Thursday, June 04, 2009

"Oh yeah? Well, screw you guys, I'm going home!"

For a long time now, I've been wrestling with my own views on legalizing gay marriage. I wasn't really interested in posting on it until today, when by chance, I came across a blog written by the author of some of my favorite books, Orson Scott Card. I wouldn't normally give two figs what an author thinks about something, but Card is also known as Brother Card, and I'm moderately interested in his non-fictional ideas. I enjoyed the books of his that I've read, and my own brother seems to enjoy most of his work, including his religious work.

Card's blog delves into a number of topics, and for the most part, was pretty good. He does stray where he spends one post making a sane point, and then in another post, goes on to betray his own argument by buying into this crap. This is a topic that deserves its own post, and may get one, if I can find a logical reason why people need to "apologize" for being a member of our religion". (It's also worth noting that I am professionally familiar with the apologist in question and find him to be an insufferable jerk.) In addition to addressing some fairly innocuous topics in interesting and thoughtful ways, he attempts to justify the LDS Church's support for Proposition 8 in California which monopolizes heterosexual marriage. He addresses these arguments in a series of posts throughout his blog.

Unfortunately, like the vast supermajority of opponents to gay marriage that I'm familiar with, Card falls short of providing a logical, secular reason why gay marriage should not be legally recognized. Card's argument seems to rest on two points: 1) gay marriage is only the result of activist judges and therefore signals the fall of democracy; and 2) gay marriage is contrary to God's law which is the same as natural law. He's only half right, but I don't think he knows it. Rather, I believe that the only argument we can make as opponents to gay marriage is religious.

Activist Judges

Card seems to think that there will be significant democratic and civic consequences to allowing judges to legalize gay marriage. I agree that there will be societal consequences, but so-called "activist" judges are part of the American system and have not yet led to its downfall. "Activist" is a term used by anyone (I'm not just looking at you, social conservatives) who doesn't like the outcome of a case. The same thing was said about New Deal judges, civil rights judges, and now "leftist" judges. It's a crap argument and I'm tired of hearing it. Gay marriage is not the source of "activist" judges, but rather, something ruled for by "activist" judges in at least a handful of states. If "activist" judges are leading to the downfall of democracy, it is not because they are supporting gay marriage, but rather because they are "activist". To say that gay marriage is causing the downfall of society because it's breeding "activist" judges is erroneous. And stupid.

Card's argument further fails because a number of states have enacted laws recognizing gay marriages, either by referendum or through their state legislatures, demonstrating that the "candid debate" has occurred (at least according to the metric he provided), and thus the democratic process has spoken. Indeed, there is nothing more democratic than that. Gay marriage is not destroying democracy, at least not in the way Card says it is.

Contrary to natural law

Card goes on in other posts to explain that homosexuality is contrary to God's law, and that God's laws are not arbitrary, but are based on natural law. I agree with him on this point. However, Card fails to explain why God's law justifies monopolizing recognition of heterosexual marriage. (This is his term and I like it. It's much more accurate than "banning gay marriage".)

Card seems to rest on the idea that marriage, or unions between two individuals, occur for the sole purpose of procreation. As I'm sure you've all heard argued before, if that's the case, then we shouldn't allow sterile people to marry. I don't buy this argument.

There is a difference between opposing gay marriage in principle and opposing its legalization. This is the same difference between an eternal marriage and a civil marriage. One has heavenly meaning, the other has legal meaning. This is a nuanced argument, but is central to the issue. I've yet to see a person make a rational, legal argument as to why we, as a society, should define marriage based on this natural law.

The argument made by most people is that heterosexual marriage leads to continuation of the species/society, and homosexual marriage doesn't. It is because of this continuation principle that we have created incentives to marry, such as successorship, tax breaks, ownership, etc. These incentives are counterproductive when sterile people marry because they cannot reproduce, yet we allow them to marry anyway. Furthermore, homosexuals can reproduce - just not biologically with each other. Card further argues that children that grow up in heterosexual homes are more likely to turn out heterosexual. He's right on this last point, but wrong on the rest of his position.

The problem with this position is that we do allow exceptions to the rule. If the purpose of marriage is procreation, then we should only incentivize relationships that lead to procreation. But we don't - we allow the sterile to marry. Because we don't, equal protection seems to demand that we allow the exceptions for everyone equally - including homosexuals who cannot procreate. Some people say that allowing the sterile to marry is an unfortunate or necessary byproduct of allowing marriage at all, but that's a crap argument as well because of the eternal purpose of marriage, as I explain below. (Card also makes a ridiculous argument that under our current system, homosexuals can seek a member of the opposite sex to enter into the contract with them, thereby gaining the benefits of the incentives. This argument not only ignores the fact that we don't require the sterile to jump through that hoop, but also the fact that the incentivization is usually tied to cohabitation.)**

