April 16, 2012

Should incestuous marriages be allowed?

German incest couple lose European Court case
A brother and sister from Germany who had an incestuous relationship, arguing they had the right to a family life, have lost their European court case.

Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski had four children together, two of whom are described as disabled.

The European Court of Human Rights said Germany was entitled to ban incest.

Stuebing, who was convicted of incest and spent three years in prison, did not meet his natural sister until he tracked down his family as an adult.

He had been adopted as a child and only made contact with his natural relatives in his 20s.

The siblings grew close after their mother died.

Three of their four children are now looked after in care.

The couple insist that their love is no different to any other.
Of course, I applaud the decision of the ECHR, but I take a rather different view on the justification of it.

Regulation of marriage is central to the moral and legal codes of almost all human societies. Different societies limit marriage in diverse ways:
  1. Age (young people are generally disallowed from marrying, and early marriage has become legally and socially more difficult in much of the world)
  2. Sex (people of opposing sex may marry, although recently some societies have allowed same-sex marriage)
  3. Number (some societies demand exclusivity, while others allow for husbands to marry multiple wives, or more commonly for women to take multiple husbands)
  4. Relation (marriage between close relatives are often prohibited, (almost) universally for parent-offspring or sibling marriage; on the other hand cousin or uncle-niece marriage is prohibited in some societies, or encouraged in others)
  5. Race (there were formerly legal prohibitions of inter-racial marriage, and there are societies in which such marriages are often frowned upon still)
  6. Religion (some belief systems do not require that partners be of the same religion, while others do so)
  7. Social status (marriage across class or caste lines was formerly prohibited either legally or socially, and is still often uncommon)
  8. Former marriage status (divorce and re-marriage sometimes prohibited, provisions for widowhood, etc.)
It is clear that society has deemed the institution of marriage to be an important one, and this is why it has imposed so many legal and social rules upon it. In recent years, the trend has been one towards laissez-faire in the regulation of human affairs. This has been most evident in the case of same sex "marriage", whose advocates actively frame the question in terms of the "rights" of consenting persons.

If the matter is that of constitutional or other "rights", then the state oversteps its role in preventing two consenting persons from entering into the institution of marriage. Those who hold to this view, however, often promote the "right" to marriage of their own particular interest group (mostly of the homosexual community), but downplay similar claims to marriage of other groups (e.g., prohibition against polygamy, incest, young marriage, etc.)

There is a different line of thought, which frames the question of marriage in utilitarian terms. Marriage is seen as promoting child-rearing, family stability, engendering close social ties, and promoting the well-being and happiness of individuals. Again, those who hold to this view propose that their particular form of marriage is useful, while opposing certain forms of marriage for its adverse effects (e.g., the costs associated with invalids born of incestuous marriages, or increased expenditure when economic benefits are extended to new forms of marriage).

When the moral compass of a society atrophies, then its most fundamental institutions become the playing ground of lawyers and economists. Of course, this is a perfectly valid point of view -if one thinks that lawyers and economists, rather than ethicists and priests- make the better judges of what is to be allowed.

Proponents of the modern, secular, and democratic way of doing things will argue that it is an improvement for the rules to be made in the context of Constitutional Law, Democratic Choice, and Economic Expediency.

But, we must not forget that their chosen framework of accepted behavior is not as sure-footed as they may think, because what else is Democracy than the idea that the many are right over the few? What else is adherence to a Constitution than the faith in the idea that what men voted for generations ago should guide the behavior of the living? And, what else is Economics, other than the idea that human prosperity revolves around the maximization of some economic quantity?

To conclude: questions such as "should incestuous marriage be allowed?" force us all to think about who decides the "should."

32 comments:

andrew said...

A British story on a similar case (where the siblings grew up apart) helps explains why these cases are prone to happen in situations where people's ancestry is not known and why they usually don't happen:

"Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA) is a term that describes the phenomenon of sexual attraction between close relatives, such as siblings, first and second cousins or a parent and offspring who first meet as adults.

It is not the same as incest, though this is what it is called if a sexual relationship is then entered into.

The term GSA was coined 30 years ago by American Barbara Gonyo. She wrote a book about the lust she felt for the adult son she had given up for adoption 26 years earlier. She never acted on her feelings.

GSA is rare between people raised together in early childhood due to a reverse sexual imprinting known as the Westermarck effect, which desensitizes them from sexual attraction."

Indeed, the Westermarck effect is one of the most well documented and powerful examples of environmental influences on sexual and emotional behavior.

Assisted reproduction technology and closed adoptions can make these issues more likely to come up.

The three year sentence imposed was appropriately mild (unlike what would be seen in many U.S. justice systems), although incarcerating one and not the other where it apepars that there was equal culpability seems a bit unfair.

