Friday, February 21, 2014

Gay Marriage, "Drawing the Line", and the Media

EDIT: I suggest you all read to the end- I'm not making the point you may think I am making.

I'd like to preface this post by saying that I fully support gay marriage.

A Tea Party-backed Senatorial candidate in Kentucky, Matt Bevin, was doing an interview, and giving a rather typical anti-gay marriage stock answer.   Surprisingly, it had less direct gay-bashing than usual for a Southern Tea Party candidate- Bevin mostly made points about state's rights.

Of course, we have to remember here that historically, racist policies and segregation were defended by southern (then-Democratic) politicians under the guise of state's rights.  Starting with Nixon, the Republican party purposefully adapted the rhetoric of "state's rights" as a code word for segregation, to attract white southerners who became disaffected from the Democratic Party after President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  This was the infamous "Southern Strategy", and has been publicly confirmed by a recording of the late, great GOP strategist Lee Atwater.

Back to Bevin.

It was widely reported that Bevin stated in that interview that gay marriage will lead to incest.  Similar statements have actually been made by many politiciansopponents of gay marriage, and random celebrities who then claim they are just being mischievous.

These statements are decried by proponents of gay marriage as hurtful and stupid, and in many cases they are both.  But in this case, I think Bevin is being slammed by a lot of news sources for saying something that he didn't actually say.  Not that he hasn't already said things that make him worthy of condemnation, a trivial example being that he apparently lied about graduating from MIT (To all you fellow MIT alums out there, IHTFP).

What Bevin actually was saying is that a man might "marry" his son at the end of the father's life.  If he's "married" to his son when he dies, he gets to pass on his entire estate tax-free.  After all, married couples don't pay any tax on a joint estate.  No implication of the actual act of incest needed.  It has been pointed out by proponents of gay marriage that a parent cannot marry their child regardless of gender in most states (though I recall one instance of a state that needed to update their incest law post-gay marriage legalization, after realizing that said law was not gender neutral and might have allowed the above scenario).  But the threatened striking down of incest laws under the same rationale used to strike down heterosexual marriage laws is the premise for the stated fear-mongering problem of Bevin and his ilk.

The incest scenario is one of a troika used by gay marriage opponents, which all operate along the lines of "If gay marriage, where oh where do we draw the line?!".  The second two scenarios are that gay marriage will lead to the legalization of polygamy. and that gay marriage may lead to the legalization of bestiality/marrying one's pet.  Implicit in all this is the assumption: if gay marriage is legalized, then what arguments can be made against the legalization of any of the above?  Why can't three people marry each other?  Why can't a father marry his son?  After all, it's not like we're worried about genetic abnormalities in children borne of a relationship between a father and son.  If people cite the "ick" factor associated with incest, wasn't there a widespread "ick" factor with gay relationships not that long ago?  And if we're no longer defining marriage as between a man and a women, but rather as marrying whoever makes you happy, why not let people marry their pets?

Gay-rights activists (and regular people) like Eliyahu Federman beat back against these arguments.  Polygamous marriages have apparently been independently found to be harmful to family relationships by the California Supreme Court (though a federal judge just effectively legalized polygamy in Utah).  Marrying one's pet is refuted by the concept of consent- both parties have to understand what marriage is, and no animal outside of a Disney movie is capable of anything approaching informed consent to matrimony.  Finally, the incest example is refuted by pointing out that parent-child dynamics inherently represent a power imbalance, which are grounds independent of any religious book, genetics, or "ick" factor to preserve incest laws.

This at last brings me to the point I want to make.  The arguments above made by anti-gay marriage politicians like Bevin, Rand Paul, Tom Corbett, and Rick Santorum are not very good ones.  But they're also not inherently ridiculous.  They are logical objections, to which logical rebuttals can be stated.  We're not talking about the Westboro Baptist Church here.

Why then is it that no news article I can find actually presents the logical rebuttals?  Instead, every news article linked above implies that any politician or celebrity who makes these arguments is a raving anti-gay bigot.  (To be fair, many of the people quoted may actually be anti-gay bigots).  Still, why not present actual arguments in rebuttal instead of trying to do the whole "fake-sober-neutrality/we all should be outraged at this person" thing?  If the media actually presented the counter arguments listed in the above Huffington Post piece by Eliyahu Federman, a lot fewer politicians would probably make comments about gay marriage leading to polygamy, incest and bestiality, and people would be more educated.  Instead, in their quest for page views and outrage, the news media goes for inflammatory writing trying to paint these politicians as villains.  Business trumps good journalism yet again.