There is no longer any need for the phrase “gay marriage.” There is just “marriage.”

For a while we shall still have to put up with an occasional Kim Davis or right-wing judge who gets mopey about it, but most people have simply moved on. They either don’t have a problem with marriage equality, or they don’t care enough to do anything about it. It is the ones who do who are increasingly on the defensive.

And well they should be. One reason public opinion turned around so quickly was the complete inability of the anti’s to make any reasonable argument at all. Once you get beyond, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” what do they have? Not much, as it turns out. Sure, people instinctively resist when you start messing with long-standing traditions. It took some time for people to have their eyes opened to the massive injustice and cruelty inflicted on gay couples by denying them the legal benefits of marriage. But once that happened most people changed their views accordingly.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t people still frantic to make the case against equality. In this recent post, I responded to an essay written by Lydia McGrew. I did not know who she was when I wrote that post, but in the comments Michael Fugate directed me to something else she had written.

Is it not clear that Kim Davis is being consistent–legally, morally, and metaphysically? If Obergefell is a lawless farce, then Kentucky’s marriage protection amendment is the law, and Kim Davis, unlike the Supreme Court, is actually upholding the rule of law. If homosexual unions are not only immoral but also metaphysically unable to be marriages–yes, even civil marriages–then to refuse to give them the name of marriage, as an official of the state of Kentucky, is simply to refuse to lie about reality. It is faithfully to carry out the duties of a clerk whose job it is to give out real marriage licenses.

At this point, it seems that no reductio will do, since homosexual “marriage” is already a reductio. But think: Would it make sense to say that she must resign if she were ordered to call a union between a man and a sheep a marriage and refused? Would it make sense to say that she must resign if she were ordered to call a union between a woman and a tree a marriage and refused?

It’s hard to believe anyone would think there is a tinge of bigotry on the anti-equality side.

Skipping ahead:

[I]t won’t surprise my readers that I think civil marriage has an essence, a real nature, and that male-male and female-female relationships don’t fall within that nature, any more than human-animal relationships fall within it. (And frankly, I don’t give a plug nickel if someone says, “Gasp!” [Swoon, faint!] “Lydia McGrew made some kind of comparison between homosexuality and bestiality! How insensitive!” Yep. Very. Moving on…)

One more:

In this case, if we had enough Kim Davises, enough staunch state governors, and enough deputies who refused to put any of them in prison, then we’d have a lot fewer lies told about sodomite simulacra of marriage and maybe even an outpouring of honorable self-government in America, all of which would be a good thing.

I invite you to read the entirety of McGrew’s lengthy post. She makes various arguments about the law and civil disobedience. But what strikes me is her viciousness towards homosexuals. She’s proud of comparing homosexuality to bestiality. Suggesting that homosexuals can be married is to lie about reality. Gays engage in a sodomite simulacrum of marriage.

Charming stuff. Confronted with such rhetoric, decent people should just say, “Riiiggghhht,” and back slowly away from the conversation.

Also getting in on the act Edward Feser. In this post he tries one more time to persuade us that marriage equality is a terrible thing. It’s a lengthy post, but he starts with such a howler that it’s hardly necessary to read on:

If you printed a lot of extra money and passed it around so as to make everyone wealthier, the end result would merely be dramatically to decrease the buying power of money. If you make it easier for college students to get an “A” grade in their courses, the end result will be that “A” grades will come to be regarded as a much less reliable indicator of a student’s true merit. If you give prizes to everyone who participates in a competition, winning a prize will cease to be a big deal. In general, where X is perceived to have greater value than Y and you try to raise the value of Y by assimilating it to X, the actual result will instead be simply to lower the value of X to that of Y.

That’s a specious comparison, of course. Money, high grades, and prizes are valuable precisely because they are rare. But social institutions like marriage are not like that. They are valuable precisely because they are common. If no one wanted to get married then no one would care much what the marriage laws were. A better analogy would be to fraternities and sororities on college campuses. They do not become an important social force until a large percentage of the student population wants to be part of them.

