By now we are all familiar with the most common (though perhaps not the most sophisticated) arguments for same-sex “marriage.” Uttered in the vulgar, these arguments typically look like this: “Not letting homosexuals marry whom they love like heterosexuals can is to treat homosexuals unjustly.” More charitably, we can present what this less-sophisticated argument aims to convey in perhaps two ways:
- Marriage is a loving commitment between individuals.
- Two men or two women can be (and often are) in a loving commitment with one another.
- Therefore, two women or two men can (or should be able to) marry.
- If there were marriage equality, then homosexuals would be able to marry.
- Homosexuals cannot marry.
- Therefore, there is no marriage equality.
Argument A as a Prototypical Question-Begging Argument for Same-Sex “Marriage”
Let’s address the first horn of the dilemma. Consider Argument A. Its first premise (namely, “marriage is a loving commitment between individuals”) is an assumption that the supporter of conjugal marriage would not accept. (Indeed, its first premise is false, but never mind that for now.) To simply assume that marriage is just a loving commitment between individuals is to completely ignore and brush past the very question that is in contention between the supporter of same-sex “marriage” and the supporter of conjugal marriage, namely, what is marriage? On one side, the supporter of same-sex “marriage” claims that what distinguishes marriage from other relationships is that it differs not in kind from, say, friendships or companionship, but rather in the degree of the loving commitment that is present between the individuals. On the other side, the supporter of conjugal marriage claims that marriage is not just a loving commitment but is rather another kind of relationship altogether–one that is loving, to be sure, but also one that distinguishes it from all other relationships insofar as it unites the spouses comprehensively in mind and body in coitus and that this unitive act is itself intrinsically (as opposed to merely accidentally) ordered towards procreation.
Similarly, whereas the supporter of same-sex “marriage” will typically claim that the public purpose (i.e. the reason why a thing exists as a matter of public policy in the interest of the public good) of marriage is just “to recognize loving commitments,” the supporter of conjugal marriage holds that the public purpose of marriage is rather “to attach mothers and fathers to one another and to any children they may have.”
Often, however, this proves ineffective in demonstrating to the supporter of same-sex “marriage” why this sort of equality argument is question-begging. The supporter of same-sex “marriage” will simply dig in his heels and claim: “It’s still unjust to disallow same-sex couples from marrying!” Because of this, it might prove very useful to momentarily take the focus away from marriage and consider various analogies that help to explain this point.
Consider, for example, a debate club for women. Would it be unjust or unequal to disallow a man from joining the women’s debate club? Well, of course not–this club exists for the purpose of being a debate club for women. Indeed, it would be utterly absurd if a bunch of men gathered outside of where the club meets with signs and demanded “debate club equality,” claiming that they were being treated as “less than human” by being denied their “constitutional right” to become members of women’s debate clubs. The women of the club might in turn go out to meet the protestors and point out that they have never committed themselves to the supposition that men are “less than human.” They might also point out that they are not “being mean” by not allowing them to join a women’s debate club. The women might simply point out that the debate club exists for women and that the men’s immature inability to grasp that fact may not thereby make them “sub-human” but it very well makes them look utterly foolish.
Consider now drivers’ licenses. Would it be unjust or unequal to disallow a blind man from getting a license? Of course not! Drivers’ licenses exist for the purpose of providing individuals the legal permission to operate a vehicle provided they are deemed sufficiently capable of doing so. It would likewise be comically absurd if tomorrow a group of blind people manifested outside of a DMV and demanded “driver’s license equality,” alleging that they are being “discriminated against” and are being “treated as second-class citizens” by not being given the chance to receive drivers’ licenses. In fact, in echoing supporters of same-sex “marriage,” they might add that “this is just so mean–the people who do not want to let us get licenses are just backwards, myth-believing bigots who believe the outdated and debunked supposition that sight is necessary for driving!” And again, though it might take them 4 hours to do so, DMV employees might go outside and meet with the blind people and assure them that they don’t think that they are “second-class citizens” and that they are not “being mean” by not allowing them to get drivers’ licenses. They might even add that, while they do not think that they are “second-class citizens,” they nevertheless think of their manifestation as silly.
Finally, consider a couple public restrooms. Consider first a unisex restroom that exists to accommodate anyone (i.e., either men or women may use it, provided it is vacant, etc.). Would it be unjust or unequal to disallow a woman to use this restroom because she is a woman? Clearly it would because this restroom exists for the purpose of accommodating to any individual, be he or she male or female. Now, the woman may be legitimately disallowed from using this restroom for other legitimate reasons—say, because it is not vacant, or because it is being repaired and is out of service, or because the last time she was in there she tried to set it on fire. But to disallow her to use the restroom because she is a woman is not at all a good enough reason to disallow her from using the restroom in light of the fact that the restroom exists for the purpose of accommodating to either men or women.
This is very crudely analogous to the position of the supporter of same-sex “marriage” who typically holds that the public purpose marriage is just something to the effect of: recognizing loving relationships between committed individuals. Now, if the public purpose of marriage, as the supporter of same-sex “marriage” alleges, is just to recognize loving commitments (or something akin to this), then it very well would be unfair and unjust to disallow, say, two men or two women from marrying, for two men or two women could be just as much in a “loving commitment” with one another as Susan and Bob, the opposite-sex couple. (Notice, however, that under this understanding it would also be “unfair” to disallow 5 individuals who are “lovingly committed” to “marry” for it is clear that more than two individuals can be “lovingly committed” to one another. In fact, on this view, there would be no principled reason to disallow any number of persons to “marry” one another.)
Consider now a restroom that exists to accommodate to women only (i.e., only women may use it, provided it is vacant, and provided the woman wanting to use it doesn’t want to set it on fire, etc.). Would it be unjust or unequal to disallow a man to use this restroom? Of course not–this restroom exists for the purpose of accommodating females only. This is very crudely analogous to the position of the opponent of same-sex marriage who holds that the public purpose of marriage is something akin to the following: to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another, upon whose stability the children depend for their well-being.
Accordingly, if the public purpose of marriage just is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another, as the supporter of conjugal marriage contends, then it would not be unjust or unequal to disallow, say, two men or two women from “marrying.” In fact, it would not be any more unjust or unequal to do so than it would be unjust or unequal to disallow a man to enter a women’s debate club, or to disallow a blind woman to get a driver’s license, or to disallow a man to use a women’s restroom, etc. Any allegations that disallowing two men or two women to “marry” is “unfair” or “unjust” or “mean” or “bigoted” are, on this view, simply false—a sign of a grave misunderstanding and nothing more. This should suffice, then, to show how arguments for same-sex “marriage” like Argument A prove to be question-begging.
Argument B as a Prototypical Unsound Argument for Same-Sex “Marriage”
Turn now to the second horn of the dilemma and to Argument B. Its first premise (namely, “if there were marriage equality, then homosexuals would be able to marry”) is true. On any marriage regime, however, premise 2 (namely, “homosexuals cannot marry”) is false. Consider: in states that recognize same-sex “marriage” and offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples, homosexuals can marry. Indeed, in this case, both homosexuals and heterosexuals share the very same restrictions as to whom they can marry: namely, any other individual of whatever sex.
Now, in states that understand marriage to be inherently conjugal and so of necessity between a man and a woman, homosexuals can likewise marry. What this means, however, is that homosexuals can only marry someone of the opposite sex like everyone else. In fact, in such states, homosexuals and heterosexuals share the very same restrictions as to whom they can marry, namely, someone of the opposite sex. So a homosexual man can marry a woman. A homosexual woman can marry a man. Thus premise 2 is false on any regime of marriage on offer. This suffices, then, to show how Argument-B-type arguments are unsound.