In his essay “Against Gay Marriage,” William Bennett, a great spokesman for conservatives and former Secretary of education under President Reagan, maintains his conservative stance that allowing same-sex couples to marry would have a harmful and lasting effect on our society’s intrinsic values and, in his view, would stretch the “fragile” institution of marriage beyond recognition (409). Bennett, as the title indicates, presents a powerful argument “Against Gay Marriage.” He argues that allowing gay marriage would change the meaning of marriage, the ideal of marriage as being an “honorable estate,” and would have a large role in molding sexuality (409). One does not have to agree with Bennett to appreciate the strength and honesty of his mind. Still, although he raises thoughtful objections to same-sex marriage, his claims overall read more like an outline, lacking specifics and expert opinions, referring to one organized, careful study, and committing a number of logical fallacies that muddy and diminish the effectiveness of his argument.
Throughout his essay, Bennett makes many underlying assumptions about same sex couples and the legalization of homosexual marriage. From the beginning, Bennett states that even entertaining such a debate “would be pointless,” were it not for the “confused time” we find ourselves in (409). Bennett does concede, however, that arguments made by homosexual advocates such as Andrew Sullivan are “intelligent” ones, and even “conservative,” and “politically shrewd” (409), when touching on the idea that allowing gay marriage would actually promote healthy long term relationships. Sullivan does an excellent job of arguing his point that legalization of gay marriage would in fact, help promote healthy relationships and monogamous tendencies, which in his essay he states that the legalization of gay marriage would in fact also encourage homosexuals to “make a deeper commitment to one another and to society” (409).
From here though, for William Bennett the views expressed in his editorial piece are clear cut, simple, and largely dismissive in their tone. Besides this claim, to Bennett there are no reasons in his mind why gay marriage should be legal. Bennett admits, though Sullivan’s argument is shrewd, Sullivan is not right. In fact, Bennett would insist and has an underlying assumption in his essay that gay marriages will weaken the institution of marriage even more and will not be truly monogamous and committed to each other because of the “openness” of gay relationships and that homosexuals have “less restrained sexual practices” (410). Bennett’s continuous assumptions that gays cannot be truly monogamous and committed shows that to him there exists no room for compromise on the matter, and weakens the strength of his argument.
Bennett also throughout his essay makes many fallacious arguments for example, in his opening, Bennett makes a very strong assertion if not an outright overstatement, when he says that recognizing homosexual marriage would symbolize the potent change in the interpretation and characterization of marriage, and “would be the most radical step ever taken in the deconstruction of society’s most important institution” (409). Of course, Bennett is respected for his personal opinions, but the reader may wonder if any studies or expert opinions exist to support Bennett’s view, to which he has none. This yet again takes away from the strength of his argument because, unlike in Ryan Anderson’s “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters and the Consequences of Redefining It” where claim after claim Anderson presents the reader with numerous statistics and expert testimony on why marriage should not be changed and the repercussions and “dangers” of gay marriage being legalized.
Anderson presents the argument that marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife, to be father and mother to any children they create. Anderson states that marriage increases the chances that the man will be devoted to both the children that he helps produce, and to the woman with whom he does so. Anderson then backs this up with testimony from Maggie Gallagher, a popular social conservative commentator, that joining sex, babies, and moms and dads, is the role of marriage and helps explain why the government rightly respects and addresses this feature of our social lives. In the next paragraph, Bennett wanting to suppress the movement toward the redefinition of marriage, cites the rather peculiar example of two brothers: “On what principled grounds could the advocates of same-sex marriage oppose the marriage of two consenting brothers?” (409). By citing two homosexual brothers, Bennett commits the “straw man” fallacy.
That is, he reasons from an exceptional case that defies logic and, once recognized, does little for his argument. Who else has ever seen such an extreme example? Is this a real pair of brothers, or are they merely made up and cited for the sake of argument? Whether or not these brothers are fictitious is never stated, but as Andrew Sullivan puts it in his essay “For Gay Marriage”, the right to marry has been appropriately denied by the state to close family members and relatives because “familial emotional ties” are too powerful to permit a marriage contract to be entered freely by two independent adults (404). In this regard, Sullivan believes homosexuals do not fit into the same category. To believe that the realization of allowing same sex marriage would lead to the further breakdown of laws governing familial misconduct, such as incest or polygamy, is outlandish. It appears that one logical fallacy breeds another, as in the very next paragraph, Bennett commits what seems to be a glaring over-generalization.
He states “Nor is this view arbitrary or idiosyncratic” (409), to say marriages, especially in today’s society, cannot be whimsical or happen by chance because that’s what has gone on for thousands of years or what the major religions state is ridiculous. Even though at one point marriage was seen as a way to increase survival chances and secure your livelihood, it is no longer viewed that way. We no longer live in the middle ages or the 1800’s. People today marry for love and their emotional bonds with people, and love’s intrinsic value is to be random and can happen to anyone. Nor should religious traditions dictate whether gay marriage should be legalized or not, as today there are numerous homosexuals in all branches of major religions; there are gay bishops and preachers, this shows that both religion and homosexuals can coexist and be beneficial to society.
Bennett’s final strong claim about gay marriage is that the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to teens being confused about their sexuality, conservative parents will be denied their rights to instill their values about sexuality to their children, and that heterosexuals are better parents than their homosexual counterparts. Bennett makes many over generalizations about the impact the signals of legalizing gay marriage would send to teens. Bennett almost contradicts himself with the inclusion of the quote from Harvard professor E.L. Patullo, “a very substantial number of people are born with the potential to live either straight or gay lives” (410). Many people are born with the potential to lead gay or straight lives, it is a choice, and the legalization of gay marriage would not cause societal indifference, but would rather foster a welcoming environment for young gays to come out into rather than living in fear or shame because of the hate and repercussions of being homosexual.
Bennett also over generalizes the findings of an article about teenagers and adults being interviewed about being gay and bisexual. Fifty kids and dozens of parents and counselors does not speak for the whole population of a country, but also shows the weakness of Bennett’s argument as it shows the lack of actual education there is in much of the country on the subject of homosexuality. Bennett also makes assumptions about how conservative parents will lose the right to teach their kids their views on sexuality if same sex marriage were legalized. Just because gay marriage would be legal and the subject of homosexuality would be taught in school more does not mean at home parents could not teach their children their values.
If parents did however, cause an uproar and keep their children from being exposed to certain views on homosexuality just because they didn’t want that to happen, they would be viewed as “intolerant bigots” (411). Finally Bennett makes a glaring assumption and overgeneralization stating that it is far better for a child to be raised by a heterosexual couple rather “than by, say, two homosexual males” (411). In the Film “Daddy & Papa” it shows four separate families, all homosexual males, and how they all care, love, and are just as capable of raising children as heterosexual couples. They want nothing more for their children than what any heterosexual couple would want for their kids, the best possible life.
Bennett may believe that the legalization of gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, but time after time homosexuals have proven they are just as capable of fulfilling the duties of marriage as heterosexuals, and it is a part of our society today. To have equality for all citizens, it is a right that will soon have to occur.
Sullivan, Andrew. “For Gay Marriage”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 11 ed. Ed. Suzanne Phelps Chambers. Boston: Longman, 2011. 404-407. Print.
Anderson, Ryan T. “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It.” _The Heritage Foundation_. The Heritage Foundation, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2014
_Daddy & Papa: A Documentary Film_. Prod. Johnny. Symons. Dir. Johnny. Symons. By Johnny. Symons. 2002.