As with McGrew, I’m not so interested in the minutiae of the arguments. Instead, I am struck again by the sheer viciousness directed towards homosexuals. There is never the slightest tinge of regret in what people like Feser and McGrew have to say on this subject. There is never any acknowledgement of the basic humanity of gay people. They never say anything like, “It is understandable that gay people would want to partake of the institution of marriage, and I can see it from their point of view, but unfortunately there is a bigger picture to consider…” Instead McGrew proudly likens homosexual relationships to bestiality and refers to marriage equality as evil. Their relationships are sodomite simulacra of real marriage. Feser likens their unions to fakes and counterfeits and scoffs at the idea that anyone would think they have the same dignity as actual marriage.

He writes:

Egalitarian schemes, in short, often have great inflationary effect but little actual egalitarian effect. They can amount to mere exercises in mutual make-believe. You can pretend all you want that all the children in Lake Wobegon are above average. People who wish it were true may even go along with the pretense. But of course, it isn’t true, and deep down everybody knows it isn’t true.

And later:

Now, the people who should be worried about all of this craziness are not the critics of “marriage equality.” It just gives them an occasion to say “Told you so.” The people who should be worried about it are the advocates of “marriage equality,” for two reasons. First, because it gives the critics an occasion to say “Told you so.” But second — and more to the point of this post — because it completely devalues the “marriage” label and thus undermines the whole point of the “marriage equality” movement, which was to dignify same-sex unions by sticking the “marriage” label on them. (Italics in original).

No, actually, the marriage equality movement had nothing to do with dignifying same-sex unions by sticking a label on them. There is nothing make-believe in the commitments between partners in a gay relationship. Gay people aren’t sitting around lamenting the unwillingness of straight couples to grant them dignity, for heaven’s sake.

Almost everything Feser writes just oozes contempt for homosexuals. He simply cannot countenance the idea that homosexuals are no different from anyone else, except that they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex. Consider this:

If you want to know what people really think is the essence of something, you look at how they describe the ideal specimen. And everyone knows what people think of as the ideal marriage: You fall in love, you have lots of kids, you watch them grow up and have kids of their own, and you stay faithful to each other through thick and thin and old age until death parts you.

Why do people idealize this? For one thing, because of the love it embodies, where by “love” I mean not merely the romantic feelings which get things going (but typically cool), but also and more importantly the self-sacrifice involved — the lifetime surrender of one’s own narrow interests for the sake of spouse, children, and grandchildren. For another thing, because of the tangible, fleshly tie with other human beings that it represents — the literal biological connection with past and future generations, and with other living members of the current generation. In other words, what people idealize in marriage is the perfection, and fusion, of the unitive and the procreative (to use the natural law jargon), the way complete self-giving completely enmeshes one in a literal family and extended family of other human beings.

Feser just shot himself in the foot. Which part of that does not apply equally to homosexuals? Does Feser think gay people cannot fall in love? That they can’t make great sacrifices for each other? That their relationships don’t represent fleshly ties with other human beings? That they can’t watch their kids grow up and have kids of their own?

There is exactly one thing that homosexuals cannot do relative to heterosexual couples: make a baby through sexual intercourse. But since Feser does not describe unions between infertile heterosexuals as fakes or as counterfeits, and since homosexuals can have children in other ways, this point has little force.

McGrew and Feser are welcome to make whatever dogmatic declarations they want about what marriage really is. But while they’re having irrelevant discussions about essences and metaphysics over there, the grown-ups will remain over here and discuss more important issues. Marriage equality is good public policy, since society benefits from encouraging stable homosexual unions for the same reason it benefits from encouraging stable heterosexual unions. It is morally right because it is just outright cruelty to deny to homosexual couples the same legal benefits we grant to heterosexual couples. And it is legally right because the fourteenth amendment entails that if you grant certain benefits to heterosexual couples, you must also extend them to homosexual couples. None of that has anything to do with metaphysics.

