Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dennis Prager's Gay Marriage Hysteria

We knew the reaction would be hysterical when the California Supreme Court ruled that gays had the right to marry (each other). We knew we'd see irrationality extraordinaire. But even I was amazed at the histrionic, totally out-of-touch reaction from Dennis Prager. If you thought they couldn't get loopier than the contention that the terrorists pose a worse threat to the US than did the Soviet Union, you are in for a bunch of "you ain't seen nothing yet".

The basic problem Prager and the other opponents of gay marriage have is that they think homosexuality is morally wrong, per se. They may sincerely care about the supposed damage it causes, but that does not motivate their position. And they know that doesn't hold water in modern society, so they try to dress up their objections in a rational cloak of pragmatic concern, hoping no one will notice that the core of their complaint is religious, ie, baseless. Their true colors show in their inability to sustain the argument long enough to make a convincing pragmatic case, similar to what happens to them when they attempt to argue against porn. Their arguments all end up amounting to "allowing porn will lead to more porn", as if such an argument is going to move anyone who doesn't think there is something wrong with porn in the first place. This is why they are so utterly unpersuasive, and why they end up sounding as silly as Prager does. Right out of the chutes he's off in his own little world:

"Nothing imaginable -- leftward or rightward -- would constitute as radical a change in the way society is structured as this redefining of marriage for the first time in history: Not another Prohibition, not government taking over all health care, not changing all public education to private schools, not America leaving the United Nations, not rescinding the income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax. Nothing.

Unless California voters amend the California Constitution or Congress amends the U.S. Constitution, four justices of the California Supreme Court will have changed American society more than any four individuals since Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison."

Imagine for a minute you didn't know what Prager was talking about, and what possibilities you'd entertain as being worthy of such a description. A return to slavery perhaps? Maybe elimination of property rights? The invention of small, affordable, private, flying machines? Finding a cure for old age? But allowing people to marry those with matching naughty bits? Change the society more than removing the income tax or reinstating prohibition? What on earth does Prager think is going to occur? Best not to drink your cokes while you read the earth shattering implications Prager envisions for our future. We'll skip over Prager's projections of the supposed arrogance of those who would tell others what is moral, or his amusing astonishment that we don't consider the religions of antiquity relevant in determining the morality of today. We'll also ignore the common red herring of "compassion", which along with phantom problems with people's feelings, are the favorite straw men trotted out by social conservatives when they don't want to honestly deal with what the other side has to say. No, let's get right into the meat of what horrible consequences await us in a pluralistically oriented marriage society:

"Outside of the privacy of their homes, young girls will be discouraged from imagining one day marrying their prince charming -- to do so would be declared 'heterosexist,' morally equivalent to racist. Rather, they will be told to imagine a prince or a princess. Schoolbooks will not be allowed to describe marriage in male-female ways alone. Little girls will be asked by other girls and by teachers if they want one day to marry a man or a woman."

Oh, the HORROR! A little girl will be asked who she wants to marry, and she'll say which it is. This is going to cause society to collapse? The rest of those scenarios are typical projection. People like Prager only see the world two ways: him telling you what to do, or you telling him what to do. The notion that people might be left to make their own choices is anathema to him. Thus he can't see that the message of this ruling is that homosexuals can be who they are. There is nothing here about discouraging heterosexuals from being who they are.

"The sexual confusion that same-sex marriage will create among young people is not fully measurable. Suffice it to say that, contrary to the sexual know-nothings who believe that sexual orientation is fixed from birth and permanent, the fact is that sexual orientation is more of a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality."

Classic non sequitor. Prager acts as if sexuality fixed from birth is necessarily binary, and anything on a continuum must be socially constructed. Of course the evidence supporting any of this, as well as his assertion that allowing homosexual marriage will cause sexual confusion, is a big fat goose egg. He's apparently still under the impression that people can be influenced to be gay.

"Much of humanity -- especially females -- can enjoy homosexual sex. It is up to society to channel polymorphous human sexuality into an exclusively heterosexual direction -- until now, accomplished through marriage. But that of course is 'heterosexism,' a bigoted preference for man-woman erotic love, and therefore to be extirpated from society."

Yes Dennis, because that forces some people to deny who they are. And notice the subtle circularity we spoke of earlier. WHY is it up to society to turn homos into heteros? No answer of course. God said it, Prager believes it, and that settles it.

"Any advocacy of man-woman marriage alone will be regarded morally as hate speech, and shortly thereafter it will be deemed so in law."

Yes Dennis, the same way any advocacy of same-race marriage is regarded as hate speech. Again, the threat that this poses to society is? The damage this does to heterosexual marriages is?

"Companies that advertise engagement rings will have to show a man putting a ring on a man's finger -- if they show only women fingers, they will be boycotted just as a company having racist ads would be now. Films that only show man-woman married couples will be regarded as antisocial and as morally irresponsible as films that show people smoking have become."

This is complete claptrap. We allow interracial marriages, but there is no boycotting of ring companies showing same-race couples, ditto for films. Prager is simply making shit up here.

"Traditional Jews and Christians -- i.e. those who believe in a divine scripture -- will be marginalized. Already Catholic groups in Massachusetts have abandoned adoption work since they will only allow a child to be adopted by a married couple as the Bible defines it -- a man and a woman."

It's called freedom of religion Dennis, you should try it sometime. Again, the threat this poses for society is what again?

And in case that isn't all absurd enough, Prager goes where even I could imagine he'd go. He actually thinks allowing gay marriage will, well, you just have to read it to believe it:

"Indeed -- and this is the ultimate goal of many of the same-sex marriage activists -- the terms "male" and "female," "man" and "woman" will gradually lose their significance. They already are. On the intellectual and cultural left, "male" and "female" are deemed social constructs that have little meaning. That is why same-sex marriage advocates argue that children have no need for both a mother and a father -- the sexes are interchangeable. Whatever a father can do a second mother can do. Whatever a mother can do, a second father can do. Genitalia are the only real differences between the sexes, and even they can be switched at will."

While no one is going to claim that the sexes are entirely socially interchangeable, it has been made clear over the last few decades of female equality under the law that many of the differences thought to be intrinsic to men and women turn out to be largely socially constructed. This is not something we needed some California judges to tell us. Prager is lost in a time warp, where only women can be nurturing, and only men can work grimy jobs. And believe it or not, homosexuals have a solid sexual identity as males and females. Allowing homosexual marriage does not magically make us all hermaphrodites.

Now where again is the explanation of what exactly this is going to do to society? How again is it going to so radically change it? Prager has no idea. Every one of his concerns is either 1) a lack of understanding of the difference between allowing something and mandating it, 2) totally dependent on religious assumptions, and 3) based on gross ignorance of the basis of homosexuality and the identities such people have. There is not a shred of science behind anything Prager, or anyone else fighting gay marriage, has to say. They are simply this generation's version of those who resisted the shift from horses to cars, or who thought blacks could never be equal citizens to whites, or that women can't handle the right to vote, or that the slaves couldn't be freed. Time will pass them by, as it did all those groups.


Anonymous said...

Hello Science Avenger,

I got into the discussion on town hall after it died out apparently.

I must applaud you on your analysis of Prager's hate-mongering article.

I will never truly understand why so many have such hatred toward gays/lesbians.

I am gay and my husband and I were married in Canada on Feb 14, 2005 and we have finally seen the day when CA recognizes our marriage and I can't even begin to tell you how much that means to us and to so many other couples!

I can only pray that Prager and people like him don't succeed in stealing that away by putting discrimination into the Constitution.

I posted a few responses on the town hall web site under "LoveIsEqual".

Again thank you so much.
Allen & Samuel
Email: allenmcw@comcast.net

ScienceAvenger said...

I am glad you enjoyed it. Being an atheist, I can relate in some ways to what it is like to be so discriminated against. But even we are allowed to marry each other.

Anonymous said...

I am an agnostic heterosexual male, and I need to tell you. Prager's arguments are much more compelling than yours. You ignore his basic premise: Marriage is a religious, sacred union. He never says gays should not be allowed to live with one another, just not be "married." To ignore that is to ignore his entire argument. Also, check your spelling on non sequitor.

ScienceAvenger said...

I didn't ignore his premises, I showed that they are arbitrary and factually incorrect. The one you refer to is no exception. Marriage is NOT a religious sacred union. This can be proved true through the trival observation of the number of nonreligious people who get married. Prager is simply pretending reality is other than what it is.

That's the trouble with all of Prager's arguments: he assumes everyone sees the world as he does, which makes his arguments sound wonderful to the choir, and absurd to everyone else. Based on that, you'll forgive me if I doubt your self description.

greg wertime said...

You said that it was complete claptrap that an engagement ring company would be boycotted for its advertising, but Prager does have a point. Since you agree with the imposition of hate speech laws, know that the imposition of a moral vision that says that it is hate to advocate the specialness of man-woman unions will take many forms. Gender feminists have criticized advertising and other things, like Miss America pageants, to make their point in the idea that the personal is political and the cultural is political. So too will those who believe that gender is as superficial as skin color. They will pressure for various forms of legal and cultural affirmative action. It is unknown whether this will happen with engagement ring companies, but it is a possible target.

In regard to what you declared as Prager's non sequitor goose egg, Prager is asserting Kinsey's idea of a sexual orientation continuum ranging from completely hetero to completely homo. The question is to what extent this is completely stamped at birth.

