rest of us."

    That's what I mean too.

    What you are saying could just as easily apply to friendships, too (or any other relationship that you can think of). I want the state to recognize my friendship to whoever. It's what I want. I don't see how that harms anybody else. Why not?

    But you still haven't really answered my question of what you think marriage laws are for. What purpose do they serve? 

    Posted by Macht

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  10. I'm not sure; it's not something I've given much thought to. To encourage monogamy? Public recognition of a centrally important, life-shaping event? To ensure fair legal treatment of co-dependent couples (in terms of shared ownership, etc.)? Or perhaps it doesn't serve any good purpose.

    I'm actually quite sympathetic to those who think government should get out the marriage business entirely. But, as discussed previously, "so long as the state is in the business of marriage at all, it should - as a matter of simple fairness - be equally open to all couples."

    Given that the institution of marriage already exists, there seems little reason not to extend it to same-sex couples. The same cannot be said of a friendship-recognising institution. That wish presumably could not be granted without some significant costs. (Otherwise, I would agree to grant that too - why not, if there's a benefit at no cost?)

    But let's not forget the other aspects of my argument: Sexual orientation may not be the best predictor (among marriage-seeking couples) of intent to raise children. Why ban same-sex marriage but not old-age marriage?

    Even if childrearing were the sole purpose of marriage, how does banning gay marriage help? There is some cost in that you're excluding all those gay couples who want children. The claim must be that the benefit of excluding childless couples somehow outweighs this. But I don't see any benefit to that at all!? 

    Posted by Richard

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  11. If the sole purpose of marriage is childrearing, then the question is why don't more states (countries) support polygamy? Moving to Utah - predominated by the LDS Church, which formerly advocated the practice of polygamy among its members - has given me some insight about why Mormons endorsed polygamy for so long - survival.

    Macht has argued that childless couples ought not marry because the fundamental purpose of marrying is to generate new life. People get married, have children, and raise a family. Though I see this as an important aspect of marriage, it is not the one and only purpose of marriage. If it were the sole purpose, then polygamy should not only be justified by the state it should be wholeheartedly endorsed, come what may.

    Polygamists can generate new life a lot faster than monogamists can. If the sole purpose of marriage is childrearing, then it seems plural marriage is the way to go. So, the states ought to endorse polygamy.

    Also, having grown-up (Roman) Catholic, I have always thought that the purpose of marriage is to cultivate one's personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ by identifying qualities in your partner that necessarily reflect his Holy Spirit. God cannot have wanted us just to go forth and multiply for the sake of survival. There has to be more to marriage than procreation.

    This works analogously for the state. The purpose of marriage is to cultivate one's personal relationship with the state, i.e., become an upstanding citizen. We identify ourselves through a dedicated, loving relationship with our spouse. So, in the eyes of the state, there has to be more to marriage than procreation. 

    Posted by Joe

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  12. One defense is
    the government is not trying to be consistant or nice - thee are all just means to an end. It is just passing the laws that it can to achieve benefits. (utalitarian)

    It can't push through a law against infertile couples (even if it decided that was a good thing) because too many people identify with them the law itself would destroy respect for the law.
    It probably also cannot make gay sex illegal because again it would have too much opposition. It might be able to have a law that prevents gay marriage though -subtle but vaguely achievin an aim. the aim does not have to have logic behind it or be consistant (except in as far as this buys legitimacy from key sectiosn of hte public) all it needs to do is create a net benefit or on the balance of probabilities create a net benefit.
    A large amount of what happens in society cna be considered to be beyond our anylitical powers except to jsut say "when we do this then good stuff happens".
    Then one gets to do the statistics one either uses "dont risk it" and "if the wheel aint broke" arguments OR one looks at the socialy liberal countries vs the socially conservative and tests some measurement of welfare growth - an uneducated guess is that there would be a marginal win for the conservative ones.
    Then based on even a 51% probability of a .01% gain in arbitrary welfare (all else held equal) our perfect government says "the law is passed" 

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  13. "Macht has argued that childless couples ought not marry because the fundamental purpose of marrying is to generate new life."

    I never said that. Obviously people don't have to be married to generate new life. My basic argument is that the state sees value in encouraging stable families because it provides a good environment in which to raise responsible citizens. That is what I see as the purpose of marriage laws. Then what KB-J wrote on his blog is the response I would give to somebody who says, "But some heterosexual couples don't have children and some homosexual couples do." 

