06 June 2006

In Defense of Marriage

As a professor of philosophy, Jeffrey Nielsen ought to know a straw-man argument when he sees it. What's more, he ought to know better than to use one. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did not "speak out against" homosexual marriage or homosexuality. If anything the teachings of the church speak of loving acceptance and understanding of people who struggle with this tendency. However, this acceptance and understanding does not extend to granting homosexuals the privilege of marriage. In addition, the express purpose of the Constitutional Amendment currently before the U.S. Senate is not to prohibit homosexual marriage, it is to define and protect marriage between husband and wife. Though subtle and seemingly semantic, these are fundamental differences.

Marriage between a man and wife and their family unit is the basic foundation of successful society. To protect such a relationship does not deny rights to which homosexuals are constitutionally entitled--at least not according to our reading of that text--Equal Protection Clause quibbling aside. Nor is there anything in the Lockean Declaration that suggests that "life, liberty, property (pursuit of happiness) necessarily means that all should have the opportunity to marry.

Despite what some tortured couples may say, marriage is a privilege. In liberal-democracies it is the right of the majority to decide how those privleges are disbursed. That is the beauty of the Constitutional amendment process. Furthermore, wanting to protect traditional marriage does not make one a bigot. Calling those who oppose gay marriage bigots is just another logical fallacy Mr. Nielsen may be familiar with--ad homonym.

We love reading the logical fallacy in Op-Ed pieces like the one authored by Mr. Nielsen. Following his moral rationalization of criticizing the church, he launches into a scientific explanation of homosexuality, as though defining it in those terms requires automatic recognition of their "right" to marriage. We do not doubt that gay marriage may be a product of biology. That it may be so does not make it any more "natural" than schizophrenia, congenital heart disease, or depression.

Mr. Nielsen continues by vaguely mentioning and summarily dismissing every argument in defense of traditional marriage. Tradition is bad because historically we descriminated against African Americans and women. Yet marriage is hardly a superstitious tradition. It is the first and foundational relationship of the whole of Judeo-Christian theology. Lest you forget or insist on repeating the tired '60's era mantra that 'one cannot legislate morality,' Western democracy--especially our system of laws--is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And it doesn't end there. Marriage cuts across culture, religion, and history. Every major religion and successful society was founded on the basic familial unit--mother, father, children. This Amendment no more tells homosexuals they can't be married than nature tells them they can't procreate. The nature and purpose of the family is two-fold: to produce offspring and provide for their care and upbringing. That homosexuals cannot do the former is beyond debate, though the latter is not, despite Mr. Nielsen's protests.

Changes (mutations, really) that alter the very definition of marriage are an attack on the institution itself. Homosexual marriage is not the only assault on marriage, but it is an important battleground. It (marriage) is one of the last few refuges in a society assailed by rampant relativism. Today we are asked to give legal legitimacy to relationships between members of the same sex. Relativism demands that we take the sometimes fallacious threat of a "slippery slope" seriously. Tomorrow, most assuredly, we will be asked to give legitimacy to relationships between minors and adults because it is their "right." They will argue, as they do with homosexual marriage, that some are born with a biological attraction and affection that should not be illegal. They will cite scholarly journals to back up their arguments. This is a development that would be opposed by a vast majority in today's society. We would be willing to bet that homosexual marriage is a development that would have been opposed by a vast majority of society some 30 years ago. The trend is clear.

Mr. Nielsen is clearly ignorant of the relgious underpinnings of our laws and the Constitution. If the law is religiously or otherwise inspired and is passed by a vast majority of the House and Senate and then again by a vast majority of state legislatures, does that make it a "dangerous rejection of our Founding Fathers' wise insight," or simply democracy at work?

Attempts by Mr. Nielsen to distract from the real issue by trying to find hypocrisy in early church teachings about polygamy is also misguided. Polygamy is fundamentally different from homosexual marriage in that it provides for the fulfillment of the basic responsbilities of marriage as outlined above. This is not to be misinterpreted as an endorsement of polygamy, but polygamy does allow for procreation and provides for the care and upbringing of children. Besides, LDS history is hardly the only example of polygamous relations. Polygamy is one of those things that cuts across nearly every culture, religion, and history. Just because the church has it in its historical roots does not preclude its members from opining on the morality or legality of homosexual marriage or keep its leaders from making prophetic pronouncements.

As a history student who has read and studied church history extensively, we absolutely disagree with Mr. Nielsen's statements about the church's supposedly less than candid treatment of its history. Perhaps they are more coddled over there in the philosophy department or (more likely) perhaps Mr. Nielsen was too lazy to do more than the 30 minute Google search he suggests his readers make, either way, the church and BYU have made available more documents relating to the history of the church than any one individual could review in a lifetime. Or maybe he missed renowned Columbia professor Richard Bushman's recent biography of Joseph Smith? Dr. Bushman is no lightweight. We take comfort from the fact that those who know the most about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are still faithful members--people like recently retired University of Utah history professor, Davis Bitton. The underlying theme these scholars stress is that they don't have a testimony of church history, they have a testimony of the Gospel.

Mr. Nielsen's diatribe is the just the latest in the genre of writing from supposed intellectuals who think they know more than Church leadership or their faithful, 'simpleminded' followers. As our father told us today, having a PhD at the end of your name does not make you intelligent.

15 comments:

morgan said...

Here is a recently published paper which gives a solid argument for protecting the traditional nature of marriage. I found the application of basic economic principles interesting.

http://www.princetonprinciples.org/contents.html

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow, most assuredly, we will be asked to give legitimacy to relationships between minors and adults because it is their "right."

Eek, for someone slamming the straw-man argument, you sure set one up there. Also, minors cannot give their consent (legally), so even if the perceived threat were valid, it's a whole different battlefield.

But the rest of the article, well written. It's nice to see good arguments in favor of this Constitutional Amendment. Especially given the complete bullcrap most other LDS centered blogs look at. This one is not filled with shamefully biased research, false doctrine, or excuses for past history. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I don't really care to make a comment on either side of the marriage ammendment debate. I am sure there are many passionate arguements that could be made by both sides. However, I do think that it is painfully clear that conservatives are trying to rally the evangelical christian base with this issue and I personally feel it ranks way down the list of important issues the country is facing. Christian nationalism is a very real political movement and guys like Bush have shown how it can be played like a fiddle.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Other than the slippery slope fallacy it was a well written piece.

Adam said...

"In liberal-democracies it is the right of the majority to decide how those privleges are disbursed."

The fact that the government is giving privleges out make them rights. It cannot pick and choose which citizens get which privleges in a liberal democracy that guarantees equal protection. This is why the government cannot make whites-only bus services, Catholic-only public schools or heterosexual-only marriage.

And exactly which 'Judeo-Christian' principles are our constitution founded on?

Jason King said...

And if the majority of Americans are for lynching blacks and making them slaves, well then, that's what the majority wants, and that, sir, is democracy at work. But what about your sense of Justice?

Also, surely you would base your logical arguments that gay marriage would destroy the institution of marriage on evidence and fact, right?

If you want some actual evidence that says gay marriage benefits traditional marriage, you need look no farther than William N. Eskridge, Jr. who is the John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence at the Yale Law School. He wrote the following book: Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse?
What We've Learned from the Evidence


From the evidence, the author can conclude that in no way has marriage in the Nordic countries suffered from legalization of same-sex unions; if anything, it has benefited.

Where is your evidence and facts that give you such a strong belief in your conclusions?

Raisin- Heavenly Messenger said...

Lybbert, it's good to have you back. I also recently returned from my graduation trip and I will have to tell you all about Turkey, Greece, and Italy when we talk. After visiting some of the birthplaces of western civilization, I came away with an appreciation of how far we have come and for the common history all humankind shares. It seems odd to me that in spite of historical lessons, there are still those out there who think secularism, liberalism, and objective rationalism actually HURT society and a more heavy-handed religious influence of the Christian majority would in some way HELP society. I believe civilizations tend to do better when the focus is on humans and an attempt to make things better in THIS life, and they tend to do worse when their eyes are set on heaven and the promise of a reward AFTER this life. Contrast the humanistic Italian Renaissance with the Age of Faith (Dark Ages). Almost all great civilizations have in some way believed in God(s) and yet the effect of this belief can vary greatly. What is a belief in God going to cause you to do Jake, and whoever else you refer to in your liberal use of the word we? Go to holy war, erode social programs, selectively restrict rights, seek to force your standards on others, neglect the environment, restrict scientific research, and what else? The conservative movement is largely comprised of the bourbon and bible crowds, and the marriage of the two is one of the ironic events in American history. Even though you don't drink Jake, you belong to both sects. How lucky for the wealthy elite to have found in the fundamentalist Christians a massive voting block that cares less about its own economic welfare and more about the so-called morality of their fellow citizens. As our national debt balloons, oil prices continue to rise, and the dollar depreciates, things will get even tighter for the average american. How long will the majority vote against its own interest? Now that's democracy in action.

Also, referring specifically to your post on gay marriage, I find it amusing how you use child molestation as a slippery slope argument and refer to homosexuality as no more normal than schizophrenia, congenital heart disease, or depression. Is black skin normal Jake? What about hair loss? How are you determining what is normal? Even though the LDS church taught that black skin is the mark of a curse from God, does that make it normal or ab-normal? Is polygamy normal? What is the measuring stick? Are temple clothing and Masonic rituals normal? I guess normal depends on who you ask. Do you think a gay person thinks that he/she is normal?

Jake, you should compile your writings on weapons of mass destruction, the Iraq war, "evil" social programs, liberal conspiracies, homosexual morality, etc. and put them all in a book to give to your grandkids in 50 years. Assuming America is smart enough to reject religious fundamentalism by then (a huge assumption, I know) your grandson might have something like this to say, "You know, Grandpa Lybbert was a really nice guy and he gave the best Christmas presents, but his writings sure were nutty and sometimes I can't remember if he wrote that stuff in 2006 or 1800. I guess that's what happens when you get a political "science" degree from a church. Good thing we now have universal health insurance to help take care of all his "abnormal" health problems."

Nothing but love Jake. Hope you had a great time in Costa Rica. Let the banter resume!

morgan said...

Raisin-

I am not sure how skin color or hair loss relates to homosexuality. Maybe I am misunderstanding the comparison but from my understanding the two are not related. A person can choose to act or not act on homosexual tendencies similar to how a person that is predisposed to alcoholism can choose to drink or not to drink. Skin color does not come with such related choices. Is there a different comparison that you are going for?

the narrator said...

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did not "speak out against" homosexual marriage or homosexuality.

Ummm. The Church has repeatedly spoken out against the two. While the rhetoric against homosexuality has been toned down (Packer used to preach that gays were selfish for being gay), the work against gay marriage has been quite strong. When I was in Hawaii, the church donated $40,000 to the fight against gay marriage.

If anything the teachings of the church speak of loving acceptance and understanding of people who struggle with this tendency.

Again, this is a recent trend. The church wasn't so nice a decade ago.

In addition, the express purpose of the Constitutional Amendment currently before the U.S. Senate is not to prohibit homosexual marriage, it is to define and protect marriage between husband and wife.

What's with the semantic games? It's clear to most everyone that this is about gay marriage. I was watching the senate hearings on c-span. The senators discussing the issue sure seemed to know this was about same-sex marriage.

Marriage between a man and wife and their family unit is the basic foundation of successful society.

This seems to be the appeal most offered against SSM, however such an argument is based on faulty sociological studies that haven't (and can't) study the long-term effects of a family headed by a married homosexuals.

Despite what some tortured couples may say, marriage is a privilege.

What do you mean by "tortured couples"? Is this the name-calling that you are falsely accusing Nielsen of?

What do you mean by "privilege"? Besides the rhetorical effect, how is a right distinguished from a privilege in context of SSM?

In liberal-democracies it is the right of the majority to decide how those privleges are disbursed.

Luckily, our constitution was written to protect minorities from the power of the majority - think racial discrimination, women's rights, slavery, relgious intolerance, etc.

Furthermore, wanting to protect traditional marriage does not make one a bigot. Calling those who oppose gay marriage bigots is just another logical fallacy Mr. Nielsen may be familiar with--ad homonym.

Apparently you don't know what an ad-homonym argument is. An AH appeals to a claim about the character of a person to attack their argument. Nielsen does not commit such a fallacy. Nielsen is drawing a conclusion (that they are bigots) from certain premises. The bigotry is found in the repeated claims by those that oppose SSM that they honor freedom, while denying others that freedom; and that they are fighting for the "time-honored" and "traditional" form of marriage, while at the same time fighting against the "time-honored" and "traditional" practice of polygamy. The LDS hierarchy is especially guilty of this bigotry when the church's history of polygamy is considered.

he launches into a scientific explanation of homosexuality,

I agree that Nielsen was a bit hasty in appealing to biological processes. Such an appeal is unnecessary.

Mr. Nielsen continues by vaguely mentioning and summarily dismissing every argument in defense of traditional marriage. Tradition is bad because historically we descriminated against African Americans and women.

You are missing his argument. He is pointing out that you cannot appeal to tradition for tradition's sake.

It is the first and foundational relationship of the whole of Judeo-Christian theology.

The state-religion seperation of our constitution prohibits the appeal to a particular religion for creation of law. Furthermore, LDS theology once placed polygamy as the first foundational relationship of our society. (It's that bigotry thing again).

Western democracy--especially our system of laws--is founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

Our founding fathers were deists. Our country was founded on principles of slavery, inequality among religions, inequality of sex, etc. - all supported by Judeo-Christian principles of the time. Luckily, we've progressed past those.

Every major religion and successful society was founded on the basic familial unit--mother, father, children.

Wrong. Most relgions and societies were founded on ownership units. Man, wives (property), concubines (more property), and children (male - inheritors of property; females - exchangable property).

The nature and purpose of the family is two-fold: to produce offspring and provide for their care and upbringing.

Should infertile homosexuals be banned from marriage? If not, then your apeal fails.

Changes (mutations, really) that alter the very definition of marriage are an attack on the institution itself.

"Attack" is just meaningless rhetoric. I'm sorry but gays getting married do not attack marriages. Economic policies, interolerance, infidelity, and pressured heterosexual marriages attack marriage.

Tomorrow, most assuredly, we will be asked to give legitimacy to relationships between minors and adults because it is their "right."

This is not just a slippery slope. It is a fallacious slippery slope. There is a huge difference between consenting adults and a consenting adult with a child. Either way, Utah law was (and may still be) that a child can be married at 14 with parental consent. Heterosexuals have broken that line long ago.

We would be willing to bet that homosexual marriage is a development that would have been opposed by a vast majority of society some 30 years ago.

Just like prohibiting slavery, racial discrimination, women's suffrage, etc, right?

Mr. Nielsen is clearly ignorant of the relgious underpinnings of our laws and the Constitution.

As I already mentioned, our founding fathers were deists. Despite Arnold Friberg's ahistorical depiction of Washington praying, the nation's founding fathers did not believe that God played an active role after the creation.

Polygamy is fundamentally different from homosexual marriage in that it provides for the fulfillment of the basic responsbilities of marriage as outlined above.

You did nto outline any "basic responsibilities" that cannot be fulfilled by a married homosexual couple.

. This is not to be misinterpreted as an endorsement of polygamy,

What's the fear in endorsing polygamy?

but polygamy does allow for procreation and provides for the care and upbringing of children.

1. Homosexuals have the plumbing to procreate. 2. Homosexuals can adopt. 3. Thousands of children are being successfully raised by gay couples. Your argument fails.

Just because the church has it in its historical roots does not preclude its members from opining on the morality or legality of homosexual marriage or keep its leaders from making prophetic pronouncements.

