Thursday, 30 October 2008

I Can't Believe We Still Have To Have This Argument

Thanks to dday I know that today is "Write To Marry Day", where bloggers post some of their thoughts about gay marriage (in order to rail against the hideous abomination that is California's Proposition 8). dday has taken a fairly personal approach, but since I've yet to witness a gay marriage (or even a civil ceremony) and the closest person I know who has tied the knot to their same-sex partner is a former work mate who I haven't seen in years and I don't think liked me anyway, my contribution will have to flow along different lines.

Most of the arguments against gay marriage aren't even worth the effort of engaging with. At least one particularly befuddled fool is stinking up the intertubes suggesting that government-recognised gay marriage will infringe the right to freedom of religion. Apparently the only way to ensure people can worship freely is to ensure the government legislates according to one specific religion. Much like you can't have freedom of speech unless the government tells you that criticising them is treason.

A lot of the noise over this issue is similarly inane, but one argument that at least has the veneer of sanity is that marriage is currently defined as being between one man and one woman, and once you change one word in that definition, what's to stop later governments changing more of them?

Now, I don't agree with this line of reasoning, and I'll get to why in a minute, but at the very least this is an actual point, rather than a rant or an excuse or a false equivalency to having sex with turtles. It's worth refuting, in other words, which is what I'll do as my contribution to WTMD.

The problem with that argument is that any re-wording of the above phrase will necessarily fall into one of two categories. Either it changes it into some obviously unacceptable form, or it doesn't.

Take the most common re-formulation, which is to change the numbers to allow polygamy. Now, I would put that into the latter category. I don't want multiple wives, I don't want to be one of multiple husbands, and I can't understand why anyone else would want to do it either (the same, pf course, is true of pot-holing and attending a Bryan Adams concert). Having said that, if three or more people genuinely do want to engage in some sort of massively complex multi-partner marriage, than what the hell do I care? More to the point, what business is it of anyone else's? From that perspective, arguing that allowing gay marriage might create precedent for allowing polygamy is ridiculous.

"Ah", the objectors say, "But polygamy brings with it several problems." Which indeed it does. Marriage right now gives benefits to both parties that they would not have had otherwise. Extending those benefits to a trio would be a difficult process, and considerable thought would have to go into ensuring the system wasn't frequently abused. Maybe it couldn't be done fairly at all. Then there's the issue that if Wife 2 doesn't know about Wife 1, then she thinks she's getting the premium rate benefits for being in a "standard" marriage when in fact she's getting the, for want of a better term, group discount. Then you have to start worrying about making it illegal to become a bigamist unless your second spouse is informed of the first to stop confusion (and it's not like keeping a check on that is a trivial task). Plus divorces become even more Gordian and emotionally exhausting (I hope you're listening, CK, because this could be relevant if you ever have to consider multiple divorces of wives who have angered you), and so on.

The thing is, though, if the above problems are sufficiently unsolvable and serious to make polygamy a no-no, then that's the reason you give for not legalising it. I can't understand the idea that a slippery slope argument applies here. It essentially boils down to "If we make a sensible change to this law, then stupid changes might follow". If you can't construct an argument against polygamy that doesn't get trumped by "The gays are doing it", then either you're an idiot with no place in politics, or polygamy can't be all that bad, and you're denying one group of people the right to marry in order to stop another group acquiring the right to marry, and you haven't got an argument for stopping either of them.

So, no more nonsense please. Get on with the legalising.

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