Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And this is relevant because...?

So, there's this:
The sponsors of California's same-sex marriage ban insist they are not trying to disqualify the federal judge who struck down Proposition 8 because he is gay.

Instead, they argue the judge's decade-long relationship with another man poses a potential conflict because they might want to get hitched themselves.
Interesting right? I mean, one of the reasons why we need to prevent same-sex marriage is that it's disruptive - gay people don't want the same things that normal people want, so letting them get married will totally destroy the institution of marriage. Ya know, cuz they don't do relationships the way we do. Oh, wait, except here's one of those gay people who seems to have a stable relationship with his partner. But somehow this doesn't serve as a counterexample that reveals a flaw in the argument. It just makes him unqualified to rule on the subject of marriage. Because maybe he wants to get married. And if he was a single gay man then he wouldn't be qualified either, because then we could infer that he doesn't want to get married, and therefore has no respect for the institution of marriage. And now that we think about it, no gay judge would be qualified to rule on this. But not because we're biased against them, of course.

I wonder, if he was a single hetero male, then would he be qualified to rule on this? Because then we could infer that maybe he was anti-marriage, right? Since we're just straight-up speculating about people personal lives and motives and desires and the impact of that on their legal competence, this seems like a valid line of reasoning. Or if he was happily married, that might disqualify him, because he might think that marriage is so awesome that everyone ought to be able to share in the bliss. And by this reasoning shouldn't a judge who's been married for years be barred from ruling on cases involving divorce law, since he might be unhappily married and pining for a divorce, or happily married and unable to imagine why anyone would ever even want a divorce? And then shouldn't single hetero judges be barred from ruling on cases involving divorce law too, since maybe the reason they're single is that they experienced an unhappy marriage and are now divorced, or that their divorce was the best/worst thing that ever happened to them? I mean, really, is anyone ever qualified to rule on something like this? If you follow this line of reasoning, it doesn't seem like it.

Except that if you're the socially conservative opponents of same-sex marriage, you really do think that there is one group of people who are qualified to rule in cases like this. Straight white males. Because they have the default, "objective" perspective. In contrast, anyone who isn't the straight white male norm is obviously ruled only by their personal experiences and countercultural agendas and could never simply look at the law and the relevant precedent and apply it to the current case. Because straight white males don't have situated identities, but Others do. Because straight white males operate on reason alone and aren't influenced by their life experiences, but Others lack the mental discipline and depth of character to keep these things separated.

Of course, if you're the socially conservative type, you think this way, but you know better than to say it out loud. You might not even be aware of the fact that you believe this. But you've learned to try to put a nicer face on it, and make it about his marital aspirations rather than about his flawed identity. You probably also think that nobody sees through it, to the insecurities and pettiness behind it. Good luck with that.


  1. This bias was so apparent during the whole Sonia Sotomayor thing. Somehow the fact that she's a woman and latina is relevant, but the fact that most of the other justices are white and male just isn't.

  2. I've seen this kind of thinking before. If it's not a logical fallacy it should be. Maybe it's a reverse of an appeal to authority? It is always directed to the minority group by the majority group that I've seen. For example, a vegetarian can never tell certain non-vegetarians anything about nutrition, no matter how true, because they have an "agenda." It needs a name if it doesn't have one so that it can be called out. **Runs off to the logical fallacies website to search.**

  3. Claire,

    Some logic books include a form of ad hominem called Poisoning the Well, which sort of applies here. Usually the idea is that the speaker stands to gain financially or politically from persuading the audience, but I don't think it's a stretch from that to include cases like this. And at any rate, this is totally an ad hominem, since it seeks to undermine the person's claim (in this case court ruling) by focusing on something about his character or lifestyle.

  4. Sinderella4/28/2011

    I agree that these socially conservative agendas are often driven by insecurity, but I still think you're often too generous in attributing bigoted behavior to underlying fears and insecurities like that. Somehow it lets people off the hook too easily when they really should be called out for acting in a hateful way. We have to remember that bigoted behavior causes real harm in the world no matter what its source.

  5. Sinderella,

    I have to think about that for a bit and come back with a more thorough reply than I can come up with right now.

  6. Anonymous4/28/2011

    This cultural narrative proudly brought to you by Privilege. Providing legitimacy to straight white male voices and delegitimizing the voices of others for millennia.

  7. I just think they're lying, and it's all about his sexual orientation.

  8. Anonymous4/28/2011

    Well, I think the assumption is that a straight person has always been able to marry, so marriage won't seem like such a big deal to them. Which seems kind of dumb now that Ive typed it out, but that was my initial thought.