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Same-Sex Marriage and Logical Fallacies

by Mike Rothschild

April 1, 2013

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Donate The issue of whether couples of the same sex should be allowed by law to marry stirs passions on both sides of the question, resulting in a heated debate between those who believe in marriage equality, and those who believe marriage is meant only for one man and one woman. Unfortunately, many of the arguments used by both sides are based either on logical fallacies or incorrect interpretations of history.

I understand that this is an issue fraught with the potential for bias and proselytizing, on both sides. This piece is not a discussion of right and wrong, but of logic, which is only either sound or unsound. Whatever your view of same-sex marriage, we all owe it to ourselves to reject invalid or fallacious arguments, no matter which side they come from " even if it’s the one we agree with.

First, I want to examine the fallacies used by those who oppose same-sex marriage. In order to avoid creating straw men, each of these arguments stems from a direct quote.
“[H]er point was that if same-sex fits the bill of the contract, then everything fits the bill. And at some point who's to say that you cannot have sex with a child...some point.” " Rush Limbaugh
This uses the slippery slope fallacy to wrongly insinuate that if we do X, then naturally, Y and Z will follow. That is to say that if people of the same gender are allowed to marry, then we’ll have to allow anyone to marry anyone or anything, including children, multiple partners, siblings, inanimate objects, animals or the dead.

However, there is no reason to think any of this will actually happen, for numerous reasons, some legal and some personal. For one thing, close to a dozen countries already permit same-sex marriage, and none have seen spikes in any of these behaviors. They are cultural taboos, and will remain so, no matter what.

The arguments against marriage to children, goats, corpses, pieces of fruit, etc., are simple: none of them can legally give their consent. Without consent between both parties, a marriage doesn’t exist and has no legal standing.

The prohibition against incest is also sensible. The state and society have a vested interest in not permitting inbreeding because of the potential for malformed children. Whether relatives who either can’t or don’t intend to have children should be allowed to marry is a potentially interesting question from a civil liberties standpoint, but even if incest was legal, (which absolutely nobody is talking about) it’s doubtful that there would be a sudden onslaught of siblings and cousins desperate to marry.

As for legalized group marriage, one could again argue that the state has no business barring activities between consenting adults, even if there are more than two, but polygamy has not been protected by the US Constitution since 1878, and until someone challenges that ruling, it’s essentially a dead issue " and a non sequitur, as nobody is demanding the right to a group marriage.
“I believe in traditional marriage.” " Karl Rove
“We are very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit.” " Dan Cathy, CEO, Chik-Fil-A
Opposing same-sex marriage because of a belief in “traditional marriage” is engaging in the appeal to tradition. It says something must be done a certain way because it’s always been done that way. While it’s true that marriages throughout history have traditionally been one man and one woman, beneath that simple fact, there is great deal of complexity and nuance, much more than can be conveyed in a vague, historically inaccurate term.

Marriage traditions vary greatly by time and culture, and have been “redefined” almost constantly. Arranged marriage, forced marriage, dowry and levirate marriage were common at various times, but are mostly unheard of now, for good reasons. Well into the Middle Ages, a marriage was simply a business transaction between families. The couple was bound together as children, and later, the bride was exchanged for money or goods. These ceremonies weren’t performed in churches, and monogamy on the part of the groom wasn’t expected. Consent wasn’t even required until the 12th Century.

The modern marriage ceremony, with its traditions of fidelity, shared property and equality, is almost entirely a 19th and 20th Century invention. And even that has seen massive alteration, with interracial and interfaith marriages becoming commonplace, when they were unthinkable or illegal just a few decades earlier.

Likewise, the idea of biblical marriage or family as a union created by God and intended only for one man and one woman is both appeal to ancient wisdom and special pleading. First, the Bible is not a legally binding document. While it may have moral authority to those who follow it, it has no sovereignty over the conduct of secular life, as made clear by multiple US court decisions and the intentions of the Founding Fathers.

