Equality in the Pursuit of Happiness


2013-03-27 – With the Supreme Court arguments about gay marriage come and gone, I thought I would give you my take on the subject.

It comes down to this: I don’t know why the state is sanctioning marriages at all. If I were running the show, everyone—straight or gay—could be registered as domestic partners, but not as married. Domestic partners would be free to “sanctify” the relationship however they wanted and call it a marriage. But it would be no business of the state. The domestic partnership would simply represent the economic unit of a household. If children were born or adopted into the household they would have rights as well.

But no one is going this way. So my ideal world doesn’t exist. Oh, well.

The odd thing about my position is that, given the non-ideal world, I totally support gay marriage. But I don’t really buy the individual arguments that gay rights activists muster in support of gay marriage—except for one, that I will get to at the end.

I don’t accept the gay rights argument that sexual orientation is genetically determined and therefore unchangeable. What complex human behavior is entirely determined by genes and immutable under environmental stresses? If sexual orientation is like this, it is the only human behavior that is!

Does this mean that we know how sexual orientation arises developmentally? No! And we probably will never know until the furor over gay rights passes (decades from now?) and honest research can be done. Does this mean that we ought to be able to “deprogram” people? I imagine that the problem of “deprogramming” people will be solved just about the time you figure out how to “deprogram” me from speaking English. English is definitely not genetic, but it’s pretty seriously wired into my brain. (Don’t start thinking you can prevent the development of certain sexual orientations on this basis. We know how my English speaking arose. I lived in an English-speaking family in an English speaking community. What can you say about sexual orientation?)

I don’t accept that gay couples raising children is the same as straight couples (not saying worse, just different). Gay couples have an “impediment”: they don’t expose their children to the full range of human role models (they lack the ability to blame the marriage’s troubles on the foibles of the opposite sex–an important element in a child’s education). But then, I, in my straight marriage don’t expose my children to the full range either (my wife and I are both white). No one covers all the bases. We can certainly think of a wide menu of parental deficiencies that no one considers grounds for preventing a marriage—or for preventing adoption. Just one: being gay. Everyone has something that makes them unfit parents. But for everyone but gays, love is considered adequate to overcome the unfitness.

Obviously, I have a different spin on the right-wing arguments. They have some truth on their side, but not the whole truth (and plenty of lies). Genetic determinism is an easier argument to make on the side of gay rights, but easy doesn’t mean true.

To me, though, none of these arguments matter. The arguments that matter are two:

The first is: What business is it of mine? If you want a same sex partner, what do I care? If it’s me you want, I’ll be flattered but say no thanks. I am actually more concerned and threatened if you want an opposite sex partner. Straights are the people who threaten my marriage. Don’t come looking for my wife! If you are gay and want to be married, you are operating in a totally different market. So why would I care? Other than to wish you mazel tov and the pursuit of happiness.

The second argument is religious: Do not unto others that which is hateful to you. (Or the positive version: Do unto others as you would wish others to do to you.) I don’t understand religious folk who think they have a right to butt into other people’s love lives. I don’t see any exceptions built into the Golden Rule.

You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.

Will the Supreme Court reach this conclusion? Don’t know. And comments by the justices during oral argument may not be an indicator. (Remember the comments in court arguments about Obamacare?) The court may not even consider the morality of the subject. Their big issue might end up being the question of whether the issue should be decided at the federal or state level. If I were betting, I’d bet that the court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act but at least partially uphold California’s Proposition 8. In other words, they will kick the marriage issue out of the federal realm and leave it up to the states.

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2 responses to “Equality in the Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Steve,
    I found your post “Equality in Pursuit of Happiness” to be one of the more thoughtful discussions of the same-sex marriage issue I have read. As for myself, I am not sure where I stand from a constitutional standpoint: if marriage is a fundamental constitutional right then, of course, it is subject to the equal protection provision of the 14th amemdment. If so, then the issue comes down to the question of whether defining marriage as between one man and one woman unconstitutionally discrimates betweeen gay and straight couples under the 14th Amendment? [I am not addressing here the federalism issue of whether the states have the right to define marriage as they please because, if marriage is a fundamental constitutoinal right, then the states are not free to define it in anyway they please. States cannot create ‘suspect categories’ such as homosexuals not entitled to the equal enjoyment of fundamental constitutional rights.]

    My conclusion, constitutionally, is that there is a constitutional right not to be discrimated against in one’s exercise of the right to marriage. Now, of course I have skirted the real issue: ” what exacty is marriage? If marriage is a ‘civil union’ then states (and the federal government) cannot discriminate with respect to them.

    Emotional, historical, and religious issues becloud such constitutional considerations. Traditional marriage recognises the fundamental biological divide in nature: male-female. This has been the case for thousands of years, so why change it now? The answer may be that there is no compeling state interest to continue to do so now. Now the case for ‘gay- marriage’ becomes stronger if homosexually is genetically determined. I don’t know the answer to this but I suspect there is a genetic ‘component’ to homosexuality, and,if I am right here, I think states should be free to recognise same-sex marriage for the same or similar reasons they do heterosexual marriage.

    Your analogy to language here is fascinating. With respect to language, Chompsky, I believe, got it right: that, is, humans have innate language structures or capacities. What language you use is determined by the environent in which you are raised. Net, net, I believe (I do not know) homosexuality has a genetic ‘component’ as opposed to ‘genetically determined’ and therefore people should not be programmed or de-programmed into being hetosexual or homosexual.

    Your recommendation is good on Facebook regarding the “Monsanto Protection Act”: “stop eating!” is good as far as it goes. You should have added that one should also stop banking, not use heat, drive cars, turn on electricity, read books made of paper, etc.

    I don’t remember if i included in my last email to you two fertile intellectual sourses: (1) Aeon Magazine and (2) 3quarksdaily. They tend to be liberal oriented yet not ideologically driven so don’t fear that they will taint your thought as does Monsanto taint your food.

    Cheers, –Greg

  2. Hi Greg! Great to hear from you! As usual, you have posted important ideas worth thinking about. My bottom line is that the only marriages I care about are my wife’s (hopefully to me) and my sons (hopefully I like them and they will provide me with grandchildren). Why would I want to inhibit anyone else’s decision?

    A person’s interest in the marriage of their children is a place where thelaissez faire attitude could run aground. But I think of my brother. He married a woman, but they don’t have children. In terms of my parents’ interest in children, this is no different than if my brother had married a man. And, of course, these days gay couples can have children! So the argument falls totally apart.

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