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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ellen DeGeneres Puts McCain in an Unlawful Stress Position

My wife tipped me off to this. I actually think DeGeneres (should I call her Ellen? I don't watch her show...) was really cool about this. In contrast, I believe Rosie O'Donnell was less than cool when she argued guns with Tom Selleck on her show. (Plus Selleck wasn't running for president.) What's really nice is that DeGeneres cracks a joke at the end to end McCain's misery.

I'm not really sure how I feel about the actual issue of gay marriage. In an ideal society there wouldn't be a government as we know it, and religious organizations could marry whomever they chose, while secular groups could have something analogous to getting married by a justice of the peace. Society wouldn't need to have a debate on it, just like society wouldn't have to decide whether 9-year-olds should be allowed in bars. (Of course "society" would decide in the loose sense in which society decides on the market price of a share of IBM.)

But that answer isn't really helpful for right now, and I don't really have an answer. All I can do is give my dad's favorite non-answer at a dinner party, "I feel strongly for both sides." It's like the prayer in school issue, or malodorous homeless guy in the public library issue. Both sides have very legitimate points, and with the government running things, there's no good answer.

12 comments:

  1. I have seen the show, you should call her lame and unfunny.

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  2. I appreciate the "I feel strongly for both sides" answer. It's also how I describe my position on prayer (and teaching ID) in public schools, and maybe even Affirmative Action.

    But I don't think gay marriage should be as difficult for libertarians as these other issues. Sure, allowing gays to marry may mean (indirectly) extending them protection of anti-discrimination laws, but like immigration and the welfare state, the focus should be on opposing the unjust part - anti-discrimination laws and welfare - and not on opposing the just part - gay marriage and immigration.

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  3. "or malodorous homeless guy in the public library issue"

    Leave me out of this!

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  4. Micha,

    I think you're not grasping my hesitancy to support government-sanctioned gay marriage. I don't completely reject as Neanderthal all of the right-wing lectures on God's purpose for marriage, etc.

    So of course, if private organizations want to "marry" two women, the government has no business outlawing this. But should they sell pornography at the Post Office? Should people be able to walk nude down the street?

    These are tough questions, and the problem is government ownership / control. (Since P.O. is technically a private company I think, but with a monopoly.)

    So the issue isn't whether people should be allowed to do certain things, but whether they should receive "official" sanction. And I'm saying I think it's more complicated than just, "These two people love each other."

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  5. Richardface,

    Are you talking about DeGeneres or O'Donnell? I mildly liked the former when she did stand-up, and I thought she was funny in Finding Nemo. I haven't watched her later stuff, and I assumed I would hate it, but she seemed very reasonable in the McCain clip.

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  6. Bob,

    I think even if you, as a Christian, believe that God's purpose for marriage doesn't extend to gay couples, it's hard to see why this should influence your view of what the government should do as a second best option.

    In a second best world where government does involve itself with the provision of marriage licenses, who cares (even from a Christian perspective) whether the government is sanctioning this marriage or that one? It doesn't mean you as a Christian are sanctioning it. How does it pick your pocket or break your leg if Adam and Steve get the government's seal of approval? Is there some Christian rule that Caesar must act in such a way as to sanction things from a Christian perspective?

    I mean, I've encountered the "sanctioning" argument from religious conservatives who oppose drug legalization on the grounds that legalizing drugs would mean the government is sending a message to people that drug use is okay. But why must the Christian take the view of the state as a role model?

    But should they sell pornography at the Post Office?

    Well, yes, it should, and in a sense it does, by freely delivering pornography. Just as government-run stores stationed on military bases should sell pornography. Doing so doesn't necessarily require all of us believing that consuming pornography is okay, as long as we don't view government as a role model.

    Should people be able to walk nude down the street?

    This to me is more like the prayer in school issue, where its not a question of government as role model, but the problem that a monopoly cannot satisfy all people. Further, a school teacher teaching prayer or sex-ed is much closer to being an actual role model than any of these other things implying a role model in a very abstract sense. It's impossible to avoid this sort of conflict in a monopoly system, just as its impossible to satisfy both nudists and non-nudists except with a system of private property. But it is possible to avoid the role-model conflicts in a monopoly system if we simply refuse to view the government as our role model.

    So the "official sanction" issue is bunk.

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  7. Micha,

    I don't see how you're so calmly jumping to, "Yes the Post Office should sell pornography."

    I'm not talking about delivering it, I'm talking about, if some lady is buying stamps with her 8-year-old, is he doing to see Hustler sitting next to the Express Mail envelope.

    And my point is, it's inadequate to try to deal with that issue by saying, "Well people have a right to sell products that customers want." The Post Office can't sell everything, and there's no principled reason for them to have to sell pornography.

    OK do you think the government should give marriage licenses to a guy and his sheep? Why not? What about a marriage between Mercury and the letter A? Surely that doesn't threaten you, you prude! So why not allow it, Benito?

    I hope you can see that things aren't as simple as your last comment made them seem. To me there is no obviously principled matter at stake--because we're not talking about whether the government should prohibit private organizations from "marrying" people--but instead we're arguing over how government officials should execute their daily business.

    And so if we're going to take into account the desire for inclusion among gay people--even though they should be just as happy to ignore the government as you tell me to do WRT my beliefs about morality--then why shouldn't we take into account the desire for traditional marriage among Christians or others?

    Again, the analogy to the drug war is wrong. If you wanted to use a drug war analogy, it would be: Should the DMV carry heroin? And the answer to that is arguably "Hell no!"

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  8. Bob,

    I think I misunderstand what you meant by the Post Office selling pornography, since there is in fact a real-world controversy regarding military bases selling pornography.

    I don't think your hypothetical poses a huge problem for libertarians. First, because in this particular case, the government isn't a monopoly retailer (as it is on military bases); there are other retailers available from which to purchase pornography. Second, even if it was, there are ways of selling pornography without exposing those who don't wish to be exposed to it (put it in a back room with lots of warning signs).

    OK do you think the government should give marriage licenses to a guy and his sheep? Why not? What about a marriage between Mercury and the letter A?

    Well, two questions immediately arise: Are these legal relationships in the first place? If not, one cannot contract into them. Second, are both parties able to legally consent to a contract? If not, the point is moot. This has nothing to do with people's moral sensibilities, at least not directly (the underlying questions might be related to moral sensibilities). But all marriage advocates are saying here are those who are legally capable of giving contractual consent should be free to contractually enter into legal relationships.

    I hope you can see that things aren't as simple as your last comment made them seem.

    The examples you gave seem pretty simple to me.

    And so if we're going to take into account the desire for inclusion among gay people--even though they should be just as happy to ignore the government as you tell me to do WRT my beliefs about morality--then why shouldn't we take into account the desire for traditional marriage among Christians or others?

    It's not just a matter of ignoring the "role-model" effect of government; gay people are being actively excluded from the very real financial and legal benefits associated with marriage. Christians are not deprived of access to traditional marriage if gay people are allowed to marry, except insofar as they take into account the "role-model" effect, which I've already argued is bunk.


    Again, the analogy to the drug war is wrong. If you wanted to use a drug war analogy, it would be: Should the DMV carry heroin? And the answer to that is arguably "Hell no!"


    But if the government claimed a monopoly on retail grocery outlets, as it does in the marriage business, then the answer to whether it should sell alcohol or cigarettes (or heroin if it was legal) is "hell yes!". It's one thing to claim a monopoly over something. But its additional chutzpah to use that monopoly to effectively eliminate access to the product on discriminatory grounds.

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  9. [G]ay people are being actively excluded from the very real financial and legal benefits associated with marriage.

    Oh, hang on, we're talking about different things now. McCain specifically said he thought there should be civil unions or whatever for tax purposes, and DeGeneres said no, that's not good enough, she still feels like a second-class citizen and she wants the government to stop pretending her union with her partner is any less legitimate than between a man and a woman.

    So that's what I've been talking about this whole time. Obviously if you are basically having a higher fraction of your income taxed because you're gay, then that s*cks from a libertarian perspective.

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  10. Well, if there is no functional difference between calling it gay marriage or civil unions, why would you as a libertarian Christian care if the government calls it marriage?

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