Rapid dismissals

Megan McArdle is busy attacking strawmen in the gay marriage debate. She suggests it would be unwise to assume it won’t impact on straight marriage, listing various examples of previous marriage-related things that people assumed wouldn’t affect marriage but which have – easier divorce, social security for unmarried mothers.

However, she ignores the fact that all her examples directly affected individuals’ economic incentives to get married or not to get married, whereas allowing gays to marry does not affect the economic incentive for heterosexuals. There has so far been no convincing argument that there will be any impact on straight marriage.

Meanwhile, US police are sending undercover college graduates undercover into high schools to entrap classmates into selling them weed. At which point, the classmates are arrested and jailed. This outcome is a shame: it would be better if at this point the classmates pummelled the evil ratting cheating bastard to death.

In other news, George Bush has committed an impeachable offence, and Stephen Pollard is a wanker who invents almost as much anti-semitism as Melanie Phillips. Speaking of the latter, her husband Joshua Rozenberg seems to have problems understanding how the Internet works, as well as the Indian visa system…

(informed by Peter C, Vice Squad, someone, and England Project)

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15 thoughts on “Rapid dismissals

  1. It’s actually a private security firm, not the police, doing the sting. Which perhaps makes it even worse. Can’t they arrest the person trying to buy it?

    On Bush, doesn’t he realise that if you invest pension funds into the equity markets you get a piece of paper (in fact not even that sometimes these days) rather than a chunk of a factory?

    On Rozenberg, are you sure it is him? It’s scarcely believable that an experienced legal correspondent would use the argument — "it’s legal in America so why wouldn’t it be legal in India". Is it?

  2. McArdle’s argument is simply an arch-conservative standpoint – never change anything, because you cannot predict what might happen. Don’t abolish slavery, allow women the vote, stop children going up chimneys because of the unknown terrors that may lurk in change. It doesn’t really hold water and, as you say, contains more straw men than a scarecrow convention.

    As for Joshua Rozenberg, I have some sympathy with Matthew. Surely the guy can’t be *that* stupid. Surely.

  3. "Don’t abolish slavery, allow women the vote, stop children going up chimneys…" Ah, the road not travelled, eh?

    Re allowing gay people to marry and economic incentives: as ever, depends on the priors. Given that the direct material benefits have been in decline for decades anyway (probably most of all because women have greater independence), a lot of its value is probably because of some prestige value – making a relationship "proper." If the social consensus was that marriage had been cheapened by allowing gay people to join the club, then the value of membership for all will decline.

    Now I suspect (understatement) that you and me would disagree on whether the wider public will give a shit. But changes to who is allowed to participate must have some consequence on the perceived benefits of participation.

  4. But changes to who is allowed to participate must have some consequence on the perceived benefits of participation

    That was what they said about the MCC and it’s still there.

  5. "If the social consensus was that marriage had been cheapened by allowing gay people to join the club…" There is no consensus on this point. I think that marriage is currently cheapened by being an unfair and discriminatory institution. Blimpish’s argument boils down to "gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry because most people think that they shouldn’t", which again is a pretty compelling argument for slavery, etc.

  6. Indeed. It seems just as plausible that allowing people who obviously desperately want to get married to get married will actually enhance the institution, particularly compared with, oh say an upper-class man marrying a 19yr old girl merely because she is a virgin and that’s what his uncle Dicky told him to do (or was it his guru Laurens?), and who then proceeded to continue his affair with another married woman throughout the marriage, might have done.

    Either way if the debate on gay marriage is now only down to whether allowing two men to get married will damage the institution in the minds of some marginal people I think it’s basically been won. Empirically I would offer the comment that legalising gay sex doesn’t seem to have hurt the popularity of heterosexual sex.

  7. You might notice the argument was expressed neutrally (Larry, you’ll note the "If" at the start of your quote) – you could equally argue that most people would see gay people being married and increase the valuation placed on marriage. I’d say there’ll be a bit of both – the question is whether there’s a balance of costs and benefits. So, Dsquared, fair point, although marriage is probably a little more important than the MCC, so you’ll forgive me if I want a bit more evidence!

