Saturday, December 10, 2011

How should we argue about the legitimacy of marriage?


In honor of tomorrow’s WHY? episode, people have been sending me links about the nature of marriage. Two stick out from the pack. The first sent to me by a reader named Jay, is a tongue-in-cheek video arguing a version of what our guest will claim, that “traditional” marriage is not actually between one man and one woman. The second, posted by a bunch of people on Facebook, is a heartfelt defense of the rights of lesbians to marry based on their child’s experience of what it means to be a good person. It is noteworthy that no one sent me anything defending traditional marriage, but I’m not sure if this indicates anything about PQED’s audience, me, or if it doesn’t mean anything at all.


The two videos I embed below, taken together, bring-up an important question: what is the most effective way to criticize a deeply-felt traditional institution like marriage? The first uses sarcasm to point to an internal contradiction within the concept of “traditional marriage.” It does so sarcastically and with a sense of humor. And, while it can be dismissed by its opponents as disrespectful, it offers a powerful connection to a text many of them see as central to the debate (the Bible).  The second appeals to what its speaker regards as a larger or more foundational virtue, justice. While there is even less agreement about the meaning of justice as there is on marriage, it relies on common experience about what a good person is. Obviously, the two approaches can work in tandem, but it is still worth asking whether one has inherently more philosophical power than the other. When given the choice, do we argue for consistency or for moral legitimacy?

The issue will not be resolved here; hopefully, we’ll get to it tomorrow with our guest. For now, and in preparation, as you watch the videos, ask yourself, which one contains the better philosophical argument and what, if anything, would you have to hear to change your mind about this issue?




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