Gaming Gay Marriage

I have never quite understood the argument that gay sex is “unnatural.” Unless one believes that the only natural sex is that which reproduces the species, then how one chooses to express sexuality is as natural as differences in hair or skin color. If we admit that sex can be a means of expressing love, affection and physical pleasure rather than purely a reproductive act, then how one goes about doing that is as natural as variations in climate or on a theme. It does not matter if sexual preference is by “choice” or genetics or some combination thereof. Once the reproductive imperative is removed as the sole reason for having sex, then how one chooses to partake is almost limitless (I say “almost” because I adhere to convention that sex should be between consenting adults, or in the case of teenagers, between those of similar age, and that no coercion or exploitation can be involved).

I introduce the subject of gay marriage this way because I simply fail to understand why it is an issue. When I hear opponents argue against it I am reminded of the old Argentine saying about Catholic clergy opposed to divorce: if they do  not like divorce they should not marry. Or the more recent retort: if one does not like gay marriage then one should not marry a gay.

One thing is clear. The reproductive imperative does not apply to the legal recognition of straight marriages. Many heterosexual couples are childless by choice or circumstance. Some fulfill their parental instinct via adoption or with the help of surrogates, but others do not. In all cases they are legally free to marry.

Having thought about it a bit in light of recent arguments arising out a parliamentary bid to legalize gay marriage, it strikes me that the debate can be seen in simple game theoretic fashion.

Those opposed to gay marriage see the outcome if it is legalized in zero or negative sum terms. Awarding the right to marry to homosexuals will directly and negatively impact on heterosexual marriage. The belief is that awarding gays the right to marry comes at the immediate expense of heterosexual marriages, and that something will be directly lost or detracted from the latter if the former is permitted. Worst yet, the situation could become collectively negative sum if gays are allowed to marry: both gays and straights will suffer losses as a result (this is usually seen in the “children need hetero parents” argument, but extends to the costs of awarding full rights to married gay couples when it comes to family-oriented taxation, insurance and health benefits). The bottom line is that awarding equal marriage rights to gays (as a sexual minority) will impose costs or losses on the sexual majority, and therefore should not allowed under the lesser evil principle because collectively it is a lose-lose proposition.

Those in favor of gay marriage see the issue in even or positive sum terms. They see gay marriage as taking nothing from nor adding to hetero marriage, or in the most optimistic view, enhancing the value of marriage as an institution by extending the franchise to those of same-sex persuasion who wish to monogamously commit to each other in the eyes of the state (I will leave aside issues about non-monogomous unions and plural marriages in order to make the first-order point). In this view gay marriage should be encouraged as it deepens the familial bases of social stability and is therefore a greater good for society as a whole. It is a win-win solution.

Whatever other issues are put forth pro and con, it seems to me that this is the real crux of the issue. The rantings of bigots and extremists are not addressed here simply because they do not matter. I include in this God-botherers and other repressed and closeted people who act out of irrational psychological fear. Nor do I care to indulge the arguments of some extremists who think anything goes and there should be no prohibitions on sexual contact (say, the Man-Boy Love Association crowd). Here I am simply trying to distill the rational arguments in favor and against.

For me the issue is certainly even sum and probably positive sum. If we accept that one major source of social decay is the decline of the “traditional” family defined by heterosexual marriage, then it seems to me that one good response is to encourage the rise of “non-traditional” families as a complement. After all, “traditional” gender roles have been altered over the years (I would say for the better) without killing off the majority notion of marriage and family as the pillars of society, so I do not see how non-traditional marriage and families will be any more harmful to social stability than allowing women the vote or non-whites to have equal civil rights.

With regard to marriage specifically, there are already precedents for taking what was non-traditional or even taboo and making it commonplace. For example, marriages of mixed race or inter-faith couples, or those with intellectual or physical disabilities, once were viewed as suspect or dangerous (often on reproductive grounds), and in some cases legally proscribed. Today they are additional and welcome threads that rather than harm have added to the vibrancy of the matrimonial fabric of complex societies.

