The Skyline Church Same-Sex Marriage Debate — Part 1

Given that the Supreme Court will soon rule on the constitutionality of California's Prop. 8 and the federal government's DOMA, I thought this as good a time as any to consider a few highlights in the same-sex marriage (henceforth SSM) debates, particularly those moments that strove for as dispassionate and rational a consideration of the so-called issues as possible. We should not forget, however, that the issues are so-called, because they're not so much issues as actualities that opponents of civil marriage equality want to at minimum erode and at most reverse. John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher's co-authored point-counterpoint monograph Debating Same-Sex Marriage presents calm and mostly secular arguments on both sides. Rather than consider that book, which others have already typed extensively about, I've decided to devote a few posts to the Skyline Church's SSM debate that featured John Corvino, Gene Robertson (for SSM marriage equality), Jennifer Roeback Morse and Robert Gagnon (against).

Pastor Jim Garlow of the Skyline Church organized the debate to foster and forge (according to his description) friendships and understanding between those on opposite sides. The debate was the culmination of the Ruth Institute's annual conference "It Takes a Family to Raise a Village" (ITAF). For a thoughtful (faux) insider's perspective on the entire conference see Carlos Maza's account. Toward the end of the piece, Maza draws a nice distinction between the ideology of the event speakers' and organizers' with that of the attendees'. I'd be curious to run a transcript of the event through a text analysis tool to see how many times the word "friendship" appears and in conjunction with what other phrases.1

We must use "friendship" loosely when talking about Pastor Jim Garlow (who helped strategize and rally for California's Prop. 8 ballot initiative, which succeeded at the polls mostly by frightening undecided voters with lies about the dreadful consequences for children that SSM would bring), Jennifer Morse (who implicitly calls same-sex parents unnatural and as great a threat to marriage as no-fault divorce, even though she's had one herself), and Robert Gagnon (who graciously does not endorse the death penalty for homosexuality, because based on his lawyerly reading of the Bible, the fact we will die unrepentant and therefore unsaved is the worse fate—perhaps he's learned fromBartolomé de las Casas's regret that Spanish conquistadors did not convert the indigenous people's of South America before slaughtering them). Morse's reminder that true friends tell each other when they err, perhaps gives us a more expansive definition of friendship that allow me to be particularly friendly in what follows.

In the next post, I will concentrate on specific claims and exchanges from the debate, but for the rest of this one, I'd like to consider the context in which these four are debating. Unfortunately Morse and Gagnon's arguments against SSM rest primarily on theological (based loosely on the Thomas Aquinas's natural law of morality and ethics with Aristotelian teleology thrown in) grounds.2 Their secular arguments are poorly presented and incompetently reasoned, but given their religious affiliations and backgrounds, I was merely hoping but not excepting much more and was not, therefore, disappointed. Nevertheless, I remain on the hunt for coherent, non-religious/Thomistic arguments against SSM and encourage any readers (assuming you're out there) to send me any they should happen upon. Perhaps like sightings of Yetis, the Loch Ness Monster, and unicorns such arguments are only the stuff of rumor and legend, but I remain hopeful. During an interview with Nigel Warburton of Philosophy Bites, Leslie Green of Oxford University tells us Yeti hunters that the best one he's heard is the classically conservative one: (paraphrasing) marriage has traditionally been between males and females, and we shouldn't rush to change it.

The pragmatist in me can't help but note the blindness of that stance. Such conservative arguments at best ignore simple actualities: the world in which we live is constantly in flux, so any system (social or biological) has to compromise between maintaining its integrity with adapting to new, unexpected events—least it not survive. The truly conservative argument then, at best, advises us to move cautiously rather than rashly. Considering that gay and lesbian couples are already de jure married in a number of US jurisdictions and de facto married in those places that don't legally recognize their unions, the truly conservative seems to have prevailed to date anyway.

That conservative argument also tacitly admits that change has occurred, and far from being conservative, it's really a reactionary call to change or reverse the gains LGBT people have made. The tradition that argument invokes is no longer a reality and like most history has been rewritten and re-imagined to be something it never really was. We'd be etymologically justified in rebranding this supposedly conservative argument as the revolutionary agenda it is—we are urged to turn back change and re-enact a supposedly more perfect state that existed before the change. Originalist legal scholars and judges face a similar contradiction—on the one hand, they assert that so-called activist judges have interpreted the constitution in ways it was never intended (which they perhaps divine through séances with the long-deceased authors), and on the other, they tacitly admit the law has changed and therefore purpose some corrective—and therefore morally sanctioned—judicial activism of their own.

That pragmatic side of mine can also not ignore the reality that these reasoned, intelligent debates about the so-called issues present only the rational and respectable side of a well-funded and organized political apparatus that strives to thwart LGBT civil rights (not simply marriage) at the federal and state levels by the most expedient means (ethical or not) possible. Like the SIGINT system, it seeks to cloak its donors and their motives from public oversight—only at the end of May, did the Maine supreme court order the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to disclose its donors in compliance with Maine's laws. David Blankenhorn's change-of-heart, for instance, came with the significant caveat that he was not recanting his numerous objections to SSM but begrudgingly acknowledging that SSM opponents consistently deny the dignity and humanity of gays and lesbians. Jeremy Hooper's blog has diligently and irreverently (irony, I've concluded, is the only alternative to despair when faced with such infuriatingly illogical and evasive opponents) documented the hypocrisy of many organizations opposing SSM—particularly NOM. The HRC's and Courage Campaign's NOM Exposed blog does the same.

More on the actual Skyline SSM debate to follow.

  1. For details of Garlow's anti-gay political campaigning, see "Right Wing Watch." Equality Matters' "Fact Check" series has a collection Robert Gagnon's anti-gay positions.
  2. Such arguments put forward some permutation of Robert O'Donnell's claim that "It is obvious to everyone that the male and female human bodies complement one another sexually, and possess together the power to regenerate human life. It is equally obvious that no such complementarity, or regenerative power, exists between bodies of the same sex." (Same-Sex Marriage and the Natural Law, May 3, 2013) He is basically digesting and simplifying the Inquisition's (renamed the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in 1904 and Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1988).

    The arguments are at least logical, assuming you accept—which I don't—their premises. Why I think those starting points are faulty would require a separate post.

    Two good overviews of so-called "Natural Law" ethical and legal theory can be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


One comment

  1. […] my other blog for a series of posts on the same-sex marriage debate that happened at the Skyline Church last summer. I’ll likely […]

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