Brendan O’Neill on gay marriage

I don’t disagree with what he says – but there are two issues here. First is the principle of gay marriage itself. To argue that society held one view for thousands of years and then changed its view isn’t, by itself, convincing. There have been rapid societal changes on many issues; racism, slavery, women voting, etc.

Then there are the tactics that some people have pursued in achieving their objectives – in this case gay marriage. They have been very illiberal and very ugly. To my mind that would be the only argument against allowing gay marriage – to deny illiberal thugs a moral victory. That too, however, is also illiberal. To deny many people the right to pursue their own happiness simply because some other people are illiberal is wrong.

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287 Responses to Brendan O’Neill on gay marriage

  1. topological

    In a similar fashion, fans of apartheid in South Africa in the 1950s probably couldn’t conceive of a world where whites and blacks could possibly use the same public toilets. But times and public attitudes change, often in unpredictable ways. And it often happens quite quickly when it does. Apartheid (possibly the worst example of blatant discrimination in recent times) has been abolished after decades of highly illogical yet stern resistance. The time to address those changes is in the future, when they occur, not now.

    I can conceive very well of the world you are advocating. What you are advocating is mathematically equivalent to the total end to the concept of marriage. Calling every relationship marriage is literally no different to calling no relationship marriage. Its redefining marriage to mean ‘relationship between people in love’.
    Based on everything you write, I assume you think the changes in our society since the free love of the 60s and the corresponding downfall of marriage have been a fantastically good thing, and you want to hasten the decline.
    Well, as a child of divorce let me tell you from experience that the world you dream of is no utopia at all. I have experience of where this attitude leads and it is very ugly. But of course you lot don’t give a fuck about the consequences or the children- as long as all individuals satisfy their immediate urges we as a society need to celebrate and applaud them.

  2. rich

    Not even SSM advocates are arguing for any more than that.

    What they are advocating is, “gays and lesbians need to access marriage so we can ‘queer it up’.” i.e. the aim of activism is to subvert the establishment. As I have said, it is the tip of the spear.

    I can’t discount that at some point in the future, society may come to accept polyamory.

    Why not now? Aren’t we discriminating against polyamorous people? OR how about homosexual polyamory… would you support it then??

    ans of apartheid in South Africa in the 1950s probably couldn’t conceive of a world where whites and blacks could possibly use the same public toilets.

    False equivalence. Equality before the law means no law barring marriage between people… it doesn’t mean compulsion of others to accept a minority, and calling non-acceptance “discrimination.” Anyway, you know that I am a “third way” supporter, so state expansion into SSM is anathema, compared to withdrawal from marriage licensing altogether.

    two people of one sexual persuasion can’t do what two other people of another sexual persuasion can do

    Yes they can. The state just doesn’t recognize it as marriage. My in laws do not have a marriage license, but are still, for all intents and purposes, “married.” Just because the state doesn’t recognize it, doesn’t meant that it’s proscribed.

  3. Because that’s what the law says at the moment and what it will continue to say even after SSM is legalised. Not even SSM advocates are arguing for any more than that. I can’t discount that at some point in the future, society may come to accept polyamory.

    Guess what else the law says at the moment? That marriage is between a man and a woman. Now, if you can’t give me an in-principle reason that would bar the changes discussed, why should we provide a precedent for further changes down the road? Seems imprudent to me.

    In a similar fashion, fans of apartheid in South Africa in the 1950s probably couldn’t conceive of a world where whites and blacks could possibly use the same public toilets. But times and public attitudes change, often in unpredictable ways.

    Leaving aside the repugnant association you want to establish, fans of apartheid were wrong in thinking that people should be treated differently on the grounds of race. Now, i can say that while all your suggesting is not that they were wrong in thinking this, but just that “attitudes had changed”.

    Why is it necessary to use a different word or term to describe the same thing?

    Because it’s not the same thing. You couldn’t have just same-sex ‘marriage’ and achieve the same social results that marriage achieves, whereas a black man and a white man use the same public urinal in precisely the same manner and for the same purpose.

  4. It stops any real absurdities from happening (sibling marriage, marrying minors and beagles). It might even enforce a ranking of wives in polygamy.

