Missing the Point: 2 Debates whoseArguments Address the Wrong Issues


I get frustrated with the repeated arguments on the various sides of emotionally-charged topics that fail address the real questions that need to be.  I feel that many times, the question boils down to a simple one or the question itself needs to be rephrased, but the two sides have other agendas that are related to the debate that they try to push which clouds matters and neither sides wants to reason.  The two topics where this comes to my mind are those of abortion and gay marriage.


            In my opinion, the simple question of whether abortion should be legal or not boils down to a scientific / philosophical question of "When does life begin?"  Of course, this is not a simple question to answer and there can be much debate on the answer to this question.  But what adds to this difficulty, is that the two sides argue via an irrational basis with other motives.  The anti-abortion crowd is predominantly religious and uses religious doctrine to argue that life begins at conception.  I don't know the details of why and how they make this argument, but anything based on the bible cannot be used in a rational argument on a scientific question, or even a philosophical question concerning a law that affects a secular society.  On the other side of the debate, the pro-choice crowd, says that life doesn't begin until birth, but by virtue of the name of their group, the true argument they are making is that "It's a woman's body and she has the right to do what she wants with the fetus."  Boiling down to my simple question on whether abortion should be legal or not, the "women's rights" argument should have no bearing on the decision.  Maybe it does at this time, but I feel it's only because we can't agree on the primary issue of the "official" start of a life with rights of its own.


            Legally, you are not a person with rights until you emerge from your mother.  This means one is 1 year old precisely 1 year after birth.  Our current law doesn't establish that you are 3 months old after being born because you were able to think about things during that 3 last months in the womb.  If an illegal immigrant is pregnant for 99% of her term in the US, but goes back to Mexico to have the child, the child is not a US citizen as it would have the right to be were it actually born in the US.  Given these current laws, it's clear the current view is that life begins at birth.  Hence, abortion should be legal.  Change the law on what the definition is as to the start of a life, and abortion should then be illegal.  The key is that this definition should not be clouded by any issues of religion or women's rights because these have nothing to do with determining when a life begins and this should be the only determinant to the legality of abortion.


            The problem, of course, is that there is not really a clear cut scientific mechanism to say if our current "You are a person when you are born" rule is correct or not.  And there probably never will be.  What is the benchmark?  Maybe if a C-section is done and the baby survives, that means it was a person.  But what if machines are needed to bring it to self-sustainability?  Do we measure brainwaves to see if the fetus is "thinking"?  I don't pretend to know the answer, but the fact remains that if we're currently saying you aren't a legal person until birth, this is the law until popular opinion or legal or medical or philosophical arguments change this and the legal definition of when a individual's life begins changes.  Until such time, the arguers on both side miss the point when they use religious reason to say abortion is wrong, or woman's rights reason to say abortion should be allowed.  Based on the current state of affairs and the definition of life which I infer from current legal definitions of when an individual "exists" it seems that abortion should be allowed.  If we argue that the viability of the fetus to survive on its own should determine the definition of life (as is somewhat the case with late-term abortion bans in many states), then this needs to made consistent in all areas.  That means with the fetus in the womb still, you can write off little Joe in the current tax year, even if he doesn’t come out till January 2.  Same for the right of an illegal immigrant's offspring to be a naturalized US citizen even if the actual birth might be outside the country.  These may seem like minor things, but I'm not joking.  It's these inconsistencies that make the topic clouded and contentious.


            One side-topic to this debate is the fact that, in most, if not all states,  if you murder a pregnant woman, it's considered a double-homicide regardless of the fetus' state of development (and assuming the fetus is aborted).  It's interesting that the intent determines that one is murder and the other is legal, but I think it's just because this is some crime that maybe could be called something else (like "involuntary fetus termination") but there is no sense in doing this since society may want the punishment to be the same as it would be for murdering an actual person.  Still, I think the misnomer of calling this act "murder" clouds the debate further.  Say a mugger beats a pregnant woman for her purse.  She doesn't die, but the fetus is aborted.  The mugger is caught and put on trial for murder.  But if the mother had gone to a doctor to abort the fetus, she would not be held for murder.  The difference in intent as the factor in one being a heinous crime and the other being a legal (though debated) act in our society cannot be justified.  There should be a new law created for the crime so that it doesn't appear that our justice system is being inconsistent in criminalizing the mugger for the termination of a fetus that the mother wanted but not charging with a crime another pregnant woman with an unwanted fetus who essentially performs the same end result.  And this would then open the debate further as to whether this new crime should be punished as seriously as murder.  Because no one is going to say the "murder" of a fetus is ok, even the "pro-choice" people and this gives ammunition to the anti-abortion crowd to point out the inconsistency when this red-herring could be avoided simply by the renaming of the crime.


            This last point segues nicely into the second topic I will expound upon, that of gay marriage.  The debate in this argument "misses the point" in a slightly different manner than the abortion issue.  In the prior issue, my contention is that there is a fundamental question to be answered, that if done so, would then be the key to determining if abortion is right or wrong.  In the gay marriage issue, I contend that the two sides are arguing something that is valid, but that the issue as brought up at the legal and political level (e.g. state propositions) is being unnecessarily contentious and tries to force the government to decide something is not its job to do.


            I will first state my simple solution to the debate of "gay marriage" as to whether it should be "allowed" or not.  I use these quotes because the definitions are misused a lot and I will be changing some terms.  The question of "Should gay marriage be allowed" will now be reframed in the way I see it should be and should be the only concern of the state.1

"Should people of the same gender be allowed to form a household allowing for legal rights and benefits similar to that of conventional marriage?"

            To simplify things, I propose that in all legal documents, the term "marriage" be replaced with "civil union."  The reason for this is that the real debate in whether or not the answer to my question should be "yes" or "no" is not based on legal principle, but "spiritual" or religious doctrine as applied to the "sanctity of marriage."


We live in secular country, and I am thankful for this everyday when I think about how much time is wasted in countries that have to pray 10 times a day.  Because of this, the legal idea of marriage, as concerns the state, is simply the human individual equivalent to a legal merger of two businesses.  In economic terms, this merger of individuals creates a household, or people living together and pooling resources for efficient living.  This can mean combining salaries of two people to afford a nice apartment or one person working and the other during all the chores.  The key is the division of labor makes the formation of a household efficient compared to people living by themselves.  As to the legal aspect, the "merger of individuals" also creates certain rights the people have to and with each other, such as right against testimony in a criminal trial, inheritance, and certain medical rights.  This second aspect is important because it ensures that two roommates will not seek this merger (which I will now call "civil union") because this second aspect requires a commitment that goes beyond mere economic efficiency and is based on the social bond, commitment, and trust between the individuals.  In business terms, you can (sort of) equate this aspect to the "synergies" between the two merging companies.  Companies don't merge just because they can cut their call support staff to save money, but because they have aspects between the two companies that will allow them to form a stronger unit than the two would be separately if you summed them up.


Because the term "marriage" is currently used in both a legal and religious / spiritual manner, the debate today revolves around whether a same-sex civil union is spiritually valid in the same way a man/woman civil union is.  The opponents fear if same-sex couples are allowed to "merge" that this debases the institution of "marriage" from a spiritual or religious sense of what is considered proper human conduct.


If we are to replace all state and legal usage of "marriage" with "civil union" this removes the "spiritual" debate from the issue.  Purely on a matter of civil rights, the legal and economic benefits of marriage must apply to same-sex couples.  The real issue I feel that is in debate, is whether same-sex couples are valid in the eyes of the spiritual and religious aspect of marriage.  For that, I do not devote this paper to arguing.  My point here is that if in the eyes of the state, 2 people of legal age want to "form a merger" they should be able to do so and this "merger" will be called a "civil union" no matter whether it is same-sex or conventional.  In non-legal discussions, people can call their "union" whatever they want.  Gay couples would be free to tell people they are "married" and anyone against the idea of gay couples are free to not recognize this distinction, much like some countries don't recognize Israel as a valid country.


I think both sides of the debate are the cause for why this has or will not happen.  Because both sides seem to insist of forcing the state to "decide" the spiritual part of the debate.  Gays want the term to remain "marriage" to prove that their bond is as valid as any conventional one.  And opponents of gay "marriage" don't want the state to change the name to "civil union" because they feel it will devalue their conventional "marriage" even though it's still the same thing as it was before and church proceedings will go on as before.  People forget that you can currently get married at City Hall by a judge, the ultimate example of how this enterprise is really just a legal process, when it comes down to it.  No matter what religious ceremony is performed, all marriages are the same in the eyes of City Hall.  So, the changing of the term for how City Hall views this "merger" should not matter at all, whether you have a gay or straight couple tying the knot.


The argument that people will "unionize" just for some benefit reasons (like 2 roommates so one gets free healthcare or something) is not valid since a man and woman can be roommates and could currently do this with no legal ramifications even if they admit the sham.  And the argument that allowing same-sex civil unions would open the door to crazy things like allowing someone to marry their dog makes no sense also because of the fact that it can't be argued that a man and a dog are equal partners in the running of a household (the dog can't work, clean, cook, write a will, etc.)


In conclusion, my point in bring up these two topics under a single essay was to show two examples of contentious issues that are ongoing discussions in our society, but that are doomed to never be solved because the two sides arguing are missing the point of the debate, debating the wrong issues, debating issues in inappropriate forums, or simply using terminology that are loaded with preconceived notions of what is right or wrong. 



1. the exception to the rule that the state only cares about marriage from the legal and economic aspects is in the case of when one marries a foreigner.  In this case, the federal government DOES care about the spiritual nature of this merger of individuals because of the benefit the foreign person receives in getting US citizenship.  As such, the government has a vested interest in making sure this loophole is not misused and therefore is within its bounds to make sure that the "civil union" is being done in the proper spirit for which this citizenship privilege is allowed for: That the two people truly love and have a bond for one another.


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