Consent, not coercion

Commenting on yesterday’s post, Erik writes:

If homosexuals can legally marry, then I should be able to marry two women, and my dog. No one should be able to take that right from me, if homosexuals are guaranteed the same right. Prove me wrong.

I think he meant “if homosexuals have the same right to marry as everyone else, then he should be able to marry two wives and a dog,” since legalizing gay marriage would not (and has not) legalized polygamy nor inter-species unions. But he raises an interesting topic, and I think it’s worth having a look at why respect for human rights requires a genuine democracy to base marriage on the concept of consent rather than on coercion.

The difference between a genuine democracy and a mere mob ganging up on various minorities is that a genuine democracy is founded on a binding respect for human rights, and seeks to maximize the liberty, opportunity, and benefit of all. By basing marriage on consent, rather than on coercion, we achieve these goals and make marriage a truly democratic and beneficial union.

Marriage based on consent gives both maximum liberty and maximum protection to the individual. No one wants to be forced into a marriage against his or her will, and no couple who want to marry want some third party interfering with the wedding, especially when it’s none of their business. By basing marriage on consent, we protect the individual from forced marriage (by respecting their right to choose not to give their consent), and we protect the couple from persecution and harassment (by not allowing third parties to interfere in a consensual relationship).

Marriage based on coercion, by contrast, never protects the individual or the couple, and always violates the human rights of one or both parties, without providing any legitimate benefit to any third party or to society as a whole. Marriage based on coercion thwarts the individual rights and liberties of its victims, and denies them the opportunity to achieve not only their own inalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness,” but also to make a positive contribution to society as a couple and as a family.

Whether the coercion is aggressive (forced marriage) or prohibitive (denied marriage), the result is the same: a devaluation of human rights and a denial of the benefits that come from impartially protecting both the rights and the liberties of all citizens. If marriage is what makes a democracy strong, a proper respect for human rights is what makes marriage strong. It is therefore not merely appropriate, but necessary, that marriage be ruled by the consent of the parties involved, and not by the coercion of some third party, even if the oppressors outnumber the victim. When human rights are denied for some, they are denied for all, and become a mere expedient subject to the whim of fashion.

Now, as for marrying your dog, I’d say no, because the dog is not capable of giving its consent. I’d also recommend some of the writings of Solomon if you’re really serious about wanting multiple wives. It may be biblical, and it may have a looooonnnnnnng history, but there’s a reason monogamy has become the dominant form in Western society. Couples work best, and if we could out-grow our superstitious and bigoted fears enough to establish a genuinely democratic institution of consent-based marriage, our society would be better off.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 22 Comments »

22 Responses to “Consent, not coercion”

  1. mike Says:

    One of the best arguments I’ve seen against the “argument from inter-species marriage consequences” is to just say: I’m against inter-species marriage too. So since you find nothing else wrong with gay marriage except the increased possibility of inter-species marriage, then let’s allow gay marriage now and I’ll join you in the fight against inter-species marriage if it happens.

  2. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Hmm, devil’s advocate here: if joining with the homophobes means you now have a majority opposed to inter-species marriage, does that mean it’s right to ban inter-species marriage just because the majority opposes it? ;)

    Personally, I see inter-species marriage as a total non-issue, since no other species is really going to be able to provide what people want out of a marriage. If you’d rather be “married” to a dog, doesn’t seem like that’d really harm anybody, and as long as you’re not abusing the animal I don’t see any need to punish you for it. It’s not like your example is going to spark a sudden rush to marry animals and abandon all human spouses or something. Homophobes are just trying to make an offensive comparison, to vent their own bigoted outrage.

  3. Ric Says:

    Erik just gives a classic non sequitor, and really it deserves to be treated as such.

    Erik, your logic would also seem to work with the following:

    If homosexuals can legally marry, then I should be able to call in sick to work whenever I want. Prove me wrong.

    Er, what’s that you say? My argument is ludicruous because there is no logical connection between the statement preceding the “then” and the statement following the “then”?

    Exactly.

  4. jorgaba Says:

    “…there’s a reason monogamy has become the dominant form in Western society. Couples work best.”

    This argument is no more persuasive than saying, “there’s a reason heterosexual marriage is the dominant form in Western society. Heterosexual couples work best.” In both cases, it is simply a societal norm per se that is being used as justification for coercion. If it doesn’t work for gay marraige, it doesn’t work for polygamy either.

    The secular argument against coercion is sound. The secular argument against polygamy depends on it meeting the criteria for coercion. But there is no reason why, in principle, polygamy cannot be divorced from coercion (pun intended). If there are serious, legitimate, secular arguments against polygamy per se (again, assuming its not coerced), then lets hear them.

