First published at 365gay.com on June 17, 2011
New York may be on the brink of extending marriage to same-sex couples. As of this writing, the state’s marriage-equality bill appears to be one vote shy of passage. Several state legislators are still undecided. It’s a nail-biter.
Which means that our enemies are out in full force, giving the usual non-arguments.
I say “non-argument” deliberately. A striking fact about the public debate over marriage is that it has ceased to be much of a debate at all.
Consider the California Prop. 8 trial, where our opponents only called a single—and somewhat equivocal—witness.
Or consider Minnesota’s legislative hearings on a ballot proposal to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. In five hours of House testimony, not a single member other than the amendment’s author argued in favor of the measure. (It passed anyway, 70-62.) Even that author didn’t address the amendment’s merits: instead, he focused on the importance of letting voters decide.
Pay attention: we have reached a point where our opponents have a really hard time publicly presenting arguments against us. This is a clear sign that they are losing.
Our opponents see things differently, of course, claiming that their reluctance stems from the “unrelenting pressure”—as NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan puts it—to conform to the liberal homosexual agenda.
But the real pressure on them isn’t political. It isn’t social. It’s logical. It’s the pressure that one feels in the face of truth.
As evidence mounts that marriage equality is good for gays, for their families, and for society at large, our opponents have increasingly abandoned evidence. Instead they rest their case on bald assertion, claiming that marriage simply IS between a man and a woman, period, end of discussion.
Like a child who sticks his fingers in his ears and sings “la la la,” they offer no real engagement.
For a stunning example of this kind of non-argument, witness Archbishop Dolan’s embarrassing rant against the NY marriage-equality bill. [http://blog.archny.org/?p=1247] In it, he decries our tampering with a “definition as old as human reason,” compares marriage-equality advocates to communist dictators, and displays a willful blindness to history. (For example, he claims that marriage has always and everywhere been “one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity.” But the Archbishop’s bible—where multiple wives and concubines make frequent appearances—would beg to differ.)
Yet the core of his rant is a definitional objection, which is really a non-argument:
“[Marriage] is the union of a man and a woman in a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children. Please don’t vote to change that. If you do, you are claiming the power to change what is not into what is, simply because you say so. This is false, it is wrong, and it defies logic and common sense.”
In other words, marriage is what *I* say it is. La la la!
The definitional objection states that same-sex “marriages” can no more exist than married bachelors or square circles. They’re not just bad policy, they’re impossible by definition.
Notice, though, that legislators and ordinary citizens don’t normally worry about things that are impossible by definition. After all, they’re impossible. So what’s the problem?
Presumably, in the Archbishop’s mind, the problem is this: There is something distinctively valuable about heterosexual unions that would be threatened if legal marriage were extended beyond them. But Dolan offers absolutely no evidence for this dubious claim. Instead, he just keeps spinning circles about “this perilous presumption of the state to re-invent the very definition of an undeniable truth.”
By analogy, suppose we were debating whether a particular object should be recognized as “art.” Following Dolan, one might assert that the nature of art is an “undeniable truth,” that we must resist the “stampede” to “redefine” it, and that we must fear government attempts to “dictate” what the “very definition” of art is.
But such posturing would be mostly a distraction. When everyday people argue about whether an object is art, they’re generally not worried about what words mean. They’re worried about whether the work in question should be displayed in galleries and museums, supported by cultural grants, and so on.
In a similar way, when people argue about whether marriage should be extended to same-sex couples, they’re generally not worried about what words mean. They’re worried about whether such couples should be afforded equal recognition, rights and responsibilities.
In other words, it’s a moral and legal debate, not a semantic one.
By repeating the definitional objection without offering any argument for an exclusively heterosexual notion of marriage, Dolan refuses to engage that debate. In doing so, he unwittingly exposes his side’s moral bankruptcy. Let’s hope that New York doesn’t fall for the ruse.