The Marriage Debate in Microcosm

This televised discussion is a marvelous microcosm of the marriage debate.

1. Ryan Anderson is talking about what’s true about marriage; Piers Morgan and Suze Orman are talking about what’s true about their feelings about marriage.

That’s admittedly an oversimplification, and Morgan did bring up good questions about over-50 and about prisoners. But in the main it’s true. Just compare the number of feeling words used by either side to make their case against the other; and look at how the discussion progresses. When Anderson answers Morgan’s challenges, Morgan and Orman revert in the end to emotional appeals.

So it’s no wonder we can’t come to agreement on this: we can’t even bring the same topic up for debate. For what is true about marriage is not the same as what’s true about feelings about marriage.

It seems to me that if we’re talking about changing the definition of marriage, the relevant issue is what marriage is, not what we feel about it. For suppose Anderson were wrong in his position concerning what’s true about marriage: would feelings show it were so?

2. Note the power play. Anderson was shouted down more than once. When he has talking with Suze Orman, his mic was probably 2-3 dB lower than hers: not enough that he couldn’t be heard, but enough that her message dominated.

This ties in with the feelings approach the other side took: an approach not geared toward discovering truth. If a major social policy issue cannot be settled by an appeal to truth, it can only be settled by the exercise of power. If one side cannot persuade the other, “you are wrong,” it can only prevail by, “you lose.”

Hat Tip to Matthew Schmitz at First Thoughts

9 thoughts on “The Marriage Debate in Microcosm

  1. Excellent job by Ryan in a very hostile environment. I don’t think it was an accident that the guest they had on to represent the other side was placed down in the audience as opposed to being up on the stage with Piers and Suze.

    Not much of an oversimplification on your part, Tom. This was a feelings-fest. Suze did briefly touch on the supposed economic reasons for redefining marriage, but when Ryan succinctly explained how those concerns could be addressed through tax policy, etc., Suze had no choice but to then appeal to the friendly studio audience. Her ultimate reasons came out at the end of the segment – It’s about two people saying I love you – and wanting folks at a dinner party to ask her about her wedding.

  2. I’m not convinced. Marriage is a religious and a social institution. This debate concerns the social institution of marriage, so how American citizens feel about that institution ought to play a role in shaping the conversation on marriage. Many christians are often the first to refer to their conscience as a source of why they feel a particular action is right or wrong without being able to point to a moral argument in their favour. Both sides often walk past each other without consideration of the arguments. In the face of legal equality between persons, marriage as a social institution cannot distinguish between a heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage without providing a moral basis to do so. Insistence that marriage is simply the union of a man and woman and drawing your conclusions from that definition avoids the fundamental questions facing the Supreme Court: what is the moral basis for this distinction and is that sufficient in the face of legal equality?

  3. Let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s imagine in the not-too-distant future a movement starts among Catholics, evangelical protestants, Mormons etc. to de-legitimize civil marriage. How do we do that? By not recognizing it, not requiring newly weds get a state issued marriage licenses and churches issuing their own marriage certificates, like they do baptismal certificates.

    There would be an accommodation for those who are already married civilly, or converts who had been married civilly, with retroactively dated certificates recognizing those marriages on a case-by-case basis. In other words, they would not have to be remarried.

    Divorce and child custody issues etc. could be handled by denominations or religious associations through arbitration boards.

    Imagine that this movement becomes so widespread that a majority of Americans accept it. What does that do to “civil” marriage? How does that make SSM advocates feel?

  4. Tom, something I’ve never understood about your views, your oft-used phrase “changing the definition of marriage”.

    What bothers me about that phrase is the implied existence of a common, historical definition of marriage.

    A few thousand years ago in the Bible, there is polygamy, concubinage, and other “marriage” arrangements that certainly don’t match our culture’s definition.

    A few hundred years ago, marriage is about property laws, and for any woman, or for a slave, being married is simply a financial arrangement made and enforced by someone else.

    Fifty years ago, marriage doesn’t include interracial couples.

    As we speak, states have their own definitions of marriage, there is no common legal definition of marriage in the US.

    What I don’t understand is how you get from this historical reality to a claim for a common definition of marriage in this country, let alone for the rest of the world.

    The current issues between states (for example, the degree of two cousins’ relationship, or when a minor can choose to marry), are relatively minor, but I don’t see how a definition of marriage lacking interracial couples is remotely the same as our current definition of marriage.

    In other words, how do we decide what changes are OK and “don’t change the definition of marriage”, and what changes are not OK, because they do?


  5. Keith,

    No one said that interracial marriage wasn’t marriage. They said (wrongly, of course) that it was a wrong application of marriage. Anti-miscegenation laws said marriage between races was illegal, not impossible or undefined.

    Polygamy was a matter of multiple marriages, each of which was a man-woman marriage. Concubinage was not regarded as marriage.

    The financial/property side of marriage was a side of marriage, a matter of what did or did not come with marriage. It was not about what marriage was.

    There is no common legal definition of marriage in America, and yes, that’s a problem. But it’s not because no one knew what marriage was, it’s because everyone knew what marriage was. It didn’t have to be defined in law.

    So I don’t see any examples here that indicate a problem.

  6. Talk about being in the lion’s den – what a courageous gentleman. I think that the battle over the redefinition of marriage may have been lost with the almost universal acceptance of the term: “same-sex marriage”. I refuse to use this term, because it is self-refuting; marriage is, by definition, between a man and a woman. Call it something else, but it’s not and can never properly be called marriage.
    And I agree with Ryan, that the ultimate suffering is always innocent children deprived of a mother and a father. It’s always about the selfishness and narcissism of adults and their unfettered sexual impulses that ends in the harm and destruction of children, whether it be abortion or this issue.

  7. Talk about “fair”? For sure, however you want to argue the content, the process of this “debate” was certainly not fair. Positioning, audio level, audience selection, two against one….. Quite an unfair set-up! Why couldn’t/wouldn’t those in power create a more level “playing field”? Is this the way Americans “discuss”?

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