Anyway, this may be obvious to KP readers given their ideological dispositions. The point I am trying to make is that marriage is not a pie with a finite number of slices, where giving one slice to gays will mean that there is not enough left for straights. To the contrary, marriage should be seen as an expanding pie in with we can all share regardless of sexual preference because we commonly appreciate the order and stability it helps bring to our individual and collective lives. I reckon that is a very traditional way of thinking.

13 thoughts on “Gaming Gay Marriage

  1. What of the argument that civil unions should be bolstered so that those in civil unions will have the same rights as those married?

  2. Tasi:

    It should be a matter of individual choice. Those who wish to upgrade their civil union status to marriage can do so. Those who choose not to still should have the same rights as married couples. After all, de facto relationships are often treated the same as marriages in property settlements after breakups, so it would seem consistent and fair to treat civil unions and marriages as equally binding legal contracts between the partners, with all of the benefits and responsibilities that entails.

  3. Tasi – except for adoption, those in civil unions *do* have the same rights as marriage. (I’m still hoping they’ll fix the adoption bit.)

  4. @Tasi: I think the idea is that once gay marriage becomes legal, nobody would want to have a civil union.

  5. I’m a Pacific Islander and many in my community will not support the bill. I personally agree with the arguments made by Pablo, but I’m afraid there’ll need to be some sort of educational campaign to win the argument for gay adoptions. Even then, success is not guaranteed. But if this is not done, then Labour and the liberal left can kiss goodbye to a good chunk of the Pasifika vote to Michael Jones (National) or the Conservatives.

    Because while the bill differentiates between civil marriages and religious marriages, many Pasifika people will see it as just mere semantics.

  6. Pingback: The story so far – coverage to 30 July 2012 | Protect Familes

  7. As a stand up comic said… “of course gays should be allowed to marry, why shouldn’t they be miserable like the rest of us…”

    Gay marriage should be supported out of basic fairness and for existential reasons. If one is fortunate enough to have a partner in this cold uncaring quantum universe and marrying adds something for you, go for it.

    @Tasi: while a potential wedge issue, don’t forget Michael Jones (if he tires of flogging insurance) would be but one Nat MP, whose “Big Gay Out” attending party leader is currently supporting the first reading at least of Louisa Wall’s bill. Key strangely supported the S59 change too but managed to have very little of the mud stick to him.

  8. Tasi:

    it seems to me that the Pacifika vote has no option other than Labour, especially if a significant number of Nats vote in favor of the bill. This was seen in the response to the legalized prostitution bill–they complained and threatened but at the end accepted the law. The bottom line is that beyond abstaining from voting in order to punish Labour, there is little chance that they will defect and join the political representatives of the white and wealthy.

  9. Hugh:

    Samoans, Tongans, Fijians and other PIs are going to vote for a party that combines Maori nationalism with an Antipodean version of Eurocommunism. Yeah right.

  10. So do you feel that Pasifika people are innately hostile to eurocommunism, to maori nationalism, or to both?

    Also, Mana aside, it seems like the Greens could be a fertile home for the Pasifika vote.

  11. Hugh:

    I think that it would be wrong to overlook the differences between Maori and other Pacifika peoples on a number of issues, be they cultural, political or social. Added to their general conservatism on issues of morality, and you have a poor fit between Mana and non-Maori Pacifika voters. I also do not believe that in the main Pacifika voters are very enthused about class-based or post-industrial European ideologies. Thus neither Mana or the Greens offer them much. However Labour, with its rightward drift and (supposed) working class orientation, is a better fit than either of these or National, IMO. Having said that I will defer to Lew on the identity and ethnic component of voting preferences.

  12. Well from my own discussions with people in my community over the last few elections, a significant number of Pasifika people have voted for and intend to vote for NZ First, National and the Conservatives. Greens appeal to some young Pasifika people, but have had a hard time gaining traction with their Pasifika candidates. But yes, for the majority, Labour is the lesser of two evils. However it is increasingly a begrudging vote that is vulnerable to no-votes or wooing from other parties (Leau Asenati for NZ First, Michael Jones and Peseta Lotu-Iiga for National, and Faavae for Conservatives). The last national election saw the effects of this non-vote, voter drop off by West/South Aucklanders/Pasifika. Compared to the local elections where it was a two horse race which saw Len Brown romp home because of the West/South Aucklanders/Pasifika vote.

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