Apologia

Is Same-Sex Marriage Like a Subway Sandwich?

Hendrik van der Breggen

Below is a copy of my (lengthy) lecture notes on which my 20-minute November 30, 2017, Provf Talk is based. A Provf Talk is a bite-size lecture to provide students and the public a “prof sampler” of the professors at Providence University College. My live Provf Talk is a sketch or “abridged version” of the notes below.

Note to critics: Please read all of what follows and at least a few of my (relevant) suggested readings/ viewings before sending me your comments. Thanks!

0. Overview

I. Introduction and preliminary clarifications
II. Statement of the argument
III. Assessment of the argument
IV. Conclusion
P.S. Recommended reading/viewing

I. Introduction and preliminary clarifications

Good afternoon. This afternoon I will look at a short argument that defends same-sex marriage, an argument by analogy. This argument by analogy appears often as a meme on Facebook and other social media, and seems to persuade many. I will set out the argument and then I will assess it. We’ll see that the argument commits the fallacy of faulty analogy.

First, some preliminary clarifications.

1. Please keep in mind that I believe all people are made in God’s image and deserve respect, so disrespecting people with same-sex attractions is wrong, period. Gay-bashing, bullying, etc. are all wrong, period. Nevertheless, I am also interested in the pursuit of truth and careful reasoning. I believe love, truth, and logic not only can co-exist, but also are essentially one – part of the Logos.

2. Please keep in mind that assessing an argument does not equal hating the arguer. I sometimes hear the objection that if you disagree with persons who identify as LGBTQ, then you are a hater. Either you affirm LGBTQ or you show disrespect. In reply, we should notice that this is an instance of the false dichotomy fallacy. This is a mistake in reasoning which occurs when we assume that there are only two options, when there are actually three (or more), yet we go on to assume that one of the two options must be the way to go. Missing third option: be genuinely hospitable and respectful to those who identify as LGBTQ (etc.) and hold to the biblical wisdom of reserving sex between one man and one woman in permanent monogamous marriage.

3. Please keep in mind that dismissing my argument because I am (allegedly) homophobic is to commit two errors. One, it’s false that I am homophobic, so the dismissal puts forth a false claim. Two, it commits the ad hominem fallacy. The ad hominem fallacy occurs when one attacks the arguer instead of his/her arguments, when doing so is not relevant. It’s the mistake of attacking the messenger instead of examining the message.

4. Some historical perspective on same-sex marriage is helpful, too. In Canada same-sex marriage was elevated to the same legal status as heterosexual marriage in 2005. For some broader perspective, here are other dates in which same-sex marriage was made legal in other countries: Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Iceland (2010), Argentina (2010), Denmark (2012), Brazil (2013), France (2013), Uruguay (2013), New Zealand (2013), United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland 2014), U.S. (2015), Mexico (2016), Australia (2017). In other words, the elevation of the legal status of same-sex marriage to that of heterosexual marriage is recent (relative to the broad sweep of history).

II. Statement of the argument

A popular internet argument – a meme – dismisses concerns about same-sex marriage by drawing a comparison between same-sex marriage and choosing a Subway sandwich.

Here is the argument: “I went to Subway today to get my favorite sandwich. The guy in front of me ordered a different sub. I was pissed because he didn’t get the same sub as me, even though it didn’t affect me in any way. This is what people sound like when they say gay marriage affects them. LOL.”

The argument restated: Just as someone’s choice of a particular sandwich doesn’t affect anyone else, and so we shouldn’t be concerned, so too gay marriage doesn’t affect anyone else, and so we shouldn’t be concerned. Thus, voicing concerns about gay marriage is silly – laughable. The concerns should be dismissed.

In other words, like choosing a Subway sandwich, same-sex marriage is merely a personal matter.

Aside: The Subway sandwich argument is a version of the same argument set forth by same-sex marriage proponents prior to 2005 (but without the sandwich analogy): Same-sex marriage won’t affect anyone, they said. To which I now say: Yeah, right. I used to believe this claim; now I don’t. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s assess the argument.

III. Assessment of the argument

The argument by analogy is faulty. The comparison fails in a crucially relevant way. The sandwich choice is a personal matter, but granting legal status to same-sex marriage is a public policy matter. It affects others in (at least) four ways.

  1. Changes public understanding of marriage
  2. Impacts children
  3. Puts us on a slippery slope
  4. Threatens democratic health

1. Changes public understanding of marriage

Granting legal status to same-sex marriage changes the public’s understanding of marriage from marriage sense 1 to marriage sense 2.

Marriage sense 1: permanent, monogamous union of one man and one woman who can (at least in principle) reproduce sexually via their union plus raise and nurture their biological children.

Marriage sense 2: union of two adults regardless of their sexual non-complementarity, requiring new reproductive methods and new family structures.

That’s no big deal, one might think. Well, let me just say at the moment that this is a change which affects others, i.e., the minds of those others who constitute the public. It affects the public’s understanding of marriage. It changes that understanding. In the words of the Honourable Bradley W. Miller, Justice of Ontario’s Court of Appeal, and former associate professor of law at University of Western Ontario (Bradley’s doctorate is from Oxford University): “What transpired [in Canada] was the adoption of a new orthodoxy: that same-sex relationships are, in every way, the equivalent of traditional marriage, and that same-sex marriage must therefore be treated identically to traditional marriage in law and public life” (Bradley Miller, Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from CanadaPublic Discourse, November 5, 2012).

That’s a consequence that isn’t limited merely to one’s personal choice of sandwich. It’s to change the very meaning of sandwich. And, as we will see, this change has repercussions for those who might think there’s something amiss with the new sandwich.

2. Impacts children

The change in the public understanding of marriage impacts more than merely those who are getting married. It impacts children.

Here is a summary of the work of political philosopher Ryan T. Anderson (PhD, University of Notre Dame) whose work on marriage is, in my opinion, top-notch: Reliable studies from social sciences strongly suggest parenting by married biological parents – i.e., biological mother and biological father – is ideal for well-being of children. Redefinition of marriage (along with divorce and single parenting) takes society another step away from this ideal. (See Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom[Washington: Regnery, 2015]. See, too, Anderson’s many lectures and articles.)

According to Anderson, this change centers marriage on “consenting adult romance” instead of the centrality of children.

Here’s a quote from Anderson:

It redefines the purpose of marriage, the understanding of marriage. It will center marriage not on ensuring the best stable environment for children but about consenting adult romance. It makes men and women, mothers and fathers, inter-changeable.

[Ryan T. Anderson, Lecture and Q&A, April 3, 2014.]

But, according to Anderson, mothers and fathers very apparently are not inter-changeable, so this change has negative social consequences, especially for children. Anderson points to a comment from former President Barack Obama which might be helpful here:

We know the statistics that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They’re more likely to have behavioral problems or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

[Transcript, Obama’s Father’s Day RemarksNew York Times, June 15, 2008.]

Fathers are important, in other words.

At this juncture, one might object that maybe two moms, as in a lesbian relationship, would fix this. In reply, consider the following from David Popenoe, a sociologist at Rutgers University, after doing a social science literature review on parenting:

The burden of social science evidence supports the idea that gender differentiated parenting is important for human development…

We should disavow the notion that mommies can make good daddies just as we should disavow the popular notion that daddies can make good mommies. The two sexes are different to the core and each is necessary culturally and biologically for the optimal development for the human being.

[David Popenoe, Life without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 146, 197; cited in Anderson, Truth Overruled, 26-27.]

One might now object that the work of Popenoe is outdated. Perhaps it is. But perhaps not. For a 2012 study on gay parenting, see the work of sociologist Mark Regnerus.  Regnerus’s study strongly suggests that there are negative outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents – and suggests that further study should be done.  A reviewer of Regnerus’s work writes the following: “The controversy over same-sex marriage, and over the place of social science findings in debating the question, will doubtless continue. But Regnerus’s contribution has complicated a set of breezy assumptions too widely held: that children raised in these new family structures suffer no disadvantages whatsoever, and that stable, long-term same-sex-parent families can even be found in significant numbers. In so doing, Regnerus has moved our national conversation on the family forward, in a positive direction, with greater awareness of what is at stake in the public policy choices we make.” (Matthew J. Franck, The Vindication of Mark RegnerusPublic Discourse, October 31, 2012.)

It is significant to notice that Regnerus’s findings are being reinforced by others. For an example and for an overview of (and links to) a 2016 study on gay parenting by sociologist Paul Sullins, see D.C. McAllister, Another Study Finds Same-Sex Parenting Isn’t Best for Kids, The Federalist, July 6, 2016.

It is significant, too, that even social scientists such as Abbie E. Goldberg and Nanette K. Gartrell who conclude that “LGB parents and their children are functioning quite well” immediately make the following claim:

The research of LGB parenting, however, is characterized by a variety of sampling- and methodological-related problems. As reviewed extensively by Goldberg (2010) and other authors, the samples that are utilized in these studies tend to be small, White, well-educated, and financially stable, and are often drawn from metropolitan areas. Thus, the representativeness of many of the findings is potentially limited, and much more research is needed…

[Abbie E. Goldberg & Nanette K. Gartrell, “LGB-Parent Families: The Current State of the Research and Directions for the Future,” Advances in Child Development and Behavior, Volume 46 (2014): 80.]

Keep in mind that Goldberg and Gartrell’s research does not include the work of Regnerus and Sullins.

Clearly, more research is needed, especially in view of the sampling problems noted by studies which assert that “the kids are all right” and in view of the contrary findings of larger, more representative studies (e.g., Regnerus).

In the meantime, as more (and better) research is being done, it is surely also significant to notice this fact: that there is now a growing movement of young persons (young adults) who have been raised by gay/lesbian parents and who are expressing discontent and concern over having been raised in such households. Robert Oscar Lopez was raised by lesbian parents and speaks of the difficulties he faced as a result of such parenting, difficulties arising from having been deprived of his biological father. Lopez is former Associate Professor of English at California State University Northridge and is now president of the International Children’s Rights Institute, an organization that speaks on behalf of children of same-sex parents. He is also co-editor of the book Jephthah’s Daughters: Innocent Casualties in the War for Family ‘Equality’ (CreateSpace 2015). In this book, co-edited by Rivka Edelman, a woman also raised by lesbians, we hear from some of the oft-neglected voices of people who have been, as it were, collateral damage of same-sex marriage.

See too Lauretta Brown, Adults raised by gay couples speak out against gay ‘marriage’ in federal court, CNSNews.com, January 23, 2015.

See too Ryan T. Anderson’s chapter 7 “The Victims,” in Truth Overruled, 147-178.

Very apparently, there are negative outcomes for children which arise from same-sex marriage.

University of Notre Dame Australia ethicist Margaret Somerville (formerly at McGill University in Montreal) puts the matter this way:

In short, accepting same-sex marriage necessarily means accepting that the societal institution of marriage is intended primarily for the benefit of the partners to the marriage, and only secondarily for the children born into it.

Somerville immediately adds:

And it [same-sex marriage] means abolishing the norm that children – whatever their sexual orientation later proves to be – have a prima facie right to know and be reared within their own biological family by their mother and father.

[Margaret Somerville, “What about the Children?” in Daniel Cere & Douglas Farrow, editors, Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada’s New Social Experiment (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004), 66-67. Also see Margaret Somerville, Competing Rights in the Same-sex marriage Debate.]

In other words, Somerville points out that same-sex marriage impacts children by abolishing the child’s biologically-based moral right to know and be raised by both biological parents.

We should think about this some more. Traditionally, biological parents have had a natural moral obligation to their children merely because of being the child’s biological parents (and our laws traditionally reflected this; think of why we sue “deadbeat dads”: it’s because of their biological relation and its concomitant moral responsibility). As Somerville points out, such obligations have corollaries (logical implications), i.e., children have a right to this natural moral obligation which accrues to them simply because their biological parents are their biological parents. The more we embrace via legalization the parental arrangement that requires biological distancing between parents and children, the more the natural moral bonds are weakened and violated. So the norm that gets changed is the moral norm that children should (as a general ideal) be brought up by their biological mother and biological father. This is a consequence of same-sex marriage. And, according to Somerville (and Anderson and others), it carries with it some concerns about the well-being of children.

There’s more.

According to Somerville, same-sex marriage may normalize reproductive technologies, e.g., In Vitro Fertilization. IVF is the medical procedure by which an egg and a sperm are united to create a new human being in a laboratory, in a petri dish, and then this embryo – this human being at its first stage – is put into a womb and is born nine months later. Remember that same-sex couples cannot reproduce sexually because of the non-complementariness of the sexes. On their own, two men cannot make a baby. On their own, two women cannot make a baby. Somerville points out that the right to have children is part-and-parcel of the “rights that come with marriage as a matter of law.” In other words, by normalizing same-sex relationships legally via marriage, IVF will also become normalized – more so than prior to same-sex marriage.

But this means that the problems associated with IVF will be exacerbated.

What are those problems?

  • IVF creates leftover frozen human embryos, i.e., human beings.
  • IVF often requires “selective termination,” i.e., abortion of unwanted implantations/fetuses.
  • IVF exploits women as surrogates and egg suppliers – especially vulnerable women. Here I recommend two documentaries from the Center for Bioethics and Culture (headed by Jennifer Lahl): Eggsploitation (2013) and Breeders: A subclass of women? (2014).
  • IVF threatens to turn children into commodities. Is this a new human trafficking?

In the case of same-sex couples who create a child via IVF, a baby is deliberately deprived of (at least) one of his/her biological parents (solely because two adults want a baby). Surely, this is unfair to the children so created. And it’s more unfair if sexual as well as gender differentiated parenting are important to the child’s well-being, as seems to be the case.

For a discussion of IVF and its pros and cons, see my column Think, for baby’s sake.

Again: The change in the public understanding of marriage impacts more than merely those who are getting married. It impacts others – i.e., children.

3. Puts us on a slippery slope

Same-sex marriage is conceptually wed to a non-fallacious slippery slope. According to Anderson, once we redefine marriage broadly as committed adult intimacy instead of the union of a heterosexual couple, why not accept a “throuple” (rhymes with “couple” but involves three or more)?

The rationale for “couple” derives from the one-man-one-woman sexual union requirement – but this requirement has been abandoned. So why stop at two? Why not polygamous or polyamorous relationships? Popular culture is already slipping in this direction. E.g., Slate magazine’s pro-polygamy article, reality TV shows (Sister WivesPolyamory: Married & Dating), TV polyamory comedy (You Me Her). And there’s the new show Unicornland.

Moreover, the slippery slope may have a darker dimension. If loving commitment is a sufficient condition for marriage, and if, as we hear often today, love is love is love, then it would seem to follow that if you love X, you should be able to marry X. But X is a placeholder.

Why not marry my cousin? This was asked in Ireland. Why not my sister, if I love her? This was asked by an Australian judge in 2014. Love is love is love, right? Thirty to forty years ago, same-sex marriage was unthinkable (I am old enough to remember this). Interestingly, in Germany in 2012 a spokesperson for the zoophile group ZETA said there are more than 100,000 zoophiles in Germany and he argued that “Mere morals have no place in law.” (Germany to ban sex with animals: reportDaily Telegraph, November 26, 2012.)  In 2014 New York magazine published the article “What It’s Like to Date a Horse,” which sympathetically describes zoophilia as a sexual identity attached to bestiality (Alexa Tsoulis-Reay, What it’s like to date a horseNew York Magazine, November 20, 2014). Add that to our growing list of gender identities. Love is love is love, right?

I know this sounds farfetched. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind these sobering if not prophetic words from philosopher Francis A. Schaeffer and former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop: “Recent history shows that the conscience can be so corrupted and manipulated that today’s unthinkable becomes tomorrow’s thinkable with remarkable speed” (Whatever Happed to the Human Race? [Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1983], 133).

For further thought about slippery slopes, see my articles Slippery Slope Arguments Part 1 and Slippery Slope Arguments Part 2.

4. Threatens democratic health

With same-sex marriage becoming the norm (it’s been legal in Canada since 2005 and legal in the U.S. since 2015), tolerance of dissent is being weakened.

According to Honourable Bradley W. Miller, Justice of Ontario’s Court of Appeal, and former associate professor of law at University of Western Ontario: “A corollary [of the legal establishment of same-sex marriage] is that anyone who rejects the new orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and animus toward gays and lesbians” (Bradley Miller, Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from CanadaPublic Discourse, November 5, 2012).

Surely, this is unfair to traditional Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Mormons, and even non-religious folks who, for deeply held religious and/or moral reasons, believe same-sex sexual relations are wrong. Aren’t they also citizens in democratic society?

With legalized same-sex marriage, public institutions must embrace same-sex marriage as a good that’s equivalent to heterosexual marriage. As a result, many public school children are taught what their parents believe is immoral. Is this fair?

For example, in Hanover School District (where I live) local activists are attempting to use the force of law to promote LGBTQ ideology in public schools (in the academic curriculum of young children), in spite of what dissenting parents think. This is also occurring in other Canadian provinces, in the U.S., in Australia, and elsewhere.

Negative consequences also occur for various businesses who dissent – bakers, florists, photographers, farmers, and private schools.

For example, one U.S. baker is facing a fine of $137,000.00 U.S. for not baking a same-sex wedding cake!

Note: The baker otherwise serves all gays; he just doesn’t use his talents to make a cake for same-sex weddings, as he doesn’t make cakes for stag parties or other events that are contrary to his conscience. So this is not analogous to not serving blacks at a 1960s Woolworth’s lunch counter. It’s more like a black baker not baking a cake celebrating Ku Klux Klan, or a Muslim baker not baking a cake celebrating pornography, or a Jewish baker not baking a cake celebrating the pork industry. For further discussion of the cake and conscience situation, see my article Cakes and conscience. See too Claire Chretien, Black Leaders: Declining to bake a gay ‘wedding’ cake isn’t the same as racism.

Another example: A U.S. florist is facing the closing of her flower shop and the loss of her life’s savings and home because she doesn’t wish to make an arrangement for a gay wedding, even though she happily served the gay man for ten years previously.

Another example: A Michigan farmer can’t take his produce to market because he doesn’t affirm same-sex marriage.

Closer to home, there is Trinity Western University. TWU is a Christian school like Providence which asks its students to abide by a community covenant that holds to the traditional biblical understanding that sexual intimacy is to be reserved between one man and one woman in marriage. TWU’s proposed law school is being taken to the Supreme Court of Canada on this issue, today (November 30, 2017), at this very hour.

These businesses and schools are facing serious legal and financial difficulties because of same-sex marriage (and LGBTQ activism.)

Also in Canada, an Alberta couple is presently having difficulty adopting a child because they do not approve of same-sex marriage.

Is this fair in a democratic society? I submit that it is not.

Personal note: Because over the past few years I have used logic and evidence to carefully and respectfully critique LGBTQ matters, including same-sex marriage, some LGBTQ supporters have made public calls for me not only to be fired from my current place of employment but also to be stripped of my PhD. That’s in addition to lots of insults and name-calling. It seems that a growing understanding of “tolerance” regarding those who dissent is this: If you can’t beat them with reason and evidence, unjustly attack/ smear their character and crush their ability to make a living.

IV. Conclusion

Same-sex marriage is not like a Subway sandwich. Elevating the legal status of same-sex relationships to that of heterosexual marriage affects others in multiple ways. The analogy between same-sex marriage and Subway sandwiches is faulty. The analogy fails in a crucially relevant way. The sandwich choice is a personal matter, but the legal redefinition of marriage is a public policy matter. Same-sex marriage affects others – sometimes in seriously negative ways. I’ve set out four such ways:

  1. Changes public understanding of marriage
  2. Impacts children
  3. Puts us on a slippery slope
  4. Threatens democratic health

Therefore, voicing concerns about same-sex marriage is more like pointing out (1) that Subway has changed the meaning of “sandwich,” (2) that the new sandwich apparently has some negative health consequences for children, (3) that the sandwiches seem to be sliding off the counter, and (4) that I will probably be sued if I phone the health inspector.

P.S. Recommending reading/viewing:

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is an associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba. The views expressed in Apologia do not always reflect the views of Providence.

The Author

Hendrik van der Breggen

Hendrik van der Breggen

  • Associate Professor of Philosophy
  • Providence University College
  • Otterburne, Manitoba