Jason and David meet to discuss the new gay marriage law.
Jason: “It finally happened! New York passed gay marriage. Now gay couples are the same as straight couples!”
David: “But they’re not, you know. One couple is comprised of two men or two women while the other is made of one man, one woman. No matter how you slice it, these are different combinations of people, which will lead to differences in behavior. And those differences in behavior must influence society.”
Jason: “You’re exaggerating, as usual. Whatever happens inside a person’s house in private has no impact outside that person’s house.”
David: “Not so. When a man has a fight with his wife, he is likely to leave his house in a different mood than if he spent a pleasant morning; further, the mood with which he leaves home often changes his behavior during the day. ”
Jason: “So what? Gay couples will fight just like straight couples.”
David: “Does this mean you agree with me that whatever happens inside a person’s house in private often, or even always, has consequences outside that person’s house and thus effects the culture as whole, however trivially? That what you claimed was false?”
Jason: “I suppose so. But then you’ll have to admit that gay couples will fight like straight couples and that there will be no real differences.”
David: “Of course I agree that fights, and pleasant evenings, and so forth will happen in both households. I differ from you only in that you assume that society will not change or will become better, while I say it is certain that society has changed and will continue to change because of this law, and that the consequences might be beneficial or they might be harmful. You dismiss the idea of harm because you view the law as progress, and that any progress is beneficial. Whereas I claim that ideas sold as ‘progressive’ have often caused harm to cultures.”
Jason: “What possible harm could there be?”
David: “If you mean to ask that question as a way to discover possible harms, then it is a good one. But if you meant it rhetorically, as in, ‘I can’t think of any harm, therefore there can be no harm’, then you make a mistake, and a common one. Just because you cannot think of harmful consequences does not mean they do not exist.”
Jason: “OK, then. Prove to me that the culture will be harmed. If you cannot, then the law will at least cause no changes and might even provide benefits, like increasing awareness of rights.”
David: “You committed the same fallacy twice, and worsened it by introducing one new one. Just because I cannot prove harm does not mean that harm cannot exist. My powers of political prognostication are no more developed than yours. I only claim to have a clearer understanding of history and the multitudinous follies of mankind.
Your second mistake was to assume that I claimed there would be no benefits. I make no such claims and acknowledge that, at the least, benefits to certain people, such as gay couples themselves, will be created. I only ask whether those benefits will be outweighed by harms—which is a question you have forbidden yourself and others to ask.
But I don’t want to appear evasive, so I will show you one direct and immediate harm; curiously, you suggested it. Proponents of the law said that gays should be allowed to marry because it was their right. I say the harm is the further loosening of reason caused by poor arguments passed off for good; and that, since it has passed for good, this style of argumentation will be more readily allowed in future questions of cultural change.”
Jason: “Gay marriage is an obvious right.”
David: “You have heard the argument that since gays have a right to marry, why should not polygamists have that same right? And why not allow adults to marry children? Or people animals?”
Jason: “Yes, I’ve heard these, and they are absurd arguments. Nobody is asking for these things. It is obvious to everybody that marriage is between two people.”
David: “There are people that ask for those things; but let that pass. Why do you say it is obvious that marriage is for two?”
Jason: “Just look at history! Marriage, except in rare situations, such as when kings and princes gathered harems, was always and everywhere for two people. Even in harems, a prince took just one wife, relegating the remaining women to concubinage.”
David: “But if history says that marriage is only for couples, then history also says that marriage is between men and women and not between man and man. History cannot be your guide only in part; you must accept it whole. You must acknowledge that gay marriage is a ‘right’ only because you desire it to be. ”
Jason: “Cultures change; history never stays constant. Marriage is now changing to mean something different. This doesn’t bother me. And you commit a fallacy yourself if you say that just because I desire this change it shouldn’t occur, because I might desire what is right.”
David: “At least you have abandoned your history argument—and opened the culture to future changes, possibly in the direction of entirely new concepts of marriage, such as I already mentioned. Plus I do not not claim what you desire what is wrong or right, just that you have no argument except for desire.”
Jason: “I do desire it; further, I say what I desire is right. It is time this culture accepted gay marriage, not just in New York, but everywhere.”
David: “You have finally arrived at the crux. Marriage is not a contract between two (or more) people. Marriage is instead a cultural contract between a couple and society as a whole, even to other societies and that couple, since traditional marriages are recognized everywhere.
With rare exceptions, any two, or even more, adult people are allowed to enter into any living arrangements they like. But those arrangements differ from marriage because mere living arrangements do not ask society to give its blessings or to elevate arrangements to the point of ceremony.
Enforcing gay marriage by fiat requires all of culture to change, and change abruptly; it requires those who would hold to tradition and who do not want to redefine marriage, to not just acquiesce in this redefinition, but to immediately and positively support and bless these unions—else face the consequences.”
Jason: “Don’t be silly. We’re not asking for universal sensitivity training. We just want what is ours and we want it right now. Besides, even if I accept everything you said, you have not convinced me the harms outweigh the benefits.”
David: “Nor can I prove that, as I have already admitted; as I have admitted there may be more benefit than harm. And anyway, it is too late: the law is passed. My wish for more gradual, cautious change has gone un-granted.”
Jason: “Be cheerful. The only difference between us is that I am willing to let a culture change at its own speed. I am willing to try new experiments in living and to pick those that work, whereas you would hold life constant. And isn’t life better now than it has been?”
David: “Better now than it ever has been? No. But, no—the real difference between you and me is that I heed the awful wisdom in the ancient aphorism, ‘Be careful what you wish for.'”
Update To all of David’s opponents, I ask that before you respond to anything else, you define “marriage.” And then support that definition in particular using history, noting that the definition David used is thousands of years old, existing across hundreds of cultures. That is, if your definition is different than David’s, why is David’s definition wrong?