A Philosopher's Blog

Same Sex Marriage (Once Again)

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 29, 2011
May Hansen celebrating the vote on the same-se...

Um, gay marriage or a foursome?

New York recently passed a law legalizing same sex marriage, which once again brought the matter into the public eye. Opponents trotted out the stock appeal to tradition fallacy and also made the slightly better argument that passing the law would have dire consequences.

Although I am in favor of legalizing same sex marriage and think that the arguments for it are compelling, as a philosopher I think I am obligated to consider the best possible opposing arguments.

One stock argument is the appeal to tradition: marriage has always/for a long time been between a man and a woman, so same sex marriage should be illegal. As noted above, this line of reasoning is fallacious. The mere fact that X has been around a long time does not make it right. After all, slavery was an accepted practice for a very long time, yet it hardly seems reasonable to accept that it is correct. Also, the “traditional” marriage that people point to is not, in fact, the traditional form of marriage. Marriage as practiced in 21st century western countries is rather different from what was practiced 100 or even 50 years ago, let alone in biblical times.

A second stock argument is the slippery slope argument: if same sex marriage is allowed, then people will then be allowed to marry turtles, dolphins, trees, cats or iPads.  Since this would be bad/absurd, same sex marriage should not be allowed. Obviously, this slippery slope is a fallacy since the folks who claim these dire results do not make the causal link needed to infer, for example, that allowing same sex marriage will lead to people marrying goats. Also, a slippery slope argument could be made against allowing same sex marriage: if we allow different sex people to marry, the next thing you know, same sex couples will get married and then people will be marrying flying fish. Since this is absurd, by parity of reasoning the original argument would seem to be absurd as well.

A third stock argument is the religious argument, namely that God forbids same sex activities of this sort. One problem is that if the religious argument is accepted as the basis of law, then the same principle would need to apply across the board. So, for example, there should be laws against unclean foods (like lobster) and it should be legal to stone disobedient children to death. Imposing such religious laws would seem far more harmful than allowing same sex marriage. Another obvious problem is that God is a big boy and He gets what He wants. If he did not want people to be gay, there would presumably be no gay people. In any case, if God does exist, surely He’d pop in and let us know what He thinks about a matter so obviously important to Him. At the very least, He’d throw down a smite or burn a bush.

A fourth stock argument is the procreation argument: marriage is for procreation, same sex couples cannot procreate, therefore they should not be allowed to marry. The stock reply is that straight people who do not or cannot have children are still allowed to marry. Consistency would require that if same sex marriage is banned on these grounds, then straight couples who cannot or will not produce offspring must be denied marriage. This seems absurd.

A fifth stock argument is the moral argument: being gay is evil, evil people should not be allowed t0 marry, so same sex marriage should not be allowed. As with the procreation argument, the obvious flaw is that there are plenty of evil straight people and they are not denied the right to marry on this basis. A person who is a convicted rapist, mass murderer, serial killer, and arsonist can still get married. On a less extreme note, liars, cheats, bullies, and petty thieves can also get married. As such, this argument has little merit.

A sixth catch all argument is the consequence argument: allowing same sex marriage will have dire consequence D, inflicting D is wrong, therefor same sex marriage is wrong. This argument is the strongest of the lot and does have a certain appeal. After all, if same sex marriage were to cause dire harms, then it would seem reasonable to ban it on the same grounds that dangerous things like alcohol and tobacco are banned. I mean, rather on the same grounds that dangerous things like cars and junk food are banned. Um, I mean on the same grounds that heroin and driving drunk are banned.

The main problem with these sorts of arguments lies not with the reasoning or the moral theory (consequentialism). The main problem is that they all seem to suffer from false or dubious premises. Some examples include that it has been claimed that allowing same sex marriage will lead to anarchy, that it will destroy marriage, that it will harm children and so on. However, these claims never seem to stand up to scrutiny. That said, if a harm can be shown and this harm outweighs the benefits of allowing same sex marriage, then it could be argued that it should be banned on the basis of the harm principle. However, the harm has to be properly established and it needs to be the right sort of harm. After all, if some people claim that legalizing  same sex marriage will make them very sad, that is not adequate. If it can be shown, for example, that anarchy and chaos will result, then that should suffice.

