How Not to Argue: Offend Those You're Not Even Arguing Against

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A recent update from the Family Research Council takes an interesting tactic from the point of view of bad rhetorical moves. What do you do if you want to convince people that you're on the side of families? Probably not word things in such a way that you sound as if parents of adopted children aren't parents. Not a good idea. Yet this is exactly what the FRC has done (and I must say it's not the first time I've seen this from mainstream opposition to gay marriage).

It is outrageous that courts in some states have become complicit in this denial of biological reality by allowing homosexual couples to have custody of newborns and birth certificates that mislead about the true parentage of the child. 

So what counts as true parentage? I accept that birth certificates of adopted kids ideally ought to list the biological parents, for a lot of reasons. But I would never in my right mind suggest that this is the same thing as saying birth certificates ought to list the true parents, as if adoptive parents aren't the true parents of the child. So here's a hint to the FRC. If you're going to argue against adoption by gay people, it's not going to endear people toward thinking of you as a legitimate family advocate if you also in effect include adoption by straight married couples as part of your target by speaking of them as if they're not real parents.


For the truth about gay marriage & gay adoption check out our trailer. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & creates an interesting spin on the issue. You should find it very informative.

I'm not sure that really defuses anything. It presents some of the best arguments for gay marriage, while arguing against some of the arguments against it. While I agree with much of what it says, I can't say that it does justice to some of the better reasons people are wary of calling gay unions marriage or of enforcing gay marriage by means of judicial fiat. The fact that its conclusion is so clearly on one side without much sense of ambiguity makes it hard for me to see it as defusing anything. The way to defuse a heated debate is to recognize what's right on both sides or to point out ways that the two sides are speaking past each other, and I don't see any of that here.

Are you implying that FRC is mainstream?

They command a lot of influence and are fairly representative of those who oppose gay marriage. Isn't that sufficient for being mainstream?

I don't think so. You can have a group that is out of the mainstream and that is really passionate about some issue that end up wielding influence because of a political party's decision to pander to them can help them win elections (particularly when there is a small opposition and most people could care less about the issue). That such a group is pandered to by politicians will ensure that they are very influential without that group being mainstream.

So, for example, imagine there was a group that was really passionate about animal welfare. Imagine that there wasn't anyone really passionately opposed to their agenda (or, not so passionately opposed to them for them to switch votes). In an attempt to win a close election, I might promise them everything they ask for in which case they'd have much more influence than mainstream groups without thereby becoming mainstream.

I wonder if we're talking past each other. I don't consider PETA mainstream when the context is mainstream opinion of Americans in general. I do, however, consider them mainstream among animal rights advocacy groups. Those who actually form groups to pursue such issues tend to be as far outside the mainstream as PETA is. I'm not sure FRC is mainstream in the first sense (which may be all you're saying), but they seem to me to be pretty clearly mainstream among advocacy groups opposing gay marriage, in the same way that PETA is mainstream among political advocacy groups seeking to prevent harm to animals.

If you're ok with that, then we're not disagreeing, because that's all I meant by "mainstream opposition to gay marriage". If you think even that's not true, then I think I just disagree. I do think they're pretty mainstream among the groups that oppose gay marriage. Their views and ways of expressing them are, unfortunately, pretty typical of those who oppose gay marriage. I think there are much better ways of expressing the view, and I think the view ideally ought to be moderated a considerable amount if it's to be remotely plausible, but my view of what view is correct doesn't affect whether I consider this group to be in the mainstream of those who oppose gay marriage.

If that's what you meant, then I think we were talking past each other,

A great point which I hope that they take.

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