Are we having the wrong argument?

Stephen MarshMormon 21 Comments

Something I have noticed on the Gay Marriage debates is what causes people to change their minds, and it is generally social proof.  More, what I am seeing has caused me to think that arguing over gay marriage may be the wrong argument to be having.
As for changing opinions:

  • Those most likely to change from opposed to gay marriage to in favor of gay marriage know gays in long term, monogamous, committed relationships.
  • Those most likely to change from in favor of gay marriage to opposed to gay marriage meet gays seeking benefits who are either not in exclusive relationships or who are hostile to a religious or heterosexual group they belong in.

From studying conflict resolution, I find myself often just as interested in how the process of conversion works as any other part of a conflict.  Especially because in these cases the conversions tell us something about what is really being debated, and it seems to be nothing about whether gays get married and everything about what people think marriage is.

Which is I started reflecting on what marriage was and what it has become.

At one time, sterility was a basis for annulment. marriage was a child rearing procreative driven economic partnership. In some cultures love was considered inappropriate, in others, impossible vis a vis marriage. Marriage was something far different.  Read the early Greek philosophers on why it is impossible for men to really love their wives like they do their buddies and you get a perspective completely alien to modern marriage and modern life, but very close to the way people felt in some parts of the world for thousands of years.

Read some of the old polygamist diaries and writings, lots of respect or devotion or dedication, but often not much talk of love.  (Compare those to Joseph Smith’s letters to Emma, where it was all about love).

But what is marriage now?  We don’t consider childless couples unfit for marriage, we don’t allow annulment for sterility.  We expect men to love their wives more than their golfing buddies.  The term leman (partner for love rather than partner for practical reasons) has faded from our lexicon.  As far as I can tell, there are two competing models.

  • There is the “forsaking all others” model, marriage as a celebration of pair bonding. Monogamous marriage.
  • There is the “marriage is a pathway to entitlements” model, marriage as a title that conveys a benefit. Often seen in “open” or social marriages (such as green card marriages where the parties have no contact and nothing in common).

I’m not going to argue what marriage should be, only state that I think that, perhaps, gay marriage may be the wrong frame for the debate as to what marriage is and should be.  However, I think we need to think more about the right answers to the question.

Comments 21

  1. “We expect men to love their wives more than their golfing buddies.” It is when we tread into expectation that the arguments fall apart. There are as many models of marriage as there are people who are married. Just ask Zsa Zsa Gabor. It is a simple civil rights issue. In Prop 8, the majority decided what the minority can or cannot do. The only question to be asked: Are gays a “minority” or simply a human aberration? Those who voted for Prop 8 apparently believe the latter which puts gays in the same category as someone who wishes to marry his dog.

  2. Absolutely the wrong question and not just for the reasons you mention but we should use this to strengthen the churches autonomy legally.

  3. Post

    simple man, if marriage is just an entitlement, into which we can pour any meaning we want, then it doesn’t have any meaning at all. Should marriage have a meaning or requirements, or should there just be free floating entitlements?

    Must gay marriage be an aberration, or can it be a pair bonding unit the same as any other? A free floating entitlement is, indeed, one that should apply as much to the dog as anything else. A pair bonding unit obviously excludes the dog, I would think.

    But, that does highlight the issue.

  4. I don’t know anybody who voted for prop 8 that equates gays with people wanting to marry animals. It is a preposterous statement. I voted for Prop 8 and I don’t consider gays a minority or an aberration. Not every special interest group is a minority. Are Mormons minorities? If you ask gays right now, I would bet they consider mormons as aberrations. Marriage is a social construct to organize families around mother, father, and children. The closer we stay to that definition, the better society will progress.

  5. To Mr Marsh: I would not use the word “entitlement” as it implies something which is given according to certain criteria defined by the state and not “inalienable”. If it is indeed something which is “given” then one must act who “gives” it. If we respond to this with the answer “the state” then we have created by proxy a “civil right” issue unless we are prepared to outline the specific nature and criteria for granting the entitlement. Public welfare is an “entitlement” based upon nondiscriminatory economic criteria (a boatload of it). No such criteria exist for marriage so is it not a right? This important distinction lies at the center of the issue. Gay people consider civil marriage (not to be confused with religious marriage) to be a “right” as a minority group and not an entitlement. I would suggest that if the state wants to address marriage as entitlement it has alot of work to do and we will end up with a legal brief the length of the “good book”. If we are to trust that our government respects the division of Church and State, we cannot have it both ways. Either gays are a minority and protected under the law or they are an aberration and deserve no rights whatsoever. As in, you cannot be “partly human”.

