You Can't Marry Your Canary

There is a slippery-slope fallacy, but the slipper slope isn't always a fallacy. What else can be justified in the way same-sex marriage is argued for?

I've got a piece from the LA Times, Tuesday, July 13, and there is an interesting piece written by Joseph Ferra that is entitled "Bias for Gays: Hollywood's Dual Standard." This is something that I want to draw your attention to and it's worth thinking about.

Last November voters in Colorado passed what I call the equal rights amendment which means no special rights for homosexuals. Everybody gets treated the same in Colorado. But apparently there is a court order that has restricted that until they do some more work on it because it may violate the U.S. Constitution. I don't understand that to be honest with you because equal protection under the law, which was the concern of this amendment with regards to the U.S. Constitution, is exactly what this amendment to the Colorado constitution provides for. In any event, part of the argument that conservative thinkers had on this is that the kinds of laws that promote equal protection for homosexuals were in fact special protection with bias on the sides of the homosexuals and against heterosexuals. They said this would never happen.

Right now we're facing a situation in which new rules are expected to be adopted by the Writers' Guild of America West that will extend the health insurance coverage to domestic partners. Sounds great, huh? Health insurance coverage to domestic partners, but with this caveat, if an only if they are homosexuals. In other words, if Joe is shacking up with Mary then his health insurance doesn't cover her, but if Joe is shacking up with Fred it does cover Fred. It seems to me that this is a straight out and out special privilege for homosexuals. And it's not just the Writers' Guild of America West. It's also MCA Universal, HBO and Viacom. They have all recently adopted similar rules and Sony, 20th Century Fox and surprisingly Disney are reportedly jumping on the bandwagon. That is a separate issue. I'm just pointing that out.

What strikes me as interesting is some conversation that I listened to on Steve Edwards' show about this issue. He was actually a bit frustrated about this and he is quite liberal on the general issue of homosexuals in culture. But this bothered him because it's an obvious bias on the side of homosexuals. They get special privileges for health care, which is ironic because they have more health care risks. Those people who are heterosexual are going to have to dig into their pockets to fund the additional risks that these homosexual partnerships are going to add to the insurance policies. Steve Edwards was offended and I understand why.

Well, somebody called into his show and said that this isn't unfair and the reason is that homosexuals have been discriminated against for a long time and this evens the situation a little bit more. It's time for them to have a few things in their benefit. That strikes me as wrong way to resolve inappropriate discrimination, but in any event that's the way he argued. His argument hinged on the notion that heterosexuals had been discriminating against homosexuals in the area of marriage for years and years, and since they were the unfortunate victims of discrimination then it was appropriate for this other action to be taken to protect them.

I thought about this for a while. I'm always inclined to bite off an argument like that and chew on it for a while and see if it really works. I hope you're getting into the habit of that too after listening to shows like this. So I thought about this for a while and there was something about it that bothered me. There was a sense in which there is all kinds of discrimination in the world, and I've talked about this notion of discrimination that it's like a sixteen-letter four-letter word. I don't think discrimination per se is wrong. In fact, it's a vital skill for us to be able to make good decisions about things and it's also a critical aspect of our freedom. We have the liberty to discriminate amongst a variety of different things. There are only a few types of discrimination that we've considered inappropriate. I got to thinking about this whole thing of discriminating against homosexuals in marriage.

The question that I asked myself was this: will the government allow me to marry my canary? Well, no. Of course not. What a bizarre thought. You can't marry a bird. What about my computer? Can I marry my computer? You can't marry a machine. Why not? Couldn't one argue that it's discrimination, that it's discrimination against me from a heterosexual perspective, that heterosexuals narrowly allow marriage just for a man and a woman and they're discriminating against anyone who would want to marry their pet or machine or anyone who would want to marry their computer or T.V. or VCR, or anything else. Why couldn't we do that?

If I were to ask that question and ask it seriously you'd have to give me a reasonable response. You wouldn't just shrug your shoulders and say that it's idiotic. I'd have to ask you why it's idiotic. And the answer would turn out to be something like this. Marriage isn't for men and machines. Marriage isn't for men and animals. That's not what marriage is. So when we talk about marriage, to even think about applying it to machines or animals is a misapplication of the whole concept. This is why the accusation that there is discrimination against people who want to marry their machines simply doesn't fly because it's a category fallacy. It just doesn't work. Machines aren't the kinds of things you marry. Pets aren't the kind of things you marry. So raising this objection is superfluous.

What is marriage? Marriage is defined according to the U.S. Supreme Court in Jones v. Hallahan like this: "Marriage was a custom long before the state commenced to issue licenses for that purpose. In all cases, marriage has always been considered as the union of a man and a woman, and we have been presented with no authority to the contrary." If you look in Black's Law Dictionary it says this: "Marriage is defined as the civil status, condition or relation of one man and one woman united in law for life for the discharge to each other and the community of duties legally incumbent upon those whose association is founded on the distinction of sex." Webster says this: "Marriage is a state of being married or being united to a person or persons of the opposite sex as husband and wife. Also the mutual relation of husband and wife abstractly, the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social, legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family."

Here's the point that I'm making, my friends. As a category, by definition, culturally and linguistically and legally, marriage involves not a man and a pet, not a woman and a machine, but a man and a woman. Restricting it as such is not inappropriate discrimination. As a matter of fact, the word doesn't even apply because there is no such thing legally, culturally, socially or linguistically as a marriage that is not between a man and a woman.

One could change the institution and the legal definitions and we're always open to that theoretically. But keep in mind that if your goal is to reconstruct an institution, reconstruct a legal definition, redefine the meaning of a word, then the burden of proof is on the reconstructionist and it's not really fair to point the finger at the person who simply holds the legal, social and linguistic meaning of a word that the word has always had. The burden of proof is on the reconstructionist. That's why it's an unfair objection to say that it is discriminatory if the state won't allow a man to marry his machine. It's unfair to say that it's discriminatory if the state won't allow a woman to marry her canary. And it's also unfair to claim that it's discriminatory if the state won't allow a man to marry another man or a woman to marry another woman. That's not what marriage is pure and simple.

At least that's the way I see it.

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Greg Koukl