Bad Arguments Against Gay Marriage

The following is a summary of the logic of an article opposing gay marriage by Cardinal O’Brien with commentary by me in italics. The original article is called “We Cannot Afford to Indulge this Madness.”

The Government will consult the public on gay marriage.

The Cardinal wishes the public to sign a petition `in support of traditional marriage’.

Argument 1: When civil partnerships were introduced, supporters said they did not want gay marriage. This disbars them from now seeking it.

Comment: Why? Does the Cardinal believe he has a contract founded on statements made by supporters of civil partnerships?

Argument 2: Since civil partnerships confer `all the legal rights of marriage’, supporters of gay marriage are not making a proposal to equalise rights.

Comment: One of the `legal rights of marriage’ includes the right to call the ceremony `marriage’. Any other term is certainly different and the difference allows for different classes of rights. Gay people may then say their position is inferior.

Argument 3: Because of argument 2, the proposal “is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.”

Comment: This assumes that marriage of heterosexual couples is changed by the marriage of homosexual couples. No argument is supplied for this claim. If the proposal is as the Cardinal claims a minority view, then it will fail at the consultation and the Cardinal does not have a problem.

Argument 4: The proposal represents a redefinition of marriage. “It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society.”

Comment: Unsupported. The marriage rate has been in any case declining rapidly. ONS: `the provisional 2010 general marriage rate for England and Wales still represents one of the lowest rates since they were first calculated in 1862”.

Argument 5: The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense.

Comment: Why? What are they? And will they be bad? How do we know that?

Argument 6: “[W]ords whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history [cannot] suddenly be changed to mean something else.

Comment: This is just false.

Argument 7: [T}eacher[s] who want[…] to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman will be in difficulty.

Comment: not obvious what the problem is here. It looks as though the teacher will be making a false statement. The modal claim is falsified by the proposition’s passing. The historical claim is true. It is unclear what the penalties are for teachers making false statements, but I doubt they are that severe.

Argument 8: Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines marriage as a relationship between men and women.

Comment: True, but how do we know that document is right?

Argument 9: Changing the meaning of the term redefines reality, which is insane.

Comment: it changes the meaning of a term, which seems to happen a lot. It would be unfortunate if that sufficed for insanity.

Argument 10: Marriage existed before Governments, so they cannot change it.

Comment: This again is just false. The Cardinal will later introduce the example of slavery. That also existed before governments, but he is against it.

Argument 11: People previously thought that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Comment: It appears they have changed their minds. Is there a problem with this?

Argument 12: The purpose of marriage is to ensure that children have a mother and father.

Comment: How do we know that two homosexual people cannot raise children as well? The Cardinal owes us some data here. My understanding is that the data points the opposite way to what he would wish.

Argument 13: If marriage can be between two men, we will have to allow three men or a woman and two men to marry as well.

Comment: This seems false to me, but if true, who cares? It seems odd to me, and I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t have clear grounds for preventing others from doing it. Perhaps my small-mindedness in this respect will be shown to be such by future practice.

Argument 14: In Massachusetts, homosexual fairy (sic) stories appeared in schools after gay marriage was legalised.

Comment: I greatly enjoy the Cardinal’s pun at this point. This is a separate issue however. If you don’t want this, it does not seem to be entailed by gay marriage. Also an argument as to why it would be bad is needed.

Argument 15: The Government is arrogant when it says that churches can opt out, because churches have moral authority and the Government does not.

Comment. This seems rather churlish as a response to what appears to be the Government allowing churches to make their own decisions, even if society thinks they should not.

Argument 16: Gay marriage being legalised in this way is like slavery being legalised with the proviso that no one will be forced to keep a slave.

Comment: It is not, because no parties to gay marriage enter the agreement without consenting to it. Also society thinks slavery is wrong; we will find out whether it thinks the same about gay marriage.

Argument 17: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is correct (again).

Comment: see above.

Argument 18: It is self-evident that argument 17 is correct.

Comment: false.

Argument 19: The success of the proposal will forfeit the trust the people have placed in the Government.

Comment: This seems radically implausible, since it would mean that the respondents to the consultation blame the Government for the responses they themselves gave.

Argument 20: The success of the proposal will shame the UK in the eyes of the world.

Comment: This is perhaps true, though I do not know what national shame is, why we should care about it, what it would be based upon, and whether it is a price worth paying.

I conclude that none of the Cardinal’s arguments go through.

The article may be found at:

Author: Tim Short

I went to Imperial College in 1988 for a BSc(hons) in Physics. I then went back to my hometown, Bristol, for a PhD in Particle Physics. This was written in 1992 on the ZEUS experiment which was located at the HERA accelerator in Hamburg ( I spent the next four years as a post-doc in Hamburg. I learned German and developed a fondness for the language and people. I spent a couple of years doing technical sales for a US computer company in Ireland. In 1997, I returned to London to become an investment banker, joining the legendary Principal Finance Group at Nomura. After a spell at Paribas, I moved to Credit Suisse First Boston. I specialized in securitization, leading over €9bn of transactions. My interest in philosophy began in 2006, when I read David Chalmers's "The Conscious Mind." My reaction, apart from fascination, was "he has to be wrong, but I can't see why"! I then became an undergraduate in Philosophy at UCL in 2007. In 2010, I was admitted to graduate school, also at UCL. I wrote my Master's on the topic of "Nietzsche on Memory" ( Also during this time, I published a popular article on Sherlock Holmes ( I then began work on the Simulation Theory account of Theory of Mind. This led to my second PhD on philosophical aspects of that topic; this was awarded by UCL in March 2016 ( -- currently embargoed for copyright reasons). The psychological version of this work formed my book "Simulation Theory". My second book, "The Psychology Of Successful Trading: Behavioural Strategies For Profitability" is in production at Taylor and Francis and will be published in December 2017. It will discuss how cognitive biases affect investment decisions and how knowing this can make us better traders by understanding ourselves and other market participants more fully. I am currently drafting my third book, wherein I will return to more purely academic philosophical psychology, on "Theory of Mind in Abnormal Psychology." Education: I have five degrees, two in physics and three in philosophy. Areas of Research / Professional Expertise: Particle physics, Monte Carlo simulation, Nietzsche (especially psychological topics), phenomenology, Theory of Mind, Simulation Theory Personal Interests: I am a bit of an opera fanatic and I often attend wine tastings. I follow current affairs, especially in their economic aspect. I started as a beginner at the London Piano Institute in August 2015 and passed Grade Three in May 2018!

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