    Posted by Macht

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  14. If marriage has a purpose for the state, then surely it must have that purpose declared somewhere, such as in the relevant piece of law.

    If it's not, then marriage is something that the state chooses to /recognise/, without having given it an explicit purpose.

    Assigning a purpose to marriage, where none exists, is wrong. One certainly could /justify/ marriage any number of ways, and often one might do this by giving it some kind of useful "purpose" - but that's not the same thing being a cause, or reason, for the presence of marriage within law.

    By what authority do these people claim to know the purpose of marriage?

    -T 

    Posted by Tennessee Leeuwenburg

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  15. there is the argument that a number of extra rights have been given to married couples these were designed specifically for heterosexual couples. For example there may be tax benefits designed to encourage couples to raise children or to encourage males to have women to take care of them or whatever.

    this is somewhat like how the government might give extra money to help a unemployed person get off the benefit. It involves a sort of discrimination and yet it is also efficient to be able to discriminate (assuming hte system is operated properly)

    If you make civil union and mariage identical you remove the ability of the state to make such differentiation and thus remove a tool it could use for maximising welfare as well as undoing some of the work it has already done.

    Of course this assumes htat governments have been making rational decisions up-untill now and could be expected to into the future. It also is not an argument against civil unions just an argument for there being potantial to treat them differently. 

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  16. "To encourage monogamy? Public recognition of a centrally important, life-shaping event? To ensure fair legal treatment of co-dependent couples (in terms of shared ownership, etc.)? Or perhaps it doesn't serve any good purpose.

    I'm actually quite sympathetic to those who think government should get out the marriage business entirely. But, as discussed previously, "so long as the state is in the business of marriage at all, it should - as a matter of simple fairness - be equally open to all couples.""

    I think the purpose of marriage laws is the most central issue to this debate. I think that the purpose of marriage laws is to encourage monogamy, but not monogamy in itself. The state doesn't want to encourage monogamy because it thinks monogamy is a swell idea but because monogamy, in general, provides the most stable environment in which to raise children.

    I don't think that the state has any interest in publically recognizing an important, life-shaping event since who is the state to say what is important and not important in people's lives. We'd end up having to recognize millions of important events in people's lives. Life-shaping events don't need state recognition - they stand on their own.

    The fair legal treatment is a good concern and I share many of the concerns. But if there is genuinely unfair treatment (and I think there might be), I don't see why it has anything to do with marriage (or even homosexuals, for that matter - for example, if I don't have hospital visitation rights to a loved one, does it matter if I'm gay or not or whether I'm sleeping with the person or not?). In other words, if there is something unfair about how things (like joint ownership, power of attorney, beneficiaries for life insurance, etc.) in our country work, then I think that these things have to be made fair for all individuals, and not just people who are married. If the purpose of marriage laws was to grant people these rights and if we wanted to be fair about it, then we would have to allow anybody who wanted these rights to have the ability to get married to whomever they wanted to share those rights with.  

    Posted by Macht

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  17. "If marriage has a purpose for the state, then surely it must have that purpose declared somewhere, such as in the relevant piece of law."

    I have no idea if the purpose is explicitly stated anywhere. I'm sure you could get hints at how judges have interpretted it over the years. I also think that things like child support lend support that the purpose of marriage laws is to provide good families and that even when the marriages break up the state still sees it as a valuable thing to make sure parents are responsible for their families.

    But I don't think that whoever wrote the first marriage laws did it for no reason whatsoever - there had to be some reason or purpose. Until I see a more plausible one (or ones), this one seems to be a likely candidate.

    If the state has no purpose for marriage laws, then I question why we should even have marriage laws.

    BTW, I think "recognition" is a purpose. That is, to say that "the state chooses to /recognise/, without having given it an explicit purpose" is to say that the purpose of marriage laws is to recognize the marriage relationship. I've already argued that if this is the case, then we may as well recognize friendships and neighbors and classmates and carpool buddies, etc. So, I don't find this as a plausible purpose precisely because it doesn't explain why the state would care about marriage laws and not care about friendship laws. Similarly, the state doesn't make business laws in order to recognize a business (relationship), but rather it does so because it sees certain value in things like minimum wages and child labor laws and the like.  

