Letter: Only the closed-minded presume enlightenment
In response to Taylor Brorby of Dickinson, N.D. (June 25 Forum commentary): Brorby hopes for open discussion of same-sex marriage in North Dakota. Sadly, the approach he takes in his June 25 letter is exactly what makes open discussion very difficult. He describes North Dakota as “closeted,” “close-minded,” “lagging behind,” and states that its close-minded residents “push base viewpoints of hate and bigotry” to the detriment of the mental health of its young people. With this barrage of name-calling and, behind it, a slew of false assumptions about why I and many others think same-sex marriage is wrong for society, how should I begin an “open” dialogue?
Clear the fog
I can only make a small attempt to clear the emotional fog and disambiguate some of the terms. The truth is that the vast majority of those who support the traditional conception of marriage do not push hatred of homosexuals. When we are labeled “bigots” for our sincere and rationally supported beliefs, we are pained because this name-calling cuts us off at the start and puts us in a “closet” so that rational discussion in the public forum is nigh impossible. The use of the adjective “close-minded” always presumes that the user is the “enlightened” one. It does not substitute for an argument that truly enlightens.
Taylor’s only argument is as follows: Same-sex marriage gives parental rights and medical visitation rights to the partners. The extension of these rights for household members betters society. Therefore, same-sex marriage betters society. The form of the argument is invalid as can be shown by this similarly structured argument: Increasing the age for a driver’s license to age 21 will reduce teen fatalities on our highways. Reducing teen fatalities on our highways is good for society. Therefore, raising the age for driving is good for society. Even if you agree with the conclusion, you can readily see that the state of affairs described in the first premise may have negative consequences that might make it a less desirable means of reducing teen fatalities than some other approach. You also would admit a rational person could seriously argue that such a change in rules would be bad for society when all things are considered.
Similarly, there are means of extending rights to household members other than by marriage, and the argument provides no support that same-sex marriage will actually better society when all things are considered. Brorby spoke of another “right” that same-sex marriage honors: the right for “two people who love one another to make a public commitment recognized by the government.” Before we honor such a “right,” we need to be clear about what and why. Since when has government been in the business of publicly recognizing love? And why should it ever be in that business? Government’s interest in marriage has nothing to do with love, but with children and their upbringing. Let’s talk about this openly, and not about a bogus “right” to love and marry anybody. The other term we must clarify is “love.” Let’s cut to the chase: The supposed “right” has nothing to do with love, but with sexual intimacy, and sexual intimacy has connection to children and to families.
Let’s talk about children. There will always be households where a child is not with a biological father or mother for various reasons, and they will do better or worse in this situation depending on the circumstances. That does not detract from the good of the norm that a child is raised by its biological father and mother. The child is the reason for the government’s interest in marriage. The push for same-sex marriage has nothing to do with children or the state’s interest in marriage, but instead it is a demand that our society change norms regarding family, which exist for the good of society as a whole, without even addressing the consequences for children. Without that discussion, we can hardly make a judgment about whether same-sex marriage will better society. It seems we cannot have that discussion in the public forum because the other side has construed it to be solely about civil rights for adults and shoved their opponents in a closet labeled “bigots.” This is good political campaigning but has nothing to do with getting to the truth about what is better for society.
Opperman lives in Fargo.