The PIB Argument

A long article in Slate by John Corvino takes on the tendency for opponents to marriage equality to insist that people who support gay marriage must also be in favor of polygamy, incest, and bestiality (or PIB as he calls it). One paragraph in particular jumped out at me.

But why would anyone think that supporting same-sex relationships logically entails supporting PIB? The answer, I think, is that some people misread the pro-gay position as resting on some version of the following premise: People have a right to whatever kind of sexual activity they find fulfilling. (emphasis in the original) If that were true, then it would indeed follow that people have a right to polygamy, incest, “man on child, man on dog or whatever the case may be.” But no serious person actually believes this premise, at least not in unqualified form. That is, no serious person thinks that the right to sexual expression is absolute. The premise, thus construed, is a straw man.(emphasis added)

It’s an amazingly open-minded essay well worth reading but unlikely to change many minds.

26 Responses

  1. “But no serious person actually believes this premise, at least not in unqualified form. That is, no serious person thinks that the right to sexual expression is absolute. The premise, thus construed, is a straw man.”

    Then what is the premise for it? You could argue that marriage should be defined by majority vote and easily draw the lines you want, but to articulate same sex marriage as a Constitutional right requires a basis of some sort.

    Like

    • Yello:

      A long article in Slate by John Corvino takes on the tendency for opponents to marriage equality to insist that people who support gay marriage must also be in favor of polygamy, incest, and bestiality (or PIB as he calls it).

      Actually, he doesn’t take that on at all. What he takes on is the notion that people who are not opposed to homosexual sex must also not be opposed to incest, bestiality, and polyamory. He doesn’t address the logical connection between arguments for same sex marriage and those for polygamy/incestuous marriage at all.

      As I pointed out many months ago when you made your own series of straw man arguments about SSM opposition, there is often an unjustified conflation between marriage and sex in discussions about SSM. But arguments for or against legal SSM cannot sensibly rest on acceptance of/objections to homosexual sex, because homosexual sex is already legal even in the absence of legalized SSM. The argument for legalized SSM must rest on claims about rights, either natural or constitutional, other than rights regarding sexual liberty. And it is in that argument (jnc is correct to ask you what premise leads to the the argument for SSM) where the logical connection between SSM and polygamy/incestuous marriage actually lies. And not surprisingly Corvino didn’t address that at all. Which makes it all the more ironic that Corvino accuses his opponents of trying to change the subject.

      Like

  2. I assume, by assumption, as I am not going to read the article, that Corvino was responding to the Santorum man-dog stuff. If my assumption is correct, then the argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is now joined and I may safely ignore it as just more irrelevant noise.

    While the argument for the constitutionality of SSM must rely on constitutional rights, the argument for the mere legality of SSM depends only upon the will of state leges, at this point, as JNC intimates. What they do is theoretically dependent on what their constituents want, restrained by what is constitutionally impermissible at either the state or federal level.

    I doubt that the federal constitution mandates the legality of gay marriage through the 14th Amendment but I am sure it is not forbidden by it, either.

    YJ, I apologize for my keen disinterest in whether someone thinks sex with dogs or with multiple partners is logically related to the SSM discussion, although I understand that no defender of SSM would have raised the idea if it had not been first made an attack point by opponents of SSM, at least by implication. Scott, I also think that defending Santorum on the ground that he was suggesting man-dog marriage, not man-dog sex, would be merely facile. Santorum did not intend us to visualize Timmy and Lassie just walking down the aisle together, did he?

    Like

    • Mark:

      I doubt that the federal constitution mandates the legality of gay marriage through the 14th Amendment but I am sure it is not forbidden by it, either.

      What accounts for the difference in your certainty regarding the 2 positions?

      …although I understand that no defender of SSM would have raised the idea if it had not been first made an attack point by opponents of SSM, at least by implication.

      Do you really find it impossible that a defender of SSM might raise the idea in lieu of addressing more difficult to address points raised by opponents of SSM?

      Scott, I also think that defending Santorum on the ground that he was suggesting man-dog marriage, not man-dog sex, would be merely facile.

      I wasn’t defending Santorum at all. I was pointing out that Corvino was conflating marriage with sex, and in so doing he was not addressing what yello suggested he was, ie the logical link between SSM advocacy and advocacy for polygamy or incestuous marriage. The fact that one might find a relevant moral distinction between homosexual sex and sex with multiple partners, or incestuous sex (which is the argument made by Corvino) does not imply that there is a logical distinction between arguments for legalized SSM and legalized polygamy or incestuous marriages.

      With regard to Santorum’s infamous remark, I would say that just like yello and Corvino, he was also unjustifiably conflating marriage with sex.

      Like

  3. “If my assumption is correct”

    It is. The Santorum interview is quoted directly. It’s an exercise in arbitrary line drawing, dressed up with some sociological and pseudo psychological blather. In this case the author simply chooses to put gay marriage arbitrarily on the list of things he would allow and keep polygamy, incest, etc on the things of things he wouldn’t allow, but there’s no logical premise that drives that conclusion, just caprice.

    Like

    • In this case the author simply chooses to put gay marriage arbitrarily on the list of things he would allow and keep polygamy, incest, etc on the things of things he wouldn’t allow, but there’s no logical premise that drives that conclusion, just caprice.

      That’s exactly his point. It’s just as capricious, if not more so, to lump them all together.

      Like

      • yello:

        That’s exactly his point.

        Interesting, although somehow I doubt that his point really was that advocacy of SSM is a function of caprice, not logic.

        Like

    • jnc:

      …but there’s no logical premise that drives that conclusion, just caprice.

      Which is pretty much exactly what opponents of SSM have argued.

      Like

  4. With regard to Santorum’s infamous remark, I would say that just like yello and Corvino, he was also unjustifiably conflating marriage with sex.

    We are obviously in complete agreement, then.

    As for your question as to what is mandated and what is prohibited and what is neither, and why I think SSM is neither, I do not understand what you want me to address.

    I will ck in later.

    Like

    • Mark:

      As for your question as to what is mandated and what is prohibited and what is neither, and why I think SSM is neither, I do not understand what you want me to address.

      I don’t understand how you can be “certain” that the 14th amendment does not forbid SSM, but not quite as certain (you said that you only “doubt”) that it does not mandate it.

      I don’t see how there is room for doubt either way. The 14th amendment is silent on the definition of marriage, and therefore it seems obvious to me that it neither mandates nor forbids SSM.

      Like

      • The alternate reasoning for 14th A protection of SSM [mandating its legality] is based on literal reading of the second clause: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

        Simplistically, two unmarried adult homosexuals who are not close blood relatives who desire to marry could argue that if they are not allowed to marry the other freely consenting adult they are being denied equal protection of the law by the state in which they reside, compared with a similarly situated heterosexual pair.

        This argument has prevailed in some state courts. So I hedge my own disagreement with that argument by recognizing that the alternate argument exists. On the other hand it is clear to me that a state is within its power to permit SSM, and that no alternate argument is available.

        Like

  5. “yellojkt, on March 12, 2013 at 8:07 am said:

    In this case the author simply chooses to put gay marriage arbitrarily on the list of things he would allow and keep polygamy, incest, etc on the things of things he wouldn’t allow, but there’s no logical premise that drives that conclusion, just caprice.

    That’s exactly his point. It’s just as capricious, if not more so, to lump them all together.”

    Hardly. You can make the libertarian argument about consenting adults, privacy and lack of harm to others and easily be consistent but the author dismisses that and descends into the aforementioned blather.

    “If you’re in a particularly charitable mood and willing to overlook some parts of the interview, you can read Santorum’s remarks as making a claim about the logic of privacy rights: If people have the right to do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes, then they have the right to bigamy, polygamy, incest, adultery, bestiality and so on. Or, at least, they have the prima facie or presumptive right, which could be overridden only by some stronger countervailing right, such as other people’s right not to be harmed. (That countervailing right would quickly rule out “man on child” sex, not to mention many instances of other things on the list.)

