Saturday, November 7, 2009

Another Facebook Debate on Gay Marriage

This was a lengthy discourse on the issue of gay marriage as held between myself and my conservative friend, Kevin Reagan (no relation to that other famous right-wing Reagan). I have posted it below:

- Have you read my blog article on gay marriage?
- I'm very curious what you think about it.

- I would propose civil unions

- Actually, that isn't what I asked.
- What I really ask is: What is the fundamental philosophy that you believe should underlie our government?
- What is the philosophical foundation for the decisions you make as to right and wrong, both on larger issues and specific policies?
- I outline mine using three documents - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Economic Bill of Rights.
- From the ideas in those three documents, I extrapolate the conclusion that it is un-American to oppose gay marriage.
- What is the basis on which opponents of gay marriage draw their conclusions?
- Not simply for why they may PERSONALLY oppose it - and of course, every American has the right to come to whatever personal decisions he or she wants - but why they believe it is acceptable for the American government to oppose it?

- Well, in fact, very few opponents actually argue that the American government should oppose it.
- They leave it to the autonomy of the states, and when taken into the matters of each individual state, it has failed miserably.

- OK, then on what basis do they believe that the state governments - all of which are based on the same principles as the American government, even though their executions of them may differ - have the right to oppose it?
- And you're actually wrong ["very few opponents actually argue that the American government should oppose it"]. Republicans and conservative Democrats consistently fight to pass federal legislation banning gay marriage.
- Yes, a majority of voters oppose it, but as Ayn Rand put it best (and this is a paraphrase, I don't know the exact quote off the top of my head), "No majority should ever be allowed to vote away the rights of a minority."
- She, by the way, is a leader CONSERVATIVE thinker.
- Barry Goldwater, the founder of modern Republican conservatism, wholeheartedly agreed with her.
- Incidentally, there are two other documents that I feel formulate the basis of American policy which I forgot to include in my original article: Abraham Lincoln's First State of the Union Address and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society speech.

- Well, with regards to the idea of voting away the rights of the minority, that's why proponents argue that they aren't voting away the rights of the minority, they're voting to preserve the institution of marriage.

- But there isn't any logical case to be made that allowing homosexuals to marry would in any way imperil the marriages of heterosexual couples. That's an absurd position.
- I have more respect for Fred Phelps, who is at least honest about why he opposes gay marriage, then Newt Gingrich, who tries to construct elaborate bullshit arguments.

- Of course it would ["imperil the marriages of heterosexual couples"]. Marriage has always been the union between a man and a woman; for gay individuals to be "married" would destroy that idea.

- That isn't true. There are many civilizations in which two men were able to marry. Ancient Greece is a great example of that.
- Besides, even if that were hypothetically true, how exactly would the marriage between a man and a woman be nullified by two people of the same gender being married?

- Many American civilizations? No.

2:15pm Matthew
- America is a Western civilization, based on Western ideological principles, almost all of which, in some form, trace back to ancient Greece.
- To philosophers like Socrates and Plato, both of whom, incidentally, were very openly gay.
- As was Alexander the Great.

- Now you're destroying the idea of an independent and unique America.

- No. The founders of America recognized our antecedents in classical thought.

America is not ancient Greece.

- Of course not. But the idea of democracy, of human freedom, traces back to ancient Greece.
- It was imperfect then because they had slaves; it was imperfect here, at first, because we had slaves.

- The same is true with the preferences given to the wealthy and powerful in both societies.
- America is an idea.
- A noble, beautiful idea.
- The best idea in human history.
- The idea of individual rights and freedom.
- That idea originated in ancient Greece and evolved over the millenia until it reached its apotheosis in America.
- Men like Jefferson and Madison understood that.
- If you argue against the right of gays to marry, you must argue that their marriages go against the essence of that philosophy. I can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that not only does it not contradict it, but that opposing gay marriage is a flagrant contradiction.
- Of course, proponents of gay marriage don't care, which then begs this question: Why do they really oppose gay marriage?
- It isn't because of a desire to preserve the institution of marriage, since that isn't jeapordized in any way.
- It isn't to preserve freedom, since homosexual marriage could not by the farthest stretch of the rational imagination take away someone else's liberty. So why?
- I already know the answer, but for once, I'd like to hear an opponent of gay marriage both openly admit it and have the courage to stand by it.

- The reason people oppose gay marriage is largely personal conviction.

- Personal conviction based on what?

- Based on likes/dislikes, reason, religion, there are multiple factors.

