Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Red herrings on Prop 8

I'm not sure what to think about the recent overturning of Prop 8, but this paragraph troubles me:


The plaintiffs in the California case presented 18 witnesses. Academic experts testified about topics ranging from the fitness of gay parents and religious views on homosexuality to the historical meaning of marriage and the political influence of the gay rights movement.

My queston: what does any of this have to do with the constitutionality of Prop 8? The issue the court was given to decide is not whether gay marriage is good or bad for society–that's a philosophical question, not a constitutional question. All of this testimony is irrelevant to the issue. In logic textbooks, such distractions are known as red herrings. Either the state of Caifornia had the authority to prohibit gay marriage under the state Constitution, or it didn't. That is the only question before the Court. To take one example of a red herring, the argument of a Prop 8 supporter—that kids do better when they are raised with a mother and a father in the house is irrelevant and should not have affected the judge's decision. (I have no doubt that is a true statement, but it is still irrelevant).

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