Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

02 April 2013

Why the “Defense of Marriage” Act is Inhuman, not Just Inhumane


[For another angle on this issue, see this much earlier post.]

This post is straight talk for “straight” men, i.e., male heterosexuals.

Have you ever seen a knock-down, drag-out gorgeous woman consorting with a man you thought a “wimp”? You might think him “inferior” because of his size, posture, comportment, appearance, accent, or diction—or even his race, nationality, religion or ethnicity (if apparent from appearance or dress).

The reason doesn’t matter. All that matters is you think—if only for a moment, and if only semi-consciously—“why is she with him”? Your emotions are a combination of sexual jealousy, condescension, anger and revulsion. They are strong emotions, but you suppress them quickly.

There are good evolutionary reasons why these emotions are strong. What drives them is your biological need to procreate, to choose your own mate and pass on your genes in the way you feel is best. Maybe—just for a moment—you fantasize about taking the desirable woman from her “wimpy” choice. The very metaphor “knock-down, drag out” beauty suggests something deep in our human nature.

If we’re honest with ourselves and don’t entirely repress them, all straight men feel these emotions from time to time, especially when young and single. They’re almost as strong as the sexual urge itself, for they come from the same source.

Now consider what happens when the woman you want says “no.” You might try to persuade her, with expressions of love or otherwise. But you don’t resort to rape.

The emotions you feel in either of these situations can be stronger than any others, save perhaps fear of imminent death. Survival of you and your genes demands no less.

But you don’t act on them. Why? Because you’re a civilized human being, conditioning by normal upbringing to repress, not express, these antisocial feelings.

The law, of course, prohibits you from acting on them. Sure, you can “chat up” the desirable woman—a strategy likely to fail, especially if she is a stranger. You can also try to persuade a reluctant would-be mate. But, as much as your primitive forebrain might want to, the law and your own socialization won’t let you overpower her or her “wimpy” companion.

Why does the law stop you? Why does your own careful upbringing?

Both protect the individual’s choice of mate and, with it, the community. For the emotions of a raped woman or an overpowered mate are even stronger than yours.

India is discovering the first point now, as the huge nation recoils in horror from a well-publicized gang rape. As for the “wimp,” well, have you heard of Genghis Khan?

According to ancient chronicles, the rage that turned him into ancient history’s greatest conquerer came from a rival tribe stealing and enslaving his beloved. The ancient world’s greatest empire (and one its bloodiest and shortest lived) came out of the “wimp” striking back. The evolutionary power of individual mate selection is not easily trifled with.

Mating is a two-party process. That’s not law or custom. That’s biology. So human civilization does not invite third parties to intervene, no matter how strong their emotional drive to do so may be. For the emotional reaction would bring with it the law of the jungle. Remember Genghis Khan.

In our own Yankee culture, the right to choose (or not choose) your own mate has overcome even ancient traditions. Parents can yell, cajole and demand. They can deny a dowry or even disinherit. But at the end of the day, once children have reached the age of majority, they can choose (or not choose) their own mates. Civilization and our law gives them that right. They can marry and (in most states) cohabit as they please.

Now suppose you’re a heterosexual person watching a gay couple walking hand in hand, or kissing. What might you feel?

Well, you might feel some sexual jealousy if you were attracted to one of them. But I don’t think that’s the reason for the Defense of Marriage Act.

What’s behind that odd law is something much more abstract and pallid. It’s discomfort, maybe even disgust, at the very idea of homosexual pairing.

Most homophobes don’t have the faintest idea what gay people do in bed. They don’t want to know. They only know that it makes them uneasy, mostly because the Bible seems to tell them so. (I write “seems” because the Old Testament often reports incidents of homosexual relations with little or no moral judgment. Even in those supposedly golden days, these things just happened, often enough to be chronicled.)

Now here’s the thing. There’s no evolutionary imperative behind these feelings. None whatsoever. What two strangers (or friends) do in their privacy has absolutely no effect on your or my choice of mate or procreation.

There might be some small effect in a sparsely populated world. A homosexual union can’t “beget” without an egg or sperm from somewhere else. So gay pairing might impair the prime directive of Genesis: “go forth and multiply!” (That point alone might have been the source of the occasional biblical distaste.)

But our human civilization has long since passed that point. Our world is overpopulated and over-polluted. So distaste at gay marriage because it might be childless advances no evolutionary or societal goal.

In the long run, gay unions might even enhance our species’ survival by defusing our population bomb, or by making sure unwanted but later adopted children have stable homes. We might not want (yet) to ape China’s one-child policy, but we equally don’t want to require procreation. A lot of lawful and well-respected childless couples would object to that.

Anyway, the crux of the matter is civilization: how we preserve it despite conflicting evolutionary emotional urges. No matter how strong the underlying emotions or the men who experience them, we don’t let a strong man take a weak one’s mate away. We don’t let a man take a woman against her will. We no longer let even well-intentioned third parties—such as angry parents—destroy the love and harmony of a voluntary pairing.

We call this occasionally uncomfortable regime “civilization.” It would be hard to maintain an orderly society without restraints on very real emotions that might disrupt voluntary pairings among consenting adults. Our civilization exists only because we suppress, control and tame those emotions, even when they are as strong as the urge to procreate itself.

So why would we let much weaker emotions, with no sound evolutionary, societal or biological basis, deprive the gay couple of happiness and contentment?

Wouldn’t doing that be letting third parties intervene in intimate personal relations with no good reason? Wouldn’t it enshrine negative, antisocial emotions in our law, without even the excuse of a procreational urge at stake?

Mightn’t it create unhappiness, envy, resentment, discord and maybe even rebellion on gays’ part, with no compensating social benefit, except perhaps for occasional smug self-righteousness? Wouldn’t that be uncivilized?

Genghis Khan: I don’t mean by this brief reference to malign Genghis Khan. For his primitive era, his imperial regime was far more enlightened than most Westerners are taught in school. He acquired his effective methods of conquest in getting his beloved back, and he later applied his learning from those trials to rudimentary protection for women and children throughout his empire. The book that explains all this to uninformed Westerners is a delight to read and well worth reading.

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