by Tauriq Moosa
I imagine that most of us are relieved to hear that Republican Michele Bachmann is going to become the first presidential candidate “to sign a pledge created by THE FAMiLY [sic] LEADER, an influential social-conservative group in Iowa.” Ms Bachmann, by signing the pledge, “vows” to “uphold the institution of marriage as only between one man and one woman.” The best is the Vow which calls for the banning of all forms of pornography. Oh and by the way, my gay and lesbian comrades, homosexuality is not only a choice but a “health risk”.
There are number of ways to look at this. Firstly, we can look at the political machinations involved, demonstrating what the human animal is willing to grab hold of in order to maintain the velocity of power as she swings from one constitutional branch to another. Or, we might consider the actual document itself that makes claims equally baffling and, to put it politely, arrogant. But then, we should no longer be surprised by the incredible knowledge religious people sprout since, somehow, they do have access to the inner thoughts of the Creator of the Universe (and friggin’ flamingos and tonsils, too, mind you). Neither focus in themselves is worth our time, but considering the level at which this is aimed, it deserves critical responses.
Debasing the Currency of Marriage
I’m not one for marriage or really even monogamy, but I do think personal choice matters. If I so choose to engage in polyamory or promiscuity [PDF], no one should force me into choosing only one partner; similarly, whilst I think many monogamous relationships are quite strange and, ahem, “against our nature”, I have no problem with people doing it (just as, with most things like drugs, prostitution, and suicide, they do it of their own choice, don’t unnecessarily harm others, etc.) Furthermore, data indicate that it’s better for health and longevity that many men don’t get married at all and there are similarities for females. (This seems the appropriate time to indicate having children doesn’t bring happiness. Don’t blame me, blame the data.)
Yet, discussing data while focusing on a conservative religious group is like eating ice-cream while watching a documentary about starving African children. It loses its flavour and potency in attempting to combat the problem at hand. So let’s have a quick look at the Pledge. The Preface to the FAMiLY Leader pledge reads:
Social protections…have been evaporating as we have collectively ‘debased the currency’ of marriage…in complete absence of empirical proof, that non-heterosexual inclination are genetically determined, irresistible and akin to innate traits like race, gender and eye color; as well as anti-scientific bias which holds, against all empirical evidence, that homosexual behavior in particular, and sexual promiscuity in general, optimizes individual or public health.
Wait, let’s go back. “In complete absence of empirical proof…” Did we really just read that? I can think of a few studies, for example, that PubMed quickly throws up. Whitham and colleagues did a study on 61 pairs and 3 triplet sets of people which had at least one member who was homosexual. The study was longitudinal with recruitment starting as early as 1980 and the study itself was completed in the 90’s. It also included an 18-page questionnaire. 38 pairs of monozygotic twins were found to have a concordance rate of 65.8% for homosexual orientation; dizygotic twins, as is to be expected, was lower with 30.4%. They interpreted the findings as “supporting the argument for a biological basis in sexual orientation.” Another study by Pillar and Bailey obtained similar findings, indicating even in their title that “human sexual orientation has a heritable component”.
What I doubt you’ll find is a study showing it is solely genetic. But then, as people like Steven Pinker indicate, hardly any attribute (save the obvious like eye-colour and even then…) are purely genetic or environmental. It’s a combo of both, but there’s little doubt as to genetics being a significant component (not just in homosexuality but in many things: anger, violence, intelligence, and so on). But this would be playing the Faithful’s game.
The more important question is: who cares if it is genetic? Does it matter whether someone is kind or horrible because of genetics or his or her family? Things get difficult though – and I’m epistemically unconvinced by many arguments – when we discuss things like “moments of insanity” and psychopaths. Anyway, we don’t want to make a genetic fallacy and accord some random moral criteria to the origin of homosexuality. It really is unimportant in deciding whether it’s moral, immoral or – it seems to me – amoral. But somehow, according to the document, society’s acceptance of homosexuality as genetic has led to the debasing of marriage. I don’t have the full document so I’m not sure if the Family Leader provides evidence of this. I know I’ve heard many such arguments and there are, again, two responses:
Firstly, there is little to no evidence to support such a claim that marriage is say declining or is lowered because of homosexuality (if you do find some, please alert me to it. I may not have searched hard enough). What we will have is, in fact, an advantage, since we won’t have gay people being forced into relationships they don’t care for. Even if we concede there is data supporting decreasing marriage directly related to increased acceptance of homosexuality, what you will have is less heterosexual marriages but probably ones of longer-lasting and better quality, since you won’t have men and women forced into relationships that just aren’t to their tastes (notice, even this indicates how irrelevant the genetic component is, even if it is completely Western-liberal-media-scientific fraud).
