Sunday, July 10, 2011

Oh, That's What It Is

I know I shouldn't do this, but I was reading What's Wrong With the World again. In a post that reacts to the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, Lydia McGrew (who lives in Michigan) explains how same-sex marriage is harmful to straight people in other states who might otherwise be thought of as disinterested parties by imagining a dialogue between a "conservative" and an advocate of the "homosexual agenda." I was interested in this because I have always wondered what the big deal was. I always thought that if you don't believe in same-sex marriage, you should decline to get same-sex married and mind your own business; if other people want to get same-sex married, that's not your business.* Anyways, here's the dialogue:

Homosexual agenda advocate: What do you conservatives care? How does it harm you? Why are you trying to control other people?

Conservatives: Here are 352 examples of the fact that when this stuff is in place, your side gets to control other people--namely, people who think like me--and punish us for not agreeing with you. That's why, just for starters.

HAA--Well, those are all _reasonable_. If people choose to deal with the public, they should _have_ to go along with this. And when we've passed homosexual "marriage," then it really _is_ legal marriage, and it's just acknowledging _reality_ to call it "marriage," so people should be forced to do so.

Conservative: I rest my case.


To be clear, according to McGrew, same-sex marriage is harmful to the conservative because if same-sex marriage is legal then the conservative will be forced against her will to acknowledge that it is technically true that same-sex marriage exists. There's harm, and then there's harm.

--Mr. Zero

* I realize it's not that simple. You can't argue that e.g. slavery should be legal as long as you have the right not to sell yourself into slavery if you don't want to, and if somebody else wants to sell herself into slavery then you should mind your own business. Certain freedoms, such as the freedom from slavery, ought to be protected no matter what. But that idea is instructive in itself.


Anonymous said...

I interpret that more as saying that, if same-sex marriage were legal, certain organisations like adoption agencies would thereby have to legally recognise same-sex couples as such. Although the "HAA"'s second statement there is only semi-legible. I'm not sure whether that's Lydia McGrew fleshing out the character or just her being unable to write.

stronglystated said...

A charitable reading of What's Wrong With the World is pretty much impossible, so I wouldn't expect to get a satisfactory answer there. But there is a coherent argument to be made that gay marriage would harm some people. If a person experiences same-sex attraction but wishes to live a virtuous life by the standard of a religion that disallows homosexuality, then they must attempt to suppress their desires. Permitting gay marriage would encourage a greater acceptance of homosexuality and therefore decrease the social cost of expressing same-sex attraction, making it more difficult for them to resist temptation.

I haven't budged in my support of gay rights on account of this argument, but one issue on which thinking about it has cause me to change my position is whether or not it matters that homosexuality is innate. Within my value system it's of no relevance at all whether being gay is a "choice" (and I still think that arguing from "they can't help it" can be insulting), but when it comes to debating someone who accepts the reasoning I outlined above, the biological facts of homosexuality very much are at issue.

Aristophanes Hiccups said...

Stronglystated, you're argument is incredibly individualistic and myopic. As I understand it, if the arbitrary rules of x's fate forbid him to participate in y, it would be a harm to x if y were made legal--despite the benefit y might bring to others in terms of equality and what not. What if my religion forbade me from eating vegetables? Should I seek to deny others who do not follow the same religion as I do? Furthermore, not allowing homosexuals to legitimize their relationship in legal fashion might actually harm your imaginary repressed person. It's not like there wasn't any homosexual sex before marriage equality so really what your suggestion does is force this person to either repress their feelings (not healthy) or have sex outside the confines of marriage in a relationship that is not considered legitimate by the state. I do not see the benefit here and it only serves to deny people who do not ascribe to such an ascetic religion a social good, which would be selfish. There are plenty of harmful things available both licit and otherwise. Denying marriage equality does not end homosexuality but instead only refuses fair treatment to people who wish to see their partner in a hospital or benefit from their health insurance or consecrate their relationship, etc. It is a petty fight and your argument, I know you don't ascribe to it, is rather weak, especially in a pluralistic society.