    And same-sex ‘marriage’. There is no common law precedent there since time immemorial.

  5. rich

    It is reflected in the common law, in continental law, in the thought of philosophers and theologians, and elsewhere, for at least the last 2500 years.

    “That’s the way it’s always been” is a genetic fallacy.

    if they want to recognize marriage in law or in policy.

    That’s government overreach to me. That’s the same as making laws for the benefit or detriment of any minority group specifically, and breaks equality before the law. The law is a large, blunt instrument that need not go anywhere near this topic.

    The actors/ agents themselves don’t get to decide what marriage is.

    Yes those actors who enter into contract get to decide what it means between them, beyond the rules as written. The court, however, should only test the contract as written (despite the move to test on “feelings” or “mitigating circumstances”). For me this “spiritual” component is off topic because it isn’t part of or enforced in law. Laws shouldn’t be based on a subjective analysis of how much one person “loves” another… it should be quantitative, written and demonstrable by evidence.

    the state isn’t acting in the interests of the unborn in this instance…. of course it must exclude the immediate family.

    It’s not the child’s fault when they are born with congenital defects.

    Yes, quite, a classic example of the dangers in marriage redefinition.

    Your “definition” and their “redefinition” sound the same to me. It’s a mire that the state should stay well well clear of.

  6. The concept of a “harem” exists and is as old as marriage. In Aboriginal culture, the long lived old men were the ones who fathered children of the tribe by virtue of their longevity, power and social status. In fall of many empires can be traced to inter-familial marriage by its royal families. What I am pointing out is that the definition of marriage has been far from static across human culture.

    I’ve never argued that marriage has been entirely static, I’ve argued that there are essential features that give it continuity while certain accidental features, appear, change or fall into desuetude. Still, a ‘harem’, as you imply, is not a marriage, nor is the system of fathering children you mention above.

  7. “That’s the way it’s always been” is a genetic fallacy.

    I’ve never made that argument.

    That’s government overreach to me.

    No, no, it isn’t ‘government overreach’ to use the established meaning of a word.

    Yes those actors who enter into contract get to decide what it means between them, beyond the rules as written.

    Sure, but they don’t get to decide what marriage is. If they want to formally establish something other than marriage they are perfectly free to do so.

    It’s not the child’s fault when they are born with congenital defects.

    Sure, but these problems are long-term effects of incest. Anyone if that is the only problem you find, you could have no problem with same-sex incestuous ‘marriage’.

    Your “definition” and their “redefinition” sound the same to me.

    You’ll have to substantiate that claim.

    I’ll be back in the morning (late evening AEST time.).

  8. rich

    Still, a ‘harem’, as you imply, is not a marriage, nor is the system of fathering children you mention above.

    So King Mongkut was not married to his 32 wives? The word “wife” implies marriage.

  9. Simon

    Isn’t the easy thing to do just to accept that the concept is a religious one and pay some token royalty for the use of the name “marriage” to any church/religion that’s considered legal in this country. Same as you would if you used a printed extract or song theme.
    That this is a legal issue in a secular society suggests pedantic and childish people are running the debate.

  10. rich

    use the established meaning of a word.

    As per my harem example above, the definition isn’t inviolable. In fact, there should be no definition that receives state sanction in any way whatsoever.

    I’ve never made that argument.

    “the thought of philosophers and theologians, and elsewhere, for at least the last 2500 years.” QED

    Sure, but they don’t get to decide what marriage is.

    Yes they do. They decide what their marriage is, and what it means to them.

    That’s where the definition, from a libertarian standpoint, should stay. I am personally of the mind that marriage is between a man and a woman (and I will marry a woman) but I’m not going to seek the sanction of the state to enforce the definition on other people, nor grant benefit to those who conform to a particular definition. The definition itself is self-policing. The collateral edge case I can see from that is the child of incest.

    You’ll have to substantiate that claim.

