04 April 2013

Universal Benefits

by Frank Turk

OK - we are back for part two of this conversation.  A couple of things from yesterday:

To the concern that this is a hypothetical conversation, and especially that the "Not-LGBT" guy is too nice, sometimes it matters how you approach someone.  I'm not saying every exchange like this (especially on the internet) will turn out this reasonable and Socratic, but I'll bet if you worked on your delivery you could get at least half-way through this exchange with a real person.

To the concern that the "Not-LGBT" guy isn't engaging hard enough, maybe.  We haven't gotten to the back half (more like back third) of the conversation, but the conversations this exchange were based on demonstrated one thing to me personally: the other side doesn't think they have a lot to justify.  Their answers tend to be rather terse, and their willingness to say more than a little to defend their position is not very robust.  What that says to me as a person listening is that they don't really think they have a great argument -- they just feel a certain way and they don't want anyone taking away that feeling.

Last time we covered the definition and cause of marriage.  Today we cover a secular/legal argument.

Play nice.

Not-LGBT: It still bothers me that you think gay people shouldn't have the same rights as straight people.

 FT: Well, what do you mean by that?

Not-LGBT: You know what I mean.  Why can't gay couples have the same tax breaks and access to medical benefits that straight couples have?  They say that there are 1000 legally-sanctioned benefits that married couples have that gay people can't get to. Is that fair?  Is that equal protection?

 FT: I see.  What if I told you that I think it's unfair to single people that they don't have access to those benefits, either?  In other words, what's the reason these benefits are not merely a universal benefit of citizenship -- if they are somehow "rights"?

Not-LGBT: [thinks for a minute] Well, married people are in a different circumstance than single people.  Being married is not the same as being single.  I think you said it someplace -- Marriage has a "special meaning."

 FT: Huh.  I didn't actually say that -- U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker actually said that when he ruled against Prop 8 in California.  But do you believe that -- that there's a "special meaning" in marriage?

Not-LGBT: Yes.  [thinks about it again]  Yes I do think that.

 FT: So it's different than, for example, people who only live together for a very long time.

Not-LGBT: Yes.

 FT: But it's a right?  See: I think you're confused about what you mean to say.  What I think you mean to say --

Not-LGBT: No.  What I mean to say is this: because marriage has special meaning, and it gives special benefits to people, the law has the responsibility to give it to whoever wants it.  There's no reason to deny it to two people who love each other.

The Law shouldn't decide who gets special benefits and who doesn't.  There should be equal treatment under the law.

 FT: Well, then I'm stumped.

Not-LGBT: You mean you agree?  You give up?

FT:  No, I mean I have no idea what you're trying to accomplish.  See: when we started, I thought that the problem was that you didn't understand the men and women were different.  Well: that's not true.  You know they are different because you wouldn't marry a man, only a woman -- and you know that seeing it that way is not like racism because the differences between men and women are real, not imaginary or ideological.

But you're committed to the idea that any two people are the moral and legal equivalent of two married people -- if they want to be.  Is it because two is a magic number?

Not-LGBT: No.  Stop.  Don't even go there.

 FT: Go where?

Not-LGBT: Polygamy.  Just stop it -- nobody is saying polygamy is a great idea, but even if they were, I'm ready to accept that at face value.  I'm ready to say that two is not a magic number.  You can't scare me into thinking that somehow gay marriage is a bad idea because maybe I can't imagine other kinds of marriages that might make somebody else happy.

 FT: I see: not that there's anything wrong with that. right.  No, actually -- I'm still stuck on one.  I'm still stuck on the idea that somehow the government has the charter to keep special privileges away from citizens.  Two people can have those benefits; you just said maybe 3 or 4 or 5 or some number "x" people could marry up in any permutation of men and women.  But it sounds to me like the people getting unequal treatment is single people -- people like yourself.

Why can't you have all those privileges?  What's the government have against you?

Not-LGBT: Well, I'm not married.  I choose not to be married right now.  If I would choose to be married, those other benefits would be an incentive to seal the deal.  If I had any doubts, the tax benefits, and the inheritance benefits, and the employment benefit, um, benefits -- they could help me overcome my doubt that I was doing the right thing.

