William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

What The North Carolina Gay Marriage Vote Means To You If You Were Against It

North Carolina voted 61 to 39 to amend its constitution to read that marriage is solely a union between a man and a woman. This was, as far as democratic elections go, a “landslide.” Even NPR called the result “overwhelming.”

According to a theory of government to which many claim they subscribe, this vote has decided what is right. That is, saying marriage is one man-one woman is now something which all from North Carolina must accept (if this theory is true). The day before the election they might have thought that marriage was between any group of humans who cared to call their grouping a “marriage”, but after the vote they surely must accept that they were wrong.

Yet somehow this is not so. There are many in that state who claim the result has not decided what is right. They agree that they will have to abide by the implications of the vote, but they say that the moral question was decided incorrectly. The Huffington Post reports that citizen Linda Toanone said, “”We think everybody should have the same rights as everyone else. If you’re gay, lesbian, straight — whatever.” The “evolving” Obama campaign said it was “disappointed.”

I only wish to make one point, a very small one, and only to those who were in the 39% or their supporters, to those people who say the vote “got it wrong.” If you say the vote is wrong you are admitting that there is some principle higher than democracy which decides what is right and wrong. You are saying that a true moral matter can, even must, be discerned in ways which are not appeals to the “People.” You are saying Rousseau and Mill were wrong.

Once you realize this, that there really are true and false moral questions that are true or false regardless of what anybody believes, you have made perhaps the most important step you can make, philosophically speaking. Although I am on the opposite side of you with this vote, I welcome you to the ranks of those of us who say that universals exist. It is now only a matter to discover what these universals are.

As to that, and to show that some of the “higher” principles which you might hold don’t work in this case, here is the case for and against so-called gay marriage:

The brief argument against is this: marriage, except in rare instances and very narrow circumstances (e.g. one man from many in a culture who holds a harem, concubines for the king), has everywhere and always been between a man and a woman; it is biologically natural, i.e. natural law says one man-one woman; and there are plenty of well known religious justifications we needn’t bother explicating. And notice I’m not giving any of the negatives, of which there are many.

Bad arguments for are these: (1) “Jesus never said it was wrong.” Neither did He say raping a child and cyanide poisoning were wrong. (2) Two consenting adults. Why two people in a union and not three, four, more? All history says two, but all history also says one man-one woman, and you can’t take just the part of history you like and ignore what you dislike. (3) Two people have a “right.” Any two? Like a man of 70 and a boy of 9? If you’re willing to draw a line here, you admit that lines can be drawn, which is the point of this article.

Better arguments for are these: (1) “Equality.” Not that this is a good argument, but this tune when sung rings pleasantly in the ears of us Moderns. The default reaction is to support that which is claimed to lead to equality. But here it begs the question, which is “Why should so-called gay marriage be allowed?” or “Is it moral?” It cannot be a matter of equality if we discover that so-called gay marriage is immoral or wrong. Chanting “Equality!” means you have already pre-decided the argument.

(2) Marriage is a contract. But all history and experience says it is not. It is a much deeper union. It is only so that the state steps in after the union and regulates certain matters arising from this union, but only matters relevant to the state’s purse and not those relating to the union itself. Note that many elevate these temporal financial considerations over marriage itself. The state historically has banned some unions (cousins, siblings, and on on).

(3) Some people are born gay. Regardless whether this is true, accept that it is for argument’s sake. This is still another question-beggar. Just because one has “no choice” in being gay does not mean that gays can marry; that, after all, is what we are trying to decide. The argument is worse still when we consider this (weak) analogy (others will suggest themselves to you). Some people are born who never grow higher than five feet. These people do not have a “right” to be placed on an NBA team because tall people can join these teams.

(4) The only argument which remains is the (perpetual) “I should have it because I want it.” More background is here: I, II, III, IV.

Incidentally, that many argue in favor of so-called gay marriage is a powerful argument against evolutionary psychological explanations of the behavior of human beings. What would Richard Dawkins think?!

Remember in the comments that we are ladies and gentlemen.

57 Comments

  1. I still don’t grasp the “equal rights” issue here.

    In North Carolina, any man over the age of consent has the right to marry any woman who can and did consent to the union.

    Likewise, any woman over the age of consent has the right to marry any man who can and did consent to the union.

    “Sexual preference” is never mentioned, therefore homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals.

    As you point out, they can’t marry just anybody they think they might want to marry, but then nobody else can, either.

    It’s completely fair, isn’t it?

  2. As far as gay marriage is concerned, there may benefits and drawbacks or costs. A law disallowing *anything* risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    For a thought-provoking take on this, see http://raganwald.posterous.com/a-position-of-the-highest-moral-principle . with the conclusion “I disagree with how that person over there takes advantage of equality of marriage, but I will defend to the death their right to do so.”

    Taking that position implies some sort of expectation that the sum of anticipated or possible costly consequences, taken together with the anticipated or possible beneficial consequences, is somehow better than having none of the consequences. The difficulty is in agreeing the measure of costs and benefits; folks with incompatible axioms (“equality trumps everything”, “god told us”,”I should have what I want”, “what is natural should be enforced by law”) will find trouble reconciling their calculations. There is much to discuss: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_pluralism

  3. De-legalize incest. As long as there is birth-control, to avoid those babies born with half a face, then why not. Nothing like raising your future wife from scratch to be just ‘perfect’. It would also alter just what adoption could mean, wink wink, nudge nudge.

