Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Government and Marriage

As is my wont, I have copied portions of my comments on www.hirhurim.blogspot.com (this time on the post http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/12/civil-unions.html) and posted them here. I have edited the comments mildly in an effort to quote other people without license as little as possible. Some of my comments would be fairly unintelligible without either (a) a major rewrite, which I am too lazy to do, or (b) quotations from other commenters to provide context. In such cases, where I have judged my comment to be sufficiently worth posting here, I have quoted someone else's words in italics. I have not attributed these statements, since I do not know whether their authors would wish their (screen-)names to appear here. If any of them wishes to have his comments removed from here, or to have his name associated with what I have quoted from him, he may notify me by (a) emailing me, or (b) leaving a comment here.

If there is a legitimate religious reason to oppose homosexual marriages, should there not similarly be a legitimate religious reason to oppose homosexuality in general? While this reason does not necessarily imply that government should actively interfere with homosexual acts, it should argue against any sort of government recognition, legitimization or condonation of homosexuality. Thus I do not really see why use of the term "marriage" makes or breaks anything.

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.15.06 - 12:35 pm #

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This is not an issue that relates to any particular church; thus it is not strictly a matter of separation of church and state (which I do not believe in fully anyway). This has to do with what society considers to be moral or immoral. Society considers it immoral to rape or sodomize children, so it prohibits that activity. If society considers it immoral to involve oneself in a homosexual relationship, it may prohibit that activity; or it may discourage, that activity; or it may not lend any support to that activity. Doing so is not inconsistent with any intelligent philosophy of governance.

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.15.06 - 3:18 pm #

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Response to [another commenter]:

don't we have anything better to do than seek to deny people a way to become fully functioning members of society? or is Torah so weak and frail that it can not abide other people and their differences?

Um... The Torah does not abide all people, nor all differences. That's not our call; it's God's, and God has made his position quite clear. Under Jewish law, male sodomy is a capital offence. (I personally can't fathom why, but again, it's not my call.) Why should we want our society to encourage or legitimize in any way the commission of capital offences, by Jews or by non-Jews?

Re. "oppression and ignorance": Why is it oppressive to oppose homosexual marriages? And why is it ignorant? Isn't promotion of homosexuality the result of (albeit excusable) ignorance of what God wants, i.e., what the true morality is?

compassion goes a very long way, and is notably absent fromthis dialogue.

Compassion is irrelevant to this dialogue. It goes without saying that one should feel compassion for someone who is naturally homosexual and has no moral means of acting on his desires. That feeling of compassion does not come into play in the analysis of whether government should recognize homosexual unions; at least as far as I can tell. That compassion is entirely trumped by the moralistic considerations.

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.15.06 - 3:34 pm #

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Follow that argument to the conclusion that marriage should not be recognized by the government at all. Let people "get married" if they want. Pretty much every "benefit" given to married couples can be more efficiently utilizied in other ways.

I disagree. We should hope that whatever vestiges of old-fashioned (and therefore usually Torah-compatible) morality, practice and principles are still in our countries' legal codes remain there. The fact that they may be technically inconsistent with certain of our government's guiding principles (such as equality, or separation of church and state) should not concern us, for at least the following two reasons:

(1) No human collective as large and complex as a country can be governed well if it adheres with absolute consistency to any particular principle (I defy anyone to come up with a counter-example). Thus we need not be concerned with the violation of a principle of governance merely because it constitutes such an inconsistency.

(2) As Torah Jews, who says we have to want or advocate consistency in the application of meta-rules of governance? It seems far more plausible that we should wish to see our gentile hosts legislate with the help of some biblically inspired morality. If you think that never works out well for the Jews, consider the last 200-300 years of British, American and Canadian history, just as examples.

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.17.06 - 2:15 am #

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Note to (1): The only exception, if there is one at all, might be a divinely mandated rule.

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.17.06 - 2:17 am #

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If you oppose all homosexual partnerships, and liken them to such immoral acts as prostitution, one could argue that homosexual unions should be regulated for the same reason that other acts are regulated, in order to bring them into the ambit of the state and thus more easily controlled.

No, because it is the homosexual act, not the homosexual union, that Judaism principally objects to. Regulating homosexual unions will have little or no impact on the incidence of homosexual sex; just as government institutionalization of marriage does not (nowadays) prevent extramarital sex.

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.17.06 - 12:58 pm #

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We need to ask whether or not the current continuation of past practices, at least those which follow Torah morals, is helpful or hurtful.

Why would continuation of past Torah-consistent practices be hurtful? I can conceive of its being hurtful if Torah morals were being forced down the throats of a large majority of the population who opposed it. But since we're talking about democratic governments, that's almost impossible, and need not concern us. If a democratic government legislates something so unpopular that the population at large will react destructively to it, the legislation is almost guaranteed not to stand, and thus the negative consequences will be minimal or nonexistent. The goal, theoretically, for Jews in this and other instances would thus be to convince people that our view is right - swinging popular opinion until our desired legislation is realistic for the democratic government to pass - if it is not already (which in this case I think is debatable).

(It remains to be discussed whether it is actually worth Jews' spending much time, energy and money on such a campaign. I'm almost sure it's not worth it. But at least on this blog, we can discuss what we would really like to see, even if we're not willing to do more than that to make it happen.)

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.17.06 - 10:29 pm #

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Additionally, you have to ask, what's the benefit of the law? 300 years ago, where people weren't having as much extra marital sex, there may have been a benefit to marriage. But the benefits to marriage now consist of tax incentives and other benefits, nothing that's inherently "married" about them. The marriage of today is far different than the marriage 300 years ago, or even 100. And, if there's nothing inherently better, what's the point.

For those who care not a whit about marriage, there is very little benefit. But I think we are better off with a good and universal institution that (a) some people respect fully; (b) some people respect partially; and (c) some people respect at least insofar as it is so widely valued by others that the government has taken a hand in it; than we are if that institution exists merely parochially. Government recognition of something affects how people view that thing, often making it seem more legitimate, important and relevant. That's how I would like people to view marriage. Therefore I would like government to remain in the marriage business.

He Who Must Not Be Named Homepage 12.17.06 - 10:39 pm #

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

well said. i believe we've discussed this matter b/4. it's unfortunate, but trying to actually discuss this with most people is near impossible.

in short, most people are incapable of comprehending/appreciating, or refuse to consider, the morality issue at play here (though they intuitively recognize it in other areas (such as beastiality and necrophelia)) and the democratic issue (though again, they intuitively understand this concept when applied elsewhere).

The Anti-Semite said...

Shein gezogt, mentsch, very well said! Your blog is great - way to go! (although I disagree with you on many issues.) If you care to take the time you can read my take on the homosexuality issue.

Anon:
agreed.

Anonymous said...

As a frequent traveler, I very much relate to your point. Too often people attempt to help, but only in a perfect way- with an all or nothing mentality.