Utah, Same-Sex Marriage & The Procreation Argument

Gay Couple with child

Gay Couple with child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a general rule, I would contend that if something is morally wrong, then it should be possible to present non-fallacious and reasonable arguments to show that it is wrong.  I would also probably add that there should be actual facts involved. I would obviously not claim that the arguments must be decisive—one generally does not see that in ethics. While people continue to argue against same sex marriage, the arguments continue to be the usual mix of fallacies and poor reasoning. There is also the usual employment of “facts” that are often simply not true.

In the United States, the latest battle over same-sex marriage is taking place in Utah. The state is being sued on the grounds that the amendment that forbids same-sex marriage is a violation of their rights. The lawsuit certainly has merit—a state does not get to violate constitutional rights even if many people vote in favor of doing so. As such, a rather important legal question is whether or not same-sex couples’ rights are violated by this law.

Utah is following the usual model of arguing against same-sex marriage, although they have at least not broken out the argument that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to or is equivalent to a person marrying a goat.

As might be expected, they made used of the usual pair of fallacies: appeal to tradition and appeal to common practice by claiming that defining marriage as being between a man and a woman is correct because it is “age-old and still predominant.”

Utah also tried the stock procreation gambit, with an added bit about the state’s interest: “Same-sex couples, who cannot procreate, do not promote the state’s interests in responsible procreation (regardless of whether they harm it).” Utah has also made use of the boilerplate argument about “responsible procreation” and “optimal mode of child rearing.”

Same-sex marriage is thus criticized on two grounds in regards to “responsible procreation.” The first is that same-sex couples cannot procreate naturally. The second is that same-sex couples will fail to provide an “optimal mode of child rearing.” To deny same-sex couples the right to marry because of these criticisms would require accepting two general principles: 1) marriage is to be denied to those who do cannot or do not procreate and 2) people who are not capable of the “optimal mode of child rearing” are to be denied marriage.

The first principle entails that straight couples who do not want children or cannot have them must also be denied marriage. After all, if an inability (or unwillingness) warrants denying same-sex couples the right to marry, the same would also apply to different-sex couples.

This principle would also seem to imply that couples who use artificial means to reproduce (such as in vitro fertilization or a surrogate) must be denied marriage. After all, same-sex couples can use these methods to procreate. Alternatively, if different-sex couples can use these methods and be allowed to marry, then same-sex couples who procreate would thus also be entitled to marriage.

The principle would also seem to entail that all married couples would be required to have at least one child, presumably within a specific time frame to ensure that the couple is not just faking their desire (or ability) to have children in order to get married. This would certainly seem to be a violation of the rights of the parents and a rather serious intrusion of the state.

The second principle would entail that straight couples who are not optimal parents must be denied marriage.  This would seem to require that the state monitor all marriages to determine that the parents are providing an optimal mode of child rearing and that it be empowered to revoke marriage licenses (much like the state can revoke a driver’s license for driving violations) for non-optimal parents. Different-sex parents can obviously provide non-optimal modes. After all, child abuse and neglect are committed by different-sex couples.

While I do agree that irresponsible people should not have children and that the state has an obligation to protect children from harm, it seems absurd to deny such people the right to marry. After all, not allowing them to marry (or dissolving the marriage when they proved irresponsible) would hardly make such people more responsible or benefit the children. Now to the matter of the state’s interest.

For the sake of the argument, I will grant that the state has an interest in having people reproduce. After all, the state is just a collection of people, so if there are no new people, the state will cease to exist. Of course, this also would seem to give the state an interest in immigration—that would also replace lost people.

This interest in procreation does not, however, entail that the state thus has an interest in preventing same sex-marriage. Allowing same-sex marriage does not reduce the number of different-sex marriages—that is, there is not a limited number of allowed marriages that same-sex couples could “use up.” Also, even if there were a limited number of allowed marriages, same-sex couples would only be a small percentage of the marriages and, obviously enough, marriage is not a necessary condition for procreation nor responsible procreation. That is, people can impregnate or be impregnated without being married. People can also be good parents without being married.

In light of these arguments, the procreation argument against same-sex marriage is still clearly absurd.

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  1. s. wallerstein

    The optimal mode of child-rearing?

    Being raised by one’s two biological parents, obviously of different sexes, is the traditional mode of child-rearing, but why is that necessarily optimal?

    We’d first have to define what our goals are in rearing children and then conduct experiments to see which methods yield the best results according to our goals: those methods which yield the best results would be “optimal”.

    Without clear goals about what kind of children we want to raise and without the results of empirical testing, any talk of “optimal modes” means nothing.

    By the way, when I look at the people around me, the majority of them raised by their two biological parents, I don’t see such virtuous results if one compares actually people with most theories of what is virtuous: be they Christian, Kantian, Aristotelian or consequentialist.

    Of course, it well may be that the State of Utah does not aim at raising virtuous citizens according to current theories of what is virtuous and thus, the traditional mode of child-raising may well yield the results, whatever they are, the distinguished and most excellent power elite of Utah aims for.

  2. The trouble with crying “appeal to tradition” is that it is a rather indiscriminate weapon. If the claim is that knowledge of the past has no logical connection to the present, this will suffice to wipe out most human knowledge.

    Suppose I cut off someone’s head with an axe and, surprisingly, he dies from this. Can I reasonably claim that I did not know that decapitation would result in death? It seems, by your lights, that I can. After all, what reason do I (or anyone) have for believing this besides past experience?

    But the second you appeal to the experience of the past, all I need do is shout “appeal to tradition!” to refute you. This move is available to anyone at any time concerning anything at all that has a basis in experience.

    As a refutation, this has all the logical force of saying “But maybe not!”

    You say that moral arguments should be reasonable and tend not to be 100% conclusive. And yet you demand deductive necessity from your opponents, a demand that is not reasonable, and assigns your opponents a higher standard of proof than you give yourself.

    It shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently it is necessary to say: an appeal to tradition is not simply fallacious. An appeal to tradition is similar to the fallacy of composition. A fallacy of composition is an illegitimate inference from characteristics of parts to characteristics of the whole that the parts comprise. But this is a material fallacy, not a formal one. Sometimes, this inference is entirely legitimate. For example, if I build a Lego castle entirely out of red Lego bricks, the entire castle must be red, since all of its parts are red. In other words, the fallacy of composition is fallacious only in particular cases, not every case. Similarly an appeal to tradition is often a perfectly good argument. You cannot simply cry “appeal to tradition!” and stop, as if that were the end of the matter. Rather, it is your specific responsibility to show that it is a fallacious appeal IN THIS SPECIFIC CASE.

    The fact that many or most human beings believe or have in the past believed a thing is not a deductive proof that this thing is true. It is, however, perfectly reasonable evidence to put forward as part of a cumulative case tending to show that the claim is true. Since you are engaging in moral argument, I will assume that you believe moral argument is possible. So do i, and so do most people, and so have most people throughout the history of the human race. At this fact, that almost everyone believes that moral argument is possible, and always has believed this, is evidence that it is true that moral argument is possible and meaningful. You’re aware, I assume, that some philosophers dispute the possibility of moral argument or even meaningful moral discourse.

    I’m curious: how would you argue for the possibility of meaningful moral discourse and argumentation, against someone who kept crying “appeal to tradition!” every time you reference past human experience?

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