Saturday, 27 June 2009

Easy Pickings

In September I start my MA in History of Philosophy, and if all goes to plan I'll start my PhD in philosophy a year after that, meaning that in five, six years tops I should be a doctor of philosophy and looking for work. This is an intimidating prospect, for all that it's far off - competition is fierce for academic jobs given how few are available.

But here's a ray of hope - I could become Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto! I would certainly do a better job of it than Professor David Novak, the latest to tilt at windmills and try to make a secular case against gay marriage.

His arguments here are a rehash of long-debunked idiocies, with a patina of pretension. You've heard it all before: the point of the institution of marriage is allegedly to encourage, protect and to a certain degree control procreation and the raising of children. Ergo, vis a vis, concordantly, no queers allowed. I'll quote him directly:

If the public reason for the institution of marriage is to facilitate procreation and the exercise of parental rights and obligations as well as filial rights and obligations, then it follows that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples. Only they are capable of procreation.

No, it does not follow at all. I have a knife that was designed to cut vegetables, but I am violating no moral law if I use it to open a package. The public reason for the institution of the playground across the road is for children to play in, but I can still have a go on the swings. This is the genealogical fallacy: marriage was "originally meant" for one man and one woman to raise kids in, and nothing can, will, or should ever change. As an aside, here, it's absurdly ahistorical to claim that this is marriage's Eternal Purpose. Control of virginity, economic domination of women, not ringing any bells here?

To the well-known objection that we commonly allow men and women to marry despite their inability or unwillingness to have children, Novak waves an airy hand and quote some Latin:

But I would answer that objection by citing the old legal principle: de minimis non curat lex, which could be translated (freely) as: The law is only made for what usually obtains. The fact is, the overwhelming number of people who marry are fertile and are of an age to be fertile.

But, given the comparative portion of straights to non-straights, this would still be the case given gay marriage.

And then, of course, in reality many gay couples actually do raise children together. But Novak thinks this is gross and mean:

First, consider surrogacy or artificial insemination. This involves a violation of a child’s natural right to have both natural parents raise him or her.

Oh, please. Yes, it is quite properly the assumption that a child's birth parents will raise them. But how on Earth does that become a hallowed right? Where is that right found? Novak barely bothers to argue for this very strange-sounding right, except by a lazy appeal to the presumed feelings of "overwhelming numbers" of children, a tactic eerily reminiscent of this hilarious and revolting NOM ad. Why should, of all things, genetic resemblance - because that is the only criterion for "natural parenthood" being invoked - create mind-forg'd manacles binding two people? That's Blake, by the way. See, we can all quote old things and sound smart. Novak's bizarre hostility to the idea goes so far that he calls it a "conspiracy ab initio to prevent the child so conceived from being raised by —often not to even recognize—his or her own natural mother"! "Ab initio" means "from the start", by the way - why Novak couldn't just say that, I don't know.

The paragraph continues on in that vein, all a hysterical condemnation of homosexuals and liberals based on phantasmagoric "natural rights". He even manages to slip an anti-choice message in there! That's a bonus.

What about adoption, though? Some bright-eyed moppet cruelly abandoned by the doubtless God-fearing heterosexual couple whose natural and decent copulation brought said moppet into this vale of tears, couldn't this kid be raised by Two Daddies? Novak grudgingly admits that it's probably better for an orphan to be raised by a gay couple than to labour their short life in some Dickensian workhouse, but het couples should still be given preference! Why?

That is because a heterosexual couple can better simulate—perhaps improve upon—the heterosexual union that produced this child and should be raising this child. It better simulates the duty of the natural parents to this child, a duty they would not or could not exercise. This, by the way, is not arguing empirically that opposite sex couples are necessarily better at raising children than same-sex couples. My arguments are based on the concepts of rights, not on the concept of utility. Thus my arguments are a priori, not a posteriori.

Because heterosexual parents look more like the kid's genetic parents! What an utterly specious bit of logic. It's a fun concept to play around with, taken to its logical conclusion ("Okay, apparently Timmy's mum liked Star Wars, how do you feel about that? And would you consider dying your hair? We're really trying to create as much resemblance as possible...") but an utterly silly standard for adoption. The logic here seems to be "heterosexual unions do produce children, therefore heterosexual unions ought to raise children". This involves two logical leaps in one bad argument - from "do" to "ought", and from "produce" to "raise"! Kids, try and colour in the blanks! Why a heterosexual couple's duty to children in their care differs substantially from a homosexual couple's duty to children in their care would seem to be the cornerstone of this argument, so it's a shame that Novak doesn't even bother to mention it.

This is illogical, insubstantial nonsense, which I strongly suspect is an attempt to justify a pretheoretical dislike of homosexuals. Surely someone, somewhere, can do a better job than Novak.

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