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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gay marriage, liberty, and religious freedom

The meaning of a word like "marriage" has at least two important uses. The first is for purely legal or technical purposes. The word "pickle," for example, has a precise meaning within the North American Free Trade Agreement. It has to have a certain angle in the curve, else it doesn't count as a "pickle." This meaning is a technical meaning.

The second is to communicate our meaning in ordinary conversations to others. And the meaning of words is determined by nothing other than custom and convention (except in France, where they actually have a central committee that rules on what words are "official" French words). The details are a bit messy, but a good heuristic or rule of thumb is the one employed by the Oxford English Dictionary: "...any word can be included which appears five times, in five different printed sources, over a period of five years."

At the moment, the word "marriage" is typically reserved for one man and one woman. That's what you'll discover if you look it up on dictionary.com. But the fourth entry down reads: "a relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife, without legal sanction: trial marriage; homosexual marriage." Since many jurisdictions are beginning to give it legal sanction, this definition is outdated.

But the semantic argument is irrelevant to what really matters. It is difficult to find persuasive an argument that relies on the sanctity of a word. Words do not have a sanctity. What they signify or mean might have sanctity, but the arbitrary assemblage of letters (when written) or sounds (when spoken) are only of instrumental value or worth. That's as true of "marriage" as it is of curse words -- we get offended at the f-word, but we're wrong to get offended when the word is merely mentioned, rather than used (for this distinction, see here. For a more complicated distinction that captures something roughly similar, see this discussion of de re and de dicto).

What really matters is not the argument about the word, but the argument about whether or not social institutions, whether public or private, ought to give their blessing to a contractual union of something other than one man and one woman. Whether two men or two women ought also to be granted the opportunity to enter a contract like this.

There are a few possible views here. For one, we might think that the whole thing should be a non-governmental affair. It isn't part of the government's job to sanctify or give their blessings to this sort of contract. The decision should be left to non-governmental organizations. The state can step in only to uphold contracts signed by private parties, but not to either encourage or prevent the formation of these contracts.

I'm most sympathetic with this view. I don't see a very pressing reason for the state to be in the business of marriage. And I can't figure out why people insist that the government either frown or applaud when it comes to something like this. If the government should do anything, it's to ensure that the contract follows the five requirements of ordinary contract law -- offer and acceptance; consideration; an intention to create legal relations; legal capacity; formalities.

Assuming that the state will be involved, we might wonder whether or not the state should approve of gay marriage. Here the options are plain: The government can approve of gay marriage, disapprove of it, or offer a third option, like civil unions, that don't get to the level of full-blown "marriage."

If the state is going to be involved, I think the best arguments point in favour of giving approval to gay marriage. But I don't want to argue that point here. I'm happy to do it in the comments, or at another time. Instead, I want to alleviate a concern that opponents of gay marriage have when it comes to permitting gay marriage. Specifically, some people argue that permitting gay marriage is a violation of liberty, of religious freedom in particular.

The claim that gay marriage, itself, is a violation of our liberty is only true if we think that provinces or states ought to have this "liberty." But collective liberties, which is what they are, are a strange conceptual creature. Just what sort of thing is a "collective liberty" anyway?

Maybe there is a clear sense of this when we talk about our freedom to pick a political representative. Here, each of us individually enter the polling booth, and we, each of us, agree to be bound by the outcome. Neither you nor I alone determine who gets to be our representative, but those of us who do vote do get to determine this collectively. And this does get to count as a political liberty, and by extension, we can consider it as an instance of a "collective liberty."

Supposing we do end up thinking that "collective liberty" is a perfectly sensible concept, the real issue becomes a matter of drawing a line appropriately. And it's hard to draw the appropriate boundaries around a "collective liberty." It might be fine in the case of selecting politicians, but it becomes fuzzy, and sometimes dangerous, to extend our endorsement of a "collective liberty" outside of those boundaries.

It's dangerous because there really ought to be a sacred sphere the government, even with majority approval, should not have the opportunity to touch. We shouldn't have a vote on whether or not the Western Standard should have published cartoons of Muhammad, for example. That decision ought to be made by those who are put in charge of that private property, in our case, the publisher. That's our business, not the state's, nor the public's. We shouldn't have a vote on what Jimmy can eat, or when he ought to exercise. That's his business, not ours. And I think the same holds true of gay marriage -- we shouldn't have a say in whether or not Adam and Steve or Adama and Eve can get married.

These issues are not collective liberty issues, they are individual liberty issues. Adam and Steve should decide individually whether or not they should enter a marriage contract together. The rest of us shouldn't have the power to intervene in that private sphere, even if a referendum were proposed.

Should Adam and Steve be permitted to get married in a church? That, too, should not be up to us. That should be up to Adam, Steve, and the particular church they approach. There are a number of churches that want to marry homosexuals, after all. Why not let Adam and Steve find a willing church for their wedding?

