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The Meaning of Marriage

Entry 1521, on 2013-04-19 at 14:04:43 (Rating 4, News)

The biggest local story here in New Zealand over the last few days has been the passing of same-sex marriage legislation, making us the 13th country in the world, and the first in the Asia-Pacific region, to legalise same-sex marriage. Considering we have a conservative government this is quite an impressive achievement and shows what happens when MPs are allowed to vote based on their conscience instead of voting for what their party tells them to.

Surely all votes should work this way. Apart from the dictatorial NZ First party all the others have members who voted for the legislation even when you might not expect it (Act and United Future for example). You have to ask if these votes are "conscience votes", does that mean that the others require some MPs to vote against their conscience? Is that really OK?

Anyway the vote was fairly comprehensive in the end - 77 for and 44 against - which is considerably better than the more common 61 to 60 votes we get when people vote based on their party's orders rather than what they think is right.

Of course the more conservative (and nutty) parts of society are already predicting disaster just like they did when other controversial social laws were passed.

When homosexuality was made legal, when prostitution was made legal, and when the anti-smacking law was passed the more extreme conservatives predicted disaster but of course nothing happened.

Let's look at some of the ignorant, bigoted comments about similar changes in the past.

When the homosexual law reform bill was passed in 1986 some politicians predicted that it would cause a decline in morality, that homosexuals would come to New Zealand in their thousands, and that the country would be a Mecca for homosexuality and sodomy. I see no signs that this has happened.

When the civil union legislation was passed the Destiny Church suggested that we should not forget the name of Lord God Almighty (what is that exactly?) and organised a march of 5000 people against it. They predicted legalised child sex and bigamy would be next. Again, I see no signs that this has happened.

When the prostitution law reform law (decriminalising prostitution) was passed in 2003 there were predictions it would lead to more prostitutes. A later review showed no signs that this has happened.

When the ani-smacking law was passed there were dire predictions that innocent people would be prosecuted for reasonable discipline of their children. Since 2007 there have been 8 prosecutions for smacking, and the police (hardly a source of liberal propaganda) say the guidelines are working fine. So yet again there are no signs that the bad predicted outcomes are real.

So what predictions are we getting this time?

Family First predicts marriage celebrants will be bullied into performing same-sex marriages against their will. This right is specifically protected in the law and who would want a ceremony to be performed by someone who doesn't want to do it anyway? It's just silly, bigoted nonsense.

The National Marriage Coalition says it will be an open door to group relationships and incest type marriages. This is the old slippery slope argument. Another good one is the prediction that people will be able to marry animals in the future. There is a general trend to liberalisation of laws and who knows, maybe one day group marriages will be OK, after all many respected characters in the Bible had multiple wives, so it must be OK!

The Catholic Bishop of Auckland tried really hard to sound reasonable and to not admit that his objections were based on the intolerant ideas promoted by his belief system. But you could see they were, and it was hard to listen to a member of the Catholic Church lecture the rest of us on the topic of sexual morality. Is it possible to think of anyone with less credibility on the subject?

He made a few vague references to it being a sad day for New Zealand, and to re-defining the meaning of marriage being bizarre, and not being sure what the implications might be for the future (presumably his god will take a terrible revenge on us after he has dealt with the other 12 countries who have already taken this step).

After all of this mindless drivel it was refreshing to hear from a supporter of the bill who treated the subject with intelligence and humour. He described how he had received messages from Christians threatening eternal torment in Hell. He replied that he had calculated the thermodynamics of burning in Hell and it would take only a few seconds for him to be consumed: a sacrifice he was prepared to risk! Ridicule of primitive superstition is great!

But the way so many believers react so badly in these situations is bizarre. They are always so intolerant and unforgiving. Didn't they listen to what Jesus told them? As I always say: if you really want to see an example of true evil have a look at religion!