    Hey, if there is male and female, and they are both of the age of consent, then according to homosexual-logic, this should be made legal like in tomorrow. I’m certain there are some brother-sister couples who would really take to this idea: and they could always adopt…

    I doubt that there would be one single valid argument the hippies could raise against this that would not also cut against them.

    LGBTTI.

  4. Addendum. Why settle for daddy-daughter, or brother-daughter, when there is: Family Style.

    Like you said, why settle for a marriage of only 2 people.

  5. Addendum 2: And they could always adopt…

  6. A scholarly quibble: Rousseau doesn’t maintain that “the people” (however counted) are the highest moral authority. It may be that the greatest justice possible in civil society is to abide by the will of all, but this is not the same thing as viewing that will as the ultimate source of moral authority. For a hint of Rousseau’s subtle take on this matter (justice v. morality), check out his longish footnote on the education of Cyrus in the 2nd part of his Discourse on the Sciences and Arts.

  7. Gay marriage is not about equality, was never about equality and won’t ever be about equality.

    It’s about moral equivalence and I reject that argument completely. Let gays have their civil unions and shared health care plans. But marriage is *my* word, *my* institution. You can’t have it, you don’t belong here. Now go away.

  8. What about the (fully surgically implemented) Transgenders?

    Could one not say that of the LGBTTI’s, they are the only valid group? I’m not just saying this just to be evil, I really think they are. What follows is my puny attempt at showing maybe-why.

    1) Some people are born with XY DNA, but an XX body (as per an episode of House.) Don’t know if the other case also happens, but lets assume that it does.
    So does surgical imitation count as the real thing? If a dude is in an accident, and requires pretty much the same surgery to be Butch again, would that be invalid then?

    2)
    The bible is against homosexuality. Check.
    The bible is against men acting like women, and vice versa. Check. (Sorry, Eddie.)
    The bible is not against castration – which is pretty much a ‘sex-medical-thingy’. Check.

    So what is the point made? Man-ness + Woman-ness ,OR, DNA-man + DNA-woman?

    3) What about hermaphrodites? Surely they should pick and option, and then live that way? Sure, in the old days ‘castration’ was probably the only available option, but these days not so.

    Conflation is bastard and a bitch, so perhaps these things should not be ignored, but resolved to something like an acceptable degree. If the only option is ‘Other’, or even ‘Alone’, then fine, but it should done official like.

  9. Regarding “Marriage is a contract”, Marriage has social, spiritual, and legal implications. However, the state is only in a place to look at the last of these. As far as the state is concerned, it is a contract.

    An argument for a liberalized definition of marriage — pair bonded couples are good for society. They produce more and they take less. Marriage forms the nucleus around which other relationships are built, promoting community investment and societal cohesion. It is a benefit to the state to encourage marriage.

    I am a resident of California, where we passed out own constitutional amendment defining marriage as a heterosexual. While I voted against the amendment, I do believe in the democratic process, and hate the legal wrangling that has followed to dismiss the will of the people.

  10. I only wish to make one point, a very small one, and only to those who were in the 39% or their supporters, to those people who say the vote “got it wrong.” If you say the vote is wrong you are admitting that there is some principle higher than democracy which decides what is right and wrong. You are saying that a true moral matter can, even must, be discerned in ways which are not appeals to the “People.” You are saying Rousseau and Mill were wrong.

    Ridiculous mr Briggs. To you, only either morality is decided “democratically” (by vote? LOL), or is absolute (word of god or something as silly). You just refuse to accept that there are alternatives to these two! But your refusal doesn’t make them false or non-existing.

    So try again, Mr Briggs. Come up with something better than a strawman, for no Relativist will ever tell you that morality is a democratic exercise.

  11. Briggs

    9 May 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Luis,

    Your argument condensed is, “You’re wrong.” You’re going to have to do better and prove why.

  12. Some people are born gay. Regardless whether this is true, accept that it is for argument’s sake. This is still another question-beggar. Just because one has “no choice” in being gay does not mean that gays can marry; that, after all, is what we are trying to decide.

    No one is forcing any church to accept the marriage. Only trying to get the state to acknowledge what is already a reality: That gays do in fact live and share their lifes together. You can dismiss this reality as non-existing because the law does not recognizes these lifestyles, but that is merely being foolish on your part, since these couples do in fact exist and do in fact live as if they are married. They just lack the state’s recognition.

    I find it funny that the right-wingers, all so Hayekian with the view that the state should stay out of private lives and protect liberty and so on, and then all so tidied up and controlling when something like this comes up. You people make me so mysanthropic! Stop it! For your god’s sake!

  13. Your argument condensed is, “You’re wrong.” You’re going to have to do better and prove why.

    Pay attention, friend, I did not argue at all against your point, what I did was to point to you that you made a terrible mistake in your own argument. You just acknowledge two way outs of this morality problem. Either morality is democratically given or it is made by god (metaphysically). If you don’t find there’s a problem there, what more can I say rather than it being obvious there are oh so many more alternatives (most of them also quite silly, but still you didn’t falsify them!).

    You cannot just go around saying “solution K is wrong, so solution F is right”, while forgetting the whole rest of the alphabet exists.

  14. Ok, I’ll be more “rigorous” here.

    Your argument is as follows:

    (1) – Democracy ruled gay marriage as illegal;

    (2) – Therefore democracy ruled gay marriage as immoral;

    (3) – People say democracy ruled wrong marriage as illegal;

    (4) – Therefore such people are saying democracy cannot rule morality;

    (5) – Therefore such people are saying morality must come from somewhere else than people.

    (6) – Therefore morality is objective or absolute.

    What I am saying, mr. Briggs, is that almost every single sentence starting with “therefore” up here is a non-sequitur (except for 6). IOW, you made a wrong argument.

    (2) does not follow from (1). Legality =/= Morality. People did not decide whether if gay marriage was “moral”, they decided upon its legality.

    (4) does not follow from 3, since legality =/= morality.

    (5) does not follow from 4, since democracy is not the only possible solution for morality stemming from people. (There’s also elitism, theocracies, zeitgeist hypothesis and many others);

    Until you clear that mess up with an actual good logical argument, I won’t tell you the good alternative.

  15. Briggs

    9 May 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Luis,

    Good thing you put rigorous in quotes. Your task is to prove that there are no moral absolutes, or as I said in the article “universals.” I say that there are and I also say that those who felt the vote was “wrong” also say that there are. Your job, if you truly want to be rigorous, is to show that this is false. This you have not done, and of course cannot do.

    More later…

  16. Luis and Matt up in a tree….

    Discussing Luis’ really bad argument.

  17. This is the point:

    “I find it funny that the right-wingers, all so Hayekian with the view that the state should stay out of private lives and protect liberty and so on, and then all so tidied up and controlling when something like this comes up.”

    All these arguments about historical precedent or morality or Jesus are irrelevant. All that matters is, whose business is it who I marry?

    Your argument is the same as that of the feminist who condemns the stripper. “She doesn’t have the right to choose her own destiny because her choice demeans my status.” Gays marrying demeans your marriage so they shouldn’t do it. I wish you guys and the feminists would just let people be.

  18. Ye Olde Statistician

    9 May 2012 at 4:43 pm

    The error comes in regarding marriage as a “right.” It is not. It is a responsibility. The man must pledge that he will confine himself to his wife; the wife must promise that all children she conceives will be hers. The husband binds himself to sustain and protect the wife, with his life if need be. He cannot run off and abandon her when the going gets tough and dump her with the kids. These are all obligations, not rights.

    And to the response that, well, we don’t prosecute adultery any more and we allow easy divorce. etc., the obvious observation is that it is precisely because the institution has been “emptied out by walking through” (to employ an old Sixties locution) that anyone wants to play dress-up among the ruins.
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/family-and-relationships/love-objects/article1259075/
    http://www.thechronicle.com.au/story/2010/12/01/man-marrys-dog-city-first-toowoomba/
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/10/22/us-taiwan-wedding-odd-idUSTRE69L3H720101022

    The State has no business regulating anyone’s private life unless there is a compelling State interest. In the case of cohabiting couples, it is the potential for producing offspring which would then become a burden on the King’s Purse. Hence, the coupling is, hmm, “coupled” with the solemn promise to provide for and raise any children that might result. (Notice that it is the potential for the children that imposes the obligation, not the success in achieving that potential. We are obliged to wear a seat belt in a car not because we DO get into accidents, but because we MIGHT.) If this potential does not exist in any way, shape, or form, then the State has no compelling interest in regulating; say, by specifying you cannot couple with your first cousin or your mother.(*)

    We know this has been so because of what we read in Plato’s THE LAWS and also in the ancient Code of Khamurapi, where the only laws relating to cohabitation enforce the duty to provide for the children or adjudicate debts or crimes pertaining to one of the couple but not the other. Clearly from the very beginning, State regulation of sex was geared toward its potential for child-bearing.

    (*) BTW, prior to the medieval invention of romantic love and the nuclear family, the norm in Germanic Europe was the extended family. With all those cousins living under one roof, there was a greater concern over incest than even over divorce.

  19. Briggs

    9 May 2012 at 7:01 pm

    YOS,

    I remember the folks who argued that “If we accept gay ‘marriage’ beastiality will soon follow” were dismissed as using the slippery slope.

    There is no refuge in satire!

    For those who did not quite catch Ye Olde’s link: Puppy love: man marries his dog.

    As has been argued many times (see the links in my article) marriage is not a contract between two people. It is an agreement between a couple and society. See the links for a more detailed argument. More later…

  20. Ye Olde Statistician,

    “The State has no business regulating anyone’s private life unless there is a compelling State interest. In the case of cohabiting couples, it is the potential for producing offspring which would then become a burden on the King’s Purse. Hence, the coupling is, hmm, “coupled” with the solemn promise to provide for and raise any children that might result.”

    This is a nonsense. Do I have to explain the birds and the bees to you? Babies aren’t produced from cohabiting. If the purpose of marriage is to regulate who has children then I have to tell you, the regulation is fundamentally broken.

    Never have I seen arguments that start with the conclusion and work backwards displayed so obviously as on this thread. Why not be honest and admit you just don’t want gays in the marriage club?

  21. What The North Carolina Gay Marriage Vote Means To You If You Were Against It

    Hmmm… this title reminds me that our (technically, not mine) diocesan Bishop told my children high school class if they don’t agree with him on abortion and gay right, they are WRONG and are not true Catholic… as if they are elementary school kids… only because some students boldly disagreed with him that abortion shouldn’t be allowed even if the mother’s life is in danger (because everything is in God’s hand). The majority of the students are born, raised and educated-Catholic. The Bishop’s visit was distressful.

