Notes From Babel

The (Mock) Proposed Ban on Divorce

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Mark at Criticism as Inspiration poses this challenge to advocates of so-called “traditional marriage” in response to the AP’s story about Californian John Marcotte who is trying to get signatures to support a ballot measure that will ban divorce as a response to a ban on gay marriage:

If you think marriage needs to be protected then it seems logical that this step would be a natural progression on the gay marriage ban.  But the fact that most people would blanch at this idea, should cause some to reconsider their thinking process on proposition 8 which passed last year.  Surely, many people supported prop 8 for reasons other than “protecting the sanctity of marriage”, but for those that didn’t, this satirical measure should be right up their alley… right?

In my view, this simply amounts to an attempt to catch the unwary in a language trap by insisting that the word “traditional” means more than what the “traditional marriage” proponents bargained for.  The argument would apparently run as follows: “If you believe SSM is wrong because it is not ‘traditional,’ by logical extension you must also believe that all other traits not belonging to the set of ‘traditional’ marriage traits should likewise be outlawed.”

The trouble with this argument is, for one thing, it ignores that this is simply not what “traditional marriage” proponents mean by the word “traditional.” “Traditional” is a messy, fluid concept. For some, it might still mean the man works, the woman stays at home. For others, it may mean one man and one woman, but all gender norms are out the window. For others still, it may mean two unrelated human beings (just no relatives, and no open or polygamous marriages, please). Cultural mores shift over time, and that is why our laws change. There is nothing wrong with marriage reflecting what the majority believes to be the “traditional” tenets of marriage, even if they’re hopelessly naive as to the true historical meaning of “traditional marriage.”

The other trouble with the argument is it assumes that “traditional marriage” proponents must necessarily seek to impose ALL of their marriage norms by force of law. But why should this be so? It is perfectly acceptable that the people would prefer to enforce only what they deem to be the most fundamental tenets of marriage. Thus, there is no contradiction in imposing limitations with respect to the number, gender, and relation of the participants and declining to impose limitations on the grounds for dissolution


Written by Tim Kowal

December 1, 2009 at 11:26 pm

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