- Either way, I am of the opinion that most people who oppose gay marriage do so either because of a visceral dislike of homosexuals or for religious reasons, neither of which I believe should be codified [into law].

- Why do you think people dislike homosexuals?

- People have a natural instinct to feel an aversion to that which is unfamiliar to them.
- No one is saying that those who dislike homosexuals should have to associate with them or engage in homosexual lifestyles, nor is anyone saying that a church which disapproves of homosexuality should have to marry them, or recognize their unions.
- All we are saying is that churches which DO approve of it have the right to marry their gay congregants, and that the government - which recognizes no faith as being superior to any other (or to those who lack religious conviction) - should not discriminate against its gay citizens based on the religious convictions of a few.

- But its not the religious convictions of a few.
- It's the many.
- Not only do I have a problem with gay marriage, I also have a problem with churches that don't have a problem with it.

- 1) It doesn't matter if it's the religious convictions of 90% of the population. Our government was founded on the idea of complete religious freedom for all, and that includes the ability to choose lifestyles that are not harmful to those whose faith opposes them.
- 2) You may have a problem with churches and synagogues which disapprove of gay marriage, but how is the government prohibiting them from marrying homosexuals NOT a situation in which one class of religious citizens have their rights placed above those of another class?

- That's merely by coincidence. The church or synagogue may perform the act of joining the two, but the marriage is still a legal, and therefore state, issue.

- I agree there.
- But now that you have conceded this point, how can you justify the state discriminating against the right of two consenting adults to get married simply because individuals have a personal dislike - be it for visceral, religious, or any other reason - of the circumstances surrounding that couple's union?
- This issue matters a great deal to me not just because I believe in gay rights, but because I believe in human rights. Allowing the government to delegitimize the rights of any individual human being, regardless of the cause, jeapordizes the liberty of all human beings.

- Because we live in a democratic society. And whether or not it's right, it's a fact of the system that the majority rules. and on this specific issue, the majority does not think this is something that should be lent any public legitimacy.

- We do not live in a government of majority rules.
- We live in a government of individual liberty that is restrained only by the state when it endangers the freedom and rights of others.

- Of course the majority rules. How was Barack Obama elected? He got a majority of the votes.

- The majority rules so long as they don't imperil the rights of the minority.
- Actually, Obama was elected because he got the majority of electoral votes.

- And now, he rules. Popular, too.

- Had it been popular votes, the last eight years would have been run by Al Gore.
- That tangent aside, though...

- I was talking about Barack.

- The majority gets to decide on all matters that do not infringe on the individual civil lberties of others.
- Read the Federalist Papers. I am not being some great innovator here.
- If you, me, and a guy named Fred decide to vote for who will be the mayor, and Fred and I vote for me and you vote for yourself, I get to be mayor because majority rules, BUT if I decide to use my mayoral power to persecute you legally, then majority rule is replaced by your rights as an individual.

- So, based on your argument, I would have to assume that you would be a proponent of repealing any and every law that prohibits public nudity?

- lol
- That's an interesting leap. However, I'll take it.

- It's not really a leap at all, but go ahead.

- Here it is:

- People have the right to be nude in private locations of their choice, so long as it does not inconvenience or endanger the welfare of others (either citizens who disapprove of their lifestyle or of children, who lack the agency to make the appropriate decisions). That is not comparable to gay marriage because two gay people getting married does not pose the same direct interference with the welfare and day-to-day lifestyles of those who disapprove of it.
- If someone is nude in public, another person opposed to public nudity has no choice but to be exposed to it. If two gay people get married, and you happen to see them walking down the street, it is more reasonable to assume that you can just ignore it.

- Not quite the same thing when looking at the flaccid schlong of a 78-year-old alterkocker.
- Sorry to have put that image in your head, by the way.

- Not true.

- For some, seeing a flamboyantly gay couple walking down the street would be twice as offensive as seeing that "schlong".
- One would have no choice but to be exposed to it.

- Yes, but one has no choice but to exposed to many things which one finds objectionable.
- The question - the ONLY question - is whether one can be reasonably expected to just deal with it, or whether it is a situation where just dealing with it is, for whatever number of reasons, unrealistic.
- You can ignore two gay men walking down the street and holding hands.
- It is disingenuous for you to argue that it is just as easy to look away from that schlong.

- Of course it is. Every person has one. Everyone knows what a naked man or woman looks like.
It's the exact same situation.

- By the way, you contradicted yourself there.

- No, it's not. You're being coy.
- How exactly did I contradict myself?
- By the way, you have twice attempted to divert this conversation away from the main issue - gay rights.
- First by focusing on the popular vote.

