“It Does No Harm”

One rejoinder frequently heard in defense of gay marriage is the defense, “Well it won’t hurt heterosexual marriages”. This is true on its face; the existence and recognition of a gay marriage won’t stop me or any other heterosexual from getting or staying married. The problem with this rejoinder is that it is not in fact an argument for the recognition of such marriages by our government – two recent examples show us why.

In one case, from 2006, we have a woman from Britain marrying a dolphin in Israel. Other than the problems inherent in a long distance relationship, the marriage differs from others only in the fact that the other participant is a large aquatic mammal. Details as follows:

Sharon Tendler met Cindy 15 years ago. She said it was love at first sight. This week she finally took the plunge and proposed. The lucky “guy” plunged right back.

In a modest ceremony at Dolphin Reef in the southern Israeli port of Eilat, Tendler, a 41-year-old British citizen, apparently became the world’s first person to “marry” a dolphin.

Dressed in a white dress, a veil and pink flowers in her hair, Tendler got down on one knee on the dock and gave Cindy a kiss. And a piece of herring.

“It’s not a perverted thing. I do love this dolphin. He’s the love of my life,” she said Saturday, upon her return to London.

No word on how the couple is doing now.

The next more recent example is not a case of human/whale love, but the love of a young man for a virtual video game character. From Japan of course:

Nene Anegasaki is a witty, doe-eyed beauty. She looks perfectly perky in sexy skirts, doesn’t pick fights and is always at one Tokyo man’s beck and call — that is why the 27-year-old decided to marry her.

The only complication: She is a videogame character in the Nintendo DS game called “Love Plus.”

Still, that didn’t stop Sal 9000 — the only name the groom would give — from marrying Nene in a ceremony witnessed live by thousands on the Web.

When asked if Nene is his dream woman, Sal replied, “Yes, she is. Her character changes to my liking as we talk and travel to different places.”

Japan’s Internet community has witnessed relationships and marriages to avatars, though it’s typically been within the confines of the virtual world. Last month, Sal decided to be the first human-to-avatar union. Clad in a white tux, Sal married Nene in front of some friends and Web users watching the ceremony live online.

Now obviously both these examples are lacking in certain respects when compared to human-human relationships. There is the question of mutual consent (though some might argue a dolphin has sufficient intelligence to express affection and loyalty). And there is some question as to whether the human participants take their marriages seriously. Neither of course is a marriage that is recognized by any government. Nonetheless, what they have in common, and what purpose they serve in this discussion, is that neither situation actually ‘harms’ the existence of traditional human heterosexual relationships. It makes no difference to the average married couple that their neighbor might be ‘married’ to a dolphin (or a cat) or a videogame character. The reason it doesn’t make a difference is because nothing really changes as a result of the participants being seen as married; it will produce no children to be harmed, nor will it burden society in any way.

As much as that is true, it exemplifies the flaw in the argument that the lack of harm to heterosexual marriages is an argument for the legitimacy and sanction of these marriages. While the participants might benefit from recognition by the government of their respective marriages, there is no societal good that will result from such a sanction. These examples demonstrate to us why the government sanctions heterosexual marriage to begin with – they do so because heterosexual marriages are a benefit to society, and heterosexual relationships outside of marriage, particularly those that result in children, are harmful to society. One need look no further than our inner-cities to see such harmful effects. Fatherless children are perhaps the greatest perpetuators of crime there, and broken households with children are among the poorest, burdening our social systems like no other cause. Divorce damages and displaces children often as much as if the marriage didn’t exist to begin with. So there is a great imperative for our society, and the governments that represent it, to promote and provide for healthy heterosexual marriages.

There is no such imperative that it do so for the marriages mentioned earlier; in the same way there is no such imperative that it recognize gay marriage as such a marriage neither provides the afore mentioned benefits to society, nor does the lack of such a marriage harm society in any way. It might be argued that the participants in such marriages themselves lack the benefits the sanction marriage brings, but that isn’t in and of itself an argument for societal sanction. And as this exercise shows us the ‘lack of harm’ argument is not a basis on which to advance the notion of societal acceptance of gay marriage, any more than the argument advances the acceptability of marriages to dolphins or videogame characters.

