Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Parallel Argument Fallacy

It is occasionally argued that since some of the arguments against legal recognition of polyamory sound like some of the arguments raised against same-sex marriage, and since same-sex marriage is OK, then polyamory must be OK, as well.

The arguments that were used by the GOP to argue for the impeachment of President Clinton sound like many of the arguments used today by Democrats for the impeachment of President George W. Bush. Does that mean that Bush and Clinton are the same?

Extending equal marriage rights to same-sex couples is not the same thing as extending marriage rights to groups of three or more. They are, at least, different enough to require some careful analysis and consideration.

11 comments:

Stentor said...

I assume you're responding at least in part to my post here. I've added a clarifying note to the end of my post because I agree with you that just because two arguments are structurally similar, that doesn't mean they're equally true or false. (I happen to think your arguments are in fact wrong for similar reasons as the anti-same-sex-marriage ones, but as you say that requires further demonstration.)

hafidha sofia said...

Ditto what Stentor said.

Mark said...

LT:

Okay, if we're discussing legal matters, let's discuss legal matters.

1. Do you believe that Massachusetts law currently protects people in multi-partnered relationships from discrimination in employment and housing?

2. If the answer to (1) is "no," would you oppose supporting changes to the law (whether statutorily or by taking a public position on a test case) on the grounds that doing so would be a slippery slope to legalizing plural marriages?

3. If the answer to (1) is "yes," what would your attitude be towards other states where the law does allow for such discrimination?

I've picked this example because it is a) plausible and b) goes beyond the question of hurt feelings.

LT said...

Mark.
I am not called by my congregation to have a position on every piece of legislation in the Commonwealth.

Your hypothetical is transparent, though. By seeking protection from discrimination based on a behavior, you also seek state affirmation of the behavior, without having to make a positive claim for it. It is the same argument that is being used to pressure UU ministers, saying: "protect us from discrimination by affirming what we do, or face the criticism of being a bigot."

I am opposed to all forms of discrimination in employment and housing that are based on private and personal behaviors and traits that do not affect job performance or interfere with responsible tenancy.

Anti-discrimination laws usually involve discrimination based on immutable traits about the victim: one's gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, religion. Which gets us back to the ill-defined category of "poly" people, a category that has very little verifiable validity.

If you skip around the question of who is a "poly" person and just define it as "people in a multi-partnered relationship" then, in order to protect them from discrimination, the state would have to register and keep track of such relationships -- just in order to separate them from 3 roommates, with or without benefits, or a pimp and two prostitutes, or a couple and a friend.

If that is your goal: "We would like to be able to register multi-partnered relationships with the state in order to protect ourselves from discrimination from people who might judge our lifestyle choices adversely", then you should say so. That would mean that you would have to be accountable for explaining why that registration process was warranted, necessary and socially responsible. And you would not be able to mock those who differed that they were paranoid about some "slippery slope", because you would have made it explicit that you want to go down that hill.

Terry said...

The primary element to solve this set of dilemmas would be to establish case law which "bans marriage". That wouldn't prevent private or religious rituals of anyone's choosing, but would end confusing use of a word rooted in theocratic traditions carried into Colonial times, and force clarification of what were legitimate government interests, or simply irrelevant to law.

The argument that discrimination criteria are based on immutable traits is a straw man and fraud. Many people change religion one or more times, and so it's surprising to see clergy misrepresent that, among all issues. Sexual orientation is such a mix of genetic and social environment factors as to blur lines. I could change or add a dual nationality by filing some papers based on an immigrant grandfather, whereas others might need to invest in another country to do so. While race tends to be immutable, we're such a nation of mutts that legal categories for it are largely not well grounded in facts. Protected discrimination traits instead are factors selected for special treatment in law because they're how many people define core elements of personal identity, whether fixed by nature, or mutable by choice or life progression.

The 13th Amendment and newer international human rights law banned the slave trade which in effect is what archaic exchanges of brides as chattel property transfers from father to husband were. Overpopulation combined with relatively recent reliable fertility management, plus life expectancies far beyond menopause versus late 40's under two centuries ago, and newer DNA testing, have combined to make it no longer possible to justify legal marriage or domestic partnership contract law based on accounting for paternity. A shift in social norms to single parents and serial marriages mixed with non-marital births has created such complex webs of adoptive and subsequent marriage or relationship de facto parenting partners as to moot any legal claims that poly partnerships in any way are more detrimental, if such claims are even true, than other complex child custody and visitation or estate and inheritance issues that our courts resolve daily.

That, taken as a whole, points to an obligation of law to get out of the nuclear family discrimination business, and limit itself to registration of domestic partnership contracts open to any number and sexes of persons able to contract, but also restricted to issues of mutual agency and not expansive manipulation of personal lives via other areas of law. That's not an issue of government endorsing any particular existing or new chosen family geometry, but rather one of nondiscrimination over archaic prejudices relative to 1st and 14th Amendment issues, preemptive of any narrower state protections (a separate issue than corrupt courts and malicious religious prejudice as a grounds for judicial selection). Clergy from a path with a principle of social justice have an obligation to support that expansive legal justice for all, which in turn results in a need to find ways for clergy to support a broad array of relationship models, most of which already exist even if some are now facially suppressed and forced to misrepresent themselves, undermining the humanity of many individuals in them.