 FT: What?  The "right thing?"  Listen: that's not on your list of objectives here in affirming that any two people are the moral equivalent of a man and a woman joined in marriage.  There's a whole list of right things you're walking past to get right here to suddenly claim it's the "right thing" to do anything.

Not-LGBT: Well, it would be an incentive -- you can see that, right?  That it's an incentive to do something.

 FT: Look -- you have to stop teasing me, OK?  Because if that's what you really really mean now, you have to simply change your mind and go back to traditional marriage.

Let me spell it all out for you.  We already talked about the fact that heterosexuality is not like racism -- it's a fact, not an ideology or merely a feeling.  It's the kind of fact that has a basis in biology, in the way humankind are made, male and female.  So marriage is fundamentally a necessary conclusion, a function of the biological facts.  To that end, it's not even really how two people feel about each other because feelings can change and then change back again.  That is actually the "special meaning" of marriage -- that's where we cross over into this half of the discussion.  Because even you can admit that the government has a stake in that kind of marriage, and in seeing that stake the government can make incentives to make marriage better than, well, anything else two people can legally get involved with.

If the Government doesn't have that kind of charter, then it's absurd to say that the government has the charter to license drivers, or to issue permits for guns, or to enforce any laws -- because what is law enforcement if its not a system of incentives and disincentives?  If the government can't choose how to encourage what's in the best interest of the country -- that is, the general welfare of the citizens -- how can it claim the authority to punish anyone for doing the wrong thing?

Not-LGBT: Wow.  You're forgetting Justice now?  To win an argument?

 FT: Nope.

Not-LGBT: Nope?  That's it - just "nope?"

 FT: No, I was just going to open my Bible to Romans 1-2-3 so we can talk about Justice so you can understand what my real objections are here -- what my purpose is in trying to reason with you through your very confused state of thinking.  Do you want to talk about Justice?  Let's start in Romans 1, and talk about what the basis of Justice is ...


Anonymous said...

Lots of interesting arguments here -- thanks for this post. One aspect of the conversation that is realistic, but very sad, is that until the last couple of sentences there is no sense of a fear of God. If 60 years ago one were to bring up changing a national policy on morality, at least one of participants would probably ask, "Will God judge a nation who does something like this?". For practical purposes, anyone who has even an iota of fear of God probably won't need to hear why gay "marriage" or abortion is a horrible thing. I just wonder how we've completely lost this fear of God.

FX Turk said...

Paul -

I think that your comment is very evangelically-centered and Christian. I think it is also no engaged in the larger field of human beings in the US.

Think about it this way: 50 percent of the sociologically-Christian people in the US are Catholics. In spite of the prevalence of Catholics in the pro-life movement, lay-Catholics are mixed on the matter of pro-choice, and are mixed politically. None of them would ever engage in "wrath of God" language -- and this would be true back into the 60's and 70's when I was a lapsing Catholic. Current events with Bill O'Reilly exemplify this -- O'Reilly's not an exception. He's what practicing Catholics look like.

Telling someone "wrath of God" when that phrase is a line from Ghostbusters rather than a serious statement about the state of man in the real world doesn't earn us any second hearing from people. But: unpacking their own confusion and pointing it out to them that they need something more than what they think they know about the issues. That earna s second hearing, and a path to run the Gospel down.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I think the conversation ends on a bit of a weak note. But, the point you've made about why the benefits accrue to married people and not single people, is a great point and does pull a big leg out from under the SSM "legal" argument. I'm definitely going to tuck that one away for any future conversations. thank you Frank, well-done.

Rational νεόφυτος said...

How much easier, and less-draining, this issue would be if we'd just go back to the time when marriage was strictly an ecclesiastical issue. But no, let's let the State define, as we can all share in the definition of the marriage institution with people like Larry King, who can go through wives like Pez...

Robert said...

The really sad thing is that not only do the SSM proponents argue for universal benefits from the government (taxes, parentat rights, etc.), but they also want the same universal benefits from the church and God. They are getting some support from churches, but will never prevail with God. We need to hold the line and be willing to participate in these types of converstaions with the aim of pointing people to the truth in a way that actually shows that we are engaging with people and their statements.