- Then by focusing on public nudity.

- I'm not being coy at all. If you're going to argue vehemently that being gay is a lifestyle choice that does not harm others, then I'm going to argue that walking around naked is the same thing.

- And by your logic, you would have no choice but to accept that.

- Wrong. I will explain again.
- Homosexuals have the right to make whatever lifestyle choices they want so long as they don't harm others or cause an unreasonable imposition on others. Nudists have the right to make whatever lifestyle choices they want so long as they don't harm others or cause an unreasonable imposition on others.
- A gay person getting married neither harms nor imposes on someone else, and a nudist going to a private beach with other nudists neither harms nor imposes on someone else. A gay person having sex with another gay person in public, or a nudist walking around naked in public, does impose on others, and that should be illegal.

- Now you're walking a fine line, however, because it's impossible to define what exactly imposes on others.

- You have to make assumptions if you're going to assume marriage.
- You're going to have to assume PDA.
- And to many, gay PDA is an imposition.

- It's difficult ["to define what exactly imposes on others"], but not impossible.
- The question is whether individual agency empowers the person in question to overlook it, or whether no degree of individual agency makes that realistic.
- People who display heterosexual PDA of an intense sort - fondling and dry humping - are stopped, and obviously the same should apply for homosexuals (which it does).
- But holding hands or kissing is hardly as intrusive to the casual eye.
- By the way, what is to use the same logic you're displaying to stop an atheist from saying that Christian crosses shouldn't be made public, because they find them offensive?
- You and I BOTH concede that free expression should at times trump individual dislikes of that expression.
- You and I BOTH concede that, at other times, individual dislikes trump free speech.
- The question is where that line is drawn. My answer is that it is drawn as follows:
- Human beings can live their lives in the manner of their choosing so long as they do not harm or impose an unreasonable imposition on others (and while the technical details of what constitutes "unreasonable imposition" can always be picked apart by the hypercritical, the reality is that you and I and everyone else has a basic idea of where they are, glibness aside).
- Gay people getting married certainly is not the same as a person walking nude in public because, if for no other reason, you actually don't know a person is gay and married simply by watching them walk down the street.
- So even if I were to buy your premise, you would only have made a case against public displays of homosexuality, not against gay marriage.
- However, I don't buy your premise, because the reality is that someone being naked is far more visually detectable than two gay people holding hands.
- To deny that is disingenuous.

- Not at all

- That would be like saying that in a majority Christian nation that dislikes Muslims, you can outlaw whether a Muslim wears a crescent on his or her necklace because a lot of Christians are offended and/or threatened by it.
- Simply objecting to something morally is not sufficient cause to prevent its public exposure, unless you want to create a society where anything that doesn't abide by Christian values is kept out of the public light.
- It has to be a situation where one who has moral objections is INCAPABLE of turning the other way.
- Now do me a favor.
- Let's stick to the original subject.
- The one you keep diverting attention from.
- Because you never answered my question.

- Which question might that have been?

- I asked it twenty-four minutes ago. "How can you justify the state discriminating against the right of two consenting adults to get married simply because individuals have a personal dislike - be it for visceral, religious, or any other reason - of the circumstances surrounding that couple's union?"

- And I gave you my answer. You're a theoretical guy, no?

- Majority rules just doesn't cut it. And I can prove that by asking you this question - if a majority voted and said that they believed your Christianity was offensive, and that while you could be privately Christian, you would be unable to openly discuss your faith or wear crosses, would you be okay with that?
- By the way, in a hypothetical world where that did happen, I would side with your right to be as openly religious as you wanted.
- Including your right to pray in schools.
- So long as you don't pressure others to do likewise.

- But see, that's HYPOTHETICAL, not ACTUAL.

- And when I say that majority rules, I'm talking about the ACTUAL. I'm not saying it's fair, I'm saying that's the way it is.

- So let me get this straight:
- You think it's okay to create a logical system that COULD hypothetically undermine your freedom for the simple reason that it just so happens that, in its current manifestation, it DOESN'T undermine your freedom?

- That's a very convenient position for you to take.
- Basically you're saying that might makes right.
- A position usually taken by the mighty.
- It's a philosophy that breeds bigots and bullies.
- And as a Jew, it's a philosophy that personally scares me.

- No, it's a philosophy that stands as true in america today.

- That's a cop out.

- Again, I point you to the election.
- Barack obama had "might".
- So therefore, he was "right".

- I don't think so, but that is how it happened.

