Homosexual Marriage and Social Engineering

The California Supreme Court has sustained the violation of freedom of conscience by upholding Proposition 8. Not terribly surprising, really. It seemed to me that the grounds on which Prop 8 was being challenged (that the proposition had not been properly pursued) was a dubious one; I wonder if the more promising route would be to challenge it as a violation of Constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Then again, I’m no lawyer, nor can I claim to know the minutia of the case.

A number of my conservative associates have proclaimed this a triumph of traditional values over “social engineering.” The term “social engineering” has long been a boogieman in the lexicon of conservatives. Ironically, while social engineering is indeed at the root of Proposition 8 and other marriage-restriction laws, these conservatives are holding the wrong end of the stick this time.

Any use of government incentive or favor to influence social norms and behavior qualifies as social engineering (any law could technically be considered an attempt to influence social behavior, but I think all sides would agree that laws specifically designed to protect property rights or to restrict violence do not qualify as social engineering). Conservatives are absolutely right that legislation to encourage liberal social change, such as legislation to promote racial integration or provide more opportunities for racial and gender equality, are examples of social engineering. What they pointedly ignore is that legislation to encourage and strengthen traditional social patterns are no less examples of social engineering. Thus homosexual marriage bans—laws designed to use government incentive and controls to restrain a change in social norms which is occurring in some segments of society—are also social engineering. Likewise, government policies implemented to use government incentives to restrain the rising tide of divorce are also social engineering.

In other words, conservatives who endorse homosexual marriage bans do not in truth oppose social engineering, but rather only liberal ends to which social engineering might be employed. They are perfectly willing to pursue social engineering when it suits their ends. If they don’t approve of social engineering on principle, they should stop trying to engineer homosexuals and freedom of conscience out of existence.

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20 Responses to “Homosexual Marriage and Social Engineering”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    I think I disagree with you about this decision (or the passage of Prop 8) representing a violation of freedom of conscience but I can understand your point of view and where you are coming from.

    Your point about conservatives and social engineering is an important one. True conservatives are far less concerned with small and limited government than they are with maintaining their own power to use that government to engineer our society according to their preferences. This is an important contradiction in their professed dogma that isn’t pointed out often enough.

    Great post.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    Ugh…accidental smiley. I should have typed “…(or the passage of Prop Eight)”

  3. Thom Says:

    Two notes. First, Prop 8 was a constitutional amendment, specifically because the court had already declared that the CA constitution protected the right of marriage by anyone to anyone (or at least, to someone of any gender).

    Second, I disagree that “laws specifically designed to protect property rights or to restrict violence do not qualify as social engineering.” I can’t (off the top of my head) think of a single law that isn’t social engineering. We make laws to influence social behavior and “engineer” the society in which we wish to live. We don’t want to live in a society where we or our neighbors can be killed without impunity, so we prohibit murder and punish murderers. That we believe our laws to be founded on natural or rational rights does not change the fact that the laws themselves are artificial constructs. I raise this point because I think that acknowledging it helps us move beyond knee-jerk sentiment (“That’s wrong, because I say it is”) to have a reasonable discussion about the society we want to engineer.

  4. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Glad for the clarification that you don’t consider Prop 8 “Prop Cool,” Jeremy 😉

    What do you mean by “true conservatives?” Are you referring to “Paleo-Cons?”

    Thom, can you please clarify what you were getting at when you pointed out that Prop 8 was a constitutional amendment? I’m not seeing how that matters in the context of either a legal challenge or of the social engineering issue.

    I can see why you see all laws as artificial constructs and social engineering. But I believe there is a legitimate difference between protecting the essential rights which allow for freedom and any other sort of laws to effect social behavior. While I would have no interest in a purely Objectivist/Randian world, I believe that sort of government would be entirely devoid of social engineering. And I agree with your essential point that the issue should not be whether a particular issue is “social engineering.”

  5. adamf Says:

    Great post. Thanks for the bit on social engineering.

    If the government wants to decrease divorce they ought to start funding some good marriage counselors (not that I’m including myself in that category!). The prevention of divorce is not enough for strong couples and families.

  6. Derek Staffanson Says:

    I would tend to agree, Adam, that marriage support is likely to be more effective than the proscriptive methods I feel social conservatives prefer to use. Either way would, of course, be “social engineering;” but as long as no one in the discussion claims to be opposed to the very concept of social engineering, we could proceed to have that conversation.

  7. Christian Miller Says:

    “By the power vested in me, by the state of California, I now pronounce you Husband and Wife.” declared the minister.

    We have heard it so many times at weddings that we forget the significance of this pronouncement and how it blurs the vast difference between the government meaning of marriage and the popular meaning of marriage.

    The word “marriage” conjures in our minds the promise of love, caring, committed relationship, living together, making babies, families, and continuity. A government marriage license does not address any of those things. The couple does not even have to declare that they intend to like each other. In this respect it is a hollow document, only a voucher for a bundle for exclusive government benefits and privileges.

  8. adamf Says:

    Good points Christian. The only jarring point to that minister quote is that the power is vested in him by the state. The State has no business in my religion. Nor does my religion have any business in someone else’s “government benefits and privileges.”

  9. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Yep, Christian. And what purpose is a bundle of exclusive government benefits and privileges if not to engineer a particular set of behaviors and norms in society?

    (and absolutely right, Adam).

  10. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Long time, no talky. I am late to the table, but want to throw my two cents in. I agree that the Right has a humorous tendency to participate in social engineering and pretend they’re not. The claim of being the party of small government disappeared very quickly (which I believe is a HUGE reason for the G.O.P.’s recent butt-whoopings). But you wouldn’t deny that the Left has an obvious and demonstrable history of MAJOR overreaching, would you? Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, possibly the most liberal member of the Supreme Court, acknowledges publicly that Roe v. Wade was a legal monstrosity. And do you really want to stand by your comment that conservatives are attempting to “engineer homosexuals and freedom of conscience out of existence”? Give me a break. It’s false and blatantly soapboxy language like that that turns people off from liberalism.

  11. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Both sides overreach, Aaron. I don’t see how the Left has any worse history of doing so than the Right. Their efforts are certainly seemingly more dramatic, but that is simply because the “overreach” of conservatism is part of the status quo, and overturning the status quo will always seem radical (see the reactions of much of society to slavery, to woman’s suffrage, the move for equal rights for minorities and women, etc).

    I do indeed stand by my commment. You don’t think that the Eagle Forum, the Religious Right, the Sutherland Institute, and a multitude of other organizations which are integral parts of conservatism would like to make homosexual relationships socially impossible, to use legal coercion to force them at minimum to return to the closet, if not force them to live a heterosexual life? Consider that they still defend sodomy laws, rendering a private practice between consenting adults a crime. Yes, I absolutely do believe that is their intent, and by so intending they are fundamentally violating freedom of conscience. They may not consciously intend to engineer freedom of conscience out of existence, but by showing such complete disregard for that freedom, that is the result to which their efforts would lead.

  12. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I would suggest that the Eagle Forum is no more a representation of conservatism than PETA or Hollywood is an accurate reflection of your own beliefs. That is all I have to say about it. I do appreciate the willingness to admit that both sides overreach. Catch ya later.

  13. Derek Staffanson Says:

    The National Eagle Forum virtually wrote the Republican Party platform for last year’s Republican convention. Schlafly bragged about how it was not McCain’s platform, but her platform. Here in Utah, Gayle Ruzicka wields enormous power in the Utah Republican party. Their views do indeed reflect the widespread views within conservatism.

  14. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Yeah, but as you have reminded us constantly, the words liberal and conservative are basically useless. A good deal of your thoughts and opinions are conservative as defined in the dictionary. (For example, caution in fiscal management and pre-emptive war).

  15. Lorian Says:

    Regarding the pronouncement by the minister, “By the power vested in my by the state of ___, I now pronounce you…”

    While I agree that this is confusing for many people, and probably adds to the hardship gays face because of the pervasive confusion people have about the difference between civil marriage and religious marriage (which are two separate entities, no matter who solemnizes them, and when), I must point out that the above phrase does not so much constitute the state interfering in religion, as the state bowing to the convenience of the marrying couple.

    When a couple decides to get married, they can choose to have solely a civil marriage, in which they are married in the eyes of the state, or they can choose to also obtain whatever religious blessing or sacrament of marriage is provided for by their religious organization. A couple which chooses only the civil option will generally have their marriage formalized by a state employee, such as a Justice of the Peace or Clerk of the Court (or by a friend who has paid a fee to the state for the ability to hold this office for a single day). The couple who also wishes to have a religious sacrament or ordinance will go to their minister, bishop, pastor, or other religious authority to have this sacrament/blessing/ordinance performed. But just having the religious ordinance performed does not make them married in the eyes of the state. For that, they must go to the County Clerk, obtain a license, and have a state official solemnize their civil marriage.

    So, rather than compel couples who wish to have both a religious and a civil marriage to go through two separate ceremonies conducted by two different people, the state has made it more convenient for these couples by “vesting” anyone who is licensed minister or official of a religious organization (such licensing being dispensed by the state, mostly for this very purpose) to be the state-authorized official who can also solemnize the civil marriage at the same time as he or she dispenses the religious marriage.

    This is not so that the state can control religious marriages. It is so that couples can have the convenience of only needing to schedule a single ceremony to engage in two separate institutions simultaneously.

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