Mostly Harmless February 9, 2011

Mostly Harmless

(Hemant’s note: This is a guest post by JulietEcho. She was the fantastic admin for the Friendly Atheist forums for three years until stepping down recently to make time for law school.)

Whenever there’s a post here on Friendly Atheist about gay rights, free speech, or some other issue not directly related to atheism, there’s a good chance that at least one reader will complain.

“What’s an atheist blog doing discussing this off-topic stuff?” they’ll ask. While this content isn’t always about atheists or atheism, I think it’s important that atheists consider how to logically view situations and issues that fall into the same categories as atheism in society.

We have a thread right now on the forum about whether being an atheist can shape your values. Does a “non-belief” affect your beliefs? I think there are two different aspects of being an atheist when you live in a religious society. Firstly, there’s the necessary lack of belief in god(s). Secondly, there’s the belief that you have the right to be treated equally, as an atheist, instead of enduring discrimination, slander, or threats.

Why should atheists be treated equally? We’re harmless. We aren’t amoral, we don’t eat babies (Hemant’s frequent pictures notwithstanding), and we don’t try to force our lack of belief on others in ways that infringe on their rights.

This second aspect of being an atheist is shared by other groups: those that are stigmatized, discriminated against, and hated for a difference that is harmless. An obvious group in this category is the GLBT population, which is why it’s mentioned so often on the blog. The same bad arguments people use to discriminate against atheists are often used to justify banning gay marriage or adoption. If you, as an atheist, believe that those who do no harm to others or society should not be disenfranchised, then it doesn’t make sense not to extend that philosophy to other harmless groups.

There are, of course, disagreements over what constitutes “harmless.” There are atheists who are pro-choice and atheists who see abortion as unethical and wrong. There are atheists who will defend the right of Muslims to speak freely and build mosques and atheists who see all of Islam as a violent, threatening force. Some issues are less clear-cut than others.

Let me suggest ten hypothetical rights below. (Note that these examples should all be considered consensual, adult situations.)

Some of them are already widely supported and acknowledged as rights, while others are not.

  1. The right to marry members of your own gender.
  2. The right to adopt children, whether you’re gay or straight, and whether you’re single or not.
  3. The right to smoke marijuana (with certain restrictions similar to those on alcohol and cigarettes).
  4. The right to choose euthanasia.
  5. The right to change sex or gender, whether through surgery, hormones, cross-dressing, or some combination.
  6. The right to marry multiple people.
  7. The right to have an elective abortion in the first or second trimester.
  8. The right to have an elective abortion in the third trimester.
  9. The right to engage in incest.
  10. The right to express belief in any religion or philosophy.

Is each right harmless to others or not? Should atheists (or at least introspective, involved atheists) logically support them? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

I’m also curious what other examples like this you can come up with — would you classify them as “harmless” or not?

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • gmb

    The right to marry members of your own gender.

    Can this be changed to “The right to marry members of any gender”? Whilst many people see gender as a binary thing there are plenty of examples of people who don’t. If we’re going to talk about LGBT rights then trans and genderqueer people need to be included in that discussion.

  • Alz

    Whenever there’s a post here on Friendly Atheist about gay rights, free speech, or some other issue not directly related to atheism, there’s a good chance that at least one reader will complain.

    The dictionary Atheists strike again!

  • Claudia

    I’d have no issue with most of the things on the list, though I’d attach asterisk to 6 and 8. 6 is fine in and of itself, but should exist in a context that ensures the ability to consent for all parties (since polygamy often exists in the context of subjugation of women) and 8 is the late-term abortion debate where I have issues with some of the more radically pro-choice people and that I don’t want to get into (and I beg the comment thread isn’t entirely dominated by).

    I have a somewhat different take on why we are interested in these issues. It’s not just that other minorities or choices are pursued despite being harmless. It’s that they are specifically pursued because of religion.

    Face it, most of us on this site anyway aren’t just atheists. We are also secularists with pretty strong opinions about the harm religion does and how it seeks to impose it’s arbitrary laws on believers and nonbelievers alike. Every item on the list above save #3 are governed by religious laws that we don’t subscribe to.

    So yes, we definitely do take an interest in other persecuted groups or choices, but it has to do with having a common enemy and that enemy basing itself largely on a religion we don’t believe in.

  • With the exception of #8 I would agree with all of them.
    I would extend the right to smoke marijuana to all drugs (under some license restrictions) as what a person subjects their own body to is their business.
    The only caveat I have about #9 is that incestuous relationships have a greater potential to be coercive than others. Consensuality is often difficult to prove in sexual relationships at the best of times.

    I absolutely agree that these issues are of interest to atheists. Our epistemology is one of evidence and rationality, not doctrine.

  • Drew

    A few of these gave me pause, namely six and eight, as with Claudia. But I realize that there really is no harm (apart from blatant stupidity) in number six, and if I accept number seven (which I do), then I must accept number eight.

    But someone please enlighten me on the harmlessness of incest. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a distant cousin who is stunningly cute and the mind does wander a bit after a few too many at holiday functions. My ignorance may be showing, but if one intermingles with one’s own, isn’t there a dramatic increase in risk of birth defect? And, barring that, isn’t there a stigma for the child, even if physically healthy? My concern isn’t for the couple…only for the result. I think that may be the harmed party, assuming there ends up being one.

  • cat

    1. Well, it works as a bandaid solution for equal rights, though I would rather not see legal rights attached to relationship status. Still, many of the ‘libertarian’ types that try the whole “the state should not be involved in marriage” angle do not actively work against such laws and many of them legally marry themselves. There is a subset of leftists, many of whom are queer, that actually are genuinely anti-marriage for anyone and are politically active on the issue.
    2. There are serious ethical problems around the adoption system, but, again, equal legal rights should be there for queer people and heteros.
    3. Sure, go ahead.
    4. There are serious issues with “consent” here, particularly in a system like the US where health care is conditioned on wealth, and with ablism.
    5. Sure, though you phrase it a bit wonky. (I would contend that people who transition are not changing gender, they are changing presentation to better reflect their gender).
    6. Sure, with the usual qualms about state marriage and a place to sign that the other spouses are aware and agree.
    7. Yes.
    8. Yes, though I would say that this is the result of a balancing test, rather than a zero harm situation. Late stage fetuses may be developed to the point where they can be harmed, but that does not give them the right to nonconsensual use of another’s body.
    9. Sure, but the elevated risk of coercion here warrants extra scrutiny.
    10. Yes and no. People have a right to have and speak even repulsive views, but people with certain views should not be allowed to hold certain offices or social positions. To go all Godwin, if person expressed their profound belief in nazi-ism, they are unfit to be a public school teacher. This could be considered a vegan butcher case, though I admit it could be problematic finding the limits here.

  • Thaddeus

    #9 is an interesting right. Science & history have proven that incestuous relationships are very likely to produce defective progeny (Charles the Bewitched being a prime example). Why would one engage in a relationship with one’s own kin, knowing that you’re putting your potential family at risk (keeping in mind that even when using birth control, should the relationship get sexual, doesn’t always work)?

  • As mentioned above, caveats for numbers 6, 8, and 9 – but everything else I agree with.

    Atheism isn’t just a lack of religion, it’s a lifestyle and mindset. The only thing that truly defines atheists as a group is that we all have no belief in gods. What we choose to define as important to us may be important to one person more than any others. I’m far more interested in point number 5 than I’d ever be with points 6 and 8. Others may choose to champion point number 4, and that’s okay by me.

    All of these can be issues of interest to atheists because they are largely things that the religious interpret as things they strive to stop or bottle up. A rational mind sees no problems with any of these things, but god-forbid we let that elderly gay couple get married.

  • cat

    Sorry to post again so soon, but I wanted to address Drew’s arguments regarding incest, because they are intensely problematic. ” My ignorance may be showing, but if one intermingles with one’s own, isn’t there a dramatic increase in risk of birth defect?” Does it matter? Do you believe that the state and the public should engage in eugenics policies? We do not and should not ban couples from having sex or reproducing on the grounds that their genes may cause the birth of children with disabilities.
    “And, barring that, isn’t there a stigma for the child, even if physically healthy? My concern isn’t for the couple…only for the result. I think that may be the harmed party, assuming there ends up being one” I have seen this same argument thrown out against queer and interracial couples. Social stigma against an innocent child is a societal problem, not a problem with the child or necessarily with the parents.

  • RTH


    From what I’ve read it appears that the genetic dangers of incest are generally greatly exaggerated, though they do exist.

    Of course, that raises the question of whether our sex laws should be based on eugenics. (I say they should not.)

    If we’re really concerned with birth defects, then wouldn’t it make more sense to ban reproduction between any two people (regardless of whether or not they are closely related) who – based on their genetic makeup – have an increased risk of having a child with birth defects? (I think it would make more sense, but I wouldn’t support that, either.)

  • Cortex

    I had to remind myself a few times of your overarching rule that these are all to be assumed to be free of consent problems, but yeah, I guess these are all fine, although 6 and 9 disgust me personally.


    If there is stigma-associated harm to the product of such a relationship, the harm comes from the people who enforce the stigma. I don’t think you can say that allowing a person to exist is harmful to them.

  • RTH

    The only items on the list that I’m really uncertain about are the two abortion scenarios.

    My position is this: Abortion should be legal up to the point when the fetus has developed a consciousness or an ability to feel pain.

    I don’t know at what stage that happens. I don’t think it happens in the first trimester, but, if not, then it certainly must happen at some point during either the second or third trimester.

    It’s a question that should, as much as possible, be answered by science, though that answer would then be the basis for changes in the laws.

    My reasoning on this point is that people should be free to do whatever they want to do, so long as they don’t violate the most basic rights of anyone else. The fetus’ rights become relevant by the time it develops a consciousness. I know there can still be some dispute about whether the conscious fetus is a “person,” but I am inclined to define that term broadly.

  • Nerdette

    @ RTH

    The term “conscious fetus” is as loaded as the term “life” – are you saying “eyes open, awake and interacting with stimulus” or are you saying “capable of internal retention of a situation”. We have strong evidence that “personhood” – the accumulation of memories that affect identity – doesn’t begin until at least 18 months after birth. My great-grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s was conscious, but she wasn’t internally processing the situation.

    …And then you edited yourself to make my post pointless. Heh. At least you caught it, kuddos.