We might choose to go to another church or try to boycott the church or try to get the priests excommunicated from whatever denomination they belong to. All of that is part and parcel of our liberty -- our liberty to complain, to go elsewhere, to raise a fuss, and to try to persuade private organizations, like religious denominations, to see our side of things. But we shouldn't try to get the government involved to police these sorts of things. That should not be government business.

A lot of liberals argue for the separation of church and state. They don't want the church to influence politics. I think a lot of religious people should be arguing for the separation of state and church. They should be arguing that politics should not influence the church.

Here's a nice video that captures a lot of what I've said above, and hints at what I will say below (h/t: Will Wilkinson, who is now, and always has been, a Canadian. Really!):

My old highschool, Monsignor John Pereyma, is part of the Roman Catholic Separate School Board system. My former highschool accepts money in the form of taxes. There is no exemption on the forms for homosexuals or non-Roman Catholics. If you're gay, an atheist, a Jew, or a Protestant, you have to pay taxes that fund Roman Catholic schools in Ontario. If you think that's ridiculous, that taxpayers either shouldn't have to pay for Roman Catholic schools in Ontario, or every variety of school should have access to the same funds (through a voucher system, say), then we agree.

In the late '90s or early '00s, a gay student wanted to bring his boyfriend to the prom. The school said he couldn't, because that went against their beliefs. The student sued on the grounds that, if the school accepts government money, then it is bound by political anti-discrimination laws, and won. He should have won. If you accept money from taxpayers, then you cannot shield yourself from politics.

Arguing for the separation of state and church means saying "no" not just when the state shows up at your door to enforce political correctness, but also when the state shows up with money in hand. That money is the key that permits the state into private institutions to help determine their code of conduct, and the manner in which it will operate. That money, after all, comes from us, involuntarily, and our only method of controlling our money is through the political process. If you don't take my money, then what you do is less of my business. I'm left with the tools of persuasion, rather than the tools of the state.

Religious freedom is not a collective liberty, it is a private liberty. Religious freedom is the freedom each of us has to choose whatever religion we'd like, or none at all. It is also the freedom for private churches to make up their own minds about how they will worship, and what codes they will uphold. And those churches (better: congregations) have religious freedom when they individually, and not by a vote of all churches in a given jurisdiction, determine what will be done within the confines of their doors.

And here's where it gets interesting: Prohibiting gay marriage violates the religious freedom of those churches and congregations that want to marry homosexuals. The state tells them that they cannot. The state tells them that they cannot do this, even if they think that it is consistent with their faith and their manner of worship to provide this service to gays who want to get married.

Should gay marriage be permitted? I think so. It really is a terrible violation of individual liberty to keep Adam and Steve from entering a voluntary, contractual relationship like that.

Should churches be forced to marry homosexuals? I don't think so. It would be a terrible violation of their individual, private liberty to determine the manner in which they choose to express their religious devotion.

All of which is to say that all of us should be fighting to keep the state out of our lives as much as possible. Once upon a time, social conservatives who oppose gay marriage were the politically favoured group. It would have been good if, from that perch, they had renounced their political power in favour of a greater private sphere, in favour of greater individual liberty.

Some did. And good for them. They can proudly say that they always supported individual liberty against the state. That they supported the individual liberty of gays, and the religious freedom of churches that were willing to marry them, even if they did not approve of homosexuality and were opposed to gay marriage.

The tide is turning, and social conservatives are becoming more and more the politically disempowered group. It would be good if the gay community renounced their new-found, and growing, political power. If they agreed not to push for laws that might force churches and private institutions to marry them, or to rent halls to them.

Some are doing this. The gay Toronto-community newspaper Xtra, for example, hasn't forgotten what it was like to be politically disempowered. They are fierce defenders of freedom of expression, and opponents of section 13 of Canada's Human Rights Act. And, really, good for them. They have an opportunity to exact vengeance, and they are not taking that opportunity. And that is deeply admirable.

But too many, on both sides, are clamouring for the power of the state. They care not a lick for liberty, and are grasping to wield the giant hammer of the state. They want to crush their opposition, and make them live lives according to their vision of the good. They can't seem to sleep at night knowing that their neighbour is busy living her life in her own way, and according to her own lights. And this is not admirable; it is despicable.

We really should agree to clamour less for the power of the state, and resort only to the power of persuasion. True, you can't call the police if your neighbour offends your religious convictions -- whether realized in the form of unflattering cartoons of your prophet, or a gay marriage ceremony -- but they won't be able to call the police when you practice yours. It's not exactly liberty as a modus vivendi, and I suppose you can call it liberty as détente.

I prefer to call it liberty as decency.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on April 23, 2009 | Permalink

Comments

Pete,

This is bloody brilliant. I've said some of these things before myself, but you say them better -- and, probably, more respectfully.

Well done! Well done, indeed!

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-04-22 11:01:24 PM


Second, Terrence. An absolutely fantastic article.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-22 11:28:21 PM


What an excellent piece of writing. So well stated. I hope this article gets out to other blogs and sites, it needs to be seen by many.

