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Why We Should Stop Making Arguments for Traditional Marriage

Aurelio Asiain

David Carlin - published on 05/20/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Common sense and thousands of years of historical precedent firmly put the burden of proof on those who wish to redefine marriage.

Another judge, this one in Arkansas, has struck down a state law banning same-sex marriage on the ground that the ban has no “rational” basis. In other words, the defenders of the law were not able to prove that the discrimination (against gays and lesbians) involved in the law served a useful social purpose.

It is a waste of time trying to prove that a law restricting marriage to male-female combinations is “rational” in the sense that it serves a useful social purpose. Now I happen to think that traditional male-female marriage is useful and that same-sex marriage will in the long run prove to be socially harmful — very harmful indeed — but I doubt that I can prove this to somebody who is not already convinced of its truth.

Why not, instead of trying to prove the irrationality of same-sex marriage, simply say that it is a “self-evident truth” that marriage must be a male-female thing?  A self-evident truth is a truth that is known to be true without the need for any proof.

After all, we Americans have a very respectable tradition of holding that some truths are self-evident. In the Declaration of Independence our Founding Fathers itemized a number of self-evident truths — that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders could make an appeal to self-evident moral truths, why can’t we?

Slavery was condemned and eventually abolished on grounds other than “rational” proof of its inutility. While it is true that slavery was not a socially useful institution, this is not why it was abolished. Americans (at least those Americans who lived outside the South) didn’t become anti-slavery because some economist proved to them that it did more harm than good to the GDP. They turned against slavery because they remembered what Jefferson had said in the Declaration and because Harriett Beecher Stowe — without taking the trouble to give a “rational” proof that there is anything wrong with cruelty — showed that slavery was a cruel institution.

Likewise when society, many millennia ago, first decided that marriage should be a male-female thing, this wasn’t because social scientists of that primitive society considered the possibility of same-sex marriage and rejected it in favor of male-female marriage because the latter, in their considered and very “rational” judgment, was more socially beneficial. Those primitive societies, along with every human society that ever existed prior to the 1990s, rejected same-sex marriage because it struck them as an absurdity. They rejected it because its irrationality could be seen on its face; it was self-evident; it didn’t require proof.

And if you are somebody who disapproves of same-sex marriage, is this because you have given it impartial consideration and, after much reading and discussion and contemplation, and after weighing up the pros and cons, you have been compelled by your sober and dispassionate rationality to the conclusion that it will be more harmful to society than beneficial? Or did you say to yourself when the idea of same-sex marriage was first proposed, “This is an absurdity”?

So if this is how almost every society that has ever existed on the face of the earth has decided that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be allowed, and if this is how many of us as individuals still decide against it, why when we enter a courtroom must we pretend that have a “rational” proof against same-sex marriage?

We ought to be able to go into a courtroom and say to the judge, “Your honor, you know as well as I that same-sex marriage makes no sense; and so I rest my case.”

David Carlin, a professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport, is the author of Homosexualism Versus Catholicism.

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