Friday, February 27, 2009

Deconstruction Dobson: Answering the Argument Against Gay Marriage, Part I

Gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are fighting for the right to marry the partners of their choice and to enjoy all the benefits of wedded bliss. A lot of other Americans are adamantly opposed to gay marriage becoming legal in the United States. Since I support gay marriage, I'm naturally curious as to what those who are against it are saying. What exactly, I'm inclined to ask, are the arguments against gay marriage? Are the people trying who are trying to stop gay marriage making a rational, well-articulated argument in the public forum, one that is likely to convince a lot of people that they are correct?

For answers to these questions, I have decided to review Dr. James Dobson's Eleven Arguments Against Gay Marriage. This article, written in 2004, is a distillation of Dobson's book Marriage Under Fire which was published that same year. Dobson is the Chairman of the evangelical Christian organization Focus on the Family, and he claims to have an audience exceeding 200 million for daily radio show. As arguments against gay marriage go, I guess this is the big one.

So, does Dobson make good arguments against gay marriage? No. He repeatedly fails to provide evidence to support his conclusions. The points of "evidence" he does introduce as premises to his arguments are factually inaccurate, contain logical fallacies, are often irrelevant and cannot be defended upon inquiry. Finally, he approaches the subject of the lives of gay people with a lot of preconceived notions and bias (big surprise there) that lead him to conclusions that are clearly preordained.

I'm going to use this post to discuss only the first of Dobson's eleven arguments:

1. The legalization of homosexual marriage will quickly destroy the traditional family.

This is the most serious of Dobson's charges against gay marriage, and the one that requires the most analysis to determine if it has any validity.

Dobson begins with a very serious and sweeping charge, "We’ve already seen evidence from the Scandinavian countries that de-facto homosexual marriage destroys the real McCoy." The synopsis of Marriage Under Fire goes into greater detail on this charge, "A recent article in the Weekly Standard described how the advent of legally sanctioned gay unions in Scandinavian countries has already destroyed the institution of marriage, where half of today's children are born out of wedlock." The article Dobson is talking about, The End of Marriage in Scandinavia, was written in February of 2004 by Stanley Kurtz for the very conservative opinion magazine the Weekly Standard. Here is what Kurtz says in the article:

"Gay marriage is both an effect and a reinforcing cause of the separation of marriage and parenthood. In states like Sweden and Denmark, where out-of-wedlock birthrates were already very high, and the public favored gay marriage, gay unions were an effect of earlier changes. Once in place, gay marriage symbolically ratified the separation of marriage and parenthood. And once established, gay marriage became one of several factors contributing to further increases in cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birthrates, as well as to early divorce."

Kurtz supports the idea that gay marriage reinforces the decline of traditional marriage and families by noting, "Once marriage is redefined to accommodate same-sex couples, that change cannot help but lock in and reinforce the very cultural separation between marriage and parenthood that makes gay marriage conceivable to begin with," and "Instead of encouraging a society-wide return to marriage, Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable," and finally that "Gay marriage lessened the church's authority by splitting it into warring factions and providing the secular media with occasions to mock and expose divisions. Gay marriage also elevated the church's openly rebellious minority liberal faction to national visibility, allowing Norwegians to feel that their proclivity for unmarried parenthood, if not fully approved by the church, was at least not strongly condemned."

I have three observations about this.
1. Dobson's statements about Kurtz's research are a pack of lies. Kurtz does not at all suggest that gay unions in Scandinavian countries have destroyed the institution of marriage.
2. Kurtz's conclusion that gay unions are a contributing factor to the continuing rise of out-of-wedlock cohabitation and child-rearing is based on conjecture and presumption, and not on any evidence he actually provides.
3. An interesting counterpoint to Kurtz's conclusions was published in 2007 in none other than the Weekly Standard. In the article Defining Marriage Down . . . is no way to save it, David Blankenhorn argues that, "Neither Kurtz nor anyone else can scientifically prove that allowing gay marriage causes the institution of marriage to get weaker." Noting that while, "Support for marriage is by far the weakest in countries with same-sex marriage," he correctly points out that, "Correlation does not imply causation."

Let's move on to Dobson's second reason as to how gay marriage will destroy families: "the introduction of legalized gay marriages will lead inexorably to polygamy and other alternatives to one man/one woman unions."

Dobson's support of this argument gets pretty weird. He seems to think that the overturning of Texas' archaic sodomy laws in the case of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 has somehow given polygamists a new weapon to support their cause. Given that Lawrence is totally irrelevant to any argument a polygamist might make in court, I don't think Dobson has to worry about it too much. Moving on, here's the heart of Dobson's contention:

"Why will gay marriage set the table for polygamy? Because there is no place to stop once that Rubicon has been crossed. Historically, the definition of marriage has rested on a foundation of tradition, legal precedent, theology and the overwhelming support of the people. After the introduction of marriage between homosexuals, however, it will be supported by nothing more substantial than the opinion of a single judge or by a black-robed panel of justices. After they have reached their dubious decisions, the family will consist of little more than someone’s interpretation of “rights.” Given that unstable legal climate, it is certain that some self-possessed judge, somewhere, will soon rule that three men or three women can marry."

There are two reasons why this argument does not hold water. First, it has always been the case that any judge anywhere may suddenly decide that laws preventing polygamy are unconstitutional. The idea that the legalization of gay marriage will create an "unstable environment" that necessarily makes it more likely that a court will rule in favor of polygamy is an unsupportable presumption. Second, Dobson's argument only makes sense if it is the case that the legal definition of marriage has in the past been absolutely stable and unchanging. In fact, marriage has changed over time. Only forty-two years ago, the state of Virginia was still attempting to prevent couples with slightly different skin colors from marrying. Further back in the past, when a woman married, she lost most or her rights before the law.

Finally, Dobson rounds out this particular indictment of the effects of the campaign for gay marriage with a stunning charge: "Most gays and lesbians do not want to marry each other. That would entangle them in all sorts of legal constraints. Who needs a lifetime commitment to one person? The intention here is to create an entirely different legal structure."

Dobson's suggestion is that the movement to legalize gay marriage is, in its entirety, a cynical and disingenuous endeavour. The suggestion is that the millions of gay couples in America now seeking to marry are actually engaged in a giant conspiracy. And apparently, it's also a secret conspiracy, because Dobson fails to provide a single example of an advocate for gay marriage admitting that his or her real agenda is anything other than obtaining the right to marry the partner of his or her choice.

Doctor Dobson repeatedly reminds us that he and his followers do not wish to be seen as "hate-mongers and bigots." In that case I feel sorry for them, because hate-mongers and bigots is what they are.

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