Gay Marriage, Majority Rule, and Minority Rights

19 01 2012

As the Washington state legislature mulls a bill that would legalise gay marriage, conservatives are crawling out of the woodwork to stop its passage or to punish Republicans who vote in favour of it by attempting to end their political careers. (The National Organisation of Marriage is trying to do this.) Some of these individuals and groups also want to put the decision up to a public vote. The argument they use to justify this kind of move is that majority opinion reigns supreme in a true democracy. I will argue here that majority opinion does not necessarily reign supreme in a true democracy, and I will show why this is so in four ways: democracy is not just defined as “majority rule”, but also as “equality”; the majority have no right to speak on issues which do not affect them; courts must adjudicate the law impartially; and legislators are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which do not affect their majority constituents.

I want to let you know that I am not telling you how the law actually works; I am simply telling you how it should work according to the principles of ethical reasoning.

With respect to the first point, the issue of gay marriage centres around the definition of democracy. Many conservatives will argue that gay marriage should be put up to a public vote because, in a democracy, the majority opinion rules. However, the definition of democracy does not begin and end with majority rule; it also involves the concept of equality. According to the Random House Dictionary, democracy has the following senses: government by the people, a state having such a form of government, a state of society characterised by formal equality of rights and privileges, political or social equality, and commoners as distinct from the privileged class. The definition of democracy encompasses the concepts of both self-representation and equality, so any gay marriage opponent who invokes democracy on the basis of the former, while ignoring the latter, is giving us a skewed, incomplete understanding of democracy. This hardly helps validate their opposition to gay marriage on democratic grounds.

This biased preoccupation with self-representation is closely linked to the notion of majority rule, which is consistently invoked by gay marriage opponents. Gay marriage opponents constantly argue that the quintessential democracy is defined by the reign of the majority opinion. But this is not necessarily so. A lot of issues should be decided by the majority, because those issues affect the majority, but not all issues do. If we treat democracy as “self-representation”, then the majority have the right to rule on issues which affect the majority, but they do not have the right to rule on issues which only affect the minority. Gay marriage only affects the minority, not the majority, therefore the majority have no right to rule on gay marriage. Thus, the conservative argument that the majority should rule on gay rights on the basis of “majority rule” is debunked.

Immediately gay marriage opponents will point out that this argument is not sound because, when a panel of judges rule on such an issue, a majority of votes still matters. It is true that a majority of votes matters when a court of law rules on gay marriage, but there is an important distinction to make: while the public vote on the basis of their personal prejudices, judges are obliged to adjudicate the law. While popular opinion is based on popular prejudice, legal opinion is based on interpretation of the law. It is not exactly fair to compare majority rule on the basis of personal prejudices with the majority rule of judges who are obliged impartially to fulfil the law. Therefore, it is invalid to compare majority rule through a public referendum with majority rule through a court of law, and, hence, it is invalid to say that judges should be doing the same thing as the public with regard to minority rights.

But, of course, gay marriage opponents will argue that judges are only adjudicating laws which are passed by elected representatives of the people. So, now the question is, whose interests do those elected representatives actually represent? Gay marriage opponents would argue that they represent the majority opinion of their constituency. This is not necessarily so. If we accept that the majority should rule only on issues which affect the majority, and not those which affect only the minority, then elected representatives are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which affect only the minority. Instead, they are obliged to defend minority interests. And whose majority vote determines that, you may ask? None, because the vote would be a unanimous decision based on reason, logic, and fairness. Reason, logic, and fairness are the ultimate arbiter, not popular opinion.

Of course, not all legislators are rational, hence not all laws they pass will be based on reason. This does not, however, mean that it is right that they pass the laws that they do. It only means that they fail to acknowledge reason. In some sense, the greatest intellectual burden lies on their shoulders.

In summary, I haven’t tried to create the perfect defense of gay marriage in modern-day democracies; I’ve merely tried to challenge how we alienate minorities using “majority rule” as an excuse, even when the majority have no justifiable interest in the lives of the minority. In principle, democracy should be about how we satisfy our personal interests, not how we control the lives of others. And when there is any question about how an issue affects us, it should be boiled down to whom it affects, and this is determined by reason.

