Bishop Goes After Gay Marriage on CNN

Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 2:55 PM Bookmark and Share
There's a somewhat bigoted opinion piece up on CNN.com, by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. entitled Same-sex marriage will hurt families, society.  In it, he tries to justify this claim but - not surprisingly - he fails miserably.  While I have not doubts that the Bishop is operating under good intentions, I can't help but think he might be doing little more here than rationalizing his disapproval of same-sex couples under the false impression that he's looking out for the public good.  Below is my take on his arguments.


Before I get into details, there are three things I need to make clear.
  1. Gay marriage is a civil rights issue - just look up the definition of "civil rights".  It's about whether or not the state can discriminate against two individuals seeking to get married, based on gender.
  2. The Bishop is talking about legally recognized marriages (not marriages recognized by his Church) so his words need apply to all marriages in the U.S., not just those accepted by Christian religions.
  3. In evaluating his arguments I want you to also imagine some racist community leader (ca. the mid-1900s) speaking out against inter-racial marriage.  Why?  Because a great way to check the validity of an argument is to see how it generalizes and applies to similar cases with different moral overtones. It highlights biases one might otherwise miss.  I suggest this particular example because there are many parallels between bans on inter-racial marriage and bans on same-sex marriage (although there are some differences).  Additionally, it's almost shocking how hard the bishop works to try and separate the issue of gay-rights from the issue of racial equality in the U.S.  Frankly, I think that makes him look prejudiced, groping to justify his own personal feelings towards homosexuals. So there's my bias, for what it's worth.
Now, on to his arguments...

Failure #1: Speaking about the recent court ruling against the anti-gay-marriage legislation Proposition 8, he writes
The majority of Californians, including two-thirds of the state's black voters, have just had their core civil right -- the right to vote -- stripped from them by an openly gay federal judge who has misread history and the Constitution to impose his views on the state's people.
Nobody's right to vote was "stripped" - they voted - that vote was just deemed unconstitutional based on our core principles of equal treatment under the law. We live in a representative republic, not a pure democracy, and our Constitution provides a foundation to ensure individual liberties are not infringed upon, even by a majority vote.  Making the race comparison, if most Americans voted to reinstate slavery our existing legal system would rightfully prevent that from going into effect.

Failure #2: Skipping over his attempt to pretend "opposition to same-sex marriage ... is not bigotry", he tries to then claim that
...it is biology that discriminates between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples... A marriage requires a husband and a wife, because these unions are necessary to make new life and connect children to their mother and father.
Huh?  No, their biology is such that they've decided to pair off and get hitched.  Can they have children? No, not together.  Does that matter? Hell no.  If it did, then having children or being likely to have children in the near future would be a requirement for getting a marriage license.  It isn't. This argument (like most of his arguments) is old, well-refuted, and implies a lot of repugnant things like the idea that married couples who can't or choose not to conceive a child are somehow unfit to be married.

Failure #3:  This one is almost beautiful it's so horribly wrong - a grand wizard of the KKK couldn't have said it better (that is, having swapped "same-sex" with "inter-racial" and "man-woman" with "same-race"):
Advocates of making same-sex marriage a legally recognized right claim that this will have no impact on traditional marriage -- that it can peacefully coexist alongside traditional marriage. On the contrary, it will have profound impacts. It will create a conflict for people of faith (and nonreligious people as well) who fervently believe in traditional man-woman marriage and the law.
That's right - the Bishop is arguing that "it will bother people, so it should be illegal."  Again, his reasoning is just plain wrong here, and it's starting to become clear why he works to try and separate same-sex and inter-racial marriages:  His arguments for opposing the former unfortunately works equally well to oppose the latter.  At any rate, this argument strikes me as simultaneously naive and repugnant. 

Failure #4:  He then goes on to throw bible quotes at the issue... (sigh). Ok, again, plenty of bible versus have been used to justify opposition to inter-racial marriage.  But importantly, why should bible versus matter? If he were talking about marriage in the Church, I'd have no problems here - he's a Bishop.  But for religiously-neutral legal issues!? Should we not also then consult the Koran? The Torah? All of the other religion-based moral traditions practiced in the U.S., as well as the Humanist and other non-religious positions to see what they all have to say about gay marriage?

Here I'll defer to our Constitution - particularly the first amendment in our Bill of Rights - which says we should instead keep a healthy separation between religion and law. Bible passages have no special merit unless they stand on their own away from any claims of Divine authority. That said, the Bishop gives us nothing of substance here.

Failure #5:  He next offers an appeal to emotion, voicing his concern about how civil recognition of same-sex marriages might harm children.  Notice how there's no solid evidence backing up his concern?  That's because nearly all studies (of which I'm admittedly not all that familiar) seem to show that growing up in a same sex household has no negative impact on children. This seems to be the consensus among folks with expertise in the relevant fields, and whose job it is to make such determinations.  So the Bishop is either unaware of or ignoring the reality of this matter.

Failure #6:  These next few points are particularly worthy of some ridicule.  Basically, the Bishop seems to suggest that same-sex marriage is a bad thing, because it'll will prevent those who provide basic services from doing so, if they aren't allowed to discriminate against gay couples.  Think again of applying this argument to inter-racial marriages.  It's nonsense bordering on offensive, in my opinion.

Failures #7 and #8:  He continues with the appeal to emotion mentioned above, by repeatedly questioning how same-sex marriage will impact children. This one actually made me laugh out loud and is worth a second look (emphasis mine):
...repeatedly, scholarly studies focused on adolescence show that early onset of puberty in girls is associated with negative psychological, social, and health problems including depression, alcohol consumption, and higher teenage pregnancy. An eight-year study of girls and their families showed that a father's presence in the home, with appropriate involvement in his children's lives, contributed to daughters' reaching puberty at a later age.
Here he's suggesting that we need households with involved father figures because (1) this will delay the onset of puberty for female children in the household, and therefore (2) this will reduce their chances of developing problems with depression, alcohol consumption and teenage pregnancies.


Now, I think this argument is crap because I suspect this may be a case where "correlation does not imply causation", but even if it were true, the Bishop is making an equally valid argument for married gay men to adopt daughters!  This double-whammy earns the Bishop two Failures.

Despite the fact that he appears to be so demonstrably wrong, I'll reiterate that I have not doubts that the Bishop is operating under the best of intentions - I just think he's totally wrong an almost all of the points he lays out in the article, and these aren't just differences of opinion.  I do however sort of agree with his closing points if we ignore their context and make a minor edit or two (emphasis and deletions are of course mine):
...our entire culture should advocate for family structures that promote the most positive environments for coming generations... leaders from all sectors of our culture, including our churches, must work hard at improving heterosexual [all] marriages.

In the end, if you'd like to support families, support kids and support couples looking to improve their relationships, go for it.  But please, try and do so by working to implement proven solutions to specific problems -- problems we all can agree are actually real, and are having a significant impact on society. Otherwise, anyone looking to rationalize their biases by inventing new problems are strongly encouraged to keep their opinions to themselves, and find something more productive to do with their time.

2 comments:

Posted by: David Steen | 8/10/2010 11:04 AM

You have thoroughly dismantled his argument and the movement as a whole. Nicely done.

Posted by: Paul | 8/10/2010 12:01 PM

Thanks for the comment, Dave. Now if only someone would tell them that ;)

(Loved the Indigo snake post, btw - hope it's a big success!)

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