Fallacy After Fallacy: The Flawed Paranoia of Marriage-Equality Opponents

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This weekend, a column appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune attacking same-sex marriage, apparently without counterpoint (Hat tip: Towleroad). In the column, Katherine Kersten writes fallacy after fallacy in an attempt to rally fear and disgust. Since the newspaper published this disgusting collection of lies without any other points of view, I thought I would take the time to unravel the complete inaccuracy of this column, word by word. Enjoy.

“How would same-sex marriage hurt your marriage?” Advocates of changing our marriage laws tell us this is an unanswerable question.

A typical couple — Mary and John, married for 15 years — may find it tough to answer. That’s because it’s the wrong question. Mary and John won’t stop loving each other or be bounced out of their house if same-sex marriage prevails. To get at what’s really at stake, we need a different question: “How will same-sex marriage harm the institution of marriage — and in the long run, all of us?”

This is what we call a straw man. It’s a logical fallacy. See how she just ignores a valid question so that she can focus on the one she thinks she knows how to answer? At this point, she has already conceded her argument by admitting she can’t answer the question at stake. Everything she says from this point on is irrelevant, but we’ll proceed anyway.

Marriage is a universal human institution. Across the world and throughout history, it’s been exclusively male-female. That’s not because of antigay bigotry, but because marriage is anchored in a primal biological and social fact: Sex between men and women creates new human beings.

Hooray! A paragraph later, and she’s already offering a new fallacy: appeal to tradition. She presumes to know why marriage exists, but at the same time demonstrates her own lack of knowledge. There are clear records of same-sex marriage throughout ancient history, including in China during the Ming Dynasty and in the early Roman Empire. Of course, in modern times, Denmark has been recognizing same-sex partnerships for 20 years, so apparently that doesn’t count either.

The primary purpose of marriage is to ensure the best environment for rearing the children born of male-female sexual acts. Marriage channels men’s and women’s sexual attraction into productive ends, and harnesses the male sex drive by binding men to the mothers of their children. The evidence is overwhelming: Boys and girls flourish best with a married mother and father, who perform different and complementary roles in preparing them to deal with the world and the opposite sex.

Well, who crowned Katherine Kersten god of the universe? It’s clear now that she’s appealing very much to patriarchal stereotypes. Men need to be “harnessed,” women need to be mothers, and they have “different and complementary roles.” If that were true, shouldn’t you be at home cleaning and baking pies instead of trying to participate in public discourse, Katherine? I kid of course, but wake up and smell the women’s liberation already.

I have to point out here that Katherine is flagrantly wrong or flagrantly lying. There is no evidence that a “married mother and father” is the only or superior environment in which a child should be raised. In fact, five years ago, the American Psychological Association concluded that “overall, results of research suggest that the development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.” So, by trying to proclaim otherwise, Katherine is spreading untruths in an attempt to manifest fear and disapproval of same-sex families.

Same-sex marriage would not — as advocates claim — merely extend the benefits of marriage to more people. It would gut marriage of its fundamental meaning and transform it from an institution centered on children and the mother/father nuclear family to one centered on adults. Marriage would become an artificial institution, bestowing state approval on any adult relationship based on affection and interdependence.

This is blatantly offensive, because it demonstrates that Katherine has never talked to a single same-sex couple. She has absolutely no comprehension of why our community advocates for marriage equality. She also seems pretty ignorant as to why many of her fellow heterosexuals marry. There are plenty of married couples who have no intent of ever having children, whereas many same-sex couples need marriage specifically for the protection of the children they are already raising.

Such a redefinition would compel us to repudiate time-honored ideas of social organization. Last year, in mandating gay marriage, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected the belief that children need a mother and father as a mere “stereotype.” Courts are also beginning to upend our ideas about parenthood — jettisoning biological ties, recognizing “psychological” parents and including three-parent arrangements, with unpredictable results.

Wow, Katherine, fear-bait much? We already know that “the belief that children need a mother and father” is a stereotype. Her next paragraph gives us more stereotypes!

Same-sex marriage may not change the lives of John and Mary. But their children and grandchildren will bear the brunt of this cultural revolution. Today, only 59 percent of children live with their married biological or adoptive mother and father — a result of divorce, cohabitation and rising out-of-wedlock births. If same-sex marriage prevails, the marriage culture is likely to erode further.

I give Katherine a little credit for recognizing adoption. As an adoptee myself, I get very frustrated every time marriage equality opponents go on and on about the importance of children being with their biological parents. I find it strange that Katherine would then be so opposed to a child adopted by a loving committed couple, though this surely is attributed to her subscription to the archaic gender roles she expects mothers and fathers must conform to in every American nuclear family. We know better.

In European countries and American states where same-sex marriage is legal, the proportion of gays choosing to marry is well below that of the heterosexual population. In America, about two-thirds of gay couples who seek legal recognition are lesbians. The larger society does not expect or pressure gay people to marry — for them, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

Why don’t you attack all the heterosexuals who don’t marry?? Let’s not forget that many in the LGBT community have adjusted to the fact they might never have the right to marry. Many have already had commitment ceremonies, and even church marriages without legal recognition. Mostly we have always been discouraged from marrying. And now you’re blaming us for not all immediately flying across the country to get a legal certificate that for most of us won’t even mean anything when we get home? Excuse me, but our personal lives do not cater to the expectations of some uppity woman in Minnesota.

Over time, this attitude could reshape the larger institution of marriage. As social norms that have encouraged men and women to take on the hard work of raising a family unravel, heterosexual couples are less likely to see marriage as important or relevant. Increasingly, marriage is likely to become just one of many options in a lifestyle smorgasbord.

I might actually agree with Katherine on this one, but I don’t see it as a bad thing. I expect that only those couples committed to the challenge of raising a family and who seek the benefits of having their relationship legally recognized would bother to marry. But wouldn’t that strengthen the institution of marriage? It seems to me she thinks everybody who can get married the way she likes it should do so and nobody else. What a narrow vision of how people live their lives!

If marriage is primarily about children, some ask, what about infertile and older couples? If infertile male-female couples do adopt or have a child, that child will have a mother and father. The human body’s design makes clear that men and women — whatever their age — are naturally directed toward each other and complement one another.

Now she’s a biologist using her interpretation of evolution as reason to dictate social policy. (Eugenics, anyone? Kidding. Hopefully.) She gets to decide what exceptions to make. Even if infertile couples don’t have children, they still “complement,” so that’s okay! How convenient for her that she gets to just make stuff up that supports her argument. (She has to.)

Here we go with the slippery slope. Just a reminder before she unleashes it that the SLIPPERY SLOPE IS A FALLACY. It’s not a good argument. It’s not even a plausible argument. The fact it’s in the title of her column negates the whole thing. But here it comes anyway:

If same sex-marriage prevails, we are likely to see further attempts to “expand” marriage.

Once marriage is stripped of its organic purpose, why restrict it to two people? Two lesbians and the sperm donor for their child, polygamists, bisexuals: All will want society to recognize and respect their relationships.

Well, I have to step up for my bisexual friends, who are just as likely to be monogamous as anybody else. Bisexuality and polygamy are mutually exclusive, regardless of what Katherine Kersten thinks. And while there are certainly polygamists among the queer community, nobody is vying for such legal recognition of polygamy. She’s just making that up.

And why should marriage be open only to people with a sexual relationship? That discriminates against two female friends who want to share the burdens of rearing their kids, or a disabled brother and sister who live together. Some of the most influential proponents of same-sex marriage seek to “get the state out of the marriage business” altogether.

Now I have no idea what she’s talking about. First, she seems to have no comprehension that a man and a woman might want to raise a family without a sexual relationship. (I guess that’s okay because they still might fulfill gender stereotypes and complement each other?) And if two single women are each raising children separately, shouldn’t we want them to support each other if they’re willing? Wouldn’t that be better for everyone? And there are already protections in place (though perhaps not enough) for people with disabilities and family members cohabitating, so I don’t know what she’s even talking about there. Her last sentence is completely off the charts, since the very reason we continue to push for marriage equality is for equal recognition under the law. Katherine’s tirade is getting more fanciful and less relevant as she continues to write.

It’s ironic that in other realms of life, Americans are very aware of the risks of tampering excessively with nature. Many of those urging us to transform humankind’s fundamental social institution are the very people who preach about such risks in the environmental context and warn that the actions of individuals affect the well-being of all. The natural world, they say, can stretch only so far before breaking as we tinker with the realities of its systems.

We understand little about how marriage has undergirded the order and prosperity we take for granted. We tamper with marriage at our peril.

Nature? Let me just remind you that at the beginning of her column, Katherine called marriage a “human institution.” And if you really want to learn something about nature, open a Psych 101 textbook and learn something about the nature of sexual orientation, why don’t you!

And could her last point be any weaker? She makes all these points (that she seems to know) and then suggests that we don’t know? Her conclusion is support marriage equality at your own risk? Well gosh, Katherine, beg the question much?

The fact that people like Katherine are still fervently writing such vacuous crap is a shame, and an indicator of how little progress our movement has made. She is clueless about what it means to be queer and she is clueless about how much harm she does to our community by nurturing such fear.

Shame on the Star-Tribune for printing this nonsense without any counterpoint and shame on Katherine Kersten for being dangerously dumb.

You can email her at kakersten@gmail.com.

Wikipedia has a full list of logical fallacies, and many of them can also be found in my Meme Collection.

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