    Well, all I can say it that the Bishop is an administrator of the church not God!

    If you say the vote is wrong you are admitting that there is some principle higher than democracy which decides what is right and wrong.

    Well, by the same strange reasoning, I can also say,

    “If you say the vote is RIGHT you are also admitting that there is some principle higher than democracy which decides what is right and wrong.”

    The brief argument against is this: marriage, except in rare instances and very narrow circumstances…, has everywhere and always been between a man and a woman…

    HA! EXECEP! That just made the argument that “marriage has ALWAYS been between a man and a women” WRONG! (Think logically, not subjectively rationally!) Rare? Not so in ancient Chinese history/old tradition.

    It doesn’t matter what other people say, those slippery slope arguments are garbage to me. Nope, no point repeating the same counter arguments!

    Do “equality” and “equal legal right under law” mean the same thing to you?

    Damn it, lying and smoking should be illegal because they are morally wrong TO ME.

  22. While preparing a comment I looked at the Wikipedia page on marriage …

    Marriage (also called matrimony or wedlock) is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. The definition of marriage varies according to different cultures, but is usually an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged. Such a union is often formalized via a wedding ceremony. Many cultures limit marriage to two persons of the opposite sex, but some allow forms of polygamous marriage, and some recognize same-sex marriage. In some conservative cultures, marriage is recommended or compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity.

    People marry for many reasons, including one or more of the following: legal, social, libidinal, emotional, economic, spiritual, and religious. These might include arranged marriages, family obligations, the legal establishment of a nuclear family unit, the legal protection of children and public declaration of commitment.[1][2] The act of marriage usually creates normative or legal obligations between the individuals involved. Some cultures allow the dissolution of marriage through divorce or annulment.

    Marriage can be recognized by a state, an organization, a religious authority, a tribal group, a local community or peers. It is often viewed as a contract. Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage as a governmental institution irrespective of religious affiliation, in accordance with marriage laws of the jurisdiction.

    It is a complex thing and the gender and number of parties involved is one small and fairly uninteresting part. The state’s involvement should be limited to enforcement of any contract (a formal agreement between the parties to the marriage) involved. Religion plays a role only to the extent that the parties to the marriage wish it to. Sex (the act) is mostly a side show — important but not tightly tied to marriage in this day and age.

  23. Alan D McIntire

    9 May 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Ye old statistician got to the meat of the question: We wan to encourage the raising of
    intelligent, healthy children brought up with a moral sense. What we DON’T want is stupid, unhealthy, amoral children raised in broken homes. The whole point of the state legally sanctioning marriage is to encourage the raising of healthy, intelligent, moral children.

    Homosexual unions cannot produce children, so the state has no interest one way or the other in a homosexual couple’s coupling- their relationship is irrelevant to the raising of children. By even bringing UP the irrelevant issue of homosexual marriages, proponents are offering a slap in the face to those of us who think the main function of any legislation should be to address the problem of raising the next generation.

  24. Ye Olde Statistician

    9 May 2012 at 10:51 pm

    @Mr Portato
    Don’t tell me. Tell Plato or Khamurapi. Better yet, provide an example of a society that ordered its marriages otherwise. The ancient Greeks – Plato in particular – do not seem to have opposed male homosexuality, at least of the man-youth variety. Yet they instituted no “marriage” obligations to bind them.

    We ought to at least consider that cultural evolution has produced reasonably robust normative institutions before we gad about applying intelligent design to them. Our designs often turn out to be less intelligent than we had hoped.

    Conjugal union has the potential of producing children who must be raised. (This has naught to do with whether they actually do produce them. This cannot be known until after the fact.) That gives the State a compelling interest in regulating who can do it with whom and in imposing pledges and obligations on the participants.

    It is only Generation Narcissus, which thinks everything is All About Me and the purpose of Society is to Affirm Me in My Okayness, that looks on these obligations as “rights.” Or more accurately, has waited until the obligations have been subverted.

  25. Dr. Briggs:

    I’ll tap in for Luis. A “moral subjectivist” could simply maintain that the aggregate decision of the voters was wrong, with respect to that individual’s own moral code, without the need of asserting any universal morality.

    Furthermore the subjectivist could consistently assert that each of the voters was voting in accordance with their own moral codes, since morals are subjective.

    That the moral subjectivist may be assuming a universal truth is beside the point, since he is maintaining only that morals are subjective.

    As always, you provide a fun exercise.

    V/R.

  26. Ye Olde Statistician: “the wife must promise that all children she conceives will be hers.”

    Setting attainable goals, right there.

  27. Eric, that should go without saying, but apparently that self-evident truth (ah!) doesn’t seem to reach Brigg’s frontal lobes.

  28. Conjugal union has the potential of producing children who must be raised. (This has naught to do with whether they actually do produce them. This cannot be known until after the fact.)

    So let’s ban marriages of people over 50 years, or people who have demonstrably been shown to be incapable of having children. Yeah, I mean what’s the problem in that? Marriage’s only function is to harbor procreation!! That’s the sole reason why people marry innit?

    By gods, the ignorance.

  29. Luis you are tirelessly tiresome

  30. Noblesse Oblige

    10 May 2012 at 7:18 am

    Let’s ban gay teen psychotherapy. California says it’s wrong under the law.

    http://news.yahoo.com/california-may-ban-gay-teen-conversion-therapy-204649359.html

  31. The problems with Amendment 1 are not only with respect to homosexual marriages. Homosexual marriage was already against the law in NC, so why the need for a constitutional amendment? It was not likely that the NC legislature or judiciary was going to make gay marriage legal anytime soon. Further, from a legal perspective, it not only strips gay couples of any legal rights but always strips unmarried cohabitating heterosexual couples of any rights that they may have had. Marriage may or may not be a much deeper than just a contractual issue, but the government should only be concerned with the contractual side of things. From this perspective, it would be much better if states only recognized or sanctioned civil unions and left “marriage” up to the religious organizations. In other words, if you want a civil union, you go to the justice of the peace or whatever other government official is authorized to perform such a ceremony; if you want a marriage, do it through a religious organization. However, from a legal rights perspective, all civil unions should be treated the same.

  32. Steve Standridge

    10 May 2012 at 8:28 am

    This issue ultimately devolves into one where we debate what the electorate, courts or government permits or does not permit. Inherent in this proposition is that government, in turn, becomes the arbiter of the “truth.” This is faulty on numerous levels and fundamentally frames the issue in appropriately – the question is why government, either through elected consensus or judicial or bureaucratic fiat, involved in the decision at all?

    Quite simply, these are issues of faith and morality for which government is ill equipped to mediate much less definitively decide. The state’s role is, in my humble opinion and as Aquanomics eluded to, to ensure the legal rights, particularly those pertaining to property, are preserved. The arguments made regarding the notion that the constructs of marriage be defined or arbitrated by government is folly. The state has neither the capacity nor the obligation other than to recognize its citizens legal lifestyle arrangements. This is not to say, Mr. Biggs, that I disagree with your assertion that there are moral absolutes – for indeed I believe firmly there are.

    My quibble is ceding these arguments to government officials particularly those in the judicial or executive branches. At least a cogent argument can be made that the electoral process represents a more transparent process of moral deliberation than having courts or bureaucrats decide the issues. Unfortunately, when one side dislikes a decision – particularly those on the left – there is an unhealthy tendency is to seek arbitration by other means – mostly through legal or dictatorial prescriptive fiat.

  33. Gay marriage is not about equality, was never about equality and won’t ever be about equality.

    It’s about moral equivalence and I reject that argument completely. Let gays have their civil unions and shared health care plans. But marriage is *my* word, *my* institution. You can’t have it, you don’t belong here. Now go away.

    Can’t argue that moral equivalence is a goal of the activists, but do you really let others define your personal relationship with your spouse? I don’t care at all what others call marriage, I know what I mean by it, what my wife means by it, and that’s all that matters to me on the issue.

  34. Luis,

    Good thing you put rigorous in quotes. Your task is to prove that there are no moral absolutes, or as I said in the article “universals.” I say that there are and I also say that those who felt the vote was “wrong” also say that there are. Your job, if you truly want to be rigorous, is to show that this is false. This you have not done, and of course cannot do.

    More later…

    Did you really ask Mr. Dias to prove a negative, and say that the burden of proof for your argument is for him to disprove it instead of you proving it?

    I know you’ve done work in this area before, and feel you’ve made your points, and that your ongoing discussions with Mr. Dias have taken on an informal and antagonistic tone on both sides, but that’s pretty sloppy argumentation.

  35. Can’t argue that moral equivalence is a goal of the activists, but do you really let others define your personal relationship with your spouse? I don’t care at all what others call marriage, I know what I mean by it, what my wife means by it, and that’s all that matters to me on the issue.

    I wouldn’t mind a complete wiping out of the state marriage institution at all, if that is what you mean here. Even if you don’t, it’s a compelling idea. The state shouldn’t care about these issues.

    People would marry religiously or “in other ways” (humanist priests? let the markets decide!) as they would have fit.

  36. Alan D McIntire

    10 May 2012 at 10:42 am

    President Obama has come out supporting gay marriage. Since marriage is up to the states, and not the federal government, the president’s opposition or support is irrelevant.

    Where it WOULD come into effect is the matter of social security benefits, where the effects ARE up to the federal government. Does his support mean he wants homosexual marriage partners to be able to receive spousal and/or survivor benefits on social security records? If so, a simple statement of support or oppositon to gay marriage AGAIN won’t have any effect. Same sex marriage partners cannot receive spousal or survivor benefits under current rules- to allow such would require legislation. Do those supporting gay marriage also support entitlement on social security records? If so, why don’t they support legislation changes? If not, their voiced appoval of same sex marriages in meaningless pandering.

  37. Alan D McIntire

    10 May 2012 at 10:54 am

    Since the issue of moral/immoral being an absolute/completely relative is being addressed,
    I thought I’d mention Ambrose Bierce’s “Devil’s Dictionary”.

    IMMORAL, adj. Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral. If man’s notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this of expediency; if they originated, or could have originated, in any other way; if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from, and nowise dependent on, their consequences — then all philosophy is a lie and reason a disorder of the mind.
    Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
    US author & satirist (1842 – 1914)

    In a lighter vein:

    Academe, n.: An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught. Academy, n.: A modern school where football is taught.
    Ambrose Bierce

  38. Not to your usual standard Prof Briggs.

    You’ve tried to claim an exclusive definition of marriage even though you admit marriage is not “everywhere and always” between just one man and one woman; committed the genetic fallacy – just because marriage has previously been of one form (which it hasn’t been) doesn’t mean it can’t change; and committed the naturalistic fallacy – and sorry there is nothing unnatural about homosexuality (there are over 450 species of vertibrate which would be subject to beheading in Saudi Arabia). See http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_gay_animal_kingdom/?page=all&p=y

    I feel that most of this argument is about the word marriage. Religions define it one way – the Catholic Church, for example, defines it in such a way as to make divorce in a properly constituted marriages impossible, while the state defines it differently and more flexibly.

