Sunday, April 06, 2014


I have a lot of thoughts and feelings around the recent Brendan/CEO kerfuffle. Mostly though I think it has been better to listen than to talk, so I haven't blogged about it. I will just say that I am very unhappy with the result of it all. I would also like to voice my thoughts on marriage.

One element of misunderstanding, it seems to me, is about whether marriage is important. For some people, marriage is viewed as a purely religious/cultural construct which should be dictated by their religion/culture. They don't see why it is so important for gay people (or sometimes other minority groups) to be able to marry. Especially if alternatives such as civil unions exist. They have the privilege of not being denied the marriage of their choice.

In contrast, for many people marriage is a large and practical thing since it can affect things such as immigration status, benefits, hospital visitation, etc. (As well as having their relationships treated as second class in the eyes of the wider society, of course). In my view, it is unfortunate that the practical side of things exists. I am lucky enough to live in a country where marriage is (mostly) not important in that way, and I prefer it greatly.

Marriage is a wonderful thing, and I would not deny it to anybody who wants it. In my view, it should not involve either the state or any cultural or religious institution. I find the fact that a couple has to be married by a third party weird. In my ideal world, the people being married would only have to marry themselves to each other, and no-one else would get a say. Marriage should simply be a public declaration of commitment in front of the people who are important to those being married. No-one should have to officiate or register it, and no-one should have to say who can or who can't get married. And certainly, being married should have no effects on your legal or moral life.

To clarify, I don't think marriage should lead to tax breaks or extra respect from any institution. I don't believe adultery should be judged any better or worse because of it, etc.

Once marriage brings material benefit from the state or the legal system, and once marriage is bestowed by an institution rather than being freely chosen, it becomes just another tool for enforcing established power. By allowing powerful groups of people to bestow benefits either social or material on individuals, it becomes open to corruption. It becomes something minorities have to fight for and which exclusive majorities seek to prevent others obtaining. That an expression of love and commitment ends up like this is immensely saddening, and says a lot about human society.

And don't even get me started about the commercial side of things. The whole wedding industry makes me feel sick.


Lorenzo said...

It is not marriage.
It is the very concept of "family" and related laws that come from hundred or thousand years.

In my onw country, Italy, we have two issues.
First of all, in the Constitution there is an article where the State declares support to the "family" and when it was written it meant "the traditional family".

Secondly, the legal system is rooted on the roman law which was rooted on the concept of "clan" so the rights and duties inside the marriage were part of a larger set of rights and duties inside the "enlarged family" (aka the clan). To give an example, if a married man doesn't support his children or he can't, his whole family would be called in, parents, brothers and sisters and basically any other relative. Until recent times if a man did the same but the children were born outside the marriage, since they did not belong to the clan only the man's parents would be called in and this only because the interest of minors comes above of anything else. This has been modified and now all children are treated the same, again in their best interest.

Out of what belongs to the ancient "clan" logic, there aren't any major limitations, for example in Europe the public health care covers everybody the same, you don't "inherit" the health insurance from your partner.

Another topic is the religious side. In Italy there is the Vatican. Consider this: divorce was introduced sometime in the '70s but, while the religious marriage is recognized by the State, you cannot divorce for the church (because it is a sacrament and then it cannot be revoked). As result divorced people live in a sort of "twilight zone" for the Church, which has got some interesing side effects when it comes to their following marriage(s) and children. It is generally overcomed by a "relaxed attitude" by everybody about "rights" and "moral issues".

Finally, in Europe a Prime Minister can cheat his wife with an actress and nobody cares. He can make jokes about anything and anybody and mostly nobody cares. People are used to be at war against each other for any possible reason so nobody cares if you insult some "minority".

Robert said...

Expanding on what Lorenzo said, state-given marriage benefits were, at least in part, a proxy for family benefits. I think it's reasonable for the state to encourage the creation and raising of children in stable families; there's an obvious common-good interest there.

I haven't thought about it very much, but eliminating marriage benefits and targeting them more explicitly at couples who raise children in stable families could be a good thing.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Lorenzo - Yes! Legal privileging of family/clan/tribe over individuals is a really bad thing, IMO. It seems the antithesis to the ideas of human rights and the best parts of western democracy.

Marriage is problematic in this context, because other than birth it is usually the only way to join a family/clan/tribe and thus get the protection and privileges that brings. So this is another reason I wish marriage were not the way it is. But more so, I agree with you that laws that benefit family/clan/tribe over individuals are generally bad.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Robert - agreed. The problem is execution (there has been some debate about this recently in the UK). If the state gives any financial or social benefit to "strong families", that is a strongly regressive benefit. Because it is usually people in 'unstable' families who need the most help, but who would be getting less.

glandium said...

