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Damon Linker Marriage and Commendable Arguments

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Political writer Damon Linker recently  wrote on the future of same-sex “marriage.” He offered a grudging mini-compliment to the new website Discussing Marriage that addresses the marriage debate thoughtfully, civilly, and in Linker’s view, unpersuasively.

Linker believes that the fate of true marriage is sealed, and he attributes the cause not to presumptuous judges, de facto censorship in public schools and Hollywood, ad hominem attacks on dissenters, or the destructive work of Satan in the world. No, the fate of true marriage has been sealed by what Linker deems not “commendable” arguments.

In Linker’s view commendable arguments in favor of the view that the central constituent feature of marriage is sexual differentiation must not do the following:

  • Must not appeal to religious faith

Linker: “The distinctive strength of natural law arguments (at least as [Robert] George and the “Discussing Marriage” website deploy them) is that they typically make no reference to religious faith, scriptural authority, or the dogmas, doctrines, or traditions of any church.”

  • Must not rely on “intuitions as premises for syllogisms”

Linker: “As one might expect, the distinctive vulnerability of natural law arguments lies in the intuitions that serve as the premises of those syllogisms. If the intuitions are genuinely incontestable, then the moral ‘law’ that gets spit out at the end of the argument may well be ‘natural.’ But if the intuitions aren’t universally accepted, then the conclusion of the argument will appear arbitrary and unjustified.”

  • Must not address the moral status of homoerotic activity because moral disapproval of homoerotic activity is inherently disrespectful

Linker: “Perhaps the most notable thing about the website is how far it goes in making the case for treating opponents — including gay couples — with respect. Whereas the mainstream of the anti-gay-marriage movement has recently gathered under the banner of religious freedom, arguing that they should continue to be permitted to argue and preach that homosexual relationships are intrinsically immoral, ‘Discussing Marriage’ takes a very different tack, asserting that the marriage debate should not ‘center on issues of sexual morality or the moral status of homosexual persons.’”

On religious motivations

Here are some people whose arguments for public policy changes Linker must also find not “commendable”:

  • Member of Parliament William Wilberforce who fought tenaciously to end the slave trade in England because of his religious faith.
  • Abolitionist, pastor, and first president of Wheaton College, Jonathan Blanchard who fought to free slaves because of his faith.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller opposed the Nazi regime in Germany because of their faith.
  • Trappist monk Thomas Merton and the Berrigan brothers opposed the Vietnam War because of their religious faith.
  • In the midst of the struggle for civil rights for blacks, Martin Luther King Jr., who was motivated by his Baptist faith, wrote this in “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”
  • Many “progressive” church members claim that their pro-“gay” theology informs their motives for embracing same-sex “marriage.”
  • Homosexual NBA player Jason Collins appealed to his faith to defend his embrace of a homosexual “identity” (another rhetorical invention of the Left, created to transform one’s feelings and desires into something more substantive and to silence criticism).
  • (Vicky) Gene Robinson, retired Episcopal bishop, has relentlessly campaigned for the redefinition of marriage, citing his faith as central to his political views.
  • President Obama appealed to his faith when defending his “evolution” (no giggling) on marriage, saying that, “[Michelle and I] we are both practicing Christians and…when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule…”

On intuitions

Here are some questions regarding intuitions for Linker:

  • Is the “progressive” intuition that marriage has no inherent connection to sexual differentiation incontestable?
  • Is the “progressive” intuition that affirming non-reproductive types of erotic love is a government purpose incontestable?
  • Is it the “progressive” intuition that the number of partners that constitutes a marriage is essential while the sex of partners is irrelevant incontestable?
  • Is it the “progressive” intuition that marriage is merely a social construction with no inherent nature incontestable? (Of course, this is intellectually inconsistent with the previous intuition.)
  • Is Linker’s intuition that judgments on the moral status of actions constitutes disrespect of those who engage in them incontestable?”
  • Is Linker’s intuition that marriage is a “romantic union” incontestable?
  • Is the “progressive” intuition that equality demands treating unlike things as if they’re alike incontestable?
  • Is the “progressive” intuition that a union constituted by sexual differentiation is identical to a same-sex union incontestable?

On morality

When “progressives” argue that the criterion regarding sexual difference in legal definitions of marriage should be jettisoned while the criteria that prohibit two brothers and an uncle from marrying should be retained, are they appealing to uncommendable, disrespectful arguments regarding the morality of polyamory and incest?

Is there anything knowable and incontestable about marriage?

Before discussing which legal regulations the government should put in place regarding marriage, society must start with a definition of marriage. In other words, what is marriage? Do we recognize and regulate a type of relationship that exists, or are we creating out of whole cloth a thing that we have decided to call “marriage”?

Linker seems to dismiss the notion that in regard to marriage there exist “intuitions” that are incontestable and accessible to human reason, but then goes on to posit two: He declares that marriage is “a romantic relationship involving a publicly declared lifetime commitment between two people.” Why a romantic relationship, and why two people?

Why not expand the definition of marriage to allow three bachelor brothers or BFF’s to marry?

And why not allow close blood relatives to marry?

Why restrict marriage, as Linker does, to two adults in erotic/romantic relationships? Why not conceive of marriage as a union between any number of persons in any type of relationship characterized by any type of feelings or no feelings? Marriage will then become oh so marvelously expansive.

Maybe, however, there are some intuitions—or first principles—that even Linker accepts as incontestable, accessible givens.

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