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IEET > Rights > Personhood > Life > Vision > Technoprogressivism > Staff > Kyle Munkittrick

Print Email permalink (12) Comments (5316) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


The Sci-Fi Explanation of Why Gay People Must Be Allowed to Marry


Kyle Munkittrick
By Kyle Munkittrick
Discover: Science Not Fiction

Posted: Aug 5, 2010

In many of the sci-fi futures that we know and love, racism, sexism, and homophobia are often scrubbed out of existence. Caprica/BSG, Star Trek, Torchwood, Mass Effect, even less thoughtful fare like Starship Troopers, depict residents of the future who are less interested in the permutations of human identity and more interested in the qualities of a person’s mind and spirit. Even Futurama’s “Proposition Infinity,” concerning the fake-contentious “robosexual marriage” controversy, spoofs this tendency.

Yesterday, US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker helped us move the rights needle a little further toward that future. In a heavily disputed decision, Walker overturned the barbarous Proposition 8 on the grounds it was unconstitutional under California law. His ruling was unequivocal and exhaustive: same-sex marriage is and should be equal to opposite-sex marriage. No doubt the case will move to the Supreme Court, where Obama and Congress’ collective feet-dragging on DOMA and DADT will finally be confronted. Until then, same-sex marriage is forbidden in most states in the USA and, regardless of the Supreme Court decision, will remain so in most countries in the world.

800px-George_Takei_Chicago_Gay_&_Lesbian_Pride_2006

What is astounding is that for all the value we place in “human rights,” we are very good at not giving rights to humans. As I mentioned in my “Yes, We Should Clone Neanderthals” post, we regularly restrict human rights in those who are mentally un- or under-developed. Many who argued for the rights of Neanderthals based their arguments on the fact that the Neanderthal is “mostly human” or has very similar DNA and biology to a human being. While I agree the Neanderthal clone should have the same rights as a human being, I agree for a reason entirely other than biology. Rights have nothing to do with being human.

Our species’ history is and remains one largely built around the ever extending circle of those who have “rights” and what “rights” they have. Pick any great expansion in the rights of humanity, from the advent of democracy to the Nineteenth Amendment to yesterday’s decision, and I doubt you will find DNA at the philosophical core of the change. So what is it? When we, the human civilization, recognize the rights of those who have been oppressed or ignored, what is it we are recognizing? Their humanity! you may answer. But what does that mean? Surely a baby and a corpse are as human as an adult Homo sapiens is, but only the adult can vote. Why?

In a word: personhood.

Read the rest here


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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COMMENTS


“As I mentioned in my “Yes, We Should Clone Neanderthals” post, we regularly restrict human rights in those who are mentally un- or under-developed.”

There were two issues: cloning for scientific experimentation, and cloning for the benefit of the Neanderthal itself.
I don’t think a case can be made that shows it would be benevolent to clone Neanderthal at this point in time (with current cloning technology - quantum archaeology may change this - but current motivations seem to center around treating the cloned being as a lab rat: highly unethical).
But I do agree that the important thing is that the cloned individual (it doesn’t actually matter how/where the entity is made) has the same rights as any other being. This of course will eventually be extended to animals as well, in time.

I too am glad for this ruling.

I’m a white hetero male living in a quiet rural mountain town in the foothills of CA. I don’t face these kinds of issues every day like many do in more urbanized settings, but I’ve become an activist for all disenfranchised groups, especially women, because when they come for me, I’ll have friends in low places.

It constantly amazes and disgusts me that this kind of legislation (Prop 8) can even get passed in the first place. Isn’t there some kind of litmus test for consitutionality that should stop these sorts of things from even getting out the gate? There should be.

I hope this issue prepares people for the coming controversy over AI/upload/MOSH/cyborg human rights, although it’s pretty scary how we can suffer through these issues over and over again, and not learn the underlying lesson: all beings seek, and are entitled to, AUTONOMY.





The important thing to realize/remember, I think, is that rights are fundamentally but legal creations. The idea that there are natural rights gifted to mankind from the gods or written somewhere in the fabric of the universe is “nonsense on stilts”, in the famous words of Jeremy Bentham. There are no such magical precepts, and the idea that they in fact not only do exist, but are reserved for human beings especially, is laughable anthropocentric arrogance.

Rights are whatever we deem them to be; as they spring from no external source, the responsibility for inventing them falls to us. Rights fill a useful social function, in that the basic respect they enforce allows a diverse community of people to live together. But they are not static. They can be expanded, they can even be revised. There was once conceived to be a right to ownership of slaves, but thankfully that and most other such barbarous notions have been abolished as society has progressed.

I agree that rights ought to be in no way contingent upon one’s “humanness”. To make them so contingent would be not only irrational, but there is (in my view) an impregnable case for why doing so would be grossly unethical. If we are to have rights, they ought to be as consistently and responsibly applied as possible.

They ought to encompass and protect similarly situated lifeforms, i.e. life that is to some degree aware and possesses a capacity to experience suffering. If human beings’ interest in being free from pain begs a right, or various rights, then the majority of non-human animals’ same interest ought to beg the same right.

And this is why I am not completely satisfied by the notion of personhood as the basis of rights bearing. The Citizen Cyborg chart listing “most animals” as “sentient property” entitled to freedom only from unnecessary suffering seems to me too conservative and much too close to the status quo. I am uncomfortable classifying a sentient being as property, which implies that its interests are completely subverted by and subjected to being overpowered by its “owner”.

Instead I think we should look for a way to apply rights based on capacity (particularly capacity to suffer) and similarity (such as the similar interest I highlighted before of both human and non-human animals in avoiding pain). The notion that animals need only be spared unnecessary suffering still suggests that it is ok for animals to suffer if a human desire is estimated to even marginally outweigh their interest in not suffering.

