Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gay Marriage: the penultimate post

Freiheit - I think that whether "marriage" and "circle" have independent conceptual significance is a question about realism. Marriage is a human institution that is created to serve certain ends, right? But then a circle is a mathematical concept created (perhaps) to serve other human purposes. "Circle" is a fixed concept if one of two things is true: either a circle is metaphysically independent of human thought, so nothing in our changing needs could affect the concept in any way; or a circle is the only way the human mind can think about a certain aspect of geometry, and that way of thinking could not be different for any human mind.

I don’t see much to argue with here except to point out that while marriage was created to serve certain ends, there is nothing to indicate those ends cannot change. Additionally, I don’t see how marriage falls into either category of a fixed concept, which lends credence to the assertion that it is a malleable concept.

Putting two homosexuals together and calling it "marriage" may be possible in the limited sense that one can draw any old picture on graph paper and call it a "circle." If "marriage" means something, and I think it does, it must have certain features. Can a homosexual couple replicate those features? What is the policy goal to be pursued by allowing the functional equivalent of marriage to a union that has so few of the features of marriage? Because "gay marriage" does not exist, it seems the burden is on those trying to extend the definition.

I agree that a marriage involves certain features. It involves at least two people creating a contract and the contracting parties receiving benefits from the government. I don’t see any reason why a contract between homosexual couple (or other combinations) cannot have those features. Certainly there are more features to traditional religious marriage, but that’s not the issue. The issue is state-sanctioned “marriage,” which probably needs quotation marks more than gay marriage needs them.

Legally, we can decree a great many nonsensical things. Sometimes, we have to. We have to establish a reasonably fixed definition of "cause" in order to make administration of the law possible, and that Hume thought causation impossible need not worry us. But we could also legally decree that pi is equal to 3. I think a legislature once tried to do that. The question is not law's power over human relations but the utility of ignoring real meaning in favor of legal meaning.

There is no real meaning of state-sanctioned marriage outside the legal meaning. It’s a creation of the state. There is no separate real meaning of social security or welfare; the legal meaning is the real meaning.

Incidentally, I think the pi story is an urban legend.

I would argue that "gay marriage" does not actually transmit information because it expresses nothing more than this: two (or more) homosexuals enjoying all the legal benefits of marriage as if they were a man and a woman married to each other. It is "as if they were married" because, I contend, the idea of two homosexuals' being married is impossible to comprehend, because it contradicts the definition of "marriage." So an analogy is necessary, but one that does not fully make comprehensible the concept, which is essentially nothing. Put the two men (or women, or more than two, I don't really see why not, if the definition is already changing) together in the mind; give this union certain legal consequences; still it is not a marriage.

If you mean “gay marriage (of the traditional religious meaning),” then yes, it appears nonsensical. However, the debate is over benefits and state recognition, so the information communicated is a contractual relationship granted benefits by the state. It would not be a marriage in the eyes of many religions, but there is a difference between religious marriage and legal marriage. Gay marriage is clearly a shorthand for a type of the latter, since the proponents are arguing for state recognition and not religious recognition.


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