Bigots and Marriage

I had been considering righting up my feeling regarding this insane proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to steal the rights of a subset of American citizens. However I was catching up on the news in the blogsphere when I stumbled upon Mr. Scalzi’s discussion of the subject:

Why aren’t people asking the marriage bigots flat out what they have against marriage? Against married couples? And by what right are they able to say that couples who are already legally married should have their marriages declared null and void? This proposed amendment breaks up marriages. God damn it, people should be hollering this at the top their lungs every time one of those marriage bigots gets all sanctimonious about what marriage means. People ought to be getting these marriage bigots into a corner and getting them to admit that they need to destroy legal, loving marriages in order to accomplish their goals. We ought to be getting these marriage bigots admitting that they have to strip away rights these Americans already have to do what they want to do.

I highly recommend you read Mr. Scalzi’s post in full.

Update: The comment thread on Mr. Scalzi’s post is rather long. I hadn’t completed reading it yet, when I posted this article. Heck, I’m still working my way through it. However the reason for this update is one of Mr. Scalzi’s replies to a comment was so dead on that I simply must quote him again.

As I’ve said a number of times in the past, the most “activist” judicial ruling I can think of in recent times was Bush v. Gore, and I think it was wildly poorly decided. However, you don’t see me hopping up and down like a frog on a plate, bitching about that damned activist Judge Scalia, because in my opinion, regardless of whether I like the ruling or not, the judiciary was doing its proper role. So, basically, if I have to live with a piece of crap ruling like Bush v. Gore, my sympathy for boo-hoo conservates bitching about “activist judges” is around about zero.

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I believe Mr. Scalzi is wrong. That probably sounds inflammatory, let me rephrase: I think his path of reason is wrong, even though he arrives at a correct conclusion. True, Mr. Scalzi brings up an argument I’ve not heard before. But, naively assuming for a moment that there are bigots who could be shown the light if only the right logical argument came along, I can’t see how this argument would help. Because for debates in which all agree that the conclusion reached should be based on reason, the ends simply don’t justify the means.

Small-minded people have been using the “It’s Tradition!” argument for forever. The bigots’ argument, and Mr. Scalzi’s argument, are both the same kind of argument-from-inertia.

In 2004, an honest-to-God argument I heard for W’s re-election was, “you can’t go changing Presidents in the middle of a war.” Some will see the irony in this right away, but let me quickly spell it out:

A – This was a voluntary war on the US’s part. We went in at our (W’s) convenience, once the President whipped up support (this took about a year-and-a-half).

B – People later claimed — without a bit of irony — that because Bush had decided to start a war, we had to let him continue running the country. Again, these folks claim that a President who wants a second term simply has to manufacture a war in order to deserve it. (I don’t know if a second term war-starting President should then get a third term.)

So, back to SSM. Mr. Scalzi’s argument goes something like this:

A – The bigots say they are for marriage, and against re-definition.

B – A few years ago, 2% of the US changed its definition of marriage to include SSM, over the bigots’ protests.

C – Their amendment would be solidifying a definition for 98% of the country. But counter to their claim of not wanting to change definitions, it would re-define marriage back to the way it was a few years ago for 2% of the country.

D – This is also counter to the bigots’ claim that they’re for marriage, because it would end thousands of SSMs which were based on the first re-definition.

Again, some will see the irony right away. If group A says they like the current course and don’t want to change it, then all group B has to do is make a tiny change, and call hypocrisy if group A wants to get back on course. This is a spurious and facile argument.

(By the way, Mr. Scazi tacked a second argument onto his first: That we would be creating second-class citizens if we ended the existing SSMs. I’d say most societies, including and especially the US, have considered homosexuals second-class citizens through the millenia, up to present day. He’s right, though, that an amendment would be codifying it.)

Now, there are plenty of real reasons to allow legalization of SSM. Far and away the clearest is that nobody has *ever* brought a factual, non-religious-based (that is, secular) reason to prohibit SSM to the table. It really is that simple. Long ago, when I first started looking into this topic in depth, I spent wayyy too much time discussing/arguing on a bbs run by a friend I had at Iowa State. (See http://www.leepfrog.com/~kwelsch/SSM-debate.txt for a painfully long thread of me discussing the point in depth with died-in-the-wool conservative Christians.)

