Friday, July 17, 2015

Same Sex Marriage Is Not Parallel to Interracial Marriage

The day after the SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage (SSM), a newspaper in Pennsylvania announced a change to its editorial page policy: 

As a result of Friday's ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage. 
These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.

I'm just glad that some newspapers in the 1800s weren't so deferential to the Court's decision in the Dred Scott case which also established "the law of the land!"

According to this newspaper, because I take the same view
of marriage that has dominated western civilization, that all modern nations took until 2001, and that President Obama took as recently as 2012, I am now suddenly cast in the role of a racist, sexist and anti-semite. This reflects the most common popular argument made in favor of legal acceptance of SSM - namely, that same-sex couples have the same right to marry that interracial couples do, and that just as it was bigoted to oppose interracial marriage, it is also bigoted to oppose SSM.

On the surface, this argument seems to make sense. Just as equality under the law means that two people should be permitted to marry regardless of race, two people should also be permitted to marry regardless of sexual orientation.

But as persuasive as this parallel may seem at first glance, it is simply without any logical merit. And the reason is very simple. The key issue in this debate is how to define "marriage." Proponents of the traditional understanding of marriage like myself believe that male/female sexual complementarity is fundamental to the very definition of marriage, but race is not. And therefore, the introduction of laws against interracial marriage and the acceptance of SSM both represent novel departures from the traditional view of marriage. 

I have argued in detail in a previous blog post that nature itself points to the definition of marriage as the permanent, mutual, and exclusive union of one man and woman ordered toward child rearing and a comprehensive union (what some traditions call a "one flesh" relationship). You really shouldn’t comment on this post if you haven't read that prior article first. But the bullet point synopsis is that-
  • The sexual organs of men and women are naturally ordered toward reproduction.
  • Reproduction for humans also involves raising children, which requires a long term commitment.
  • The same act that is procreative is also unitive, creating a bond that is comprehensive, and therefore mutual, exclusive, and permanent.

From this natural law viewpoint, male/female sexual complementarity naturally points to a relationship that is permanent, mutual, exclusive, and the optimum environment in which to raise children. In short - marriage.

And as I point out in my previous article, the efforts to define marriage outside of this organic understanding are incoherent, since they reduce marriage to nothing more than contract law - and consenting adults of any number can enter into contracts for any reason. Thus, "marriage" in this definition ceases to have any real meaning at all. (Again, I defend all of these points at length in the previous article. Don't be a troll and argue with the abbreviated form here without reading the fuller defense).

So here is the key point. In this traditional understanding of marriage - an understanding shared by pagan philosophers like Aristotle and the Stoics, medieval philosophers like Maimonides and Aquinas, Enlightenment philosophers like Locke and Kant, modern social reformers like Ghandi and MLK - male/female sexual complementarity is fundamental to the definition of marriage. 

But race is not. 

In thousands of years of reflection on the natural order of marriage, while it was self-evident to these great thinkers that marriage was - by definition - the union of a man and woman, marriage was never conceived in racial terms. It just wasn't a factor. At times, other superficial factors did play a role in certain societies in terms of who could marry whom, like religious profession or social standing. But purely racial factors were not in the equation.

The first political institution to pass laws against interracial marriage was the American colonies in the 1660s. And the reason for this radical redefinition of marriage in racial terms was ideological - it was designed to maintain the distinction between blacks and whites in order to preserve the institution of slavery. It is therefore highly ironic that those who oppose SSM are often compared to those who opposed interracial marriage, since SSM and anti-miscegenation laws share a common disregard for the ancient and natural understanding of marriage by introducing new understandings driven by ideology.

In fairness, I should point out that many professed conservatives and Christians attempted to support legal bans on interracial marriage, often by misguided appeals to "nature" or even to Scripture. But these arguments were easily refuted (though such refutations were not always quickly accepted). It is easy to follow the train of logical argument that leads from male/female sexual complementarity to traditional marriage. And it is obvious that interjecting race into the middle of that train of thought is to derail it.

That's why many religious leaders from all points of view, Catholic and Protestant, opposed laws banning interracial marriage. The same natural law considerations that define marriage as between a man and woman also demonstrate that all human beings are created equal regardless of race. When Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous letter from prison in Birmingham, he explained his opposition to segregation by quoting the foremost proponent of natural law theory in history (and my philosophical homeboy) Thomas Aquinas - 

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

Natural law says that a human being is a human being, no matter how tall or short, fat or skinny, or how much melanin is present in their skin. That's why segregation is wrong, and bans on interracial marriage are wrong (and were never part of the philosophical reflection on the meaning of marriage for millennia). 

When proponents of natural law claim that all human beings share equal dignity, but that marriage is based on male/female sexual complementarity, this is not bigotry. It is biology. And it is sloppy reasoning to therefore assume that anyone opposed to SSM is driven by the same kind of bigotry as those opposed to interracial marriage. Bigotry is irrational. The argument from the natural order about traditional marriage is a reasoned, logical argument. It may be invalid - maybe Aristotle, Aquinas, Ghandi, and Shane (see how I snuck myself in there!) are all wrong. But that would have to be demonstrated with rigorous logical argumentation, not question-begging assertions.

Breezy dismissal of opposition to SSM as just the same thing as opposition to interracial marriage is an enormous logical blunder. It would be like someone arguing that since, in our racist past, many Americans believed blacks and whites should have separate public bathrooms, that today only bigots would think that men and women should have separate public bathrooms. But this confuses two separate sorts of issues, gender and race. Just because you draw some distinctions in one area doesn't mean you would draw the same distinctions in the other. If you believe that separate bathrooms for men and women are a good thing but separate bathrooms for blacks and whites are a bad thing, then you agree that it is ok to draw some distinctions on the basis of gender that should not be drawn on the basis of race. And if you see that, then you can understand why traditionalists aren't bigoted to believe that gender makes a difference when it comes to marriage but race does not.

This is why it is not bigotry to say that a mother and son cannot attend a Father/Daughter dance, but it would be racist to say that a black dad and daughter couldn’t attend the same dance. By definition, a Father/Daughter dance is determined by gender, but not by race. To interject race into the equation is to add an element that is unnatural, and therefore constitutes bigotry. By the same token, to argue from a traditionalist point of view that two people of the same sex cannot marry each other is not bigotry, because marriage is by definition the union of a man and woman. But it would be bigotry to deny marriage to people on the basis of race. 

You may disagree with this traditional definition of marriage - I am happy to have that debate (see the various exchanges on the comment boxes on my previous blog post). I believe the venerable definition of marriage as the union of man and woman has the better case. I believe the late-coming ideological usurper of anti-miscegenation was rightly rejected on rational grounds. And for the same reasons, I believe the new revisionist view of SSM is also deeply flawed and incoherent. But there is a rational, logical debate to be had. That’s the point. This is not time to shut down the discussion with charges of bigotry. 

(If you would like to read more about this issue from a traditionalist point of view, check out Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, by Ryan Anderson. Many of my thoughts in this article were inspired by that book).

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