Conservative Argument


P1. Same-sex marriage channels same-sex couples into legally-binding long-term relationships 

P2. Channelling same-sex couples into legally-binding long-term relationships is good for society

C. Therefore same-sex marriage is good for society


This argument is also used for:

The argument as commonly phrased above commits the fallacy of composition which infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. In order to conclude that same-sex marriage is good for society there would be many other factors to consider and counter arguments to evaluate. So the argument can be reformed as follows:

P1. Marriage is a legally binding long-term relationship

P2. Same-sex marriage channels same-sex couples into marriages 

C. Therefore same-sex marriage channels same-sex couples into legally binding long-term relationships

Legally-binding long-term relationships are generally good for society but Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, & Ryan T. Anderson question what the net result would be for marriage:

[The conservative argument] assumes that the state can effectively encourage adherence to norms in relationships where those norms have no deep rational basis—no reason for partners to stay together and exclusive, even if desire wanders or wanes or attachment erodes. Laws that restrict people’s freedom for no deep purpose are not likely to last, much less to influence behavior. 

But redefining civil marriage would not just be idle in this respect; it would be counterproductive. Over time, people tend to abide less by any given norms, the less those norms make sense. To say it again, if marriage is understood as an essentially emotional union, then marital norms, especially permanence and exclusivity, will make less sense. But whatever the morality of flouting these norms in other relationships, they do, in opposite-sex relationships, serve the interests that hook the state into recognizing and supporting marriages in the first place. So those who champion the conservative objection are right to think that redefining civil marriage would produce a convergence—but it would be a convergence in exactly the wrong direction. Rather than imposing traditional norms on same-sex relationships, abolishing the conjugal view would tend to erode the basis for those norms in any relationship. 

Some revisionists, like Jonathan Rauch, sincerely hope to preserve traditional marital norms. But the prediction that they would be weakened is backed up not only by reflection on what these norms are grounded in, along with surveys of revisionist arguments, rhetoric, and the progression of their policy proposals, but also by preliminary social science.

So there is no reason to believe, and abundant reason to doubt, that redefining civil marriage would make people more likely to abide by its norms. Instead, it would further undermine people’s grasp of the principled basis for those norms. Nothing more than a weak wall of sentiment would remain to hold back the tide of harmful social change.

Girgis, S., George, R. and Anderson, R., 2012. What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense. 1st ed. New York: Encounter Books.