    Re arguments for gay marriage and slavery – amusing attempt to blacken an argument by association, but that’s all. Marriage IS a social institution, after all, and one that most of us want to sustain into the future (in whichever form). As a social institution, it derives its strength from what people think of it, and that will depend on who is involved and on what terms. Participation is a privilege; non-participation isn’t an infringement of human rights (otherwise, perhaps the Government guarantee to provide us all with a spouse?). So, to be denied the opportunity to marry is hardly a denial of your being, as is slavery – all the more so these days, when you can be married in everything but the law anyway. To compare the argument against gay marriage with the argument for slavery is plain daft.

  8. That’s a compelling argument, Blimpish. But does it not follow that all marriage proposals should be subjected to consideration by society as a whole, or by a panel of representative worthies? To have a blanket ban against a particular section of society for the reason you give, whilst not caring which individuals marry as long as they aren’t in that section, seems like wanton discrimination.

    If it is a matter of the value of marriage, surely individuals and individual couples must be assessed before they are allowed to join this prestigious club. If I believe Jack and Jill don’t make a good couple (because he’s forty and she’s twenty-five, because he’s black and she’s white, because they’re bound to have ugly kids, or for whatever reason), should I be able to prevent their marriage, for the good of marriage itself?

    (Slogan: Ban chav marriage!)

  9. On the impeachable offense…. This criticism is coming from the same quarters that think the US should sign up to the ICC, right? Despite the fact that that would violate the Constitution.

    Besides, has he questioned the validity of the US’s public debt? I thought he’d questioned the validity of using the current method long term. He’s not saying that there’s anything wrong with existing public debt; he’s saying that continuing to use the same system will cause problems with future public debt that does not currently exist. He might be wrong, but I don’t think he’s broken the Fourteenth Amendment.

  10. The phrase "There is no trust fund — just IOUs that I saw firsthand." seems to be suggesting that the IOUs aren’t worth anything. I agree it’s not beyond-reasonable-doubt stuff, but the natural way to interpret it is that he’s suggesting that the government debt owed to the SS fund is worthless.

    Not sure what DKos think about the US and the ICC, and it’s far from certain that it would violate the constitution anyway. This lot, although obviously somewhat partisan, know a hell of a lot more about US law than you or I and seem to believe it would be OK…

  11. Blimpish: your original argument was not expressed neutrally, it was entirely one sided (preceding it by "If" or "Some people might say" doesn’t change this).

    "Participation is a privilege; non-participation isn’t an infringement of human rights." As Gregg points out, no-one would accept this as an defence if the law currently said that only white people could marry. Or maybe I’m just being daft again.

    In more general terms it sounds like you’d accept (on human rights grounds) that gay people should be entitled to all the same material benefits (exception from inheritance tax for instance) as straight people, in which case we get "gay marriage" in all but name, a situation which perhaps we’d both be happy with.

  12. Larry: on the latter point, pretty much yes. I really have no wish to see gay people losing out, not so much on human rights grounds as basic decency. (At this point, as a good Right-winger straining to appear reasonable, I’d supposed to say "some of my best friends are gay" – but even if it did matter, it isn’t true.)

    Re Gregg’s point, only insofar as laws are always imperfect ways of trying to ensure justice, but always have bad cases to discredit them. We have marriage licences, after all. The fact that we use general rules to limit the potential marriage combinations (which we do) is more a matter of costs and benefits. And those general rules include, for example, that a brother and sister can’t marry – even if they were both infertile, so the biological downside of incest isn’t there.

    Race isn’t a simple categorical difference, certainly in biology or English law, and so is different. At any rate, race doesn’t itself alter the type of partner that you’re seeking to marry – if I change skin colour overnight, then I could still fancy the same girl; if I change sexuality, then she’s somewhat lacking in Y-chromosomes all of a sudden.

    And as for banning chav marriage, I’d agree, but I think they gave up on it years ago!

  13. Whilst I understand your point about incestuous marriage, Blimpish, I don’t think it’s relevant: Incest is illegal. Homosexuality is not illegal, and unless one believes that it should be, I can’t see justification for arguing that homosexual couples should be prevented from marrying. What general rules do we use to limit marriage combinations, that we do not use to limit "combinations" outside of marriage? The only remotely relevant limit I can think of is that 16- and 17-year-olds must get their parents’ permission to marry, but not, legally, to have sex. I would support that principle being extended to homosexual youths if and when gay marriage is legalised.