Eric said...


I think you've done McGrew a strong service by making her ranting appear to be an argument. The problem with that argument, of course, is that the basis of it ("if we allow/endorse behavior X, it will lead to social acceptance of behavior X, and that will make it much more difficult for those who are inclined towards behavior X to refrain from doing it") is that you can apply it, mutatis mutandis, to almost any religious prohibition and get the same result. For instance, the widespread existence of Red Lobster might be problematic for those Jews who stick to kashrut dietary laws which oppose the eating of shellfish, and so forth. Christian Scientists could make the same claim about the existence of pharmaceutical remedies for medical problems, which should be 'cured' by prayer only. It might be a temptation for a weak Christian Scientist to give his child a simple does of Zithro for an ear infection...

A bigger problem for the gay marriage argument, though, is that I think the logic can be extended back from gay marriage and directly into the actual practice of homosexuality itself. I could easily see someone who accepts this logic slipping into an argument that would endorse the imprisonment or even killing of homosexuals because their existence makes it more difficult to suppress their desires. I'm sure all of the rabid anti-homosexual crusaders who [allegedly...cough] had secret gay trysts or attempted to (Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, George Rekers) would have been much less tempted had there not be available homosexual prostitutes, rent boys, and bathroom stall lurkers to 'entice' them.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 6:02,

I'm not saying you don't know this or would dispute it, but there's no evidence that being adopted by a same-sex couple is linked to anything but positive outcomes for the people it happens to. And the fact that adoption by same-sex couples is permissible under Massachusetts law was a key datum in the 2004 decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Hi Stronglystated,

There are a number of obvious objections to the line of argument you have rehearsed, but here's just one: isn't that exactly the kind of nanny-state shit that conservatives can't stand?

And it's also worth noting that McGrew doesn't make either of these arguments. She's worried that she'll be forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of same-sex relationships or punished for refusing to do so.

Anonymous said...

Today's Dilbert (7/11/11) is an oddly appropriate comparison to McGrew's argument:

zombie said...

McGrew's claim of harm, such as it is, could be applied to almost anything. If I don't want to acknowledge the legitimacy of religion, doesn't a principle of religious tolerance harm me? If I can't face the fact that it is legal to kill and eat animals, does it not harm me to be forced to recognize the legality of doing so? The existence of every McDonald's harms me. If I believe that interracial marriage is an abomination, it harms me when it is legalized. There's no end to the nonsense, or mischief, that could be justified by such a stupid "argument."

Anonymous said...

Zealotry is a helluva drug.

Anonymous said...

zombie: I agree, of course, with everything you say. But I think McGrew probably thinks that harm is done only in cases when what is legalized, deemed acceptable, etc., is in fact wrong. For example, I think she might say something like if slavery were legalized (assuming she thinks slavery is immoral), then it harms someone who must then acknowledge it as legally acceptable, and thus have to "go along with it". In any case, I think McGrew might be starting with the presupposition that homosexuality (or same sex marriage) is wrong, and thus it harms her when she must go along with this "immoral policy". (I still think it's a terrible argument, but this is the best sense I can make of it. Although I suppose one could reasonably make the case that is it unjust for him/her to have to go along with something that is truly immoral.)

Anonymous said...

It might often be a good idea to limit access to harmful activities--not because the availability of harmful activities is tempting to people who want to avoid them, but *because they are harmful.*

It would sound really weird, I think, to say "Heroin ought to be illegal/regulated/restricted/whatever, because if heroin were widely available then that would make life difficult for those who want to resist the temptation to use heroin."

But it doesn't sound weird to say "Heroin ought to be illegal/regulated/restricted/whatever, because if heroin were widely available then more people would use it, and this would be bad for public health."

Likewise, I don't see how the fact that gay marriage is tempting to those who want to resist their homosexual desires provides any kind of reason to prohibit gay marriage, in the absence of reasons to believe that gay marriage involves activities that are actually harmful.

Anonymous said...

"I know I shouldn't do this..."

The issue of whether or not to respond to people like Lydia McGrew is a tough one, but I lean on the side of not responding. I don't believe she actually holds a faculty position in Philosophy (though she does teach on occasion at Western Michigan, if I'm not mistaken). She isn't a big name in the field.

And, beyond that, her arguments on same-sex marriage are so obviously inept and idiotic that they really wouldn't merit a response unless she were famous or persuasive enough to convince anyone, which she isn't.

Here's one vote for ignoring McGrew until she has something worthwhile to say.

Anonymous said...

No one seems to get her argument.

Her argument, agree with it or not, is that if gay marriage is accepted as legal, churches or religious institutions will end up being forced to hire gay couples, perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples, place adopted children with gay couples, provide insurance for gay partners, etc. To those people and institutions, such requirements will be perceived as harm, whether or not you agree with their definition of "harm."

Yes, from your own point of view, those people are trying to retain the right to discriminate. But that's a right we all enjoy in most ways. That is, we all enjoy the right to discriminate against meat-eaters (if we like), Tea Partiers, adults who listen to Justin Bieber unironically, or a million other characteristics or behaviors.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 2:30,

You say

if gay marriage is accepted as legal, churches or religious institutions will end up being forced to hire gay couples, perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples, place adopted children with gay couples, provide insurance for gay partners, etc.

I don't agree with you. I don't think that's her argument, because that's not what she says. What she objects to is being forced to call it marriage. She doesn't want to be forced to acknowledge that it's marriage.

And even if that's her argument, the premise is false. That's not how it works. Churches have a huge amount of leeway. No church is legally obligated to perform any marriage it doesn't want to. If, for example, I wanted to in a Catholic Mass even though I'm not Catholic, the priest would be under no obligation to do it or to allow the ceremony to take place in that church.

And just think about the Catholic refusal to ordain women into the priesthood. This practice is obviously sexist; it's based on sexism, and this sexism is at the heart of Catholicism. All right thinking people regard this as shitty and wrong, and normally such sexist hiring practices would be illegal. But the church can do what it wants.

That's also not how adoption works.

On the other hand, here is a woman who was genuinely harmed by the fact that same-sex marriage is not legal.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean, that's not how adoption works? Catholic Charities has to stop offering adoption services in Boston back in 2006 because after Massachusetts adopted gay marriage, they insisted that Catholic groups go along.

And no, McGrew isn't just talking about "calling" it "marriage." Here's her quote: "when this stuff is in place, your side gets to control other people--namely, people who think like me--and punish us for not agreeing with you."

That's not perfectly clear, but the "punish" term should provide an indication that she's talking about situations like Catholic Charities in Boston, not just whether anyone has to "call" it marriage.

Mr. Zero said...

If they stopped offering adoption services, then they were not compelled to place adopted children with same-sex couples. And if Catholic Charities was really concerned with the well-being of the children, they'd be willing to place them in same-sex families. The research is clear: there are no adverse effects of such placements compared to opposite-sex families, and there are lots of benefits of such placements compared to foster care.

But you're right, I had forgotten about that. I shouldn't have said, "that's not how adoption works."

Anyways, did you notice that I made several other points and posted a link to a Moth story on youtube? Any reactions there?

xianpersecutor said...

"when this stuff is in place, your side gets to control other people--namely, people who think like me--and punish us for not agreeing with you."

I can't tell whether McGrew is deliberately blowing smoke, or just dumb. No, we are not going to punish you for disagreeing with us. We are going to punish you for treating gay men and women like subhumans.

"Oh, just because you have all the political power, you get to punish us Klansmen for disagreeing with you about the permissibility of lynching this black man!"

No, asshole, we're going to punish you for lynching him.