When Arguments Coincide

I’m not sure what it means, but in the last week both sides in the marriage equality debate used the same Catholic argument to bolster their positions.

The Washington Post,  on January 24, 2012, in an article entitled “Catholic conference chides same-sex marriage supporters,” the following excerpt appeared:

“The Maryland Catholic Conference on Tuesday called a new same-sex marriage bill introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) a distraction from more important issues and dismissed language in the legislation that seeks to clarify religious exemptions as “ambiguous.”

“ ‘At a time when Marylanders are struggling to find jobs, keep their homes and feed their families, our elected officials should focus their attention on the pressing needs of the state, not on dismantling Maryland’s long-standing law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman,’ Mary Ellen Russell, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.”

MinnPost.com (from Minneapolis), on January 27, 2012, in an article entitled “When inequality and injustice abound, why does Archbishop Nienstedt focus so much on the threat of gay marriage?”, we read:

“In the past two years, the Catholic Church has spent considerable resources opposing contraception and gay marriage, but has expended little to extend unemployment insurance or raise the minimum wage or stop foreclosures or raise the income tax on the wealthy or curb the excesses of Wall Street.

“At a time when the richest 400 American families have more wealth than 120 million Americans combined, when the average salary of a CEO of the nation’s largest companies is 343 times greater than that of the average worker in that corporation, when millions of Americans are losing their homes because of often fraudulent foreclosures, when domestic violence is soaring, does the Catholic Church really think Jesus would be spending his time trying to stop two people from making a lifelong commitment to each other?”

As a student of argument and rhetoric, I find this coincidence fascinating and very curious.  The fact that these arguments were made in separate states only makes it even more puzzling, as it is obvious that one didn’t simply copy the other one.

What does this coincidence mean?  I wish I could give a good answer, but I find it simply baffling.  What is clear is that both sides are trying to claim the moral high ground by being seen as defenders of the poor and casting their opponents as callous and obsessed.

When the same argument shows up in opposing camps, perhaps it means that both sides should put it to rest.  The repetition of the argument highlights how both are using the poor as a rhetorical strategy to further their ends.  Maybe the best that each can do is instead of using the poor as rhetorical fodder, they themselves should go out and work for the poor in earnest either by direct service or advocacy.

That’s one theory.  Does anyone have any others?  This coincidence is an intriguing mystery–one that I have never seen mentioned in any textbook or analysis of rhetoric and argument.  I’m sure there are many other lessons to be learned from it, and I’m eager to hear what readers think.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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4 Responses to When Arguments Coincide

  1. Paula Ruddy says:

    In my view the argument is applicable to the opponents of justice and not to the proponents of justice. Both the poor and LGBT persons are right to seek justice and there are enough resources in the society to provide justice for both groups. They are not competing. The opponents of justice for LGBT persons, however, could use their resources much more profitably. As MinnPost points out, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is putting huge effort behind blocking an expansion of equal protection. Not the same as claiming a right to equal protection. See what I mean?

  2. It seems to me that the opposing players actually agree: Both agree that many important issues are not receiving adequate attention from the government and/or from church leadership. And, by their efforts to pursuade, both evidently agree that same sex marriage is an important issue. Unfortunately, they also agree that it is acceptable to use the poor as political pawns.

    Both sides should not put it to rest – on the contrary, this is a real issue affecting real people and deserves honest debate. I am glad to see that such debate is occurring among the Maryland delegates.

  3. Jim Smith says:

    Not agreeing with you here, Frank. We are hearing from many Minnesota Catholics in the pews–both those uncomfortable with marriage equality and those in support—of their deep discomfort with the attention, money and energy Minnesota’s amendment is being given by the hierarchy. Those struggling to find work, pay their bills, simply survive, are not pawns in an argument, but real people who are placed far below the Minnesota Conference of Bishops’ marriage amendment priority.

  4. [...] find it both a little curious when people of opposing political positions end up adopting the same strategy to respond to a [...]

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