Monday, October 27, 2014

Compassion, Misdirected: The Dangers of Losing Sight of What is True

Ted Olson, a conservative, is known because he changed his views from supporting traditional marriage to favoring so called “same sex marriage.” In the article, "Ted Olson: 'Point of no return' on gay marriage passed,” he tells us that his position is one of compassion and motivated by the hardships it would cause. Unfortunately, his position is logically flawed and based on a desire to help those in a way that cannot be justified.

Compassion, Misdirected

Ted Olson said:

"I do not believe that the United States Supreme Court could rule that all of those laws prohibiting marriage are suddenly constitutional after all these individuals have gotten married and their rights have changed," he said in an interview on Capital Download. "To have that snatched away, it seems to me, would be inhuman; it would be cruel; and it would be inconsistent with what the Supreme Court has said about these issues in the cases that it has rendered."

The article also cites him as saying:

Waiting for the process in lower courts to open the door to gay marriage in all 50 states "would not be good enough because it's not now," Olson said on USA TODAY's weekly video newsmaker series. "When will that happen? And how much misery and how much suffering do individuals in this country have to experience before that happens?"

I find his argument rather dubious to say the least. It starts with begging the question, that it was right for these judges to suddenly decide that it was a violation of civil rights to limit marriage between one man and one woman . . . in all this time, there has never been an argument that doesn’t start from assuming that opposition is rooted in intolerance (which is the point to be proven). 

Moreover, to argue that,

  1. judicial decrees that same-sex relationships can be called marriage are invoked, and
  2. reversing the decisions by the Supreme Court would cause “suffering”, therefore,
  3. The Supreme Court needs to back these rulings to decree same-sex relationships can be called “marriage”
is also to argue in a circle that begins and ends with judicial decrees that assume, but do not prove, that same-sex relationships can be called marriage.

There is another problem here: when judicial activism which makes a bad decision, people will of course be affected when they rush to take advantage of the change and then find out that the judge was wrong. But that is not the issue to be considered. Invoking the “suffering” caused if the Supreme Court were to reverse the decision is to employ the Red Herring fallacy. Assessing the laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman needs to be based on the nature of marriage and whether a judge has the right to change it, not irrelevant appeals to who is affected—slave owners were affected by the abolition of slavery, but nobody would think that fact was relevant to the question of whether people should own slaves in the first place. 

Finally, that Red Herring also uses the appeal to pity fallacy in his argument. The fact that the overturning of judicial abuse might cause pain to people given false hope is not a valid reason to allow a judicial ruling to stand if it is an abuse of power. If the issue is whether or not a judge did wrong, the fact that some benefitted by the judge’s wrongdoing is not a good reason for letting the wrongdoing stand.

Justice Depends on Truth

The solution, however, is not to reach a false conclusion on account of having compassion for those who are suffering and wanting to prevent it. I’m sure Olson is sincere. But his sincerity needs to be based on the truth of the matter, and that truth is to be found in recognizing what is the nature of marriage, and not allowing people to redefine marriage in such a way which goes against the truth of what marriage is.

So those who want to argue that marriage should be redefined have to establish a definition explaining their position and answering the objections—and calling those who object “homophobes” is not an explanation of their position. It’s an ad hominem.

We have to keep the truth in mind when showing compassion—that’s not always easy, but it is important. There’s no doubt that people with same sex attraction feel the same need for love that people with heterosexual attraction have. But the problem is, not all desires for love and not all sexual impulses are proper expressions of love. Most people, for example, realize that sexual affection between an adult and a child is always wrong, and no matter what the feelings the people involved may have, we cannot sanction such relationships that are wrong. So, we have to find solutions which address what is true, and provide guidance for those living in falsehood. In this example, the truth will not permit a sexual relationship between an adult and a child, and this example serves to show why we cannot redefine marriage just because some people are affected by this line that cannot be crossed.

I believe that’s what Pope Francis is really looking for with the extraordinary synod just past and the upcoming ordinary synod of next year. How do we reach out with compassion to those in conflict with what is right? He’s been on record in pointing out that what the modern world calls marriage is not marriage (the media can’t spin this one so this gets ignored). He certainly wants to help people in relationships which are contrary to what God wants, but recognizing that the truth requires people to live as God wants, he cannot redefine marriage and tell them that a lie is true.


Olson’s arguments are not addressing the truth of the matter. They are focussing on how unhappy some will be if the laws redefining same sex marriage are overturned. But truth comes first. Man cannot live a lie. Trying to make a lie into the truth to protect people from being unhappy is compassion misdirected.


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