People are heavily influenced by their culture and environment. People do what people do, and most people are wired to follow the crowd. When Katy Perry sings "I kissed a girl and I liked it" and it rises to the top of our charts, it is a small but important anecdotal example of this fluid aspect of sexuality. The existence of ancient cultures with pederasty and what the U.S. military has observed in Afganistan as "man-love Thursdays" are some evidence for this fluidity.

Prager is interpreting this sexual orientation continuum as not wholly and completely fixed from birth, and that this spectrum of orientation represents a fluid dimension of sexuality. Prager is saying that the fluid dimension of that orientation needs to be encouraged in a particular direction toward committed male/female unions.

ScienceAvenger said...


For the record I do not support hate crimes legislation, and I find it revealing that you assumed that. Enforcement of current laws against assault, libel, etc., will do just fine.

I think you missed my point on Prager's claims about ring companies. I've never seen a racially mixed couple in a ring ad, yet I've never heard of pressure for various forms of legal and cultural affirmative action coming as a result of that, so Prager's claim that it will happen if same sex couples are allowed falls flat. Sure, it could happen, just like lots of affirmative action claims could happen. We'll just fight them one by one. None of that warrants not allowing same sex couples to marry.

As far as sexuality goes, I think you are falling into the trap of thinking that sexual orientation is based on what people do. Sure culture can influence behavior (although I fail to see the relevance of your examples), but a homosexual man influenced to have a heterosexual moment is still homosexual, just as a vegan who accidentally eats a bite of beef is still a Vegan. Sexual orientation is what one is, not what one does.

greg wertime said...

Mr. Avenger,

When you quoted Prager as saying

"Any advocacy of man-woman marriage alone will be regarded morally as hate speech, and shortly thereafter it will be deemed so in law."

and then said

"Yes Dennis, the same way any advocacy of same-race marriage is regarded as hate speech…"

I did assume that you meant that any advocacy of man-woman marriage alone should be regarded as hate speech in law the same manner that advocacy of same-race marriage is regarded as hate speech in law. If you don't believe that advocacy of a position opposing gay marriage should be regarded as hate speech in law, I'm glad.

In regard to the question to whether there is a fluid dimension to sexuality, I understand your assertion that the orientation is fixed despite the behavior. I think that much of our brain's sexual orientation is fixed on a basic level. Above that there is a fluid dimension of environment, culture and choice shaping who we are and our sexuality included. It's a both/and not either/or.

There is much to the brain that is malleable. This fluid dimension is not always something that we feel in a conscious existential way. Rather it is something that most of us walk backwards into as we grow up and our mind adapts to our environment with whatever consciousness we bring to it. Of course a Vegan is a vegan by choice and no one (I don't think) is debating that one is born with a brain orientation to be a Vegan, even though it may feel that way to one who has been a Vegan long enough.

Some cultures that are ancient and/or far removed from a history of Christian influence have had common pederasty, polygamy and homosexual behavior. Basic primal orientation aside, we both agree that culture can influence behavior. That dimension of the brain that is malleable is shaped by our behavior, which shapes our worldview. My "man-love Thursday" example was one snap shot of this reality. I raised the issue of Katy Perry because people consume pop-culture when they identify with it. While on is bopping to a song, there is actually a deeper transaction of one's worldview going that one is walking backwards into.

Pragers point, and my point is not that all sexual orientation is based only what people do. Rather it is more nuanced: that aspect of sexuality/brain/culture behavior/values that is fluid should be directed toward committed monogamous man-woman relationships. This is partly accomplished by placing a committed man-woman union on a pinnacle above other forms of sexual expression.

Sean said...

I only read a few parts of the argument, and I have to agree with Anonymous above... Mr. A has largely ignored the essence of the Prager's position by smothering with aspersions on Prager's motivation and character. I wouldn't characterize yourself as an atheist, Mr. A, so much as a Leftist.. the former having little bearing on your same-sex marriage position, the latter having a definitive effect.

I'm a straight, atheist guy, and we would be brain dead not to acknowledge the good effects of religion as much as we tend to illuminate the bad, as much as we would acknowledge the good and bad effects of anything else. Opposite-sex marriage is one of the good things.

ScienceAvenger said...

Well Sean, had you read my entire article, you'd see that I went through Prager's argument in detail, smothering him with aspersions on his arguments, not his character. And if you read a bit more of my blog, you'd see your grotesque error in describing me as a leftist. I'm a former Republican/libertarian who's aghast at the takeover of my former party by the Palinist/Know Nothings, who, among other intellectual failings, tend to label anyone who disagrees with them on anything as a "leftist".

As for religion, the rights don't excuse the wrongs, especially when they are so outnumbered and questionable (your marriage claim being a prime example). Religion is, at its core, fantasy, and pretending fantasy is knowledge is a dangerous game. There's nothing real to be gotten from religion that we can't get from something that is real.