Is Same Sex Marriage Just Like the 1960s Civil Rights Movement? Well, No.
February 8th, 2013
Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriage. He tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in separate posts as a kind of back-to-basics review of our opposition.
I’d planned to write on Vogt’s point 8 (about bigotry and homophobia) but I’ll leave that for last. Instead, let’s look at Vogt’s #9, his rebuttal of:
9. The struggle for same-sex marriage is just like the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
He’s stacking the language by saying “just like.” Nothing is “just like” anything else. India’s independence movement, the suffragette movement, black civil rights, women’s equality, gay equality — all of these are civil rights movements, all of them part of a greater, international, cross-generational civil rights movement, but none of them are “just like” each other.
Phrasing it this way, though, makes it easy for him to focus on their differences rather than their commonality:
The suggestion here is that sex is similar to race, and therefore denying marriage for either reason is wrong. The problem, however, is that interracial marriage and same-sex marriage are significantly different.
For instance, nothing prevents interracial couples from fulfilling the basic essence of marriage — a public, lifelong relationship ordered toward procreation. Because of this, the anti-miscegenation laws of the 1960s were wrong to discriminate against interracial couples. Yet same-sex couples are not biologically ordered toward procreation and, therefore, cannot fulfill the basic requirements of marriage.
Too — many — mistakes! Let’s sort this out.
First, Vogt has never established that the “basic essence of marriage” is procreation. He keeps saying it, but never proves it. Marriage vows rarely mention it, focusing instead on the commitment between two adults to build a life together. This commitment is clearly a better candidate for marriage’s “basic essence” than procreation. A marriage without that commitment is a broken marriage. A marriage without children? Still a marriage.
Then there’s this bit of nonsense:
Yet same-sex couples are not biologically ordered toward procreation and, therefore, cannot fulfill the basic requirements of marriage.
Surely he’s not saying that if you cannot procreate then you cannot fulfill the basic requirement of marriage (again: whose basic requirement?). But then that leaves him trying to convince us that procreation is not a requirement, but having the parts to procreate is — even if those parts don’t work anymore, or never did. Why? Because…because…because…the parts!
Then again, this is the same man who said we let infertile and elderly couples marry because “it’s not worth the effort to restrict them,” so who knows what kind of nonsense he’s saying.
Vogt opposes discriminating against interracial couples: they can procreate, and procreation is the purpose of marriage. But he’s only a few generations from judges who believed that purebred procreation was the purpose of marriage. Read this from the trial judge in Loving v Virginia, the court case that (eventually) declared banning interracial marriage unconstitutional:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Wow — epiphany! The judge justified banning interracial marriage by invoking society’s interest in responsible procreation — just like Vogt and his allies who want to ban same-sex marriage.
That might be worth repeating.
The judge justified banning interracial marriage by invoking society’s interest in responsible procreation — just like Vogt and his allies who want to ban same-sex marriage.
Vogt would surely disagree with the judge over what “responsible” means, but they’re both working from the same error: that society’s stake in marriage is entirely about procreation and not at all about what it brings to the adults getting married — a theory so strange even our opponents don’t really believe it.
Maybe Vogt knows his case is weak, because he suddenly veers in a new direction:
It’s important to note that African-Americans, who have the most poignant memories of marital discrimination, generally disagree that preventing interracial marriage is like banning same-sex marriage. For example, when Californians voted on Proposition 8, a state amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, some 70 percent of African-Americans voted in favor.
Once again, so many things wrong here.
Second, any figure from 2008 is surely outdated. A recent poll from ABC News shows that African-American opposition to same-sex marriage is down to 51%. If it was at 70% in 2008, then that position is crumbling fast. This is partly due to the many African-American civil rights leaders coming out in support of marriage equality — including Coretta Scott King, Julian Bond, and John Lewis.
Vogt really ought to know these things.
Then there’s this: I’m not African-American and I can’t present myself as an authority on the black civil rights struggle. Everything I know about what it means to be African-American is second-hand at best. Likewise, no straight person (of any race) can speak first-hand of what it means to be gay in America. When they try, we often end up empty rhymes like, “They’re equating their sin with my skin.” It difficult to say whether one struggle is “just like” another when you’ve only lived one of them.
I can say that some civil rights activists who are both gay and African American do see the parallels. For example, Vogt might want to learn a bit more about Bayard Rustin, the gay man who introduced Ghandi’s philosophy of non-violence to Martin Luther King and who organized the great 1963 civil rights March on Washington.
But I can’t say even that matters, because the most basic problem with Vogt’s 70% argument is that it’s not an argument at all, just an appeal to authority — in this case, public opinion, a fallacy known as argumentum ad populum. That’s odd coming from a self-defined Catholic writer, a man who doesn’t think matters of right and wrong are determined by popular vote. If a moral proposition is true, it’s true whether everyone agrees with it or none of us do. Tossing out a 70% figure is just a lazy substitute for creating a moral argument.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Vogt has to realize we do the civil rights struggle an injustice if we think of it only in terms of race — or gender, or caste, or romantic orientation. Its victories inspire us precisely because they transcend those categories and reveal a human struggle — we see oppressed and falsely-maligned group stand up with courage and demand full recognition of their humanity, both in the culture and in the law. The civil rights movement of the 1960s can inspire all of humanity, and that humanity includes us.
Next: “Same-sex marriage is inevitable, so we should stand on the right side of history.”