Posted by: Sarah | 2009-04-22 11:33:52 PM


Jaworski, you dumb fuck! Your long-winded overly intellectualizing simple truths will not change them. God hates fags and their faggy ways and decent people side with God. Our governements must do the same. I know it. you know it. Hell, even Miss Titsy California knows it! End of story.

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But seriously ... If you have not seen Stephen Colbert's interview of Douglas Kmiec, check it here: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/224791/april-16-2009/douglas-kmiec or here: http://watch.thecomedynetwork.ca/the-colbert-report/interviews-a-z/#clip160708

Colbert points out (and Kmiec waffles) that the State "getting out of the marriage business" and replacing it with contracts means that there is no reason to object to such contracts involving more than two people - trios, quads, or more - meaning he should support the equivalent to polygamy. Kmiec, like most religios, won't have that, even in a non-marriage contract system.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-04-22 11:36:24 PM


Fact Check,

I hadn't seen that one.

If the state got out of the marriage business, I'm not sure what they argument would be against multi-party "marriage" contracts.

If the state's entirely out, that means no tax breaks or other special benefits. Of course, there might be pseudo-consequentialist justifications for forbidding such contracts, but I doubt they'd hold up.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-04-23 12:03:45 AM


While I think polygamy and polyandry is something of a separate issue, I do think that most of the concerns about these forms of contract can be dealt with by ensuring that the five requirements of contract law are upheld, and by ensuring that already existing laws against violence are also.

Underage girls (or boys) would be out because it would violate the 4th requirement. Violence would be out because violence is already illegal.

But I hope this doesn't turn into a discussion of polygamy and polyandry. I hope we stick to gay marriage between two women or two men.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-04-23 12:23:12 AM


Jaws,

Me too. I was just thinking that I didn't want to get things off topic with my comment. Feel free to delete it, if you want.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-04-23 12:45:06 AM


So the state should get out of the business of marriage. Agreed.

Conservative churches should not be forced to marry gays, nor should liberal churches be prevented from doing so. Agreed.

And until the state is out of the business of marriage, there should be no restrictions on marriage arrangements, notwithstanding the usual restrictions on and requirements for contracts. Okay. But you seem to be arguing here that liberty demands equality under the law even when the law is unjust. I struggle with this point.

Also, have you given any thought to what all of this might mean to society? No impact, positive impact, negative impact? Or does it matter?

Even if the impact is negative, justice might demand that the definition of marriage is expanded. I'm just curious if you have a view on this.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 2:00:07 AM


It is truly time for Canada to seperate Church and State. Many, many EU countries have done so with great success.

For churches and religions (as well as special interest groups) it means NO taxpayer funds used to support them via Charity status or other Tax Free Breaks.

Go Secular.

Posted by: The LS from Sk | 2009-04-23 8:09:40 AM


Good questions, Matthew.

"But you seem to be arguing here that liberty demands equality under the law even when the law is unjust. I struggle with this point."

I didn't mean to do that. I do think that everyone should be treated equally under the law, but as a separate principle, not one that is derived from liberty.

"Also, have you given any thought to what all of this might mean to society? No impact, positive impact, negative impact? Or does it matter? Even if the impact is negative, justice might demand that the definition of marriage is expanded. I'm just curious if you have a view on this."

I have. And here's what I think: A certain proportion of the population is gay. That proportion is determined by a genetic lottery. The number of gays will remain a tiny fraction of the total population. So the number of gay marriages will always be a tiny fraction of all marriages. So it is difficult to believe that gay marriage could even have a large impact on marriage in general.

Catholics marry Protestants, blacks marry whites, Jews marry Muslims, tall people marry short people, fat ones marry thin ones, etc. and the negative impact on society from permitting the marriages? None that I can see.

If the concern is about children and adoption, then I would be more sympathetic, but that horse has already left the barn. Gay couples can already adopt. So permitting gay marriage will not change the status quo, at least with respect to children.

But, overall, it seems to me as though gay marriage would have positive societal effects.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-04-23 8:42:08 AM


The concept of separation of church and state is not new.

‘Render onto Ceasar what is Ceasar's; render onto God what is God's."

In the modern context of the US Constitution, it means the state cannot impose an ‘official' religion on its populace and that all individuals are free to define their own religious beliefs.

Under that definition, the state has no right to appropriate a term that is a codification of a concept that was used to assure children has a societal structure that brought some stability.

Caring for somebody else's child, through adoption for example, is not quite the same as caring for a biological child.

In my view, the state is imposing its religion (belief system) onto an understanding that's none of their business.

That definitely is a negative encroachment onr societal stability as we continue our downard ‘progress' into an upcoming dark age of muddled morality.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-04-23 9:21:01 AM


Jaws,

"But I hope this doesn't turn into a discussion of polygamy and polyandry. I hope we stick to gay marriage between two women or two men."

I don't think that's really possible. When one asks whether homosexuals can be denied marriage, it naturally raises the question of what the legitimate boundaries are for who can and cannot be denied marriage. Just about everyone thinks there are good reasons to disallow children from marriage and to disallow people from marrying animals. And just about everyone now thinks that disallowing inter-racial marriage is not legitimate. By asking the question of whether or not homosexuals can be denied marriage, the reasons offered might naturally extend to multiple marriages. If one defends SSM on the grounds that one must do so to respect religious freedom, then the fact that some religions have multiple marriages is a part of the discussion, whether that is acknowledged or not.

