Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Our neighbors to the north

This article from the Ottawa Citizen is instructive:

"If you are at the public trough, if you are collecting taxpayers' money, you should be following taxpayers' laws. And that means adhering to the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms]," says Kevin Bourassa, who in 2001 married Joe Varnell in one of Canada's first gay weddings, and is behind an article titled "Gay advocates fight churches' charity status -
Institutions fear losing tax breaks if they oppose same-sex unions; Rightly so, gay-rights group says."

Over at Jane Galt's place, earlier this spring, we had a long and interesting discussion about gay marriage - or, more accurately, about the unforeseen consequences of changing major social structures such as marriage, with illustrative examples from divorce law in the early 20th century and the concept of "bastardy" somewhat later. The comment thread eventually wound down into my favorite potential logical fallacy - the slippery slope - countered by "That's a logical fallacy!" Thusly:

Gay-marriage opponent: If you can redefine marriage by taking gender out, why not number of participants? Why not age of participants?

Gay-marriage advocate: That's ridiculous!

Gay-marriage opponent: Why? Tell me what would prevent it, once the meaning of "marriage" is on the table.

Gay-marriage advocate: Now you're just being obtuse.

Gay-marriage opponent: Seriously, what would prevent it? While we're talking about social change, what about churches that refuse to marry gay couples?

Gay-marriage advocate: What about them?

Gay-marriage opponent: How long would it be before a church is accused by the ACLU of hate crime for discriminating against gay people?

Gay-marriage advocate: That's ridiculous!

And so on. I will say it again:

The "fallacy" part of the slippery-slope fallacy is not that the undesired end of the slope is possible, but that it is inevitable. And where we have contemporaneous evidence from a culture much like our own that the undesired end of the slope is approaching, "possibility" is not a high hurdle.

This issue is one I struggle with. Marriage has been a powerful shaper of my life. Not having to take extraordinary measures to be able to see my husband in the hospital, not having to adopt one another's children, being free from compulsion to testify against my husband - all right, so far I haven't had much specific use for many of the automatic rights of marriage, but it's nice to know they're there. And I have no animus against committed gay couples, or against gay people who want to find a life partner. (I do have some animus against "players" of whatever gender or orientation. Not my idea of how a person who wants to be good behaves.) So. What to do, when a group, through (I believe) no fault of their own, is unable to take advantage of benefits I enjoy, through no virtue of mine?

This isn't a case of conflicting rights, as the abortion debate is, or as slavery was once purported to be by some. If gay people were to marry, it wouldn't abrogate the right of straight people to marry. But - again let me direct you to the esteemed Jane - we are speaking of the unintended consequences of such a sweeping change. As Megan McArdle (a.k.a. Jane Galt, and no relation, by the way) points out, it's at the margins that the effects of change may be most readily observed. In this case, while the marriage of gay people would not affect my willingness to live in the state of matrimony, there are marginal cases whom it would affect (if I recall, one such case turned up in the comment thread to either the post above-referenced or in the follow-up post she wrote - a minister and wife who have stated their intent to divorce if gay people are allowed to contract legal marriage, because in their minds such a legal right would dilute the meaning of their own marriage). Marriage is good for society; it acts as a stabilizer, provides better for children, on average, than single parenthood or two-parent parenthood in which there is no legal bond between parents, and makes people happier, again on average, than single life. Where marriage falls into decline, other important social structures may as well: while my understanding of the data from Scandinavia and the Netherlands is that it's more correlative than causative, even the removal of all "marriage advantages" from marriage by the introduction of formal civil unions for opposite-sex couples accompanies a drop in both marriage rates and birthrates. So my answer is this:

Ahem. First let me say that, in contrast to the claims of some gay-marriage activists, the lack of a legal right on the books to gay marriage is not equivalent to slavery, and I believe that the epic indignity of slavery is lessened by the comparison. Now. My answer is that, with apologies to same-sex couples who want to commit to one another in perpetuity and desire the advantages that legal marriage conveys on that commitment, I think this is one of those times when we might act in haste and repent at leisure. Therefore, I believe we ought to act ever so slowly, taking careful note of the effects on more precipitate societies around us. If same-sex marriage is an overall good, it'll become clear (or at least clearer) in a generation; twenty years is not too long for society to hesitate when an institution that predates every society now in existence is in question.

1 comment:

TexasToast said...

Looks like you like long posts. ;)