Many people ask me why I care. Well that's the whole point, I shouldn't. I'm not gay, and I don't know any gay people who want to get married, so why should I care? It's just a matter of fairness. The people who object to this law might find gay and lesbian lifestyles unpleasant, and it's their choice to feel that way, but what real difference does it make to them if same-sex marriage is allowed or not?

Some people say it discredits the "real" meaning of marriage. I would say that there are plenty of heterosexual couples who have done a good job of that already. Celebrity marriages which last a few days, people who marry multiple times and split up seemingly at a whim, married couples where the relationship is maintained through violence and intimidation. What else could possibly make it worse than it already is?

Another argument is that marriage is primarily to produce children and gays can't do that. Well neither can post-menopausal women or people with various medical disorders. Should that be a pre-requisite for being allowed to marry as well?

In reality there is no good reason not to allow same-sex marriage. There is really only one (bad) reason to reject it in the final analysis: that the objector is uncomfortable with same-sex relationships. Well they are a fact and it's time to grow up and accept them even if you don't like them. Progress is inevitable and by trying to halt it, especially by presenting dishonest objections which disguise your real opinions, you just look like a fool.

And just like with past changes of this sort, in a few years we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

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Comment 14 (3513) by OJB on 2013-04-20 at 21:46:04: (view earlier comments)

As I said, I respect genuine, rational objections which quote real data such as the study you quote which, I must admit, I find quite surprising. However it is dangerous to take a single study too seriously. Generally I think it's safer to accept the position statements of the relevant professional organisations.

Here's a quote from the American Sociological Association on Same-Sex Parenting and Child Outcomes...

The social science consensus is both conclusive and clear: children fare just as well when they are raised by same-sex parents as when they are raised by opposite sex parents. This consensus holds true across a wide range of child outcome indicators and is supported by numerous nationally representative studies.

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Comment 15 (3515) by OJB on 2013-04-20 at 22:01:46:

Ah! Now I see what's happening. The study you quote is commonly used by conservative commentators (I wonder where you got it from: a religious or conservative source of some sort?) and has been discredited by a large number of researchers. The study deliberately skews the sampling of families with same-sex parents to get the required result. This is exactly what I mean when I say the results of a single study can be misleading. But, of course, that's what some people want!

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Comment 16 (3517) by Richard on 2013-04-22 at 17:24:56:

Thanks in return Owen - Likewise, I totally respect your tenacity, and your right to your view as well, and appreciate the chance for discussion, knowing full well in advance, that we won't agree. Always still enjoyable discussion! I was happy for you to have the last word - it is your blog after all, and will try to when/if you reply. Had only one exception to make though sorry - re your Comment 15. (And sorry btw re the numbers - I'll make sure I just make proper use your comment numbers in future to avoid confusion).

I have mentioned this before too - it's not a good idea to use ad-hominems, which are not really arguments. Even if the source was actually commonly used by conservative or 'religious' commentators, it's not good case making to attempt to devalue the information provided on those grounds alone. The source of any information is in itself pretty irrelevant. After all are you seriously expecting pro-bill supporters to publish that reference for 'us', or conservative commentators to publish your opposing results? Obviously not - the point is no real clarity is provided by your comment 15, or even comment 14, where you too provide a quote from a (single) professional organisation with the view you prefer. :-)

In actual fact the reference I provided is from 'sciencedirect.com' - and the paper from Univ' of Texas. I thought you'd at least have appreciated that domain name. LOL. That paper even begins by noting concerns about previous quoted studies that have used non-representative samples of same sex parents, (and they provide multiple references so that claim can be tested). So of course the point is there is indeed considerable debate on the topic in the research, and it is thus entirely fair to say at very least the jury is still out on the findings. All the more reason to air on the side of caution, before making radical changes - when serious outcomes are at stake, AND when the status quo does NOT really have to impinge on same sex partners human rights at all!

To insist that society isn't actually clever enough to understand the different labels for 'Civil Unions' and 'Marriage' and thus cannot be expected to apply the same respect for both is somewhat insulting to most people I'd have thought. And of course those that are fair enough to apply the same respect for both labels, still won't do it now with newly labelled same sex 'marriages'. So what's the point?

