Same Sex Marriage, Majority Rule & Bias

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Judge Walker recently ruled that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. For those who have been watching Jersey Shore and not the American news, Proposition 8 banned same sex marriage in California. The proposition had passed with a slight majority. Not surprisingly, those who are opposed to same sex marriage have been quick to argue against this ruling.

One argument is based on the view that a judge should not undo the will of the people. Sarah Palin, for example, made a point of criticizing how the third branch of government had done just that.

This line of argument does have a certain appeal. After all, having a single person’s decision override the decision of  52% of those voting would seem to run counter to the very notion of democracy. After all, one might argue, whatever the majority (however slim) decides must be followed by everyone.  Majority rule, one might say, trumps everything.

However, unfettered majority rule is neither the reality nor is it desirable. As Mill argues in his writing on liberty, the tyranny of the majority is something that must be guarded against in a free society.

One way to look at this is to note that while majority rule is a core value, it is not the only value. There are other values, such as freedom, that must be defended against even the will of the majority. To use an example, even if a majority of people voted to restore slavery in the United States, this should not be allowed on the grounds that it would be a gross violation of the right to liberty.

Changing gears to the legal and political aspect of the matter, there is the fact that the states are obligated to obey the Constitution (based on the agreement to do so). This means that even a majority in a single state lacks the legal right to pass laws that violate the Constitution. True, the Constitution can be changed-but not by a single state.

As such, it is not a single person’s decision that is overriding the will of the majority. Rather, it is the constitution, which was duly ratified by the states,  that is overriding the will of a majority in one single state. Thus, the will of the people has not been violated by this decision.

A second argument is that because the judge is openly gay he is biased in the matter and hence should not be ruling on the proposition.

On the face of it, this argument seems to be a mere ad hominem. It could also be seen as absurd. After all, the same sort of reasoning could be applied to a judge ruling on, for example, on an environmental issue: “the judge breaths air, so she is biased in favor of clean air.” Someone might even point out the obvious parallel: if a gay judge must be biased in favor of same sex marriage, then it would seem to follow that a straight judge must be biased against it. As such, we would need a judge with no sexual orientation at all to rule on this matter.

However, the bias argument does merit some consideration. Since the judge is apparently involved in a stable relationship and might want to get married, his ruling has the potential to benefit him personally. Perhaps this is comparable to having a judge who owns considerable stock in a company presiding over a case involving that company. In that case, the judge would have a clear conflict of interest that could very well lead to a biased judgment.

Of course, there are situations in which a judge might benefit from a ruling and yet not be subject to a reasonable charge of bias. For example, a judge who really likes snack foods might uphold a law that prevents snack food companies from selling products containing a dangerous chemical. While it is clearly in his interest to have his snacks untainted, this hardly seems to be a case of bias.

As another example, imagine a conservative judge who ruled against a liberal law. Since he is conservative, it might be suspected that his ruling was based on a conservative bias and not based on the law. As such, if a gay judge should not rule on a law banning gay marriage, then conservative judges should not rule on liberal laws.  After all, they would be biased.

To use an even better example, imagine an Hispanic judge who rules against a law that bans Hispanics from living in a particular town. While she might be inclined to oppose the law because she is Hispanic, it would be odd to challenge such a ruling on the grounds of bias since it seems to be well grounded in anti-discrimination law.  However, if the judge made it clear that her decision was based solely on her being Hispanic and not on the law, then the charge of bias would stick.

Turning back to same sex marriage, a key question is this: did Walker base his ruling on constitutional grounds or was it based primarily on his (alleged) desire to get married? If his reasoning was based on constitutional grounds, then the charge of bias would seem to be a mere ad hominem. However, if evidence can be found that his ruling was based primarily on his own desires, then his judgement would be biased.

This seems to be a reasonable test for bias. To use an analogy, imagine that a student gets an F on a paper in my class. He then accuses me of being biased against him because he wrote a paper about how philosophy and philosophy professors are useless.  That is, I failed him because I do not like him.