Sillyness said...

[Not sure if my comment is in limbo, deemed unworthy, or never went out--I am having trouble signing in to my 'Google Account'--so I am resending this.]

Yesterday, Frank demonstrated (through his dialogue approach) that some men are heterosexuals, and those men don't want to marry other men.

Then, based on the fact that heterosexuality exists, Frank states that marriage is (essentially) the recognition of heterosexuality. (Specifically, Frank states I am saying that the institution of marriage is based on the fact that there are two sexes in our kind, and that they are intentionally, inherently, on-purpose compatible.)

The problem is, Frank never says why marriage should be based on this. Frank merely assumes it.

Same sex marriage advocates say: "Let's treat everyone the same. I (a gay person) want to get married to a person of the same sex. Why can't I?"

To the extent Frank has an answer, it seems to be, because "marriage means the union of 1 man and 1 woman." But that merely begs the question, Why should that be the definition of marriage?

Indeed, a same sex advocate would say "Sure, heterosexuality exists. But so does homosexuality. I think the definition of marriage should be the union of 2 people, regardless of sex, since some people want to marry people of the opposite sex, and some people want to marry people of the same sex."

So now we have 2 differing definitions. Frank has merely asserted that his definition is right, without explaining why that should be the definition.

FX Turk said...

Moderation is still on, so if your comment doesn't magically appear, please be patient.

FX Turk said...

Slyness --

I actually do say why. The utterly-secular point is an evolutionary point: male are made for females. That this is also one of the points of Romans 1 is a bonus.

Marriage predates the law. It predates the law because it is built into the kind of creatures we are. This point needs to be pressed home to the anti-marriage crowd for one reason only: it is their fatal flaw.

Anonymous said...

In many ways it's the same reason male is defined as it is and female is defined as it is.

Male body parts and female body parts make identifying sexes simple.

But, like with SSM, the argument is essentially "who sez?"

The reality, as Frank has shown and continues to show, is that no one needs to say, because, just as no physical differences would mean no sex identification, so no physical differences would mean nobody ever introduces the idea of marriage at all.

No one calls a white streak in the sky, a rainbow. Just because real rainbows exist doesn't mean we get to identify any arcy-looking shape in the sky as a rainbow and expect to be taken seriously.

Of course, if anyone began to perceive real benefits of seeing rainbows, how long until the coloured stripey think in the sky would become just one version of a rainbow?

Robert Warren said...

"Don't even go there"
And when did that rule of discourse get canonized? I've even heard it in formal debates. Well, polygamy has been ruled out-of-bounds by liberal/fascist fiat because they need more time to work the crowd. But we all know it's just a matter of time.

Sillyness said...


1) Yup. Got it. (Did you see that I quoted your reason for why marriage should be based on opposite sexes?) You then basically restate your point by stating “males are made for females.” (By this I think you mean “males and females have body parts that fit together, and when fitting together may produce children”) The question is, why should this be the basis for marriage?

Think of it this way: It is also a biological “fact” that different people have different skin colors. But we don’t allow society to define marriage as a union of two people with the same skin color. Why isn’t “body parts that fit together” like skin color? Or, put another way, why is “body parts that fit together” an essential/necessary component of a marriage? You simply state that it is.

2) If your “evolutionary point” is that males and females can reproduce, the problem with that is that we allow all kinds of people to marry who cannot possibly reproduce. So that doesn’t seem like a good reason.

Finally, you state: Marriage predates the law. It predates the law because it is built into the kind of creatures we are. This point needs to be pressed home to the anti-marriage crowd for one reason only: it is their fatal flaw.

I think a more accurate statement is “The desire to pair-off predates the law. It predates the law because it is built into the kind of creatures we are. This point needs to be pressed home to the opposite sex-marriage only crowd for one reason only: it is their fatal flaw.”

FX Turk said...

Slyness: Re-read Genesis 1-2 and then ask your question again.

FX Turk said...

Regarding "all kinds of people who can't reproduce," that's first of all too-vague a statistic to be relevant. It is, second of all, not true - very few non-mating pairs actually marry. 6 percent of US women 15-44 are infertile. Last: we do not reason from the exception to the rule in any circumstance (except gun control, I guess) This is about how the institution of marriage was formed for use, not about the very few exceptions which, for the most part, are accidents and not intentional pairings.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Slyness is quoting the argument used by one of the female SC Justices in the DOMA arguments. That is, that we allow non-reproducing hetero couples to marry, so why shouldn't we allow homo couples to marry?
I think that Slyness's (and the SC Justice's) reasoning here is specious: We allow over the hill hetero couples to marry, because being past the age of reproduction is a gray area, even if there are certain ages at which one can say that reproduction is impossible (e.g., 80 years old). However, homosexual reproduction is not a gray area - it is impossible at all stages of life. (Don't mention artificial insemination in a lesbian couple, because that still requires a man, at this point).
Of course I am speaking strictly from a secular viewpoint, in spite of my agreement with Gen. 1 and Romans 1.

Sillyness said...


I certainly believe that there is nothing wrong with stating "Marriage is the union of 1 man and 1 woman because that's the way God has set things up and that's the way He wants it."

But this 1) won't win in a court of law and 2) won't convince any non-believers.

Sillyness said...

Regarding "all kinds of people who can't reproduce," that's first of all too-vague a statistic to be relevant.

Any woman who has gone through menopause cannot reproduce. Ergo, any woman who has gone through menopause should not be allowed to marry/remarry. This isn't the exception, it is the rule.

FX Turk said...

Regarding court appeals, if you segment my argument they way you have here, I agree. It's all or nothing.

FX Turk said...

Regarding menopause, less than 10% of women are married postmenopausal, and that group overlaps with the truly infertile. It's still reasoning from exception to rule.

The legal history, BTW, is clear that infertility is common ground for divorce. That a SC judge doesn't know that speaks to the age we live in.

Sillyness said...

It's still reasoning from exception to rule.

The point is that some exceptions are "allowed." Why allow some exceptions (post-menopausal women), and not others (gays)? Indeed, if gays make up only 3 percent of the population, presumably same sex couples would make up significantly less than 10% of all marriages (that is, significantly less than post-menopausal women).

The legal history, BTW, is clear that infertility is common ground for divorce. That a SC judge doesn't know that speaks to the age we live in.

But the relevant point here is that infertility is not a legal bar to getting married in the first place--this is, the State cannot prevent you from getting married just because you are infertile. It has nothing to do with divorce. And I am sure she knew that.

Bill said...

While Mayor Bloomberg worries about the health risks of sugary soda, do you see an impact from SSM on the data below? That is, will there suddenly be a "monagamy effect" caused by SSM to alleviate the obvious monetary and societal impact from this allegedly normal behavior?

From CDC: "The data, presented at CDC's 2010 National STD Prevention Conference, finds that the rate of new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) is more than 44 times that of other men and more than 40 times that of women.

The range was 522-989 cases of new HIV diagnoses per 100,000 MSM vs. 12 per 100,000 other men and 13 per 100,000 women.

The rate of primary and secondary syphilis among MSM is more than 46 times that of other men and more than 71 times that of women, the analysis says. The range was 91-173 cases per 100,000 MSM vs. 2 per 100,000 other men and 1 per 100,000 women.

While CDC data have shown for several years that gay and bisexual men make up the majority of new HIV and new syphilis infections, CDC has estimated the rates of these diseases for the first time based on new estimates of the size of the U.S. population of MSM. Because disease rates account for differences in the size of populations being compared, rates provide a reliable method for assessing health disparities between populations.

"While the heavy toll of HIV and syphilis among gay and bisexual men has been long recognized, this analysis shows just how stark the health disparities are between this and other populations," said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention."

FX Turk said...


Here's the path which your argument goes - there are medical defects which cause some people to be infertile. Because we make exceptions based on medical defects, we must allow homosexual marriages.

When the Homosexual lobby will allow you to make that argument -- that homosexuality is like a medical defect -- we can continue.

Nash Equilibrium said...

The idea that the legal normalization of homosexual relationships doesn't affect the hetero, reproducing family unit is, in my opinion, totally divorced from reality. This is not just a private matter.

The days are now gone, when as a parent I could dissuade my teen from self-destructive behaviors (of any type, including homosexuality) because they aren't normal, and therefore if you want to be normal, you won't do these things. If I say that now (and I have), they have no idea what I am even talking about, since almost everything is defined as normal (as in, commonly practiced without shame, disapproval, or stigmatization).

To top it off, children can, in the past year or two, point to homosexual relationships and tell their parents that even the government sanctions them as being equally desirable, versus heterosexual relationships.

At some point we are going to have to decide whether we want the extreme minority to be able to do anything they please, or do we want to allow families to be able to function as developers of socialized, productive adults in the making? We are letting the tail wag the dog of society, with unknown but probably destructive consequences.

Sillyness said...

Here's a more accurate representation of what I am saying:

There are medical defects (whether congenital, through accident, whatever) which causes some individuals to be infertile. Despite their infertility, we still allow these individuals to get married, even though their marriage will never be able to produce children. Given that we allow these individuals to get married, it is not reasonable to prevent homosexuals couples from getting married on the grounds that their marriage too will never be able to produce children.

In any case, your "medical defects" characterization ignores menopause, which is "natural" infertility not based on a "medical defect." (whatever that means). Again, we let post-menopausal women get married, even though they can never have children.

Halcyon said...

Mr. (or Mrs.?) Slyness said this at some point:

I certainly believe that there is nothing wrong with stating "Marriage is the union of 1 man and 1 woman because that's the way God has set things up and that's the way He wants it."

But this 1) won't win in a court of law and 2) won't convince any non-believers.

This struck a chord with me because I honestly don't think there is any way for a Christian to win the debate on gay marriage. NOT because our position is wrong, but rather because our position is (so to speak) legally inadmissible.

I believe in "traditional" marriage. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman in a faithful, loving relationship. I believe this is so because God the Creator made it so in the beginning, and He made it so as a reflection of His intimacy with His people (in Christ) and of His intimacy in His own nature (as a Trinity). I believe this whole-heartedly.

I also believe that that position is worth absolute squat in a court of law, because it is fundamentally a "religious" position, i.e., based on and pointing to spiritual realities. They are true, of course, but what does the Supreme Court care? What does any court care? They're not here to represent Christianity; they're here to represent the man-made laws of America, a man-made nation vaguely religious in its foundations but growing more and more secular with every passing generation. Any Christian stance or stand that we take is just another voice to be considered against the myriad of other voices in our democracy. We are too easily drowned out in all that white-noise.

This is one of the things I like about Frank's post: he ends by bringing the conversation to the Gospel (or at least I think he does), and I think that's all that we can really do. I am not saying that our positions shouldn't be debated in the courts. I am saying that for a Christian it is ultimately an exercise in futility. The systems will fail us; there is no other way they can go.

donsands said...

"There's a whole list of right things you're walking past to get right here to suddenly claim it's the "right thing" to do anything."-Cent

I wish I could argue like your hypo-conversing here.

Nice post my friend.
Well needed encouragement for fighting the good fight we have ahead of us methinks.

I have done my share of arguing with others about homo-marriage, and it can go all over the place, and end up nowhere-ville.

Have a great weekend brother. Your Savior is with you 24-7 through the Holy Spirit, who lives in all who Christ Jesus has bought with his most precious blood.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Well, the most consequential issue of SSM is that once a couple is deemed "married," then they cannot be stopped from adopting, and then a child is placed in a home that will never have a mother and a father. I know you may trot out the canard about one parent adoptive families or two mommies or two daddies are just as good as a natural family unit, but I just don't think that's true. It's just PC, that's all, not desirable.
Add to that effect the effect upon developing children growing up in an environment where everything is deemed to be within the realm of the normal (covered previously), and the question of whether trading all these adverse consequences for the 97% of heterosexual population, in exchange for the whim of helping 3% feel good about themselves, seems like a bad trade indeed. Why should our legal system, which is supposed to act in accord with the greatest public interest in mind, ignore the foolishness of such a bargain?

Anonymous said...

@Frank Turk

Thanks for your reply. I thought on it.