I would instead prefer for it to be established that human suffering and the suffering of non-human animals are equally undesirable and for solutions (like in-vitro meat) to emerge that will finally break the abusive relationship humanity has too long maintained with its genetic brethren.

 





A related issue:

First, I think the legal reasoning behind the recent ruling against Prop 8 was correct—there’s no good, principled, non-religious argument against gay marriages. 

But a colleague raised the following scenario jokingly, but I’m now worried that it could be a real issue and something Prop 8 opponents (supporters of gay marriage) will have to confront at some point:

She has two little boys, and after explaining to them what Prop 8 was and what the ruling meant, one of the boys said that he wanted to marry his brother.  She answered that brothers can’t marry, because they were already a family and wouldn’t be creating a new family, which is the nice thing about marriages (or something like that).

I asked an honest question: Wait, why exactly can’t brothers marry?  Traditionally, sibling relations are taboo and illegal because of a risk of incest or inbreeding.  But this issue doesn’t exist with brothers who can’t procreate (or two sisters).  And any “yuck” factor or claims that the family (incl. any adopted kids) would suffer from psychological harm seem to be the same discredited arguments used against gay marriages in the first place.  Marriage doesn’t necessarily imply sex anyway; it could be Platonic love.  In fact, what does love have to do with it?  Some couples get married for economic or other reasons.  So why shouldn’t these brothers get a tax break from being married?

What’s surprising was that this line of questioning was met with a visceral reaction and flat-out dismissals (“Ew, that’s not right!”) instead of a real discussion, which is ironic because that’s what supporters of gay marriage faced.

So I ask: Do the reasons used to support gay marriage also imply that brothers can get married?  In other words, what reason can you give against sibling marriages that hasn’t been used and shot down in the gay-marriage conversation?  If there’s no principled reason to ban sibling marriage, what are the limits to marriage, if any?  Can you marry animals or robots?  (Probably not, if informed consent is needed.)  Can a father marry an adult son?  Why can’t we marry more than one person?  If autonomy/personhood is the critical factor, well, adult siblings are persons and thus deserving of the same rights as other persons, right?

Ultimately, I think the institution of marriage is suspect.  There may be some social benefit in creating stable, enduring family units…though if that’s the point, then divorces should be made much more difficult, and maybe marriages would require a waiting period to really be sure it’ll take. 

But that’s beside the point.  My worry is that, if we can’t explain why siblings shouldn’t be allowed to get married, then opponents of gay marriage will use this in their favor.  It would be a reductio ad absurdum argument: gay marriage logically imples things like sibling marriages; since we must reject silbing marriages, we must therefore reject gay marriages.  How do you answer that position?





@patrick Lin
In time, I think the solution is to remove any kind of legal or financial status from marriage itself.
If two people want to get “married”, then that marriage exists in their minds (and I guess in the ‘mind of god’, if they happen to be that type), but it should have zero legal bearing whatsoever.
Perhaps all marriages (at least from a legal sense) should be reduced to ‘civil unions’, and you can call it whatever you want to, but the law can recognize ‘civil unions’ and nothing else.





The percentage of brothers who would want to marry each other is so low it is a negligible statistic, plus there is the nonstarter issue of stepbrothers who might want to marry. Only quibble (a very small caveat) with Kyle’s piece is: though DOMA has to be rescinded someday, Clinton should not be held culpable for signing DOMA into law, he was under intense pressure from his enemies, he had to compromise to get assistance with other concerns. Gay marriage at that time was a remote issue, so signing the DOMA scrap of paper—no one who knows anything about Clinton would think he is or was sincerely opposed to gay marriage—was the correct thing to do. IMO it might be wise to leave the status quo intact until Obama is re-elected, as the forestalling of another George Bush-type executive branch trumps ALL other considerations of the next two and a half years.





hello!!!

I agree that rights ought to be in no way contingent upon one’s “humanness”. To make them so contingent would be not only irrational, but there is (in my view) an impregnable case for why doing so would be grossly unethical. If we are to have rights, they ought to be as consistently and responsibly applied as possible.

They ought to encompass and protect similarly situated lifeforms, i.e. life that is to some degree aware and possesses a capacity to experience suffering. If human beings’ interest in being free from pain begs a right, or various rights, then the majority of non-human animals’ same interest ought to beg the same right.





Aye, sentient beings.





They’re people just like you and me. Love & affection are part of everybody’s makeup. They should have every right including marriage.





So far, no one has objected to the idea of siblings marrying each other.  In fact, given the expressed views, everyone here seems to be committed to giving such rights to siblings. 

I don’t know if this is a specific position anyone wants to defend, or if it’s a case of “biting the bullet”, i.e., accepting an undesired but inevitable implication.  Either way, I think it might be problematic to the larger gay-marriage debate, since most folks aren’t that enlightened (if sibling marriage ought to be permitted) and will want to strenuously resist such an implication. 

If you can’t overcome this taboo—which seems easier than dismantling the institution of marriage, no matter how good an idea that is—then it doesn’t look good for the prospects of marrying a virtual mind or whatever else some folks might want to do…





Yet you can’t be free and be married, to think otherwise is a philosophical confusion; in marriage one gives a portion of oneself to another’s strong influence and legal power—liberty is thus diminished to a certain degree. So the question, albeit cynical: is why be a married fool when you can be a free fool?





In French, the famous phrase “droits de l’homme” is slowly being replaced by “droits de la personne”.
It most certainly stems from a PC viewpoint, but it feels apt.





@Patrick
Unless I’m mistaken, in France a civil union can be entered between two brothers. Not a marriage though, but then gay marriage isn’t legal either (yet).





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