Gay marriage and tradition: a continuation

In Big Jake , John Wayne and Bruce Cabot ready themselves for the final battle against the bad guys.

Wayne: Well, Sam, they say the elk in Montana are as big as buffalo this year. We outta go hunt ’em when this is over.

Cabot: I look forward to that. (Sighs). I wish they were buffalo.

Wayne: Yeah. Times change.


Let’s return to the idea of tradition as it is used in arguments for gay marriage, which we can define as the marriage of two—and only two—men or two women.

Last time, we acknowledged that the modifier “only two” in our explication of marriage was the implicit resultant of tradition, by which we meant the customary practices of a people, or activities driven by a common set of beliefs, that is, a culture. This definition is loose enough, God knows, but will be close enough for us.

Fascinatingly, if an opponent of gay marriage brings up the point, “Why not more than two in a ‘marriage’?”, he is usually told he is being absurd or foolish or he is laughed at—which proves that people aren’t thinking deeply enough about the subject, because no matter how disingenuously the question might have been asked, it is exactly the right one.

Tradition forms the largest part of the debate on gay marriage. Obviously, it is not in our tradition to accommodate such unions, but some want to contravene tradition by urging acceptance for gay marriage. This plea is, at least, consistent with itself (but it is not clear how it would not apply to any other tradition; abandon tradition here, and why not abandon it everywhere?).

The difficulty begins, and the argument suddenly becomes inconsistent, when the same people who ask us to abandon tradition want also to embrace tradition by insisting on the word “marriage” to sanctify their vows.

Are you with me? If you want to claim (as some of us have) that we have “evolved” beyond tradition and have no need of it, you cannot consistently and simultaneously seek the blessings of tradition.

Let’s be more specific. Some states have constructed laws which award similar, even identical, legal status as marriage confers (burial rights, powers of attorney, etc.) to partners in a same-sex couple should they ask for it. Strong arguments for these new recognitions have been made, though still with a mind towards tradition, because these laws always talk about “couples” or “pairs”.

Why is this legal recognition not good enough? Why, that is, do people still hunger for something beyond “civil union”? Why the word “marriage”? It is, is it not?, just a word. Why is it such a powerful one?

The reason is obvious: tradition is not so easily abandoned. It is a deep need for humans to have ties with the past, for ceremony and ritual. It is also important to stress that marriage is not just a legal contract between two people, it is an understanding between a couple and society, largely governed by understood rules.

But what, it is now natural to ask, about those places that allow men to take multiple wives, or have customs that differ from ours? Well, if their customs are not our customs, then unless we are seeking to intervene directly in those peoples’ culture (in the form of war, say), they are none of our business. However, the consideration is not entirely irrelevant.

Montaigne writes on a clothing custom in Rome: “When they wore the busk of their doublet between their breasts, they maintained with heated arguments that it was in the proper place; some years after, it has slipped down between the thighs, and they laugh at their former custom and find it absurd and intolerable.”

The banal message—and one we already knew—is that customs and traditions change. An argument on the proper placement of a doublet appears to us trivial, and we also feel that (dangerous) sense of superiority when we regard history: they argued over doublets for goodness sake? How silly. But change the argument to whether jeans should be worn and it becomes immediately relevant and contentious. This point is made so that we can see that there are two things to consider: the relative degree of importance of a custom and the rate at which it is modified.

It is already apparent the degree to which marriage is important. How about that custom’s rate of change?

Certain states and municipalities have sought recently, by extra-legislative means—by, that is, judicial fiat—to mark an abrupt divergence in marriage custom. Judges looked into their constitutions and said, “Aha! We have found hiding in a corner where nobody thought to look before, the right to same sex marriage. It’s a good thing we checked.”

The consequences of these rights hunts are well known. People knew they were being spun (to use the modern term) and, as in California and Iowa, voted the rights back out of existence. Many were still howling over these democratic (and traditional) actions when along came Vermont, which used the same (and now warmly accepted) democratic actions to change their marriage custom.

“Well”, I have heard some say, “that’s Vermont. Those people up there are different.” And if your answer, like mine, is a variant of “Exactly”, then you will have understood this article’s arguments.


  1. Ari

    It’s interesting that it’s often the loudest proponents of gay marriage who are the most outraged by calls for “modernization” in other countries.

    “But they’ll lose their culture!” says the youngish person who laments the Americanization of the poor non-Westerner.

    And, well, it’s true. The culture does inevitably get eroded to a degree– this is evident everywhere in Japan. But the funny thing is that the cultural norms of the “others” are often seen as precious, where our norms are seen as unfortunate things needing changes.

    Again, I’m happy enough to support a same-sex marriage. I’m relatively indifferent to the whole affair, and would much rather prefer that jousting legalistic ventures be avoided. Ban this, affirm that, protest this, legislate that. It’s all so tiring. As much as I do believe that gays should have the freedom to marry, the rest of society has the freedom to maintain tradition as they see fit– the proverbial majority vs. minority struggle.

  2. Luis Dias

    Several points.

    1. No one “sane” enough, or intellectually smart enough is trying to “destroy” tradition. That’s pure idiocy. Everybody knows that tradition evolves in small steps. We don’t endorse punishing adultery with rocks, for example, nor do we put in jail homossexuals, as we did just 30-50 years ago.

    2. William, you’re trying to build an “ad absurdum” case, and bring polygamy to the discussion. While I agree that no one that tries to reframe tradition or question it, should simply say “nonsense” to that scenario. But the problem with that is that it is another question altogether. That is, it is a problem of its own. One problem at a time, one discussion at a time. Perhaps polygamy has its own pro’s, but there are several con’s, including the total mayhem of multiple married people signing on social security and IRS :).

    3. “Is it not just a word?”

    Words? Like Obama said ;p, just words? Well then, if they are only just words, why don’t you just agree? Clearly, they aren’t just words.

    4.An argument on the proper placement of a doublet appears to us trivial, and we also feel that (dangerous) sense of superiority when we regard history

    Of course, that is no reason to adopt any kind of law, I agree entirely with you. You defend it or not based on its own merit and justice, and not based on some kind of inevitability of progress, which is blind on its own and stupid.


    It’s interesting that it’s often the loudest proponents of gay marriage who are the most outraged by calls for “modernization” in other countries.

    Yes, I’ve seen this cliché many times, but I do wonder if that is a real character or rather just a caricature of the pacifist liberal moron. I do worry when modernization attemps are architected, not because modernity is itself bad, which it isn’t, but because of other factors.

    Many countries that are “developing” are doing it at the expense of the poorest of their own, with corruption at incredible levels and the west is just clapping (taking numbers at face value). Take Angola, for instance. Louded as the fastest economy in the world, and yet one person that would spend more than a month there (many in my country did just that and told me incredible stories), would be in vomit just considering the waste, the corruption and the sheer cultural destruction (substituted by “super-new-richs” and overwhelming poverty).

    It’s not that it is a good intent to modernize. I just doubt their intentions, and further, as seen in Bush-Cheney case, I really doubt their competence. The result can be worse than if they instead did nothing… (but that’s also speculation).

  3. Briggs


    Nowhere did I use the word “destroy”. And nowhere did I claim that traditions and customs do or should remain static. I did point out that humans are generally intolerant of abrupt changes. And I pointed out polygamy merely to show that there other mating traditions besides our own.

    Since all your other points rely on what I did not in fact say, I will not comment on them.

  4. Briggs–
    Is there someone in particular who has advanced the argument you are countering? Because it seems to me your claim that tradition forms the largest part of the argument about same sex marriage is simply false. The tradition argument dies come up. Tradition has been one of the main arguments used by those who oppose changing the laws to include couples of the same sex; it has rarely been an argument advanced by those who support changing the laws. So, in this context, the strength and meaning of the tradition is discussed. But you seem to be criticizing supporters of same sex marriage for advancing arguments they do not make.

    Also, I think Iowa has not voted same sex marriage out of existence. Coulples are being married today. (Read

    Iowa Family Policy Center, is proposing amending the Iowa state constitution; they may or may not succeed. (The Iowa state constitution seems more than normally difficult to amend.)

  5. Briggs


    Tradition is most certainly being used by those who champion gay marriage, but it is used implicitly, as I tried to show. The point is that desiring to have the word marriage apply to same-sex unions is an acknowledgment of tradition. It’s true that supporters are not using it explicitly, but that too is my point.

    Yes, the rule in Iowa expired today.

  6. Ari


    With all due respect, your example is rather extreme. I don’t see what happened in Angola as “modernization,” and I don’t think that Bush-Cheney were “modernizers.” I am referring more generally to the erosion of traditional ways the world over, including in already modern countries like Japan, due to the Western economic and political models’ spread. The point was that modernization, for better or for worse, changes cultures.

