The Sanctity of Logic

I got into a long debate a couple of nights ago with a self-identified Catholic pro-lifer, Suzanne Fortin (@Roseblue), who has an answer for every question as to why same-sex marriage shouldn't be allowed. None of them rely precisely on legal precedent; rather, they seem to stem from a specific set of historical values, a reading of what "natural" means, and an insistence on a property that only a pair of men and women can share.

I spent hours engaged with this woman partly because I wanted to know exactly what people who maintain this line of reasoning are really espousing. Here's what I came away with.

She was game, almost so much that I thought she might be a troll, making up stuff to confuse those of us who support the notion of government not intruding on personal decisions about who we love and how our children are raised in safe environments. I appreciate that we had a long and civil, if tense, discussion that ultimately involved dozens of other people, including a woman in a same-sex relationship who has given birth to five children, and another who lost the ability that afternoon to ever have children, and was outraged at Fortin's statements.

Here's what I learned from her, if you're trying to understand the thinking of religious fundamentalists on the issue. This is apparently a bit of catechism among people who think like this and it starts with three principles.

  • Complementarianism requires a man and a woman in marriage.
  • Heterosexual monogamy is natural, while homosexuality is not.
  • Procreation is the basis of marriage.

The first is a complicated wrapper of things, and I didn't quite understand the term as she used it. It means that men and women were created differently by her supreme power and only when matched as a gender-differentiated set can a marriage be valid. (She left out in her discussion all the issues associated with this concept about men being "rulers" and women being suitable only for bearing children and household operations which is associated with this concept in theology.)

It's clearly and repeatedly the basis of a lot of dispute over the future of marriage as a secular institution, even though the principle is theological. If you either disagree about a creator god or you don't believe that one's private religious beliefs should be the test for how civil rights are handled, then it's irrelevant. Even if one finds legal precedent that cites it in America (or elsewhere), there are plenty of things one can find in old laws related to theology that have been ruled unconstitutional or that faded away over time.

The second point is fascinating, as Fortin asserted repeatedly that male-female unions are natural. But her "natural" is about natural law. She links in her Twitter stream to this essay, which starts with the assertion of a specific (capital G) creator god, which is in this context the Christian God, and more to the point, her Christian God (not one of the many thousands of variant beliefs that involve Jesus). This is part of the religious notion that without a god, there is no morality, and thus we exist in a vacuum. Without a foundational principle, we will all act without any restraint as if we were all demons in hell.

What's interesting here is that in our discussion, I pointed out that homosexuality is commonly found in nature, and that there is an increasing body of evidence that finds a biological basis for homosexuality (and other spectrums of body identification and blurred boundaries) in human beings.

But this is logically weak. She asserts that one form of coupling, to produce children (as if that is the only reason among animals and humans to copulate), is natural, while other strong bonds are not. Killing progeny is found in nature, she notes, but there she trips up. Her moral judgement is that killing one's young is wrong (which society generally agrees, despite widespread behavior in India and China and elsewhere in female infanticide and abortion), but male-female procreation is good. She doesn't back nature; she backs god-defined "natural law," an entirely different thing.

The same principle is used, of course, to dismiss any construct that isn't "natural" by that religious definition of natural. One could argue that all human-made technology and many modern constructs of society aren't natural (even though they may be deconstructed into aspects of human behavior).

The third point is easier. She said, about 100 times in different ways, that because gay couples cannot have children together, they lack some special something she asserts is necessary to marriage. That something isn't encoded in modern law: any male and female in most countries may marry without the intent nor ability to produce offspring. The only time you need a special something is when you invoke magic from the sky in which a marriage is a religious act rather than a secular one.

Her response to me and many others who asked where this puts infertile partners or couples, those who don't want children, those who are too old to have children safely, those who are either adopted or adopt children, and those who use birth control, her answer was the same variation on this theme:

In every scenario presented, she said the theoretical potential of procreation overrides the fact that people were not or could not actually create a child.

When pushed, she started to offer blatantly magical thinking, positing that any fertility problem could be solved by medical science in the future, clearing up that problem, and any attempt to not have children didn't matter because of this incredible potential.

Asked about using medical science, including the Star Trek-style notions she advanced, for gays was bad because there wasn't a mom and dad involved. She declined or evaded answers about sperm donors for infertile couples, in-virto fertilization, egg donors, and other issues, but did say that surrogacy was bad for children.

On adoption, she repeated this, in this case directly insulting one person's parents:

This doesn't answer the question, either, about why and whether in her view adoption by people who cannot have children together may adopt and still be ok. She also noted that marriages that weren't consummated could be annulled, which apparently fixes that problem.

The logical conclusion of her arguments would be:

  • Penis-vagina child creation is best. Failing that, any current medical intervention to get a married sperm and ovum together is just fine, including in-vitro fertilization and other techniques that involve no penis-vagina contact. Her position on turkey basters is inferred.
  • If you can't have kids, either current procedures will allow you to have them, or some magical medical procedure will be invented to repair you, such as an artificial uterus. Even if there's no cure, the fact that it could be cured means it's ok.
  • If you don't want to have any kids, the fact that you could, accidentally, makes your marriage legitimate in her eyes.
  • Lesbians can't have children even if they give birth. Because those children, bereft of a married sperm-ovum combination, can't have a loving home.

What's odd is that her arguments have a strange eugenics tinge to them along with the religious. Because her worldview doesn't require actual intercourse as the sole method of procreation, that means she's concerned essentially about the combination of genetic material from marriage couples.

I asked her if she had heard of parthenogenesis. She didn't reply.

I brought up anti-miscegenation laws, slavery, and other issues, noting that in years past her arguments about nature and historical practice were given in often exactly the same words, and we've moved on. Her response was that procreation was unique.

Later, I examined her full feed, and found that she's a full-on bigot, not just a marriage-rights specialist, defending the rights of business people, including those offering facilities rental to the general public (not to members of a specific church or religion), to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and others because they don't like the notion of homosexuality.

"The gay."

The irony in a Catholic and a woman lecturing others on tolerating discrimination based on a personal belief about that class's worthiness to exist does not go unnoticed. I would recommend to her a trip to the 1900s in New York City (as a Catholic man) or the early 1950s anywhere in America as a woman of any religion.

Three bits of humor, too.

First, she lives in Canada, which has had marriage equality for years. She said several times that heterosexual marriage is the only kind every allowed worldwide. A little myopic (and increasingly untrue), especially in her backyard.

Second, we had this discussion the day after it was revealed that prominent Republicans had signed to an amicus brief to the Supreme Court (the signatories now number over 100), which is deciding whether a proposition in California to overturn a California Supreme Court decision is constitutional. Major businesses have now also signed on.

Third, she asserts polygamy is fine, though inferior to monogamous marriages. But apparently, she doesn't follow the issues of polygamy through to their logical conclusions, nor how polygamy is practiced in its many forms historically and currently.

Many people wondered why I bothered. But I wasn't so much looking to convince her, but to understand the shape of her logic, because so many people clearly believe similar things.

What became clear is that her appeal to nature was "natural law," a religion-derived interpretation; her invocation of a sometimes magical "potential for procreation" in theory and not in fact a derivation of Catholic thinking and never encoded in American law in this way as a marriage requirement or basis; and her dismissal of adopted parents (but, weirdly, not children) among other characterizations that she finds very few marriages actually meet her test for approval.

If you believe procreation is a blessing bestowed by the, a, or some god(s), you won't hear any complaints from me. The process and results are a secular miracle if not also a religious one. But when you define that miracle as a protected right that you want to enforce on everyone else, you are the one at odds with the way in which secular society works.

She's a bigot and lacks empathy. It's worth understanding her point of view, as we continue to need to counter it to increase the amount of love and happiness in the world.