    The state isn’t attempting to stop religions defining marriage as they wish; no homosexual will be able to demand a Catholic Marriage. It is simply expanding the civil definition further than some religions are willing to go (please note SOME religions are fine with homosexual marriage).

    Are people against the state agreeing to provide homosexual couples who have gone through a civil union all the state benefits (and responsibilities re common property etc) which accrue to married couples?

    IE passing a law which ammends all legislation pertaining to marriage to pertain to marriage AND civil partnerships.

    If you aren’t up in arms about this why are you up in arms about a law which simply ammeds this legislation to replace “marriage AND civil partnerships” with “marriage (straight or gay)”. This legislation would have exactly the same ages of consent, prohibitions on cousins etc.

    Governments regulate all sorts of things segments of society think are immoral – pornography, gambling, alcohol.

    In rendering to Ceasar over porn or Casinos why the sudden anger about homosexual marriage. For Catholics, and followers of likeminded religions, homosexuals won’t be “REALLY” married, just as divorced Catholics aren’t “REALLY” divorced, but the confusion here is due to mixing up religious and state definitions.

    Gay Marriage has nothing to do with religious marriage, it is a state and societal issue, not a religious one.

  39. Briggs

    10 May 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Chinahand,

    Perhaps more than the usual standard? Because you appear to agree with the only point I wished to make: that there are universal moral truths.

    We disagree only on this particular one. As to that, be sure to read the links I provided since they give my arguments in much more depth than I could do here.

    Update Incidentally, why did you say it (marriage/union) should be between two (and not three, four, more) people?

  40. BobN is on to something.

    And it sounds like Luis Dias wouldn’t object.

    Take a state, like Minnesota.

    Say Minnesota changes all its statutes from “marriage” to “civil union”, and broadens the definition to any two people (with the usual caveats of over 16, not 1st cousins or closer, etc).

    So a gay couple can get a license for a civil union, and a Judge can perform the ceremony.

    Or they can get married, if they can find a religion which will perform the ceremony.

    As a Catholic, I assume my church will not perform gay marriages, so Catholic weddings would still be limited to opposite sex couples (with a civil union license from the State underlying the ceremony).

    I like this idea – get rid of the marriage license, and replace it with the civil union license.

    Leave the word “marriage” to the various religions, who each have the choice as to whether they will perform same sex marriages, or not.

    That should satisfy most people.

  41. Ye Olde Statistician

    10 May 2012 at 12:45 pm

    A “moral subjectivist” could simply maintain that the aggregate decision of the voters was wrong, with respect to that individual’s own moral code, without the need of asserting any universal morality.

    But then he is not saying it is “wrong.” He is saying “I don’t like it” while disguising his personal preference under the language of moralty. This is ultimately dehumanizing.

    So let’s ban marriages of people over 50 years, or people who have demonstrably been shown to be incapable of having children. Yeah, I mean what’s the problem in that? Marriage’s only function is to harbor procreation!! That’s the sole reason why people marry innit?

    Moral subjectivism apparently results in grammatical subjectivism as well.

    The provision for the raising of kids is the sole reason why the government might stick its nose in, not the reason why two or more people want to sex. If drinking apple juice led potentially to children, the government would have a State interest in regulating pupullasucubibensity, lest the King’s Purse be burdened with the abandoned children that would oft result. The needs of society to regulate people’s sex lives have nothing to do with the motives of individuals. That might be property calculations, family or clan alliance, or even no more than habituating primitive neural pathways at the expense of the cerebral cortex.

    People “demonstratively incapable” of having children have had them before. Like I said, it is the potentiality not the actuality that matters in setting law. Nor are we in the habit of investigating individual sexuality so as to customize which laws apply to whom. That would require a degree of State intrusiveness that even a liberal(ns) might balk at. How are we to “demonstrate” that a couple are barren unless they first engage? Civil marriage is simply the requirement that they promise before they engage that they will take care of the consequences themselves and not stick the King (or the Taxpayer) with the costs. Conjugal union by its very nature might entrain children, regardless whether it does so in fact or in any particular case. A woman cannot have children by the Eiffel Tower; an Australian man cannot impregnate a Labrador retriever, so the State has no reason to regulate those behaviors (beyond, say, cruelty to animals if he attempts to consummate).

  42. Mr. Briggs,

    This is brilliant — and true almost beyond words:

    ‘I only wish to make one point, a very small one, and only to those who were in the 39% or their supporters, to those people who say the vote “got it wrong.” If you say the vote is wrong you are admitting that there is some principle higher than democracy which decides what is right and wrong. You are saying that a true moral matter can, even must, be discerned in ways which are not appeals to the “People.” You are saying Rousseau and Mill were wrong.

    Once you realize this, that there really are true and false moral questions that are true or false regardless of what anybody believes, you have made perhaps the most important step you can make, philosophically speaking. Although I am on the opposite side of you with this vote, I welcome you to the ranks of those of us who say that universals exist. It is now only a matter to discover what these universals are.’