Let us close with Feser one more time:

[E]xpanding the use of the word “marriage” to cover various exotic arrangements no more extends dignity to those arrangements than freely giving out As to all the children in Lake Wobegon increases general student knowledge and ability. With the former as with the latter, some people will think: “How adorable! I’m glad they get to feel good about themselves.” But few will seriously think that the exotic arrangements have anything close to the dignity that the traditional marital ideal has, any more than they really think that all the children in Lake Wobegon are above average.

That’s why the anti-equality folks have lost so quickly and so decisively. If you have an ounce of decency or conscience, or even if you just know a gay couple, you see immediately how stupid that is. Gay couples are not exotic, their relationship are not “adorable,” and they couldn’t care less whether some straight person thinks their relationship has dignity.

I am good friends with a gay couple. I could describe their life to you down to the most minute detail, and so long as I leave out the part where they’re both women anyone would say I had just described a marriage.

If your definition of marriage does not include what they have, then your definition is wrong.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    October 12, 2015

    Where do Feser et al get the idea from that there is an essence or Platonic ideal of marriage? (Or of anything, for that matter?) His whole philosophy is based on long-overcome misconceptions.

    In the present case, it should be blatantly obvious that marriage is nothing but an (implicit or legal) contract, and it has always been thus except in those very traditional but unlamented times when marriage meant one patriarch and however many women he could afford to buy.

  2. #2 Richard Wein
    United Kingdom
    October 12, 2015

    “Where do Feser et al get the idea from that there is an essence or Platonic ideal of marriage?”

    I would’s say it’s not so much that he has got the idea from somewhere, as that he has failed to drop a naive idea. I think there’s a natural intuitive transference from familiar statements of a sort where there’s a determinate fact of the matter, like “the Earth is round”, to other sorts of statements: “X is morally wrong”, “split infinitives are grammatically wrong”, “marriage is between people of different gender”, etc. And the stronger your prejudices on such matters, the more they will feel like matters of determinate fact. Hence we get moral realism, grammatical prescriptivism, etc.

    One might expect philosophers to know better. But then one would be (often) disappointed.

  3. #3 Richard Wein
    October 12, 2015

    P.S. No doubt Feser would say that such ideas are not accepted naively, but justified by his Aristotelian metaphysics, which he seems to use as an excuse for believing whatever suits his prejudices.

  4. #4 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    October 12, 2015

    I would say that Feser puts a bit more thought into the matter than just merely his prejudices. The problem is rather that his impressively elaborate edifice of reasoning is built on faulty assumptions that should have been overcome with the enlightenment – at the very latest.

  5. #5 sean samis
    October 12, 2015

    Sub. There’s little left to say.

    sean s.

  6. #6 Richard Wein
    United Kingdom
    October 13, 2015

    I’ve just been reading this interview with Feser: http://www.strangenotions.com/scholasticism-vs-scientism-an-interview-with-dr-edward-feser/

    It clearly shows the fundamental problem with his approach to philosophy: he thinks we can start from metaphysics.

    “The trouble is that this gets things precisely backwards.”

    Well, at least he and I agree that someone is getting things backwards. We just disagree on who that is.

    The best we can do is start with what we know most securely, and proceed by the methods that have shown themselves to be most effective. We humans started with the knowledge that arose from the unreflective use of our evolution-given cognitive faculties, primarily knowledge of our immediate environment. Over time we gradually started to develop more reflective methods, but those always built on what we knew most securely. We adopted new methods because we found they worked. Over time our epistemic methods improved, building on what worked, until we arrived where we are now. We have good reason to trust modern science (on the whole) because it has proven so successful. Science doesn’t need any philosophical underpinning, which is just as well since philosophy hasn’t provided one.

    The idea that we need some ultimate grounding or underpinning for our knowledge is hopeless. That misguided way of thinking leads to the problems of infinite regress and induction. It arises from an over-emphasis on arguments, or reasoning from premises to conclusion. Argumentative reasoning is a useful tool, but it’s not the primary basis of knowledge. Our knowledge starts with the working of our automatic (non-conscious) cognitive faculties, which work as well as they do thanks to natural selection (another sort of trial and error, building on what works best). Even when we engage in reasoning, our justifications must end somewhere (on pain of infinite regress), and where justification ends we must rely on our automatic cognitive faculties to work properly. In other words, we must rely on judgements which are not further justified. This should be particularly obvious in the case of non-deductive inference (which is most of our inference), where the premises are not sufficient to deliver the conclusion.

    To say that we must rely on our cognitive faculties working successfully is not to deny that we should do our best to improve them, and do our best to critically scrutinise our existing beliefs. But those processes also involve using our cognitive faculties. In the end, if our cognitive faculties fail us, that’s just tough. Nothing can give me a guarantee that my faculties are working properly. (And I don’t mean “properly” in some absolute, ideal sense. I just mean working well enough.)

    I think the traditional, scholastic way of philosophical thinking has appealed to philosophers primarily because argumentative reasoning is the epistemic method that we observe ourselves using. We aren’t directly aware of the operation of our non-conscious cognitive processes, and until a couple of hundred years ago we knew nothing of such processes. I guess before that our intuitive judgements must have seemed to arise from nowhere, or perhaps from a dualistic soul. Now we know better, or at least those of us who take the lessons of science seriously.

    Contrast this reasonable, scientifically-informed account of knowledge building on success with Feser’s claim that metaphysics is “prior” to all other knowledge. What reason do we have to take metaphysical thinking seriously? Where are its demonstrated successes? How can a metaphysical account avoid the problem of infinite regress, or starting from some premises that just seem intuitively obvious (in which case it isn’t prior to all other knowledge)?

    It isn’t hard to see that metaphysics is neither necessary nor useful. That’s enough reason to ignore it. On top of that, however, careful examination can reveal more specifically the ways in which metaphysics goes wrong. I won’t elaborate here, except to say that Wittgenstein showed us the ways in which much of traditional philosophy (including metaphysics) is bewitched by language.

  7. #7 colnago80
    October 13, 2015

    One of the claims by clowns like Feser et al is that same sex unions can’t produce children. Counterexample, Mary Cheney who is married to her wife and has produced 2 children, a boy and a girl.

  8. #8 colnago80
    October 13, 2015

    Feser and McGrew are textbook examples of what Feynman was talking about when he opined, “Philosophy is as useful to physicists as ornithology is to birds”.

  9. #9 eric
    October 13, 2015

    Would it make sense to say that she must resign if she were ordered to call a union between a woman and a tree a marriage and refused?

    If the state of Kentucky had a law granting such licenses, then yes. “Its unnatural” is not an excuse. If it were, there should be no gun licenses allowed since none of us (except a few species of cone fish) were born with the ability to fire naturally produced high-velocity bullets out of a naturally grown barrel.

    if we had enough Kim Davises, enough staunch state governors, and enough deputies who refused to put any of them in prison, then we’d have a lot fewer lies told about sodomite simulacra of marriage and maybe even an outpouring of honorable self-government in America

    Well first, Kim Davis has not spent a single day in prison for her original, several weeks’ long refusal to grant licenses, and its unlikely she ever will; that case has yet to be decided but her role as agent of the state will likely protect her; the court is very likely to say the government owes the aggrieved parties something, since she was acting as the government’s representative at the time. Kim Davis spent time in jail for contempt of court; essentially refusing to obey the judge’s rules of behavior while her case was being decided.

    But secondly, here’s that most amusing conservative contradiction. She wants an outpouring of honorable self-government. To normal people, self-government would mean “if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” But to conservatives “self-government” appears to mean “find the level of government that agrees with me, and declare all other levels of government inferior to that.”

