Sunday, August 8, 2010

On Gay Marriage: Please, Everyone Just Shut Up

I share David Harsanyi's view on gay marriage. (Summarizing, that it's best just to get the State entirely out of the marriage business at all; restrict them to recording and protecting contracts.)

I have zero interest in anyone's love life other than my own, provided consenting adults are involved. Mormons can marry a hundred wives and Amazons can marry a hundred men for all I care. Ditto, only stronger, their sex lives. Who puts what genitals where is simply none of my — or anyone else's — business.

Frankly, I wish everyone would just shut up about the whole thing. The topic is boring, usually trivial in impact on anyone (homosexuals and heterosexuals alike), and we have much, much larger issues to deal with as a society. (Yes, I know I'm not going to get my wish.)

Frankly again, my biggest complaint here is the co-opting of an irreplaceable English word: gay. There simply is no short, sharp, euphonious substitute for that feeling of lighthearted carefree joy felt on a sunny Sunday afternoon when one's article has been accepted for publication. How else could one describe in one word the feeling experienced watching Fred Astaire dance on a piano?

All that said, I cheered at this Michael Ramirez cartoon, because of its reference to the Constitution and the Founders:

I think that's consistent with Mr. Harsanyi's — and my — view.

And, now, following my own advice, I'm going to shut up about the subject.

9 comments:

madmax said...

I don't read that cartoon the way you do. I think it is clearly a Conservative cartoon which is meant to argue that individual rights do *not* include abortion and a homosexual's right to enter into romantic contracts. I agree that courts should only be involved in marriage to the extent of upholding valid marital contracts and providing default rules. This is what common law courts have been doing for centuries. But that is not what Conservatives believe. Their whole metaphysics stems from their belief in a personal god that created man and women in his image and has a "plan" for human relations which involves men and women to marry and stay married and to "be fruitful and multiply." That is what that cartoon is getting at. I'll conclude that I think Objectivism really needs a marital law legal scholar to write a treatise on the subject or ten of them.

Katrina said...

"Summarizing, that it's best just to get the State entirely out of the marriage business at all; restrict them to recording and protecting contracts."

A contract is all that marriage is. It is a specific type of legal relationship. Standing up in church doesn't make you married; signing the marriage license and paying your $50 does. If you took the state out of it, you would have nothing. Saying that the state should be out of the marriage business is essentially saying there should be no marriage.

What I would say is that the state should honor all contracts between consenting adults that don't negate individual rights. That would cover "traditional" marriage, same-sex marriage, poligamy, etc.

But there should still be the default marriage contract, because the vast majority of people would not need or want to hire a lawyer to draw up an original contract. That is certainly the government's business.

I think people tend to disapprove of government involvement in marriage because they see the government's involvement as proscribing and prescribing certain behaviors. I don't think that's as true as people think, however. People commonly point to tax benefits of marriage as an example, however marriage is not always a tax benefit. It's not uncommon for the very wealthy to legally divorce for tax reasons. I think tax issues pertaining to marriage have more to do with the government trying to tax as much as they can get away with whilst the voters demand special privileges for marriage.

The fundamental issue at stake is the right to free contract. The gay marriage issue should be approached from that context. Unfortunately it isn't, and that is very annoying.

Jeff Perren said...

A very thoughtful comment, Katrina. I'm going to have to think about that one and do a little digging for a while before responding.


Max,

We'll never agree about "what Conservatives believe" because I don't share your monolithic, pessimistic view of them. You seem to think, as do most Objectivists I've read, that because most of them are religious they're hopeless.

That goes against a lot of positive social and individual history (and I'm aware of the negative history, too). It also belies the fact that Jesuits and others can be very insightful, thoughtful, and rational about a lot of things.

Brand Blanshard (a Quaker) was one of the finest philosophers of the 20th century, and I learned a great deal from him. Ditto Henry Veatch (a Catholic). That's not to mention the fact that there are many secular conservatives (Heather MacDonald, et al), though I grant they are in the minority. Just because a person has an erroneous metaphysics, he or she can still be a wise cultural commentator. It's a puzzle, but there it is.

A staunch, life-long atheist like myself can still find much value in what conservatives say, even on topics such as marriage.

That said, as always, your perspective is valuable and I appreciate your expressing your views. I'll give them more thought.

On the cartoon... You are probably right. But as I read it, it's largely an objection to living Constitutionalists and their habit of making up rights not present in the document. On the other hand, the document wasn't intended to provide an exhaustive list of what rights we have, but to limit what the Feds may do. So, I'll spend some time clarifying my own views before I say anymore on that.

Jim Hlavac said...

The word "gay" was not hijacked by gay people. If anything it was assigned by the straight press about 80 years ago, and then just sort of adopted, with Playboy in the 1950s particularly pushing the word. However, the Old English "gay," meaning happy, is not the etymological source of "gay" meaning well, gay. Rather the source is Old Provance, a dialect of French, where in which "gai" which dates to the 1300s in writing, means our modern "gay."

It's quite a conundrum, how two words of different source, and similar spelling, came to be spelled the same, but have two different meanings. It's not the only word we have with this issue.

That straight people no longer wish to use the English gay because the French gay took precedence can hardly be placed on gay people. I'm not sure we can even blame the French on that. Words just gain connotations, and then become off limits for other usages. Like "niggardly," which has no relation to the n-word, but surely is not going to be uttered by anyone anytime soon without a problem developing. The language changes, as refudiation to the old way of doing things.

Jeff Perren said...

Fascinating, Jim. Thanks for that bit of word history.

Jeff Perren said...

Max and Katrina,

I've given further thought to both your posts, and consulted with an Objectivist attorney whose views I always highly respect (even when we disagree, which is rare and usually only on degrees).

I've come to the conclusion that your posts have served as a useful reminder that in areas I haven't studied or thought about much, it's best just to keep my mouth shut.

So, while I still disagree in parts, I'm back to the neutral position I had on the subject prior to making my post.

Thanks, as always, for stimulating my gray cells in interesting ways.

Katrina said...

Hurray for independent thinking! Though personally I make it a point to talk as much as possible about things I know nothing about.

Robert Winefield said...

Max and Katrina,

I think you are conflating to competing aspects of the issue here. The first is a political one revolving around restraint of government in order to provide for a just civil society.

And the other touches on the moral debate between the devout and not so devout religionists (i.e. which covers atheists and those folks who only bother with God between 10-1PM on Sunday), agnostics and atheists as to whether marriage is a gift from god and all that sort of tommy-rot.

Looking at it from the PoV of 'Shaving the Leviathan,' you really need to place the definition of what constitutes a marriage as far away from the government and judiciary as possible.

Marriage is not a contract. If it were then the vows would be 2,000 pages long with stipulations like the husband must take out the garbage and the dinner must be on the table by 5PM. And if these conditions are violated then punishments would be stipulated.

I don't know about you, but I liked that my wife and I were over with the formal crap in about 30 minutes and went onto the important stuff (drinking and making fools of ourselves on the dance floor) directly afterward.

OTOH, if marriage was treated like a legal contract, then there would be no need for me to suffer the marriage advice of idiots like Dr Phil. But that's the price you pay for entering into a partnership wherein you have to figure it out as you go.

When you think about it, the judge only presides over the dissolution of the shared estate: who gets the house, kids and car.

And because of that, the only thing you really need to do (IMHO) as far as marriage goes is send a memo to the govt that you and your spouse have entered into a relationship whereby henceforth all property and debt and responsibility for children/pets is to be shared. And that's it.

In this way, it wouldn't matter whether Jack and Jack or Jack and Jill were being married or even if they decided to call their partnership a marriage at all. It would be a personal choice for them - and that is how it should be. Marriages, in my limited experience, are as individual as the people who are in one.

All the rest is merely an attempt to rejoin religion and the State and people (objectivists especially) should argue it in those terms.

Robert Winefield said...

Max and Katrina,

I think you are conflating to competing aspects of the issue here. The first is a political one revolving around restraint of government in order to provide for a just civil society.

And the other touches on the moral debate between the devout and not so devout religionists (i.e. which covers atheists and those folks who only bother with God between 10-1PM on Sunday), agnostics and atheists as to whether marriage is a gift from god and all that sort of tommy-rot.

Looking at it from the PoV of 'Shaving the Leviathan,' you really need to place the definition of what constitutes a marriage as far away from the government and judiciary as possible.

Marriage is not a contract. If it were then the vows would be 2,000 pages long with stipulations like the husband must take out the garbage and the dinner must be on the table by 5PM. And if these conditions are violated then punishments would be stipulated.