Tag Archives: Gay Marriage

Oh, the analogy

A long while back, I noted that most discussions about gay marriage are more like races to who could pose one of the three tired old analogies first.  The three variables are: race, polygamy, and bestiality.  If you can pose the analogy first, you have a kind of dialectical advantage — even if the analogy isn’t perfect.  This is because there’s a kind of defensive posture the opposition must take, once the analogy is posed — they have to answer this line of argument before they can proceed with their own, and this often takes more time and energy than we normally allot for our critical discussions.  And so, for familiar structural reasons (we always have a dearth of time an energy for critical discussion), those who wield the analogy first are those who often get to claim they came out the best.

So much for the strategic argumentative elements of argument by analogy.  There are a few other things to note.  First, all analogies, in the end, are limited.  They can find some relevant feature that’s the same, but they also must have their differences.  Analogies are not identities.  Second, the form of argument by analogy in this context is off of a deep principle of justice:

Treat like cases alike

The strategy with analogy is to identify the similarity between two cases and show that because we have an unproblematic precedent of treatment with one kind of case, we, assuming the deep principle of justice, treat the other case similarly.  And so, if discriminating against gays is like discriminating against blacks, we shouldn’t.  And if discriminating against gays is like discriminating against people who want to have sex with sheep, we should.  Everything hangs on the relevant similarities between the cases, and so, everything hangs on the aptness of the similarities between the cases.  And we should, being good, rational arguers, be open to the possibility that our analogies are weak and the opposition’s are strong.  That happens.

Will Saletan’s post over at Salon is an exercise in this kind of argumentative humility.  He takes the analogy between race and sexual orientation to be a good analogy, but he’s willing to note where there may be relevant moral differences between the two.  Primarily it’s about the issue of having children.

The central, categorical objection to gay marriage is that same-sex couples can’t produce biological children together…. Just because I don’t agree with an argument, however, doesn’t mean it’s irrational. Marriage has historically been a sexual institution. A rational person can maintain that a relationship between two people categorically incapable of producing children together—that is, two people of the same sex—can’t be a marriage. That argument doesn’t justify denying them the right to love one another openly, nor does it justify denying them the benefits and honors we bestow on couples for making lifetime commitments. But it can justify a person’s refusal to accept a same-sex relationship as a marriage.

Saletan’s giving the case for disanalogy it’s due.  He follows this noting:

The argument has plenty of problems. We let old people marry. We let infertile people marry. We don’t insist that married couples produce kids. We welcome adoption and stepfamilies. Gay couples can have kids using donated eggs or sperm. Many gay people are already raising children, and doing it just as well as straight people.

All of that is true. But I’d be remiss to omit the rejoinder from George and his colleagues: Sex is a much brighter line than fertility or intention to bear children. It’s certainly a less intrusive distinction to enforce.

This is now a point about legal treatment – the law isn’t about your intentions with the marriage, it’s about what can reasonably be expected in it.  In this regard, it is right that the case for analogy between race and sex-orientation discrimination is weaker.  But, again, analogies are not identities, and to hold them to the standard that the cases be identical is crazy.

In this respect, I think Saletan’s on the right track both argumentatively and politically to acknowledge that there may be differences between these cases.  But the differences are still insufficient to break the relevance of the analogy.

jus post argumentum

There exist times when arguments have winners and losers–well, winners in a practical or legal sense.  This distinction is important, because the vanquished will continue, at least some of them, to resent the victors, to continue to believe in the righteousness of their cause, and so on.  Take, for instance, the more recent of the Arizona Civil Rights issues: the attempt to forge a religious freedom law allowing businesses not to have to serve unclean women (isn’t that what they meant?). Speaking of the foolishness of such laws, George Will (half credit where due here), said the following on Fox News Sunday:

Chris Wallace: George, I think it’s fair to say that there are deeply felt positions on both sides of this debate. Religious freedom versus gay rights. We asked all of you for questions and we got this on Facebook from Dan Pletcher:

Dan Pletcher: With as many taxes as businesses have to pay, how does this government think they have any justification to tell a business who they will and won’t serve?

How, George, do you answer Dan? And more generally, how do you come down on this issue of religious freedom versus gay rights? George Will: Free exercise of religion against…a clash of rights and here is how I answer Dan. Fifty years ago this year, in one of surely the great legislative achievements in American history, we passed the Public Accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act saying, “if you open your doors to business in the United States, you open it to everybody.” That’s a settled issue and the prestige of that law, the just prestige of that law obtains and I think that’s where the American people come down. That said, this too must be said: It’s a funny kind of sore winner in the gay rights movement that would say, “A photographer doesn’t want to photograph my wedding and I’ve got lots of other photographers I could go to, but I’m going to use the hammer of government to force them to do this.” It’s not neighborly and it’s not nice. The gay rights movement is winning. They should be, as I say, not sore winners. Chris Wallace: But having said that, and I understand your point, but you do say that if a gay couple wants to go into a bakery and have a wedding cake, the bakery should have to make the cake. Will: Bake the cake Wallace: Bake the cake.

The appeal to the victors is interesting and a little troubling.  It’s also somewhat of a theme among conservative pundits (is there some kind of memo), for here’s Ross Douthat in the New York Times:

But it’s still important for the winning side to recognize its power. We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.

I’m unaware of any discussions of this topic in argumentation literature; in any case, as my Google search demonstrates, no one has used the phrase “jus post argumentum” before.  So I wonder, I think there are rules for entering into arguments (just as there are rules for going to war), there obviously are rules for conduct in argument, hell, that’s what most of this stuff is about, so it seems, to pursue the just war argument a little further, there ought to be rules for when the argument is over. What would those be?  Well, aside from treating non-combatants with compassion, which Douthat and Will justly appeal to,  you’d think the victors have a right to demand certain conditions from the vanquished; they’ve earned that much by their victory.  Beyond this, victories entail a certain settling of accounts, including the punishing of the aggressors, reparations, and so on.  Not all arguments are just, after all, either in their declaration or in their prosecution.  It only makes sense that the losers suffer the consequences.

Straw manning and logical implication

Michael Medved has argued at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference and in print (almost four years ago) that it’s a “liberal lie” that states have “banned” gay marriage.

Now that you’re done laughing, here’s the argument in print (at TownHall.com):

1. “Proposition 8 was a mean-spirited ban on gay marriage.”

TRUTH:Proposition 8 banned nothing. The ubiquitous headlines describing this voter-mandated change in the California constitution as a “gay marriage ban” amount to the worst example of journalistic malpractice in recent years. The entire proposition consisted of only fourteen words: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” This simple statement imposes no restrictions and issues no commands regarding the behavior of private citizens: it merely demands a change in the actions of government. Proposition 8 did nothing to interfere with gay couples in registering for state-recognized civil unions, participating in church or civil ceremonies consecrating their love, forming life-time commitments, raising children, or concluding comprehensive contractual arrangements to share all aspects of life and property. The proposition simply says that government will not get involved in any of these private or public processes by calling such relationships a marriage.

The “only” in those 14 words has the effect of a “ban.”  I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader to figure out (it’s not hard).

This reminds me of a debate about whether certain universities’ bans on homosexual behavior were “discriminatory.”  People argued, with a straight face so I imagine, that they were not, because such places didn’t ban homosexual behavior per se, but rather all extra-marital sexual activity.

If one is fancy enough with words, distinctions like these can be made.  But they’re really just disingenuous cover for something else.

The fun part about this move, however, is this: should you call them out on their too-subtle-by-half distinction, they’ll accuse you of distorting their position, as Medved (and the defenders of gay faculty bans) have done: note how Medved elaborates on the “journalistic distortion” of that characterization.

Sadly, for people like Medved, you don’t have exclusive control over the interpretation of your arguments; more importantly, you don’t own words and you don’t determine the rules of implication.

The ad hitlerum manqué

Image 1: Analogy to a pro-gay marriage rally

The Nevada Coalition for the Protection of Marriage is my nomination for the first Glenn Beck Award for WTF Analogies.  Just as Glenn Beck recently argued that science education advocate Bill Nye is like the Catholic Church in his rejection of teaching Creationism in public school science classes, the Nevada Coalition argues that homosexuals are like white supremacists in their desire to change the definition of marriage.  Monte Stewart, their attorney, argues (via ThinkProgress):

On closer examination, this strategy reveals something deeply troubling. White supremacists engrafted the anti-miscegenation rules onto the marriage institution — and thereby altered marriage from how it had existed at common law and throughout the millennia — to bend that institution into the new and foreign role of inculcating white supremacist doctrines into the consciousness of the people generally. Because of the profound teaching, forming, and transforming power that fundamental social institutions like marriage have over all of us, this evil strategy undoubtedly worked effectively for decades.

