Deconstructing the opposition

Marriage equality's edging forward was the big story in this morning's Kennebec Journal, and I thought there were a few things worth mentioning.

First of all, let us dispense with the predictable and tedious:
Later in the afternoon, Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, announced he would lead a people's veto if the Legislature passes the bill. The policy council was formerly called the Christian Civic League of Maine.
But of course he will. Because whatever waning relevance he has is tied to this issue. And while the fight itself will probably be very close and very hard, the man leading the opposition is so clearly destined for history's dustbin that it's easy to feel optimistic. Time and history are on our side, and I imagine even Mr. Heath knows it.

Backing up a bit in the article, I was bemused to read this:
Opponents said they were surprised by the level of support for the bill and angered by the tone of the debate, which they felt was unfairly critical of those with religious convictions.

"It was appalling, offensive and inappropriate for 15 people to stand up and denigrate religion," said Bob Emrich, head of a coalition of religious groups that oppose the bill.

For example, Emrich said, several Democrats quoted scripture, but misinterpreted the meanings of the passages. He said comments that were critical of Baptists and Catholics "implied that anyone who has a religious conviction is laughable or crazy."

In all fairness, I wasn't there, so I don't know exactly what comments were made. But I really have a hard time imagining that the entire Democratic caucus stood up and denigrated religion. I rather suspect that Mr. Emrich is conflating criticism of his religious viewpoint, or of the notion that certain religious people have a right to have their beliefs codified into public policy, with criticism of religion per se. I've noticed that a lot of religious conservatives have trouble with that nuance. I would point out that quite a number of religious people, on the other hand, seem to have no compunction about denigrating gay people, generally quite blatantly and without recourse to implication. (I was there for much of the public hearing, and very little of the rhetoric from the other side could be accurately described as "loving.")

I also find it eyebrow-raising that Mr. Emrich apparently feels he has the right to determine which interpretations are correct, and which are not. Seems kind of arrogant, no?

There was another quote I found telling:
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said extremists on both sides "saddened" him with their conduct leading up to the vote.

In voting in opposition to the bill, Raye said he believes gay and lesbian couples can get the legal protections they need through something other than marriage.

"Can it be accomplished in a way short of marriage, through the protections of civil unions and domestic partnerships that do not engender such divisive concerns among the citizens we represent?" he said.

"Short of marriage" is a very revealing turn of phrase, and validates an essential argument in favor of marriage equality. Civil unions and domestic partnerships simply fall short, and (to steal a line from one of the many speeches I heard at the hearing) if you call the arrangement for recognizing same-sex relationships something different, it will be something different. We don't want to inhabit some other category, created to appease those who wish to deprive us of equal social or legal standing.

Finally, there is this:
Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville, said she worries that if gay marriage is allowed in Maine, other groups will come to ask that the definition of marriage be changed again.

"We will have no argument left for the next group that will come and want to move that stake even further," she said. "The justification is, 'I want it to be.'"

First of all, one could infer from this that Sen. Weston doesn't object to gay marriage in and of itself, but is afraid of the domino effect. (I think the inference would be wrong, but it reveals a weakness in the opposition's argument that they can't simply deal with the question at hand.) But it also raises the question, what is this "next group"? I know that there is the usual folderol about people wanting to marry their animals, or children, or large numbers of other people, but there are no actual constituencies for those ends in real life.

The more I see, the more hopeful I become.


  1. "but there are no actual constituencies for those ends in real life."

    Mormons. Muslims. Yemenite and Ethiopian Jews. All groups that are permitted to take multiple wives, today, and that's just off the top of my head. Both Mormons and Jews could easily lift the prohibitions against polygyny, established due to Christian pressures, once it became obvious that Western morality was up for review. I haven't even mentioned numerous other social groups that historically permitted polygamy.

    Somehow, I think there just might be such a constituency in real life.

  2. If said constituency organizes itself in any meaningful manner and develops a base of support worthy of consideration, I will amend my viewpoint.

    They would really need to do something about the polygyny thing, however.

  3. "the usual folderol about people wanting to marry their animals, or children, or large numbers of other people"Got to disagree with you both on this.

    The difference between equal marriage rights for gay couples vs. beastiality, pederasty and polygany is apples v. oragnes. It isn't about which groups have a constituency to advocate. The difference is about power and exploitation.

    Marriage between two consenting adults is a mutually-agreed upon partnership, with both parties entering into it by their own free will. (A 'shotgun' wedding -- where one party is forced -- isn't considered valid by the state, nor by the church for that matter, but I'm focusing on civil issues here). The key here is consenting adults, a litmus test that is not affected by the genetalia of the two spouses.

    "Marriage" between an adult and a minor, or between an adult and an animal is not a situation of mutual consent. It's rape.

    When the right-wing groups same-sex marriage with bestiality, they are exploiting the squeamishness of straight folks, going for the gut while bypassing the mind. They are trying to create a continuum from "ideal" marriage between two straight, white people, successively slipping to interracial marriage (illegal in many states until only thirty or forty years ago), to "gay" marriage, and then into all sorts of horrors. But there is no such continuum in civil law -- marriage is a contract between two consenting adults, which the state regulates only to the extent that it seeks to preserve the safety and well-being of both parties.

    Any reasonable argument against same-sex marriage has to use the same arguments made against inter-racial marriages (that it 'weakens' society or is un-Christian -- both rather weak arguments in a constitutional democracy) or argue that marriage is for reproduction (in which case should the state forcibly dissolve or prevent marriages of infertile heterosexual couples?)

    Polygamy and polyandry are probably compatible with a democratic society -- but only if the state provides regulations that guarantee that the marriage is one of mutual consent and that the rights of all involved parties are upheld. Human nature being what it is, polygamy and polyandry in actual practice would probably never live up to that ideal of equality, though: people fail enough in monogamy, and I imagine that polygamy/andry is exponentially more complex.

  4. Ah. Let me clarify. My point isn't that pederasty and bestiality would be taken more seriously if there were a constituency, it's that the argument "Once we allow for gay marriage, we'll have to allow people to marry children, horses, etc" implies that there are scads of people just itching to engage in such marriages simply waiting in the wings. What I'm trying to say is that this argument is ridiculous, because there simply aren't people (or very many of them) who would ask to marry a child or an animal in the first place. They're trying to paint an image of being the last defenders of the floodgates, when in reality there is no flood to contain.

    Is that clearer? Or no? I'm certainly not arguing that the formation of a constituency would actually justify consideration of bestiality or pederasty as legitimate relationships.

  5. Let me see if I understand. We should modify social agreements not on the basis of fairness, or respect for the individual, but rather on size of the group agitating for change? Get enough people together and be taken seriously, otherwise you are SOL? You've argued both ways above, and I'm not really sure which position you really hold.

    And on another point, I don't see the implication in the slippery slope argument about the size of the people wanting things down the slope. It simply does not follow that pointing out a slippery slope exists implies scads of people are itching to do anything.

  6. No, we should indeed modify social agreements on the basis of fairness, justice, etc. The size of the constituency in favor of something unjust or immoral does not mean that it must be considered.

    My point, which must have been very clumsily made, is that the whole marriage slippery slope argument is foolish, since there is no movement to legalize marriage with animals or children. They are trying to create the impression that there will be a post-gay-marriage deluge, when in reality there will not be because nobody is arguing for the eventualities they are warning against.

    This may not be the case with polygamy, which is (in theory) only enacted between consenting adults. But the anti-gay-marriage types are positing the existence of a movement to legalize bestiality or pederasty that isn't true.