    And as for whether or not it’s real, I can assure you it is: I’m gchatting with someone who has made the same arguments just now! 😛

    My somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment was just to demonstrate the sometimes those who are the most wary of tradition seek to protect it as well. It’s the strange life of an American liberal to be both in support of tradition elsewhere but wary of it here in the US. I’m the same way, to be honest: I am iconoclastic, but I weep for the “Lost Japan.”

  7. Luis Dias

    Mr Briggs,

    Nowhere did I use the word “destroy”.

    Did you or did you not say,

    The difficulty begins, and the argument suddenly becomes inconsistent, when the same people who ask us to abandon tradition want also to embrace tradition by insisting on the word “marriage” to sanctify their vows.

    In practice, “abandoning” tradition means destroying it, I cannot see how that isn’t so. But I’ll quote you verbatim from now on so that you won’t escape that easily. 🙂

  8. Luis Dias

    I’m the same way, to be honest: I am iconoclastic, but I weep for the “Lost Japan.”

    Honesty is good :). Your thoughts appreciated.

  9. Briggs


    I think we have a language problem. Abandoning in English does not carry the same connotations as destroying.

  10. Andy

    Where the hell did all this anti-gay marriage stuff come from?

    The UK has had civil partnerships which are “marriage’ in all but name for several years now and the country has not endured the wrath of God or Kahn or which ever sky fairy you choose to believe in.

    Come on now, if two folk find love and happiness together you should support them.

    Oh and I happily advocate the change of several cultures around the world, starting with those in the Middle East.

    Get back to the stats.

  11. Jane

    Interesting article – TRADITION! (as I hear the score from Fiddler on the Roof in my head).

    How marriages were handled has changed over time. There was a time in history that people did not seek government permission for their marriages – their tradition was to write it in the family bible and declare themselves married. There were also not “protections” under the law for these couples, mostly because society and life were not as complicated as today (medical, retirement, Social Security, etc).

    There was also a time “traditional marriage” was used to pass property and even countries among families. Think – how and why Henry the VIII ended up married to Catherine of Aragon.

    Then there was the period of women becoming their husbands property when they married – regardless if it was their choice or that of their parents.

    I think the issue becomes the difference between what is considered”tradition” and how the laws view the event. People who have no religious affiliation are not prevented from marrying. People who do have a religious affiliation can have a ceremony in their church, or not. No one is “required” to get married. The laws do not state that by age X all women have to be married. The law doesn’t state only your parents can choose your mate. And although for a very long time it was tradition to only marry within your own religious group – the government would not forbide you from doing so. If you were Catholic and chose to marry a Protestant, or a Baptist chose to marry a Jewish person. You may be excommunicated from your family and your religious organization, but your civil rights under the law would be protected.

    And then there is the “tradition” of the US as a country — Equal Rights under the law, which is why people ran out to create laws against Marriage Equality and enact DOMA, as there was nothing in the law that prevented gays & lesbians from marrying in the first place.

  12. Briggs

    Well, Andy, why two?

  13. Scumop

    It is hard for me to understand why anyone would care if two people of the same sex married. It seems to be a big fuss over the word marriage, which is being used as a proxy for anti-gay views by the nay side.

    On the plus side, gays will run the same risks of alimony and property losses as the rest of us should things fall apart. You will be able to commiserate at the bar over beers you can no longer afford.

    Maybe the reason gays want to be “married” as opposed to the identical “civil union” is that the M word sounds classier than the C word. For taxation and all other legal purposes (including the paper work), they are identical. So why not call that civil unions marriage?

    Where I am (Canada), this is essentially how it is. Churches are free to not perform marriage ceremonies for gays and lesbians. The only time it becomes an issue is when a civil marriage commissioner in the employ of the government refuses to handle gay marriages and gets canned for non-performance.

  14. Briggs-
    What rule in Iowa expired today? (I’m searching googlenews. I don’t see the rule permitting same sex marriage expiring. Due to the 3 day waiting period, those who were not granted exceptions to the waiting periods must wait until Thursday. But some who were granted exceptions have begin marrying yesterday. That’s all I can find.)

    Your argument that those promoting same sex marriage are advancing their argument by using the word “marriage” is pretty unconvincing. Using the word marriage is no more a claim to tradition than using the word “single”, “widow” or “divorcee”. They are words. All appear in dictionary; marriage has a broad range of definitions in Merriam Websters and always has had a broad range including “an intimate or close union “. See marriage.

    English words often have broad meanings. Failing to make up a brand new word to convey the distinction between unions between a woman and a woman vs a man and woman is not an appeal to tradition. It’s just using an existing word that best fits. That’s the way English has always evolved over time.

    In any case, those promoting the extension want the legal status. Getting people to call them married without conferring the legal status would be pointless. (In many cases, gay couples can get people to refer to them as married. It’s just the legal recognition they don’t have.)

    It’s pretty clear that people want the legal status as many would be willing to accept the status without the word, provided that the same legal status was available regardless of the gender of partners. Were a state to make the formal legal term for what we currently call marriage, “civil unions”, that would be fine by me. Then, legally, my husband and I would be “civil unioned” or something. If you are married, you would be “civil unioned” too! People would likely continue to use whatever word the want when speaking to each other. I’d tell people Jim and I are married, and if I knew a “civil unioned” gay couple, I’d describe them as married. You could describe them as something else, and in 40 or so years, we’d see which word won out.

    BTW: I chuckled when I notice Luis quoted you as suggesting those promoting ssm are asking someone to sanctify their vows. Some may want the union sanctified, but that’s not a legal question. It’s not what’s making this issue hit the newspapers. In any case, mere use of the word “marriage” also doesn’t sanctify a union– this is something the nuns made very clear to us back in high school. If some denomination wants to sanctify their vows, that’s up to that religious denomination.

  15. Briggs


    Of course the word marriage is related to custom and tradition. I’m not sure how to convince you of this, other than to re-say that supposing that many who are offered equal-legal-status civil unions (and are happy to accept them) also ask for marriage.

    The burden of proof is clearly on you for this one. You have to explain sufficiently why marriage the word is identical—in spirit, tone, connotation, and so forth—with the term civil union, and that it has no traditional, religious, etc., meanings. Don’t forget that this is the point of my article. It is not to argue for or against gay marriage.

    I was a bit mistaken about Iowa. Today, they began allowing gay marriages. I thought before the voters disallowed them, but instead this was another case of their judges “discovering” the right.

  16. Ari


    It’s interesting that you say that those who want the legal status would accept the status without the word. In my experience, particularly when I was at my last university, many in the LGBT community are lukewarm at best to the “civil union compromise.” My little bit of literature review on the subject suggests to me that many in the LGBT comunity see civil unions as a poor option because you still imply the otherness of gays by giving their unions a different name.

    I don’t know enough about the LGBT literature to know how pervasive this is, but I know it wasn’t only one person who told me this, and it’s been expressed to me by both genders.

  17. Ari


    Like I said above, the argument against civil unions is that the language implies “otherness” and necessarily places gays in a different category. The fear– and this is justified, in my opinion– is that by lacking the weight of the word “marriage,” same-sex civil unions will be viewed as inferior. I don’t necessarily disagree that this would be the case, as societies demonstrate time and time again that special rules for minorities often yield poor results.

  18. Jane

    Words….. I don’t think straight people are any less happy just because they no longer say “I’m gay today, or I’m having a gay ole time”.

    If I wanted to be in a union I’d pay monthly dues and expect representation if I were fired.

    Changing all the paperwork in the world to include “union” in addition to Single, Divorced, Widowed, Married would open the door for people to be treated differently because it would mean you’re requiring them to state they are gay — which as far as I know there is no test for. I’ve never understood why Divorced is on those forms – if you’re divorced, then you are single.

    If we add Union – then we might as well expect to go back to job applications that ask for “church preference”.

  19. Andy

    I have no problem with several people getting married to each other if they wish. I don’t consider it much of my business as it should not be yours.

    You Americans much as I love you all, don’t half get upset about sex.

    You are, Briggs a very good blogger and obviously a talented mathematician, but really stop with the gay marriage silliness.

    As I said before, two people have found happiness (or possible 3), be happy for them.

  20. Briggs–
    Yes courts enacted SSM in Iowa. (I wasn’t surprised as they recognized same sex divorce before recognizing marriage. This upset some who oppose extending same s.. marriage to couples also.)

    The articles seem to say that overturning will require an amendment, and the process in Iowa is slow. So, evidently it will exist until 2012. Whether or not court rulings are the ideal way to enact same sex marriage is separate question from the one we are discussion, which is whether or not the mere use of the word “marriage” somehow implies someone is suggesting that marriage should be extended to same sex couples on the basis of tradition.