    Pain is a rough measure, and I’m still uncertain about it. I’ve changed my mind frequently about third trimester abortions, but the fact of the matter still comes down to a personal issue that is tailored differently for every situation. Fetus death, mother’s health, economic timing, coercion, anything could really be the motivator for a third-term vs first- or second-term abortion, and I don’t feel that any of us have a right to say “Well, that’s just too bad – now it’s punishment.”

  • Kaylya

    Personally – third trimester (and late second trimester) is viable. Now, the vast majority of abortions are well before the viability threshold (around 90% are first trimester, and most of the rest are pretty early in the 2nd). Barring above normal risks (I wouldn’t put the bar all that high, and would also consider mental health) to the mother’s health at that stage, or severe birth defects, really the best thing at that point is to have the baby and put it up for adoption.

    Re: Incest – certainly at an absolute minimum anything involving immediate family members (parents, siblings) should have a higher age threshold for consent, like how in many jurisdictions a 16 year old could legally consent to sex with most adults but not their teacher.

    On that same line – marrying more than one person should perhaps have a higher age of consent than regular marriage; at least waiving the period in many jurisdictions where one can marry starting at 14 or 16 with parental consent (but need to be 18 without).

    Also note that there’s a difference between “harmless” and “harmless to others”. If I maintain a couple marijuana plants and smoke occasionally, it’s harmful to myself, but so long as I don’t go out and drive, or neglect my children because of it, or something else that might put others in danger it’s harmless to others. I’m pretty much ok with anything so long as the only person who could be harmed is a consenting adult.

  • Simmering

    incest is not harmless since birth defects are likely should one conceive and really how often is incest consensual? most of the time it’s rape and that is not harmless.

    on abortion consider the case of an elective abortion one day before the due date. harmless? hardly, it’s murder. as an atheist i really can’t embrace your list sorry.

  • Kelly

    1. Agree
    2. Agree
    3. Agree along with other currently illegal substances
    4. Agree as long as care is taken to ensure that it is truly their choosing (for example no duress from family members who want to save money)
    5. Agree
    6. Agree as long as all current spouses consent to the arrangement (possibly with special preclusions as to sharing certain legal benefits like employee sponsored health care)
    7. Agree
    8. Agree with the note that while I find this distasteful and think this scenario is generally pretty unlikely as most people who don’t want a child will abort sooner, the mother’s right to control over her own body still trumps the fetus’s right to life (and I would say this should be done in a way to minimize fetal suffering)
    9. Agree (if we are going to worry about the genetic consequences on hypothetical children, we must also advocate eugenics for people with various genetic diseases such as huntington’s)
    10. Agree if by express you mean through words or actions that don’t trample anyone else’s rights (including their own children’s)

  • I think you should all prosecute this agenda (all ten points) as loudly and proudly as possible. Because nothing is going to galvanise opposition against atheism like standing for some of these ten items on the basis of your lack of belief in gods.

  • Remus

    Wow, interesting post.

    Your list have some controversial and thought-provoking points and I mostly agree with them. I have never given 6 and 9 much thought though, so I’m in danger of falling into the cultural norms regarding the topics of polygamy and incest.
    But fundamentally I support the right of choice whatever it may be.

  • John

    Awesome post! I would like to add:
    The right to have any form of sex with another consenting adult for any reason, including the exchange of money.
    While sex for money isn’t my sort of thing, I have no issue with those that engage in it.

  • @Nathan,

    I think you should all prosecute this agenda (all ten points) as loudly and proudly as possible. Because nothing is going to galvanise opposition against atheism like standing for some of these ten items on the basis of your lack of belief in gods.

    I don’t think most of us are concerned about winning popularity contests.

  • Claudia

    @Drew, cousin marriage is perfectly legal in most of the civilized world. The risks asssociated to first cousins reproducing are similar to those associated to women giving birth after the age of 40, which are themselves only slightly higher than “ideal” birth ages.

    Of course repeating cousin reproduction over many generations compounds the risks, as is obvious from a cursory observation of the European royal family (and they are one big family, really) and the risks are MUCH higher for siblings with each other or parents with children.

    However I don’t think any of it should be illegal, since sex =/= reproduction. However I don’t think that conceptions with a very high risk of producing defective children should be allowed, though I can’t say I know how you could regulate that.

  • Silent Service

    Wow. Way to draw fire from the RR. Under the idea of what goes on between other concenting adults in none of my business I have to agree, but wow, you did hit all the hot buttons. Especially with #9 which gets such a negative reaction. Even people that can accept #6 and #8 will likely have aproblem with #9.

  • jose

    The right to healthcare in America. Not only it is harmless, it actually heals hurt people. Yet some people don’t think it is a right, but a business.

  • S

    #8 and #9 are a bit iffy to me. #8 because I carried and gave birth to a child and I know what it’s like to have a human being inside of you in the third trimester who’s a kicking and hiccuping fully formed baby. #9 only because of the potential for birth defects of any future children.

    #5. Sex is your anatomy and gender is brain based. When a person transitions, they are changing their sex/body to align with their gender. There’s quite a bit of science to explain transgender individuals so I’d be a bit perplexed to see any atheists not give their full support to the T of the LGBT. T rights tend to be behind the LGB by at least 20 years if not more. People just need to be educated and the LGB need to stop using the T as a bargaining tool when rallying for LBG(T) rights. We’re the first to be dropped when our rights are discussed.

    Some reading:
    Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleusa
    Transsexual gene link identified
    Transsexual and Intersex Gender Identity
    White matter identified
    A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality
    Hormones and Behavior
    -a transgender atheist

  • Michelle

    For number 8, barring all health concerns for both mother and fetus, would a medically induced minimally invasive (equal to the threshold for an abortion) birth be an option? This would require a much improved system for taking care of the children, and #2 could go a long way to helping that along with some serious updates in our foster/adoption system, but that may resolve many issues.

  • @Silent Service:

    Yeah, it’s a weird thing. At first I was okay with gay marriage, but polyamory – nosir! Now that I have thought hard about it, there’s nothing about polyamory that is wrong (consent, awareness, and legal impacts aside.) Similarly an incestuous relationship, while squicky in my mind, is something I can see others fighting hard for. I see nothing truly wrong about it, if two consenting adults wish to have a relationship, so be it.

  • I think you should all prosecute this agenda (all ten points) as loudly and proudly as possible. Because nothing is going to galvanise opposition against atheism like standing for some of these ten items on the basis of your lack of belief in gods.

    It’s about a rational evidence based approach to ethics and morality instead of a deontological approach that relies on neolithic myths. Atheism derives from the same epistemology. So it is not lack of belief in gods that is the basis for the general acceptance of this list, although I’m certain that those bigoted against atheists and against equality and freedom would be happy to frame it that way.

  • Claudia

    @Silent Service, I disagree actually. It does cause probably a quicker “ewww gross!” reaction bu if you are an atheist because you are a rationalist, you understand that people must have the right to do whatever does not cause harm to others. #9, assuming it is consensual and does not result in defective offspring, hurts nothing but our sensibilities. Sure you can think it’s gross, but if something being gross were the standard we’d lose 1, 2 and 5 to the homphobes right away.

    At most #9 has the same problem as #6, that it makes us uneasy about the possibility of it putting people without a true ability to consent at risk, due to the inherent imbalance of power in many family relationships.

  • WetMogwai

    If banning incest is eugenics, so what? I’m not convinced either way on the subject of eugenics. On one hand, it seems wrong because it is forcing someone else’s opinion on a personal relationship. On the other, if morality is taking the action that results in less harm than not taking the action, wouldn’t it be right to prevent people with a high likelihood of birth defects from conceiving*? Not only is the child likely to be malformed, often society itself is harmed by having to collectively care for a non-productive member. I’m still in the process of thinking this one through and am open to arguments either way.

    *This is a separate issue from incest. If the risk from incest is not as high as I’ve always been led to believe, it would not apply here. If incest is fairly safe, as it seems likely to be, I have no problem with it whether eugenics is fine or not.

  • Mr Z

    I get the point of asking the question, but I object to the question as stated, for it results in subjective issues and answers. The question we really need to deal with is more defined; should the government interfere with your right to any of the following ten ‘rights’?

    The golden rule when applied to governments is not quite quid pro quo. The government should not curb the exercise of any right which does not violate the rights of another. You should not vote for laws which do hinder the free exercise of a right which does no harm to others. The problem occurs when someone is viewed as ‘in diminished capacity’ with regard to their rights. For instance, a depressed person may not be in their right frame of mind to make decisions on euthanasia. The law would require more guidance than a simple statement in practice.

    1. The government does not have a right to ‘manage’ what marriage is, only to whom special benefits are given to foster a life desired for all citizens.

    2. The government has a need to ensure that children are not harmed. This should be weighed against the harm of prolonged life in a shelter or temporary home among other things.

    3. The government has no right to determine what a citizen ingests. They have a need to protect citizens from dangerous substances (food laws, safety warnings etc) but not by physically restricting the distribution/sale/possession of such materials. Drinking antifreeze is dangerous as is wood alcohol, but it is not restricted.

    4. The government has no right to stop a person in their right mind from choosing death.

    5. Gender issues: The government has no right to interfere, only clarify how the person is to be treated by the law in consideration of gender.

    6. The government has no right to define marriage, only to clarify what special dispensations will be given to whom with regard to unions.

    7/8. The government has no right to interfere with your body. period. They have a need to protect citizens and no person is a citizen until they are born. Medical dangers should determine whether an abortion should be denied, and NOT religious morals.

    9. The right to engage in incest. The government has no right to tell a citizen who they can or cannot fuck… period. They may choose not to give dispensation to such a relationship, but they cannot make it illegal.

    10. The right to express belief in any religion or philosophy. The right to express stops when it interferes with any other citizens’ rights.

    Your rights end where my nose begins. The bill of rights and the constitution are designed to give all citizens the same rights, a fair playing field. If any law would discriminate against any party it is wrong. Clearly any party breaking laws is not given the same set of rights in all cases. But if the law says only religion Xyz is allowed, then someone not of that religion cannot be said to be breaking the law because they don’t believe. The law is wrong. We must be careful that rights and laws do not lead to forced strangulation of the law of reciprocity.

    More dangerous to the citizenry at large are laws which prevent the governments from providing the services which are useful – see food labeling laws et al.

  • Steven

    I see that JulietEcho has brought the industrial-strength can opener and family-size can of worms to the table today. Although I agree with the items on her list, are human beings able to handle that kind of freedom? It’s none of my business how people spend their time – as long as they don’t endanger other people’s lives and property as a result.
    I admit to being puzzled by polyamory (one spouse is plenty, thanks) but there’s no reason consenting adults shouldn’t form whatever arrangements suit them. Lawyers are a clever bunch and working out the legal issues might keep them out of mischief.
    I did raise my eyebrows at #9 – the right to engage in incest. It just seems wrong but I can’t offer any rational arguments why this is the case. Maybe it’s cultural conditioning but the fact that it makes me uncomfortable is no reason for me to condemn consensual incest. As a previous prime minister once said “The government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”

  • Silent Service


    I did say that I agree, even though I understand the ewww gross reaction that immediately comes up on 6 and especially on 9 (were those numbers picked on purpose). I also understand that they are societal issues: but all 10 are societal issues. I just think we need to pick out battles more carefully. Nathan is right that the entire list would galvanize opposition to us if we jump out in public support of all of them, especially incest. And that’s despite the fact that most incest occurs in religious homes, though not because religious people are more inclined to incest (I have no idea if that would be true or not) but because the vast majority of people are religious.

    Promoting the entire list just seems like we’d be hooking a tanker truck full of jet fuel to a fire truck and sending in the ladder team with a hose spraying JP8. That’s a bit more than just adding fuel to the fire. That’s down right explosive.

  • Claudia

    @Silent Service, I agree of course. It’s hard enough to defend our own community given that activist nonbelievers are a minority within a minority. Trying to deal with all of these causes would simply be impossible. I don’t actually think that was the point of the original post though. The point of the original post is to discuss why the atheist community takes an interest in subjects not strictly related to ourselves. The idea put forth is that we tend to oppose the prohibition of things for which there is no actual rationally based victim. The list put forth was illustrative of this. In actual fact, though the nonbeliever community does tend to be very strong on LGBT issues and is overwhelmingly pro-choice, the other issues simply don’t come up as much.

    I’m willing to pick my battles. If I’m totally rational, I’d actually say that #3 is possibly the issue that causes the most unneccesary harm, given the ridiculous costs of the failed drug war as well as the countless ruined lives of those incarcerated for a victimless crime. I’ll admit though that even as I understand how it probably has a greater negative effect on more people, I simply can’t get as passionate about it as I am about ensuring that all citizens are given equal civil rights.

  • WishinItWas

    Seems some people only like it when they can tell other people how/when/who to get married……..

  • jebus

    This list confuses the positive rights of the people and the negative rights of the government.

    You do NOT have the right to smoke marijuana, but what right does the government have to stop you? On the other hand, the government has not only the right, but the DUTY, to stop you from having an abortion in the third trimester. The ONLY scenario in which a third trimester and partial-birth abortion are acceptable is when the mother’s life is endangered, and that decision should be made by doctors and patients, not politicians. What it boils down to is that, beyond protecting the rights of others, it isn’t the business of the government to legislate morality.

  • bernerbits

    I have to say, I have a bit of a conscience problem allowing elective post-viability abortions. My common sense tells me that while an embryo is certainly not a person, a viable fetus definitely is.

    Of course, I also understand that elective post-viability abortions are exceedingly rare and against most medical regulations, and I am fully against the so-called “Partial Birth” abortion ban.

  • TMJ

    I have a lot of issues with number 9 (besides the ewwwww factor). When I think of incest, I think only of immediate family incest. I cannot think of a sexual relationship between a parent/grandparent and offspring that isn’t in some way abusive. Much like a boss-subordinate relationship, it is an abuse of power. The parent-child relationship is already complex enough without bringing a confused sexual relationship into it.

    In terms of siblings, while I don’t have an issue with the sexual aspect, no children should be brought into this relationship.

  • jebus

    Oh, and addressing the issue of harm…

    Yes, most of the items on the list are harmless (or mostly so), and the fact that the government doesn’t have the right to prohibit them is enough in theory. In practice, of course, there are social authoritarians in power who think that they know better.

  • @TMJ:

    That’s the thing about it, abuse aside, is there anything inherently wrong with familial relationships going into sexual relationships? There’s certainly a ‘squick’ factor, and certainly the issue of potential offspring from said relationship, but I can’t think of a rational reason to deny two mature adults a consensual relationship.

  • Silent Service

    I think another reason that some issues get pushed more from the atheist community has a lot to do with who’s in the atheist community. While I know that here a few polyamorous relationships in the atheist community, how many are there really? The biggest driver on this issue in America is the FLDS, a religious group. And since atheists tend to be higher educated, we’re statistically less likely to be in a position where having an abortion becomes an issue. That makes it less personal to most of us atheists. The atheists I see most interested in the abortion debate are those most interested in women’s rights overall.
    Religious persecution of LGBT people helps push them into our community so it’s pretty easy to find people like me who care about both issues. It’s really hard to join and support a religion that hates and despises you, even though many do it. It’s the same with gay people being allowed to adopt.

    Medical marijuana and euthanasia are medical issues and just plain easier to get behind without getting into a moral dilemma but it’s really the only thing on that list that doesn’t evoke a strong religious reaction one way or the other.

    Those positions on the presented list that draw our support do so because we aren’t just atheists.

  • jose

    “My common sense tells me that while an embryo is certainly not a person, a viable fetus definitely is.”

    My common sense tells me the sun revolves around the earth.

  • Jim H

    I have no problem with this list.

    That said: #3 is a tricky one. In the current environment, consuming “illegal” drugs can indeed be harmful to others, in that the prohibition-induced black market attracts a violent element, which leaves innocent victims in its wake. (Please understand that it’s the prohibition to which I object.). Can I eliminate the violence if I abstain from the prohibited items? Well, no, there’s still a market. Short of elimating the prohibition, I have no idea how to fix the problem. Unfortunately, neither do I know how to remove the prohibition in our political climate. No solutions here; just expanding on the problem.

  • Lesilu

    How would polygamy play out in the U.S. or other Western cultures? Surely not just polygyny or polyandry–then you run into gender and sexual orientation equality issues. I realize that this “hypothetical right” would be a choice, but to me it sounds highly impractical and potentially harmful for our society. I’d certainly like to hear others’ opinions on how it would work.
    You asked for other examples: I think nudity is a good one. On our televisions, in our streets, uncovered on our magazine stands. Technically harmless, though those that choose to engage should definitely wear shoes and probably bring something to sit on.

  • Jon Peterson

    @cat, RTH, and Claudia:
    I certainly agree that #9 (the right to engage in incest) should be allowable, but I wish to share my opinion on the whole birth defect thing.

    My older sister is autistic. Statistically, although causality has not been proven, this means that I have an increased risk of having an autistic child. The magnitude of this increase is minimal, much the same as with incestuous relationships, yet because of it I have made the decision that I will not participate in the conception of a child.

    It’s easy to say that we should not govern eugenics (and we shouldn’t), but to make the claim that the harm to the child comes only from society? My sister leads a good life… thankfully, she has parents that can afford to pay for the extensive amount of care she needs. But she has an exceptional situation. Most of these kids (keep in mind that developmental disabilities leave the vast majority of these individuals at pre-teen cognition, even into adulthood) are misunderstood and mistreated by some combination of their parents, their schoolteachers, and the care workers assigned to them… and that’s even assuming that the family can afford to provide for a full dependent for life, which most can’t. The state has programs to help these individuals, but they are no less corrupt than foster care, and afford only a bare minimum of care (less than the cost of renting an apartment).

    Even then, the great State of California (and we’re not the only ones… just the one for which I have numbers) is proposing to CUT funding by $720 million for programs supporting the developmentally disabled.

    Now, the increase in risk is indeed minimal, and not enough to require prohibition… but I contend that blanket statements claiming (the parent is not at fault for harm to a child that they brought forth with full knowledge of increased risk) are dangerous and false. These aspects of society are not going to magically change, and anyone who willingly subjects a child to them should be held accountable. Eugenics is one thing; negligence is another. And the latter is a crime.

  • Frank

    On number 2, I would not refer to a right to adopt. Adoption decisions should always be about the best interests of the child(ren) involved. No adult has a right to adopt, and some should not be able to. But if number 2 were rephrased as “the right not to be discriminated against based on gender or sexual orientation in adoption” I would agree with that.

    With number 3, I agree that a person should be able to use marijuana and other drugs so long as all the people involved are consenting adults. I disagree with the assumption in the question that the restrictions currently in place regarding cigarettes are sufficient to ensure that only consenting adults are involved. If a person smokes a cigarette outside of a building that I need to walk into, that person is forcing harmful chemicals into my body against my will. In any other context that would be considered a criminal assault, yet for some reason our society has decided that it is magically ok when it is someone smoking a cigarette. But so long as restrictions on marijuana are sufficient to guarantee my right to walk down any public street or into any public building without being exposed to other people’s harmful chemicals, then I would be fine with legalizing marijuana.

    On abortion, I’m not sure I would consider it a right all the way to birth, but certainly earlier in the pregnancy when most abortions actually occur.

    All the others I would agree with, including incest. My understanding of the medical facts are that if incest becomes habitual in a family there is a serious risk, but if it happens just once in a particular family the risk is minimal. And psychologically people are not going to want to have sex with people they think of as family members. That is why most cases of consenting adults engaging in incest are cases where the two people did not meet until adulthood, where they were not raised as family. So the risk of incest in multiple generations of the same family is extremely small.

    And I would add a right to health care to the list.

  • WetMogwai

    @ Lesilu

    I suggest you read Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It describes a way polygamy could work. I had never heard of the concept of line marriages before. I kind of like it. Of course, it is a society separate from Earth, but they’re still humans.

  • Rich Wilson

    What about public nudity?

    Public masturbation?


    Necrophilia, assuming the deceased allowed for it in their will?

    My only argument against any of these is ICK. And that’s the only argument from the anti-LGBT side that I can accept as valid. I don’t think that should invalidate gay marriage, but at least I can accept that some people just plain feel icky about the fact that gay sex exists.

    @bernerbits put my abortion thoughts quite well. I think abortion rights are so tenuous now that I would fight to keep what rights are there rather than see them erode. But in my ideal world, birth and adoption would be the recourse for viable fetuses assuming no health risks to baby or mom.

  • I would like the right to do whatever I want unless some good reason exists for why I shouldn’t be permitted to do it.

