Thursday, February 19, 2004

Begging the Question

Andrew Sullivan wrote the following in his blog (see here):

What this debate may be coming down to is that, under almost any rational understanding of equal protection, civil marriage has to be extended to gay couples. That's why court after court has ruled thus. But popular feeling among at least a plurality of voters holds that marriage for gays is abhorrent to them, a threat to marriage itself - or, in the words of Laura Bush, "very, very shocking." Given equal protection guarantees, the only viable option, then, for those opposed to marriage rights for gays is to change the constitutions - state and federal - to carve out an exception to equality under the law. So that the U.S. and state constitutions would say: Every citizen is equal under the law, except when it comes to gays marrying. Or, more bluntly: all people are equal but some people are more equal than others. And this Orwellism we put into the founding document of the country. That may emerge as the choice we face.

Neither the moral principle of equality nor the constitutional doctrine of equal protection under the law requires equal treatment. They require equal treatment for similarly situated individuals. If the individuals in question are differently situated, then they can and should be treated differently. This is basic stuff, folks. It goes back to Aristotle. The issue, therefore, is whether there are relevant differences between heterosexual and homosexual marriage. If there are, then equality requires different treatment. If there are not, then equality requires the same treatment.

You'll notice that I used the word "relevant." There are really two debates going on: a legal debate and a moral debate. The legal debate asks whether there is a legally relevant difference between heterosexual and homosexual marriage. The moral debate asks whether there is a morally relevant difference. We should not assume that the answers to these questions will be the same. It may be that there is no morally relevant difference between the two types of marriage but that there is a legally relevant difference. Or there could be a morally relevant difference but no legally relevant difference. Not everything immoral is or should be illegal, and not everything that is or should be illegal is immoral. Law and morality are distinct institutions, even if they mutually influence each other.

Andrew Sullivan and other proponents of homosexual marriage should stop begging the question against their interlocutors. To assume that the moral principle of equality (or the constitutional doctrine of equal protection under the law) requires homosexual marriage is to assume, without argument, that there are no morally or legally relevant differences between homosexual and heterosexual marriage. But that's precisely what needs to be established. I, for one, am skeptical that it can be established. Indeed, I believe that it cannot. There are both morally and legally relevant differences between the two types of marriage. Since Sullivan is trying to change the status quo, the burden of persuasion is on him.

In another post of this date (see here), Sullivan uses the expression "discrimination against gay couples." But "discrimination" is ambiguous. It means either discrimination on the basis of irrelevant traits or discrimination on the basis of relevant traits. Only the former is objectionable. The latter is not only not objectionable; it is constitutive of rationality! But then we must ask which traits are relevant and which irrelevant. We are back to the same issue--the key issue in this debate; the issue Sullivan is evading. Sullivan's use of rhetoric and fallacy to move his readers is philosophically distressing and personally insulting. It demonstrates a lack of respect for his readers' intelligence. It also suggests that he hasn't thought things through.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

"Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers" (front page, Feb. 14) has finally revealed the laissez-faire practices of's reviewing system. The article deals mostly with fiction, however. But in the world of nonfiction, any competing author can post a review, negative or positive, and lie about the content or veracity of a reference book.

This has turned the review sections into bizarre, vitriolic chat rooms, which may entertain but ultimately do not help the customer make a good purchase.

And when buying a textbook where one is relying on facts, the wrong choice can have serious results.

New York, Feb. 14, 2004

Dr Dean's Demise

Howard Dean's campaign for the presidency is over, thank goodness. At least for this year. He'll probably be back in 2008. He's too young, too ambitious, and too convinced of his own rectitude to retire from the political scene. I should say up front, and for the record, that I was wrong in predicting a Dean-Edwards ticket. See here. Like many others, I was taken in by his success in raising money via the Internet. Early on, however, I dismissed his campaign as pie in the sky. See here. I should have stayed with my original judgment. In case you're interested, The New York Times weighs in here on the Dean phenomenon.

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