Rob Tisinai

August 19th, 2013

Stop for a moment and note your reaction to this entry’s headline. Specifically:

1. What was your first thought about what it meant — your first interpretation?

2. What your immediate feeling, your gut response, to that interpretation?

3. How do you feel about the person saying it?

Note those things. We’ll come back to them later.

That headline is a quote from a new strategy document for opposing same-sex marriage (short version here). That quote is offered as a good thing for our opponents to say in public. That quote, to me at least, is a good example of why our opponents are doomed to fail.

The John Jay Institute issued this strategy document, and it’s worth reading:

This paper explores findings from a growing body of research from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and narrative theory to inform how to take a more sophisticated approach to communicating in the marriage debate. It offers new opportunities for understanding, developing, and using persuasion informed by cognitive science and narrative theory to advance traditional marriage and counter marriage revisionism.

Basically, it’s built on the growing mounds of evidence that people don’t reason their way to conclusions, especially on complex moral issues. Conclusions come from the gut, and reason is an afterthought, a tool used to support decisions we’ve already made. This is a human tendency, one that cuts across political, economic, and cultural lines.

That makes the John Jay paper a leap in our opponents’ sophistication. Its recommendations are likely to start popping up in their communications. The paper deserves an in-depth analysis, but for now I want to focus on this one horrendous bit of it, because it illustrates just how tone-deaf our opponents are, and how difficult it is for them to put science into practice.

The headline comes from a section on how to use metaphor in the marriage debate. They claim that one of our metaphors is “A HOMOSEXUAL COUPLE IS A HETEROSEXUAL COUPLE.” (All these caps are from the original, sorry.) Or, as our side phrases it (infinitely better): Same love. A same-sex committed relationship deserves the same status as one involving opposite-sexers.

The John Jay paper says the way to undermine our metaphor (I’m not sure they know what a metaphor is) is to focus on “the ability of husbands and wives to contribute to the common good through the creation and perpetuation of family.” In other words, it’s not the same love, because we can’t have kids.

It’s hard for me to let that pass (same-sex couples can’t create and perpetuate families?), but let me leapfrog it to get to what’s even worse. The John Jay folks anticipate we”ll rebut them by pointing out that society allows infertile opposite sex couples to wed — and here’s the John Jay comeback to that:

Use this metaphor to counter revisionist arguments about infertile marriages: AN INFERTILE MARRIAGE IS A PROFITLESS COMPANY.

They go on to give a reasoned explanation of the metaphor, but keep in mind that a reasoned explanation is not the point. The point is to reach people in a quick, gut-level way. So let me share my gut-level responses.

1.  The metaphor says that an infertile marriage is a failure, pointless, unlikely to survive and probably not worth saving anyway.

2,  My gut-level reaction is astonishment and contempt that someone could be so callous and blind to the value of committed couples who can’t birth children.

3. My feeling about the person saying this thing is that they’re, well, callous and blind. My reaction is that I don’t want to be on their side.

But here’s how John Jay describes the metaphor:

US law incorporates businesses and levies particular taxes tailored to corporate profits. The rationale for this is that as a category of activity, commercial enterprise generates profits. Yet, a commercial enterprise that fails to turn a profit was still incorporated and considered a valid commercial enterprise. A profitless company still endorses the ideal of a profitable company, and an infertile couple still endorses the ideal of conjugal marriage.

Wow. All that mumbo jumbo about “an infertile couple still endorses the ideal” is just wishful thinking. It’s pathetically easy to refute. But did you catch that word in the middle: “fails”? If you’re trying to reach people on an emotional level, this notion that AN INFERTILE MARRIAGE IS A PROFITLESS COMPANY is so heartless and offensive that people won’t even stay around to listen to your oh-so-nuanced explanation of what you really meant. And if even if they do listen to it, then their reasoning — based on the notion that reason is generally used to justify our emotional response — will rush to the cause of rejecting it completely.


This John Jay paper lays the groundwork for what our opponents will be doing next. We should be prepared for that. Luckily we’re in the right, in the most human, empathetic, compassionate way, so it won’t be hard for us to dissect that strategy and develop effective responses.

Let’s take the next week or two and do that. I’ll put up a series of posts, and fair warning: if you get ahead of me in the comments then I will steal your ideas without remorse.

This could be fun.


August 20th, 2013

So if a fertile marriage is a profitable company and an infertile marriage is a profitless company, then why can’t a same-sex couple be an unprofitable company too? Are they nonprofits, maybe? Co-ops?

Ben in Oakland

August 20th, 2013

It’s just another way of saying that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation, and even heterosexual people who can’t procreate are just upholding the model.

And of course, all that does ignore the fact that many gay couples have children, whether from previous hereroreltionships or because we have adopted all of those children that heterosexuals keep popping out in their profitable companies for no other reason than this: they can.

No jurisdiction in the world requires procreation for a Marriage to be valid.

David in the O.C.

August 20th, 2013

This is the exact same inane message that homophobic moron Robert P. George spewed forth. Except instead of a baseball team metaphor, they’re using a company metaphor.

I love this part where they contradict themselves, and never acknowledge that they just supported marriage equality:
“The public interest in marriage as a heterosexual institution rests on the basis that as a category, male-female unions generate children. That does not mean that every marriage must produce children to be a valid marriage. Infertile men and women do not undermine the intelligibility of the institution because their infertility is accidental to the reproductive-type act that consummates their union.”

They admit that non-procreative marriages are still valid marriages. So the only thing that remains is that one spouse has a penis, and the other has a vagina. How impressive of them! Which explains why Rush Limbaugh was able to get married four times and never have children. Thank goodness that unprofitable companies are good for society, right?

David in the O.C.

August 20th, 2013

By the way, it doesn’t matter if the couple’s infertility is accidental or not. They just admitted that you don’t have to have children in order to get married. So a fertile couple that doesn’t ever want to have children can still get married. Of course, they didn’t even deal with elderly couples. Because they’re being infertile wasn’t an accident, it’s simply because they’re elderly.

Timothy Kincaid

August 20th, 2013

Ben, you’re on the right track, but it’s more than that. It’s not just the sole purpose of marriage, it’s the sole purpose of man.

Basically, it comes down to this:

If one genuinely believes that the primary purpose of man is to have children and perpetuate his genes all for the glory of God, then all their arguments make sense. But if that isn’t your base belief, then none of them make sense.

They can craft all the language, all the metaphors, all the papers and studies and theories and pamphlets. But for so long as it is based on that notion, it won’t sell to people who do not share that fundamental agreement about the purpose each person holds.


August 20th, 2013


1. (After reading headline.) This doesn’t even make sense. I’m mildly annoyed someone is yelling nonsense at me.

2. (After reading the article.) Ok, I get the metaphor. But my grandma has an infertile marriage. Her first marriage was “profitable”, her second has been “profitless”. Is that really a good implication: that a stable, loving (hetero!) marriage is “profitless”? The metaphor is weird: so couples were profitable during their child-bearing years and became unprofitable after? So… they should be closed down, with resources invested elsewhere profitably…? What?

3. The metaphor is stupid and doesn’t deserve any more time or attention.


August 20th, 2013

Timothy: I think you’ve made a very good point, one that I’ve been making recently myself. In more blunt terms: The whole “traditional” marriage movement rests on a world-view that reduces human beings to the status of domestic animals — breeding stock. The new metaphor (and boy! is it ever offensive!) is just a side-step. When they get to upholding the “ideal” of marriage, the ideal is still breeding stock.

And aside from offensive, the metaphor is, as Josh pointed out, nonsensical: a profitless company is good for society? In what universe? (Let’s fly that one past Wall Street and see how it works.)


August 20th, 2013

Perhaps it’s the economist in me, but I can’t help noticing the metaphor fails on a financial level as well. Profitless companies are valueless companies, providing no economic support to their community – instead they are drains on the economy. Infertile couples, whether by choice or physical reason, assuming they don’t adopt children (and notice the metaphor makes no distinction between an infertile couple with or w/out children), are going to pay more in taxes than their fertile counterparts, which is better for society. And, without children, they use far fewer social services, leading to a net tax profit for the community – and a means of supporting the families with children (this is precisely why Anthony Williams, former mayor of DC, had an official effort to attract couples, gay and straight, without children into the District).

Of course, the metaphor is also cruel to all those infertile couples who have tried for years to conceive. I’m sure we all know at least one such couple and often, in my experience, the struggle can draw them closer together as a couple. To denigrate those relationships as “profitless” is, quite frankly, heartless.

bill johnson

August 20th, 2013

When these-anti gay groups turn their attention to heterosexual marriages now and again it’s always in the context of telling heterosexual people how many benefits marriage has both for the couple and for society in general and these benefits go far beyond things relating to reproduction. So the idea that an infertile marriage is a profitless company is doubly absurd because by their own arguments marriage provides many benefits for the couple and for society even if it is infertile or lacking in children by choice.

If find the idea behind the document to be entertaining because it’s another round of attempts to re-package their talking points as if the packaging was the only problem. When people don’t accept their talking points they assume that it must be because they aren’t being presented right and that the other side is doing a better job packaging our arguments but the truth is that the major problem is with their central ideology that drives the talking points, not the packaging. Others here already pinpointed that problem, I would re-phrase it as the ideology that sex must always be open to procreation, and that reproduction must always come from sex. When you start with this idea and then jump through some hoops so that the policy restriction only applies to gay people and not single parents, or infertile couples, the end result is going to be a mess, regardless of how fancy the wrapping is.

Richard Rush

August 20th, 2013

From the JJI website:

The John Jay Institute is a tax-exempt, non-profit, non-partisan, research and education organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to the Institute are tax-deductible under section 170 of the Code. The Institute’s mission is sustained and advanced by the charitable gifts of people who envisage the future leaders of America to be men and women of virtue, wisdom and justice. All persons of good will are invited to join the Institute’s venture for principled public leaders.

Shouldn’t non-profits be banned because they fail to “endorse the ideal of a profitable company,” and therefore have no value to society? Of course not because, just like same-gender marriages without children, non-profits produce unique benefits to society.

PS: JJI is essentially a teavangelical outfit. Their religious entanglement is not immediately obvious, but it’s easy to find. For example:

The current crisis [in America] is not merely political; it is cultural – which is to say religious and spiritual at its root.


August 20th, 2013

I knew it was only a matter of time before anti-marriage groups turned to the argument that childless marriages are somehow less worthy than those with children. It’s an argument I’ve heard for years. Some have even gone so far as to claim that children who are adopted aren’t part of a “real” family. I’ve even had one person suggest that marriages that don’t produce children within a specific amount of time should be dissolved, although he admitted that this would be expensive and difficult to enforce.

As far as I know, though, this argument has, until now, been exclusively used by blog commenters. And they almost always quickly back down when confronted with the implications of what they’re saying. Most people who think the argument that marriages must produce children is a winning one abandon it when pressed. They realize that their argument “so heartless and offensive that people won’t even stay around to listen to your oh-so-nuanced explanation of what you really meant”.

I find it heartening that someone at the John Jay Institute probably thought through the full implications of their argument and decided to use it anyway.

The desperation is palpable.


August 20th, 2013

The way to attack this nonsense is by attacking the silly notion that actions are only good if they “contribute to the common good”. Reducing people to the value they have for society as large is something that totalitarian countries too. But in free society people don’t need to constantly work for the interests of the state.

Gene in L.A.

August 20th, 2013

Here’s a suggestion. If they come at me with their business metaphor, I’ll continue it and give it back to them. Maybe the idea that a marriage is a business is the real reason so many marriages fail.

Timothy Kincaid

August 20th, 2013

PS: JJI is essentially a teavangelical outfit.

It’s definitely religiously conservative. But I think it’s ecumenical, not evangelical.

Chris M

August 20th, 2013

To use their reasoning, my first marriage (to my ex-wife) was “profitable” (we have three children), despite being a complete failure. Why? Marriage has a myriad of aspects that have nothing to do with having children. Most marriages that fail do so despite being “profitable” (i.e., producing children) or not. Having children is “a” (as in one of many), not “the” (as in the sole) defining purpose of marriage.

Further, their reasoning would say that my current marriage to my husband, despite being a resounding success, is “profitless”, even though we are the couple doing the hands-on child rearing. But I guess they would contend my children would be better off with two divorced and unhappy parents rather than living in a home with two happily married dads.

I notice that in their action plan they define themselves as “marriage advocates”. Ironic, since they are working to restrict marriage to a chosen group rather than working to strengthen and help it grow.

Priya Lynn

August 20th, 2013

When I first read the headline I assumed it was referring to gay marriages.

My immediate response was: “No, an infertile marriage is a company that makes cars rather than trucks”. My next response was: “The headline doesn’t even make sense because many gay couples have children”.

My thought about the person making such a statment: “He’s a moron.”.


August 20th, 2013

Mark Regnerus strikes again…

The fact that these stories are all hitting the news at the same time as that John Jay paper came out trying to “reframe” with debate with “memes” is no coincidence. Regnerus has been hooked into the right wing culture war think tanks from the very beginning…

Apparently, the liberal media has brainwashed americans into believing that support has grown for ssm. But its all a lie according to Regnerus – people really do hate us but they are scared of being called bigots. Being called a bigot is apparently much worse than depriving people of their rights. But I’m just a devious liberal and an invented minority – can’t trust those emotional people.

The Rice study that he mentions is put out by – guess who – a sociologist of religion who is an evangelical christian. Here is a nice cheery right up by an online magazine who just reprints PR press releases apparently…

If you read the Rice report, you would never know that real polling data like the GSS (which is the gold standard when it comes to opinion survey) has shown a massive change from 2006 to 2012. But this is never mentioned in the Rice study, which as far as I can tell has not been published in a peer review journal. But as Regnerus as shown, when it comes to Sociology of Religion, peer review is a joke anyway…

Here is the full Rice “study”:


Ben In Oakland

August 20th, 2013

The more I think of their “economic” model for marriage, the more I think that these people are bereft of anything approaching common sense.

Same sex marriages are profitless, because they don’t naturally produce children? Our multiple financial, environmental, and provisioning problems and disasters can almost all be directly traced to over-population. So we need more people? Even GM eventually figured out that making Cadillacs the size of ocean liners was not a good way to go.

Meanwhile, the number of children available for adoption in the US– who are in the foster care system, that is, not all of the children– ranges from 115,000 to 150,000. It sounds like heterosexuals are like certain financial companies in 2008– producing loads and loads of worthless financial documents that someone else has to pay for. How much “profit” is there in that for anyone?

Gay people can and do adopt those toxic junk securities that the holy heterosexuals keep producing. We attempt to turn them into something valuable that contributes to society, instead of things the just go down the drain. It sounds like we must be the charitable non-profit businesses, doesn’t it?

I wish these people would actually look at holy heterosexuality and its unholy failures, the consequences of unbridled unregulated reproduction, and a few inconvenient truths. I wish that they would also accept that all of their goals for holy marriage are not in any way impeded by gay people getting married.

Then I wish that they would just admit that none of this has the slightest thing to do with marriage, family, children, or heterosexuality, and how very much it has to do with how much the very thought of gay people just obsesses them…

in their eternal quests for money, power, dominion, and for a few of them, their very obvious personal issues.

Rob Tisinai

August 20th, 2013

I may not have explained the John Jay metaphor well enough. They’re not saying same-sex marriage is like a profitless company. It’s stranger than that. They’re saying:

1. A fertile opposite-sex marriage is like a profitable company.

2. An infertile opposite-sex marriage is like a profitless company — which is still a company, because it’s structured like a company. Thus an infertile opposite sex marriage is still a marriage, because it’s structured like a marriage.

3. But a same-sex marriage isn’t like any kind of company at all. Because same-sex marriages aren’t structured like opposite sex marriages.

Looking at it that way, it’s clear how circular their reasoning is.

But what so odd about the John Jay strategy is that their metaphor isn’t about careful reasoning. It’s an attempt to reach people on an intuitive level. They expect people to say, “Ah, so that’s why infertile straights can marry but gays cannot. Now I see.” When in fact their listeners will reply, “What kind of effed up person are you??”

Priya Lynn

August 20th, 2013

Rob, I got that after I read the rest of your post.

Ben In Oakland

August 20th, 2013

You did say it, and very well. Unfortunately, you’re trying to explain a metaphor that is so far off the rails, so twisted, and nothing at all new, that you find it impossible to believe that it is so impossibly dumbbbbb.

bill johnson

August 20th, 2013

Going of your last point, their problem with the distinction between infertile heterosexual couples and gay couples on reproduction is that it’s so completely arbitrary and artificial that there is literally no way that they can communicate it on an intuitive level. Their best attempts to convey this idea on an intuitive level are doomed to fail because it absolutely requires a detailed explanation to explain away people’s intuitive response.

Jumping ahead a bit their movement has a similar problem with their “every child is entitled to a mother and a father” meme in that such an broad statement just invites people to instantly think of any number of heterosexual family formats that don’t fit this model, and they then have to go in and explain how they are applying the argument only against gay couples and not say heterosexual single parents. Again the distinction in relation to their initial meme is so artificial and arbitrary that additional explanation is absolutely required thus undermining what they hoped to achieve.


August 20th, 2013

Brilliant. Offend all those heterosexual couples out there trying and failing to have genetically related children the old-fashioned way. Then offend the heterosexual couples who gave up and decided to adopt instead. Then offend all the adopted children. Then offend the friends and family of infertile heterosexual couples. A significant percentage of the target audience of heterosexual people have now been offended.

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