Celebrating the demise of Prop 8

Like millions of others, I celebrate Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling of the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8. After all, Proposition 8 is a measure that hurts some people without doing anything to help anyone else. Such measures are incompatible with civilised society.

Yet, while reasonable people delight in this triumph of decency, millions of others, almost exclusively religious nutcases who refuse to think for themselves, are as upset about this decision as I am pleased. I’d like to be able to understand where they’re coming from even while disagreeing with them, but it’s difficult for me to be able to comprehend the meanness required to favor such mindless prejudice.

On certain issues, I frequently say that a rational and well-informed person can only possibly have a single viewpoint. For example, due to the extreme absence of evidence for the existence of any sort of deity or higher being in spite of the tremendous effort that has been expended in trying to find some, I conclude that a rational and well-informed person must necessarily be atheist. I sometimes also claim that, due to the absence of sensible arguments or counterbalance on the other side, a rational and well-informed person must be vegan, although that isn’t quite true. (It’s close, though.) After all, it is theoretically possible for someone not to care at all about others, and that would be an obstruction. A more accurate statement is that a rational and well-informed person who is not a sociopath must necessarily be vegan. But since the obstruction is so minimal and very few people are actually sociopaths, it’s somewhat reasonable to ignore that extra caveat.

Of course, not so many people are rational and well-informed about these topics, so they hold differing opinions, even though they don’t make any sense. Becoming well-informed requires some investment in time as well as an interest in the topic. As for being rational, it seems that some people are perfectly willing to hold views that don’t make any sense or are contradictory. I don’t condone the desire to make decisions or hold opinions that are irrational or based on misinformation, but at least I can understand why others do such things, even though I don’t approve.

But in the case of gay marriage, one doesn’t need to be rational or well-informed in order to support it, at whatever level one chooses to support marriages at all. (I don’t think marriages are a particularly good idea anyway, but to the degree that I believe that straight marriage is acceptable, I also believe that gay marriage is acceptable.) Being rational and well-informed is certainly sufficient to support them, but that’s serious overkill.

By that, I mean that if one reads a lot about the arguments for gay marriage, and the (lack of) arguments against, and thinks things through carefully, one can only possibly come to the conclusion that they must be legalized. This is the only possible conclusion of a fair and unbiased examination of the evidence.

But one can also come to the same conclusion starting from much less. It takes only the smallest dose of basic decency to support something that is helpful to some and harmful to none. One needn’t be either rational or well-informed to possess such decency.

Is there any trade-off needed to support gay marriages? Well, maybe a little, but only very little. Some people have an aesthetic about what marriage is “supposed” to be and would like to stick with that. But an aesthetic does nothing at all to help anyone; it’s just a picture that someone can have in eir mind. All else being equal, we can use an aesthetic to make decisions. But an aesthetic can’t ever reasonably take precedence over potential to help or harm others. The latter is always more important, no matter what the degree may be. And, in this case, legalization of gay marriage is helpful to millions of people.

Progress on this and many other social issues has begun, and it will take time before society as a whole recognizes how absurd it is that at some point, equal rights for all were not just not taken for granted but also nonexistent. It’s a major source of disappointment and frustration for me and many others to see how slow such progress is, but it’s coming. This ruling is a major milestone in society’s tolerance of minority groups and a reminder to the world that hatred is something that we, as a society, cannot accept.


About Simon

Hi. I'm Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo. I'm a mathematics postdoc at Dartmouth College. I'm also a musician; I play piano and cello, and I also sometimes compose music and study musicology. I also like to play chess and write calligraphy. This blog is a catalogue of some of my thoughts. I write them down so that I understand them better. But sometimes other people find them interesting as well, so I happily share them with my small corner of the world.
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3 Responses to Celebrating the demise of Prop 8

  1. Pingback: Atheism and rationality | Quasi-Coherent

  2. HC says:

    I don’t know if you check LiveJournal anymore? I left you a comment on it

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