    Thus, from a social-policy point of view, there are reasons to be wary of polygamy. Perhaps those reasons could be overcome by further argument, but the central point remains: Arguments about the morally appropriate number of sexual partners are logically distinct from arguments about the morally appropriate gender of sexual partners.

    But the reason for the incest taboo is not merely that offspring might have birth defects (a problem which can be anticipated via genetic testing and which doesn’t apply past childbearing age). It is also that sex has a powerful effect on the dynamics of family life.

    Regardless, if the author is trying to prove that the definition of marriage and the related subject of sexual morality is totally arbitrary, then the consistent approach is to just put the issues to a majority vote and be done with it. In a democracy, Rick Santorum’s opinion on the subject counts just as much as John Corvino’s.

    Like

  6. “Arguments about the morally appropriate number of sexual partners are logically distinct from arguments about the morally appropriate gender of sexual partners.”

    How? I just don’t get that.

    Like

    • nova:

      How? I just don’t get that.

      Agreed. In fact in law there is no distinction…it is just as legal to have sex with a person of the same gender as it is to have sex with any number of people.

      But the real issue is that “sexual partners” is a different category than “marriage partners”. So whether or not there is a moral distinction between the number of sexual partners one has and the gender of sexual partners one has has nothing at all to do with whether there is a distinction between the argument for legal SSM and the argument for legal polygamy.

      Like

  7. “It’s an amazingly open-minded essay.”

    There’s no wrong answer here, but what would you consider a close-minded essay, for reference sake?

    Like

  8. To entirely delink sex and marriage from the political debate is a bit disingenuous. Opponents of SSM frequently cite procreation as an argument. As they are clearly not referring to in vitro or surrogacy, the only conclusion one can draw is that sex is in the mix.

    The PIB acronym seems to have missed one of the P’s (pedophilia). Call it PoPeIB. One can knock out two of the three with one crucial point–consent. Leaving aside that man’s best friend doesn’t seek consent from your leg, we can agree (or not) that a child or beast cannot give consent.

    Incest is a deep cultural taboo. I don’t have a problem drawing arbitrary lines, which is why slippery slope arguments don’t impress me. One can lower the drinking age from 21 to 19 (my favored #) without needing to defend letting children in bars.

    There is a modern twist to the problem of incest. With some donors being used frequently for in vitro, it is becoming probable that half-siblings will accidentally couple. Not sure how to preclude this other than genetic testing preceding a marriage license. If I were the product of AI (no, not that AI), I might want a donor notation on my birth certificate in the unlikely change I hooked up with a fellow donee.

    At last we come to polygamy. This one is qualitatively different in that it can be restricted to consenting adults. Robert Heinlein, before he went off the deep end, wrote some entertaining books in which line marriages were explored. I”m particularly thinking of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Also had my favorite computer character ever. As I’m a regular reader of Dan Savage, there are plenty of variations in social arrangements that some adults want.

    The leap from

    Marriage is a union between one man and one woman

    to

    Marriage is a union between two adults

    to

    Marriage is a union between two or more adults

    seems in the same range. SSM does solve some serious problems that same sex couples face. I’d need further convincing before considering the next step. Perhaps we let Utah test out the concept. That is, if the Mormon fundies would stop marrying off teenagers girls to their non-drinking buddies.

    ∂ß

    Like

    • FB:

      To entirely delink sex and marriage from the political debate is a bit disingenuous.

      I don’t think so. Homosexuals can have as much sex together as they want even if SSM is not legal. So, too, for those who prefer a bigger challenge than just a game of one-on-one. (I for one find it a big enough burden disappointing one person, let alone several.) The desire for, and arguments in favor of, legal SSM cannot sensibly have anything to do with sex because SSM does not create any legal privileges related to sex that do not already exist in the absence of legal SSM. So clearly those who advocate for SSM are doing so for reasons unrelated to sex.

      Opponents of SSM frequently cite procreation as an argument.

      Well, I think that the sometimes product of heterosexual sex, ie children, is most definitely related to the political debate about marriage, and presumably that is what these opponents are referring to when they speak of “procreation”. But, again, marriage does not grant any privileges with regard to sex qua sex that do not already exist independently of marriage. By not being able to marry each other, homosexuals are not being denied anything at all in the sphere of human sexuality that is granted to heterosexuals.

      Incest is a deep cultural taboo. I don’t have a problem drawing arbitrary lines, which is why slippery slope arguments don’t impress me.

      Then presumably you shouldn’t have a problem with an arbitrary line which excludes same sex relationships from the concept of marriage.

      Like

  9. “I don’t have a problem drawing arbitrary lines, which is why slippery slope arguments don’t impress me.”

    Yes, but as always the argument also involves who gets to draw the arbitrary lines.

    Like

  10. what would you consider a close-minded essay, for reference sake?

    There’s the one from Ross Douthat which states:

    I … see the conflict over same-sex unions as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, with no possibility of middle ground.

    Actually, on the conservative side, Douthat has had some of the more thoughtful pieces where he actually considers the societal implications like when he says:

    Still, there’s a third vision that’s worth pondering — neither conservative nor liberationist, but a little bit of both. This vision embraces the institution of marriage, rather than seeking to overthrow it. But it also hints that the example of same-sex unions might partially transform marriage from within, creating greater institutional flexibility — particularly sexual flexibility — for straight and gay spouses alike.

    He ultimately rejects this as being insufficiently demanding on the participants but at least he considers it briefly before returning to his unwavering One Man-One Woman Bonded Forever construct.

    For an absolutely close-minded rejection of SSM there is this.

    Like

  11. “There’s the one from Ross Douthat which states:

    I … see the conflict over same-sex unions as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, with no possibility of middle ground.”

    Rather pathetic for you Yellow to attempt to attribute that mindset to Ross himself. My respect for you just plummeted.

    Here’s Ross’s full quote:

    “But to say that the president’s approach is understandable does not mean that it’s necessarily defensible. Supporters of same-sex marriage have worked very hard to frame their issue, not as an ordinary political conflict, but as an all-or-nothing question that pits enlightenment and progress against reaction, bigotry and hate. I don’t accept that framing, but I accept that its architects genuinely believe in it, and see the conflict over same-sex unions as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, with no possibility of middle ground.

    If same-sex marriage isn’t an issue where people can disagree in good faith, though, then the president’s evasions and obfuscations can’t be treated as ordinary political maneuverings, and excused as just so much politics-as-usual. If the debate is as black and white as many supporters of same-sex marriage argue, then they should be much harder on political leaders who pretend that it’s a gray area. “

    Like

    • I did not mean to misquote Douthat although it appears I have Dowdified him unfairly. However, I do not think I have mis-stated his position, only he reverses the good and the evil. Here is perhaps the clearest statement of his position I can find:

      But if we just accept this shift [to allowing gay marriages], we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

      This puts him in unequivocally in the separate and unequal camp.

      Like

    • jnc:

      Here’s Ross’s full quote:

      Thanks for that, jnc. Being familiar with Douthat, I figured what yello quoted was somehow dowdified, but I hadn’t had the chance to read the link to confirm it.

      Like

  12. Is Douhat a bigot and/or homophobic? Can one be against gay marraige and not be morally wrong?

    Like

  13. Is Douhat a bigot and/or homophobic? Can one be against gay marraige and not be morally wrong?

    Neither. He’s a prude. He has a very troubling relationship with human sexuality that manifests itself in odd positions. He very famously bragged about turning down sex because his potential partner was overweight and on birth control.

    He is an adult convert to Catholicism and has swallowed their sanctity of life dogma completely. Any sex act not open to conception is sinful, which naturally involves all homosexual acts. He tries to couch his objections in lofty language but it all comes back to a repressed religious basis. In many respects he is a male Katheryn Jean-Lopez.

    Like

  14. Speaking of K-Lo, this is from her Wikipedia entry:

    Personal life
    This section is empty. You can help by adding to it.

    I find that funny in a way I shouldn’t.

    Like

  15. Can someone be against gay marriage and not be morally wrong?

    Like

Be kind, show respect, and all will be right with the world.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: