Monday, September 24, 2012

Yet Another Weak Argument Against Gay Marriage

Doug Mainwaring, "co-founder of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots", has decided that he doesn't support gay marriage. For some reason, the Washington Post decided that this was a sufficiently newsworthy development that Mainwaring should be given space to publish an editorial explaining his views. And thus we find one of the weakest arguments against gay marriage that I have seen presented in a major publication.

Mainwaring opens by describing an anti-gay marriage petition in Maryland, and describes how some proponents of gay marriage were surprised to see people they knew signing a petition in opposition. He then recites,
While only 56,650 certified signatures were necessary to get the measure on the ballot, more than 160,000 signatures were collected and delivered to the Maryland Secretary of State.
There are what? Close to 6 million people in Maryland? Why is Mainwaring's reaction tot the "160,000" figure, "Why are there so many," instead of "Why are there so few?" Mainwaring proceeds to give a breakdown by party alignment of the people who signed and, although noting that a majority were Republican, proclaiming, "It’s not just Republicans who object to this legislation. This is a common, mainstream concern."

Later, Mainwaring makes the implicit admission that his argument is weak: "A signature on a petition actually says very little". If it says so little, why is Mainwaring opening with an argument he implicitly concedes to be a house of cards?

What is Mainwaring actually trying to argue? That if support for or opposition to an issue breaks down along partisan lines we can dismiss it as "uncommon" or "outside of the mainstream"? If so, he's probably the only Tea Party leader in the nation who holds that position. Would we have found him arguing at his Tea Party meetings over the past few years, "Opposition to the President's agenda is breaking down along partisan lines, so we can only conclude that the opponents are unprincipled partisans whose positions should not be considered"?

Mainwaring complains that advocates of gay marriage should have pushed for something less than full marriage equality. Why? Because in 2010 it appeared that the push might backfire, and prevent the passage of any form of bill establishing marriage rights for gay couples. He insists that the argument remains correct, even though history proved it wrong with the passage of a marriage equality law.

Mainwaring argues,
I am certain that the vast majority are others who, like me, simply view “marriage” as an immutable term that can only apply to heterosexuals.
If it needs to be said, that is not a logical argument. Mainwaring could as easily argue on behalf of people who believe that the word "gay" should only apply to feelings of "happiness". More than that, his argument is self-refuting. If the petition he is supporting were merely to keep things exactly as they are, with full marriage rights given to gay couples but substituting a different term for "marriage", he might plausibly be able to argue that people were concerned only about the word "marriage". But he's supporting an initiative that is intended to strip gay couples of any right to marry - he would have to be obtuse to believe that most people supporting the initiative care only about semantics.

Mainwaring continues,
It’s undeniable that, from age to age, marriage has been humanity’s greatest success and source of prosperity, crossing all cultures and religions. We shouldn’t mess with it.
Dare I say, even without straying from the sphere of heterosexuality, over the course of human history we have "messed with" the concept of marriage in a considerable number of ways? "From King Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines, to the eleven or so wives of Muhammad, to the 27 wives of Joseph Smith, the same basic concept of marriage has crossed all cultures and religions...." Or, "When Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin, he was supporting a tradition of marriage that dates back to Isaac and Jacob."

Similarly, would Mainwaring have applied the same argument to anti-miscegenation laws? If not, why not, and if so, how is it that making dramatic changes to the number of wives you can legally have, the age at which you can marry, or the race of your prospective spouse don't constitute "messing with" marriage in any meaningful sense? For that matter, would Mainwaring see a law permitting polygamy, permitting marriage to children and first cousins, allowing fathers to compel their daughters to marry designated husbands, or re-implementing anti-miscegenation laws as no big deal, because they're consistent with most of human and religious history?

More to the point, declaring that marriage is "marriage has been humanity’s greatest success" does not make it so. Insisting that it is "humanity’s greatest... source of prosperity" does not make it so. (By way of example, I personally would have a lot more money in the bank had I remained single).

Just as the concept of marriage has evolved over time while remaining viable, even within religions, there's no reason to believe that its further evolution through legal gay marriage will have any material impact on other married couples. Having examined every bit of evidence I can find, I feel quite comfortable asserting that gay marriages have absolutely no impact on my marriage - none at all. They are irrelevant to my marriage. What magical power does Mainwaring believe gay marriages hold that will weaken my marriage and others like it, and why haven't we seen the impact of that dark magic in any state or nation that permits gay marriage?

Then, of course, the kicker:
Full disclosure: I am gay.
Was that supposed to be an appeal to authority - "I am gay, and so my argument must be presumed to be carefully considered and selfless"? My reaction to the disclosure is less charitable: Had Mainwaring believed his argument to hold water, he would have allowed it to stand on its own. His declaration of his homosexuality is irrelevant - it does not make his argument any stronger or weaker - so if he believes he has made his case why present it as if it's some sort of trump card?
Same-sex relationships are different from heterosexual relationships, and gay men and lesbians need to accept that and design their own tradition.
I found a video of Mainwaring explaining the logic behind that assertion:

Okay, that wasn't actually Mainwaring, but his implied "square pegs and round holes' argument is right at the kindergarten level. When (if ever) can we expect more from Mainwaring than platitudes?
A few years ago, I was on the other side of the fence on this topic. But the more I read, thought, investigated and attempted to defend my position, the more I realized that I couldn’t.
I can't say that I'm surprised that Mainwaring had difficulty defending his former position, given his demonstrated inability to articulate a logical defense of his present position. I would like to read Mainwaring's old arguments, if they're available anywhere, because I suspect that I would find considerable amusement in an argument he made in earnest that's weaker than the one he presents in his current opinion piece.

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