That’s when I discovered that A) there weren’t any logical secular reasons for denying SSM, just bigoted ones. And B) that’s really all that matters.

I agree with the prior commenter– Mr. Scazi’s argument sounds good if you already agree with him (which I do at least 50%). But from a logical point of view, it is a fallacious argument (as the prior commenter just pointed out), and from a rehtorical point of view, I can’t imagine it convincing even a single conservative (in fact, I can’t imagine it would even make them think about it– I think it would just tick them off).

So I guess I’m saying I think there’s much better ways of saying, “The constitutional amendment thing is a Bad Idea(tm).”

Maybe it’s a lack of caffeiene today, but I’m having trouble seeing the fallacy in his argument.

Mind you, I don’t honesty expect he’ll be able to convince anybody on the other side of the fence with this argument.

The problem is that he assumes his own definition of “marriage” to make the argument work; by his definition of marriage, his argument makes sense. But that’s what this fight is all about: the definition of marriage. So in some sense, he assumes his point to make his point. If I had taken philosiphy in school, I would know the technical term for this fallacy in addition to knowing how to spell philosiphy. I want to say it’s “assuming the subsequent” but I think that’s not quite right.

“…[Get] them to admit that they need to destroy legal, loving marriages in order to accomplish their goals.”

To make this really clear, read his statement two ways: the first time, mentally replace “marriage” with “union between two people”. It will make sense. The second time, replace it with “union between a man and a woman” and all of a sudden he’s accusing the traditionalists of something that doesn’t even make sense.

So, in fact, given the definition of “marriage” the traditionalists use, they are not being hypocritical, as he appears to be arguing. IOW, traditionalists are against “redefining marriage” ONLY in the sense that they are against defining it other than they say it should be defined.

Here is his argument, changed to be not so fallacious:

1. Traditionalists are against breaking up loving unions.
2. SSM is a loving union.
3. Therefore, traditionalists ought to be against breaking up SSMs.
4. Traditionalists don’t mind breaking up SSMs.
5. Therefore, traditionalists are being hypocritical.

But even this is still severly lacking, as it simplifies the traditionalists’ position so much that it is probably no longer an accurate representation of their position.

Did any of that make sense? I’ve not had enough caffine today. If I sound annoyed or condescending then let me apologize in advance and I assure you neither one is intended. And Mr. Scazi and I would almost certainly vote the same way on this were we both senators, so yes I am purely being technical and nitpicky. πŸ™‚

(*) btw I’ve been using the word “traditionalist” instead of “bigot” as it seems less inflamatory to me…

I can see your point now; I just don’t agree. In Mr. Scalzi’s arugment, he’s using the legal definition on marriage as defined by U.S. law. Now, I’m no lawyer but from what I recall of my intro to law course in college; if one state in the U.S. issues the license, it should be valid in all states. Hence, I can have a driver’s license issued to me by the state of Iowa and still be allowed to drive when I have to go into Illinois.

Perhaps the confusion over the how the word “marriage” is being used by both sides of the argument is part of the problem. Of course from what I heard on NPR earlier today; this isn’t an issue any more as the amendment got voted down.

Your point made sense and was not annoying or condescending. Also, I agree traditionalist is much less inflamatory than bigot. I’m pretty sure Mr. Scalzi specifically used the word bigot to be inflamatory. From reading his blog, I get the impression he enjoys a good argument. πŸ™‚

But Mr. Scalzi is not making a legal argument. Like [other poster] says, he’s trying to point out that they (the bigots) are hypocritical. They are, but not in the way he thinks everyone should be pointing out. As you hit upon, his argument uses, probably accidentally, the fallacy of equivocation — using the word ‘marriage’ one way to break down another’s argument, not granting or recognizing that the other’s argument uses the word differently.

As you say, Mr. Scalzi uses a legal definition. When anti-SSM folks use the word ‘marriage’, they usually use it to mean whatever best forwards their argument. That is, either a) an rarified, idealized form of marriage, which they call ‘traditional’, or b) the commonly understood man/woman legal meaning of marriage (which in the early 90’s some clever person in Hawaii discovered didn’t specifically state man/woman, and it took nearly a day for the furor to strike down a legal SSM that took place). Oddly, they commonly talk about marriage being created by God, even though it’s only ever state marriage (and not religious marriage) that they are trying to hoard and keep from gays.

