Sunday, August 5, 2012

Four Bad Arguments in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

Ours is an age that often thrives more on emotion than by reason, more on cliché than rational argument, and more on hot insult than cool logic.  On the question of same-sex marriage, which should especially demand careful thought, proponents are apt to assault opponents with cliché, emotion, and insult.   Here are four popularly used bad arguments and some brief answers.  

A. Those who oppose same sex-marriage are just as bigoted as those who opposed inter-racial marriage.

Answer: This argument is flawed on several grounds.

First,  it compares a person who does not want a black man to marry a white woman to a person to does not want a man to marry another man.  In the latter case, the difference is far greater than in the previous case.  For instance,  the opponent of inter-racial marriage accepts that a white man may marry a white women, but objects to a black man doing to.  Hence, the difference between the acceptable partner and the unacceptable one is on the difference between a black man and a white man, which is not very  substantial. 

On the other hand, the opponent of same-same marriage allows that a man may marry a woman, but objects to a man marrying another man.  In this case, the acceptable partner for a woman is not the difference between a black man and a white man, but the difference between a man and a woman, which is clearly a more substantial difference.  Hence, the comparison fails.  

Second, Francis Beckwith has pointed out a more serious failure with this argument.  Bans on inter-racial marriage were a novelty, having no basis in common law and requiring new laws to defend those bans.  Those who opposed inter-racial  marriage did so because they recognized that the purpose of marriage, inherited from common law, included the procreation of children and development of a family unit. Opponents of inter-racial marriage, with the goal of enforcing racial purity, sought to introduce a new condition to marriage that had no basis in prior common law or custom.   They recognized that men and women of different races naturally had the ability and right to marry each other and wished to introduce a new conditional (same-race) to prevent this.  Opponents of same-sex marriage, however, recognize precisely the opposite, that two men do not naturally have the right or ability (from nature, common law, or custom) to marry (1).

B. Homosexuals were born with their desires, so we should consider them morally acceptable.

Answer: This argument confuses explanation with justification.  C.S. Lewis said that “explanation by cause is not justification by reason.”  That a person was born with same-sex sexual desires may (or may not) explain why a person is attracted to a member of the same sex, but it does not therefore justify action based on that attraction.  Some scientists think that there is a gene that predisposes some people to alcoholism, but while this may help explain why some people become alcoholics, it does not for that reason justify their alcoholic behavior (2).

C. Practicing homosexuals do not hurt or affect anyone else, so they should be left alone.

Answer: This argument seems to run like this:
1. We should not care about what anyone else does unless its affects us.
2. Same-sex practice does not affect us.
3. Therefore, we should not care about same-sex practice.

The problem here is that both assumptions in the argument are patently false.  If my friend becomes an alcoholic and even claims that over-imbibing of drink makes him happy, should I simply shrug my shoulders and conclude “well, his drinking is not affecting me, so I should not care”?  I would be a very poor friend in this case.   But if there is good reason to think that same-sex marriage is harmful, either because it consists of disobedience to God’s plan for human sexuality or because it entails harmful behaviors and consequences, then we should oppose the practice of homosexuality (3).

Second, it is far from obvious that the normalization of same-sex relationships will not affect the rest of society.  As same sex relationships are normalized, those opposed to such relationships on grounds of religion or conscience will be compelled to violate their beliefs and support such relationships.  This has already happened in some cases (4).

D. If two people love each other, they should be able to be together.

Such a claim seems to reduce love to sexual attraction and ask, “if two people are sexually attracted, then they should be able to be together.”  But this is far from obvious and seems clearly wrong.  That a married man feels sexual attraction for a woman other than his wife and even professes himself in love with this woman does not justify his acting on claim that he is acting “for love.”   Real love will seek the best for the other person.  An man with AIDS may “love” an uninfected woman, but if he really loves her, he would never be with her since he would care too much for her well-being.  Since there is good reason to think that homosexual practice is harmful (3), it is an attraction that one should not act on.

(1) Francis Beckwith addresses this in greater detail here:

(5)  For an interesting series of responses to a few other objections to same sex relationships, see the philosopher JP Moreland, here:

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