  43. Briggs,

    Agree – the gay marriage opposition does seem to claim a universal truth. Because if morals are defined by society and the society expresses those publicly through a vote, then the moral position in N.C. would be a traditional marriage definition.

    The left usually denies unalienable rights claimed by classical liberals like myself, that is; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They prefer “invented” rights distributed by the state. Of course, any state powerful enough to grant rights is also powerful enough to take them away.

    I prefer to have the state out of the marriage business and “live and let live”. The problem I have with the gay “rights” agenda is that they want to force me to believe like they do, want my kids to be taught about the normalcy of homosexuals, want my church to not denounce this lifestyle, etc. Therefore I will vote no when the opportunity arises because I don’t want my speech abridged through the coercion of the state to teach the appropriateness of all things homosexual. If you don’t think this can happpen, just look at what occurs in states that do legalize homosexual marriage. Eventually private organizations that object are forced to accept or quit doing business – Catholic charity adoptions for example.

  44. Let’s all be clear:

    1. The state has no interest in marriage — the state has no interest in anything. The state is a legal fiction; it is the societal apparatus of coercion and compulsion. The state is nothing more than the gun used by some to control all others. Therefore, the state has no interest, per se. It doesn’t even exist outside of its self-defined legal fiction.

    2. The state does not create truths. If marriage is a union of man and woman, a law stating otherwise does not change that truth.

    3. There are universal truths. We all recognize that, regardless of claims otherwise.

    4. The real issue is some will use the state to enforce their legal definition of marriage over truth. But that defines the state in all instances.

  45. If there is no real objective morality, then we are truly adrift in a hopeless sea of endless depression, discontent, questions, and ugliness (of course we are close to this all the time, but SOMETHING keeps us above destruction (and it ain’t our doing)). Because, if there is no objective truth, then each of us are forced to make up our own minds about what is moral ad truthful, and it will be different for each person. That is chaos, defined, because each of us knows so little about the vast TRUTH of the universe. You choose chaos or belief. No other options that I see, except drugs.

    The Bible is the WORD, folks. The ONLY RATIONAL solution to this argument . Dare tell me that there is not unusual wisdom and perfect understanding in that document!

  46. Let’s stick to the traditional definition of marriage. Between a man and a woman? Any man and any women? A man of 70 and a girl of 9? Where do you draw the line, which is the point of the questions?

    Polygamy was once a tradition and had been legal and practiced in Chinese history, and so was polyandry in parts of China. In marriage, women were traditionally supposed to stay home, cook, carry babies, serve men and basically a slave. Wives were traditionally not allowed to divorce their husbands in Japan…

    Here it begs the questions: what/whose traditions do you keep? Have your moral values changed when you choose what to keep or abolish?

    Marriage is not a just matter of traditional definition. It’s also a much deeper union. (So is gay marriage.) It cannot be a matter of traditional definition if we discover that polygamy was once a tradition somewhere sometime in history and is immoral. Chanting “tradition” means you have chosen a tradition to rigidly keep… the one that suits your view. If anything, traditional definition augments might lead to the revival of polygamy.

    Some people are born shorter, smarter, male and female, gay… which is all determined by nature. Natural law?! Marriage is man-made (prison?). Are we born to be someone’s spouse or be married? Regardless whether this is true, the argument that traditional marriage is biologically natural is for argument’s sake.

    (Mr. Briggs, please don’t sue me for plagiarism.)

  47. Why don’t people just say it outright that they feel disgusted when thinking of homosexual acts associated with gay couples? Somehow the disgust and moral values are mingled. A moralized disgust. Why disguising under the argument of traditional definition of marriage?

  48. Spellbound,

    The burden of proof *always* lies upon the party that makes a proposal for a change. The conservatives’ position would always be that the parties asking for same sex marriages convince them of why that new proposal would be net beneficial to the society at large, including the unborn generations. “Proving/disproving a negative” is a rhetorical gimmick popularized by the nu atheists and perpetuated by the left and has no basis in reason.

  49. Mr. Briggs,

    For such a small point to be made you have collected quite a large crop of indignation: well done!

    I only wish to point out that the discussion has, until recently, departed from the original point: the rhetoric crafted by the opposition to the amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman is built upon an absolute. So far no one has disputed the existence of the absolute/universal in the undercurrents of the argument but some are trying to finagle a moral judgement from the blogger.

    Mr. Briggs’ entry proposes voters in the minority believe the amendment to be erroneous because the voters in the majority are wrong, then concludes the minority’s judgement is based upon an authority higher than democracy. Afterward, Briggs provides rhetorical examples and that’s it!

    @Ye Olde Statistician: What does pupullasucubibensity mean? I don’t have my dictionary around me or I might have found it already but I am curious how you found/learned it.

  50. Prof Briggs,

    You’ve asked me about poligamy and stated that I “appear to agree with the only point I wished to make: that there are universal moral truths.” I am slightly unclear where my post contains such an “appearance”, I believe I have a more nuanced view.

    I have lived in South Africa and so have some familiarity of poligamous marriages – the South African President currently has 4 wives and has married 5 times. My main thoughts on it are based based around the separation of state from religion. Do you really think it is a worhtwhile use of Federal resources to chase various Mormon sub-sects around Utah investigating the private affairs of consenting adults? (May I add where minors are involved I favour such investigations.)

