Craig’s Bizarre Argument on Marriage Equality


William Lane Craig is both highly intelligent and a practiced and skilled debater. But he’s also blinded by his religious ideology, which causes him to make tortured and baffling arguments like this one on the subject of same-sex marriage. It starts out sounding like a pro-equality argument:

The lesson to be learned from the legality of interracial marriage is that just as the law must be blind with respect to the race of persons desiring to marry, so it must also be blind to the sexual orientation of persons desiring to marry. Just as persons desiring to marry cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their race, neither can they be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. When two persons ask the state for the right to marry, the state must ask no questions about their race or sexual orientation. Just as laws which would discriminate against persons’ marrying on the basis of their race are unconstitutional, so laws which would discriminate against persons’ marrying on the basis of their sexual orientation are unconstitutional.

Wait, is he actually arguing in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage? Of course not. But see if you can follow this “reasoning.”

That’s why the term “gay marriage” (which, I noticed, you were careful to avoid) is misconceived. Laws permitting gay marriage would be clearly unconstitutional, since they would not be blind to the sexual orientation of the persons involved. Such laws would sanction marriage for same-sex couples only if they were homosexuals, thereby taking cognizance of their sexual orientation and discriminating against heterosexuals who wanted to enter into marriage with someone of the same sex. To repeat: just as the law must be blind to the race of persons entering into marriage, so it must be blind to their sexual orientation. Laws sanctioning gay marriage would thus be unconstitutional (not to speak of unenforceable!).

*Boggle* First of all, his premise is false. Allowing same-sex marriage does not require any inquiry into anyone’s sexual orientation. The couple getting married need not sign a document saying that they are gay. There would be nothing preventing a same-gender marriage of convenience between two men or two women, just as there is nothing preventing a gay person from entering into an opposite-gender marriage of convenience (which happens all the time, by the way). So the argument is false from the start. But the logic is also wrong:

So the laws governing marriage must have no reference to the sexual orientation of the persons involved. But that is precisely the situation of the status quo! Under the laws of the status quo no one is denied the right to enter into marriage because of his/her sexual orientation. Two heterosexuals, two homosexuals, or a heterosexual and a homosexual are free to marry, no questions asked, just as persons of different races are free to marry, no questions asked. What they are not free to do under federal law, whatever their race or orientation, is to enter into same sex marriage, simply because there is no such thing. Marriage is by its essence a relation between a man and a woman.

He’s mixing together two entirely different positions here. The first is merely a repeat of the same argument used by the state of Virginia in defending its ban on interracial marriage in Loving v Virginia. The state argued then that the law did not discriminate on the basis of race because blacks and whites were equally free to marry someone of the same race and equally prohibited from marrying someone of another race. That is the same argument that Craig is making here, that there is no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under current law because everyone is equally free to marry someone of another gender but not of their own gender, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The court rightly rejected that argument in Loving and it is equally absurd here. The discrimination here is on the basis of both gender and sexual orientation because the law does not treat those groups alike for the purposes of marriage. If Male A wants to marry Female A, the law allows that to happen; if Male A wants to marry Male B, that is forbidden. The only distinction between the two is gender and, presumably though not necessarily, sexual orientation. That is where the discrimination takes place. The secondary basis for discrimination is that straight people are allowed to marry the other consenting, non-related adult that they want to form a lifelong bond with, but gay people are not.

Comments

  1. says

    It seems to me that the issue is not that the (old, now dead in many jurisdictions) law asks what the *orientation* of the marriage applicants are, but that it asks their respective *genders*. WLC is confusing the issue.

  2. raven says

    William Lane Craig is both highly intelligent…

    I’ve never noticed that.

    He seems to be just another victim of fundie xianity induced cognitive impairment.

    His books are lies and logical fallacies on evey page and it is blindingly obvious to anyone.

  3. says

    Note also the (literal) and question-begging essentialism here: “Marriage is by its essence a relation between a man and a woman.”

    He presents no evidence that marriage is anything other than a purely human invention, which varies considerably from culture to culture. Nothing in the history of marriage suggests that marriage has a fixed “essence,” whatever that would be when one is talking about a bundle of social practices.

  4. Robert B. says

    Actually, Eamon, the law probably asks for their sexes in at least some cases, and the people making/enforcing those laws may not even understand the difference.

    One reason I like the term “marriage equality” instead of “gay marriage” is that it will, for example, allow a straight cis man to marry a straight trans woman without the latter having to jump through all the unnecessarily difficult hoops of getting the law to treat her as a woman. (I think one of those hoops is surgery, which probably puts this in the running for most invasive bureaucracy ever.) As you say, Eamon, when we win this fight, marriage documents won’t have one space for the man and one space for the woman (with “man” and “woman” defined by the narrow thinking of legislators or bureaucrats), they’ll just have two spaces.