    You insist that marriage is between a man and a woman, from what I can see, because “that’s the way it’s always been” by common law. From there someone has to enforce that definition. Your definition and the definition of the SSM lobby, and the argument of which one the state enforces, sounds like a tug of war to me that involves compulsion and nosing into other people’s business.
    My take is that the state should withdraw from sanctioning a definition of marriage altogether. That, to me, is equality before the law: that the law doesn’t favour one group over another.

  11. ella

    Topo,

    Nietzsche (relativist)

    Same sex marriage is a relative social construct. Foundational claim: the truth is relative.

    Relativism leads to tyranny and totalitarianism.

    Orwell: 1984.

  12. Ralph

    Because it’s not the same thing. You couldn’t have just same-sex ‘marriage’ and achieve the same social results that marriage achieves, whereas a black man and a white man use the same public urinal in precisely the same manner and for the same purpose.

    Except that ‘marriage’ often doesn’t achieve it’s stated social objectives. That many couples enter marriage these days and elect, by choice, to not have children, is a demonstration that the very purpose and significance of marriage has changed. Not to mention that a marriage isn’t even necessary for the successful production and raising of children. Marriage these days, same-sex or otherwise, has evolved to be little more than a public and legal contract of two people’s love and commitment to one and other, from which certain legal benefits flow. It’s an option that is available to those who want to use it with few, if any, penalties for not accepting it. The social outcomes of having a mother and father present in a child-rearing environment can and do take place both inside and out of marriage, with many marriages producing inferior outcomes to non-marriages. Given this, there is little reason to deny the modern edifice of marriage to same-sex couples, should they wish to be a part of it.

  13. .

    dover_beach
    #1772196, posted on August 19, 2015 at 12:26 pm
    It stops any real absurdities from happening (sibling marriage, marrying minors and beagles). It might even enforce a ranking of wives in polygamy.

    And same-sex ‘marriage’. There is no common law precedent there since time immemorial.

    Please tell us who’d bring a suit? LOL

  14. Ralph

    My take is that the state should withdraw from sanctioning a definition of marriage altogether.

    If that is the case (and I’m not suggesting that it shouldn’t be) what would happen to the legal rights that currently accrue to someone because they are married?

  15. rich

    If that is the case (and I’m not suggesting that it shouldn’t be) what would happen to the legal rights that currently accrue to someone because they are married?

    What government is big enough to bestow, it is big enough to take away. That is why you should never rely on charity from the state, nor see it as anything more than ephemeral.
    Like was said to the bleeting windfarmers who feel their handouts and subsidies are somehow owed to them, and taking them away somehow is sovereign risk. It’s misusing the definition of charity.

  16. ella

    Dot,

    If you are not too busy then you may be interested in reading a book written by two American lawyers:

    Daniel Farber & Suzanne Sherry: “Beond All Reason: The Radical Assault On Truth In American Law.”

    I’ll convert you, Dot.

  17. rich

    Same sex marriage is a relative social construct. Foundational claim: the truth is relative.

    Relativism leads to tyranny and totalitarianism.

    Orwell: 1984.

    I’d contend to you that marriage’s definition and definitions are opinions, subject to the vulpine whims of language. The word “gay” used to mean “happy” for instance, with no connotation of homosexuality.

    Facts are things you can measure with rulers, dials or gauges, empirically. So your analogy that “marriage definition = truth” is invalid and hence the corresponding slippery slope is also invalid.

  18. Ralph

    What government is big enough to bestow, it is big enough to take away.

    Much harder in practice though. As Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott are now finding out, telling us about the end of the age of entitlement doesn’t make it so, particularly when they are happy to reward themselves handsomely with all manner of excessive travel entitlements and defend them to the hilt when the public asks “why?”. Pollies need votes to keep their jobs and voters don’t take too kindly to being told that their government-funded candy is going to be taken way. Hence we now have a situation where debt, deficit and uncontrollable government spending are higher under this government than under the previous mob.

  19. .

    Daniel Farber & Suzanne Sherry: “Beond All Reason: The Radical Assault On Truth In American Law.”

    I’ll convert you, Dot.

    What’s to convert? All bets were off once they made that absurd Kelo decision.

  20. Sinclair Davidson

    he was not arguing against SSM.

    Yes, I understand what he was doing. There is a lot of merit to his argument.

