by Dan Savage
on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 11:46 AM
John Corvino is the co-author of a new book, Debating Same-Sex Marriage, with Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage. It is the first and, without a doubt, the last book in the whole sordid history of books that will be blurbed by both me and Rick Santorum. John is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
So, John, you're gay. And you sit there on stage with Maggie Gallagher, calmly debating her. As a gay man myself, I'd like to know… how do you keep from throwing up? Or slapping her?
I drink a lot beforehand. No, seriously—I’m just not an angry person by nature.
Do you think Maggie ought to be slapped—I'm talking figuratively here, of course, not literally. No violence, no violence.
For me, it not primarily about what she deserves. It’s about what her arguments deserve: a good drubbing. I aim to do that in the book. It’s about going after the best arguments the other side has and showing why they don’t work.
Do you really think it’s argument that drives these people? And not simple bias? They used to argue that we were a threat to marriage because we didn't get married—our hedonism set a bad example (sex for pleasure! sex outside of marriage!)—and now that we can get married in some states, and we're fighting for the right in others, they argue that we're a threat to marriage... because we want to get married. Is it really about an argument if the argument is so elastic?
Generally, no. Nor do I think that it’s arguments that mainly drive our side, either. For the most part, people have gut feelings about these issues, feelings which are a product of their upbringing and their choices and their basic temperament and whatever. That said, I think that most people—I’ll be optimistic and say “most”—believe that public policy should be based on reason, not just gut feeling, and I think that many people are susceptible to reasoned argument.
What drives our side if not argument? Your new book, your half of it, is a long argument in favor of marriage equality, isn't it?
Yes, but I don’t think gay folks and their friends were just sitting around waiting for an argument before they make up their minds. I think moral insight often starts with gut intuition, which can—and should—then be tested against the world. The argument comes later, and that’s the real test: Do people just rest lazily with their existing biases? Or do they actually engage others, and move beyond their moral complacency? That’s what the book is trying to encourage.
So is there an argument that could sway Gallagher? Or Brian Brown?
Well, hope springs eternal. I mean, look at David Blankenhorn—prominent marriage-equality opponent and lead witness for Prop. 8—who recently changed his position. But keep in mind that I didn’t write the book to convince die-hard opponents like Gallagher and Brown. I wrote it to reach the many people who are still working through this issue. And also to give people on our side some useful ammunition in the states where this issue is being debated.
Some folks argue that by calmly debating Gallagher you play into her hands. Some say we shouldn't dignify NOM with a dignified debate. By sitting beside Maggie on stage, smiling and joking with her, you give her a legitimacy that she doesn't deserve. If she told similar bigoted lies about, say, Jews, no representative from a Jewish group would calmly debate her.
Well, if half the country were anti-Semites, and Jews were not allowed to marry in 44 states, I’d debate anti-Semites too.
What about the dishonesty? The lies? NOM, and Maggie, promotes false links between homosexuality and pedophilia (here, here), they misrepresent studies, they fund biased and inaccurate studies that slander gay parents.
Some of it is lies, some of it is laziness, and some of it is honest (albeit foolish) mistakes of logic.
Whichever it is, I think the best disinfectant is sunlight. You can shout “liar, liar,” or you can calmly explain why they’re wrong. I think the latter approach actually convinces more of the people who need convincing. At least it’s an approach that works better for me.
So, what’s Maggie's best argument against marriage equality?
Oddly, I think her best argument is also her most underdeveloped one. Maggie thinks there’s something special and important about relationships that create new life—and I firmly agree. She also thinks that, historically, marriage has had a lot to do with such relationships. Again, true. So her argument is that by letting same-sex couples marry we move away from that core purpose of marriage. That’s the part I don’t see: how acknowledging marriage’s other purposes somehow takes away from its child-centered purposes...
Especially since gay people have children, too. Ahem.
Yes. It’s one of the points I emphasize in the book: forbidding gay marriage won’t cause lesbians to marry their sperm donors and form so-called “traditional” families, but it will mean that those children—and adopted children, like your son—live without the protection and support of marriage. It’s backwards, really.
The state's schizophrenia where adoption is concerned is just… untenable. The state made me DJ's dad and the state made Terry DJ's other dad. And then the state turned around and said that we couldn't get married because marriage is about the best interests of children and children need to have married parents because that's in their best interests. Except for our child, of course. It's not in our kid's best interests to have married parents somehow.
“Untenable” is a nice word. The words that more immediately come to mind would get us in trouble. But yes, the logical disconnect on the parenting issue is immense.
That’s one of the things that bugged me most about the recent Regnerus study, which compared child-welfare outcomes in different family forms. Social conservatives immediately started crowing, “See, this shows that same-sex families are bad for kids and that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry!” When in fact, what it showed was that instability is bad for kids and that pushing gay people into the closet and thus into unworkable heterosexual marriages is an excellent recipe for instability. Untenable, indeed.
What's Maggie's worst argument?
Do I have to choose?
Yes, you do. Pick one.
I think her biggest non-argument has to do with the definition of marriage. She claims that two men can’t be a marriage, and that calling them married is telling a lie. But she gets way out of her depth when she starts talking about how definitions work.
As you show very nicely in your rebuttal in the book. I’ve got to say, you’ve got a lot more patience for this sort of thing than I do. The NOM folks just makes me want to scream.
Well, you’ll have your chance if Brian Brown comes to dinner.
Brian Brown is coming to dinner. The date is set.
Excellent! Just remember to drink heavily beforehand.