Panel for the same-sex marriage debate. From left to right: Alex, Renee (in favour of same-sex marriage), Patrick and Josh (in favour of traditional marriage)
Last Thursday I was apart of a debate on same-sex marriage, and was one of two people to present a case for preserving the current definition of marriage. This was the first time I have participated in a debate on marriage; most of my debates and talks are on abortion (and presenting the pro-life perspective.) As such, I definitely felt like the rookie going in. Alex Greenwitch, who was one of two people presenting arguments in favour of same-sex marriage has had years of experience debating this topic and from what I gathered beforehand, a very capable debater.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the debate went. It was civil. It was overall respectful. And overall I felt our side came off better, having more consistent and reasonable arguments. When we cut through the shouting and noise that so often accompanies same-sex marriage advocacy, we see that the case for same-sex marriage isn’t that strong, and that there is a strong case for traditional marriage.
I want to commend everyone involved, from the organises, the chair and the other speakers. Whilst I didn’t have much of a time to meet them all, they all seemed to be nice and friendly people. With regards to our opposing speakers, as far as I could tell they are nice and well intentioned people. Of course, I disagree with their viewpoints, but I always remind myself that they are just people, and we need to be attacking arguments and reasoning rather than the people. Even if they don’t do the same for you (however in this case they did.)
I feel their arguments didn’t stand up for a couple of main reasons.
Firstly, they were too emotional. There is a logical fallacy called “Appeal to emotion.” One cannot make a good logical argument solely based on emotion. Sure, it’s fine to use some emotion to try and persuade a person, however your entire argument can’t just hinge on your emotions. In this case, I felt Alex’s arguments came down to “I just want to marry the person I love.” It’s a touching statement, and I can see why something like that may convince someone, but it’s all emotional. It doesn’t address what marriage is. For one, marriage law in Australia doesn’t care whether or not you love the person (of course, it’s good if you do love the person, however that in itself isn’t what determines whether or not you can get married.) We shouldn’t be changing public policy on emotions. Unfortunately if someone makes and argument with only emotion, and you make an argument with reason and logic, people are more persuaded to the emotional side even if you’ve made some really good arguments. I feel like we did a good job at demonstrating the flaws in the arguments (without attacking the person) as well as providing our own case.
Secondly, there was too much inconsistency, both internally and between speakers. Alex, the first speaker, said that marriage should be exactly the same as it is except include same-sex couples. He wanted to keep the idea that marriage is for life, marriage is only between two people, and it’s exclusive between those two people. However he failed to provide real justification as to why marriage should be like this. The traditional view of marriage agrees with this except it’s between a man and a woman, and there is good reason as to this: it’s deigned to provide a safe, stable and lifelong environment with the possibility of raising children by two biological parents. As same-sex marriage can’t appeal to this reasoning by nature, it can’t use that same logic to justify other aspects of marriage that they want to keep, such as why it has to be lifelong (temporary marriages anyone?) or solely between two people. Renee, the second speaker, was a bit more internally consistent; indicating that marriage is whatever we make it to be. Whilst this is more consistent internally, it did put her at odds with the previous speaker in favour of same-sex marriage. In addition, if marriage is whatever we make it to be, marriage looses all meaning for everyone.
I worked with the other speaker defending marriage to ensure our talks were consistent. In fact, our talks flowed on from each other and re-emphasised key points, with the intention of being extremely consistent. My talk covered the fact that making distinctions isn’t inherently bad (see my post on definitional discrimination) and that you can’t just use the fact that something is discriminatory to say it should be changed, followed by a case for marriage based on it’s original intentions, and finished by looking at where we might end up if we continue with our current trajectory (which didn’t use a slippery slope argument, rather just followed the logic of marriage equality to it’s fullest extent.)
Given the disadvantage of supporting the (supposedly) unpopular side, I feel as though the debate went really well and our points, views and arguments were well received. I was braced for quite a hostile environment, with maybe 80% of people in favour of same-sex marriage, however this was by no means the case. Whilst no poll was taken, based on the questions during the Q and A time, there was certainly a fair amount of support for traditional marriage, I’d estimate between 50% and 60% of the room. This was much better than I had anticipated, and I didn’t receive any negative feedback. In fact, I was commended by a lesbian woman who liked the fact that I was focusing on marriage rather than being hateful towards homosexual persons. This was a real encouragement.
I want to thank the two other speakers and want to stress that by attacking a particular argument, I am not intending to attack the person! Both great public speakers, so thank you for agreeing to take part.