Here are arguments that are absolutely meaningless to people who don’t believe in your religion:
1. My sacred scriptures say this is that way, so it is.
Your sacred scriptures are not my sacred scriptures, and I have no reason to believe them any more than I should believe everything any other book says. The fact that they say they’re right isn’t enough; I could write you a letter right now saying “The following is totally correct: 2 + 2 = 5,” and it would be a lot less ambiguous than any sacred scriptures I know of in both its truth claim and its claimed-to-be-true content, but you still wouldn’t believe it. The fact that people you trust say it’s right doesn’t cut it either. The fact that some of what is contained in it is true isn’t enough, just like if I added “2 + 4 = 6” into my letter above that still wouldn’t convince you that 2 + 2 = 5. None of this means that your sacred scriptures are wrong; it just means that I have no reason to accept them as right and therefore appealing to them will get you nowhere with me. But while we’re on the topic, if your scriptures of choice are the Bible, and if you think every dot and tittle of it is good and true, how about you go to my Stuff All Bible Believers Should Know page and explain to me why you trust a book that says those things.
2. If we do x, y will happen, and y is against my religion’s morality.
I don’t ascribe to your religion’s morality. I actually think your religion is wrong about multiple things, not just the one I’m arguing with you about.
3. We shouldn’t do x because we’re not meant to do it, and we’re not meant to do it because of the way God made us.
See, it’s pretty simple. I bet you’re catching onto the pattern already. If I don’t believe in your religion, appeals to the authority of your religion are going to strike me as logical fallacies, and thus any conclusions you come to on the basis of appeals to the authority of your religion, while totally convincing to you, are going to be completely unconvincing to me.
I told religious people this when I was a Christian and we were arguing against atheists together, and I’ll tell religious people this now. If you’re going to argue with someone who believes in a different religion or in none at all, you’re going to have to find arguments based on observable phenomena, logical relationships, and/or moral tenets that non-religious or differently religious people still hold.
Now, most governments govern over people who ascribe to different religions, as well as people who aren’t religious at all. If you want to be fair to all those people, you’ll pass laws that can be argued for on the basis of observable phenomena, logical relationships, and/or moral tenets that are nearly universally held.
Now I’m shifting from the general to the specific. The general still holds for other stuff, but here’s what got me started on this.
Laws against gay marriage do not fit the criteria above for things that can be argued across religions. This guy has the audacity to consider arguments such as that marriage and sex are really about [insert Christian belief, but don’t mention Christianity], and that it’s wrong to treat marriage and gender like [insert opposite of Christian belief, but don’t mention Christianity], “valid secular arguments.” His reasons for being against legalizing gay marriage include that he doesn’t like homosexuality, he doesn’t like feminism, he doesn’t like transsexuality, and he doesn’t like casual sex. And I’m pretty sure his reason for not liking these things is that he’s Christian, seeing that I recognize all the Christian language in it and this is his advice to fellow Christians on how to convince the rest of us. (Hint: if your link to further explanation of the argument is a link to an overtly Christian document, the argument is probably not secular.) The great part about it all is that he has that annoying habit of some religious people of speaking as if their opinion is fact. This blogger, from whom I got the link to Mr. Valid Secular Argument, did that (“Contrary to what more doctrinally-liberal churches teach, homosexual relationships are not God-given, nor is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19 merely an example of God’s wrath being poured out in response to the sin of inhospitality.”) and Mr. VSA does it by talking about things that he thinks are wrong – but that I think are perfectly fine – as if we all agree (or rather, acknowledge The Truth) that these things are negative effects.
He also throws in a bunch of arguments that are unsupported, like that acceptance of homosexuality will make more people gay, and arguments that are based on logical fallacies, like post hoc ergo propter hoc (“The introduction of same-sex registered partnerships in Scandinavia has coincided with a sharp rise in out-of-wedlock births,” combined with the implication that the former caused the latter), appeal to belief (“Most people intuit…”), and the slippery slope (incest is next!). So the valid and the secular are pretty much gone. I’m kind of disappointed, actually. After reading that blog post and remembering that time that Huckabee said gay marriage would cause the end of our civilization, I was starting to think there were some real theories out there about unexpected ways that gay marriage would affect the gears of society. At least that would have been a different angle.
But no. It’s really just about wanting to control people. “I hate the idea of trying to legislate morality,” says blog guy, but, well, ok, you twisted my arm. (Actually, the way he ends that sentence is by saying that the consequences of not legislating morality are just too bad and hinting that they would destroy the US. All his arguments leading up to that sentence show is that the consequences of this would be that morality would not be legislated, because all he really tried to prove was that homosexuality is morally wrong – well, and that there aren’t many homosexuals, which doesn’t exactly bolster the argument that their marriages will effect our downfall.) They aren’t just trying to legislate morality on the level of “You want to get married, but [I think] it’s morally wrong, so I won’t let you [even though Christianity teaches that it’s the will, not the completion of the action, that’s the sin, so me barring you from getting married won’t save your soul].” They’re trying to legislate everybody’s morality. They’re saying “You want to get married, but [I think] it’s morally wrong, and I don’t want other people to think that it and other related things are morally right, so I won’t let you, in hopes that by denying your right to get married, I can manipulate others’ opinions on it.”
