Analysis: Why Won't Same-Sex Marriage Supporters Answer These Two Questions?

Supporters of gay marriage hold rainbow-colored flags as they rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on March 27, 2013. | (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

While supporters of traditional marriage are often presented as driven by emotion and religiosity and supporters of same-sex marriage are often presented as voices of rationality and reason, the reality is quite different. Traditional marriage supporters have presented a view, complete with foundational principles, for state recognition of conjugal marriage while same-sex marriage supporters have failed to answer two questions that are central to the issue.

Traditional marriage (TM) supporters have explained their view of what marriage is, why it matters for society and why government should recognize traditional marriage, for example, here, here, and here.

Same-sex marriage (SSM) supporters, on the other hand, have failed to address why they believe that reasoning is invalid, and to answer these two questions put to them by TM supporters:

1. "Equality" is an insufficient argument in support of SSM, because in order for two things to be equal, one must first define what they are; so, what is marriage and why should it be defined that way?

2. Since the debate is about state recognition of marriage, not what religious groups are able to do in the privacy of their congregations, each side of the debate should answer: what is the public policy purpose of state recognition of marriage?

Here are three recent examples illustrating the failure of SSM supporters to answer these questions:

First, the inability, or unwillingness, of SSM supporters to answer the central questions about their position was illustrated during the Q&A period of a speech delivered by Ryan Anderson at Stanford University (see video below). Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society for the Heritage Foundation, editor of Public Discourse, and co-author with Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis of What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.

Anderson has delivered similar speeches on college campuses across the country. His Stanford exchange with a SSM supporter was posted on YouTube and shared across many internet platforms, not because there was anything unusual about it, but because it was typical of how the marriage debate so often finds SSM supporters stumbling when presented with either of the two questions they fail to answer.

"Why should I, as a gay man, be denied the same right to file a joint tax return with my potential husband that a straight couple has?" an audience member asked.

To better understand the basis for the question, Anderson asked him to explain the principle upon which he would extend marriage to same-sex couples, but not a same-sex "throuple," a set of three people, or a quartet, or if he would extend marriage rights to those as well.

The questioner was unable to answer. Same-sex couples should be allowed to get married, he said, because of "civil rights," but he was unable to espouse a principle by which couples of any gender combination are included but groups of more than two people are excluded.

Second, there was an editorial debate between Jameson W. Doig, emeritus professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton, and George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. The debate was first published at Public Discourse and reprinted by The Christian Post here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

In that debate, George asked Doig, a SSM supporter, how he defines marriage for public policy purposes and why he would limit marriage to only couples. (Not all SSM supporters would limit state recognition of marriage to couples, but many, like Doig, do.)

"What is marriage — considered not just as a word or legal status, but as a form of relationship with a distinctive value and set of shaping norms, which law has reason to facilitate and even promote? After all, to know whether marriage policies violate equality — whether they fail to treat like relationships alike — we must know what makes a type of bond a marriage and distinguishes marriages from other types of companionship or relationship," George wrote.

In response to George's questions, however, Doig simply restated his position that marriage is for couples of any two genders, rather than provide reasoning for his position.

"To me, [marriage] is a continuing relationship between two individuals who commit their lives (including their sexual lives), their futures, and their fortunes to each other. The two individuals may be of opposite sexes or the same sex. If they have children — natural or adopted — that commitment extends to the children as well. ... I am sure there are many other and odd views about marriage that can be found in the land, but they are not mine, nor do I believe I am compelled to embrace them," he wrote.

In response, George noted that restating a viewpoint is no substitute for putting forth an argument, or principled reasons, for that viewpoint.

"Dodging or declining to answer these questions will not make the challenge they represent go away," he wrote.

Unlike many SSM supporters, Doig was at least willing to engage in the debate and acknowledged that TM supporters hold reasonable positions.

In the last article of the series, coauthored with George, they wrote, "Although we disagree with each other about the nature of marriage, we are united in the conviction that it is an issue on which reasonable people of good will can and do reach divergent conclusions."

Third, Frank Daniels, an opinion writer of The Tennessean and SSM supporter, criticized an attorney defending TM in a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case for appealing to "rational basis," which is the notion that a law must be rationally related to a legitimate government interest.

The attorney argued that government has a legitimate interest in promoting the well being of children, and there is empirical evidence showing that children do best when raised by their biological mother and father. Rather than counter that claim with a counterargument, Daniels simply suggested it was a religiously-based irrational argument.

"I don't know how these judges do it. Listening to 'rational' legal arguments that have little factual rational basis would drive me crazy.

"We all know that Tennessee's law is about a rigid view of religious morality. And the law is one that is cloaked in legal illogic to preserve the state's ability to defend its will against constitutional challenge from those who think or live differently," he wrote.

Daniels argues against the rational arguments of TM supporters with emotional appeals, then claimed his opponents are being irrational.

This irony was hinted at in a counter-op-ed by Joseph Williams, a Vanderbilt Law School graduate, and Andrew Walker, director of policy studies with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"No amount of emotionally driven appeals for redefining marriage can overcome the weight of evidence that marriage has a definite shape and purpose in society. Same-sex marriage is a social novelty harvested from the seeds planted in the sexual revolution of the last several decades, a novelty that dismisses opposing arguments while refusing to substantively answer them," they wrote.

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