    Posted by Macht

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  18. Macht,

    OK, granted I may have misspoken there, but I don't think that you've got what I said correct. I'll leave that alone for now. Apologies, but I want to address two points that I tried to critique earlier.

    First: "states see value in encouraging stable families because it provides a good environment in which to raise responsible citizens."

    A single counterexample will prove this isn't the case. What about children of divorced parents? There are several people who have grown up in broken homes who have become responsible citizens. Also, what about responsible citizens who grew up without a mother and a father - because of an accident or something? The relationship between the traditional family paradigm and being a responsible citizen is very thin - almost nonexistent.

    Second: "monogamy provides the most stable environment in which to raise children."

    Polygamists argue that the assistance of more than one wife provides a more stable environment for children because they develop a keen sense of emotion. Also, if the age of parents in a polygamous relationship range widely, then the children will have back-up parents (so to speak) in the event of the loss of one of the wives or one of the husbands. So, monogamy doesn't provide an optimal stable environment. In fact, it seems to follow that polygamy provides the most stable environment.

     

    Posted by Joe

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  19. Your argument is because there are examples of good citizens coming from broken homes and bad ones coming from stable homes (i presume) that therefore the government has no role in the issue.
    The problem is that this is a universal argument against government - for example that there are people who would be good citizens in jail means there should be no jail?
    Or that speeding or driving dangerously does not always harm people therefore maybe no one should get fines for it obviously one can apply that to any other government activity.
    Besides creating a Civil Union is a positive action - to have a "as long as it does not cause harm to everyone it touches" - standard for a positive action does not sound like a workable methodology.

    I would be happier with "it does less harm than good" - which obviously requires a bit more proof.
     

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  20. I wouldn't endorse the conclusion "the government has no role in the issue" because it doesn't follow from the two premises.

    What follows is that what we consider a "stable" or "broken" home has little to do with being a good citizen. So, states would not want to endorse one type of home over another if there is no direct correlation with being a good citizen. 

    Posted by Joe

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  21. little is not nothing. A one dollar coin left on the pavement may be little but that doesn't mean I won't pick it up.

    So you re pulling a switcharoo by moving from there to "no direct correlation". I think your argument might have to be "the evidence has not been presented to me yet" in which case you should to be honest give na indication of what level of evidence it would take to convince you. 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

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  22. Yeah, I don't think Joe's argument for broken homes will work here either. (All we require is that stable families are more likely to improve wellbeing, and that is surely the case, despite the odd exception.) Though his points regarding polygamy are interesting, and might pose some problems for the conservative here.

    Also, I still await Macht's response to the latter portions of my last comment.

    As GeniusNZ notes, the real question here is whether allowing gay (or childless) marriage "does less harm than good". Now, so far as I can tell, it does some good, and no harm at all. So until someone can explain to me how allowing childless marriage is somehow harmful to other families, I have no reason to take this anti-gay marriage argument seriously. 

    Posted by Richard

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  23. "Also, I still await Macht's response to the latter portions of my last comment."

    Okay.

    First you basically say, "What harm does it do?" I'm not going to answer that (I really don't know if it would do any harm or not - I don't know how I could say one way or the other). I'm not trying to take the easy way out, either - I have never once in my life heard of a law that was passed for the reason "Well, it couldn't hurt." In another comment you talk about it doing some good, too. I'm assuming you are talking about things like power of attorney, joint ownership, etc. As I said in another post, if there is something unfair about those types of laws, then something should be done. I just don't see what that has to do with marriage. If I'm not married and I'm having a problem with getting joint ownership of something with my best friend of 20 years, isn't this the same problem that homosexuals have? Is allowing me and my best friend to get married the best solution? Not if the purpose of marriage is to encourage stable families in which responsible citizens can grow up. I think it is the exact same thing with homosexuals. There may be injustices that homosexuals face, but I don't see how marriage is the solution.

    You also say that "Sexual orientation may not be the best predictor (among marriage-seeking couples) of intent to raise children. Why ban same-sex marriage but not old-age marriage?"

