I was on the radio show again tonight, and we spent some time talking about same sex marriage. This is an issue on the legislative docket in Rhode Island right now, and it’s been the topic of a few shows.
First off, one might wonder why an atheist radio show would care about same sex marriage. Couldn’t we just, like, go off by ourselves and not believe in God? The answer is that, really, I would love to. I’m not all that worried about other people’s beliefs, per se. If we could get to the point where we had removed the majority of the institutionalized bigotry and intolerance that uses a thin veneer of religiosity to stay alive – I would love to hang up my combative hat and talk philosophy. However, what we’re really talking about is whether it’s okay to deny a fundamental civil liberty to a decent fraction of the population. Where the rubber meets the road, I’m worried about civil liberties, rationality in public health decisions, and so on. I no longer believe that religion is the cause of most of this … but it is certainly the excuse.
The question we asked callers was “how does allowing same sex marriages affect your heterosexual marriage? For all the talk about same sex marriage “devaluing” and ruining the institution of marriage – I expect some sort of detail to back it up. I’ve been married for more than a decade. In my experience, the marriages of my neighbors have almost no effect on me. I live next door to a woman who is raising two kids, solo, after her husband left her. I live across the street from a couple in their 60’s whose grandchildren come to visit from time to time. Neither of those relationships is like mine, but neither of them effects me all that much either. In Minnesota, I lived across the street from a couple of gay men in a long term relationship. They were fine neighbors. I also lived next door to a Yeshiva, a school for orthodox Jewish boys. They were fine too. In East Providence, I was frequently on the edge of calling the police over the sounds coming out of a perfectly heterosexual house. Even with that, there was no real effect on my marriage besides some good conversations about when to get involved in what was obviously some level of domestic abuse.
So the question was: “Why does it matter?” Sadly, we had only one caller who tried to answer – and he went with a combination of the “slippery slope” and the “word is and always has been defined this way” arguments. The latter works out to “nothing should ever change.” To that I say “society changes, and we can do better this year than last year.” When the US constitution was written, slavery was law and women didn’t have the vote. We’ve gotten past both of those mistakes. Let’s get past this one too.
The “slippery slope,” argument is ridiculous in a way that I failed to address on the air. I found myself yelling at the steering wheel on the way home over this one. The caller said, specifically, “if we let men marry men, what’s to stop someone from marrying their daughter, or their dog?”
Here’s the thing: We are not anywhere near the slippery slope.
When we talk about same sex marriage, we’re talking about the very most rational and stable members of the gay community. These are the folks who want to settle down, publicly commit to a long term relationship, use words like “father in law” or “brother in law” to talk about their partner’s family, and generally do all of the totally ordinary and boring stuff that heterosexuals take for granted in a lifetime-committed relationship. Nobody is talking about sexual promiscuity and serious deviancy here. If we were, then heterosexual marriage ought to be hauled on the carpet for some of the stuff I saw at college parties.
Don’t even get me started about Jersey Shore.