    I understand this is your point has something to do with claiming that tradition is being used to argue in favor of same s.. marriage, and you are not intending to argue against the extension itself.

    What I’m telling you is you aren’t supporting your point very well. Specifically: You are failing to show tradition is used to argue for same s.. marriage.

    If we are just going to fling around our opinions about who has the burden of proof, I say: The burden of proof for your contention that mere use of the word advances an argument based on tradition clearly lies on you.

    To refute your claim, I don’t have to show that the word marriage only connotes the civil part of marriage. I don’t have to prove there is no difference in connotation with “civil unions” and “marriage”.

    Support for your claim about use of the term “marriage” instead of “civil union” falls apart if the word marriage has an established history of connoting the civil part of marriage with the validity of the marriage recognized as existing entirely apart from the existence of any religious faith. This is the case in the US: People with no religious persuasion whatsoever have been able to marry and been called “married” by everyone since long before I was born.

    So, long before the first advocate of extending legal recognition of marriage to same sex partners, the word marriage is used without the appeal to religion or tradition you claim.

    Why in the world do you think those wanting to advocate for extension of marriage to same s.. partners are not permitted use the word marriage with the civil non-religious connotation that has had wide spread use for eons?

    If your argument is merely that we could call what is asked a civil union: Maybe. Or maybe not. (We can call arms limbs tool There are all sorts of words in English.)

    To ensure that the same status of “whatever” is offered everyone, we could rename the status to “whatever” for everyone. Then, when discussing our legal status, I can be “whatevered” to my husband Jim and you can be “whatevered” to your wife, and the couple up the street can be “whatevered” to each other, and all our legal statuses will be identical. (I suspect when we get together at the block party, we will all persist in using the term “married”.)

  21. Ok… I found the secret to your spam filter. It doesn’t like me to write sex too many times.

    I said many would accept the term civil union provided the status of ‘marriage’ and “civil union” were identical at law. Some would not. Some would accept civil unions with different rights and responsibilities; others would not. But, as far as I can tell, the entire argument does not revolve around merely the use of the word. It is heavily influenced by the rights and responsibilities that would come with the word.

    The reason things can be murky is that when discussing the issues, the proposals for civil union generally describe a status that differs from legal marriage. In the US, the range of differences can be at the federal level where two different statuses will different from point of view of tax law, social security benefits and etc.

    At the federal level, you can file singly, married filing jointly, or married filing separately. How do those with civil unions file? If they must file as unmarried individuals, the legal status of married and civil union differ. So, the two items would differ by more than the label applied. When a state (like say Montana) were to enact both marriage and civil unions, would the procedures for divorce be identical? What of responsibilities toward any children born into the marriage? What of inheritance rights? Etc. A state enacts both marriage and civil unions with different divorce statutes, will opposite sex couples be able to chose whichever they prefer?

    Also, if Iowa had civil union and marriage, but Illinois had only marriage, then Iowa’s joined in civil unions who moved to Illinois would find their status unrecognized because Illinois doesn’t have a comparable thing. (Or, at least Illinois has to decide if civil union is marriage or if it’s something else. BTW: One of the reasons the arguments are so fierce in the US is states are required to recognize marriages from other states. So,what happens when married couple moves to a state where they could not have gotten married in the first place? There will be suits about this.)

    So, when having a conversation about whether somone one would be satisfied with ‘civil unions’ rather than ‘marriage’, you need to prove very specifically to figure out if their concern is the word specifically or gaining bang-on identical rights and responsibilities at law and keep them. The only real way to gain the second is to apply the same word to the status for both things in legal statues.

  22. Jane

    When a couple legally married in 1 state moves to another state, nothing happens, they’re not recognized as being married in the new state that forbids it. For straight couples they are protected by the Fair Faith & Credit Act. For GLBT couples, that is why DOMA was enacted.

  23. Luis Dias

    Well, if “marriage” is a traditional word, then all english words are traditional, hence gay people can’t do anything between themselves without creating a new word.

    I say call it krnhyaac.

    Then, gay people can krnhyaac themselves up, all with the same legal rights as heterossexual couples get when they marry, that traditional taboo word.

    Marriage cannot be used by gay people because then the universe would explode, and that would be not polite.

    In the meantime, no one will even speak that word, and may up end using the marriage word anyways, which is what krnhyaac really means.

    I’m with you on this, Lucia :).

  24. Luis Dias

    The only real way to gain the second is to apply the same word to the status for both things in legal statues

    This is the crux of the matter, really. If the words are different, the rights can always be easily altered by bigots in the future. If it is the same word, the rights are guaranteed. Nice argument.

  25. Briggs


    I’m done anyway, unless I talk more about tradition in general. And besides, your comments are not on target.

    I have tried to be very careful not to argue for or against the subject at hand, but to instead show how arguments for it are either logically flawed (the gimme) or implicitly inconsistent (to reject but keep tradition).

    You, and Lucia, are instead saying, “I have no problem with gay marriage, it’s not a big deal, accept all loving relationships”, and you add, “regardless of their size”. Even if we all heartily accepted that, and many of us do, it would still be utterly irrelevant to the two topics at hand.

    Perhaps I did not make it clear, but my interest is in argumentation, in how evidence is used to support or corroborate statements (or policies, etc.). We see in the case at hand two arguments which I have shown are failures (in the senses I noted), yet they seem convincing to some. Why? Is it purely a matter of faulty logic, or is that the desire for the outcome overwhelms the capacity to reason rationally? Do people know the arguments fail but accept them as rhetorical devices, to be used politically but not believed.

    I do not know the answer to these questions. That’s what I wish we could talk about.

  26. Luis Dias

    Perhaps they aren’t as failures as you tried to say, or perhaps you were unconvincing :), or perhaps we’re just dumb.

  27. Luis–
    I knew we had the same opinion on this long ago. I suspect you knew so as well. 🙂


    When a couple legally married in 1 state moves to another state, nothing happens, they’re not recognized as being married in the new state that forbids it

    Iowa recognized same sex divorce before same sex marriage. A married couple moved to Iowa. They wanted to divorce. Iowa recognized the marriage and granted a divorce.


    You, and Lucia, are instead saying, “I have no problem with gay marriage, it’s not a big deal, accept all loving relationships”, and you add, “regardless of their size”.

    You are seriously putting words in people’s mouths.

    Here in comments at your blog, I said your claim that the use of the word “marriage” automatically implies arguing that tradition somehow argues for same sex marriage is false, and that your arguments in support of this specific claim are weak. I have also responded to weak arguments against same sex marriage and pointed out incorrect claims by others in the previous thread.

    But I did not say what you claim above.

    If your concern is argumentation, you should recognize and correct the weakness in your own. Not putting words in Luis and my mouths when we are actually reading comments and responding is also advisable.

  28. Joy

    The ‘otherness’ of gays.
    How about the other ‘otherness’s ‘.
    The word ‘blind’ Don’t right-on people hate ‘seperatIST’ words?
    Nope, not an appeal for compassion, wouldn’t look to a blog for this even this one. I’ve lost count of the number of times certain folk use this word to mock whoever they please. Regular references to eye tests, stupid/blind/ short-sighted/ blind faith in bronze-aged myths.

    Now. This is life. There’s no getting round it. PC is just tyranny with manners. I understand, I had full sight once; ; but now you will not get away with this language because I will boringly and yawningly point it out every time. Why is it that those who claim to be PC are
    blind to insult unless they are on the receiving end or they’ve seen it on an ‘equal ops’ form. If it didn’t appear there, they don’t bother to watch what they say.

    How was that for an argument? Pretty rubbish, like trying to claim that others have no compassion because a small number of gay people might take offence at having a different word for their union than the M word. Let me remind you it’s a minority of a minority you’re feigning upset for.

    So, do they or do they not matter? Words, I mean;
    as Ari said, it matters if you think it matters, but the majority must rule, as in any democracy,

    Unless you mind your language towards the blind people in your nation whilst supporting another cause which you think is better I will never be convinced by your sanctimonious argument.

    I have NEVER sunk so low as to use a disability to get me a job. Unlike the gay lobbyists are doing right now in the UK for jobs in the police force and fire service. I know a person in his early thirties who wanted to join the fire service, fit enough, responsible enough…too white. Was told not to apply because they were not recruiting white heterosexual males. I was told only the other day by a white police officer that the same is happening right now for certain if not all police forces.

