A Philosopher's Blog

Rick Warren & Gay Marriage

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on December 18, 2008

Obama recently stirred up some controversy with his selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration. The controversy is the result of the fact that Warren is quite clear in his opposition to abortion and same sex marriage.  Obviously, Obama’s choice has some left leaning people somewhat upset.

Warren has had considerable influence in the dispute over same sex marriage and i thought it would be reasonable to sort out some of this.

Warren recently had the following to say about same sex marriage: “The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”

As Warren seems to see it, same sex marriage runs contrary to the 5,000 year old definition of marriage and this presumably makes it bad. He further adds that it is on par with incest, pedophilia, and polygamy in regards to being a threat to the standard definition of marriage.

While Warren seems to be a well read fellow, the history of marriage does not seem to be his strong point. After all, the modern notion of marriage is just that: the modern notion of marriage. An examination of the historical reality of marriage shows that the concept of marriage has been redefined throughout the centuries. For example, modern marriage in the West (and other areas) treats men and women as equal. This is in contrast with the more traditional view in which women were regarded as markedly inferior and as  being subservient to men. The shift towards marital equality seems to be a good thing, although it clearly changed the traditional definition of “marriage.” Also, men marrying very young women (girls, actually) has long been accepted and even today very young people can get married legally. In the United States (and other places), traditional marriage was between people of the same race. I will assume that Warren rejects that aspect of traditional marriage and does not consider mixed-race marriages a threat to the traditional definition of marriage.

Of course, it could be replied that Warren is focused only on one aspect of traditional marriage-that it has been between one man and one woman. All the other details, one might content, are irrelevant. Of course, questions arise as to why that one aspect is what matters and why it should be accepted as the correct definition of “marriage”.

Obviously enough, the mere fact that the definition is an old one is hardly adequate proof that it is correct. To accept this definition as correct based on its age would be to fall victim to a fallacy: an appeal to tradition. After all, people can be wrong for a very long time. As such, Warren’s appeal to tradition has no logical weight. It does, of course, have emotive appeal and that is no doubt why people use it.

Warren does more than just appeal to tradition. He notes that he has a general opposition to re-defining marriage. To be specific, he is opposed to incestuous marriage, the marriage of adults and children and polygamy. As he sees it, same sex marriage is on par with these other three. Of course, there is the question of whether this is true or not.

Obviously, Warren is not trying to make an argument by analogy: he is not arguing that same sex marriage is analogous to these other situations. While there could incestuous same sex marriages, same sex marriage would not automatically have the key qualities of an incestuous marriage. I make this point because I have heard people make confused arguments about same sex marriage and incest,etc. What they do is argue that same sex marriage is like incest. When I have asked them about how they are alike, they seem confused and then often say something like “well, they are both bad so they are alike. This is why same sex marriage is bad.”  This begs the question.

What Warren seems to be doing is claiming that these four types of marriage are all bad and something that he opposes. His view that marriage is between one man and one woman does rule out marriage between an adult and a child as well as polygamy.  It does not, however, rule out incest. Presumably an expanded definition of marriage would be that it is between one man and one woman who are not related.

Given this definition, same sex marriage would be on par with polygamy, etc. because it would involve marriage between two men or two women. Of course, it would be on par with the others in that it does not fit the definition. Whether it is morally on par with incest or pedophilia is something that would need to be argued.

While asserting that same sex marriage to polygamy, incest and pedophilia are on par does nothing to show that this claim is true, it does have significant emotional appeal. After all, most people react negatively to polygamy, incest and pedophilia and hence same sex marriage can be tainted by being associated with these. While this is rhetorically effective, it has no logical merit. What would be needed is an argument showing that same sex-marriage is actually on par with the other three.

If same sex marriage is morally on par with a marriage between a pedophile and a child, then it should not be allowed. However, I have yet to see a convincing argument in support of this.

I’ve never seen the need to defend traditional marriage simply because it is alleged to be traditional. Many of the changes to traditional marriage have been morally laudable. For example, treating women as equal partners and outlawing forced marriages both seem like very good things.  As another example, allowing “interracial” marriages also seems good. Perhaps allowing same sex marriage would be another good change rather than a bad change. I am open to arguments either way: but I need good arguments and not just fallacies.

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2 Responses

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  1. kernunos said, on December 19, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I would not say that Warren has been all that “influencial” over the dispute over same sex marriage. It is one of those issues that is hard to sway people on. You either think it is right or wrong.
    As for people being upset with Obama picking Warren to give the invocation, you cannot make everyone happy. Warren is after all pretty “progressive” when it comes to Christianity. Other than marriage he is not much of a social conservative. Other than abortion he is not much of a conservative either. In fact I would be less surprised if Christians were not more upset that Warren accepted. After all, he would be presiding over the invocation of a man that supports partial birth abortion.
    As history will have it, Warren will perform the invocation of the man that might be giving a 1 billion dollar bailout to the “abortion-machine”. Need to keep those gears clean and the wheels oiled. America needs to meet its 1.3 million babies killed a year quota.

  2. An Imperfect Servant said, on March 14, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    In all honesty I can’t say one way or the other whether same sex marriage is ethically wrong. Standard christian values state that it is. The nation was founded upon the ethics and values of the Christian Church (loosely) and that does give it creadence. The biggest issue here, I believe is that we don’t go overboard if it is something made ‘legal.’ Same-sex marriages should get no more tax brakes than ‘traditional’ marriages. It’s on par with the Affirmative Action. I think we should all be treated equally. Corporations should not have quotas to fill for minorities but they should be held accountable to hire the most qualified for the job, who ever that should be. The same for entrance to universities. This is really just another issue of discrimination and the Christian Church and other organizations are as much a target as anyone else. Seems these days everyone has an ax to grind or is looking for a reason to do just that. Why can’t we put our differnces aside and celebrate the things we have in common. We are all Americans. We should act like it.


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