  21. topological

    Ella, in my opinion Nietzsche is greatly misunderstood. He has been falsely appropriate by the postmodernist charlatans of the marxist left (Derrida, Foucault et al). He was some kind of relativist- but only in the weak sense that he felt that societies formed their culture and basic values through tradition, natural processes and the decisions of their founding fathers rather than from God. But he was certainly not someone who believed that all cultures were equal and equally valuable like our postmodernist friends. The whole basis of his social study was to radically compare different cultures and to critically judge them against each other, and to think about how culture and art shapes our psychology and world view. He had great respect for a good tradition- actually that was basically his whole thing.
    Thus his attitude to SSM would be to analyse the consequences and whether or not they made society healthier or not. He would certainly deeply appreciate the importance and meaning of the word “marriage” which is something lost on most people. I cant see how he could possibly support SSM.
    He was a genius and an amazing writer but had his problems and his thought patterns ultimately led to insanity. He was highly aristocratic and elitist- to the point where he felt noone was good enough for him to associate with. His determination to infuse meaning into society does probably lead to something like the more mystical Italian fascist strains. I am not a follower of him and haven’t read him since high school- but he is certainly the official master of skewering the fantasies of the progressives and socialists with pithy quotes.

  22. ella

    Jounalists are claiming that objectivity is dead. There is no objective Truth. And so they have become activists.

    In order to defend free speech someone will have to launch an assault on the claim that truth is relative. If not then we are going to loose our right to free speech. Our right to free speech is our most important right because it allows us to defend our other rights.

    Who is absolutely certain that the truth is relative?

  23. rich

    Hence we now have a situation where debt, deficit and uncontrollable government spending are higher under this government than under the previous mob.

    I agree with you- the LNP is statist, and wants to “play daddy” while Labor/Greens play “mummy”, and I just want to be an adult, left alone. The LNP have been disappointing.

    Where we differ is that (from what I understand, correct me if I’m wrong), your attitude is “it’s already broken, another crack won’t be noticeable.” I may be an intractable bastard who doesn’t respect Whitlam’s quote, “only the impotent are pure” as the Greens are. For though, paying that Dane Geld is marching further down the road to serfdom. Someone has to make a stand somewhere, and call it out for what it is. Politics may be the art of compromise, but there are some principles you must defend, or you become Labor under Rudd: power for power’s sake, absent of principle.

    In order to defend free speech someone will have to launch an assault on the claim that truth is relative. If not then we are going to loose our right to free speech.

    Opinions will always be relative. Truth, however, must be measured with a gauge, or ruler. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
    On top of opinions being relative, some ideas are better than others, and that is the whole premise on which free speech is based. Which idea is better is determined by measurement of empirical truth, or by clear logic. That’s why I love spirited debates.

  24. ella

    Rich,

    Read the book I recommended to Dot, above.

  25. Ralph

    That’s why I love spirited debates.

    Absolutely.

  26. Ellen of Tasmania

    I don’t believe it is for Christians – or any other religion – to tell non-Christians how to live

    Yes, it is. I’m a ‘Christian Libertarian’ which means I don’t want government involved in much at all. But I am a Christian and that means that my Christian presuppositions shape what I believe the government should ‘wield the sword’ to protect and defend.

    But here’s the important point: A society, a culture, a people group who have any laws, customs or conventions at all have those things based on some kind of belief system. It is unavoidable. That’s why multiculturalism is a furphy.

    Everyone has a belief system that underlines their value system. Everyone has presuppositions. Cultures grow out of those value systems. You can’t have nothing. Secular is not nothing. Secular Humanism is not nothing. You can reject the Christian worldview, but you can’t reject every worldview and you can’t build a society and a culture on nothing.

    The government shouldn’t be so nosey and paternal. One of the ways I believe we can protect ourselves from an over-reaching government is for the government to recognise other, equally valid governing bodies in the community. That is why I believe they should recognise marriage and families, because the family is a more important governing, nurturing, culture-building entity than the state.