  6. Post

    Non-entitlement marriage is available to anyone for any reason, which is the rub. If what I want are government recognitions with real life benefits, then what I am seeking are entitlements, and the only question is how do I qualify for them.

    If I want a religious rite, or a social one, without benefits, then I can create my own qualifications (I just will not get benefits such as tax treatment, etc.). I’ve had gay friends who got married long ago (full weddings, etc.), and who consider themselves monogamously married, regardless of what others think, and whose legal rights come from domestic partnership trusts rather than from the government.

    But, that goes to what is marriage and what qualifies one for marriage.

    I think that it is important to recognize that whatever marriage was three thousand years ago, or even two hundred years ago, it is something different now. Just what it is, and what it should be, is a better discussion and debate to have first, before we argue over how someone qualifies for recognition of their marriage.

    The underlying social assumption is that marriage is monogamous pair bonding. People see that, they recognize it as a relationship worth recognition. They see something else, they don’t see it as qualifying.

    Occasionally they see polygamous pair bonding, and as long as it is exclusive (the “forsaking all others”) you have many societies throughout history that have recognized that as marriage as well.

    What has not generally been recognized is the non-exclusive relationship.

    Now, should that be the dividing line (which it is for most people, even if they don’t recognize it),with a secondary dividing line that anything that doesn’t threaten existing marriages is ok, if it does threaten them, it is not?

    I think if we recognize the dividing lines people draw, we sometimes come to different conclusions.

    I also think that articulating those dividing lines creates a better idea of what marriage is, an idea that has nothing to do with the sex or gender of those getting married, and a great deal to do with other behaviors.

    But right now, and for most of human history, marriage was something that had to be qualified for. The basis for qualification differed, and it is those we are finding our society debating right now. But I think a better understanding of what we are reacting to might very well change the discussion to focus on things other than sex and gender, which may lead to a different understanding (or, it may not).

    But lots of people are “partly human” as in having limited civil rights. Children, felons, etc. At one time, women were treated as partly human, as functioning under disabilities. By attending to definitions, that changed, I think very much for the better.

    Perhaps other things might change for the better to if we shift the discussion.

    But I don’t think we can have

    (a) marriage means whatever each person wants it to mean; and
    (b) marriage means that an individual has certain rights vis a vis the government and society that they did not have when they were not married

    without the term losing meaning.

    But does the term necessarily have to have the meanings that it currently has post prop 8 to embrace the core values it represents?

    In the alternative, what meaning does it have without core values, and should it have any core values at all?

  7. The “benefits” available to married people are not entitlements because couples do not have to “qualify” to receive them EXCEPT by age and gender. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that gays are anything like underage children; so all that is left is gender. The “benefits”, arguably, are not the same as entitlements. In fact, domestic partnership agreements exist for government purposes in the same way as marriage. The benefits, however, are not identical between the two legal forms of partnership. Hence the desire of gays to marry. BTW, I don’t believe that you can equate gays and lesbians with felons or children and consider them “partly human”. Although, I do believe your analogy to women’s rights in the past is a fair comparison in this issue. We simply have not recognized gays and lesbians as human beings like we have women and racial minorities. They continue to be treated as an aberration. Even the Church treats it as such through the use of terms like “SSA” or “SGA” when discussing “those people”.

    I agree that using an “underlying social assumption” as a means for legal definition is a slippery slope as we continue to see. i would tend to think that polygamy is as legitimate as a form of marriage as any other as long as those who practice it can be fairly treated under the law and share the same benefits as others. This may be problematic from a tax standpoint alone, as many people could collectively marry and be recognized as one tax paying entity.

    Actually, marriage already means what each person wants it to mean. The importance of fidelity within matrimony is hardly shared among all married people. And there is no civil law against adultery. I would suggest that marriage as a civil law concept has no “core” moral value at all. Nor should it, as a matter of civil law.

  8. “At one time, sterility was a basis for annulment” but never in the case of eternal marriage.

    But I hope gays do manage to legally marry in the near future. Then by following the same logic we can see some people marry their dogs or cats or some dudes marrying their pimped up car. Freedom for all I’d say.

  9. Do you see a difference between two grown adults, fully cognizant of their actions and committed to each other as compared to animal abuse?

  10. Stephen,

    Don’t you feel that the LDS Church as already defined what marriage is in its “The Family: A Proclamation to the World?”

    I believe in the Churches eyes, and many of the members who support banning gay marriage, legislation against gay marriage is supporting what marriage is or at least what it should be.

    Conversly, those members who do not support banning gay marriage typically have that position based on equal rights and entitlments for homosexuals.

    Ultimately, what marriage is is going to to be different for each person.

