Saturday, November 01, 2008

California's Fishy Proposition 8

Proposition 8 in California calls for making same-sex marriage illegal. But there is something very fishy about it, or rather the people who are behind it. They have given the proposition a title that, by itself, undermines the case for voting "yes." Now why would they do that?

They* titled the proposition "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," thereby accepting the fundamental premise of their opposition, namely that same-sex couples do indeed have a "right" to marry and that making same-sex marriage illegal amounts to denying people this "right." But the question at issue is whether same-sex couples have such a right, by any reasonable moral standard, in the first place. The debate is about whether the so-called "right" truly exists, not whether a true right should be denied to certain people. Who, after all, would be in favor of denying a legitimate right to anybody?

The idea that any two consenting adults have a right to marry is bogus. Nobody, I mean nobody, actually believes that, as proven by the fact that nobody believes adult consenting siblings have a right to marry. The right to marry means the right to "have a child of our own" and siblings are denied this right because the children produced by siblings are at greater risk of genetic harm. The question for same-sex marriage is whether the "child of our own" children of such a marriage, meaning necessarily children from a test-tube conception using either donated sperm or a donated egg, are psychologically harmed as a result of not being raised by (often not even knowing) one of their biological parents. If society thinks this causes enough harm to make test-tube conception illegal, then that would be the same as deciding that same-sex couples do not have a legal right to have a "child of their own" just as siblings have no such right, and it would mean that same-sex couples, like siblings, do not have a right to marry.

If the question were framed properly as above, then it would promote a genuine and important public discussion, one in which religious and secular people might find themselves as likely to be in agreement as disagreement. It would probably result in far more people being persuaded that same-sex marriage was not a right, compared to the approach that the backers of proposition 8 are using. As reported here, proposition 8 backers are targeting the Hispanic voters because they are mainly Catholic. They are using religious arguments instead of arguments that would make sense to people whether they were religious or not. The backers of the proposition are going out of their way to use a title that undermines their case, but which frames the question in terms that pit Catholics versus non-Catholics. I smell a rat.

[See "Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage: What is at Stake?" for more discussion about how test-tube conception is harmful to the child.]

*Postscript: I have been informed by a friend in California that the title of proposition 8 was determined by California's Attorney General, arguing that same-sex marriage had been found by a California court to be a right under the state's constitution. Also, the sponsors of the proposition filed a suit against the state and lost. The point remains that the debate on this issue is being framed by both sides in a way that pits Catholics against non-Catholics by avoiding the kind of discussion that would be less polarizing by focusing on how same-sex marriage affects the children it may produce.

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