The thing about being raised by English professors is that it warps you mentally, for life.
By the time I was ten I had acquired, through endless exposure at the dinner table, a number of bizarre intellectual interests, a healthy respect for etymology, and a deeply compulsive sense of annoyance when people make certain kinds of rhetorical errors. (Things I did not acquire at the dinner table at any point: the ability to spell without computer assistance; a reliable detector for homophone errors; the ability to tolerate large doses of academic politics.) I mean, I was raised by people who taught rhetoric, composition, and critical thinking, and now this is how weird I am: I have a favorite logical fallacy. I see red when people use misuse the word implies. I can’t stand the science reporting in the NY Times, not because of the frequently suspect science, but because of the frequently terrible logic—though those do often amount to the same thing.
My favorite logical fallacy is actually cum hoc (ergo) propter hoc, but today I want to talk about a different one, because it’s been coming up so often in the arguments over gay marriage that Feminist Hulk tweeted about it.
Here is a statement which is true: it is discriminatory to permit a right to one class of people and deny it to another. (1)
Here is another statement which is true: marriage is, traditionally, a deeply problematic, heteronormative, and misogynistic institution. (2)
The SCOTUS cases surrounding Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act are bound up in a lot of legal contortionism, but to the limited extent that they address either of these issues, they exclusively address (1). They have absolutely nothing to do with (2). It is completely possible to support SCOTUS overturning Prop 8 and DOMA and still have serious issues with marriage as an institution; it’s just completely, 100% irrelevant. The problematic, heteronormative, and misogynistic problems with marriage are just not on the table. They’re not being asked, they’re not being raised, they’re not being argued. The only thing that’s actually at issue is (1): a group of people (opposite-gender couples) is, at present, being afforded a right which is denied to another group of people (same-gender* couples).
Here’s the thing that’s got me all het up over this here bucket o’ gin: there’s a significant group of people within the queer community who oppose same-gender marriage because of (2). Because marriage is traditionally a problematic, heteronormative, and misogynistic institution, they are arguing against the elimination of the discriminatory principle, as in (1), that is intrinsic to granting one group of people (opposite-gender couples) a right which is denied to another group of people (same-gender couples).
This is both bad politics and bad logic.
I don’t know how I feel about marriage, as in, for me personally; I’m almost completely aromantic, so the odds of it ever coming up in my case are slim to vanishing. But my parents have been married for forty-five years, and I’m happy for them; and my sister can’t marry her lady of over a decade even if she were to want to, and that pisses me the fuck off. The issue with granting same-gender couples the right to marry doesn’t have a damn thing to do with whether or not marriage is a good thing, or a bad thing, or a one-way ticket to bed death, misery, and emotional resentment, or the be-all and end-all of gay rights (spoiler alert: it isn’t). The only issue here that real people care about (as opposed to issues that lawyers care about—separate post entirely) is what circumstances under which the government can justify granting a right to one group of people, and denying it to another.
And if sexual orientation is one of those circumstances, that is very, very bad news.
I wholeheartedly support discussing the problems with marriage. Marriage can be a problematic thing! But it’d be one thing if the thing that was up for discussion was whether we should grant same-gender couples the right to marry, XOR** we should grant no one the right to marry. But that’s not the question that is currently up for discussion. The question that is up for discussion is whether we should grant same-gender couples the right to marry, full stop. And given that opposite-gender couples have the right to marry, yes, we should grant same-gender couples the right to marry.
The thing that’s at issue here is solely whether it’s discriminatory to let straights marry and queers not. YES. YES IT IS DISCRIMINATORY. This is not rocket science. No one—not even queers!—will be forced to get gay married if gay marriage is legalized! All us queers up in this joint can keep fucking wildly in sin and laugh riotously at the people trooping dutifully up to the altar!! The only thing that will happen is that the government has one fewer niche in which it is acceptable to tell Group A “yes,” and Group B “no.” That’s it! That’s all that will happen!!
And that’s a damn good thing to have happen, even if marriage does lead to inevitable bed death, misery, and emotional resentment.
Please don’t say that (2) marriage is, traditionally, a deeply problematic, heteronormative, and misogynistic institution, and therefore not (1) it is discriminatory to permit a right to one class of people and deny it to another. You are wrong. You are just wrong. You are wrong, wrong, wrong; and my ability to tolerate it is not actually increasing with the increasingly liver-destroying quantities of gin I am swallowing. The only thing that is at issue in the SCOTUS decisions is (1), and (1) is just plain straight-up true. So. Can we please stop arguing about (2) as though it somehow has something to do with (1)? It doesn’t. It’s a good conversation to have, but it’s about as relevant to (1) as my BA is to my employability prospects (i.e., not at all).
* As I understand the legal issues, in some states, at least, transgender people can marry opposite-gender partners without surgery, which is why I’m kind of leery of using the phrase “same-sex” here, but please correct me if I am misreading that article. I’m not a lawyer; I’m just a drunk with a laptop.
** Um, I actually can’t figure out how we say “XOR” in English—see above, re: gin—but “XOR” means “exclusive or”: or, “OR, but not AND”—either A or B, but not A and B. It is possible that I am a little drunk.