Why Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal

The NZ Herald has published an article about the result of an unscientific internet poll on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalised. Ignoring the obvious issues with lending credence to the results of a self-selecting internet poll, I’d like to focus on one quote from the article in particular:

Opponents of gay marriage say the jump shows people are waking up to the negative social effects of changing the Marriage Act.

In typical Herald style, no source is given for this assertion, but I’ll be nice and not dwell on that failure either.

What I’d like to talk about is that there are no “negative social effects” of allowing same-sex marriage. In fact, many states around the world have legalised same-sex marriage and the very fabric of their society disappointingly failed to unravel in the aftermath.

To the great surprise of homophobes everywhere the only effect of legalising same-sex marriage is same-sex couples getting married. Of course, this fact is conveniently ignored when the laws of their own country are being considered; they all seem to believe that their home is the one place that finally won’t be able to handle the unending horror of some other couples getting married while happening to not be of opposing sexes.

Of course, all of the arguments against allowing same-sex marriage fall flat pretty quickly.

The claim that marriage is somehow intended to be for procreation is bizarre considering that it’s obviously not immoral for infertile people to get married, and that having menopause before you have kids doesn’t mean you also have to have a divorce.

The claim that children need a mother and a father similarly falls flat when you observe not only that single parents are commonplace but that same-sex couples seem to do just fine as parents. For example, to quote a 2008 review by Charlotte J. Patterson published in the journal Child Development1:

To date, however, there is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian or gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances.

Opponents of marriage equality often also argue that, if a child’s parents are gay, the child might also grow up to be gay. I’m tempted to look up the evidence to see whether or not this claim is true but to be honest I don’t think it matters. So what if legalising same-sex marriage makes being openly gay more common? It’s not as though it will eventually lead to everyone being gay, just like how opposite-sex marriage being legal hasn’t made everyone straight, so we hardly need to worry about humanity dying out because no one’s making babies any more.

The claim that legalising same-sex marriage has negative effects on society in general is pretty obviously untrue when you observe the countries that have legalised same-sex marriage. For example, take a look at Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Spain, Canada, Netherlands, and Portugal. Despite having legalised same-sex marriage, these 8 countries (out of 11 which I believe have currently legalised same-sex marriage) are all in the top 20 of The Economist‘s 2005 Quality of Life Index2.

Sure, legalising same-sex marriage might piss off some homophobes, but’s that’s no more worth considering than the argument that apartheid shouldn’t have been abolished because it could piss off some racists.

Another common argument is that marriage has traditionally been defined as between a man and a woman so it can’t be changed because mumble mumble… This is quite simply trying to avoid thinking too much so you can maintain your unsupported biases. If an established idea is challenged you don’t get to ignore the challenge because the idea is already established. Instead you must re-evaluate the idea in light of the challenge in order to determine if it still appears to be worth supporting.

Ideas worth supporting must have more than just tradition to stand upon. Other traditional ideas about marriage, like a wife being her husband’s property and interracial marriage being prohibited and supposedly immoral, have previously been abandoned and now (rightly) seem abhorrent to modern society.

The typical fundamentalist rantings about homosexual behaviour being prohibited by their religious book are bizarre enough that I’d hope not to even have to bother responding to it, but I’m not quite naive enough to think that’s the case. In the words of Gregory House, “I don’t have time to talk you out of your religion”, so instead of bloating this post with anti-apologetics I’ll settle for thanking those bigots for making it so easy to point out that religion is not a reliable source of moral advice. For all I care a church can be as bigoted as it wants, but a secular government can’t.

One final argument, which I think is one that finally gets close to the real issue at hand, is that marriage is a religious institution, so it’s not a government’s business to mess with it. Honestly, I think this argument might have been enough one day, but not today. The reason it no longer holds water is that the premise on which it rests – that marriage is solely a religious institution – is no longer true. Marriage is a public service, provided by the government, and a secular government has no business telling its citizens they don’t have a right to a public service because they or their partner are the wrong sex. As I said earlier, for all I care a church can be as bigoted as it wants, but a secular government can’t.

