14
Jun
12

GENDER AND SEXUALITY: Going Against the Flow

The National Organization for Marriage has recently shared a flow-chart to debating marriage equality.  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t hold much water.  Let’s take it piece by piece:

The opening question, which starts off the flow chart, is “What is marriage?”  I was tempted to answer “Baby, don’t hurt me,” but that is not one of the options.  The two possible answers that we are offered are “Revisionist view: An emotional union” and “Conjugal view: Biological reality that reflects human nature.”  I wonder which side Hsiao, the creator of this flowchart, falls on.

First of all, marrying for love is something of a revision of “traditional marriage.”  That said, it’s a revision that happened a long time ago.  Marrying for love is the norm in today’s society.  We even romanticize marriage, we talk about it with “lovey-dovey” terminology, and we expect affection and fondness.  Marriage is no longer about political alliances or property, considering that we have come to gauge connection through financial interaction and contract, not by blood.  Nor is marriage even about children, considering that people can, and often do, have children without being married.

Linked to this allegedly revisionist view is an explanation, which reads “two persons who commit to love, care, and provide for each other.”  Oh, the horror.  It’s like the world has been turned upside down.  This blurb branches out to three arguments, which are “promotes equality,” “does not harm anyone,” and “consenting adults should be allowed to marry.”  Each of these arguments then leads to Hsiao’s rebuttal.

In response to the argument that marriage equality is, well, equality, Hsiao responds with that slippery slope fallacy so loved by the mongrels in the NOM camp: polygamy.  The exact phrasing Hsiao uses is “Why two people?  Justifies union of any number of persons.”  There are a few problems with this argument.  First of all, there just aren’t that many people who want to have poly-marriages.  There are plenty of open relationships and whatnot, but comparatively few people who truly want to have group marriages.

Second of all, marriage equality isn’t about getting “approval.”  If all same-sex couples wanted was to have the wedding, they could have the damn wedding, regardless of whether it was recognized by the government.  The reason that same-sex couples want to get in on this whole legally recognized marriage thing is that it works like a buddy system.  Spouses can manage each other’s affairs and finances in the event of emergency or incapacitation.  Spouses can easily share insurance, benefits, etc.  There are poly-families who live together, or in close proximity, and they do pretty well on their own.  They can get poly-friendly people to say some words over them, and that can count as a wedding if they feel like it.  It’s not as though a dozen people all need to share each other’s insurance, or all need to show up to take one member of the family home from the hospital.

As for the statement that marriage equality won’t harm anyone, Hsiao responds that it “harms society at large by promoting an incorrect view of human nature.”  You may now throw your computer at the wall, if you so choose.  The circularity of this argument makes it doubly obnoxious, and it boils down to “same-sex marriage is bad because same-sex attraction is bad,” with no explanation of why on earth same-sex attraction should be considered “bad.”  This argument works well when you’re having a circle jerk with your homophobic pals (an odd visual, upon consideration), but this argument doesn’t have any sort of validity if the person you’re talking to isn’t already afraid of “the gay.”

Now we get to hear why it is that two consenting adults shouldn’t be allowed to marry.  This ought to be good.  Apparently, “consenting to something does not make it just.”  As an example, Hsiao offers up gladiatorial combat.  Not to rain on Hsiao’s parade, but the main problem, as far as I can tell, with gladiatorial combat is that the participants had not consented, but were slaves who were being forced into the ring.  If two people agree to fight to the death, free of external coercion, then they can go on ahead.  I would urge them not to, considering that one of them is going to die in the process, and it’s illegal because it involves killing someone, and we can’t really have a smoothly running society if folks are stabbing each other right and left, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that mortal combat is inherently wrong.  Hell, we have boxing, MMA, and various martial arts competitions, which are just gladiator combat, minus the death (and Russell Crowe).

