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How would you respond to the following argument against tolerating gay athletes

How would you respond to the following argument against tolerating gay athletes on sports teams. The problem with gay athletes is that they may be attracted to their teammates. Even if a particular athlete is not attracted to his teammates, or does not act on his attraction, the mere possibility of such an attraction is enough to create a distressing environment. Heterosexual players may reasonably feel uncomfortable undressing and showering in the presence of someone that might view them with sexual interest. To put this another way: gay athletes should be kept out of locker rooms for just the same reason that we do not allow men to be present in women's locker rooms. What matters is not that we separate different sexes, but rather that we separate groups that are liable to sexually objectify each other.

This argument seems to be one against tolerating gay athletes in locker rooms (not on sports teams). And if the argument is correct, we'd need a lot of locker rooms....two for avowed heterosexuals (with some cutoff for bisexual attraction) and one each for everyone else! I think it is far more comfortable and respectful for us to simply tolerate any discomfort one might feel undressing and showering in front of someone who might view them with sexual interest. Or perhaps those who experience the discomfort can have their own private locker rooms. In any case, the reasons for having separate sex locker rooms is not (merely?) to separate groups that are likely to be sexually attracted to one another; it may be in part because of fears of rape (sexual violence). People don't get as upset about women being in men's locker rooms as they do about men being in women's locker rooms.

Students who live in dorms with co-ed bathrooms manage their various sexual attractions just fine.

This argument seems to be one against tolerating gay athletes in locker rooms (not on sports teams). And if the argument is correct, we'd need a lot of locker rooms....two for avowed heterosexuals (with some cutoff for bisexual attraction) and one each for everyone else! I think it is far more comfortable and respectful for us to simply tolerate any discomfort one might feel undressing and showering in front of someone who might view them with sexual interest. Or perhaps those who experience the discomfort can have their own private locker rooms. In any case, the reasons for having separate sex locker rooms is not (merely?) to separate groups that are likely to be sexually attracted to one another; it may be in part because of fears of rape (sexual violence). People don't get as upset about women being in men's locker rooms as they do about men being in women's locker rooms. Students who live in dorms with co-ed bathrooms manage their various sexual attractions just fine.

In this question, I'm going to assume there are strictly two human biological

In this question, I'm going to assume there are strictly two human biological sexes, male and female. That assumption isn't exactly true (chromosomal variations), but it's a close enough approximation to ask the question. At restaurants such as "Hooters," provocatively-clad females serve food to patrons. There are no male waiters. No one seems to think too much about it. I think, however, that many people would be appalled if we had restaurants whose theme was to have provocatively-clad Jewish people serve food, or provocatively-clad African Americans serve food, or provocatively clad [insert religious or ethnic or national group] serve food. There are, of course, ethnic restaurants. So we might think of Hooters as nothing more and nothing less than another type of ethnic restaurant, this one peculiar to sex instead of ethnicity. Is this good reasoning? Maybe that reasoning is not valid. Women have a sex (female) and men have a sex (male). There can't be anything intrinsically more sexual about...

The questions that you are asking are terrific! They can also be taken further. E.g. is it necessary for you to assume that there are strictly two biological sexes? (I don't think so). Or e.g. What is wrong (if anything) with sexualization of a group? What is wrong with sexualization of a subordinate group? It is not difficult to turn up inconsistencies in what society considers to be socially normative.

The questions that you are asking are terrific! They can also be taken further. E.g. is it necessary for you to assume that there are strictly two biological sexes? (I don't think so). Or e.g. What is wrong (if anything) with sexualization of a group? What is wrong with sexualization of a subordinate group? It is not difficult to turn up inconsistencies in what society considers to be socially normative.

Is the definition of marriage changing?

Is the definition of marriage changing?

I couldn't agree more with what Miriam says here. But let me add a bit. First, the common talk one hears about the "definition of marriage" seems to me to be confused. One might reasonably speak of a definition of the word "marriage", but marriage, the civil or cultural or religious institution, is not something that is "defined" in the way a word is defined. For this reason, among many others, the common refrain one hears, that we can look in a dictionary to find out what marriage is, and in particular to find out whether two men can marry, is just silly. (And, if it weren't silly enough, of course dictionaries change.)

That said, one might seek something like a characterization of the institution of marriage, as it has existed in (say) American society over the last few hundred years. One might want to know what marriage is, as one might want to know what goldenrods are. As Miriam says, such an investigation would likely find that there was a good deal of variation, across religious groups to be sure, and across many other divisions, as well. And marriage, as a civil institution, is pretty clearly whatever the law says it is. And those laws, as I'm about to emphasize, both vary and change.

The institution of marriage has undergone tremendous change over the last few decades. Not very long ago, a woman who married was all but selling herself into slavery. So much so, that a century or so ago it was not at all uncommon for progressive thinkers to condemn the institution of marriage as fundamentally unjust. And since this is askphilosophers.org, I should mention that one of the most famous such condemnations was by Bertrand Russell, in his book Marriage and Morals. This aspect of marriage has profoundly changed, at least in most of the industrial western democracies, in ways I would hope we could all applaud. Once, marriage was essentially a form of ownership and control, so much so that it was legally impossible in many jurisdictions for a man to rape his wife. (You may recall that this sort of issue arose recently in Afghanistan.) Now we prefer to think of marriage as a partnership of equals, and the law has changed to reflect that conception.

It seems to me that the change I have just described is, in a way, at the root of the in-progress change to which Miriam referred. It was essential to marriage as it was known to Russell that it be between a man and a woman. Otherwise, how would one know who owned whom? But once we have abandoned that conception of what marriage is, and once it is seen as a partnership of equals, then one might naturally be led to ask whether there really is any substantial reason that it must be restricted to "one man and one woman". This is the central question that the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts discusses in its opinion in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the decision that legalized `gay marriage' in Massachusetts. The Court observed that there simply wasn't anything about the laws governing marriage in Massachusetts that actually required the parties to be of different sexes, other than that the law said that they did. The fact that the parties were of different sexes was, in effect, a completely isolated and inert aspect of the existing laws, a vestige of the sexism that was, not so very long ago, inherent in the institution of marriage. And so, the Court held, it had no legal basis and so was ipso facto discriminatory.

The court was quickly proved right, at least as far as their claim about the nature of the law was concerned. To open the institution of marriage to same-sex couples, no more was required than that the restriction to different-sex couples should be removed. The laws governing divorce, for example, did not need to be re-written. The laws governing divorce, as they existed in 2004, did not treat the male and female partners differently simply on the ground of their sex. Such differential treatment would nowadays be regarded as plainly sexist, and as plainly unjust. But that is itself an example of the kind of earlier change that made same-sex marriage possible: A century ago, divorce law most certainly did treat men and women differently, just on that ground.

Let me make one final remark. One often hears it said that, if marriage is opened to same-sex couples, then why not to polygamous triads? I won't try to answer this question, but will instead ask my own question. Suppose we did decide to open marriage to polygamous triads. Would it also be the case that the only thing we would have to do, legally, was say, "Well, OK, then"? Or would there be other legal issues, concerning divorce law, or inheritance, or something else connected with the "rights and responsibilities or marriage", that would also have to be addressed and resolved? If the answer to this latter question is "yes", then the kind of argument the Supreme Judicial Court gave in favor of permitting same-sex couples to marry simply cannot be made in favor of allowing polygamous triads to marry.

There never was a "definition of marriage." Marriage is an ancient human institution that occurs in multiple forms (temporary, permanent, monogamous or open, polygamous or polyandrous) with several possible functions (parenting, property rights, companionship, politics, possession). I don't think that even in our (pluralistic) society, at this time, it has a single meaning, function or definition. One of the things about marriage that does seem to be changing right now is the idea that it has to be between a woman and a man (this idea has been stable in Western society for some time, although it is probably not a human universal). One of the benefits of this wide range of possibilities is that individuals have some freedom to create their own meanings of marriage (whether or not they marry).