    To acquire a job by nefarious means is not just, and I would consider this an insult. For this reason, I ask that my agents do not tell any prospective employers of my disability. I call the shots. I decide when this is relevant.
    Why cannot a gay man keep his sexual preferences to himself? Why do we all need to know who he likes to sleep with when it comes to how good he is at his job.
    Don’t claim that ‘otherness’ is a fallacy and then try and argue that certain ‘others’ must be given positive discrimination. These are mutually exclusive.
    What was that about salt again?
    limb and arm are not interchangeable words. Just like history and tradition; sarcasm and irony.

    In All the church weddings I’ve been in, they always say,
    “Marriage is the joining together of two people, a man and a woman.”
    It’s not about what your webster says. It’s about what the church says.

    As for the intention of this post. It’s there in black and white, you can try and argue something else, but it’s obvious what is actually going on here.

  29. Joy

    and the second Luis was a Lucia, force of habbit.

  30. Doug M

    Aha, we are discussing the distinction between philosophy and politics.

    In the world of math and philosophy, a valid argument has certain symbolic / linguistic constructions. In law (short of the appellate level) and politics, an argument must merely sound good.

    Political logic doesn’t need to make sense. There are no false arguments. When passions are aroused, people lose rationality.

  31. Greg Cavanagh

    A historical documentary I watched years ago stated that the language of a culture with a verbal language but no written language, will have 30% of its words change in meaning every 100 years. But the language of a culture with a written language will change about 3% of the words meaning every 100 years. (I add this as a known reference point, though it’s not directly related to cultural change).

    I must say I agree with everything Joy says except for who controls the definition of a word. The dictionary should be the arbitrator of words, not the church. The words (or concepts) “marry, husband & wife” are a very old ones. They’ve probably been meaning the same thing for many cultures throughout the ages (more so as most of western culture comes from the Romans).

  32. James S

    I’ve got a number of friends getting married over the course of the next 12 months: my cousin is getting married to his girlfriend; a friend from school is getting married to his boyfriend; a friend of my wife’s is getting married to her girlfriend.

    Each of these is a wedding and a marriage in common parlence; however legally they are classified differently. Most people understand that the legal nomenclature differences are simply a method of placating bigots until they realise that “traditions” have changed.

    Incidentally the only one of these with anything to do with religion is my school friend marrying his boyfriend – they are marrying in a civil ceremony but then going to their church for their marriage to be blessed.

    With respect to polygamous marriages I had the good fortune to attend a Muslim friend’s marriage whilst living in the Middle-East. He was marrying his third wife and his first two wives were present at the ceremony to welcome the new wife into the family.

    Whilst tradition (and religion) in the above case does not allow for a woman to have more than one husband I can not see how this is any different to the above.

    Provided that all partners are in agreement a polygamous marriage should be no different from a “traditional” marriage which should be no different from a civil partnership.

    Living in New Zealand, as I do now, we also have a further complication to our marriage laws – that of the “de facto relationship”. This is a relationship which becomes recognised in law as being the equivalent of a marriage due to the behaviour of the participants (ie longevity of relationship, living together, having children). Unfortunately it only applies to monogamous relationships at the moment but who knows where society will take us in the future.

  33. Joy-

    It’s not about what your webster says. It’s about what the church says.

    Marriage is about what ‘ “the” church’ says? I’m an atheist. My ‘church’ says marriage is a legal status governed by statutes created by the state.

    Anyway, which church is “the” church?

    If marriage were simply about what some church says, muslims would be permitted plural marriage in the US. Renegade Mormon men living in remote parts of Utah would be permitted to force their 14 year old nieces to marry them. If marriage was about what the Roman Catholic Church says, divorced people would not be permitted to re-marry.

    The campaign for extending marriage to same sex couples is a campaign to change civil laws governing marriage. It’s not about changing what “the” church says.

    As for the reference to Webster: Dictionaries like Websters, not the church, describes how words are used. If Briggs’s entire argument hinges on the definition of a word, or on what people understand or mean by a particular word, then Websters is a more relevant references than “the church”.

  34. James S

    our marriage laws – that of the “de facto relationship”. This is a relationship which becomes recognised in law as being the equivalent of a marriage due to the behaviour of the participants (ie longevity of relationship, living together, having children)

    Some states in the US recognize “common law marriage” which appears similar to what you describe. Illinois does not recognize this; one must take active steps to marry. But other states do. In those states, people can, and have, been sued for divorce. Some have been charged with bigamy after marrying but failing to divorce their common-law spouse. The acts that establish a common law marriage vary from state to state.

    I suspect few religions recognize common law marriage as a sacrament.

  35. Marco

    Hi Matt,

    I have been thinking to ask you this question for a while now but never found the “courage” or excuse for doing it. Now I think this post gives me a good opportunity to ask you for a good reference/book on logic/reasoning.

    I’ve never had any formal training in it though I had a lot of mathematics and physics for my BS-MS-PhD and I consider myself keened in analytical reasoning. I understand that I am slightly off-topic here -not too much- and I apologize.

    Needless to say that I already have your books so any additional readings will be very welcome.

    PS: if you think it’s off topic but are still willing to answer me please use my email. Thanks,


  36. JH

    I am not the only one who is not fond of arguments that appeal to tradition in this case.

    The reason is obvious: tradition is not so easily abandoned.

    Evolving beyond tradition, in my opinion, can involve abandonment, modification, refinement development or enrichment of tradition. That being said, SSM can be viewed as an addition and enrichment to the traditional marriage… just something to consider. We also know that the essence of marriage does not lie in the word “marriage” itself.

    Let me point it out that one of the Chinese characters for the word “marriage” has components of woman and birth, it would therefore not be appropriate for SSM.

    [M]arriage is not just a legal contract between two people, it is an understanding between a couple and society…

    I think same-sex couples probably would agree with you wholeheartly. However, they have to struggle for their legal and social equalities, which I believe are the main arguments used for supporting SSM.

    multiple wives

    “ I have enough head ache with the one I already have,” said Mr. JH. 🙂
    You know, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within Chinese marriage in imperial China. Such a tradition of thousands of years was abandoned since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Let me spare everyone from this long story.

  37. William Rice

    Traditions are born from purpose, they aren’t just random norms adopted by society. In this case, the tradition of marriage arose from the need to create a stable environment for raising a family. Only recently, with the advent of both the legal practice of adoption and the scientific practice of artifical insemination, could a gay couple even think of raising a family (or at least some sense of a family…one could argue that neither of these options truly creates a “family”).

    Do gay marriage advocates talk about the desire to create a stable environment to raise a family as the reason for their cause? No. Instead, they talk about marriage as if it is some legal benefit, and a public recognition of their love and their lifestyle. Even a different name with equal benefits is not good enough for them, because then they don’t get the same public recognition and approval.

    They avoid the historical purpose of marriage, to raise a family, because then they would have to defend the claim that a gay household is as healthy an environment for raising a child as a traditional household. I don’t think they would win this argument statistically, but at least I would be more receptive to arguments on this front.

  38. Briggs


    Not off topic at all; in fact, it is the topic.

    First, my book should be at the bottom of the list, since it’s not complete. It could be read and some insight gained, but it’d be better to have some philosophy under your belt first. Also, you have to have a hearty indifference to typos.

    So. A list.


    Aristotle: Metaphysics and Organon

    Copi: Introduction to Logic, a classic. Get any edition.

    Any logic book: there are thousands, most are reasonable. Pick them up at used book stores.


    David Stove: On Enlightenment , very strongly recommended. As are his other books; his Rationality of Induction and book on probability are advanced.

    James Fitzjames Stephen: Liberty, Equaliity, Fraternity. Absolutely essential, especially to the topic at hand.

    Logic books: there are mathematical and philosophical ones aplenty. Most are advanced, and are not required reading unless you are an expert. You’ll be able to tell the difference between advanced and introductory books because the former are filled with symbols.

  39. Briggs


    Are these the correct ones (courtesy 婚姻?

    How many concubines could a guy get away with?

  40. James S

    It should probably also be noted that it was traditional in Judaism to be allowed to have multiple wives (King Soloman springs to mind here) and the tradition was abandoned over time. In fact Exodus specifically allows for polygamous marriage provided that it doesn’t diminish the first wife’s status.

    Likewise early Christianity allowed polygamy (but it wasn’t common) and there is nowhere in the bible which specifically forbids it. Like most of Christianity the rules and procedures came about later (and can be temporarily changed in certain circumstances – ie post 30 year war in 17th century where polygamy was allowed for a short period to boost the population).

    So, in the case of polygamy at least, Judeo-Christian based traditions have changed over time – who is to say, therefore, that they won’t again?

  41. Marco


    Thanks a lot for the quick reply and relevant suggestions.
    I read already Aristotle (in Italy it is almost mandatory to know everything the Socrates/Plato/Aristotle trio taught in high school if the “major” is Classical Studies) but I’ll refresh my memory on them.