Gladiator tangent aside, this argument still hinges on the assumption that it is inherently “wrong” to be gay.  The implication here is that it is somehow unjust to be in a same-sex relationship, and that legal recognition of such relationships is, by extension, unjust.  Laws aren’t about morality, though.  They’re about maintaining a society in which all members can get along, or at least not get in each other’s way.  Now, I can get behind morality.  The trouble is, I don’t think that there’s some sort of absolute morality or ethics system that is transcendent.  I have a very different opinion of what things are “good” and “bad” than Hsiao does, and the government can’t just pick one of our moral codes to base laws on.  Lacking a definitive answer on what is or is not “right” or “wrong,” and lacking a compelling reason to prohibit same-sex unions, the government is compelled to allow same-sex couples to be married.

Circling back, we come to the other view of marriage that Hsiao provides, that being his “conjugal view,” in which marriage is “a comprehensive union with a special link to children.”  At this point, he tosses out three tired platitudes, that marriage “serves a public purpose (responsible procreation),” that “children deserve a mother and a father,” and that marriage is “a basic human right.”  He follows each of these up with an argument in favor of marriage equality, which, in turn, are rebutted.

In response to the inconsistency of letting sterile opposite-sex couples partake of an institution that he claims exists for the sole purpose of making babies, Hsiao counters that “sterile couples are still procreative in type, if not in effect.”  This argument has never made much sense to me.  From what I can tell, it is essentially a claim that it’s fine for sterile opposite-sex couples to get married because they’re still opposite-sex couples.  If marriage exists for the sole purpose of encouraging procreation, then why are the legal benefits of marriage independent of procreation?  Will I need to knock up my wife before she’s allowed to visit me in the hospital?  This one is, in my opinion, just a jargony way of saying that opposite-sex couples are the only valid couples.

As for the argument that insisting on a male partner and a female partner denies rights to same-sex couples, Hsaio just writes it off by stating that same-sex marriage isn’t a right.  So, just “nuh-uh.”    I’ll take this opportunity to make a point, though.  There is a right to same-sex marriage.  Why?  Same-sex marriage is a right because women can marry men, and men can marry women.  To say, then, that men cannot marry men or that women cannot marry women is to discriminate based on sex.  Same-sex marriage is a right if marriages do not require biological offspring to be recognized by the government.

Confronted with this argument, as Hsiao is in the next portion of his chart, he replies that “same-sex marriage fulfills no human function, so it is not a human right.”  Doesn’t fulfill a human function?  Neither does opposite-sex marriage.  Nobody needs to be married to have sex, to have children, or to have companionship.  As long as we’ve got opposite-sex marriage, though, let’s have same-sex marriage, too (see above).

What makes this little flow-chart extra annoying is that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.  It’s got the same damn arguments that have  been used by the anti-gay crowd for as long as there’s been one (Polygamous slippery slopes, meant to encourage procreation, is “unnatural,” etc.)  It suffers from the circular logic that plagues the likes of NOM and FRC, that same-sex marriage is (supposedly) inherently bad because being gay is (supposedly) inherently bad.  Now, to be fair, Hsiao is just a philosophy major at Florida State University, and I’d expect these sorts of mistakes from a student.  I’m just a history major at Northwestern University, and I probably make mistakes, too (although I like to think that my work is better than this poppycock).  If I had just stumbled across Hsiao’s facebook somehow and saw this flow-chart, I would probably think “what an asshole” and move on with my day.  The National Organization for Marriage has featured his work, though, and that makes it, with its circular logic, its fallacies, and its obnoxious assumptions, fair game.


2 Responses to “GENDER AND SEXUALITY: Going Against the Flow”


  1. 1 Tim Hsiao
    June 15, 2012 at 2:27 am

    Hi Michael, thanks for the comments. Here are my thoughts:

    First of all, marrying for love is something of a revision of “traditional marriage.” That said, it’s a revision that happened a long time ago.

    Not really. Remember what the chart has to do with the structure or nature of marriage. The initial question was “What is marriage?” not “Why do people marry?” You’re confusing two different issues here. It’s perfectly coherent to say that marriage has always been a union of man and woman while saying that motivation for entering marriage may have changed over time.

    First of all, there just aren’t that many people who want to have poly-marriages.

    Second of all, marriage equality isn’t about getting “approval.”

    The number of people wanting to enter into polygamous marriages is irrelevant. If this really is supposed to be an issue of equality, then marriage “equality” advocates should strive for equal marriages for all groups, regardless of how small they may be. After all, equality is supposed to be letting everyone enter into an institution, not just most people. I’m not sure how your second reply is relevant, since I didn’t frame it as an issue over approval. The point of the slippery slope argument is that there does not exist a principled reason to exclude polygamous couples.

    The circularity of this argument makes it doubly obnoxious, and it boils down to “same-sex marriage is bad because same-sex attraction is bad,” with no explanation of why on earth same-sex attraction should be considered “bad.”

    There isn’t the slightest bit of circularity in this. In fact, that’s not my reasoning at all. I’m not basing my argument on the immorality of homosexuality. Rather, the argument is simply that enshrining same-sex marriage into law gets human nature wrong by ignoring real gender differences between men and woman. The government is in the business of ensuring the common good (viz. human flourishing), and what it means to flourish as a human depends on the way we’re structured. Traditional marriage is an inherent human good, since it allows us to flourish by achieving a basic human function: procreation. Same-sex marriage cannot, even in principle, realize any human function. None of this requires us to say that same-sex behavior is immoral.

    Apparently, “consenting to something does not make it just.” As an example, Hsiao offers up gladiatorial combat. Not to rain on Hsiao’s parade, but the main problem, as far as I can tell, with gladiatorial combat is that the participants had not consented, but were slaves who were being forced into the ring.

    Yes. A friend pointed this out to me, and I made a revision to the chart — but apparently NOM shared my old version of it. But the point remains, since it was to show that gladiatorial games are not rendered just even if the participants freely consent to fight, meaning that consent can’t do all the work in justifying public policy. This is a standard counter-example to consent-based moralities that comes from political philosopher Irving Kristol’s article “Pornography, Obscenity and the Case for Censorship”. So whether they were consensual in Rome is besides the point.

    The implication here is that it is somehow unjust to be in a same-sex relationship, and that legal recognition of such relationships is, by extension, unjust.

    No. The point is merely that you can’t justify a policy by appealing to consent alone. You need more than just “We’re consenting adults!”

    I have a very different opinion of what things are “good” and “bad” than Hsiao does, and the government can’t just pick one of our moral codes to base laws on. Lacking a definitive answer on what is or is not “right” or “wrong,” and lacking a compelling reason to prohibit same-sex unions, the government is compelled to allow same-sex couples to be married.

    The point you seem to be making is that the government should be neutral. But neutrality is practically impossible: whatever side the government takes on the marriage debate will be enshrining someone’s view of morality and human nature.

    If marriage exists for the sole purpose of encouraging procreation, then why are the legal benefits of marriage independent of procreation?

    I don’t see how this is supposed to challenge my answer. The primary purpose that the law recognizes marriage is because it serves an important public purpose: procreation. This isn’t to say that marriage doesn’t serve other important functions, but that procreation is why the government recognizes marriage to begin with. Hence all marriages, even if sterile or if the couple does not intend to have children, must be able to fulfill this basic requirement.

    Doesn’t fulfill a human function? Neither does opposite-sex marriage. Nobody needs to be married to have sex, to have children, or to have companionship. As long as we’ve got opposite-sex marriage, though, let’s have same-sex marriage, too (see above).

    Sure it does. Traditional marriage aligns with human nature by grounding it in procreation. It’s not required for procreation, but that’s irrelevant since nobody is claiming that being married is a necessary condition for reproduction. The claim is only that our marriage policy must at the very least be in accordance with human nature.

    • June 15, 2012 at 3:39 am

      Ah! Glad to see I’ve got some dissent! :D

      Re: First point- I would view marriage as an emotional union of two persons, rather than the union of a man and a woman specifically. The question of the gender identities of the members of that union is addressed at the beginning of the relationship/courtship, when attraction is established. Yes, traditionally marriages have been comprised of men and women, but I don’t know that I’d say that, at this point, it is their genders that makes it what it is.

