Arguments Against People Are Not Always Tu Quoque
This will be a short post, but I wanted to quickly respond to Jason’s excellent but just slightly off post on the inherent dangers of arguing tu quoque. Everything he says about the fallacies of tu quoque are spot on, of course, and Jason being Jason these fallacies are presented in a succinct, eloquent and irrefutable style.
The specific example he dismisses, however, is not necessarily tu quoque. And because I hear this similar examples dismissed all the time as such, I thought it worth offering my own differing perspective.
The example Jason touches on revolves around the rapidly closing same sex marriage debate, and contains that most cliched of elements: A person who opposes equal rights and/or legal and social privileges for the GLBT community for moral reasons is found to be less than morally pure themselves. The particular case in point revolved around a six-term Senator and who has also been a strong, long-time opponent of gay equality. (Strong enough, in fact, that he Senator’s record received a perfect 100% rating from the fiercely anti-gay Christian Coalition.) Earlier this year it came out that the Senator had fathered a child out of wedlock during the course of his marriage.
As I see it, there are three separate argument one can make using the Senator as a foil:
The first, which is indeed tu quoque, is one that hinges upon the Senator’s degree of (for lack of a better word) icky-ness: This Senator is a slime ball, and he’s against gay marriage – do you really want to be a dirty slime ball too, or do you want to vote for same sex marriage? This argument should be dismissed of all of the reasons Jason stated so well earlier today.
The second argument, which is in fact a variation of the simple tu quoque argument, is the argument against hypocrisy: This Senator is a hypocrite who throws stones in glass houses; do you really want to support a dirty hypocrite, or do you want to vote for same sex marriage? This argument has all the flaws Jason pointed out; in addition, it hangs it’s hat on the weakest of pegs. As I’ve noted many times before, the act of holding a value in your head under certain circumstances and dismissing it in others is a universally human one. Pick any follower of any political or religious order and you’ll find some lack of consistency in their thoughts as they live their day-to-day lives. It’s good to recognize and guard against hypocrisy; it’s folly to attempt to separate people who have two separate hypocritical beliefs from those that don’t.
However, there is a third argument that I believe Jason and many others miss which does not in fact rely on faulty tu quoque reasoning:
The Senator in question – and many, many others on the anti side of the SSM debate – argue that because it is considered a Biblical sin, those that “practice homosexual lifestyles” should not be granted the same equal status under the law. (Because telling the Episcopal Church, for example, that they cannot legally marry certain members of their congregation does not by definition allow those people equal status under the law.) Without adherence to a good and moral defense of the sanctity of marriage, we are told, the country will slowly slip into a chaos of our own making; giving these sinners a separate and lesser set of legal privileges is simply necessary.
To my knowledge, no one arguing against same sex marriage – even those doing so for religious and moral reasons – are demanding that the Senator lose his equal status under the law for his own flouting of Biblical commandments. This is a powerful point to make in undermining one of the chief arguments historically used in forcing second-class status on gays and lesbians. It is not an argument meant to convince you that if that guy is voting against something, you should vote for it – it’s pointing out that the entire framework of one of the longest standing arguments against gay marriage is fundamentally flawed.