Friday, November 28, 2008


Rare it is that I get a chance to show in unequivocal terms how dishonest anti-gay people are in their use of academic resources. Today I have that chance.

I first discovered the unequivocal lie I'm about to expose when checking footnote 82 of the pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters". It is alleged that in an academic article entitled "Lesbian mothers and their children: A comparison with solo parent heterosexual mothers and their children", published on pages 167-184 of Volume 15, issue 2, of the academic journal 'Archives of Sexual Behavior', the researchers Green et al found
developmentally important statistically significant differences between children reared by homosexual parents compared to heterosexual parents. For example, children raised by homosexuals were found to have greater parental encouragement for cross-gender behaviour (and) greater amounts of cross-dressing and cross-gender play/role behaviour”.

The anti-gay pamphlet specifically quotes this text as allegedly appearing in the "Lesbian mothers" article. Well, I found the article in question (thank you, university access to academic databases). The text they say is in there is not there.

Really, the fact that the article's title plainly specified that it was comparing single-parent families, and not comparing "homosexual parents" (plural) with "heterosexual parents" (plural), should have been a slight clue that it couldn't possibly include the quote that these anti-gay fraudsters say it includes. But they went ahead and used it anyway. Ponder what that says about their ability to understand the whole concept of "evidence".

But the best part for me is what the article they're lying about actually does say. The summary at least is available to the general public here. Emphasis is mine. The study's real conclusions were that:
No significant differences were found between the two types of households for boys and few significant differences for girls,. Concerns that being raised by a homosexual mother might produce sexual identity conflict and peer group stigmatization were not supported by the research findings. Data also revealed more similarities than differences in parenting experiences, marital history, and present living situations of the two groups of mothers. The postulated compromised parental fitness of lesbian mothers, commonly asserted in child custody cases, is not supported by these data.

Gee, it seems to me that the study that the anti-gay people are using to "prove" that a difference was found between gay and straight parents is actually saying that they can't find any difference at all - at least as far as comparing single lesbian mothers to single heterosexual mothers goes.

The only question left for me is what the real source of this quote may be. I've searched for it online, unsuccessfully. It's definitely not in any article published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that I can find (and my access to that journal is total). And all I get on the web is people repeating the lie that it's this 1986 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that is the source. I wonder how long it would take to visit each one in turn and correct them?

I'll keep looking for the true source I guess. If there is one.

"21 reasons why gender matters" - the whole pamphlet

Looking closer at the "21 reasons why gender matters" issue, apparently the NARTH page I linked to earlier was just the summary of the main points. The full text is much more detailed, and is available online. Like most anti-gay tracts, it's brimming with footnotes, based on the usual anti-gay assumption that pointing to the sheer volume of footnotes is a good enough substitute for actually examining their quality and accuracy. Seriously. One of the first footnotes (footnote 2 to be precise) doesn't really qualify as an academic footnote at all, being just an exhortation to "refer to section 11" of the exact same document.

The pamphlet has its own dedicated site here. I'll give the footnotes a stab if I have time.

GetUp joins opposition to Australian Net filter

I'm aware that a lot of people have been trying to bring the Net censorship threat to GetUp's attention for a while now. They've finally weighed in. They're talking pretty big, too.
GetUp says it plans to run mainstream ads and offline action that will be as elaborate as its free Hicks campaign. In just a day, a petition on its website has attracted over 22,000 signatures; GetUp said it had received more emails urging them to act on this issue than "any other campaign in recent history".

With both the Opposition and the Greens opposed to the filter, I believe that means that the government will have to look to Senator Fielding of Family First and to Independent anti-pokie campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon to get any legislation on this through the Senate. Hello nationwide restrictions on all gay-related and gambling-related content? A bit much perhaps, but who knows what the two Senators will demand to be put on the blacklist in exchange for their votes?

The trial of the filter is scheduled to start on December 24, although it can be postponed if need be. That doesn't leave a lot of time to fight it.

The unfortunately anti-gay stance of the Fatherhood Foundation

Roxon sacks health ambassador over gay slur

Somewhat predictably, one of the men is playing the victim card, insisting that he's being "persecuted".
"If I am attacked it is because I believe that our children matter," he said in the statement.

"If I am attacked it is because I believe every child has the right to a mother and a father. Children need a mother and a father, not two mummies or two daddies."

Mr Marsh said certain journalists had claimed he was "homophobic" and he was baffled by "this sort of heterophobia".