    I am unclear how the South African legislature and courts have teased apart the various property and inheritance rights of such marriages, but, sorry, I am not going to agree that such things are morally abhorent, or against a universal moral truth – it is culturally rooted, may not be sufficiently relevent to US or European culture for our legislatures to consider, but as I say I am not convinced that governmental prudishness about Mormon sub-sects is justified. At least leave them alone (as long as they are consenting adults), and I am not convinced that a local legislature couldn’t attempt to regularize the property issues while leaving the emotional ones to those who wish to have such familial arrangements. Other states could then choose how to recognize or not such legislation.

    Over moral absolutes, I suspect we actually disagree – I agree people use principles to reach their moral decisions, and that these tend to be axiomatic, but the idea that all people will find anything approaching a single set of these absolutes is naive. You see this sentence contains the words “all people”, usually Prof Briggs you are very rigorous about truth claims containing the word “all”, but when it comes to “universal moral truths” it seems this rigour is abandoned. I am fascinated.

    Do not kill is caveated; the Golden Rule is compromised – I do hope you are familiar with the Chinese Philosopher Zhuangzi and his parable of the seabird of Lu; is it ever allowable to lie – philosophers have very different views and practical people even more.

    So where does this leave our universal moral truths – you have your religious beliefs, I mine, and I am afraid moral absolutes are separated by such divides.

    I see society as groping for a better world – I am fascinated by people who follow command theories of morality: can God ordain something to be moral which causes greater suffering on earth than something He considers immoral?

    For me the reduction of suffering on earth is the only relevent issue, I strongly agree with Stove about the law of unintended consequences, but the result shouldn’t be paralysis, but cautious experimentation which the knowledge laws can always be changed.

    Maybe it is my British Common Law background which has much less truck with Foundational Documents handing down ideals, and where law and society evolves.

    Your moral axioms make you feel that your society is unready for homosexuals recieving state recognition of their aspiration to form long term pair bonds; and fear such recognition would be dangerous. I have a different opinion based on a different set of axioms. There is nothing universal about our axioms and I feel trying to hunt through them for a universalist core would be a fruitless task.

    The US’s advantage that some states are allowed to experiment while others take a more conservative line is probably a great advantage – I presume you will continue to scour the academic literature for p-values which show the harm, success or otherwise of non conventional families – I will read them with interest.

    Prof Briggs, what if you are wrong and the 6 states that have agreed to gay marriage show it enhances stable and productive relationships – does your command theory of moral universals label this state of affairs immoral and something to be snuffed out, or a practical good to be expanded? How long would you want the experiment to run for prior to making a decision? I would agree that this is a generational issue.

    Anyway I have gone on far too long, but I thank you for hosting such an interesting discussion – your site is one I find most thought provoking I have found.

  51. I am slightly unclear where my post contains such an “appearance”

    It’s Briggs usual annoying abductive mental process. He has the gall to further call it “intuition” and even claims its superpowered abilities to gather nothing less than absolute truth.

    I find it appalling that a so-called logician can actually claim that “intuitive truths” is the path towards objective truth. I wonder if he got this insight intuitively.

  52. TheOtherJeffC

    12 May 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Luis, you completely missed the point. Here is the structure of Brigg’s argument:

    (1) Either morality is democratically decided, or it is not.
    (2) Those who argue that NC got it wrong typically argue that democracy decides questions of morality.
    (3) But in this case, they argue that democracy produced the wrong result.
    (4) Therefore, they must believe in a moral standard *other* than democracy.
    (5) Which means that they, themselves, take the negative position on (1), even while arguing in favor of (2).
    (6) Which means that they are hypocrites.

    That’s the entire point of the article: People who want to decide morality by democracy, AND who argue that NC got this wrong, are hypocritical; and they should therefore reconsider their beliefs.

    Now, Briggs, you missed an option for the people you describe. It could be that they are cynically deriding the democratic process in NC for the purpose of trying to influence polls elsewhere, so that democracy can produce the outcome they desire. But no one would every be so base…

  53. Jeff, no I did not miss the point. Here’s what Briggs has to offer us on his other post to which he links here:

    The dominant thinking is that morality should be decided by vote. This follows from the premise that there is no universal moral truth or authority.

    Well I’m sorry but it doesn’t follow like that at all. And that’s the point Briggs is missing.

    You, it seems, would also fail hard at this level:

    (2) Those who argue that NC got it wrong typically argue that democracy decides questions of morality.

    Define “typical”. If by “typical” you mean “practically no one but some marginal weirdos” then you might be right. But that’s not the usual english dictionary I usually use. I’m also pretty aware of your ridiculous slant against anyone who is against “democracy” in its most stupid way. Well I’ll be damned but I don’t view “democracy” or “culture” as something that is solely decided by a single vote, and I pity every intellect who does.

  54. Luis” Bill Clinton would have loved to have you on his team, deciding what the meaning of “is” is. You argue for arguments sake, which is OK, but also boringl.

  55. TheOtherJeffC

    13 May 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Luis, you lost me here: I’m also pretty aware of your ridiculous slant against anyone who is against “democracy” in its most stupid way.

    You don’t know me, and you aren’t aware of any slants that I have.

    But today is your lucky day, in that you can learn one for future reference:

    I have a huge slant against bad argumentation posing as good. Farewell, Luis, and best wishes for your learning how to construct cogent arguments.

  56. Isn’t it interesting how we fool ourselves into thinking that we derive our biases logically?

  57. Mack, YES.

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