Silly Arguments Against Gay Marriage

Ryan Boots, of the Soundfury blog, has decided to vent his spleen about gay marriage. Basically, he doesn't like it one bit. And typical of those who oppose gay marriage, his arguments against it run the gamut from the outright false to the profoundly silly. He begins by saying:

I am weary of having of having to defend the institution. Marriage existed before any of the institutions we know today were created.

I'm always amazed that people think that they're defending the institution of marriage by preventing some people from participating in that institution. If marriage is such a good thing for straight couples, why on earth would it be a bad thing for gay couples? But wait, he's just getting warmed up. Unfortunately, it appears that he is arguing on pure emotion rather than reason. To wit:

Im sick of being compelled to explain why two gay men getting hitched will impact my marriage. Okay, fine, let me get crass: TWO GUYS HAVING SEX MEANS NOTHING TO ME AND MY WIFE. There, are you happy I said it?

Is someone compelling you to explain why gay marraige impacts your marriage? I mean, it's a logical question. It's a question that certainly should be answered because it's irrational to argue that allowing gays to marry is going to hurt "marriage" unless you can show that it's going marriageS. Marriage is not an abstraction that can be separated from specific marriages. But he at least admits here that what a gay couple does together has no bearing on his marriage. But he still wants to maintain that allowing them to marry will somehow hurt his marriage. His reason is rather odd, though:

So how does a gay marriage impact me and my wife? Because it not only advances the prima facie falsehood that they are equal, but I am compelled to see the two as equivalent.

You'll be compelled to change your mind if the law no longer agrees with you on a matter that only involves other people and not you? How odd. I'm beginning to wonder if Ryan knows what the word "compelled" means. Does he think that people are going to break down his door and force him to sign a confession that he thinks gay marriages are equal to his? Ryan, you aren't compelled to think anything. After gay marriage goes through, you are still entirely free to go right on believing that gay marriages are totally different from your marriage, that it's not a real, sacred, Godly marriage. You can think that all day long, every day, for the rest of your life. You will not be compelled to think anything. You just won't be allowed to have your thoughts written into the law in order to prevent other people from doing what has no bearing on your life whatsoever.

He continues:

But why would I be required to respect their union?

As we've already established, you wouldn't be required to respect anything. You can go on disrespecting gay marriage all you want. You can write letters to the editor complaining about it, you can rant and rave about it, you can call your representatives in Congress and urge them to do something about it. You will still be entirely free to think and express whatever you like on the subject.

What makes marriage meaningful is its use as a form of social currency. When two people are married, it is a public confession of the most private relationship; furthermore, it is a mandatory, compulsory public endorsement thereof. In other words, when two people marry (apparently Im not to use man and woman anymore), no matter how badly anybody (even their closest friends and family!) would dispute it, they have promised their affections to one another, and society is required to honor it.

What a bizarre statement. Its use as social currency is what gives marriage meaning? You mean you got married for "social currency" and if other relationships you don't approve of are given the same "social currency", that takes meaning away from your marriage? You'll stop loving your wife as much because your "social currency" has somehow been diminished? That doesn't speak highly of your marriage, Ryan, if its meaning is based on the degree of "social currency" it gives you and not on mutual love and commitment between you and your wife.

And the only thing that "society" is required to honor about a marriage is the legal incidents of it. In the case of any individual marriage, any individual person, or group of people, is still entirely free to disapprove of it and even to mock it. If you don't believe me, ask Liza Minelli and David Gest. Or Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. Was society "required to honor" those marriages? Of course not. They were objects of ridicule for those marriages. The legal system had to honor the marriage contract, of course, but society wasn't "required to honor" anything.

He continues:

I would go so far as to say it is a form of global social currency. While there can be certain disagreements as to the process or exercise involved in defining a wedding across cultural and national boundaries, theres no significant international disagreement of what the word marriage meansyet.

There's not? There are cultures in which polygamy is the norm. There are cultures where marriages are still arranged and have nothing to do with love and commitment, but only economic necessity. Would you recognize that as a marriage equivalent to yours? Well, since you think that your marriage only has meaning because of the "social currency" it gives you, perhaps you would. Do you "respect" the marriage of Osama Bin Laden's father to his 37th wife as equal to your marriage? How about his 38th? I'd call that "significant international disagreement". Especially since you seem to contradict it below when you write:

Which brings me to the fact that no one dares to mention: we discriminate against who can marry and who cant, and have since before recorded history. We recognize that it would be destructive to the social fabric to allow one to marry anybody they chose. As badly as gays want me to believe that the rationale for gay marriage doesnt permit polygamy, todays polygamists say otherwise.

So on the one hand you claim that there's no "significant disagreement" between countries on the reality of marriage, but then you say that polygamy is totally different from monogamous marriages. But many other nations allow and even encourage polygamy. So would that constitute a "significant disagreement"? And why hasn't polygamy been "destructive to the social fabric" in those other nations?

One thing that is staggeringly clear in reading conservative attacks on gay marriage is that the more you press them, the more vague and undefined the arguments become. They can't say whose marriage will be affected, but somehow it will undermine "the institution of marriage". Or it will "damage the social fabric". Well I'm sorry, but "social fabric" is a meaningless phrase. They never actually tell you what this metaphor is supposed to mean. What specifically will be damaged, other than your desire not to allow others to do what they want to do? Marriages do not exist without married people. "Society" does not exist in the abstract without individual people. If it isn't going to hurt you, or someone else, it isn't going to hurt "society". And if it isn't going to hurt any specific marriage, it isn't going to hurt marriage in the abstract. And the mere fact that those who oppose gay marriage can only speak in broad and increasingly vague abstractions rather than detailing what specifically will be hurt indicates that they don't have anything more specific than that to argue.

