Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Fisking Dobson on Gay Marriage

James Dobson has written a commentary for CNN’s webpage on gay marriage that is amusing both in its lack of logic and its misuse of statistics. The statistics come first, as he is claiming that the media provided “cover” for the Senate voting down the Marriage Protection Amendment by claiming that the public didn’t want the amendment:

Again this year, the amendment failed to pass by a wide margin, falling 18 votes shy of a required two-thirds majority. The final tally was 49 in favor, 48 opposed.

Rarely has there been a greater disconnect between members of the Senate and the American people who put them in power. With the help of the media, which laid down “cover” by claiming voters didn’t care about marriage, 40 Democrats, one Independent and seven Republicans turned their backs on this most basic social institution.

And this is where the obfuscation begins. He is assuming – falsely – that if someone “cares about marriage” then they must support the Federal amendment to ban gay marriage. That, of course, is not the case. I’ve seen this argument from many advocates of the amendment, that because state laws against gay marriage have been passed every time they’ve been tried, that proves the public wants the gay marriage amendment. But supporting a state law is different from supporting a Federal constitutional amendment. Dobson intentionally obscures that distinction.

And of course, the notion that the media provided cover for this is absurd. He knows, far better than most, that the parties perform their own polling on such questions rather than relying on what the media says. They take such polls district by district, state by state and nationally, and they want that polling to be as accurate as possible. I guarantee you that their internal polls make a clear distinction between opposition to gay marriage and support for a constitutional amendment banning it. If their vote was driven by polls, it was driven by their own internal polling, not by polls reported in the media.

Let’s examine the claim that traditional marriage lacks support in the court of public opinion. As it always does when conservative issues are being debated, the liberal press produced a series of trumped-up polls indicating the issue was of no interest nationally. However, there was another “poll” that the media completely ignored. In fact, there were 19 of them. They represented the 19 states in which voters overwhelmingly defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Not one state has chosen by popular vote to permit marriages between homosexuals. Support for the family has been affirmed in every instance.

In Mississippi, traditional marriage was approved by a whopping 86 percent majority. Other state votes registered similar wide margins: Nevada (70 percent), Arkansas (75 percent), Georgia (77 percent), Kentucky (75 percent), Louisiana (78 percent), Nebraska (70 percent), Missouri (71 percent), Montana (66 percent), North Dakota (73 percent), Ohio (62 percent), Michigan (59 percent), Oklahoma (76 percent), Utah (66 percent), Kansas (70 percent) and Texas (75 percent). Even states considered to be more liberal voted for traditional marriage, including Hawaii (69 percent), Alaska (68 percent) and Oregon (57 percent).

But again, it simply isn’t the case that because those states voted for state laws against gay marriage that they would therefore support a Federal constitutional amendment to do so. And numerous polls support that distinction. This ABC poll just before the Senate voted on the amendment showed that while 58% said gay marriage should be illegal, only 42% said that the Constitution should be amended to make it so. And on the issue of civil unions, 45% of the public favored them and 48% opposed them. Likewise, a Gallup poll in May found a statistical dead heat between those who favored a constitutional amendment and those who opposed it. Many other polls have found similar results.

But wait…Dobson is about to pull out the big (and profoundly silly) rhetorical guns:

So where does the issue go from here? Time will tell. It took William Wilberforce more than 30 years to bring about an end to Britain’s slave trade in the 1800s. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of a protracted victory.

If the battle to protect marriage takes even five more years, liberal judges and activists will have destroyed this 5,000-year-old institution, which was designed by the Creator, Himself. Even now, they are close to achieving that coveted objective.

There’s empty rhetoric. There’s inflated rhetoric. There’s hyperbolic rhetoric. And then there’s the monumental, transcendental, all-time hall of fame stupidity of comparing the fight against gay marriage to the fight against slavery. Anyone who would make such a comparison pretty much gives up any claim to either logical or moral authority forever. The rest of this statement is standard religious right rhetoric – all conclusion, no argument. How will allowing gays to get married “destroy traditional marriage”? He doesn’t say.

Will Dobson’s marriage suddenly blink out of existence when gays can get married? Will people stop getting married, stop having children, stop loving each other and their children? Does anyone in the world actually decide whether or not to get married based on whether other people they don’t even know are or aren’t allowed to get married? Of course not. Dobson just skips right to the conclusion without bothering to fill in the detail on how or why this destruction would take place. That is predictable, of course, since there is no logical argument to be made for the conclusion. And when that happens, you just have to keep repeating the conclusion over and over and over again and hope no one bothers to ask.


  1. #1 icydid
    June 29, 2006

    What about this “5,000-year-old institution” nonsense? Humans have been doing the marriage thing for a hell of a lot longer than that. Maybe it doesn’t count if they weren’t the Chosen People. But how will “five more years” of American indecision DESTROY this institution? That’s some mighty ambitious fear-mongering, there.

  2. #2 RickD
    June 29, 2006

    Clearly, since the world is only 5,000 years old, marriage is a 5,000-year old institution.

    Are you a communist?

    { /snark }

  3. #3 Capt. Rational
    June 29, 2006

    Wow. I’m impressed that he made it so long without mentioning God or Jesus. He should be commended for that at least. I’d have so much more respect for these people if they’d stop saying they’re protecting the institution of marriage and just admit that they hate gay people.

  4. #4 sdanielmorgan
    June 29, 2006

    Dobson’s logic on state vs. federal authority?

    As for the senators who voted against the amendment, the excuses they gave were pitiful…[they] thought they had the perfect alibi. They claimed that the issue should be handled at the state level. What hypocrisy!

    Indeed! After all, we all know that hypocrisy means “doing something contradictory to your claimed values” — here, the Republican party, with its time-honored value of state rights trumping federally-imposed laws, we see…um…

    What’s the distinction between a union of republican states and an central democracy, again?

    All of these senators are smart enough to know that, first, it would create utter chaos to have 50 different definitions of marriage in one country, where every state is required by the Constitution to support the laws of the other 49. Come on, Senator McCain and company. You and your colleagues know better than that.

    That’s right! Exactly! Why should we allow states to pass laws which other states have to honor, since states may pass different laws? Why, that would imply that the Constitution and the sovereignty of the states would be authoritative…which is…um…well, why in the hell do we need states anyway?

  5. #5 mark
    June 29, 2006

    Can Dobson point to the passage in the Bible that says Adam and Eve actually got married? Legally? Who was Best Man? And how about if a person who, as Dobson puts it, “cares about marriage” is gay and want to marry a same-sex partner?

  6. #6 Irrational Entity
    June 29, 2006

    I thought we already had fifty different types of marriage. Certainly Hawaii’s laws are not Colorado’s, and those laws do not match ones in New York.

  7. #7 Andrew T.
    June 29, 2006

    When a significant chunk of your fanbase believes the earth is only 6,000 years old, you’ve really got to be careful in describing the historical nature of institutions.

    Of course, the whole historicity point is manifestly silly, since for 99% of recorded history, marriage has been about man acquiring property (both in the form of the woman herself and in the form of her dowry and related possessions) and not about a noble institution of ideals. Marriage as a relationship among equals is almost exclusively a 20th-century-Western social construction, and that’s precisely why gays should get an equal crack at it.

  8. #8 steve s
    June 29, 2006

    Of course gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage. Nothing is more corrosive to traditional marriage than gay marriage. It’s so corrosive, even talking about it can cause your marriage to fail. How else to explain the divorces of Ronald Reagan, George Will, Dick Armey, Phil Graham, John Kasich, two for Newt Gingrich, three for Rush Limbaugh, three for Bob Barr…

  9. #9 Abel PharmBoy
    June 29, 2006

    Ed, Dobson is a scourge on people who practice Christianity with compassion and acceptance the way the baby Jesus intended (he’s also a scourge on Colorado, but that’s another story).

    A relatively new group called Faith In America is speaking up against those who use religion to practice bigotry and discrimination. I have a post from the other day that illustrates how this group of Christians views the use of religion to oppose gay marriage in light of how the cross was used to promote white supremacy. Dobson and crew are a bunch of hatemongers and hypocrites. Thanks for the deconstruction of his BS argument.

