Monday, January 5, 2009

Fallacies in the Gay Marriage Debate

May I preface this discussion with a caveat: I am no expert in logic. Some of the assessments below may not be accurately termed. If in your research you discover that I have mislabeled a certain fallacy, please correct me. I am treating this blog as an exercise in sharpening our ability to recognize fallacies, and I will most likely make some mistakes along the way, but hopefully we will all learn something in the process.

So without further ado, let us take a look at two letters to the editor that use fallacies to forward their views in the gay marriage debate.

"While any rational and enlightened person would no doubt agree with the language and rationale of California's May Supreme Court ruling, and could not fail to be stirred by Hannah Arendt's declaration that marriage is an elemental human right, those sentiments are not shared everywhere. Twenty-five states by my count still have anti-same-sex constitutional amendments on the books. And just two years ago, the Commonwealth of Virginia, home of the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, passed an incredibly draconian constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. One wonders how long before Mr. Sullivan’s cultural consensus will emerge in those states, and how much longer than that before their medieval constitutional restrictions on marriage are reversed."
-Robert Anthony, Richmond, VA. Letter to the Editor. The Atlantic, Novermber, 2008, p. 16.

"The Bible addresses the subject of homosexuality extensively throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Some points of reference include Genesis 2:18-24, Genesis Chapter 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Deuteronomy 27:20-23, Judges Chapters 19 and 20, 1 Kings 14:24, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Corinthians 7:2-4, Romans 1:24-32, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Galatians 5:19 and Ephesians 5:5. These passages make it abundantly clear that a husband is to be male and a wife is to be female, and a marriage can only be between a husband and wife. Homosexuality is referred to as "an abomination," "unnatural" and "sin," and a homosexual relationship is neither recognized nor tolerated in the eyes of almighty God. If God doesn't recognize a homosexual relationship as a marriage, neither should we, unless, of course, we have an insatiable desire to follow the path of Sodom and Gomorrah."
-Wes Harper, Lynn Haven, FL. Letter to the Editor. The News Herald, November 20, 2008.

Let us take each of the above letters in turn.

First, the gentleman in Virginia is utilizing a form of the Bandwagon Fallacy. He is not so subtly stating that if you want to be deemed at all intelligent, you must be a proponent of gay marriage.

He also uses loaded language to forward his argument. He uses the term "medieval" to describe these states' anti-same-sex marriage laws. Negative terms like "medieval" are often used to sway people on the basis of emotion, instead of using honest and reasoned arguments. In Medieval times, items like the Buggery Act not only banned gay marriage, but punished any homosexual activity with death. Now, while some who romanticize Romeo and Juliet may equate inability to marry with death, the fact remains that homosexuals can cohabit, and that is a far cry from death. He also uses the loaded term "draconian," (which he even modifies with "incredibly"). But "draconian" refers to laws which were codified under a man named Draco in ancient Greece, and his laws punished even the smallest of illegal acts with death. As above the writer uses hyperbole to make the other side look worse than it is, and as such succumbs to the use of loaded language.

The gentleman from Lynn Haven is actually guilty of a few fallacies rolled into one.

First, he uses the Appeal to Fear: "If we don't watch out, we're going to become like Sodom and Gomorrah."

Second, he uses the Slippery Slope, which often accompanies an appeal to fear. The idea that it must follow that we will become like Sodom if we legalize gay marriage is nowhere stated (not even, as we shall see, in scripture), and even if this were one step towards such an end, he must first prove that this one act is taking us a long way towards Sodom. But he does not prove this, and in equating the one small step with numerous large steps he commits the slippery slope fallacy.

Before delving into an examination of the assertion that homosexuality was the cause for God's judgment on Sodom, let us assume for a moment that homosexuality is in fact the reason. Does this mean that the Bible justifies a ban on homosexual marriage in order to prevent judgment? In Luke 10 Jesus sends His disciples out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near. He warns the cities that will make the mistake of rejecting the disciples that they will receive a judgment far worse than that of Sodom. So here, if we were to apply the logic used by the gentleman in Lynn Haven, we would mandate that people must choose to accept Christ, because otherwise the city would be in danger of judgment.

The real problem with his statement, though, is that he is ignoring a common cause. He assumes that because God poured out His wrath on Sodom and because the men of Sodom wanted to rape the male angels, therefore God was enacting wrath on the homosexuality of the men of Sodom. There are so many problems with this it is hard to know where to start. So, let's go back to the source:

In Genesis 18:20-21, God says that "outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great." What is that outcry concerning? The passage does not specify. But thankfully, Ezekiel 16:49-50 sets the record straight in very clear language: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it." (emphasis mine)

While some may try to lay the blame against "the abominations" (a term the Bible does definitely, but not exclusively, use of homosexuality), it is not the root cause. Look carefully at the "Thus" in verse 50: the root cause was Sodom's lack of concern for its needy, and this makes much more sense in relation to the "outcry" that God kept referring to in Genesis.

Some may also point to Romans 1 as evidence for the idea that homosexuality evinces God's wrath, but a careful reading of verses 23-27 reveals that homosexuality is not the cause of judgment, but actually is the judgment. While a homosexual will still be offended by this, that is what the Word actually says. In the case of Romans 1, the root cause is the act of "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness" and worshiping and serving the creature over the Creator. For further proof that homosexuality is not the sin foremost on God's mind, please read Isaiah 1:10-17.

So, our friend in Lynn Haven, along with so many Christians throughout the ages, identifies homosexuality as the cause because it happens to be present in the story, and thus falls victim to the fallacy of ignoring a common cause (or in this case causes), which are really blatant disregard for God and His Lordship and a refusal to care for the poor and needy.

Read the next entry: A Disjointed Meditation on Roads, Maps and Jesus

Return to Destructive Interference Issue 1