Thursday, December 11, 2008

Redefining Marriage

Jon Stewart smote Mike Huckabee. And it was a wonder.

And since Jon Stewart smote Mike Huckabee in a way that Rachel Maddow did not and Neal Conan did not, I love him more than ever. But even from an atheistic liberal perspective, Mike Huckabee's arguments just seemed weak. Like when he said, "It's not that they have tried to say they're going to ban something as much as they are going to affirm what's always been." Way to play the semantic argument there, Mike. That is kind of like saying that every time women were denied the vote in different states until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, those men weren't banning women from voting; they were just affirming what had always been. Also, "Religious people don't have the right to burn others at the stake"? That's a convincing argument for whom? I mean, really now. "Oh, since I can't cause you bodily harm due to your heresy, you can't be privy to all the rights of those straight citizens. You understand, don't you? I mean, how fair would it be if you were allowed to do something that hurt no one when I can't commit murder?" I also liked the part where he blew right past the argument Jon Stewart made about polygamy in the Bible, and about how what constitutes as 'marriage' is continually in flux.

The other thing I really liked was the way Jon Stewart made clear that might doesn't make right. The thing about an equitable society, one in which all citizens are equal, is that the minority is subject to the same rights and restrictions as the majority. That institutionalized -isms, especially those perpetrated by law, are not acceptable simply because the majority of citizens finds that denying someone rights and privileges they themselves have is a grand idea. I stand by my assessment that if we as a society waited until the majority came around to the opinion that they should grant rights to the disenfranchised, we'd all be waiting much longer for progress in making those profound philosophical pronouncements of the founding fathers a reality.

11 comments:

habladora said...

I hadn't watched this until now, thanks for posting and critiquing it. It's interesting that, while ripping Huckabee's arguments apart, John treats the man himself so gently. Does he play nice because Huckabee might honestly believe the bigoted things he says? I've seen Stewart treat others making similarly logic-bereft arguments with far more contempt.

John said...

"Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality." "At what age did you choose to not be gay?" SMOKED!

Gosh, redefining words? We can't have that now, can we? It's not like the English language isn't getting redefined all the time in nearly every aspect or anything, right?
To me, that argument is more Orwellian than having a reality show called Big Brother. Language is one of the most powerful tools for control in existence, and (as 1984 showed) if you can make sure that there is no word for an idea, people will stop being able to conceive it at all. That seems to be their hope with this movement, to make the word "marriage" so specific and inviolate that the very notion of it happening between two people of the same biological sex will be inconceivable, and "gay marriage" will be as much of an oxymoron as "ungood."

crankosaur said...

I think he was so gentle with Huckabee because they're friends, as opposed to say, John Bolton or that douche who wrote Liberal Fascism. I don't know how someone can honestly believe these kinds of arguments--redefining words? Affirming how things have always been? Marriage is meant to raise children? Just admit you think gay sex is yucky, Mike Huckabee, and that you're dumb.

mikhailbakunin said...

I'm in favor of civil equality between homosexual and heterosexual couples, and I disagree with a lot of what Mike Huckabee said. But I think Stewart's argument is also pretty weak.

The concept of procreation has always been at the heart of marriage. In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court used the logic of procreation to shoot down the anti-miscegenation statutes on equal protection grounds. Even in polygamous relationships, procreation is often the central focus.

The procreation argument is pretty hard to dispute - it's the one aspect of "marriage" that's been fairly consistent across cultures. If you're a Burkean conservative, that consistency is important.

I think Huckabee is right that progressives shouldn't just dismiss the majority view in this country as narrow-minded or bigoted.

petpluto said...

"The procreation argument is pretty hard to dispute - it's the one aspect of "marriage" that's been fairly consistent across cultures."

Then infertile couples should not be allowed to marry, women above the age of menopause should not be allowed to marry, and senior citizens should not be allowed to marry. The fact is, we allow all of these couples to marry, and so the procreation argument turns into bunk in this day and age and in this society. Especially since the Catholic Church does recognize infertile couples.

"I think Stewart's argument is also pretty weak."

I think Stewart's argument was good because it was created in opposition to Huckabee's argument, which was about the tradition of marriage being between one man and one woman. Considering that marriage is in continual flux, I thought Stewart's use of the Bible to counter the contention that marriage was always one heterosexual couple was inspired.

"I think Huckabee is right that progressives shouldn't just dismiss the majority view in this country as narrow-minded or bigoted."

What if they are? Fights for civil rights for any oppressed group usually do come about while the majority is narrow-minded or bigoted.

mikhailbakunin said...

Then infertile couples should not be allowed to marry, women above the age of menopause should not be allowed to marry, and senior citizens should not be allowed to marry . . . Especially since the Catholic Church does recognize infertile couples.

Well, the dispute is over the purpose of marriage. If the purpose of marriage is procreation, then it makes sense to argue that marriage should remain a heterosexual institution. Some people may argue that we should further limit the institution - but that's a reactionary position, not a "conservative" position.

Most conservatives believe that states have a compelling interest in promoting families with a mother and father and kids who are biologically related to them. That is definitionally impossible for homosexual couples. Various courts have affirmed this as a legitimate state interest. This isn't a fundamentally religious argument, so I'm not sure what the Catholic Church has to do with it.

I think it's important to point out that I don't agree with this argument at all. I'm just saying that Huckabee isn't being unreasonable - if you look at things from his perspective.

What if they are? Fights for civil rights for any oppressed group usually do come about while the majority is narrow-minded or bigoted.

