Is Gay Marriage A Civil Rights Issue?

It is my pet peeve when people equate gay marriage to civil rights. To say that people against homosexual marriage, or homosexuals in general, are modern day racists is to miss a fundamental error of racism and to ignore that difference is to lower the significance of the evils of racism and sexism.

There is a fundamental difference between someone’s sexual behavior, and say someone’s skin color, or nationality, or gender, or stage of development, things that do involve civil rights. And that difference is that homosexuality is defined by ones actions where as true civil right issues are not.

For example, I am Mexican, and no matter what actions I take, even voting Republican 😉 , I am still going to be, and always will be Mexican. In other words, there is no action whatsoever that I can do that will change the fact that I am Mexican and there is no action that a non-Mexican can do that will make one a Mexican. The same is true for race, gender, and stage of development.

That cannot be said with homosexuality. Homosexuality is defined by its action, or to say it another way, it is a behavioral attribute. And like all other actions, it can be analyzed, and scrutinized; no action is without analysis.

Maybe with an example, this can be better understood.

I once read, although I can’t verify, that in the past Muslims outlawed writing with your left hand. I think it had something to do with a verse in the Quran that states that your left side is dirty or something (or it could have been false propaganda, either way it is just an example). For one reason or another, they outlawed children from writing with their left hand. In kindergarten, or the equivalent of that, the Muslim teachers were required to force children, whether left handed or right handed, to write with their right hand.

Now, of course we all agree that this is wrong. But would we say this is a civil rights issue? I don’t think we would. Banning someone from writing with his or her left hand, while the ban may be wrong, it is still a ban on an action. On the other hand, how would you go about banning someone from ‘being’ a female? Or ‘being’ a fetus? Or ‘being’ Mexican? Or ‘being’ Black? You can’t, since there is no action associated with either of those classifications. In other words, your gender, your stage of development, your nationality, and your race (no matter what Michael Jackson thinks), are non-behavioral attributes, they are not defined by actions, but writing with your left hand and homosexuality, is. Or to put it another way, the Muslims ban on left-handed people is very different than, say, the Mormon Churches ban on black people in the hierarchy.

To give another example, the Catholic Church teaches that it is a sin to have sex before marriage. All of us may think this is too harsh, that it is undoable; that it is impossible to achieve, shoot, some may even think it is legalistic. But nobody would place that sin on the same level as say, a teaching that says it is a sin to be Black, or a sin to be a male, or to be Mexican. In other words, we all can distinguish between bans on actions, and bans on non-action characteristics. Someone who thinks homosexuality (the actions involved) is wrong is on a very different level than someone who thinks being Black is wrong. So the civil rights comparisons do not fit.

The minute you say homosexuality is a civil rights issue, you have moved from the free-will ethics (free-will is a basic fundamental criteria of ALL ethics, regardless of religion or non-religious views), to the view that actions are no different than non-action traits. This would be a radical departure from previous views on ethics, and frankly, would be a fundamental error. You can say that a ban on an action is good, or that it is bad, or that it is stupid, or that it is superstitious, but the minute you say that it is like a ban on a non-action characteristic (your gender, race and nationality), you have moved to a level that makes ALL ethic discussions moot. One can make ethical judgments on whether writing with your left hand is bad, or whether having sex before marriage is bad, or whether wearing a condom is bad, and whether having sex with someone of the same sex is bad, but it would be absurd in ethics to talk about whether it is bad to ‘be female’, or ‘be Mexican’, or ‘be Black’, ethics presupposes an action involved, an action that comes from, either by allowing or willing, the person.

Arbitrary bans against gender, nationality, or race are very different than bans against homosexuals. One is clearly a civil rights issue, and the other is not.