    1. I don’t want to marry anyone but I see no reason why I should be prevented from marrying anyone who agrees to marry me.

    2. I do not believe that anyone should have the right to adopt. Children should have the right to adopt suitable, willing parents\guardians.

    3. I enjoy all kinds of recreational compounds, notably coffee. Why should my enjoyment of these be restricted? Perhaps if I’m driving a bus or performing heart surgery but that seems a reasonable caveat.

    4. Just try and stop me. What are you going to do? Execute me?

    5. I have no desire to change my gender. I don’t see the appeal. However I’m not everyone and I can see no reason to deny this to anyone. If you want to be called Susan or Derek then go ahead and change your identity to fit.

    6. See 1.

    7. and 8. I’m male. I can’t get pregnant so I can’t get an abortion. I cannot even imagine what these are like. I don’t get a say in what women choose to do with their bodies.

    9. I’m not going to stop anyone from doing what they like with their bodies unless it harms another.

    10. Even if it is stupid there is no reason to restrict your freedom to espouse whatever philosophy you like. I’m not expected to take it seriously and watching people make fools out of themselves is often entertaining. Also you never know if someone else has a good idea that you’ve just never thought of.

  • I agree with most of them. The ones that immediately jumped out at me were 6 and 9. 6, I think there’s a lot of societal programming about monogamy, so my initial “EW!” reaction was knee-jerk more than anything else. There’s creepy stuff that goes along with multiple marriages. There’s also creepy, creepy stuff that goes on with so-called normal marriages. In all honesty, I think the single versus multiple marriage thing ends up having pretty much the same abuse potential. Right now I think we just hear more about the utter creepiness that goes on in polygamous marriages because it is in fact illegal, which means that it’s become a creepy underground thing for groups like the FLDS, and the illegality also makes it that much harder (on top of the creepy cult indoctrination) to seek help.

    As far as 9, the biggest issue in incest is the coercive/abusive aspect, and I just can’t get around that.

    I would add one to the list – the right to exchange sex for money if you so choose. As George Carlin pointed out on multiple occasions, it makes no sense for it to be illegal to sell something that you can give away for free. (And I’m of the opinion that what makes that kind of transaction most harmful is that it is normally illegal, and thus it becomes underground and much more open to abuse.)

  • Steve

    I have nothing against people engaging in polygamy or open relationships.

    But legalizing such arrangement is a huge mess. A huge reason why same-sex marriage is really a non-issue is because all marriage laws are already written with two persons in mind. They just need to be made gender neutral.

    If you add more persons to that, you create huge legal problems. First, it’s hard to decide who gets which rights (what if there are disagreements?). Secondly, you’d have to rewrite literally thousands of laws.

  • bernerbits

    “My common sense tells me that while an embryo is certainly not a person, a viable fetus definitely is.”

    My common sense tells me the sun revolves around the earth.

    No, you don’t get to do that. I’m talking about the personhood of a developed infant who, if extracted via induced labor or cesarean section, would survive into childhood. The evidence of this is not inherently limited by my own five senses barring access to better equipment or data.

    What about public nudity?

    Public masturbation?


    Necrophilia, assuming the deceased allowed for it in their will?

    Consensual cannibalism for that matter.

  • bernerbits

    Although I doubt I would ever personally be comfortable engaging in such an arrangement, I would add to the list the right to exchange sex for money as long as both parties freely consent.

  • SteveInMI

    Seven of these 10 are 100% ok with this atheist.

    I would withhold my full support from a couple of these items:

    6. The right to marry multiple people.

    I have some practical and moral concerns about this, which overlap with the risks of allowing incestuous relationships (see below). I agree with some of the commenters who’ve pointed out that this practice can be cover for the subjugation of women; it’s difficult to permit multiple marriages in a way that fully protects womens rights WITHOUT getting in to Waco/Warren Jeffs church/state problem. Perhaps some age limitations beyond the current 14-to-18-year-old minimum marriage ages to help ward off abuse of minors and young women?

    My biggest concern regarding >2-person marriages is purely practical. When a marriage *ends*, the state incurs costs. The process of divorce creates substantial work for county courts and clerks. The costs are greater if the parties disagree on the terms of the divorce. The complexity – and thus the cost to the state – seems like it could be exponentially higher if there were more than 2 parties involved. I would support a modified civil union for multiple marriages IF there were a model that made it self-supporting, i.e. if they could be established and “disestablished” without burdening civil courts. There’s also the issue of life choices – if spouse A is disabled and spouses B and C disagree about his palleative care, who gets to make those life decisions? Come up w/ a civil union model with a self-enforcing prenup and a standard-protocol living will, AND find a systematic way to keep teenagers from being forced in to multiple marriages, and this could gain my support.

    9. The right to engage in incest.

    As a concept, consenting adults should generally have the right to screw around with each other in whatever non-damaging way they both choose. But as a practical matter, “adult” incest can be used as a cover for child abuse. (“No, Mr. Cop, I swear nothing happened until she turned 16!”) This is the same reason that we disallow romantic relationships between teachers and their students; it may be beyond the capabilities of the state to differentiate consent and abuse. Because this may involve especially vulnerable participants, the need to prevent abuse may be more compelling than the desire to be completely free with this option. Were I the benevolent dictator, I certainly wouldn’t prosecute any cases where the participants were over 30, but I would be VERY worried about the potential for abuse where teenagers and younger adults are involved.

    10. The right to express belief in any religion or philosophy.

    Another area that sounds good in concept. In practice, we have religious beliefs that, for example, call for their adherents to injure or kill non-adherents. (ref.: Leviticus 20:13 et seq) I like the Funny Hat Principle: if your religion says that you have to wear a funny hat, you’re welcome to. If your religion says that *I* have to wear a funny hat, we have a problem. And the gray area gets even grayer when religious groups use their funny hats to threaten or intimidate non-adherents. Canada often gets this balance right; the U.S. often does not.

  • Jon Peterson

    You left yourself open to fallacy by using fallacy. Your original statement based itself on “common sense” (which is amorphous), rather than fact. Next time state your basis plainly as just now.

  • WetMogwai

    you’d have to rewrite literally thousands of laws.

    Many things that are a good idea are hard to do.

  • bernerbits

    You left yourself open to fallacy by using fallacy. Your original statement based itself on “common sense” (which is amorphous), rather than fact. Next time state your basis plainly as just now.

    You’re absolutely right. I guess by “common sense” I meant the inherent self-evidence of certain facts, such as personhood not being directly dependent on location vis-à-vis the womb. I will work on stating my position more clearly next time.

  • I not too surprised that so many of the readers hear are expressing a double standard for incest and polygamy. So from what I read from the posts is that some atheists here think that incest should be regulated more heavily than non-incestuous relationships because possible rape or harm to the child. First, rape is already illegal. Second, the question is incest in itself right or wrong.

    Other than that, the list is okay other than for the vague usage of the word gender.

  • bernerbits

    Other than that, the list is okay other than for the vague usage of the word gender.

    I don’t think it’s that vague. “Sex” in this case refers to what your naughty bits look like (it’s not really possible to change your chromosomal sex), while “gender” refers to how you represent yourself socially, whether as a man, woman, both, or neither.

  • Claudia

    @Jon Peterson the issue of regulating birth is a gigantic can of worms no matter how you look at it. If we prohibit reproduction amongst siblings due to the higher rate defective offspring, it is completely hypocritical to not similarly restrict reproduction for those likely to produce similar results. There are big genetic defects that are entirely hereditary. Different questions arise:

    – How defective is “too defective”? Preventing the creation of severely disabled infants who will suffer constantly during their short lives is mostly uncontroversial, but there is a whole spectrum of “defects”. What about lacking limbs? What about being blind? Where do we cut it off and based on what criteria?

    – How likely is “too likely”? We all have a small possibility of concieving a defective child. How high do the odds have to be before the government has a right to regulate it? 10% 20% 80%?

    Both questions would be intertwined of course, given that a 0.1% chance of a severe disability might be given equal footing with a 25% chance of a moderate disability.

    Even if you could somehow resolve all of these questions to everyone’s satisfaction (and solve world hunger in your spare time) there would be the issue of conviction and punishment. In many cases proving potential parents had foreknowledge of the risks their offspring were under is no easy task. Do you only pursue it when actual disabilities result or merely for engaging in risky behavior, like with drunk driving? What about punishment? How do you punish someone for having a non-approved baby?

    Like I said, huge can of worms.

  • Steve

    I have nothing against people engaging in polygamy or open relationships.

    But legalizing such arrangement is a huge mess. … First, it’s hard to decide who gets which rights (what if there are disagreements?). Secondly, you’d have to rewrite literally thousands of laws

    So what? Should we simply disallow something because it is too much hassle to change? You could argue that legislators have more pressing concerns than dealing with the wants of a small minority but then why do we have race laws or disability discrimination laws?

    Marriage laws need an overhaul. They need to account for same sex relationships. They need to account for property, for children, for finances and their fair division, they need to account for taxation, for responsibility, for divorce and separation. They need to account for religions and lack thereof.

    Why not redesign marriage for a 21st century, western culture that is looking forward to a dynamic and interesting future?

  • Robert W.

    Wow. This is very enlightening.

    I agree with Nathan. When you push for the same sex marriage, push for polygamous marriages as well and incestuous ones too. That way we can skip over the argument that legalizing same sex marriage won’t lead to these other arrangements being advocated.

  • Spencer

    What about public nudity?

    Public masturbation?


    Necrophilia, assuming the deceased allowed for it in their will?

    I think that public nudity and masturbation, as well as necrophilia, should be allowed. However, not many, if any, animals can consent to sex, which makes bestiality rape. There’s a good reason not to allow that.

  • jose

    bernerbits, I was just saying that common sense is not worth much in most cases.

  • Jon Peterson

    Just to clarify my point, I’m against governmental regulation in this situation. I agree with you entirely that the issue is too open-ended to govern. Too many factors to account for.

    What I do support is greater availability of information, so that people who are at higher risk can make better-informed decisions… as well as better care programs (and funding) for the disabled, including stronger responsibility requirements for the parents (similar to current child support laws for divorced parents).

  • Vas

    If a person smokes a cigarette drives a car outside of a building that I need to walk into, that person is forcing harmful chemicals into my body against my will. In any other context that would be considered a criminal assault, yet for some reason our society has decided that it is magically ok when it is someone smoking a cigarette driving a car.

    Come on now it’s not as if we live in a place completely free of harmful chemicals, your car, someones cigarette, the neighbors BBQ, chlorinated water, food preservatives, and hundreds of other non criminal uses of chemicals we run into in everyday life. But hey maybe you don’t have a car and never use anything containing chemicals. Maybe you never use household cleaning products that run down the drain, maybe you never use medications that pass through your body into the wast system and eventually into our drinking water. Just pointing out that from where I stand your argument seems a bit like tunnel vision.

  • michelle

    I would like to to point out that many of the comments here have repeatedly expressed the opinion (I hope unintentionally) that individuals who are disabled are somehow unworthy of life. We can argue for equal treatment of all individuals but those with disabilities? My brother is severely disabled. I have a 50% likelihood with each pregnancy that my child will have the same disability. It was something that my husband and I had to consider both times I became pregnant despite using birth control. Having a disability does not preclude one from having a good life or from making great contributions to the world. Who wants to go back in time and tell Stephen Hawking’s parents they can’t have children? Also, look at the life of R.D. Roosevelt. He married his cousin Eleanor and their six children were fine. HE became disabled after contracting polio. Even if we practiced eugenics we could never eradicate all disabilities. Genetic abnormalities occur. I think this argument is something people are falling back on here to defend the fact that they want to prohibit behavior they find icky.

  • JD

    The only posts here that bother me are those that lecture about food. Food activists of all stripes tend to be very bothersome, much like people that talk very strongly about politics or religion.

  • @michelle:

    I think you’re reading that incorrectly. Many of the posts that talk about disabled children are saying it’s not our place to decide whether or not they deserve life. A consensual, meaningful relationship between two mature adults should not focus on “what happens if we get pregnant.”

    At least, that’s what I saw out of it.

  • @Mr Z

    Don’t you see the contradictions in your own list? For #2 you say “The government has a need to ensure that children are not harmed.” But by the time you reach #8/9 you say a fetus doesn’t become a citizen until it’s born, and it isn’t protected until it’s a citizen.

    There’s a state between fetus-ness and citizenship, and it’s called personhood. JulietEcho appropriately breaks out first/second trimester from the third because, as other commenters have said, there is clearly a person inside a woman during the third trimester.

    In my opinion, elective third trimester abortions can’t be justified by any ethical system.

    I’d also like to attack your statement that the government needs “to protect citizens,” but it’s just too easy (and off topic). You mean we have no responsibility to protect non-citizens within our borders?

  • bernerbits

    bernerbits, I was just saying that common sense is not worth much in most cases.

    You’re right, and I clarified my meaning in a later post.

  • Rich Wilson

    However, not many, if any, animals can consent to sex, which makes bestiality rape. There’s a good reason not to allow that.

    I think anyone who has ever tried to get a dog off their leg would disagree.

    And who cares if they consent anyway? Do cows consent to being milked? Or being killed and eaten?

    What about using Chimps to test drugs that could save thousands of human lives?

  • Jon Peterson

    I hope you don’t mistake my point to imply that the disabled are unworthy of life. My intent was to convey that their lives are significantly more difficult, and in the vast majority of cases they do not receive adequate care. We need to focus on increasing support for those who have already been born, and discourage (not prohibit) at-risk couples from conceiving via increased awareness of the problem (the problem being the quality of life [not the existence] of disabled individuals).
    As I stated before, my sister is extremely lucky, because my parents have the means (and the will) to provide for her. She has 24-hour care providers who at this point are almost extensions of our family, and she has her own house and a schedule that revolves around her. Her situation is rare, and most disabled individuals are shunted into group care where they must adhere to a schedule at the convenience of the providers, who treat them as patients rather than (extended) family members.

  • Ian

    Instead of addressing all possible sexual couplings couldn’t one simple right be sufficent. “Any consenting adult should be able to enjoy sexual relations with any number of other consenting adults.”

    I seems pretty simple and covers most of the bases.

  • Thegoodman

    1. Agree, but as others have said, I think it is the right of any two consenting adults to marry.
    2. Agree
    3. Agree – along with any other drug. Destroying the black market to turn a profit in the free market sounds like a terrific idea to me.
    4. Agree
    5. Agree
    6. Agree – Polygamy rules.
    7. Agree – No excuses needed.
    8. Agree – Yes in the event that the fetus cannot survive outside the mother.
    9. Agree – Gross…but not my problem.
    10.A Belief in a Philosophy – Agree 100%
    10.B Belief in a Religion – Partially Agree: I think it should be illegal to mention religious affiliations or belief systems in any government body hearing.

    11. The right to be free from incarceration.
    Agree in the event of ANY non-violent crime. ONLY serial assaulters, rapists, murderers, and child molesters should be behind bars. Everyone else should be fined and/or in house arrest/work release programs.

  • My only contribution is that that these topics should be debated with secular reasons for and against. Mankind needs to get away from pointing to authority for reasons to makes things legal (or not legal).

    For example killing shouldn’t be made illegal because legend has it that Moses came down from the mountain with a tablet saying “Thou shalt not kill” among other things. Laws concerning killing should be backed up with real secular reasons.

    I think the secular movement needs to stay focused on moving the discussion of these (and other) issues over to completely secular terms and away from religious arguments from authority. Then let the chips fall where they may.

  • Rollingforest

    I have no problem with most of these. Euthanasia should be allowed when the person is of sound mind and not depressed (since both of those cloud judgment). Polygamy should be allowed only if not coerced (the state would define exactly what constituted coercion). If marijuana is proved to be no more harmful than cigarettes then it would be hypocritical not to legalize it. Unstable households should not be allowed to adopt, but for anyone else, it should be okay.

    I believe that personhood is connected to consciousness. Consciousness is connected to the brain. The brain develops in the second trimester. Since killing a person is murder, that means killing a second trimester fetus is also murder. Therefore, I would ban abortion starting in the second trimester except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. I don’t buy the whole famous violinist argument. We all have the moral requirement to save the lives of people as we are able. This ESPECIALLY is true for parents toward their children.

    I have no problem with incestual relationships as long as they don’t produce children. I don’t buy the argument that all incestual relationships involve coercion. A parent and their adult child having a relationship is no more of a power difference than a boss and a subordinate having a relationship. Boss/worker dating may not be allowed for certain businesses but it is allowed legally and so should marriage between family members.

    HOWEVER, I do have a problem with children being born from incestual relationships. There is a higher chance of birth defects because recessive alleles become more common (which are more likely to cause genetic diseases because they are less likely to be activated in nonincestual relationships and thus more likely to be passed through the generations). I think that people should be allowed to marry their sister and have sex with her if they want, but if they impregnate her and don’t abort during the first trimester, there should be massive penalties. Perhaps taxes on them should be increased dramatically and the child should be taken away and put in foster care. That might seem cruel, but remember that they willingly chose to create a child which had a higher chance of suffering from genetic disease and putting the strain on our society. When genetics advances to a point where genetic diseases can be recognized more readily, I would also make it illegal for unrelated people to have children if that pairing would cause increased likelihood of genetic defects. In all of the above, I’m not saying the person could never reproduce. I’m just saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce with THAT person. The problem with eugenics of the past is that A. it killed people, in the case of Hitler and B. it was based on bad science in some cases. I would hope that under my system, neither of these would be an issue.

    The issues of public nudity, public masturbation, prostitution, bestiality, necrophilia, and consensual cannibalism (assuming consent before the person died) were brought up. For the first two, I would note the “public” part. You are perfectly free to be naked or to masturbate just as you are perfectly free to have gay sex or have a first trimester abortion. That doesn’t mean you should be allowed to do it on the street corner. In public settings, some compromises have to be made for the comfort of all. I support all consensual prostitution because if a person wants to trade money for sex, that should be their right if both parties agree. Bestiality is not consensual (animals can not legally consent in these situations), so it should not be allowed. In regard to the necrophilia, as long as the person consented before they died and as long as it was done in private, I would have to reluctantly allow it. Same goes for consensual cannibalism.

  • Now, taking into account that these things are between consenting adults (as is said in the post), then I think all of the above should be legal with the exception of #8 (3rd trimester abortion).

    The reason that #8 is my exception is that the fetus is too close to being viable outside of the mother.

    As for #9, I think it should be reiterated that it is between consenting adults.

    In addition, it was brought up in previous comments that things like bestiality, necrophilia, all drugs, prostitution, etc., should also be considered. And I also think that they should all be legalized.

    One good book about consensual crimes is “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Country” (which can be read online here if you’re interested).

  • michelle

    @ Jon: I understand where you are coming from. In Arkansas we have an amazing organization called ASN (Arkansas Support Network) that works very hard to provide the type of care you describe your sister receiving for ALL people with disabilities in Arkansas and is paid for by Arkansas Medicaid, not their families. Every state should have such an organization. Despite ASN, we still have to fight institutionalization, poor care, marginalization of children in schools…all of it. Unfortunately, it is usually the choices of the families that allow these individuals to be treated this way. I completely agree that the quality of life for an individual with disabilities can be much lower than for those who are not disabled. However, I believe it is almost entirely a product of how society views and treats said individuals. If we allow people on a thread of Friendly Atheist to say that having a disability in and of itself detracts from the value of a life, we are allowing those societal views to be perpetuated. I stand by my belief that we need to be working on changing how society views and treats people with disabilities – not purposely removing people with disabilities from the population. Also, I want you to know that your comment was posted while I was composing mine – I didn’t even see it until after my browser refreshed. My comment would probably have been differently worded had I known of your post – I thought I was the first person to bring up the subject. I would not have purposely devalued your experience.

  • Ste Rowley

    if we are going to worry about the genetic consequences on hypothetical children, we must also advocate eugenics for people with various genetic diseases such as huntington’s

    I couldn’t not disagree more.

    We discourage women from drinking and smoking well pregnant/trying to conceive because of the risk it presents and the same goes for incest.

    Incest increases the risks of birth defect and should be discouraged and shouldn’t be right.

    I don’t think you can say you have the right to take one recreational substance but not others. That point requires more discussion, about the risk of all recreational substances.

  • Silent Service


    Honestly, I had never thought about it that way. Even though we make use of animals in regular life we do have laws against abusing them. How do you define abuse to animals in terms of sex? The dog humping your leg is a bit different than a person humping a dog, or a horse, or any other animal. At what point is it abuse? And how do you define coercion in the case of animals?