  27. Damili

    There have been many changes forced upon us over the last 40 years, mainly by the Left, and many appear to have been regressive for society, rather than progressive. A plebiscite on this issue would be a good thing as gay marriage is going to introduce a big cultural change, if it goes ahead. Let society as a whole decide, not just the Left.

  28. John

    I hope at least some of you watched interviews with Yuri Bezmenov – KGB defector to the US in the 80s.
    Explains a lot.

  29. rich

    Let society as a whole decide, not just the Left.

    The zealous activists don’t want that. They want a high court bench to act as an oligarchy that tells little people what is good for them, as in the United States. You see, little people are too ignorant and bigoted to vote for activists…
    … as fast as possible, march onwards, whatever it takes…

  30. topological

    A plebiscite on this issue would be a good thing as gay marriage is going to introduce a big cultural change, if it goes ahead. Let society as a whole decide, not just the Left.

    Sorry to nitpick but a referendum is a much better idea than a plebiscite. One important difference is that, in a referendum, the state and media has an obligation to fund and voice both sides of the debate. It also gives the debate more gravitas- this is an important issue and it should be treated as such. Even Mediawatch complained that that media is not letting SSM sceptics politely voice their opposition. A referendum would fix that. So even if we lost and SSM was passed, conservatives would have a chance to explain to people the virtues of traditional marriage and the risks involved in SSM. This is precisely why the SSM lobby is so scared of a referendum.

  31. None

    Sorry to nitpick but a referendum is a much better idea than a plebiscite.

    The federal parliament already has the power to legislate on gay marriage. High Court has confirmed that. Referendum not required to change the constitution to allow the parliament to vote on it.
    Plebescite is not binding. Nor is voting compulsory in a plebescite. Therein lies another few catches.
    Frankly I like how Abbott has got the chattering class pantybunching over referendums on sodomy while getting gay marriage off the table. Everyone knows that Labor just wanted to distract from TURC. And since gay marriage failed to do this they are now trying Heydon. They will get slapped down big time and then move on to the next unicorn. Labor are just protecting the unions. That’s it. They couldn’t give a toss about anything else other than their own survival.

  32. rich:

    So King Mongkut was not married to his 32 wives? The word “wife” implies marriage.

    So if Caitlin Jenner ‘married’ another man, and demands to be called wife, that implies he is both a ‘wife’ and ‘married’. Do you really imagine that King Mongkut’s relationship to his ‘wives’ is marital in any meaningful sense? That such an arrangement didn’t diminish the relationship between Mongkut, his ‘wives’, and their children as it did in the Ottoman sultanate?

    As per my harem example above, the definition isn’t inviolable. In fact, there should be no definition that receives state sanction in any way whatsoever.

    I understand that the definitions of things are not inviolable, the point however is that our definitions should reflect the nature of the thing it is trying to capture, accepting that parts of a definition may erroneously include accidental rather than essential features of the thing being described. Further, this also means that although we begin with what has historically been understood by marriage, our understanding of the matter cannot end there, and that pointing out what purport to be historical exceptions to a definition count as textbook instances of the genetic fallacy.

    “the thought of philosophers and theologians, and elsewhere, for at least the last 2500 years.” QED

    Nope, I said it was reflected in their thought, not that we must accept it because that is what they thought. Notice the difference?

    Yes they do. They decide what their marriage is, and what it means to them.

    No, no, they don’t get to decide what an aspect of reality is anymore than you or I get to decide what an equilateral triangle is.

    You insist that marriage is between a man and a woman, from what I can see, because “that’s the way it’s always been” by common law. From there someone has to enforce that definition. Your definition and the definition of the SSM lobby, and the argument of which one the state enforces, sounds like a tug of war to me that involves compulsion and nosing into other people’s business.

    No, as I argued only this weekend on the plebiscite thread:

    …marriage is orientated towards the generation, care and education of children, and this is evidenced, not only in the fact that marriage is a relationship between the sexes, but in the vows themselves; namely, they make an exclusive and permanent commitment to each other, vows that are orientated not only to the good of the spouses, but also to the good of the children that may arise therein. See how I can call the features you raise, fundamental, without reasoning in a circle, whereas you cannot.