The Bible also has numerous different versions of marriage, some involving one man and one woman in holy matrimony, but others are much darker. The Old Testament is clear that wives are chattel and husbands dominant. Men were allowed to have multiple wives, with King Solomon enjoying 700 (1 Kings 11:3). Forced marriages between slaveholders and slaves (Genesis 24:4), rapists and their victims (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and male soldiers and their female prisoners (Exodus 21:4) were all condoned. This is not the “Biblical marriage” that anyone should be attempting to use as justification for anything related to marriage rights in a modern society.
“Under California law, public schools instruct kids about marriage. Teaching children about gay marriage WILL happen here . . .unless we pass Proposition 8.” - Proposition 8 ad “It’s Already Happening.”
Political ads trying to sway voters to approve Prop 8 by using appeals to fear were common in the months before the 2008 election. Grave insinuations were made by grim-voiced announcers that should Prop 8 fail, schools would become indoctrination centers for the gay agenda, churches would be forced at gunpoint to marry gay couples and business would be shuttered by the government for non-compliance. Religious freedom would disappear overnight, replaced by forced tolerance and acceptance. These ads were particularly targeted at church-going minority groups, and they were highly effective.

The appeal to fear is a powerful logical fallacy, using a primal instinct to motivate. However, these scare tactics have no place in a logical, honest debate. They work by playing to passions, rather than reason. The above ad is a perfect example of this. After essentially declaring that your children WILL be made to conform, it ended with a superimposed text reading “Protect Children. Restore Marriage.”

But this was just more fear appealing, as well as a false analogy. Children were never in need of “protection,” nor was marriage ever in a position where it had to be “restored.” Proposition 8 did neither of these things, because neither of them were either possible or necessary. But the appeal to fear made them seem like the most pressing concern, and voters approved the measure accordingly. The appeal worked. But that doesn’t make it any less of a fallacy, then or now.

Logical fallacies used by those in favor of same-sex marriage might be less apparent, and admittedly, it’s hard to logically argue that one person shouldn’t be allowed to do something that another person is allowed to do (e.g., get married). But they are there, and it’s worth examining them.
“[I]f I hold to my faith and resist applauding [same-sex marriage], I'm easily cast as some drooling white cartoon bigot of the Jim Crow era, denying black Americans the right to sit at a lunch counter and have a meal with the white folks.” " John Kass, Chicago Tribune columnist.
The idea that anyone who opposes same-sex marriage must hate gay people, and is therefore a bigot is a commonly expressed sentiment in this debate. It’s also a classic straw man argument and a form of ad hominem, attacking the person for holding an opinion that they might not have actually expressed in the first place.

There undoubtedly are people who oppose same-sex marriage because they hate gay people, but it’s a sweeping generalization to say that one must follow the other. A person can legitimately not believe that two people of the same sex should be legally allowed to marry while at the same time holding no ill will toward them. This is the position that many evangelical Christians hold, adhering to the concept of hating the sin, but not the sinner. It might seem like twisted logic to those who disagree, but it’s not fallacious.

To say that all Christians are bigoted against homosexuals is not only completely false, it’s as malicious and simplistic as saying all Muslims are terrorists or all Jews are rich. This fallacy is also known as the hasty generalization, and supporters of marriage equality would do well to avoid it, lest they be tarred with it as well.
“53 percent of Americans think it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry, while 39 percent say it should not be legal.” CBS News Poll, March 26, 2013
It would appear from recent polling that more Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage than are in opposition to it, a trend which began in 2009 and has only increased. However, citing these numbers as a reason it should be legal is using the argumentum ad populum fallacy, also known as the appeal to majority. The fact that more Americans appear to be in favor of it doesn’t mean it’s right, any more than the fact that until a few years ago, a majority of Americans were not in favor of it meant it was wrong.

Using recent polling as a justification for a change in current law is a very thin razor for marriage equality advocates to walk. California’s Prop 8 was voted into law by a majority of California voters, as were the same-sex marriage bans passed by voters in 30 states. Were those majorities wrong, and this majority right? Should “the will of the people” even be relevant in an argument about human rights?

It’s also possible that these polling numbers are simply wrong, with people falsely characterizing themselves as supporting same-sex marriage because of the so-called “Bradley Effect.” So the polling is interesting as a cultural artifact showing how much has changed in the past few years. But it is not, in itself, an argument for or against anything.

There are obviously more arguments on both sides of this issue, far too many for one blog post to address. For the debate to remain civil and productive, we must recognize and remove the logical fallacies on both sides, so we can get to the truth of the matter. And that’s a truth that everyone needs to find through their own honest reflection.

by Mike Rothschild

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