    The issue of coercion can be tricky enough within our own species. British courts recently ruled that a mentally limited man cannot be allowed to have sex anymore even though he wants too. Even with an I.Q. in the high 40s he is more capable of consent than a dog is and should have more rights in this area. Do we want to really open that avenue of thought?

  • trixr4kids


    I don’t buy the whole famous violinist argument. We all have the moral requirement to save the lives of people as we are able.

    You’ve just begged the question. Do you agree that you would be morally required to allow another person to remain hooked up to you for nine months in order to save his life? If so, why? Seems to me the right of an individual to bodily sovereignty and autonomy trumps another being’s “right to life” in a case like this.

    Likewise, you are not “morally required” to provide spare body parts to keep another person alive. You may feel it’s the right thing to do, but would you want to make it legally incumbent on others to have to do the same?

    Even if you personally feel that acceding to both of this scenarios is a “moral requirement”, that doesn’t mean that there should be laws in place that force others to do what you feel is moral.

  • cat

    @Jon, I myself am a person with an autism spectrum disorder and several ‘severe’ physical disabilities. So don’t try you concern trolling pity lines on me. And, yes, the notion that the creation of people with disabilities should be avoided does suggest we are inferior to able bodied people. Take a look at your argument and consider dark skinned people. Dark skinned black people, in particular, face extreme social prejudice. They carry genes likely to make their children face similar prejudices in our society. By your reasoning, we should discourage dark skinned people and those that carry genes likely to result in dark skinned children from reproducing. By your standard, we should consider dark skinned people who reproduce to be harming their children and to be bad parents because of the social discrimination they face. My grandmother was Cherokee, her husband was white. Three of their children passed as white, the other had dark skin and looked phenotypically traditional Cherokee. My uncle faced far more discrimination than his siblings. So, by your standard he should avoid reproducing, as should his siblings (particularly if they reproduced with dark skinned people), lest they get dark skinned kids. Shoot, my uncle’s producing a baby with a biracial Cherokee/Vietnamese woman means he might as well have shot the baby in the face, right? That damned baby should not have been born, right, rather than face the discrimination that she inevitably will? Because that is exactly what you are saying about people with disabilities and our children.

  • trixr4kids

    Let me come right out against #6. Historically, polygamy has been a sexist and coercive practice. It took quite a while to ban it in the developed world, and I would not like to see it return in the name of libertarianism.

    Polyamory between consenting adults is none of my business, but society does have a stake in defining marriage. There are no good reasons to oppose gay marriage (the only objections to it that I know of are religious), but polygamy is another kettle of fish.

    #9 is problematic. Many states allow sexual relationships and marriage between first cousins, and this should probably be universal. I don’t know that we want to go any further than that, though.

    I assume you’re talking about relationships between adult brothers and sisters or parents and adult children. While there are probably some such relationships that are truly consensual and harmless (mostly those in which the parties haven’t actually grown up together), these amount to rare instances. The fact that brother/sister and parent/child sexual activity is usually, in practice, coercive at best, does not incline me to think we should blithely support normalizing it. I’m open to being convinced that my position here is based mostly on “ick”, but I think there are good solid reasons, both psychological and biological, for the ick feeling in this case.

  • Ben

    We discourage women from drinking and smoking well pregnant/trying to conceive because of the risk it presents and the same goes for incest.

    But it is not illegal. Discourage something all you want, with words, but you take on a whole lot of responsibility when you start threatening jail time for things.

    The U.S. already has the highest prison population in the world, do you really want to start imprisoning cousins for having sex or women for smoking while pregnant, because that’s the only way you can stop them?

    I think there are cases to be made where informed consent has been breached, for example where a father might have groomed his daughter from an early age so that as an adult she consents, but there are already laws to cover such things as coercion.

  • bernerbits

    Excuse my ignorance, but I’m curious. Anyone with a legal background know if the template for poly marriages could be similar to the current rules for forming a corporation? I believe I’ve heard of poly relationships going this route and forming a legal business entity together in order to legally share assets.

  • Jon Peterson


    No. Re-read my comments. I say nothing of prejudice, and my opinion doesn’t come from prejudice.

    I am concerned only with the fact that individuals with developmental disabilities have to FIGHT for even sub-standard care and quality of living, and many don’t have the cognitive ability or proper advocates to make that happen.

    I don’t advocate prohibition, but rather education of the risks, so that at-risk couples can make an informed decision and be prepared to support a child that will require life-long care… because too many DON’T give that support, and pass their children into State care after birth.

  • See, this is the big difference between progressives and conservatives, in my experience. Most progressive/humanist/atheist types would read the above list and be squicked out by at least one or two items (for me it’s the third trimester abortions – I’m pro-choice, but I get really iffy once you have a viable, birthable baby in there) but as queasy as any of the items might make us, we would not use personal revulsion as the justification for restrictive legislation.

    Short version: we don’t try to ban shit because we think it’s gross.

    Fundamentally, though, I think this is what lies at the heart of a lot of conservative bigotry: “X makes me uncomfortable, therefore X must be banned.” It’s a lot more complex than that, of course, but I think that mode of thought runs like a geological vein through a lot of neocon thinking.

  • JulietEcho

    Wow, so many great responses, and the additional issues of prostitution, nudity, bestiality, freedom from incarceration, etc. are all equally interesting (if not more so!) than the items on my original list.

    I do want do clear up one thing: I didn’t just make a list of things I personally think are harmless. I’m personally quite torn about #8, and I admit to being susceptible to the “ick” factor when imagining some permutations of #9. I also only included marijuana in #3 for simplification – and if we had a debate about more dangerous drugs, I don’t know for sure which side I’d fall on.

    I do think it’s interesting that, despite my disclaimer that all activities listed should involve consenting adults (which includes, by default, that we’re talking about adults who are capable of consent), many people felt the need to repeat that disclaimer when it came to certain items on the list – particularly the sexual items.

    I think the “consent” part is MOST important when talking about euthanasia (it’s permanent!) although it’s necessary for everything we’re talking about here. We’re conditioned to not think much about death (if we can help it) though, and most of us are raised in very sex-negative cultures.

    So euthanasia skates by without much mention, but polygamy and incest (and probably prostitution, if it had been included on the original list) get lots of modifying disclaimers here in the comments.

  • JulietEcho

    Oh, and since some people have been asking about secular polygamy / polyamory, I’ll toot my own horn and point you to some links where I’ve written about polyamory:

    Another guest post of mine from here on the blog

    A piece I did for Daylight Atheism about common misconceptions about nonreligious polyamory

    If you only have time to read one, I think the second would be most helpful.

  • This thread is actually relevant enough to my interests to warrant a post.

    As a pro-capitalist atheist along with my other political extremisms, I usually am extremely limited in finding a blog I enjoy (which is why I keep one of my own).

    Most atheist blogs I read have at one point or another turned me off by posting things that I find politically distasteful AND linking them to atheism or linking things I like politically to religion and it a poor general assumption.

    It’s like when my father said that Obama doesn’t have to pander to atheists because they will vote for him no matter what. As an atheist, I think Obama may be one of the more oversold presidents in history and certainly not deserving of my vote (I’m not a McCain fan nor Bush fan either).

    I usually look with disdain on many atheist groups and clubs. Just because we don’t believe in god doesn’t mean we hold any other value in common. Just because you’re religious doesn’t mean we can’t be best of friends. (Although all my close friends are irreligious/atheist).

  • Rollingforest


    I read your post on Daylight Atheism. Just out of curiousity (you can go into whatever level of detail you are comfortable with) what is the general makeup of your own polygamous relationship that you were/are in? I know you said that polyandry does not equal group sex but what about yours? Do your boyfriend and husband have sex with each other? You mentioned that one of them liked Is your husband a submissive who fantasizes about you having sex with other people? (this theory is somewhat undermined by the fact that you also mentioned that your husband is allowed to have sex with your friend.) Or is it that your husband wants a partially open relationship where you each have one other partner? So many potential combinations, even considering all the info you gave us at Daylight Atheism!

  • JulietEcho


    What I shared on DA was related to making points (mostly that sexual compatibility isn’t automatically guaranteed in any relationship, and Greta Christina did a better job of that in her own comment).

    My husband, boyfriend and I have lived happily together for over four years now, and we could be classified as a “closed V” – “closed” referring to the fact that we don’t date outside the relationship (and any sex outside the relationship is rare and conditional and, at this point, still hypothetical), and “V” referring to the structure. My husband and boyfriend represent the two sides of the V, and I’m the point, meaning that I am romantically/sexually involved with both of them, but they are not romantically/sexually involved with one another (if they were, that would make us a triad or triangle).

    There’s a thread on the FA forum where I’ve answered some questions about polyamory:

  • @DexX

    Yes, that’s why I’m a secular conservative. Rational thinking in the areas of politics AND religion.

  • Rollingforest


    I definitely believe that if it is consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone, then it is okay. I always attempt to understand things. In one post on daylight Atheism, you said your husband was the one who first pushed for the polyandry (from what little I know about polyandry, it does seem that the males are the ones who first push for it, especially in one woman/two men situations). And because of contraception and genetic testing for him and any future children, he isn’t losing anything biologically. He can still have his own biological kids if all of you agree and be sure that they are his (evolutionarily, the lack of assurances about paternity of the children is what causes most jealousy in relationships, despite the fact that today it is obvious if cockholding happened because of genetic tests for the kids). Obviously, your husband was able to create a situation where he didn’t have jealously and gets enjoyment from the situation. I know some submissives feel this way and I’m sure there are other reasons besides that why he might feel that way that I haven’t yet heard of (because this topic is taboo to most). Thanks for sharing!

  • Furelise

    @JulietEcho: I post this under a false name because I am one of those people who loves two and is in hiding about that. I did not actively seek a polyamorous relationship but it did fall in my lap and my husband girlfriend and I are trying to make the best of it. My question for you is if you know any good resources on managing and maintaining lines of communication in these types of relationships. It took me a long time to deal with the shame of falling in love a second time (there are still some lapses). I never thought I had this much love in me but as I learn to accept this I would like some very rational and practical resources to turn to.

  • JulietEcho


    It can’t be “polyandry” because that refers to the marriage of multiple men and one woman. It’s just polyamory, unless US marriage law changes significantly.

