Frank Bruni, Rick Santorum, and Arguing Gay Marriage

Frank Bruni

Bruni offers an example from Rick Santorum campaigning in Iowa last week to show how absurd and even comical conservative “reasoning” can be in defense of their political opinions.  It deserves to be quoted entirely:

“Santorum was saying that when you speak of two men or two women as married, you indulge in fiction.  An impossibility.  ‘This is a napkin,’ he announced in an angry voice, abruptly ripping one from a dispenser and holding it high.  ‘I can call this napkin a paper towel.  But it is a napkin.  Why?  Because it is what it is.’

“‘So while someone might assert that ‘marriage could be between fathers and daughters,’ he added, ‘It doesn’t make it marriage.’  Agreed.  It makes it a crime, and to mention that in the same breath as same-sex couples is nothing short of appalling.'”

So what’s wrong here?

Santorum’s circular self-defining reasoning would be damn funny if it were not so typical of the sort conservative rhetoric today that passes for serious debate on the right.  Plus Santorum has said much more appalling things than this in the past.

Instead I see Bruni’s response to Santorum’s analogy troubling only because it is a weak response.  Both Bruni and Santorum seem to be arguing from principles of opinion, not reason; both are offended.

In Santorum’s case, he thinks we “inherently know homosexual behavior is immoral and unnatural” therefore it is wrong and compares it with father-daughter incest.

Bruni counters that Santorum’s analogy is appalling and leaves it at that.  We can presume that Bruni sees father-daughter incest as inherently immoral and unnatural, too, can we not?

I know I might be thinking too much for Bruni and I won’t pretend to be an expert on incest and laws against incest.  However, I think there is a better way to respond to the kind of argument that Santorum makes — which follows a pattern of placing opinion before reason that is prevalent throughout conservative discourse regardless of topic — and make a more logical counter argument.

One might argue, for example, that beyond traditional taboos, there is a rational reason for incest laws.  Plenty of research exists which shows that incest is a very harmful form of abuse.  Incest violates the victim’s rights and safety.  Therefore the state has a compelling interest in criminalizing incest.

Rick Santorum

Where is the harm in a same-sex relationship?

By simply countering one sense of offensive immorality with another only validates Santorum’s strategy.  If we outlaw incest because based on a notion that we know inherently it is immoral and unnatural, why can’t we inherently know that same-sex marriage is immoral and unnatural and likewise outlaw it?

My point here is simple.  Many positions are debated publicly on an emotional level.  Emotions are often least accountable to facts.  And with increasing acceptance, these emotions gum up political discourse.  We stand divided and dig with opinions fostered at the emotional level.  (And there is yet another apropos article in the New York Times today about this.  Subscribe to your paper!)  It is easy to be offended and just as easy to discount the offender, but simple rational arguments are a more convincing position to take.

In short, I think we are better served if we argue from fact and reason even when coinciding opinions are fair and obvious.  People might not be listening, but eventually facts have a way of speaking to common sense.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s