Thursday, November 13, 2008

Personal Thoughts on Proposition 8

1. Why now, when the election is over and done with and the passage of the proposition to restrict the legal definition of marriage in California to heterosexual couples is a done deal? First, because the fall-out--much of which has focused upon my own church, both institutionally and in regards to individual members, with diverse consequences--continues, and is likely to continue for quite a while to come. Second, because a bunch of mostly Mormon friends of mine and I have just finished a long, rambling discussion of the topic. Third, because Stephen asked me to.

2. What do I think of my church's involvement in pushing the proposition? I have mixed feelings. Part of me has long wished my church would get more political, partly because I think religious voices need to be contended over back and forth in the public realm, partly because I think my church has ideas which could be a helpful contribution to that continuing contention which is modern democratic public life, and partly because--and this is important--by getting political, I hope that my church (which is, by any reasonable measure, still very much a fairly inwardly focused, fairly authoritarian institution) will learn some structural from those modern democratic exigencies, and be therefore better able to handle disagreements and compromises. So yes, the political scientist and fan of organized democratic action in me admires this move by my church, admires its ability to harness foot soldiers and efficient lines of communication in the service of political goal, and I feel this way even while thinking that--pragmatically speaking--more harm than good, in the long run, will come to my church because of its involvement in this particular effort, to say nothing of all the misunderstandings and anger and potential harms that may come to the citizens of California, both gay and straight, because of it.

3. Would I have voted for Proposition 8 if I'd lived in California? I think probably yes, reluctantly.

3a. "I think probably," because I don't live in California, and therefore I'm not confronted directly by personal situations and frustrations and aspirations which could have pulled my beliefs one way or another. As I've said before, arguments over tradition and marriage, in contrast to arguments over, say, abortion, are the sort of thing that "I simply nod my head in regards to, acknowledging their importance...in the abstract, but finding the practical efforts involved in the issue often misconceived and directed against the wrong target." Consequently, I could easily see me being swayed away from my tentative, somewhat theoretical support for it if the issue had confronted me more starkly.

3b. "Yes" for, I think, four reasons:
1) because my church asked me to (more on that below);
2) because I agree with some (but not all) of the philosophical arguments which my church and others who pushed for the proposition adduced as part of their case for the proposition (again, more on that below);
3) because, all things considered, I will almost always side with any proposition or referendum that involves setting matters directly before voters and thereby demands of them democratic deliberation and legislative compromise, rather than contenting ourselves with all-or-nothing decisions issued by courts (this is my wonky, political science preference for democracy coming out again);
3) because--and this is important--it was a narrowly focused proposition, one which would have re-established a formal distinction between same-sex relationships and heterosexual marriages in the state of California, but which would not have removed any substantive rights that gay couples currently enjoy under state law.

3c. "Reluctantly" for at least two reasons:
1) because California is almost certainly the wrong place for this kind of struggle: it is far too large and too diverse to be, I think, responsibly conceived of as an arena wherein an argument about what a community wants or expects or believes when it comes to marriage could be worked out (and if no such arena is being conceived, then we're apparently not talking about collective self-government, but rather than just tyrannies of courts or majorities, take your pick, and I don't want any part in that);
2) because the specific political arguments which the "Yes on 8" side made use of--as opposed to the more tentative and general philosophical ones which I, in part, agree with--were often complete paranoia and nonsense, and such crummy and inflammatory arguments are enough to make me want to vote against something in principle, even if I see the general point of the proposition.

4. In reference to 3b.2 (good grief, I'm writing a lawyer's brief here)...what do I see as the general point of the proposition? A great many people--not entirely accurately, I think, but entirely legitimately just the same--see its general point as one of hate and contempt, of moral busybodies cobbling together a majority and shoving their preferences down the throats of a tolerant and open-minded people. I'm sure there was some of that at play, amongst the thinking of my own people as well as the many others who turned out to pass Proposition 8. But to me, the general point of the proposition was one of drawing distinctions. I do happen to accept the deep cultural and/or communitarian and/or conservative presumption at work behind most traditionalist thinking about marriage: that is, I believe that civilized society depends upon the sustaining of certain norms (like heterosexual marriage), I believe that many (not all, but many) norms reflect essential characteristics of the way the majority of human beings have historically related and will continue to relate to one another, and I believe that opening up social institutions to forced redefinitions--as if said institutions were based on nothing more than self-satisfying, mutually agreed upon contracts--undermines their ability to support and draw the good out of those norms regarding human relationships for the benefit of society. Is that clear as mud, or what? Let me turn, as I always do when it comes to this topic, to Noah Millman, who I still believe thought it through as well as anyone ever has (scroll down a little to get to the relevant post; you should also read his original, lengthy post on the topic, here):

[Many advocates of same-sex marriage want the state to] redefine marriage to mean any exclusive partnership...between any two individuals regardless of their biological sex....That's not what marriage means, nor ever has meant, because the complementarity between men and women is at the heart of the meaning of marriage. Marriage has changed an awful lot over the centuries, and we in the West have ultimately repudiated the polygamy and consequent second-class status for women that were central to marriage for its first few thousand years as a legal institution. But the proposed redefinition would be, essentially, a linguistic falsehood. For that reason, I fear that it would have the practical consequences I identify in my original piece: because it would make the traditional language of marriage relating to complementarity of the sexes appear to be nonsensical, it would make it that much harder for men and women to learn how to relate to one another, and form stable marriages. And because it would have advanced under the banner of rights such a reform would implicitly concede that marriage is a choice rather than a norm - a choice we all have a right to make but, by the same token, the right not to make if we prefer to live otherwise.

While it's unlikely to get much of a hearing by partisans on both sides of this struggle, I would note that the above is not an argument against any kind of legally recognized same-sex marriage; it's merely an argument against our currently existing marriage regime (which is by no means the only possible set of marriage laws and understandings available either today or historically) being expanded to include same-sex couples. So what do we do for same-sex couples? We do what Noah suggested: create "a new institution...exclusively for same-sex couples, that would have many--perhaps even all--of the rights and responsibilities of marriage." Will that ever fly? Probably not; the accusations of reviving the principle of "separate but equal" would go up before the ink was even dry on any such law, assuming it ever came to pass. But if so, then perhaps that is just so much the worse for American jurisprudence. We reduce so much to either-or questions of legal rights in this country; partially by (unintentional) constitutional design, partially by inclination and habit. The sort of consensual, democratically deliberated distinctions that might emerge otherwise in the absence of such--distinctions along the lines of "distinguishing between black and white people in deciding which kind of jobs are appropriate for them is unfair and discriminatory, whereas distinguishing between gay people and straight people in determining which sort of marriage union is appropriate for them is not"--simply wouldn't survive in our legalistic environment. To quote Noah once more, "we live in an era when the hegemonic paradigm abhors difference." And, depending on the day you ask me, I might sigh and say that's the way it should be: I mean, I hardly want to throw Brown v. Board of Education out with the bathwater!

I tend to think the French were on the right track when they established PACS (pacte civil de solidarité) to serve as an alternative to marriage in order to avoid unnecessary fights with various religious communities. But they failed to articulate what they were doing as a route for gay couples in particular, and as a result the heterosexual couples looking to avoid the social implications of marriage flocked to civil unions, which warped the legislation's potential to be a model for addressing the deeper issues of "distinction" which I think are--or at least ought to--relevant here, to the extent you think any of this is worth worrying about (and, again, of all the "traditionalist" issues worth worrying about in our individualistic world, this one comes very far down the list). In any case, one last quote from Noah:

"Gay marriage" [has become] a wedge issue rather than a serious topic, and is eclipsing the serious questions about marriage. We are talking about the non-existent "threat" from gay couples instead of talking about the real damage caused by no-fault divorce. [Some] have argued, in a nutshell, that advocates for a more robust marriage culture need to focus on stopping same-sex marriage because that's (a) a popular cause, and (b) a negative trend that has to be reversed before a positive trend can be started. I can't get on that train. I can't tell a lesbian couple with children that I oppose any effort to publicly recognize their relationship because fighting them is the only way to get other straight people's attention, and that I hope, some day, to use that attention to focus on the actual problems of marriage. That's simply not just.

I agree completely...which is why, if the California proposition had moved beyond what I saw as a simply insisting upon a distinction, I wouldn't have voted for it (recognizing as I do that, especially given many of the arguments which were put into play in this election, and the expansive and diverse range of understandings at work on both sides in the huge state of California, the likelihood that anyone seeing the proposition as fundamentally an opening for democratic discussion about distinctions is pretty small).

5. And now, 3b.1--so, I would have voted against it, if it hadn't had been written in the way it was, even though my church, which I am an Sunday-attending, temple-going, life-long member of, had told me to?

Well, yes--partly because my commitment to and belief in the church doesn't ever quite override my reasoning faculties, and partly because the church leadership didn't "tell" anyone to. We are not talking about the man we hold to be a prophet (and we can leave my own personal hermeneutical consideration of what statement actually means for another time...) "commanding" anything in this case. Did our prophet, and all the rest of the church leadership (or at least, that portion of the church leadership which actually spoke out on this matter, which was actually only a tiny minority of all those who could have spoken out) want the Saints in California to vote a certain way? Absolutely, and there were statements read in California wards encouraging members of the church to organize and vote in support of the proposition, and there were references to scripture, and there were statements put out by church media, and there were directives which came down from church leaders giving advice and support to regional leaders in California who contacted members and involved them in various campaign activities, and many millions of dollars were raised along the way. But does that equal "commanded"? I don't think so. As for what happened on the local level--and rest assured, some of it was sometimes ugly--I can't comment, but the official language from Salt Lake was always one of "encouraging" the membership, not ordering them about.

Let's put it this way: Mormons in California were "expected" to vote for and help support the proposition. The question then is what kind of "expectation" we’re talking about. I am expected abstain from smoking or drinking or sleeping with anyone I'm not married to; if I do not so abstain, then by basic commitment to fundamental church doctrines and practices comes into question, and I could lose privileges as a member, or even my membership itself. Often, these kind of lay judgments (and ours is a lay church, so there are many inconsistencies along the way, I assure you) can be socially hurtful, even ostracizing, and they may involve things that have very little to do with the aforementioned fundamental church doctrines and practices. But I just can’t imagine that my bottom-line personal worthiness as a Mormon--usually measured by my receiving of a recommend allowing me to attend one of the Mormon temples--would ever be subject to sanction or judgment on such a basis. Does that mean I would have gone against the preferences of my community casually? For myself, no--I value not just my membership, but also my affectivity for, my belonging to, that community too much. But for me--and, I think, most American Mormons as well, though the majority of them (for reasons more having to do with history and demography than anything else) are already conservative enough on "culture war" issues that the church involvement in this case likely didn't make much difference in the way they were already going to vote--that belonging is just one important factor amongst many others, some equally important. Which is one more way of saying, I suppose, that I'm a liberal communitarian at heart.

35 comments:

Lindsey said...

I voted against prop 8, but with mixed feelings. It was hard to reconcile my "betraying the church" feeling with my "reasonable pluralist" side. In the end, I almost feel like the state can call marriage what it will, and the church can keep it how they want it. That's almost certainly not the right way to think about it. What I found most disturbing is that my (temporary) church here in LA called gay-marriage the downfall of that institution, yet not one word was mentioned about divorce (even when divorce was part of the scripture being quoted). Curious.

Not helpful, I know. But I just don't know what to think, so I voted no. And I think that maybe, even if I'd have wanted to vote yes, I still would have voted no. Though I can't be sure.

(Fwiw, I didn't witness any thoughtful dialogue from anyone on either side while here. Church was belligerent. Fellow grad students were belligerent. So much for public reason!)

loafingcactus said...

No, no, no, you are not allowed to THINK! Not any of all-ya-all, no matter what you voted. You're just supposed to KNOW that voting for (or is it against?) Prop 8 is EVIL. Sigh.

I like that "belligerent" word. Indeed.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Lindsey, loafingcactus, thanks for your comments.

In the end, I almost feel like the state can call marriage what it will, and the church can keep it how they want it. That's almost certainly not the right way to think about it.

I agree; it's not. But it's very probably where we're going to end up anyway, and while I think there will be fair number of serious social costs and harms that will come along with the complete separation and privatization of marriage, there will be, I suppose, some upsides too. It'd be nice to think such wasn't inevitable, but the environment you both point to--the belligerence, the lack of dialogue, the previously established (almost pre-ordained, it sometimes seems like) scheme of "bigot!" vs. "destroyer of Western civilization!" that so many have happily embraced in their rhetoric and reasoning--suggests that abandoning the whole debate may eventually be the better part of valor, not to mention basic civility.

Stephen said...

Russell,

I am extremely grateful that you took up my request, and wrote this. I guessed that I would disagree strongly with what you wrote -- and I do -- but I always like hearing thoughtful arguments from the other side, so I thank you, again, for thinking about it.

Having asked for your thoughts, I am extremely reluctant to quarrel with them -- at least on any of the usual paths; I think very well of the arguments that you dismiss, but I don't think you need me to reiterate them. So I won't.

But I will note my own personal interest in your "personal hermeneutical consideration of what statement actually means" (about the Mormon prophet), in case you feel like writing more posts upon request :).

And lastly I'll note that it's interesting -- and I really mean nothing more than that -- that you wrote as you did, focusing on the merits of Prop 8 and the role of the Church, and talking only in passing about the post-election protests, which seem to me to be of equal interest. About the propriety of those protests, I would probably be as talmudical as you are about Prop 8 itself... although I doubt I'll actually write up my inchoate thoughts on the matter, since I'm not sure, in the end, that they amount to anything unusual.

My one follow-up question... and I'm going to try to keep this from straying into argument, but if I fail let me preemptively apologize -- would be this. It seems to me not only obvious that your sense (in 3c-1) that California is not the sort of community for the sort of dialogue you envision is right, but inevitable that this will be true of any form of the modern secular state. In consequence of this, we already have, in almost every other area, a two-tiered system, with the secular, civil law recognizing marriage in its sense, and religious communities defining them very differently (as Lindsey mentioned above). So the Catholic church doesn't recognize the remarriages of divorcees, no matter what the secular state might say; and Jewish law doesn't recognize intermarriages similarly; and so forth. Given that this two-tier system already exists, and that there are, as you recognize, good reasons for the legal evolution of notions like "suspect classes" from Brown through today, wouldn't it be better to conceive of secular, civil marriage as fully neutral -- thus on gay relationships no less than divorce, intermarriage, or what have you -- and let religious or other communities (that, unlike secular states, can and do actually function as communities) have the sort of dialogue about the meaning of marriage that you find valuable? Wouldn't that, in the end, better serve both your purposes, and the (obviously I think far more unquestionably valid than you do) purposes of those who see the "distinction" of Prop 8 as analogous, in all the important ways, to what Justice Harlan once called a "badge" of inferiority? Why, in short, does the quarrel about "marriage" that you would find valuable have to be about secular, civil marriage -- when all the other quarrels about it aren't?

...Ok, way too close to argumentation. I invoke my preemptive apology.

And thank you, again, for writing this in response to my request! (FWIW, I owe you a post; collect when and if you will.)

Stephen

Russell Arben Fox said...

Stephen,

Thanks very much for your comments and your understanding. As you discern, I'm not really making an argument here; I'm talking about what my own thinking has been, and likely would have resulted, had I been in a position to follow through on it.

As for your desire for posts on my personal hermeneutics of prophethood...well, I'll think about it. Is that a good enough promise?

About the propriety of those protests, I would probably be as talmudical as you are about Prop 8 itself.

If by "Talmudic" you mean something like "even-handed, technical, unemotional, concerned above all with the fine procedural details," then you're describing me too. Let me just say here that some Mormon church leaders and thinkers have shown themselves perfectly capable of being whiners on this score. Good grief, people: you want to play hardball politics, and now you get huffy about temples being protested, about Mormons getting hounded out of their jobs? Give me a break! What is it about the rough-and-tumble of politics in a pluralistic society that you don't understand? If we were talking about the sort of confrontation actions that ACT-UP engaged in back in the 1980s (disrupting Catholic masses, desecrating the host, etc.), then I would draw a line; but we're talking about that sort of thing (yet, I suppose).

Given that this two-tier system already exists, and that there are, as you recognize, good reasons for the legal evolution of notions like "suspect classes" from Brown through today, wouldn't it be better to conceive of secular, civil marriage as fully neutral--thus on gay relationships no less than divorce, intermarriage, or what have you--and let religious or other communities (that, unlike secular states, can and do actually function as communities) have the sort of dialogue about the meaning of marriage that you find valuable?

You make a good, reasonable argument here, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if, eventually, it's the way all of us are going to have to go on this matter, as I mentioned to Lindsey and loafingcactus above. I would just say two things, which I won't take the time to develop as arguments here (not the least reason for which is that I'm not even fully persuaded by them). First is the notion that certain kinds of relationships play an important role in organizing and sustaining civil society; to make marriage a fully neutral (and thus substantively empty) category would leave it in a position of organizing relationships, but not capable of contributing to or sustaining society as I understand it. Second is my old populist/communitarian thing: a marriage regime that doesn't at least potentially reflect, in a formal sense, the substantive sensibilities of the people who live under that regime, is one more arena of human life in which the people, as a community, can exercise no authority over. (Which is why these kind of struggles in a place like California--as opposed to a place like Arkansas--are just pragmatically unwise.)

Stephen said...

As for your desire for posts on my personal hermeneutics of prophethood...well, I'll think about it. Is that a good enough promise?

Certainly. I should say that, for my part, I am interested in worldviews, epistemologies, beliefs, theologies, so I am interested when smart, thoughtful people with whom I disagree reach different conclusions. Which conclusions I am less picky about. Which is to say, while I am definitely interested in your take on prophethood, I'm not specifically interested in your take on that area as much as interested in reading your thoughts (for us Gentiles (I love being called a gentile)) on the nature of various church institutions and beliefs.

If by "Talmudic" you mean something like "even-handed, technical, unemotional, concerned above all with the fine procedural details," then you're describing me too.

Hmm, roughly. I think I would have put it, "making fine-grained, legalistic ethical distinctions, picking a careful path (and putting moral emphasis on) between options that would seem to most people identical".

I certainly hope we don't see (and don't think we have seen) anything parallel to the ACT-UP protests in the 80's. I myself prefer and support peaceful protests, aimed at changing minds and drawing attention to views with which one (vehemently but civilly) disagrees. My model would be the nation-wide protests outside of Woolworths that occurred in the early-60's as support for sit-ins at Woolworths in the south (I know you reject the analogy, but that's how I think of it).

Stephen said...

For the above paraphrase of "talmudic", please read: making fine-grained, legalistic ethical distinctions, picking a careful path between (and putting moral emphasis on) narrowly differing options that would seem to most people identical.

(I hate not being edit after posting... that's when gremlins always add in bloopers.)

Nate said...

Russell: I suspect that you will be surprised to learn that I actually agree with almost everything that you write here. Indeed, last election in Virginia we did have an anti-SSM measure on the ballot which I voted against precisely because it would have inhibited the state from recognize or accomodating SSM couples in any manner whatsoever, which struck me as unwise and unjust.

My core problem with SSM is the notion that it rejects male-female complementarity as a necessary aspect of marriage. In doing so it makes it into a purely affectionate or contractual arrangement, which means that it ceases to do the ideological work of modeling an ideal relationship between men and women AS men and women.

I am slightly more sympathetic to the slippery slope arguments that adopting SSM will lead to shifts in social attitudes that will increase hostility toward traditional religions. On the other hand, I think that these are fairly speculative harms, and they have to be weighed against the real social hostility against Mormons that has been stirred up by the church's involvement. I think that the hostility is a combination both of the prominence of the church's position and also because vitriol against Mormons is socially acceptable in a way that vitriol against other groups is not. At which point, my instincts become thoroughly tribal, I go into what Bushman calls the "defensive hunch" and think, "The church should do what is best for the church and the saints not for the world..."

I do think that this whole debacle illustrates the really toxic quality of attempts to adjudicate such disputes through judicial appeals to fundamental rights. The fundamental rights are precisely what we as a society don't agree upon. For what it is worth, there is a non-trivial historical argument to be made that we ought not to fetishize Brown v. Board of Education. One can point out that it did virtually nothing to actually desegregate schools and that what was actually effective in dismantling de jure desegregation was not litigation but mass protest, race riots, and Congressional legislation. In short, Brown as the primal myth of the indispensability of judicial review may well be false.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Nate,

I'm not that surprised, but I am gratified; it's always nice to find out that someone smarter than you agrees with you.

In doing so it makes it into a purely affectionate or contractual arrangement, which means that it ceases to do the ideological work of modeling an ideal relationship between men and women AS men and women.

Right. Society requires an ideological butressing, and contracts do a poor job at supplying that butressing.

I do think that this whole debacle illustrates the really toxic quality of attempts to adjudicate such disputes through judicial appeals to fundamental rights. The fundamental rights are precisely what we as a society don't agree upon.

Also right.

[T]here is a non-trivial historical argument to be made that we ought not to fetishize Brown v. Board of Education. One can point out that it did virtually nothing to actually desegregate schools and that what was actually effective in dismantling de jure desegregation was not litigation but mass protest, race riots, and Congressional legislation. In short, Brown as the primal myth of the indispensability of judicial review may well be false.

Oh, I don't fetishize it; I actually don't like judicial review (but you knew that, right?) as a whole, and am very suspcious of the courts of the law as an instrument of social change. That said, ideas, however articualted, have consequences, and the perceptional consequences of Brown are ones that I (and all Americans, I should think) value, and hence are not consequences I would want to dismiss lightly.

Hector said...

Re:In doing so it makes it into a purely affectionate or contractual arrangement, which means that it ceases to do the ideological work of modeling an ideal relationship between men and women AS men and women.

This is true. Also true is that, whatever some people say today, marriage _is_ essentially, and in its origin, about procreation. Ask any evolutionary biologist. Or ask Aquinas, who held that marriage was, quite apart from any sacramental or Christian implications, a _natural_ good, and one of the benefits of marriage perceptible to non-Christians was that it provided a healthy environment for the care and nurture of children. Or ask Malinowski, who said that one moral rule that was virtually universal across societies was that a father ought to be tied in some sense to the mother of his child.

Unfortunately, our society doesn't really share those ideas. And for the most part, our marriage laws have given in to them. Our society doesn't automatically dissolve an "open" marriage on the theory that it degrades the institution, even though it clearly does. Our society doesn't really encourage the idea that procreation and marriage should be linked, even though they clearly should. If we tolerate all sorts of sub-optimal marriages except one, it seems like gay people are going to inevitably feel that the object is to discriminate against them, even if it really isn't.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Hector,

Thanks for commenting; I'm going to have to start to link to you! (Christian socialists like us need to stick together.)

Our society doesn't automatically dissolve an "open" marriage on the theory that it degrades the institution, even though it clearly does. Our society doesn't really encourage the idea that procreation and marriage should be linked, even though they clearly should. If we tolerate all sorts of sub-optimal marriages except one, it seems like gay people are going to inevitably feel that the object is to discriminate against them, even if it really isn't.

Well said. I particularly think your point about "open marriages" is a telling one. At the risk of moving into areas of cultural criticism where I'm very much out of my depth, I wonder how much one can look to the mass media, the cult of celebrity, the "democratization of the elite," as causes here. Obviously, those with money and connections have always been able to buy their way out of the consequences of their sexual relations, one way or another (affording the second home to maintain the mistress, etc.); as the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" have been brought into all our homes and lives over the course of the 20th century, the disparity between the "ordinary" obligation to sustain certain customs, and the fact the some can afford to disregard them, becomes much more stark, and harder for mere tradition and religion to argue against. Too Marxian an analysis there? Food for thought, anyway.

Stephen said...

[Many advocates of same-sex marriage want the state to] redefine marriage to mean any exclusive partnership...between any two individuals regardless of their biological sex

But many insist that partnerships need not be exclusive. Let no one forget that non-exlusiveness (adultery) was a felony in many states into the 1980s.

I think that is a more important fault line than the gender of the parties to a marriage.

Stephen said...

Too many Stephens...

DrJubal said...

If I can ask the political scientist a question - regardless of your feelings on Prop 8, I'm very troubled that a simple majority is apparently enough to change the constitution.

The constitution has always been to me the last refuge of the oppressed minority. In that even if 90% of the citizens of your country think you're crazy, the constitution protects your minority status, whether it applies to racial origin, religious beliefs, free speech, sexual orientation or whatever.

Apparently for some topics, at least in California, 50.01% is enough to oppress your neighbor.

Seems wrong to me somehow, but I'm not sure what percentage would make it right.

djw said...

Hi Russell, I'm going to decline commenting on most of the substance of this post (in large part because, well, I've found myself extremely and increasingly angry about this since the election, and that's not the best place from which to engage with someone with whom I disagree and respect) so instead I'll pose two questions I (as a political theorist who is drawn to but not entirely persuaded by your conception of democracy) would be curious to see you take up:

What (as a communitarian "deep" democrat) do you think of California's constitutional amendment procedures? And, if you have any misgivings about simple majority constitutional amendments, might that influence how you'd vote?

Russell Arben Fox said...

David, drjubal,

You both ask the same good question, which I can expand in a theoretical way like this: if I want to prioritize, leaving all other issues aside, the ability and right of a community to democratically make distinctions which may have real consequences for the rights of individuals, what is the point of having a constitution, particularly a constitution which can be amended by a bare majority? Why not just have constant mass meetings where the will of the people can be regularly re-affirmed, a la Rousseau?

Answer: because that would be madness, particularly in the modern state, and especially in a modern state like California. Democratic action is good, and I'd like to see more democratic activism in the face of presumptive judicial rulings myself (as I alluded to Nate earlier, I'm rather persuaded by Jeremy Waldron's arguments against judicial review in general). But all the same, a demos can grow large, diverse, divided and contentious, and when you get to such a state, you can either head to the hills and start over (I'm thinking here of Voltaire's accusation that Rousseau just wanted to go back to living in caves), or you can try to make some sort of compromise with modernity. I vote for the compromise...which, in this case, that you have constitutions, that you make it possible for popular referendums to change those constitutions, and that you puts some rules in place to limit those referendums. California satisfies the first two parts of the compromise, but not the third.

So, what am I saying? I'm saying that I did admire, as a political scientist, the activism and involvement which the referendum process drew out, and it is also true that the progressive part of my soul thinks that turning directly to voters is a central and obvious part (though only a part) of what "democracy" is all about. But not all referendums are equal, and the referendum system in California, particularly the constitutional-amendment-via-referendum part of it, is to a great degree indefensible, reducing democracy to a mass plebiscite and nothing more.

Should that have influenced how I'd vote? Interesting question--since I confess that I would have, reluctantly, voted for the proposition, the question being asked is whether I shouldn't have voted for it given the understanding that if I did, it might pass with a bare majority, and I shouldn't want it to pass unless it had more than a bare majority. But of course it could never get to that "more than a bare majority" stage unless I voted for it. So I guess it comes down to how much weight my strictly political considerations should have had on my vote. My answer is, I think, some, but not enough to necessarily outweigh everything else.

Basically, I just want America to devolve into a bunch of small parliamentary democracies. Until that happens, I have to make do with what I've got.

Clark Goble said...

Russell, I share both yours and Nate's views. Although I get a bit squeamish when you start almost heading towards a utilitarian defense against SSM. It seems to me that as soon as you invoke utilitarianism of any stripe one need only ask, "why do we care only about those goods - why not all these other goods such as stable relationships for gay relationships?" Once you make that move it seems almost impossible to reject SSM.

Baring utilitarian arguments (and honestly, how many real utilitarians are there?) it seems to me the strongest argument is Stephen's analogy to Catholic view of divorcees marrying to Jewish views of certain kinds of intermarriage. Why can't Mormons just accept that gays are marrying but not consider them valid. (One might say Mormons already do this with any marriage not done in the temple) (I had a similar discussion along those lines at my blog last week)

It seems to me that the only real defense against SSM is that we have an unjust mixing of Church and State such that the state is in effect controlling a public religious symbol. Given that the only recourse for the religious worried about symbols is to try and maintain the symbol. The solution is to simply keep the State in the civil union business but get them out of the religion business. (This seems fair - how would we feel if the State was defining baptism and giving legal rights based upon accepted baptisms?)

I'm curious as to how you respond to that approach.

The second question I've not seen too many Mormons addressing. I'm convinced that at least part of the LDS opposition is tied to a grave fear of polygamy and the inevitability of polygamy being legalized within a decade of SSM being legalized. Is that a valid fear (and do you think the LDS leadership actually have it)?

janeannechovy said...

Hey Russell. I've known you about a million and a half years, and also know that neither of us is likely to convince the other of anything on this topic (I pretty much knew what I thought about gay rights even before I married the son of a gay father), but . . .

The whole gendered approach to marriage, complementarity of the sexes, blah blah blah stuff induces in me a moderate-to-severe case of the hyperventilating heebies.

Just so you know.

PS I'm also a much bigger fan of judicial review than you are, apparently. But then, I had Federal Courts and the Federal System from Akhil Amar.

Ben W. Brumfield said...

I will almost always side with any proposition or referendum that involves setting matters directly before voters and thereby demands of them democratic deliberation and legislative compromise, rather than contenting ourselves with all-or-nothing decisions issued by courts (this is my wonky, political science preference for democracy coming out again)

I wish you would elucidate this a bit more, as it's exactly why I would have voted against Prop 8.

I've got big problems with court-ordered SSM, feeling that these kinds of major changes ought to be the result of democratic legislation. But once the issue was placed on the ballot, I was astonished by the intensity of my feelings against it -- I mean, once you get to vote, it seems you must vote based on policy, not politics.

Hector said...

Re: Basically, I just want America to devolve into a bunch of small parliamentary democracies.

Russell,

I'd like that too, but do you think it would solve much of anything? Compared with other large countries like, say, India (where states don't even speak the same _language_) our states are really pretty similar to each other culturally, and in each one you have similar culture clashes; the fault lines are within states, not between them. The fights might pit Mormons against gays in California, Catholic prelates against college professors in Rhode Island, and ELCA Lutherans vs. Missouri Synod Lutherans in Iowa, but you are going to get the same basic culture war. Not even South Dakota can be counted on to be reliably conservative, as we saw this November 4th.

I think your point is well taken about the lifestyles of the rich and famous trickling down. Ever since the old justifications for aristocracy collapsed, i think, societies have been struggling with the question of whether they should try to get the elite to live by working class values, or try to spread elite values into the working class. It's not always an easy question to answer.

Regarding the connection between homosexuality and other traditional sexual rules, it's interesting that Jamaican society, which is almost proverbial for official and semi-official homophobia, also has the highest illegitimacy rate (by far) in the world, at over 85%.

bayesian said...

Regarding the connection between homosexuality and other traditional sexual rules, it's interesting that Jamaican society, which is almost proverbial for official and semi-official homophobia, also has the highest illegitimacy rate (by far) in the world, at over 85%.

I did not know that, although it's hardly surprising. Certainly Jamaica appears to be one of the more disfunctional societies of the New World (though its economy is surprisingly diversified).

I wonder if we were to take a functional rather than formal view of illegitimacy, e.g. to capture the Swedish result, and define functional legitimacy as the child living in the same home as both (biological) parents up to age 16 or some such, what the illegitimacy rates of various countries, regions, subgroups, etc. would look like? Anybody know a source of statistics on that? Hector?

I'll hazard the guess that in the Christian and post-Christian developed world, relatively high acceptance/status for same sex relationships correlates with functional legitimacy, but I could easily be wrong.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Glad to see the conversation is continuing!

Clark,

Why can't Mormons just accept that gays are marrying but not consider them valid?

I suppose that's one likely result of all this controversy...but what would it involve? It would mean either a) in areas where Mormons are a majority, or at least a significant minority, of the population, married gays would perhaps lack all legitimacy, and b) in every other part of the country (and in perhaps every other country in the world), Mormons would be writing themselves completely out of any discussion of social legitimacy, essentially ending any contribution they could make towards self-government. Moving towards a consensual, democratic distinguishing of heterosexual marriages and gay marriages still seems preferable, to me.

Jane,

The whole gendered approach to marriage, complementarity of the sexes, blah blah blah stuff induces in me a moderate-to-severe case of the hyperventilating heebies.

Yeah, I know--you and a lot of old friends of mine (Mary Ellen, etc.) are probably appalled (though maybe not surprised) that I go along with the church far enough to find some sense in this kind of language. I don't apologize for it, but I also recognize that it is perhaps a mostly intuitive belief, not one that can be argued for particularly well.

Ben,

I mean, once you get to vote, it seems you must vote based on policy, not politics.

I don't know about that; it seems to be that the process by which a policy can be arrived at is as legitimate a focus for endorsement as the policy itself. That being said, as I mentioned originally, I didn't think Proposition 8 did actually did very much in terms of policy, and perhaps that is what made me feel that my political-science preference for the action behind it loomed large enough as an argument for the proposition so as to overcome any doubts I might have had. (All of which is hypothetical, of course; if I'd lived in California, my thinking about real-world policy outcomes might have been different.)

Hector,

[B]ut do you think it would solve much of anything? Compared with other large countries like, say, India (where states don't even speak the same _language_) our states are really pretty similar to each other culturally, and in each one you have similar culture clashes; the fault lines are within states, not between them.

Yes, but again you have to conside the procedural possibilities; the sort of democratic power represented by and supposedly (but, in truth, probably not actually) realized through propositions like this one would be so much more easily accessible, and so much more likely to be properly managed and situated, when you weren't dealing with such a large, diverse-yet-procedurally-unified state.

Bayesian,

Good question--I don't know the answer, but now I kind of want to find out.

Hector said...

This chart isn't the most user-friendly, but it does seem to indicate that 'functional legitimacy' is higher than the actual marriage rate in most Latin American countries. The percent of children living in "single parent households" is about 10-15% in Chile, 20-25% in Venezuela and 25-30% in El Salvador, while the actual "out of wedlock" birth rates are closer to 60%, 60% and 70% respectively.

Jamaica may be a different situation, as apparently illegitimacy and fatherless homes are a real problem there, going back to the colonial days- some Jamaicans have blamed that social problem for the country's high crime rate. It may have something to do with the destruction of the family in the days of slavery.



http://books.google.com/books?id=csEOWhv1MLEC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq='latin+america'+'single+parent+households'&source=bl&ots=JXWZvwqh0-&sig=Dlidwd1SS9p7aNvzwNRHX69WsmU&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result#PPA67,M1

bayesian said...

Wow, Hector - that was a fast response. I have to agree with you that the graphs would have been greatly improved by tick marks.

I agree that "functional legitimacy" is a poor term (I'm open to a better one) - but in Sweden at least it's quite common for an unmarried long term cohabiting couple to have children (together) and in my _very_ limited exposure (working in a Stockholm suburb but not speaking Swedish beyond a few phrases) there didn't appear to be any detectable operational difference between those kids and the kids of married couples. I've googled a little bit and can't find the longitudinal studies you'd hope for (i.e. comparing young adult outcomes versus marital status of parents at birth), since the phenomenon in Sweden is now > 30 years old.

I'm quite surprised by those numbers for Latin America, though they don't quite answer the question I was thinking of. While children living in single parent households are almost by definition not living with both biological parents (not quite - you could have a single grandparent with child, child's partner/spouse, and grandchildren), living in a nuclear family does not mean that the child is living with both biological parents.

Clark Goble said...

but what would it involve? It would mean either a) in areas where Mormons are a majority, or at least a significant minority, of the population, married gays would perhaps lack all legitimacy, and b) in every other part of the country (and in perhaps every other country in the world), Mormons would be writing themselves completely out of any discussion of social legitimacy, essentially ending any contribution they could make towards self-government.

I guess I just don't see why that would follow. Mormons would be contributing to the discourse of social legitimacy everywhere to the same extent that a Mormon citizen and other citizens do. I guess I'm not following the problem here.

But perhaps there is a hidden process you are thinking of where governments ought set what is socially legitimate independent of the legal question? If so, I guess I find that troubling (even though I'm no libertarian)

Hector said...

Bayesian,

Yes, that's true, I suspect that many of those two-parent households, the child is actually living with a stepfather or someone else other than the biological parent. I'm sure there is data out there that answers your question more specifically.

Latin American societies certainly have more than their share of problems, but they do seem to have come to a sort of compromise with the sexual revolution, accepting some aspects of it while in general still remaining a culture fairly friendly to families and children. (It would seem that Scandinavia has largely done the same thing). Perhaps not coincidentally, they're probably the only major region of the world which has a total fertility rate pretty close to replacement, such that they are going to avoid both overpopulation and demographic decline in the near future.

Clark Goble said...

BTW Russell you never addressed the slippery slope issue about polygamy.

Camassia said...

I just want to throw in this: I lived in and around San Francisco for much of my life, and gay couplehood (whether or not it's called marriage) already amounts to a social institution there, in the sense that they are widely recognized and large social networks form around them. For that reason, I have trouble with the concept that gay marriage always represents radical individualism over and against communal norms. In fact, trying to break up gay households in a place like SF would be highly socially disruptive.

It may be that a community like modern SF isn't viable in the long term, but it does seem to me that Burkean conservatism in politics wouldn't align with traditional Christian morality in a lot of places. A lot of gay Christian converts seem to be left to make up their own pathways out of their former lives, which does not provide much of a model for how a community as a whole would do it.

djw said...

I'll jump back in to echo what Camassia said.

I'm always very surprised when small-c conservatives and communalists of various stripes (like our host) are opposed to SSM in the numbers they are. It seems to me that for those who a) aren't bigoted toward gay people, and b) believe that gay people will almost certainly continue to exist, and like other humans will be inclined to try to form long term relationships and struggle along the way, the fact that the gay rights movement is investing their resources on this issue should be remarkably heartening; it's nothing if not an affirmation of the value of marriage. They're clamouring to be leave behind the countercultural margins join in a fundamentally conservative and conservatizing social institution. (David Brooks wrote a column making essentially this argument about five years ago, still one of the best things he's written from his Times perch. I still use it when I teach Burke). Moreover, accepting same sex relationships could have a salutory effect on the straight divorce rate, as fewer of these marriages would come to an end due to the eventual acceptence of the sexual orientation of one partner. In my more pessimistic moments, I think perhaps this is because I overestimate the number of people in this group who actually satisfy condition (a) above.

I have a similarly baffled response to the discussion about the complementarity of the sexes as an essential component to marriage. Unlike janeannechovy, it doesn't particularly weird me out; it sounds quite familiar and I've certainly known people for whom that model works perfectly well. But for me, and many in my peer group I suspect, it's a remarkably unappealing and uncomfortable model. It's utterly foreign to me, however, and I know myself well enough to know I could never thrive in a marriage based on such principles. And yet, I still think marriage of a much more egalitarian model, might be an institution for me. I'm surrounded by role models that confirm this, not to mention social science data that confirms the comparatively high satisfaction and low divorce rates of egalitarian marriages. If complementarity of the gender essentialist variety is absolutely a necessary part of marriage, SSM isn't 1/10th the threat to marriage that feminism is, because feminism is going to ruin "marriage" (so limited and defined) for a good portion of the current and future generation.

In the end, I'm surprised and disheartened by the number of self-styled advocates and defenders of marriage who have such a blinkered view of the institution they so respect and admire. It's not "traditional" marriage they defend, really, it's an idealized version of a particular moment in the long and diverse history of marriage. Tying marriage so strongly to model of modest appeal does a disservice to the power of the institution of marriage, and in the end will be a greater threat to the future of marriage than SSM could ever be.

Hector said...

Re: A lot of gay Christian converts seem to be left to make up their own pathways out of their former lives, which does not provide much of a model for how a community as a whole would do it.

I think this is very true. I would imagine that part of this is because we are historically a largely Protestant, rather than Catholic or Orthodox culture. To some extent we've lost something of the reverence for celibacy, the idea that suffering can bring us closer to God, and the monastic tradition that characterized much of historic Christendom. That might allow people who struggle with same-sex attraction to see themselves as involved in one form of the same struggle that the Christian life in general is supposed to entail. In a culture where many people's (distorted) idea of the Christian life is one of happiness and prosperity (see the "Prayer of Jabez" and BS like that) this is going to leave
gay Christians feeling much more alone.

It's also true that there is much that is good, healthy, and spiritually meaningful in many gay relationships. Given that, in modern American culture, no appreciable number of gays is going to embrace celibacy or opposite sex relationships (at least for the time being), then it certainly seems like it would be better to try and encourage stable gay families (whatever we might personally feel about the morality of homosexuality) as an alternative to the more promiscuous gay subcultures.

Burke was, of course, many things, but he wasn't first and foremost a Christian, he was first and foremost a conservative who opposed radical change, whether that change was in the direction of Gospel values or opposed to them.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Clark,

Sorry to be a bit slow in responding to a couple of your points.

I guess I just don't see why that would follow. Mormons would be contributing to the discourse of social legitimacy everywhere to the same extent that a Mormon citizen and other citizens do.

Your original suggestion involved Mormons (and presumably other traditionalist religious persons) simply choosing not to recognize certain marriage arrangements as "valid." On my reading, this would mean that religious groups who consider homosexual relationships as an inappropriate ground for the arrangement called "marriage" should assume that those engaged in such relationships are not, in fact, actually married; that's what "valid" would mean in such a context, right? But, as I see it, that doesn't address the issue at all. It's like saying that Jews should consider the people who are not Jews--even though they may sometimes celebrate Passover--not to be Jews. It just seems like a simplistic, almost banal conclusion to me, one which ignores the complexities and associations of modern life, like that fact that there are legal consequences (in terms of custody battles, property inheritance, etc.) that come into play when you start using terms like "validity." On that basis, I assumed that what you were doing is suggesting that Mormons and others who dislike where marriage is going ought to privatize their own understandings of said legitimacy, share them only amongst themselves, and not partake in their own thinking or actions of any wider implications of the "validity" (or lack thereof) of a relationship. Which would result in what I said it would: in Rexburg, ID, where Mormons predominate, a legally married gay couple would be considered to without rights entirely, as it would be the implied consensus of the overwhelming majority of the community that what they have is not a valid relationship; meanwhile, in San Francisco, the Mormons would have no basis upon which they could interact with or influence the social discourse on marriage, because they would have declared a pox on the whole thing from the outset.

Maybe I've completely misunderstood you, or maybe we have radically different premises here. I don't see any obvious way to separate out religious reflection from civil reflection; and so, if you start supposing that making a decision about the "validity" or lack thereof of this or that marriage relationship is a simple solution to the problem, I don't see it: that decision has inevitable implications for the form that society is going to take. And frankly, it's probably not far from what we have right now, with Massachusetts granting full legal recognition ("validity") to gay marriages, and Kansas refusing the grant it. It would be much better if we could introduce some distinctions and moderation into our language here (both political and religious).

I'm convinced that at least part of the LDS opposition is tied to a grave fear of polygamy and the inevitability of polygamy being legalized within a decade of SSM being legalized. Is that a valid fear (and do you think the LDS leadership actually have it)?

I think I agree with Nate here: I don't see the fear about polygamy as being at all different from the fear the LDS hierarchy currently has of gay marriage. While the more historically or textually minded of us may want to much around with the Manifesto or D&C 138, I see the "fear of polygamy" as existing for most LDS in the same category as all their other fears about marriage.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Camassia,

For that reason, I have trouble with the concept that gay marriage always represents radical individualism over and against communal norms. In fact, trying to break up gay households in a place like SF would be highly socially disruptive.

Thanks for commenting; this is a very good point. I'd like to think--in my hypothetical calculations over a vote on Proposition 8--that my concern over making certain that the substantive rights which gay couples have long enjoyed in California weren't going to be taken away through the insistence upon a formalistic distinction in relationships would cover me in this regard. But, as I've admitted here and in discussions at Laura McKenna's and Hugo Schwyzer's blog, I can't deny the perceptions (and the possible reality) that such may not be the case; that taking away a marriage right is a harm--a harm in recognition, a harm in the smooth integration of loving couples into the workings of society. I don't know. It's possible--as I hope I've also been up front about--that if I'd lived in California I may have had personal associations which would have made me feel this particular kind of Burkean point more strongly than I did in my original ruminations upon the proposition. You have to take communities as they are, at some point, after which any kind of intervention into their evolution--even a "democratic" one--is still a disruption. Of course, we have interventions/disruptions into community life all the time, and probably necessarily so, but acknowledging that fact ought to at least mean that those who, like myself, thought there was a point worth making through Proposition 8 shouldn't justifying ourselves as attacking a bunch of individualistic radicals. As you note, Camassia, one's interpretation of Christian orthodoxy (which wasn't, I think, what mostly motivated my thinking, though I suppose it was present to some degree, at least on a philosophical level) may be, in the case of some nice, stable, neighborhood in San Francisco, the disruptive, individualistic, invasive force.

Russell Arben Fox said...

David,

They're clamouring to be leave behind the countercultural margins join in a fundamentally conservative and conservatizing social institution. (David Brooks wrote a column making essentially this argument about five years ago, still one of the best things he's written from his Times perch. I still use it when I teach Burke).

Another good point. I suppose the best I can do--and it's not very much; as I've said several times, I feel weird being in this situation, as a strong exponent of Proposition 8 I'm not, believing as I do that, whatever it's value in underlining a principle, it was foolish place to attempt it and a case of massively misdirected energies to boot--is to look back at Camassia's point about Burke and Christianity again. Maybe the ideological work--involving gender, involving parenting, involving social obligations and sexuality, etc.--that people like myself think the institution of marriage can and ought to do is not purely conservative; maybe it's also theological. That opens up another whole can of worms of course--the first issue out of the can being a utilitarian one: in a pluralistic society, are the marginal gains that may be achieved in the name of some partly religious understanding of marriage really worth the loss of establishing cultural and conservative precedents for bringing a whole host other people into it? I honestly don't know.

(I note, of course, that some opponents of SSM simply dismiss Brooks's argument and insist that gays have no intention of ever living as married couples the way straights do; that they will explode the institution from within with their open relationships and whatnot, and so keeping them out is the genuine "conservative" approach, through and through. I reject that, because 1) there's plenty of evidence that such judgments are based on false stereotypes and prejudices, and 2) if that was the real conservative concern, than the fact that church's are not mounting major legislative efforts against no-fault divorce is made that much more telling.)

But for me, and many in my peer group I suspect, it's a remarkably unappealing and uncomfortable model. It's utterly foreign to me, however, and I know myself well enough to know I could never thrive in a marriage based on such principles. And yet, I still think marriage of a much more egalitarian model, might be an institution for me....Tying marriage so strongly to model of modest appeal does a disservice to the power of the institution of marriage, and in the end will be a greater threat to the future of marriage than SSM could ever be.

This is your strongest and best argument yet, David, and it moves me very much. Thanks for expressing yourself so eloquently. Like all practically all communitarian or traditionalist battles, this is one that is being fought only at the point in which defenders of the old model realize that they've already lost. I know they've lost me and my wife. I mean, sure, by any number of measurements, we have a very traditionalist model of marriage--I'm the breadwinner, Melissa's the homemaker, we have 4 kids under the age of 12, we go to church, etc. But really, we're so much more egalitarian than either of our parents were (or are still!). And I wouldn't want to go back. Then the question is obvious: if I don't want to go back, why do I assume that some more "traditionalist" definition of marriage still has some effective ideological work to do, or at least enough worth doing so as to justify the harm of keeping some who want to be part of the institution out of it? I suppose this question could be qualified or moderated in a couple of ways: I could talk about how I actually do kind of wish that some elements of traditional marriage still predominated, just not all of them; I could talk about how gay marriage might be a much more radical step than feminism and all the other ways the institution has been equalized, etc., and by so talking, maybe I could find some middle ground. But honestly maybe not.

I really appreciate being pressed on this point, David (and everyone!). This is the most thought I've ever given to the issue (which, again, has never motivated me the way some other traditionalist concerns have before), and hopefully I'm learning something from it all.

Clark Goble said...

It just seems like a simplistic, almost banal conclusion to me, one which ignores the complexities and associations of modern life, like that fact that there are legal consequences (in terms of custody battles, property inheritance, etc.) that come into play when you start using terms like "validity."

I must be dense because I'm still missing something crucial to your argument.

Could you perhaps explain the difference between a Mormon who doesn't recognize a gay marriage as valid from a Catholic who doesn't recognize a divorcee second marriage as valid?

I'm guessing you see a different and I'm sure knowing what makes that difference would clarify for me your point.

Which would result in what I said it would: in Rexburg, ID, where Mormons predominate, a legally married gay couple would be considered to without rights entirely, as it would be the implied consensus of the overwhelming majority of the community that what they have is not a valid relationship; meanwhile, in San Francisco, the Mormons would have no basis upon which they could interact with or influence the social discourse on marriage, because they would have declared a pox on the whole thing from the outset.

Well yes. But my point wasn't to disagree that this would happen. Rather it was to ask why that is a bad thing. To me it's akin to complaining that the minority in politics doesn't get its policies into governance. Yes, but so what? Isn't the whole point that of persuading others? Mormons could try to persuade others but if they are unsuccessful...well that's the way it goes.

To draw an analogy in Provo, UT it's largely socially unacceptable to drink. In Boston, MA it is very acceptable. But we don't find that a problem.

Once again there must be something you're seeing that I'm just missing.

I don't see any obvious way to separate out religious reflection from civil reflection; and so, if you start supposing that making a decision about the "validity" or lack thereof of this or that marriage relationship is a simple solution to the problem, I don't see it: that decision has inevitable implications for the form that society is going to take.

Certainly, which is why I agree with your earlier point that others seem to view askance. I took your statement that you wish "America to devolve into a bunch of small parliamentary democracies" to be sort of the Joseph Smith ideal where there's a weak central government with social regulation mainly taking place at the community level. That is each community could set it's own socially imposed standard of appropriateness. (I was actually going to complement you on a very Reganesque view when you said that)

Camassia said...

Russell, I know that you don't actually want to break up all those networks, and I'm not saying that Prop 8 would actually cause that. I was just challenging the assumption that seemed to be operating in this discussion that gay marriage=social disruption. It might, but it depends on where you are.

I will say, though, that I see something destructive in this growing trend of "marriage" being a disembodied abstraction that has little or nothing to do with how people actually live. Another thing about being from San Francisco is that I know a lot of people taking the attitude well described recently by Ta-Nehisi Coates -- if you act married for all inents and purposes, then going through the ceremony just seems like a symbolic action. Why shouldn't people then be able to choose whether or not to do it, since practically it means about as much as your choice of footwear?

Some commenters pointed out that by common-law definition, he already is married, and that's why I wish common-law marriage would make a comeback. After all if what we want people to be more responsible, then we should make them responsible for their actions, not for their words alone. Detached from behavior, it's no wonder it becomes, on the one hand purely legalistic, and on the other hand imbued with an intimidating symbolic power, in the way that disembodied things are.

I realize, of course, that common-law recognition has to have limits, such as age, blood relation, etc. I also realize that Mormonism in particular makes marriage do some heavy theological lifting that it doesn't do in most other Christian churches. But from the standpoint of secular law, I think conservatives are actually shooting their own feet by encouraging a sort of ceremonial-Deist concept of marriage, where it is laden with great meaning but we can't quite specify what it is.