Wednesday, November 10, 2004

On gay rights, relationships and marriage 

Colin Goh (of TalkingCock.com) muses over some of the social issues in the recent US elections in his latest column in The Edge Singapore. Excerpt:

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that the US has its first religious fundamentalist president and, by definition, fundamentalists are dogmatic. And nowhere is this played out more bitterly than in the arguments over abortion and homosexuality — which the religious right regard as non-negotiable.

Abortion is extremely complicated, since it turns on the difficult notion of when something can be considered “alive”. It seems to me, however, that a reasonable compromise can be reached over homosexuality because gays clearly exist, are clearly human, and should therefore be accorded rights like everyone else...

I believe marriage is a fine institution...insofar as it’s an affirmation of commitment, love and support. But why should such an affirmation between heterosexuals attract so many legal advantages over other relationships involving commitment, love and support, like say, between siblings, children and parents or really, really good friends? The fact is, marriage confers all sorts of automatic benefits, including presumptions under intestacy, guardianship preferences in the event of incapacity, decision-making rights in medical cases, certain home-ownership benefits and the ability to sue in the event of one’s partner’s injury or death.

It’s these rights and legal protections that the vast majority of gays in the US are really fighting for when they’re arguing for gay marriage. And why shouldn’t they get it?...

If you ask me, the basket of rights should not only be brought into parity, but civil unions should go further — these rights and protections should be extended to everyone who wishes to declare a committed relationship, whether with siblings, parents, children, cousins, best friends or heck, pets, for all I care...
Since most people are actually involved in overlapping relationships, I’m not sure how this proposal would work out in practice.

In any case, I have always thought that heterosexual marriage is accorded a privileged status in societies because it provides the framework for families to raise children, and it is procreation that society is actually promoting with that privilege. I am not aware of any homosexual union that has produced children — at least not among humans.


If your reasoning is followed, does that mean that childless or infertile hetero couples should be denied the same rights that hetero couples with children have?

Or how about hetero couples who choose not to have children?

Conversely, it does not necessarily follow that a homosexual couple would not be able to have children.

Starting from an example of a lesbian couple. Surely sperm banks can provide the sperm required for lesbian couples to conceive. True, the child may not be biologically related to ONE of the parents, but then again, adopted children don't have the genes of EITHER parent, isn't it?

Furthermore, with a lesbian couple, BOTH parents can conceive, lending to the possibility of having many children, but each being biologically related to either one of the mothers.

Alternatively some lesbian couples choose to be artificially inseminated by someone they know and trust. That lends itself to the possibility of the children having both mothers and fathers, just that the mothers aren't married to the fathers.

On this note, I'm sure you realise now that gay couples can have children too. Given that hetero couples are using surrogate mothers to conceive their babies where the mother suffers from an inability to conceive, surely gay couples can do the same?

And if you combine the need of lesbian couples for sperm, and the gay couples need for donor eggs, you realise that there can be a very convenient arrangement where lesbian couples can have donor sperm from gay couples, and the children will have both mothers and fathers, just that the mothers are married to each other and likewise for the fathers.

All in all, the problem only exists when one does not have a creative solution.


You’re right, of course, in saying that homosexual couples can have children. By the same argument, laboratories can produce children too. The issue is whether that’s what society wants to promote.


I think when it comes to issues to do with an individual's body, that is none of society's business.

If a lab wants to produce children, the question is, why is that wrong? The "wrongness" should be identified first.

Compare that with 2 individuals who wish to have children. Why should society have a say? The onus is on "society" to prove why it should be allowed to interfere in the lives of 2 individuals who have children, rather than not.

Besides, your rationale still cannot adequately explain the role of childless hetero couples.


If an individual’s body is none of society's business, then society should not bother protecting that body from murderers, rapists, and so on.

Laws, by their very nature, tend to be intrusive. That’s why we need to determine where to draw the line.

You ask: When 2 individuals wish to have children, why should society have a say?

I agree. This was precisely the point of the original post: When 2 homosexuals wish to come together, why should society bother extending marital privileges to them?

The same would apply — and probably to a greater extent — with the idea of labs producing children (not to mention that you also get the problem of what happens to the children after being produced).

Of course, this begs the next question: When 2 heterosexuals wish to come together, why should society bother extending marital privileges to them in the first place?

It is my understanding that the privileges were accorded to married heterosexual couples because of their role in producing and raising children. It is not necessarily my recommendation.

Having said that, all societies must determine what they want to promote and implement policies and laws to that effect. The natural alternative to having such policies and laws is anarchy.

Then again, some people would ask: What’s wrong with anarchy. The simple answer would be that people cannot maximise utility under anarchy.

But I think the topic deserves a fuller discussion if it is to be discussed at all, and leave it for another time and place. One question leads to another and this can go on forever.

You also asked about the role of childless heterosexual couples. I think the law would find it difficult in practice to ascertain whether the couple is childless by choice or by nature, and whether temporarily or permanently. I would imagine that that would make it difficult to discriminate against them relative to couples with children.

Laws have to be practicable too.

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