History Repeats Itself


Benjamin Franklin was against smallpox vaccination — until his own unvaccinated son died of smallpox, whereupon Franklin changed sides and began urging other parents to vaccinate their children.

This has always struck me as a bit of a black mark against Franklin’s rationality. He’d always known that smallpox kills; he’d always known that vaccinations (at least in the early 18th century) could also kill. As a parent, he’d weighed one risk against the other and used his best judgment about where to place his bets. In a world where smallpox deaths were commonplace, his own son’s death was just one more virtually insignificant data point. Could inoculation have been an unacceptable risk against a disease that killed 100,000 people a year, but a prudent precaution against a disease that killed 100,001?

That’s how I feel, too, about Senator Rob Portman’s turnabout on the issue of gay marriage after learning that his son is gay. Portman is being widely pilloried for acting in the interest of his own gay child without ever having shown much concern for anyone else’s gay children. But that, I think, is not quite right. I’m willing to give Portman credit for having struggled with this issue, for recognizing all along that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) imposes costs on gay Americans, and for recognizing all along that those costs are to be regretted. It’s just that he thought the costs were outweighed by various benefits.

I happen to think Portman was wrong about most of those benefits, but I’m not here to argue about that. The pros and cons of legalized gay marriage have been so widely discussed that I doubt there’s anything new or surprising to say about them, which means they’re not good fodder for The Big Questions. What I am here to argue is that even if we grant that Portman is trying hard to do the right thing on an issue he finds more vexing than I do, it makes absolutely no sense for him to reverse course on the basis of a single virtually insignificant data point. He knew all along that DOMA is bad for, say, two million of gay people, but thought that the bad was outweighed by some offsetting good. Was one additional gay person enough to flip that inequality?

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56 Responses to “History Repeats Itself”


  1. 1 1 Bennett Haselton

    There is at least one plausible model in which Portman was acting rationally for the good of the country as he best saw it.

    Perhaps previously he had estimated the emotional costs of anti-gay legislation, to the parents of gay children, to be low. (Very charitably, we could assume this was his best estimate based on bad information that he had at the time.)

    Now that he knows personally what the emotional cost feels like to him, he assumes that the emotional cost to the parents of other gay children is about the same on average, and so revises his cost-benefit analysis.

    Ben Franklin, on the other hand, has no such similar excuse, because the knowledge he obtained (about the emotional cost of losing a child) should have weighed equally on both sides of the equation (vaccinating vs. not vaccinating).

  2. 2 2 Chris Lawnsby

    I agree with Bennett. My guess is that Portman hadn’t thought too carefully about the costs of the DOMA before his son came out as gay.

    It’s similar (with obvious important differences) to a diamond-collector who watches a documentary on Sierra Leone and decides to stop buying diamonds.

    Another example: After I was diagnosed with diabetes, my parents started donating to JDRF. That isn’t really rational, given that diabetes was a huge problem before I was diagnosed, so my diagnoses shouldn’t change their charitable donations. It makes sense though, that after seeing the effects of something on someone you love, you care more about it.

    Let me note that I don’t disagree with you Steven, that Portman and Franklin’s reasoning is bad– it’s just that I think their logic is basically how most humans think.

  3. 3 3 suckmydictum

    @1 If he were already in the business of assuming “that the emotional cost to the parents of other gay children is about the same on average” then I would humbly posit that he would not have assumed for so long that his personal wisdom on this subject was particularly compelling.

  4. 4 4 Ken B

    I believe there was a certain economist, well known for his cormfortable seating arrangements, who was once skeptical of marriage yet is now married.

    People aren’t perfectly rational, and emotions follow their own laws. These examples are responses largely governed by emotion and sudden insights. That’s why appeals to emotion and rhetoric work.

    Franklin might have been swayed by the effect of realizing for instance that he could have acted and did not, or Portman that he could have been closer to his son and was not: of all the words of tongue and pen … Maybe not rational, but it’s how people actually work.

  5. 5 5 neil wilson

    I find it amazing that people like Senator Portman or Benjamin Franklin get concerned about something only when it personally affects them.

    The liberals are having a field day on this because they think that Senator Portman, and conservatives, show they don’t care about things that don’t directly affect them. Of course, to a large extent that is true.

    However, the shoe is often on the other foot. Liberals are often in favor of things like the Endangered Species Act and EPA limits on pollution. This is true until they find out that the law actually hurts them. I know someone who bought some vacant land and wanted to drain part of a swamp and was prevented from doing anything to hurt the habitat of a worm that lived on the border of the swamp. All of a sudden the Endangered Species Act is the worst form or tyranny.

    It isn’t an easy lesson to learn but we all really should look at the good and the bad that result from virtually every law.

  6. 6 6 Ken

    Isn’t this just another reason to reduce government? The essential problem is that government over stepped its bounds defining marriage and treating married and unmarried people differently. The correct course of action is not to change the gov definition of marriage, but to get gov completely out of the marriage business.

  7. 7 7 Ken B

    neil wilson:”I find it amazing that people like Senator Portman or Benjamin Franklin get concerned about something only when it personally affects them.”

    I on the other hand find it amazing that anyone can be amazed at such things. Do you never have sudden insights, sudden changes of mind, or have something happen that changes your perspective?

  8. 8 8 iceman

    A very cynical take – as politicians they calculate that it simply looks too heartless to most people not to change their position, while perhaps they hope even the hard core will have enough of a heart to cut them some slack.

    Less cynically, perhaps the utility they derive from maintaining good familial relationships actually enters the equation as well.

    Ken #6 – I think maybe we’re supposed to avoid the policy here but yes better to first have the govt not subsidize heterosexual marriage.

  9. 9 9 blink

    Certainly one data point should not sway anyone. Observing some special data points, however, motivates us to investigate further. We ruminate or collect many more data points and, on the basis of this considerably larger data set, a large change in belief is reasonable.

    This explanation works better for weakly held beliefs, and even then the investigation phase will often “confirm” the initial position or lead to revision in the opposite direction.

    For a positive spin: At least our emotions give us *some* occasions for testing our beliefs.

  10. 10 10 Dave

    Members of both parties stick to their core principles.

    Unless it personally affects them.

  11. 11 11 Trevor

    It is not one data point that is changing Portman’s mind, it is rethinking what the costs and benefits are, not just adding a data point to the calculation.

    It is very easy to come up with stories like this. Imagine Portman believed that a cost of DOMA was that it stopped gay people from marrying the people they love. But he considered this to be a fairly small cost to these people. But when he thinks about his son not being able to marry, it seems like a much greater cost than it did before. Say double the cost. So it’s not cost * (2*10^6 + 1), it’s cost * 2 * (10^6 + 1)

    Or perhaps he thought that gay relationships are immoral, so preventing gay marriage was preventing the normalization of immoral acts, which would be a benefit. But now, maybe, he either no longer believes that gay relationships are immoral, or believes they are less immoral than he did previously. So this could make a massive difference in his calculation of the benefits of DOMA.

    Or more generally, imagine he thinks the average cost to a gay person of DOMA is x. But he calculates the cost to his son of DOMA to be 2x. Surely this should make him revise his estimate of the average cost per gay person upwards, if he wants to be a good Bayesian, at least assuming he believes his son to be affected by DOMA in a fairly typical way. Even if the adjustment is only from x to 1.1 * x, that’s a much bigger difference than just adding 1 to # of gay people.

  12. 12 12 Pat T

    Of course the odds of that one person are highly unlikely to flip that inequality. Which is why people think it’s much more likely that people think he’s just trying to maintain a good relationship with his son.

  13. 13 13 Roger

    Sudden instight? Are you guys kidding?

    The simplest explanation is political opportunism. Until recently, supporting same-sex marriage was regarded as a political loser. Now it is considered a plus. Just look at Obama, Clinton, and all the others who have recently switched on this issue. They did not have sudden insights. They listened to political advisers and pollsters.

  14. 14 14 Daniel

    roger,

    I think Rush Limbaugh is right on this issue, in that while it might be a political advantage overall, it is not yet a political advantage for Republicans in their primary system, so Rob Portman is still taking significant political risk by coming out for gay marriage.

  15. 15 15 Martin-2

    @Bennett Haselton (1): That’s a plausible interpretation but I wouldn’t call it a charitable one. Saying he’s just a poor aggregator of information still doesn’t make me comfortable with him being in a position of power.

    Roger (13): Political opportunism is always a possibility, but Portman is much farther to the right than Clinton or Obama and so doesn’t fit the pattern. I’ll find that explanation much more compelling if other conservatives follow suit.

  16. 16 16 Gordon / Brooks

    Steve,

    It’s quite possible that you are operating under an invalid implicit premise — that Portman’s position and his stated rationale — was sincere both then and now. Thus the change seems irrational to you.

    Don’t you think it’s quite possible that he has taken his position insincerely — then, now, or both — based on personal political calculus rather than sincere conviction, and that either his political calculus has changed such that it is now more advantageous for him to flip (because of the increased/increasing support for marriage equality and/or because he might look heartless to some voters if they know he has a gay son and still opposed marriage equality), or because the personal cost to him of opposing marriage equality (the harm to his relationship with his son) now outweighed the current (probably at least diminished) level of political cost to him?

    As a note, he says he has known that his son is gay for two years, yet apparently he waited until after his chance at a VP spot (or other prominent post in a Romney administration) was gone to change his position.

    So in a nutshell, his flip may very well be entirely a reflection of changing personal political calculus and/or changing overall personal cost/benefit, and thus may be perfectly rational, as opposed to an irrational change of conviction or sincere conclusion re: what is right or good for the nation, etc.

  17. 17 17 Roger

    Daniel, Martin-2: Some politicians are leaders, and some are followers. Maybe Portman wants to be perceived as a leader.

  18. 18 18 nobody.really

    1. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle speaks of three techniques of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos means an appeal to logic and reasoning. Ethos means an appeal based on the speaker’s character. Pathos means an appeal based on emotion.

    I read Landsburg to challenge us to identify some logical/rational basis (Logos) for Portman’s change of view. I throw in the towel on that one.

    2. On pathos: As I recall, Aristotle argued that we stir people’s emotions by speaking to their self-interest – either directly or by proxy. That is, Aristotle argued that there is no emotional appeal to altruism. There is just an emotional appeal to self-interest – projected onto others. If I don’t identify with you, I can’t care about you. Caring about you = identifying with you to some extent. There is no love of other; there is only love of self – displaced.

    I find Aristotle’s framework disturbing. But not necessarily wrong. Perhaps this really reflects the psychological mechanism by which altruism works.

    Thus, Portman may have rejected the concerns of homosexuals because he simply did not identify with homosexuals. Once his son declared himself to be gay, Portman found that he could identify with homosexuals. His eyes/heart were opened.

    3. How persuasive is Logos vs. Ethos or Pathos?

    Somewhere I read that Logos had very little effect on people changing their views regarding same-sex marriage. People on phone banks would rehearse sophisticated arguments to rebut any argument that a person would toss their way. But mostly they’d get the argument, “The Bible sez/My preacher said to oppose it.”

    Changes come from people who discover members of their identity group (e.g., family) are gay, or who develop an affinity for someone who, later on, favors same-sex marriage. It’s about the pathos and the ethos, not the logos.

    Going a bit further off topic, I sense this insight is an especially bitter pill for econ profs to swallow. The profs I enjoyed the most clearly took delight in showing how econ theory supported conclusions that conflicted with popular views/culture. This is a very Logo-centric style of teaching. It went over best when offered by profs who also established a good rapport with students, helping them to treat these lessons as fun and exciting, rather than an occasion for defensiveness. In other words, a spoonful of Ethos helps the Logos go down….

  19. 19 19 Roger McKinney

    I think we should accept that Portman had a sincere change in his politics based on his personal experience, but that demonstrates what is wrong with politics: politics should be about clear and general principles so that everyone knows what to expect and can plan accordingly.

    With his decision Portman demonstrates the worst kind of politics based on personal preferences that can change dramatically based on personal experience. That is not the rule of law based on principle, but the rule by whim.

    The liberty position should be that every person has the right to define marriage as he sees fit. The state should have no say in it and should neither reward no punish marriage.

  20. 20 20 Patrick R. Sullivan

    Not being able to read minds I have little confidence as to why Portman did what he did. However, as some friends of mine say, when unlike things are treated as if they were like, error is (almost) assured.

    So, do we know that, gay marriage + (legality) = heterosexual marriage? I’d be very surprised if that turns out to be true.

  21. 21 21 Al V.

    Re. #20, I remember a story from Canada a few years ago. Canada legalized same sex marriage in 2004. There was an expected rush of marriages. Then, two years later, one of the lesbian couples that had been one of the first to marry had a falling out. However, they discovered they had a problem. While Canada had legalized gay marriage, it had not legalized gay divorce.

  22. 22 22 Roger

    For comparison, here is today’s AP stories on another politician:

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her support for gay marriage Monday, putting her in line with other potential Democratic presidential candidates on a social issue that is rapidly gaining public approval. …

    Clinton’s announcement is certain to further fuel the already rampant speculation that she is considering another run for president in 2016. …

    Polls show that public opinion on gay marriage has shifted perhaps more rapidly than on any other major issue in recent times. …

    ‘‘The president believes that anytime a public official of stature steps forward to embrace a commitment that he shares to equality, he thinks it’s a good thing,’’ said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/2013/03/18/hillary-clinton-announces-support-for-gay-marriage/3tTz1QLy64h0R6ThXTC29I/story.html

    Hillary Rodham Clinton’s embrace of gay marriage Monday signals she may be seriously weighing a 2016 presidential run and trying to avoid the type of late-to-the-party caution that hurt her first bid. …

    But things could be vastly different in the November 2016 general election, regardless who wins the Democratic nomination. That nominee is virtually certain to support same-sex marriage, whereas there’s a strong possibility the Republican nominee will not.

    That could be a problem for the GOP nominee if same-sex marriage becomes a prominent issue. A poll released Monday shows a dramatic shift in attitudes about legalizing gay marriage, with 58 percent of Americans now supporting it.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/clintons-embrace-of-gay-marriage-joins-other-dems-for-2016-but-issue-remains-divisive-in-gop/2013/03/18/beb05c94-9012-11e2-9173-7f87cda73b49_story.html

  23. 23 23 Al V.

    Disregarding nobody.really’s excellent point, it seems that allowing marriage has both a cost and a benefit. Presumably, if Portman supported heterosexual marriage, he believed that Benefit(HSM) > Cost(HSM). At the same time, he also believed that Benefit(SSM) Cost(SSM). This doesn’t tell us whether the Benefit has increased, or the Cost has decreased, or both. We also don’t know if, in his view Benefit(SSM) = Benefit(HSM) and Cost(SSM) = Benefit (HSM). It is quite likely that his view still doesn’t equate SSM to HSM.

  24. 24 24 GabbyD

    “He knew all along that DOMA is bad for, say, two million of gay people,”

    how do you know that he knew all along…

    did he say that at some point before?

  25. 25 25 Steve Landsburg

    GabbyD: I take it as obvious that it’s bad to have one’s opportunities restricted.

  26. 26 26 BenK

    I think you are looking at this from the wrong perspective and I believe we are soon to see a lot of politicians changing their views on DOMA. Politicians lie. I don’t believe his son being gay changed his mind in any way. I believe the changing views of his constituents and his party changed Mr. Portman’s mind, like @Roger said.

    Now you may say I am being over utilitarian, but I believe that we must not ridicule these fly-by-the-wind politicians (there will be many more) because despite whatever reason they give to us for their change of mind, at least their mind is changed. First gay marriage, next immigration, and then maybe crony capitalism, etc. If we really want these politicians to make some changes, we need to allow them to justify their stupidity in any way they see fit.

  27. 27 27 Harold

    #18: “Somewhere I read that Logos had very little effect on people changing their views regarding same-sex marriage”
    Not just same sex marriage. The capacity for people to disregard evidence that contradicts their view is quite astounding. Having something personal happen may make it easier to actually look properly at the issue.

    I agree with Steve, it is a lamentable quality in humans, and very widespread.

  28. 28 28 iceman

    Anyone else find that seeing a picture of Portman makes this whole story seem a little less surprising? Not sure what I’m sayin’, just sayin’.

    Harold – I agree that would be a regrettable quality in elected leaders, since we have a right to expect them to think harder about their positions on these issues.
    But as Steve has written, it’s just a fact that most people don’t think that hard about their views on most things. Whether that’s due to a lack of time or inclination, I consider it an extension of rational ignorance and for my part I wouldn’t waste much time “lamenting” it. (I do however view rational ignorance as a powerful reason to limit the scope of the decisions made via the political channel.)
    Incorporating contrary “evidence” involves time and effort too. The idea that people actually do think harder about something when it hits closer to home doesn’t seem to make things worse (I think you’re agreeing with that?). I’d worry more if/where people react by actually hardening their existing views or getting ‘dangerously defensive’.

  29. 29 29 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘I take it as obvious that it’s bad to have one’s opportunities restricted.’

    Well, everyone’s opportunities ARE restricted, since resources are scarce. But, how are Sen. Portman’s son’s opportunities restricted by government declining to declare that gay marriage is the same thing as traditional marriage? He can marry if he can find a woman willing to agree.

  30. 30 30 Daniel

    Patrick,

    “Well, everyone’s opportunities ARE restricted, since resources are scarce. But, how are Sen. Portman’s son’s opportunities restricted by government declining to declare that gay marriage is the same thing as traditional marriage? He can marry if he can find a woman willing to agree.”

    Maybe I’m not getting your sarcasm through text which I hope you are being.

    Umm, let’s see, not getting to financially take care of the person you are in love with and are sexually attracted to seems like a restriction of opportunities to me. Straight people can do this, and gay people can not. Let’s flip things around, you’re a straight person in a world where 90% of the world is gay. Heterosexual sex is only used for procreation. Does government telling you that you can’t legally marry someone of the opposite sex seem like they’re taking away your opportunities? And what the heck does “traditional marriage” mean? Seems like humans have had all sorts of arrangements throughout history for procreation and relationships. Who has determined that one man and one woman are the optimal setup?

  31. 31 31 Daniel

    Patrick,

    “So, do we know that, gay marriage + (legality) = heterosexual marriage? I’d be very surprised if that turns out to be true.”

    Do we know that marijuana + (legality) = tobacco. How does that have anything to do with whether or not marijuana should be legal? Who cares if something is different, we should be weighing costs and benefits, not seeing if it’ll be the same as something else. That said, I see substantial differences between marijuana and tobacco, but only genital differences between gay marriage and straight marriage.

  32. 32 32 Al V.

    @BenK 26, I think you are correct. Recently, a large group of Republican pundits and ex-politicians signed a brief supporting the suit to overturn California’s Prop 8. What’s notable about the list is that only 2 of the 75 signatories were sitting politicians. I think it unlikely that retirement causes a vast change in Republican politicians’ points of view. Rather, I suspect that many sitting Republican politicians believe gay marriage should be legalized, but are afraid to publicly support it because their constituents oppose it.

  33. 33 33 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘Umm, let’s see, not getting to financially take care of the person you are in love with and are sexually attracted to seems like a restriction of opportunities to me. Straight people can do this, and gay people can not.’

    That is clearly false. No law I know of says gay people can’t ‘take care of the person you are in love with and are sexually attracted to’. Even if there was such a law, then you’d have an argument for repealing THAT LAW, but not an argument for ‘gay marriage’.

  34. 34 34 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘Who cares if something is different, we should be weighing costs and benefits, not seeing if it’ll be the same as something else.’

    First, the argument for ‘gay marriage’ is definitely that it is the same as traditional marriage. Even you make that argument; ‘…only genital differences between gay marriage and straight marriage.’

    Btw, you do realize that those ‘genital differences’ have rather different consequences for creation of children? That is, for the only valid reason for government to concern itself with the contracts between consenting adults.

    Second, okay, what are the costs and benefits of ‘gay marriage’ that couldn’t be accomplished in some simpler way?

  35. 35 35 iceman

    to follow on 34, I sincerely would like to understand what civil unions do not provide that marriage does, other than a tax break (which I think people do get to vote on since now you’re dealing with *other* people’s assets) and possibly greater social de-stigmatization?

  36. 36 36 Daniel

    Patrick R Sulivan,

    Heterosexual couples are afforded a number of tax breaks and advantages for taking care of the ones they are in love with and sexually attracted to. My point is that either no one should receive those advantages, or you are favoring one group arbitrarily over another, since straight couples get to receive tax benefits, health insurance advantages, and parental rights for adopted children for taking care of the one’s they love.

    “Btw, you do realize that those ‘genital differences’ have rather different consequences for creation of children? That is, for the only valid reason for government to concern itself with the contracts between consenting adults.”

    Seems to me that modern technology has afforded us quite a lot of latitude with respect to procreation. Lesbian couples can produce offspring through artificial insemination, and gay couples can hire surrogates. Also, there are many children in need of adoption and kids that remain in the foster system have very high long term costs for society. It seems to me by creating more stable relationships between gay and lesbian couples, who are more likely to adopt than straight couples who can produce on their own, we could lower the number of people that are in the foster system and it would create a benefit for society. I think no one denies that there are biological differences between gay marriage and straight marriage. I think people are referring to the basic nature of the relationships when they say things are the essentially the same. What other differences are you referring to?

    Iceman,

    IF you want to take that stance than the correct response would be to eliminate marriage as a legal form altogether, since married couples impose costs on the rest of society (although I think the benefits of these relationships more than make up for the cost), and just have civil unions all around? What would be the problem with that?

  37. 37 37 Daniel

    Iceman,

    Also if you think this should be left up to a vote to decide who receives tax benefits rather than doing away with it altogether, the argument that you just applied could be applied to any two people that wanted to get married. Should interracial couples right to marry be based on whether or not society has deemed it socially acceptable and thus is willing to okay it via referendum? How about people from different income classes? Should we take a vote on that as well?

  38. 38 38 Martin-2

    Roger warns us about taking Portman’s story as fact given that politicians face alien incentives, so now I wonder if he was really against gay marriage in the first place.

  39. 39 39 iceman

    Daniel – rather than take a stance I was asking a question, one for which I find it very difficult to get a direct answer (you didn’t provide one either).

    For the record, 1) I can easily believe there are reasons to have legal institutions that recognize committed relationships — e.g. there’s no question to me that people have the right to bequeath their *own* assets to whomever they choose, share health care directives etc. 2) I personally prefer that the tax code not be used to subsidize certain types of relationships (I believe I said that earlier). What I was trying to say here is that IF we are going to grant tax breaks, this involves who is ‘entitled’ to *other* people’s assets, and while we create targeted subsidies all the time, I think *at a minimum* those are decisions “we” are supposed to have a vote on. The standard argument in this instance is that we want to encourage stable relationships for the benefit of child-raising. Personally I agree with you that today this takes different forms, so I would vote to support that. But I’d still like to know if that’s all I’m really voting for, incremental to civil unions.

  40. 40 40 Daniel

    Iceman,

    I think these kinds of stable relationships are less likely to happen with financial insecurity but that’s besides the point. What marriage provides are those tax breaks that allow for greater financial security. That’s the difference between marriage and civil unions as you had stated. Where I disagree is I don’t think “WE” the many should have a choice of delineating between which groups “The Few” get benefits. I do think “WE” should be able to decide whether or not we want this benefit applied across all groups equally.

    Often people will say, well you’re not giving equal rights to people who want to marry children or dogs. I think the difference here is that both parties are consenting adults.

  41. 41 41 Daniel

    Iceman,

    I sort of see marriage as a legal contract. “We” should be able to decide whether we want to subsidize this contract and even what kind of contracts are legal but we should not be able to pick the people that can enter into the contract as long as legal consent is given by the parties involved. Choosing what kinds of people can enter into contracts should only be allowed in cases where measurable and tangible negative externalities can be shown that are greater than the tangible benefits received by the parties entering the contract.

  42. 42 42 Daniel

    Iceman,

    As a last stipulation to the above, I would say that the negative externalities that can be used in the calculation of restricting who can enter into a contract, would have to apply only to cases of the people we are restricting and not to the people we are leaving unrestricted. So in the example here, you can say all you want that gay people getting married impose costs on the rest of society via tax advantages, but those same costs apply to allowing straight marriages the tax advantage. The many should have to show proof that this contract between the restricted individuals creates harm seperate from the harm that would occur under the same contract between unrestricted individuals. If they can’t than their distinction is arbitrary and the restricted parties rights are protected by the equal rights clause of the constitution.

  43. 43 43 Patrick R. Sullivan

    I agree with iceman that there haven’t been any real answers given to the question asked about marriage being the same as a civil union (or some other arrangement). I also find it amazing that libertarians are so eager to involve the government in other people’s sex lives when there really is no reason to do so for people who can’t create children on their own.

  44. 44 44 Daniel

    Patrick,

    Iceman answered his own question in the original post, the tax break is the difference. Read my proceeding posts off of what iceman said. No one’s answered my question yet of why we should have separate contracts with different stipulations for people based on what sex they choose to marry? I think libertarians would prefer the government not give preference to anyone for their choice to marry or not. Your last statement is still ignorant of the fact that at least lesbian couples can produce children on their own (via artificial insemination), and gay couples can produce children with the help of a surrogate. Are you saying the fact that they must engage in a financial transaction in order to have children does harm to society in some way? Why does it matter if both of them are the biological parents of their children? Since your the one who wants to put stipulations on who can enter into this particular contract, you’re the one that bares the burden of showing the harm done by allowing them to marry, and you still have shown no harm. You’ve just said

    “gay marriage + legality ~= straight marriage”

    Who cares, you haven’t shown any harm that is caused by their marriage as opposed to straight marriage. Until you can somehow show that the harm that they cause to others (greater than straight couples) outweighs the benefits to them and to society for being able to marry, your argument is arbitrary.

  45. 45 45 Daniel

    Patrick,

    Also by your logic, should sterile men or women be barred from marrying?

  46. 46 46 Daniel

    Iceman,

    Also look at this Gallup poll. Would it have been okay for black and white couples to have been told, “you can only have a civil union” because the majority of the country does not approve of your marriage. A white married couple can have a tax break, and a black married couple can have a tax break, but because the majority of Americans disapprove of your marriage you can not have a tax break?

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/117328/marriage.aspx

  47. 47 47 Floccina

    I wonder if his son wants to marry.

  48. 48 48 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘… the tax break is the difference.’

    And, if that is true, then you have an argument for repealing the tax break, not one for ‘gay marriage’. However, two words; marriage penalty.

    ‘Also by your logic, should sterile men or women be barred from marrying?’

    That isn’t my logic. That’s a strawman.

  49. 49 49 Patrick R. Sullivan

    These responses remind me of another debate years ago in which Deirdre McCloskey, confronted with a seemingly endless array of arguments irrelevant to the point at issue, said, ‘As near as I can figure, people like the theory, because…they like the theory.’

  50. 50 50 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘Your last statement is still ignorant of the fact that at least lesbian couples can produce children on their own (via artificial insemination)….’

    You don’t see a little inconsistency in that argument? Hint; ‘on their own’.

    Again, at best you’ve got an argument for reforming adoption laws, not one that argues for ‘gay marriage’.

    ‘Until you can somehow show that the harm that they cause to others (greater than straight couples) outweighs the benefits to them and to society for being able to marry, your argument is arbitrary.’

    No, it’s your argument that is arbitrary. What benefit is there to society from ‘gay marriage’ that couldn’t be accomplished by some other way than doing violence to logic by pretending that one thing is similar to another.

  51. 51 51 Daniel

    @ Patrick,

    “Marriage Penalty”

    Some married couples benefit and some married couples gain. Either way your still restricting their choice set, since they can’t choose for themselves which will be better.

    “‘Also by your logic, should sterile men or women be barred from marrying?’

    That isn’t my logic. That’s a strawman.”

    You stated “I also find it amazing that libertarians are so eager to involve the government in other people’s sex lives when there really is no reason to do so for people who can’t create children on their own.”

    Sterile men and women can’t create children on their own, how is this different than Gay men and women?

    The point is that if government is interested in procreation, gay men and women can still fulfill this role with the help of others. What material difference does it make if they have to engage in a financial transaction to do so? They bare the cost of this financial transaction, so why should the response by the government be different to them than to straight couples in terms of the legal contract that allows them to share responsibility for their children?

    “No, it’s your argument that is arbitrary. What benefit is there to society from ‘gay marriage’ that couldn’t be accomplished by some other way than doing violence to logic by pretending that one thing is similar to another.”

    You don’t have to have two exactly equivalent things to classify them in the same subset. Take the numbers 2 and 4, are we doing violence to logic to say that they’re both even numbers?

    Those who want to restrict other people’s choices based on characteristics need to show the harm in giving them unrestricted choices, not the other way around.

  52. 52 52 Daniel

    Patrick,

    To summarize, I think the only appropriate response to these issues is to 1. Either get rid of marriage as an institution all together, and just have civil unions all around, or 2.Extend Marriage to include any two consenting partners. If you think there’s a reason that gay couples and straight couples should have separate contracts you should state why and what the benefit to society is of having separate contracts.

  53. 53 53 Daniel

    @Patrick,

    Also, how many straight couples do you know that are having children on their own? Most of the straight couples I know get help from doctors, nurses, or midwives.

  54. 54 54 iceman

    Daniel – thanks for the ‘straight’ answer. Again it seems you and I would vote the same on this issue, but it’s not hard to imagine someone taking the position that the reason we have tax advantages for traditional marriage is because that has been the dominant form of child-raising (preferred to single parent that is), so the benefit is in encouraging that; and obviously there is a cost to extending it to anyone else. I don’t see that running afoul of equal protection considerations (unlike your other examples), but perhaps over time as technology and social norms change that comes into play as well.

  55. 55 55 Harold

    #46 -just looked at that poll – wow. It took until 1997 before a majority of people approved of marriage between whites and blacks. That is stunningly recent. 11% still disaprove.

  56. 56 56 Drew

    I generally think that people take positions based on rational self interest, and THEN they work on the business of making and expressing arguments for them (which is a _very_ different mental process). That view would be incredibly cynical if I thought that people were generally conscious of this process. But I know, at least in my own case, that they almost never are, and the best guess I can make to how other people’s minds work, from lots of experience with other people, is that they don’t either.

    Now, what “self-interest” IS is often really complicated: it’s not certainly pure gluttonous hedonism. Having a good relationship with your community, feeling like you are fitting in with their concerns, is one extremely powerful motivation. But having a good relationship with your son is also an incredibly important thing, almost to the point where it’s hard to even express how profoundly important it can be.

    If I discarded the hypothesis that people try to act for their own rational self-interest, the world would become a lot harder to understand: almost unintelligible. I’d rather discard the hypothesis that Portman was always trying to do the right thing. But honestly, I don’t think I have to discard either hypothesis.

    The world remains knowable and intelligible, and other human beings remain generally good and sincere, if, instead, we discard the hypothesis that human beings choose what positions to take based purely on logic and just understand that they do their best to make honest, sincere arguments for the positions they happen to sincerely hold, for whatever reason. Things like liberal scientific method does not depend on people being unbiased, but rather in lots of different, probably biased, arguments clashing and grinding and shaking out over time, logic and evidence winning the day only because it’s relatively a un-twistable constant. Looking at any one person, famous or not, and trying to evaluate them as either being logical AND sincere, or neither, is the wrong place to look.

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