  5. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Oh, I’m not saying polygamy should be prohibited. Being a heterosexual monogamist myself, I’m just expressing my opinion that 2-party relationships are easier than 3-or-more-party relationships. But your mileage may vary, and I certainly would not support any attempt to use legal coercion to prevent people from practicing polygamy, if they happen to have a more biblical (OT) definition of marriage. I think bigamy/polygamy laws should be overturned, except where they protect spouses from being deceived into thinking they were the sole spouse.

  6. Airor Says:

    Considering your last reply, I don’t think your argument is very clear. There doesn’t seem to be any implied coercion in the original complaint, yet the heart of your argument discusses it exclusively.

    I believe part of the answer lies in contract law: consenting (human) adults can enter legal contracts. Marrying animals or children would not work for that reason alone. So there is no slippery slope in that direction.

    The other factor are the three ‘ick’ types: polygamous marriage, homosexual marriage, and marriage between close relatives. You could argue that the first is too complicated, and the last has issues with the health of children, but there are just as many ‘particulars’ arguments concerning the difficulties with homosexual marriage. There is no issue that doesn’t come up in heterosexual marriage as well (divorce can be very messy no matter what, and any two people can have genetic diseases where children would be extremely risky.)

    So here the issue of slippery slope IS an issue. As a society we draw an arbitrary line, some of us after homosexual marriage, some of us before it. In fact, you’ll find people on every side of each of the eight possible opinions someone could hold regarding these types of marriage.

    I myself do draw the line. I don’t believe in polygamous marriage or close relatives marrying, but I have no problem with homosexual marriage. The only justification I have come up with for this is the acceptance that around 10% of our population is gay. To deny them same sex marriage would be denying them any kind of marriage at all.

    I don’t know the figures for the percent that might be polyamourous, but I am willing to force them to pair up just to keep the legal issues (mostly monetary) fair for everyone. As for people in love with their siblings, I guess I’m just willing to discriminate against them. I could probably be convinced to allow these kinds marriages if the population was more accepting of them (which is why I think the slippery slope argument is completely valid in this direction).

  7. Dave Says:

    Erik and those like him think allowing two people of the same sex to marry is the start of a slippery slope – if two men or two women can marry each other, how about a man and a partridge in a pear trea, or a woman and a child?

    What Erik and those like him fail to do is think through what they are saying – because if we’re going to be logical, then we have to admit that allowing marriage between TWO entities is the true start of that slippery slope.

    Basically, Erik is a brainwashed homophobe who has difficulty thinking logically.

    So it’s not marriage between consenting, same-sex adults that is the problem – it’s marriage itself. If Erik is going to be consistent, if he’s going to be logical (otherwise, why bother with him), then it’s marriage itself that gets the heave-ho.

    Of course, we already put all sorts of limits on who/what can marry. Marry a sister or brother? No. Dog or other obviously fine creatures? No. Mental challenged? No. Prisoners? Depends on the jurisdiction. Minors? Usually not.

    So it’s possible to put the brakes on who and who cannot marry. Erik would like to limit the right of same-sex couples to marry. But it’s based on his religious beliefs, and not on logic. If he were logical, or at least consistent, he’d admit that marriage of at least two people is at the heart of the problem, is at the top of the slippery slope.

  8. dc-agape Says:

    One arguement that is left out about the difference between homosexual marriage and polygamy is the unequal partnership. With monogamy each partner is getting equal attention and is required to give an equal effort. In polygamy at least one person is not satisfied or does not need to participate. In most cases only the man is satisfied. Since polygamy is an unequal partnership it cannot be compared to homosexual marriage.

  9. Modusoperandi Says:

    dc-agape “With monogamy each partner is getting equal attention and is required to give an equal effort.”
    But proper Christian marriage is unequal, too, since it’s coming from this angle…

    1Cr 11:3 “…the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman [is] the man; and the head of Christ [is] God.”

    1Ti 2:12 “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

    It doesn’t sound to me as though the Christian man/woman relationship can be equal. I have heard it said that each member has his or her “place” with different tasks, but since one is over the other, and one over the other is, by definition, unequal.
    This, by an odd twist of already twisted logic, means that the problem with gay marriage is that it’s too equal.

  10. valdemar Says:

    I was under the impression that monogamy benefits women more than polygamy, which is why polygamy tends to occur in societies that treat women as inferior. Not sure about this, though. Roman and Greek women certainly were’t given many rights, but monogamy was the rule. Perhaps inheritance of land/property also had something to do with the rise of monogamy? After all, man with many wives is generally man with rather too many sons.

  11. cl Says:

    Hi, first time commenter here.

    This is an interesting discussion, and while I agree with your point that a dog cannot bestow consent, I also noticed that you skirted the polygamy issue with an appeal to consequence.

    To clarify – Are you agreeing with or rebutting Erik’s claim that if we allow gay marriage based on consent, then we must also allow polygamous marriage based on consent?

