Monday, July 2, 2012

Teh [sic] Gay

So I'm having an email conversation with this guy--he's a Democrat (although he was happier with Obama when O started breaking his campaign promises) and he's really not all that pro-union (he thinks that hey, yeah--maybe worker protection: but the unions sometimes seem to have it in for the company--don't they?). And all of this is okay by me (however much or little I agree with it)--but then he comes out against gay marriage.

And then civil unions.

And I wondered about that.

It's not 'cause he's religious--that's not his objection. And it's not for the children--he didn't say that same-sex households raise damaged kids. It's because--well, let's take a look:
  1. He thinks the anti-bullying stuff is a submarine attempt to get mandatory pro-gay acceptance into early school curricula.
  2. He compares gays sort of  'crashing the marriage party' as akin to guys in kilts crashing a bar's skirt-night (where they give free beers to girls in skirts). Complete with the legal issues when guys in kilts are denied beers and sue. The idea is that if marriage is less special then fewer people will want it.
  3. He holds that most gays are not interested in long term relationships anyway.
What's The Damage?
The key question when addressing any problem is "What does it cost us?" In this case it's pretty intangible: according to him it makes the institution of marriage less special. And in a time when marriage is on the decline--and we want to encourage our young people to marry--this is a bad thing!

Well, he's right on at least one account: Marriage IS on the decline (the link is the Washington Times--but even if you don't like the paper you can do your own research--they're right). They go on to say that society pays a 112Bn dollar per year price tag for divorced couples.

That's not chump change.

Secondly (and this is referenced by the article I linked to) the book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 makes a cogent case that marriage is a key, important part of our American culture! That it is a vital institution to our well-being and we should protect it.

So, indeed, if allowing gays civil unions ... and then, once the 'camel's nose is in the tent' giving them marriage rights, will cheapen our critical institution: we shouldn't do it. Anti-bullying campaigns? Sedition!

On The Other Hand
On the other hand, he sees the classic case of denying hospital visitation rights to a gay couple as, well, pretty mean spirited. He thinks someone should be allowed to visit their "special friend" in the hospital (I am unclear on: receive property from after death, or adopt children together--the key components of civil unions--but we did discuss the hospital one)--so okay, there's that. 

He presumes, possibly correctly, that gay rights activists wouldn't settle for that: they would demand more ... and more ... until they get to marriage.

As I said, I think he's right: gay rights activists want same-sex marriage recognized and, well, that's what they want.

So What Do I Think?
I'm going to open with the punch line: I think this is bad quality of thought--I don't know if it's coming from unrecognized early religious teachings that have set in even as they are not recognized--or maybe because gay sex is squicky to a lot of people and that makes it hard to make rational decisions. Whatever the case, this guy is too smart, says I, to hold that opinion on the basis of the available evidence.

It's also possible he's done the math to a deeper degree than I have and I'm wrong about some of my ideas. Good data on this is hard to get. But let's take a look at what I have anyway.

The Logic
The first problem here is the logic--the slippery-slope logic--that through some mechanism gays marrying will devalue marriage making young people who need to grow up, get married, and settle down, less likely to. What is that mechanism? He doesn't say. He does say--when asked--that it certainly does not apply to mixed race marriages.

I mean, it better not: I'm in one. But let me ask you this: Are you certain--deadly, deadly certain--that if you suddenly lived in the 1950's, well before Loving vs. Virginia made mixed-race marriage, you know, legal, that you would see the difference? I mean--are you that certain.

Or would you go "Oh, yeah--and like ought to stick together because, you know--that's how things are."

Really? That certain? Okay.

But even though your 1950 self would be well more enlightened than most people of his era (by modern standards--I doubt the most conservative reader of this blog objects to black and white marriage if between a man and a woman--tell me I'm wrong?) doesn't your logic chain--the unspoken mechanism of matrimonial devaluation apply to black and white marriages?

It doesn't--Okay: lot of people thought it did. But they were wrong?


The Math
States that allow gay marriage have LOWER divorce rates than states that don't.Correlation is not causation? No--it isn't. Correlation is never causation? Uh ... that's what I thought. Nate Silver does the numbers and notes:
At the very least, I would be surprised if there were any statistical evidence that interpreting the right of marriage to apply to same-sex couples would be injurious to heterosexual couples in any material way.
So okay. We know Canada has allowed gay marriage since 2005 and it's held up decently (March headline of this year: Divorce Rates Drop Across Canada). So while we cannot prove gay marriage is good for marriage in general it certainly seems that there is no evidence whatsoever the reverse is true

So this brings up the question: what if--just what if--the math (math you liked) showed that gay marriage was good for marriage? What if it strongly correlates to more marriages, longer marriages, fewer divorces?

Would you change your mind? This isn't answerable, really: any study can be found fault with--and every study will in today's day and age have presumed biases by critical readers (and I can mean critical in several ways applicably).

But just ask yourself: if some sociologist you trusted said "we ran the numbers and gay marriage is good for marriage"--would it change your mind? 


The Dodge
There is a conspiracy theory I believe: that when religious right groups who were anti-gays-in-the-military decided to go public with their message they realized to sell it they had to make an argument that wasn't biblically based: that only convinced those who were already sold. They settled on Unit Cohesion. That allowing gays to serve would damage military effectiveness. This was a winning message. It worked for religious and non-religious people. Anyone who wanted a strong military went "yeah ... Okay. I can see that."

It passed the sniff test.

When they had to sell no-same-sex-marriage they decided, again, not on a moral argument but on a "definition of marriage" argument: because it was persuasive (I've seen the web-sites for this--where they discuss how to tell that to your friends). People responded better to that--we don't want the definition of marriage changed! That's silly!

So they stuck with it.

I do not think my email correspondent has been swayed, exactly, by this approach--perhaps some of it has gotten into the memepool he "drinks from"--but I do think that his stance has a similar construction. In this case there was, admittedly, and underlying position (homosexuality is a sin and we should not admit sin into our government) and a presentation (unit effectiveness will decline / gays are attacking your marriage). These were very different. The underlying structure would be a tough sell. The message was easier to swallow.

Kind of like how "we" (for some values of "we") were all okay with Bush attacking Iraq because they were developing WMD and felt a bit (or a lot) cheated when it turns out he wasn't (or that there was no evidence of).

I feel this is similar. Why? Well, two reasons.

The first is that he states that most homosexuals don't want to have long term relationships or get married. The second is that he attributes anti-bullying to a gay-agenda thing.

What's wrong with the first? Well, there's nothing wrong with it, per-se--but if, in fact, few gays want to get married then we must assume that this damaging effect comes from simply the knowledge that gays could get married. That the special night club could, some day, admit a dude with a kilt--even if we've never seen one (and the few we do see are pretty unoffensive).

While I admit that that's possible--it doesn't seem likely to me. After all, our neighbor to the north allows gays to marry: isn't the damage already done? Some states will allow it ... won't those damage people in other states? I mean, if it's "in the air" and doesn't have to be "on the ground" isn't it already done?

And doesn't letting gays serve in the military cause some of these problems too? Won't military recruitment, for example, drop off?  (It turns out: No.)

As to the anti-bullying stuff? There's a huge and vast array of anti-bullying material--to think that all or even much of it targets gays is wrong. Looking at the two top anti-bulling results on Google, homosexual bullying is only a small part of the agenda. It looks like they are generally stopping, well, bullying (Cyberbullying is a major part of the material--one of the roleplaying scenarios has a kid bullied for liking Warhammer and Star Craft ...).

So where's the subterfuge? Well: it's here! The Illinois Family Institute helped strike down an anti-bullying bill because they felt it was too gay friendly. And the problem isn't that the bill is clandestinely gay-promoting per-se: it's that any level of gay acceptance is, well, wrong:
No decent person wants promiscuous girls bullied, so why don’t anti-bullying laws and school policies include promiscuity in their lists of conditions for which students may not be bullied? Why don’t teachers show films in which promiscuity is portrayed positively? Why don’t schools invite speakers who affirm a sexually promiscuous identity to come talk to students about how bad it felt to be bullied in high school for the promiscuity? Why don’t they have “youth programming” in which promiscuity is affirmed?
What if a student is bullied because her parents are siblings in a committed, loving incestuous relationship? Will public school administrators treat adult consensual incest exactly as they are treating homosexuality and gender confusion — all in the service of ending bullying?
So in this case the charge--that there's a subversive agenda that's pro-gay--is backed up by comparing homosexuality to teenage promiscuity and incest. I'll note, for the record, that very-limited amount of words spent on homosexual bullying on the for-real anti-bullying sites do, indeed, think being made fun of for being gay is wrong--and I am pretty sure that my correspondent does not want gays bullied in school either--but when you see that the logic chain is "It's just like incest" you can see why there needs to be a more neutral cover for the belief (that there is some subversive agenda at work and that anti-bullying without that would be okay).

For what it's worth (and I'm reading Coming Apart with interest) I think marriage is an institution worth saving. I think it is on the decline and I think that's bad. I think that what we'd have to do, given our current "tools" to bluntly save it would be pretty unthinkable (remove no-fault divorce, limit education for women, increase social pressure on illegitimate children and their parents) but I do understand the concern. However, I think suggesting that gay marriage has anything to do with this is the kind of mistake that analytic thought shows to be highly unlikely. We know, for example, that a lot of people WAY overestimate the % of the population that is gay. We know that human beings are subject to all kinds of built in biases that can effect rational decision making.

Maybe, for my friend, this is one of them.

Traditional 'First Kiss' Off The Oak Hill American Naval Vessel goes to a gay couple. Republic still standing.


  1. Boy, the Titanic sure looks better with the deck chairs over here instead of all over there!

    1. If you have not read Coming Apart, you should do so: YOU WILL LIKE IT (says I).

      Purchase here: