Inequality? What Inequality?

It’s always interesting to watch an argument grow from infancy to adulthood, at first gestating in the odd blog or book before bursting forth onto the global stage. You can generally be assured that an argument has reached its maturity when it is frequently used by people who don’t understand it, the entirety of Creationism being a prime example. The topic of this post will probably never reach such lofty heights, but I have seen it used by people who haven’t really thought it through fully. I’m referring to the ‘No Inequality’ (NI) argument, which featured in the Koukl article I covered yesterday:

First, homosexuals don’t have the same legal liberties heterosexuals have. Second, homosexual couples don’t have the same legal benefits as married couples. The first charge is simply false. Any homosexual can marry in any state of the Union and receive every one of the privileges and benefits of state-sanctioned matrimony. He just cannot marry someone of the same sex. These are rights and restrictions all citizens share equally. I realize that for homosexuals this is a profoundly unsatisfying response, but it is a legitimate one, nonetheless.

Technically, of course, this is true. There is nothing stopping a homosexual person from marrying someone of the opposite sex – in that regard, all are treated equally under the law. However, I have three major objections to the NI argument, which I’ll give in order of severity.

1) It’s an empty appeal to tradition. Arguments seeking to ‘defend’ traditional marriage must provide a reason for not altering it, which the NI argument does not even begin to do. It simply states how things are, without providing any supporting argument that how things are now is how they should always be. I’ll illustrate what I mean with the following hypotheticals

“People of different races should be allowed to marry.”

“Any person of any race can marry in any state of the Union and receive every one of the privileges and benefits of state-sanctioned matrimony. He just cannot marry someone of a different race. These are rights and restrictions all citizens share equally.”

“People of different social class should be allowed to marry.”

“Anyone can marry in any state of the Union and receive every one of the privileges and benefits of state-sanctioned matrimony. He just cannot marry someone of a different social class. These are rights and restrictions all citizens share equally.”

“People of opposite sex should be allowed to marry.”

“Any heterosexual can marry in any state of the Union and receive every one of the privileges and benefits of state-sanctioned matrimony. He just cannot marry someone of the opposite sex. These are rights and restrictions all citizens share equally.”

Imagine for a moment that you live in a society where one of the above applies. The NI argument on its own would be equally ‘valid’ in each and every one of those situations. Why? Because it’s simply an appeal to tradition – ‘This is how things are now, this is how they’ve always been, therefore we shouldn’t change them’. The NI argument is worthless without something else to back it up.

2) That ‘something’ is frequently an appeal to the function or purpose of marriage. An appeal to tradition alone cannot justify treating a social institution as immutable, which more or less forces those who are against same-sex marriage to come up with a better reason for disallowing it. Very frequently, the reason given is that heterosexual couples are uniquely capable of producing children. I replied to this argument yesterday, but it bears repeating.

Does marriage exist for the purpose of facilitating procreation? Surely not, as it is not a requirement of marriage that a couple be interested in or capable of having children, nor is it a requirement of having children that a couple be married. Few would claim that a sterile couple’s marriage is pointless or without merit, despite the fact that the supposed heart of the institution can never be present for them.

What are the requirements of marriage, if not the ability to produce children? Generally, two people must be adults (or have their parent’s permission if they are not), must be of sound mind, must desire to be married (cannot be married against their will), and must be of opposite sexes. Why this last requirement? ‘Children!’ comes the cry from the Religious Right. Then why do childless, sterile couples get married? Could it be that they love each other and wish to reaffirm their relationship in the eyes of society and the law?

3) The NI argument assumes from the outset that homosexual relationships are inferior to heterosexual ones. As an appeal to tradition, the NI argument assumes that the way things have been is the way they always should be. Unfortunately, ‘the way things have been’ is incredibly exclusory towards same-sex couples, denying them the respectability that any heterosexual couple – childless or otherwise –  is by default entitled to. In this way, even the supposedly secular arguments against homosexual marriage rest on assumptions of the validity of, for lack of a better term, ‘Biblical morality’.

Why should we hold same-sex relationships in such disdain? Because the Bible tells us to? Not good enough. Because society has traditionally always done so? Not good enough. Because you simply dislike homosexuals? Not good enough.

In the end, then, the NI argument comes down to a single question: should we treat same-sex relationships as unworthy of affirmation by society and the law? All it does is ask the very question that it supposedly answers in the first place.

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1 Response to “Inequality? What Inequality?”



  1. 1 Circular Reasoning? « Nous Trackback on March 12, 2009 at 8:56 pm

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