That said, if you live in Washington state, and you live in one of the six constituencies led by undecided Washington state senators, I implore you to contact your senator and ask them to vote “yes” on the bill legalising gay marriage. We are just two senators’ votes away from marriage equality. Just two! It is good for gay people and for everybody else.





8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense

26 08 2011

I’m usually pretty hard on gay men, because I think they tend to be a little bit vain and self-conceited. It’s one of those cases where minority members exploit their position by bemoaning their fate and eliciting pity through loud, obnoxious mirror-gazing antics. I even get a wee bit Ann Coulter-ish towards the gays sometimes, and that’s very hard for me to do. So you like dick? So what? The world doesn’t revolve around you and your crying penis. For these gays (for certainly not all gays are like this), everything is reducible to their own problems, which they constantly brood over in a desperate attempt at self-validation.

That said, gay people are still discriminated against in the United States and are bumping up against a particularly scary group of right-wing Christian dominionists campaigning for the presidency. Even though some gays act like whiney little bitches, none of them deserves to be denied their deceased partner’s Social Security benefits, equal treatment under the IRS tax code, or equal spousal immigration rights, among the many other federal protections they do not receive because they are attracted to members of the same sex.

For this reason, I would like to provide a comprehensive refutation of eight common arguments launched against homosexuality. These arguments, which I shall attempt to destroy one-by-one, can be summarized as follows: homosexual marriage goes against tradition; homosexuality is a choice; homosexuality is condemned in the Bible; homosexuality is unnatural; homosexuals cannot procreate; all men can marry women, and all women can marry men; if gays can marry, what’s next?; and what shall I tell my children?

1) “Marriage should be between a man and a woman, because it has always been this way.”

This fallacy is called an argumentum ad antiquitatem, or an appeal to tradition. It states that a thing is good because it is traditional, and bad because it is novel. But a thing is not necessarily good because it is traditional; it is good because it makes sense. At one time black people couldn’t marry white people in the United States, but this wasn’t right just because it was traditional. The law didn’t make sense, so we changed it to allow interracial couples (such as the current U.S. president’s parents) to marry and be happy together. Similarly, homosexuals cannot marry each other in most places, but this isn’t right just because it is traditional. The law does not work for homosexuals, so we should change it to allow same-sex couples to marry and be happy together. So, no, just because marriage has traditionally been a union of one man and one woman does not mean that it should be.

2) “Homosexuality is a choice.”

Usually you’ll argue, “The gay rights activists say that there’s a gay gene”. This is a big, fat straw man argument. Nobody with the faintest understanding of biology is arguing that there is a gay gene. What they are arguing is that there is no single gene for any sexual orientation. Rather, all sexual orientations are determined by a complex interaction of polygenic traits, with no single gene acting as the “signal” for whether you like fannies, pee-pees, or both. At the same time, I will concede that sexual orientation might have some environmental cause, because I am not a biological determinist, but, then, this would apply to heterosexuality too, right? So, no, you can’t say that homosexuality is a choice any more than you can say that heterosexuality is a choice.

3) “Homosexuality is condemned in the Bible.”

So what? The Bible is full of horribly offensive things. The Bible says you can sell your daughter into slavery to pay off a debt (Exodus 21:7). It also says you can execute people who cheat on their partners (Leviticus 20:10). But you wouldn’t do these things, would you? No, you wouldn’t, because these things are barbaric, tyrannical, and entirely incommensurate with the “crime” committed. Why, then, should you believe that homosexuals should be executed (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)? “That was the old covenant”, you will say, but the new covenant required a human sacrifice in the form of Jesus Christ the avatar, so some form of blood-sacrifice and recompense is required to propitiate God. That’s just ruthless and bloodthirsty. And, besides, it still implies that dues need to be paid for the sin of homosexuality. And in the meantime, two adult women or men could be having the most loving, fulfilling consensual sex imaginable. Why, then, should we abide by such sanguinary, blood-soaked scriptures?

4) “Homosexuality is unnatural.”

This fallacy is an appeal to nature. It states that a thing is right just because it is natural, and a thing is wrong just because it is unnatural. But a thing is not right just because it is natural, and a thing is not wrong just because it is unnatural. Clearly, rape and murder are a part of human nature, but we don’t say that these things are right, because they harm people; similarly, aeroplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around protesting against aeroplanes, because they are helpful to us. Besides, a great deal of evidence suggests that, in large part, homosexuality is natural. We see it everywhere in nature. Penguins do it in the zoo, lions do it on the savanna, and Ellen Degeneres does it with Portia de Rossi in the bedroom of their Beverly Hills flat while their dogs and cats watch. Oh, and bonobos practice lesbianism as a way to cement social bonds. Human beings have practised homosexuality all throughout history, all around the world, in almost every culture. On top of that, do you know how many species of animals are hermaphroditic or transsexual? The permutations are mindboggling. Just watch one of Isabella Rossellini’s strangely droll and artistic Green Porno or Seduce Me short documentaries about mating habits in nature. How can it all be heterosexual?

5) “Homosexuals  do not procreate.”

True. Homosexuals do not procreate. Neither do sterile couples. Or post-menopausal women. Or hysterectomised women. Or couples who simply choose not to have children. Seriously? You don’t think that any of these people should have sex just because they don’t make babies? That’s just ridiculous. You may as well pass a law which states that couples must procreate within a certain number of years following their marriage or else their marriage will be annulled—and they will be banned from having any kind of sex afterward. Sounds fascist to me. Obviously people don’t just have sex to make babies; they also have sex for pleasure. Having sex for pleasure can help forge vital social bonds and nurture social stability. It also creates personal happiness, which has a positive trickle-down effect on the larger community. In a world verging on 7 billion in population, homosexuals have sex for love and pleasure, not to make more people, thus they play a vital role in creating social and demographic stability. So, no, homosexuality is not wrong just because it does not result in babies.

6) “All men can marry women, and all women can marry men. Therefore there is no inequality.”

This argument is a sophistry—it deliberately misses the point by setting up a straw man. The point is not whether all people are allowed to marry members of the opposite sex; the point is whether all people are allowed to marry members of the sex that they are attracted to. The injustice is in the fact that women cannot marry other women and men cannot marry other men, while women can marry men, and men can marry women. This means that gay people cannot marry the people they are attracted to, but straight people can marry the people they are attracted to. Thus, all people cannot marry the person they are attracted to. That is where the inequality lies. Obviously, the whole point of marriage equality is the right to marry a member of the sex you are attracted to, not a member of the sex you are not attracted to. So, no, it isn’t clever or valid to say that all men can marry women, and all women can marry men.

7) “If we legalise gay marriage, what’s next?”

This is the classic slippery slope argument. It makes me want to ask, well, if we legalise miscegenation, what’s next? Mulatto offspring? Sex with donkeys? Barack Obama? They were singing the same tune, I’m sure, in the United States back in 1967 with the ruling Loving v. Virginia, which legalised interracial marriage. Back then, too, I could have asked, what’s next? child molestation? Seriously, if you think that letting gays marry will lead to people having sex with children and donkeys, you haven’t heard of a little thing called adult consent. And if you compare sex between consenting adults with sexual abuse, there is seriously something broken inside your head. The requirement for morally sound sex is adult human consent. Period. Therefore gay sex between consenting adults is morally sound, while sex with children and donkeys is not. (Animals can’t really consent, can they?)  So, no, none of that nasty, scary donkey sex stuff will happen, dears, because it isn’t between consenting human adults. So just relax.

8 ) “What will I tell my children?”

Tell your children that Pam and Sally, the two ladies who have lived in the mysterious house across the street since before your own family existed, live together because they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together, in peace and happiness. That is what they want. And that is what you should tell your children. I know—isn’t it so simple?

And those are the eight reasons why homophobia doesn’t make any sense, and why the U.S. federal ban on gay marriage should be repealed. I hope I expressed my points in the most trenchant prose possible. The federal ban on gay marriage destabilises loving unions, families, and children. If one truly cared about marriage and family, one would want to maximise the potential for lovingly committed adults to raise children in healthy, loving environments which nurture dignity, cooperation, and social cohesion. The current U.S. federal law falls short of this goal, but for some reason I have an inkling that this will change very soon, and when it does, it will be as a much-welcome torrent bursting forth over a dam on to a long-parched field, tended naively by the very people who built the dam in the first place.