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A Critique of William J. Bennett’s “Against Gay Marriage”

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William J. Bennett, a great spokesman for American conservatives, has powerfully argued as the title indicates in his article “Against Gay Marriage.” One does not have to agree with Bennett to appreciate the strength and goodness of his mind. Still, although he raises serious objections to same-sex marriage, his argument overall reads more like an outline, lacking specifics and expert opinions, referring to only one organized, careful study, and committing a number of logical fallacies which muddy and weaken his argument.

For example, in his opening, Bennett makes a very strong assertion–if not an outright exaggeration– when he says that recognizing same-sex marriage “would be the most radical step ever taken in the deconstruction of society’s most important institution” (288). The reader may wonder if any studies or expert opinions exist to support Bennett’s view. Of course, Bennett is respected for his personal opinions, but wasn’t the question about improving?In the next paragraph, Bennett, wanting to squelch the movement toward redefinition of marriage, cites the rather outlandish example of two brothers: “On what principled grounds could the advocates of same-sex marriage oppose the marriage of two consenting brothers?” By citing two homosexual brothers, Bennett commits the “straw man” fallacy. That is, he reasons from an exceptional case that defies logic and, once recognized, does little for his argument. Who else has ever seen such an extreme example? By the way, is this a real pair of brothers, or are they merely made up and cited for the sake of argument? I suspect the latter as the two brothers remain nameless–and place-less, as well.

It appears that one logical fallacy breeds another, as in the very next paragraph, Bennett commits what strikes me as a glaring over-generalization. Referring to the traditional view of marriage, he asserts, “Nor is this view arbitrary or idiosyncratic. It mirrors the accumulated wisdom of millennia and the teaching of every major religion.” Having built such a castle in the air, he could have given his claim a strong foundation by quoting from several famous philosophers -Plato, Aristotle, and others, as well as living world religions-at least Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam.

But not one such citation exists. Why not?Still another logical weakness in Bennett’s argument is the “either-or” fallacy in his asserting, “The marriage commitment between a man and a woman does not-it cannot-countenance extramarital outlets” (288). As anyone knows who has read Stephanie Coontz’s article, “The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love,” our modern Western definition is not the only one; numerous societies around the world, such as in South America, Africa, and among the Eskimos of Alaska, actually do make room for extramarital outlets within the marriage commitment, so it’s not either-or for them, but both.

William J. Bennett is a well-known writer and thinker who is widely appreciated for his insights and wisdom. That’s what makes the article in question so disappointing. Of course, part of the explanation might be the fact that Bennett originally wrote the article as a newspaper op-ed column. Newspaper editorials are not conducive to documentation of facts and evidence. Still, by more carefully following his own high standards of reasoning and avoiding such exaggeration, “straw man” reasoning, sweeping generalization, and “either/or” fallacies as I’ve cited, Bennett clearly could have made his case much stronger.

Works Cited

William, Bennett “Against Gay Marriage.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, Tenth Edition. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen.NY.: Pearson Longman, 2008. 287-289Coontz, Stephanie”The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, Tenth Edition. Laurence Behrens andLeonard J. Rosen.NY.: Pearson Longman, 2008.250-261

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