    Also I am not finding any books from Copi titled just “logic” but probably this is what you meant:



  42. Scumop


    Here, the couple go get married in a government office. They get a Marriage Certificate.

    If a couple get married in a church, the get the exact same Marriage Certificate.

    No differentiation here. Just to be troublesome, they can also adopt children, get shared pension rights, family taxation rules, whatever a hetro couple can get, so can the a-hetro couple. Nobody knows the difference from looking at the paperwork.

    And this in an area where you still cannot buy a beer on a Sunday.

  43. JH

    婚姻 are correct. I think a man could have as many concubines as he could afford and handle, which is why it was more of bureaucratic and rich people’s sport.

    I have three words for you though: in your dreams.

  44. Briggs


    This is the one. However, an older edition will work fine, and you can get one cheap.

  45. Joy

    James S,
    Common law wife or husband as a term is very old Sort of the marital equivalent of squatters rights.

    “Who knows where society may lead us in the future.”
    It’s that kind of woolly muddle headed thinking that will lead society up the Swanny.

    Make sure you distance yourself from your sheep. You could end up with several hundred de facto wives called Barb’ with impossibly frizzy hair. Think of the maintenance.

    For Greg and Lucia,
    If you want to change the laws of the land that have been formed on a religious basis you need to look at the history of how the laws came about. If you want to appeal to voters on such an issue, you have to look at what the objections are. For this reason, you cannot insist that your favourite dictionary has the final say so on what happens in such a matter. It’s obvious to say that people in ancient Egypt or outer Mongolia probably had their own ideas on this, but it’s not relevant to a western culture. Just as Valhalla has no relevance in a funeral service today. Ancient Egypt or whomever you want to quote has no bearing on the Christian western country. There was no such thing as a national law when the Romans were here. The Magna Carta came much later in the early thirteenth century. Our laws have obviously changed, but the Christian church was written into legal documents in 1215.

    Note the first section and part one.
    Also note the part about the widow and her incontinent husband!
    “The Magna Carta
    A translation of the original text as confirmed by Edward II in 1297” The original was signed in 1215 by King John at Runnymead. You can see the exact spot where it happened on the clip below, which is not a joke although it was part of a light-hearted series called ‘three men in a boat’. The actual stone on which it was signed is featured. It originally was set in a ring of walnut trees according to Vera Cooper!
    Who had them in her garden.

    “EDWARD by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Guyan, to all Archbishops, Bishops, etc. We have seen the Great Charter of the Lord HENRY, sometimes King of England, our father, of the Liberties of England, in these words: Henry by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Guyan, and Earl of Anjou, to all Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, Earls, Barons, Sheriffs, Provosts, Officers, and to all Bailiffs and other our faithful Subjects , which shall see this present Charter, Greeting. Know ye that we, unto the honour of Almighty God, and for the salvation of the souls of our progenitors and successors, Kings of England, to the advancement of holy Church, and amendment of our Realm, of our meer and free will, have given and granted to all Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, Earls, Barons, and to all freemen of this our realm, these liberties following, to be kept in our kingdom of England for ever.

    [1] First, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for us and our Heirs for ever, That the Church of England shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the freemen of our realm, for us and our Heirs for ever, these liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of us and our Heirs for ever.
    [6] Heirs shall be married without Disparagement.
    [7] A Widow, after the death of her husband, incontinent, and without any Difficulty, shall have her marriage and her inheritance, and shall give nothing for her dower, her marriage, or her inheritance, which her husband and she held the day of the death of her husband, and she shall tarry in the chief house of her husband by forty days after the death of her husband, within which days her dower shall be assigned her (if it were not assigned her before) or that the house be a castle; and if she depart from the castle, then a competent house shall be forthwith provided for her, in the which she may honestly dwell, until her dower be to her assigned, as it is aforesaid; and she shall have in the meantime her reasonable estovers of the common; and for her do wer shall be assigned unto her the third part of all the lands of her husband, which were his during coverture, except she were endowed of less at the Church-door. No widow shall be distrained to marry herself: nevertheless she shall find surety, that she shall not marry without our licence and assent (if she hold of us) nor without the assent of the Lord, if she hold of another.”

    It’s also obvious that anyone can call themselves anything, but that is also a different issue.

  46. Joy

    For this reason, you cannot insist that your favourite dictionary has the final say so on what happens in such a matter.

    I did not suggest the dictionary has a say our ultimate choice to extend marital rights to same sex couples. I said the dictionary disagrees with Briggs’ claim that using the term “marriage” automatically implies that advocates are advancing an argument based on tradition.

    Though I favor extension of marital rights, I would never suggest that we should do so because the dictionary says so.

    but the Christian church was written into legal documents in 1215.

    Not our legal documents. The first amendement to our constitution starts like this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,. . . In US law, the constitution trumps the English Magna Carta.

    I’m pretty no state enacted the Magna Carta’s laws pertaning to dowagers. It’s nice to know that English widows get to tarry 40 days in the houses of their dead husbands and have had this right since time immemorial.

  47. Willliam Rice

    Do gay marriage advocates talk about the desire to create a stable environment to raise a family as the reason for their cause?

    Yes, they discuss this. The desire on the part of same s.. partners to create a stable family for their children was a key argument in in Goodrich v The department of Health and formed a basis for the decision to extend marriage to same s.. couples in Massachusett Here’s a partial quote form the ruling, “Excluding same sex couples from civil marriage …. does prevent children of same sex couple from enjoying the immeasurable advantages that flow from the assurance of ‘ a stable family structure in which children will be reared, educated and socialized.'”

    Links to the ruling are available in the end noteswikipedia.

    If you actually read arguments advanced by supporters of same s.. marriage stated in their own words you will discover that they do claim households headed by same s.. couples are a healthy environment for children and provide some evidence for this including links to some studies of child welfare. Opponents argue the contrary, providing their own links. I can’t know whether you would be convinced by the evidence in either direction, but the argument that permitting parents to marry benefits their children is often advanced by supporters of same sex marriage.

    It is also one of the arguments advanced by those who insist on marriage rather than civil unions or partnerships (i.e. marriage-lite) which, when proposed, often carry fewer rights and responsibilities than mariage. The argument against marriage-lite is that, frequently, divorce is too easy, and lack of certain benefits make the alternate status less beneficial to children in the family.

  48. Briggs


    I had a private exchange with a good friend who took me to task for not granting equal time to debunking opponents’ arguments. Here is what I said.

    I understand your point, but consider this. Most arguments against GM are religious, and therefore unlikely or impossible to be susceptible to logical analysis. For example, the comment that “marriage is solely for procreation.” That opinion might be wrong on moral grounds, but it’s perfectly fine logically. Similar are all variants of “God doesn’t want it”, which might be wrong in fact but works logically. So too is the plain “It’s wrong!” argument: nothing logically wrong there. If you can find an opponent argument that is illogical, I will happily tackle it.

    Other arguments are related to tradition, which I have shown to be a double-edged stone (I can’t think of a way to say “double-edged” and “opposite of sword”). Arguments to ignore tradition might work, as I have pointed out, but very few to no people have understood that proponents simultaneously deeply desire the respectability of tradition that they want to reject. That’s not wrong necessarily, but it is in many ways inconsistent. Judging by the reaction, I think many people have had a visceral and not an intellectual reaction to this thread of inquiry. Some are just plain unthinking. The “why just two?” question remains unanswered, nor has anybody even tried to attack it (it is no answer to say “it doesn’t bother me”, for you have to explain why it would bother others, marriage, as I explained, not just being between two people, but between two people and a society).

    Also consider that GM proponents have won in some locations, and it’s my guess that they will probably win eventually in all in locations, so they need little help from me. It’s also true that all the other arguments for GM are variants of “I want it” (which you will recall I said are not necessarily bad), and are at least at first glance, isolated from logical response (except when they are forms of the gimme). So too do proponents have all “intelligent” opinion on their side.

    What remains an interesting question to me is, now that some proponents have read my analysis, how many of them will cease to use the arguments which they now know are faulty? I hope none.

  49. Greg Cavanagh

    I’m focusing on the original question. My thesis is; the question is valid if the preposition in the argument does not cross any moral boundary, and invalid when it does cross a moral boundary.

    Naturally each person has different moral boundaries, this would explain why two people can view the same question so differently. Let me explain.