7 Responses to “It Does No Harm”

  1. Name one ethical theory which relies upon an action only conforming to a single principle.

  2. jackhudson says:

    What possible application does that have to this post?

  3. You’ve presented this argument as if it is the only part that matters, as if people are only saying that a lack of harm is what matters. In reality, no one thinks that and this is a strawman. The only way you can bring any legitimacy to this post is by pointing out some ethical theory that actually conforms to this idea. Hell, go further and try to find a political party which operates its platform on only one principle. You can’t.

    I can name you a bunch of ethical theories which incorporate “no harm” as a component. Do you think they are all invalid for this reason? If yes, then we’re done because you’re a lost cause. If no, then either your vision is so narrow as to only see through the lens of bigotry or you’re simply being dishonest. I’m guessing the former because it’s pretty clear you aren’t sure how to form an argument which takes into account any sort of large-scale view.

    But to make this simple for you, no one is arguing that because gay marriage causes no harm that it is therefore okay. That argument is being presented as an individual point. It’s also important that the marriage be consensual, that the individuals involve be happy, that legal protections are afforded people sharing a life, and a number of other things. It’s inappropriate for you to isolate this point as if it’s all that anyone is saying.

  4. jackhudson says:

    I was addressing a particular common defense of gay marriage; I in no way presented it as the only argument made nor the best made – merely a common refrain one hears from those supporting the gay marriage agenda. And as you point out, it isn’t a particularly good argument. I have of course on this blog made numerous posts addressing other arguments of the pro-gay lobby.

    As far as your other criteria (that it be consensual, happy, etc) unless there is in fact an objective definition of marriage, these criteria are as arbitrary as you suppose the traditional one to be.

  5. Stop lying. I did not say this wasn’t “a particular good argument”.

    You’ve taken this one argument and applied it to bestiality. Since no one is relying on just one argument, instead using it as an individual point, you’ve completely missed the boat.

    Again. No one has ever said same-sex marriage should be allowed purely because it does not harm. That is one component of a complex issue.

    My other criteria is not arbitrary as it is based upon an ethical theory, not just a hodgepodge of bigotry.

  6. jackhudson says:

    So you think that it’s a good argument? I wish you would make up your mind. Because I could have sworn the point of your first response was that the argument itself was weak. Maybe now you think it is a good argument for gay marriage. How about if you just figure out exactly what you mean and stop accusing other people of lying?

    And I didn’t apply it to ‘bestiality’, that is sex with animals, which is not something in any of the examples I gave. I applied it to marriages that involved non-humans. One was a video game character. It could have been a tree or toaster. The point is even if we as a society grant people the freedom to engage in such relationships, such an allowance doesn’t compel us to officially sanction such relationships.

    Again. No one has ever said same-sex marriage should be allowed purely because it does not harm. That is one component of a complex issue.

    And again, I have refuted other arguments; I was only dealing with this argument this time. Defend this argument if you can; if you can’t then we agree it’s a weak argument.

    My other criteria is not arbitrary as it is based upon an ethical theory, not just a hodgepodge of bigotry.

    They are arbitrary; one doesn’t have to be married to experience a happy consensual relationship. One doesn’t need legal recognition to do that.

  7. Even a libertarian couldn’t defend this argument because even though they hold one of the simplest* ethical theories, “do no harm” is still only a component of what they believe. No one holds that one single argument is what makes pro-gay marriage arguments strong. Just the same, no individual arguments make anti-gay marriage arguments strong.

    They are arbitrary; one doesn’t have to be married to experience a happy consensual relationship. One doesn’t need legal recognition to do that.

    If the good is maximized happiness/decreased pain and gay marriage accomplishes those things, then gay marriage is good. We can disagree on whether or not gay marriage will actually do that, but that isn’t to the point. The point is that I’ve applied an ethical theory which offers certain standards. The fact that happy, consensual relationships can be found sans marriage is immaterial. For this particular theory, it’s about maximized net pleasure/decreased pain. If gay marriage achieves this standard, then it is good within the context of the theory.

    *”Simplest” means least complicated. It isn’t intended derisively in this context.

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