16 Responses to “Is Gay Marriage A Civil Rights Issue?”


  • I disagree with this post on two fronts. First of all most serious scientific evidence coming forward finds that homosexuality is not a choice, it is a physiological element in a persons genetic make-up. And I know you can find studies from a doctor somewhere to question that, but most of the scientific community who studies this have reached this conclusion. If it is a behavioral attribute, you have a choice – should I have sex with people of the same sex. The applicable question I always find is, “When did you decide to be straight?” Did you say, gee, look at that guy should I sleep with him, no I want to but nah. Or do you just see a guy and have no sexual attraction. Why are many families with multiple children of hetorosexual couples in a situation where one is straight and one is gay, they were brought up by the same parents with the same beliefs. There are a great many children of same sex couples who are heterosexual (It is difficult to determine the statisitics on this because children of same-sex couple are far more likely to answer a question like are you gay honestly, because the stigma is lessened – like the old Roy Cohn definition that he is a heterosexual man who enjoys gay sex).

    The main point I disagree with about choice is that I guess in your definition discrimination against Jews or any other religious group is not a civil rights violation. I am Jewish and my family has been Jewish as long as I can tell, so there is a genetic link. But what if I converted to judiasm from another religion, and I was not hired for a job because I was Jewish or not allowed admittance into a federally funded group or a university because I was jewish, isn’t that a violation of my civil rights. This individual made the choice to convert, just as I could chose to convert to a different religion. It is a violation of my civil rights to be denied a job on some characteristic that has nothing to do with my performance of the job. If it is defined by actions, is it ok to discriminate against practicing Jews who attend synogogue regularly, keeps the sabbath etc, while a non-practicing jew who converted to judiasm, to say satisfy a prospective wife, but never really followed the customs.

  • HP my posts keep getting blocked, darn dpam filter.

    Two points I disagree with here. First most scientiists in this field feel that homosexuality is a physiological trait. The so-called gay gene. The pertinent question is “When did you choose to be heterosexual?” Did you see om Cruise standing there and say, I would love to sleep with him but nah. Or do you just have no sexual attraction to them. o me it is fairly clear that there is a physiological factor in sexual attraction and most researches find this.

    The second exception I find is the issue of religious discrimination. Is it a violation of a Jew’s (or catholic or protestant or whomevers) civil rights if he is refused admission to a public university or refused a job because he is Jewish, where his religion would have nothing to do with his performance of the job. Sure most people like myself have Jewish parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc who are Jewish although back to biblical times, but many convert is it a violation of the jews by birth civil rights vs. the converted Jews. How about non-practicing Jews is it not a civil rights violation to discriminate against a non-practicing Jew, but not a practicing Jew.

  • Hey Michael, I know, these damn spam filters are kicking my ass. It is either I A. become too strict on what I let through, with the downside of that being that some posts that are not spam get blocked for my evaluation, or B. become too loose in what I let through, and have to delete stuff later, and delete stuff from my email as well. So I choose A.

    But fear not, I am taking a vacation soon, going to Mexico on June 11th to visit my grandma, staying for two weeks, and during that time I plan to do A LOT of website upgrades.

    I will respond to your posts here when I have more time.

  • Vacation…I’m jealous? Where in Mexico?

    Don’t spend too much time on the net. Have fun in the sun.

  • My family is from Guerrero, but somehow my grandma and my uncle ended up in Monterrey. Actually, it was my uncle’s doing, and since he takes care of my grandma, my grandma ended up there as well. So I go see her every year (she is 89), but I didn’t go last year because she came to LA last year. 🙂

  • Hey Michael,

    Ok, I have a few minutes. Let me answer your very good points.

    First, right off the bat, I want to say that I agree with you regarding how homosexuals come to be. The sexual attraction to members of the same sex certainly isn’t a choice one makes, and while there may be some nurture involved, I would agree that nature seems to be the much bigger factor. So I agree that the inclination to be homosexual is something that homosexuals cannot control, something that is inside them just as much as my attraction to members of the opposite sex is inside me.

    However, that doesn’t change my point above; the action is still something chosen by the person. All ethic discussions are discussions about how one ought to act regardless of the inclinations of the person involved. For example, we both agree that hitting a women is wrong, now that ethical judgment (hitting a women is wrong) applies to me just as much as it applies to my temperamental cousin. In other words, my cousin’s temper is irrelevant to whether or not hitting women is wrong. In fact, all ethical judgments seem to place restrictions on how one may be inclined to act in a certain situation.

    Or here, let me use another example that we as men might relate to better. I know there are many religions, certainly the Catholic Church and I think Muslims as well, that teach that masturbating is a sin (for many of the same reasons they teach homosexuality is a sin, btw). You and I would both agree that the inclination to masturbate is within us so strongly that it becomes hard to understand how anybody could live without masturbating, right? So here we have a case that parallels that of homosexuals, a ban on an action that comes from a strong inclination within us, yet we still wouldn’t call ‘the right to masturbate’ a civil right, would we? Why? Because, as hard as it may be to follow, it is still a regulation on ones action and actions are not civil rights. If I masturbate, I still chose to masturbate, whether or not I was (strongly) inclined to masturbate.

    Remember, I am not saying that you can’t say the ban is stupid, or superstitious, or undoable, what I am arguing against is saying it is a civil rights issue; specifically a civil rights issue comparable to the ones of the past. All actions, whether they are from natural inclinations within the person or not, are subject to ethical judgment, and homosexual acts are no exception.

    Now, you bring up a good point, what about religion? Religion certainly is a fuzzy area in all of this, on the one hand it is somewhat tied to actions, and therefore one can say that religion is comparable to homosexual acts. However, there is still a fundamental difference; religion primarily is tied to worship, to thoughts inside the mind, to a personal relationship with God outside of actions. In other words, religion is much more comparable to the inclination of homosexuality, not the action of homosexuality, so one can justify religion as a civil right.

    But you’re right, religion does not have an absolute claim to be a civil right, it is only a civil right insofar as the actions involved are benign. For example, say I belonged to religion X and my religion teaches me that I should sacrifice to god my first born son to be considered upstanding in the eyes of god. Under those circumstances, since the action involved with religion X is not benign, the state has a right, indeed an obligation, to intervene and not allow me to practice that aspect of my religion.

    In other words, even with regard to religion, only the personal relationship between you and your God is considered a civil right, not all actions that may be part of that religion.

    To give another example, my old roommate was Jewish, and she happened to marry a non-Jewish person. She would tell me how many in her family did not, and still do not, accept her marriage simply because her husband is a non-Jew. In addition, this type of behavior is very common among Jews and different religions around the world. Now, you may agree or disagree with the rationale of the family in not accepting that marriage, but you certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say that this situation is comparable to say a family that disowns their daughter for marrying a black guy. In other words, someone objecting to inter-religious marriages is fundamentally different than someone objecting to inter-racial marriages. Why? Because one involves an action (the action of not converting), a choice and the other does not.

    So with regard to religion there are certain aspects of it that one can consider civil rights issues and certain aspects of it that are not. How do you distinguish between the two? You separate the two by the exact same method I mentioned above, you separate the inclination from the action, the thought from the doing. The inclination to get so mad at your girlfriend that you want to hit her from the act of hitting her, the inclination to masturbate from the act of masturbating, the inclination to be attracted to people of the same sex from the act of having sex with someone of the same sex.

    So while nobody could make the claim that the inclination to be homosexual, something we both agree is out of ones control, is ethically wrong, anybody could make the claim that having sex with someone of the same sex is ethically wrong, just as some people find masturbation wrong, or believe writing with your left hand is wrong, or cheating on your spouse is wrong, or having sex outside of marriage is wrong. You may think the claim is stupid, or whatever, but you can’t say it is in the same category as bans against ones skin color or gender or nationality. They are fundamentally different.

  • Btw, in case anybody has already read the above, I made some (minor) changes to help explain myself better, so please re-read it again to get my true point in all of this.

  • “But you’re right, religion does not have an absolute claim to be a civil right, it is only a civil right insofar as the actions involved are benign.”

    This is my point with homosexuality. One has to prove that the actions are not benign in order to institute laws or act in a way that violate or dimish a citizens rights and freedoms. If someone can tell me the harm caused by a consenting sexual relationship between adults then it is not a violation of their rights. It is a violation to discriminate against someone because of what they are (their physiology). It is also a violation of ones civil rights (rights as a citizen) to discriminate or diminish ones rights because of a benign act. You can not refuse to hire someone or not allow them to marry because they masturbates in private. Just as you could not refuse to hire someone because he wears a beard for religious purposes. (Except if they are selling shaving cream).

    I think you are getting too caught up in the semantics and not in substance here. A civil right is there to protect someone from discrimination and unfair curtailment of their rights as citizens.

    “you can’t say it is in the same category as bans against ones skin color or gender or nationality.”

    I think this comparison is as futile as Jews and blacks comparing the horrors of the holocaust to the horrors of slavery. It is wrong to discriminate and as you mentioned it is wrong to pass laws that curtail benign behaviors against one group of citizens, in this case the group of people who are genetically homosexual.

  • Some will say that being gay is not a “choice” but a fact. They will argue that one’s sexual orientation is not as simple as to choose what you do but actually defines who they are and they put it up right there with race, religion, culture, etcetera.

  • Hey Michael,

    Even if one were to conclude that homosexual acts are benign, homosexuality (the action) is still fundamentally different than religion. Again, because religion is not an ‘action’, it is more of a philosophy, and one has a right to believe in whatever philosophy one wishes, but that is different than acting on whatever philosophy one wishes. So again, the difference being an action and a non-action.

    Now as far as gay marriage goes, you write,

    One has to prove that the actions are not benign in order to institute laws or act in a way that violate or dimish a citizens rights and freedoms. If someone can tell me the harm caused by a consenting sexual relationship between adults then it is not a violation of their rights. It is a violation to discriminate against someone because of what they are (their physiology). It is also a violation of ones civil rights (rights as a citizen) to discriminate or diminish ones rights because of a benign act. You can not refuse to hire someone or not allow them to marry because they masturbates in private. Just as you could not refuse to hire someone because he wears a beard for religious purposes. (Except if they are selling shaving cream).(emphasis added)

    This is exactly the basis for the argument against gay marriage. Leaving aside for the moment the case that allowing gays to marry does hurt society at large, there is still a comparable case to the one you mentioned – refusing to hire someone because he wears a beard for a position selling shaving cream.

    The fundamental reason the government recognizes marriage has to do with children. Or as Andrew Sullivan writes,

    They make a deeper commitment to one another and to society; in exchange, society extends certain benefits to them. Marriage provides an anchor, if an arbitrary and weak one, in the chaos of sex and relationships to which we are all prone. It provides a mechanism for emotional stability, economic security, and the healthy rearing of the next generation. We rig the law in its favor not because we disparage all forms of relationship other than the nucelar family, but because we recognize that not to promote marriage would be to ask too much of human virtue. In the context of the weakened family’s effect upon the poor, it might also invite social disintegration.

    For example, if I am going to buy a motorcycle in a couple of months and wanted someone to teach me to ride the motorcycle, I would a priori exclude any paraplegics. Paraplegics can’t walk, and if they can’t walk they obviously can’t teach me how to properly ride a bike, with proper form and so on. So given my objective, learning to properly ride a motorcycle, a priori excluding paraplegics as suitable instructors does not make me prejudice against paraplegics, because paraplegic’s can’t satisfy the objective I am looking for. Or, to give another example, excluding blind people when I am looking for someone to teach me how to fly a plane is not being prejudice against blind people.

    In the same manner, the government’s main objective for recognizing marriage always had something to do with children (which is why the government never allowed marriage between first cousins), so given that objective, since homosexual unions are inherently unable to produce children, homosexual marriages aren’t allowed.

    So my objection to gay marriage has to do with marriage, not gays (I have always said that the gay marriage debate is a debate about marriage, not a debate about gays). The loving commitment of a heterosexual union, by its very nature, has the potential for children. It is the core of all families, and something that is cross cultural, it is unique, makes its mark on everyone, and is the basic building block of all societies. It has something that all other unions fall short of, whether they be first cousin unions, polygamous unions, best friends, and yes, even homosexual unions.

    And any argument any other union gives to being established into law, the loving heterosexual union has that claim, and more. And therefore should always be seen seperate and above all other unions.

  • Some will say that being gay is not a “choice” but a fact. They will argue that one’s sexual orientation is not as simple as to choose what you do but actually defines who they are and they put it up right there with race, religion, culture, etcetera.

    Some might say the same thing about left handed people, or masturbating, or cheating on ones spouse, etc… but I wouldn’t classify any of those as civil rights, certainly not civil rights comparable to the past.

  • I’m just gonna ask one question because I really didn’t read all of this… hehe. Is heterosexuality also defined by it’s actions too? Do I have to have sex with a man to be considered heterosexual? Or can I just feel it. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before too, but I didn’t read any of the stuff on Oso’s blog either.

  • When I say something is defined by its actions, I don’t mean that those actions are all there is to it, there may very well be the inclination.

    For example, say that I say “My friend is left handed”, what comes to your mind? What come to your mind is both, someone who probably was born with an inclination to write with their left hand, and someone who writes with their left hand.

    In other words, the attribute, ‘left handed’, is a behavioral attribute. By that I mean that its definition ‘left handed’, is directly tied to an action, ‘writes with left hand’. This is not the case with ‘gender’, ‘nationality’, or ‘race’. None of those are behavioral attributes since there is no action they are tied to.

    In addition, when we are talking about behavioral attributes, while there may be two things involved, the inclination and the action (i.e., inclination to write with your left hand, and the actually writing with your left hand), it is only the action where the ethical claim comes in. For example, you can make an ethical judgment on whether it is ‘ethical’ to write with your left hand, in fact you can make an ethical judgment on whether or not it is ethical to do just about any action, having sex with someone of the same sex included.

    Or to say another way, it would be absurd in ethics to make ethical judgments on inclinations alone. For example, it would be absurd to say it is unethical to have the inclination to write with your left hand, for that is something we were given at birth. In the same way, it would be absurd to say that it is unethical to have an inclination to be with someone of the same sex. But the minute you act on that inclination, the minute that action is exercised, you have moved from inclination to action, and that action, like all actions in general, is up for ethical consideration.

    So, when I say homosexuality is a behavioral attribute, I mean it in the sense that it is tied to a behavior, and that behavior, like all behaviors, can be ethically judged. This is where I think the confusion comes in. When a proponent of gay marriage hears the term ‘homosexual’, I think what comes to their mind is primarily the inclination. Since inclinations are something out of ones control, they think it is absurd to make ethical claims on homosexuals. However, when opponents of gay marriage use the term ‘homosexual’, they primarily mean the behavior, not the inclination.

    For example, say there were two people, Person A and Person B. Person A had the homosexual inclination since the time he could remember, he had always been attracted to members of the same sex. However, while still fully having the inclination, Person A decided to make his devoutly religious parents happy, and marry someone of the opposite sex. Person A is someone who has never exercised the inclination to be with someone of the same sex, and currently resides with his wife and kids, suppressing the inclination at every moment.

    Person B, however, has always been attracted to members of the opposite sex, and claims to have never been sexually aroused by members of the same sex, however, Person B every now and than, at a club, he meets himself a very good looking man and goes home with him to have sex. While Person B claims to have no such inclination, and adamantly denies being a ‘homosexual’, he still finds himself constantly having sex with members of the same sex.

    In these examples, who is the homosexual, and who is not? The opponents of gay marriage would say Person B is the homosexual, for it is the action, and only the action, one is referring to when gay marriage is involved.

    Now, back to your original question, as far as whether heterosexuality is defined by its action, yes it is. When you say someone is a heterosexual, like when you say someone is left handed, like when you say someone is homosexual, you attach it to a particular action; therefore it is a behavioral attribute.

  • I have a dear Muslim friend that said the ‘left’ hand was considered dirty.

  • oops….

    I like this part the best when you wrote:

    “The minute you say homosexuality is a civil rights issue, you have moved from the free-will ethics (free-will is a basic fundamental criteria of ALL ethics, regardless of religion or non-religious views)….”

  • Hey DD,

    Yeah I’ve heard my Muslim friends say that before as well.

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