If marriage were still solely a religious institution several aspects of modern society would be quite different. Surely people with no religion, such as myself, would not be allowed to get married. Also, a secular government would have no business giving special rights to married couples, as this would be discriminating based on religion. I also think that, were that the case, making civil unions available to all couples would be a valid approach for a government to provide equality. However, the fact that marriage is not solely a religious institution, but a social service, means this is not enough. “Separate but equal” is not equal.

It’s worth noting that, as a result of the select committee’s report, New Zealand’s Marriage Amendment Bill has been amended so that marriage celebrants will not have to conduct marriages of same-sex couples if it offends their religious sensibilities.

  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1992.tb01679.x/abstract
  2. http://www.economist.com/media/pdf/QUALITY_OF_LIFE.pdf

ASA Appeal: U-GO’s Amber Teething Necklaces

A week ago I published my write-up of a complaint I made to the Advertising Standards Authority about an advertisement for amber teething necklaces on the U-GO website.

In my write-up, I explained how I had appealed the ASA’s decision to settle the complaint without the advertisement being removed or changed, and that my appeal had been declined but I was not sure why. As it turned out, I received the details as to why my appeal had been declined in the mail on the same day as I published my write-up. I edited my previous post to explain this, but the vast majority of people who have read it did so before I made that edit.

Usually I receive correspondence from the ASA regarding my complaints both via email and on paper, but for some reason this was only sent to me via the post. Whenever they send out details of their decisions, they ask that they not be made public until the ASA has released them to the media, which is why I’ve waited until now to publish this write-up.

It turns out that my victory was bigger than I’d realised. When U-GO removed their advertisement on the 19th of February (the date my appeal was declined), I thought that it was still going to be later republished after they had attained the approval of TAPS, the Association of New Zealand Advertisers’ Therapeutic Advertising Pre-vetting System, as this had been implied in their original response to my complaint:

Also, because our business has taken us in to other areas of advertising we have employed the services of TAPS adjudicators and understand more the seriousness of making therapeutic claims in our advertising.

When we make these necklaces available again we will ensure the standards are met.

However, the response to my appeal revealed that U-GO has decided to stop selling these necklaces. Here is the entirety of the correspondance from U-GO that the ASA forwarded to me in relation to my appeal:

… [T]he Baltic Amber Teething Necklaces have been withdrawn from sale. We will not be offering these for sale again.

Because these necklaces were a very minor part of U-GO’s business, they were easily able to withdraw them from sale in response to the complaint. While I am very happy with this result, the fact that they were willing to informally resolve the complaint instead of requiring the Advertising Standards Complaints Board (ASCB) to make an adjudication and choose whether or not to uphold the complaint means that no useful precedent has been set.

Since receiving this news, I have made 2 more complaints about advertisements for practically identical products. One of these advertisers’ businesses relies entirely on the sale of amber necklaces for therapeutic purposes, so I anticipate that the ASCB will have to uphold that particular complaint instead of it being informally settled. Once a precedent has been set, it should make it much easier and quicker to have future complaints about advertisements of these products upheld.

The advertisements that I have complained about are on the Belly Beyond website and the Baby Amber Teething New Zealand website. You can expect to see write-ups for each of these complaints here eventually.

I feel as though I should acknowledge that it’s possible that U-GO only didn’t remove the advertisement immediately because they thought it should be left in place for the duration of my ASA complaint in order to help the ASA’s process. I can’t say for sure, but this seems implied by a couple of things they said in their original response to my complaint:

I would like to say that had I seen this advertisement on our website I would have changed it immediately.

We have left the advertisement as it is on the website for the duration of this complaint but have made it unavailable for sale.

If they had no problem with removing the advertisement then they should have removed it as soon as they received the complaint, but I can believe that they may have misunderstood this.

The full details of my appeal and the decision to have it declined are available on the ASA’s website and on Honest Universe.