Gay Marriage and Logicless-ness

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

One of the problems with this commentary by Leslie Wolfgang is that it insults fathers. Another problem with it is that it misinterprets the state’s influence on the lives of people “in specific.”

Let’s first start with the strawman:

But now that I have children and realize the importance of Daddy in the lives of families, I am willing to speak out against attempts, however unintentional, to institutionalize fatherless-ness as just another option for raising healthy children.

The strawman comes with this notion that legitimizing gay marriage unintentionally institutionalizes “fatherless-ness.” We could rewrite the intention of the move: that it would strengthen contractual relationships and relieve many people of the burden of inequity.

Inherently, when the state removes gender as a requirement for marriage, it institutionalizes and approves of the absence of a man for the prospective care and raising of families.

In this context, I have no idea what Wolfgang means by “inherently” and “prospective.” (I assume “inherently” simply should be taken as “this should be readily obvious.) But let’s look at the logic

What concerns me and others is that same-sex marriage will, in the long term, further discourage men from becoming responsible parents through the social institution of marriage. Statistics show that this fatherless-ness hurts children and their mothers by making them more likely to be poor, sexually abused, under-educated and engaged in illegal behavior.

The writer here asserts that fatherless-ness “hurts children.” Statistics say, but I’d love to see them. But to link the “kind” of fatherless-ness to the unintentional result of gay marriage is patently illogical, given that the author has yet to supply enough inductive proofs to make the link debatable. But there’s also the insult part. Good fathers don’t practice good fathering because of any institutional structure or reward. “Why are you a good father?” asks A. B responds: “Because if I’m not the state will punish me.” This is not what Plato argues in Crito. Men may assume the obligation, but that’s the beauty of the obligation: I chose it and try to do the best job I can, gender or no gender. In my mind, a man has more than an obligation to “fatherhood.” If you’re a father, be the best damned one you can be. I believe that a women can be just as good a father as any man. Masculinity is not what fatherhood is about. The next element of support comes from a quote by Maggie Gallagher of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy

As Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, stated during her testimony last week at the Capitol, “When a child is born, there is bound to be a mother somewhere close by. If we want fathers to be involved in raising their children and supporting the mothers of their children, there’s a cultural process by which we teach the next generation of men and women that fathers have an obligation to children and their mothers, and the word for that is `marriage.'”

This is just wonderful. The author plays as if we’re simply meant to buy the authority wholesale. Because Gallagher says it, it must be true. But what Gallagher says is mere “this is just what I think.” Marriage teaches men they have an obligation. Yikes. Whence do people learn obligation? This attitude of institutional indoctrination is nothing I want relations with.

A few more points. The author writes:

Our youngest generations, relying on the rule of law to help them form their minds as to what society expects, will take the senator’s suggestion to its logical conclusion that because they are optional, fathers don’t really matter for marriage and children.

We have forgotten as a society that the state’s interest in marriage is not to validate mutual affection. If that were so, the state would issue friendship certificates or mutual-admiration badges. The purpose of licensing marriage is to encourage the most stable environments for raising well-adjusted future citizens. By licensing marriage without regard to gender, the state will present absentee fatherhood as an equally good alternative for raising children. It wasn’t long ago The New York Times reported that “from a child’s point of view, according to a growing body of social science research, the most supportive household is one with two biological parents in a low conflict marriage.”

The first section up there is more strawman building and, indeed, undercuts the author’s point: is it the rule of law or parents who should raise and teach a child? Again, the idea that law influences peoples’ decisions this deeply is a false conclusion: legal obligation cannot force a mind to change. Any father or mother can be a hapless dolt, regardless of the law. Where is the proof that “this out of this” many marriages under this set of conditions produced less fools. Such evidence isn’t supplied because it isn’t available. To suggest that gay marriage is about “validating mutual affection” is inexcusably illogical. The accompanying article in the Courant Commentary certainly doesn’t argue such a point. The quote from NYT, just to close things off trivially, is laughable as support. From a child’s point of view, chocolate cake could be a vegetable.

A state can certainly create laws that define marriage as this or that. But I think the law should reflect a collective wisdom not collective bias, fear, or belief. Wolfgang asserts not the place of the law but a personal ethic that just happens to coincide with current tradition. But should law maintain tradition always? My opinion is no.


5 responses to “Gay Marriage and Logicless-ness”

  1. Josh says:

    I agree with the commentator (obviouslly), but I roll my eyes at all the rhetoric. Do people realise how many “institutes of X” there are out there? I have to laugh every time any news organisation cites their resident “expert” as reason why their POV is correct. Stats are bunk. The more experts and institutes and stats that are cited in a POV, the less powerful that person’s argument becomes for me.

    I have no appreciation for rhetoric. You can’t debate rhetoric–or at the very least you can blow rhetoric out of the water with well-spoken or well-written points of view every time. Steve and I may be forever on two different sides of the political, cultural, and religious spectrums, but at least when he writes and speaks his POV is crystal because he doesn’t cloud the waters with endless, mindless rhetoric. Want to be convincing? Cite Religion. Cite History. Cite Science. Cite personal experience.

    But at the end of the day, the only expert on a point of view or a belief is you.

  2. Josh says:

    I hope Steve will forgive me for two subsequent comments, but I just have to point out how well Steve illustrates what happens when a written POV commentary uses rhetoric as its foundation.

    Everytime you cite something so ambiguous as an institution or a person or statistics (the worst!), you are inviting a shelling from your opponent. Notice how Steve was able to break up Wolfgang’s arguments into mini talking points? That is horrible execution by Wolfgang. And as always happens when you use rhetoric, your meaning and your convictions are lost. And when that happens, it invites whomever is reading you to bring in their own interpretations as to what you may mean. And that is disaster.

    Like him or hate him, Rush Limbaugh is so effective in media because he rarely cites statistics or brings in outside “experts”. He is the expert in his opinion and his monologues are airtight. Same with Steve and his monolgues here.

    If I had been given Ms Wolfgang’s assignment, I would have started with “Any attempt to voluntarily offer a child a home where they will be raised by a gay or lesbian couple is both un-natural and immoral.” From there I would launch into backing up my POV citing God and nature as my sources–and I might link to ONE outside source as my inspiration. Now my reader may certainly disagree with me, but if I have presented my arguments well enough, my readers will only be able to respond by writing a commentary of their own. And right away they know that they will have to cite something equally as compelling as a religious belief or science if their argument is going to have any kind of validity; otherwise they are a talking head.

    Rush and Steve are two people who are effective at making the people they interact with think and welcome a challenge. What a friggin’ concept! And that is what makes them so darn important.

  3. Steve says:

    Josh,

    When I refer to rhetoric I’m typically pointing to the art of persuasion: persuasive writing, persuasive speech. Wolfgang is unpersuasive, and I identified what I think are her logical missteps.

    But the Limbaugh comparison? You are a slick rhetorician, my friend. We should all strive to be excellent rhetoricians.

    Just to follow further. A straw man is a fallacy where a person misrepresents the position of another in order to divert an audience from the real issue under debate. For example, for person A to claim person B as being soft on crime is typically a straw man because the real debate may be about the appropriateness or effectiveness of a certain approach to fighting crime.

    Rush Limbaugh himself frequently uses the straw man fallacy to make his case against “liberalism.” I, however, will attempt as best as I am able to represent positions fairly, as I did with Wolfgang.

    :)

  4. spazeboy says:

    An elegant dismantling of Wolfgang’s op-ed. Much better than this one.

    It’s a shame that the FIC doesn’t seem to be updating their “Opponents” blogroll. Any more posts like this one, and your site may earn a spot. It’d be in good company too.

  5. Steve says:

    Beau,

    I’d missed the commentary on the issue over at your place. Quite a raucous.