Secondly, as will be reiterated again and again: so what? Or, who cares? What is so important about maintaining marriage? This is just assumed to be some important component of a society – and not just marriage, but of course monogamous theistic marriage. And I’ve already indicated data tells us it’s nothing special and doesn’t lead to longer lives (and let me stress again, children aren’t good for you either).
Vow 4 says that there must not be a redefinition of marriage. It must be defended “through statutory, bureaucratic, or court-imposed recognition of the Institution of Marriage”. It’s not my fault that when I hear “institution” I think of a mental-asylum. That’s my psychology student talking, along with the usual boring epithets of wedding rings as nooses, relationships as straight-jackets, blah blah.
Anyway, the Vow claims that polyamory, adultery and so on are out the very fabulous window. This of course would follow if one believes in the sanctity of the institution of marriage. Just as not eating pork would be obvious in a list of “Don’ts” in a Muslim eating-guide. But again, there is no reason for us to accept this until we’ve good reason to maintain the specific, recent, theistic conception of marriage as the only, best and important way to conduct oneself in a relationship or indeed as the goal of relationships. Even data that indicates that marriage is unhealthy or reduces lifespans matters not at all when it is about obeying the rules god has sent down. “I didn’t ask if you like it,” he might yell through a strong American General’s accent, “I’m ordering you to do it!” Let’s not forget that if you do this there is probably some great reward: like not being forced into an eternity of companionship with Carlos Mencia’s comedic ability or Johnny Depp’s versatility.
So, data, in fact doesn’t matter; which was why I’m surprised they bother mentioning it, despite the irrelevance to the ethical argument earlier. Remember I said I don’t mind marriage as long as polyamory was allowed.
This precisely indicates the problem with sanctifying an institution of human relationship. It fails to recognise that humans are fluid, their interactions like an ocean. Sanctification of humans and their interactions, especially with their fellows, is trying to rake leaves in the wind (not my metaphor, but from the character Antoine Batiste from David Simon’s Treme). Or rather is like trying to box in a river with an open cage.
Homosexuality is a Public Health Risk
I’ll quote what I can from ThinkProgress, where I’m drawing this from.
– HOMOSEXUALITY IS A PUBLIC HEALTH RISK: Footnote 4 claims that homosexuality causes shorter life expectancy and a higher probability of a long list of sexually transmitted diseases. The Leader has previously compared same-sex marriage to second-hand smoking.
This would be an interesting statistic to obtain. But again: so what? As I indicated, there is data indicating that heterosexual marriage also leads to a lower life expectancy for everyone involved. Should we therefore ban it? Imagine we discover that being kind, generous and helping others leads to lower life expectancy: this is quite true for many who are volunteers at MSF and Aid groups that travel to disaster areas. They increase their risk of death from disease and collateral damage from simply being in the vicinity of their patients. Should that be sufficient reason to ban it? However, this Pledge doesn’t claim that a shorter life expectancy is sufficient reason to ban marriage. It is one part of many necessary factors and premises they consider leads to the conclusion that has crippled the Institution of Marriage and threatens it continually.
Ironically, I don’t disagree with them on this level. I think this is an empirical question and there is good reason to take their claims seriously: I do think that a wider acceptance of and further tolerance of homosexuality, as seen in same-sex civil unions which New York recently approved (excellent news, by the way), will run parallel to a decrease or lack of adherence to the sanctification of marriage. This seems obvious.
However, what I’m contesting and what we should all be contesting is the Family Leader's justification for making the so-called Institution of Marriage, between man and woman, the only legal version of marriage. And we can take their claims about health as one such point which is largely, um, unfounded. Indeed, the website the Leader had up proclaiming this was taken down, according to LGBT Nation. The website “asserts that homosexuality reduces life expectancy by up to 35 years and promotes the idea that homosexuality is a curable disease”.