Colbert's point about contracts is also quite important. Anyone who seriously suggests that the state get out of the marriage business and that it be replaced with personal committment contracts needs to provide a rationale for why such contracts should only be allowed between two people and not more. The issue is there whether it is discussed or not. In fact, since polygamy is a crime, getting out of the marriage business for the government does mean that the state must take a different stand than it currently does on polygamy - a more approving one. So the issue is there.

[PS - This is really an anal point to make, but to say "polygamy and polyandry" is redundant. Polyandry is a proper subset of polygamy. The word specifically for men who have multiple wives is 'polygyny'.]

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-04-23 9:27:09 AM


Adultery seems like it is having a lot bigger impact om marriage than gay marriage is. Seems most straight marriages are lucky to last 10 years before one spouse or the other is screwing around and the marriage ends in divorce, and the kids are the ones that pay the price.

I know we don't want to turn this into a polygamy dicussion, but I really have to wonder why it is anyone else's business if all the people involved in the polygamist relationship are happy with their particular situation. For example if two bisexual women and one straight guy choose that they want to be together, and all agree to be exclusive to each other, why is it the state's business to deny them the right to marry each other?

In all situations adults should be allowed to make consensual decisions that do not harm others without any interference from the state.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2009-04-23 9:29:35 AM


I just wanted to add that I completely support the right of any church or religious organization to refuse to marry ANYONE for ANY reason.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2009-04-23 9:30:59 AM


There's far too much agreement here and unfortunately, I happen to agree with it. I'm still not satisfied that sheep can't get in on this somehow and while we're separating church and state, lets go the extra mile and separate education and state.

Do I here a second? all those in favour,,, carried!

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-04-23 10:05:33 AM


I'm in favour of the separation of of education and state.

The reason that sheep (and all other animals) don't get in on this is because of the five requirements of contract law -- animals don't meet a single requirement! Not a one. They can't give consideration, they can't agree, they don't have legal capacity, and so on.

You can't marry an animal because marriage is a contract, and no animal can be party to a contract (contracts can be made *about* animals, but the animals cannot be a party *to* the contract).

Fact Check: I agree that it is a part of this debate, but polygamy (I'm assuming you're right about the language here) can be treated distinctly. True, the arguments I've presented logically extend to cases of polygamy (meaning of the word, religious freedom, nature of contract, etc.). And I've already stated my views on the issue, and given reasons to help alleviate at least some of the concerns about polygamy (violence and underage children being a party to the contract).

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-04-23 10:18:43 AM


"I do think that everyone should be treated equally under the law, but as a separate principle, not one that is derived from liberty."

Interesting. I would add equality under the law to the bundle of rights that make up the notion of liberty. You argue it is a separate principle. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in your statement that equality is not "derived from liberty," but I'm still unclear. It's probably important to the law making process for lawmakers to know that whatever laws they create, they are subject to those laws equally. Is that it? Is that a Rawlsian thing? It makes sense.

Also, just to be clear, this principle of equality under the law should apply to unjust laws, in your view. Natives, for example, should be made to pay taxes? Gays and lesbians should have equal access to state-sanctioned marriage?

Perhaps you would argue that equality under the law, even an unjust law, is important when the subject of the discrimination (the inequality) would gain some positive or negative liberty from the reform? Gays and lesbians would gain access to marriage and the feeling of inclusion that would likely come from that. Natives would gain nothing from being taxed, on the other hand, so perhaps the inequality here should be ignored.

I look forward to learning something from your answer.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 10:22:53 AM


Jaws:

Kiss of death, but I found this a very good piece indeed.

I do find it difficult to imagine what a multi-party contract of marriage would look like, I must admit. Not that it's impossible. But so long as consent is secured, what's the problem?

Get the state out of marriage. Civil unions for all, and let churches, mosques and synagogues and whatever, decide whom they wish to bless. Makes sense to me, and always has.

Posted by: Dr.Dawg | 2009-04-23 10:29:08 AM


I don't have a settled opinion about equality under the law. In principle, I think we all (including politicians) should be equal under the law. However, there may be relevant differences between persons that make the law apply to one group, rather than another, differently. So, for example, laws relating to what persons can do while pregnant do, in effect, only apply to women.

The case that natives make for exempt status or special treatment has to do with a story about compensation for past injustice. My children, for example, might be entitled to compensation if I am unjustly deprived of my income, or have something taken from me by the state. For Natives, they are applying a strange concept of compensation (one that I disagree with) to this case. So it isn't that they are treated unequally under the law *because* they're native, but because they are owed compensation for past injustices.

That's one possibility. An alternative argument that I've sometimes seen is this: The law that applies to Natives is different than the one that applies to other Canadians for the same reason that diplomats and foreigners are treated differently under at least some laws. They don't count as "Canadians" in the relevant sense for the law to apply to them. I think this is false as well.

