How often is it that the following three analogies are used in discussions of legalizing gay marriage?
#1: Laws against gay marriage are analogous to anti-miscegenation laws. Therefore, they are unjust.
#2: Laws against gay marriage are analogous to prohibitions against polygamy. Therefore, they are just.
#3: Laws against gay marriage are analogous to outlawing bestiality (or marrying one's dog). Therefore, they are just.
The answer to my rhetorical question is that the use of these analogies is innumerable. Most of the talking heads debating on TV race each other to the punch — whoever gets one of these analogies out first is the one who's framed the debate properly and thereby has the rhetorical upper hand. Now, I'm all for rhetorical competitions, but c'mon — you'd think that once the analogies are out there, somebody might… you know… address how apt these analogies are.
Enter Steve Chapman, writing for conservative opinion page, Townhall.com. Importantly, Chapman supports gay marriage, but doesn't want the courts to impose it on the citizenry. (One of the first questions that comes to my mind when I hear this sort of talk is what's better (again assuming he supports gay marriage): having a just conclusion imposed on a citizenry that does not want it, or an unjust law imposed on a smaller section of that citizenry… that does not want it either! If you don't see the point of this question, you don't see the point of judicial review.) Regardless, Chapman runs the gamut of the analogies, and makes it all worse. Especially when addressing #2:
Gays argue, correctly, that they can't be expected to change their inborn sexual orientation to get married. But polygamists can assert that monogamy is impossible for them — and, judging from the prevalence of sexual infidelity, for most people. Nor does the polygamy ban solve any problems. Men can already have sex with multiple females, produce offspring with them and furnish them with financial support. Former NFL running back Travis Henry has nine children by nine different women. Prohibiting polygamy does nothing to prevent such conduct. It just keeps people who want to do it responsibly from operating within an established legal framework. That's why I would legalize polygamy as well as same sex marriage.
Seriously, that is the dumbest defense of gay marriage against the analogy with polygamy I have ever seen. I could not have even made up a more dunderheaded version. In no way should the argument be that: well, lots of people are going to have multiple partners, and prohibiting polygamy doesn't prevent that, so we should legalize polygamy so they can do it responsibly. By analogy, Chapman's reasoning would be: gay marriage bans don't reduce homosexual sex and cohabitation. But that's not what those bans are out to prevent. Anti-sodomy laws were supposed to do that, and see how they fared constitutionally? The same fate would befall anti-multiple-baby-daddy laws.
The best way to defend gay marriage is to break the analogies between gay marriage and polygamy and gay sex and bestiality. The first is a simple moral difference: there is no established frame of injustice associated with gay marriages. They are, like modern heterosexual marriages, a relationship between equals. Polygamous marriages have structural inequalities, and the traditional forms of them have them in spades: younger wives are to play the role of child-rearer, clothes-washer, and concubine. Once they've borne children, they move up the ladder… Legalizing institutions that have these legacies is akin to legalizing a form of household slavery. My good friend Thom Brooks has an excellent survey of polygamy and its problems here.
The disanalogy between gay sex and besitality is simply with consent. Adult humans can give consent, dogs (or what have you) can't. End of discussion.
So why are people still wrestling with these analogies? Part of the answer is because columnists like Steve Chapman, despite being on the right side of the issue, can't put together a non-crazy response to them.