- The election of Barack Obama was no more an infringement of your individual liberties than George W. Bush's was a violation of mine.
- At least, not his 2004 election.
- To say that they're comparable is a bullshit position to take.
- You are still able to live your life as a white, Christian, baseball-playing, Republican-voting, suburbia-dwelling, upper-middle class American just as easily as you were before.
- You're a majority.

-A powerful majority.

- I'm sorry you don't like my position.

I don't resent your position.

You're calling it bullshit...

- If you replace "Christian" with "Jewish" and "baseball playing" with "playwriting" and "Republican-voting" with "Democratic", it's the same as mine.
- We are basically in the same status.
- The difference is that I recognize that just because I live in a system that happens to benefit people like me over people who aren't like me, that doesn't mean that the system is right for doing so, or that it should be accepted in its current form.
- That makes me a liberal.

- Sure, but the opposite does not make me a conservative.

- No.
- The opposite makes you a bully.
- Saying that because you are strong that it's okay to oppress the weak...
- ... saying that it's okay for the system to be this way because "it's just how things are", and dismissing the fact that the same system could be used to someday persecute you because you have the advantage of being one of the mighty ones...
- THAT position....
- ... that's the position of the bully.

- Indeed. So to bring up a related and relevant situation/question, I would then be forced to conclude that you would be totally against the idea of the democrats ramming legislation through congress with 60 votes without regard for bipartisanship.
Because they have seriously discussed that and considered it a possibility.
- Harry Reid has admitted so publicly!

- I will quickly address this and then insist on returning to our original point of conversation. I dislike it when people try to get out of it by changing subjects.

3:08 pm Kevin
- I'm not trying to get out of anything. This is all exceedingly relevant to the point you're making.

- In any free, democratic society, there is a social contract.

- That contract stipulates that individual members must participate in a political process that, while guaranteeing them their individual rights, at the same time requires them to participate in a larger national order through governmental institutions - elections, parliaments (in this case Congress), and so on - with set rules of procedures.
- It's the trade-off.
- You are an American, and that gives you the freedom to live your life however you choose so long as you don't harm others (unless you're gay, apparently).
- The trade-off is that, when it comes to the specific policies made by the federal, state, and local governments, you have to engage in majority rule.
- Which is fine, so long as the majority never votes away the individual rights of minorities.
- That's the social contract.
- Individual freedoms come first.
- The political infrastructure created to support those freedoms comes second.
- Because it exists for the sole purpose of serving and protecting those freedoms.
- And the welfare of the individual citizens.
- At the same time, in order for society to function, people do need to accept majority rule so long as their individual civil rights aren't violated.
- I may not have liked it that George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004, but he was the duly elected president, and I couldn't just say that he isn't my president because I didn't vote for him.

- Yet I can't even begin to TELL you how many self-proclaimed "liberals" did just that.

- That extends to Barack Obama even!

- They were wrong, just like the many conservatives who accuse Obama of being a Nazi, or a Communist, or a non-citizen are wrong.
- And I don't recall Obama ever saying that about Bush.
- You still have the right to oppose the policies of your duly elected leaders.
- You also have to recognize their legitimacy.
- That's part of the social contract.
- Conservatives can say they disagree with Obama on health care reform.
- Of course they can.
- But if a majority of the leaders elected by the people (the president and members of Congress) are able to, through legitimate means, pass legislation that contradicts the will of conservatives, that too is the price they pay in being part of a democracy.

- The reference there is to obama's "apology/blame america tour".

- You see, you keep bringing up a flurry of points that have progressively less and less to do with the central subject.
- I will address that, of course, because I don't want to be accused of avoiding a position, but it's getting a little annoying.
- Obama's international tour was meant to reverse the geopolitical stand taken by the Bush administration when it came to our relationships with nations that opposed our position in Iraq or felt in some way alienated due to his other foreign policy decisions.

- Obama was making it clear that he was reversing the policies of his predecessor.
- Which, as a duly elected representative of the people, he had every right to do.

- I'm not the one bringing up "a flurry of points".
- You are, my friend.
- I'm merely showing you the holes in them.

- Incidentally, no.

- You keep changing the subject from gay marriage to other bugaboos in your right-wing arsenal.
- Though you say you're finding holes in my argument, you haven't actually found a single hole yet.
- You've just creatively manufactured more logical inconsistencies that I have to patch up.
- Like I said, it's annoying.

- Not particularly difficult [for me to handle], but annoying.

- I disagree. You may think you address the holes I bring up, but they're not being satisfactorily answered.