My thinking about unjust laws is this: They should be ignored and opposed. But sometimes second-best is the best we can do. In this second-best world, we have a violation of liberty. It is because laws against gay marriage violate both individual liberty as well as the religious freedom of those churches that want to marry gays that I oppose laws against gay marriage.

I don't have a settled view about this matter, but I think most people are going to see equality under the law as a default principle, that can be outweighed by other considerations (like a theory of compensation, some consequentialist story, a theory about what has jurisdiction and sovereignty over what group of people, and so on). But to outweigh the default position, we need good reasons.

So if I have a position on equality under the law (and I don't think I made an argument to this effect... I only argued on the basis of liberty, not equality under the law, although the outcome of the argument for liberty will amount to, but is not the same as, equality under the law) it is this: If you want to treat people differently under the law, then the onus is on you to demonstrate what the difference is that would justify different treatment. It is not on those who would merely want the state to treat all citizens formally the same.

I hope I'm not being pedantic or anal. Let me know if I'm not being at all clear.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-04-23 10:42:40 AM


Matthew,

Joel Feinberg makes a useful distinction that Jaws might have in mind. And if he doesn't have it in mind, it's still somewhat important.

Feinberg distinguishes between comparative and non-comparative justice. Comparative justice involves treating "like cases alike and different cases differently." Non-comparative justice involves ensuring that individuals get what they deserve, or are entitled to.

Suppose we all agree that taxation is theft: it illegitimately extracts wealth from those who earned it, violating their property rights.

This means that taxation is unjust, even in the non-comparative sense. However, as long as the tax policy doesn't arbitrarily discriminate, it may not be unjust in the comparative sense. For example, a flat tax, even a high flat tax, seems to treat likes alike, even though it's just as illegitimate as any other kind of income tax.

But Feinberg's distinction gets its bite if we think of a regime in which taxes are low, but only red-headed people are obliged to pay them. For no particular reason, the law picks on the red heads.

This regime would be better in terms of non-comparative justice -- more people are being left with what they deserve -- but worse in the comparative sense (since likes are not being treated alike: morally, there's no difference between a blond and a redhead.)

Which regime is morally better, all things considered? I'm not sure. I'm just pointing out that there are two kinds of justice, and that they can conflict sometimes. Ideally, we should want both.

At the same time, I think I can see why Pete didn't try to derive equality under the law -- surely an example of comparative justice -- from the fundamental right to liberty -- a substantive part of what we're entitled to, under non-comparative justice.

They're both important, but they're both distinct, too.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-04-23 10:50:27 AM


"My thinking about unjust laws is this: They should be ignored and opposed." - PJ

That's not your thinking. You regard marriage laws as unjust laws -- they interfere with private contracts -- yet you want to expand the scope of these laws to accommodate an endless possibility of social arrangements, as long as those arrangements comply with normal contract law.

Rather than ignore this injustice, you want to expand this injustice -- and with it the scope and power of the state in sanctioning relationships.

This issue of equality under the law is central to this discussion, as I understand it. Otherwise, all you've done here is repeat the line that the state should not be in the marriage business, and churches should be free from compulsion, something all libertarians fully accept.

It's how we handle the status quo that's challenging and interesting and very, very newsy as we saw with the stir Hilton caused.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 10:56:13 AM


And you're not being pedantic or anal at all.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 10:59:11 AM


Perez HIlton's reaction to Miss California's honest answer should be an object lesson about totalitarian methods to stifle free speech.

Instead of accepting her honest answer, Hilton's judgemental response (other than name0calling her a dumb bitch), comprised of a litany of ‘she should have said this' or ‘she would have been better saying that.'

It's Perez Hilton's response that shows the radical left ore than compensates its lack of moral compass with a repuslive form of judgementalism.

The fact this guy was a judge of a female beauty contest seems somewhat a mis-cast.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-04-23 12:38:22 PM


Perez HIlton's reaction to Miss California's honest answer should be an object lesson about totalitarian methods to stifle free speech.

This is not a lesson in totalitarianism at all. This is an example of a open, cultural and social discourse. No different from any other discourse.

The women's suffragette movement was the object of scorn and condemnation by the mainstream culture, as were whites who supported legally equality for blacks.

Miss California has been on every major news network (sometimes multiple times) in order to explain her side of the argument. And in most cases, there was not a single representative from the gay community to contrast her views.

Only a fool would try and call a situation like this "totalitarian". It's insulting to the intelligence of everyone involved. And it devalues the word itself.

You live in a world where not everyone is going to accept your views. I have gone on university campuses and argued in favour of capitalism, only to be shouted down and called "evil". And even in that case, I'm not dishonest enough to use the word "totalitarian", because as soon as I walked out the doors of that room and into the rest of the world, I felt perfectly free to have my views.

The fact that Christian conservatives even try to tell the world they are oppressed by virtue of government allowing same-sex couples to enter into legal marriage is insulting.

