Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gay Marriage: We need a coherent argument

Just looking at the gay marriage's recent history in America shows a total lack of momentum:

  • In the 31 times gay marriage has gone to the ballot, gay marriage supporters have been defeated all 31 times
  • 30 states currently have constitutional bans on gay marriage
  • Two states have had gay marriage legalized, only to have the voters ban it
  • Gay marriage is only legal in 5 states currently
  • Of the 5 states it is legal in, only one state did so through legislative means

Gay marriage has yet to win with the nation's populace, and if it were not for judicial activism only one state would of legalized gay marriage, and that would be in the most liberal state in the Union (Vermont).  Despite this strong showing over the years, support for gay marriage has shown a huge increase over the last few years:

One recent poll has even shown that a majority of people think that gays have the constitutional right to marry.

If things continue as they are gay marriage will be legal in all 50 states within our lifetimes.

In my mind the biggest reason for the increase in support for gay marriage is two fold.  First being that gay marriage supporters have struck a theme - which primarily appeals to the youth - and plays well with the electorate, that theme being one of equality.  The second reason is that those who oppose gay marriage have yet to find a coherent argument that people accept.

At this point I want to make it clear that I am a supporter of traditional marriage, and oppose gay marriage.
Most of the people who oppose gay marriage remind me of those who support abortion in that they both think they've won the argument, and are so assured of this fact that they ignore their opposition.  There are three major mistakes with this.

The first mistake is that it ignores some valid points that the gay marriage crowd brings up; points that most people recognize as valid, see as an injustice, and swing toward gay marriage when there doesn't appear to be an other arguments.  A good example of this would be the tax benefits married couples receive that homosexuals would be ineligible to receive, which sounds dangerously close to taxing homosexuals more for not being heterosexual.  Another would be things such as hospital visitation, something Obama has already handled.  Issues such as these are genuine examples of inequality, and things that should be handled, but do not necessarily need to be handled by permitting gay marriage.  By refusing to address these issues you build up the pro-gay marriage argument that gays are treated as inferior human beings.  An obvious solution to this problem would be civil unions.

The second mistake is that it does not allow for supporters of traditional marriage to effectively combat the invalid arguments made by gay marriage supporters.  In order to gain momentum gay marriage supporters have tried to make this into a fundamental question of equality, and have tied it to the civil rights movement.  By doing so they make this a moral crusade of sorts, drawing up images in people's heads of civil rights protesters being beaten in the streets even as they push toward something that is ultimately good.  But few, outside of a random individual every now and then, ever bother to address the absurdity of this.  Homosexuals aren't treated as second class citizens.  There are inequalities as we pointed out in the paragraph above, but compared the treatment of blacks and other minorities they're extremely minor.  By suggesting that their movement is at all similar to a time when people were killed, driven out of cities, and otherwise terrorized without protection from the law (and sometimes these actions were undertaken by the law) does a dishonor to the historical significance of that episode in American history.  Never mind the complete lack of proof that one is born homosexual, which makes the argument completely illogical when compared to the struggle of a racial group.

The final mistake is that it does not allow for the movement itself to put together a desperately needed coherent argument.  Most of the arguments already in play have a good deal of validity in them, but because there doesn't seem to be any consistency behind them, they're usually dismissed as absurd by the opposition.  Take, for example, the argument that legalizing gay marriage will inevitably lead to a curtailing of religious freedoms:

A Christian street preacher has been arrested and charged with a public-order offence after saying that homosexuality was sinful.

Dale Mcalpine was handing out leaflets to shoppers when he told a passer-by and a gay police community support officer that, as a Christian, he believed homosexuality was one of a number of sins that go against the word of God.

Mr Mcalpine said that he did not repeat his remarks on homosexuality when he preached from the top of a stepladder after his leafleting.

But he has been told that police officers are alleging they heard him making his remarks to a member of the public in a loud voice that could be overheard by others. 

Mr Mcalpine, 42, who earns about £40,000 a year in the energy industry, was arrested and taken to the local police station in the back of a police van after preaching in the Cumbrian town of Workington on April 20.

After seven hours locked up in a cell, he was charged with using abusive or insulting words or behaviour contrary to the Public Order Act 1986.

Granted this is a British case, but it's a good example of the slippery slope argument is valid.  It's not as if there aren't valid cases from America either, such as when a New Mexican photographer was sued for refusing to photograph a gay wedding, or when E-Harmony got sued.  All the tools are present, but they're rarely used to back up arguments.  The fact is that this isn't "fear mongering", these are real life examples that would make most people take pause and think about the validity of the gay marriage movement, and open them up to the possibility that this isn't a fight over marriage or equality, but over control of the direction culture.

On that note the classic "Gay marriage will lead to pedophile" rights has to actually be enforced by something, otherwise you get the same "fear mongering, hateful, Republicans!" response.  If the movement can get people to question the cultural validity of gay marriage, however, they could make the slippery slope argument.  If homosexuals are born homosexual, then who's to argue pedophiles aren't born pedophiles?  And why should we prevent polygamous marriages if all parties are willing participants?  Debate the validity of using the slippery slope argument in general all you want, but the fact is that pedophiles already use the exact same strategy as gay marriage supporters:

In this online community, pedophiles view themselves as the vanguard of a nascent movement seeking legalization of child pornography and the loosening of age-of-consent laws. They portray themselves as battling for children’s rights to engage in sex with adults, a fight they liken to the civil rights movement. And while their effort has brought little success, they celebrated online in May when a small group of men in the Netherlands formed a pedophile political party, and they rejoiced again last month when a Dutch court upheld the party’s right to exist.

Traditional marriage supporters need to recognize the fault in their own logic too.  If this isn't about repressing a group of people, why not address the points brought up in issue one?  Civil unions may make some people uncomfortable due to how close they come to marriage, but ultimately isn't it a relatively fair compromise?  Let the religious and cultural institutions retain control over the term marriage, and let the state give its benefits out to all citizens.

By no means am I suggesting that I have the perfect solutions right here - this is obviously just opinion - but the fact remains that unless the traditional marriage community changes its tactics it will soon loose the argument.