On the face of it, a philosophy professor would take a negative view of such a position. However, the mere fact that I might take issue with such a position does not suffice to show bias. What would be needed is evidence that the paper was graded incorrectly (that is, the paper is better than an F) and that this unfair grading was based on my disliking him.

If the paper were examined by an appropriate committee and judged to be of F quality, then the claim that I was biased would be effectively refuted. Even if the paper were found to be, for example, of better than F quality this would not be enough to establish bias. After all, I might just be a hard grader. Determining that I acted from bias would require comparing the paper to other papers in the class. So, if all papers of comparable quality received the same grade, this would be evidence of a lack of bias.

Thus, the real issue is not the judge’s sexual orientation. The real concern is whether the ruling is properly grounded or not.

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  1. Let them marry. Marry in haste, repent in leisure.

  2. I seem to recall the pronouncement of Lord Justice Denning on the legality of Homosexual Acts and that was to the effect that it ought to remain illegal as it did not contribute to, or was not part of what I believe he called the “cement of society”. Perhaps an unfortunate metaphor, but the notion was that certain behaviours bound a society together and others (deviant behaviours) did not. Ideas of the growth of tolerance and understanding difference did not enter the picture. At one level it could be seen as a regressive argument against any change that did not prove popular. It was not however used by the authorities against hanging (which was popular, as were public floggings in former times,along with bear baiting, public executions etc. ). So the “cement” as popularism was not a universal form of legislation yard stick. it didn’t stand up by itself empirically to some universal rule to be applied.
    We can easily see that encouraging, say, the barbarism of bear baiting, cannot be subsumed under a rule of being good for society as it insensitizes people to suffering and revels in cruelty as sport. Where there is a simple dominion over the creature. Secondly it is simply permissive, it is not something that all citizens must do to preserve the good order of society. From another perspective it is something that all citizens ought to refrain from in order to create a better society . I take it that an insensitive populus taken to delighting in cruelty is not indicative of a society that can consider the situation of its victims from an empathetic viewpoint and it is empathy which is crucial in all this. Of course one cannot create an empathy law. however a law which denies that to an individual denies them a say in the empathy bond and that bond is given through the question: “What is it like to be you?”. That is, the feelings of others become part of the bonding of society as a whole. Many do not have the feelings that would lead them to a same sex marriage, it does not follow they need disregard the feelings of fellow citizens which do so lead them in that direction.
    One could argue that empathy does not figure in letting criminals off legal penalties, so why should it in this case.But that is to place already a behaviour /feeling in a criminal light when it simply differs in how that person relates to another and does not materially deprive anyone of life, or liberty; though some would say it denies them the pursuit of happiness as the find it distasteful.
    Yet there is a distinction between understanding a difference of feeling between individuals and that of understanding one who has taken a life or dispossessed someone of their property. I find tapioca pudding disgusting and dirty toe nails I do not feel that this becomes a matter for the legal code. Still less should it be a matter for the legal code to prohibit a same sex marriage for that enhances the bond between individuals who differ.

  3. Banning marriage of whatever kind appears more palatable. This would include, of course, marrying oneself.

  4. Then there are those that say that there should be no law regarding marriage of any kind, and I find my self growing more sympathetic with that view as the debate drags on.

  5. @Tesserid — no law regarding marriage of any kind? So Gary Glitter could marry any number of Vietnamese pre-teen girls? Or alternatively, total permissiveness in all sexual liaisons? Good for Glitter and his like, either way. Bad for the sexually exploited.

    Re: Judge bias — clearly a gay man can’t be impartial in any matter relating to gay liberties, or the curtailment of same. Turkeys, voting, Christmas.

    Seems to me that all the arguments in favour of permissiveness in homosexual relations apply equally to incest-with-effective-contraception. Is incest with effective contraception OK? Is one a reactionary hater for thinking it isn’t?

