Monday, June 14, 2010

Four objections to same-sex marriage

Objection 1: Same-sex marriage violates biblical standards for marriage.

Reply: The problem with Bible verses is that our society is supposed to be a society for everyone regardless of religion, so while the Bible might give religious people a reason not to have same-sex marriages, it doesn't really offer a reason why the secular government might not have other reasons for sanctioning same sex unions for governmental purposes. You have to keep in mind that many heterosexual marriages fail to meet biblical standards, see especially Luke 16: 18. Is the government wrong to allow marriages which were initiated in an adulterous affair? Legally, if you have an affair with the Playboy centerfold, then file for divorce, you can marry the centerfold legally. Biblically, that's not marriage, it's adultery. So, if you want to impose biblical standards on the government, you can't logically stop with homosexuals, you have to de-legitimize all adulterous marriages.

Objection 2: Same-sex relationships are morally unacceptable.

Reply: The state is concerned about what relationships to recognize when, say, end-of-life decisions are made. Should these be made by a lifelong gay partner, or should other family members who were less close to the terminally ill person have the say in what end-of-life decisions this person should have made on his behalf? That the state sanctions a marriage does not imply that the state morally approves that marriage, for the reason cited above.

Objection 3: Same-sex relationships do not produce children.

Reply: Should couples who intend to be childless be allowed to marry? Should women long past menopause be allowed to marry? These marriages will produce no children.

Objection 4: Legalized same-sex marriage will lead to the legalization of every other kind of relationship, including man-boy love relationships.

Reply: Slippery slope arguments are considered a fallacy. Just because we could go further in legitimizing relationships doesn't mean that we should. In the case of relationships with children, the children are thought not to be consenting partners. So we have a principled reason for rejecting, say, a man-boy relationship while accepting same-sex relationships so long as they are consensual.

These are just some things that can be said against the typical arguments against state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. (Church-sanctioned same-sex marriage is another matter). Are there better arguments against SSM?


unkleE said...

I fully agree with you. We christians need to distinguish between sins and crimes - sins are God's responsibility, not the state's unless they are also crimes. We don't criminalise pride, but God opposes it. If God leaves people free to choose behaviours we think are sins, we should also leave them free and put no legal barrier in their way. We have enough else to worry about (including my own sin!) - first remove the beam in my own eye etc.

Unknown said...

I agree that these are generally weak, albeit popular, arguments. A stronger case might be made against the legalization of gay marriage by appealing to (I'm making up this term right now, I guess) the "non-incentive principle." If there are good medical reasons to consider homosexual sex physically unhealthy, for example, then it can be argued that the federal and state governments should not give people the incentive to continue engaging in homosexual sex by providing them with the same privileges as heterosexual couples.

Of course, this argument is consistent with the bare legality of homosexual sex.

Shackleman said...

@unkleE: Very well said.

Gordon Knight said...

The thing about sexual desire is that, for most people, its pretty strong. I don't think many gay people are not having sex because in their state there is no legal gay marriage.

One thing marriage does encourage, albeit imperfectly, is monogamy. There are pretty good reasons to think that committed relationships are better for both the obvious health reasons and psychologically for the people involved.

Dan Lower said...

I assume we are speaking within the American legal framework here.

As a matter of permissibility, I can easily see the difference between gay marriage and "legalization of every other kind of relationship, including man-boy love relationships."

But I'm still not sure what's wrong with the incest parallel, unless there's some reason a brother and sister (or mother and son, if the son is over 18) can't consent. But I don't take it to a place of bestiality or NAMBLA, because, well, those parallels aren't the same. Consent is an impossibility for animals and children.

Remember, I'm making an argument about permissibility which says that if we accept (a) gay marriage and (b) childless marriage, as both being acceptable, it seems pretty consistent that we should also provide for incestuous marriage, if the partners are willing to be sterilized and/or tube-tied/"snipped." Whatever genetic downside it has, in a secular society, is offset by the fact that they won't be producing any children.

I also don't buy the argument from pluralism, but I don't come straight from a Bible-to-legislation standpoint so much as a Catholic natural-law/ToB standpoint, which is slightly different.

(I'm also not sure I'd ever make objection #2.)

DL said...

1: you can't logically stop with homosexuals, you have to de-legitimize all adulterous marriages.

OK, great!

2: That the state sanctions a marriage does not imply that the state morally approves that marriage

It kinda does, since that's the meaning of "sanction". Unless you meant it in its opposite meaning of "apply sanctions against". I don't see the connection, though, with whom hospitals let in during visiting hours or whatever. Who is able to represent you in certain situations can hardly be restricted to marriage.

3: Should couples who intend to be childless be allowed to marry?

Nope. (There, that was easy!)

4: Slippery slope arguments are considered a fallacy.