  10. #10 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    October 13, 2015

    But think: Would it make sense to say that she must resign if she were ordered to call a union between a man and a sheep a marriage and refused? Would it make sense to say that she must resign if she were ordered to call a union between a woman and a tree a marriage and refused?

    I’ve got a special deal for conservatives this week: your first clue is free.

    Gay people are people.

    Comparing your opponents to non-humans is not a quality argument, it is an attempt to literally dehumanise them so that you can justify disregarding their concerns.

  11. #11 Michael Fugate
    October 13, 2015

    Paul Braterman in the 2nd part of a two-part post on the Scopes trial says the following of WJB, but it applies here as well.

    Bryan is searching for the comfort of certainty in an uncertain world, and like other creationists he points to the uncertain and provisional nature of scientific knowledge, as if that were a crucial weakness rather than, paradoxically, its greatest strength.

    Individuals like McGrew and Feser don’t want the messiness of real life to be true and retreat into a wholly sanitized world of their own making with an idealized perfect man and perfect woman – straight, white and Christian. Oh and of course Republican. They continually abuse terms like normal and natural.

  12. #12 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    October 13, 2015

    But few will seriously think that the exotic arrangements have anything close to the dignity that the traditional marital ideal has…

    Ah yes, the dignity of traditional marriages. Half of which end in divorce.

  13. #13 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    October 13, 2015

    If you printed a lot of extra money and passed it around so as to make everyone wealthier, the end result would merely be dramatically to decrease the buying power of money.

    Apparently he is not up on current economic theory, including Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and specifically the idea of helicopter money.

  14. #14 Michael Fugate
    October 13, 2015

    Ah yes, the dignity of traditional marriages. Half of which end in divorce.

    They probably still deeply regret that divorce is legal – and blithely ignore the abuse that pervaded marriages before divorce.

    It seems that there is a hokey teleology pervading these individuals’ views – a perfect person that we should be aspiring to be. A place for everything and everything in its place. Reality doesn’t enter in – they don’t care how the world actually is only how they want it to be. Where they come up with this idealization or how one would know if one saw it remains unclear.

    I get the feeling that they have never had any fun and therefore don’t think anyone else should have any either. Each whinges, “I have spent my entire life following the arbitrary rules laid down by my God, my church, and my parents and every should too! It is so unfair!, but I am so superior!”

  15. #15 eric
    October 13, 2015

    I get the feeling that they have never had any fun and therefore don’t think anyone else should have any either. Each whinges, “I have spent my entire life following the arbitrary rules laid down by my God, my church, and my parents and every should too! It is so unfair!, but I am so superior!”

    “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” H. L. Mencken

  16. #16 Michael Fugate
    October 14, 2015

    #6
    Feser is almost sane in that interview given his usual anti-atheist apologetics. Science and philosophy need each other and neither has superiority – it is a feedback loop. Theology on the other hand….
    Where he really loses it is in complaining that certain atheist scientists don’t understand arcane scholasticism (why would they?) and therefore it is still valid. I would bet that theist scientists don’t understand it any better, but there are thousands of philosophers both theist and atheist who do understand and conclude that Aquinas’ reasoning to god is bunk. If it could get you to a god – which in my understanding it can’t – it wouldn’t get you to anything like the Christian concept of god. Unmoved movers don’t pop down to earth and die on crosses. Calling something god does explain anything.

  17. #17 Michael Fugate
    October 14, 2015

    Calling something god doesn’t explain anything.

  18. #18 JGC
    October 19, 2015

    “E]xpanding the use of the word “marriage” to cover various exotic arrangements no more extends dignity to those arrangements than freely giving out As to all the children in Lake Wobegon increases general student knowledge and ability. ”

    The purpose of recognizing individuals as partners in civil matrimony, however isn’t to ‘extend dignity’ to them but instead to vest them with multiple wholly secular benefits, rights, obligations and protections.

  19. […] a comment I recently posted at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog. I think it’s useful enough to be worth reposting […]

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