Apparently Mr Marsh believes that defending homosexuals from pseudo-scientific smears means that heterosexuality is under attack. This actually makes sense in anti-gay peoples' warped worldview, as they sincerely believe that homosexuality's unchallenged existence threatens heterosexuality. Examine the pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" that is the source of the controversy:
14. In healthy societies, gender complementarity is celebrated; societies rejecting this face harmful consequences.

Their idea is that accepting that there is a slight exception in so-called "gender complementarity" for some (GLBT people) automatically means negating the very concept of different genders altogether. Everyone will have sex with everyone willy-nilly, and heterosexuality will cease to exist. There are times that I honestly believe that they are literally incapable of understanding any different, the belief is so deeply embedded in their worldview.

I won't waste time refuting the remaining points dealing with homosexuality (or "gender disorientation pathology" as they pseudo-scientifically call it). Anyone with a modicum of scientific understanding (which is far too few people, sad to say) can figure out what's wrong with them if they really want to. As for the Fatherhood Foundation itself....

Finding the Fatherhood Foundation's website was easy enough. Their About Us page lists them as one of the founding members of the National Marriage Coalition. People may remember that organisation as the one which in 2004 lobbied for a ban on gay marriage to be explicitly written into Australian law, a ban which both major political parties support to this day. The other two, as per information from the NMC's website, are the Australian Family Association and the Australian Christian Lobby.

Despite rubbing shoulders with those two, my tentative impression is that the Fatherhood Foundation isn't specifically malicious towards gay people. They've just never had any reason to doubt the centuries' old prejudice that our sexuality is a sickness (a "gender disorientation pathology") that needs to be contained. I would hope that they can be convinced otherwise by the examination of reality rather than of anti-gay institutions' pseudo-science, but Mr Marsh's reaction to him being called out on his smears suggests that it won't be easy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Iinet sued for allegedly "allowing" copyright violations

THE Australian film and television industry has launched legal action against one of the largest internet service providers in the country for allowing its users to download pirated movies and TV shows.

The action against iiNet was filed in the Federal Court yesterday by Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Disney and the Seven Network.

For the record, there's no legal precedent or ruling in Australian law that would suggest that Iinet can accurately be described as actively "allowing" people to download copyright-infringine material. ISP's aren't in the business of policing content, although the sheer number of political forces with a vested interest in getting them to start is worrisome.

First Stephen Conroy's pathetic effort to build a Great Firewall of Australia, and now this. I worry for the future of the Australian Internet sometimes.

And really, how long is it before the two ideas get combined? The conglomerates comprising the "Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft" are almost certain to have a list of demands for the government about further "unwanted" content that they want the filter extended to cover.

I note that ITWire has also put 2 and 2 together here. I agree also that it seems odd that it's Iinet, the ISP who just happens to employ the outspoken Managing Director Michael Malone, and not Telstra or Optus, that's getting sued.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What opposition to gay marriage is really about

It's not about marriage. It was never about marriage. It's about homosexuality.

Many opponents of gay marriage claim otherwise. Some are sincere in that belief. But they're still mistaken.

The "we're pro-marriage, not anti-gay" argument rests on the assumption that the relationship between two gay people is qualitatively different from a relationship between two straight people in such a way that the entire meaning of marriage would be changed if it were to be applied to both types of couples. This inaccurate impression is bolstered by the cosmetic fact of the difference in gender make-up of the two couples.

Those of us who support gay marriage believe that the difference in gender make-up does NOT translate to any difference in meaning. A man wanting to marry a man and not a woman is no different from a man wanting to marry a 60-year-old and not a 40-year-old. All the emotional aspects of an opposite-gender relationship that are fulfilled by marriage occur in EXACTLY the same way in a same-gender relationship. Not "almost" the same, not "approximately" the same, but EXACTLY the same.

Same-sex couples who want to get married do not believe that marriage would be "redefined" by letting them marry. Letting them marry would instead mean that marriage was finally being made available to every couple that qualifies for it according to its current meaning.

They have no problem with the meaning of marriage as it currently exists. They just disagree about which types of relationships conform to that meaning. They believe that their relationships do conform to it.

Opponents of gay marriage do not believe this. They believe that a same-sex relationship CANNOT be the emotional equivalent of an opposite-sex one. It therefore cannot be fulfilled by marriage in the same way that an opposite-sex relationship can be, and the very meaning of marriage would be changed if marriage could include same-sex relationships as well as opposite-sex ones.

