“Straw Man” Arguments For Proposition 8

LOS ANGELES – A federal appeals court panel ruled on Tuesday that a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in California violated the Constitution, all but ensuring that the case will proceed to the United States Supreme Court. — New York Times.

PBS interviews with proponents of the same-sex marriage ban revealed they still argue that “marriage” is linked to “one man, one woman” by the biological necessity of procreation. As outlined on ProtectMarriage.com, they also claim, among other things, that

  • “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
  • “Proposition 8 is about preserving marriage; it’s not an attack on the gay lifestyle.”
  • [Proposition 8] “restored the definition of marriage to what the vast majority of California voters already approved and human history has understood marriage to be.”
  • “It protects our children from being taught in public schools that “same-sex marriage” is the same as traditional marriage.”

The historical laundry list of injustices approved by voters and legislators beggars description. We even fought a civil war over some of those.  So let’s not pretend that a popular vote can actually legitimatize overt legal discrimination.

We even heard an argument by one PBS interviewee, John Eastman of National Organization for Marriage, that California Proposition 8 doesn’t discriminate; it merely defines marriage as between one man and one woman, thus preventing polygamy. But existing law doesn’t permit polygamy.

No one reading this column is likely to be fooled by such arguments. But we shouldn’t allow their outrageous claims to distract or side-track us, either.

Let’s just look at a very pertinent definition, a rhetorical tactic, discussed in Wikipedia:

A straw man is a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

Anti-gay-marriage proponents are simply redefining the legal definition of marriage with their manufacture of spurious additional attributes, then demolishing their “straw man.” There is nothing in any legal definition of civic marriage that ties it to procreation, protection of the “family,” ancient tradition, or any of the other attributes ascribed by people who wish to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Any 80-year-old couple can tell us they aren’t in it for the procreative value of marriage.

So let’s not allow the debate to be derailed by “straw man” fundamentalist smoke-screens. Like similar laws elsewhere, California’s Proposition 8 sought to permanently classify same-sex partners as second-class American citizens. Our fight is for full equality before the law and equal access to all its fundamental protections. Period.

No matter how much we cherish the idealized “mom and pop” version of marriage that we grew up with, fewer and fewer Americans remain willing to shame the American ideal of equality by supporting discrimination. There is no way opponents can evade the simple fact Proposition 8 preserves pervasive and systematic legal discrimination against one class of American citizens. Keep the faith. Ultimately we must and shall prevail.

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