- For example:

- I would respond with a quote from William Jennings Bryan:
- "The mind convinces itself of what the heart wants to believe."
- You want to believe that homosexuality should be legally persecuted.
- Vis-a-vis making marriage illegal.
- You can't square that with the basic principles upon which our nation was founded.
- So you manufacture increasingly labyrinthine arguments, all of them built of tenuous premises, to support your position.
- My position is a very basic one:
- 1) People should be allowed to live their lives in the manner of theri choosing so long as they don't harm others in the process.
- 2) Homosexuals are not harming others by wanting to be married. Therefore, they should be able to live their lives in the manner of their choosing, in this case, by becoming miserable in the bonds of matrimony like the rest of us.
- You keep constructing elaborate rationales to either:
- 1) Imply that my position has implications that it clearly doesn't (such as about it supporting public nudity, or making it wrong for Democrats is Congress to use their majority power to pass health care reform);
- 2) Claim that homosexual marriage DOES violate the rights of other people (such as by saying that it jeapordizes the institution of marriage).
- In neither case do your assertions hold much water.
- What they do is make me have to shadowbox.
- Like I said, I can shadowbox.
- But I'd rather stick to substance.
- And the substance is this:
- You believe that homosexuals should not have the same rights as heterosexuals.
- Why?
- That is really the only question.
- I can tell you why I think they should have those same rights.
- Namely, because I believe in the principles upon which our country was founded.
- You have the right to disagree with me.
- But to disagree with me, you have to establish a different set of principles upon which you believe our government should base its policies, and explain why gays should not be allowed to marry in accordance with that set of principles.
- You have thus far avoided doing that.

- I'm not going to establish a different set of principles upon which i believe our government should base its policies.
- I could, but that would take too long.

- Well then, there isn't much more to be discussed, is there?
- You are opposed to gay marriage.
- But you aren't willing to say why you are opposed to gay marriage.
- At least, not apart from taking weak pot shots at the pro-gay marriage position.

- I've only told you 1000000 times why I am.

- Then tell me why again:
- Why should homosexuals not be allowed to marry each other?

- I have personal moral, religious, and social convictions that tell me that the idea of gay marriage is wrong.

- This I know.
- But that only tells me why YOU dislike gay marriage.
- It doesn't tell me a thing about why you believe the state has the right to outlaw it.

- Again, I explained that too. Or rather, you did when you defended the idea of majority rule.

- sigh
- I defended the idea of majority rule insofar as the selection of political leaders is concerned, vis-a-vis a social contract.
- You've taken political science courses, so you understand these principles.
- I also pointed out how conservative as well as liberal thinkers (conservatives including Rand and Goldwater) said that no majority should ever be allowed to vote away a minority's individual rights.
- I am tired of repeating this.

- What you need to explain to me is where you draw the leap that because YOU personally don't want a minority to have individual liberties, that means that they shouldn't have those rights.
- It doesn't matter whether there are a hundred people like you or a hundred million people like you.
- What gives you the right to say that, because you don't want this group to have their rights, they shouldn't have them?
- And let me draw this back to my faith:
- Jews have been persecuted for many years in America. Not as badly as in other countries, but as you may or may not know, until the mid-19th century, Jews in Maryland could not serve in political office.
- A majority of Marylanders were Christian.
- They objected to the idea of Jews being able to serve in public office, saying that while Jews could practice their faith privately if they wanted, once they made it public, it would undermine the integrity of the Christian way of living within that state.
- An argument that is remarkably similar to that used against homosexual marraige today.
- What is to stop a Christian right-wing movement from saying that Jews should lose some of their basic individual rights because they don't coincide with the majority?
- Your response to this was that I was only discussing hypotheticals, not actuality.
- But you see, that's the equivalent of saying that it doesn't matter that the same oppression you force on others could be hypothetically used to oppress yourself, because... well, because you happen to know that that isn't going to happen to you.
- In short, it's a refutation of the golden rule.
- "Do unto others as you would wish others to do unto you."
- Your rebuttal to that is: "If I can do unto others what I wouldn't want done unto me, but I know that neither they nor anyone else will ever be able to do that to me, then fuck 'em."

- Of course, a gross misrepresentation of my position.
- Something you're quite fond of doing, I've noticed.
- I'll attribute it to a lack of understanding of conservative principles.

At this time Kevin needed to depart to buy some groceries, so our conversation was brought to an abrupt close. Before signing off, however, I asked him if I could use his real name in this blog article. He agreed.

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