"Considered"? I guess you mean that slippery slopes are a fallacious way to prove a logical conclusion; but you weren't asking about whether it was morally wrong in principle. Point 4 specifically referred to "legalizing", and it's vital to consider effects (intended or otherwise) when considering practical actions. It's theoretically moral to let everyone drive "as fast as safely possible", but practically speaking, speed limits are a good idea. (Or substitute your own example; something about illegal immigrants would work well.)

Are there better arguments against SSM?

Of course.

Anonymous said...

Read objection 1 and then the replay. Then read objection 4 and then the reply.

See an inconsistency?

Victor Reppert said...

Not unless you come up with a principled reason why the Bible's opposition to homosexuality provides a basis for the state not allowiing SSM, while the Bible's opposition to marriages based on adultery provide no such basis. There may BE reasons for opposing SSM while keeping no fault divorce. However, such reasons are not given in the Bible.

Francis Beckwith said...


It seems to me your argument proves the slippery slope. You are suggesting that there is no good reason to forbid same-sex marriages from being legal. Fair enough. But then your adversary--taking the "no good reason" principle--starts applying to all sorts of other unions and says, "Why not these as well?" And you respond, "slippery slope fallacy." But it's not a fallacy if in fact the "slope" is greased by the very same reason you allow SSM. It is, in that case, a reducto ad absurdum.

Now to the issue. It seems to many people that marriage is obviously the place at which the two halves of the human race are joined for a variety of reasons, including complementarity. To suggest "same-sex marriage" is like suggesting that a man can be in a lesbian relationship. Suppose a man desires to be in a lesbian relationship. No matter. It can't be done. He's a man. Lesbian relationships require women.

Of course, someone could respond by saying that "marriage" is not a truth about the world that our minds are capable of knowing. Rather, it is an artificial institution that we impose on our social fabric. So, we can tinker with marriage any way we see fit, including the allowance of same-sex marriages. In that case, the state would be saying something about the nature and order of things that some of us think is false. It would mean that terms like "husband," "wife," "father," "mother," etc. would have to be replaced by generic substitutes since they would not be references to anything real. It would also mean that we could not--except for in the privacy of our homes--act as if our beliefs are true. Our children would be taught in schools that our beliefs are "bigoted." Our universities would lose their tax-exempt status. Our businesses would have to distribute benefits to same-sex couples. And so on.

What you would get is not a regime with greater liberty. But one that is conditioned upon an understanding of the order and nature of things that many of us for good reason believe is false. And we would not be merely tolerated. We would have to embrace this understanding or suffer punishment by the state.


DL said...

Victor Reppert: ["See an inconsistency? "] Not unless you come up with a principled reason why the Bible's opposition to homosexuality provides a basis for the state not allowiing SSM, while the Bible's opposition to marriages based on adultery provide no such basis.

Why do you think we shouldn't oppose both?? I'm sure there are people who want to have one but not the other, but that's hardly a reason to permit both, unless you think two wrongs make a right. The modern culture of divorce is appalling, and your Reply 1 is support for that view.

But I believe the inconsistency Matthew is referring to is that you object to Biblical standards in Reply 1 because "our society is for everyone" (which, incidentally, in no way follows!); then in Reply 4, you refer to "principled reasons" for rejecting new definitions of marriage you don't like. But these principles can't be from the Bible, so what are they? From the Koran? Surely not. But it would be anti-religious bigotry to reject only religious moral systems, so you'll have to disallow any secular worldview as well. In other words, you can't appeal to moral principles in Reply 4 and refuse them in Reply 1. Whatever moral standard you select to apply today, tomorrow somebody could choose to "redefine" it. In practice, we are faced with a slippery slope argument (and practically speaking, a valid one); in theoretical terms it's just arbitrary.

Victor Reppert said...

How do you deal with the fact that there are different sub-groups in American culture that have different conceptions of marriage? My intuitions say to let Caesar
(which is in my view all govenment can be, anyway), define marriage in accordance with its goals and purposes. I would expect Caesar to accept the principle of consent, and not recognize coercive relationships, just as it does not recognize the coercive polygamous relationships in Colorado City. I would expect the state to be committed to the principle of consent and to continue to do so, but it's logically possible they might see coercion as not a reason for failing to sanction something as marriage.

But the cleavage between a biblical conception of marriage and what the state uses to define marriage happened a long time ago, with no-fault divorce. You have a situation where someone might, in their capacity as an agent of the state, declare something to be a marriage that they, as a member of the Chruch, might have to regard as simply rank adultery. In the same way, someone who has a theologically-informed view that same-sex relationships don't constitute marriage in the eyes of God should recognize that perhaps the government has its own fish to fry in deciding whether same-sex couples are really married, while maintaining at the end of the day that same-sex marriage isn't quite the genuine article.

