Tuesday, January 06, 2015

What gay rights advocates reject civil unions.


But it's the civil government, so aren't the unions civil ones?


Angra Mainyu said...

Sure, it's the civil government, in the sense that it's not a religious government. In that sense, marriages are also some kind of civil union, from a legal perspective.

But that's not what the issue is about. It's about (mostly) the facts that:

1. The law calls some opposite-sex partnerships "marriage", but calls same-sex ones "civil union". Words have social impact.
2. People who enter civil unions do not get the same legal advantages - like tax breaks - as those entering marriages.

For an analogy, let's say that some states established that there are same-race marriages, and mixed-race civil unions, but not mixed-race marriage.
If some activists were to oppose having only mixed-race civil unions and demanded mixed-race marriages instead, it would not be a proper objection that it's the civil government.

Granted, in the US that would be unconstitutional, but that may also be the case with respect to the same-sex or opposite-sex issue. Moreover, we may assume that the Constitution is amended, so it's all constitutionally okay, and the objection would still miss the point. The same would be so (i.e., the objection would miss the point) if some churches - or even most - were to reject mixed-race marriages.

Victor Reppert said...

I happen to think the government should be as neutral as it can be on the moral issue of homosexuality, and that it is a mistake to think that the government is saying anything about the moral status of a relationship if it grants a marriage license. C. S. Lewis says that it is wrong, for example, to have the government restrict divorce to the extent that Christianity might insist that it ought to be restricted.

Angra Mainyu said...

I don't see what connection you're trying to make between that and and objection "it's the civil government, so aren't the unions civil ones?"; could you clarify, please?
In any case, we may consider again the case of interracial marriage. Someone might suggestion the state ought to be neutral on the moral status of same-sex relationships, but not on the moral status of interracial straight relationships. But if so, then the person making that suggestion and some (most, nearly all) of the proponents of same-sex marriage who oppose civil unions would likely have a moral disagreement - a matter that can be debated, but still the objection "it's the civil government..." would not work.

In re: what the state does/should do, I'm not sure I'm getting your point. You're saying that it's "a mistake to think that the government is saying anything about the moral status of a relationship if it grants a marriage license". But your C.S. Lewis example is not about what the state says or does, but about what the state should say or do, not about what it says or does (interesting example. The Catholic Church manage to keep divorced banned until quite recently in many countries in Latin America, and bishops often still insist that a ban is proper, though they know they have no chance of banning it again).

By the way, do you agree with C.S. Lewis's take on this, in re: divorce?
If so, would you agree or disagree in re: same-sex marriage?

That aside, the disagreement is not about what the government says or should say about the morality of a relationship. It's also (among other issues) about what sort of benefits the government should give (e.g., tax benefits) - if any - to those involved in said relationship.

Victor Reppert said...

I think the interracial and same-sex issues are very importantly distinct. We cannot possibly change our race, but the gay issue involves behavior. It is quite true that, at least in many cases, people can't change their orientation, but this could equally be true in the case of a pedophile as well as in the case of a homosexual. If someone is locked into a pedophile's orientation, then that person doesn't have a moral way to have intimate relationships and therefore is morally obligated to live without them. Thus the argument "That's my orientation, so I have to engage in the behavior," doesn't work, since intimate relationships are not essential to the pursuit of happiness.

That said, I think the tax issues and others like that are the issues on which the case for equality is the strongest, although I suppose one reply might be that the main reason we have a "married filing jointly" status with advantages is that people in this situation have a natural tendency to acquire children as dependents, while gay couples have no such natural tendency. If someone has a monogamous lifetime gay partner, then I would much rather see that partner have the say with respect to end-of-life issues as opposed to, say, the family that may have disowned the person for being gay.

Where I have trouble with the SSM issue is where there have been discrimination lawsuits when, for example a photographer refused to photograph a same-sex marriage ceremony. I don't think this is at all like racial discrimination. Or, for example, I have a problem when the American Philosophical Association wants to put a discrimination tag on schools who have a conduct policy that requires faculty to have sex only with a marriage partner. I also find it disturbing that gay activists want to inflict economic punishment on people like Brandon Eich or companies like Chick-Fil-A.

