Monday, November 24, 2008

Four Year Olds and Same Sex Marriage

Apparently marriage is a big topic among four year olds in Pre-K. Nearly every other day my daughter comes home talking about who is going to marry whom. “Miles said he is going to marry Sophie.” “Gi-Gi said she wants to marry Noah, and that made Dephne mad because she wanted to marry Noah.” Yesterday she said, “Miles can marry Sophie, but he can’t marry Scottie, right? Because boys can’t marry boys. Only girls can marry boys. Right?”


My wife and I were in a heated debate with a friend of ours recently about the California ban on same sex marriage. He strongly supported it. His view is that by divinity it is wrong and it should be illegal. He said legalizing it is a slippery slope. If you legalize it, you lose the justification to prevent other transformations of traditional marriage in the future. I disagree. I think each church ought to decide for itself what kind of marriage it should sanction, but legally, same sex couples ought to be able to marry and be eligible for all the rights associated with heterosexual marriage.

I find the slippery slope arguments ugly and distasteful. They often suggest that if homosexuals are allowed to marry by law, what is to prevent people from wanting to marry children and dogs? He argued that there has to be a line across which society will not cross. If you do, it introduces moral relativism. Each subsequent group will find a reason to justify their socially specific group norms.

I argued that indeed there has to be a line, but the position of the line is the question. Surely the political, social and faith communities that opposed interracial marriages would have made the same arguments – that it is morally reprehensible and therefore ought to be illegal. Their opposition, rooted in scorn for black people, blinded them to the function and premise of marriage, love. So was the line that those opponents drew legitimate? Did it lead to a slippery slope? If homosexual couples love each other, then the strength of that love ought to be the justification for their marriage just as it is for heterosexual couples. That ought to be so regardless of the difficulty that heterosexual people have in comprehending the nature of their love.

He came back with the slippery slope part of the argument. He was not ridiculous with children and dogs, but raised an interesting question. Why do we object to polygamy? If three or four or five consenting, rational adults, who profess to love each other want to marry, why is that wrong? Why should they be prevented from marrying because we, in the monogamous community, don’t understand their love? He argued, and I agreed, that there would be nearly universal opposition in the United States to that arrangement of marriage. Even homosexual couples would probably object to polygamy. In sum, his argument was that the position of the line is arbitrary and in his mind it ought to be drawn to exclude homosexual couples.

I agreed that the line was arbitrary. The problem with recognizing that is the difficulty in deciding where to draw it and defending that decision. Why draw it on one side of same sex marriage and not the other? The opposition to polygamy is based on exactly the same argument as the opposition to same sex marriage. It runs counter to some moral standard and therefore ought to be illegal. In both cases, they do not involve minors or animals and do no harm to anyone involved or anyone else. More importantly, they are both based on the same premise, love and consent. Given that, what is the real objection to polygamy? Essentially, it crosses a line that we have drawn arbitrarily. There are some societies in the world that would likely draw the lines differently where polygamy might be acceptable, but same sex marriage absolutely objectionable. That suggests that there is no universal code of human or matrimonial decency that is determining where we draw our line.

The line is drawn arbitrarily. The disagreements in the faith communities, like in the Episcopalian Church, and in society, like in California, suggest that there isn’t a consensus on where it ought to be drawn. This brings me back to my first position. The church ought to decide for itself, but the law ought to be written in a manner that reduces discrimination in as many instances as possible. The church can discriminate arbitrarily as it does in determining who gets into heaven. The law, however, based in reason and not faith, cannot discriminate arbitrarily. At the moment same sex couples are clamoring for rights that are reserved for heterosexual couples that function in exactly the same manner as they do. They should be given those rights. Society will deal with the polygamists when they start to clamor.

For now, I was comfortable saying to my daughter that it isn’t necessarily true that only girls can marry boys.



invest in movies said...

It is a big issue. I think there should be a big task for parents to control such things

Hill Rat said...

BabyRat has decided that she's going to marry her cousin, but we decided to just let that ride.

Nice post about a difficult subject.

jillian said...

peace brother kamau ~

wow. thank you for your unconditional thoughtfulness. hmmmm, i have some things to say.

so the slippery slope argument is ridiculous and short-sighted at best, even when referencing polygamy instead of marriage to children and four-legged animals. polygamy, as i understand it, rests on a male-dominated display of vastly unequal power dynamics. this inequity manifests in ways that allow men to have many wives, but not the reverse. it is, therefore, situated in an unjust context. if we step away from state-sanctioned polygamy, and use our imaginations to consider a society that would acknowledge that it is, indeed, possible to love more than one person at a time, then we might find ourselves considering a notion of polyAMORY that is not linked to legal conventions. those folks who i know that practice polyamory are not folks who simultaneously advocate for polyamorous (or polygamous) marriage... in fact, these are folks who think so far outside the confines of traditional thought that they often feel unnaturally bound by the thought of state-sanctioned anything.

i feel that the line is not arbitrary at all. i think that it is intentional and hateful and that folks who declare that the line should be drawn to exclude same sex couples from marriage need to check themselves if they ever try to pretend that they are advocates of any kind of social justice; we all know that one form of discrimination bleeds easily into other forms... we have been taught again and again that THAT is the slippery slope.

i dream of traveling to south africa to marry my wife... imagine that!?!?! the ironies are deafening.

so yea, sadira is endlessly fortunate to have the parents she does, to help her think through these and other questions she brings home from school. i would love to talk with her about this too sometime. smile.

Gold Label said...

I agree that the present motivation of most who argue vehemently against same sex marriage is less than noble or just, and it makes me sad to see the hateful people who often appear in print or on screen making their paper-thin arguments.

However I don't think that the lines regarding marriage were drawn arbitrarily, nor do I think that they are based solely on hate. I believe that we are dealing with a case of society trying desperately to manage the anachronisms of its present location in history.

I mean, it seems to me that societies have created taboos against certain practices as a means of self-preservation, quite literally, self-preservation and continuity. All species want to continue to be, no? So, the same reason that a woman who was incapable of bearing children would be thrown over a cliff or otherwise disposed of (women were the obvious scapegoat, who in prehistoric times knew men could cause infertility), is why same sex long term relationships would be undesirable - because just like infertile women, they do not yield offspring without considerable intervention.

As an extension of that idea, let's not forget that marriage is rooted in economic gain and so children (and polygamy which leads to more children) fit quite nicely into a financial equation, particularly in agrarian or other societies where access to human capital is at the core of the economic system. Even the interracial marriage argument in this country is rooted in issues of economics and property acquisition and ownership.

Of course, now marriage partnerships are not tied to the desire to procreate but in the absence of serious analysis, our historical memory still holds on to the taboos that were birthed in centuries past.

There is such a robust history of societies engaging in marriage of one person of one sex to multiple partners of the opposite sex, it strikes me as bizarre that opposition to this arrangement would surpass that of same sex marriage.

The slippery slope argument does have some relevance because redefining one societal definition makes all others potentially more fluid. For example, adolescence is a relatively new concept, people used to be children and then they'd become adults. That was it. And so those of us who balk at the idea that 12 year olds could consent to marriage or sex with what we now consider an adult must check ourselves because at the end of the day that is what the slippery slope argument is all about. It is about the idea that if we play with the current definitions we're working with, then it will be open season on all of those definitions...and that's true. In some cases it is for the better, in others less so. That is dependent on one's own individual views.

I agree that churches, based on their own worldviews or interpretations of sacred texts should be free to make these decisions from a religious stance.

Finally, we know that in terms of financial benefits, those barriers are about greed and nothing else. I should be able to ascribe medical benefits to a random person if I choose, as far as I'm concerned, and I shouldn't need to tell anyone why I made such a selection. The reality is that Kaiser Permanente doesn't really care about whether or not your partner has similar plumbing, it's all about saving a dollar however they can.

I'll close by echoing Jillian and thanking you for a thoughtful piece on the subject.


luvlife0702 said...

well my daughter don't have much chat on marriage for obvious reasons. she knows marriage is a choice just as the gender of your mate is a choice and all such choices are legitimate. she has enough examples of both sets of choices and sees all such as 'normal'. auntie lisa and leyla and other gay couples in her life made her unaware that it was a big deal. on the other hand, Prop 8 should have never happened because if we had thrown integration or miscegenation to a vote we'd still be drinking at different fountains. there comes a time when the idiots we vote to represent us should take some moral courage and do the right thing. then again, we could change marriage so that the state leaves it alone and leaves it to the church then the church decides. then all the 1000+ social benefits to which marriage is attached (including the right to divorce 50+% of the time:-) become separated from the institution and people no longer need it to legitiimize their union in a social context but deal with their individual churches as they see fit.