March 26, 2013
The Supremes Greatest Hit
So there I was, innocently perusing Facebook, when all these red Equal sign avatars start popping up as profile pictures. Silly me, at first I thought it might be Artificial Sweetner Appreciation Day and I had just missed the memo -- but then I remembered that the Supreme Court of These Here United States was hearing arguments over California's citizen-approved ban on same-sex marriage (yes, that California). I guess those avatars are just a way of people expressing their solidarity on "marriage eqality," however loosely defined.
Which is all fine and dandy by me. I love it when folks express their opinions heartily. The First Amendment, may she remain forever blessed, only gets healthier the more she flexes her muscles. I am, however, curious about certain aspects of the equal-sign argument. The crux of it was nicely illustrated by an accompanying graphic, with those bathroom-door style stick figures depicting familial arrangements:
Batman, heh! That was brilliant.
Anyway, I'm guessing the gist of it is that it doesn't matter if Heather has a mommy and a daddy, or two mommies or two daddies, or just a single parent in the picture -- they're all perfectly equal, and to think otherwise, why that would be discriminatory. That's why California's law is bad, bad, bad, and must be overturned immediately. Sound about right? Fair enough.
Problem is, the argument (while it sounds good and makes people feel good) isn't borne out by the facts. Let's start with single parenting. While many single parents make a Herculean effort to do right by their kids, and many do a fine job under the most dire of circumstances, studies have repeatedly shown that children do much better in a home with a mother and a father who are married. So as far as single parent homes being equal to homes with a married couple, you can pretty much scratch that one off.
That leaves us with the two-parent household. And since studies have shown that kids do better with two parents, doesn't that bolster the case for allowing same-sex marriage? Well, that depends. So far, there haven't been very many long-term studies into how children fare being raised by same-sex couples -- mostly because the subject is highly radioactive, and the ones that do show kids doing better with heterosexual couples tend to be pilloried by the social science community (which skews heavily to the left, go figure).
However, even that point is rather moot (to quote Rick Springfield), because the arguments being used to advance the same-sex marriage agenda largely ignore the concept of marriage as a procreative union. And with good reason: same-sex couples can't procreate on their own. Marriage, therefore, becomes more about personal gratification and self-actualization. Who are we to deny two people who are in love the right to marry?
Again, this argument undercuts itself. While the public, through its elected lawmakers, does indeed have a vested interest in promoting marriage as a procreative union (continuation of the culture, turning kids into productive, law-abiding taxpayers, making sure kids don't end up on the dole, etc.), the public doesn't -- or at least shouldn't -- give a flip about anybody's personal happiness. After all, that's a personal matter. It's also the reason we don't subsidize dating services with taxpayer dollars. Why should the government poke its big bazoo into something that does nothing to further the public interest? There are far more modest measures that it can take (such as codfying civil unions) that would be far less disruptive.
So what does that leave us with? A whole big can of worms, really. Take the helpful infographic above: Why does it only depict two parents? I mean, if two parents are good, then why not three? Or four? Hell, why not an even baker's dozen? It seems to me that only two-parent bigotry holds that polygamous or polyandrous unions cannot be equally as valid family structures in which to raise children or pursue personal satisfaction. Unless you're Mick Jagger, in which case you can't get none though you try and try and try and try.
Yeah, it's a big mess -- and it used to be so simple. One man, one woman.
So. . .why are we doing this again?
Hatched by Korso on this day, March 26, 2013, at the time of 1:32 PM
The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson
"Hell, why not an even baker's dozen?"
Because a baker's dozen is odd.
The following hissed in response by: Karl
While my personal tendency is not to care what kind of structure consenting adults decided to form (including any number of those described in Heinlein's books), I do have some reservations based on evolutionary theory.
One feature of evolutionary theory is the notion of conserved sequences in genes and proteins.
When you examine proteins and genes across related species, you find differences. The more species you examine, and the further back the latest common ancestor is, the more differences you find. This has been used to chart the history of the evolution of various species.
However, when you look at dozens or hundreds of amino acid or DNA base sequences, you'll find that some portions of the sequence are less likely to change than others. For example, there's a spot in hemoglobin where you almost never find anything other than glycine, the smallest amino acid. Put in anything bigger, and the hemoglobin ceases to fold properly, and you get a mutant that either kills its carrier outright or makes it very difficult for the carrier to leave behind offspring.
In general, when a sequence is conserved, this is a sign that it has some function, and the more strongly conserved, the more critical this function is.
Now, if society is an evolving system -- that is, if the health of a society depends on the nature of the beliefs, practices, rituals, and structures that make it up, and if changing these things impact the health and success of a society, then society is subject to the same kinds of evolutionary rules that living things and ecosystems are.
Some alternative policies would seem to have an obvious effect. Most societies have a rule against murder. Changing this rule to one that says killing random people is acceptable would seem to promise bad effects on the health of that society. Changing the law to mandate driving on the left side of the street would be awkward during the change-over, but doesn't seem to have killed Great Britain.
People argue endlessly that marriage has changed over time and survived, and therefore this change won't kill it. However, I've asked people to cite examples of societies where marriage is defined as including same-sex pairings. The only examples I've seen are cultures where one of the partners undergoes a legal change of sex. (Not necessarily involving surgery -- the "twin spirit" cases involve people who become the opposite sex under the laws of their culture.)
Polygamous polygynous and polyandrous marriages remain, as near as I can tell, unions between members of the opposite sex. If a man with a harem dies, the women are no longer married. If the wife of a number of husbands in a polyandrous marriage dies, the men are not considered married to each other. (Counter examples? Love to see them!)
It would seem, therefore, that the opposite-sex element of marriage is strongly conserved in a Darwinian sense. This conservation may be because no one has ever thought to change it before, or it may be because societies that do change that feature tend to go extinct.
The flood of opinion in favor of extending marriage to same-sex pairings is based on the assumption that the former is true. They're betting heavily that same-sex marriage has not existed because people just haven't thought of enacting it before. They're betting that such a change won't damage society.
I'm not sure how I care to bet.
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