  10. #10 kehrsam
    June 29, 2006

    Funny, how a 5,000 year old institution could be felled by five years of inaction in one country. I’d imagined most 5,000 year old institutions were made of sterner stuff. How did it survive the Thirty Years War?

    Even funnier, about once a year my local paper runs a story about some church reaching out to gays, and the next morning (the religion section runs on Saturdays) half a dozen people at church will mention how that is impossible, that homosexuals can’t be Christians. I can laugh, because I’m not gay. They don’t seem to mind that adulterers, drunks, former cocaine addicts and wannabe fascists can be Christians, but we gotta keep the fags out.

    As I say, it would be a funny way to read the Gospel if only there weren’t people’s lives at stake. If folks want to believe that the world was created in 4004 bc, that’s one thing, only harmful when it comes to education. But thinking that we need to selectively enforce the laws of Leviticus is something else.

    After all, what is preventing Dobson et al from following Biblical law without dragging the rest of us into it? The latest thinking is that the “Holiness Code” and several other bits of OT law were originally only followed by the priesthood anyway. Oh, wait, they don’t believe in the Documentary Hypothesis, either. Doh!

  11. #11 J.Paul Rinehimer
    June 29, 2006

    While excellent criticisms, I don’t think any of the above comments hit on the central point Dobson’s trying to make: That the majority of the citizens determine what’s “right” and that Congress should enact laws reflecting the will of the majority. This is the Tyranny of the Majority that a number of the Founding Fathers were worried about. The whole reason the Supreme Court was created and the justices were given lifetime appointments was so that they would not be subject to the “will of the people.”

    Dobson et al know this, which is why they need to push for a constitutional amendment. Marriage laws can be found unconstitutional, but it would be a lot harder for the court to strike down an “unconstitutional amendment.” (I’m not a lawyer, maybe some legal people could explain how that would work…). The Religious Right, of course, will play the majority card because they know it will work with people who have a simplistic view of American democracy.

    In the history of every civil rights issue there has always been a majority of people (at some point of time) opposed to allowing rights for the disenfranchised. Dobson’s comparison of slavery to his fight against gay marriage is utterly ironic and illogical. It is the supporters of gay marriage that should be comparing their struggle to the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the rest of the civil rights movements.

  12. #12 kathryn from Sunnyvale
    June 29, 2006

    Shouldn’t your question be “Did Dobson’s marriage suddenly blink out of existence when gays got married?”

    Note how Dobson doesn’t mention the marriages in Masschusetts. Their marriages are as real as a 1948 interracial marriage in California: they are married, in the US, they just can’t leave the state.

    I think John Scalzi’s essay from early June is applicable:

    “Look, am I mad or something? I look around and about at people talking about same-sex marriage, and it seems that everyone is accepting the discussion on the marriage bigots’ terms, rather than reality. Come on people, let’s get a grip:

    1. Same-sex marriage already exists in the United States. It has for two years. The definition of marriage in the US already includes members of the same sex marrying each other.

    2. By pressing for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between men and women, it is the marriage bigots who are looking to change the definition of marriage.

    3. The language of the proposed constitutional amendment would end thousands of legal marriages — both the same marriages that legally exist now and all the same-sex marriages that would occur between now and whenever the theoretical moment would be that the 37th state ratified the amendment.

    4. The proposed constitutional amendment would make second-class citizens of all same-sex married couples by stripping them of a marital status they currently enjoy, while allowing all other legally married couples to continue being married.

    “…There’s a manifest difference in a debate which has as its founding proposition that same-sex marriage is a theoretical construct in the US — which is the proposition marriage bigots want to promote — and the debate which has as its founding proposition that same-sex marriages are already here, and there thousands of them. The latter forces the marriage bigots to come out and admit that their proposed amendment and their goals destroy real marriages between real people — thousands of marriages between thousands of people.”

  13. #13 CPT_Doom
    June 29, 2006

    If Dobson is such a fan of protecting marriage, why is he living in an immoral adulterous relationship? After all, the nuns and priests told me that only Roman Catholic marriages, blessed by the church, were valid and appropriate. All else is sin.

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