You used the argument earlier that religion essentially owns the concept of marriage and the government has no right to change what it means. So do I take it that you think the government should stop sanctioning all marriages? If you believe that marriage is a purely religious institution, then you should also be against atheists and agnostics marrying. And at the very least, the separation of church and state would dictate that there be no legal sanction, beyond the types of private contracts that Jaws proposed, to marriage.

Would you be okay with that? Because if you believe that marriage is a religious institution, and you believe the government should sanction it, then you are inherently against the separation of church and state? Are you?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 1:18:27 PM


Mike:

I hope this unwarranted hostility is not a case of your meds wearing off.

Yes, the state would be better served by coming up with its own word, say, civil unions.

That would at least show some creativity.

The state, of course, has the power to define property and inheritance rights ... which according to my dictionary, are undefined under the word ‘marriage.'

That definition includes the phrase ‘often to have children.'

When the day comes somebody can scientifically prove to me the sexual liaison of Perez Hiton and his boyfriend can naturally create children, then I wlll be at the front of the parade to call for gay ‘marriage.'

Any questions, big boy?


Posted by: set you free | 2009-04-23 1:36:26 PM


Yes. I have several questions actually.

If marriage is purely about procreation, then why may infertile couples marry?

Also, why is divorce permitted?

Why is it preferable to leave children un-adopted in orphanages as opposed to allowing same-sex couples to adopt. Yes, in some states, as many as 1/3 of children are never adopted and grow up in group homes or orphanges.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 1:48:59 PM


Correction: that's 1/3 of orphaned children. Not all children.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 1:51:11 PM


I dunno. Why do infertile couples marry? What if only one is infertile? What if they didn't know one or both were infertile? I guess that's covered in the ‘often to have children.'

Divorce? Sometimes things don't work out, just like in any human relationship.

Life's not fair, get used to it.

Any other questions?

I got one for you.

Why are the majority of gays against the concept of gay marriage?

Posted by: set you free | 2009-04-23 2:09:08 PM


Why are the majority of gays against the concept of gay marriage?

Evidence?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 2:10:40 PM


This is not a lesson in totalitarianism at all. This is an example of a open, cultural and social discourse. No different from any other discourse.

It may not be totalitarianism but it is certainly coerced by the state. There is no freedom of association. Excluding gays from a heterosexual event is verboten.

The women's suffragette movement was the object of scorn and condemnation by the mainstream culture, as were whites who supported legally equality for blacks.

Isn't that freedom? Blacks were equally free to exclude whites as whites were to exclude blacks. It's the fundamental tenet of a free society.

The fact that Christian conservatives even try to tell the world they are oppressed by virtue of government allowing same-sex couples to enter into legal marriage is insulting.

The point being that the principle of same-sex marriage in Canada is founded upon, not freedom, but state coercion. And further, as in the case of Rev. Boission, it is the state that limits any "condemnation" by gagging, monetary penalty and threat of incarceration.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-04-23 2:11:30 PM


Mike:

Prove me wrong.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-04-23 2:21:41 PM


set you free,

That's not how it works. You asserted something as being true. When you do this, it is your responsibility to prove that what you say is true. It is not the responsibility of someone to disprove it.

The burden of proof is always on the person making the statement.

If you are unwilling to back up the claim that most gays and lesbians are against same-sex marriage, then it is safe for me to assume the claim is baseless and therefore immaterial to the discussion. Therefore, it is not something that I must respond to, or explain.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 2:33:12 PM


set you free,

I assert that there is a giant peanut orbiting a star in a far away galaxy beyond the reach of any telescope. Prove me wrong.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 2:34:59 PM


set you free,

Here's some good reading material: on the subject : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 2:38:06 PM


It may not be totalitarianism but it is certainly coerced by the state. There is no freedom of association. Excluding gays from a heterosexual event is verboten.

As has been successfully rebutted many times; all of these cases are the result of the application of anti-discrimination laws. They have nothing to do with same-sex marriage.

If you are against anti-discrimination laws, and for absolute freedom of association, then that is an entirely different discussion. But if you are for absolute freedom of association, then why may same-sex couples not marry within congregations with whom they freely associate who believe the institution of marriage can be between two men or two women?

This is where any attempts to use freedom of association against same-sex marriage just simply breaks down.

No church, or religious institution has ever been forced in any jurisdiction where same-sex marriage has been legalized to officiate a marriage contrary to their personal beliefs. If you have proof to the contrary, then please present it.

Isn't that freedom? Blacks were equally free to exclude whites as whites were to exclude blacks. It's the fundamental tenet of a free society.

Sure. But once again, your problem with with anti-discrimination laws. Not same-sex marriage.

I was responding to the fact that a commenter was making the suggestion that religious people are living in the midst of a totalitarian society that is actively oppressing them. I refuted this.

Anti-discrimination laws may be objectionable on the grounds they limit freedom of association in many cases, but they have been around for about 30 years, and in fact, most religious people supported them, insofar as they were directed at preventing anti-semitism and racism. It was only when sexual orientation was entered into the mix did they become so disagreeable with the religious community. Double standards, anyone?