    I don't know of any studies on the social impact of grandparents being married has on grandkids, but I would be willing to bet that it is a positive impact. That's just a guess, though. Maybe I'm different than most people, but I've always considered my grandparents to be an important part of the family and the fact that they've been married 61+ (62 in about a month) years and are still going strong is encouragement that I could do the same. This is, of course, anectdotal evidence, but I don't think its that far-fetched to think that grandparents who stay married have a positive influence on families and therefore the state has an interest in that. As far as older couples who don't have grandchildren, I think that falls under KB-J's argument.

    "Even if childrearing were the sole purpose of marriage, how does banning gay marriage help? There is some cost in that you're excluding all those gay couples who want children. The claim must be that the benefit of excluding childless couples somehow outweighs this. But I don't see any benefit to that at all!? "

    This is exactly what KB-J was talking about. (But first, to be clear, I'm not saying that the only purpose of marriage is to produce children, I'm saying the purpose of marriage laws is to promote strong families in which they can raise children.) We all recognize that two people of the same sex cannot have children. That alone is enough to say that homosexual relationships are irrelevent to what marriage laws are for. Of course, there are some homosexuals who have children from previous relationships from people of the opposite sex or from artificial insemination or from adoption. But this is what KB-J's argument was about.

    So, to sum up, you say "What harm does it do?" and I say "What purpose does it serve?" I say that we can get MORE good (not just for homosexuals, but anybody in similar situations) by dealing with the problems directly rather than trying to do something that is irrelevent to the purpose of marriage laws.  

    Posted by Macht

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  24. Joe, on your first point I agree with the others that a single counter example isn't a problem to what I've said.

    As far as polygamy goes, you say "Polygamists argue ..." Are you arguing this? If you are, I'll gladly address it, but I don't know if I want to debate something that neither of us thinks is a good idea. I will say one thing though - the purpose I've given above for marriage laws is based on what our marriage laws are and an inference to what the most like purpose was behind them. If I saw a good argument as to why polygamy in general served that purpose, then I don't see why polygamy shouldn't be allowed. I don't think polygamy in general does serve that purpose, but I wouldn't rule it out and it at least has some promise towards serving that purpose (as opposed to homosexual marriage, in general).  

    Posted by Macht

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  25. Hmmmm... "It's a Sin" by the Pet Shop Boys just popped up on random play in my WinAmp player as I was reading some of the other replies. :o) 

    Posted by Macht

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  26. BTW, for anybody who cares, this is pretty much a non-issue for me - I'd say it falls about 20th on my list of important issues. Especially since in the last election both Bush and Kerry were against gay marriage.  

    Posted by Macht

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  27. Macht, allowing gay marriage is also important for symbolic/cultural reasons. The current law is discriminatory: it offers the good of marriage to hetero couples but not to same-sex ones. Even if we accept childrearing as the purpose of marriage, gay couples are just as capable of this as anyone else. You suggest that we ban all gay couples from getting married simply because as a group they are less likely to have kids. That strikes many (including myself) as discriminatory.

    Imagine that black people were less likely to have kids than whites, for whatever reason. Would that justify banning black marriage? Surely not. For the state to condone such discrimination would be harmful to society at large as well as to those black couples who cannot affirm their relationships and families in the same way as whites. Now replace race with sexual orientation. What's the difference?

    If the State treats groups differently, that sends a message. You can say it's about childrearing, but the fact is, that's not how a lot of people see it. Conservative politicians here in New Zealand complain that gay marriage (or even civil unions) would "legitimize" gay relationships, and put them on an equal footing with straight ones.

    That pretty much says it all, to me. Banning gay marriage sends a message that straight relationships are inherently superior to gay ones. Maybe you don't believe that yourself, but that's how it is widely perceived. Allowing gay marriage is an important step towards removing such discrimination. Simply put, the State should be neutral between these groups. At the moment, it isn't. And that's wrong.

    What purpose did it serve to remove the laws which institutionalised racial discrimination? It made for a fairer and more tolerant society, presumably. The same goes for state recognition of relationships. It's simple discrimination to recognise straight couples but not gay ones. Some correlation with childrearing will not excuse this.

    The correlation is only relevant if some significant harm is done by allowing childless couples to marry. But no harm is done.

    If the purpose of marriage is childrearing, then presumably we want to ensure that as many children as possible are raised in a married household. This is best achieved by allowing couples to marry without discrimination. That way even children of gay parents get included here.