    My husband isn’t a submissive – he’s an extremely liberal, laid-back guy with no history of jealousy in his relationships. He’s also been best friends with my boyfriend since before I met either of them, so they clearly get along. I don’t think either of them is terribly concerned that if/when we have kids, they wouldn’t be the biological parent.

  • Rollingforest

    The rate of comments has really died down. Apparently everyone loves to check Friendly Atheist in the morning and there aren’t many late night Atheist web surfers.

  • Jon Peterson

    Well, I’m still watching… just haven’t had anything to add for a while. And I’m sure I’m not the only lurker around here. 🙂

  • Rich Wilson

    @Silent Service

    Lots of question. Too many large gaping grey areas for any answers. Unfortunately our inability to come up with a way to distinguish often means throwing the JullietEchos out with the Bountifuls. I think I have a pretty good sense of which is ok and which isn’t, but I’m not comfortable with legislation-by-gut.

  • Rich Wilson

    I just couldn’t let this unique use of animals pass, bomb sniffing mice!

  • Dan W

    I can agree on all of these rights except number 9, because of the higher risk of potential health issues if incestuous couples decide to have children. The most royally screwed up example is Charles II of Spain, who was the result of multiple generations of incest.

    Of course, this depends on how closely related two people are to each other. There would be far less danger of potential health problems for a child born of parents who are distant cousins than if the parents were brother and sister.

  • Rollingforest

    Wikipedia says that if you have kids with your first cousin, the kids have a 4.4% higher chance of dying from a genetic disease than kids from non-incestuous marriages.

  • Deepak Shetty

    6. and 9. are troubling even with the consent condition that some commenters are adding.

    For e.g. Do the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint women “consent” when as children they are more or less brainwashed to accept their future?

  • Deepak Shetty

    @ Robert W

    That way we can skip over the argument that legalizing same sex marriage won’t lead to these other arrangements being advocated.

    Dont forget euthanasia, abortion, sex change, legalization of marijuana.

  • emsie

    As someone who identifies as a bisexual polyamorous feminist, it’s disturbing to me how many people in this thread have issues with #6—more issues than they do with incest or third-trimester abortion even (am I really the only pro-choice person who thinks that very late-term abortions seem horrendous?). I fully understand that polygamy has been used historically in the context of the subjugation of women. BUT WHAT HASN’T? Seriously? What, historically, has NOT existed in the context of the subjugation of women? Education, religion, the workforce, politics… how shocking is it that marriage too—monogamous OR polygamous—existed in such a context??? There is nothing INHERENT in the concept of polygamy or polyamory that requires the inequality of any partner. And where a culture of gender/sexual inequality exists, the mere allowing or disallowing of polygamy will make next to no difference.

    *I would like to add that I have my whole life had relationships with more than one person at a time, and that this has always been something *I* wanted/needed. I have always been the one to set this standard/rule in my relationships, not my partners, so it’s not like I was coerced by a man or anything.

  • Rollingforest

    In regard to polyamory, I think instictual emotion has a lot to do with why people oppose it. This is true of many things. For example, unless you learn to support gay rights from your family or community, most people are by default disgusted by it. Why? Because evolution created that disgust to stop people from spending time having sex that won’t produce babies (genes need babies in order to be passed on)

    Likewise, polyamory gets people angry because imagining their spouse having sex with someone else makes them furious. Why? Because making sure your kid is related to you (in the case of males) or that your husband won’t run off with someone else leaving you alone to care for the kids (in the case of women) are very important evolutionarily needs. Just because people don’t understand the evolution doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by it.

    But gay rights is gathering support. How are they doing it? By teaching people that there might be an inborn reason for why people would be gay. Whether you believe gay people are born gay or whether you believe they choose to be gay is closely corrolated with whether you support gay rights or not.

    So how does polyamory get the same support? By explaining to people the motivation behind why someone would choose it, especialy in the case of the spouse who only has sexual relations with one person while their spouse has sexual relations with another as well. I’m not saying that that motivation needs to have some genetic support behind it. But until people have some reason they can grasp besides “because we want to” they will never understand and will always react with the default emotion, which in this case is the anger from what they can’t help but feel is an example of cheating.

  • GSW

    I grew up believing that the key to this whole sex thing was consenting adults. With this criterion, anything goes.

    Being from Europe, were socialism seems the thing, I have my doubts about
    No. 6: The right to marry multiple people.
    I have no objection to anyone living with as many people as they want, the CA principle holds, if the bed is big enough – why not? But marriage, here, confers privileges – such as insurance, pensions etc. with the tax payers footing the bill.

    When health-insurance, social security etc. are a set percentage of one’s income, and all members of the family are included, then one man (or women) with 4 spouses (spice?) and 16 children, can be very expensive. A single mother, with one child, may resent paying more for less. And England recognises all 4 wives!

  • Claudia

    For example, unless you learn to support gay rights from your family or community, most people are by default disgusted by it. Why? Because evolution created that disgust to stop people from spending time having sex that won’t produce babies (genes need babies in order to be passed on)

    I don’t know that this is the case, neccesarily. I wasn’t brought up to support gay rights, per se. No one sat me down as a little girl and said “Those are gay people. They’re just as good as anyone else and should have the same rights”. I was simply brought up in the Bay Area. Gay people were everywhere. They were my neighbors, people who ran the stores, teachers, classmates, family friends etc. No one pointed them out to me and my main awareness of gays as a “community” was that every year they put on a hell of a parade around summertime. So it came as a total shock to me when I found out (in my early teens) that some people actually have a problem with LGBT people. I don’t know that I’ve ever really gotten over my surprise. As much as I’m aware of the reality of nonacceptance of gays, it’s still something that I can’t fully wrap my mind around. I’m guessing I’m the mirror image of the person brought up homophobic trying to wrap their brain around people regarding homosexuality as normal.

    Mind you, I’m not saying that there is definitely no biological aspect to homophobia, I don’t know what empirical data there is to support that either way. What I’m saying is that it might not be neccesary to proactively teach kids about these things. In fact I think that real equality will be achieved when children are brought up in an atmosphere that makes sexuality about as remarkable as the eye color, so that GLBT people are merely a part of The Way The World Is.

    I’ll miss the parades though.

  • @Dan W:

    But, do we make it illegal for incestuous relationships if they’re solely interested in merely the physical / emotional part of a sexual relationship, rather than the potential ability to make children from said relationship? Do we deny people the ability to make their own choices regarding who it is they wish to have sex with because it could result in a possibility of pregnancy?

    It’s a very hard decision and a very weird idea, but like I said, if we focus on the relationship itself then I can’t see any problem with it. It’s personally something I’d never be interested in, but if someone falls in love with their sister and that feeling is reciprocated – why not? If they’re practicing safe sex and they agree to abortion if something goes wrong, why not?

  • Fargus

    I find it sort of amazing that some people feel the need to put caveats on all of their comments. Reference JulietEcho’s original post:

    (Note that these examples should all be considered consensual, adult situations.)

    But the vast preponderance of the comments spent their time talking about worries about consent and coercion. It may be that those people are trying to argue that those issues are inextricably linked with consent/coercion issues, but given that there are instances where each are engaged in entirely consensually, the question is really whether those things should be illegal in and of themselves.

    The consent and coercion issues are already illegal regardless of whether they’re in the context of multiple marriage or incest. So why should multiple marriage or incest be illegal? In my view, I haven’t seen a convincing case made.

    As far as the argument about progeny of incestuous relationships, the best rejoinder I’ve seen is that since we don’t require genetic testing to see whether any partners are more likely to have children with genetic defects before they marry, this concern is disingenuous at best.

  • Rollingforest

    @Fargus: That’s only because those tests weren’t easy to do until recently (and even now we don’t understand the genetics of many diseases). If medical tests showed that two people had a high chance of having a gentically disabled child, I would be in favor of banning them from having kids together. They are perfectly free to have kids with other people.

  • Jon Peterson

    I’m giving y’all a homework assignment:

    Watch it. This is the end of the slippery slope of eugenics. And it’s bad. (But the movie’s good, despite Ethan Hawke)

  • Steve

    A lot of homophobia is generational. Despite all the bullying in school, every poll shows that younger generations have less of a problem with it.

    In fact very young kids really couldn’t care less. You introduce them to a same-sex couple and they may look confused for a few moments, but then they are like “Yeah, ok. Whatever” and continue what what they have been doing. At worst, they think it’s a bit weird.

    It’s only when they get older and soak up more of society’s prejudices, that they may really become anti-gay.

  • Fargus

    @Rollingforest: I hate to be a slippery-sloper, but you only need to look at the history of eugenics to see that this is a slippery slope indeed. How do you set what’s a reasonable probability of genetic deficiency? Do you then couple this with mandatory testing and forced abortion in the case of genetic abnormality? How fixed is “genetic abnormality”? What if somebody is going to be physically disabled but mentally fine? What about the other way around? What if a group gains power that decides being black is a genetic abnormality, and they already have this eugenicist framework into which to drop their decision?

    Eugenics is bad. Bad bad bad. End of story. I can’t believe I actually had to type that.

  • Drew M.

    This is directly aimed at my namesake:


    But I realize that there really is no harm (apart from blatant stupidity) in number six…

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if it’s been mentioned yet. The author of this article, JulietEcho, created a forum thread about polyamorous relationships.

  • al

    @drew you say “if you accept 7 you must logically accept 8” then why not make it all the way through to week 40? I am just pointing out that 7 is a different proposition to eight with factors that play in.

  • Claudia

    @Rollingforest, regarding this:

    Wikipedia says that if you have kids with your first cousin, the kids have a 4.4% higher chance of dying from a genetic disease than kids from non-incestuous marriages.

    The children born of women over 40 are more than twice as likely to have genetic defects as women younger than that. There is a 6-7% chance of defects for births when the mother is older than 40, much higher than for cousins. Yet no one has ever thought of prohibitting older women from marrying or having children.

    I think it’s a little ridiculous that cousin marriage is illegal, something largely restricted to some states in the US, especially considering that the supposed justification, preventing birth defects, has not withstood scientific scrutiny.

  • Liz


    it seems your situation would be an example of the community teaching you that being gay was alright, even if not directly stating thosse words.

    my situation on the other hand was completely different. I learned what gay meant on the same day that i learned that ‘gays go to hell’ and when i asked my mother (someone i greatly looked up to at the time mind you) if it was true, her answer completely turned me off of catholicism and christianity in a second. My friends AND role model had told me that being gay is wrong and i just couldn’t believe it.

