Government interest in marriage, particularly same sex marriage
A thought just occurred to me.
My daughter has become a same sex marriage advocate. A couple of weeks ago, we were in the car, and I wanted to find out how much she had thought about it. So I asked her what arguments she knew for same sex marriage and what arguments she knew against it. Naturally, she had more to say in favour of it than against it, so I raised some issues against it to see how she would respond.
First, I asked her why she thought the government was interested in marriage at all. After all, there are different kinds of relationships--the relationship between a man and a woman, the relationship between siblings, the relationship between business partners, and the relationship between friends. So I asked her why the government would issue a license for a marriage, but not for BFF's (best friends forever).
She wasn't sure, so I pointed out the fact that the government is interested in the good of society. Society is made up of people. And where do people come from? A man and a woman. And that's the only place people come from. Same sex couples are incapable of producing people, so the government has no interest in licensing that kind of relationship. The government does have an interest in protecting, encouraging, and incentivizing the relationship between a man and a woman, but they have no such interest in the relationship between same sex couples.
Grace had a quick reply to that. She pointed out that a lot of opposite sex couples are incapable of having children. She was using a reductio ad absurdum. My argument had been based on the premise that the government should only issue a license to couples capable of producing children. She pointed out that some opposite sex couples are incapable of producing children. If we consider it absurd to deny two 50 year old people the right to marry simply because they can't have children, then we'd have to reject my premise.
We talked about that for a while. I'll spare you the details.
The thought that just occurred to me was that Grace had attempted to refute a general principle by the use of an exception. The general principle is that the government should issue a marriage license only to couples who are capable of producing children. The exception that almost all of us would accept would be opposite sex couples who, for whatever reason, are incapable of having children. We certainly wouldn't deny a 26 year old woman to get married just because she had had a hysterectomy.
But I was just thinking about how opponents to same sex marriage sometimes respond to pro same sex marriage arguments. One argument goes like this:
1. If two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry.
2. Portia and Ellen love each other.
3. Therefore, Portia and Ellen should be allowed to marry.
Opponents to same sex marriage will make an ad absurdum argument by the use of an exception to the first premise.
1'. If two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry.
2'. A brother and sister love each other.
3'. Therefore, a brother and sister should be allowed to marry.
Once the dust settles because of the emotional frenzy that results from audaciously comparing homosexuality to incest, the advocate of same sex marriage will say that there is a legitimate reason for excepting siblings from the general principle. It's because the children of incest often have birth defects, and the government shouldn't allow the kind of coupling that is detrimental to children.
But what if one of the siblings is infertile? In that case, they are incapable of producing children, whether healthy or not. Should they then be allowed to marry? What objection could a same sex advocate raise?
I suppose many will just bite the bullet and say we should allow those people to get married. Why not?
But suppose some are still against it. How could they oppose it and remain consistent with their premise that if two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry? They've got to come up with a justifiable reason to make an exception for infertile siblings while still allowing same sex couples to marry.
The one basis for exception they'll never use is that incest is morally wrong because once you bring morality into it, then that opens up a Pandora's box for the morality of homosexuality that everybody wants to avoid in this whole debate but that is probably at the heart of it for most of those who oppose it.
Another option for same sex marriage advocates is to say that rather than excepting individual couples from being allowed to marry, there should be an exception for certain kinds of couples. In the case of incest, it's the kind of coupling that is detrimental to children. So if there happen to be members of that kind (e.g. infertile siblings) that happen not to be detrimental to children, they can still be disallowed because they are still members of the same kind.
After all, it would be impractical and intrusive for the government to start prying into the biology and health of individuals who want to marry, which they would have to do if they are going to weed out the fertile couples from the infertile couples.
But that brings us back to the point Grace made earlier about how some opposite sex couples are infertile. She was attempting to show that if we should only allow marriages for couples capable of producing children, then we should disallow marriage to infertile opposite sex couples. But if we are going to make marriage legal or illegal based on the kinds of marriages they are rather than the individual circumstances of couples, then we should allow infertile opposite sex couples to marry because they are at least members of the only kind of relationship capable of producing children.
So an opponent to same sex marriage could still argue that since opposite sex couples form the only kind of relationship capable of producing children, then it's the only kind of relationship that the government ought to license. And it doesn't matter that there happen to be some opposite sex couples who are incapable of having children since they are still members of the only kind of relationship that is capable of producing children.
After all, a big part of this debate has to do with the benefits associating with a marriage license. One of those benefits is tax breaks. Even though in a household with two members who are both capable of working and therefore splitting their expenses, they still get tax breaks that single people who have to bear all the household expenses themselves don't get. If a couple gets married and therefore pays less taxes, single people have to pick up the slack.
We all pay taxes that go toward things that may not benefit us personally, but that benefit society as a whole. Since we're members of the same society, we typically think it's worth it to pay taxes to benefit society as a whole. So as single people, we might be perfectly okay with paying extra taxes that relieve a burden on married couples since we think marriage is good for society and ought to be incentivized.
But why would any of us want to pay extra taxes to privilege a kind of relationship that doesn't benefit society since it's incapable of producing children?
It seems that same sex marriage advocates would need to come up with some reason for why the government would have an interest in licensing their relationship. Why incentives that kind of relationship as opposed to, say, BFF's?
I've heard various suggestions for how same sex marriage benefits society, so it has been done. One that I think is a pretty good reason is so same sex couples can adopt. And I don't mean being able to adopt new borns since there's no shortage of opposite sex couples wanting to adopt new borns. I'm talking about older orphans. I think it's better for those orphans to be adopted by same sex couples than to live in foster homes or orphanages.
Another benefit is to curb the spread of disease. Let's face it. The homosexual community is more promiscuous than the rest of us. I've had gay people tell me this themselves. If same sex marriage were incentivized, we should expect that to lessen promiscuity and correspondingly the spread of disease. That would be good for society.
It is easy to make arguments in isolation, but when you try to iron out all the kinks in your noetic structure and make everything consistent, it takes a bit of work. I encourage my daughter to think things through, and she is a bright girl.