The National Organization for Marriage has recently shared a flow-chart to debating marriage equality. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t hold much water. Let’s take it piece by piece:
The opening question, which starts off the flow chart, is “What is marriage?” I was tempted to answer “Baby, don’t hurt me,” but that is not one of the options. The two possible answers that we are offered are “Revisionist view: An emotional union” and “Conjugal view: Biological reality that reflects human nature.” I wonder which side Hsiao, the creator of this flowchart, falls on.
First of all, marrying for love is something of a revision of “traditional marriage.” That said, it’s a revision that happened a long time ago. Marrying for love is the norm in today’s society. We even romanticize marriage, we talk about it with “lovey-dovey” terminology, and we expect affection and fondness. Marriage is no longer about political alliances or property, considering that we have come to gauge connection through financial interaction and contract, not by blood. Nor is marriage even about children, considering that people can, and often do, have children without being married.
Linked to this allegedly revisionist view is an explanation, which reads “two persons who commit to love, care, and provide for each other.” Oh, the horror. It’s like the world has been turned upside down. This blurb branches out to three arguments, which are “promotes equality,” “does not harm anyone,” and “consenting adults should be allowed to marry.” Each of these arguments then leads to Hsiao’s rebuttal.
In response to the argument that marriage equality is, well, equality, Hsiao responds with that slippery slope fallacy so loved by the mongrels in the NOM camp: polygamy. The exact phrasing Hsiao uses is “Why two people? Justifies union of any number of persons.” There are a few problems with this argument. First of all, there just aren’t that many people who want to have poly-marriages. There are plenty of open relationships and whatnot, but comparatively few people who truly want to have group marriages.
Second of all, marriage equality isn’t about getting “approval.” If all same-sex couples wanted was to have the wedding, they could have the damn wedding, regardless of whether it was recognized by the government. The reason that same-sex couples want to get in on this whole legally recognized marriage thing is that it works like a buddy system. Spouses can manage each other’s affairs and finances in the event of emergency or incapacitation. Spouses can easily share insurance, benefits, etc. There are poly-families who live together, or in close proximity, and they do pretty well on their own. They can get poly-friendly people to say some words over them, and that can count as a wedding if they feel like it. It’s not as though a dozen people all need to share each other’s insurance, or all need to show up to take one member of the family home from the hospital.
As for the statement that marriage equality won’t harm anyone, Hsiao responds that it “harms society at large by promoting an incorrect view of human nature.” You may now throw your computer at the wall, if you so choose. The circularity of this argument makes it doubly obnoxious, and it boils down to “same-sex marriage is bad because same-sex attraction is bad,” with no explanation of why on earth same-sex attraction should be considered “bad.” This argument works well when you’re having a circle jerk with your homophobic pals (an odd visual, upon consideration), but this argument doesn’t have any sort of validity if the person you’re talking to isn’t already afraid of “the gay.”
Now we get to hear why it is that two consenting adults shouldn’t be allowed to marry. This ought to be good. Apparently, “consenting to something does not make it just.” As an example, Hsiao offers up gladiatorial combat. Not to rain on Hsiao’s parade, but the main problem, as far as I can tell, with gladiatorial combat is that the participants had not consented, but were slaves who were being forced into the ring. If two people agree to fight to the death, free of external coercion, then they can go on ahead. I would urge them not to, considering that one of them is going to die in the process, and it’s illegal because it involves killing someone, and we can’t really have a smoothly running society if folks are stabbing each other right and left, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that mortal combat is inherently wrong. Hell, we have boxing, MMA, and various martial arts competitions, which are just gladiator combat, minus the death (and Russell Crowe).
Gladiator tangent aside, this argument still hinges on the assumption that it is inherently “wrong” to be gay. The implication here is that it is somehow unjust to be in a same-sex relationship, and that legal recognition of such relationships is, by extension, unjust. Laws aren’t about morality, though. They’re about maintaining a society in which all members can get along, or at least not get in each other’s way. Now, I can get behind morality. The trouble is, I don’t think that there’s some sort of absolute morality or ethics system that is transcendent. I have a very different opinion of what things are “good” and “bad” than Hsiao does, and the government can’t just pick one of our moral codes to base laws on. Lacking a definitive answer on what is or is not “right” or “wrong,” and lacking a compelling reason to prohibit same-sex unions, the government is compelled to allow same-sex couples to be married.
Circling back, we come to the other view of marriage that Hsiao provides, that being his “conjugal view,” in which marriage is “a comprehensive union with a special link to children.” At this point, he tosses out three tired platitudes, that marriage “serves a public purpose (responsible procreation),” that “children deserve a mother and a father,” and that marriage is “a basic human right.” He follows each of these up with an argument in favor of marriage equality, which, in turn, are rebutted.
In response to the inconsistency of letting sterile opposite-sex couples partake of an institution that he claims exists for the sole purpose of making babies, Hsiao counters that “sterile couples are still procreative in type, if not in effect.” This argument has never made much sense to me. From what I can tell, it is essentially a claim that it’s fine for sterile opposite-sex couples to get married because they’re still opposite-sex couples. If marriage exists for the sole purpose of encouraging procreation, then why are the legal benefits of marriage independent of procreation? Will I need to knock up my wife before she’s allowed to visit me in the hospital? This one is, in my opinion, just a jargony way of saying that opposite-sex couples are the only valid couples.
As for the argument that insisting on a male partner and a female partner denies rights to same-sex couples, Hsaio just writes it off by stating that same-sex marriage isn’t a right. So, just “nuh-uh.” I’ll take this opportunity to make a point, though. There is a right to same-sex marriage. Why? Same-sex marriage is a right because women can marry men, and men can marry women. To say, then, that men cannot marry men or that women cannot marry women is to discriminate based on sex. Same-sex marriage is a right if marriages do not require biological offspring to be recognized by the government.
Confronted with this argument, as Hsiao is in the next portion of his chart, he replies that “same-sex marriage fulfills no human function, so it is not a human right.” Doesn’t fulfill a human function? Neither does opposite-sex marriage. Nobody needs to be married to have sex, to have children, or to have companionship. As long as we’ve got opposite-sex marriage, though, let’s have same-sex marriage, too (see above).
What makes this little flow-chart extra annoying is that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s got the same damn arguments that have been used by the anti-gay crowd for as long as there’s been one (Polygamous slippery slopes, meant to encourage procreation, is “unnatural,” etc.) It suffers from the circular logic that plagues the likes of NOM and FRC, that same-sex marriage is (supposedly) inherently bad because being gay is (supposedly) inherently bad. Now, to be fair, Hsiao is just a philosophy major at Florida State University, and I’d expect these sorts of mistakes from a student. I’m just a history major at Northwestern University, and I probably make mistakes, too (although I like to think that my work is better than this poppycock). If I had just stumbled across Hsiao’s facebook somehow and saw this flow-chart, I would probably think “what an asshole” and move on with my day. The National Organization for Marriage has featured his work, though, and that makes it, with its circular logic, its fallacies, and its obnoxious assumptions, fair game.