  5. mikeyb says

    What do you expect from a man who’s arguments have been torn apart and shredded by nearly every prominent atheist in debates over the last 20 years, yet has not changed a single argument or learned a single fact which would challenge his beliefs – do you expect this guy to put forth logical arguments????

  6. Randomfactor says

    As you pointed out, he’s actually making a valid point FOR marriage equality.

    Any single female over the age of consent could legally marry a man in my state. I am prevented from doing so solely because of my sex/gender. Clear sex discrimination.

    And sex/gender is MUCH more protected against discrimination (so far) than sexual orientation is.

  7. says

    Seems he is saying he does not wish to be mistaken for a homophobe when he is just a misogynist….or perhaps the other way round…

    …but, of course, what he misses is that gender based discrimination is also unlawful in this country and has been for longer than racial or sexual orientation considerations.

  8. doublereed says

    Oh come on, even fundies would think that’s a stupid argument. No one could take that seriously.

  9. marcus says

    Maybe we’re not giving Crane enough credit. Maybe he is actually an advocate for marriage equality and he is intentionally making the stupidest arguments imaginable in order to insure that ‘ME’ becomes the law of the land. Nah, prob’ly not.

  10. says

    I wonder how WLC would feel about a law that prohibited all churches but Mormon churches. Hey! WLC and all his friend aren’t being discriminated against. They have the same right to go to a Mormon church as everybody else.

  11. Synfandel says

    Laws permitting gay marriage would be clearly unconstitutional, since they would not be blind to the sexual orientation of the persons involved.

    The obvious corollary:

    Laws permitting heterosexual marriage would be clearly unconstitutional, since they would not be blind to the sexual orientation of the persons involved.

  12. says

    A lot of Craig’s arguments are formulated like this. The first part is completely reasonable, and then he turns rationality on its ear. The goal is to get you started nodding your head in agreement before he slips the shiv between the ribs.

    “Physicists rightly tell us that the physical laws of the universe are constant, unviolated and inviolable, and regular throughout the universe, with no hint of supernatural agency. Therefore we can assume that a god was involved, because only a god could make a universe with physical laws that appear so constant. Ergo, Jesus.”

    (Not a real quote, but you get the drift.)

  13. eigenperson says

    William Lane Craig may be a skilled debater, but judging by the arguments he makes, he is far from highly intelligent.

  14. says

    Wait, is he actually arguing in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage?

    My guess is he’s saying gay people can go marry someone of the opposite sex. See? No discrimination there!

    Based on what he says later, that still seems to be the case, even when he says “two homosexuals…are free to marry.” Yep, as long as one of them is a man and the other a woman!

    But he certainly is being dishonest if he’s implying two guys or two gals marrying each other reveals* sexual orientation but a guy and a gal getting married doesn’t. (*Well, it doesn’t “reveal,” but it does generally imply this.) If we see a man and a woman get married, are we not to assume they are a heterosexual couple?

  15. says

    Can’t say that I’m seeing a lot of debate skill here. It just another variation on the old “gays are free to be like Marcus Bachman” argument we’ve seen a million times before with “but what about Chuck and Larry?” tacked on.

    Unless he thinks couples should provide proof that the marriage was consummated, I can’t see how this would even come up.

  16. says

    Also have to give a shout out to Robert B @4. I’m a man married to a woman who is intersex. So I find that advances in marriage equality are good for my marriage as well.

  17. Artor says

    William Lane Craig is… a practiced and skilled debater.

    So Ed, are you saying Craig is… a master debater?

  18. Artor says

    Dammit! I still haven’t figured out how to close a block quote properly. Can someone help me out here?

  19. cry4turtles says

    WLC’s words make more sense when they stand alone than when corrupted in his word salad.

  20. says

    @20:
    1) Forget the “cite” tag, it really doesn’t do anything you want, I think.
    2) Put the </blockquote> tag right after the text you are quoting.
    3) I am living dangerously here by trying to reproduce the tag in #2, exactly as it should appear in entered text. Here goes nothing….

  21. Sastra says

    To repeat: just as the law must be blind to the race of persons entering into marriage, so it must be blind to their sexual orientation. Laws sanctioning gay marriage would thus be unconstitutional

    Ah, I think I get it now. If laws create something called “gay marriage” then a male-female heterosexual couple who wishes to marry is automatically barred from having their own “gay marriage” — and that’s discrimination! Yeah!

    Wait, no. That’s stupid. He must mean something else. Something else which is also stupid.

    There are a lot of Christians who promote Craig as a brilliant thinker and apologist, the best they have when it comes to showing why belief in God is reasonable — and atheism is not. I’ll admit then to a sensation of schadenfreude in watching him burn out so spectacularly on some other topic.

  22. John Pieret says

    I’m not sure if I’d describe him as a skilled debater; he’s more like a skilled sleight-of-hand artist. There is a gloss of reasonableness about most of his arguments (like his starting off by affirming that the law must be blind to race and sexual orientation) so that, if the “argument” is done quickly enough and skillfully enough, it hard to see the trick in the real time of a debate. Of course, when you read the argument, it’s like having slo-mo cameras pointed at the magician from all angles so you can see how the trick is done.

  23. eric says

    Completely agree with your analysis. He’s making up a rule that isn’t there (“only gays are allowed SSM”), and he’s using the exact logic of Loving (“the law is fair because everyone can participate in the limited form of marriages we allow”).

  24. Akira MacKenzie says

    Skilled debater??? The only thing WLC is skilled at is denying that his opponents answered his points after his opponents answer his points ans condescendingly dismiss and msirepresent all their other points.

    He’s a fucking shit, that’s what he is.

  25. footface says

    @23: Yes, I think that’s what he’s saying. He seems to believe that “gay marriage” means that there will be laws that say, “Be it known that two gay men may enter into a state of matrimony.” And WLC can say, “Hey, I thought laws weren’t supposed to mention race or sexual orientation.”

  26. grumpyoldfart says

    @ Artor #20

    [blockquote cite=””] TEXT GOES HERE [/blockquote cite=””]

    But use < instead of [

    Maybe you are forgetting the forward slash / to close the quote.

  27. John Hinkle says

    doublereed:

    Oh come on, even fundies would think that’s a stupid argument. No one could take that seriously.

    I’m with doublereed. His argument reads like a scene from Holy Grail. Oh wait [slaps forehead], I think fundies consider Python sacrilegious. And they take their hate religion very seriously. And anybody from the tribe who reinforces their prejudices is considered a luminary, and elder, an authority, someone to send money to.

  28. Michael Heath says

    Ed, the most boggling statement in this blog thread is you describing Mr. Craig as a, “skilled debater”. I’ve yet to encounter Craig depending only on sufficiently framed factual premises to defend his conclusions. Instead and like all conservative Christians I’ve encountered, his key premises are predominately false. At best he’s sophomoric, remedial class.

  29. smrnda says

    He’s just trotting out the tired argument that homosexuals can still get married… to a person of the opposite sex, therefore no discrimination. In other words, the option of faking it and spending your life in the closet is out there, so you’re supposed to take it on the basis of some de facto assertion that marriage is ‘between a man and a woman.’

    Also, as far as I can tell no heterosexuals who want to fake being gay are going to be preventing from getting a same sex marriage for say, legal benefits, and I see nothing wrong with leaving that option open. If you want to get married, there’s no reason that you have to prove you’re sexually attracted to your spouse.

  30. escuerd says

    Akira MacKenzie @26:

    Skilled debater??? The only thing WLC is skilled at is denying that his opponents answered his points after his opponents answer his points ans condescendingly dismiss and msirepresent all their other points.

    Yep. Craig is a skilled debater only if the goal of a debate is to reassure his audience that someone smart agrees with them, someone so smart that he’s not afraid to call those smarty-pants atheists amateurs.

    This does take a certain amount of intelligence (though nothing spectacular) to pull off. Still, it mostly rests on confidence, poise, and condescension. Intelligence is important only insofar as it allows you to “baffle them with bullshit”.

    Craig is good at this schtick, but it’s pretty easy to see through for anyone thinking about it carefully and honestly. The way he’s talked up it sounds as if he’s some kind of brilliant mind. Whenever I actually see his reasoning written out, I’m left thoroughly unimpressed. Maybe you just have to be there for it to be impressive.

  31. Michael Heath says

    escuerd writes:

    Maybe you just have to be there for [Craig’s supposed skill at debating] to be impressive.

    No, he’s as inane verbally as he his when his statements are read.

  32. Eoin says

    Whenever I hear the inane ‘argument’ put forward that there is no discrimination because everyone is permitted to marry someone of the opposite sex I reply that we are working for change for straight people who are just as every bit prohibited from marrying people of the same-sex as their gay peers.

    Amazingly, the loons do not appreciate me throwing their inchoate bloviation back at them.

  33. =8)-DX says

    Ah, so nice to sniff that marriage essence of an afternoon. (On second thoughts – is it sniffing of post-nuptial sheets in the morning a requirement? We should institute the post of General Marriage Essence Controllor, he would wear a purple hat and write a sniff-verdict on every pair of marriage applicants. Those not smelling of sex don’t get to get marriage, because they are lacking in “marriage essence”).

  34. says

    @35: Oooookaaaaayyyy…..now I’m getting flashbacks to the scene in The World According To Garp where he’s running around the park looking for a rapist by pulling down men’s pants and sniffing their crotches….

    That was a very weird book.

  35. says

    Heath: choosing the right audience for which to debate is one of the skills a successful debater needs. WLC seems to have that skill, if nothing else, so I guess that makes him a “skilled debater.” As for “highly intelligent”…no, he really isn’t. He’s just a hack whose job is to tell his particular group what they want to hear and make it sound as intelligent as he can. And in this particular instance, his “argument” is nothing but pretentious mush pretending to be a logical case. He really isn’t saying anything at all.

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