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25 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on June 29, 2011 at 8:00 am

    I note that that this was accomplished legislatively, and with a Republican dominated Senate, to boot.

  2. magus71 said, on June 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Mike,

    Is incest wrong? Is it wrong for an 18 year old man to have sex with his 40 year old mother? What about orgies with consenting actors?

    If incest is not wrong, should mothers and sons be allowed to marry?

    I’m not making the slippery slope argument here. I’m asking this for the same reason I ask people why they love dolphins and have dolphin free tuna, but don’t care if they step on hundreds of ants a day.

    Your views are essentially nihilistic. Also, many of your arguments basically say that because we accept other wrongs, we should accept this one. Hey–I’m not for fighting this legally anymore, but I’ll teach my kids it’s wrong. Just like I’ll teach them that lying and stealing is wrong. I’ll also teach them to be kind to gay people, because as the Bible says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We all do wrong, and yet it’s worse when we try to get others to do wrong, too.

    Nihilism (Webster) a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      Incest is wrong for a variety of reasons. First, there is the higher likelihood of defective offspring (witness the royal families). Second, it is damaging to family structures. Third, it usually involves coercion and abuse of minors.

      Orgies, with consent, would presumably be non-evil.

      Mothers and sons should not be allowed to marry. They already have a pre-existing family relationship that should preclude the bonds of matrimony. Of course, royal families sometimes married this way and this was accepted as a tradition (much in the same manner that same sex marriage is a tradition).

      I’ll kill fire ants because those f@ckers started it. I’m cool with dolphins-they have never crossed me. Other ants I’ll leave alone, unless they are messing with my stuff.

      No, they are not nihilistic. If I was a nihilist, I’d just argue that “good” and “evil” are words that refer to nothing and that there is actually no morality (or immorality). I am instead presenting arguments from moral consistency (if X applies to Y and Y is not relevantly different from Z, then X applies to Z as well) and utilitarianism (which is usually a form of moral objectivism rather than nihilism).

      I leave the door open for arguments that same sex marriage is wrong, but I have yet to see an argument that effectively establishes this claim.

      • magus71 said, on June 30, 2011 at 1:22 am

        Mike,

        I believe a proper philosophical argument against homsexuality could be built upon Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which as you know, states:

        “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

        Therefore, if all humans were to become homosexual, the human race would cease to exist within a few decades.

        It thus follows, that the only moral defense is that it is in fact not wrong to fail to ensure the continuation of humanity.

        Your argument against incest is similar to the argument here. Homosexuals cannot produce offspring. While a damaged human body may not be formed by homosexual relationships, as in incest, no body can be formed at all; a nation comprised entirely of homosexuals would inevitably fail. Anything that, by its very nature, is doomed to failure cannot be moral, but is obviously the product of faulty reasoning.

        • T. J. Babson said, on June 30, 2011 at 8:08 am

          Magus, can someone still avoid military service by claiming he is gay?

          • magus71 said, on June 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm

            Yes–DADT is still in effect, probably for another month or so. Do you mean avoiding a draft or getting out of the Army?

            I’ve heard that some commanders are ignoring obvious homosexuality because they know in a couple of month sit won”t matter. But right now, it’s possible to get out by faking it or truly being gay.

        • magus71 said, on July 2, 2011 at 12:58 am

          Crickets, Mike?

        • Alex Gittens said, on July 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

          Michael already shot this down. If your argument is that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry because: 1) the purpose of marriage is to produce offspring to propagate, and 2) a society of all homosexuals wouldn’t be self-sustaining, then you must as well ban the marriage of people who are infertile or not willing to procreate because a society of all such people wouldn’t be able to survive.

          This argument is ridiculous: it’s like arguing that because you can’t have a self-sustaining society of race car drivers, no one should be allowed to be a race car driver.