As a side issue, research conducted by some ACLU working groups studying marriage laws found that a large part of the basis to require officiation by clergy was citizen illiteracy, to the point of being unable to execute and file a simple marriage license form. That has led to traditions that clergy are coerced to be state agents if they officiate a marriage, rather than isolate church and state, and leave any legal paperwork purely a duty of those mutually contracting to enter a domestic partnership, just as parties might file a business partnership agreement. In modern society, it's highly suspect that anyone lacking such basic literacy could competently consent to any contract with the range of issues attaching to a domestic geometry, and so use of clergy as officiants presumed literate fails to serve any rational, never mind compelling, government interest today.

Other than malicious discrimination based on supremacist sectarian prejudices, and functional supports limited to those models in many cases not out of any current standard for quality of child care, but rather to prop up Calvinist bigotry, marriage or domestic partnership laws aren't the real challenge. The major challenge to social justice is one common argument used for "gay marriage" (a term I question because sexuality is far more complex than binary). Why are there over a thousand Federal privileges and benefits which accrue based on marriage, in addition to state ones?

Simply having those massive functional and economic disparities is the major issue, and a difficult one to clean up. Some states like Connecticut have for years (since a 1967 overhaul in its case) defined marriage as open simply to "persons", and restricted that further only by a permit process to impose binary alternate sex conditions. It's really easy to change law to align permit forms with existing marriage law open to "persons", and little more work to eliminate clergy or state officiants and change the paperwork filing process slightly. A few states already avoid that legal trap.

What's left is a political and legal mess. How do we better define what are equal protections of law, and avoidance of discrimination, in the remaining thousands of government and government regulated policies and programs? That oft ignored challenge, where singles by choice deserve the same treatment under law as V or triangle triads, open or closed circles, or serial or forever pairs, regardless of what one or more sexes compose them, is the least discussed and most challenging part of needed reforms.

As to the law's legitimate involvement in defining relationships, its obligation is hands off imposing any public policy, except when a narrow compelling interest justifies tampering with personal choice. That's a matter of setting extreme bounds, unlike clergy roles where guiding people to function well is a valid goal. That's the case with all civil rights law, where one of the ultimate hypotheticals not everyone handles with clear thought is what would be required for the guest of honor at a religious snuff ritual to give meaningful consent, based on the theory that such consent delineates one's right to harm self, but not others. With traditional marriage, law might shift to promote population limits, rather than historically promoting growth, though birth control and abortion rights have combined with economic factors to already accomplish that shift except among some immigrant groups and the lowest IQ citizen demographics.

A special challenge for UU's is that social justice requires supporting legal protections of the entire scope of civil rights, and helping people understand that protection of those rights is not the same as exercise of some of them being in any given individual's best interest, alone or as part of a relationship. Beyond that, UU-ism is hostile to many people, because instead of having one size fits all dogma to try on, and reject if it doesn't fit, UU-ism requires forming broad awareness and sorting out why one makes personal choices of path details, with far more issues to resolve with prospective partners than in groups where being a member of sect X in and of itself implies common understandings of many details.

As to law again, the state doesn't necessarily have a dog in the fight as to whether anyone registers a domestic partnership. What if domestic partnerships didn't attach many existing government programs outside Constitutional Duties and Powers as now exist, but were primarily just about mutual legal agency? Then the discrimination law would be equal for cohabitating persons without regard to such contracts, rather than set a policy as now exists over how to play favorites. That's a very tricky playing field to level.

Mark said...

LT:

No, you do not need to have a position on everything, and it wouldn't be feasible to. However, you have posited a situation where members of your congregation/denomination *are* asking you to take positions in the name of "polyamory acceptance."

I already know that you are opposed to supporting extension of legal marriage rights to multiple spouses . (Which I am too, but in your apparent stated view, I am either lying or dense when I say that). I am trying to find out your view on polyamory in other areas of the law.

"By seeking protection from discrimination based on a behavior, you also seek state affirmation of the behavior, without having to make a positive claim for it."

It pains me to say it, but this is a dumb statement, and unworthy of a man as conscientious and intelligent as you are.

To the best of my knowledge, it is illegal to deny someone housing on the grounds that they, say, smoke. (Employment is shakier, in at-will employment states). Is the state affirming smoking? Permission to do something is not the same thing as affirmation of that something.

In essence, you are making the same argument as social conservatives make against educating young people about the availability of birth control: if we let them know they can do it, we're telling them they should do it.

"I am opposed to all forms of discrimination in employment and housing that are based on private and personal behaviors and traits that do not affect job performance or interfere with responsible tenancy."

And is it so awful to be willing to explicitly say, "Having more than one intimate partner does not inherently affect job performance or responsible tenancy"?

(Anyone who made the claim that it *did*, I would suspect of prejudice, yes).

"in order to protect them from discrimination, the state would have to register and keep track of such relationships -- just in order to separate them from 3 roommates, with or without benefits,"

It pains me again to say that this is a dumb statement, too. I am assuming that you would agree that employers and landlords shouldn't discriminate against three platonic roommates, either, so why would the law have to distinguish between them and the poly folks based on sexual activity?

A simple "relationship status" protection would cover singles, premarital couples, married couples, divorcees, widows and widowers, poly people, etc. No registration of relationships required.

"or a pimp and two prostitutes,"

Pimps and prostitutes are engaged in illegal activity, which makes them an irrelevant example.

"or a couple and a friend."

Same deal as with the roommates.

"And you would not be able to mock those who differed that they were paranoid about some 'slippery slope',"

Where are you getting that I am mocking you or calling you paranoid? I've already said in another comment that I defend your right to argue against the advisability of multi-partnered relationships, and that if doing so is a matter of conscience for you, I defend it as an obligation you have. I've affirmed that I believe you are acting in good faith, and I've expressed respect for your intellectual abilities. I've made a point of including "just because I disagree with you doesn't mean you're prejudiced" disclaimers in most of my comments.

LT--Tom, other people have called you Tom, so I will too--I am trying to have a good-faith conversation between two people who care deeply about individuals and society. Can you extend me the same courtesy?

"because you would have made it explicit that you want to go down that hill."

Which I *don't*.

shelley said...

I had gone on this blog to read the post about "Sicko". What a shock to see that the comment I had websearched for is buried in this discussion!
My concerns as a UU are many: from social justice issues like decent health care and immigration, to how our church can raise money for building upkeep, RE programs and other projects.
Concerns about polyamory are WAY DOWN ON THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST.
I can't believe that so many people are wasting so much time debating this! From everything I've seen, the UUs for Polyamory group is tiny and has no real influence. Yet here you are going on and on, as if the whole world would stop still if three people decided to marry one another.
No wonder we UU's are such a small group. Too many macho intellectuals debating insignificant issues til the cows come home!

(Now, I've just read this over, thinking "maybe this is too snarky" - my daughter taught me that word - but frankly I can't think of any other way to express how this nonsense makes me feel.)

Mark said...

shelley:

(I'm not sure if it makes it better or worse for you, but I'm not even UU).

I cannot tell you how blissfully happy I would be if everybody's reaction to the number of adults in my family was to say, "Uhhh, really not my thing, but if you're here to work on health care and immigration and building up our community of faith, let's roll up our sleeves and get busy."

Speaking personally, my "polyamory awareness/acceptance agenda" has three and only three items on it:

1. I don't want us to lose our jobs or our housing or our children solely because of the number of adults in our families.

2. I don't want us to be treated like a threat to Western Civilization solely because of the number of adults in our families.

3. If we figure out unorthodox legal arrangements to support and protect our unorthodox families, I don't want those to be blocked/undone/demonized on general principle.

That's really it. As an agenda, I don't think it calls for much in the way of activism or philosophical assent from people who aren't inclined to do so. Some folks here don't agree with that assessment. Which is fair enough.

As a side note, I am sure that even the most prolific writers here have off-line lives where they're working on exactly what you think they should be, or things of equivalent weightiness.

Louise said...

Joining a conversation for the sole purpose of telling the folks engaged in same conversation that they are wasting their time is not snarky.

It's rude.

If you are not interested in this topic, then don't read it.

Just because only a few voices are actively involved in the thread does not mean there aren't others out there, like me, who are following closely.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

The arguments that were used by the GOP to argue for the impeachment of President Clinton sound like many of the arguments used today by Democrats for the impeachment of President George W. Bush. Does that mean that Bush and Clinton are the same?

It doesn't mean that Bush and Clinton are the same, but it does mean that both sides are guilty of faulty logic.

If Person A argues Position X using the same fallacies as Person B does when arguing for Position Y, then it means that there are weaknesses in both their arguments. When Person A claims that the critique of Position Y cannot apply to his/her Position X, that is what philosophers call a fallacy of special pleading.

Building an argument is much like building a house. No matter what the floorplan, your house won't last if you use the same rotten lumber as the house which couldn't hold together because of that rotten lumber.

Rev. Jack Ditch said...

I think you're missing the point, LT, if you think this is about sussing out logical fallacies. Shelly might have been rude or snarky in saying as much, but I'm right there with them in thinking, "No wonder we UU's are such a small group!" Nobody that you're judging is going to wait around while you dissect the morality of their actions, LT; they're just going to go find a church that accepts and loves them for who they are.

I talk at greater length about this on Pirates of the Unitarians; I hope at least LT can check it out. But in short, if you have to seriously intellectually pick apart whether or not you accept polyamorous relationships, you're stretching in any claim to be a Universalist. You may not like the pressure that says, "protect us from discrimination by affirming what we do, or face the criticism of being a bigot." But so long as you claim a Universalist's acceptance of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, folks are going to expect you to live up to that.

Perhaps you belong in a less-than-universal church, where you may preach that some sexual relationships are right and others are wrong with less appearance of hypocricy? There's certainly a wide variety of churches to choose from, on that count.