    You will notice how this defeats the claim you made that I’m committing the genetic fallacy, the grounds I’m using to argue that polygamy is a diminished and incongruous form of marriage,and so on.

  33. It stops any real absurdities from happening (sibling marriage, marrying minors and beagles). It might even enforce a ranking of wives in polygamy.

    And same-sex ‘marriage’. There is no common law precedent there since time immemorial.

    Please tell us who’d bring a suit? LOL

    And who would bring the suit in “sibling marriage, marrying minors or, even, beagles”? Oh, you will depend on existing principles but they are liable to change because they depend for their acceptance and authority on contemporary understandings that may be subject to change, evidenced by the absence of any such precedents since time immemorial that have recognized and acknowledged SS’M’, except, potentially, as you’ve argued previously, in the current circumstances. Yes, LOL, you’ve beclowned yourself, dot.

  34. I’d contend to you that marriage’s definition and definitions are opinions, subject to the vulpine whims of language. The word “gay” used to mean “happy” for instance, with no connotation of homosexuality.

    Facts are things you can measure with rulers, dials or gauges, empirically. So your analogy that “marriage definition = truth” is invalid and hence the corresponding slippery slope is also invalid.

    No, no, at best, all you could say about the word ‘gay’ is that it now means both ‘happy’ or ‘homosexual’ depending on the context of its use, but it doesn’t mean that the thing which the word named, has changed and thus that ‘being happy’ is now ‘being homosexual’.

  35. Ralph:

    Except that ‘marriage’ often doesn’t achieve it’s stated social objectives. That many couples enter marriage these days and elect, by choice, to not have children, is a demonstration that the very purpose and significance of marriage has changed.

    No, no, you are confusing marriage generally, with marriage, in particular cases. and your also identifying instances in which people are ‘married’ in name only rather married in fact.

    Not to mention that a marriage isn’t even necessary for the successful production and raising of children.

    Sure it is in the normal case, the differences in child outcomes between married biological and cohabiting biological parents are significant.

    Marriage these days, same-sex or otherwise, has evolved to be little more than a public and legal contract of two people’s love and commitment to one and other, from which certain legal benefits flow.

    Has ‘evolved? So, ‘being gay’ has evolved from ‘being happy’ to ‘being homosexual’? Seriously, the use of the word ‘evolve’ does nothing but offer the patina of sophistication to a poor argument.

    The social outcomes of having a mother and father present in a child-rearing environment can and do take place both inside and out of marriage, with many marriages producing inferior outcomes to non-marriages. Given this, there is little reason to deny the modern edifice of marriage to same-sex couples, should they wish to be a part of it.

    I’ve just rebutted this above.

  36. None

    Peter – take some advice. You’re agreeing with a lunatic that gays are homophobes.

    Dot of course, who makes stuff up, is such a libertarian he cried when I challenged his opinion and got me banned from the Cat. It was a sight to behold.

    I note that you can never provide a link to prove your allegations because you make stuff up. But how hum, perhaps I should should remind you that the term ‘homophobia’ was coined by a pro gay activist (while not gay himself) in the 1960s and circulated in gay circles. Until the mid 70s homosexual attraction was considered a psychiatric disorder. Since that was removed from the listing, any psychiatrist or psychologist confronted with a gay man who is not happy with his same sex attraction – and yes there are many who aren’t, ditto women – is obliged to help them deal with their ‘internalised homophobia’. So unfortunately for you , there are gays who are homophobes. Now institutionalised as ‘fact’ in our psychiatric and psychological literature. And that is the direct consequence of pro gay or gay lobbyists.

    Next.

  37. None

    Isn’t the easy thing to do just to accept that the concept is a religious one and pay some token royalty for the use of the name “marriage” to any church/religion that’s considered legal in this country.

    Nope. Marriage is not a religious concept. It’s a social institution that preceded the state (and therefore cannot be defined by the state; the state has no authority or competence to define or redefine it; it merely supports an existing social institution although these days that support has dwindled to nothing more than family law kangaroo courts to tear your family apart further in custody battles and property settlements). It also preceded and transcends all religions. Even atheists get married or at least desire to couple in some form.

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