November 1, 2008

No on Prop. 8

Filed under: Politics — Bob Gifford @ 2:33 pm

My brother has made his argument against California’s Prop 8, and in so doing has shamed me into posting my argument against it as well.

Let’s make a distinction between two types of arguments for/against gay marriage: utilitarian and religious. It seems to me that all of the arguments against gay marriage and in favor of Prop. 8 are implicitly or explicitly religious. Prop. 8 proponents say that gay marriage violates the sanctity of marriage, that it condones immoral behavior or that it is an assault on traditional values. All of these, at their core, are moral arguments based upon religious belief. Now, there is nothing wrong with religion informing moral judgments — my beliefs in favor of gay marriage are similarly rooted in my religious faith. (I can easily spend hours debating the exegetics of Romans 1, if anyone is interested.) But in a pluralistic society as ours, moral judgments based solely on religious beliefs have no place as a basis for our laws. In a secular society, laws must be based on utilitarian, non-sectarian arguments. If religious judgments can’t be translated into utilitarian arguments, they belong in the church but not in the law books. We don’t need to rely on the Ten Commandments to tell us that laws against murder are a good thing, but finding a secular rationale for banning same-sex marriage is far more problematic.

So what are the utilitarian arguments against gay marriage? I can’t think of one, while there are many utilitarian arguments in favor. If society is better off due to the stability of legally recognized unions between a man and a woman, the same benefits accrue from the stability of unions between same-sex partners. Societal recognition of marriage is an incentive to form long-lasting, mutual, chaste relationships instead of short-lived sexual liaisons. Do we think society is better off with monogamous heterosexuals but promiscuous homosexuals? It makes no sense.

Our laws should reflect the world as it is, not as we think it should be, and gays and same-sex unions have always been with us and always will be. Legalization of same-sex marriage acknowledges this fact, and accepts that state recognition of these marriages is a simple question of fairness and equity. Implicit in the opposition to gay marriage seems to be a desire to rid the world of gays. Once we admit this is impossible (and not even desirable), acceptance of gay unions is unavoidable.

Our country was founded on the Enlightenment principles of equality and freedom. These principles often come into conflict with various religious beliefs (hence the Establishment Clause), but we have stuck with them, again, for utilitarian reasons. They work. They are a foundation for a moral society in the midst of competing religious beliefs (and unbeliefs). They have allowed the richest nation on earth to prosper. Could there be any greater test of the principles of equality and freedom than to allow all people to marry whom they wish?

16,000 same-sex couples have been married in California, and there are no riots in the streets, no same-sex orgies in our schools or workplaces, no collapse of family values. Object to homosexuality on religious grounds if you must, but don’t attempt to embed those religious beliefs in our laws at the expense of equality and freedom, at the expense of the very basis upon which our country was founded.

Vote No on Proposition 8.


  1. […] Same-Sex Marriage Ban: No. […]

    Pingback by Ergo Dubito » Official Ergo Dubito Voters’ Guide — November 1, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

  2. Your argument is self destructive. One the one hand, you (properly) argue that preventing gay marriage on moral/religious grounds undermines the utilitarian/secular basis for law.

    However, *forcing* its recognition does the exact same thing because it undermines the liberty of people who do not wish to recognize such unions. It is one thing for the state to enforce private contracts, voluntarily entered in to. It is quite another it force third parties to unwillingly acknowledge such contracts in matters of employment or group membership, for instance. If the state recognizes gay marriage it is effectively demanding that private sector institutions extend the same benefits to such couples as they would heterosexual couples. And *that* is a violation of liberty of, say, the deeply religious business owner.

    Our country was, indeed, founded on the Enlightenment principles of equality and freedom. These were long ago undermined by political do-gooders who wish to use government to address matters of social inequity, economic “fairness”, education, research, and pretty much anything else the mooching public demanded. The gay marriage debate is just another step into that sewer. Where the government should do *nothing* here, it is taking a position. Either position it takes undermines someone’s liberty.

    Comment by Heracletus — November 2, 2008 @ 6:10 am

  3. Heracletus-

    Your argument about the degeneracy of my argument is fallacious.

    You are mixing two separate things, one of which having nothing to do with Prop 8 or gay marriage. The first legal/political question is gay marriage, which I argue for. The second is anti-discrimination laws, which I’m also in favor of, but have nothing to do with Prop 8 or gay marriage. You could legalize gay marriage, but allow employers and landlords to refuse to hire/rent to gays. In fact, there is nothing in Prop 8 addressing this issue. One of several Big Lies from the Yes on 8 campaign was that if it didn’t pass churches would be forced to perform same-sex marriages, which is absurd — there is no legal mechanism today to do anything of the sort.

    You could also have anti-discrimination laws without legalizing gay marriage, which is what we have today.

    As for anti-discrimination laws eliminating the freedom of bigots to discriminate, that is true. But look at it from the point of view of the protected class. Were blacks free when they couldn’t ride in the front of the bus, sit at the white lunch counter, use the white restroom? When no white would ever rent to or hire a black? One bigot doesn’t impinge on anyone’s freedom, but when the dominant class in society does as a whole, there is no freedom for those discriminated against.

    I think it’s a fair argument whether we need anti-discrimination laws to protect gays anymore, at least in LA, but regardless, the intent of anti-discrimination laws are to guarantee freedoms of a particular class that without them would have none.

    Comment by Bob Gifford — November 13, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

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