People's opposition to gay marriage therefore stems not from their view of marriage, but from their view of homosexuality. As long as they believe that homosexual relationships cannot have the same emotional aspects to them as heterosexual relationships do, they will believe that including same-sex couples in the definition of marriage would mean "redefining" marriage in a way that renders marriage less than it was. Because they believe this, they will also view themselves as "pro-marriage" rather than "anti-gay". They are mistaken.

The Christianist condemnation of Ted Haggard's family

Ted Haggard recently returned to the media spotlight, apologising for sinning and claiming to be all "cured" of his sinful homosexuality. His attempt to blame the origins of all homosexual desire on sexual molestation is pretty stock-standard, but there's another comment from him that is especially interesting:
"I'm very, very sorry that I sinned," he [Haggard] said. "My wife -- all my sin and shame fell on her. People treated her as if she had fallen. And my children -- they all went through carrying my shame."

Why did people treat his wife as "fallen"? Why did they require his kids to "carry his shame"?

Police report contradicts some claims about Bash Back action

Well there's a shock. Seems like the "loving" Christians describing the actions of Bash Back against their church exaggerated a few of the details. First about the fire alarm that was supposedly pulled:
The protest — according to reports from the media, the church and the protesters — was held both inside and outside Mount Hope Church on Nov. 9, during which someone is alleged to have pulled a fire alarm inside the church.

However, a spokesman for the Delta Township Fire Department, which covers fire issues in the area, said today the department had not received any fire alarm calls nor did they respond to one in the area of the church on Sunday.

And second about the "illegal" protest that happened outside:
Also, a church press release stated that “The Eaton County Sheriff’s office was called and the illegal demonstration ceased.” In a follow-up email, Mount Hope Church communications director David Williams asserted that “the demonstration is under investigation.”

But in an interview yesterday, Eaton County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Warder said that when two officers were called to the scene for “disorderly persons,” they found protesters on the public sidewalk.

“They were picketing,” Warder said. “The church security people came out, the pastor contacted the deputies and told us we want them off our property. We had to tell them they [the protesters] were on public property.”

After further discussion with protesters, it was determined some had parked in the church’s parking lot. Officers directed that the vehicles be removed from the lot, or the owners could face trespassing charges for retrieving them if police had to return. The protest broke up as a result of that, according to the sheriff.

Warder said that at no time did the church inform officers of the disruption inside the church and that no charges were filed. He also said that there was no criminal investigation and that the church had declined to file any formal complaints.

To the extent that the group Bash Back has been unfairly maligned by these "Christians" lying about what really happened, I apologise for my earlier condemnation of them.

That said, it does still appear that the group Bash Back trespassed on the Mt Hope Church's property, which I still condemn as morally wrong. If they're anarchists, then I doubt there's anything I could say to convince them that trespassing of any kind is wrong, but I would point out that it's counterproductive. Yes, some of the reason it's counterprodcutive is because anti-gay people are good at exaggerating the wrongfulness of any actions against them in order to elicit undeserved sympathy, like they've apparently done here to some extent, but I think that the fact of these exaggerations and smears needs to be taken into account when protesting.

Yes, I think that it's monstrously that we have to do that, but if life was fair, we'd have marriage rights by now.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The "black people voted for Proposition 8 so protest them" red herring

I read these comments from time to time, usually from opponents of gay marriage currently feeling the backlash from California, stridently pointing to the 70% of African-Americans who votes in favour of Proposition 8, and demanding to know why African-Americans aren't being singled out for protests and boycotts.

The answer is really very simple. Absolutely nobody to date has been singled out for the way they voted on Proposition 8. For funding the campaign pushing it, yes. For telling parishioners that they must vote for it, yes. For telling lies about the eeeevil and scary things that will supposedly happen if gay marriage is legally recognised, yes. But the actual way that people voted has not been a factor in deciding who to protest.

So why are our opponents so desperate to see us start? Because it takes the heat of them for their political advocacy and their dishonesty of course.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Feeling the need to condemn the actions of other gay people already :(

Well, it was only a matter of time before a gay activist group got nasty:
A gay anarchist group infiltrated the Mt. Hope Church in Eaton County Sunday morning, disrupting a service by pulling a fire alarm, dropping leaflets and yelling at parishioners, a pastor said.

The group, Bash Back, was simultaneously picketing outside the church, beating on buckets and using a megaphone to shout “Jesus was a homo” and other slogans as confused churchgoers continued to enter the building.

I do not believe these actions from Bash Back are right either morally or practically. These churchgoers aren't gaybashers. This is what I mean when I say that many gay activists have misunderstood the nature of much contemporary opposition to homosexuality. I think all of these parishioners would genuinely be horrified and appalled that anyone would think it okay to bash a gay person just for being gay, even as they work hard to try and prevent a political "gay agenda" out of fear it will lead to them being subjected to...well, to what Bash Back did to them, for one. Yes, they also have the hopelessly wrongheaded idea that opposing gay rights will somehow encourage their kids to stop becoming gay if they're ever in "danger" of going down that path, but still....

In my opinion, this action by Bash Back here was neither necessary nor helpful. It validated the parishioners' fears.

That's not to say that every action gay people might do in support of their rights should be avoided if gay rights opponents show the slightest disapproval of it. For example, I note from the comments of that news article that many people there are now trying to pin this one action on the entire gay community. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who tries to do that has just indicated that it's okay for me to pin the antics of Fred Phelps and his funeral-picketing clan on all of them. If they disapprove of that being done to them, then they should stop doing it to me.

"Join the Impact" protests followed by....what?

The Join the Impact effort to protest against the passage of Proposition 8 specifically, and in favour of gay marriage generally, proceeds apace. Protests are intended for across the entire USA. There's even an effort to make it an international effort, although the page for Australia doesn't exactly inspire confidence that there'll be much of any action here: looks like someone in the US just threw up something saying "gather at Federation Square in Melbourne everyone! And nobody's planned any signs or anything, so organise your own!"

I've read a little bit about grassroots mobilisation efforts. Their biggest obstacle, from what I understand, is keeping the momentum going. It's all too easy for them to falter in the face of unclear direction about what to do next. Even worse, the energy that inspires them can turn in on itself, and the people involved can end up doing nothing but bickering amongst each other, spending so much time fighting about "how we should go forward" that the movement as a whole never does go forward.

I don't know how things are going for the protests in the US. There seems to be a lot of raw enthusiasm. But to date I haven't seen any ideas about a follow-through. What happens after the protests?

Yes, I realise that I'm trying to spur a debate about "how we should go forward". As long as any grassroots movement doesn't become entirely an argument about that, I think it's a productive question. Up to a point, anyway.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Taking part in Conroy's censorship trial: wise?

Michal Malone, the head of Iinet - the ISP that I use - has decided to take part in what he calls the "ridiculous" trials of Senator Conroy's Internet censorship program. Malone's stated intention is to demonstrate "how stupid it [the proposed filter system] is" using "hard numbers". I'm sure Mr Malone's intentions are good, but I'm not sure if what he's doing is such a good idea.

See, in most tech-oriented situations like I assume Mr Malone would be familiar with, statistics are viewed as useful mathematical tools, essential to understanding any number of issues. But in politics, statistics aren't tools. They're weapons. They're not used to describe reality, they're spun and cherry-picked and massaged and then quoted to give the veneer of "mathematical" legitimacy to a political claim.

I'm concerned that this trial isn't really about gauging the effectiveness of the filter system. I think it's not about having real-world workings to examine, but statistics to cherry-pick. I recall that Senator Conroy has already shown he's willing to do something like this, saying that there was a "successful" lab test of his filter system previously when the results actually showed that it slowed internet speeds down significantly, and didn't block P2P content in the slightest. If Mr Malone is serious about exposing the filter system as flawed, I hope he understands that to do that, he's going to have to consistently and repeatedly get out in front of any spin that Senator Conroy puts on the results.

On a semi-related note, I see that according to this article, ISPs taking part in the test will be doing the testing by asking for volunteers from their own subscribers to try the system out. I guess it'd probably be too much to hope that absolutely no subscribers bother to volunteer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Civil unions vs gay marriage: "separate is not equal" explained in depth

In advocating the inadequacy of civil unions as a substitute for gay marriage, a claim is often made that "separate but equal" is an impossibility: separate cannot be equal. I've never really seen an adequate explanation as to why this is. Sure, Brown vs Board of Education struck down the idea as unconstitutional when the US Supreme Court ruled against segregated schooling, but simply pointing to the fact of that court ruling, and saying that's the end of it, isn't good enough. You have to look at the reasoning of the decision and see if it can apply to civil unions. So I did.

An interesting fact that I see straight up is that the decision was only intended to apply to the question of segregated schooling. Plessy vs Ferguson, the 19th century court decision that created the "separate but equal" idea in the first place, was originally applied to segregated accomodation, and wasn't actually overturned by this ruling. In this ruling, the legitimacy of the "separate but equal" doctrine in any area besides education wasn't considered. It seems that it is therefore necessary to explicitly lay out a case why the "separate but equal" doctrine is just as pernicious in a different context.

There is guidance from the ruling on this. It was the "intangible" factors associated with education that tipped the court in favour of ruling "separate but equal" unconstitutional in the realm of public education. These "intangibles" were described in one case as "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school". Even with complete equality in legal statute, and in access to buildings and teachers, the mere fact of separation negatively impacted these intangible qualities because the act of separation was inferred to demonstrate the inherent inferiority of the minority group. This created in the segregated school-children "a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."

If it is possible to point out that there are "intangible" factors associated with marriage, then they need to be taken into account to determine if separation of same-sex couples into "civil unions" unjustly demonstrates the "inherent inferiority" of same-sex relationships.

Are there such "intangible" factors in marriage? Hell, yes. The intangible benefits of marriage are the whole point of legally recognising any marriage at all in the first place. All the legal framework about rights and responsibilities is there entirely because marriage is presumed to have some indefinable qualities, "incapable of objective measurement" to use the Supreme Court's language, that makes it worthwhile.

And yes, the separation of same-sex couples from opposite-sex couples does promote inequality in the way those "intangibles" would be provided. You can see this already in the way people talk about the issue. Talk to any person who supports "civil unions" for gay people but "marriage" for straight people. Their excuses make it clear pretty quickly that they want the separation specifically because they believe that the "intangible" benefits of marriage for opposite-sex couples either couldn't exist, or would exist only in an inferior form, in a gay "marriage". "Marriage is about raising children" implies that same-sex couples are inferior child-raisers. "Marriage is a sacred tradition" implies that same-sex couples are excluded from the sacred. "Marriage is about what's best for society" implies that same-sex couples are not good for society. Even "we shouldn't risk experimenting with the established definition of marriage" implies that there's something inherently risky about treating same-sex relationships as on par with opposite-sex ones.

So the reasoning of Brown vs Board of Education does apply to the question of civil unions and gay marriage. A separate institution for gay people, even one that functions like marriage in legal statute, will create an inherent inequality in the provision of the intangible benefits of marriage that is biased against gay people. This is wrong. Only gay marriage can provide complete equality.

Unfortunately, most people don't believe that same-sex couples are really equal to opposite-sex couples.....

Proposition 8 debates on the ground: depressing

Just read a comments section of an LA newspaper from before Proposition 8 was passed. My impression?

The supporters of Proposition 8 tended to make highly specific claims about what would supposedly happen in California due to its passage, and what had supposedly happened in other states already. The opponents tended to make vague generalised appeals to rights and to the importance of opposing bigotry.

Really not good enough.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

From the journals: "Origin Stories: Same-Sex Sexuality and Christian Right Politics"

This journal article is much more obviously relevant to GLBT issues: "Origin Stories: Same-Sex Sexuality and Christian Right Politics", by Jyl Josephson and Cynthia Burack, published in volume 6, issue 3, of the journal "Culture and Religion" in 2005.

The article notes that there are two ways in which opponents of gay rights understand how homosexuality originates: there's the "narrative of choice", which is the one gay activists usually work against, but there is also the "narrative of development". There's some overlap between the two narratives, but they also contradict each other in some areas. I think it's important to understand the developmental narrative, as it usually gets neglected in political advocacy.

The developmental narrative claims that homosexuality is not consciously chosen. It instead views homosexuality as an aberrant development, an emotional malfunction caused by some sort of psychological disruption in childhood. The exact type of "disruption" varies depending on which anti-gay group you ask, but the finger usually gets pointed at either sexual abuse, or at parents who failed to have the "right" type of emotional relationship with their offspring. For example, Dr Nicholosi of NARTH, a proponent of the idea that homosexuality is caused by a lack of emotional bonding between father and son, has told people that "if fathers don't hug their sons, then some other man will".

According to the article's authors, the narrative of development treats homosexuality as something adopted without conscious intention; a "homosexual identity" gets unconsciously incorporated into an individual through behavioural reinforcement. It accepts that homosexuality is something that cannot be easily changed in those that have already gone down a "homosexual path", so to speak, but it also maintains that prevention is possible: "pre-homosexuals" or "proto-homosexuals" who have undergone the triggering disruption but have not yet accepted and embraced their same-sex attractions can be "saved".

There's some overlap with the narrative of choice here, in that it's implied that people can choose whether or not to embrace their homosexual identity or to fight against it, but where the developmental narrative gets real serious play is when talking about those individuals who are not yet able to make any kind of "choice" for themselves: children.

You can see the narrative at play in the excuse-making for Lawrence King's murder, in particular the placing of blame on the lesbian principal for allowing Lawrence to engage in such "reinforcing" behavioural acts as wearing high-heel shoes and flirting with boys. As Gaywired put it: "The assistant principal, our lesbian heroine, was questioned for pushing a gay agenda on a sleepy, otherwise happy middle school." The developmental narrative would have people believe that a principal acting properly could have (and definitely should have) been able to address the issues effectively by guiding the emotionally disturbed young boy Larry away from the "problem" of homosexuality that he was developing. That's one way of interpreting what "pushing a gay agenda" means: the belief that Larry could have been straight if the lesbian hadn't interfered.

There's a wide latitude in anti-gay rhetoric about what could lead a child to "develop" (not "choose") homosexuality. A contributing factor could be as simple as growing up in an environment where homosexuality is not condemned. Take this comment from a gay marriage opponent: "It worries me deeply that my kids could grow up in a world that accepts homosexualality [sic]. I do not want my children to come home from school and tell me that they learned it is ok for them to have a homosexual relationship." In the developmental understanding, being taught that homosexuality is ok may not necessarily encourage homosexuality, but it will make it that much harder to discourage it. In other words, many opponents of gay marriage really do believe that legalising gay marriage, and having their existence so much as mentioned in schools, will make it more likely that their own children will embrace any homosexual tendencies they might develop, and that it is their moral duty to stop this happening.

I think existing gay rights organisations have neglected this developmental understanding of homosexuality to their detriment. The fight against the idea of "homosexuality as perverse and degenerate choice" has been relatively successful against stopping individual mistreatment, but neglecting the other narrative has led to a situation in which the most common refrain from our opponents is "I've got nothing against homosexuals as people, but I object to them pushing their agenda on society". They tolerate gay people as individuals but fight any measure that could be perceived as encouraging the "development" of homosexuality. This includes explicit legal recognition of gay marriage. They'll accept a "civil union" compromise for those poor be-knighted gay souls who are beyond "help", but will fight tooth and nail against any measure that makes homosexuality and heterosexuality look even slightly morally equivalent. After all, they believe their children are at stake.

Some thoughts on Proposition 8: I'm not mourning

My attitude towards the successful passage of Proposition 8 in California has been surprisingly optimistic, given the emotions of sorrow and hurt expressed by others concerning its passing. Sure, I don't have the personal connection to things that happen in the USA, or to the gay couples in California who were hoping to get married, that those who do feel hurt by its passage have.

But consider:
In 2000, the Vermont state court legalised civil unions. Such unions were a scary and radical notion at the time, and their initial existence only just survived an attempt at a constitutional amendment outlawing them. Gay couples, in the form of "civil unions", remain legally recognised there to this day.

In 2003, the Massachusetts state court legalised gay marriage. Gay couples, in the form of marriage and not just "civil unions", remain legally recognised there to this day.

In other states of course, constitutional amendments restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman were passed even in advance of any state court ruling suggesting that it should be otherwise. These amendments often passed by very large margins.

And yet, in 2008, in California, their version of civil unions – domestic partnership legislation – is and remains uncontroversially on the books. Far from radical and threatening, they are viewed as the safe compromise. As for the passing of Proposition 8....

Support for the Proposition received an enormous amount of financial support, such that gay rights groups were constantly struggling to match it. Much of the work to garner support for the Proposition came from the considerable financial and political muscle of the Church of Latter Day Saints, who came awfully close to crossing the line separating church from state, if not passing over it entirely, in their zeal to see it passed. And a great deal of the attempt to garner support for Proposion 8's passage was done through propagating distortions and fabrications, as documented by the LA Times here

With all of these tremendous advantages, the total amount of support that this huge assault of money and lies managed to muster for Proposition 8 was....52%. A paltry 2% over the majority mark.

I am sorry for those who have suffered because the advances made in the last 8 years were not as far-reaching as they were thought to be. But they are far-reaching. The anti-gay forces may have won this time, but they were barely able to hold their own, even with their full amassed might brought to bear. And even then it's still unclear whether they got everything they wanted; word from the California Attorney-General's office is that Proposition 8 will not be applied retroactively: already-married same-sex couples will remain legally married.

All that's happened here is a temporary setback. In fact, from where we were a year ago, we've actually gained a tiny bit of ground. We now have actual married gay couples to point to in California, which makes it that little bit easier to talk about the issue in real human terms rather than in terms of airy abstract ideals. I think we're continuing to inch ahead.

Friday, November 07, 2008

From the academic journals: "contingent" relationships, "essential" relationships, and why gay people would want to marry

A side-effect of my time at uni is that I see academic articles in the scholarly databases I can access which make me think: "hm, I can see how that's relevant to a public issue of the day". For instance, I found an article in the Canadian Journal of Political Science that clarifies a few issues about gay marriage. Well, about marriage, at any rate.

It's by P. Neal and D. Paris, from vol 23, issue 3 of that journal, published in 1990. Its title doesn't make it sound that relevant: "Liberalism and the Communitarian Critique:
A Guide for the Perplexed", but it is. The subject matter is concerned with elucidating an ongoing debate between, as it says, liberals and communitarians. Communitarians accuse liberals of having an understanding of the self that is unjustifiably "atomistic", ignoring the importance of social relationships and community in two ways: missing the importance of social relationships in people's construction of their own identity, and missing the general moral good in itself that comes from having a "community". Liberals for their part accuse communitarians of placing the values and rules of institutions and groups above the right of an individual to make their own individual choice for themselves.

The relevance of the debate to marriage comes from the two different understandings that the two groups have of what Neal and Paris call "shared relations": liberals emphasise the value of contingently shared relations, while communitarians emphasise essentially shared relations. Quoting Neal and Paris:
A contingently shared relation is a relationship between two or more antecedently defined separate selves which, however much it may affect their attitudes and behaviour, does not penetrate the identity of the separate selves to the point that the identity of each becomes partially or wholly constituted by the relation itself. An essentially shared relation penetrates this deeply; when two selves essentially share a relation, the identity of each self is partially or wholly constituted by the relation.

Neal and Paris make no value judgement on which view is superior, but they do point out which relationships conform to which model. Marriage, for examples, is generally an essentially shared relation:
marriage is or can be a relation whereby two separate selves become redefined in their identities as one through the relation with the relation (as union rather than contract) coming to constitute what were once separate selves as one shared self.

This is, I believe, what people who are pushing for gay marriage for themselves want. They value and want an essentially shared relationship with their would-be spouse that would subsume the identity of the participants: "let two become one", "'til death do us part", and so forth. I wonder if the people pushing gay marriage as an abstract matter of legal rights for others, and who personally think that the idea of getting married is stupid, understand that?

Neal and Paris mention that essentially shared relations can be poisonous to those involved: abusive relationships and divorce are both depressingly common occurrences. Yet, as they also say, it is not enough to discredit the very idea of essentially shared relationships based only on the existence of abusive cases; it would be just as easy to criticise liberal values of individual independence on that basis using those horror stories of people who die alone and whose bodies go undiscovered for months.

To date I don't think I've seen an argument against marriage that wasn't based on either pointing to the subsection of those marital relationships that are abusive and problematic, or else asserting freedom and a sense of self as values that shouldn't be given up to something like marriage. I think enough marriages are sufficiently unproblematic enough to view the institution itself as not inherently compromised, and I am unconvinced that a person who chooses to subsume their identity in marriage has made an inferior moral choice to someone who doesn't. Sure, it could be the wrong choice for some, and nobody should be forced to get married if they don't want to be, but for others, subsuming their identity in marriage may be the thing that makes them happiest.

I think this understanding of marriage as being an essentially shared relation is also why "civil unions and "domestic partnerships" are an inferior alternative to marriage. Do those legal constructions carry the same sense of two individuals giving themselves to a shared identity, incorporated from both of them, that marriage does? My impression is that they don't. In fact, I think placing gay unions in a separate legal category can encourage the view that such relationships are contingent. They're not really marriage, after all.