Title: Ten bad arguments "against" glbt relationship equality Credit: Craig Young Comment Wednesday 1st September 2004 - 12:00pm1093996800 Article: 392 Rights
In this week's US Christianity Today magazine, Robert Benne and Gerald McDermott provided some questionable "rebuttals" of claims made to advance the cause of lesbian and gay relationship equality. Much dubious American fundamentalist Christian material finds its way to New Zealand, usually through the likes of Destiny Church and the Maxim organisation. But do they really stack up? One: Lesbian and gay relationship equality is a basic human right: According to Benne and McDermott, there are limitations of age, ability, citizenship and philosophy related to exclusion from other social institutions, for example, service within the armed forces. Yes, but how can sexual orientation be considered such in the context of relationship equality legislation? The onus is on opponents of lesbian and gay relationship equality to demonstrate that there are rational reasons for exclusion of same-sex couples. Two: Lesbian and gay relationship equality is a basic civil right. Sorry, their rebuttal of this won't work either. If it isn't a basic civil right, then how come thirty-eight countries have legislated for lesbian and gay relationship equality, along with provinces and states? In those jurisdictions, it was accepted that legislative discrimination served no rational end, and harmed same-sex couples. Three: Discriminatory anti-LGBT relationship equality laws are wrong. There is no rational reason to exclude LGBT couples from legislative recognition. There are ample judicial decisions that have incorporated social scientific and other professional data about the harms of denial of relationship recognition in the Canadian context, and Stacey and Biblarz cite a large number of substantive articles about same-sex parenting in their American Sociological Review paper on the subject. Remember, even the Maxim Institute acknowledged its benchmark status in its Care of Children Bill submission. Four: Relationship recognition laws have evolved over time. Benne and McDermott argue that heterosexual marriage is an historically universal institution. Wrong. According to Lawrence Stone and New Zealand's Stevan Eldred-Grigg, weddings relied on healthy financial status, so peasants and working-class couples cohabited instead. And sometimes, upper-class landowners didn't want their rural estate workers to get hitched during the nineteenth century. Five: What about church-state separation? Benne and McDermott complain that church-state separation shuts absolutist religions out of dictating morality to everyone else, on the basis that societies need a rigorous moral code. Yes and no. There are some areas of consensual moral agreement, while there are other areas of public policy that are up for debate because exclusion, discrimination and prohibition cause harm. Denial of lesbian and gay relationship recognition and same-sex parenting falls into this category. Denial of faith-state separation is harmful too, as it may foster religious persecution of worshippers of other faiths or philosophies, and is often linked to ethnic cleansing. What about the former Yugoslavia during the nineties? Six: Denial of the legal benefits of marriage is discriminatory: There are some difficulties related to this argument related to the fact the United States lags behind other jurisdictions in extending rights and responsibilities to cohabiting heterosexual couples as well as same-sex partnerships. Here, the New Zealand Christian Right isn't even bothering to properly fight the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill. For example, its Parliamentary Gazette pdf isn't on the Maxim Institute's anti-CUB website, unlike the Civil Union Bill. In effect, the Christian Right has conceded that the LGBT communities have a legitimate case in ending discriminatory relationship recognition laws. Seven: Relationship recognition won't affect heterosexuals: Here, Benne and McDermott argue that Kathleen Kiernan (London School of Economics, Demography) has demonstrated that LGBT registered partnerships have provided a "bad example" to heterosexual couples, who now cohabit, instead of engaging in wedded ceremonial and ritual recognition of their committed relationships. It should be noted that Kiernan may be a social conservative. I noticed that she'd written a volume for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a UK social conservative thinktank. However, if she isn't, Benne and McDermott have probably confused correlation with cause and effect. Just because something is lurking in the same area doesn't mean it neccessarily leads to another social phenomenon. In any case, Mary Badgett (Princeton University) noted that heterosexual cohabitation had been rising long before the Scandinavian registered partnership reforms of the late eighties, whereupon they peaked, and heterosexual marriage rates began to rise again. "Rebuttal" rebutted. Eight: Social science supports lesbian and gay relationship and parenting rights and responsibilities: Again, see Stacey and Biblarz. It should be noted that this couple of prominent liberal US family sociologists wrote an affidavit in support of Halpern v Attorney-General, one of Canada's same-sex marriage cases, in which they demolished the argument of Steven Nock, a demographer without any professional expertise in the fields of developmental psychology or pediatrics, whom Benne and McDermott cite. Similar objections can be made to Nagai and Lerner's purported 'rebuttal' of same-sex parenting, which may be why the Maxim Institute here isn't using it in their arguments against relationship equality and same-sex parenting. Nine: Heterosexuals experience childlessness and infertility, but no-one says they should be banned from parenting or marriage. In New Zealand, the Christian Right will probably mouth "common sense" populist platitudes and generalisations about the prevalence of marriage as a context for heterosexual parenting. However, the Maxim Institute has said it won't be pressing for repeal of LGBT access to reproductive technologies like IVF, which weakens its "case" against same-sex guardianship and adoption rights and responsibilities. To say nothing of the overwhelming social scientific data for the legitimacy and legal recognition of same-sex parenting... axe another "rebuttal." Ten: Heterosexual divorce and domestic violence disqualify them from acting as moral exemplars: I love it when the Christian Right falls into traps over this argument. In the case of Maggie Gallagher, she inadvertantly made a hash of the anti-equality "argument" from conservative Catholic versions of "natural law," which argues that just because something is commonplace and accepted, it should be accepted without critical analysis. In this case, Gallagher remarked that access to reproductive technologies meant that prospective lesbian and gay parents deliberated over the responsibilities of child rearing. Stacey and Biblarz note that yes, this does mean that quality of parent/child relationships are enhanced within lesbian and gay partnerships that have undergone assisted reproductive technology aid. There were supposed to be thirteen "arguments," but Benne and MacDermott then get their knickers in knots about 'homophobia' as a descriptive term and splutter about the importance of strong religious moral and ethical codes, 'natural law' arguments and other conservative Catholic and fundamentalist nostrums. In short, Benne and MacDermott advance no real "arguments" to oppose same-sex relationship recognition, equality and parenting. But we knew that already. Recommended Reading: Judith Stacey and Tim Biblarz "Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?" American Sociological Review 68:2 (April 2001): 159-183. Robert Benne and Gerald McDermott: "Thirteen Bad Arguments in Favour of Same-Sex Marriage" Christianity Today: 29 August 2004 Craig Young - 1st September 2004    
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