January 2010

First published at 365gay.com on January 29, 2010

Opponents of marriage equality have recently been shifting somewhat away from the “bad for children” argument in favor of what we might call the “definitional” argument: same-sex “marriage” is not really marriage, and thus legalizing it would amount to a kind of lie or counterfeit.

As National Organization for Marriage (NOM) president Maggie Gallagher puts it: “Politicians can pass a bill saying a chicken is a duck and that doesn’t make it true. Truth matters.”

The definitional argument isn’t new, although its resurgence is telling. Unlike the “bad for children” argument, it’s immune from empirical testing: it’s a conceptual point, not an empirical one.

Suppose we grant for argument’s sake that marriage has been male-female pretty much forever. (For now, I’m putting aside anthropological evidence of same-sex unions in history, as well as the great diversity of marriage forms even within the male-female paradigm.) All that would follow is that this is how marriage HAS BEEN. It would not follow that marriage cannot become something else.

At this point opponents are likely to retort that changing marriage in this way would be bad because [insert parade of horrible consequences here]. But if they do, they’ve in effect conceded the impotence of the definitional argument. The definitional argument is supposed to be IN ADDITION TO the consequentialist arguments, not a proxy for them. Otherwise, we could just stay focused on the consequentialist arguments.

What Gallagher and her cohorts are contending is that EVEN IF we were to take the consequentialist arguments off the table, there will still be the problem that same-sex marriage promotes a lie, much like calling a chicken a duck.

Let’s pause to consider a seemingly silly question: apart from consequences, what’s the problem with calling a chicken a duck—or more precisely, with using the word “chicken” to refer to both chickens and ducks?

If I go to the grocer and ask for a chicken and unwittingly come home with a (fattier and less healthful) duck, that’s a problem. But (1) same-sex marriage poses no similar problem: no one worries about walking his bride down the aisle, lifting her veil, and discovering “Damn! You’re a dude!” And (2) such problems are still in the realm of consequences.

If there’s an inherent problem with using the word “chicken” to refer to both chickens and ducks, it’s that doing so would obscure a real difference in nature. Whatever we call them—indeed, whether we name them at all—chickens and ducks are distinct creatures.

Something similar would occur if we used the word “silver” to refer to both silver and platinum. Even if no one noticed and no one cared, the underlying realities would be different.

That might begin to get at what marriage-equality opponents mean when they claim that same sex marriage involves “a lie about human nature” (Gallagher’s words). But if it does, then their argument is weak on at least two counts.

First, one can acknowledge a difference between two things while still adopting a blanket term that covers them both. Both chickens and ducks are fowl; both silver and platinum are precious metals.

So even if same-sex and opposite-sex relationships differ in some fundamental way, there’s nothing to prevent us from using the term “marriage” to cover relationships of both sorts—especially if we have compelling reasons for doing so (for example, that marriage equality would make life better for millions of gay people and wouldn’t take anything away from straight people).

The second and deeper problem is that both the chicken/duck example and the silver/platinum example involve what philosophers call “natural kinds”—categories that “carve nature at the joints,” as it were. By contrast, marriage is quintessentially a social, or artifactual, kind: it’s something that humans create.

(One might retort that God created marriage. That rejoinder won’t help marriage-equality opponents attempting to provide a constitutionally valid reason against secular marriage equality. But it might help explain why they sometimes treat marriage as if it were a fixed object in nature.)

Like “baseball,” “art,” “war,” and “government”—to take a random list—and unlike “chicken” or “silver,” the word “marriage” refers to something that humans arrange and can rearrange. Indeed, they HAVE rearranged it. Polygamy was once the norm; wives were the legal property of their husbands; mutual romantic interest was the exception rather than the rule.

Of course it doesn’t follow that any and all rearrangements are advisable.

We could change baseball so that it has four outs per inning. Doing so might or might not improve the game. But saying “that’s not really baseball!” is hardly a compelling argument against the change (any more than it was against changing the designated-hitter rule).

So too with the claim “that’s not really marriage.” Maybe that’s not what marriage WAS. But should it be now?

Read more

First published at 365gay.com on January 22, 2010

Not long ago a friend approached me for relationship advice. He’s a white guy who was contemplating dating a black guy, and, as he put it, “I thought you could give me some insight since you’re in an interracial relationship.”

His query took me by surprise. To be honest, I had forgotten that I’m in an interracial relationship (though I’ve been in one for eight years and counting).

It’s not because I “don’t see color” or anything like that. Of course I see color. People who don’t see color in this society are blind to an important feature of others’ experience.

Maybe it’s because I frequently don’t see Mark’s color. That’s partially a function—for better or worse—of our intimacy. But I suspect it’s equally a function of the fact that Mark is Asian.

Like many Americans, I tend to think of color in terms of a black/white paradigm. Living in Detroit, as Mark and I do, tends to reinforce that paradigm. “Interracial” means “black and white.” I’m well aware that it’s a false paradigm, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t common and powerful.

It doesn’t follow that people don’t notice Asians, don’t stereotype Asians, or don’t discriminate against Asians. All of the negative stuff still applies (in varying degrees). The difference, I think, is that when we white people make efforts to be more sensitive to race issues, we sometimes forget that there are more than two races. It’s not so much that Asians are invisible; it’s that discrimination against them is overlooked.

The gay Filipino-American comedian Alec Mapa is currently touring with a show entitled “No Fats, Femmes, or Asians”—highlighting a phrase he sees commonly in personals ads.

Mapa retorts that he objects to the idea—I’m quoting from memory here—“that belonging to a certain class of people makes you inherently unfuckable.”

I missed the next ten minutes of Mapa’s routine as I pondered the moral implications of his analysis.

Put Fats and Fem(me)s aside for the moment, and let’s focus on the “No Asians.”

Having been with Mark for nearly a decade, I recognize that the sentiment is common. Growing up, Mark was painfully aware of the fact that there were (virtually) no Asians in the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog or other standard markers of our notions of beauty.

Before we started dating, lots of guys told him, “You’re cute, but I don’t date Asians.” For that matter, people have told *me* that “I’m not into Asians, but Mark’s cute—you’re lucky you found each other.” (Yes we are, thank you.)

On the one hand, I think personal tastes are just that. For example, I’m not into beefy, muscular guys. Give me a cute scrawny nerdy type over a football player any day. Other people have the opposite preference. To each his own.

What’s more, there are some guys who are really into Asian guys (the slang term is “rice queens”). More power to ‘em, I say.

I would add that people get enough grief about their sexual tastes—especially LGBT people—that the last thing I want to do is give them more. Sexuality is a gift to be enjoyed, not an occasion for affirmative-action programs. As I’ve sometimes explained, “I’m not into women sexually, but that doesn’t make me sexist.”

On the other hand, our notions of beauty don’t arise in a vacuum, and some of our preferences are premised on false—and morally troubling—stereotypes. They’re hurtful. And the social structures that lead to them are an appropriate subject for moral scrutiny.

So my advice to people contemplating—or consciously avoiding—an interracial relationship? Keep an open mind. Listen and learn. And wherever you find love, celebrate and enjoy it.

Read more

First published at 365gay.com on January 18, 2010

The Gay Moralist is a philosophy professor by day, and today’s column is a logic lesson.

Consider the following two exchanges:

Jack: I can’t support gay marriage because it violates my religion.
Jill: Some people’s religions teach that interracial marriage is wrong.
Jack: So, you’re saying that opposing same-sex marriage is just like racism?!

Jill: I should be allowed to marry whomever I love.
Jack: What if you love your brother? Should you be allowed to marry him?
Jill: So, you’re saying that homosexuality is just like incest?!

Exchanges like these have become familiar—so familiar, in fact, that it would be handy to have a name for the fallacy they contain.

Take the first exchange: Jill never said that opposition to marriage equality is “just like” racism. Rather, she used the analogy to interracial marriage as a counterexample to the implied premise that “Whatever a religion teaches is right.” In other words, she seems to be saying that citing religion doesn’t exempt a view from moral scrutiny.

Similarly, in the second exchange, Jack never said that homosexuality is “just like” incest. Rather, he used the analogy as a counterexample to Jill’s premise that people should be allowed to marry anyone they love.

Analogies can be tricky. They compare two things that are similar in some relevant respect. That does not mean that the two things are similar in EVERY respect, or “just like” each other. In both examples above, the second party is misreading the first’s analogy to have far broader implications than intended. This is a fallacy, whether the misreading is deliberate or just careless.

Although people sometimes use the term “fallacy” to denote any false belief, philosophers reserve the term for faulty (but plausible-looking) patterns of reasoning. We give fallacies names to make it easier to spot and avoid these faulty patterns.

As far as I can tell, the specific fallacy described here doesn’t have a name. But it’s common enough to merit one. Some colleagues have suggested “Fallacy of Misreading,” which seems too broad, or “Fallacy of Being a Dumbass” which probably won’t catch on well.

I’d like to propose “Fallacy of Perverted Analogy.” The name captures the central problem: twisting an analogy to mean something broader than intended. In addition, “perverted” suggests something potentially non-consensual—which is appropriate here, since the fallacy is committed not by the originator of the analogy but by a second party. (Beyond that, I relish the thought of accusing certain marriage-equality opponents of perversion.)

It’s worth distinguishing this fallacy from others in the vicinity. This is not the fallacy of “false analogy,” which involves the analogy’s originator comparing two things that are NOT similar in the intended relevant respect.

It’s related to “Straw Man,” insofar as the person committing the fallacy now attacks the bad misreading (i.e. straw version) of the opponent’s argument rather than the actual argument. But it seems that “Perverted Analogy” occurs before “Straw Man.” Moreover, even if “Perverted Analogy” is a subspecies of “Straw Man” it’s specific enough to deserve its own name.

Same with “Red Herring,” which refers to an irrelevant point that throws one off the track of the main argument. That’s surely happening here, but in a precise way worth naming separately.

So, by definition, one commits the Fallacy of Perverted Analogy when one misreads an opponent’s analogy to make a far more sweeping comparison than the opponent needs or intends.

A nice example appeared at Mirror of Justice, a Catholic legal theory blog, last month. In a Christmas Eve post, Michael Perry observed that moral theology must take experiential evidence seriously, even though doing so is often difficult because of visceral reactions to the unfamiliar:

“I fully understand that for many of us this is hard to do–for some of us, impossibly hard: those whose socialization and psychology have bequeathed to them a profound aversion–I am inclined to say, an aesthetic aversion (though, of course, they do not experience it that way)–to unfamiliar modes of human sexuality. (Black bonding sexually with white? Yuk! Female bonding sexually with female? Or male with male? Yuk squared! ….)”


Perry was using aversion to interracial coupling as a familiar historical example of how visceral reactions make it difficult to appreciate the unfamiliar. But Robert George wasted no time in accusing Perry of tarring gay-rights opponents as “the equivalent of racists.” Only by perverting Perry’s analogy could one infer such an equivalence assertion.

There are, no doubt, many other examples of the fallacy—on both sides of the debate. Because I’m eager to name and fight the fallacy, it would be useful to collect these. Readers can post links to their favorite examples in the comments section.

Read more

First published at 365gay.com on January 8, 2010

The column that follows is about anal sex.

Some friends have urged me against writing it, not because readers find frank discussions of anal sex “icky,” but because the offending comments’ source—Peter LaBarbera—is unworthy of serious attention.

In one sense these friends are quite right. But for reasons I hope to make clear, LaBarbera’s most recent ugliness needs answering.