  6. Marriage is hardly Gary Glitter’s problem. As tongue-and-cheek as the argument appears to be, I might as well respond that incest and under-age sex are not issues of marriage. And, I certainly wouldn’t want anyone thinking that my comment on marital laws reflected anything regarding questions of sexual abuse.

  7. One rather important distinction between permissiveness regarding homsexual relations and incest is that gay marriage would be between consenting adults who are not related and incest generally would not be between consenting adults. As far as incest between consenting adults (straight or gay), that would be another matter.

  8. It was consensual incest between adults that I had in mind; non-consensual cases would be considered primarily as rape. My question is, is non-rape incest OK, provided that genetic consequences are prevented? And does the answer to this have any bearing on how we should view homosexual sex?

    @Tesserid It’s not that I think Gary Glitter is anxious to marry; but your suggestion that there should be no law regarding marriage of any kind seemed a little ambiguous, and could be taken to mean (to my mind) either that all marriages were equally valid, including those of old men to extremely young girls, or that no kind of relationship could be given any special legal sanction, which I think would have the same outcomes.

  9. When I say no law, I do not mean that arbitrary religious institutions could be invented as a means to protect those who intend to commit statutory rape (as that would still be a matter of laws regarding marriage). Instead, hat I’ referring to is the special privilege that married people are entitled under the law that non-married people are not granted. Removing such special privilege would not suddenly legalize under-age sex.

    Note that I do not personally advocate the elimination of all laws regarding marriage. But, part of the topic under debate is the special privilege that marriage provides. And, what I am saying is that we should not only be examining the question of why shouldn’t the privilege of marriage be available to gay people, but we should also be debating whether all or any of that special privilege is reasonable and justifiable.

  10. A nice exercise is to substitute some other random item into the essential question and see if it holds up.

    Rabbits. I think we can pretty much all agree that there is no reasonable argument for allowing rabbits to marry, not least of which is that they really are not that receptive to the idea.

    Blacks. If you can argue from a philosophical stand point that non-white humans should not be allowed to marry, then I may concede that gays shouldn’t either.

    Of course we all know exactly what sort of person would argue this point – the same people that have the ‘freedom’ to demonstrate outside the funerals of servicemen and women; the same people that have the ‘freedom’ to demonstrate the building of a church (oh wait, it’s not a CHURCH is it, it’s something entirely different).

    It’s very interesting that this debate, ostensibly about gay rights, can get hi-jacked by issues of under-age sex, incest, rape, Gary Glitter and rabbits, in so few posts.

    It would seem to me that the most important consideration here has nothing to do with gay rights or indeed the right of any individual or group, but rather the governance decreed by the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s a real shame that the Preamble doesn’t include some of the finer points of the Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

  11. Emily, Speaking of sidetracks, the subjects of rape, incest, etc., are far more intrinsic to the subject of marriage than the subject you use to smear those with whom you disagree. Just a tad too much guilt-by-association there.

    And what is wrong with having the freedom (why the scare quotes?) to demonstrate (against) the building of anything?

    Unless, of course, your real objection is to the presence of different points of view…

  12. Well, I guess there are plenty of discussions about rape within marriage and how that is different from rape outside of marriage, but I don’t see how laws regarding gay marriage change this. If anything, the current movement is to clarify the point that marriage does not imply consent, that even married people retain the right to say no (just as single people do).

    And, I guess there are plenty of discussions about incest, but I can’t imagine much interest in how marriage laws affect this. That is, I don’t think, for instance, that incest laws are different for those that are divorced. And, again, I don’t see how laws regarding gay marriage change this.

    So, I agree that these look like smokescreen issues, except that they were, at least in part, directed at my first comment.

    One of the issues brought up in the campaign for gay marriage (and I am in favor of such a freedom), is the issue of dieing alone. Having been single most of my life, I have confronted the question of what it would mean to die alone often enough. So, this issue raised in the campaign for gay marriage has made me rather sensitive to the issues of marital privilege. I think all people, regardless of marital status, should have the right to have a partner, sexual or otherwise, at their side as they pass on.

