THE BLOG

The Race Analogy

04/08/2013 04:19 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

A reader recently shared with me this Q&A with William Lane Craig, the famous Christian apologist. Asked about the analogy between prohibiting same-sex marriage and prohibiting interracial marriage, Craig responds with some clever sophistry that (not surprisingly) misses the point:

The lesson to be learned from the legality of interracial marriage is that just as the law must be blind with respect to the race of persons desiring to marry, so it must also be blind to the sexual orientation of persons desiring to marry. Just as persons desiring to marry cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their race, neither can they be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Please be clear: Craig is not endorsing same-sex marriage. Rather, he is suggesting that male-female marriage (the only kind he acknowledges) should be legally indifferent to whether the parties are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. The main thing is that it involves a man and a woman; their sexual orientation is legally irrelevant. Craig explains further:

That's why the term "gay marriage"... is misconceived. Laws permitting gay marriage would be clearly unconstitutional, since they would not be blind to the sexual orientation of the persons involved. Such laws would sanction marriage for same-sex couples only if they were homosexuals, thereby taking cognizance of their sexual orientation and discriminating against heterosexuals who wanted to enter into marriage with someone of the same sex.

Put aside the strange idea that "gay marriage" (as Craig understands it) would require any more legal intrusiveness about sexual orientation than current practice does. (No court clerk asked Jim McGreevey whether he was straight when he married his wife, and no clerk would ask him whether he's gay when he seeks to marry his boyfriend.)

Also put aside whether it's a good idea to encourage male-female marriage for people who are gay. (It isn't. See McGreevey, supra.)

The main thing to notice here is Craig's self-serving use of analogies. He claims that the lesson to be learned here is that "just as the law must be blind with respect to the race of persons desiring to marry, so it must also be blind to the sexual orientation of persons desiring to marry." Well, that's one lesson, but it's scarcely the only one, let alone the most relevant.

Analogies are not like house-keys, with a single correct one for unlocking each door. (Indeed, there are probably better analogies than house-keys to illustrate this point, and if I had more time or more coffee I might come up with one.) They have multiple purposes and varying strength.

What's more, the interracial marriage analogy is actually a collection of analogies, some of them stronger than others. One can, for example, analogize race to sexual orientation, as Craig does here. But one can also analogize it to sex or gender. Telling people that they can't marry someone they love because of that person's race is not unlike telling people they can't marry someone they love because of that person's sex or gender. The claims are similar in terms of both the rhetoric used (often invoking God and nature, as well as what's best for children) and the bans' devastating effects.

Most of all, they're similar in that neither has a good rationale.

I discuss the race analogy here, one of a series of 11 new videos on the gay-rights debate: