Collapsible thinking is my term for arguments so ludicrous they collapse under their own weight, without the need to refute them with studies and research and evidence. Our opponents do lots of collapsible thinking. Here’s one of my favorites, phrased nicely by a commenter on a conservative website:
If the traditional definition of marriage is changed by legal precedent or legislation, then marriage in the traditional sense will no longer have any meaning. People will then have the “right” to construe “marriage” to mean anything that suits their whims; for example…
…and he goes on to list marriage with children, with animals, and so. It’s tempting to dismiss him as an idiot loon (he is, after all, the straight man who insisted straight sex is so good that straight people hardly ever want it). Except we hear this stuff all the time — most recently from New Hampshire Republican candidate for Congress Bob Guida:
[I]n making his point on what he believes are the boundaries within the definition of marriage, Giuda reportedly said: “What’s going to happen next? Men and sheep? Women and dogs?
So much wrong with this, as usual. But I’d like to focus on one horrifying implication this argument has for those who offer it, an implication so repellant that their argument collapses under its own weight.
What are they really saying when they warn that we’ll have to let adults marry children (for example) if we change the traditional definition of marriage?
They’re saying that tradition is our only effective reason for banning adult/child marriage.
They can’t escape this conclusion. They’re saying that without tradition, nothing will stand in the way. They’re saying tradition is all they’ve got.
Are they truly such moral nitwits? Can they really think of no other reason to prevent a grown man from marrying and then penetrating an eight-year-old? How about physical and emotional damage to the child? How about protecting children from exploitation? There are plenty of reasons to ban adult/child marriage, reasons that have nothing to do with same-sex marriage, reasons that have nothing to do with tradition.
I imagine our opponents would agree with those reasons. But they conveniently forget them when they claim that altering a tradition means anything goes. And I have to wonder — again — if the case against marriage equality is so strong, why must they resort to arguments that collapse into repellent chaos with a moment’s examination?
Of course, that’s a question that answers itself.