    1/ If you don’t like broccoli, don’t eat it. This to me is a valid statement (being legal and moral).
    2/ If you don’t like drugs, don’t take any. This also seems like a valid statement (being illegal but moral).
    3/ If you don’t like theft, don’t steal. This statement is confused because it implicitly has two subjects involved. One is the thief, one is the victim. It immediately creates a defensive posture in the listener invoking objection.
    Now if we take away the victim, we end up with. 4/ If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a gay. Its kind of a double take. I think this argument is objectionable if it crosses a moral boundary in the listener, and it is a valid statement if your moral boundaries include gay marriage.

    Thanks for listening. Please let me know what you think.

  50. Briggs


    Don’t forget to look at the article preceding this one. It answers your “4”.

  51. Marco

    Greg -and others who might thing the same way-,

    I think there is an important aspect that all proponents of the “if you don’t like xxx then do do/take/eat/use/… it” neglect: it implies that if, on the other hand, you like it then you are free to do/take/eat/use/… it. This it is not admissible in all cases: what if I like to run a red traffic light? What if I like to beat my wife (husband)? What if I like to kill? Then the reply generally is: “you are free to do everything you like/want as long as you do not intrude in anyone else life” is also faulty for it is almost impossible that your actions will not affect someone else even if this other will not spell it out clearly.

    This happens because humans live in aggregate groups of elements that is the social environment. In the broad sense many species of animals also live in societies because they seek protection for the species; with many exceptions animals that are “wired” to have a large progeny are more likely to live alone but almost all living creatures that have limited offspring tend to aggregate for protection that is ultimately preservation.

    What is lacking to all of them is the attention to the single element; in fact all they care is the safety of the group (that is why it is rare to see a group of antelopes fight the lions) and, so long as the group is not annihilated, one or two every now and then are OK to sacrifice themselves.

    Human society -or at least the one we live in and that we consider evolved- has add to the primary layer of self preservation also a secondary layer that evolves and changes with time of respect for the single. This brings us back to the initial point, it is very noble an just (and if we want to digress this was first introduced by Christians) and had helped to add all other layers such as the right to liberty, equality, pursue of happiness, … present in rules, laws and bills not required in the primitive form of those groups -no animal society has the “bill of rights”- since not all members are willing to accept all of them (the dominant lion could not care less about the equalitarian status of all other lions).

    Now the specific issue of SSM is that it poses itself between the two layers: every person should be granted the right to “pursue” happiness at least in our society (some Africans, Orientals or Arabs –although considered more advanced by some- do not agree but it’s a digression). However the primeval society wants first and foremost to preserve the species. This is the conflict since granting the same status to “deliberately” unproductive members is against the primary necessity of a society.

    1. To perpetuate the species it is necessary for humans to have progeny.
    2. To have progeny it is necessary the sexual union of a male and a female element (call it nuclear group). This is the way we are made and it is the only way therefore it is considered “natural”.
    3. To grant same respect and protection to both elements of the nuclear group it is best to have only one male and one female.
    4. It might be best to enforce additional requirements such as lifelong commitment for stability or age restrictions for additional protection of the weaker but all these are moved by the same principle of protection of one or both the elements of the nuclear group and can change depending on the degree of sensitivity of the society to the “second layer”.

    This is the reason why marriage is sanctified (i.e. considered the most precious institution) in the society regardless of the influence/presence of a religion.

    So ultimately SS couples want to be considered normal and natural while in fact there is nothing normal or natural in their union. Here I cannot but agree with Briggs when he points out that SS couples want on one side to deliberately go against the “tradition” of considering marriage as described at points 1 and 2 and at the same time embrace the “tradition” of being considered a married couple while in fact they lack the very fundamental characteristics.
    Up to point 2 there is no moral issue involved only a simple acknowledgment of why the union between two elements -one male and one female- should be considered the most important and granted a special status that no other can claim.

    At least IMHO.

  52. Briggs

    The “why just two?” question remains unanswered,

    The question of plural marriage is discussed by those who debate this issue. Contrary to the responses you attribute to “them” (i.e. the homogenous mass of proponents of extending marriage to same sex couples), my answer would not be not have anything to do tradition. If you want to write a post discussing issues surrounding enacting plural marriage, have at it. Then, we can discuss this topic.

    However, you claimed your purpose was to discuss argumentation. Given that, I prefer, when addressing comment to you, to discuss the logical fallacies in your own argument. (When addressing comments by others, I discuss things they posted that I consider to be misconceptions. )

    One of the biggest difficulties with your claim to dissect bad argument on the part of those who propose extending marriage to gays is that you concoct strawman arguments and then explain why these strawman arguments of your own making are poor arguments. Well… yeah! But who makes the arguments you claim? Someone may– but as far as I can tell, very few.

    I was going to add this to the end of my first comment on your first post, but your spam filter was persnicketty:

    I’m pondering making my motto, “If you don’t believe in Tarot Card reading, don’t hire ‘Psychic Mary’ to read Tarot Cards for you!” (Psychic Mary advertises her services in my town. I’ve never met her, but see no reason why she should not be free to read Tarot cards for those who believe in her mad psychic skillzz.)

    Will my motto be an iron clad argument in favor of permitting Tarot Card readers to continue to do business? No. If you suggest it’s a bad argument, I will not only agree, I will tell you it’s not a bad argument because not an argument at all. It’s a motto.

    Mottos, by their nature, advance no evidence for and against some proposition in the motto. They are not good arguments. They are not bad arguments. They are arguments, period.

    The same thing could have been said for all 20 things on the list of suggestions on that page to the Randi foundation you linked. None are arguments. As it happens, I have no intention of taking up most of his suggestions, and, for example would edit “Allow no state or federal voucher programs.” to “School vouchers programs should be enacted in all states.” But neither of these two statements, nor any of the suggestions on Randi’s list are arguments of any sort. He calls them suggestions and that’s what they are.

    If you want to write a post explaining ‘Live free or die!” or or “Where is the beef!'” are not a good arguments, go ahead. But it’s silly because they aren’t arguments.

    If you want to then continue elaborate and explain that when people ask “Where’s the beef” they are making a secret allusion to the tradition of eating hamburgers the according to the American tradition, which is with all the fixings.

    So, you, having diagnosed that the phrase “Where’s the beef” is secret code for “eating hamburgers with all the fixings”, tell us you then ask them, “If you demand beef, why don’t you demand ketchup?”. Having asked, you discovered they answer “No one needs ketchup.” or “Let’s not discuss ketchup!”

    “Aha!”, You tell us. They contradicted themselves, because clearly, beef implies hamburgers with all the fixings, which includes ketchup. Heavens, what an inconsistent bunch! They say, “Where is the beef, but they aren’t put promoting wider availability of ketchup!”

    In the hamburger analogy, if someone suggest that the claim that “Where’s the beef” is secret code for “eating hamburgers with all the fixings” is incorrect, your response appears equivalent to “Of course it implies that! The burden is on you to show it doesn’t!” Well… aw righty then. . .

    Of course the hamburger analogy to your argument sounds silly.

    But when you start by complaining any motto or slogan is not a good argument, and follow that by insisting the motto implies some specific detailed argument you can see hidden inside thee slogan, don’t image readers are going to believe you have given a cogent demonstration of the application of logic to anything.

    Now, I will close with,
    “If you don’t believe in Tarot Card reading, don’t hire ‘Psychic Mary’ to read Tarot Cards for you!”

    I will add that the function of my proposed motto is only to inform people that unless you can advance a convincing argument against letting Psychic Mary do business, I think the law should permit Psychic Mary to continue her Tarot Card sessions. However, my motto is neither a good nor bad argument.It is not an argument. It’s a motto.

  53. Briggs


    Not quite. A “straw man” is a stand-in for an argument that is made of sterner stuff and is harder to destroy. My “more than two” example is not a straw man since it is in fact an extremely difficult argument to refute. It also matters not at all that nobody but me is proposing it: logic is not a vote. It is also a fallacy to offer a refutation in the form of “nobody would do that.”

    So to expand the “more than two”, and make the difficulties it contains more evident, let’s change it to “Marriage will be expanded to also mean the union of two men, one female child of two, a yak, and a push broom.” To those who favor tradition, the example is absurd. But I ask you to prove its absurdities without any recourse to tradition. Do that, and you’ll convince us that tradition plays no part in the definition of marriage.

    (hit ‘enter’ by accident earlier)

    Admit that the “yak” can’t be refuted without recourse to tradition, then obviously you admit that tradition is important. If you then say that “the push broom part” is clearly ridiculous, then you admit that the degree of tradition is important. Thus we eventually come back to GM and the degree to which and how quickly the marriage tradition should change.

    The non-logical, but interesting bit, is that people do not like it when tradition changes abruptly, as it does with judicial fiat. If suddenly the headmaster decides everybody should wear a red and not a blue tie to dinner, there might be disquiet, but of a different magnitude when a judge declares GM valid. Obviously, sometimes abrupt social change due to fiat can be good—think abolition—but I can’t think of an example where this wasn’t also disquieting. And so here we come to the really interesting part: what traditions are more sacred and less accepting of change. Marriage seems to be one of them, judging by the reaction of opponents.

  54. Joy

    It’s not top trumps Lucia. Why did you really think I showed the excerpt from the Magna Carta?
    The point was western culture, which is what HAS been under discussion and is certainly relevant to a discussion about the church and tradition. The Magna Carta is not the English version of the constitution of the United States of America either; no idea why you thought that.

  55. Greg Cavanagh

    marco, I think from reading your response, you agree with me. I got lost in your thoughts though, so can’t be sure. Mr Brigg’s original question was “if you don’t like xxx then do do/take/eat/use/… it” which is what I was focusing on. I understand he’s focusing on tradition in this thread.

    I’m afraid I’m not much of an expert on history or language, but I do have a healthy fascination of it all. I’m confident marriage existed long before the Christian era started. King Solomon had 600 wives. You can’t have a wife without some sort of marriage ceremony.

    The Americans seem to be focusing on their interpretation of the marriage vows, not on the meaning of marriage. I’m not sure why Mr Briggs is avoiding the subject of polygamy marriages, but they are perfectly common in the world. All of Islam allows for them.

    As far as I can figure it out, the question is not wrong on simple subjects, as marco (I think) agrees. It’s not wrong on illegal points, but it strikes a chord as being wrong when the subject becomes immoral. Ask someone in Iran “why not three” and they’d probably answer “I have four”.

    It seems to come down to, not just cultural tradition, but what the listener views as immoral.

  56. Marco


    my answer might have been too verbose (I tend to be like that when I am traveling and have little else to do) but I do not see how you could have seen my “two cents” in agreement with you.

    Now I do not know why you think American are hung up on “their concept of marriage”. My point was: every society to self preserve itself needs the presence of nuclear groups that cannot be formed by other than at least one man and one woman. This is inevitable and undeniable.
    And this is the origin of MAN AND WOMAN. Not only men; not only women!

    Now the reasons for “two” are:
    1. you need at least two
    2. More than two lowers the fitness of the species because too many children will have common hereditary factors and because, as John Arbuthnott put it on a survey from 1629 to 1710: “Polygamy is contrary to the law of Nature […] nor it is probable that Twenty Women will be so well impregnated by one Man as by Twenty”

    So unless there is an overwhelming number of one of the two sexes over the other polygamy is inefficient.

    As you see up to here there is no religion or superstition involved nor there is morality or ethics. On the contrary it’s only tradition stemming from societies that tend, as any natural system, to the path of less resistance. That is to use the easiest way to favor the continuation of the species made possible by the union of a man and a woman called marriage.

    What you might think as being normal in ancient days -i.e. having multiple wives- only happened when someone considered him/her self more important and therefore needed to perpetuate his/her blood by having multiple partners.

    King Solomon is not the only one in the Bible who had more than one wife but this is preposterous to my point since as you might know they where all in the Old Testament. After Christ (New Testament) the focus became more on the person that should be respected regardless of his/her social status. From this Christian belief spurs one more reason for having only one man and one woman. This and only this is a moral/ethical point that one can embrace or reject.

    So again there is no immoral driving force for rejecting other forms of unions as marriage, simply tradition from natural behavior for the most important union is the one between a man and a woman. It becomes immoral when you want to have more than two partners since one sex will have a “larger” role therefore reducing that of the other (one man and four women is unfair EVEN if all the women consent).

  57. conard

    57 comments– is that a record?

    Other than checking for internal inconsistencies (re: your ‘tradition’ case) logic has precious little to do with this issue. Applied strictly to the issue of Marriage, there is no truth to seek, nothing to prove, nothing to disprove.

    Moving from logical structure to utility: It can be demonstrated that I enjoy tax, insurance, and legal benefits from my marriage and on that basis, were I a gay man, I would argue that it would surely be more equitable than less to extend those same benefits to my partner and I. The other side of the coin is that the results from such calculations are not likely to be significantly different than zero.

  58. Luis Dias


    Interesting comment of yours. Just a couple of corrections.

    This brings us back to the initial point, it is very noble an just (and if we want to digress this was first introduced by Christians)

    1. What exactly was first introduced by Christians, it’s not exactly clear;
    2. Is there anything in your view that hasn’t been introduced by Christians? I find it hilarious that so many so-called “christian” inventions are actually centuries if not thousands of years older than JC.

    So ultimately SS couples want to be considered normal and natural while in fact there is nothing normal or natural in their union.

    I’d say right on the first (it is deviant from the normal) and unproven, most surely wrong on the latter (natural). It is natural because they exist in this natural universe, and their desires weren’t manufactured, they were born with them. These little details are key to all of the discussion really. People still believe that SS couples are so because they somehow “chose” that livestyle clearly don’t remember what teenagers often do to gay teens. It is also patronizing to insinuate that it is a psychological trauma or something of the kind, although I do find this an alarmingly normal accusation. As long as people don’t take SS as natural, they will never treat them as they should be.

    Here I cannot but agree with Briggs when he points out that SS couples want on one side to deliberately go against the “tradition” of considering marriage as described at points 1 and 2 and at the same time embrace the “tradition” of being considered a married couple while in fact they lack the very fundamental characteristics.

    And I’ll have to agree with Lucia that it has not been proven, only asserted with certainty of knowledge, that homossexuals do argue about tradition and not about legal status. So while doing what Briggs said would eventually constitute a paradox, it is not settled that that is the real case.

    Up to point 2 there is no moral issue involved only a simple acknowledgment of why the union between two elements -one male and one female- should be considered the most important and granted a special status that no other can claim.

    Because they can breed? So why not forbid sterile couples to marry then? And if it sounds idiotic, why so?

  59. Greg Cavanagh

    Marco, I can see you’re basing your argument on the belief humans must be rational and efficient breeders, and that their respective societies also must be rational and promote efficient families. My experiences with humans so far do not confer with this.

    Second, I didn’t say “their concept of marriage”, I said “their interpretation of the marriage vows”. There seems to be a difference between the concepts of purpose behind the marriage vows/ceremony. Here in Australia, marriage is basically a legal agreement between two people who agree to live together and be a family as a legal unit. Some of the comments so far appear to be attributing other purposes to it, or focusing on the wording of the vows and using that as an argument. I’m not familiar enough to identify it more clearly.

    Also, I used Solomon as the example for marriage before Christ, simply because he predates Jesus by about 800 years or so, and is a provable historical character. Him having 600 wives wasn’t the point of mentioning him.

    And multiple wives didn’t stop with the advent of Jesus. It is still common in all Islamic counties today. I am not agreeing with the practice, nor stating that it is best or most efficient. Only that it is common.

    Back to “if you don’t like xxx then do do/take/eat/use/… it”. I’m calling it a moral outlook because I think it’s slightly more accurate than calling it a social conditioning. Acceptable behaviour in a society is not universal to all within it. Those to whom such behaviour is acceptable simply have another outlook on life, and to these people the question and answer seem valid.

    If the question/answer “if you don’t like brussel sprouts, don’t eat them” is valid. Then changing the subjects shouldn’t make it suddenly invalid. There must be another psyoclogial block in place which makes the question seem invalid. I am simply trying to identify what that condition might be.

  60. Joy

    Your brussel sprout example is no different from the ‘give me what I want’ argument.
    Obviously, you have the right to decide what you eat based on your likes and dislikes. You do not have the right to change laws or ask for society to change at once because it’s what you want. That is the point of the ‘give me’ argument.

    As for using Islamic countries as any sort of example of proper civilised behaviour, you’re on a very sticky wicket there. These nations may be amongst the richest in the world, but they are also amongst the most primitive, dirty and brutal regimes in the world. I’d say civilised world but this would be a contradiction as you really know but are trying to ignore for the sake of trying to show that polygamy is a reasonable proposition. If modern man wants to sleep with many women, he just has to go ahead and find as many women as are willing to join in his way of life. I also note that the examples do not include women having more than one husband! Hilarious that no one ever mentions this. Obviously women are wired differently and aren’t interested in a juggling act, but think about that when you give examples of other cultures. How good is your example? Does your example make good sense?

    About the marriage vows: you can’t argue about historical fact. I know this is a New World hobby.

    King Solomon:
    Silly example, he also had some funny ideas about conflict resolution if I remember rightly. The western world was not founded on an example given by King Solomon which is also why he is non-relevant to the argument. He might have chosen not to eat brussel sprouts, but we still eat them! Obviously the average law makers don’t take a lot of notice of what he did with his vegetables or his wives. It is, however important to look at laws of the land. Many if not all of these have their origin in religion whether the average atheist likes this or not, it is a fact. You can take God out of the man but you can’t erase him from history.

