Sunday, June 19, 2011

France is not gay

On this blog, I am far more vehement than in real life. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, this is a blog, and the readership is quite small. I have not a lot of reputation to protect. Second, I am not writing in my native language, which I figured out was quite liberating. I swear far more in English than in my original language for instance. Finally, I also figured out that if I wanted to go at the bottom of some reasoning, I needed to take a stance. Constantly doubting is not useful for the purpose of this blog. But all I write should not be taken as definitive positions or strongly impassioned arguments. I don't know how to do that.

This being said, there is a small number of issues where I feel passionately about, because I do not understand the arguments. In Economics, in social sciences, in politics, I think it is hard to be right. Some data will always be there to contradict you. You cannot be sure of anything, and there is usually no moral argument to make the deal: why would tax cuts be better than government spending or vice-versa? Too many variables, too many unknowns, too complex a subject.
However, I feel that some issues do not face the same problem. One of those is the issue of anything with the prefix "gay" before it. I just cannot understand that there are debates on whether we can discriminate against homosexuals or not. I call discrimination any different in rights or duties of two groups. Homosexuals are discriminated against. They do not benefit, in many countries, from the same benefits accorded to married people, for instance. This is, in my opinion, completely insane. I've always had this feeling that this was a given: any discrimination based on who you are are senseless, amoral, and despicable. That is not the case.

The Socialist party in France proposed a law in the National Assembly on June 9th  that would have made the marriage a contract "between two people from opposite sexes of from the same sexes". The proposition was rejected on June 14th. Here is your list of voters: UMP and Nouveau Centre are against and the Socialists were for. Hopefully, the next proposition will be an amendment to Article 2 of the Constitution switching the french motto to Liberté(unless you're gay), égalité(unless you're gay ahahaah), fraternité(you saw what I meant)

In the US, today's NYT has an interesting article with rumors that Barack Obama is reviewing his opposition to gay marriage. Tidbits:
In 1996, as a candidate for the State Senate in Illinois, Mr. Obama responded to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper. “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,” Mr. Obama wrote, “and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”
By the time Mr. Obama ran for the United States Senate in 2004, his position had become more nuanced.
Once in the Senate, Mr. Obama maintained the position that his opposition was based on his religious views.
I still can't wrap my head around the religious argument. Discrimination should not be overcome by your beliefs. That should be a given. In the case of Barack Obama, he probably takes as given women equality. But here is what Corinthians 11:3 is saying
But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
And Corinthians 11:8-9
For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man
While Timothy argues that " A woman should learn in quietness and full submission". The religious argument is just unusable. It's an easy argument to make, but it won't help you. Anyway. Let's go further.

There are two issues of importance right now: the issues of whether same-sex couples can get married, and the issue of whether they can adopt children.
I cannot understand the first one. Marriage is a choice of those two persons. How is that non-discriminatory? We are saying that same-sex people cannot benefit from the same rights as opposite-sex couples. In France, why a PACSed partner can only get the french nationality after 5 years, and the married partner can get it in 4? In the US, why does a same-sex partner does not have the same Social Security benefits when his/her partner dies? Why do same-sex couples have far less access to family health insurance?   Why are people not allowed the same choices based on their sexual preferences? Why is the state involved in this?

To try to understand the main argument, I looked at the ruling on Proposition 8 in August 2010, in California. Proposition 8 was a ballot proposition to ban same-sex marriage. The ruling was impressive in the difference in the substance of arguments of proponents and opponents of the proposition. The evidence is stocked here

I want to try to understand the argument for discrimination. Interestingly, the initial arguments for a ban on same-sex marriage in this specific case were interpreted as religious and reflecting private beliefs. The main argument, as usual, was "Denial of marriage to same-sex couples preserves
marriage". The court was not ok with that:
A state’s interest in an enactment must of course be secular in nature. The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose
So the goals have been changed by the proponents of Proposition 8. One argument was that the proposition
Promotes stability in relationships between a man and a woman because they naturally (and at times unintentionally) produce children
which I find to be more convincing, had it been used in the first instance. I disagree on the fact that marriage implicitly implies reproduction, but this seems a far sounder issue than any belief-based argument. But I'll take the reproduction thing as the main argument against gay marriage. On this, I still do not see why the state should discriminate against same-sex couples. The only reason would be if the government wanted a high population growth,  but theoretically, how does this objective surpasses the freedom of choice of its citizens? And practically, since when the US and France's objectives are to have a high population growth?

On the issue of adoption, I felt that there is some small debate to be had, though I am not sure why. I feel that the main reason is that in the case of adoption, there is an externality towards a third human-being, on which couples have "administrative control" for 18 years, where this third person depends on the two others, especially in his/her first years. I still have a problem with this, because it assumes as a given that there is to prove that children bred in same-sex couples are doing as well as children in opposite-sex couples, which assumes that opposite-sex couples are the standard, and that a magical force makes adoption by opposite-sex couples ok, so that if you're doing the same as in opposite-sex couples you're fine. There's an implicit discrimination here, again, that I don't like. But let us have this debate.

Why should we have it even in practice? Nathalie Kociusko-Morizet(NKM), an impressive minister of Ecology and, in my opinion, one of the best politician we have in France, made an interesting argument on gay marriage in a recent interview in Dimanche Soir Politique. In response to a question on whether she favors gay marriage, she explained that
We have to agree on what it means to go further. For instance, I am not really in favor...I am not in favor of adoption by homosexuals. I think that's what is behind the notion of marriage. So no.

She's not the only one there. Le Monde tells us that
"Derrière le mariage se profile l'adoption, l'homoparentalité" a décrypté Michel Diefenbacher, député UMP(...)Le groupe Nouveau Centre a voté "majoritairement contre". "Nous sommes attachés à la famille et aux valeurs qui s'y attachent et on ne peut séparer la question du mariage et celle de la parentalité"

The first thing to say is that I do not know how to make sense out of this one. Those issues are quite distinct, so I don't think you can use that as an argument for voting no on gay marriage. That is a shame, since in the same interview for instance, NKM says that she actually favors gay marriage.
Now, on the substance, she should also explain why she does not favor adoption by gay couples. I have to admit that my preconception on this was also to be against. I don't actually know why, and I am quite ashamed of that. That was probably a status quo bias. But being against adoption does not even seem to rely on any fact. First, we've been through our series of sex scandals. Are heterosexual couples going way better than homosexual couples? Are the impacts on their kids less important? Now, more substantially, the negative impact of gay couples on the children they raised is an issue that has been completely debunked for a while now. As an example, the speech of 19-year-old Zach Wahls, raised by two moms, during a debate in Iowa is your primer

In practice what do we know about same-sex and opposite-sex couples, in practice? A researcher at UC Davis tells us that
the observed similarities between same-sex and different-sex couples are striking
Note that, in particular, the relationships of same-sex couples who are parents seem to be quite stable
Gay or lesbian unmarried parents are twice as likely as heterosexual unmarried parents to be in long-term relationships
Now, on adoption, the fact that a substantial number of same-sex couples have kids in their households should give us some insights. In the US
The 2000 Census revealed that 34% of cohabiting female couples had children under 18 living in the home, as did 22% of male cohabiting couples. By comparison, approximately 46% of heterosexual married couples were raising children (Bennett & Gates, 2004). 
Anderssen et al.(2004) tell us that(with the caveat that the number of studies on gay fathers is small)
Twenty-three empirical studies published between 1978 and 2000 on nonclinical children raised by lesbian others or gay fathers were reviewed.(...) Children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes
And Patterson(2006) argues that
Does parental sexual orientation have an important impact on child or adolescent development? Results of recent research provide no evidence that it does. In fact, the findings suggest that parental sexual orientation is less important than the qualities of family relationships. More important to youth than the gender of their parent’s partner is the quality of daily interaction and the strength of relationships with the parents they have. 
What variables are we talking about?

Empirical studies comparing children raised by sexual minority parents with those raised by otherwise comparable heterosexual parents have not found reliable disparities in mental health or social adjustment(...). Differences have not been found in parenting ability between lesbian mothers and heterosexual mothers (...). Studies examining gay fathers are fewer in number (...) but do not show that gay men are any less fit or able as parents than heterosexual men (...).
[E]mpirical studies have failed to find reliable differences between the children of lesbian and heterosexual mothers in their patterns of genderidentity (Perrin & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, 2002) or gender role conformity

So, the theoretical argument is against any discrimination on adoption. The practical arguments argue that there are actually no argument to be made by the impact on the children. There is no reason to discriminate against people with different sexual orientations. And this still strikes me that this has not been settled in the US and in France in 2011.

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