  13. My emotional reaction to consensual incest is, of course, “that would just be wrong.” Like most folks, I have been conditioned to regard this as abhorrent. However, I am aware that how I feel and how I have been conditioned need not be correct. As such, I am wiling to consider the ethics of the situation.

    As you indicate, one standard argument against incest involves genetics. However, as you point out, this factor could be eliminated. Also, you have stipulated that it would be a matter of consent. So, then what would remain that would make such incest wrong?

    Obviously, moral arguments based in religious views could be presented. It could also be argued that such relationships would be damaging to family relationships (thus arguing against it on utilitarian grounds). Naturally, it could also be argued that the act would be inherently wrong. Such arguments would, of course, need to be substantive and hence go beyond a reply to a comment.

    The question about how this connects to the matter of homosexual sex is an interesting one. The connection is often raised by opponents of same sex marriage. Of course, this typically is intended to cash in on the justified abhorrence people have regarding non-consensual incest. Consensual sex between adult homosexuals obviously is not analogous to non-consensual incest.

    Playing the Devil’s advocate, if someone argues that adults have the moral right to select a consenting sexual partner, then it would seem to follow that this right would extend to members of the same sex as well as relatives. It would not, however, extend to those who cannot provide informed consent such as children or animals.

    Those who support the right to homosexuality but who oppose consensual incest would argue that there is an important moral distinction between the two. That is, being related to someone creates a legitimate moral barrier that consent cannot overcome while being the same sex as someone else does not.

    Continuing to play the Devil’s advocate, one could argue that just as the view that homosexuality is wrong is based on mere prejudice, so too is the view that incest is wrong. After all, if people are free to chose a consenting adult partner, then the nature of that partner should not matter except insofar as consent is involved.

    An obvious reply to this is that consent is not enough. Suppose that Sally is married to Ted and they did the usual vows. No suppose that Ted and Rick have consensual sex. In this case, Ted has acted wrongly because of his relationship with Sally. Assuming that Rick knows Ted is married, he has also done wrong to Sally because of the nature of the relationship between Ted and Sally. Now, imagine that Ted and Sally are not married but are brother and sister. Like marriage, this relationship involves various normative elements. While marriage means that you should not have sex with anyone but your spouse, being related means you should not have sex with the people you are related to. So, incest would be out.

    Being devilish again, someone could reply back that people of the same sex also have a relationship and part of this involves the normative element that they should not have sex with each other.

  14. Emily,

    I do agree that people often take the same sex marriage debate down absurd rabbit holes. For example, some folks have claimed that if we allow same sex marriage then (presumably by the magic of the slippery slope) necrophilia will be next as will people marrying box turtles.

    As a matter of equal protection, same sex marriage should be legal. After all, marriage is not legally defined (yet) as between a man and a woman. As far as marrying a box turtle or a corpse, these situations are already covered by existing law.

  15. re Jed, Aug 18.

    I do apologize for any perception that you were smeared personally – I’m very sorry, I don’t know you by reputation in this thread (did you make a comment earlier) or any other.

    But just to clarify, I didn’t say that marriage had nothing to do with rape, incest, etc etc.

    The debate here is about same sex marriage.

    And “Guilt by association?” – because I’m black and gay? unmarried? or do you mean associating with “philosophers”!?

    (I never knew that Ersatz quotes were scary to some people…)

    Interesting that you choose the church example (we were thinking about the same church right?) when there was an equally valid (and in my opinion [I know, not philosophical], more horrific) demonstration of freedom.

    I have no problem with different points of view – it would be a little churlish to be hanging out here if one wasn’t open to expanding ones experience, knowledge and objectivity. And again I do apologize, but what was your point of view?

    Maybe you would prefer to debate Islamohobia over at

    Yes, I do believe that everyone (we’ll restrict this to humans for now) has the right to all the benefits that society in general bestows on it’s citizens. Are some citizens more deserving than others? In my opinion, the advantages that a democracy and free market confer on certain individuals (or groups) is more than enough: they need no legislation to have their status elevated (or indeed lowered).

  16. Churlish. Yes, I agree. More than a little.

  17. To be perfectly explicit: If P, then Q. Not Q. Therefore, not P. If homosexual sex is acceptable, then incest is acceptable. Incest is not acceptable. Therefore homosexual sex is not acceptable.

    Homosexual acts (between men) were decriminalised in Britain on the grounds that the law should not interfere with sexual acts between consenting adults in private. The young and beautiful, growing up in a world of openly-gay celebrities and rigorously-enforced diversity training, may well be unaware of how controversial this was and how bitterly opposed by many, and may have no conception of the abhorrence felt by those who opposed it. For a contemporary parallel, one would have to invoke paedophilia, though I suspect that even paedophilia is not as abhorrent to most people as it was, say, ten years ago. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed in a spirit of pity, tolerance and distaste. Of course, informally, many supporters of homosexual rights sought not merely tolerance but equality in every sphere of life; they have campaigned to have homosexual relationships accepted as in every respect similar and equal to heterosexual ones, mutatis mutandis, and have emphasised homosexuals’ commitment to love, partnership, domesticity and fidelity primarily with the help of constant assertion and supportive mass-media, rather than hard evidence. And have pretty much succeeded, at least in Britain. Not only can homosexual couples, whether male or female, “marry”, but they can adopt children; not only can they adopt children, but heterosexual couples (male-female, ha ha) who express less than total acceptance of homosexuality can be debarred from adopting. “Civil partnerships”, marriages in everything but name, have been available to homosexual couples in Britain since 2004.

    But to get back to the argument. Isn’t it the case that every argument in favour of tolerating homosexual sex applies equally to incest? (Let’s not get distracted by rape and under-16s.) Suppose I have a 24-year old daughter who is intelligent and of sound mind, in good health, financially independent and not involved in an exclusive sexual relationship. She’s a normal sexually-available adult, that is. Let’s assume that I am also a normal sexually-available adult. Why shouldn’t I have sex with her, if we both consent, and we do it in a private place? Why shouldn’t we live as a married couple, setting up home and sharing a bed? We love each other with a perfectly ordinary sexual love, we would say. She completes me, I’m her soulmate. Everything’s just the same as in other relationships. If our new friends recoil when, after we’ve been French kissing, she calls me “Dad”, that sadly is their problem, narrow-minded bigots that they have unfortunately revealed themselves to be. We would of course not have children together, as there might be harmful genetic consequences, but why shouldn’t our sexual relationship be legally recognised, and why shouldn’t we be able to adopt as a couple?

    One might argue against this that there is an emotional barrier between close relatives that makes a sexual relationship repugnant (just as some opponents of homosexual sex would argue that there is an emotional barrier between people of the same sex that precludes sexual relations – I certainly feel such a barrier). But ex hypothesi, that is not a barrier for us. One might argue that it would set a worrying precedent or example for others; but that could equally be levelled at homosexual sex. “It’s not natural.” Hmm. On the pro side, one could cite the occurrence of incest in every society in every epoch, the occurrence of incest in the animal world, especially amongst other primates, and the variability of the degree of relatedness that is taboo in human societies. Most of which sounds strangely familiar (no pun intended).

    If anyone can see how incest can be morally distinguished from homosexual sex, I’d be interested to hear their views. But if no moral distinction can be drawn, I think one has to decide: Is incest OK, or is homosexual sex not OK?

    On another point, ML mentioned, dismissively, the notion of the slippery slope. But look here.

