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Gay Marriage Canards

A couple of things same-sex marriage proponents often say strike me as thoroughly disingenuous. The second one bothers me more than the first one. But here’s the first one:

1. “If you really cared about traditional marriage, you would be trying to crack down on divorce.” 

There is a lot to that, it must be said. The reason gay marriage is so widely accepted among the young is that it makes intuitive sense, given everything else this culture teaches them about the meaning of marriage and procreation. That is, widespread divorce, in vitro fertilization, and related phenomena have reshaped marriage and family formation into a consumer good — that is, into something defined by contracts and the limits of desire. Gay marriage proponents raise the divorce point to accuse marriage trads of hypocrisy; that is, we don’t really care about the sanctity of marriage, but are just using that as an excuse to exercise unwarranted prejudice against same-sex couples.

But this is not an argument against trying to stop same-sex marriage; it’s an argument for marriage trads to be more comprehensive in their marriage activism. The thing marriage trads understand is that once the Rubicon is crossed to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, there will be no going back. It is a radical (= at the roots) change in the meaning of marriage, and the opportunity to reform a marriage culture badly disfigured by divorce will have been lost. Perhaps marriage trads realized that only too late, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Besides which, SSM advocates who allude to the hypocrisy, or at least the illogicality, of permitting widespread hetero divorce but denying SSM based on “sanctity of marriage” arguments don’t allow for a parallel argument from the trad side. Namely, if marriage can be redefined to include SSM couples, by what logical principle should it be limited to two people? Who are we to tell the polyamorous that a nontraditional family they might wish to form is not entitled to formal recognition by the state? If desire, consent, and autonomy are the bases for justifying SSM, then why draw the line there?  How can SSM advocates accuse trads of hypocrisy for holding a double standard on marriage sanctity re: divorce, but hold a double standard themselves on polygamy?

The second one is, to me, far more irritating:

2. “You can’t demonstrate any harm from same-sex marriage, so how can you deny marriage rights to same-sex couples based on a supposed harm for which there is no evidence?”

Leaving aside whether or not one can draw firm conclusions about such sweeping social change so early in the experiment, this strikes me as a straw man. Why? Because I don’t believe a single SSM proponent would abandon his or her support for SSM no matter how much harm could putatively be demonstrated from the practice.

Fundamental rights aren’t contingent on harm. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it could be demonstrated that allowing black and white children to attend the same schools caused measurable harm to either or both white kids and black kids. Would anybody support legal resegregation of schools? Of course not. The question is absurd. Some principles you live with even though they may cause harm, because they are taken to be fundamentally and inalienably right.

Besides, the social science data on the harm divorce does to children is quite strong, yet I do not hear, at least not from the left, calls to restrict personal autonomy by reining in divorce laws.

My point is simply that the idea that any SSM proponent who suggests, if only by implication, that he would be willing to change his mind if harm could be demonstrated is not being honest with his interlocutor, or perhaps even himself. If there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, then that right exists whether or not there is a real risk for damage to children and to the fabric of society. That’s what a “right” means. Right?

I would add that it’s deeply irritating when SSM proponents consider themselves to be the perfectly reasonable ones, and their opponents driven by irrational animus. A reader wrote me this morning saying that he and his 18 year old daughter discussed SSM the other night, and immediately she became emotional and tearful over the issue, and accused him of prejudice. They are both Christians, he said, and he simply wanted to discuss the issue in a theological and philosophical way. But she was incapable of even holding the discussion. He said that it wasn’t that she was unwilling to do it, but that she seemed literally incapable of talking about it in a rational way. Her reaction was based entirely on emotion. I have had that experience a number of times, and find it so common that I have pretty much given up on the conversation. Of course there are many, many people on my side of the issue who react that way. But I don’t for a minute believe that they are alone in this. Aside from the intellectual class, most people, I think, no matter which side they come down on, are motivated by unthinking prejudice and high emotion.

 

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7 Comments To "Gay Marriage Canards"

#1 Comment By Justin St. Giles Payne On May 14, 2012 @ 10:52 am


 But she was incapable of even holding the discussion. He said that it wasn’t that she was unwilling to do it, but that she seemed literally incapable of talking about it in a rational way.”

Right, and this isn’t a self-serving report in the least. Why there’s absolutely no reason at all that someone might report their interlocutor as being “literally incapable of talking in a rational way.”Sometimes, Rod, your credulity confounds.

#2 Comment By BobSF_94117 On May 14, 2012 @ 11:14 am

“My point is simply that the idea that any SSM proponent who suggests, if
only by implication, that he would be willing to change his mind if
harm could be demonstrated is not being honest with his interlocutor”

In the face of demonstrable harm, to couples, to individuals, to children, deeply anti-gay folks aren’t exactly falling over themselves to change their opinion, are they?

The vast middle is, of course.

#3 Comment By Marcus Lindroos On May 15, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

“Fundamental rights aren’t contingent on harm. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it could be demonstrated that allowing black and white children to attend the same schools caused measurable harm to either or both white kids and black kids. Would anybody support legal resegregation of schools? Of course not. The question is absurd.
Some principles you live with even though they may cause harm, because they are taken to be fundamentally and inalienably right.”

Um, the statement above seems like a bad example to me. Let’s assume we are instead talking about kids suffering from severe ADHD or autism. Is there a common view today that special-needs schoolchildren *MUST* be allowed to attend the same classes as normal schoolkids? Even if it demonstrably harms all parties involved?? I don’t think so… And modern society remains chock-full of things free individuals are not allowed to do, as any libertarian will remind you. E.g. you have a constitutional right to bear arms, but this does not mean you may own nukes.

“My point is simply that the idea that any SSM proponent who suggests, if only by implication, that he would be willing to change his mind if harm could be demonstrated is not being honest with his interlocutor, or perhaps even himself. ”

Aw, speak for yourself, Rod … I am not patting myself on the back for being so enlightened or open-minded here, but the drastic sea change re. SSM can primarily be attributed to the paucity of evidence SSM harms anybody. Most people today *are*  fairly open-minded and make decisions based on demonstrable evidence. If this were all about “fundamental rights” über alles, a majority of Americans would also accept e.g. incestuous marriages by now.

The real issue here is most people oppose SSM on grounds of religious dogma … “because God says so.” As an agnostic, I could easily accept good fact-based arguments against SSM — if only there were any! To prove my point: I do *not* approve of incest, I do *not* approve of children marrying adults and numerous other forms of marriage. Shouldn’t happen since my views supposedly are based on a limitless belief in individual rights and irrational emotion, right?  

MARCU$

#4 Comment By Eric Goodemote On May 15, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

Leaving aside whether or not one can draw firm conclusions about such
sweeping social change so early in the experiment, this strikes me as a
straw man. Why? Because I don’t believe a single SSM proponent would
abandon his or her support for SSM no matter how much harm could
putatively be demonstrated from the practice.

It does not follow from the fact that people use this argument in an intellectually irresponsible/dishonest way that it lacks any merit.  Here’s a thought, if you think this is what someone advancing this argument is actually thinking, ask them what kind of evidence would be necessary to convince them.

Fundamental rights aren’t contingent on harm. Let’s say, for the sake
of argument, that it could be demonstrated that allowing black and
white children to attend the same schools caused measurable harm
to either or both white kids and black kids. Would anybody support
legal resegregation of schools? Of course not. The question is absurd.
Some principles you live with even though they may cause harm, because
they are taken to be fundamentally and inalienably right.

No one argues that desegregation never caused harm.  I think a lot of people would agree that the harms of permitting segregation to continue greatly outweighed the harms associated with ending it.

If there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, then that
right exists whether or not there is a real risk for damage to children
and to the fabric of society. That’s what a “right” means. Right?

Actually, no.  We don’t think of rights as existing in a vacuum completely independent of harms exercise of those rights could cause.  You believe in a right to religious freedom, but you don’t believe that those rights are never overridden in the name of preventing social harms.  You believe its perfectly legitimate, for example, for the Swiss to ban minaret construction.  If you spend any time studying constitutional law, you’ll very quickly discover that most jurisprudence surrounding rights involves balancing those rights against harms. 

I would add that it’s deeply irritating when SSM proponents consider
themselves to be the perfectly reasonable ones, and their opponents
driven by irrational animus.

As a supporter of gay marriage, I will freely admit that emotion plays a role in my thinking on the issue.  I have gay family members and friends.  If I am to tell them, to their faces that their relationships with their loved ones ought to bear a legal stigma of inferiority to my own, I need to be able to tell them something.  And it needs to be good.

And this is not an impossible standard.  If a close friend or loved one thinks that it is critically important to his or her happiness and identity to be able to have sex with a ten year old, I can have a great deal of comfort explaining why I don’t believe they should be allowed to do that.  I am willing to risk the personal and emotional fallout from such a conversation.  The evidence of harm to children that would result from this is severe and concrete.  I have not seen analogous evidence of the harm caused by gay marriage.

As a supporter of same sex marriage, I am willing to give the arguments against it a fair hearing.  But you have to give me something to work with.  Saying that you are not interested in giving me evidence of the harms same sex marriage causes, or worse, claiming that’s irrelevant doesn’t help you get through to me.

#5 Comment By SiarlysJenkins On May 16, 2012 @ 1:19 am

 Actually there ARE people who argue, and successfully insist, that children who have no capacity at all to follow what is happening in the classroom MUST be situated there because to put them anywhere else would be “segregation.” This is ludicrous, and actually proves the point Marcus is making, but people are that silly, manipulative, self-righteous, and willing to play with the lives of children (both those with special needs and those who by and large are not) to fulfill their own twisted adult preoccupations.

Not long ago in Wisconsin, someone got together a school specifically designed to meet the special needs of students who really needed a markedly different approach to education. The kids loved it. Their parents loved it. A disability rights lobbying group sued to stop it on the grounds that it was segregation. The courts gave the lobbyists a well-deserved set-back, pointing out that nobody with  standing to sue was complaining, and dismissing the case.

This has only one thing to do with same sex marriage: bandying about words that acquired specific meaning in the battle against racial prejudice and Jim Crow are not generally applicable to any number of other causes. Make you own case, on its own merits. and leave the Civil Rights Movement for what it was.

#6 Comment By Vlad Imirivan On May 20, 2012 @ 6:52 am

My point with most that have thrown these “proponents” is that it appears that SSM is justified by the LOWER number of FAILURES, rather than the GREATER number of SUCCESSES,
for me, that kind of makes SSM speak for itself, … and its what it expects for its future

#7 Comment By Louise On June 10, 2012 @ 9:15 am

“If you really cared about traditional marriage, you would be trying to crack down on divorce.”

This is certainly no argument in favour of SSM, but we definitely need to kill off divorce. Yesterday.