Same-sex Marriage and the Neutral State

Jason Kuznicki has another excellent post on same-sex marriage at Positive Liberty:

Maggie Gallagher gets more dishonest and incoherent as her views on same-sex marriage lose support. Here’s the latest example:

Same-sex marriage is quite different from bans on interracial marriage in one powerful respect: It asks religious Americans to surrender a core belief — not only Leviticus (disapproval of gay sexual acts), but Genesis (the idea that God himself made man as male and female and commanded men and women to come together in a special way to image the fruitfulness of God).

The existence of same-sex marriage doesn’t do anything to stop those who believe in Genesis.

Extending a secular legal institution likewise has nothing do do with Genesis. You’re still free to go about your life as you see fit, unless you happen to be a state agent, in which case you have no business enforcing Genesis anyway.

I’m not quite sure Jason’s suggestion that homophobic Christians are not being forced to give up their deeply-held religious convictions is entirely right. Their objection is not simply they don’t want to have gay sex or be in a gay marriage, but that they disapprove of others doing these things. To many people, laws are not simply external, impersonal constraints, but a way of signalling those things of which we, as a community, approve and disapprove. To say that two men are legally allowed to marry, on this view, is to approve of such a thing. As long as there’s a state with an active role to play, it must make moral judgements. Moral judgements are never neutral, and those who disagree with government policy feel they are being forced to endorse something they find immoral. As long as the government continues to make policy, I just don’t see a way around this dilemma.

To be clear, given that the state is in fact involved in marriage, I think discrimination based on sexuality is horrific and I have no qualms siding with the marriage equality side of the debate. If the state has to make a moral judgement, I say it should make the most defensible and least bigoted one. I don’t want to be silently complicit in perpetuating injustice, but would prefer the state wasn’t put in the position of making such a judgement at all.

One Response

  1. […] to read the whole thing, but here’s one part which makes the point I’ve been trying to get at recently: This ideal of political equality arose from the Enlightenment’s insistence […]

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