      Re: Second point- The reason I bring up the number of poly-people who could potentially lobby for marriages involving multiple spouses is that it seems to be such a small group that the movement is likely to catch on. As for why I find same-sex marriages to be different from multiple partner marriages, it is because a same-sex marriage performs the function I perceive for marriage (see my buddy-system analogy), whereas a poly-marriage seems needlessly redundant. Poly-people are welcome to argue for multiple spouse marriages, and I don’t see myself caring too much if they get them. The second part wasn’t directed specifically at you (though, given the context, I can certainly see how you could read it as such). Rather, I was taking the opportunity to address a criticism of marriage equality, that being that it is about demanding approval for same-sex relationships.

      Re: Third point- Whether “immoral” or “contrary to human nature,” it still relies upon an assertion the current function of marriage, in a legal context, is based upon gender differences. You state that marriage of opposite-sex couples is in the interest of the society as a whole by ensuring human flourishing. I can’t tell whether you mean to flourish as an individual (as in “I feel enriched by this person in my life!”) or to flourish as a species (as in the production of a new generation). If it is the former, I would counter by saying that same-sex couples can experience such flourishing just as opposite-sex couples might. If you mean the latter, I would counter by pointing out that humans flourish just fine without marriage, and don’t seem to need much encouragement. As for the human function that same-sex marriage addresses, it is that same one that I see opposite-sex marriages as filling: companionship and having a representative to act for one in one’s absence.

      Re: Fourth point- Glad to hear that you had addressed that bit. Sorry that NOM was working with an older version, and I hope they apply your revisions quickly! Moving on to your argument here, I would say that the act itself (two people agreeing to fight to the death) isn’t unjust, simply impractical. I agree that consent in and of itself is not the end all and be all of policy, but, in my view, it is mutual consent of the involved parties of a marriage that solidifies it, and the mutual consent of two people of the same-sex is just as valid a reason for a marriage as the mutual consent of two people of opposite-sexes, which is legally recognized.

      Re: Fifth point- As I mentioned earlier, it is the consent and commitment of the parties involved that makes the marriage, and I don’t see a reason why a woman’s consent to marry a man should be different than a man’s consent to marry a man, legally speaking.

      Re: Sixth point- Oh, it is certainly true that the law is bound to be in line with some moral codes and not others. If there were two hypothetical religions/schools of moral thought, one of which was built on the decree “do not kill and do not steal” and the other of which was built on the decree “do not kill, but you can steal,” the law would be more in line with the former. What would be important, though, would be that the law was written that way for reasons independent of the opinions of those factions, even if it turns out to more closely parallel one of them.

      Re: Seventh point- Marriage is in no way required for procreation, as that’s bound to happen regardless of legal recognition of marital status. The legal benefits of marriage can indeed lead to a stable domestic climate that is ideal for the raising of children, but I don’t think of procreation as being the purpose of such benefits. Those benefits are good for society regardless of whether procreation occurs, of is even possible, since they make it easier for couples to support one another and thus both be better functioning members of the society.

      Re: Eighth point- Marriage policy as it stands now is in accordance with human biology, but I don’t know that I’d say that it is in accordance with human “nature.” As far as I can tell, the “nature” of humans is to seek out companionship, affection, and support, which can come from either gender. If someone finds those things in another person, it doesn’t much matter what gender that other person is.

      I’m happy that you could stop by and speak (or type, rather) in your own defense. Congratulations on having your work featured by a prominent national activism organization!


Leave a comment, or vomit up your weird little train of thought.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Twitter

  • If the best thing you can say about me is that I'm a human being, you may as well just not fucking bother. 17 hours ago
  • I'm tired of dying inside :( 1 week ago
  • It occurs to me that I don't think I'll ever feel attractive. 1 week ago
  • "It'll happen when you least expect it! Just relax!" say all the comfortably partnered people, as they leave for their dates. 1 week ago
  • I'm not terribly happy about this trend of making feature length films out of children's storybooks... -_- 2 weeks ago

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers

%d bloggers like this: