Wednesday, 30 January 2013

"What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense" Girgis, Anderson & George

Those who follow my geeky blog will know that I've recently been attempting to read all those Kindle books I've been stockpiling. Becoming somewhat agitated at the poor quality of some of the fiction books I foolishly purchased because of their price (damn you self-publishers!), I felt now was the time to give "What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense" by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P George a go.

It is a, very valiant, attempt to argue in favour of a limited definition of marriage in a non-religious and logical fallacy free way without denigrating or criticising LGBT people. And on the whole, from a certain point of view, it succeeds. As a critique of the revisionist view of marriage (in opposition to the books writers "conjugal" view) it is extremely good and I would share some of the writers issues with people who claim marriage can be both special and unique but also able to be "redefined" (i.e. their reluctance to accept that equal marriage leaves marriage open to all sorts of other types of consenting adult partnerships such as polyamory).

The problem for me about the argument put forward by this book is that it relies too heavily on a certain worldview. If you don't subscribe to this worldview (and I certainly don't) then the argument is completely without merit. At times the authors say things such as "If we take these propositions for granted", but never elaborate on what happens if we don't (or even accept that we might not!). The worldview they endorse is one with "absolute truths" and "basic goods". For someone like me, whose fundamental philosophy draws upon absurdism, individualism and libertarianism, these propositions are meaningless. Not only are our lives, in my worldview, fleeting but so is our species (thus "propagation of our species", which this book considers a "basic good" is not something I accept as a "basic good") and our universe is finite. This feeds into my individualism. If our life is fleeting, and utterly pointless, it is even more important to get out of it whatever fulfillment one can. Of course this then opens up a whole kettle of fish about "Well what is to stop murder?" etc. but I don't feel this is the time nor place to discuss my wider worldview, but merely for me to point out it is fundamentally different to one on which I could share much common ground with the authors.  Overall you end up with the feeling from this book that the authors consider individual humans as no more important or free than ants within an ant colony, all working for the "greater good". It is, for me anyway, utterly depressing to ponder forcing people who don't want to be together to stay married "for the greater good". So theirs is certainly not a worldview I subscribe to or accept.

Now that is not to say the arguments are completely without merit (although there are a few issues below that I do take exception to) for those marriage equality proponents (and in my experience they are legion) who do subscribe to the authors worldview. In fact I'd say it is the most reasonable and well thought out argument I've read. However the counter-argument to the book found in this article brings up a few points I would tend to agree with. I did come away from the book feeling like the authors had made one too many assumptions and failed to explain where these assumptions had come from (a view expanded upon in that link).

The books does bring up certain issues I feel need brief responses. For example the possibility of the restrictions on individual and religious liberties that may ensue from the legal recognition of same-sex marriages. They don't mention, of course, that this already happens in reverse, especially in their own country. This issue is far more complicated that just on the issue of marriage equality and is certainly something worthy of further debate. When issues involving personal liberty crop up as a result of equal marriage I think it is clear it is more a symptom of something bigger happening in our societies and should be dealt with separately (as just stopping equal marriage will not stop this sort of thing from happening on all sorts of subjects in all sorts of ways).

Much of the book makes clear it is concerned with a much wider issue with marriage today than just same-sex marriages, calling for more social and legal pressure on people to stay together and an end to no-fault divorces. If feels that laws influence belief and behaviour and thus "redefining" marriage (or loosening the terms as with divorce) will lead to confusion as to its purpose and cause a great many people to fail to understand the important of a life long, monogomous union. Later however when dealing with the "conservative case for marriage" (that marriage would "tame" gay people and make them more socially acceptable) the book goes on to argue that laws that restrict peoples freedoms seldom last long and often fail to influence people (ergo gay people won't be tamed). Quite how it connects these two seemingly opposing arguments (that law has a strong influence on behaviour or next to no influence) I'm not too sure.

Their argument that expanding the definition of marriage devalues friendship and singledom, which when stated in this sentence sounds patently ridiculous but I assure you they are pretty convincing, is a very compelling and thought-provoking one. Certainly not one I have an answer to but it is something to ponder on.

All in all I found reading this book rather useful in terms of helping me see the view of our more reasonable opponents (an opportunity that is currently all too rare with the debate so overshadowed by the Coalition for Marriage who present so much rubbish it beggars belief as to why they have not been overthrown from their leadership position in the anti-marriage equality movement). It has left me with a few things to think about and a few personal moral/philosophical positions I need to give greater thought to. A worthy effort, although definitely wasted on me.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

In Support Of @NadineDorriesMP On #EqualMarriage, With Reservations

The other day I found myself in a very peculiar position. I agreed with Iain Dale. His blog post: "FORGET GAY MARRIAGE, IT MUST BE EQUAL MARRIAGE, AND THIS BILL IS DEEPLY FLAWED" was quite right to point out that what is being offered is not equal marriage but gay marriage.

Then this morning I almost fell off my chair. I was agreeing with tweets from Nadine Dorries on equal marriage. summarises these well (even if they come at it from a different angle to me!).

I've written about the issues before, most recently here. And Cllr. Sarah Brown comes at it from a more trans issues focused angle here.

So whilst most marriage equality supporters have been telling Dale and Dorries off for daring to be negative about our beloved subject, I'm willing to be generous and give them the benefit of the doubt. There are two minor reservations on this, of course. I'm not completely naive, despite appearances to the contrary and my often idealistic hopes.

1) Neither of the two of them have been the most vigorously supportive of marriage equality in the past. I very well remember the "well-meaning" Tory amendments to the Civil Partnership Bill which were simply attempts to wreck it and stop its progress. I'm not quite ready to believe that these suddenly sensible thoughts on marriage equality aren't simply attempts to wreck the bill completely.

2) Dorries also proposes seeking the right for a registrar to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages. On the face of this, it would seem to be something someone like me (who loves individual freedom) would support. But I have two major issues with it. i) who pays their wages? ME! I'm not very happy to accept that public servants have the right to decide who they can and can't serve based on their personal beliefs when everyone pays for them. ii) why just same-sex marriages? If we accept public servants should be able to decide who to serve based on their personal beliefs can this extend to other groups based on race, religion, attitude etc? If not, why not?

I have, in my various jobs, had to serve people who were racist, extremely and unnecessarily rude, sexist, dangerous (I've been stalked once by a customer), etc. etc. Do I have the right to just decide that those people didn't need some rather serious problems sorted out straight away just because I didn't agree with their personal beliefs? You take the public's money and, unless they are extremely bad (like my stalker), you have to serve them. Simple. Don't like it? Get a job in the private sector. Become a priest for example!

So yes, I will support Dorries in some of her proposed amendments. I'm pleased with the progress the Government has made, but I'm not going to dismiss any criticism of it just because I really, really want marriage equality (as I've seen many do). I want equal marriage. I want it done right. And I want it for everyone.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Catholic Church Admits You Can Sack Teachers For The Beliefs They Hold

Opponents of LGBT liberty love to try to scare off the general population from allowing greater freedom due to the fear that it might lead to teachers being sacked. Given teachers aren't usually flavour of the month (just look at all the moaning from media talking heads over teachers getting the day off during school closures due to the snow) it seems an unusual strategy but they use it anyway. It is a position Catholic spokespeople advance quite often.

I've pointed out the hypocrisy of this stance before. But now the Catholic Church has only gone and given us even more evidence of their hypocrisy. So you mustn't sack someone if they disagree with marriage equality but Catholic run schools can sack people for doing all sorts of things they don't like (and that isn't just for doing them in the classroom). The National Secular Society reports on this and quotes The Tablet as saying:
"Under the heading of "substantive life choices", Mgr Stock includes marriage in a non-Catholic church or register office without canonical dispensation, remarriage after divorce and "maintaining a partnership of intimacy with another person, outside a form of marriage approved by the Church and which would, at least in the public forum, carry the presumption from their public behaviour of this being a non-chaste relationship".  
This also applies to all staff in a Catholic school." Other "substantive life choices" he rules unacceptable include "maintaining the publication or distribution of, or by any other means of social communication or technology, material content which is contrary to gospel values".
"Contrary to gospel values" as defined by the Catholic church I suspect. Freedom of belief for Catholics only appears to be the official policy of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

FYI: Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill Is Not #EqualMarriage

So the Coalition has not listened (mainly because nobody has been listening to the concerns of LGBT people whilst the Church in Wales and the Church of England were bleating on about irrelevant constitutional concerns) and the bill that has now been published legalising same-sex marriage is more "same-same but different" than about equal marriage.

I hate being negative (as always) but sometimes one does have to be true to ones self and not cheer progress just because it is heading in the right direction. And, yes, this plays right into the hands of those anti-LGBT folks who love to claim "See, they are never happy" whenever a LGBT person complains about someone compromising their liberty. But...

We do not have equal civil partnerships meaning same-sex couples get a fantastic array of choices whilst different-sex couples get marriage or no marriage. How on Earth this can be described as fair I don't know, and it really needs to be sorted out now as it'll only rear its ugly head further down the line anyway.

There is no provision for reinstating those marriages that had to be dissolved due to a trans person getting a GRC. As always trans people are expected to just take it on the chin. "Whoops" indeed (thanks Labour). Cllr Sarah Brown gives you the details here.

Equal pension rights? Nope. This bill does not fix this sort of thing.

And then we come to the topic nobody wants to discuss: consummation and adultery. Joe O'Donnell says all I'd want to say on the matter here.

And with a grumpty, grumpty, grump I will sigh discontentedly and hope some sane person in Labour (no one then...) stops bowing before the Archbishop of Canterbury long enough to realise there are some amendments that need to be introduced. Otherwise I'm going to be moaning about this for another 10 years...

What do you mean I said I wouldn't blog on #equalmarriage again? I don't remember that at all....

Sunday, 20 January 2013

I Wish I Could Be Religious

When I was a teenager, I found great comfort in Christianity and then in paganism. Not only was the certainty of an afterlife and of a benevolent power watching over you reassuring but the "existence" of miracles and, in paganism, magic gave the humdrum life I led a tinge of excitement.

There is something rather attractive still about such beliefs. It is why I'm not only fascinated by the beliefs of more obscure/interesting sects (such as Scientology or the Latter-day Saint movement) but often sympathetic to them  (more so to Mormons than to Scientologists I admit).

Yet my "spiritual" path took me out of belief in the supernatural down the route of skepticism into a complete lack of belief. I could now no more believe in the existence of a God than I could believe I could fly (without the assistance of some device anyway!). And I often find that a little sad. Sad because life isn't a story, it is now just a thing. There is, as far as I believe anyway, no saviour waiting to expunge your "sins" and lead you into an eternal paradise. No hero to keep you safe, no sanctuary to rest after all your woes. As Spike once sang in Buffy: "Life is just this".

And yet is it totally bleak? No, I don't think so. Life is filled with a great deal of beauty on epic scales and on small ones. Astronomy brings us pictures of beautiful cosmic phenomena our ancestors never had the chance to see. And on a small scale I take a great deal of pleasure from seeing and interacting with animals. The world and this universe are full of harsh realities and cruel truths but it has some compensations too.

But I'm still pretty annoyed there isn't any magic in this world. So if I mock your religion (I try not to, but sometimes it is pretty hard) or dismiss your assertion of something which I don't believe in, take heart that part of it may simply be my jealousy that you can allow yourself to believe in something more.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

My Disillusionment With Politics

My obsessions have always come in cycles. Politics has always stood apart from my bi-monthly obsession change, but it too is the subject of a similar if slightly longer cycle and right now we are heading towards the low-ebb point of my interest in politics.

The problem for me is, I believe in principles whereas politics is always about compromise. I find it an unpleasant business. Being honest is described as "negative". Being individual means you aren't "being part of the team". When I talk to someone and ask why they aren't standing up for the principles I know they believe in, they tell me how they are "quietly working behind the scenes to win some smaller concessions". I know logically that getting something is better than nothing, but that sort of sentiment still sticks in my craw.

And worse I feel like politics is so unambitious (yet full of far too ambitious people). Our world is changing in a way we've never seen before. Far distant countries are now mere hours away. We can communicate in ways we wouldn't have imagine just 20 years ago. We can print physical objects and problem solve on a massive basis. Yet our politics is still stuck in the 19th century.

Do not get me wrong. I'm not saying the everyday mundane stuff isn't extremely important. From benefits to healthcare and from dog poo to pot holes, some things will always be needed to be discussed, argued about and fixed. But there are so many ways to be innovative, to think about getting people more involved on a bigger scale. What things I hear you ask? Things along these lines.

I know, I'm being all impractical and idealistic. "Things take time". etc. etc. I know I am being unreasonable but I'm at that point in the cycle and there you go.

This month I will, without any enthusiasm whatsoever, renew my membership of the Lib Dems. And that, I suspect, will be the most political I get this month.

Inspiring politicos sought to rekindle my enthusiasm!

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Rise Of The New Puritans

There is nothing quite like the phrase "A Conservative Case For Gay Marriage" to send shivers down the spine of any even slightly radical LGBT person. I have to say that when I began moaning about marriage equality, I really wasn't considering the wider consequences. I was simply annoyed at the unfairness of civil partnerships. Later I looked at equal marriage as a step down the road to liberty, not perfect but heading in the right direction.

Sadly, I realise now, many conservative supporters see it as a way of "taming" LGBT people rather than freeing them. And, before you think "Hang on, I thought you weren't doing marriage equality posts anymore", this sort of conservative, moralising attitude is becoming in vogue once again on a lot of topics.

Now I'm not pretending that moralising busybodies have suddenly reappeared after years of being sidelined. Of course they have always been there. But rather than your Mary Whitehouses and Tory MPs being the loudest, we now have far more worrying noise makers from quarters I wouldn't have expected (although once you look into the history you see the potential has always been there and I was just being blindly naive).

Our Coalition Government has been pushing at eroding individual rights "for our own good" recently. Minimum alcohol pricing has been proposed at a time when alcohol consumption is on the decrease. They are listening to Christian MPs and "women's groups" are pushing for the criminalisation of paying for sex. And, though thankfully less authoritarian than the original proposals, the Government is still trying to treat parents like children and tell them what is best for their household.

Meanwhile, on Opposition benches, Diane Abbott is calling for controls on those horrific evils: fast food, alcohol and children on the internet. She wants the minimum alcohol price to be higher than the one proposed by the Coalition. That's opposition for you...

There are real problems that need tackling... alcoholism isn't a joke, sex workers are abused and the internet (like a town) has its places that you wouldn't want children going to on their own. But bans, filters and taxes aren't going to change people, they aren't going to educate people and they will end up causing more problems. Alcoholics will just be poorer whilst occasional drinkers will cut back. Sex workers, especially those being forced/coerced into it, will still be abused whilst those who make a living out of sex work will be left without a source of income. Kids will still look at porn on the internet. They aren't stupid!

So for the next few posts I'll be focussed on looking at these issues, and more controversial ones, and looking at whether the busybodies have a point or if they are very wide of the mark indeed.