Genuinely consentual incest between a brother and sister who were raised together, of the type described in the book "Forbidden" by Tabitha Suzuma, is not something that I have ever seen documented in an account of a true story in the modern era.

Justin said...

One definition of morality is that it is ultimately circumscribed by the violation of rational consent. So one could posit that a brother and sister could marry yet have the state forbid progeny, acting as agents of the non-rational children.

Applying the same rule, same-sex marriage violates no rational consent, nor does polygamy. Forced marriages, marriages to children would violate this framework.

Dienekes said...

One definition of morality is that it is ultimately circumscribed by the violation of rational consent.

Not sure what you mean by "rational consent".

eurologist said...

What else is Democracy than the idea that the many are right over the few?

Most democracies have political structures that protect minorities from being morally subjugated by an elected majority. This can take the form of more than one house, a veto right for the president, thresholds that reject small parties from parliament but not those of minorities, supreme courts, etc.
I would say that in many countries lobbyists with other interests ursurp parties and their politicians, and as such dictate and promulgate certain moral values that may be very different from those held by the majority of the population.

What else is adherence to a Constitution than the faith in the idea that what men voted for generations ago should guide the behavior of the living?

That is the viewpoint of extreme conservatives in the US (who believe they can interpret what the founding fathers would have thought and decided, today, but neglect ever-present change) and those of ultra-conservative Islamists (who select a subset of Sharia that fits their ideas, and believe that the writers more than 1,000 years ago were inspired by God and as such can't be wrong).

Needless to say, there are many differing viewpoints.

eurologist said...

incarcerating one and not the other where it apepars that there was equal culpability seems a bit unfair.

Andrew, according to news stories (and wikipedia), "Susan Karolewski was sentenced to probation because she was a minor when the sexual relationship began."

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

It is also worth noting (as another account of the story revealed) that at the start of the relationship the brother was 23, the sister was 16, the sister was grieving and of below average mental capacity and was placing trust in her older brother whose identity has recently been revealed to her by her dying mother facilitating that sense of trust. So, even though the prosecution was commenced and a conviction was obtained on a theory of incest, it wouldn't be incorrect to think that the decision to prosecute the case was motivated by a perception that this case involved an abuse of a position of trust by an older brother that the children made it hard to escape from, in a form of undue influence, rather than involving a truly consensual relationship when it commenced, that might have justified a prosecution even in the absence of an incest law, although it would have been harder to prove on those grounds.

Thus, this case doesn't necessarily strongly challenge a justification for incest laws based on an conclusive (and empirically accurate almost all of the time) inferrence of lack of genuine consent, rather than immorality per se.

Dienekes said...

Most democracies have political structures that protect minorities from being morally subjugated by an elected majority.

In most democracies, these political structures are instituted by constitutional law, and the latter is usually approved by elected representatives.

So, in essence, the modern form of democracy is one in which power is shared by the "constitutional generation", i.e., the generation that founded the polity and established its constitution, and the "current generation" that elects officials and is sometimes able to amend the constitution. In any case, the principle of majority (that the many decide over the few) is affirmed.

That is the viewpoint of extreme conservatives in the US (who believe they can interpret what the founding fathers would have thought and decided, today, but neglect ever-present change) and those of ultra-conservative Islamists (who select a subset of Sharia that fits their ideas, and believe that the writers more than 1,000 years ago were inspired by God and as such can't be wrong).

No, it is a general idea of all constitutional republics. Adherence to a constitutional form of government presupposes a level of respect for a document that was drafted and ratified by a past generation. Constitutionality tempers democracy by limiting the whims of the living generation. It all depends, of course, on the wisdom and far-sightedness of the founding generation.

eurologist said...

In most democracies, these political structures are instituted by constitutional law, and the latter is usually approved by elected representatives.

Yes, but usually, by more than 50% majority. That is, over time, the minority view has plenty of time and leverage to argue the other way round. Not successfully, not always but enough to make a difference in the long run.


Adherence to a constitutional form of government presupposes a level of respect for a document that was drafted and ratified by a past generation. Constitutionality tempers democracy by limiting the whims of the living generation. It all depends, of course, on the wisdom and far-sightedness of the founding generation.

GailT said...

"If the matter is that of constitutional or other "rights", then the state oversteps its role in preventing two consenting persons from entering into the institution of marriage. Those who hold to this view, however, often promote the "right" to marriage of their own particular interest group (mostly of the homosexual community), but downplay similar claims to marriage of other groups (e.g., prohibition against polygamy, incest, young marriage, etc.)"

You seem to see gay people as just another interest group that is morally equivalent to groups advocating polygamy, incest and child marriage. I hope that was not your intent but that's how the paragraph above reads.