  12. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I have mixed feelings about polygamy, but I tend to think that it should be a question of conscience, not compulsion. Practically speaking, I suspect that the practice would be rather unpopular except among certain primitive religious sects. I’d be interested in hearing a Christian argument against it, however, especially given its long Biblical tradition, and its practice by a number of prominent OT saints.

  13. cl Says:

    I tend to think that it should be a question of conscience, not compulsion.

    Fair, but I’m still a bit unclear. For those whom polygamy presents no moral or ethical concerns, should they be allowed to wed with exact equal legal representation as hetero or homo couples? I think Erik’s point is that they should. Do you agree, and if you disagree, on what grounds?

    I agree with your point about animals and consent, and would disagree with Erik on that note.

  14. jim Says:

    I’m not so sure I even agree about consent regarding animals. We kill and eat them without their consent, put them to work, and imprison them behind fences to guard our property and entertain us. Let’s be honest- the ad hoc justifications for banning polygamy and other sorts of ‘marital union’ are motivated by many of the same feelings held by those who are against gay marriage.

    Solution- eliminate government sanctioned marriage, period.

  15. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I’ll just say that if the government institutionalizes marriage for anyone it should do so without religious prejudice, leaving the actual definition and practice up to individual conscience. If Mormons or Muslims, say, wish to practice polygamy within their respective religious traditions (and if they can find women foolish enough to buy into a system that reduces them to a “herd” status), then it’s not the government’s place to pass moral judgments, let alone sanctions. But that’s just my opinion, and I’d be open to hearing contrasting viewpoints and arguments.

  16. cl Says:

    Jim,

    “I’m not so sure I even agree about consent regarding animals. We kill and eat them without their consent, put them to work, and imprison them behind fences to guard our property and entertain us.”

    Very cogent points.

    “Let’s be honest- the ad hoc justifications for banning polygamy and other sorts of ‘marital union’ are motivated by many of the same feelings held by those who are against gay marriage.”

    I agree %100. I suspect that may have been Erik’s point – if not, it was surely the point I was eventually going to argue.

    Deacon Duncan,

    ..it’s not the government’s place to pass moral judgments, let alone sanctions. But that’s just my opinion, and I’d be open to hearing contrasting viewpoints and arguments.

    Okay then. Just before that you also said,

    ..if (Mormons or Muslims) can find women foolish enough.. (paren. mine)

    If your believe the former statement with any authentic convictions, on what grounds do you take liberty to pass moral judgment on some religious woman who wishes to polygamize?

  17. Deacon Duncan Says:

    They have equal liberty to pass judgment on my opinions—freedom of expression is a vital human right as well. Tolerance doesn’t mean you have to call everything equal, it means you give everyone equal respect for their right to believe what they believe (among other things). And of course, you don’t discriminate against other people just for being different. But we have to be free to express our differences. Competition in the marketplace of ideas is what gives the human race the chance to discover and pursue what’s best.

  18. cl Says:

    Tolerance doesn’t mean you have to call everything equal, it means you give everyone equal respect for their right to believe what they believe..

    But didn’t you just say that women who would elect for polygamy are foolish? I guess you’re saying there’s a difference between your right to pass judgment vs. the government’s right to pass judgment??

  19. jim Says:

    cl:

    I think you’re using the word judgment in two different ways here. Simply holding the opinion that someone is foolish isn’t the same thing as government regulation of what is deemed to be ‘official foolishness’. Of course, laws are all about drawing lines, and officially sanctioned marriage is just another case where we’re inviting government to intrude in our private lives, which is seldom a good idea.

  20. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Indeed. There’s a rather significant difference between saying, “I think that’s foolish” and passing laws/amendments that subject you to criminal penalties for marrying someone the government doesn’t approve of. The Mandatory Fornication Amendments, of course, go even farther, since they have a whole range of punitive impacts on gay couples even when they don’t marry, such as denying visitation rights and benefits coverage to gay spouses. You can SAY what you like about gay marriage, and I’ll even defend your right to say it. If you choose to say things that are bigoted and narrow, of course, I’ll reserve the right to call them bigoted and narrow, but I’ll still defend your right to say them. Where it becomes discriminatory and oppressive is when you go beyond words and actually inflict substantial and enduring harm on people whose only “sin” is being something you look down on.

  21. cl Says:

    With that distinction drawn I see what you guys are saying. And we would probably all three agree that to draw a line anywhere is to inevitably and at least ostensibly favor one view over another, which then becomes a matter of reasonable justification. For example, no matter which way one voted on 8, their vote offended somebody, and we’re back to Abe Lincoln’s oft-cited ditty about the difficulty of pleasing all of the people all of the time.

  22. Deacon Duncan Says:

    You may not be able to please all of the people all of the time, but you can and should respect the rights of all of the people all of the time. Prop. 8 flagrantly avoids doing that.