Matthew Franck writing at Public Discourse made an excellent point about the bad logic that U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker used in his ruling against California’s Proposition 8.
Perhaps the most surprising thing in the judge’s opinion is his declaration that “gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage.” This line, quoted everywhere within hours with evident astonishment, appears to be the sheerest ipse dixit—a judicial “because I said so”—and the phrase “no longer” conveys that palpable sense that one is being mugged by a progressive. But Judge Walker’s remark here is actually the conclusion of a fairly complex argument. The problem is that the argument is not only complex but wholly fallacious…
…By the same token, says Judge Walker, the doctrine of coverture, in the common law, in which a wife’s legal identity was subsumed by that of her husband as the superior partner in the marriage—that too has been abandoned by a more modern understanding of the sexes as equal partners. Thus, concludes the judge, there has been a “movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles.” And this has not been an essential change in the “core” of the marriage institution, but merely a shedding of an extraneous characteristic, thanks to “an evolution in the understanding of gender.”
And now watch carefully, for here the fallacious reasoning enters the equation. When “the genders” are no longer “seen as having distinct roles,” it is revealed that at marriage’s “core” there is ample space for same-sex couples too. Since “gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage,” indeed since it never really did, “plaintiffs’ relationships are consistent with the core of the history, tradition and practice of marriage in the United States.” There, you see? There is something eminently conservative about the admission of same-sex couples to the marital bond. What could we have been thinking, denying them this right for all these centuries?
Judge Walker seems to have committed the fallacy of composition—taking something true of a part and concluding that it is also true of the whole of which it is a part. If it is true that “gender” no longer matters as it once did in the relation of husband and wife, he reasons, therefore it no longer matters whether the relation is one of husband and wife; it may as well be a relation of husband and husband or of wife and wife, since we now know that marriage is not, at its “core,” a “gendered institution.” But restated in this way, it is quite plain that the judge’s conclusion doesn’t follow from his premises. To say that the status of men and women in marriage is one of equal partners is not to say that men and women are the same, such that it does not matter what sex their partners are. The equalization of status is not the obliteration of difference, as much as Judge Walker would like to pretend it is.
Be sure to read the whole thing.
HT: Mere Orthodoxy