Are Civil Rights Asymmetrical? [Blogathon 7/12]

Are Civil Rights Asymmetrical? [Blogathon 7/12] June 11, 2012

This post is number seven of twelve for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.  I’m responding to comments in the “Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong with Homosexuality” thread all day.  You can read an explanation of the Blogathon and a pitch for donations (even if you’re religious) here.


In the last two posts, I was focusing on what kind of data would make us think that gay marriage was a bad idea, but I think there’s a different question lurking in the background.  Why are we only asking queer folk to submit to an empirical evaluation of their marriage potential?  After all, we could hypothetically do a big analysis every decade or so and bar certain demographic groups from marriage based on the results.

In this dystopia, I imagine that groups could earn back marriage rights by putting up good numbers in the couple of states that retained marriage rights for them as a federally mandated pilot program.  Obviously, in this world DOMA would be expanded so that states would be required to not give full faith and credit to any out of state marriage, if it wasn’t allowed nationally.  Note: there’s a methodological problem here (aside from a couple constitutional ones).  The answer’s at the bottom.

There are a lot of reasons this policy would give us the heebie-jeebies, but part of it seems to be that we’re a lot more comfortable withholding new rights than curtailing pre-existing ones.  Is this a reasonable preference?  At any particular moment, the impact is the same: people who believe themselves to be entitled to a certain kind of recognition are denied it.

But there are larger scale effects.  Perhaps we think that out of a Chestertonian conservatism, we should be hesitant to contradict the democracy of the dead and should wait until further delay is almost universally regarded as embarrassing.

You could also make the case that dragging our feet on the expansion of rights makes it more likely those rights will never be revoked, once given.  Granting any right when it is likely to be revoked after the next election cycle/Supreme Court appointment makes it more likely that it will be revoked, and that it becomes more conceivable to revisit other civil rights decisions.  I’m not sure this is good tactics, or that we couldn’t move a little faster and still be fairly safe.  Your thoughts?



Answer to methodology question: Sampling bias.  The maritally-restricted couples who did marry during the testing years would have had to uproot themselves and move to states in the pilot programs.  Their high commitment to marriage means you’d expect them to have better than average results than their demographic group.

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