The fundamental distinction must always be that the state has no right to prohibit action by mentally competent consenting adults, as long as those actions are not harmful to others or to society. For the other groups you mention these conditions are not met and it is wrong to equate same sex marriage with incest, child marriage and polygamy. The problems with incest and child marriage are obvious. Polygamy is a more complex subject, but as currently practiced it usually involves a power imbalance with a wealthy man having multiple younger wives who might not have the power to resist. You can make an argument on those grounds that polygamy is inherently exploitive. Of course you can create other scenarios of polygamy that are not exploitive, and I have no problem with mature consenting adults participating in a group marriage. But the problem then is how do you apply all of the legal and financial benefits and responsibilities of marriage to a group? You probably can't do it.

Same sex marriage, however, has none of the problems or complications of those other topics. And same sex couples have all of the issues and needs of traditional heterosexual couples, including child rearing, so this is really a no brainer. Gay parents have the need and the right to be legally married. Gay non-parents or no different from heterosexual non-parents, so why treat the two groups differentlt? It is simply the prejudice of the majority, and the special animosity of religious fundamentalists, that denies basic human rights to gay people.

Dienekes said...

@GailIT,

I don't agree with your assessment of the uniqueness of same sex marriage vis a vis the other mentioned practices.

Those who argue for incestuous marriage, young marriage, or polygamy can point to historical practice of these institutions. For example:

- incest was practiced and encouraged by Zoroastrians,

- the state did not prohibit sexual relations or marriage according to age, or had a much lower age limit than is currently permitted. Moreover, the distinction between "young person" and "adult" is a conventional one, and if one wanted to impose a natural limit, one would choose the onset of puberty, which is lower than most legal systems currently allow.

- polygamy occurs in a great number of many societies, and is even legally sanctioned in one of the world's great religions (Islam)

So, on what grounds are all these practices forbidden? I really don't see how anyone who takes an individualistic/laissez-faire approach can claim that the state has a right to prohibit these practices.

What is actually happening is that 50 years ago both incest/polygamy and homosexuality were socially frowned upon, but there has been an ongoing campaign in favor of the latter which has changed public perceptions. People now associate homosexuality, for example, with a large number of likeable celebrities, while they still associate incest/polygamy with "backwards" and sinister people.

Social perception in the West has changed in this way, but other societies had/have different perceptions. For example, in Arabia, polygamy may be "no big deal", but homosexuality may be; in pre-Islamic Persia, incest may have been preached by Zurvanite priests. In medieval Europe, people might cheer on a middle aged king marrying a teen princess, but nowadays the same behavior would get the middle aged king a sexual offender conviction.

So, to conclude: I don't really see how those who advocate same sex marriage can claim that their desire is any different than that of these other groups.

Marriage Equality said...

Who decides the should... should be the consenting adults involved. An adult should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage with any consenting adults. This is basic freedom of association. The couple in question was not petitioning to even get married. The male was petitioning to have his prosecution/conviction for having sex overturned.

Thanks for a thoughtful take on the matter, rather than the all-too-typical "Eewww! Gross!"

apostateimpressions said...

"There is a different line of thought, which frames the question of marriage in utilitarian terms. Marriage is seen as promoting child-rearing, family stability, engendering close social ties, and promoting the well-being and happiness of individuals."

Plato argued for eugenic and communal arrangements for his philosopher rulers so as to maintain and to improve the breed of the ruler caste. Couples would be temporarily joined at festivals, apparently by lot but really by the arrangement of the rulers responsible. The children would be raised anonymously in nurseries and that way the family sense would be extended throughout the caste. Outstandingly in the modern world, the SS Lebensborn is reported to have had similar practices, extending even to the kidnapping in adjacent countries of children with outstanding Nordic traits though it is difficult to separate facts from Allied propaganda. Schopenhauer supported polygamy as natural and practically universal, given actual behaviour. Arguably the rampant divorce and remarriage rates in Britain is a form of polygamy -- and arguably the huge amount of children brought up by single mothers represents a form of communal parentage. Half of children are born out of marriage in the UK and half will see their parents divorce before they reach 16. Greece represents the opposite pole in Europe with very low rates of 'illegitimacy' and divorce. Iceland has similar trends to Britain but without all the negative effects, which is attributed to their traditionally strong communities. So “gay marriage” in the UK is not so much an aberration from Christian marriage as the emergence of a new form of marriage within a scenario of chaotic fluidity. Ironically philosophical authoritarianism and secular, liberal democracy both show tendencies toward polygamy and communal marriage but one does it in a rational and planned manner for the ruler caste, the other does it chaotically and for the 'ruling' masses. The latter may work for Iceland but it is questionable in Britain.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1377940/Half-parents-split-16-births-outside-marriage-hit-highest-level-200-years.html

Dienekes said...

Who decides the should... should be the consenting adults involved.

Marriage is usually associated with privileges (e.g., economic benefits in welfare states), so it is not simply a matter of "consenting adults". There are other, more indirect, consequences as well. So, it is not simply a matter of indifference to the rest of society.