As far as the 14th Amendment idea you brought up (if one state recognizes SSM, it should be valid in all states), it has been brought up. But there are very good reasons that, say, the ACLU hasn’t brought the kind of case you mention to the Supreme Court. The SC isn’t promising at the moment. Four justices (I’ll let you guess which ones) have written that (ITHO) the Constitution doesn’t compel SSM recognition by states. So it would have to be a clean sweep of all the other five to rule, you know, unbiasedly. Basically, recognizing that courts are in fact biased (much as courts were often biased against racial equality fifty years ago), the best strategy is to win at the state level until at least a majority of states recognize SSM (or don’t prohibit it) before heading to the SC.

And even challenging lower courts — those in states that have over-reaching state laws and constitutions — is too risky except in specific cases right now. Courts are funny (strange, not ‘ha ha’). Those that commonly deal with constitutional rights issues often tend to be more protective of them. Those that don’t, aren’t. If you bring marriage cases into ‘bad’ courts, you’ll likely lose many of them, and then it takes longer (because of precident) to get good marriage rulings again. Also, a bad decision puts other same-sex rights issues at risk.

Finally, yes. ‘Traditionalist’ is less inflamatory than ‘bigot’, and I’m usually careful to differentiate. I’ll use ‘ignorant’, ‘under-informed’, or some slightly less inflammatory label for those I find are willing to engage and state that they’d change their mind if the evidence doesn’t support their position. But I don’t hesitate to call those opportunistic ass-hats that use this issue to energize their base during an election year, or to open the pocketbooks of their viewing audience, ‘bigots’. I also use ‘bigot’ when I talk about people who are willing to repeat, out-of-hand, any buzz-word argument that hits the public airwaves without being willing to think through what conclusion reality-based data actually supports (or doesn’t support). For example: Jim Nussle, both for using illogical buzz-word arguments (we must protect the family) and for using the issue as an election-year wedge issue, fits firmly into the ‘manipulative close-minded bigot’ category.

That’s a good objection, but I think my point still stands no matter who is using the word the “correct” way. (*) Perhaps we’re hearing his argument differently. This is how I read it:

1. Traditionalists are against breaking up marriages.
2. The amendment breaks up marriages.
3. Therefore, traditionalists are being hypocritical when they are pro- this amendment.

But the argument is invalid because of the shifting definition of “marriage” in 1 & 2. Ah, here, this is what it’s doing: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/equivoqu.html

If I restate the argument to make the meaning of the word clear, it becomes invalid:

1. Traditionalists are against breaking up {loving unions between two people}. (this premise is not true; it is too general)
2. The amendment breaks up {loving unions between two people}.
3. Therefore, traditionalists are being hypocritical when they are pro- this amendment.

or

1. Traditionalists are against breaking up {loving unions between a man and woman}.
2. The amendment breaks up {loving unions between a man and a woman}. (this is certainly not true)
3. Therefore, traditionalists are being hypocritical when they are pro- this amendment.

So, it doesn’t matter which definition of the word is the correct one, the argument is still invalid because he’s using both.

BTW, your original post made me think and I’ve much enjoyed the dialog. πŸ™‚

(*) I think it could also be argued that a law in MA doesn’t change the meaning of the word marriage overnight, and therefore at minimum there are two working definitions to the word, and at maximum, the word doesn’t (yet) mean what he is taking it to mean– in historical terms, MA’s definition is quite new, and it takes time for the meaning of words to change. However, I won’t argue that because I don’t think my point hinges on it.

I don’t think Mr. Scalzi is the only one in this argument using the fallacy of equivocation. But to really prove that, I’d probably have to do all kinds of crazy research. That’s something I probably would be inclined to do… if this amendment had not already been killed in the Senate.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved having this dialog. It’s a great feeling to see somebody reads this site besides myself! πŸ˜€

Well said. I’m sure Mr. Scalzi isn’t using equivocation perniciously, and I can honestly say that though the rank and file proponents of the Amendment are more likely lazy in their arguments than purposefully obfuscatory.

You may as well do your research, by the way, because this isn’t over. It will come up periodically until it’s shown that it doesn’t help turn out the raised-to-be-prejudiced (which tends to be more rural, which tends to be more republican) vote.

The Amendment will likely never have a snowball’s chance, but for those with the power to raise the issue, that’s actually a plus — nobody gets as indignant and energized about an issue they’ve already won.

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