My friend and cousin, Rob Blair, posted this thoughtful rebuttal of my article on Facebook. I repost here with his permission, my response to follow soon. Thank you, Rob!
The “equality of discernment” argument is not one made by any who espouse equality as a political or philosophical value. It is, in my experience, exclusively a straw-man argument, popularized by Ayn Rand.
To say that the race justification of slavery was a secondary evil is problematic. It is that institutionalization that caused continued damage and disadvantage to members of that race. Further, debating which was more evil (the terrible treatment or the way it narrativized an entire race of people in a way that would continue to be destructive to that race in the centuries to come) is rather besides the point. There is no reason we need to choose which one is more important; they are both fundamentally wrong and both deserve attention, consideration, and resolution.
I don’t agree with your premise that equality is not an end to itself. However, let’s assume that I do follow you to the point where we agree that unequal things deserve unequal treatment. Your next argument, then, becomes that gay marriage shouldn’t be treated equally because gay marriage is not the same as hetero marriage. The only conclusion, of course, is that you (with your opinion stated earlier) believe it to be inferior.
But inferior to what, and in what quality? If unequal privilege, recognition, acknowledgment, and acceptance are to be given, then certainly the burden of proof should be on those who think that lesser treatment should be given. Is it because gay couples don’t love each other as much? Of course not. Is it because they can’t effectively raise a family? That’s been refuted dozens of times, and even if true, would mean that—for moral consistency—the protections of marriage should also be forbidden to single parents, those who choose not to have children, and a number of other cases where parenting and family life are not central to the marriage.
Is gay marriage inferior because there is something sacrosanct about hetero marriage? Some certainly believe so, but it is a religious belief, and imposing a religious belief onto a legal system is something that—I think we can agree without further argument—we simply shouldn’t do. (That can be a hard choice to accept when it’s our religious beliefs that must be left out, but easy enough when we’re leaving out the beliefs of, say, Middle-Eastern countries that hold religious beliefs that women shouldn’t be educated.) As an addendum, of *course* religions should retain the right to marry or not marry as they see fit; we’re discussing the legal aspect, not the religious one.
Is gay marriage inferior because gay relationships are somehow inferior, and thus deserve less by way of legal protection, tax breaks, and partner rights? I have never seen a substantive case presented that demonstrates this in any way.
Or is gay marriage inferior because it’s abnormal? Contradicts an established status quo? Makes many hetero people uncomfortable? Makes it hard for the bulk of us who fall somewhere other than “100% straight” on the kinsey scale, since it calls our own (often brutal) self-repression into question? If this is how we’re defining “inferior,” then I’d say the issue is not with gay relationships but with the totally understandable and rational but nevertheless deeply prejudiced fear of change.
A final note on equality as a value. Equality is never the end: It’s the beginning. While there are a variety of political philosophies with radically different views, the majority of people I know who value equality value it as the starting point.
To give someone less money, education, psychological well-being, opportunity, nutrition, etc., is wrong not only because it hurts the individual but because it hurts the society. The individual who is so disadvantaged is unable to bring all their own gifts to fruition. Whether we try to reward people in an egalitarian manner (most argue for awarding people for their time or tasks completed, not just a flat salary, so there’s still the possibility for growth) or a meritocratic manner (as some argue we have in a market system; there are various other proposed meritocratic systems), giving people equal footing at the beginning is vital for allowing them to become fully actualized. This helps the individual, but it also helps everyone else. I believe it to be the superior moral path, but I also believe it to be the most practical one.
This is no less true for an often overlooked advantage: standing. Social standing is complicated to discuss, because some degree of unequal standing is inevitable. If one’s father is successful, for example, that will bring extra standing—and so advantage the children unfairly. It’s complicated to say how this would be changed, or even if the benefits of encouraging parents to excel so their children have these advantages may indeed be worth the cost.
There is some degree of unequal standing that we can and should change, however. When we are seen as lesser because of *who we are* or *where we come from*, that is wrong. It is wrong because it makes us unequal, but also wrong because being seen as inferior limits our opportunities, imposes emotional strain, changes the narratives we tell about ourselves, and prevents us from offering all we can to the world.
Whether it’s a matter of race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, or dozens of other elements of identity, inequality is wrong. It is wrong because different is not the same as inferior. It is wrong because everyone deserves the same opportunities, regardless of where they come from or what’s in their genetic code.
It may be uncomfortable to accept those with wildly different narratives of the world. It’s hard to accept someone whose notion of marriage, sexual identity, or cultural values are fundamentally different than your own. It requires, I believe, a level of abstract thinking, because our emotional system sees “different” as “threatening.” We have to insist on setting aside our emotional experience and instead choosing to recognize the conclusions of our rational minds that tell us that all people, regardless of the differences in their heritage or genetics, deserve the same advantages we ourselves receive.
[End of Rob’s post]