Some anti-gay marriage people, like for instance a commenter on the blog I linked to and Mr. VSA, accuse pro-gay marriage people of being intolerant. The commenter, Travis, said that the pro-gay rights crowd was being intolerant of (read: writing comments in disagreement with) the blogger, who was himself not being intolerant but just expressing an opinion (an opinion that certain people should have less rights than others). Mr. VSA says that if we legalize homosexual marriage, not only will people start to consider it wrong to discriminate against homosexuals (which I think they should consider wrong), but people will also decide that now’s as good a time as any to abolish the 1st amendment and imprison anyone who speaks against homosexuality, “even in church.” He gives no reason why this law would make us throw away that amendment, when so many other controversial laws and changes in beliefs about the acceptability of discrimination have not, but hey, that’s why we call him Mr. Valid Secular Argument. But back to my point, they and others are calling people like me (not me personally, for the record) intolerant of others’ beliefs, when in fact their whole reason for opposing gay marriage is that they don’t want people, gay or otherwise, to have beliefs that are different from theirs regarding the purpose of sex, the appropriateness of gender roles, the proper way to have a relationship, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I want people to agree with me too, but I’m not going to throw someone’s rights under the bus in order to do it, and I’m not going to try to persuade people by passing laws (unless the laws are prescribing education based on ACTUAL valid, secular arguments that have been peer-reviewed and all that good stuff). Because you see, according to MY religion, winning someone over by force (be it the force of law, the force of a fist, or what have you) or by trying to circumvent their critical thinking is neither ethical nor likely to really work in the long run.
Since people like me are not going to take any religious arguments seriously, these people are, whether they realize it or not, only arguing to other Christians. I believe Paul wrote something about how you don’t have to police the morality of non-Christians, just try to convert them first. And so these people assuming that Christians are going to, en masse, start taking their ethical cues from the US government (I’m sure the same arguments are being made elsewhere, but these are our valid secular arguers), which as you all know is world renowned for its ethics, over the protests of their priests and pastors, and in spite of their Bibles (I’m speaking as if the Bible really does say it’s a sin because that’s implicit in any arguments made by these anti-gay activists). Seriously, they’re saying that if on one side you have a pastor preaching during church that homosexuality is a sin and it says so right here in the Bible, and on the other side you have a governmental body well known for corruption and supposedly separated from the church merely failing to disallow gay marriage, these people will conclude that homosexuality is A-OK. 1. I guess that explains why Christians don’t oppose abortion anymore. 2. Christians, is your intelligence not offended? Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin, tell your brethren and sistren that you’re smart enough to see the difference between your religious beliefs and the law. (And we can argue over whether homosexuality really IS wrong some other time.)
After getting enough sleep and getting the weight of exams off my mind, I realized I myself made a logical error here. Sophistry and I aren’t friends, so I want to rectify it. In that last paragraph, I conflated the people being argued to by anti-gay activists with the people being argued about. I think it’s likely that many anti-gay activists consider everyone except, you know, lost causes like myself, as both the people they’re pitching their arguments to and the people that their arguments are about. However, as I said, their arguments are based largely on Christian beliefs and will therefore only be considered by a mostly Christian audience (and if other religions have these beliefs too, then their followers too, which wouldn’t really change the dynamics that I’m talking about as long as their religious leaders preach these beliefs). Their arguments are, according to what I’ve found, that gay marriage itself is morally wrong and that allowing it will make people think it and related things are morally acceptable. The “people” in that sentence does not have to be limited to followers of religions with these moral beliefs. I still think Christians can get their intelligence a little offended, because they are certainly included in those “people,” and I think that it would make the most sense for them to be the only ones meant by “people” there, because it doesn’t make sense to try to get someone to act Christian if they aren’t Christian, since most forms of Christianity stress belief as one of the if not the most important factor(s). But facing reality, I think many of these anti-gay marriage activists do want to influence the way non-Christians think, which strengthens my argument that they’re trying to do some serious morality legislating, but weakens my argument, if only partially, that Christians’ intelligence should be offended by this tactic.
Now a question: do you think marriage is a right? Either way, as right or as privilege, I consider it a violation of human rights to deny homosexuals the right to marry the consenting person of their choice, just as I consider it a human rights violation to ban women from driving in Saudi Arabia, even though driving is a privilege rather than a right. In that case, it becomes about the discriminatory application of a privilege, about the right to equal treatment, about not denying someone a privilege for an irrelevant reason (and yes I do think sexual orientation is irrelevant to marriage). So this isn’t going to screw up any of the positions I’ve already laid out, but it’s worth considering, especially in view of arguments against the institution of marriage in general.
The comments on this Feministing post deal with the issue of whether or not queer people should fight for marriage rights, touching on what I mentioned just above about how some people argue against marriage altogether. Great to think about.