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I got an interesting comment on my quick post on the gay marriage debate and I've been meaning to respond to it. It comes from a self-proclaimed evangelical who agrees with my speculation that the religious majority opposing gay marriage and other issues of interest to the gay community are doing so out of animus to the concept of homosexuality:

First, I think you are accurate when you suggest that a lot of people react to any advancement of the "gay rights" agenda out of sheer animus. I am an evangelical Christian, unashamed to say so, but it grieves me when I see this kind of thinking. I supported, for instance, President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell"--unlike most of my evangelical friends, because to me it hit the right balance: why should homosexuals not be allowed to serve in the military if a structure is put into place whereby military readiness will not be compromised thereby? If you are homosexual, but no one knows it, it's hard to see how the military is compromised, such as studies have suggested it might be in the event this were known.


I think that evangelicals have lost credibility by opposing anything/everything that might in some way benefit homosexuals; I for one do not think that that is right or wise.

I can actually think of reasons why having even undisclosed homosexuals in the armed forces could compromise operational effectiveness. If part of the idea of keeping women out of the armed forces is to eliminate the distractions that come with the presence of romantic relationships among the soldiers (and I think this is a good reason) then the same can be said for homosexuals in the military. But I guess the "don't ask don't tell" policy presumes that the sexuality of the soldiers will be subsumed enough in service-type situations that the issue of any kind of relationships among soldiers, heterosexual or homosexual, will be non-existent.

The reader brings up the common issue of legislating morality, as it is called. He writes,

Further, I don't think it ought to be illegal for people to engage in homosexual sex. The fact that I consider it immoral doesn't mean it ought to be against the law. There are many things that are NOT immoral that are illegal (driving on the left side of the road) and others that are clearly wrong (lying to your boss) which shouldn't land you in court. Most evangelicals are against removing laws that prohibit homosexual sex, but I am not.
This brings to mind that there are possibly two ways that something can be "immoral." Something can be immoral on a personal level. Thus I may see someone as immoral because he eats dairy products with bacon, doesn't shower, and doesn't believe in a god. Usually, immorality in this way seems to derive from failure to live up to some kind of pre-conceived standard of personal behavior or criteria for the Good life. It lies in the individual failing to live up to a code of good behavior usually designed to ensure individual well-being. Then something can be immoral on a social level. Murder, theft and basically any kind of crime fall under this category. In this case the thing is immoral, or perhaps you could loosely translate as "bad," because of the way it is harmful to other people. Looked at this way, social immorality can be seen as a coercive social construct designed to ensure optimal social conditions.

What kind of morality should we legislate, if any? My gut feeling is that only morality that is based in social well-being is the kind of morality we should legislate. Without a doubt, many thinkers have mulled this very question over for ages. Perhaps Jung can give us a primer on the various philosophical attempts to answer this question.

Even using the assumption that morality of social consequence is the only thing we should ever legislate, the issue of gay marriage is not settled. My guess is that a good number of people who support legislation like the Marriage Ammendment do so not out of policy considerations or legal prudence, but rather as a moral reaction to homosexuality. Others, however, have genuine concerns about the social byproducts of something like gay marriage. A libertarian point of view would say that whatever people choose to do in the privacy of their own bedroom is free game, because as long as there is active consent involved it doesn't hurt anyone or anything else. A more institutional thinker can find ways in which gay marriage can affect the integrity of our society overall, whether it's via homosexuals seducing other people into their sinful lifestyle, contributing to the demise of family structure and familial values, or lowering the assessment of the human race in the eyes of God...any number of things. Conservative blogger and outspoken advocate for gay issues Andrew Sullivan has framed his entire argument for gay marriage around the issue of systemic social effects, and how instituionalizing gay marriage would actually be beneficial. He argues that instituting gay marriage will encourage the gay couples out there to be more monogamous and form stabler family structures, and that the lack of ability to marry is currently a big obstacle in the way of stability, family values, and moral values for the gay community. I tend to think that he's right, and that marriage would help to ameliorate some of the socially troublesome aspects of the gay community.

Other people foresee that the opposite would occur, and that legalizing gay marriage would diminish the strength of the institution of marriage. In one way or another, all these arguments seem to boil down to something about demeaning the fundamental sacredness of the covenant of marriage. If gays are allowed to marry, the argument goes, people will find the bond of marriage less sacred, and will be less willing to enter into marriage themselves, thus undermining the whole purpose of the institution. Of course for some people, homosexuality is fundamentally unsanctified. It's an unholy and depraved social phenomenon and its existence is an intrinsic social problem, end of story. If you suppose this, then it's inevitable that you would oppose legalization of gay anything, and I think the comment I received confirms that this is a very real rationale for a substantial portion of the country.

People can debate whether or not there is a personal moral failing in homosexuality, but of course this shouldn't dictate legislation. These matters are for good reason left to the religious institutions and the individual to decide. The Declaration of Independence says that every man should be free to pursue happiness, as long as he is not hurting anyone else. In philosophical terms, this means to me that government powers in the United States are intended to be limited to those issues with direct social ramifications. That is, I can't use the law against someone because they are a "bad person" but only because they have done something bad, in the sense of done something socially harmful. In practice, will this result in an any less moral world? Are we losing the opportunity to uphold morality? I don't think so. I mean, if someone is really a bad person, any social circle they encounter will shun them, the teachings of their religion and religious figures will attempt to correct them...there are plenty of ways for misguided people to "get the message" other than through government mandate.

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