Should it be taboo to mention true things?

Australia’s decision-makers, meanwhile, continue to fawn over a small minority of electors … who see gay relationships as somehow inferior to their own and unworthy of legal or social recognition. Every so often, we hear them in the media calling homosexuals promiscuous or sick (empahsis added).

Tim Wright in The Age, 31 July 2009.

Some conservatives have odd ideas about gays, but they are right about promiscuity. This annual survey of gay men in Melbourne consistently finds more than half have casual partners.

Nor is this subject obviously irrelevant to the issue of gay relationships. Conservatives could argue that it suggests a weak commitment to the monogamy that goes with marriage.

Andrew Sullivan, by contrast, argues that the conservative position contains a contradiction. If you deny people the possibility of ‘normal’ stable, monogamous relationships, can it be that surprising if they go for promiscuity instead? This is what the evolutionary psychologists say men are hardwired to do, and it needs strong social institutions to stop them in the interests of something more profound and long-lasting.

I’m not sure what Wright is implying here. Maybe he is just listing resentments against conservatives. But it looks like a double standard, in which approved-victim groups are exempted from any form of negative comment, even if true, while deemed-oppressor groups can be subject to any kind of criticism, however personal or unfair.

There is a line between the virtues of tact and civility and the vices of spin and falsehood. If something is true and relevant to the case for or against an argument, then there should be no taboo on mentioning it.

Two very different ways of arguing for gay marriage

The Australian and The Age both ran opinion pieces yesterday favouring gay marriage, but the two articles were contrasts in tone and argument.

In The Age, Tim Wright preached to the converted. None of the concerns people might have about gay marriage were addressed. Rather, gays should be allowed to marry because it is a ‘basic human right’. Opposition to it comes from personal flaws: it is senseless, inhumane, mean-spirited, the product of fear, a cave-in to conservative lobbies.

In The Australian, Tim Wilson took a more conciliatory path. Picking up on Tony Abbott’s covenant marriage argument, he argued for pluralism in marriage contracts – letting gays marry and also letting religious people have stricter forms of marriage.

The Wilson approach seems much the better one. Opposition to gay marriage cannot be put down to the left’s standard cast of villains. While I personally think the case for gay marriage is strong, even from a secular conservative perspective, the arguments are counter-intuitive. People need to to be taken through them, not insulted.

Tim Wilson’s argument also highlights that gays and conservative Christians have more in common politically than either probably realise. They are both cultural minorities with the same threats from an homogenising state.

Wright’s article is an example of how an emphasis on rights damages democratic discourse. It encourages people just to assert entitlements, rather than to engage with other people’s views and perhaps reach a compromise on some evolutionary position. Winner-take all politics brings unnecessary rancour and division to civic life.