Every year there is Gay Pride week - Do we really think this is a week to celebrate the fact that 'we are all exactly the same' - no it is clearly a chance to declare that while there ARE undeniable differences in lifestyle choice (highlighted pretty clearly in the parades) - that difference should however be accepted and appreciated - fair call too imo! So why not leave Marriage alone and include 'Civil-Union pride' as part of that, to garner society's fuller acceptance of that 'celebrated difference label'? The reason is, they know that most people (i.e. you and me) already understand completely the part about accepting different lifestyle choices. No, they are actually trying to convince us that same-sex marriage is actually EXACTLY the same, when clearly nature, the scientific research, (and our obvious intuition) shows that it is NOT 'the same' (this is not at all a moral distinction at this point) - Equality is NOT calling everything the same, so why insist on the same label? We may as well label a PC a Mac - Sorry Owen - I went too far there!

On a similar note, just claiming that the paper is skewed, doesn't make it so in the slightest. You have actually made quite a serious allegation against the Univ of Texas there. What on earth is their motivation to 'skew the results'?

To illustrate my point another way (wrt ad-hominems not making a case, and this is more for other readers benefit), is that I could copy your Comment 15 word for word, (except for reversing the sources to say athiest, or gay), and the post would appear to have just the same 'rhetorical force', for the opposing side, yet is also not a real 'case'. We should therefore all try to avoid doing that when making a case.

Finally - To end on a big compliment - Congrats on your blog software - it is really really good! No complaint at all about the tags - I'll just know now to avoid them in future. Cheers Owen!

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Comment 17 (3518) by Richard on 2013-04-22 at 17:27:49:

Sorry Owen - darn it - where did the word NOT go to. The sentence was supposed to read: And of course those that are NOT fair enough to apply the same respect for both labels, still won't do it now with newly labelled same sex 'marriages'. Cheers.

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Comment 18 (3519) by OJB on 2013-04-22 at 20:45:20:

The reason I mentioned the suspected source of that particular study was that it indicated you had started your research from a biased source instead of looking at the total body of literature in the area. I have no proof of this but you can understand my suspicions! And I don't really see it as an ad-hominem.

I realise the paper is from sciencedirect but why did you choose that one (which contradicts the consensus) instead of any other? Can you honestly say you found it as a result of an unbiased search or were you referred there from a conservative or religious blog or other source?

The statement form the "single" organisation (which was the most relevant one I could find and not chosen arbitrarily) did include this statement: "The social science consensus is both conclusive and clear" and "This consensus holds true across a wide range of child outcome indicators and is supported by numerous nationally representative studies". Doesn't sound like a biased view based on a small amount of evidence, does it?

I don't think you can say the jury is still out at all. There is always room for doubt, especially in social science, but the consensus is clear enough according to the experts. This claim of doubt is exactly the same strategy used by other fact denying groups such as global warming deniers and creationists (maybe we shouldn't get started on those though) and is quite dishonest.

The point is that, as a result of a government restriction, a group in society was being denied a right other groups had. I agree it is largely symbolic but that symbolism (and it's presumed lack of practical importance) applies to both supporters and detractors, doesn't it?

I don't think anyone is trying to say gays and straights are the same (I don't think either side wants that), and I agree many people won't see a same-sex marriage as being as good as a heterosexual marriage. That's fair enough. But at least laws now encourage equality. Having equal rights in law and being the same aren't the same thing.

Regarding the alleged errors in the paper. I'm just saying what I have read. I have no idea whether the paper was deliberately skewed or whether there was an error in methodology. It's even possible the claims of an error aren't true. Whatever the case, the consensus is contrary that particular study and there must be some reason for that.

You couldn't reverse comment 15 at all. To do that the consensus would have to be that children of same-sex couples have a worse outcome and that isn't the case.

Again thanks for the debate and thanks for the positive feedback on the software. BTW, did you see my blog entry today? You might also want to comment on that one!

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