    On your second point, of course race is different from sexuality. But, again, I don’t think that’s relevant. If one believes that gay marriage should be prohibited because it might adversely affect marriage in general by altering the perception of this social institution, surely one must also believe other forms of marriage, and individual marriages, that may similarly affect marriage in general, should also be prohibited. Interracial marriage might have had such a negative affect, and is thus a comparable form of marriage (regardless that race and sexuality are different, unless you believe that discrimination based on sexuality is valid whilst discrimination based on race is not). The same goes for intergenerational marriages, childless marriages, marriages of convenience; the list is long.

    Personally, whilst I accept that marriage is not an unalienable right, I believe it is immoral and intolerable for the state to discriminate against gay people in this way. It is more than just a case of gay people losing out – by allowing this kind of discrimination, we legitimise other instances of discrimination which can or do infringe upon peoples’ human rights. That is the reason for legalising gay marriage, rather then merely offering marriage in all but name.

    (Question: Only -ish?)

  14. (In answer to your question – if not -ish, then surely I’d damn all gay people as soddomites rather than even contemplate this discussion! More generally, the "ish" has a certain vagueness to it – it makes clear my position, but gives an escape route when I come over all reasonable.)

    Incest is illegal, but so too was homosexuality once. The conventional sexual ethic these days is one of total privacy between consenting adults, unless there are direct and proven harms to others as a consequence. Excepting where they can reproduce, I can’t see why an incestuous relationship wouldn’t be valid under that rule. If we’re making laws on the basis of consistent rights principles, and we’re saying that marriage is wholly about sanctifying a relationship between consenting adults, without regard to the purpose of that relationship (for example, whether it is reproductive), then I don’t see why you should prevent incestuous relationships any more than homosexual relationships.

    Now, as you might guess, I’m not arguing that brothers ought to be allowed to marry (which will be reassuring to my brother), but that’s because I don’t think this is a rights issue. Marriage as a state institution serves state purposes before private ones, and opening participation should be allowed as they contribute to those purposes (one of which is promoting stable relationships, but another is reproduction). The other cases you mention that damage marriage are fair, but much more difficult to filter out (except intergenerational marriages – but I imagine that only reflects poorly on the institution now; back in the day it was probably widely accepted). Childless marriages only offend against marriage if you think reproduction is its sole and exclusive purpose – but if you do, well the whole gay marriage question becomes a bit moot!

    On the wider rights question, this is where we differ, I think. For me, we should treat people equally on the basis of who they are rather than what they do – you draw the line more broadly, because you see a greater amount of what they do as integral to who they are.

    So, for me, discrimination on the basis of race is manifestly wrong, and so too would be discrminating against a man just because they are attracted to men (well, unless you’re a women looking for a date, obviously). But you would see it as just as manifestly wrong to discriminate against that man for living with another man; I wouldn’t.

    While I don’t have a problem with men living with other men, I also don’t discriminate against people ‘living in sin’; but I can understand that some people (not many, but some) follow moral codes that take an especially dim view of such lifestyles. You might dismiss them as religious loons, and have nothing to do with them on the basis of their actions, and openly proclaim their moral bankruptcy; but surely you should allow them to dismiss ‘practising’ homosexuals as sinners, and have nothing to do with them either, on the basis of their actions. Tolerance is demanded of us all in these matters; acceptance is not.

  15. Blimpish: I think we can agree. My primary interest is in material benefits, and I’m glad you’d accept that gay couples should be extended the same legal rights (why not "human rights"?) as married straight couples. I’d be happy with "marriage in all but name" as a compromise – and it would strike me as a very hollow victory for right-wingers. After all everyone would call it "marriage" (where’s the romance in "will you join me in civil union"?), and in every practical sense it would be. You might think that the legal terminology is of central importance to preserve the integrity of the institution, but for me it’s not much more than a technicality, and I’d put up with it. It would be similar if the only way to get the law enacted was to allow right-wingers to add "but we don’t really approve" at the bottom of the legislation: a bit annoying, but soon forgotten.

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