Thursday, June 09, 2011

Helpful discussion

One of the think-tanks that I pay some attention to is the Cato Institute, a libertarian group. While I'm culturally and by temperament conservative, I tend towards the libertarian position politically. And Cato is not only taking the position that "marriage" should be extended to include same-sex couples (which I understand), they're actively pushing it (which I don't). So they keep posting pro-same-sex marriage videos on their facebook page and long "discussions" ensue, with 50 people that don't know each other repeating the same arguments that don't change anyone's minds.

I'm not going to talk about same-sex marriage today. But there are a couple of repeated arguments that are particularly tiresome, particularly pointless, so I've got a couple of pieces of advice, one for each side, for people who want to discuss these issues in facebook length pieces.

  • First, for the people who are opposed to same-sex marriage - stop quoting Leviticus. Unless you're actively working to get the government to stop Burger King from selling the bacon double-cheeseburger because it contains pork and combines meat and dairy, you're not really all that interested in enshrining the Levitical laws as public policy. So don't make that your argument of first resort. Or even your argument of last resort. Everyone already knows that the Old Testament explicitly condemns homosexuality. You know it, I know it, the people that you're arguing with know it. They know it and they don't care. You're not changing their position, you're hardening it. The people for whom Leviticus is relevant to this discussion are already on your side.

    And the Bible is not the source of civil authority in the United States. So it's an appeal to authority, but an authority without appeal to many of those against whom you're making the appeal. It's a waste of time and an irritant. And when you use that argument, it implies that you don't have another one. If that's all you've got, if that's the argument, then it actively encourages the pro- side to assume that there's no real argument to be made. So just stop it.
  • And secondly, for those on the pro-same-sex marriage side - stop throwing out the word "equality" as if it's a magical talisman that justifies everything. As is the case with the Leviticus argument, the people on the other side have all heard it and don't agree.

    The reason that they don't agree is that the discussion is about two fundamentally different things. You may see them as equal, but clearly, others do not. The appeal to "equality" is a moral appeal, an appeal that works only for a shared moral framework and outlook, and that doesn't exist here. I know it make you feel as if you've got the moral high ground, but you're actually just on totally different ground. Logically, the "equality" argument requires that the following be true:
    Relationships between man and man, and relationships between woman and woman, differ in no fundamental ways relevant to the institution of marriage from relationships between man and woman.
    That is clearly, obviously, patently not true. It's not even "debateably true." It is clearly false. The only conceivable way to get to anything like that is to define marriage as something like "an institution which exists solely to create government-sanctioned sexual partnerships." That's not how it's developed, and it's not what people believe it to be. Therefore, the "equality" argument is no more relevant than the Leviticus argument. What you are seeking isn't "marriage equality," it is a redefinition of the institution of marriage. Failure to acknowledge that is failure to argue in good faith.

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