Notes From Babel

One More Comment on the Mock Divorce Ban

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I don’t know why I find this so interesting.  I’m not terribly concerned about changing the definition of marriage, per se.  I guess I’m just worried about the idea of being bullied into changing it, or the notion that the people don’t have any right to define it as they please.

Anyway, this comment is a re-post from the thread here.

Where I think this ultimately leads is a discussion about the legitimacy of moral legislation in general. When you say that Prop 8 proponents are inconsistent when they tout “family values” yet shrink from a divorce ban, you seem to be suggesting that the debate is at the level of the talking points. That is, the debate is really about whether gays can raise healthy children, or that the debate is really about whether permitting SSM will result in some other form of demonstrable harm.

I don’t think this is so. What the debate is really about is simply how voters feel about marriage. Just like many moral issues, the empirical side of the argument is usually either inconclusive, irrelevant, or both. This is true of the debate over marijuana. There are good arguments that, as far as real world results go, pot should be legalized. But this doesn’t get us past the moral question: most people believe it’s wrong. Most people are deontologists, not consequentialists. That is, some things are just wrong irrespective of their tendency to lead to other effects, even if those effects are good.

That is the level of the gay marriage debate. Most people believe gay marriage is just wrong. Or, at least, not quite ready to be awarded the state’s imprimatur of acceptance and normalcy.

Of course, when talking about moral legislation, we don’t just sit around and say “it’s wrong, and that’s that.” We banter and throw around the reasons we think it’s wrong. Over time, this may change our attitudes about those things. They may not. I believe gay marriage will ultimately be accepted: over time, we’ll all become more and more exposed to gay culture, the reality of the cultural change it will bring will become less uncomfortable, we’ll get tired being unable to provide an opposition made up of little more than our basic moralistic and religious and cultural norms, and our attitudes will simply change. But until that shift is complete, most people tend to err on the side of what we know and what we’re comfortable with, content that our scruples and norms are not for nothing, that they are legitimate in and of themselves.

If the touchstone really were about child welfare, we’d be having a different argument. But that’s really not where the debate is. At any rate, though it’s still too recent to tell if the trend will continue, gays in Sweden for example are 50% more likely to divorce than heteros, and lesbians 167% more likely. So Prop 8 supporters can rebut the divorce ban tactic by arguing that divorce is indeed a problem, but we don’t need to force parents to stay together in toxic relationships that will further harm the children, and we certainly don’t need to exacerbate the problem by allowing parental structures that are 2-3 times more likely to disintegrate and leave children with broken homes. It’s perfectly consistent to oppose laws that will make a problem worse, even while opposing a law, offered in jest, that wouldn’t make things any better.


Written by Tim Kowal

December 4, 2009 at 6:56 pm

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