Rebutting the Rebutters

I’ve been quiet the last month or two, feeling burned out and needing a break. Lately, though, I’ve been looking for a good entry point to get started again, a way of warming up and stretching those unused muscles. Fortunately, NOM recently pointed its readers to an article called, Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriage: Examining the most common arguments for redefining marital unions …and understanding why they are flawed

Perfect! In this piece, author Brandon Vogt tries to disprove 10 common arguments for same-sex marriage, and in doing so manages to highlight the most common mistakes of his own camp. Rebutting him is a kind of back-to-the-basics exercise, certainly useful for me, and hopefully for some of you, too. I’ll hit each of his 10 points in a separate post, starting with this first entry in his list of “our” arguments:

1. Marriage has evolved throughout history, so it can change again.

Different cultures have treated marriage differently. Some promoted arranged marriages. Others tied marriage to dowries. Still others saw marriage as a political relationship through which they could forge family alliances. But all these variations still embraced the fundamental, unchanging essence of marriage. They still saw it, in general, as a public, lifelong partnership between one man and one woman for the sake of generating and raising children.

Hmm. “…the fundamental unchanging essence of marriage.” According to whom? Under the guise of proving that one-man-one-woman is an essential part of marriage, Vogt ends up merely assuming it to be so. In a reasoned debate, you can’ t just assume your conclusion is true as a means of proving your conclusion is true. It’s true because it’s true, and we know that it’s true because it’s true. That a nice little circular fail.

Here’s another failure: “They still saw it, in general, as a…” Emphasis added. In general is shorthand for, “People didn’t always see it this way in every instance, but I’m going to evade saying so because I don’t want to explain why my iron-clad rule isn’t actually iron-clad.”

Moving on:

This understanding predates any government or religion. It’s a pre-political, pre-religious institution evident even in cultures that had no law or faith to promote it.

This is one of our opponents’ silliest contradictions. On the one hand, they say marriage a pre-political, pre-religious institution that exists fully and completely in the absence of laws. Yet our opponents deride opposite-sex couples who don’t marry under those laws as shacking up, or living in sin. They draw a firm line between civil marriage and mere cohabitation, and they give us data showing that civil marriage is better. Obviously, then, when they speak of marriage as pre-political and pre-religious, independent of laws, they don’t really believe it. Or perhaps they’re blind to the contradiction, happily holding conflicting views without ever realizing it, changing back and forth depending on whether gays are the topic of conversation. (You know, if only we had a word for an aversion to homosexuality so powerful that it interfered with one’s ability to reason.)

The other problem is that Vogt’s camp likes to say the government cannot define marriage; it can only recognize it. In that case, though,  it makes perfect sense to say gays and lesbians started marrying long before the laws or churches permitted it, that we’ve been marrying as long as we’ve been pairing up in committed relationships. By this reasoning, we have gay marriage in every state and country right now, so our opponents should really be agitating for the government to catch up and recognize it!

Vogt finishes up with an irrelevancy.

Yet, even supposing the essence of marriage could change, would that mean it should? We know from other areas of life such as medical research and nuclear physics that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you ought. After all, such action may not be ethical or serve the common good. Even if this argument had historical basis, it would not necessarily be a good reason to change the meaning of marriage.

That’s right, actually. But then, this argument isn’t mean to explain why we should allow same-sex marriage, and if he’s pretending otherwise he’s setting up a straw man. When we talk about the evolution of marriage, we’re simply pointing out how ridiculous our opponent are when they claim marriage cannot change because it never has. Which truly is ridiculous, not just on historical grounds but on logical grounds as well.

Tomorrow: Vogt takes on “Same-sex marriage is primarily about equality.”

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8 comments to Rebutting the Rebutters

  • 1
    Matthew says:

    I’m not an anthropologist but is there such a thing as pre-political, pre- religious?  Hasn’t politics, religion, laws been with us since the beginning of time or since we evolved as hominids and formed belief systems, governance systems in early tribes, codes of conduct that members were to adhere to?  Perhaps some of the earliest tribes did not even have a concept of marriage, perhaps only sexuality or procreation.  I don’t think anthropologically you can define the “essence” of anything because its subjective.  Anthropoligists sometimes speak  of widely held taboos like the incest taboo so common in history.  And I think its irrelevant anyway since we can redefine marriage in our time as other countries have regardless of how common it was in antiquity.  Where do we get the idea that  we cannot do something just  because its never been done in human history. 

  • 2
    clayton says:

    Gosh, this Vogt’s post is full of things that Rob didn’t even point out.  Like this one, for example: “They still saw it, in general, as a public, lifelong partnership between one man and one woman for the sake of generating and raising children.”
    Tell that to all polygamous cultures, from the ancient world on down to the present.

  • 3
    Spunky says:

    @ Matthew: I’d be willing to believe that marriage (or at least the idea of a long-term, committed relationship between at least two people who act in each other’s stead and become related) predates civilization. Of course, this is just a gut feeling–I wouldn’t want to beg the question like Vogt does!
    @ Rob: Great re-rebuttal. I saw Vogt’s article a few days ago and was wondering if you were going to take it apart. I’d add is that “marriage has evolved throughout history, so it can change again” is not actually an argument for gay marriage, but rather a rebuttal to the statement “we should not change the definition of marriage.” That is, no one (at least, no one I know) wants to enact gay marriage simply for the sake of changing marriage. Rather, people want gay partners to have equal rights as married couples.
    Also, the whole “(almost) no one else has ever considered gay marriage to be legitimate, so we shouldn’t either” argument is irrelevant. He doesn’t deny that marriage has evolved, and he doesn’t do anything to establish the idea that we should somehow stop this evolution at gay marriage. Indeed, if we were to create marriage laws simply based on the vast majority of previous cultures, I wonder how many rights the wives would have.

  • 4
    Francis says:

    I’m not convinced that the legal recognition of same-sex relationships constitutes a “redefinition of marriage”. While custom in recent centuries of Western culture has leaned toward the “one man-one woman” model, it only holds up if we insist on prerequisites, such as complimentary genitalia, rather than the ongoing commitment needed to make a marriage happen and last. As long as we think of marriage as a ceremony, or a status imposed by church or state, we can and do impose restrictions at will. When marriage is regarded as what the participants do for each other throughout their lives, the “same-sex” aspect becomes meaningless. To illustrate this, try this “definition of marriage:” The participants, witnessed by a public official, promise themselves to each other, and keep that promise by joining their lives and caring for each other over time, in the presence of their local community. Sexual complimentarity is not part of the equation; neither are the couple’s sexual or reproductive intentions relevant. Honoring mutual commitment is everything, whether between a man and a woman, two men or two women; whether the witness is a judge or a priest. In the past, some religions preferred to have the “sacramental” and reproductive union of a man and a woman be referred to as “matrimony.” The loss of that word from the dialogue has promoted misunderstanding, particularly among the religiously observant.  

  • 5
    Regan DuCasse says:

       Heterosexuals can marry someone of their same sexual orientation. It’s imperative that they do in fact, otherwise all else that makes anyone’s reason for or to marry rather pointless.
         So it’s not only fair that a gay person marry someone of their same sexual orientation, it’s utterly appropriate. Gender is only important to the individuals who are married, making discrimination based on gender impractical. Especially for those of ambiguous gender. Like those who are transgender or intersexed.
    Equality, SHOULD after all, be genderless.
         And no one has argued that marriage should be. Although our detractors have famously lied that we have.
    The gov’t is hard pressed to enforce the ROLE of gender in an individual anyway. Men or women are hardly UNIFORM in their gender character, right?
    So why DOES NOM, or the FRC keep insisting that such marital arrangements MUST be between ONLY one man and woman, as if there is no room for coexistent couples that are ss, the same way there are coexistent parent and non parent couples that are married?


  • 6
    Deeelaaach says:

    I was watching a nature program the other day; I joined the program late so I was unsure of the location, but it was about protection of rhinoceros.  I had the impression it took place in India.  The narrator was talking about the ranger as he left on a trip to find an animal, and mentioned his second wife in an offhand, matter of fact way; it was pertinent to the ranger’s story. 

    I laughed ruefully and went to tell my boyfriend that the man didn’t know that he couldn’t be married to two women, because, well, you know – marriage is between one man and one woman and always has been this way!  I’m sure that those arguing that this is and always has been the case are ignorant – some perhaps willfully so – that many other cultures even today don’t dictate a one man/one woman marriage and have not done so in antiquity. 

    I’m also shocked at their apparent willful ignorance to the history – their own history – in the Bible.  And having been raised Mormon, I have been shocked (and filled with some amount of mirth) to hear a Mormon or too claim the same.  Ignorance of ones history is one thing, but willful ignorance of anything is another. 

  • 7
    Deeelaaach says:

    For some reason I’m unable to edit – I meant to specify it was the ranger’s second wife that was mentioned. 

  • 8
    Dana Pille says:

    Below is a letter I wrote to Mark Regnerus, and his reply to me, about his study published last year that claims Gay’s are 25 times more likely to be pedophilesFrom: d p []Sent: Sunday, January 27, 2013 1:43 PMTo: Regnerus, MarkSubject: Questions about your studyMr Regenerus,
    I’m writing to you today to ask you a few questions about your study on Gay Parenting. I’m writing an article for a writing class I am taking, it will probablly never be published anywhere, but who know’s? 

    Question 1) In your summary of the 15,000 who took your survey, there were 455 Adult/Children who claimed they were raised by same sex parents, 92 of these claimed to have been molested. Who molested the 92 children? Was it the parent who was considered Gay/Lesbian? The parent who wasn’t Gay/Lesbian? The neighborhood Preist? The High School football coach? A neighbor? An Uncle or aunt? You didn’t put your full results in your study.

    Question 2) Do you suppose that some of the negative consequences that come to children raised by same sex partners, could come from outside sources? Just recently a boy being “bullied” came to school to shoot the children who bullied him. Could it be possible, that some children suffer mental problems and other issues due to the ill effects of being mistreated because they, or their family are somewhat different then what some people believe to be “normal”?

    Thank You for taking your time to read this.


    From: “Regnerus, Mark” <>
    To: d p <> 
    Sent: Monday, January 28, 2013 11:49 AM
    Subject: RE: Questions about your study

    We did not collect information on the sources of the sexual victimization. And yes, negative consequences may come from other sources, like the one you mention. The article did not seek to definitively state the sources of the differences, but rather to note them.

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