    Acceptable sexual relationships:
    Man-woman – since the year dot.
    Man-man (since 1967 in law but probably only since the televising of The Naked Civil Servant in 1975, and then slowly mounting to the present level. Even the Ancient Greeks didn’t allow homosexual marriage, and their acceptance of homosexuality was very unusual, historically.)
    Man-“former” man (transsexual) — sex-change surgery now available on the NHS. Changed sex given legal sanction. Assertions such as “I was born the wrong gender” and “I was a man, now I’m a woman” go unchallenged. Transsexuals demand to be called “trans people”. There will undoubtedly be consequences for those who dissent.

    Three points make a trend, possibly. Is anyone worried? Or do people believe that our sex-saturated society will not by small steps normalise and legitimise adult-child sex? But hang on, surely only bigots oppose paedophilia?

  18. NH, you may very well have convinced me. Incest between consenting adults along with the marriage thereof is morally acceptable (despite the associated emotional problems). Now, we just have to deal with the problem of inbreeding. Of course, inbreeding isn’t much of a problem for homosexuals, so I guess there is a difference, which again puts incest a bit outside the subject at hand.

  19. Humpy:

    “sex-saturated society”? Compared to what?

    You clearly labor under the ubiquitous self-repugnance that is western society’s tragic legacy from the religion of Abraham. (I call it “fear porn”.) Millions and millions of people have suffered uncountable agonies under fear porn’s iron hand.


  20. Much of humpy and emily’s rationale (and I suspect randolph is not far behind) is based on the political necessity to conflate the legal and the moral.

    The constitutional issue here is the definition of marriage.  The philosophical issue is the meaning of words.  All else is an attempt to confuse rational analysis for the purpose of political gain.

  21. If the incest comparison is so unavoidable, we might as well consider that there does seem to be an biological mechanism for discouraging inbreeding. However, I don’t know that this biological mechanism functions as an absolute, and I don’t know that there isn’t some biological allowance for some small percentage of inbreeding. In contrast, biology has consistently produced a fairly significant minority population of homosexuals. The mechanism for this, which we’re still learning about, says little about what function this may perform, but it is clear that the percentage of homosexuals in the population is consistently much larger then that of those that would inbreed.

    So clearly, we have reason to doubt that these biological mechanisms function as absolutes, which leaves us with questions about what they imply regarding the morality of these behaviors.

    Also, references to prior cultures or even the variety of existing cultures doesn’t reveal anything about why there should be moral rules regarding these behaviors. That is, it may say that various societies have, in fact, made rules on the subject–rules for which there is little consensus, but it doesn’t say much about why.

  22. re Jed
    > The constitutional issue here is the
    > definition of marriage. The philosophical
    > issue is the meaning of words.

    Wow, that really says it all for me. I thought you guys were telling me Philosophy was a lot deeper?

    Thanks Unc.

  23. Re No Humpy
    >If P, then Q.
    >Not Q. Therefore, not P.

    If eating humans is acceptable, then eating pigs is. Eating humans is not acceptable. Therefore eating pigs is not acceptable.

    Of course, in some cultures this is perfectly true.

    But there’s no reason why one culture should impose its tenets on another.

    Let’s not get carried away by classical logic. Just substituting whatever you want into P and Q doesn’t make it logical, or sensible!

    Although, if Eye, then Ear…

  24. @Emily: Your sample argument is not parallel to mine. You have strayed into the Fallacy of Denying the Antecedent. “Substituting whatever you want into P and Q doesn’t make it logical.” No, it doesn’t; the argument form is valid, whatever P and Q might be. The conclusion might be false if one or more premisses are false, but if the premisses are true, the conclusion must be true. I therefore invite refutation of my premisses, namely “If homosexual sex is acceptable, then incest is acceptable”, and “Incest is not acceptable.”

    @Uncle Jed: Can you really maintain that I have been arguing about the meaning of words?

    @Tesserid: You’ve lost me. Please clarify.

    @Randolph Lee: Compared to any society I have ever heard of, barring those infamous Cities of the Plain. No ad hominem attacks, please.

