Sunday, October 26, 2008

California Proposition 8 as a Moral Issue

PZ Myers of Pharyngula has gotten it right. Proposition 8 in California - the constitutional amendment against gay marriage - is a moral issue.

For a great example of narrow-minded wretched biblical rationalizations, listen to Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church. He comes out strongly for Prop. 8, calling it a "moral issue" (which it is — too bad he's fighting on the side of evil) . . .

(See Pharyngula, The Division on Proposition 8

Proposition 8 is very much a moral issue. It is a question about doing the right thing - about fairness and about justice. It is about kindness. It is about respect.

It is about refusing to do harm to innocent people - making their lives worse off than they need to be - without a good reason. And the fact that bigots 2000 years ago valued doing harm to certain people is not a good reason to be doing harm to those people today.

It is about the difference between right and wrong.

The typical way of approaching questions such as this has been to allow the anti-gay bigots to claim the word 'moral'. From polls to newspaper coverage, we have allowed them to claim the title of anti-gay legislation as 'morals legislation'. We have, for all practical purposes, allowed them to use without question the assumption that homosexual relationships are immoral.

We have, instead, spoken in other terms. We have used nonsense phrases in defense of homosexual relationships such as, "You should not be imposing your morals on other people." This phrase is absurd on its face, because it says, in effect, "I am going to force on you my moral standard that it is wrong to impose one's moral standards on others."

If a standard is not to be imposed on others, then it is not a moral standard. Prohibitions against murder, rape, theft, fraud, reckless endangerment, every violent crime written into statute is an example of forcing morality on others.

"You shall not do harm to others without a good reason for doing so," is a moral standard that may be imposed on others.

"Your faith is not a good reason," is a corollary to this. If we allow faith to justify harm to others then we might as well go ahead and permit all harm. There is nothing we can do against the person who claims that his actions were based on faith.

Kill your daughter for staying out to late? Sure, can't touch the father in this case. His faith says that it is okay.

Plan to fly a plane into a sky scraper . . . no problem there. After all, one of the things we must respect is a person's right to practice their religious beliefs.

But what if those religious beliefs include the belief that he must fly an airplane into a sky scraper, murder his daughter, or declare peaceful members of the community whose actions do no harm to others second-class citizens?

Proposition 8 requires that we take sides on a moral issue - to do that which is right, or to do that which is wrong. To allow people to harm others based on no better reason than, "My god told me to," or to protect people from being harmed by those who harm others in the name of God.

Even the decision not to vote (where one is eligible to do so) is a moral decision. A person hears screams in the alley, He looks out the window and sees a large man beating a child mercilessly. He closes the window and returns to his television.

He may not be as morally culpable as the person in the alley doing the beating, but he is not morally innocent either.

Proposition 8 is about morality. It is about allowing people to do harm to others for no reason better than, "My God told me to," the very same reason used by those who engage in terrorist bombings and other harms. Or it is about saying to people, "Your religious conviction that these people are to be harmed is not a good enough reason to have them harmed."

The message that we should be sending around the world is the latter message.

We will all be better off as a result.


Anonymous said...

"To allow people to harm others based on no better reason than, 'My god told me to,' or to protect people from being harmed by those who harm others in the name of God."

AGAIN, you show your ignorance. Do you really know so little about the same-sex marriage debate that the only arguments against it you're familiar with are religious ones?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Whatever other arguments may exist, the vast majority of the people who will vote for this proposition will be those doing harm to others and thinking that they do this because God wants them to.

Those other arguments themselves tend to be rationalizations - foolish beliefs that people adopt so that they can inflict harm on others without feeling guilty about it. The way that those who defended slavery would claim that blacks could not take care of themselves as free people and were better off as slaves.

Anonymous said...

My father is against same-sex marriage, yet he's an atheist. While I wouldn't bring up this issue as the above commenter has, I would like to see a piece that deals with secular arguments against same-sex marriage.

Anonymous said...

Amendment: You posted right as I was typing my comment, Alonzo, haha. My comment was obviously talking about "anonymous".

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Mark C.

As I have argued in the past, people do not get their anti-homosexual bigotry from their religion. They get it from some other source, and then they write it into their religion. This 'other source' is available to atheists as well as theists, and is quite capable of create an anti-homosexual bigot who is an atheist.

Typically, the prejudice simply comes from their feeling. They think about a homosexual couple, it makes them feel yucky, and then they project this feeling onto whatever they evaluate.

It's the same reason that many good people were opposed to interractial relationships 50 years ago . . . the sight of a mixed race couple made them feel yucky, and they interpreted the feeling of yuckyness as an indication of "wrongness" in interracial relationships.

"What you are doing makes me feel yucky" is not generally considered a good enough reason to do harm for others, so these people look for some other excuse to justify the harm.

One obvious answer is to assign one's feeling of yuckiness to God and to claim that "God tells us to do this harm."

If a person doesn't believe in God, I suspect the most common answer is to say that it is "unnatural" or "intrinsically wrong," and "my feeling of yuckiness is my keep perception of an intrinsic wrongness."

