Friday, September 29, 2017

Same-sex marriage and marriage equality: The arguments

Australia is currently engaged in a plebiscite on whether to change the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. Predictably, this has prompted a lot of debate on the issue. But for people trying to think through the arguments for and against gay marriage, and to understand their relative merits, the popular discussion can be pretty frustrating. Politicians and commentators on both sides of the issue often simply assert their position, rather than putting forward clear and detailed arguments supporting their stance. Even when we are lucky enough to receive a careful and sustained line of reasoning, it is rare for the opposing side to take it seriously, and address the argument on the merits. Instead, opposing sides tend to just caricature the other side’s arguments, or brush them aside as unworthy of careful consideration.
Yet, in my view, very few of the arguments that are given for either position are so bad that they can be rejected out of hand. Often there is at least something that can be said for them, and some care and attention is required to see how well they can stand up to critical examination.
The purpose of this little series of blog-posts is to try to unpack some of the arguments we hear on both sides of the issue. Rather than uncritically accepting or rejecting these arguments, the series attempts to think rationally and seriously about them, before evaluating whether they provide good reasons for favouring one side or the other.
Normally I like to mention that nothing I say here is meant to be the definitive and final word on the subject, in the sense that I have been known to make mistakes and change my mind. (See the rider in my profile on the top right.) But this caveat goes doubly true for this series of posts. Why? Well, as John Stuart Mill famously observed, a person who knows only his or her own side of the issue knows little enough of that. Precisely because we don't hear these arguments set down in detail by their proponents, it can be hard to know exactly how the line of reasoning is supposed to work, or what responses might be made by the authors of the arguments against various objections to their reasoning. So while I do my best to give each argument a fair hearing and objective appraisal, there may well be alternatives and objections that I have not considered.

In terms of my own position, I may as well say at the outset that I am in favour of gay marriage, and plan to vote YES in the plebiscite. But anyone coming to this blog in the hope of finding a series of devastating rebuttals against the NO position probably will leave disappointed. As we will see, I do not think that all the arguments (much less all the statements and practices) of those in favour of a YES vote are necessarily good arguments. Nor do I think all of the arguments put forward by the NO camp are silly or sneaky (as is sometimes alleged).
Anyway, for those who are interested in thinking seriously about the moral issues in play on this issue, I hope they will find much food for thought.
The first post deals with whether gay marriage is really just a question of equality, and you can find it here.
(For some of my earlier reflections on gay marriage and conservativism, see here.)

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