  25. @No Humpy

    You invited the a.h. argument by your use of the term “sex-saturated”. That is a value judgment. *Your* value judgement. If you don’t want your person critiqued, please try to keep your value judgments out of your reasoning, and where unavoidable, please acknowledge the introduction, and have enough respect for the rest of us to make a sincere attempt to allow for the thereby unavoidable personal bias so introduced.

    In MY opinion society by and large still has a very neurotic attitude towards sex, as it has had for most of the history of civilization. Worse, neurotic distortion is encouraged by the powers that be as a prime tool for the manipulation of the masses.

    You support this state of affairs? You would turn the clock back to more repressed, neurotic, and therefore commonly abusive times? Why? Perhaps you should look within for the answer to that question…

  26. @NH,

    I was discussing various potential responses to your base claim:

    “If homosexual sex is acceptable, then incest is acceptable.”

    Even if it were true that each of these behaviors where wrong, I still don’t see that they are related. The bulk of my comments were intended to illustrate just how these things are not sufficiently related to justify that logic. Others here have addressed this as well.

    What I don’t see, aside from the historical references, is anything supporting this claim, and I don’t know how many would take this claim as a given.

    However, I did ask why we should see such a relationship. The historical references, as I had mentioned, may show that past cultures had agreed with you, but I would still like to know how it was justified. I still want to know the why. This is what my comments where intended to address.

  27. @Tesserid — I don’t understand your notion of being “related”. My “claim” is that “If homosexual sex is acceptable, then incest is acceptable.” I express this another way by asking “Isn’t it the case that every argument in favour of tolerating homosexual sex applies equally to incest?” And I illustrate how this is so. Honestly, I don’t see how I could have made it any clearer. If I had said “If cats are unacceptable pets, so are dogs”, and then showed how considerations of hygiene, space and expense applied to both, would you be telling me that you can’t see how dogs are related to cats?

    @Randolph Lee — I don’t think ethics can be divorced from value. But ethical argument is not about trying to slip your values across the table while distracting the other guy. I have tried to focus on a certain argument, using words with their commonly-accepted meaning. If you think my values have distorted or invalidated my argument, please show where and how. Since you cite notions such as “neurosis”, “manipulation” and “abusiveness”, which are not, as far as I can see, staple terms in ethical debate, you might like to explain what you mean by them, and justify your application of them.

    Re: sex-saturated society, just a few examples: the popularity of genital surgery for women to “get the porn-star look”; Playboy Bunny tops for 8-year old girls; The Independent’s list of favourite articles including “Top Ten Sex Toys”. I surely don’t need to mention internet porn, paedophile cruise holidays, gay pride parades (have you ever seen one?), magazines devoted to celebrity tittle-tattle, etc., etc.

    Re: ad hominem arguments. You accused me of “labouring under … self-repugnance”. Whether I am or not (I don’t think I am, as it happens), it has nothing to do with the argument I presented. Please stick to the argument. Making imputations about people’s motives or other mental states is ad hominem.

  28. No Humpy,

    I would not say that all arguments in favor of tolerating homosexual sex would apply equally to (adult, consenting, etc.) incest. However, I do think that you have made a point well worth considering. For example, if the principle used to ground tolerate of homosexual sex is that consenting adults have the right to select their sexual partners, then incest would seem to thus be equally well grounded in this regard. Of course, if a relevant difference exists between the two, then this would justify not extending the principle to incest. As a technical point, since I haven’t seen all the arguments in favor of tolerating homosexual sex, I would thus not be willing to commit to them all extending to incest.

    As far as the slippery slope goes, I think that the sliding can be stopped in a principle way by arguing for the importance of informed, adult consent. So, the sexual slide would stop before animals, corpses, children, and so on.

    I am sympathetic to your concern. I think that sexual ethics is important and it is well worth considering how sexual behavior impacts a person’s overall moral well being.

  29. TesserId,

    True, the inbreeding does remain a concern, even with highly effective birth control. Of course 100% effective birth control would eliminate this problem.

  30. No Humpy,

    I owe you an apology. I am new here and I was reading along, thrilled with the level of discourse. Then I spotted your “sex soaked” remark. It really threw me, and I let my smart ass side show. That was uncalled for. Sorry.

  31. @Randolph Lee — That’s OK. Let’s shake hands and be friends.

  32. @NH, I didn’t think you were unclear. I only wanted to explore it deeper. For what it’s worth, Mike’s response to you was fairly satisfying (as well as his response to me, thanks Mike).

    If I dare a more specific question, which do you think is worse, homosexual marriage or incestuous marriage (again, only with regard to consenting adults)? Should we fear that incestuous marriage might become widespread?

    Personally, I don’t think that the human biological mechanism would allow for much of this, and what there is in the way of incest between consenting adults is more often a product of emotional suffering than anything else.

    Interestingly (or not), my concern with the rights that affect hospital visits for the dying is a moot point for incestuous marriage. Family members already have those rights (don’t they?), so allowing incestuous marriage wouldn’t change that.

  33. @NoHumpy:
    >If homosexual sex is acceptable,
    >then incest is acceptable

    Despite the fact that I’m not sure you are making a discernible difference between homosexual MARRIAGE and incestuous SEX, the underlying issue that needs to be addressed here is not marriage or sex, but the consequences thereof.

    No matter how much they try, a homosexual couple are not going to produce offspring (and quite frankly, barring a homosexual incestuous relationship, what would be the concern if they could?).

    Just as with heterosexual couples there is great concern for them being able to produce healthy offspring (the classic example is Tay Sachs in Ashkenazi Jews, who undertake carrier screening to prevent passing on Tay Sachs to their children).

    Who in their right mind would wish to inflict pain and suffering on a child?

    If you could prove or guarantee that no incestuous couple would (or could) have a viable child, then your ’cause’ may have its advocates. Now, as we know (it’s very well documented), most consensual incestuous relationships are in fact born of socially and emotionally restrictive circumstances (and let’s not forget the consensual ones are in the minority), so immediately the concern is that we are not dealing with high functioning social humans. This cannot be said of the majority of homosexual relationships.

    Given adequate social interaction (not applicable to Adam and Eve, so if your belief system is such that you acknowledge their existence, presumable you are in favor of incest anyway) I can’t see why incest need be a concern – we certainly do not need to campaign on its behalf for legal (or sexual) ratification.

    This reminds me of the creationist claim that they must have equal time and opportunity to put across their doctrine. They are the alternative, so exposure to either side must be split 50-50.

    To follow your logic we should be equally vocal for the reduction of the age of consent.

  34. Oh! Another Emily. That was strange: my comment on another thread showed up in the “recent comments” box, then I notice that I had apparently commented here at the same time! But, no, there is two of us. Hello there.

    Perhaps one of us should change our moniker? Or add in an initial? 🙂

  35. Hi Emily,
    Well emilycurious is my email so I can use that…

  36. So, I read most of the discussion. I was curious about this facet of marriage and the homosexual vs. incest comparison. I was taught growing up (though what we learn as children can hardly be known to be fact, but lets lay that aside for now) that marriage is ultimately about a partnership for the rearing of children. I know that many gay couples adopt and raise well-adjusted children successfully. However, and I’d have to consult very many psychologists/sociologists here (specifically those studying the family unit) on whether or not an incestuous couple are well suited to this endeavour.

  37. Paul, my comments so far have been primarily based on what I’ve heard (non-academically) that indicates that incest is most likely to occur in the presence of a troubled upbringing. Since making those comments, I’ve found that the Wikipedia article on incest references a few actual cases on the subject (and not surprisingly these are rare). And, those involved do have somewhat atypical upbringings, but their offspring are not exactly unloved or uncared for. As rare as these cases are, it is no surprise that the laws they are up against, which were written long ago, seem poorly suited to the situation. But yes, this does seem to contrast markedly with what is involved for gay couples.

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