Angra Mainyu said...

I'm not suggesting that the argument "That's my orientation, so I have to engage in the behavior" works. My point was about your "it's the civil government..." argument. Even if the differences between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage were relevant with regard to what lawmakers should do (in terms of how to legally treat them), there would still be no relevant difference with regard to the "But it's the civil government, so aren't the unions civil ones?" argument. If that argument worked, then it would work for civil unions in the case of interracial couples too.

That aside, and with respect to the basis for the distinction you propose (namely, that one can't change one's race, but "the gay issue involves behavior"), that fails for the following reasons:

1. Whether the trait is changeable is not the issue. For example, one may consider interfaith marriage (e.g., in some places, Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims). Religion is often not easily changed, but it is at least normally changeable.
One my consider other changeable traits, like political views.

2. That aside, and as you point out, at least in many cases (probably more than that, but that aside), people can't change their sexual orientation. So, race and sexual orientation are (at least in all of those cases) equal with regard to changeability: namely, neither of them can be changed.
Also, the fact that some pedophiles can't change their sexual preferences, either, does not change the fact that at least many people can't change their sexual orientation, so sexual orientation and race are equal with regard to changeability in all of those cases.

3. You say that "the gay issue involves behavior". That is true, but the interracial issue involves behavior too - and, of course, choice.
Just as a pedophile can choose whether or not to abuse children (if he has the chance), and just as a gay person can choose whether or not to have sex with a person of the same sex (if they find willing partners), similarly a person of race X can choose whether or not to have sex with a person of race Y (if they find willing partners) (I'm talking about adults in the non-pedophile case).
What goes for having sex also goes - in the case of gay people and people of race X - for getting into a committed relationship: that involves choice, and behavior.
One may even parallel your point that the argument "That's my orientation, so I have to engage in the behavior," doesn't work, by pointing out that the argument "That's my race, so I have to engage in the behavior" doesn't work, either. It's still a choice (incidentally, a person of race X often would be able still find some partners of race X he or she would be attracted to, whereas a gay person would not find partners of the opposite sex he or she would be attracted to, so if anything, a ban on gay sex or marriage is more restrictive in terms of the change to find an attractive willing partner. Perhaps, the level of restrictiveness would be more similar if one considers a bisexual person. But in any case, the crucial point in this context is that in both cases, the issue involves behavior).

Now, I get that there is moral disagreement about the moral status of those sexual relationships and/or the committed relationships in question. For that matter, there is also moral disagreement in the interracial and in the interfaith cases.
But my point here is that an attempt to support a claim that there are morally relevant differences between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage (or between same-sex relationships and interracial relationships) on the basis of changeability of a trait, or on the basis of whether it's a matter of choice, behavior, etc., fails. The same goes for corresponding legal claims (i. e., instead of moral ones).

Victor Reppert said...

My problem here has to do with the fact that I think most of us would be inclined to view opposition to inter-racial marriage as the product of prejudice. I think supporters of gay marriage want to portray opposition to it as mere prejudice, but I think this issues are a whole lot more complex. People who don't see gay relationships as marriage are not just bigoted. They may be mistaken, but they are not bigots.

That said, I certainly sympathize with Christians like Troy Perry, who wrote the book "The Lord is my Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay." But I not sure they have things right.

Angra Mainyu said...

My point was that the proposed distinction did not succeed, for the reasons I explained above. Whether the people who oppose gay marriage are "prejudiced", or "bigoted" is another matter - or a number of them, and not very clear ones -, and may depend on the specific person (plus, there is the issue of what exactly you mean by those terms), but I'm not sure what you're getting at.

For example, when you say that people who "don't see gay relationships as marriage", what kind of belief are you talking about? Because it's clear that there is same-sex marriage in some jurisdictions. So, is it a belief that:
a. Same-sex relationships are always or usually immoral.
b. The meaning of the word "marriage" is such that no same-sex relationship.
c. Other.

Please clarify.

Also, if by "prejudice", but if you're talking about a judgment made before assessing the arguments for or against, that may or may not happen in the case of same-sex marriage, as well as in the case of interfaith marriage, or interracial marriage. But I don't see promotion of a false moral belief after considering the arguments to be generally better.

As for whether they're bigots, I would say that those who oppose same-sex marriage on the basis of a. or b. (or any other realistic basis), after reflection ought to change their views (and should have done it by now, if they thought about it), regardless of whether they fit the definition of "bigot" - which might depend on the case.

Victor Reppert said...

For the most part, I have been pretty much a supporter of same-sex marriage, at least from the standpoint of government. I voted no on a defense of marriage proposition that was on the ballot in Arizona a few years ago. First, with respect to marriages in general, the government doesn't require marriages to pass moral tests in order to give marriage licenses. For example, if someone began their relationship with an extramarital affair, has then finalized their divorce or divorces, the state doesn't ask questions, it grants the license. Given this, it seems hypocritical for governments to , for example, give a marriage license to Newt Gingrich but not to George Takei.

Second, there seem to be cases where SSM seems pretty reasonable. For example, if someone has been in a same-sex relationship for many years, but their family has disowned them for being gay, and then the person goes to the hospital and end-of-life decisions have to be made, the lifetime partner, not the family that disowned the gay person, seems to me the right person to make those decisions.

But there are other issues that bother me about it, and these have to do with people who conscientiously believe that same sex relationships can't be real marriages. For example, I don't think people in the business of wedding services, such as florists, bakers, and photographers, should be exposed to discrimination lawsuits because they don't want to service same-sex weddings. I don't think Christian adoption agencies should be forced to accept applicants from same-sex couples if it is against their principles. I don't think Christian college philosophy departments should have a "discriminator" tag put on them by the American Philosophical Association because they have codes of conduct that require faculty hires to abide by a code of sexual conduct that requires them to restrict sex to heterosexual marriages. (And please note that a gay person could fulfill those requirements by simply being celibate). I don't think businesses like Chick-Fil-A and executives like Brandon Eich should be punished economically because they don't believe in same-sex marriage. If this is what supporters of same-sex marriage want, if this is where it is going to be pushed, then I am inclined to say "let me off the boat."

That is why I would prefer to see governments give out civil union licenses and only civil union licenses to everyone who goes downtown for a license. That would, I think, leave individuals and "churches" (and this would include secular groups) to determine by their own lights what is a real marriage and what is not. I don't know if this is workable, but something along these lines is the only acceptable solution.

It's time to stop looking to government to determine what is right and wrong. I wouldn't quite say "You can't legislate morality," but I will say that there are large areas of morality that you can't legislate.

Angra Mainyu said...

Good to see you've been mostly a supporter of making or keeping SSM legal.

I'll post a longer reply later, but first, I would like to ask for clarification of a couple of points, just in case so that we don't end up talking past each other:

1. When you say they believe they can't be "real marriages", you're clearly not talking about a legal issue - since the law can define "marriage" including them, and pretty much everyone who opposes SSM realizes that -, but I'm not sure whether what it is you're saying they believe.
I'm considering the following options:

a. They believe that the word "marriage", in English, is such that no same-sex relationship qualifies.
b. a., plus the belief that there are words with the same meaning in all languages.
c. They believe same-sex relationships are always immoral.

I'm inclined to think it's c. due to the "conscientiously" part, but I'm not sure. Also, maybe you have something else in mind, or a disjunction of more than one of those?

2. Another question is about "conscientiously". That seems to suggest not only that they have a moral belief that same-sex relationships can't be real marriages (which seems to support c., when it comes to interpreting "can't be real marriages"), but also that their moral belief is justified. Is that interpretation of your post correct?

3. Would you prefer that I reply in this thread, or in your new thread on SSM?

P.S: I don't agree about the requirements for SSM to be pretty reasonable that your example seems to suggest (though maybe you didn't mean to require that much?), but I'll leave that for later.