Marriage Equality: A More Gentle Fisking of Brendan Malone

A few days back I fisked a Kiwi’s blog post opposing marriage equality. The author, Brendan Malone of LifeNET, claims to have read my post, but has declined to respond to its points so far (beyond a blanket dismissal of the whole thing). (UPDATE: Brendan has replied to some of these points in a subsequent post.) But he has written a whole new post opposing marriage equality. So, you know, here we go again.

It’s even longer than the first one, so instead of quoting the whole thing, I’ll summarise his arguments with quotes as references, but I recommend you read the whole thing to be certain I’m taking things in context.

While his previous post was a response to what he called a rights-based argument for marriage equality, this time he’s turned his attention to arguments from equality in general. He also notes that equality is such a big part of the push for legalised gay marriage that it’s been inserted into the PR-spin term “marriage equality”. Mr Malone’s no stranger to such spin terms, having issued press releases calling the repeal of Section 59 an “anti-smacking bill” and being a speaker for “pro-life” groups.

(Of course, the repeal of Section 59 was an anti-smacking bill, and opponents of abortion are pro-life.)

(And proponents of gay marriage are arguing for equality.)

Now, Malone sums up the equality argument as…

The equality argument basically goes something like this: if we don’t redefine marriage in order to allow for gay marriage then this discriminates against gay people, and it denies them equality with heterosexual people because of their sexual orientation.

Which is great, because unlike his previous post, this is an argument that people actually make.

His first argument is that the limiting of legal marriage to different-sex couples is not discriminatory, because it affects everyone equally. Regardless of sexual orientation, you are unable to marry someone the same sex as you – this is true for straight and LGBT citizens equally. Malone again lists this restriction alongside all of the other limitations on marriage that apply equally to all: you can’t marry a minor, you can’t marry more than one person, etc.

Interestingly, he follows this point up by saying that this point has been missed by people claiming that “banning gay marriage is just like banning interracial marriage”. Now, I personally don’t think banning gay marriage is just like banning interracial marriage – though there are certainly some similarities. However, I do think that the form taken by arguments against gay marriage are overwhelmingly just like arguments against interracial marriage. And this is often instructive.

For example, it seems plain as day to Malone that by pointing out that the restriction on same-sex marriages applies equally to all – straight or LGBT – he has therefore demonstrated that it’s not a case of inequality. However, one could just as easily point out that a restriction on interracial marriages applies equally to all – white or not – and is therefore not a case of inequality. It’s just another restriction, alongside not marrying minors or two people at once, and for opponents of interracial marriage, that reflects the very definition of marriage as being between two people of the same race.

It’s worth quickly noting that while a little word magic produces the technically true statements “everyone is equally free to marry a consenting adult of a different sex” or “everyone is equally free to marry a consenting adult of the same race”, that’s not the key question for same-sex or interracial couples in love. Societies in which same-sex marriage or interracial marriage are restricted unequally distribute people’s rights to marry the consenting adult with whom they fall in love.

Anyway, Malone goes on to say…

A ban on interracial marriage discriminates NOT based on what the authentic nature of marriage is, but instead it discriminates based on an attribute of one of the persons who wishes to enter into the union of marriage.

Just as one could say, “A ban on same-sex marriage discriminates NOT based on what the authentic nature of marriage is, but instead it discriminates based on an attribute of one of the persons who wishes to enter into the union of marriage (their sex).” And just as an opponent of interracial marriage could say, “A ban on interracial marriage IS based on what the authentic nature of marriage is – because racial homogeneity is essential to the definition of marriage.”

Malone sums up the difference between the comparisons (emphasis mine):

Laws which don’t recognise gay marriage are based on the principle that marriage has a specific form that two people of the same sex cannot bring into existence (i.e they cannot actually form a marriage between them), whereas bans on interracial marriage are based on the arbitrary and unjust notion that even though a person could actually form a valid marriage with someone of the same race, they cannot form a marriage with someone of a different race because one of those persons is inferior to the other because of their race, and inferior persons should not be wedded to superior ones.

Begging the question is a tricky fallacy because it’s not usually as obvious as you’d think. It basically involves the conclusion of an argument being assumed as part of the premises of that argument. Sometimes it’s not even clear to the person making the argument that they’ve slipped it in there, because the truth of the conclusion seems so transparently obvious to them.

Malone starts with the assumption that two people of the same sex cannot get married, then argues that the difference between restrictions on interracial and same-sex marriage is that one is preventing an actual marriage and the other is preventing something that can’t be an actual marriage, and therefore the comparison is spurious, and therefore two people of the same sex cannot get married.

In fairness, he also focuses on the idea that a ban on interracial marriage may be based on the idea of some races being inferior, and that no one is being called inferior in a ban on same-sex marriage. And that’s a fair enough point, assuming that this was the justification for a ban on interracial marriage.

However, it’s instructive to imagine a scenario (which does actually exist in some places) where people believe that races shouldn’t intermarry not because one is inferior to another, but because the mixing of races itself is bad. Racial purity, of whatever race, is an esteemed value in this culture or religion. And as a result, these people oppose the legal recognition of interracial marriages. I assume that Malone would be in favour of interracial marriages in such an environment, and would not be swayed by their “everyone’s equally free to marry their own race” argument.

