The Marriage Debate

As a philosophy poli-sci double major, I’ve noticed that philosophy and politics use very different modes of argumentation. In philosophy, you beat your opponent’s argument when you characterize it in the strongest possible manner (such that your opponent would agree with every point you make and acknowledge that you understand their position), and then defeat it point for point. In politics (which is different from more analytic forms of political science), you typically win debate by characterizing your opponent’s opinion in the most absurd way possible, and then by ridiculing them for believing such a clearly crazy position. The truth of one’s own position rarely comes into question in politics. One typically accepts it as given that one’s own beliefs are all correct, and the purpose for having reasons for holding those beliefs is mainly just to provide one with oratorical ammunition. In philosophy, the arguable purpose is to believe things that are true. In politics, the arguable purpose is to score points and make one’s settled beliefs dominant. My goal is to treat the political questions I consider in the same manner as one would a philosophical question: striving to maximize consistency, demanding reasons for the beliefs that I accept, and constantly looking for weaknesses in my own positions.

However, even when one attempts to treat one’s own political beliefs in this manner, one will still sometimes find that certain positions appear crazy and untenable. And for me, arguments against gay marriage have often struck me that way. The character of the arguments seems to frequently rely on non-secular conceptions of ethics, which are hard to accept for people who are not religious. Claims that procreation is an essential part of marriage seem factually untrue (infertile and older couples get married without controversy all the time), and claims that homosexuals make bad parents seem at best unsupported by empirical evidence and at worst hateful and bigoted. Claims that gay marriage ought to be banned seem to go against the spirit of liberal democracy, that people should be free to pursue their own visions of the good life so long as those visions do not prevent others from doing likewise. And yet, recently, some political philosophers have been making arguments that the traditional conception of marriage is both worthy of defense and defensible on secular grounds and does not require one to condemn homosexuals as people.

The most recent book (which apparently features the best defenses of traditional marriage on the market today) is called What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George. As I am on winter break currently and have a little bit more time for leisure reading, I plan on going through the arguments by the three Princeton philosophers who wrote the book and identifying what I think works and fails in their defense.


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