I agree that most Catholics (and most self-identifying Christians) have no fear of God. And it certainly shows. But this wasn't always the case. As much as people (especially in false faiths) got wrong about God, at one time they still had some sense of fear of God. Things like hell and judgement were real. The Bible says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Once somebody gets that wrong, there's no end to their falacies. Probably the best secular argument I know against gay marriage, but isn't widely used, is pointing to some of the acts that homosexuals perform. I think Christians (perhaps rightly) are just don't want to go here. But honestly, I think many of the secular arguments against gay marriage are terrible. Marriage is for children? If that's the case, why not ban elderly marriage? Marriage is based on biology? Well then what if our biology says a man is programmed to be with multiple women?

Tom said...

Hard cases make bad law. This is a common adage in the legal profession, and one that covers your current objection.

FX Turk said...

What I like best about internet arguments is that one side can play dumb and pretend that this is what wins the argument: indefatigable ignorance.

Listen: having a vasectomy may be something a doctor does to you, but it is a medical defect -- a status deviating from the normal function of the human body due to an impairment or other change. A liver does what a liver does -- unless it is medically impaired. My liver makes too much LDL cholesterol, so I take Lipitor and it cuts the production of LDL by half.

Pretending not to understand this is a nice game, but it's not the way adults reason -- and it's not the way courts reason, either. Courts recognize medical impairments as the cause for a lot of things. The insanity defense says that a person has a medical impairment, diagnosed by a doctor, which causes him to be unable to make sound decisions -- so on the one hand he can't be put in jail for his crime, but on the other, he also can't go free He needs medical care to either contain or cure his problem.

The SSA publishes a list of impairments which, on the one hand, qualify you for benefits, but on the other hand disqualify you from working -- you can't both work and collect SSA benefits based on impairments. You can't have it both ways.

So when we get to marriage, hello, and we start talking about people who cannot reproduce even though they are mated in male/female pairs, the problem is not that they are otherwise fine and there are no children. We aren't talking about matters of restraint (even though depriving your partner of sexual intercourse is basis for divorce). We are talking about matters in which there is a medical diagnosis that represents the cause of the failure to function. Menopause is not how people are born. It is medically described as "the permanent cessation of the primary function of the ovaries".

It certainly occurs naturally, but: it has a ton of other consequences. It requires treatment.

The major difference between this status and the status of LGBT people is that the LGBT people say there is nothing wrong with themselves. So I put it to you: you can't plead something the LGBT person would not plead to make the exception. Unless the LGBT person wants to start saying there is something medically wrong with them which ought to be treated, you can't make that argument for them to get them the benefit of the doubt due to a woman in menopause.

Are there exceptions to the fertility rule in marriage? Yes: there are exceptions -- for the medically impaired. But to make the leap that if there are any exceptions that all exceptions must therefore be considered is unthinkable.

For example: some people with medical impairments are allowed to drive. A paralyzed person can drive in a properly-equipped car. But a blind person -- who is medically impaired -- cannot drive. It is utterly idiotic to say they might, and doubly-so under the rubric of equal protection. Infinitely more so: it would be bafflingly-idiot to say they should be given an exception because they were "born this way."

Normally I give the other side the last word out of courtesy, Slyness, but not this time. You're reaching and I'm moving the cookie jar.

FX Turk said...

Last word from me this week on this subject:

The notion keeps coming up that the Christian definition of marriage has no bearing on this matter, and that's complete rot -- even from a purely-legal standpoint. At its root, common law in the West is based on the ancient Frankish common law. That law was a tool of Merovingian Christianization throughout Europe. The definitions in there underpin all of our laws, and all of those definitions were explicitly Christian.

Marriage is what is it in the West because of our Christian roots. But: it is also what it is becuase of the failure of the Christian church to oppose merely common-law definitions of marriage which treat it like a contract rather than a sacred covenant. Calvin himself in his Institutes was a pioneer in this matter, comparing marriage to other vocations like farming and other trades in order to depose it from being a sacrament. He was wrong to do so, and we should admit it.

That said: legally, even in the US Supreme Court, marriage is intended to be a right based on the fact that people should be able to marry, for the purpose of having children, anyone (but only one) whom they like. That's a religious definition. It relies on religious, not secular, norms.

What staggers me is that there's nobody willing to defend marriage in the courts on this basis.