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The Iona Blog

Name-calling could make debate on same-sex marriage impossible

Author: John Lalor
Date: 17th July 2012

Let’s dispel a key myth about this current “debate” about same-sex marriage.  Should such a time comes for a referendum, there will be no debate, not a rational one at any rate.  

Briefly, a debate is when two parties present their arguments for and against a motion respectively, and the motion is voted upon by an objective audience.  This system gives us curious yet refreshing outcomes, such as when patently unpopular motions are carried. 

Why?  Because the motion is deliberated by the audience, whose votes are then delivered grounded in the substance of the heard argument.   

What is key is that certain rules of debate are rigorously followed – these generally being high a level of decorum and respect, whereby participants take turns, refrain from vicious insults, and so forth.  There’s plenty of room for sly verbal insults and witty badinage, but let’s keep it relatively clean.

However, a debate ceases to be a debate when certain behaviours subvert these rules.  Generally, conjecture is ignored, and the personalisation commences.  The content of an argument is twisted, so that its emotional effect, rather than its logical essence, becomes key.   

The author and broadcaster Dennis Prager cites the 7 labels as used by the Left to “debate” the Right: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, and bigoted. 

He calls these “SIXHIRB,” but it seems churlish on a pro-religion website not to call them “The 7 Deadly Labels.”  (You could add “mean” and “unfair” to that – whatever they mean.) 

Criticise Obama?  Racist.  Don’t like porous borders?  Xenophobe.  Think men tend to be better in engineering and the hard sciences?  Sexist.    And, lest we forget, think mums and a dads can, all things being equal, raise children better than two men or two women?  Homphobic.

The cleverer among you will have noticed a pattern.  The above debates don’t occur.  In emotionally-charged discussions, there is just no debate.  The attention and invective is directed away from the topic, and towards the protagonist.  You. 

Sorry, I wish – for the welfare of society – that I was exaggerating, and that debates actually did occur, for hours, where both sides follow university debating club procedure, replete with evidence, statistics and grounded opinion.  But this is simply not the case. 

Meanwhile, many viewing such a “debate” err on the “progressive” side, because whatever tears up the rule book going back millennia is always a shrewd move, right?

No, the sad truth is that the “debate” becomes personalised, so that the oppressor (i.e. the primordial swamp goo-dwelling trilobite with conservative opinions) is attacked in an ad hominem manner, rather than on the face of the debating points. 

Denying the “right” of a gay couple to marry and raise children will soon be tantamount to holding a puppy over a vat of sulphuric acid while stealing Granny’s pension. 

Irrespective of the evidence for the welfare of the child – be it within a straight household or a gay one – the swing vote is feelings.  The “unfairness” and “inequality” of gays being excluded from the marriage enjoyed by straight people evokes negative feelings.  So, there is the evidence-base for the vote.

Oh, I exaggerate?  Amuse me: next time you’re in mixed company – where you honestly know that the men and women there are from a spectrum of political persuasion – bring up gay marriage.  See how much space its opponents enjoy. 

Then, compare the outcome to the time you discussed more mundane issues of raising taxes, pub opening hours, school exams’ results or some other relatively manageable topic.  In which of these debates do you think all parties enjoyed fairly free opportunity to speak and be heard?  

Now, look forward to the national debate that isn’t.

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