  11. Post

    The problem is that you can equate gays and lesbians with felons or children and consider them “partly human”. Although but I think that everyone agrees that you should not. I think that realizing that in some ways some lines being drawn causes gays and lesbians to feel that they are being treated that way helps in perspectives.

    I’ll leave Greenman and Samuel to their discussion.

    captainmelody I think the proclamation addresses what families are, but I’m not sure that is the same as defining what marriage is in more than a partial sense. Ask yourself, does the proclamation require, imply, or exclude polygamy, either serial or concurrent? Does it matter to the proclamation’s meaning? The definition is not complete.

  12. Can we drop the “homosexual activity is the same as bestiality” nonsense? Please? Whether you accept the first or not, consensual, adult activity is FAR different than non-consensual activity of any kind. That’s a black letter distinction.

  13. I think the PotF clearly defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Even if you apply it to polygamous situation, marriage is between one man and one woman. In polygamy, each woman is married to the man separately, not as a group of women married to a man. That is one of the reason I never thought it equated. Clearly, from a purely doctrinal standpoint, Gays cannot qualify for marriage under that definition.

    From a legal POV, it seems to go back to the argument of whether the state has an interest in marriage or not. To me, that is the right discussion in the political context. Not equal rights and not civil rights.

  14. Jeff Spector:
    I contend that the state’s only interest in marriage is related to taxation. What other interest could it have? I’d like to know?

  15. I think the discussions of bestiality reveal some rather important prejudices that inform the LDS worldview for many who supported Prop 8.

  16. simple man, I don’t think the discussion reveals what you think it does. The question that comes up is if marriage does not mean sexual fidelity to one person, then why should marriage have anything to do with sex at all? The only person I knew who wanted to marry their dog had no interest in having sex with the dog, but felt that they should receive the tax breaks of being married and wanted recognition of a faithful companion.

    Generally, a state’s interest in marriage has had to do with inheritance and child raising, which is why tax codes provide for encouragement for having children and rearing them.

    Taxation is invariably used as a tool to further other goals, and in support of other goals, not as a direct interest. Otherwise, why have any tax impact caused by marriage at all?

  17. I very much concede that the state has an interest in inheritance as a taxing authority. The degree of interest in raising children is highly questionable as there are no laws indicating that the state cares “how” children are brought into the world or to whom they are born. The state does not license parents. It does provide some tax relief to parents and guardians, but these are not limited to marriage, nor to children, for that matter.

    It does license marriage. While you may wish to deflect my comment on the comparison of marriage between same gender adults and adults and animals, I was not the one making the comparison. Presumed members of the LDS faithful were doing that. And I find it very telling of what people really think about the issue. It begs credulity to suggest that a functional adult wanted to marry his dog. Sorry, I’m not buying it.

  18. “Can we drop the “homosexual activity is the same as bestiality” nonsense? Please? Whether you accept the first or not, consensual, adult activity is FAR different than non-consensual activity of any kind”

    Ok then. But can I, for arguments sake, or would you let me marry my sister? Or my cousin? (since Einstein did). We are both in our 30’s now and, although my first choice is to marry my mother, I would be better of with my sisiter because my mother can not have children anymore.

    Just in case you want to know, we are all consenting adults, and we are all deeply in love since the day I was born, she’s my older sister, and we know each other very well since we have already lived together for more than two decades. And it would only be fair since I can marry my brother in MA.

    Well, what would be your liberal culture leading LDS argument be?

  19. simple man, how many PETA neighbors have you had, and they don’t call them pets, they seriously mean it when they call them “animal companions” or “animal lifemates.”

    It does not beg credulity, it is pretty normative in some social circles.

    Though the discussion is about boundaries, definitions and expectations.

    As for “The degree of interest in raising children is highly questionable” — well, it has been an expressed state interest by states for several thousand years. Sorry about that.

    Finally, “I was not the one making the comparison” — no, you are the one bringing up an historical argument that did not originate with the LDS and attempting to misapply it as an attack on those who have paid attention to it, while misconstruing the essence of the discussion.

    The essence, at least of my musings, is that we don’t have a good enough definition, which leads us into sidetrails like the one we are having right now, with people not understanding what application they have, other than to insult one group or the other.

    Gays don’t deserve insults, they deserve thought and reflection. The same is true of the LDS.

    But marriage needs more thought, consideration and eflection, and less rhetoric and anger.

  20. For that matter, let no one forget that the original use of “loving a _____” is the same as loving an animal” was a discussion about whether or not a man could really love a woman.

    Gratefully we are living in a time when no one considers women on par with animals mentally or physically.

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