    To include such children would be a significant benefit, according to family values. The 'cost' of this is also allowing several childless couples to marry. The question is whether the costs outweigh the benefits. I'm still waiting to hear why the so-called 'cost' is indeed a cost at all?

    (And if it really is so costly, why aren't we taking further moves to exclude straight childless couples? It could be done.)

    If there is no cost, then according to family values, we should be encouraging all marriage - including gay marriage.

    I'm not just passing the buck here; despite your summary, there is a significant asymmetry between our arguments. It's a simple maxim of rationality that an action should be performed if the benefits outweigh the costs. I've shown that there is a real benefit to allowing gay marriage. You haven't shown that there is any cost. 

    Posted by Richard

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  28. You are really misunderstanding my argument but I don't have time to respond now. I'll get back to it tonight or maybe tomorrow. 

    Posted by Macht

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  29. Your race argument makes some sense - by the way black families as far as I know tend to have more children (of course depending a bit on what population we are testing) so it would be whites and asians that would be discouraged from marriage.
     

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  30. Your race argument makes some sense - by the way black families as far as I know tend to have more children (of course depending a bit on what population we are testing) so it would be whites and asians that would be discouraged from marriage.
     

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  31. The main problem is that I don't see it as a cost-benefit analysis type of thing (although I can see how you might think that since I did talk about "value").

    The reason I don't think you are understanding my argument is because we are starting from fundamentally different assumptions. If I may use an analogy, I think that the difference between a heterosexual marriage and a same-sex relationship is like the difference between a business and a not-for-profit organization. From my point of view, treating these two in the same way would be an injustice towards each relationship.

    You think, however, the difference between heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage is like the difference between white-only marriage and black-only marriage - the difference being that there is none. From your point of view, since there is no difference, to treat them differently would be an injustice.

    From my point of view, there is no injustice, since EVERYBODY can marry a person of the opposite sex and NOBODY can marry a person of the same sex. From your point of view, there is injustice, since heterosexuals can marry the people they fall in love with, but homosexuals cannot marry the people they fall in love with.

    That's what it basically comes down to. My argument rested on my assumption that the relationships* are different (which I didn't state, although looking back I probably should have just to make it explicit that I don't share your assumption). My argument was that marriage laws (not marriages, marriage laws) are for the purpose of strengthing family structures so that children produced in those families become productive, responsible citizens. Because homosexual relationships are different in structure (my assumption) and because they can't produce children (a fact), gay relationships are irrelevent** when it comes to marriage laws. This is why when you say "it doesn't cost anything" I replied by saying that's not a good reason, even if some benefit could come of it. This doesn't mean that unmarried homosexual people with children (or unmarried heterosexual for that matter) should be denied these benefits or rights or whatever. What it means is that if there are any benefits/rights/whatever that these people deserve, then the solution isn't to allow them to get married, but to make laws to ensure those benefits/rights/whatever. This is like saying that if businesses suffer some injustice, the solution is NOT to allow businesses to qualify for not-for-profit status, but to CHANGE the business laws so that they are just. (I understand that from your point of view, however, that the injustice is that businesses and not-for-profit organizations are treated differently in the first place.)



    * - Please note that I'm saying that the relationships are different, I'm not saying anything about individuals.

    ** - Please note that I'm NOT saying that gay relationships are irrelevent when it comes to other types of laws 

    Posted by Macht

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  32. This: (or unmarried heterosexual for that matter)
    should say this: (or unmarried heterosexuals with children for that matter) 

    Posted by Macht

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  33. But the current law adresses the key part of that.
    We have given "gay marriage" and straight marriage different names and passed their rights under different laws - the question thus becomes what exact rights do you want to give gay couples if it is different from straight ones that is ok but you need to explain why because straight marriage provided an al;ready tried standard - one we know doesnt cause too many problems and presumably solves some problems. Even if it is not perfect for gay marriage it seems to be the best starting point.
    All you are left with then is - "is it beneficial NOT to recognise gay marriage?"
     

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  34. Macht,

    Thanks for your response. The argument I gave was one that polygamists commonly issue, and I am not a polygamist. So, I don't have much invested in it.

    But just because I don't have much invested in the argument doesn't mean that it's not an argument the government should take into consideration. Does it? 