Malone’s main thrust here is that interracial marriage is not like gay marriage, because interracial marriage is actually marriage and gay marriage isn’t marriage. Limitations on the sex of the person you marry are just like limitations on how many people you can marry, how old a person has to be to get married, etc. – they’re expressions of the definition of marriage. Limitations on the race of the person you marry are not like those other limitations, because they are irrelevant to the essential definition of marriage.

He reiterates the point by listing each of those non-contentious limitations on marriage and arguing that if you put limitations on gay marriage in the same category as limitations on interracial marriage, you have to be arguing for the removal of every other limitation on marriage as well. Because Malone seems to think that arguing against one limitation on marriage is arguing against all limitation on marriage:

You see, “marriage equality” tries to suggest that preventing someone from doing something that someone else can do, in this case marriage, is ALWAYS an act of injustice which treats one party as if they do not have the same intrinsic worth as the other.

Which is a far cry from the more accurate summary of the argument for marriage equality with which he began. We’re back to Malone knocking down strawmen. No one is saying that preventing someone from doing something that someone else can do is ALWAYS an act of injustice which treats one party as if they do not have the same intrinsic worth as the other. Being a proponent of marriage equality myself, here is a list of things I think some people should be able to do that others should not be able to do:

  • Drive a car
  • Surgery
  • Represent New Zealand in the Olympics
  • Teach kung fu
  • Teach anything
  • Adopt kids
  • Get married
  • And so on


But don’t let that stop Malone from patiently explaining that the state doesn’t let children get married or men get pregnant, and you don’t seem to have a problem with that, so clearly you think some restrictions are okay, so you should be happy with the restriction on gay marriage.

Malone sums up his point:

Once again, the key failing of the “marriage equality” claim is that it fails to see that marriage is unavailable to two people of the same gender NOT because of their sexual orientation, but because of what marriage actually is.

And he finishes his post by introducing an entirely other point, addressing (as usual) unspecified persons claiming that “marriage is nothing more than the legal formalisation of a romantic relationship between two people.” Malone notes that civil unions already do this. Fair enough. I’m not opposed to the idea of abolishing the Marriage Act entirely and having every marriage legally called a civil union – a union which couples can call whatever they like.

It must be frustrating for Mr Malone, saying the same thing over and over, which seems so patently obvious to him and others have such trouble understanding: the law isn’t being discriminatory, marriage itself is discriminatory and the law is just being true to marriage.

His entire argument against marriage equality, whether he’s addressing what he calls rights-based arguments or equality-based arguments, hinges on the underlying assumption that marriage is, by definition, between a man and a woman. Unfortunately for him, that’s also the conclusion of his arguments, and so the only people he will convince with them are people who already agree with that conclusion. That’s the problem with begging the question.

What he needs to be doing is arguing for that point: marriage is, by definition, between a man and a woman. And in fairness, he tried to do exactly that a few days ago, claiming that marriage is between a man and a woman because marriage is fundamentally about procreation. However, his justification for infertile couples getting married was vague at best, though I look forward to him explaining it further.

Marriage has changed over time. It has, at different times and in different places, had various definitions. At some times and places, Malone’s procreation-based definition would have been accurate. However, it is not accurate now. Infertile couples get married – and what is essential to their marriage is their romantic love and lifelong commitment to each other, not their ability to produce children or lack thereof. That’s the definition of marriage today, and it is not inherently discriminatory against infertile and same-sex couples as Malone’s is.

And that’s why every argument Malone has made, each based on his inaccurate definition of marriage, is unconvincing. And it’s also why comparisons to bans on interracial marriage are relevant. Because, to paraphrase Malone:

A ban on same-sex marriage discriminates NOT based on what the authentic nature of marriage is, but instead it discriminates based on an attribute of one of the persons who wishes to enter into the union of marriage.

3 Comments Marriage Equality: A More Gentle Fisking of Brendan Malone

  1. Morgan Nichol

    You have so much more patience than me, on this matter I’m sorry to say I’ve resorted to form and now basically just dismiss people as bigots as soon as they start with the “one man, one woman, nothing else ever” line. Which I freely admit isn’t particularly helpful.

    One thing, about marriage-for-procreation, you point out infertile couples are allowed to marry, I’d just add that some fertile couples choose not to have children (i.e. they’re child-free, not child-less), their marriages are also completely non-controversial.

    1. Ryan Sproull

      Yeah, you’re quite right. And I just realised that I probably should have noted that while we can play with words to say that everyone has an equal right to marry someone of a different sex than them, the key question for proponents of marriage equality is whether or not everyone has an equal right to marry the consenting adult with whom they fall in love.

      That is the right that is unequally distributed both in societies that restrict interracial marriage and in societies that restrict gay marriage. Might amend the end with that now.

    2. Ryan Sproull

      I should also note that I don’t see opponents of marriage equality as automatically bigots – which is why I made a point of saying so on your show last night. Certainly there are bigots opposed to marriage equality, but if we take the Webster definition…

      “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

      …I think there are opponents of marriage equality who are not bigots. Malone may be one of them, but he has so far only demonstrated attempts at intellectually justifying what he already religiously believes/feels. (Even that is making assumptions, and I could be wrong.) For all we know, he feels very uncomfortable on some level about the position he feels compelled to take, and so he goes to great lengths to justify it – more to himself than to anyone else. Or who knows, maybe he delights in the position he has taken and is only uncomfortable about how he has to refrain from yelling, “OF COURSE YOU CAN’T GET MARRIED YOU HELL-BOUND FAGS!”

      Either way, there’s no way to know, and I can only judge his arguments on their own merits anyway – few that they are.


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