Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Four Arguments

This is all familiar ground in the debate about gay marriage, but somehow, a college student covering it in a few short paragraphs is bracing. Yes, it's the Daily Californian (Berkeley -- ha ha), but this hardly comes across as a left-wing rant. It strikes me the same way it always has, which is: completely reasonable.
Why shouldn't gay people be allowed to marry if they want to? I detect four putative arguments.

There's the will-of-the-people-style argument. There was a proposition, people voted and the results were the results. Superficially that seems to work, but it eludes the substantial question, which is why someone would think that same-sex marriage is a topic on which they ought to be allowed to vote and one that they ought to vote against.

So maybe the real argument is that marriage is defined on the basis of child-rearing. Maybe a mixed-sex couple provides the most stable foundation for raising children, which is why marriage is restricted to them. But that's factually inaccurate...there's no compelling evidence for the truth of the statement. (It's also) an inept description of how the institution of marriage actually functions. We don't ask for fertility tests before people can marry, nor do we prevent unstable people from marrying and reproducing. Hell, Britney did it...

So maybe the argument is from tradition. That is, marriage has always been heterosexual so it ought to stay that way. But that's both descriptively inaccurate and normatively insufficient. Even if we confine the domain of analysis to Western societies, marriage is a highly variable institution. Anyhow, even if something were shown to be ancient, that hardly makes it correct...

I suppose all we're left with is the religious or moral objection. Some churches frown on homosexuality. Well, rock on. I'm not here to tell any faith how to do its job. But, conversely, religion ought not to tell democracy how to do its job. Against gay marriage? All right then, refuse to sanction those unions within your faith community. But religious objections are insufficient to dictate public policy to a pluralistic, secular society.
(Via Andrew Sullivan)


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