But it does show them as bigots in the process.

As a history student who has read and studied church history extensively, we absolutely disagree with Mr. Nielsen's statements about the church's supposedly less than candid treatment of its history.

Here is what Richard Bushman had to say about LDS history. "I believe the disconnect can damage young Latter-day Saints who learn later in life they have not been given the whole story on Church history."

It is well known among LDS historians that there is an effort among many of the church leaders (especially Packer) to block and hide certain aspects of LDS history. Read Leonard Arrington's "Adventures of a Church Historian".

You began your post with a claim that Nielsen was guilty of a straw-man argument, but failed to ever say what this argument was. Perhaps his supposed straw-man was your straw-man you have just spent your time dueling with.

Anonymous said...

Say there are only same sex marriages. Where would we be? Nowhere. The whole plan of multiplying comes to a stop. Same sex marriages cannot have children without the opposite sex. So unless we want to stop all we need a male and a female... mom and dad.

Anonymous said...

"having a PhD at the end of your name does not make you intelligent."

I don't think Jeff has a PHD.

"Mr. Nielsen's diatribe is the just the latest in the genre of writing from supposed intellectuals who think they know more than Church leadership"

You are making a huge mistake. 'Church Leadership' is a concept. 'Church Leadership' (the pure concept) does not exist in reality. Only individuals exist, and we place the concept 'church leadership' onto these certain individuals that have particular weaknesses, tastes, perspectives, emotional hang-ups, biases, and experiences.

When these individuals get together in groups they still retain their individual weaknesses. Even entire groups can have weaknesses. I would go so far as to say there has never been any group of individuals ever that have not had a weakness.

So, because of our god-given weaknesses,individuals can make mistakes. Even groups of individuals who are believed by others to be infallible can make mistakes.

If no one questions these individuals, then we may actually be following one of their mistakes, and considering that every individual, and groups of individuals, obviously makes mistakes, following a mistake would not be too difficult to imagine.

I’m no supposed intellectual, but that is why I question ‘church leadership’.
-Robot

the narrator said...

anon:

Say there are only same sex marriages. Where would we be? Nowhere.

Say there are only infertile marriages.
Say there are only elderly marriages.
Say there are only infertile humans.
Say there are only down-syndromed people.
Say there are only males.
Say there are only drunks.
Say there are only three legs on every table.
Say there are only 23 hours in the day.
Say that only non-procreative sex was allowed.
Say there are only bendy drinking straws.
Say there is only wind from the south west.
Say

Fernando said...

Well, I'm not really sure what Narrator was talking about in his/her last comment... I believe that anon's first comment is partly true. Conservatives may appeal to the religious groups, but liberals have their own groups they appeal to. It's about swaying people to your side. Politics isn't much more than manipulating people.

Anyway, I'm in favor of the same-sex marriage ban (even though it was shot down). I don't think it's a healthy thing. After all, societies wouldn't exist without both sexes. It seems only natural that there be a male and female in a marriage unit.

Homosexuals can adopt, yes. That's true. But that still means gays need lesbians to get these babies. I don't have anything against homosexuals; after all, many of them are nice people (including my lesbian neighbors). Anyway, I just think that raising kids with two homosexual parents doesn't provide a child with all the necessary things for his/her life.

I'd comment more, but it's 2 a.m. and I'm tired.

the narrator said...

fernando:

I was making two points with my last comment. The first is that the hypothetical was stupid and pointless. Second, that (even it did have a point - perhaps some odd use of Kant's categorical imperative) then by the same logic many other marriages should be banned.

If all marriages were elderly marriages (post-menopause) then nobody could have kids, thus all elderly marriages should be banned.

The same goes with many of the other absurd hypotheticals I brought up.

the narrator said...

Anyway, I just think that raising kids with two homosexual parents doesn't provide a child with all the necessary things for his/her life.

That's we should remove all children from single parents, impoverished parents, uneducated parents, retarded parents, busy parents, John Bircher parents, etc.

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