Monday, December 06, 2004

Opponents of SSM and Tradition; Begging the Question

Over and over we hear from opponents of same-sex marriage (SSM) that SSM is in violation of two-thousand (or whatever number they pull from their ass) years of tradition upon which our society is based. SSM will harm the traditional institution of marriage and therefore should not be allowed.

The argument begs the question and I think that those of us in favor of SSM should call our opponents on it: Why should this tradition (if it really exists as they claim) be preserved? Just because something has a longstanding history does not make it good or right.

The Argument from Tradition, as I call it, isn't really an argument at all. It is a way of sidestepping the argument. It says that things that were decided a long time ago must have been the right decisions, when we know that this is not, in fact, true. Slavery was a longstanding tradition. Male ownership of women was a longstanding tradition. Debtor's prisons were a longstanding tradition. State-sponsored terrorism and torture of dissident elements was a longstanding tradition. Cruel and unusual punishments were a longstanding tradition. "Guilty until proven innocent," or proclaiming accused people guilty without trial was a longstanding tradition. Religious intolerance was a longstanding tradition. Totalitarian, theocratic, or feudal rule was a longstanding tradition. The American Revolution, a revolution against a feudal society in order to establish a representative democracy, was founded specifically in opposition to British tradition.

All these traditions fell by the wayside. Why? Because it was recognized that something having been around for a long time did not make it right. It doesn't make it wrong, either. The tradition must be examined no different than any other proposition to see if it makes sense to carry it forward into the future or change it. That is how traditions themselves come about in the first place! There were other traditions in place long before many of the ones we hold dear now, but at some point people chose to adopt new traditions. If we never discarded and adopted new traditions, all the traditions discussed above would still be with us.

It is because of the Argument from Tradition that I find traditions so frightening. It can be used to justify anything that has been going on for a while, from the oppression of ethnic and racial groups, to the hazing of students, to institutional and governmental corruption, to child abuse in the name of child rearing, to female circumcision, to the drowning of infant females, to rape, and on and on. The Argument from Tradition attempts to deny us the right and responsibility to weigh the morality of a tradition by asserting that traditions are somehow exempt from scrutiny.

They aren't.

In order to justify denying equality under the law from gay and lesbian couples, SSM opponents would have to show that demonstrable harm would come to people in America, not some longstanding instutition. Instutitutions don't have rights under the Constitution. People do. Harm to the basis of marriage as between a man and woman, harm to the basis of marriage as a procreative institution, harm to the basis of marriage as a religious institution, even if all these bases were true (they aren't) and the harm was demonstrable (it isn't), is no reason to deny rights to people. People are more important than tradition, but those seeking to preserve traditons -- generally people who benefit from the current tradition trying to maintain a tradition that is harmful to others -- want to make tradition more important by fiat.

The Constitution gives no rights or protections to traditions or institutions. It does give rights and protection, including the right to equal protection under the law, to people.

Don't let the Argument from Tradition stop you for even a second. It's no argument at all.


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