Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Obama and Same-Sex Marriage: A Problem for His Supporters


If you support Obama and same-sex marriage (hereafter SSM), then consider the following argument very carefully, since it has important consequences for your thinking.

Obama stated numerous times that he was opposed to SSM. Here is a valid argument of the form known as “constructive dilemma” (let “telling the truth” be understood to mean ‘telling the truth when he said that he opposed same-sex marriage’):

1. Either Obama was telling the truth, or he was not telling the truth.
2. If Obama was telling the truth, then he was a homophobic bigot.
3. If Obama was not telling the truth, then he was a liar.
4. Therefore, either Obama was a homophobic bigot or he was a liar.

Did you vote for a homophobic bigot or a liar? Perhaps you wish to avoid this conclusion. Since my argument is valid, you must deny one of the premises. The first one can’t be questioned, since it is merely an instance of the Law of the Excluded Middle. The third might be questioned by saying that telling a lie here and there doesn’t make one a liar, but I would submit that saying what you know to be a falsehood on a matter of great and significant import makes one an excellent candidate for being a liar.

The most vulnerable premise is the second one. Instead of 2, you could affirm:

2’. If Obama was telling the truth, then it is not necessarily the case that he was a homophobic bigot.

But then this would be true:

5. If 2’ is true, then it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot.

By a valid inference called “hypothetical syllogism,” it follows from 2’ and 5 that:

6. If Obama was telling the truth, then it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot.

Now I construct the initial argument with 6:

1. Either Obama was telling the truth, or he was not telling the truth.
6. If Obama was telling the truth, then it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot.
3. If Obama was not telling the truth, then he was a liar.
4. Therefore, either it is not necessarily the case that opposing SSM makes one a homophobic bigot, or Obama was a liar.

There is nothing in the argument that rules out the possibility that both disjuncts in the conclusion are true. That possibility is open. But the problem that you face is that you must accept at least one of the two. Here I have offered the four options that realistically offer themselves for your consideration:

Option One: “I will concede that Obama lied repeatedly when he said that he was against same-sex marriage.”

Or:

Option Two: “Opposing same-sex marriage does not necessarily make you a homophobic bigot.”

Or you could affirm both and say:

Option Three: “Opposing same-sex marriage does not necessarily make you a homophobic bigot, and Obama lied when he said that he was against it."

Option Four: Or you could go back to the original argument and say: “I will concede that Obama was a homophobic bigot.”

Whether you support SSM or oppose it is irrelevant. My motivations for writing this post are irrelevant. Which option do you take?

Here I restate the four options in the strict language of the arguments, in case you find it helpful. If not, disregard:

Option One: Opposing SSM does make one a homophobic bigot, and Obama was a liar.

Option Two: Opposing SSM does not make one a homophobic bigot, and Obama was not a liar.

Option Three: Opposing SSM does not make one a homophobic bigot, and Obama was a liar.

Option Four: Opposing SSM does make one a homophobic bigot, Obama was not a liar, so Obama was a homophobic bigot.


So, at least one of the following MUST be true:

A. Obama was a liar.
B. Obama was a homophobic bigot.
C. Opposing same-sex marriage does not necessarily make you a homophobic bigot.


Which will you choose?  I choose Option Three and thereby affirm A and C. 

2 comments:

  1. Nice argument,

    My only concern, and it's a small one, is that liberals would accept C and salvage Obama's character. They could claim Obama, now as an ally of SSM, went from being a neutral (as being opposed to same sex marriage does not make you necessarily a homophobic bigot i.e. a negative) to a positive. They could spin it in some redeeming light. In other words, his character was never besmirched by being opposed and now it's even more gallant than before now that he is aligned. Am I making sense? Plus I have no idea how what I just described would look in the analytical and logical form.

    Of course C is the least toxic of your trilemma. However, conceding it would imply that there is rational ground to stand against the march for gay marriage, which would be a huge blow to the image of the movement. It has masqueraded as civil rights movement akin to the one from the 60s and as such, has the moral high ground. In reality, it doesn't.

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  2. Thank you for your reply! This probably the only way it could be done, although it would require some further explication.

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