Follow up: Tim Sandefur adds a couple of excellent examples to my argument that legal recognition has nothing to do with what someone is "compelled" to believe about it:

How does legally recognizing a private contractual arrangement advance the proposition that such arrangements are equal? How does it compel anyone to see such arrangements as equal to any other arrangements? I hate and detest the Costco corporation. I seriously consider it akin to the mafia; it is an institution which uses legalized plunder to enrich itself by stealing the most precious possessions of Americans everywhere, and I have repeatedly urged people to boycott it. Yet it is a legal corporation. So am I required to accept it as equal to other companies? Of course not. The legality of its corporate existence is nothing more than a formality which entitles it to certain legal benefits (limited liability and so forth), and is totally irrelevant to its moral worth.

What about the legality of publications we disagree with, or even despise? I think it is really disgusting that people would still openly advocate communism. Its morally contemptible. Yet people have the legal right to do so. Does the legality of the publication of communist propaganda by the Daily Worker or whatnot prove that I must accept it as equal to the publications of libertarians whom I consider morally praiseworthy? Am I compelled to see the two as equivalent? Of course not. The legality of these publications has nothing to do with whether they are respectable.

Thanks for the atta boy, Tim, and nice work as usual.

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What caught my eye was this:

"Which brings me to the fact that no one dares to mention: we discriminate against who can marry and who cant, and have since before recorded history."

As a historian, I can't help but be curious as to where he is getting his information about "marriage" practices "before recorded history." I don't recall seeing much in the literature by way of "Neanderthal Marriage Customs" or "Cro-Magnon Mating Rituals: A Reassessment."

But then, trying to extract meaning from phrases like "we discriminate against who can marry and who can't" is a hopeless task to begin with.

By flatlander100 (not verified) on 07 Mar 2004 #permalink

Nice post, Ed! I sure wish I had the time and writing skills to take apart other people's arguments as well as you do.

The logic of those supporting gay marriage flows like a well-oiled, inevitable syllogism -- irrefutable. And I suspect that Ryan, beneath his emotional objections, must realize the emptiness of his arguments. A wolf may howl at the moon, but those Lunarians to which such reprimands are directed reside merely in the canine imagination.

Sheila-

Thanks. And welcome home.

Tim-

I presume you mean those who oppose gay marriage rather than those supporting gay marriage?

Sheila-

Thanks. And welcome home.

Tim-

I presume you mean those who oppose gay marriage rather than those supporting gay marriage?

Ed,

No -- I meant that the arguments of those *supporting* gay marriage are very strong in their logical unfolding (irrefutable, to me), whereas those like Ryan are deficient in their own reasoning. Perhaps my useage of "And" confused the meaning I intended by seeming to continue a line of thought instead of actually contrasting the two sides of the issue.

Ah, okay. I was momentarily confused. "But I'm feeling much better now."

Ed, congrats are in order as of March 12, 2004, the Mayor of Tampa has welcomed same sex marriages ... Pam Iorio... Good for her!!!

While I am - obviously - a staunch supporter of gay marriage, I think that the mayors who are issuing marriage licenses in an act of civil disobedience are making a mistake to do so. I think there is a distinction between working to change the law and breaking the law, though sometimes the two do go together. In this case, though, with the momentum clearly on the side of gay marriage advocates, I think that what the mayors are doing is more a matter of political grandstanding than anything else.

I also think that they need to confine any legal issues to state courts. The Massachusetts decision mandating gay marriages was based solely on that state's constitution. The same is true of the Vermont decision requiring civil unions but not marriages. The case in California is also strictly in the state courts, with the Mayor of San Francisco making the argument that the state constitution requires gay marriages. I just heard on the news that a suit has been filed in New York, but I don't know what the grounds are there. I hope it's confined to the state constitution and isn't trying to make a 14th amendment federal equal protection claim. I think there IS a Federal equal protection claim to be made, and a very legitimate one, but it's not politically smart to pursue it at this time because it undermines the argument against the federal marriage amendment that this has always been a state issue and should remain one.

The momentum is clearly on the side of gay marriage, with the opponents almost completely ceding the ground in terms of civil unions at least. In one form or another, whether it's called marriage or not, gay couples will have the right to civil unions soon in at least part of the country. And from there it will undoubtedly grow. These kinds of social change almost always grows from the state level. Before the case overturning laws against interracial marriage happened, numerous states repealed their own laws in that regard, leaving only 6 that still had them on the books in 1967. Between the two Supreme Court cases involving state sodomy laws, the first upholding them and the second striking them down, several states that had them in 1986 had repealed them by 2003. I think gay marriage advocates would be wise to kind of let this one rest for a bit. The Federal Marriage Amendment has no chance of getting out of the Senate at this point, and several states are clearly going to legalize either civil unions or gay marriages soon and public opinion will continue to move toward them. But breaking the law may well slow down that progress because it may spook those who are on the fence into being against such lawlessness.

In answer to your recent response Ed, I must remind you that it took a lot of grandstanding and breaking of the laws to finally gain the attention of society to get equal rights for persons of color. No one broke the laws more than Martin Luther King. Sometimes we must grandstand to right the wrongs.
For whatever reason Mayors like the Mayor of Tampa are brave. It isn't popular to take sides with gay and lesbian couples in todays society.
I understand your reasoning but still I am happy Mayor Iorio did what she did.
By the way, your blog is without a doubt the most interesting and versatile blog I have seen. But then again I am biased. Shhhhhhhh LOL