Post No.: 0102
I personally have no fluffy problem whatsoever with people who are homosexual because it’s not sufficiently persuasive to say that it does harm to other people or even to the individuals involved, as long as it’s between consenting parties – which is no different to heterosexual relationships. But let’s explore some of the arguments from those who object to homosexual people getting married to each other…
Should homosexual people be allowed to get married to each other? This calls into question what is the purpose of marriage? Some will argue that it’s merely for a legal protections and benefits purpose and therefore same-sex marriages should be no problem, but others will argue that marriage is strictly about a male and a female bond and for procreating offspring biologically related to the both of them. Indeed some people will argue that homosexuality is itself immoral, and so there are really two tests – one is the morality of the thing itself, and the other is whether it is a right fit for another thing’s purpose.
As of writing, in some countries across the world, civil unions or other types of arrangements are available for same-sex couples (and maybe even mixed-sex couples) but marriages aren’t available for them. Some couples prefer a civil partnership to a marriage anyway for reasons that include it being non-religious and non-patriarchal, but there’s still the issue in some countries of civil unions or partnerships not offering exactly the same legal rights and benefits as marriages. But putting that to one side here, the argument isn’t always about objectors being outright against homosexual unions or homosexuality itself per se, whether for religious or moral reasons – but about the ‘telos’ (i.e. goal or purpose) of marriage in a traditional or ancient sense.
As an analogy, it’s like cars aren’t wrong (or at least objectors aren’t passing a judgement on cars) but it’s just that MotoGP (which will represent marriage in this analogy) is meant for motorcycles (which will represent heterosexual unions in this analogy) and therefore cars (which will represent homosexual unions in this analogy) aren’t allowed in MotoGP; they simply aren’t fit or right for MotoGP’s telos or purpose – although they are acceptable for the purpose of Formula 1 (which will represent civil unions or some other type of arrangement in this analogy) and this is available for them if they want it. Or it’s like some people aren’t saying that picking a ball up with the paws and running with it (homosexual unions) is immoral, but if you want to do that then don’t play football and don’t try to change football (marriages) either – go play another sport like rugby (civil unions) instead. The purpose of football isn’t to run with the ball in the hands, thus (as the argument goes), the purpose of marriage (which of course has a heavy religious background) isn’t for unions between same-sex couples who cannot conceive children together (without at least the involvement of a third-party or maybe some kind of future technology).
But if marriage is for the purpose of having biologically-related-to-both-parents children then wouldn’t it be wrong for infertile or post-menopausal persons in heterosexual relationships, or people who don’t want children even if they could, to get married? Therefore marriage cannot be for the purpose of having children.
Yet if one argues that even polyamorous marriages should be allowed as long as the parties involved consented then how is such a relationship exclusive between one pair of people? Plus if consent was all that is needed for everything to be fine then what if e.g. two 11-year-old children wanted to get married to each other? Or what if an 11-year-old person consented to marrying a 50-year-old person? These examples illustrate consent and/or reciprocity too. I’m sure that even most ardent libertarians would recoil at the thought of this kind of world because of the naivety of children and therefore the need to protect children from their own naivety at times. But children aren’t the only vulnerable people in society e.g. the elderly, or the merely uninformed or misinformed. If your elderly grandmother agreed to pay $100,000 for a conservatory worth only $10,000 then does this feel morally right even though she personally consented to pay that amount for the job?
We all, for instance, carry additive genes for low general cognitive ability (or intelligence, which is a polygenic trait i.e. is controlled by multiple genes) to varying degrees hence we can all get things wrong occasionally too; and the diagnosis between a person labelled with an intellectual disability and a person labelled with none is a blurred one and reasonably arbitrary (e.g. having an IQ of under 70, but why ‘70’? Although this alone is not the only requirement for a diagnosis of mental retardation). So don’t we all need at least some protection from our own vulnerabilities and poor choice-making sometimes? This therefore shows that consent is not universalisable – it may form a decent backbone for a just and moral society but there’s got to be something more than mere consent and/or reciprocity for a moral world to function. Hence a mere ‘consent is enough to make anything fine’ argument is problematic.
Some will even go as far as to say that marriage should have nothing to do with the state at all, that the government should be neutral regarding matters of all marriages and other types of unions. But the state is required for recognising and protecting the legal aspects of such marriages and unions! And what about society’s interest in promoting stable family structures for the benefit of children? This is less an argument about different-sex versus same-sex parents and more about two-parent versus single-parent parents – but the point is that the wider society has some interest in the welfare of all children (parents cannot have unlimited power to do whatever they want to their own children, even though they may be biologically theirs) and therefore society has some interest in family planning and by extension marriage.
One arguably cannot be neutral and allow same-sex marriages to be recognised by the state though – because for the state to allow same-sex marriages is to essentially put a governmental stamp of approval on it, and this is not being neutral at all. Thus same-sex marriages cannot be justified on the basis of liberal neutrality or non-discrimination, tolerance or autonomy rights alone, because to recognise them is to confer their moral worth and worthiness of recognition, and thus is passing a non-neutral judgement on same-sex unions as being fit for the purpose of the institution of marriage. In other words, one cannot avoid the debate about the telos of marriage when considering whether or not same-sex marriages should be allowed. Some may even directly argue that a ‘neutral’ stance is to take a stance itself (in a similar way that being apolitical is a political standpoint itself). Meow!
The main points to take away are that, in some cases, it’s possible for society to debate about justice without having to debate about morality or ethical or religious standpoints if we can switch the debate onto some other aspect of the overall case (in this case, we can still debate about whether we’re in favour or opposition of homosexual couple marriages by arguing about the telos of marriage or the principle of individual choice without passing any judgement on the morality of homosexuality itself); and that one cannot favour or oppose a stance whilst at the same time remaining liberally neutral on the underlying moral, ethical and religious questions posed i.e. the attempt to be neutral – to say that it’s just a matter of consent, choice and autonomy – doesn’t succeed in getting us anywhere; or it’s just plain impossible to be neutral, at least in hotly-contested topics or controversies such as this one.
As a partial aside, we also shouldn’t avoid talking about ‘taboo’ subjects in the right contexts, such as, if there is an environmental factor to homosexuality then should parents attempt to raise their children as heterosexual? Indeed if this doesn’t work and they’re homosexual at the age of, arbitrarily say, 18, then let them be homosexual and no one should have a problem with that – but is it within the parents’ rights or even arguably duty to try to raise them as heterosexual before they turn into adults, if the parents want to? These are difficult dilemmas and issues and we should discuss these rather than treat them as taboo and never discussed. In essence, no subject should be off-limits to question and discuss (including what are ‘inalienable rights’), as long as it’s done in a respectful and collaborative manner. It’d be hypocrisy to silence critics of one side but not another.
Overall, it’s good to listen to and properly and deeply explore arguments from a side you do not support (in my own fluffy case, to look at why some people object to same-sex marriages even though I have no problem with it myself). People who disagree with you aren’t always idiots and it’s not persuasive to merely state that something simply emotionally feels or is wrong!