    All I’d like to see is a bit of honest reflection on historical fact and recognition that civilised society has much to thank the Christian church for. This would be fair minded and would save all the above pseudo-intellectual posturing.

    I do believe the polygamy example was brought in as a good example of the ridiculous but strangely, some people are trying to claim that they find this reasonable, so anxious are they to appear ‘open minded’.

  61. Greg Cavanagh

    Perhaps I missed the original point of Mr Brigg’s post. “If you don’t believe in gay marriages, don’t have one” is a poor argument, therefore there is no reconciliation with it. End of story.

    All of my comments are focusing on Mr Brigg’s original statement “I don’t want to argue for or against gay marriage—be very clear on this point—nor do I want my opinion on the matter to distract anybody from thinking about what is actually of interest, which is the logical status of an argument often used in this debate.” This was upheld by me to the misunderstanding of everybody else it seems.

    Joy, you have misunderstood me. I was focusing on the argument, not on tradition. Using the Islamic tradition of multiple marriages is exactly the relevant counter argument. It is their tradition, it is perfectly normal to them. You’re calling them a most primitive, dirty and brutal regime is irrelevant to their tradition, and to the number of such marriages. There are about 1.8 billion of them. It’s not your tradition, but that does not invalidate it as being somebody’s argument for acceptability.

    King Solomon. I already answered this; he was a provable historical figure, who was married before Christ. I stated this in answer to marco who stated “(and if we want to digress this was first introduced by Christians) “, when it clearly was not. His funny ideas about conflict resolution are irrelevant.

    I am not arguing for, or against gay marriage. I was trying to demonstrate “why not three” does not confuse or even affect the ideology of marriage. Focusing on what marriage does, not how it is implemented in any given country or society.

    I think Mr Briggs is probably most correct in his conclusion in this thread since no one has come up with a better explanation. “The reason is obvious: tradition is not so easily abandoned. It is a deep need for humans to have ties with the past, for ceremony and ritual. It is also important to stress that marriage is not just a legal contract between two people, it is an understanding between a couple and society, largely governed by understood rules.”

  62. Joy


    “This was upheld by me to the misunderstanding of everybody else it seems. “ We all think that about our own arguments. If you read my comments, they are replies to other commenters. I read all articles very carefully and usually more than once. I also can see why Briggs chose the tradition word. It gets around the awkward ‘religion’, which, like the war, must not be mentioned. Ask yourself about the ‘deep human need’ for tradition and where this mysterious need comes from. What is its historical basis in any example. Minimal thought to this even in Pagan religions brings up spirits or superstition. Tradition and it’s meaning,
    Of course, can only ever be a fluffy one as it is a social invention.

    “Joy, you have misunderstood me.” Oh no I haven’t! “It’s behind you!”

    “I was focusing on the argument, not on tradition.”
    Tradition was the topic of the post. I didn’t like the word either, it was Briggs euphemism but that was the topic.
    “Using the Islamic tradition of multiple marriages is exactly the relevant counter argument. It is their tradition, it is perfectly normal to them…. and to the number of such marriages. There are about 1.8 billion of them… that does not invalidate it as being somebody’s argument for acceptability.”
    Nor does an appeal to consensus! Or an attempt at false fairness.
    Obviously, just as if I went to live in UAE and insisted that all men be forced to have only one wife at a time because that is what they do back home. That would not be an acceptable argument in that country either. If you don’t recognise this, then this is strange. One should not call on Druid law or Jedi rules when making an argument that is out of context in the case in point. You have focussed on the philosophical idea of tradition and forgotten that we are talking about reality of western culture. This is unwise. Next you’ll be insisting that May the fourth should be kept as a holy day for the whole world because a few Jedi wannabe’s think it’s funny.
    Tradition was under discussion in this post. Not acceptability. Tradition of heterosexual marriage in the US, I presume, not Asia, the Maldives or Mars. The point is that marriage does not mean the same thing. There is a different word for it and only a translation dictionary allows for this inclusion as being the same, i.e. like with like.

    “King Solomon. I already answered this; he was a provable historical figure, who was married before Christ.”
    How is this relevant to the argument? In the same way as what happens in Asia is irrelevant, so is what happens in the Old Testament. If you want to discuss tradition, you must discuss what formed that tradition. My own assertion is that the traditions in the western world are based on the laws and religious beliefs of the Christian faith of whatever flavour. This is a fact. I find it interesting that so many are uncomfortable with this just as it seems that it is impossible to discuss the topic of gay marriage without the typical knee-jerk reactions, so it is impossible to mention ‘church’, ‘religion’, ‘God’ without someone picking up the wrong end of the stick and running with it. It is utterly irrelevant whether an individual is atheist, C of E or Jedi. The argument remains the same. Nor is it relevant whether someone is even pro or anti gay, which some commenters seem to have assumed in a most odd manner.
    All they have to do is ask.
    Some can’t see straight when certain words are mentioned. This is sad and tiresome.

    “(and if we want to digress this was first introduced by Christians) “, when it clearly was not.”
    It clearly was if you are talking about the marriage that the homosexual lobbyists are after. They are not asking for polygamy, for Asian, Islamic style weddings which are not under discussion; nor are they asking for vampire weddings or Pagan ones. If a polygamous man from a foreign field moves to England, he is not recognised as being married to more than one woman.
    If you read my comments on the original post I tried to make this point that the word must be redefined in order to justify the argument. Yet, it is the church blessing that is craved by a very small minority of Gay, mostly men. Probably it could be narrowed down to one man in fact, an Ex-pat of this country who seems to have made himself quite popular in the US. He was brought up a strict Catholic. He has had a civil union, but this is not enough, so great is his narcissism. I leave his name out as well because great is his vindictiveness.

    “funny ideas about conflict resolution are irrelevant.” That was a joke! However you see, I hope the point, that to use a King from another world and another time is as relevant as using Dr Who as a good example of modern dress code.
    “I am not arguing for, or against gay marriage. I was trying to demonstrate “why not three” does not confuse or even affect the ideology of marriage. Focusing on what marriage does, not how it is implemented in any given country or society.” Well in that case, Greg, the argument is a waste of time as there probably exists right now a country somewhere that accepts gay ‘marriage’ if you have the right phrase book, in which case, because it exists there, we must have it everywhere. This does not get around the fact that in a western culture gay marriage is not the tradition! Nor is marrying a yard broom, a hampster, or a netball team.
    I chose to ignore the Tradition word because I am not afraid of where my tradition originates. I don’t come out in hives at the mere mention of the ‘r’ word. I knew this would get the response that it did, predictable.

    If you still don’t see why Solomon is not relevant, think of it this way, when Solomon was offering to chop a baby in half because wives number 302 and 406 were arguing about who it belonged to, and generally turning his head in a most ungodly way; the folk who lived in England were druids or who knows what! Who knows what one had to do to be considered married: probably not a lot but claim to be so and hope a bigger man didn’t argue with you.
    Is that what you consider married? So we come back to what married means. Which was my original point.
    Some have some funny ideas of what constitutes marriage. If only for convenience of the current argument.

    That is the point. All the rest is commentary.

  63. Soren

    You are absolutely right. There is no clearcut reason why not 3 or more should be able to marry.

    But you still haven’t explained why this is an objection gay marriage!

    Gays wan’t to be married.
    Marriage i a legal agreement between a man and a woman, recognized by the state.

    There are historical reasons as to why it is so.

    Now gays want to have their legal union recognized by the state as well. “Tradition” is irrelevant in this case. History might explain why our laws are what they are, but it is a poor argument for why it should continue to be so.

    So how is it not discrimination for the state to not recognize marriage between gays?

    The only reasonable argument I have seen against gay marriage is that the state should not interfere in private agreements, in which case the state should stop recognizing marriage at all.

    But now that it does, its up to the state to argue as to why it should continue discriminating based solely on gender.

  64. Briggs


    Your position of “no clearcut reason” is at least consistent. But your statement that tradition is “irrelevant” is false. There is no way to argue for marriage (between however many people or people and animals, etc.) without using history and tradition to define what the state of marriage is.

  65. Am'zz

    i need some information regarding visa holder of UK but not nationals of
    UK. they are from Paksitan, the matter is that their is a couple who wants to marry but due to
    domestic voilence of their families they are threatening not to do so due to caste problems. the
    seek refuge in UK. what is the law of UK regarding such issues. will the
    government provide support and refuge to the couple if they come to UK and
    get married to eachother

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