    Posted by Joe

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  35. Macht, why dodge the cost-benefit analysis? Do you agree that allowing gay marriage would likely do more good than harm, yet still oppose it anyway? That sounds irrational to me. (Especially since I thought we agreed upon some broadly utilitarian principles right at the start of this discussion.)

    "Because homosexual relationships are different in structure (my assumption) and because they can't produce children (a fact), gay relationships are irrelevent** when it comes to marriage laws"

    What do you mean by a difference in "structure"? And that "fact" about children seems a bit silly when gay people are entirely capable of having children the old-fashioned way (whether from a previous relationship, or a surrogate parent), or else adopting. So I don't get how you can call gay relationships "irrelevant", when they are just as capable as anyone else of raising children in a loving family environment. Your assertion there just strikes me as entirely unreasonable.

    You then go on to recommend some sort of 'separate but equal' treatment, if I've understood you correctly. Don't you see the damage that's done by the State institutionalising discrimination like that? It's sending the message that heterosexual relationships are more valued by the State than gay ones. It effectively dismisses gay people as second-class citizens. Don't you think that's a problem?

    "From my point of view, there is no injustice, since EVERYBODY can marry a person of the opposite sex and NOBODY can marry a person of the same sex."

    Okay, forget the race example then. Here's an ever better one: religion. Imagine that Catholics were much less likely (than ppl of other religions) to have children. Would that justify banning Catholic marriage? Would that make Catholic relationships "irrelevant" (to marriage laws)? Would that not be discrimination? After all, EVERYBODY can marry a non-Catholic (so long as they also recant their own Catholicism), and NOBODY can marry a person who continues to uphold that religion. So such a ban must be a perfectly acceptable and just law, according to your reasoning. 

    Posted by Richard

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  36. It might be worth distinguishing between the purpose of marriage and the purpose of marriage laws. Burgess-Jackson, I imagine, doesn't think there is a purpose of marriage (or he thinks many people have their own purposes for it). He's talking about the purpose of marriage laws. Christians, on the other hand, do believe there is a purpose of marriage, and they think laws will ideally promote that. I don't think Burgess-Jackson has any idea what the Christian view of the purpose of marriage is, though, and most of the politically-active Christians in the U.S. don't seem to me to understand it either. I've rarely seen anything about reflecting the internal relations of unity and diversity among the persons of the Trinity in any of these debates, and anyone who doesn't talk about that isn't justifying anything on the Christian view set forth by Paul in his epistles.

    I realize that this is all tangential to what you're talking about, but talking about Burgess-Jackson as if he thinks there's a purpose to marriage the way Paul did just seems to me to be misdescribing what Burgess-Jackson is up to. He thinks there's social utility to marriage laws. He doesn't, as far as I can tell, think there's a teleological purpose to marriage the way the official Christian view does. 

    Posted by Jeremy Pierce

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  37. "Macht, why dodge the cost-benefit analysis?"

    I haven't dodged it at all. I just don't think that allowing people of the same sex to marry is the proper way to go about procuring those benefits.

    "Do you agree that allowing gay marriage would likely do more good than harm, yet still oppose it anyway?"

    I think allowing it would do more harm, but that isn't part of my argument and that's why I haven't brought it up.

    "What do you mean by a difference in "structure"?"

    I mean it in much the same way that I would say that businesses and not-for-profit organizations are different in structure. I suppose you could say that they are ontologically different but I don't know if that is the right word. I also don't mean by it that their purpose is different, although because they are different in structure, they also differ in purpose.

    "And that "fact" about children seems a bit silly when gay people are entirely capable of having children the old-fashioned way (whether from a previous relationship, or a surrogate parent), or else adopting. So I don't get how you can call gay relationships "irrelevant", when they are just as capable as anyone else of raising children in a loving family environment. Your assertion there just strikes me as entirely unreasonable."

    But that wasn't my assertion. I said, "Because homosexual relationships ... can't produce children." Obviously individuals who happen to be homosexual could have sex with somebody of the opposite sex.

    "... It effectively dismisses gay people as second-class citizens. Don't you think that's a problem?"