Again, if this is so, then all manner of things should be banned, too, like smoking! But, despite all evidence telling us that smoking is bad, we allow it because we think people are adult enough to decide how they want to live their lives. Apparently, like second-hand smoke there is even an increase in cancer for homosexual men. This all baffles me. Considering I don’t have the data they’ve used, it might be a bit glib to dismiss this as complete nonsense – but considering I’ve not come across such data from more, um, unbiased sources, I’ll not take it seriously (until shown otherwise). But I need only reiterate: So what? Why can people not choose for themselves?
Sex is Better After Marriage
Vow 5 might be my favourite. Vow 5 says that the candidate must support the notion that “married people enjoy better health, better sex.” First Question: HOW DO THEY KNOW THIS? When you say x is better than y, you must know x in order to make such a judgement. So, initially it seems a worry for conservatives that any of them should even be able to make this comparison.
But of course many would have had premarital sex, then convert and repent their ways, claiming they were lost, sinners, etc., and then after forcing themselves into the haggard arms of the Institution of Marriage with some pie-making, Bible-thumping, wife with teeth as white as the picket fence outside, they will nod and agree and mutter that of course sex now is so much better.
And, secondly, our old friend: (even if true) Who cares? Here we have another irrelevant criteria: So what? Imagine we discover that heterosexual parents often are worse parents than, say, a lesbian couple. Does that mean that there must be no heterosexual parents because lesbians are better parents? Oh wait: We’ve discovered that in fact lesbians often are better parents. Sorry heterosexual parents: give up your darlings.
And, finally, we must get rid of the Internet's No #1 Product pornography, despite it running and shaping the modern world. If Google was a merchant, we can just imagine how empty his stalls would be. Anyway, their reason? I’m not sure whether they’ve bothered with good reasons anymore as opposed to “Things that just seem to piss us off”. There’s the usual stuff about “innocence” and “protection of women” and “promiscuity”. From an ethical standpoint, pornography is a tricky subject. Nonetheless, we may trust that many enjoy their work, are involved in various roles (like raising sex awareness) and want nothing else.
Some interviews confirm this. And there is also the automatic assumption that only women are involved, whereas there are male pornstars (I discovered that they exist after hearing one of their voices on ‘American Dad’. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful male speaking voices I’ve ever heard. Have a listen to this 38 second clip.)
Anyway, we need to get rid of pornography to maintain the sanctity of marriage because, as usual, people can’t decide for themselves, need to be babied and so on. There is a hint of irony in that it’s called adult entertainment, but the reason to ban it is often so childish. Just as not criminalising cigarettes hasn’t led to everyone being smokers, so the same for gay marriage, pornography, and so on.
Unlike Aids, homosexuality is not catching; and even if it is, and even if pornography destroys marriages, and even if homosexuality is bad for your health, and so on, what does it matter? We have little reason to maintain this strange creature called the Institute of Marriage, which harbours the common cold of relationships called monogamy. Surely we want a nation of people able to think for themselves instead of being rule-worshippers who perform or refrain from engaging in acts solely for the fear of the law? As John Stuart Mill says at the end of ‘On Liberty’: “A state which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes–will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.”
Two final things.
Firstly, there is one thing this Pledge states which I 100% agree with: Reject Sharia Law. Well done – they got something right. Being something of a consequentialist, I at least can give them this conclusion, whilst disdaining their reasoning for doing so. The reason of course is that Sharia allows for all sorts of unsavory affairs between young girls that would generally upset the Christians. I’m not myself convinced of many arguments discussing pedophilia, but then, some of you may recall I’ve defended cannibalism and incest for the same reasons.
Secondly, perhaps the solution is to just get rid of State-sanctioned marriage altogether. It seems a reasonable approach, since I’ve often wondered what role a State should have between the private, consensual interactions between two (or more!) adults, that harm no one else (in a limited sense of ‘harm’). We need only have something like “civil union” for tax benefits or something of a kind; but then, this need have nothing to do with the sex or romantic relationships, perhaps. We can say even best friends can be part of a civil union because they live together in the same house, apartment or something of a kind.
The point is, we must reflect on the reasons for having the State involved at all and whether we cannot achieve it another way. If we are able to, in a secular way that is beneficial, we can easily hand over “marriage” to the religious. Then they can fit on their faith-bells and prayer-whistles, put it in a white dress of sanctity and pass it off as a viable way to engage with a fellow human beings. This doesn’t mean the rest of us would, by definition, really be that much better off, but at least we wouldn’t face criminal charges because, say, we’d become bored with our partner.
I'll leave the last word for the great Louis CK.