Question: Where does one see today a similar massive political effort to profoundly change the marriage institution in order to bend it into a new and foreign role, one in important ways at odds with its ancient and essential roles? Answer: The genderless marriage movement. The big difference, of course, is the immorality of the effort to advance the white supremacist dogma compared to the morality of the effort to advance the social well-being and individual worth of gay men and lesbians. Whether that moral objective is sufficiently weighty to justify so bending and altering the marriage institution is for the free, open, democratic process to decide. Certainly, the comparison of laws that protect the man-woman meaning of marriage to anti-miscegenation laws is a false analogy that provides no basis for any court to mandate the redefinition of marriage.

Yes, that is a big difference.  It’s such a big difference, that I wonder why Mr.Stewart decided to compare the two.  This is just like what the Nazis did, only you’re not Nazis and it’s not like what they did.  Perhaps we need a name for this move: let’s call it the ad hitlerum manqué.

Joy of Man’s Desiring

By now everyone is familiar with the Roman Pope’s attempts to change the direction of Catholic moral outrage from people’s underpants to more global problems, such as poverty, war, and the like.  They’re still going to care, mind you, about abortion and gay marriage, they’re just not supposed to talk about that to the exclusion of every other notion.

Chicago’s local pontiff, Cardinal Francis George, has not gotten the memo.  Several days ago, he issued an order defunding several immigration rights organizations that supported gay marriage.  Some background (from the Chicago Tribune):

When a statewide immigrant-rights coalition endorsed same-sex marriage this past spring, 11 groups were given a stark choice by a Roman Catholic anti-poverty program: Leave the coalition, or lose their Catholic funding.

Eight of the groups decided to stick with the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights. Another group broke with both. All told, the nine groups gave up grants totaling nearly $300,000 from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. This week, some began scaling back projects that address domestic violence, affordable housing and immigration rights.

In what can only be described as an hilariously puzzling choice of words, the Cardinal argued:

“Jesus is merciful, but he is not stupid,” George said in a letter defending the Campaign’s decision not to fund members of the coalition. “He knows the difference between right and wrong. Manipulating both immigrants and the Church for political advantage is wrong.”

This suggests that Jesus merely knows the difference between right and wrong–He doesn’t have any special access (Euthyphro problem solved) or relationship to the answer. Second, and more importantly, though He is merciful, he won’t be duped into anything gay on that account.  No pity gayness for him.

Holy War

 

Cardinal Francis George

Recently the current Pontiff made some startling remarks about the Catholic Church Leadership’s intense focus on abortion, homosexuality, and contraception.  Here is what he said (in context):

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

This struck many as a breath of fresh air.  Others, not so much.  Chicago’s Cardinal Archbishop, Francis George, objected:

But George, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, warned that some had gone too far in seeing Pope Francis’ interview as a move away from long-held church teachings on homosexuality, abortion and contraception.

“Everybody is welcome,” George said, “but not everything we do can be acceptable. Not everything I do, and not everything anybody else does.”

Pope Francis said in the interview that the church “cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

When asked Sunday whether Catholics had become obsessed with the moral issues the pope named, George said the church was addressing society’s concerns.

“If the society is obsessed with those issues,” George said, “then the church will respond. If the society doesn’t bring them up, the church won’t respond.”

To be clear, the Pope actually didn’t say that “everything we do is acceptable.”  He said rather that not all of the Church’s moral positions deserve equal emphasis.  According to the Pope, abortion, gay marriage, and contraception don’t merit the kind of “obsessive” focus people such as George devote to it.

The Pope’s point is a fairly reasonable one, I think.  Time and space limit our ability to address every moral issue.  We have to make some choices.  We can choose well or choose badly.  The Church, in the PM’s* view, has chosen poorly, and Cardinal George’s response explains why: he’s not obsessed with gay marriage, you are.  Why do you keep bringing up gay marriage?

*Pontifex Maximus (how come we don’t have an acronym for the Pope like we do for the FLOTUS?)

Never argue with a Sicilian when homosexual sodomy is on the line

That’s Sicilian

It’s slippery slope week.

Here’s a snippet from Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent on yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage:

When the Court declared a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, we were assured that the case had nothing, nothing at all to do with “whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.” Id., at  578. Now we are told that DOMA is invalid because it “demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects,” ante, at 23—with an accompanying citation of Lawrence. It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will “confine” the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with. 