The point being that the principle of same-sex marriage in Canada is founded upon, not freedom, but state coercion. And further, as in the case of Rev. Boission, it is the state that limits any "condemnation" by gagging, monetary penalty and threat of incarceration.

I believe in unhindered political speech, and was strongly opposed to the case against Rev. Boisson. And so where large swaths of the gay community, as a matter of fact. Including Egale, the foremost gay and lesbian organization which supports same-sex marriage, spoke out against the prosecution of Boisson.

However, once again, things like this are disingenuously injected into the same-sex marriage debate as red herrings.

They are part and parcel of a general narrative portrayed by the religious conservative community that the gays and lesbians are going to ruin society as we know it. It is essentially homophobia. Pure and simple.

I have been an absolute activist on the free speech issue, including the rights to make racist, homophobic, and sexist comments.

However, I have held, as have other civil libertarians that limitations on freedom of association under the auspices of anti-discrimination laws may acceptable and/or justifiable. At the very least, I believe anti-discrimination laws must be a temporary measure. But should not, and cannot extend so far as to limit people's ability to hold opinions, express those opinions, and/or be legally disenfranchised because of them.

Like Peter Jaworksi and Will Wilkinson have pointed out: if you accept money from the government, you open yourself up to being bound by anti-discrimination law.

That is taxpayers money. Some of it, money that comes from gays and lesbians. And religious people who want to have their cake and eat it too, well... not much sympathy floating around my room for them.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 3:06:38 PM


"Like Peter Jaworski and Will Wilkinson have pointed out: if you accept money from the government, you open yourself up to being bound by anti-discrimination law." -- Mike Brock

That is of course true, but should it be true...or should it be the case? Does one government intervention demand another, or make way for another that should go unchallenged? For instance, should tobacco be banned as long as we have government health care in which all taxpayers are forced to pay for unhealthy behavior?

What I find most challenging about this issue -- gay marriage -- is how we move from where we are to where we want to be, while doing the least damage to individual rights in the process?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 3:24:25 PM


Mike:

OK, you win on the point that I cannot back up the statement I made with any concrete evidence.

I admit it's only hearsay evidence from a gay activist.

Sorry if he's incorrect, but I trusted him since I believed in the statement he made.

All other statements stand.

No problem with civil unions, big problems in hijacking a word and trying to redefine it...such as the word that used to mean carefree and happy that now means a type of sexual conduct.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-04-23 3:25:45 PM


That is of course true, but should it be true...or should it be the case? Does one government intervention demand another, or make way for another that should go unchallenged? For instance, should tobacco be banned as long as we have government health care in which all taxpayers are forced to pay for unhealthy behavior?

I think yes, it should generally be true. I famously outraged a bunch of people by arguing that if we are to have universal healthcare, then those who take undue risks with their health, should be consequently burdened with the increase in risk financially.

In fact, I have absolutely not problem translating the logic across to healthcare. I don't. If you're into extreme sports, where the risk of extreme injury is ever-present, then I think it's fair to say, you are unfairly burdening the taxpayer with higher risk, and you should be potentially required to pay higher taxes and/or be required to cover substantial costs associated with injury.

That being said, do I think that private organizations that accept government money, should be forced to enforce anti-discrimination principles in hiring and advocacy practices? Yes I do. It's a no brainer.

I do not have the ability to sanction the spending of the money collected from me--involuntarily--to a specific purposing. As a result, I demand and expect that when my expropriated wealth is involved, that organizations spend the money to the maximum inclusion of all in society.

If a church wants to accept a government grant to fix it's roof, then it better damn well welcome openly gay members into it's congregation. If this is a unreasonable request, then do not take money from the government. Simple. End of line. Full stop.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 3:38:30 PM


No problem with civil unions, big problems in hijacking a word and trying to redifine it ... such as the word that used to mean carefree and happy that now means a type of sexual conduct.

Nobody owns words. Words change their meaning constantly, as Peter so eloquently pointed out.

I could call myself a socialist, and be a capitalist in practice. And if enough people started doing the same thing, the word socialist would take on a different meaning over time. Hey, the Chinese are doing just that.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 3:41:03 PM


OK, if youI call me an idiot, does that mean I'm smart?

And, if I say it's sunny outside even though it's cloudy, does that mean it's sunny?

If you speak English and I speak Chinese, can we understand each other without an interpreter?

So, if somebody calls what gays do a marriage, does that make it so? And, who says so?

Communication constantly evolves to bring in descriptions of new concepts.

Marriage has been well-defined for generations and generations.

Why not use another word like cabbage?

I like it. Gay cabbage. After all, inanimate objects can't fight back.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-04-23 3:48:35 PM


set you free,

Many words with well-established meanings have changed or broadened over time.

Take the word "guru". A guru is a Hindu spiritual leader. But if I called myself a "computer guru", would you object to it's usage on the historical and traditional basis of the word?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 3:55:30 PM


Mike, I would respectfully submit that your health care example doesn't answer my question because you are proposing a sensible market-based reform -- make people pay more for high risk behavior, make them internalize the cost -- and not a further government intervention. Assuming health care is "free" for everyone, paid for via tax revenue, should measures like tobacco bans be tolerated to limit the cost to the system? I agree with your answer that some people should pay more -- like they would if they were privately insured -- but that doesn't count as a government intervention.

Your other examples do work, though. If a company takes government money they should be bound by government dictates, you argue. Or more accurately, they have no case against being bound my these dictates. They can't say: "Leave me alone. I'll do what I want with my property or business." They gave up that right when they took government money. Do I have that correct?

I don't agree with this position, by the way, for a number of reasons, but at the very least I think I understand you correctly.

I'd like to hear what Peter thinks of this position, since it's his post? We're a bit off topic, but I believe your position contains principles that apply directly to the gay marriage debate in aid of Peter's general argument.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 4:02:53 PM


I don't agree with this position for a number of reasons, but at the very least I think I understand you correctly.

What is it specifically you disagree with? I don't understand the nature of the challenge to my position.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 4:07:35 PM


The very foundation of same-sex marriage is discrimination. The doors were opened for ssm because the courts believed denial of marriage to gays was discriminatory. If there was truly an allowance for free association then ssm in a group that wishes those associations is fine, however, that is not the case. SSM came about because of state coercion, not because of free association.

Anti-discrimination laws may be objectionable on the grounds they limit freedom of association in many cases, but they have been around for about 30 years, and in fact, most religious people supported them...

This is fundamentally untrue.

Reverend Claris Silcox, the 'United Church's most vigorous and effective foe of anti-Semitism,' stated in 1941 that Canadians were justified in seeking to keep their country 'dominantly and overwhelmingly European.' Canon W.W. Judd, the Church of England's leading anti-prejudice crusader,wished to preserve the dominance of the British 'race' and British ideals in Canada. Judd urged Anglo-Saxons to have large families while also 'infusing ... British ideals into ... European compatriots.'

It's not homophobia because you do not know the outcome of a fundamental change like this upon society. It is untested social engineering. You assume no burden of proof. It was obvious, a few years ago to those who arrogantly believe their reasoning is superior to the collective wisdom of our ancestors, that single female parenthood was not deleterious. No doubt they screamed misogynist. Now science provides a bounty of evidence outlining the negative societal impact.

Limiting freedom of association just shifts the tyranny. The alleged victim simply then becomes the victimizer. State coercion is then inevitably used to suppress dissent. It is naive to expect that those who are now victimized will not seek to right the wrongs perpetrated against them.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-04-23 4:09:16 PM


Matthew,

Yes, you are correct about your interpretation of my position. But this is essentially a rehashing of and agreement with Peter's position. Hence his "separation of state and church" position, as inspired by Will Wilkinson.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 4:11:20 PM


I haven't presented my reasons yet, Mike. I just want to make sure I understand your position clearly first so that my objections are fair and not based on straw man arguments.

So do I understand your view correctly?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 4:13:16 PM


It's not homophobia because you do not know the outcome of a fundamental change like this upon society. It is untested social engineering.

I'm sorry, but I do not apply the precautionary principle on matters like this. That's absurd. Someone like you would have likely bought into the argument that "allowing women to vote, was untested social engineering".

How is disallowing same-sex couples from marrying in law, not discrimination? You assert this, repeatedly, but do not explain it any detail.

Once again, no private institution or church is being forced to officiate same-sex marriage. This is not state coercion. Who is it coercion of?

Was allowing women to vote, coercive? What about blacks?

Give me a break. You don't know the meaning of the word.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 4:14:53 PM


Matthew,

Yes, you understand me correctly.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-04-23 4:27:34 PM


Great. I'll take a second look at what Peter and Will have had to say on this matter and see if my objections hold before commenting.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-23 4:27:57 PM


"...Why not use another word like cabbage?..""

you can use cabbage to describe homosexual union, but who will understand you?

Ha ha how about :" Gayrriage" ha ha too bad it sounds like "garage" - but heck, key hetrosexual wedding terms are derived from Equestrian culture : the" Bride " =Bridle as in control her by a rope attached to her mouth // the" Groom" as in horse taker carer of-shit shoveler etc. not exactly flattering descriptors but it will do.

So homosexuals getting equal hitchin' dissin' should not mind too much being described as being united in a
" Gayrraige" roadside fuel stations with vehicle repair facilities

but the probable reason homosexual union was filed in the same who-is with-whom? folder as hetrosexual union might be because some homosexuals do not want their sexual orientation on record. ,Therefore there would be no statistics of what actual ratio of homosexuals are represented in the general population.. or where they tend to be concentrated

We have reasonable doubt that 10% of Canadians are homosexual , which the homosexual community have claimed is the likely ratio. It is likely much lower.. lack of statistics would be an excellent cover story for why a way smaller sized fringe group than one would expect has such social gravity for what is we would hope- strictly private behavior .., & considering how much pop media attention and govt funding the homosexual community has received. an accurate head count would dry up sympathy and subsidy overnight.

Posted by: 419 | 2009-04-23 4:28:41 PM



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