The Religious Argument

All of the legitimate arguments against gay marriage can be justified by a religious understanding of the purpose of marriage. My understanding (red flag! red flag! warning: false doctrine ahead!) is that the point of marriage is to join two people together in an eternal relationship so they can become like God, thereby producing offspring in the same way God produced us. This post-resurrection procreation requires a man and a woman, and thus, we should unite with a member of the opposite sex as God has commanded so we can become like Him. If we unite with a member of the same sex, we cannot attain exaltation because we will not be like God, i.e. able to produce spiritual offspring. This is why we can allow people who are mortally sterile to marry; when they reach exaltation, they will be able to produce. (Boy, I sure hope I explained that clearly. If you didn't understand it or think I'm nuts, please see this link.) This is why a religious argument against gay marriage is consistent. On the other hand, according to this argument, we shouldn't recognize any marriages that are not eternal, but absent an established religious state, we're never going to get that.

Card also argues that allowing gay marriage necessarily requires that we start to teach that homosexual relationships are acceptable, thereby increasing the likelihood that someone who is teetering on the fence between homosexuality or heterosexuality would choose homosexuality because it is no longer disfavored (Card says that most homosexuals are actually bisexual). This is his strongest secular argument, but still ultimately fails. People are more likely to engage in a behavior because it is condoned or accepted by society - but only to an extent. There will always be people that ignore because they don't care about the punishment or consequences, or because they believe that the probability of the punishment multiplied by the severity of the punishment is less than the benefit of the illegal activity. This also doesn't address the underlying question of why the government has a legitimate interest in discouraging homosexuality. His argument assumes ab inicio that homosexuality is bad for society, which he hasn't proved. I contend that the only viable arguments to be made against homosexuality are religious and can only be justified through LDS doctrine.

After making all of these arguments, Card writes this post wherein he seems to back down from a number of these positions. He moves to the position that:
"We do not believe that homosexuals, by entering into a "marriage," are personally hurting anybody."
He further states:
"Only those who try to use the force of law to promote homosexual behavior and homosexual marriage to our children, and who would forbid us to publicly teach and express our belief that marriage is only meaningful between heterosexual couples, move into the category of enemies of freedom."
(For the record, it bugs the poop out of me when people say, "We" without authority. Since none of what he's saying is supported by official statements from those with authority, he should start saying, "I", or clarify that he's talking about himself and like-minded individuals.)

Based on his earlier argument, his first statement is incorrect. But he's definitely right about the second statement, because freedom to teach your children whatever crazy crap you want is a fundamental right. As long as we're letting people have kids without a license, parents can teach them whatever crazy nonsense comes into their heads. That's why we let parents home school their kids - because weirdos have the right to raise more weirdos.

Card finally says:
"We do not think that any belief system, whether it calls itself a religion or not, should be imposed on other people by law -- we won't impose ours on them, and we won't let them impose theirs on us or our families."
He's definitely wrong on this point. We impose our belief system every single day. We live in a society where we have adopted through common consent a belief system that is now codified and imposed on others by violence (i.e., police, jails, etc.). I think what he means to say is that we have adopted a belief system that allows people to believe and say whatever they want (with some exceptions), as long as they don't act contrary to the law. In that sense, the government is entirely within its right to recognize gay marriage and force others to recognize it as well (again, to the extent the government can).

The bottom line is that Card's "secular" arguments against gay marriage must fail, leaving only religious arguments. Because the Constitution protects the individual's right to practice his religion, we have to recognize all religions, even those whose teachings are exactly contrary to our own. This leads to an unfortunate paradox: if the only arguments we can make against gay marriage are religious, how can we justify imposing our religious beliefs on other people in a society that protects individual freedom of religion? We can amend the Constitution, but that appears to me to be imposing our religious beliefs on others, contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.

Now, having said all that, I tend to agree with his ultimate conclusion that gay marriages should not be recognized. But without the understanding of the eternal reasons for marriage, I don't see how we can legally justify denying it to everyone based on a secular argument. That's why I think we should stop trying to. Our reasons are religious and we should stand by that; diluting our religious argument with secular fallacies only serves to weaken the strength of our position. We might lose the religious argument, but at least we won't compromise the strength and logic of our position.

In spite of his failings, he makes a number of good points about the debate itself, the parties, and how we should treat homosexuals. I just wish he wouldn't muddle up the debate by making fallacious and misguided arguments, distracting people from the real reasons why we should oppose legalizing gay marriage.

**I'm intentionally ignoring the slippery slope argument because it is stupid, like your mom. And to his credit, Card doesn't make it.

*** The good Mr. Colbert delivered this timely piece.

1 comment:

Eric said...

I have read almost everything written by Brother Card. I didn't enjoy the religious stuff nearly as much, and his later works have been getting more noticeably heavy in his personal philosophy (which is his prerogative and probably unavoidable), but my notice is certainly enhanced by the fact that I've been reading his opinion pieces (at

In any case, I don't "enjoy most of his work," or at least I don't enjoy it as much as his non-religious work.