You cannot, in the same post, mention immigration status as a marriage benefit and then say there should be no marriage benefit. Freedom of migration is not going to happen any sooner than the lift of marriage benefits.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Glandium in NZ at least marriage is not relevant for immigration status. If you are not married, being in a 'de-facto' relationship is just as good as being married. If you are married, you must still provide evidence that the marriage is genuine.

So, I am hopeful that this particular marriage benefit can be erased sooner than some others (at least in some places) and certainly sooner than free migration (which I also support).

Lorenzo said...


This is a painful topic for me because the contact between italian culture and american culture is having the same effect as the arrival of europeans for the american natives.

While the american culture (or the english speaking culture to some extent) roots on the concept of "individual" and you can be whatever you want to be, the italian culture is "family oriented" (read family as clan from now on). You don't exist as individual but as node of a network. Inside this network you expect other nodes to have some priviledges and some duties, they expect the same from you. It is like you are all the time under some sort of "social control".

Italians are known to be "momma boys". It is a mistake. They don't move away from their parents because they have been used to living in fortified buildings with their whole client for centuries.

In a land with very few resources (currently there are 6 more people for squared kilomenter than in USA) and with famine, war, plague, etc, your best chance of survival is to rely on your own clan. The ancient Greek oplites who fought the persian wars (this is Sparta!) fought shoulder to shoulder with their clan members, same goes for the highlander (I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod) and so on.

I give you an example. When an american gets his toilet broken, he calls a plumber who comes and repairs. When an italian gets his toilet broken he walks to his mom's and, after talking of this and that for a while says "mom, do you know if in the family there is anybody who repairs toilets?" Mom says "I will call aunt Maria". Mom then call aunt Maria (everybody lives nearby anyway) and after talking for an hour about everything happened in the family, asks if somebody repairs toilet. Aunt Maria says "yes, uncle Mario does, I will tell him". At the end the italian stays with the broken toilet for a couple of weeks until uncle Mario comes and fixes it.

You may think Italians are crazy. But now imagine the whole society collapses, you cannot rely on any organization or service. You can rely on the fact that inside your own clan there is the manpower to support you in any possible condition, when anything else fails. And by long experience Italians give this "network" the higher value.

Now, the gay topic. Since marriage has got a very importan role in the clan politics and economics, there are other relationships that are traditionally dealt on a separate road. The classic example is "not-married couples" like an husband who has got an affair with his secretary or a boy and a girl who date without being married. These relations are regulated separately both by the clan and the State law. So it is obvious when the "gay problem" rises, it is dealt in the same way, with a separate regulation.

But the "gay marriage" is totally disruptive of the "clan-based" society, because it negates all the laws, rights, duties and status that has come traditially with "marriage" for centuries. You can be gay but in the "clan logic" you are still expected to behave as a node of the network. You cannot blow the network up because of your "individual rights".

I hope this makes it clear why Mozilla's situation cannot be simply transferred out of the State of California and why people abroad have a (very) different view on the topic.

Lorenzo said...

Sorry, I made some mistakes like "client" instead of "clan". I hope readers can understand the same.

Lorenzo said...

Oh, BTW it is 6 times more people. In Italy there are 6 times more people than in USA. It is like the american population was about 1.800.000.000 in the same land as today.

Lorenzo said...

Sorry for being annoying but I must add another thing:

The "jesus freak" issue.

In Europe you don't find anybody who say "I am christian". Almost everybody is christian and the whole Europe has been at war with muslims from year 600 when the arabs invaded the roman territories since nowadays. In the same time we had religion wars among protestants and catholics and being christian has not stopped Europeans to happily kill each other, often from a village to the other.

Being christian simply means to share a common "koine", a common culture and some values.

In Italy there are three authorities out of the clan logic, they are the commander of the local Carabinieri station (technically a branch of the army that acts as police), the local medical doctor and the priest.

These people deal with anything about the italian life that cannot be dealt inside the "clan logic".

In Italy gays are christian too, even communists are often christian when they are in private. It is rooted so deeply that is just part of the landscape, like churches (there is one at every corner). So you never hear "I am christian", it is like saying "I am human". Obvious.

