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Usage and Marriage:

One thing that perplexes me about some (not all) usage arguments it their insistence on assigning One True Inherent Meaning to a particular word. "Ten times lower than," the argument goes, is wrong:

The words "times" refers to multiplication. Ten times a number is exactly that. Your usage is simply wrong. Your meaning therefore is vague and the sentence plainly ridiculous. It cannot be. Such usage indicates an inability to think clearly. You are wrong.

Lots of "cannot"'s and "wrong"'s, but it all rests on the assertion that "times" must refer to multiplication and only multiplication. Yet the word "times," as the dictionary shows, has lots of meanings. That it means multiplication in some situation doesn't mean that it somehow must inherently mean that everywhere. (Of course, one could argue that using it to mean something else may be confusing; that's a separate argument, which I've engaged elsewhere on the merits -- here I speak only of the One True Inherent Meaning argument.)

The same arises, I think, in some (again, not all) arguments against same-sex marriage (or for that matter against "unnatural sex"): Marriage is inherently about one thing, namely procreation, and therefore same-sex marriage is somehow inherently a violation of the fundamental nature of marriage:

Marriage used to exist for one reason. It was a contract between a man and a woman. The woman promised the man that any child she had would be from his DNA, the man promised to help raise and protect the children and to provide for the family. That was it. It wasn't about "love" or "acceptance" it was a financial contract. That's why at one time brides had to have dowries, to basically purchase their husbands, or the husband might purchase the bride, depending on the culture. (basically its built out of the inheritance rights.)

Ist true, that now with most work not requiring a lot of physical strength and endurance most women can do as well as the average man in making money, but that doesn't change the social impacts of not having a mother and a father while growing up, and sadly the "free love" of the 60's has caused to many people to forget that important part of the marriage contract.

So to me being against "same-sex" marriage, has nothing to do with bigotry. It has to do with understanding the cultural realities that created the sacrament of marriage, and the pure evil and cultural nihilism required to attempt to mutate that contract simply to force acceptance of homosexuality.

If one is really looking at what marriage "used to" be as a guide to what it must be, one must also consider that marriage often used to be a contract between a man and several women, or more likely (as the commenter I quote above acknowledges) a contract between a man and several women's fathers. But, in any event, for centuries marriage has also often been about love, about company in old age, about emotional tranquility, about sexual hygiene, and more.

I would think that this capacity of marriage to serve the other valuable functions is a sign of the strength of marriage, not something to be minimized or condemned. We wouldn't find it repulsive when post-menopausal women marry. We wouldn't find it a sign of "pure evil and cultural nihilism." Rather, we'd dance at their weddings, and appreciate the value of the marriage both for the parties and for society. Same when we see the marriage of people whom we know to be infertile, either because of disease or because of deliberate choice. Such a marriage is an occasion for joy, not contempt or concern about the erosion of the One True Inherent Nature Of Marriage.

Once we acknowledge that marriage can therefore have many functions, what's so "pure[ly] evil and cultural[ly] nihilis[tic]" about extending to marriage to couples who are unable to reproduce because of their gender, rather than because of their age or because of some medical condition? Of course, one could make other criticisms of same-sex marriage. I'm ultimately unpersuaded by these criticisms; but at least many of those criticisms focus on plausible speculations about actual effects, rather than on the supposed One True Purpose of an institution that -- like many successful human institutions -- serves many purposes.

jimbino (mail):
Marriage is not a sacrament to the Protestant, who has historically recognized only two sacraments: baptism and communion.

So let superstitious folks continue to get married. What the rest of us want, gay or merely single, is to participate in those more than 1000 government benefits reserved to married people.
7.6.2006 9:07pm
ReaderY:
Eugene Volokh was originally hired, and paid, to teach law. But he sometimes spends his time on other functions, such as blogging on general subjects. And his employer aquiesces to this and does not fire him. In fact, it may even think a well-rounded person a better professor. But should we infer that his employer thereby has no interest in its original stated purpose? Is paying people for law but permitting a bit of non-law in at the edges a form of hypocracy or a sign of insincerity or logical contradiction?

Certainly it would be unreasonable to suggest that if a professor's employer sometimes permits nonprofessorial activities, it has lost all interest in research and teaching. A leap to a claim that society would be equally served by professors who do no research or teaching would be quite a leap indeed. Tenure sometimes means retaining professors who do little or no research or teaching, but tenure (whatever one thinks of it) is an example of a compromise between social goals and individual interests. A university's willingness to make this compromise shouldn't be construed as implying it doesn't expect anything of a tenured professor.

It strikes me that the argument that because society permits a variety of situations in which married couples do not have children, there is an inference that it doesn't really have an interest in an association between marriage and child-rearing, is an equally bad argument. As with the tenure system, society often compromises between social purposes and individual interests in its institutions. The existence of a compromise is in no way evidence that the social interest doesn't exist, has become unimportant, or can be compromised further without consequences.
7.6.2006 9:33pm
Steven Horwitz (mail) (www):
That society might have an "interest in an association between marriage and child-rearing" is a far cry from defining marriage in such as way as to obliterate its other legitimate functions. Those of us who support same-sex marriage do not deny that the supposedly "original" function of marriage (and, I might note, raising children was hardly the only function of marriage in times of yore) as the raising of children is important. In my case, I would argue that it is important, but that it's not the only, or necessarily the most important function of marriage. Moreover, I would argue that legalizing same-sex marriage would, in fact, allow more children to be raised by married couples, thus promoting the the supposedly "original" function of marriage.

The key point, though, is that once we recognize that marriage has multiple functions, it is problematic to attempt to define it by privileging one, especially one whose importance in the contemporary world is less than it used to be.
7.6.2006 10:04pm
Verruckt:
The usage argument against "ten times lower than" makes no sense to me. Here it is again:


The words "times" refers to multiplication. Ten times a number is exactly that. Your usage is simply wrong. Your meaning therefore is vague and the sentence plainly ridiculous. It cannot be. Such usage indicates an inability to think clearly. You are wrong.


Is this supposed to mean that "ten times lower than" is incorrect usage because the word "lower" conflicts with the concept of multiplication?

If multiplication always leads to higher numbers, not lower, then how can we explain the following?

10 x .1 = 1

The result of multiplying 10 by .1 is in fact "ten times lower than" the original number. So where's the conflict? Or am I missing something?
7.6.2006 10:09pm
Joel B. (mail):
I feel Jeff Goldstein put it very well, as to why I think a lot of people oppose gay marriage. He writes:

I'm a proponent of civil unions for same-sex couples, arrangements that I believe should carry with them all the financial benefits (such as they are) of the marriage arrangement without presuming to lay claim to the designation "marriage." That is, I oppose gay "marriage" on semantic / traditionalist grounds while supporting gay civil unions—a perfectly workable compromise, it seems to me, if what proponents of same-sex marriage are really agitating for are the entitlements they believe proceed from the marital arrangement, and not something more "symbolic."

Because if the effort to legalize same-sex marriage has as one of its goals the expansion of the definition of marriage, then that is by necessity a strictly social question—one best addressed by the electorate. Changing tradition by judicial fiat (by a single vote, in one notorious case) when civil rights are not being violated is the domain of philosopher kings, not our courts. And, as far as I can tell, there is no compelling reason to call same-sex civil unions "marriage" other than to insist that those who adhere to the traditional notion of marriage (the union between a man and a woman) must by force accept that they are wrong and/or bigoted for holding such traditionalist beliefs.

I am open to being persuaded otherwise, of course—but I'd be far more likely to listen to arguments in support of gay marriage if its proponents didn't quickly reduce those who disagree with them to homophobes or Christianists or some such, then sit back and wait for a legal victory that they know would be divisive, and would strain credulity when the claim is made that the Constitution supports the decision.


This issue, is at its heart a cultural one, it is a battle to force social conservatives to accept homosexuality as legitimate by appropriating the label of marriage. If it were not, then activists would not insist on the specific label of marriage, the arrangement of benefits in a civil union should be wholly sufficient. As long as we dance around that issue, the debate will be poisonous.
7.6.2006 11:35pm
The Editors, American Federalist Journal (mail) (www):
The ideal is not for children to be raised by "married couples" but by their mother and father.

The intimate relationship between a man and a woman is unique, it is fundamentally different from same-sex intimate relationships, sibling relationships, platonic friendships, or any number of other interpersonal relationships. To call fundamentally different things the same word is a denial of reality and an abuse of language. Writing laws to call apples "oranges" won't make them the same.
7.6.2006 11:38pm
ReaderY:
Given that a professor actually performs multiple functions, why should research and teaching be priveleged or deserve any special attention by society? Why should a professor's performance in the classroom or academic journals matter more to society than performance in, say, the blogosphere or for that matter, the theatre or the bedroom? Why should research and teaching credential's be a university's primary consideration, or even a consideration, in hiring? Surely the fact that society has an interest in an association between being a professor and research and teaching does not justify defining the professoriate as a research and teaching occupation so as to obliterate other functions? Surely the function isn't as important to society as it used to be.
7.6.2006 11:44pm
Joel B. (mail):
As a side note, more directly to your post Eugene, I generally agree that "one true inherent meaning" may not be assigned to a word, at least not generally. However, that we cannot usually do that, does not mean we can never do that. For the traditionalist definition of marriage, I think one could easily say, that the Bible, defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Now, do men and women have polygamous marriages in the Bible? Yes, but we still see that the first marriage and divinely created marriage is between one man and one woman, this is further emphazised for the Christian, as Christ speaks of the two becoming one flesh. Not, the polygamous 3.

Biblical claims to definitions are in themselves claims as to "the one inherent true meaning" of the word defined when defined in such a way. These definitions are not common but they do exist. Then, the question must be put to the individual is not just whether they reject definition, but they must also reject the Bible. It is worth noting, that it is not the Bible solely where the definitional claim is being made, but it is a definition by God as to the meaning of the word. I may be able to disagree with other men as to meanings of word created by men, but if I believe that God created the word and the meaning of the word, I am not at liberty to argue with him over definitions.
7.6.2006 11:44pm
Medis:
I think Professor Volokh may have focused on the wrong part of that comment. As often is the case, the rhetoric is one of disease and/or contamination: "pure evil and cultural nihilism required to attempt to MUTATE that contract". The general idea appears to be that one cannot add gay marriages to the long list of nonprocreative straight marriages without somehow infecting procreative marriages.

That, I think, explains why gay marriages, unlike straight nonprocreative marriages, are singled out for this sort of exclusivity argument. The underlying intuition is that while straight nonprocreative marriages do not threaten procreative marriages, somehow gay marriages do (in this case, by the cancerous process of "mutation").
7.7.2006 12:07am
therut:
I'm just waiting for some intellectual to tell me I am not a female human being but really I am a male fish. This is a really silly relativistic argument which really does and does not surprise me. Since we now apparently live in a culture where the highly educated have become so theoreticlly relativistic they are ignorant of the meaning of a word that a majority of the peoples of the Earth have no problem understanding. But as I said I am not surprised as apparently many of our Judges can not read the Constitution and understand what the common citizen has no problem understandig. Please tell me how we will communicate someday if no one can understand what anyone else is talking about. It reminds me of the great liberal line " It depends on what is is".
7.7.2006 12:27am
Medis:
therut,

But the thing is, we all know what "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage" means. So, I don't see how this is causing a communication problem.
7.7.2006 12:47am
A Berman (mail):
Eugene,

At the end of the day, it comes down to effect. What is the effect of State sponsorship of marriage today, and what would be the effect of State sponsorship of a form of marriage that did not distinguish between men and women?

We who are against changing how the State sponsors marriage have made claims about what might happen should the State do so. The claims are significant and there is support for them. They may be disputable, they may even be proven false, but to call it bigotry is just to ignore the claims.
7.7.2006 1:41am
WithRespect:
Professor Volokh. two quick points.
1. In addition to the procreative aspect of marriage, traditionalists would also argue that marriage has a unitive aspect (as alluded to in the 2 becoming 1 flesh). This unitive aspect is symbolic, yes, but it is also based on the notion of the complementariness of the sexes. I realize that you will probably have reasons to similarly argue against this notion - but I think it is just as important as the procreative aspect to the traditionalist and helps explain why old age and presumed inability to have children is not a traditional bar to marriage.

2. Not all celebrate marriages where not having children is "a deliberate choice." You might be interested to know (if you didn't already) that marriage in the Catholic church requires each spouse to be "willing to accept children." Unwillingness is grounds for annulment. In addition, the Catholic Church will not generally marry a man who cannot perform the sex act (not merely sterile). Taken on the whole, the principle seems to be that children must be at least a possibility. And traditionally, this is construed broadly so as to encompass even apparent sterility or barren womb. I guess the point here is that there is some consistency to the procreative argument.
7.7.2006 1:45am
Daryl Herbert (www):
Would these morons really claim that if "A is five times higher than B", it's not true that "B is five times lower than A"?

Division is multiplication (by the inverse, like subtraction is adding a negative).

Eugene does us all a great service by pushing descriptivism (he opened my eyes to it). Demeaning less-educated people trying to have a voice is lame. Slapping down educated jerks who over-reach in demeaning other people--that's satisfying and intellectually wholesome.
7.7.2006 1:58am
J'hn'1:
Mostly agreeing with ReaderY, but another from another direction.
What would those currently on the fence (or pro-gay marriage) feel about requiring medical verification that each potential spouse is not only fertile, but the pair together is fertile before allowing a marriage liscence? Maybe even after a set number of years without creating children the marriage is "set aside" (which is another historically acurate possibility). Most everybody would see that as an intolerable intrusion into the prospective spouse's privacy. This could even segue into disolving the marriage after the minor children have reached emancipation and either the couple has no more children for the abovementioned time or is no longer fertile.
Nobody would accept that as far too intrusive into the married couple's lives.
THe compromise that has been pretty much universally accepted except by the pro-gay activists is that a marriage consists of a male and a female, a presumably biologically compatable pair that could create an offspring between the two. This offspring would have a right to "support" from the two parents, and as it happens, usually the act of creating a child and living with that child does create positive feelings towards that offspring that do work towards the support and raising of that child. Adoption is not the same, although it can be close if the parents work at it. (one of the reasons many states have rules against limiting an adopted decendant's inheritance). It is most easily discerned in the cases where a hospital mistake results in parents raising the wrong child, and unfortunately is not likely to be found without the kind of medical problems that frequently leave one child dead. Those parents are very attached to the child they have raised, the child they believe to be of "their bodies". This knowlege-that-this-child-is-of-my-body is not possible where one or both parent(s) is(are) known to be other than a creating parent. Sociological imprinting and both gender role models aside,as they definately should not be for the whole discussion, at least one parent in a same sex parentage is not responsible for creating that child; and the absolute best that can be hoped for is that that parent will treat that child in a similar fashion to a good adoption.
(hint, I expect this issue to become a lot more complicated if the scientific community gets parthenogenesis worked out to be a viable means for one or two females to have a female child without male genetic input)
7.7.2006 2:08am
Zoe E Brain (mail) (www):
Am I a female human being? Good question. Opinions differ. On both parts, the "female" and the "human".

My bone marrow has 46xy (male) chromosomes.
My UK passport says I'm female.
According to Medicare Australia, I'm female, because I have a medical condition males can't possibly have.
My UK birth certificate says "boy".
I'm married, to a woman, in a jurisdiction where women can only marry men.
I'm the biological father (took technical help) of a boy, but as the result of my condition, I'm now sterile.
The Australian Passport Office is currently still trying to figure out what gender I am for an Australian Passport.
The Tax Office and Electoral Commission say that I'm female.

Hormonally, I'm either female, or only marginally human, depending on which hormones you look at. "Endocrinally odd" as my GP put it. One medic said (in the nicest possible way, we have to laugh about this or we'd cry) "You know you're a Freak, don't you?". Yes, I do.

Somatically, I'd require either MtoF or FtoM surgery to look completely normal, and the MtoF procedure would be far easier and more complete. Socially, I look like any other middle-aged female Academic.

Psychologically, and from evidence, neurologically, I'm female, and have been since at least age 4. But when my body looked unmistakably male, there seemed no future in pressing the point.

Please look at the Intersex Society of North America, people with any one of dozens of conditions that can lead to similar kinds of situation are more common than you think.

About one in a million people can be fathers and also mothers, though it's far more common for them to be sterile as both. There's cases of genetic males being mothers, and genetic females being fathers. How do you classify people with Kleinfelters syndrome? The simplest form of which is a 100% 47xxy rather than 46xy(male) or 46xx(female)? How do you classify people with genetic mosaicism or chimerality, those with bodies composed of both 46xx and 46xy cells? Or Turner syndrome, 45x, or Mixed Gonadal dysgenesis, a mix of 46xy and 45x?

See Re Kevin in Perspective in the Deakin Law Review.
In my view the evidence demonstrates (at least on the balance of probabilities) that the characteristics of transsexuals are as much "biological" as those of people thought of as inter-sex'
-Justice Richard Chisolm in reference to expert medical evidence
Though many would separate Intersex and Transsex as two totally different syndromes. I guess I'm both, having of necessity lived a male role due to my natural body configuration, and now a female one for the same reason. It's definitely an upgrade from my viewpoint!

Most people are either male or female (and not both) human beings. It is an excellent approximation. But it is an approximation, not totally valid for more than 98 point something of the population, and completely invalid for perhaps one in a thousand.

This is not some hypothetical, nor is it a specious argument injected into a debate to confuse the issue.

People such as myself face social and economic problems, and genuine life-threatening health issues far more difficult than you can imagine. Remember when you were pregnant? Or the post-partum blues? Or even going through puberty? The hormonal surges? Imagine living all your life with that and worse.

The social problems can be deadly too. "Outed" transsexuals are 17 times more likely to be the victim of homicides than the average in the USA. 5 times more likely than the next highest minority, black males.

We don't need the legal complications too. Am I in a "same sex" marriage? And if so, how does that affect my boy?

Please can we rationalise and generalise common-law contractual partnership as a concept, then add whatever garnishment of your religious or moral system of choice on top of that. Some of which would allow same-sex, others forbid it as an abomination.

Just don't discriminate against people who have done nothing to deserve it, and are doing the best they can to be functional members of society and good parents to their children.
7.7.2006 2:14am
Jared K.:
ReaderY, your analogy breaks down along exactly the same lines that Professor Volokh is describing. To extend your analogy to fit the situation, you would have to have a world in which the university already allows, and in fact encourages (by dancing and celebrating) some professors to perform exactly zero (not "little," but zero) research or teaching. Suddenly, refusing to grant the same privilege to others because of some immutable characteristic like race or gender sounds less reasonable, doesn't it?

Even with this extension the analogy is weak, but you should at least try to compare similar things. Otherwise you'd probably be accused of setting up a strawman and of course that's not what you're trying to do.
7.7.2006 2:21am
chunkstyle (mail):
I must say that I cringe a little bit at the phrase 'ten times less than', although I can see the semantic arrangement Professor Volokh is describing. It is much more intuitive to me to describe the lesser amount as 'one tenth' the original.

It seems that the original starting point presents the frame of reference for the reader or listener (e.g. we started with 10 apples). The direction of change from this starting point is indicated in cues (e.g. saying 10 times creates the expectation that an increase is occurring, whereas saying one-tenth creates the expectation that a decrease is occurring). It seems jarring to my ear or eye to depart from these conventions. Are these conventions absolutely correct? I don't think so, as the ultimate meaning can be derived in the context of the sentence. But, conventions are useful for a reason, namely creating expectations on the part of the person receiving the information. The use of a word which typicially creates the 'increase' expectation would seem to, however, interrupt the flow and processing of meaning that the observer is making in real time as the phrase is read or heard when the ultimate direction of the numeration is a decrease. The mathematical analogy I would use for the counter position is that you can divide something by 0.1 and the resultant number is 10 times larger than your starting point, but it would seem strange to say 'a tenth divisor' to indicate an increase.

In science, we get around this to some degree by using terms like 'order of magnitude' which equates to 10-fold (or using -fold itself, as in a 2-fold reduction equalling halving your starting point) and can be less or more depending which modifier used: less or more.

I suppose it is all idiosyncratic to a greater or lesser degree, and thought I'd invest my $0.02.
7.7.2006 3:52am
Greg D (mail):
I believe the good professor is going at this one backwards.

The important question is not "what is marriage?' The important question is "why does society reward marriage?"

Heterosexual marriage is the basis for the survival of our society. We need families, that produce children that will become adult and functional members of our society. Otherwise our society dies.

Homosexual "marriages" do not fulfill that role. Therefore there is no good reason for society to reward the participants of such a union.

If there's a sight more contemptible than a person whining because they're not getting a benefit that they haven't, in fact, earned, I've yet to encounter it.

Yes, some other people who haven't earned that benefit (state sanctioned marriage) are getting it. So? That doesn't change the fact that homosexual couples don't deserve the benefit.

You want homosexual marriage? Great. Show us that such pairings benefit society as much as the heterosexual ones do. Until you've done that, don't expect to get what you want.
7.7.2006 5:05am
Taeyoung (mail):
Marriage is inherently about one thing, namely procreation
While procreation is a major element of the traditional conception of marriage, I think it should be stressed that for Westerners in the Anglo-American tradition, it's certainly not the "one" thing marriage is inherently about. See, e.g. the Book of Common Prayer (1662 version):
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate . . . and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

Clearly, there are three reasons which combine to justify marriage. Now, obviously modern society has worked (and works) to kick out nos. 2 and 3 (2: fornication not problematic today; 3: in case of adversity, there is no-fault divorce). But that doesn't mean the traditional conception of marriage doesn't still include them.
7.7.2006 7:00am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Zoe E. Brain:

Hard cases make bad law. In your unusual case, the best policy is to let you choose whatever status you want.

Greg D.

Exactly. And very well expressed. I add that we provide marriage benefits to infertile people because it would be too intrusive and expensive for the state to test and monitor them. It's simply easier to assume most married people will choose to procreate, and let it go at that. It's fine that people love each other and want get married, but why should society grant special benefits to them for this reason alone?
7.7.2006 7:55am
Medis:
I'm always intrigued by arguments to the effect that the only reason "we provide marriage benefits to infertile people [is] because it would be too intrusive and expensive for the state to test and monitor them."

Is that really true? For people making this argument, I would pose this hypothetical:

Suppose you happen to know that someone is infertile--say, for example, that this person is your sister, and she has told you that she is infertile as a result of some disease or operation.

But your sister has fallen in love. The man she loves is a good man, and he also knows that she is infertile. He accepts that, and they have talked about adopting children to raise. He has proposed to her, and she wants to marry him. She comes to you for advice.

Would you actually say to your sister that she should not get married because she is infertile? Would you say that it is a mistake (perhaps unavoidable from the state's perspective, but a mistake nonetheless) for the state to provide marital benefits to your sister?

I think Professor Volokh is right--the vast majority of people would not oppose such a marriage, and would not complain about the state providing benefits to such a marriage. Indeed, we would celebrate such a marriage, even with full knowledge that our sister was infertile.

So, it simply cannot be the case that we as a society allow such marriages only because it would be too intrusive to test for fertility. And we know that is true because even when we have ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE of infertility, we still don't oppose such marriages.
7.7.2006 9:00am
Medis:
A Berman,

You say: "We who are against changing how the State sponsors marriage have made claims about what might happen should the State do so. The claims are significant and there is support for them."

I think the precise question is exactly what is the nature of this "support"?

Because if it turns out that the claimed threats posed by gay people getting married are not sufficiently supported by reliable, objective evidence, and instead are supported primarily by intuition and raw conjecture, then it seems to me that although "bigotry" may not be the right word, "prejudice" would be accurate. In other words, claiming that the participation of gay people in the institution of marriage would somehow harm marriage in general, and society in general, without adequate evidence would seem to be literally "prejudging" the issue on the basis of an intuitive bias against gay people.
7.7.2006 9:21am
Amused:
What amuses me about this fertility "debate" is the presumption that no one ever thought of these questions before. It might be useful to step back from modern arrogance and see how our forefathers reasoned this out.

Finally, the difficulty many here feel, I assume, in affirming traditional marriage is due the rejection of natural law by modernists and post-modernists.

Accordingly, it is easy to see:
1. If you follow natural law, homosexual sex is unnatural and therefore the state should not honor the act through recognizing marriage.

2. If you follow legal positivism, rights derive from the state and no justification exists for denying anyone who wants to marry another that right.

3. If you follow utilitariansim / law &economics, then the only basis to deny marriage is if it's costs outweight the benefits.

Since natural law has (wrongly, I believe) lost influence we see a race now, on both sides, to use "science" to prove the costs or benefits of non-traditional forms of marriage.

In the end, You can't not know what you know.
7.7.2006 9:24am
donaldk:

The bloggers here are - I can't decide between voluble and prolix. So let me be brief.

"ten times lower" is a lower-working class expression, and I would not expect to hear it from anyone else. Not from my children, I assure you.

The sole justification for these new forms of marriage is to extend legal protections, and marriage is not necessary to so extend them. This public "plighting of troth" (as the ancients referred to it) is a form of camp exhibitionism, and as such is merely pathetic.
7.7.2006 9:34am
Medis:
Amused,

You say: "If you follow natural law, homosexual sex is unnatural and therefore the state should not honor the act through recognizing marriage."

I disagree with one of your key premises. I think that gay sex is in fact natural for gay people. Therefore, I think that gay sex, and gay marriage, would not violate natural law.
7.7.2006 9:36am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I suppose that the "procreation" argument about marriage arose because people felt uncomfortable using the theological argument.

Obviously, marriage was never about one thing. There were always, family, clan, and social components; economic components; and companionate components in addition to the sexual and procreative components.

Traditional Christian marriage was well summed up in the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony of the Book of Common Prayer:

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.


The service also deals with the issue of the "Mature Bride"


This Prayer next following shall be omitted, where the Woman is past child-bearing.

O MERCIFUL Lord, and heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased: We beseech thee, assist with thy blessing these two persons, that they may both be fruitful in procreation of children, and also live together so long in godly love and honesty, that they may see their children Christianly and virtuously brought up, to thy praise and honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
7.7.2006 9:46am
Steven Horwitz (mail) (www):
Greg writes:


Heterosexual marriage is the basis for the survival of our society. We need families, that produce children that will become adult and functional members of our society. Otherwise our society dies.

Homosexual "marriages" do not fulfill that role. Therefore there is no good reason for society to reward the participants of such a union.



If you believe the first paragraph, then you should join the others in prohibiting marriage among the infertile. If the justification for rewarding marriage is creating children, then why "reward" infertile couples, or even couples who are childless? As another commenter pointed out, why don't we revoke the marriage licenses of childless couples?

And all of this ignores that there are many other roles that marriage plays, including companionship and care in sickness and old age, that would be totally fulfilled (and are already) by same-sex marriages. As they are also fulfilled by childless marriages.

For those who believe it's all about children, are the people who are happily married and childless (or past child-bearing age) simply victims of a kind of false consciousness in thinking that their marriages are to be celebrated and rewarded? Are we equally fooled by thinking that other important social roles of marriage include providing people with companionship, care, emotional support, and yes I'll say it, SEX (gasp!!) over the course of their lives?
7.7.2006 9:49am
Medis:
Incidentally, I might note that Aquinas, the Catholic Church, and Christians in general do not have a monopoly on "natural law". The theory goes back at least to the pagan philosophers, particularly the Stoics, who saw natural law as reflecting how a rational human being would act in pursuit of true happiness, in a purely temporal sense. Of course, under Aquinas et al, the ultimate purpose (telos) of natural law as applied to human beings was transformed from temporal happiness to eternal salvation, but we need not agree with this transformation.

And indee, this older conception of natural law was revived by early modern philosophers such as Hobbes and Locke. Indeed, it was captured in our own Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Moreover, in a sense this concept of natural law actually underlays the work of utilitarians like Bentham and Mill as well.

So, I am entirely serious when I say that I think that gay sex and gay marriage accords with natural law. That is because in my view, rational gay people can choose to engage in these activities in pursuit of their own true happiness.

Again, I realize that these conclusions puts me at odds with certain Christian authorities on natural law (although I note that some Christians have in fact argued that gay sex and gay marriage accords with the Christian conception of natural law). But I wanted to note that there are other natural law traditions besides those within Christianity.
7.7.2006 9:53am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Actually the definitional conflict between 'marriage' and 'queer marriage' is quite easy to explain.

Gays for whatever reason have eschewed relationships containing the possibility of a 'marriage', 'unification', or 'mixing' that produces children.

They want to hold the moon in their hands but physics (or in the case of marriage anatomy and psychology) denies them this goal.

So they turn to the coercive state apparatus that inappropriately nationalized marriage in the first half of 19th century to obtain a legal simulacrum of the institution of marriage to match the physical and emotional simulacrum of their sexual relationships.
7.7.2006 10:18am
xx:
"So, I am entirely serious when I say that I think that gay sex and gay marriage accords with natural law."

And to boot, the original theorists of natural law were bisexual.

One thing I'm curious about, to those who think that the fact that a purpose of marriage is to foster procreation means that it is exclusively for procreation:

I take it that one of the purposes of my mouth is to speak. Does it follow that it wrong for me to also eat and/or breath using my mouth?
7.7.2006 10:24am
Taeyoung (mail):
I disagree with one of your key premises. I think that gay sex is in fact natural for gay people. Therefore, I think that gay sex, and gay marriage, would not violate natural law.
It's very easy to turn this around, though, and argue that if "natural law" merely ratifies our appetites (after all, they're natural, no?), then not only is it vastly divergent from the Christian tradition of natural law, it has little resemblence to natural law as the Romans understood it. They didn't call it "natural law," as such, after all, but recta ratio naturae congruens, or "right reason in accord with nature" (or more often, just recte ratio, I think). I do not take the relation of nature and the natural law to be such, in Cicero, that the natural law ratifies as lawful all that is natural. This is not to say that there isn't some possible theory of natural law under which gay marriage / gay sex is perfectly lawful; just that yours up there probably isn't it.
7.7.2006 10:33am
Hans Gruber (www):
Eugene wants to take the exception and make it the rule. Always treating the exception as the rule is indeed nihilistic, because it destroys the ability to draw meaningful distinctions.
7.7.2006 11:24am
Medis:
Taeyoung,

I didn't purport to give a complete natural law argument in that comment. That was merely the summary of the conclusion to an argument.

Indeed, I wouldn't claim that "'natural law' merely ratifies our appetites," and in that sense I think that you mischaracterized my views. Rather, as I defined it above, natural law in the Stoic tradition, which I see as continuing through the early modern and utilitarian traditions, reflects "how a rational human being would act in pursuit of true happiness" (which I would suggest is largely equivalent to the Roman definition that you provided). And in accord with many philosophers in this very long tradition (including utilitarians such as Mill), I would suggest that blindly indulging our appetites is not in fact a rational way for most of us to pursue true happiness, even in a purely temporal sense.

As I noted, though, I wasn't purporting to give a complete argument for the conclusion that gay sex and gay marriage is in accord with this general statement of natural law as applied to gay people. And I won't try to give such a complete argument now, but I'm happy to sketch the outline of such an argument.

Basically, this argument would begin by noting how sexual activity can play a role in fostering true human happiness, and similarly how marriages can play a role in fostering true human happiness (both of these claims, of course, would be subject to all sorts of conditions, including principles of moderation). It would also point out how these beneficial effects of sexual activity and marriage can depend in part on genuine sexual attraction between the participants in the sexual activity or marriage respectively.

Accordingly, it can not only be rational for gay people to want to have sex and be married, but it can also be rational for them to want to have sex with, and be married to, people for whom they feel sexual attraction. Hence, gay sex and gay marriage can in fact be rational activities in the pursuit of true happiness for gay people.

Again, though, this is just a sketch. In particular, I am sure that at least two sorts of objections would arise.

One sort of objection would be based on the premise that the relationships between sexual activity and marriage respectively and true human happiness depend entirely on the sex and marriage in question being straight. So, a full argument would have to explain why those relationships would persist with respect to gay sex and gay marriage as well. As an aside, I think this is partially an empirical question, and personally I am convinced that many gay people have ample evidence that these relationships do in fact persist with respect to gay sex and gay marriages.

Another sort of objection might be based on the premise that gay people would be even better served by attempting to change their sexual preferences, such that they could then participate in straight sex and straight marriages. Replies to this objection could consider whether such a change was possible, and even if so, whether there really would be benefits to such a change, and even if so, whether those benefits might be outweighed by the costs of such a change.

And so on. In practice, applying natural law theory is not always a simple task. Indeed, I think people often assume that natural law arguments are always very intuitive or otherwise very obvious, but on most conceptions, it actually takes quite a bit of thinking, and quite a bit of consideration of particular facts and circumstances, to figure out what activities would accord with its general principles.

Finally, I should note that I don't consider myself a pure natural law theorist. I am not a committed adherent to any one philosophical tradition, and tend to find much wisdom and insight in a number of different traditions. But in that sense, I do think that natural law arguments are worth considering, and as I suggested, I have concluded that gay sex and gay marriage are both in accordance with natural law as applied to gay people.
7.7.2006 11:25am
Medis:
Hans,

Actually, I think that Professor Volokh's observations indicate that what you are calling "exceptions" to the rule are not in fact exceptions, but rather would be more properly called "variations" under the rule. Again, the point is that we don't merely tolerate nonprocreative straight marriages--we celebrate them as valid variations within the broader scope of marriage, even though they do not serve one of the many purposes of marriage.

And there is nothing inherently wrong with looking at the variations currently allowed under a rule for guidance on what other variations should be allowed under the rule. That process, of course, is not nihilistic--indeed, it essentially assumes that some set of valid purposes is rationally being served by the rule in its current form, including its variations. So, rather than denying the value of looking to the purposes of the rule, this approach is actually considering what other variations under the rule should be allowed precisely in light of this set of valid purposes.
7.7.2006 11:40am
SeaLawyer:
I disagree with one of your key premises. I think that gay sex is in fact natural for gay people. Therefore, I think that gay sex, and gay marriage, would not violate natural law.


You are simply wrong based on human biology. Tab P goes into slot V not slot B.
7.7.2006 11:51am
anonyomousss (mail):
what would the purported costs and loss to privacy be of only letting fertile people marry? you wouldnt need to make them take a test, just have them sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury stating that they were fertile and intended to have children. whats so intrusive about that?

in any case, it would be considerably less intrusive than the blood tests for stds that some states require (or used to require).
7.7.2006 11:54am
Jam (mail):
In these times:

How many times have we left with enough time to get there in time?

This time, we left with enough time, to get there in time.
7.7.2006 12:01pm
Jam (mail):
Howdy Medis. I am still thinking through the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Question: If utility reveals purpose or nature, why the "union" of same sex people is not contrary to nature and, therefore, unatural?
7.7.2006 12:05pm
assembler (mail):
Sealawyer,

As many (gay and straight) know, tab P can go very nicely into slot B too. Most gay men find that their tab P doesn't go into slot V very well at all. So much for biology.
7.7.2006 12:11pm
anonyomousss (mail):
You are simply wrong based on human biology. Tab P goes into slot V not slot B.

lots of straight people put P into B. more put tab P into slot M. or they put tab T (which you can find in slot M) into or around slot V, and lots of women, especially, prefer that one to P in V. There are more variations involving tabs H, etc. etc. etc.
7.7.2006 12:13pm
Medis:
SeaLawyer,

I think there are at least four things wrong with your counterargument based on biology. First, it is entirely possible that being gay has a biological basis, at least in part. Second, experience (e.g., our upbringing as children) can shape our nature. Third, human beings are rational animals, and hence what is natural for us is not limited to what biology or upbringing alone would dictate (think using one's nose to help hold up one's glasses). Finally, in line with the second and third points, "natural" in the relevant sense for human beings is not limited to "biological" categories, and can apply to matters of choice--for example, one would say that it is in the "nature" of a doctor to heal, even though being a doctor is a matter of choice.

And that is why, for example, it is not a violation of natural law for nuns to be celibate--it is properly within the nature of nuns to be celibate in the same sense that it is within the nature of doctors to heal.

So, whether being gay is biological, or a matter of nurture, or a matter of choice, or some combination thereof, it could still be in the nature of gay people to have gay sex. And that is true even if their use of their body parts to have sex is equivalent to using one's nose to hold up one's glasses.
7.7.2006 12:16pm
SeaLawyer:
lots of straight people put P into B. more put tab P into slot M. or they put tab T (which you can find in slot M) into or around slot V, and lots of women, especially, prefer that one to P in V. There are more variations involving tabs H, etc. etc. etc.


Only one can produce children.
7.7.2006 12:19pm
SeaLawyer:

As many (gay and straight) know, tab P can go very nicely into slot B too.


Just because you can make something fit doesn't mean you should.
7.7.2006 12:24pm
anonyomousss (mail):
Only one can produce children.

so what?
7.7.2006 12:27pm
Jam (mail):
And because it fits it does not mean it was "designed" for it. One place is for excreting the biological waste byproducts, the other is place IS for receiving P.

To put something in a place for expulsing something is to plug it up and, therefore, against its intended biological function and unatural.
7.7.2006 12:30pm
Medis:
Jam,

As an aside, I think considering the Euthyphro provides a great possibility for a reconciliation between faith and reason, to the betterment of all concerned.

Anyway, I'm not sure that I understand your question. Perhaps my comments above on glasses help clarify my views a bit, and then you can reformulate your question.

In my view, it can be natural for human beings to use their noses to help hold up their glasses precisely because as rational beings, we can use our bodies to serve any otherwise rational purpose. But for someone who has clear vision, it may not in fact be natural for them to use their nose to hold up glasses, because wearing glasses may not serve any rational purpose. But for those who need glasses to see clearly, using their nose in that way is natural. And again, all this is natural or not natural for human beings because we are rational beings, and thus what is rational for us is what is natural for us, and vice-versa.

Similarly, I would suggest that whether or not a sexual or marital union of two people of the same sex is natural depends on whether such a union would serve a rational purpose for the participants in the union, meaning that a rational person could engage in such an activity in pursuit of true happiness. For most straight people, at least most of the time, presumably such unions would not pass this test. But I would suggest that for many gay people, such unions would pass this test.

So, essentially, I am just applying the same logic to gay people with respect to sex and marriages, as opposed to noses. Again, insofar as gay people are rational beings, it is in their nature to do what is rational. So, if gay sex and gay marriage are rational activities for gay people, then those activities are natural for them--even if they would not be natural for straight people.
7.7.2006 12:31pm
Medis:
SeaLawyer,

Seriously, how do you feel about people who use their noses to help hold up their glasses?
7.7.2006 12:33pm
SeaLawyer:

First, it is entirely possible that being gay has a biological basis,

The parts still don't match up.

So, whether being gay is biological, or a matter of nurture, or a matter of choice, or some combination thereof, it could still be in the nature of gay people to have gay sex. And that is true even if their use of their body parts to have sex is equivalent to using one's nose to hold up one's glasses.


If you take enjoyment factor out of sex, then gay sex has no natural purpose. However I will say that seeking enjoyment is natural.
The one thing that you or anyone else can honestly argue against is that, the parts of 2 men do not match up.
7.7.2006 12:36pm
SeaLawyer:
SeaLawyer,

Seriously, how do you feel about people who use their noses to help hold up their glasses?



Apples and oranges and you know it.
7.7.2006 12:40pm
anonyomousss (mail):
1) please define "match up".

2) why should we care if the parts of two men match up according to the definition articulated in (1)?

3) what about women?

4) are you prepared to condemn straight people who engage in anal or oral sex?
7.7.2006 12:42pm
assembler (mail):
Sealawyer,

Thank you. Now that I realise I can never "match up" with my boyfriend's body, I intend to give up sex.

While we are at it, can we have a go at eradicating various other kinds of non-matched couplings which offend our aesthetic sense of symmetry. Shall we start with inter-racial couples? Probably best to prevent the disabled marrying the able-bodied. In due course perhaps stop the fat marrying the thin. Not that they can't enjoy themselves of course, but you can't honestly argue against the idea that they don't "match up" very well, and ... well ... you know ... I mean ... you gotta keep things matching, right.
7.7.2006 12:48pm
Steveo987 (mail):
After reading SeaLawyer's posts, all I can say is "Holy fallacious reasoning, Batman!"
7.7.2006 12:54pm
SeaLawyer:
4)
1) please define "match up".
2) why should we care if the parts of two men match up according to the definition articulated in (1)?
3) what about women?
4) are you prepared to condemn straight people who engage in anal or oral sex?

1. If you don't know what I mean then go take a sex ed course.
2. I really don't care if 2 men have sex anyway they want. Just because they sex is no reason to change the meaning of Marriage.
3. What about them?
4. I am not condemning anyone.
7.7.2006 1:05pm
Medis:
SeaLawyer,

You say: "Apples and oranges and you know it."

Actually, I know nothing of the kind. The human nose did not evolve (or was not created, if you prefer) for the purpose of holding up one's glasses. But that simply doesn't matter--it works for that purpose, and as rational beings we are entitled to use our body parts in that way.

You body parts argument against gay sex is actually the same sort of thing. I would say that even if those body parts did not evolve (or were not created) for the purpose of having gay sex, it simply doesn't matter. As long as they work for that purpose, then as rational beings, gay people are entitled to use their body parts in that way.

In general, all these arguments really trivialize human beings, and human morality. Human beings are not just the sum of their body parts, and human morality is not defined by the mechanical functions of our bodies. Indeed, those are the most trivial possible concerns, and what actually should matter for human beings, and human morality, is things like reason, intelligence, caring, and love. Reducing us to a mere collection of tabs and slots just demeans us all, and in fact denies our true natures.
7.7.2006 1:06pm
Medis:
SeaLawyer,

You also say: "If you take enjoyment factor out of sex, then gay sex has no natural purpose."

Actually, I think this is also untrue (although as you note, enjoyment is a valid natural purpose). The possible purposes of sex are not limited to immediate enjoyment and procreation. Sexual activity can also, for example, foster intimacy between the participants. Intimacy in turn can serve a host of other purposes. For example, it helps build stable and trusting relationships. Those relationships in turn serve both individual and societal interests. For example, stable and trusting relationships can help people allocate their resources to the most efficient projects from a long term perspective (through division of labor, reduction in transaction costs, mutual insurance, and so on).

So, while I do not discount the importance of sex being enjoyable, I think it is worth noting that sex can be more than just an enjoyable act. Sex thus serves a lot of rational purposes besides just immediate pleasure and procreation.
7.7.2006 1:16pm
SeaLawyer:
As long as they work for that purpose, then as rational beings, gay people are entitled to use their body parts in that way.


They can all they want, I really don't care. I just fail to see the reason that 2 members of the same sex have sex as an argument that the State should recognize marriage between them.

I would say intimacy comes in large part (but not solely) from the mutual enjoyment factor.
7.7.2006 1:37pm
anonyomousss (mail):
They can all they want, I really don't care. I just fail to see the reason that 2 members of the same sex have sex as an argument that the State should recognize marriage between them.

its not, or at least not a very good one on its own. but pretty much all the reasons we allow marriage between straight couples, with the possible exceptions of "tradition" and "procreation," apply mutatis mutandis to same-sex couples. we don't consider procreation necessary, or even particularly important, for opposite-sex marriage, and marriage as it exists today is (rightly) anything but "traditional." nor are there any good reasons to believe gay marriage would be harmful in some other way. so based on all the other justifications for marriage (benefits to the couple, benefits to their children, etc.) we should allow gay marriage.
7.7.2006 1:51pm
Jam (mail):
Medis: Your use of the nose to hold up glasses made my laugh.

It is unatural for noses to hold up glasses. But holding up glasses does not interfere with the proper function of a nose ... nor of the ears.

If a study if made of Ps and Vs and As we can discover what are the proper functions of each. Any use(s) outside of those parameters is an unatural use.

The effects of combining Ps and As are damaging to the proper function of As. Ask any doctor who has had to treat individuals with overly stretched A muscles.
7.7.2006 1:57pm
nn489:
I'm not a geneticist, but isn't there a pretty good evolutionary argument (along the lines of the "selfish gene") that people will do the best job raising children who are biologically related to them?

Also, if you look at the human species as a whole, homosexuality (if it is inherited) would seem to be an evolutionary dead-end. Of course, genetic expression is a lot more complicated than simple inheritance, but in terms of natural law this consideration would seem to at least weigh against homosexuality.
7.7.2006 1:59pm
Tony (mail):
The difference between "higher" and "lower" is that "lower" does not have a zero point. Something can have (effectively) no height - such as a piece of paper laying flat on a table - but there is nothing so high that it has "no lowness". Conversely, one can always go higher, but one cannot always go lower.

I'm reminded of advertisements for notebook computers, with their mind-searingly stupid descriptions like "one inch thin" or "ten ounces light". Same principle.

Lowness, thinness, lightness, smallness, etc. are not quantifiable things in the same way as height, thickness, weight, and size are. If you can't quantify it, you can't meaningfully talk about mathematical operations on it.

(It does occur to me, actually, that one could define something like lowness in units of "per inch". So instead of saying somehing was a a tenth of an inch high, you'd say that it's ten per-inch low. Then "twice as low" would be twenty per-inch. But that's just... weird.)
7.7.2006 2:00pm
anonyomousss (mail):
i dont know about the evidence about the outcomes of kids raised by adoptive vs. biological parents. but there are good public-policy reasons not to discourage adoptive parenting.
7.7.2006 2:04pm
Tony (mail):
it is a battle to force social conservatives to accept homosexuality as legitimate by appropriating the label of marriage. If it were not, then activists would not insist on the specific label of marriage, the arrangement of benefits in a civil union should be wholly sufficient.

Something that I think most heterosexuals don't appreciate is that "activists" are not particularly in tune with the goals or desires of the overall gay community. I sometimes feel that gay activism has a life of its own, and is in some sense out of control. There have long been mixed feelings in the gay community about whether the "marriage label" matters at all. I'd venture that most gay couples would be more than happy with the equivalent civil-union status. Unfortunately, it's always the loudest, least compromising, and most zealous activists that get the most visibility.
7.7.2006 2:07pm
anonyomousss (mail):
Jam, that argument at most applies only to people, whether straight or gay, who combine P's and A's. it has no bearing whatsoever on anyone else, such as gay men whose sex life is based around combining P's and M's, or on lesbians, who obviously dont have P's at all.
7.7.2006 2:08pm
Medis:
SeaLawyer,

As an aside, I think the intimacy is produced by a complicated process, and involves a great deal of culture as well.

Anyway, I agree that the argument for gay sex being natural for gay people is not a complete argument for gay marriage being a good state policy. But it does negate a certain argument against gay marriage. As the commentator Amused put this argument: "If you follow natural law, homosexual sex is unnatural and therefore the state should not honor the act through recognizing marriage." So, insofar as gay sex is in fact natural for gay people under natural law principles, this argument against gay marriage is negated.

Jam,

I think you need to distinguish three possible arguments. The first is that any use of a body part outside of its "natural" use (in a biological sense) is a violation of natural law. I think the nose-glasses argument dispenses with that argument.

The second possible argument is that any use of a body part which cause serious damage to that body part is a violation of natural law. This is actually a complicated topic, since in certain circumstances, it could be perfectly rational to risk the health of a body part, or even sacrifice a body part, for the sake of some greater good. But in any event, this is an empirical question, and I think both gay and straight people have confirmed that the relevant body parts can be used in certain ways without causing serious damage.

The third possible argument is that any use of a body part which actually subtracts from its primary "biological" use is a violation of natural law. For the reasons suggested above, this is again a complicated topic. But also again, we can simply ask whether gay sex in fact subtracts from the biological use of those body parts. And it turns out that it doesn't--if gay people so choose, they can also have procreative sex. And conversely, not having gay sex won't make them have procreative sex. So, there is in fact no substantial subtractive effect.
7.7.2006 2:14pm
Tony (mail):
If you follow natural law, homosexual sex is unnatural

The more I hear about "natural law", the more obvious it is that it is an empty rhetorical space into which one can project any received wisdom, intuition, bias, or prejudice one desires. There seem to be no other criteria on which something is judged "natural" or "unnatural". "Natural" is just window dressing for otherwise unsupported ideas.

Who was it that said: "I'm waiting for some scientist to conclude that homosexuality is natural because it's been observed in humans" ?
7.7.2006 2:17pm
Medis:
nn489,

As an aside, I will again note that insofar as we are rational beings, we are not slaves to "natural selection".

Anyway, the "selfish gene" concept does not just apply to your own children--it also applies to the children of any entities which share your genes. Accordingly, there are many species with nonreproducing members (consider worker ants). But this isn't a violation of the selfish gene concept, because workers ants share genes with their brothers and sisters who do reproduce. So, the genes in the workers ants are being "selfish" when they do things to help such brothers and sisters survive and reproduce.

Similarly, nonreproducing humans could serve their "selfish genes" insofar as they help their relatives survive and reproduce. Indeed, holding aside gay people, think of young people who sacrifice themselves in wars in order to protect their families. Or think of priests and nuns who are celibate, but who provide services to their community (and, as often was the case, an economic benefit to their families).

Of course, we can't ALL die young, and we can't ALL become priests and nuns. But it may well be that a family with SOME members who die in wars, and/or SOME members who become priests and nuns, ends up with better overall reproductive success than a family in which NO members do such things.

Anyway, all this just points out the complexity of applying evolutionary logic once you realize that families share genes. And I would be speculating to suggest that gay people serve an evolutionary purpose (e.g., as surplus caretakers for children whose parents die), but it is indeed entirely possible.
7.7.2006 2:27pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Medis:

"Would you actually say to your sister that she should not get married because she is infertile? Would you say that it is a mistake (perhaps unavoidable from the state's perspective, but a mistake nonetheless) for the state to provide marital benefits to your sister?"

I would recommend that the state pay me $100,000 per month forever. If the rest of society agrees I don't object. But why should they do that? If I thought my sister would benefit from marriage I would recommend it, but that doesn't mean everyone else is obligated to support my personal wants. In other words, I have no interest in providing benefits to someone else's sister.

Not being able to get married does not preclude one from having an intimate relationship either heterosexual or homosexual and enjoying all those "other" benefits of childless marriages. Today non-marital cohabitation is common and tolerated. If homosexuals were precluded from cohabiting unless they were married, that would be a different story. They are not. Indeed many heterosexual couples elect not to be married. There are even people who get divorced and remarried solely for tax reasons. There are people who don't get married in the first place because of increased taxes.

No matter how one tries to spin this issue, you can't get away from the fact that as a whole, society has no interest in promoting homosexual marriage. The people who want to change the law carry the burden of proof to the contrary. Far more people want the law to remain changed. If sometime in the future most people want the law changed then I'm sure that will happen.
7.7.2006 2:30pm
anonyomousss (mail):
Medis, i dont think many biologists believe there's a "gay gene" or anything approximating one. more likely is that whatever predisposes people to homosexuality is a combination of several genetic factors, each of which is individually beneficial. so even if being gay is itself an evolutionary dead-end, you wouldn't see the factors that predispose people to gayness dying out.
7.7.2006 2:32pm
Jam (mail):
Well, Medis, I got 2 "complicated" responses from you. Maybe I am finally learning from you. ;)

On the "nose-glasses" dispensing of the "natural use argument ... I am not so sure. It may be harmless (and common) but not natural.
7.7.2006 2:37pm
anonyomousss (mail):
No matter how one tries to spin this issue, you can't get away from the fact that as a whole, society has no interest in promoting homosexual marriage.

society has an interest in promoting the welfare of its members, and gay marriage is good for gays. society also has an interest in the welfare of children, having married parents is good for children, and gay people raise children.

virtually any other benefit from straight marriage will apply to gay couples mutatis mutandis. qed
7.7.2006 2:39pm
Goober (mail):

I take it that one of the purposes of my mouth is to speak. Does it follow that it wrong for me to also eat and/or breath using my mouth?



Heh heh. xx is a mouth-breather!
7.7.2006 3:18pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"... society has an interest in promoting the welfare of its members, and gay marriage is good for gays."

In this case society would be promoting the welfare of a tiny minority at financial expense of the majority. Again it comes down to making a very small number of people happier without a compelling reason to do so. Now there are non-financial benefits to being married, but is this what the whole issue is really about?

"society also has an interest in the welfare of children, having married parents is good for children, and gay people raise children."

Is there a shortage of would-be parents or children? I could be wrong, but I think there's a long waiting list to adopt children, or at least white children. Unfortunately I think pressure groups have blocked white people from adopting black children.
7.7.2006 3:25pm
nn489:
Medis,

It's "entirely possible" that gay people serve an evolutionary purpose. In other words, evolution can be made into at least a plausible natural-law argument against the social utility of same-sex marriage (children are raised better by their relatives; allowing gays to marry does not further this social good in the same way that traditional marriages do).

And why should rationality render natural selection irrelevant in deciding what is good? I'm not maintaining that natural selection is decisive on this issue, but I do think it's at least on point.
7.7.2006 3:30pm
Colin (mail):
nn489,

That's not quite the case. People (and other organisms) will generally try to do the best job raising young they think are related to them. The difference might seem small, but to some, such as the Common Cuckoo, it's huge.

Humans, as conscious organisms, are capable of selecting which infants with which to bond. There are strong, and to me persuasive, arguments that adoptive parents are more motivated in general than accidental biological parents. Certainly there is no reason to think that humans are inherently poor caregivers when it comes to children they choose to raise but did not give birth to.
7.7.2006 3:40pm
anonyomousss (mail):
In this case society would be promoting the welfare of a tiny minority at financial expense of the majority. Again it comes down to making a very small number of people happier without a compelling reason to do so. Now there are non-financial benefits to being married, but is this what the whole issue is really about?
you are changing the terms of the debate. first society was purported to have no interest that could be served by gay marriage; now it does, but that interest is overridden by the financial costs to society. i think the benefits to gay parents and their children are likely to be significantly larger than the costs to society, since the costs are purely financial but the benefits are both financial and non-fincancial (people would care a lot less about this if it were only about money.)
Is there a shortage of would-be parents or children? I could be wrong, but I think there's a long waiting list to adopt children, or at least white children.
it depends on who you want to adopt. healthy white newborns are much in demand, but once you move away from those characteristics it becomes much harder to find potential parents. for a variety of reasons, gay people are significantly more likely to adopt the older, blacker, and less healthy kids who have such trouble finding parents. even if they were only adopting healthy white newborns, would that be a reason to make their kids' lives more difficult?
7.7.2006 3:44pm
Jared K.:

And because it fits it does not mean it was "designed" for it. One place is for excreting the biological waste byproducts, the other is place IS for receiving P.

To put something in a place for expulsing something is to plug it up and, therefore, against its intended biological function and unatural.


I can't believe no one picked up on this gem. Doesn't "slot V" also serve to excrete biological waste? Granted the situations are different, but this plugging-up claim is just silly unless the women you know are wired significantly differently than the ones I know.
7.7.2006 4:24pm
Public_Defender (mail):
it depends on who you want to adopt. healthy white newborns are much in demand, but once you move away from those characteristics it becomes much harder to find potential parents.

Also, many of the kids gay people want to adopt are their partner's biological kids. They want to create a stable relationship that protects the kids.

Marriage laws not only protect the economically weaker spouse, they also protect kids. The require parents to provide care and financial support.

But of course, we must make the otherwise unadoptable kids languish in foster home after foster home (and deny kids being raised by gay parents the protections of marriage) because some on the right wing find gay sex icky (and because they want to focus on moral issues that don't require any sacrifice on their part).

(As long as we're on grammar pet peeves, sorry about the run-on sentence and the overuse of parentheticals.)

And some on the right have the nerve to say that gay people put an "agenda" before the welfare of children.
7.7.2006 4:34pm
nn489:
Colin,

You say: "Certainly there is no reason to think that humans are inherently poor caregivers when it comes to children they choose to raise but did not give birth to." But being a "poor caregiver" is of course relative (no pun intended). We have adoption because the biological parent is likely to be a poor caregiver. We also recognize adoption as the exception to the rule because we generally believe that children are best brought up by their own parents. Consequently, for most children their own mother and father are the best caregivers.

Public Defendner, the sexual mores of the religious right require tremendous sacrifice. The fact that not all of them apply to every single person in the world does not change that. You may disdain their beliefs, but address the substance of them instead of just sneering.
7.7.2006 5:15pm
Chimaxx (mail):
J'hn'1:
THe compromise that has been pretty much universally accepted except by the pro-gay activists is that a marriage consists of a male and a female, a presumably biologically compatable pair that could create an offspring between the two.


And how unreasonable of the minority who have been excluded to object to the terms of of the compromise imposed on them by the majority. Next thing you know, slaves will object to the compromise that defines them as 3/5 of a person.
7.7.2006 6:46pm
Greg D (mail):
Steven writes:

If you believe the first paragraph, then you should join the others in prohibiting marriage among the infertile. If the justification for rewarding marriage is creating children, then why "reward" infertile couples, or even couples who are childless? As another commenter pointed out, why don't we revoke the marriage licenses of childless couples?


It's all a matter of cost and benefit. What is the cost to society of hunting down all infertile couples, and revoking their marriages? What is the benefit to society of doing so?

If you want society to make a change, the first question you must ask (assuming you are sane, and don't want to destroy the society in question) is: "How does making this change benefit society?

Second is: What will this change cost society?

I am a libertarian. What's that mean? Well, consider the following equation:
What each (adult) individual owes society = A
What society owes each (adult) individual = B

As a libertarian, I believe that A is very low.

As a sane individual, I understand that B must be less than or equal to A.

A society where B is greater than A for all individuals is a society "living off it's capital." It is doomed.

A society where B is greater than A for some individuals, and therefore B is much less than A for the rest, is a society of Masters, and Servants. It is a soceity that sucks.

What percentage of gays wanting to get married are doing it because they want to have a healthy environment w/n to raise their kids? What percentage are doing it because they want to get the same benefits as real married people? The latter group (and from what I can tell, it's the vast majority of the gays wanting to get married) are trying to get B greater than A for themselves. They want society to give them benefits, but they are not going to give society any benefits in return.

Yes, some heterosexual couples are "getting away with" doing the same thing. So? Does the fact that Paris Hilton inherited a lot of money mean that you should get that money, too? The cost to society of letting those couples get away with it is small, and there may well be other benefits for society from letting them get away with it (like the old "women civilize men" thing).

All change carries a cost. If you want society to change what it's doing, then it's up to you to convince society that the change is worth the cost.

Whining about why you have a "right" to certain benefits doesn't accomplish that.
7.7.2006 6:59pm
Colin (mail):
"We have adoption because the biological parent is likely to be a poor caregiver. We also recognize adoption as the exception to the rule because we generally believe that children are best brought up by their own parents. Consequently, for most children their own mother and father are the best caregivers."

The first and last sentences there are in tension, nn489. I have never seen, nor have you presented, any actual data suggesting that adoptive parents are typically less fit than biological parents. And in this context, dealing with children who would not otherwise be raised by their biological mothers and fathers, the question is irrelevant: what is at stake is the number of children who would not otherwise be adopted. Is there any empirical evidence that same-sex parents are less fit than opposite-sex parents? I haven't seen any, aside from Clayton Cramer-style anecdotes.
7.7.2006 7:18pm
Public_Defender (mail):

Public Defendner, the sexual mores of the religious right require tremendous sacrifice.


How many members of the religious right make a "tremendous sacrifice" by not engaging in a long-term, monogamous homosexual relationship? Be careful, you're kind of damned no matter which way you answer that.


You may disdain their beliefs, but address the substance of them instead of just sneering.


I don't disdain a belief in the value that stable monogamous relationships provide to couples, children, and society. That's why I'm a strong proponent of gay marriage.


Yes, some heterosexual couples are "getting away with" doing the same thing.


Infertile couples will be happy to know that many members of the religious right think they are "getting away with" something when they get and stay married. Please, please, please, I beg anti-gay people to keep making arguments like this. It can only help to drive millions of people away from your cause.


What percentage are doing it because they want to get the same benefits as real married people?


Who cares? Why should kids being raised by gay couples suffer just because you think their parents' sex is icky?


I have never seen, nor have you presented, any actual data suggesting that adoptive parents are typically less fit than biological parents.


Adoptive parents are probably more fit than biological parents because adoptive parents have to prove to a huge number of people that they are fit. Biological parents just have to have sex.


Is there any empirical evidence that same-sex parents are less fit than opposite-sex parents?


The real question is whether there is any empirical evidence that unmarried same-sex parents are less fit than married same-sex parents.
7.7.2006 7:38pm
Medis:
Just to summarize:

I agree that it only makes sense for society to provide costly benefits to gay marriages if those costs are somehow recouped. But three important points can be made on this issue. One is just the observation that some benefits of civil marriage (such as effectively providing a default, low transaction cost contract), are not costly. A second point is that gay people pay taxes too, so you really have to be talking about costly benefits net of anything they have paid into the system that can be apportioned to marital benefits.

The last, and probably most important, point is that just because gay couples don't naturally procreate doesn't mean that society can't recoup benefits from gay marriages. Again, Dale has done some great work on this subject, but generally, insofar as married couples take care of each other and make each other healthier, and insofar as they do the same for others (such as children that they raise, but also perhaps their own parents, and so on), they save society some costs that society might otherwise bear (through Social Security, health care programs, child welfare programs, education subsidies, and so on).

And personally, unless the entire entitlement system is about to be dismantled, I'm happy to pay a little something to gay couples to encourage them to take care of each other and others, because I think that I as a taxpayer come out ahead on that deal.
7.7.2006 10:28pm