Here is part II of our report from the front lines of the Gay Marriage Debate narrated by my good friend Ben Dyer. Ben is a graduate of Talbot Theological Seminary. He is currently a philosophy graduate student at Bowling Green State University.
This is a teaching moment,” Jacob begins. He points out that our argument has a serious fallacy—denying the antecedent. The least technical version of this is that if you have an “if…then” condition, it’s fallacious to deny the stuff that comes after the “then” by first denying the conditions for it in the “if.” For example, statements like, “if it is raining, then the grass will be wet,” let you deny that it’s raining if you know that the grass is not wet. But if you deny that the grass is wet because it is not raining, well, you can see the problem right? The “if” clause only indicates a sufficient condition—there could be other reasons why the grass is wet.
Our initial argument denied a compound “if…then” statement:
If straight unions should be endorsed by recognizing them as marriage and
If gay unions are similar to straight unions,
Then gay unions should be endorsed by recognizing them as marriage.
As stated, that’s sound reasoning, and the first two “if” clauses are essentially a group of things that amount to the “if it is raining” part. That means you can’t reject the second “if” clause in order to reject the conclusion in the “then” clause. After all, there may be other reasons why gay unions should be endorsed by recognition as marriage; they could be valuable independently of their resemblance to straight unions.
Our argument handout (there were thirty of them circulated to the audience as we got started in our opening statement) does indeed contain an argument with this fallacy in it. Jacob tells the audience that our argument is based on fallacious reasoning, and then presses us to answer why we’d deny that something was valuable when there was no reason to think gay marriage was qualitatively any different from straight marriage. I’m scribbling furiously, trying to keep up with his attack while also figuring out how to salvage our argument from the charges of fallacy.
Jacob finishes, which means it’s my turn to deliver the first of our two responses. I step to the podium, gather my wits, take a deep breath, and square up to the audience. “Well it looks like the first thing I have to do is repair our argument,” I confess. I’m giving them my best sheepish grin, but things aren’t quite so desperate as I let on. Jonathan and I noticed the fallacy in the argument last night. We actually told Mark and Jacob that we knew about it and were going to revise it, but we forgot to fix the handout before printing out the thirty copies now circulating in the audience. Jacob’s capitalized on our clerical mistake rhetorically, and that means I have to get the audience to forget what they’re holding in their hands, and keep a revised version in mind for the rest of the debate.
Here’s the revised version. The affirmative argument for endorsement relies on an assumed identity between gay and straight unions. If straight unions are valuable (and both sides agreed on this in the opening statements), then gay unions must be too, right? Isn’t stable loving monogamy conducive to child-rearing and good in itself? Jonathan rightly set out our negative case as rejecting that assumed identity. What follows from that non-identity is not, as Jacob rightly pointed out, that gay unions are not valuable. Maybe they are, I concede, but if that’s so, it’s not because straight unions are. Unless and until the affirmative side shows us that gay unions are valuable for some other reason, then we don’t have a reason to endorse gay unions by recognizing them as marriage.
Are there other reasons gay marriage might be valuable? I point out that the usual arguments are going to prove too much. People who want recognition for relationships we already think morally problematic (pedophilia and bestiality, say) can also appeal to positive consequences in cases where all parties are willing. To be sure, gay advocates don’t advocate those kinds of relationships, and so appealing to consent or social consequences means proving too much. The argument on those grounds can’t be right. So not only does the affirmative side now have to show that there is a value in gay unions, they also have to argue for it on some other grounds than consent or social consequences.
Our revised argument resets the burden of proof on Jacob, and I’m hoping I summed it up simply enough to avoid confusing everyone. With that, I turn to the other attacks on our argument, the friendship analogy and the interracial marriage analogy. I point out that it’s not quite true that the sexual differences are irrelevant to friendship. Both same-sex and opposite sex friendships are valuable, but that doesn’t mean there’s no difference between the values that each kind of friendship realizes. I value both male and female friendships, but the character of those friendships is quite distinct.
Most people recognize that human psychology has deep roots in our neurobiology, and these deeply-rooted differences mean that the kind of relationships shared between men and women will necessarily differ qualitatively from the kind of relationships men share with other men. That means I can concede the point that whether friendship is valuable or not doesn’t depend on whether your friend is male or female, but that’s not the same thing as saying that the values in each of those two cases will be the same, and that’s consistent with our argument.
The interracial analogy is an obvious one, but our argument’s focus on deeply rooted biological differences gives us an opportunity to stick the Jacob on the horns of a dilemma. Nobody is going to defend in public the view that there’s a meaningful “racial biology” that differentiates people beyond the color of their skin. On the other hand, gay advocates have long defended the view that whether or not one is homosexual does in fact depend on deeply rooted biological traits. If both claims are true, than the analogy between ethnicity and sexual orientation fails because the underlying biology warrants a different conclusion in each case.
Marrying across ethnic lines isn’t morally problematic because there’s no deep biology of ethnicity that accounts for fundamental differences similar to those that exist between men and women. But the appeal to deep biological traits by the gay advocate means that in fact there are going to be fundamental differences between the kinds of relationships had by gay and straight couples. Thus, in order to sustain the analogy (and the critical attack that goes with it), Jacob has to either defend that there are deep biological differences between the races, or else that there aren’t deep biological differences underlying homosexuality. Neither option should seem credible to this audience.
My ten minutes are up. I thank the audience, give the podium back to Jacob for his five minute closing statement, and collapse into my chair, hoping what I just said made more sense than what was on that stupid printed handout.