Posted on Jan 14, 2013
Early yesterday morning Robert Jones asked a good question about same-sex “marriage” and its opponents’ strategies, on a thread that unfortunately did not go well. His question deserves a better home for discussion. He wrote,
I’ve seen a few of your recent posts explaining why the push for same sex marriage has been so successful, but I don’t think your explanation is correct.
The problem is that you’re focusing entirely on the definition of marriage, and I think that many supporters of same sex marriage are not thinking in those terms. For many people who support same sex marriage, this is simply a debate over whether gay and lesbian couples should be given the same benefits as straight couples. These people are not reasoning from the definition that you mentioned in your post. For many people, the definition which is most relevant to this debate simply says that marriage consists of the benefits that the government currently provides to heterosexual couples.
The reason I believe the the movement has come so far is that opponents have not convincingly explained what’s wrong with allowing gays and lesbians to marry. I personally know many, many people who support same sex marriage, and if you asked them why they support it, I think a typical reply would be “Who cares if they get married? How does it affect me?” A lot of people simply don’t see anything wrong with same sex marriage, and so they have no reason to oppose it.
So while it’s interesting to compare different definitions of marriage, I think that for many people, this is not the point of the debate. In order for opponents of same sex marriage to win, they would have to argue much more convincingly that same sex marriage is harmful to society.
I am indeed focusing on the definition of marriage. In order for gay couples to be able to marry, the term “marriage” must be broad enough to include same-sex pairs. If it isn’t, then gay couples can’t marry. That’s a matter of simple logic.
I’m also focusing on why the definition of marriage is what it is, why it includes man-woman marriage only, and why that matters to all of us. That’s where I hope my argument’s strength resides. I’m trying to show in the process that if some people are not reasoning from the same definition, there are strong reasons that they ought to be.
I recognize that for many this is an argument over benefits for same-sex couples, but I’m not particularly involved in that debate if it doesn’t involve marriage itself. You say, of course, that for many people marriage “consists of the benefits the government currently provides…”; I say that’s a false view, and in the course of this continuing discussion I will continue to explain why that cannot be the case.
The reason I believe the the movement has come so far is that opponents have not convincingly explained what’s wrong with allowing gays and lesbians to marry.
Exactly. And how does it affect others? The answer to that is tied up intricately in what marriage is. The one-sentence compressed version of my answer to this is, “As marriage is intended to be a certain kind of comprehensive and life-giving union between man and woman for their joy and unity as well as for the good of the next generation, and as it has been placed under great stress over recent decades by failures in heterosexual views and practice, and as our society has been enormously damaged by those failures, to continue that same damaging trend forward by re-defining marriage would add immeasurably to that continuing damage.”
So in the end you and I are perhaps on the same page: arguing as convincingly as possible that SSM is harmful to society. I’m taking the definitional approach to try to accomplish that. I don’t think there’s an empirical way to do that yet (nor is there any good empirical way to show that SSM is not harmful) so I am arguing from a philosophical level instead.
I think it’s the best strategy. I could be wrong on that; but at least we agree that we need to demonstrate SSM’s harm.
Thanks again for the question.