We have to ask why government is in the marriage business after all. Is it in order to sustain a sacred institution? If so, then it dropped the ball decades ago, and we need to be criticizing a lot more than same-sex marriage. Same-sex relationships cause more viscreal disgust in some people than do adulterous marriages, but I can't see any argument to suggest that they stand on any lower moral ground.

Frank thinks that the government will impose its conception of marriage on the society as a whole. So if I say "Well, those marriages may be marriages for state purposes, but we know perfectly well that they are not real marriages," to someone at my church, and the cops overhear me, they are going to haul me in on hate speech charges. That's possible. I just don't see any reason why it should necessarily ensue.

Anonymous said...

The "no children" argument makes me think of a (rather tasteless) argument I sometimes use when debating gay adoption: Apparently there is a couple somewhere in Europe consisting of a father and daughter. They live together and have a full sexual relationship that started after the daughter was past the age of consent and no longer a minor.

Now, let us assume that they have decided not to have children because of the risk of hereditary disabilities. Then at some point they decide to adopt. Should they be allowed to do so? If not, why?

Anonymous said...

The better argument is this: Why do we recognize heterosexual marriage at all, and not all the other valuable forms of love that humans feel (such as friendship or siblingship)? The only possible answer is: because heterosexual relationships have the risk of producing children, and there needs to be some institution for corralling and incentivizing men into taking responsibility for the children they produce.

There isn't any similar need as to homosexual relationships.

Of course, if you think "Marriage" is just about society recognizing people that have warm fuzzy feelings for each other, then of course we should recognize gay marriage, but by the same token we should recognize "best friendship" or "favorite roommate" or "favorite gang of classmates" or "valued mentorship" or "friendly neighbors" with tax advantages and all the rest.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm pissed that my Pastor is willing to marry two gay folks, but the state is coming in and saying no, is actually telling us how to run our religion. Get consistent, you pseudo-libertarians: should it be between a man, his conscience, his moral advisors, and God, or up to the state?

Note thought experiment obviously I don't have a Pastor.

Victor Reppert said...

Perhaps the first question to ask in the gay marriage debate is this: Why is the government in the marriage business at all? Why does it care? Couldn't we just privatize marriage, just like the Republicans wanted to do with Social Security? Then whatever religious or non-religious groups want to recognize or not recognize will be a matter to be determined by those groups, and the state backs out and minds its own business.

JSA said...

@Vic - You are playing fast and loose with adultery, aren't you? I'm not accusing you of being an adulterer or gay, of course. But intellectual integrity demands that we admit that scriptures have a serious problem with adultery. Do we know why? Is it really cultural anachronism?

Figure out why God is so upset about adultery before you start claiming that "Homosexuality is fine because adultery is fine".

Victor Reppert said...

Nobody said fine, or at least I didn't. The claim is that adultery is wrong, but adulterous marriages, for state purposes, are regarded as marriages. The WHOLE POINT is that state licensing does NOT entail moral approval. Therefore even if we assume that homosexuality is a sin from a Christian perspective, the state might have an interest in sanctioning same-sex marriage for its own governmental reasons.

JSA said...

@Vic - OK, sorry. I thought you were saying that it's hypocritical to militate against gay marriage without militating against adulterous marriage.

Chris W. Kite said...

To Blue Devil Knight - Thought Experiment

A church or other group in CA that believes in SSM should have their ceremony and then have the couple register as domestic partners. I have checked with a lawyer in CA and see nothing in Prop 8 that prohibits this private practice. Churches have stopped having SSM ceremonies, but shame on them for not being true to their beliefs.

I support domestic partner rights and do not think the courts should create a new definition of marriage where other rights and private practices are protected. These practices fit with constitutional rights of speech, religion, and assembly.

Prop 8 opponents are not satisfied with domestic partner rights. The affirmation of the state is very important to them. In effect, the state becomes a quasi-religion and a means to counter past and present cultural disapproval. The affirmation they seek could do more good than harm, but the push for the courts to overturn the vote is problematic if not dangerous. No one is invading the bedroom or private practices. We should not invade the voting booth.

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Crescentsi said...

Haha! I think objections to gay marriage are more subtle than that!

Anonymous said...

The beautiful thing about this tedious debate is that one day, there will come a time when all your rhetoric will become a thing of the past and gay marriage will be legalized. The so called "sanctity" of marriage is long gone and proof of that is the diminishing number of marriages that will actually succeed. While you may feel a sense of duty in the matter.. let me reassure you that no matter what you say or what you may feel..
i will sleep sound in my decision to be who I am and will continue to love who i choose wholeheartedly :)Oh and stay rest assured that even though for the moment homosexuals may be held down because of the objection that you simple minded people feel the need to poison others with, we will prevail and I will continue to walk proudly among society hand in hand with the one I Love.. because lets face it.. no matter what sexual orientation i choose, i am inevitably still apart of society :)