Monday, February 06, 2006

Gay Civil Unions: What do they want?

mjwatson said...

"Can anyone give me a good reason to believe that the state should refrain from holding couples to Christian standards in cases of heterosexual adultery, but insist on Christian standards when it comes to homosexual relationships?"

It's a tricky business to predict what Lewis would have said. I agree the state should have stricter divorce standards if it is in the marriage business.

But the best answer to your question, and I think it's an answer Lewis would have sympathy with, is that one need not apply "Christian standards" to withhold state recognition to homosexual relationships. We can believe that homosexual relationships are not morally ideal and deserving of state sanction through means other than Christian revelation. Both the Dalai Lama and the Cherokee Nation have come out strongly against homosexuality. Neither quotes Romans.

VR: I don't know that the authority of the Cherokee Nation or the Dalai Lama amounts to much of anything here. I'd be a good deal more interested in scientific evidence concerning the causes and effects of homosexuality.

I guess the problem of gay civil unions has to do with what we suppose that the recognition is providing to the gay couple. Is it a way of allowing a gay partner to make medical decisions on behalf of a partner? Is it a question of smoothing the way for inheritance to be transferred to a partner as opposed to blood relatives? Is it to permit the partner to control funeral arrangements for a partner? Does it have to do with "spousal" medical benefits? Or is it the first step in the direction of persecuting any expressed belief that active homosexuality is sinful as hate speech? At least some of the above purposes seem perfectly acceptable to me.

The latter, however, is an assault on something I support very strongly: defending the right to disapprove a behavior against misguided attacks based on "tolerance." Tolerance is not refusing to believe that anyone else's beliefs are false (that would result in a self-refuting relativism) and it is not a matter of refusing to believe that some else's lifestyle is morally wrong. It is a matter of not treating others as second-class citizens because the have false beliefs or engage in morally wrong lifestyles. To hear some gay advocates talk, it seems to be implied that a Christian who believes active homosexuality to be sinful is something like a racist.

"Racism, sexism, homophobia" is a litany that covers a multitude of conceptual confusions.


Jason Pratt said...

If I had to make a guess about Lewis' opinion on this (since this is how the topic came up {s}): I suspect his suggestion of hewing to the Eastern Orthodox distinction of civil union and religious union would come into play pretty quickly.

After that, it gets fuzzier. I'm certain he would've followed St. Paul in disavowing homosexuality per se; but how he would've suggested fairly implementing that in civil society (not to say how Paul would've done it)? Eh. Probably better off drawing our own conclusions on that (including application of St. Paul's testimony on this and a dozen related matters in conjunction), than trying to guess Lewis'. (Fun thesis project though that might be... {g} Hint for any Victor-students paging around in here...)

John H. Watson said...

I mentioned the Dalai Lama and the Cherokee nation only to counter the frequent idea, seemingly expressed in the original post, that opposing same-sex marriage means imposing a Christian understanding on the public square. It seems clear to me that opposing same-sex marriage need not imply imposing Christianity anymore than opposing theft or murder would.

I still think Lewis would have sympathy with this line of reasoning given his broad moral theory expressed with his formulation of the Tao.

I think you hit the nail on the head by distinguishing between some of the benefits associated with marriage often cited by SSM advocates, and the quite different proposition that moral opposition to homosexuality will itself become taboo and prohibited.

I submit that the issue most at stake for SSM advcoates is not so much some of the legal benefits of marriage (we hear less about the duties and legal obligations), but moral recognition and approval.

This is not to say that the "benefits" issue you raised should not be a concern. There's no reason why a loved one of any gender shouldn't be allowed in the hospital or be allowed to collect inheritance or what-have-you. What is questionable is why the state would provide such benefits on the basis of emotional and sexual relationship.

In other words, one way to think about how to know if the SSM movement is more about legal tangibles or moral approval is to think about civil unions that do not require a sexual relationship. Why should the state "recognize" and reward two men living together in an emotional and sexual relationships, but not recognize two elderly sisters also living together to share expenses, but without the sex? If people caring about each other is what the state is valuing in supporting same-sex marriage, why favor those having sex over those who still care about each other but don't have sex?

But then we wonder why the state should be in the business of supporting emotional and/or sexual relationships at all.

And this gets to the heart of the marriage debate. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that society's interest in marriage-traditionally-understood is that it gives support to the raising and educating of children. This is not all that marriage is, but as a cultural institution, raising the next generation is sine qua non. I agree society has weakened this commitment already through no-fault divorce and the like, but a leaky ship does not mean we can afford running into an iceberg, and placing same-sex marriage on a moral and logal par with one-man-one-woman marriage is to completely sever the conceptual link between "marriage" and the raising of children. It will also lead to the persecution that you rightly fear, as is already happening in Canada.

I would like to think Lewis would agree with this, but that may be wishful thinking. I apologize for the long post, though I'm flattered to have a comment spur some discussion. I grant that there's a lot more to the issue than perhaps can be addressed in this format.

Anonymous said...

But I don't see the main purpose of marriage as procreation. That seems increasingly to be the last line of defense for many opponents of SSM. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the issue. I don't see how legitimizing gay marriage would harm normal couples.

John H. Watson said...

And a lot of folks think that way, Amy. Only two things I'd respond with:

1) Nothing necessarily inconsistent with thinking marriage need not involve procreation (child-rearing is a better description imo). But one should realize just how radical and new this is. Nearly every society throughout history has had a cultural mechanism whereby children are raised and the relations between men and women are socially shaped. While there has always been homosexuality and other non-hetero sexual activities, no culture has EVER referred to such arrangements as "marriage". This isn't an argument against such a position, it's just a plea for those holding it to recognize how novel, indeed radical, their position is.

2)If procreation and the rearing of children is not the rationale for recongizing marriage, then what is? And what limits, if any, would such a rationale support? If it's an emotional bond, rather than procreation, why limit such a bond to two rather than three (or four, five, etc.)?

I don't want to hijack Dr. Reppert's blog here, and so I'll leave it at that. Though, if it's not too rude to link to a piece I've done on someone else's blog, I consider these two points and the FMA in greater detail, here: (and if this sort of link is frowned upon please feel free edit my commment accordingly).

Anonymous said...

One can still believe procreation is one of the main reasons for marriage and still think gay marriage is acceptable.
Marriage has served many social functions throughout its history, not just procreation.

Personally, I've come to believe it is immoral to prevent gay people from partaking in marriage.

Also, if procreation is the main reason for marriage, why shouldn't polygamy also be an option? That would certaily help to increase childbirth rates. So I see the polygamy issue as a red herring that really has nothing to do with whether or not gay marriage should be legitimized.