Thursday, December 04, 2008

Morality, Law and the Gay Marriage debate

I care about the quality of the debate on gay marriage. I value more the words of a thoughtful person who disagrees than a thoughtless person who agrees. I support the limitation of the word "marriage" to one male - one female unions, so I do support some form of a ban on "gay marriage" though not on civilly recognized gay unions. I am intellectually honest enough to admit that I am imposing my moral view on others. I am also convinced that those who support it are imposing their moral view on me.

That said, I don't think that the gay marriage movement as a whole has achieved the full measure of intellectual honesty as to what it wants. The gay marriage advocates say that hetero-only marriage advocates are imposing their morality on others while the gay marriage crowd is not imposing a morality but simply acknowledging a fundamental human right. I'm not saying that the gay marriage movement is being intentionally dishonest in this regard, rather that the gay marriage movement needs to admit that it is imposing a moral view on society.

A morality is, at its core, based on a view of human design. The moral precepts of what is right and wrong then flow from this basic assumption of our design. As for the law and morality, there is more complex relationship between the two that many people acknowledge. The law enforces that aspect of morality that is considered necessary and fundamental for people to co-exist. Most people agree on the fundamentals and may quibble over the legal details. For example, most people believe that theft is fundamentally wrong and may disagree over how the law should be applied or how other competing fundamental ideas should be negotiated in regard to the laws against theft.

It is in a dispute over what is and what isn’t "fundamental" that puts the law in the center of a fundamental moral debate. When there is dispute as to what is fundamental, the law that must choose one moral vision over another. Those who have a view of what is fundamental on the wrong side of the law will feel that the law imposing a moral system. If there is enough of a chasm of disagreement some form of conflict or even war is inevitable. If you have a moral system that believes in the fundamental need to sacrifice young children on an altar, the American system of law will gladly and forcibly impose a moral system on you, with the force of the military if necessary.

In regard to gay marriage, I’m not saying that gay marriage will cause armed conflict, but that the issue of gay marriage is such a moral pivot point in the law that one party will feel that a morality is being imposed on them. The gay marriage advocates do not admit they are legally imposing a moral view on the grounds that what they are proposing is fundamental. The problem is that the question of what is fundamental is being debated. In this context, declaring that their view is "fundamental" is a way of claiming victory in a moral debate without fully admitting that they are in a moral debate. This elision from A) not admitting that they are promoting a moral view to B) declaring victory in the moral debate is a consequence of sloganeering, trying to condense a moral debate that they have not fully acknowledged that they are having into sound bites.

The overt rhetoric of the gay marriage movement is that marriage between any two willing parties is a fundamental right, but that is only the "bright side of the moon" of their moral view. The full moon is this: the gay marriage advocates have a fundamental moral view that there are no consequential differences between a gay marriage and a hetero marriage. From this flows the moral imperative that each must be seen as equal in every meaningful way. Gay marriage is a right of design and to believe otherwise to have an "un-fundamental" and "idiosyncratic" belief that must be sealed away from its intrusion into society where "fundamental" beliefs must have the day.

This was the moral vision of the black civil rights movement that there are no consequential racial differences. Since the vast majority of us agree with the black civil rights movement, it can be hard to see the force of the legal pivot that was created to wrench people out of their racial bigotry and/or their ability to practice it. For those people, the law was very much a force that was imposing a moral system on them.

It is in the comparison to the black civil rights movement that the gay marriage moral vision is available to be plainly seen even if it is not always stated as boldly as it needs to be by the gay marriage advocates. The gay marriage movement wants the law to catch up to and validate its moral vision so that the when the law enforces certain aspects of morality, which it does, it will enforce the moral vision of the gay marriage movement and not the moral vision of the anti-gay marriage movement. The law will, to a certain extent, enforce moral thought.

If I may digress. In regard to the question of what is and isn't fundamental, I have wrested with the question of how and where law and morality do and do not overlap. Even though I consider believing in Jesus fundamental to my moral system, I do not consider it fundamental for a person to believe in Jesus to be able to function in civil society and therefore do not make it law to believe in Jesus. Rather, I join a self selected group known as a church who have their own ways of rewarding Jesus-belief with a certain hierarchy of preference and privilege.

My belief in Jesus is an "idiosyncratic" belief that must be, in a certain sense, kept in a sphere separate from public discourse, even as my belief in Jesus may have a great gravitational force of influence on my public discourse. In a similar manner I allow people to drink legally in a wider society though I don't condone it in my self-selected circle. Society can only make laws on alcohol to protect people when there is certain degree of verifiable harm caused to themselves and others.

Is the belief in hetero-marriage exclusivity aka “man-woman exceptionalism” a religious belief that belongs in the compartment of creeds, away from all civil society, wherein its claims to harm are too unprovable as to require laws to protect people from that harm? Or is it something that has claims on civil society? I have begun to explore these issues in other writings here and here. For this writing I'm simply trying to focus on the issue of imposing morality. I do think that there are realms of law and morality that need to be kept separate when it is possible for the law to be neutral in an area of thought, which is the case for many aspects of religious belief. There are certain aspects of differences between people and that the law must be blind to and other aspects of difference that the law is not blind to.

At what lengths will the law go to enforce "marriage blindness"? Can I have a private belief in man-woman exceptionalism as part of a church that chooses not to endorse homo marriages, while accepting a wider society that is "marriage blind"? Perhaps. But in regard to gay marriage I’m convinced that I’ve been given a choice to have my moral vision imposed on others or have a moral vision imposed on me by the force of the law.

When the law imposes a moral vision in regard to the gay marriage issue, the opposing moral vision will be the wrong end of many forms of law that interact with the public far beyond the reach of any two individuals bedroom including hate speech laws, harassment laws, textbooks, tax dollars. In the black civil rights movement when the law pivoted in favor the moral vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., the apparatus of the law and government pivoted to enforce it.

The schools were a major battle ground for enforcing the moral vision of the black civil rights movement. Of course the issue of schools was directly involved in the Civil rights legislation and is not directly involved in the Prop 8 gay marriage debate. Nevertheless, it is valid for the anti-gay marriage movement to raise the topic of schools. For the anti-Prop 8 people to say that the laws to legalizing gay marriage do not mention schools is merely a technicality to the issue.

All children, by law, must attend some sort of school, all pay tax dollars to support public schools, and not all parents have the resources to send their children somewhere other than a public school. It would take another long essay (or set of essays) to get into this in depth, but public schools are heavily invested in promoting a politically correct moral system. That imposition may not be obvious if you fully agree with it, but it's there and it's obvious if you don't agree.

Many schools have become heavy handed "zero tolerance" zones where judiciousness for common sense and age-appropriate punishment can suffer. For example, I care greatly about schools dealing with bully behavior including those who would bully a gay person, but zero tolerance one-size-fits all sledge-hammer on-a-gnat policies are scary and often lopsided in their application. In this Alice and Wonderland, schools have been capable of trying to remove the title of “winner” and “loser” from sporting games, prosecuting young boys with age adult sex offender laws for harassing girls, suspending a child for drawing a gun on a piece of paper, and changing their name to remove Thomas Jefferson from the name of their school by being so concerned that Jefferson owned slaves that they do not recognize the value of what he did contribute to U.S. history. It would not surprise me when various zero-tolerance policies come into effect to expunge all that is not agreeable to the moral vision of the gay marriage advocates in schools.

A consequence of not admitting that they intend to impose a moral vision has meant that the gay marriage movement has been eliding between two elements of it’s rhetoric: A) that it simply wants to expand a limited legal freedom that will impose nothing on outsiders (how is Adam and Steve's getting married going to affect your marriage?) and B) that it sees itself in the tradition of the black civil rights movement wherein the law was completely re-arranged to enforce the black civil rights fundamental moral vision via a whole suite of laws including affirmative action, hate laws, discrimination laws, etc...

The goal to impose a moral vision is also indicated by those who have the gay marriage moral vision who consider it "hate" to not have that vision. This ups the ante beyond saying "I disagree with your belief that man-woman exceptionalism has any legal claim structure of society". The accusation of "hate" is another way of declaring victory in a moral debate without fully admitting that one is in a moral debate . You don’t have to acknowledge the debate if you simply dismiss those who disagree as being haters, like mere barking dogs or mere lunatics being frightened by phantasms. It is the charge of "hate" that most strongly betrays a goal not merely to allow for a moral salad bowl where gay marriage is simply legal, but to force the idea of man-woman exceptionalism out of the public sphere as much as possible with the force of law.

For the gay marriage advocates to fully present their opinions out in the open the need do the following:

A) As Martin Luther King, Jr. unequivocal stated (with a different choice of words, of course) that there were no consequential racial differences, the gay marriage advocates need to declare unequivocally, "This is my moral vision. There are absolutely no consequential/important differences between a homo marriage and a hetero marriage"

B) Instead of accusing the anti-gay marriage as being the only party imposing a morality, the gay marriage movement needs to say "I believe that my moral vision is the correct moral vision to be considered as "fundamental" and want the law to impose my moral vision because I think that my moral vision is right and yours is wrong. I want the apparatus of the law to use every means at its disposal to enforce this moral vision as the law does for every other moral vision that is within the law".

No comments: