Monday, November 17, 2008

Is same-sex marriage valid just because a politician says so?

That's what some people apparently think. Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science education seems to find this argument convincing--or at least expects the rest of us to. He says:
Dude, they got a marriage license from the State of California. They were legally married.
Yeah right. And I got a secret agent license when I was eight years old. The whole issue is whether awarding the licenses was valid. To argue that they are valid because they got them is hardly a valuable contribution to the debate. It's called assuming what you are trying to prove.

But Rosenau does not stop there. Here is Rosenau attempting a logical argument, an activity he is beginning to convince me that he and his allies really ought not to try at home:
Proposition 8 states in the official voter guide that it "eliminates the right of same sex couples to marry." You can't eliminate something that doesn't exist, therefore there was a right for same sex couples to marry. If they could not marry as a matter of definition, that last sentence would have been gibberish, but it isn't. This is not, therefore, an argument over definitions, but over who shall have what rights.
Just for fun, let's try to put this in some kind of logical order and see if there is any sense to it at all:
No thing that that does not exist can be eliminated
Proposition 8 says it "eliminates the right of same sex couples to marry"
Therefore, a right for same sex couples to marry is a thing that exists
That seems to be the first part of it anyway. Any of my logic students could tell you that there are quite a number of problems here. First, it contains way too many terms (The "Fallacy of Four Terms"--what's worse, there are actually six in this argument); second, there is an affirmative proposition following a negative premise; and then there is the problem consequent on these others that results in the minor term (the subject of the conclusion) asserting more in the conclusion than is asserted in the premises.

As to the rest of the statement, I quite frankly can't even follow it. Having taught logic for over 15 years, I'm not even sure I have seen anything quite like it. It is quite a tangle. I think what he is doing is appealing to an argument I made in an earlier post in which I was pointing out the difference between bans on interracial marriage and laws that make it clear that the concept of marriage as it has always been understood excludes same-sex "marriage" by definition. I tried to clarify the point of my argument in another recent post, but he clearly did not understand what I said, so I'm just going to have to let this part go.

I think what is going on here is that there are several arguments all tied up in a very confusing knot. And quite honestly, it's going to be a real chore to salvage the thing, other than to glean from it and other comments in his post that Rosenau wants to establish two things: The first is that same-sex marriage is a right; the second is that Proposition 8 is invalid because it purports to eliminate it.

As to the latter, I think he means to say this:
No act that eliminates an existing right is valid
Proposition 8 is an act that eliminates an existing right
Therefore, Proposition 8 is not valid
This is what in traditional logic is called a "CELARENT", a valid syllogism in the first of the four logical figures. I think this is one of the things he wants to say. But in order for an argument to be fully sound, it needs not only to be valid, but both its premises have to be true. I agree with the major (or first) premise. The problem is with the second: "Proposition 8 is an act that eliminates an existing right." That, of course, is what the whole debate is about, the advocates of Prop. 8 saying there is no existing right, and the opponents saying there is.

But what about the first, that same-sex marriage is a right? The above argument I gather from his remarks that Rosenau things same-sex marriage is a right because certain politicians, in this case Attorney General Jerry Brown, or government entities, in this case the state supreme court, say it is. He seems to be assuming a positive view of rights--in other words that they are created simply by governmental decisions. But if a right comes about because of a governmental decision, then can't it also be eliminated in the same way?

If a right is completely dependent upon governmental approval, then isn't it eliminated by governmental disapproval? And if this is the case, then what is his problem with Proposition 8? It is a ballot initiative with just as much governmental authority as the other entities that same-sex marriage advocates have appealed to. If want to live by the positive law, then you're going to have to die by it.

Anyone who tries to argue that rights are generated by the government is just undermining his own position.

Rights aren't generated by governments, and the opponents of Proposition 8 haven't made any case that the right of same-sex marriage comes from anywhere else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remember Josh: Them folks are only married if Martin SAYS SO!