A Strange and New Idea

Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriageHe tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in  separate posts as a kind of back-t0-the-basics review of our opposition.

In this fourth rebuttal of “our” arguments, Vogt plays the victim:

4. Same-sex marriage won’t affect you, so what’s the big deal?

Since marriage is a relationship between two individuals, what effect would it have on the rest of us? At first glance, it sounds like a good question, but a deeper look reveals that since marriage is a public institution, redefining it would affect all of society.

Fair enough. But will it affect society in a good way or a bad way?

First, it would weaken marriage. After same-sex marriage was legislated in Spain in 2005, marriage rates plummeted. The same happened in the Netherlands.

Crap — this again? The Netherlands case has been thoroughly debunked: marriage rates were declining there long before same-sex marriage was legalized. And as for Spain, yes, marriage rates did drop in Spain, from 206,000 in 2005 to to 157,000 in 2011. Guess what else happened in that time? Unemployment skyrocketed, from 9% to 22%. And in the under-25 age group, it went from 19% to 47%. Are you surprised marriage rates dropped?

Vogt is guilt of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: the idea that just because A happened before B, A must have caused B. The world’s more complicated than that. Vogt’s argument requires a blinkered view and a predisposition to blame same-sex marriage for everything.

To his credit, though, he does offer a causal hypothesis:

Redefining marriage obscures its meaning and purpose, thereby discouraging people from taking it seriously.

Unfortunately, he offers this up as if it required no further explanation. He assumes, without evidence, that the “meaning and purpose” of marriage is entirely about biological parenting. But we let elderly people into marriage. Some states have laws that allow first cousins to marry only if they can prove they can’t procreate. If these don’t obscure the “meaning and purpose” of marriage, then why will letting same-sex couples marry cause marriage rates to plummet?

Vogt also fails to explain why a public and passionate fight for marriage rights would lead anyone to think less of the importance of marriage.

Also, when it comes to the impact of same-sex marriage on society, I can’t resist quoting District Court Judge James Ware on whether gay judges have some special stake in Prop 8 that should disqualify them from adjudicating it:

In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right.

Beautiful. But back to Vogt. He tries this:

Second, it would affect education and parenting. After same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada, the Toronto School Board –

Stop. Sorry. If Vogt’s talking about the consequences in the US, then he’s got to stick with the US. Other countries, with other legal systems and other constitutions, aren’t relevant here. He does, however, bring up one US consequence:

[R]edefining marriage would threaten moral and religious liberty. This is already evident in our own country. In Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., for instance, Catholic Charities can no longer provide charitable adoption services based on new definitions of marriage.

And he gets it wrong. Catholic Charities can still offer charitable adoption services. They’re simply not allowed to discriminate against same-sex married couples. Here’s how it works. Catholic Charities would sometimes turn down unmarried couples simply because they’re unmarried. There’s no law against that. Once same-sex couples could marry, though, Catholic Charities could no longer discriminate against them, because the only reason for disqualifying such couples is their sexual orientation, and there are laws about that.*

Catholic Charities had to choose between placing kids with same-sex couples — which it previously had done! — and not placing children at all. They chose to stop placing children at all, over the objections of their non-clerical board members.

At this point, our opponents claim: Making the Church recognized a legal marriage as valid, in violation of its doctrine, is a violation of its religious liberty. However…

This is a strange and new idea.

This is a strange and new idea.

This is a strange and new idea.

Yeah, I said it three times. Because it’s a strange and new idea. Charities, employers, and other legal entities simply do not have the right to decide which civil marriages they will honor. Religious employers just don’t have the right to say: I won’t offer you spousal benefits because you’re divorced and remarried; because you’re an interracial couple; because your wife isn’t sufficiently subservient to you.

Another example: The Catholic Church recognizes as valid a marriage between two Baptists performed by a Justice of the Peace. Not so between two Catholics; the Church requires Catholics to be married by priests. But as a matter of law, Catholic Charities cannot treat the two couples differently, because that would be religious discrimination.

So, as a matter of law, when it comes to this notion that religious organizations and employers should get to decide which legal marriages they will recognize, and that not having this right is a violation of their liberty…this is a strange and new idea.

Believe it or not, with all the mistakes Vogt has made, there’s deeper error underlying his argument. He’s acting as if these consequences are a result of same-sex marriage. They’re not. They’re a result of anti-discrimination law. The laws in Massachusetts and DC say you can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Take those laws away and all these “problems” disappear. Leave those laws in place, though, and many of the same issues will still come up, because the law forbids service providers from saying, “You’re gay [black/ Jewish/ Armenian/ straight/ Christian/ female, etc.] and I won’t serve your kind.”

So, Brandon Vogt, if you have worries about religious freedom, then go before the public and make the case that any religious person, employer, or institution should be allowed to use their beliefs to discriminate — not just against gays — but against anyone at all. And then I’ll believe you’re sincere.

Though I’ll understand if you think that’s a harder sell.

Tomorrow: In what may be a game-changer for the marriage debate, Vogt tries to show same-sex marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy — only to reveal that his beliefs are the ones that could lead us there!

* Some folks on our side say Catholic Charities of Boston could have continued its discriminatory policies if it had stopped taking government funds. This is incorrect. These discriminatory policies violate Massachusetts law regardless of whether the organization is taking taxpayer money.

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3 comments to A Strange and New Idea

  • 1
    tavdy79 says:

    As in the Netherlands, marriage rates in Sweden and Denmark were falling for decades before they legalised registered partnerships, however they stopped falling at about the same time that RPs were legalised. That’s very good evidence that what Vogt is peddling is nothing more than cock & bull.

  • 2
    Chris M says:

    I do think that same-sex marriage will affect society. Marriage promotes stronger, healthier households and families. Married people tend to be more economically stable, and I think more willing to invest in long-term homes, benefiting neighborhoods and communities. Extending marriage rights to include the most people can only strengthen society. Same-sex marriage will have an impact, a very positive impact.

  • 3
    olandp says:

    I think you are wrong in part of your arguement.  Catholic Charities can discriminate against same-sex couples if they are entirely privately funded.  If they take tax money, which they do, they must follow the laws of the state in which they are located.  As I understand,the Mormon Church still offers adoption services in Massachussets because they are entirely funded by private money and do not take tax dollars.  Catholic Charaties were not forced to close anywhere, it was their choice.

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