          • magus71 said, on July 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

            I’ve never once said it should be illegal. Not once, anywhere have I said it should be made illegal. I challenge you to find I’ve said that. I do maintain that it’s immoral. And DADT is different than gay marriage, for utilitarian reasons. As I’ve also said, I no longer support DADT. A people will get the military it deserves and I’m for everyone getting what they deserve.

            Again–I made the argument based on Kant’s argument, not mine. I said that.

            But thanks for coming to Mike’s rescue.

          • magus71 said, on July 12, 2011 at 11:57 am

            Also, argue with Kant, not me. Mike said he’s sure that Kant would think homosexuality is immoral.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 13, 2011 at 11:45 am

              He probably would, but his moral theory does not actually warrant that view. Interestingly, only one of Kant’s examples (of the 4 ) actually seem to work with his theory.

  3. magus71 said, on June 29, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Typing the word “gay” into the search engine on your blog, I find 44 blog postings you’ve written that in some way have the word gay in them.

    The title of one of your postings is: “Why the obsession with homosexuality?”

    Indeed, why, Mike?

  4. chamblee54 said, on June 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    It’s time for some feel good Nihilism.
    chamblee54

  5. FRE said, on June 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Perhaps a bit of history would help fit things into perspective.

    The first laws proscribing discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation were enacted by cities. An argument against the anti-discrimination laws was that if such a law were passed, there would be an instant influx of gay persons from other areas of the country. Of course such an influx never occurred, but even so, the argument continued to be used every time another city contemplated such a law.

    Similar arguments are used against same-sex marriage. Those opposing it assert that all sorts of horrible things will result from it, yet in countries in which same-sex marriage has been available for some time, there have been no problems associated with it.

    To the opposition, honesty and integrity are not important virtues. They are very Machiavellian and will say anything they think will help them get their way. Most of them consider themselves to be Christians and fail to realize that the ultimate effect of their behavior will be to discredit themselves and turn people away from Christianity and organized religion in general.

  6. jjm said, on July 1, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Mike and Magus

    I need to be educated. I have never read Kant and I am not familiar with his philosophy. My very limited knowledge, close to nothing, is that his philosophy is called Deontology. This is the first time I get in contact with the concept of categorical imperatives. In isolation of the context of Kant’s work the statemnt

    “Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which as you know, states: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

    has brougth many questions in my mind. Who decides “the maxim whereby you can will it should become a universal law” Is the individual? a culture? a country? a religious group? For example: religious fundamentalists (muslims, catholics, protestants, hindus, etc), white supremacists, atheists, communists, capitalists, etc decide that their specific beliefs “should become a universal law”. Is that valid? How does Kant’s ethics deals with this? If not it seems that these beliefs can lead to intolerance and forceful imposition of a person/group beliefs into another person/group. The latter conclusion is of great concern to me, because I value diversity and a deep respect for the other person/group rigths.

    The second part of the position

    “Therefore, if all humans were to become homosexual, the human race would cease to exist within a few decades. It thus follows, that the only moral defense is that it is in fact not wrong to fail to ensure the continuation of humanity.”

    It appears to me a mixture of Aristotle’s purposed based philosophy and the interpretation of Kant’s philosophy. My question here is, how do we determine the purpose of the human race? and Does the human race have a single dominant purpose that we should abide? If so what is the philosophical foundation of that purpose?

    Please forgive my ignorance, but I would be very grateful if you help me understand.

    • magus71 said, on July 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      I’m not a fan of Kant, for the most part. But Mike is. I placed the argument here because Mike said he’d never seen a convincing argument that homosexuality is immoral. So I used an argument that Kant may have used.

      As far as the purpose of the human race; I take the existentialist view. Our purpose is what we make it to be. With certain limits and consequences for bad actions.

      frk: Admittedly technology can assist making babies in test tubes. But if the entire world were homosexual, a very small percentage would have access to that technology. Not nearly enough to to support the survival of humanity. I believe humans need at least 2 births per female, on average, to perpetuate.

      The categorical imperitive argument from a Christian point of view would probably include: God wants the human race to multiply AND God says it’s (homosexuality) wrong. For me, God is the zero-point on the x, y ,z morality map and without God it becomes as Dostoyevsky said: If there’s no God, anything is permitted. Mike on the other hand, would probably argue that is exactly why he does not believe in the God of the Bible (or one reason): Becasue whatever that God says is right and not subject to debate.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm

        Kant’s moral test is (put very roughly) not “what if everyone did it?” but “what if everyone could do it?” Taken as “what if everyone did it?”, it would follow that a multitude of things would be immoral. Being celibate would be immoral (if everyone were celibate, humanity would die off). Being a intelligence analyst would be immoral (if everyone was an analyst, there would be no one to grow crops, teach classes, treat illnesses, and so on). And so on.

        While Kant would, I assume, be opposed to homosexuality, his moral theory does not seem to provide a means of showing it to be immoral.

        • magus71 said, on July 7, 2011 at 1:06 am

          True. But why would Kant be against homosexuality. His argument is not my argument, at least in its entirety.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm

            Kant’s specific examples of ethics seem to be drawn heavily from his background (his family was of the Pietist sect and he was strictly raised). To be specific, his four famous examples in ethics correspond to the injunction to not lie, the injunction against suicide, the parable of the talents and the parable of the good Samaritan. As such, it seems reasonable to hold that Kant would have been against homosexuality.

      • frk said, on July 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm

        “frk: Admittedly technology can assist making babies in test tubes. But if the entire world were homosexual, a very small percentage would have access to that technology. Not nearly enough to to support the survival of humanity.”

        Again with the “IF”. “If the entire world were homosexual. . . ”

        And, again, I’ll ask the same question: (Just reread #2 at my July 1, 5:44pm post)

        And I’ll add to that another question. To this newer version of your already flimsy framework you add “. . .^if^ the entire world were homosexual, a ^very small^ percentage would have access to that technology.” Why is that, exactly, magus71? What fact or logic do you base that on? If you’re going to make such a provocative statement, why not take one more tiny step for mankind and tell us the percentage.. 10%? 20%? 37.5%?

        Seems you can’t prove how the entire world would become homosexual, or make a sensible, supportable claim as to what would cause such a calamity. We’d all have to move to a fantasy universe to gain any kind of footing for your argument. But you’ve got a ‘logical’ argument for your belief. Good for you.

  7. frk said, on July 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    THEREFORE, IF all humans were to become homosexual, the human race WOULD cease to exist within a few decades. ”

    1/ I’m not a philosopher, but, for the sake of your argument, I’ll assume that everything Kant wrote is the undeniable truth.
    2/ How exactly might this extinction happen? On what planet? I’m particularly interested in how legalizing same-sex marriage would cause this.
    Is it true that if same-sex marriage is legalized, heterosexuals, realizing the error of their ways, would flock to homosexuality as a “life choice”? Is it true that, eventually, if we legalize same sex marriage, the entire human population will choose to become homosexuals? Will any of them (one or four perhaps, a la some wild science-fiction plot) at some point decide that perhaps they wish to maintain humankind and civilization and start an desperate underground movement to create babies the old fashioned way? Would those children, having been parented by homosexuals all be from a tainted gene pool? Could civilization be revived? Stay tuned for further developments. . .
    3/ Where did the idea ” . . .if all humans were to become homosexual, the human race would cease to exist within a few decades” come from?

  8. Anonymous said, on July 1, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    frk;

    Kant did not write that comment, neither had I. It was Magus comment June 30th. I do not understand Magus reasoning and I am trying to get it. I personally would never put forward such statement

    • frk said, on July 1, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      Sorry. What may have confused you is that, when I wrote “I’ll assume that everything Kant wrote is the undeniable truth” I was referring specifically to the quoted material in that July 30 post that was clearly attributable to Kant: “ Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” I didn’t make that at all clear.

      My point was– , did magus71 originate the idea/comment in that July 30 post (Therefore if all humans were to become homosexual, the human race would cease to exist within a few decades)., and if not, who did? I agree that, though Kant did not like homosexuality, I strongly doubt he was the originator of the “concept”.

  9. Anonymous said, on July 1, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    The last post is from jjm


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