The point is that dismissing the majority position is foolhardy. Those of us who support gay marriage should confront the opposition on issues, not resort to ad hominem attacks. Telling people that they're bigots is a great way to stifle the debate, but it's not going to get us anywhere.

petpluto said...

"I'm just saying that Huckabee isn't being unreasonable - if you look at things from his perspective."

Something doesn't have to be unreasonable to be wrong. It wasn't unreasonable to believe that the earth was flat when all you could see around you was flatness, or to believe that the sun revolved around the earth when it was clear the sun moved and the earth did not. But the perspective itself was wrong, and it was myopic.

"This isn't a fundamentally religious argument, so I'm not sure what the Catholic Church has to do with it. "

Because religion is always attached at the hip in these arguments. The Bible is the book that gets brought out to state that homosexuality is a sin and that God proclaimed what marriage was.

"The point is that dismissing the majority position is foolhardy. Those of us who support gay marriage should confront the opposition on issues, not resort to ad hominem attacks."

I agree, and I don't attack people as bigoted - narrow-minded, yes. I refer to Jay Smooth and his wonderful how to confront racism video. But I think that Huckabee here was seemingly deflecting - as Jon Stewart may have thought that Huckabee was bigoted in this aspect but didn't tell him he was so. Huckabee and others like him seem at times to preemptively attack that, as if declaring oneself not sexist or racist or homophobic immediately limits the sexist or racist or homophobic thing that person has just said, done, or endorses. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if Huckabee himself is bigoted, because the actions he endorses are. And I would have loved it if Jon Stewart had responded with something along those lines - but unfortunately, Jon Stewart fell into the same trap as most people when confronted with the "I'm not a bigot", and that is to become defensive and declare that bigoted was never mentioned instead of using that opportunity to say, "Whether or not you are, what you're proposing is".

mikhailbakunin said...

Something doesn't have to be unreasonable to be wrong. It wasn't unreasonable to believe that the earth was flat when all you could see around you was flatness, or to believe that the sun revolved around the earth when it was clear the sun moved and the earth did not. But the perspective itself was wrong, and it was myopic.

See, I think this is why we so often disagree. You seem to believe that you can ascribe scientific certainty to morality - that moral "truths" are as objective as scientific truths. I don't think that's the case.

You can't just pronounce that "X" objectively wrong. What's to stop the other side from doing the same? I think one of the biggest problems with our political discourse is that people are so SURE that they're on the side of virtue.

Because religion is always attached at the hip in these arguments. The Bible is the book that gets brought out to state that homosexuality is a sin and that God proclaimed what marriage was.

Yeah, but that's a total straw man. The procreation argument isn't a religious argument; it's a "compelling interest" argument. You're saying that because some arguments against gay marriage have a theological basis, ALL arguments do?

And I would have loved it if Jon Stewart had responded with something along those lines - but unfortunately, Jon Stewart fell into the same trap as most people when confronted with the "I'm not a bigot", and that is to become defensive and declare that bigoted was never mentioned instead of using that opportunity to say, "Whether or not you are, what you're proposing is".

Again, saying that opposition to gay marriage is equivalent to bigotry doesn't make it so.

You shouldn't rely on ad hominem attacks. The truth is that you rely on ad hominem attacks because you're smelly, bigoted and intellectually lazy. SNAP!!

petpluto said...

"saying that opposition to gay marriage is equivalent to bigotry doesn't make it so."

Again, I'm pretty sure I've got history on my side in the whole "denying rights to a minority group because you think they're icky or wrong in some way is bigoted". And I'm not saying the person is bigoted; I'm saying what they are doing is bigoted - or sexist, or racist. You don't have to be one to perpetuate it in some way. Michael Richards said some racist stuff; I don't know if he is racist, but what he said certainly was. And as soon as he had Jerry Seinfeld said that Michael Richards was not a racist, the conversation changed from what Richards said to what Richards is. And that is an unwinnable conversation.

"You seem to believe that you can ascribe scientific certainty to morality - that moral "truths" are as objective as scientific truths. I don't think that's the case."

Well, I remember an argument in the Pavilion where you didn't want to grant that gravity was real, so I'm not really sure where you stand on scientific truths either!

And seriously, I don't think that there are moral truths. I do think that there are certain things that are better than others; that certain rules of thumb are more convincing. That the "golden rule" is a good one. That a law that discriminates against a minority population by denying them the rights and privileges of the majority is a bad one. And I think those laws violate the principle of "a more perfect union". And I think I've got history on my side in this particular case, as this is a civil rights struggle.

I'm not a moral relativist, but I don't have a litany of morals I think everyone should live by; I just believe that institutionalized discrimination is wrong, and that it hurts innocent people. That is my moral ground. Would allowing gays to marry actually hurt Huckabee in any way? I don't think so. That's where my problem comes in.

"The procreation argument isn't a religious argument; it's a "compelling interest" argument. You're saying that because some arguments against gay marriage have a theological basis, ALL arguments do?"

Noooooo. I'm saying Mike Huckabee's arguments seem to be rooted in the religious. I'm saying that in this particular situation, going to the Bible was a good tactic because of the person Stewart was debating. I'm saying that in many cases, the Bible is used to shore up these arguments, and that Mike Huckabee has been prolific in the use of them. That is what I'm saying. I'm not universalizing my principles; I'm not Kant.

mikhailbakunin said...

I hope you're not Kant! I like you. I can't say the same about that crackpot. : )

mikhailbakunin said...

(By the way, I BELIEVE I said that the concept of Newtonian gravity isn't real - at least according to Einstein. He said that what we call "gravity" is actually just inertial tendencies. I don't even know why I would argue about that - probably because I love to argue about everything.)