    I can see how you would think that. Look at it from my perspective, though. I made an analogy above about businesses and not-for-profit organizations. I think that it is a good analogy (although I suspect you don't). I don't think the government dismisses businesses when it doesn't give them tax exempt status just because they don't qualify as a not-for-profit organization. No, businesses and not-for-profit organizations BOTH get recognized because there are laws there that recognize that they are different in structure.

    "Here's an ever better one: religion. Imagine that Catholics were much less likely (than ppl of other religions) to have children. "

    To make the analogy fit, you are going to have to find a group of people that cannot produce children. Two Catholic people of the opposite sex can produce children.  

    Posted by Macht

    ReplyDelete
  38. "I also don't mean by it that their purpose is different, although because they are different in structure, they also differ in purpose."

    Well, that seems to me to be patently false(although I'm not sure what difference it might ultimately make to the argument). Imagine two fans--one ceiling fan, another made to sit on the floor. Just because their structures are different, it doesn't follow that their purposes (i.e. to circulate air) are different.

    Also, Macht, I do believe you are dodging the cost-benefit issue. The reason is that your "not for profit" analogy is, as you suspected, not adequate. Why? The governent has good reason (largely based on an economic cost/benefit analysis) for denying one business non-profit status and giving it to the other. They do not seem to have the same good reasons (based on the same type of analysis) for denying the homosexuals the right to marry. And while it may be true that a c/b calculation that turned out postive for the gay marriage movement might not be cause in itself to change the marriage laws, the discrimination richard mentioned certainly provides the impetus.

    What's more, your affirmation that not allowing gays to marry is not unjust seems a bit odd to me. You seem to be saying that treating homosexuals differently is okay because if you were gay, you'd get treated that way too. The obvious counterexample is, again, segregation (I'm not sure why Richard abandoned the race analogy so readily). Would segregation be just because "if you were black, you'd be segregated too?"

    ReplyDelete
  39. "I also don't mean by it that their purpose is different, although because they are different in structure, they also differ in purpose."

    Well, that seems to me to be patently false(although I'm not sure what difference it might ultimately make to the argument). Imagine two fans--one ceiling fan, another made to sit on the floor. Just because their structures are different, it doesn't follow that their purposes (i.e. to circulate air) are different.

    Also, Macht, I do believe you are dodging the cost-benefit issue. The reason is that your "not for profit" analogy is, as you suspected, not adequate. Why? The governent has good reason (largely based on an economic cost/benefit analysis) for denying one business non-profit status and giving it to the other. They do not seem to have the same good reasons (based on the same type of analysis) for denying the homosexuals the right to marry. And while it may be true that a c/b calculation that turned out postive for the gay marriage movement might not be cause in itself to change the marriage laws, the discrimination richard mentioned certainly provides the impetus.

    What's more, your affirmation that not allowing gays to marry is not unjust seems a bit odd to me. You seem to be saying that treating homosexuals differently is okay because if you were gay, you'd get treated that way too. The obvious counterexample is, again, segregation (I'm not sure why Richard abandoned the race analogy so readily). Would segregation be just because "if you were black, you'd be segregated too?"

    ReplyDelete
  40. "I also don't mean by it that their purpose is different, although because they are different in structure, they also differ in purpose."

    Well, that seems to me to be patently false(although I'm not sure what difference it might ultimately make to the argument). Imagine two fans--one ceiling fan, another made to sit on the floor. Just because their structures are different, it doesn't follow that their purposes (i.e. to circulate air) are different.

    Also, Macht, I do believe you are dodging the cost-benefit issue. The reason is that your "not for profit" analogy is, as you suspected, not adequate. Why? The governent has good reason (largely based on an economic cost/benefit analysis) for denying one business non-profit status and giving it to the other. They do not seem to have the same good reasons (based on the same type of analysis) for denying the homosexuals the right to marry. And while it may be true that a c/b calculation that turned out postive for the gay marriage movement might not be cause in itself to change the marriage laws, the discrimination richard mentioned certainly provides the impetus.

    What's more, your affirmation that not allowing gays to marry is not unjust seems a bit odd to me. You seem to be saying that treating homosexuals differently is okay because if you were gay, you'd get treated that way too. The obvious counterexample is, again, segregation (I'm not sure why Richard abandoned the race analogy so readily). Would segregation be just because "if you were black, you'd be segregated too?"

    ReplyDelete

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