Justice Scalia may indeed be correct about the alleged inconsistency; The court may have previously held that Lawrence v Texas wouldn’t entail gay marriage, but then in Windsor they use the legality of “homosexual sodomy” to justify not discriminating against gay marriages.  This, he maintains, shows the slippery slope from “homosexual sodomy” to gay marriage.

A few points.  First, since I’m not a legal scholar, I don’t know if the court has to maintain its promises–or whether the court can make promises like this.  The gay marriage case wasn’t before the court at the time, and, as far as I know, the court decides only the cases it has before it.  It would seem completely wrong for them to adjudicate such things in advance.

Second, inconsistencies are not ipso facto signs of dishonesty.  I like to think my current correct views are inconsistent with my past incorrect ones.  I also sincerely hope that my future correct views are inconsistent with my current incorrect ones.

Third, not all slippery slopes are fallacious.  The court has recognized a right to “homosexual sodomy.”  This means that homosexual relationships are not inherently inferior to heterosexual ones.  This does in fact seem to entail that homosexual commitments differ in the same regard: i.e., not at all.

Anything goes

Fig 1: The consequences of gay marriage

Some slippery slopes are valid; some are not.  For a slippery slope to work, the consequences have to be very likely.  In fallacious slippery slopes, on the other hand, the consequences are merely scary.

Here’s Ken Cuccinelli with a fallacious slippery slope:

Once the natural limits that inhere in the relationship between a man and a woman can no longer sustain the definition of marriage, the conclusion that follows is that any grouping of adults would have an equal claim to marriage. See, e.g. , Jonathan Turley, One Big, Happy Polygamous Family , NY Times, July 21, 2011, at A27 (“[Polygamists] want to be allowed to create a loving family according to the values of their faith.”).”

Polygamy, or what some call “Traditional Marriage” has already existed as a non-consequence of gay marriage.  This means that polygamy is not a stage along the gay permissiveness continuum.

More importantly, polygamy, whatever it might mean, is significantly different from dual marriage (is that a term?).  The legal relationships are undefined and it does not exist.  Marriage between non-child-producing couples already exists, and differs in no respect from gay marriage–except, perhaps, that gay marriages can result in natural children.

So let’s drop the polygamy business.  Yes, maybe it is scary and weird to you.  But remember, polygamy is what the Bible sometimes advocates (along with concubines!) and, more significantly, it’s got little to do with the rights of two unrelated people.

Let’s try to be more rigorous and more imaginative.  Perhaps Ken Cuccinelli ought to remember that when he opens his mouth to argue, he sets an example for the kids out there.  This is a terrible example.

The old ball and chain

Fig. 1: Marriage

A playground loser may save his ego with the following: I didn’t want to win anyway.  Here’s Yale Professor David Brooks’ latest version.

But last week saw a setback for the forces of maximum freedom. A representative of millions of gays and lesbians went to the Supreme Court and asked the court to help put limits on their own freedom of choice. They asked for marriage.

Marriage is one of those institutions — along with religion and military service — that restricts freedom. Marriage is about making a commitment that binds you for decades to come. It narrows your options on how you will spend your time, money and attention.

Whether they understood it or not, the gays and lesbians represented at the court committed themselves to a certain agenda. They committed themselves to an institution that involves surrendering autonomy. They committed themselves to the idea that these self-restrictions should be reinforced by the state. They committed themselves to the idea that lifestyle choices are not just private affairs but work better when they are embedded in law.

This is correct only in the most restrictive sense–the sense in which every choice to do some activity x involves doing x (and maybe for a time not y).  But in every other meaningful sense it’s appalling dumb: having the right to marry recognized involves adding choices to one’s life.

False dilemma, inclusive disjunction

Mark Steyn’s lead post at NRO today was an argumentative (and organizational) trainwreck.  Here’s just one of the fallacious lovelies.  Steyn observes that lefties have in the past been against marriage, as a kind of anti-bourgeois bit of posing.  And now the lefties want marriage for homosexuals, now as a kind of ennobling and civilizinginstitution.  He  poses the dilemma for them:

Which of these alternative scenarios — the demolition of marriage or the taming of the gay — will come to pass? Most likely, both.

I like the fact that you can have an inclusive ‘or’ in ordinary English, but this one seems wrong.  First, it seems that the two features are at least prima facie inconsistent — if marriage is demolished, then it won’t play the taming function it’s supposed to play.  Right?  Second, are those the only two options or consequences? How about gay unions going on as they have for years and years, but now with legal protection from the state?