This "sense of yuckiness" is a learned aversion - evidenced by the fact that there are whole populations that do not have it, just as the aversion to interracial relationships was a learned aversion.

Since it is a desire that tends to cause people to behave in ways harmful to others (e.g., vote in favor of Proposition 8), this is an aversion that we be inhibiting, not promoting.

If Proposition 8 failes, then this will go a long way to inhibiting this aversion to homosexual relationships. That would be a good thing.

One of the motivations behind religion is precisely this ability of "God" (being a human invention) being a convenient way of "justifying" (rationalizing - giving the illusion of legitimacy) to the harms one wishes to do to others due to subjective preferences. They assign their prejudices to God and then assert that the values are "objective".

Religion has the additional advantage in that, once one's bigotry is assigned to God, one does not have to offer any more in the way of proof. "It is a matter of faith. I do not have to defend it."

Any other source would still require further justification. Without the religious line of retreat, it is much easier to convince people, "You are just dealing with a learned feeling of yuckiness, and learned feelings of yuckiness are not good enough reasons to do harm."

Anonymous said...

"Learned feeling of yuckiness"?! THAT's all you know about secular opposition to same-sex marriage? Good God (if you'll pardon the expression), you must be living under a rock or something.

Anonymous said...

Alonzo, I'd love to be a fly on the wall on the day you actually met a same-sex marriage opponent who doesn't fit the mold you've preordained on this blog. It would be hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Hello Calvin! It's a pity to see you back.

I have had a number of conversations with people who claim to have non-religious reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. In all cases they are complete crap. They are lies, and even worse - they are COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT lies. And yet the person making the argument DOES NOT SEE THAT! They are putting forth these nakedly false arguments in complete honesty and sincerity. It's pretty jarring to see.

Anyway, they can't see this when they make their arguements because they want to promote bigotry, and deliberately blinding themselves to the flimsiness of the arguements is the only way they can do that and still consider themselves un-bigotted people.

Seriously, take a look at any argument ever presented to continue to deny some people the right to marry. They're so bad even a 12 year old could see the holes.

Anonymous said...

If I understand it correctly, Prop. 8 is not about rights (a domestic parnership gives you all the rights married people have), but simply about the name you give a union - "marriage".
While I understand that for example in emergency situations there might be a difference between de jure rights and reality (the EMT not knowing that a domestic partner has the right to ride along to the hospital), these are issues of education (e.g. of medical personnel).

Where is the harm?
I see it neither to traditional marriage (if Prop. 8 is not passed), nor to gay or lesbian couples (if it is passed).

The whole situation reminds me of Monty Python's Life of Brian where they decide to fight for a man's right to have babies.

But I would really like to see Alonzo Fyfe write some more about the specific importance of the name "marriage", especially since I think there might be a parallel to the Pledge Project in that the name applied to some kinds of unions, but not others, creates an in-group and an out-group (no pun intended).


Paula said...

Proposition 8 is a moral issue--and like all moral issues, the desires of individuals are sometimes in opposition to the greater social good. It is in society's interests to protect the unique status of marriage between a man and a woman, because it is the union of a man and woman that produces and rears society's children. Marriage and family relationships have been weakened enough in our century. To extend the definition of marriage to same-sex couples makes the institution itself virtually meaningless, and will further weaken marriage as a social concept with power to harness the energies of fathers and mothers on behalf of their offspring. True marriage, quite frankly, is difficult. Bearing and raising children is difficult. It needs as much social support as possible.
Same-sex relationships may mirror marriage, but they do so only imperfectly. And they do no naturally result in children. At best, the positive impact of allowing same-sex marriage will affect a very small number of couples and families. The negative impact of weakening marriage will affect millions of families and children. Sometimes it just isn't possible to make everyone happy, and those who are most vulnerable, our (society's collective) children, are most in need of our support. I will vote Yes on Proposition 8.

Matt M said...

How exactly is allowing gay couples to wed supposed to affect the rest of us?

As a straight man living in the "gay capital" of the UK, I can confidently say that the presence of gay couples (married or otherwise) has absolutely no effect on who I chose to go out with and how I live my life.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


It is true that the desires of individuals must sometimes give way to social good. That is why I talked about burden of proof. Saying that faith is not a good enough reason to do harm to others is not to say that no such reason exists.

However, the claim that homosexual marriage threatens in any way the well-being of children is nonsense. One problem is that a sizable number of those children will grow up to be gay, and their futures are being harmed, not secured.

The "negative impact" that you imagine exists simply in your imagination - the way that some people argued that interracial marriages must be prohibited because of the insufferable life that half-breed children would have to live - that for the sake of society we must keep clear the distinction between the races.

Again, you are correct, sometimes the desires of the view must give way for the social good. This is particularly true when we speak about those people whose desires drive them to do harm to others for no good reason, who then create make-believe reasons to give the harms they inflict an illusion of legitimacy.

Anonymous said...

I see Eneasz's thought processes and argumentation skills are sterling as ever.....

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Steelman said...

Paula said: "It is in society's interests to protect the unique status of marriage between a man and a woman, because it is the union of a man and woman that produces and rears society's children."

This is the modern world, marriage isn't just about biological reproduction. There are 6.5 billion people on this planet, I don't think we have an underpopulation problem. If heterosexuals can get married, and decide not to have children, why shouldn't homosexuals be allowed to marry?

"To extend the definition of marriage to same-sex couples makes the institution itself virtually meaningless, and will further weaken marriage as a social concept with power to harness the energies of fathers and mothers on behalf of their offspring."

Do you have an argument for this? I believe the opposite is the case (see below).

If children are the focus of marriage, shouldn't homosexual couples who do decide to have children (e.g. through in vitro fertilization or adoption) be allowed to marry? My sister's female partner has helped her raise her three children these past ten years, and been a better parent than their natural father ever was. I think my sister and her partner ought to be allowed to get married; they've certainly lived that level of commitment.

"True marriage, quite frankly, is difficult. Bearing and raising children is difficult. It needs as much social support as possible."

Homosexuals are at this moment involved in committed relationships and raising children, maybe even right down the street from you. My sister and her partner deal with the ups and downs of a committed relationship that involves raising children, the same as heterosexual parents do. Which is why I, a married with children heterosexual, am in favor of same-sex marriage. I think society should promote the committed relationships of marriage and family, without the needless and unfair gender restrictions.

"At best, the positive impact of allowing same-sex marriage will affect a very small number of couples and families. The negative impact of weakening marriage will affect millions of families and children."

Or millions will be affected by the positive impact of same-sex marriage as it tears down the immoral religious and social barriers that allow children to be taught that bigotry is acceptable, and provides good role models for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Consenting adults committing themselves to each other in the loving, yet at times difficult, relationship of marriage isn't a negative thing; it's something positive that ought to be encouraged. That's why I'm voting NO on Proposition 8.

Anonymous said...


You state that society should support child rearing. Since children are the future of society I agree with you on this point.

But it does not follow that a union of two adults should for this reason be bestowed with priviledges.

The logical conclusion should be for society to reward child rearing and support those who do this job - not any union that might or might not partake in this function.

Spending societies resources to reward child rearing would strengthen the desire to do what is evidently your paramount concern. Sponsoring the relationships of adults is not the ideal measure to this end. Sorry, but childless couples, even traditional ones, just don't qualify for privileges based on children's needs.

Taking your argument to the logical conclusion you would also deny infertile couples the right to marriage, since they "do not naturally result in children". Sadly, this is a position the catholic church indeed holds (CIC 1084 § 1).

When people confuse marriage with child rearing, they are ignorant of life's variety.

So please leave the children out of this. Prop. 8 is about the union of two adults - nothing more.


Chase Langdon said...

thanks for making this blog. I just found it. I shall read the older posts and keep up.

Anonymous said...

Steelman said...

From the link posted by Anonymous:
"As a result of this judicial act, the only way to ensure that we continue to define marriage the way every religious and secular society in recorded history has defined marriage -- as between men and women -- is to amend the California Constitution."

If the "argument from history" was valid the United States wouldn't exist today, due to rule by the divine right of kings being a long tradition throughout recorded history. People learn new things, they change their minds about old traditions, progress happens. Please, let's not go back to the time honored, and now repudiated, traditions of even our own country, such as women being second class citizens and people of African descent living as farm animals. There were secular and religious reasons for those traditions as well, and those reasons are no longer considered valid.

"Brown, a liberal Democrat, changed the proposition's wording to: 'Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.' "

Brown's wording is accurate. The right exists, and Prop 8 would eliminate that right.

"Four justices create a right, and then a sympathetic attorney general renames a proposition so as to protect a 4-month-old right that no one had ever voted to create."

This same argument could have been made against every court that allowed interracial marriage in the twentieth century, and it would have been just as wrong. Laws establish legal rights, and courts can rule on the constitutionality of those laws. That's part of the checks and balances of our governmental system. How long ago this particular right was granted is irrelevant; it exists now, and the retention or abolition of this right is what the voters will be deciding.

"These charges of "hate" against proponents of retaining the man-woman definition of marriage do not speak well for those who make them. I, for one, find it easy to believe that most opponents and most proponents of Proposition 8 are decent people."

Is the number of charges of hate, in print and in cyberspace, disproportionate to the number of Prop 8 supporters who actually do hate homosexuals? Perhaps. I don't know. The TV commercials I've seen against Prop 8 mention only the moral wrongness of supporting Prop 8, and encourage people to vote against it, regardless of how they feel about marriage, because the real issue is civil rights and equal protection under the law. So, while Prager's concern about accusations of hate may be legitimate, the "niceness" of those whose civil rights are at stake has no bearing on the issue of whether or not they be allowed to retain those rights.

Anonymous, if you can't manage to come up with your own arguments, or at least put the ones you prefer into your own words, would you at least consider signing your posts so we can keep track of who is posting what here?