Monday, December 27, 2010

Swing and a miss

Kenji Yoshino at Slate is still mixing it up with Princeton's Robert George over the issue of gay marriage. George, you may recall, is the Princeton professor who published an article in a scholarly journal arguing against gay marriage on the grounds that reproduction is necessarily part-and-parcel of any "real" (his word, not mine) marriage.

Yoshino's response is valiant and mostly well argued by scholarly standards, but I can't help but wonder why he chooses to dance around the slam-dunk refutation of George:

... it might surprise many couples who cannot have children (or choose not to do so) that the validity of their marriage rests on its "orientation" toward procreation.

Why the parenthetical? Why not go straight for the jugular? It is precisely the heterosexual couples who choose not to have children that are the inarguable refutation of George's position. No need to quibble over whether homosexual orientation is a choice or not: people who undergo surgical sterilization are indisputably choosing a "lifestyle" that is incompatible with reproduction. Not only that, but there can be no dispute that they are making this choice deliberately and with the express purpose of thwarting reproduction, as opposed to homosexuals, for whom the obstacles to reproduction are arguably in some cases merely a side-effect of the actual objective.

There is no possible way to argue for the invalidity of gay marriage on the grounds that marriage is inextricably bound to reproduction without taking the position that people who have voluntarily sterilized themselves are not entitled to marry. That's it, the whole megillah, period, end of story. The fact that not a single sane person would be willing to take that position reveals George's argument as just another instance of thinly disguised bigotry against gays.

What is harder to understand is why left-leaning scholars like Yoshino relegate this argument to parentheticals instead of putting it front-and-center where it belongs. Instead, Yoshino takes his eye off the ball and allows himself to get drawn into a quagmire of quibbling over sports analogies. I really don't get it.


Dan said...

I don't agree with the position that gay marriage is not "real" marriage but I don't think people making that argument would be as hesitant to expand it to cover the sterilization case as you seem to think. There are still plenty of people who preach that the only reason anyone should have sex is to make children. It would potentially weaken their argument squeezing anti-gay, pro-sterilization people out but I don't know how marginal that is.

My point is that I don't think refuting the argument that way is a guaranteed home run.

Ron said...

Can you cite even one pundit, one scholar, one politician, one person who is not a certified nut-job, publicly advancing the argument that men who have had vasectomies should not be allowed to marry?

Dan said...

The last paragraph says:
"The Southern Baptist Convention is not opposed to the use of birth control within marriage as long as the methods used do not cause the fertilized egg to abort and as long as the methods used do not bar having children all together unless there's a medical reason the couple should not have children,"

Just to be clear, I don't agree with that viewpoint at all. I wish that everyone found it as ridiculous as you and I, but I'm afraid that not everyone does.

Ron said...

Opposing the use of birth control is not the same as opposing marriage for those who nonetheless choose to avail themselves of it.

It's also worth noting that the SBC even allows permanent sterilization for people with a medical reason not to have children. Apparently God's will can be overridden by a note from your doctor.

Dan said...

I realize that you asked if I had an example of someone saying that sterilization should preclude the right to marriage and my example wasn't that.

I think my example still helps back up my point that some of the same people who would refuse those rights for homosexuals would also openly and publicly acuse people who choose not to have children of sinning.

When I imagine the Southern Baptist Convention saying "homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to marry because they can't have children" and you saying, "by your logic people who elect to be sterilized shouldn't be allowed to marry" they respond, without missing a beat, "sure, that's a sin too, they shouldn't be allowed to marry either"

Do you imagine that they're thrown off balance and finding themselves rethinking their beliefs?

I think the argument about sterilization is a good one, but I think that the people who think sterilization is a sin are probably already in the anti-gay camp so that argument won't really shake their foundation. I do think it helps strengthen the pro-gay marriage though.

I am not sure that "the fact that not a single sane person would be willing to take that position" is a fact unless you disqualify someone's sanity for making that argument. (Which I'd be willing to buy, but kind of makes it a moot point.)

Ron said...

> they respond, without missing a beat, "sure, that's a sin too, they shouldn't be allowed to marry either"

But that is exactly my point. They DON'T respond that way. Just because an act is a sin does not by itself preclude the right to marry. If that were the bar no one would be allowed to marry because we are all sinners. But we are going off on a tangent here because the argument being advanced by George is, at least ostensibly, a secular one.

The proposition that heterosexual men with vasectomies should be denied the right to marry is a complete non-starter in contemporary American politics. Anyone who overtly advanced it would be universally (and rightfully) considered a nut job, which is why no one advances it, not even the lunatic fringe. Conservatives may be crazy and hypocritical, but they're not stupid.

> Do you imagine that they're thrown off balance and finding themselves rethinking their beliefs?

No, of course not. This is not about getting anyone to rethink their beliefs. This is about exposing Robert George's arguments against gay marriage as what they are: bigotry and hypocrisy masquerading as scholarship.