    That’s why I disagree with rollingforest, but hey maybe my brain just works differently

  • For example, unless you learn to support gay rights from your family or community, most people are by default disgusted by it. Why? Because evolution created that disgust to stop people from spending time having sex that won’t produce babies (genes need babies in order to be passed on)

    I would disagree with that. If evolution created disgust for homosexuality, then we would see the same level of homophobia across all cultures. That’s clearly not the case, since different societies have placed different levels of stigma (or none at all) on homosexuality, and this has changed with time. Previously accepting societies have become homophobic due to changes in the culture, and vice versa. In addition, if it was linked to evolution, then wouldn’t other animals display some sort of aversion to homosexual activity? Given the fact that many other species engage in homosexual sex, including our closest genetic relatives, that would not appear to be the case.

    I’m more inclined to agree with Claudia. Homophobia does not come naturally to small children. It’s something they have to be taught. Granted, I grew up in a lesbian family, but I wasn’t sat down and told anything specific about gay rights or even about homosexuality. Gay and lesbian couples (along with straight couples) were simply part of the fabric of my life. As a small child, it never occurred to me that other people would think it was wrong or strange. Children do not start out in life feeling disgust merely because something is different. They absorb the message of the surrounding culture, and in our culture, most children are exposed to the idea that being gay is unusual, weird, bad, etc.

  • Meredith

    I don’t believe that we should consider taking and raising a child that someone else has given birth to a “right.” If we start talking about it in those terms we continue serious damage to this already fraught process of how, when, or IF mothers and families of origin provide consent, without coersion, and are given choices, for the adoption of their children to others.

    The fact is that evaluation processes must continue for each singular event of adoption. Should they be made overtly non-discriminatory, absolutely.

    All adults deserve equal rights and protections under the laws. Adoption, marriage, employment, commerce, movement, association, speech… yes, these things should be covered.

  • False Prophet

    1. I would rather the state get out of the marriage business, but I recognize there are too many complications regarding property and children to make that realistic. I’d prefer that the state only recognize civil unions between two consenting adults, regardless of orientation or whatnot. If they want to call themselves “married”, they can. If they want their cleric of choice to sanction the union, they can. If their cleric of choice forbids their pairing, well, they can’t force him to violate his faith, but can get all the legal entitlements of a civil union regardless, and call themselves married if they wish.

    2. If LGBTQ individuals meet all the same requirements (aside from sexual orientation) that heteros require for adoption, absolutely.

    3. Marijuana without hesitation. Harder drugs, I’m not entirely convinced the cost to society is worth it. As a Canadian taxpayer, I shoulder the burden of other people’s poor health choices so I’m perfectly fine with seat belt laws, for example. I’d want to see more hard data–maybe the Portugese system is a viable model.

    4 & 5. Absolutely.

    6. Polyamory is fine, but I lean towards the pragmatic view of some posters above. I think legally, monogamy is just less of a strain on the system. If legal couples freely choose to bring others into the arrangement, they’re free to do so but the state doesn’t have to sanction it.

    7 & 8. Far as I’m concerned, abortion is a matter of public health, not morality. No doctor should be deprived of a potential life-saving tool when caring for a patient because a bunch of idiots misreading ancient diatribes say so. We as a society have already agreed that birth is the start of legal personhood, or we’d be issuing conception certificates instead of birth certificates. We choose birth because it is not subject to debate–once the child is out of the mother, it is a person and there is no longer a question of whether the rights of the mother outweigh the life of the fetus.

    Btw, notice no one ever brings up religious arguments from faiths that have a different perspective, e.g. most strains of Judaism? Why is the Catholic view (which the RR Baptists/Evangelicals ripped off wholesale, as there’s no Scriptural support for it) privileged in these discussions?

    9. I have an aversion to this, which I’m sure is mostly cultural/emotional. I’m presently not in favour of legally sanctioning incestuous relationships. But is it actually illegal for two consenting adults to engage in one? Much like religion, I don’t like it or agree with it, but I can live with other people doing it.

    10. The right to declare or communicate belief? Absolutely. But not all “expression” is as simple as free speech. Yes, you can wear your funny hat if you don’t force me to wear mine. But if you want to vote or board an airplane, we have to identify you the same way we identify everyone else. If you don’t like dispensing birth control or driving your cab customers around with alcohol, you are free to look for a different job, but not to impose your funny hat on others.

  • Azkyroth

    Haven’t even read the comments yet, but you might want to clarify the “incest” one to “the right to engage in otherwise legal sexual behavior irrespective of any close genetic or legal-family relationship between yourself and your partner,” which I assume is what you meant. O.o

  • Jess

    I’m actually completely okay with all of these, as none of them should be illegal.

    In regards to #9, just think of it like this – making it a right doesn’t automatically mean that everyone, including myself obviously, will start a relationship with family members. Some (I think most) of us just have absolutely no interest in that anyway, so what’s the harm?

  • MakeTheMostOfLife

    11 Bestiality
    12 Pedophilia

    William Crawley Meets Peter Singer (part 3)

  • Claudia


    Consent. Look it up.

  • Kayla

    Rollingforest said:
    “Boss/worker dating may not be allowed for certain businesses but it is allowed legally and so should marriage between family members.”

    So fathers should be allowed to marry their daughters?

  • Jon Peterson

    In short, yes. It should be allowed. Remember the original (and often re-stated) caveat that this only applies in “consensual, adult situations”, so both the father and the daughter would have to desire to marry each other.

    There is no implication whatsoever of giving lenience or exception to coercion or any other currently-illegal activities… only to increase the pairing possibilites for state-recognized marriages.

  • Rollingforest

    I should probably reply to trixr4kids from Feb 9th at 2:18 PM. First of all, the comparison of pregnancy to being unconcentually hooked up to someone and forced to lay there for nine months is a rather skewed comparision. It should be noted that unless you are raped, you did concentually have sex which greatly increased the chance of you being pregnant, even if you used contraception. Also being stuck in a bed for nine months is a little different than being pregnant for nine months. I don’t want to be dismissive of the labors that women go through while pregnant, but I believe we can safely say that it is not as restrictive as being stuck in a bed for nine months. For those two reasons, the famous violinist argument does not accurately describe pregnancy.

    Second of all, I DO believe that a person would be morally required to save another’s life even if that meant staying in bed for nine months hooked up to them to do it. However, you are interested in the law. I would say that the law requires us to care for our children. If a person leaves their two year old child in the forest and they starve to death, that person is arrested and charged with a crime. It seems logical that if you remove a child from the womb before it can survive outside it and it dies, you are doing the exact same thing. (I noted in an earlier post that I believe that a baby, and thus a person, forms when consciousness forms. Since consciousness is connected to the brain and the brain forms during the second trimester, I believe that personhood starts in the second trimester and abortion should be banned from then on unless needed to save the mother’s life)

    @Claudia and other: Perhaps you are right about homophobia. Perhaps homophobia can be extinquished just by passively showing kids examples of gay relationships without criticizing them and they will come to accept them as normal just because they exist without the community complaining. However, I think that it seems likely that a person’s sexual orientation is inborn, judging by patterns we see, such as increased likelihood of homosexuality the more older brothers that a boy has, ect. That inborn tendency toward heterosexuality would seem to serve the evolutionary need of promoting pregnancy.

    @Jon: I have Netflix so I will watch that movie if I can find it

    @Fargus: you wonder how we set a reasonable probability of genetic deficiency. The same way we set a reasonable age for voting or driving a car: by looking at the evidence and coming up with the best line that you can. In my other post, I suggested that one optional punishment for purposefully having a child with a higher risk of disability should be that their taxes should be raised greatly and the child put in foster care. Genetic abnormality should be defined as whatever would add create excessive cost to society. You can not blame me for disrespecting actual disabled persons because I am suggesting that the pregnancy never happens in the first place. Most people who have one disabled child do not have another child out of fear that they will produce a second disabled child that they can’t afford. Would you say they are disrespecting disabled people as well. I can love a person with a disability, but I can not advocate allowing more people to be born with disabilities. Better that they be born without them. In regards to someone using genetics against black people, you could just as easily say “What if a group gains power that decides being black is reason to be poisoned and they already have this framework of poisoning rodents into which to drop their decision?” Are we never to use rat poison again to kill rats just because it could be used against black people? I think that people will always find bad things to do with technology. That isn’t a reason not to use it at all.

    @Claudia again: I’m not necessarily saying that cousin marriage should be banned. But I am saying that there reaches a point where the chance of a genetic disease for the child is so high that activity that leads to that should be banned. It is up to society to decide exactly what that limit is, based on science.

  • Perhaps you are right about homophobia. Perhaps homophobia can be extinquished just by passively showing kids examples of gay relationships without criticizing them and they will come to accept them as normal just because they exist without the community complaining. However, I think that it seems likely that a person’s sexual orientation is inborn, judging by patterns we see, such as increased likelihood of homosexuality the more older brothers that a boy has, ect. That inborn tendency toward heterosexuality would seem to serve the evolutionary need of promoting pregnancy.

    No disagreement there. The part I objected to in your original statement was that evolution created disgust for homosexuality. I believe that disgust stems (if not 100%, then close to 100%) from society, not biology. I do think that sexual orientation is inborn, but having a particular orientation does not necessarily lead to feeling disgust for other orientations. I’m heterosexual, but I’m not disgusted or made uncomfortable by the idea of lesbian sex. I don’t find it exciting, but the thought of it is not upsetting in any way.

    In our society, it seems that people find the idea of homosexual sex threatening because of the stigma associated with it. For men in particular, there are fears of penetration, emasculation, being treated “like a woman,” losing their “manhood,” etc. Those attitudes are all taught to children from a young age. Even elementary school children are exposed to it, and they know that if a man acts like a woman, it’s treated as a joke. “Sissies” are something to laugh at. Cross-dressing men are hilarious. Throwing “like a girl” is bad. And so on and so on.

  • keddaw

    Too many of these are ill-phrased, positive rights.

    For example, no-on has the right to get married. What they (should) have is the right not to be stopped getting married should they find a willing partner.

    There is no right to adopt. There is only the right not to be treated differently when applying to adopt than people of different genders, relationships, race, religion etc. etc.

    We really have to be very very careful when describing rights.

    I would go so far as to say only 4 and 10 are actual rights because they are the only ones that do not impact the rights of other people.

error: Content is protected !!