Monday, March 17, 2008
Law college in Texas offers streaming video of speakers on whether gay marriage can co-exist with "conservatism"
On Feb. 15, 2008 the South Texas College of Law in Houston held a symposium “Is gay marriage conservative?” It ran for about six hours. There is another blogger reference, here.
There is a summary by another blogger, here. You can find the links for the streaming videos and abstracts there.
The speakers were Charles Murray, Dale Carpenter, David Frum, Gerard Bradley, Jesse Choper, Johnathon Rauch, Robert Nagel, Teresa Stanton Collett, Adam Gershowitz, Jeff Rensberger.
I’m going to comment on the streaming videos that I have watched. The video seems to work only in Internet Explorer (not Mozilla) in Windows Media Player. In aggregate, these videos could be packaged and shown in a film festival as an event.
Many of the presentations hinge on various forms of “convervatism” where “Burkeanism” (based on Irish philosopher Edmund Burke) is seen as a pragmatic, centralist version of conservatism.
Robert Nagel: "Marriage and Practical Knowledge"
Mr. Nagel (about 15 minutes) discusses the notion of rationalism (often the source of arguments concerning same sex marriage) as “incomplete” when compared to knowledge obtained from practical experience. Nagel discussed the idea that gender complementarity may be essential to marriage as a societal institution, and that acceptance of gay marriage could result in the private notion of “two kinds of marriage.
Jonathan Rauch: Not Whether but How: Gay Marriage and the Revival of Burkean Conservatism. Mr. Rauch (23:06), author of a famous book presenting gay marriage as a “win-win” proposition, takes the position that the gradual acceptance of gay marriage is already happening and is inevitable. Rauch talked about the tension between “egalitarianism” and “communitarian values.”
Dale Carpenter: The Traditionalist Case. Mr. Carpenter (38 min) presented a detailed analysis, where Burkean conservatism was in the middle, and discussed both arguments for an against recognizing same sex marriage incrementally, including the total break with a known tradition. (I add here, once, Rev. Schuler at the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim CA justified “tradition” as a defining concept of morality and social institutions.) He mentioned the abstract nature of the debate and the "long cherished" nature of heterosexual marriage. He also indicated that homosexuality has been thought to involved a lack of "connectedness" and "responsibility", particularly in the way people become role models for children, although this may not be an accurate perception. However, attempts to deny gay marriage forever run into contradictions. A significant fraction of gay couples (more for women) raise children, and in most states people don’t want to take the children away. And people don’t want to go back to sodomy laws. Furthermore, most of anti-homosexual bias was based on myth and ignorance before modern science. Furthermore, children of same-sex couples should not be discriminated against. In time, there is some pressure to accept recognition of gay marriage. Nevertheless, gay marriage is recognized in several western countries, civil union in several more, and is recognized in several American states. In Sweden, where strong civil unions are recognized, heterosexual marriage has increased, divorce has lowered, birth rates are up, and more gays are in relationships – the “win-win” result.
He gave these states in the US as recognizing gay civil unions: NH, CT, NJ, OR, CA, WA with only MA recognizing "gay marriage." Internationally, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, and South Africa recognize gay marriage; Britain, France, Germany, and Scandanavian countries (and I think Belgium) recognize gay "civil unions."
David Frum: Same-sex Marriage: Unconservative in Purpose, in Application, and in Result. Frum (15 min) takes head-on whether gay marriage could ever be “conservative” in the middleground case. He says that it could not because it is advanced for ideological reasons, more related to egalitarianism than to the experience of marriage. He says that marriage would become “genderless” for everyone. He notes that arguments about gay marriage would have been unimaginable a generation ago, and once granted, few gays might want to “use it” (perhaps true).
Gerard Bradley: (law professor) (19 min) discussed the lexical distinction between “optimal settings” for marriage and the proper role of the law. He recognized the idea of the “optimal setting” for raising children and even the idea that some parents see the “moral instruction” of their children extending into adulthood as a legitimate extension of the sexuality of their own marriage. However, he felt that the usual arguments for denying gay marriage claimed assertions that need to be proved. Conservatism demands that the law be neutral and not try to manipulate behavior into optimality. Bradley also noted that when gay couples have children, it is usually by choice, not accident (except when custody is carried over from a previous heterosexual marriage).
Charles Murray: The Libertarian Salvation of a Conservative Institution
Murray (18 min) reveres marriage as an institution that perpetuates culture and raises the next generation. Gay marriage, he says, would be a simulacrum. He runs through the idea of looking at marriage as a neutral contract and handling it with normal contract law. He believes that much of marriage law in many states already do this, yet marriages often fail. But he believes that heterosexuals themselves have managed to muck up their own marriages, and should not blame homosexuals for distracting them. Murray offers the ("libertarian") idea that a second heterosexual marriage for those past reproductive age does not need government recognition as "marriage."
Jesse Choper (19 min) indicated that he is an independent, and cast the question in terms of a conservative reason not to ban gay marriage. He discussed the powers of the federal government from a constitutional perspective, even giving a whimsical idea that Congress could ban the interstate travel of couples who were not "married." He got into a discussion of fundamental rights, whether marriage is incorporated into a "right of privacy" and took a libertarian position that offense to tradition and feeling were not a good enough reason to ban recognition of what seems now like a legitimate right.
Teresa Stanton Collett, (20 min) from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN (where I took some Unix classes while working for ReliaStar) spoke about marriage as defined by the possibility of conceiving children, and as the primary way to connect men to the children they father and to protect the mothers while they are raising children, a duty that is especially important for lesser income women. She talks about both expecting too much and too little of marriage (including permanency); she made light of "pre-nuptials" as indicating the lack of ability of many heterosexuals to accept lifelong commitment. She admitted that marriage-like arrangements could have a socializing or taming effects on gays (men, especially) also.
The speakers only got to in very tangential fashion the issue that bothers me: that those who do not form heterosexual unions modeled for producing children (or compete to be able to do so) become second class citizens (even when not wanting to "marry" or procreate at all), often asked to sacrifice to meet the needs of those who do. The libertarian arguments of harmlessness, non-aggression and non-intervention run up against a practical reality, as I noted before: many married couples believe they need the "preferential" social approbation to make lifelong monogamous and active (heterosexual, biological gender-driven) marriage a good deal psychologically, and they need the filial loyalty of their adult children (including lineage) to make it work, too.
Adam Gershowitz and Jeff Rensberger introduced other candidates.
Picture: "The thieving magpie" from the National Zoo.