Monday, June 20, 2011

Gay Marriage and Subjectivity

Short Version:
How would you feel about gay marriage if you learned it wasn't (whatever reason you have for being opposed to it)?

How bigots view the laws of Nature
subtitle: I wonder how they don't find it at all strange that the Universe has the same biases as them

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Long Version:
Why are you against gay marriage? Is it because it is sinful, against the will of god or unnatural? What if you learned, irrefutably, that none of these were true. Let's not be distracted by the implausibility. We've all come to some point(s) where we realized something(s) we had believed was incorrect. Otherwise we would still believe the things we believed as children. I don't know what it would take to convince you. Certainly nothing I say or write will do the trick. But let's assume, purely to consider another question, that there was a way to convince you. Let's also assume, purely hypothetically, that somehow you've crossed that threshold.

Somehow... something... caused you to realize that the basis for your opposition to gay marriage was misinterpreted, misrepresented, faulty, wrong or completely absent. Whatever that reason was, your previous basis for opposition is now completely neutral. It's not that gay marriage is necessarily good. It's just that (again, hypothetically) you no longer have an instruction, evidence, example or reason to to be against it. Whatever reason you had, let's pretend that it is now completely indifferent to gay marriage.

How then would you feel, and I emphasize "feel," about homosexuals getting married? Remember, in this hypothetical it's not a sin. God doesn't care. It's not unnatural. Whatever objection you had, is now irrelevant. The question here is how would you personally feel about it. If your church, your holy text, your political party, your social club and everybody & everything in the world suddenly became OK with gay marriage would you still have a subjective desire to prevent homosexuals from getting married? What is it you would be feeling?

Would you be indifferent to two men talking about when one of them popped the question? Would you feel indignant if a lesbian shared her nervousness about the marriage bed? If gays got to visit their spouse in the hospital, claim "married" on their taxes, adopt as a married couple, come to you for advise on their anniversary party, be the default "by law" beneficiary, be eligible for alimony/palimony and brag about how great married life is... would that be OK with you? Or would you still find it objectionable based purely on how you feel about it? Would the way you feel about gay marriage change if cultural and religious objection vanished? Or do you think you would feel the same way?

The point of this hypothetical line of inquiry is to suggest that perhaps many people hold up their ideologies as a justification of their personal objections. As it relates to gay marriage, if gay marriage would still feel somehow offensive in the absence of source-able external objections then we should consider what that might mean.

Maybe it means your ideology is justified by your feelings because your gut or intuition is reliable. Maybe it means god has written this on your heart. But if we go that route we would have to answer some tough questions. Regarding the people who were against abolition, women's suffrage, racial integration, civil rights... What is it about your gut, your intuition or what's written on your heart that is superior to their collective gut, their intuition and that which was written on their hearts? And not just you, why are the opinions of everyone who agrees with you more reliable than the opinions of those who were for slavery, against suffrage, etc.? For many things, "how you feel about it" is a perfectly legitimate factor in informing your opinion. But when it comes to limiting or liberating other people's civil participation, "how you feel about it" means very little. Just as it did for those who felt women should not be allowed to vote.

Maybe instead of your ideology being justified by your feelings you've attached yourself to an ideology that justifies your feelings... an ideology you're comfortable with. Would you cling to a belief system if it caused you emotional discomfort? Regarding belief systems, you are where you are for a reason.

For most of us, perhaps all of us, there is a vicious circle of our feelings informing our beliefs and our beliefs further (perhaps irrationally) justifying our feelings. If we can accept that this is true of many other people then perhaps we should consider that it's probably true personally as well. It isn't as simple as you having jumped on the band wagon because they were playing your tune. This is a life-long process. If your sources of information are limited then your perspective will likely be limited as well. Every belief has a cost/benefit motivator, not unlike Pascal's wager. And thinking objectively and critically is hard and can be counter-intuitive. But objectivity and critical thinking are the best tools for breaking the feelings>beliefs vicious circle.

Returning to the point, if gay marriage would still feel somehow offensive in the absence of source-able external objections then what does that say about your objection? I'm not asking you to defend your objections. I am asking you to try to better understand it. Where does that feeling come from? Do the feelings justify the beliefs or do the beliefs justify the feelings? Or would you benefit from taking a step back and considering just how much your feelings and beliefs are dependent on each other. That interdependence is fine if you just wanna live your life. But if you feel the need to speak on matters of public policy and to restrict the civil participation of other people, maybe your feelings and personal beliefs aren't enough. If I wanted to limit or change your civil liberties based on my feelings and personal beliefs, how seriously should you have to take me?

We have a responsibility to each other as members of a society, and especially as members of a democracy. We know that we have had, will have and do have the capacity to be wrong. We have been, will be and are probably right now wrong about something. For this we can forgive ourselves and each other. But if we ignore that capacity and allow our feelings and personal beliefs to be the the only sources informing our discussions and decisions on matters that effect other people, then we have ignored our responsibility.

It is my hope that people will consider the correlation between what they believe and what they feel. It is my hope that people will recognize the fallibility of basing beliefs on feelings. It is my hope that people will try to understand how to distinguish between facts, informed opinion, ideologically-driven opinion and pure speculation. It is my hope that people will try to understand how to recognize what makes information reliable. It is my hope that people will care enough to want to.

Unless these hopes are realized soon we will be remembered as the generation that got it wrong on gay rights.

In a democracy surely an uninformed or misinformed opinion has greater weight than an informed opinion. For which will do the greater harm?

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