If you wonder how the Chruch deal with gays, it is the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. You are just an human being who commits some sins, like everybody else. You confess and you are forgiven. All goes well until you don't ask the Church to say that being gay is a good thing. But the Church does the same for anything else, like having sex out of the married couple for example. So not a big deal.

glandium said...

@Nick Cameron: I'm glad your country is as open on immigration of non-married partners. OTOH, it's a small country with a small population, and I guess few immigration issues. How many other countries are as open? At least none of the major economies I know are.

Nick Cameron. said...

@glandium, heh, I am glad I live here. It is a small country and fairly liberal, and in many ways a shockingly sensible one. It does have immigration issues - in part _because_ it is small, immigration has a large relative effect.

I don't really know about other countries, this is the only I've immigrated into, but I believe, sadly, you are right. In the UK, marriage is privileged, but not trusted - even if you are married you still have to prove it is legitimate, so they are halfway there.

Nick Cameron. said...

@Lorenzo, I'm afraid we will have to agree to disagree - I think the family/clan-centric culture you describe is terrible. It is fine when you are part of it, but what happens when powerful people in the family decide you don't belong? It is a system of power which keeps it in the hands of the powerful. I think it is bad for individuals, and bad for society as a whole. I much prefer the rule of law to survival of the fittest, even if that is the fittest family, not the fittest individual.

BTW, I am not American, I am also (northern) European, I have spent very little time in California.

Lorenzo said...

"I think the family/clan-centric culture you describe is terrible."
You aren't the first saying that. Given that there isn't any free meal and everything has pros and cons, it depends largely on your experiences and your lifestyle. If you are rich and you have plenty of resource available then you may find the "individual" society more appealing. It is just logic.
But you think of immigrants who arrive in an hostile environment, they can't speak the language, they can't access good jobs, they are poor and often mistreated. It is obvious they fall back on the "clan" society. It is just a matter of survival.

"... but what happens when powerful people in the family decide you don't belong?"
The roman law had the figure of the "pater familias" (the father of the family) who was the leader of the clan. He had right of life and death on everybody else, given some limitations.

BUT he could not decide you "don't belong". You always belong. WHATEVER you do.

I guess you have seen MANY movies about "clan rooted" societies, from "the Godfather" to stories of the middle ages. It goes in two directions, you can ask your mafia cousin to make a favor but then you are expected to do the same, even if you are the commander of the Police.

"It is a system of power which keeps it in the hands of the powerful."
Naive. Like any other system.

"I much prefer the rule of law to survival of the fittest, even if that is the fittest family, not the fittest individual."
Besides another naive concept, like the Law isn't made by whoever is in charge, in case of democracies it is the lobbies, your reasoning is understandable but unfortunately real world works on different principles.
The "individual" society promotes the individual. If I want to buy a jet plane for my own amusement and I make little children work in some factory in asia, that is perfectly fine. I hire somebody to to bombing parents of the children if they have something against it.
In the "clan" society you must bring your relatives in the business, knowing the little children in asia have relatives too. The result is generally a more moderated "aggressivity" of the clan based society. In fact Italians for example when happened to colonize some place, did that by marrying the local girls and making new clans and agreements among clans. Of course there are always the poor and the right, the strong and the weak, that is human nature. (out of the progressive's dreams) :)

"BTW, I am not American, I am also (northern) European, I have spent very little time in California."
Yes, the fact is some parts of Europe are more detached from their own past. For several reasons. Some have been more culturally colonized than others. Some are richer than others and so on.

Again, Italy has got 20 regions. The one where I live has the same population as the whole Sweden. So you can understand different environments lead to different "survival tricks".

Lorenzo said...

Maybe I wasn't clear enough above. Of course there can be a parent who refuses to have any relationship with a son who is gay. But this can happen in both directions for many different reasons. It is rather common you have issues with relatives and you don't see them for years. And you re-evaluate everything when you lose them. In the "clan based" society it is discouraged and there are many "mediators" that walk back and forth between to conflicting sides. You must really go to the extremes to cut all the family ties. In the same time, you must swallow some pride, often.

I see a much better course of action in integrating gays in the society, working around limitations instead of disrupting the very roots of the society to rebuild a new one where gays are "equal".

For two reasons.
First, you meet increasing resistance the more you attack people's life in deep. I am an example of it. I don't have any problem with gays but I cannot stand the idea of seeing my world, with its own flaws, to get demolished. If forced to, I would fight and when you are forced to fight you use an axe, not a pen.

Second, it is economically much more effective once you don't think in terms of " absolute principles", that have conflicting principles but you think in terms of balancing of practical achievements and effort spent.