Sunday, November 14, 2004

Gay Marriage Analogies

Keith Burgess-Jackson of AnalPhilosopher explains why he is opposed to gay marriage:
I have said in this blog many times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks. I do the same for dog “voting.” If we took our dogs to the polls and got them to push levers with their paws, they would not be voting. They would be going through the motions of voting. It would be a charade. Voting is not made for dogs. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution. The same is true of homosexuals and marriage.

This is the closest I've ever seen him get to providing an actual argument to supplement his anti-gay marriage rhetoric. It's a pity he doesn't provide a bit more detail, since as it stands it really isn't much of an argument. We have a bald assertion that homosexuals "lack the capacity to participate in" marriage, but no reasons are provided to back up this claim. All we have is the analogy. So let's examine that.

Chris at Mixing Memory has written a good post about this analogy already, noting that it has a quite powerful rhetorical effect despite being entirely groundless:
Gay people can marry. However, they can't marry members of the same sex. Dogs, on the other hand, can't vote for humans but not dogs. Furthermore, the difference in sexual orientation is hardly analogous to the difference in species. They are entirely different types of relations.

I'd like to add a few other crucial differences. The most obvious reason why dogs "lack the capacity" to vote is because they don't have the cognitive capabilities to even understand the concept. But of course gay people understanding what marriage is just as well as anybody else. A second reason might be that voting is a political institution and dogs don't engage in politics. To apply the analogy, I suppose we would say that marriage is a civil/social institution concerned with family relationships. Yet gay people do engage in civil society, relationships, and (if the bigots let them) families. So it seems clear that this is a strikingly inept analogy. About the only thing I can see in common here is that neither dog 'voting' nor gay marriage are currently permitted. I see no reason at all to think that these two prohibitions are equally justified.

But not all analogies are this bad. I'm sure we could do better than KBJ does in this case. Think about it. We have a traditionally persecuted minority group demanding to receive the same civil rights accorded to everyone else in the society. Frightened reactionaries proclaim such a break from tradition would spell doom for society. Ring any bells?

So how about this then: Gay "marriage" is like women "voting" (or, say, black people "not being slaves"). No doubt if KBJ had been around a century ago he would have argued that "Voting is not made for women. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution." Voting is defined as being between a male citizen and his polity. For females to 'vote' would be a contradiction in terms - "incoherent".

This analogy is far more useful, since the various relations within the two domains actually match up (always a good start). It has the added bonus of emphasising (in case it wasn't already obvious) just why KBJ's reaction here is unreasonable: Just because an institution has traditionally barred the participation of some group, it does not follow that it ought to do so. Perhaps the old 'definition' is unjust, and in need of revision.

KBJ's various comments about gay marriage are more fitting to a rhetorician than a philosopher. Unless he's willing to supplement his misleading rhetoric with something more closely approximating a coherent argument, perhaps it would be fitting for the rest of us to instead refer to his site as Anal-"Philosopher".

Update: To discuss the arguments against gay marriage, see my subsequent post.

Elsewhere, Ophelia Benson highlights how downright nasty KBJ's analogy is. Chris at Crooked Timber offers a (tongue-in-cheek) mention of recent research into animal voting behaviour. Upword has more on the analogy, and KBJ reacts badly.