LaBarbera is the president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), one of the nastier anti-gay groups. In a recent letter at his website, he discusses how Matt Barber at Liberty Counsel (a right-wing legal group) is threatening to boycott the Conservative Political Action Conference unless CPAC drops the gay conservative group GOProud as a co-sponsor.

LaBarbera writes,

“It boils down to this: there is nothing ‘conservative’ about — as Barber inimitably puts it — ‘one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it love’.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

LaBarbera’s post led Liberty Counsel to deny that Barber had ever said such a nasty thing, prompting a sharp rebuttal from LaBarbera, followed by Barber’s admission that he had indeed made the comment privately years ago (and had given LaBarbera permission to quote it). This back-and-forth was interspersed with some barbs between LaBarbera and Randy Thomas, executive VP of the ex-gay group Exodus International, at Thomas’s Exodus blog. (Thanks to Pam’s House Blend for exposing the imbroglio.)

I’ll focus here on LaBarbera, since he was the one who saw fit recently to post Barber’s words and to defend them repeatedly, calling them “a brutally honest and necessarily accurate description of homosexual sodomy.” He also challenged Thomas to “cite chapter and verse in the Bible” explaining why their use of these words is wrong.

Chapter and verse? Let me try.

Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Hint: it’s one of the Ten Commandments, and it boils down simply to “Don’t lie.”)

Look, Peter—and I know you’re reading this—NOBODY calls it love when a man “violently cram[s] his penis into another man’s lower intestine.” Nobody.

We sane people call that rape.

Indeed, the “violent cramming” of a penis into any bodily orifice, male or female, is rape. Not love. The description is not merely uncharitable (about which we could both cite many verses), it’s a blatant falsehood.

Frankly, I’m not surprised you missed this simple, obvious point, because when it comes to homosexuality, you wouldn’t know truth if it violently crammed itself into your—oh, never mind.

Now one might argue that we shouldn’t bother with LaBarbera. Indeed, a Christian friend of mine told me just that, stating that LaBarbera’s comments are “no more worth writing about than the graffiti on men’s room walls.”

And I wish I could ignore them. I really, really do. If only the sentiments underlying them weren’t so pervasive and harmful.

I’ve been defending gays and lesbians against heterosexist distortions for two decades. And one of the things that has saddened and angered me most is our opponents’ continued tendency to reduce our lives, our commitments, and our intimacy to bare mechanical descriptions—and false ones at that.

Why do they do this? Perhaps it’s because of a fundamental lack of empathy (a trait that forms the core of The Golden Rule, another biblical principle).

Or perhaps it’s because they know that dehumanizing us in this way is an extremely effective tactic. As LaBarbera himself writes at the Exodus blog, his and Barber’s “colorful and dismissive” language are precisely geared to “re-stigmatize shameful homosexual behavior.”

Stigmatize, it surely does.

By spreading their lies about “violent cramming” and such, LaBarbera, Barber and their ilk have visited needless suffering upon countless LGBT people, particularly LGBT youth.

Among the unspoken casualties of such stigmatization is that it makes it harder for us to have frank conversations about the relative risks of various sexual practices, for fear of feeding such nastiness. The upshot is more silence, and shame, and—paradoxically—risk.

All of which LaBarbera and Barber can answer to their Maker for, when and if Judgment Day should come. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

Read more

Featured Video Play Icon

“What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?”

Is homosexuality unnatural? Does it threaten society? Are gays and lesbians “born that way”–and does it matter either way? In this hour-long program, Dr. John Corvino tackles these questions and more.

This is the 2007 recording of “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?” which John first developed in 1992 and has since delivered before hundreds of audiences. Combining philosophical rigor with sensitivity and humor, he examines the most common arguments against same-sex relationships – including those based on nature, harm, and religion–and invites people to rethink easy assumptions about sexuality and morality.

Watch the full lecture above or check out the trailer below:

Read more