Belenos said...

Unfortunately for my deeply left-wing and revolutionary soul, while generally wanting to make a bonfire of Dienekes icons, I have to admit he is entirely right about polygamy and incest.

In a rationalisation of same-sex marriage, it is impossible to make any kind of valid argument that does not immediately legitimise both polygamous and incestuous marriage. Underage marriage is a different question, it's possible to make an argument for age limits on rational consent without reference to any non-standard marital practices, but still he's right in stating that age-limits on consent (while entirely desirable) are cultural artifacts.

I personally support reserving the word "marriage" for traditionally accepted forms of partnership, and allowing a legal "life partnership" status for incestuous, homosexual and polygamous or group relationships.

Dienekes said...

it's possible to make an argument for age limits on rational consent

Not sure that I can. I mean, people differ in both knowledge and intelligence, and every other personality trait, so if a couple of morons aged 20 can get married, i'm not sure why a couple of really smart 13 year olds cannot.

PS: Not saying that they should be able to, just pointing out that rationalizations about who should or should not be able to get married inevitably lead to an extension of the availability of marriage to a quite broad set of people currently excluded from it.

Anthony said...

Not sure that I can. I mean, people differ in both knowledge and intelligence, and every other personality trait, so if a couple of morons aged 20 can get married, i'm not sure why a couple of really smart 13 year olds cannot.

Some American states had rules which forbade people of low or aberrant cognitive functioning from marrying. It wouldn't be too hard to have some sort of test for obtaining a marriage license to enact just such a regime as you hypothesize.

GailT said...

I generally agree that the state should state out of my personal choices unless there is a compelling reason. But I think you can make a good argument for prohibiting some times of behavior that cause harm to individual or extreme costs to society.

Starting with incest, there are direct, certain, and harmful consequences for the children of incestuous relationships, and these children are the immediate victims of incest. Society also pays a cost in caring for these children who suffer from higher rates of congenital defects.

Child marriage is also fairly self evident, in most cases a child of 13-15 does not have the maturity to marry, and modern societies have decided that children should be able to pursue an education and self development until they reach an age of maturity. Yes, I realize that different customs and opportunities are present in other places and times, and even now in the USA, children of that age can marry with the consent of parents and/or courts in many states. Maybe you can make an argument that two 14 year olds should be allowed to marry, but not a 30 year old and a 13 year old - there is a power imbalance that risks doing harm to the 13 year old.

Polygamy... as I posted above is a more complex subject, If you restrict it to mature consenting adults, ok, but there are complex legal and logistical issues that you need to resolve.

And then you have gay couples. What rational argument can you make to claim that gay people should be prohibited from marrying and having families? The arguments are either "God hates gays" or, "yuck, that makes me feel uncomfortable". In each of the other cases you can at least make a rational argument to against recognizing those relationship, In the case of same sex marriage there is no rational argument of harm - the arguments are based either in religion or discomfort or intolerance. Most modern democratic societies are beginning to realize the truth of this argument and moving to recognize same sex marriages. It is primarily countries that have explicit or defacto religious governments (Iran and the USA are two examples) where religious intolerance trumps common sense.

Belenos said...

"Not sure that I can. I mean, people differ in both knowledge and intelligence, and every other personality trait, so if a couple of morons aged 20 can get married, i'm not sure why a couple of really smart 13 year olds cannot."

Yes, I tend to agree, the whole concept of intellectual majority is riddled with internal contradictions. But this is a question which is not logically affected by a change in the law on homosexual marriage. After all, there is a raft of age related legislation that have no connection to sexuality.

Dienekes said...

I generally agree that the state should state out of my personal choices unless there is a compelling reason. But I think you can make a good argument for prohibiting some times of behavior that cause harm to individual or extreme costs to society.

Let us take the "extreme costs" to society part.

If marriage between siblings were legal, then I do not anticipate a rise in such marriages, as there is a strong taboo against them -whatever the law. So, the cost associated with them (e.g., caring for children with problems) would not be great for society.

A eugenicist would argue that when two low IQ people procreate, then the progeny have a high chance of also having a low IQ and hence being unable to benefit society or even be a burden on it.

Indeed, such utilitarian arguments were used to justify eugenics: intelligence and mental health are partially genetic, so by prohibiting certain kinds of marriages we rid society of the burden of caring for certain types of "undesirable" offspring, and we are also being "humanitarian" in preventing the birth of those suffering from possible mental problems.

So, if one makes an argument -on utilitarian grounds- for banning incest, one must also support eugenics in some form, including the prohibition of marriages between consenting adults.

Indeed, it could be argued that -from the standpoint of societal benefit- the waste of social resources is far greater when societies allow e.g., people likely to be homozygous for hereditary diseases to be born, than if they allow a handful of incestuous unions.

With respect to same sex marriage, there is certainly a social burden as well. If marriage did not have any perks associated with it -tax, benefits, etc- then it would not matter one iota whether two people were "married" or not.

But, since it does carry benefits, it is not socially neutral, and it does affect society at large. So, the question naturally arises: why did society give benefits to marriage, and would society be willing to extend these benefits to new kinds of relationships.

It is not at all obvious to me that same sex relationships provide the same benefits to society than heterosexual relationships do. The latter have been privileged because they are the basis of procreation, and hence of the continuation of a population. They are legally privileged because procreation is necessary for the well-being of a society.

Those who maintain "freedom of association" must do so fully.

For example, in many countries married persons get certain "tax breaks", i.e., economic privileges. Two homosexuals who decide to get married may benefit economically by exercisizing their "freedom of association" with each other, but they are also forcing the rest of society to indirectly -through the power of the tax authority- support them.

GailT said...

"With respect to same sex marriage, there is certainly a social burden as well. If marriage did not have any perks associated with it -tax, benefits, etc- then it would not matter one iota whether two people were "married" or not."

You are making an implicit assumption that gay families are somehow different than traditional marriages. In what ways are these families different? With artificial insemination and surrogate mothers there are thousands of gay and straight couples who are having children within the context of a nuclear 2 parent household. If the state has an interest in granting financial benefits and also responsibilities to heterosexual couples, why should the same benefits and responsibilities be denied to homosexual couples? The implicit assumption is that same sex relationships are in some way unnatural or immoral and should be discouraged. If you are going to discriminate against same sex couples you need to developing a compelling rational argument for why these relationships are harmful. And the argument has to based on something other than religion or traditional cultural prejudices.

There is some good discussion of the same topic on Gene Expression, and one commenter points out several other compelling reasons why incestuous relationships should be prohibited. The key one is that society expends a lot of effort to prevent sexual abuse of minors by non-relatives. If we normalize incest, we need to expend even more effort to prevent sexual abuse of children by relatives (this is already a chronic problem that we need to do more to address, rather than make worse).

So, I have a problem comparing same sex relationship to other types of relationships that have obvious harms. Why should there be a penalty for exercising one's freedom of association in a relationship that has no harm, and actually has benefits? Promoting stable families and relationships in same sex families has all of the same benefits as in traditional families. If you have a rational reason why the state should distinguish between these types of families I'm would be happy to here it.

Dienekes said...

You are making an implicit assumption that gay families are somehow different than traditional marriages.

I am not making any such assumption. The point is that if you believe in the principle that human relationships should be based on consent, you should also believe that, for example, someone who does not want to subsidize same sex marriage should not be forced to do so.

I have respect for the libertarian position, but one should go all the way: if people want to marry who they want, they should also accept the principle that people should pay who they want.

So, if one says that the state has no business prohibiting two individuals from getting married if they want to, one should also say that the state has no business forcing people to pay money to whom they don't want to. For example, pensions to surviving spouses are paid by the government in some cases, so why should a person who does not want his taxes to go to homosexual widows be forced to do so.

That is the main problem with these types of arguments that I want to highlight in my post, namely that those who advocate incestuous marriage or any other kind of non-traditional marriage based on "utility" or "rights" must also -if they are being philosophically honest- accept a whole other set of behaviors in the bargain.

Belenos said...

"You are making an implicit assumption that gay families are somehow different than traditional marriages. In what ways are these families different? With artificial insemination and surrogate mothers there are thousands of gay and straight couples who are having children within the context of a nuclear 2 parent household."

They are different in the sense that they have a lower fertility rate than heterosexual marriages (in the case of lesbians) and they have an effective zero fertility rate in the case of gay men (in countries where surrogacy is illegal).

And even in cases of IVF children for lesbians, the state picks up the tab for an expensive treatment which is usually unnecessary for heterosexual couples. It's pretty clear that a homosexual relationships have many disadvangtages as centres of procreation, whatever their validity as places for child-rearing.

apostateimpressions said...

The homosexual "rights" advocates are playing strawman with the churches view. The argument is not "yuk" or "immoral" but whether gay "marriage" further undermines the institution of marriage. It is clear that marriage is in a state of collapse in Britain and that children and society are suffering as a result. See the news article that I linked to earlier. It is also clear that marriage has collapsed within a context of increased liberalism and that the institution is being undermined further and further. The harm that is done to society is quantifiable, liberals just dont want to acknowledge it because it doesnt suit their agenda.

Also, D makes a clear case that utilitarianism has implications for eugenics that liberals just dont want to acknowledge, again because it doesnt suit their agenda. Liberals need to decide what the underlying philosophical principles are and to apply them consistently, otherwise they are just partisans with their own agenda and no concern for truth or consistency. Society is getting harmed here and they dont seem to really care.

Also I am not convinced that thousands of years of near universal human condemnation of gay relationships can be dismissed simply as "bigotry". Tradition represents the wisdom of the ages and I dont see liberals as ethical ubermensch who tower above the ages, rather as pushy minority groups who assert their desires as society fractures and collapses. They could just as easily be dismissed as "decadent".

It is also worth noting that "rights" are a social construct, they are not somehow implicit in nature as if there are ten commandements saying that we have a right to this and that. They are a relatively recent human construct, I think often traced to the Jesuit theologian Suarez. Human society functioned for a long time before anyone argued that they had "rights". Liberalism is like a new religion. Arguably the new obsession is doing a lot of harm to society and is being used for subversion. Utilitariansism seems more rational and less arbitrary than rights.

Btw. the news this afternoon in Britain is mainly Tories complaining about the European Court of Human Rights and how various of our laws have been changed, about corporal punishment, votes for prisoners etc. so there isnt really a consensus that "rights" have made our society better or more agreeable to the majority. It has become a virtual religion however and it isnt going to be seriously questioned any time soon.

GailT said...

"...you should also believe that, for example, someone who does not want to subsidize same sex marriage should not be forced to do so."

okay, then can I also stop paying taxes to subsidize benefits for heterosexual couples? The government used to ban inter-racial marriages, you could have used the same cost argument in that case. If there is no rational reason to discriminate against certain types of marriage, than there is no reason to discriminate purely on financial considerations. You need a rational reason to discriminate, you can't simply say that we can afford some times of marriages and not others. If you think that gay marriage is not different, what is the rational reason for treating it differently?

In response to Belenos and apostate:
No the state does not pick up the cost for IVF. And if you believe fertility is the basis for marriage, why penalize the many thousands of gay couples who do have children, and why reward all of the straight couples who do not?

Apostate - No, marriage is not collapsing because of gay people or liberals. As Paul Krugman demonstrated, marriage is collapsing because of increasing financial inequality - fewer men have decent paying jobs to support a family. As the middle class collapses, traditional marriage is collapsing with it. Wealthy people in the USA have much higher marriage rates than poor people. But it is convenient for wealthy conservatives to blame this on gays and single black mothers, it's just a diversion from the true cause.

Who would have thought that hundreds of years of prejudice against black people could be dismissed as bigotry? We still have majority condemnation of inter-racial marriage in some parts of the USA. Bigotry is thriving, so why would you not expect bigotry against gay people?

Again, please, what are the rational argument for discriminating against gay people? How do gay people harm society?

Dienekes said...

@GailT

You seem to hold onto a position that sanction or reproach of social arrangements can be decided "rationally".

Your argument seems to be that since you think that those who do not sanction same sex marriage are "irrational", their opinions should not form the basis of public policy.

However, the issue is not one of rationality, since you cannot "prove" that the marriage institution must apply to this or that group. It is a social institution that has been circumscribed in a variety of ways historically as I've tried to describe in my post.

A society that allows people to marry when they're 18, have a coefficient of relatedness of 0.125 or less, and have different gender is not any less "rational" than one who allows them to marry when they're 16, have a coeffient of relatedness of 0.5 or less, and any gender they please. These are simply different social arrangements.

You are arguing for a particular type of social arrangement with respect to marriage. Many people do not share your opinion, and you can't simply condemn them as "irrational" if they favor different social arrangements than you do.

One can argue in a variety of ways about which arrangement is "best".

As I've explained in my post and comments, this can be done in a "human rights" sort of way by invoking freedom of association, but this entails the acceptance of other currently forbidden forms of marriage (e.g. polygamy or incest).

One can also invoke "utilitarian" arguments for particular arrangements, for example to forbid incest, but that would entail forbidding many heterosexual types of marriage as well that may also produce ill social effects.

apostateimpressions said...

Gail, you seem to identify correlations in the US between economic success and marital competence, between race and economic success and between race and marital competence. Your explanation that wealth and status are the causes of marital incompetence seems arbitraty. Is it not possible that there are biological, neurological factors of economic and social success and also of marital competence? You seem to assert neuological equality and I dont see how you could prove such a thing. It seems counter-intuitive and I would expect the scientific reality to be different from what you assume. I dont think that you can simply condemn marriage laws that you dont like as "bigoted", it seems intended to stigmatise and to shut down serious debate. You seem to have a political agenda and it seems right and proper that your case should be given a critical hearing. Arguably political correctness is mythological and totalitarian, it tries to impose an irrational agenda that transforms society and it tries to shut down all criticism and opposition. That seems dangerous.

Belenos said...

"No the state does not pick up the cost for IVF. And if you believe fertility is the basis for marriage, why penalize the many thousands of gay couples who do have children, and why reward all of the straight couples who do not?"

Gail, I think your view is a little Ameri-centric.

Re IVF treatment, the state certainly does subsidise it for lesbian couples in the UK, which is the logical conclusion of a rights based approach. I would be amazed if this were not also the case in the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

I have no personal problem with this, but your point was that the relationship is identical to heterosexual marriage, and it clearly isn't. The advantages given to married couples are designed to facilitate the production of children, which gay couples clearly aren't as good at.

There are already plenty of benefits (in most developed countries) which are given to families with children, whether they be married or not, but marriage itself is a cultural tradition, which has more than a legal existance

While I'm happy for gay couples to enjoy the same rights as straight ones, I simply don't consider them to be married, as in my culture marriage is between a man and a woman.

shenandoah said...

Since most people (traditionally at least) marry for the purpose of establishing a ~family structure which typically includes natural-born children of the married couple... I don't believe it is fair to allow marriages (such as incestuous ones) between people who are proven to be genetically predisposed to producing ~disabled children. Very unfair to the children involved, and to the State which in most cases helps care and provide services for the disabled.

chris_3721 said...

The thing which worries me about gay marriage is that the norms surrounding gay long-term relationships will be imported into the concept of marriage.

http://inductivist.blogspot.com/2010/07/gay-couples-teach-us-that-open.html
http://inductivist.blogspot.com/2010/02/gay-couple-promiscuity.html

“In a study of 566 gay couples, only 45 percent had even made the promise to be monogamous.The findings are so essential to the welfare of American society, the NIH forked out 3.5 million additional dollars to continue the study for five more years.

And these coupled gay men generate catchy memes for the rest of us. Dean Allemang, who just started a new relationship, dispensed this gem: “I don’t own my lover, and I don’t own his body,” he said. “I think it’s weird to ask someone you love to give up that part of their life. I would never do it.” ”

I don’t know many men who would sign up to an institution where the partners are expected/morally obliged to be emotionally faithful but not sexually faithful. It is much easier for women to get casual sex than men, so any man signing himself up to that deal would be signing himself up for cuckoldry and cuckoldry is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a man pursuing a long-term mating strategy, and it is the evolved moral norms surrounding the long-term mating strategy which marriage as a cultural institution is/was developed around/for.

Of course, if people became more knowledgeable about evo-bio/evo-psych and instead started calling marriage essentially what it is, the social-codification of the long-term mating strategy in humans, then this concern wouldn’t really matter. (no worrying about importing norms anti-thetical to the reproductive interests of one party in the relationship and subsequently which disincentivises the pursuit of the strategy from that party as its definition is strictly evo-bio/evo-psych.)

Sa Wardja said...

@chris_3721, yes, it is completely clear that for centuries, straight men have been the epitome of monogamy. One rarely hears of a heterosexual, married male having been anything but completely faithful to his spouse. Er. Um. Wait a second. What could be further from the truth? As a married gay man with many married, gay friends, I can honestly say I can count the non-monogamous couples on one hand. Gay male couples are likely simply more honest about their sex lives, whereas heterosexual couples cannot generally be honest about theirs because of societal pressure. I am not judging whether it is right or wrong, simply pointing out the extremely poor argument that married gays will somehow make married heteros less faithful than they already are.

In addition, other arguments on here about procreation somehow being paramount to civil marriage couldn't be further from the truth. If it were, we would also ban elderly couples and infertile couples from marriage. But even if it were, has no one on here ever heard of adoption? It's not necessary to use IVF or surrogacy to have children; couples have been adopting children for centuries (and informally for eons). IVF, surrogacy, and adoption are not seen as somehow "less than" sexual procreation among heteros. Why should it be any different for gay people?

I agree completely with GailT. The comparisons to incestual and underage marriage to gay marriage are erroneous. There are arguably no real detriments to come from gay marriage (I don't consider religious arguments to be pertinent to civil marriage, nor the ick-factor), and there are many benefits to the couple, their family, friends, and community. I have no real argument against plural marriage if it is among consenting adults, though regulating it in the same way as dual marriage would certainly be a challenge. In theory I have nothing against incestual marriage, but the possibility of producing offspring who could suffer as a result would give me some pause (yet we do not ban people with genetic diseases from marrying and producing offspring). With underage marriage, I believe the argument can be made that civil marriage is a contract, and a contract is only valid between consenting adults who have reached majority.

When comparing "gay" to "straight" marriage (I personally did not get "gay married", I just got "married"), the only real difference is the gender of the people involved. There is no significant difference other than that (I say this as someone who knows what my married life is like, and that of my gay friends, as well as an astute observer of parents who were married for nearly 45 years before one died, and an observer of my straight siblings and friends' marriages (and dare I say, mine has lasted longer than many of these...))--we can create families, we can pay taxes, we can support our families and our communities, in the exact same way as any other couples I know. If there were truly a good argument against gay marriage, I suspect it would have emerged by now in one of the many countries that has endorsed it. Much like "gays in the military" it has been much ado about nothing (as far as the reports of the imminent fall of society or "straight marriage"). My marriage hasn't wrecked a single straight marriage, nor been detrimental to a single person, and it has given me and my family many benefits (even in a state where it is not legal; the benefits, for now, are entirely emotional and societal). As for underage marriage and incestual marriage, I am not so sure the same thing could be argued.

chris_3721 said...

@ Sa Wardja

“yes, it is completely clear that for centuries, straight men have been the epitome of monogamy. One rarely hears of a heterosexual, married male having been anything but completely faithful to his spouse. Er. Um. Wait a second. What could be further from the truth? As a married gay man with many married, gay friends, I can honestly say I can count the non-monogamous couples on one hand. Gay male couples are likely simply more honest about their sex lives, whereas heterosexual couples cannot generally be honest about theirs because of societal pressure. I am not judging whether it is right or wrong, simply pointing out the extremely poor argument that married gays will somehow make married heteros less faithful than they already are.”


(a) This entire statement above was written without actually considering what I had said.

First, my concern isn’t with whether or not heterosexuals are successful at sexual fidelity with one another, it was concerned with what the justificatory basis for marriage as a social institution amongst heterosexuals was, with that basis being one of the social codification of the evolved moral norms surrounding long-term mating strategies amongst humans, and how extending that exact institution to homosexuals without reference to that evo-bio/evo-psych illuminated justificatory basis, could result in the importation of moral norms common amongst homosexual long-term relationships but which are not common in heterosexual long-term relationships, into that social institution with, as a result, harm occurring to individuals and society alike.


I then provided an example of how such harm to individuals, namely heterosexual men and subsequently heterosexual women, as well as society, could occur as a result of the importation of a particular moral norm common amongst homosexual long-term relationships yet which does not exist at anywhere near the same degree in heterosexual long-term relationships. I provide a link to a scientific study reported in the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times to back up the existence of such a differing moral norm amongst long-term homosexual relationships. Here is more;

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gays-anatomy/200809/are-gay-male-couples-monogamous-ever-after
see “In his book, The Soul Beneath the Skin, David Nimmons cites numerous studies which show that 75% of gay male couples are in successful open relationships.”

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00918360903445962

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19243229

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20635246
This is the link to the actual study from the newspaper reports.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20069497
This one provides a good review of the literature. But it is pay-gated.


You then try to refute the original scientific study I linked to through personal anecdote.


continued below...

chris_3721 said...

continued from above...


(b) Now that I have clarified my argument for you, I will try and qualify it a bit more in an attempt to resolve any further confusion.

“yes, it is completely clear that for centuries, straight men have been the epitome of monogamy. One rarely hears of a heterosexual, married male having been anything but completely faithful to his spouse. Er. Um. Wait a second. What could be further from the truth?”

The mere existence of heterosexuals not being sexually faithful to each other in relationships doesn’t indicate that those evolved moral norms prohibiting such behaviour do not exist. It is instead just an example of those particular individuals violating those norms. To argue that it does would be no different than to argue that the mere existence of people defecting from cooperative agreements to their own advantage and their partners disadvantage indicates that there are no evolved moral norms surrounding such defections. There are. Real life examples of this are called ‘cheating’, ‘stabbing someone in the back’, or ‘snitching’. Indeed, there is a significant amount of scientific evidence to suggest that people do possess psychological cheating-detection mechanisms to detect such defections and to ascribe to them some degree of moral culpability. Just look up say, I dunno, any study in game theory.


“As a married gay man with many married, gay friends, I can honestly say I can count the non-monogamous couples on one hand.”

Brah, personal anecdote trumps a scientific study?


“Gay male couples are likely simply more honest about their sex lives, whereas heterosexual couples cannot generally be honest about theirs because of societal pressure.”

This statement directly contradicts the statement you made before it. Which is it, ‘non-monogamous (gay) couples’ can be counted on one hand, or ‘gay male couples are likely simply more honest about their (open) sex lives’ and hence are by necessary implication more likely to be non-monogamous?


“I am not judging whether it is right or wrong, simply pointing out the extremely poor argument that married gays will somehow make married heteros less faithful than they already are.”

My argument wasn’t stating that gay marriage would make heterosexuals any less faithful in marriage than what they are. It was instead arguing that, as I have stated above at (a), that it could result in the importation of alien moral norms antithetical to the justificatory basis of marriage as a social institution and how such an occurrence could harm heterosexual individuals and society.


Finally, even though it isn’t related to my argument, you said, “I have no real argument against plural marriage if it is among consenting adults”.



You’re an idiot. Polygynous marriage would fuck up society. A minority of men monopolising the reproductive lives of a majority of women, leaving a majority of men with no opportunity to reproduce is a recipe for social catastrophe. You clearly have no understanding of human nature.

(If the moderator feels that this last paragraph is too offensive feel free to remove it.)