Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Politics, Science, and Same-Sex Marriage

As Bill Nye explained to my generation back in the '90s, science rules. In science we have a mechanism for testing the way the world works, and even though there are those who have a vested interest in spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the conclusions of some scientific inquiries it's far too valuable a tool to give up. It's not immediately apparent to the eye, but the twenty-first century world is built on a scientific foundation and we ignore that at our peril.

True to form, there's plenty of peril in politics. Politics and science have something of a caustic relationship in this day and age, since more often than not science is telling governments, "hey, you know that plan you're really keen to enact? It's bullshit." Politicians don't like it when hurdles are dropped in their paths - just look at Rob Ford's ongoing temper tantrum over Toronto's subway issue. What's more, by their actions politicians don't like using the scientific method - assuming, that is, that they understand it.

There's one aspect of society where a more scientific outlook would be particularly welcome, I think: same-sex marriage. For decades this was something that was addressed only in science fiction, if at all; over the last eleven years the idea of extending marriage has begun to pick up steam, and it's now fully legal in ten countries. It's going to be a long and uphill battle, though, since there are many out there who see same-sex marriage as a fearful, threatening thing, and will invest all their energy in bailing back the tide.

Australia is one of the many countries where same-sex marriage isn't currently recognized under the law, though there is a growing current of support for it. In fact, it's prominent enough in certain circles that last week, as part of its coverage of the 2012 Queensland state election, the Brisbane Times reported on an attack flyer being distributed in the Brisbane suburb of Ashgrove that accused Kate Jones, an MP in the Queensland Legislative Assembly, of supporting a "radical law that violates kids' rights to a mum and dad... and voted for same-gender unions that require zero commitment."

For clarification, this appears to relate to Queensland's Civil Partnerships Act, which allows couples to formally register their relationships with the government.

Register a same-sex relationship? Strewth! (Pictured: government. Hey, give me a break - it's hard finding photographic accompaniment for something abstract.)

Personally, I find it almost comical when I encounter politicians from Australia to the United States going on from the bully pulpit about how same-sex marriage will destroy society, somehow or other. A lot of people accept those that sort of claim uncritically because it meshes with their own beliefs; now it's not just that they oppose same-sex marriage because they think it's icky, but they're Standing Square and Strong in the Defense of Their Country! The scientific method doesn't enter into it at all.

Nevertheless, in situations like this the scientific method provides an appropriate counterpoint. Sure, you have all these organizations raising a hue and a cry over how legal recognition of same-sex marriage will destroy society... what I'd really like is to see them explain Canada. Remember that Canada has legally enshrined same-sex marriage for nearly ten years, from coast to coast to coast. Canadian society hasn't collapsed. Nor have things fallen apart in Iceland, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Norway, or the other countries that allow it. Truly honest politicking would take these facts into account. The countries that allow same-sex marriage have, in essence, begun a grand social experiment, and a decade in things are calm. In Canada, it's barely even a thing.

In order to get that, though, you'd need a crop of honest politicians on the "no" side.

Like I said, then, ultimately it's comical - but the sort of comedy where you laugh because otherwise you'd cry.

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