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Needed: A Serious Debate on Gay Marriage

Just over two years ago, when Congress was yet again considering amending the federal constitution to define marriage, I faulted gay groups upset that we were even debating this amendment (e.g. here).  It’s not that I supported the amendment, it’s that I welcomed the debate.

I think it serves us well to have a serious conversation on the meaning of marriage and whether we should extend its benefits and responsibilities to same-sex couples.  Given the record of debates over past such initiatives, I had (alas) no illusions that the current campaign in on Proposition 8 would allow for such a conversation, a serious debate on the merits of gay marriage.

Proponents of the initiative (i.,e opponents of gay marriage) warn of a parade of horribles should it fail.  Opponents have failed to make the case why gay marriage is a good thing for society.  At best, they’ve succeeded in making the case for treating same-sex couples the same as we treat different-sex couples.

And now, some of those opponents have, instead of challenging the arguments of their adversaries on the initiative, taken to intimidating them.  The DailyKos has encouraged readers to scrutinize those who have donated to the “Yes” campaign in order to smear them publicly.  Yeah, that’s a good way to make a positive case for gay marriage.

As one proponent of 8 put it, “It is more than a little frightening how much the Left is so much enamored with the tactic of attacking the messenger rather than engaging the substantive issues” (via Hugh Hewitt).

This is not to say that all opponents of Prop 8 are engaged in smearing its supporters, but their tactics are redolent of the rhetoric I hear all around me, how initiative proponents are mean-spirited, hateful and bigotted.  It would be nice if some prominent opponent of 8 would denounce the angry rhetoric on our side, calling it counterproductive and demand instead a serious debate on the issue.

Don’t hold your breath.  All too many gay marriage advocates see the institution a right without being able to articulate its importance.

Many opponents of gay marriage, however, do understand the social benefits of the institution.  Instead of calling them mean-spirited, shouldn’t we join them in their defense of marriage, using that defense as a basis for extending its benefits to gay people?

It’s unfortunate that all too many opponents of Proposition 8 would rather smear the initiative’s advocates than engage them.  Such an engagement might help them better articulate their own understanding of marriage.  It may even strengthen their support of the institution.

Yet, I have to wonder why all too many gay marriage advocates so want to shun this debate, one of the most important conversations on social issues of our time.  And one which directly impacts our lives.

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36 Comments

  1. GOP State Sen. Tom McClintock: “Lincoln asked, ‘If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.’ Calling a homosexual partnership a marriage doesn’t make it one.”
    Open and honest debate with these people has helped tons so far. They’ve shown so many signs of being willing to listen.

    Comment by torrentprime — October 22, 2008 @ 2:18 pm - October 22, 2008

  2. Hi, I really don’t understand the drive by gays for marriage anyway. As a 50 year old lesbian in a 12 year relationship, we feel no desire to pariticipate in the rititual. We choose to live in sin, I guess. Have a breakfast group that meets once per month, and honestly none of the gals of our age group see the reason for it either.

    My partner and I have all the legal docs, and are going to the attorney in November to update and make sure all wording is correct and can not be contested.

    California has the Domestic Partner Bene’s, seems pretty good to us.

    Call it something else and let the straights have their marriage. Legal Committment would be a good one.

    Oh, by the way, we did our early voting and McCain/Palin all the way!!

    Cheers!

    Comment by Libertygal — October 22, 2008 @ 2:54 pm - October 22, 2008

  3. As a 50 year old lesbian in a 12 year committed relationship, don’t understand the drive to be married anyway. I guess my partner and I prefer to live in sin. We have all the legal docs, wills, etc, and will update and verify them next month. In fact, the group of 50 something gals we hang out, not a one of them has any interest in marriage.

    California has Domestic Partner Benefits, I would think that would be enough. Plus, I think the straights get nervous when you want to change one of their long standing institutions-such as marriage. What if we called it something else like “Legal Commitment” and leave the marriage to them.

    Either way, if effects little our feelings or commitment to each other.

    PS. we did the early voting, McCain/Palin all the way!

    In fact, if Palin needs a body guard, I’m there!!

    Love this blog!!

    Comment by Libertygal — October 22, 2008 @ 3:02 pm - October 22, 2008

  4. Serious debate?

    More and more our politics are controlled by extremists (on both left and right). This makes serious debate impossible.

    Comment by Dave — October 22, 2008 @ 3:28 pm - October 22, 2008

  5. Ah, torrentprime,

    As usual you show yourself to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    Consider this:

    Marriage has represented the reunion of the mutually-arising halves of humanity, a relationship symbolic of a truth not just about the human race but about manifest being itself: the so-called union of opposites.

    Many people who want marriage to remain exclusively hetersexual want to maintain this longstanding symbolic function of the institution.

    Your stubborn refusal to comprehend their concerns is a prime example of the problem GPW notes.

    Comment by Dave — October 22, 2008 @ 3:40 pm - October 22, 2008

  6. Many people I know would support civil partnerships for same sex couples but will not support calling it marriage. It seems to me that gay rights activists in the US not only want rights, but want to rub the noses of their opposition in it. Not a good thing for a compromise – or even obtaining those rights. What is wrong with calling a legally recognized same sex relationship a civil partnership alongs the lines that appears to be successful in the UK? My gay friends there seem to have no complaints – and both sides have what they want.

    Comment by Stosh2 — October 22, 2008 @ 4:34 pm - October 22, 2008

  7. Dave, thanks for much for your defense. Very much appreciated. You get at exactly what I’ve been trying to say on this point. Comments like yours make blogging worthwhile and rewarding!

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — October 22, 2008 @ 4:36 pm - October 22, 2008

  8. I agree with you Dave…..you put it nicely.

    If an anthropologist was studying some remote newly discovered tribe that had a particular custom, everyone would rejoice and show the greatest of tolerancefor their beliefs. But our own customs are fair game to trash apparently. I simply don’t see any compassion (from many gays) for all those who have accepted marriage as a core belief of our culture, and its implication of being between a man and woman. I guess it’s just easier for them to call people bigots and homophobic.

    Comment by Scott Lassiter — October 22, 2008 @ 5:17 pm - October 22, 2008

  9. #4 you can put me in that catagory. I wonder if such a debate though is possible

    Comment by The Livewire — October 22, 2008 @ 6:08 pm - October 22, 2008

  10. THIS SITE IS AWESOME!

    We so agree, and wish more of so-called liberal friends saw the benefit and wisdom of debating issues instead of deriding those who disagree with them.

    Comment by cesar and julie — October 22, 2008 @ 7:19 pm - October 22, 2008

  11. [...] Needed: A Serious Debate on Gay Marriage [...]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Gay Marriage: Good for your Health? — October 22, 2008 @ 8:41 pm - October 22, 2008

  12. Opponents have failed to make the case why gay marriage is a good thing for society.

    Precisely.

    I caught a few minutes of Roger Hedgecock’s show (KOGO, San Diego) the other day when he had a Q&A with a supporter and an opponent of Prop 8. And it struck me that the “civil rights” approach is the wrong approach.

    The notion that it is a right (and I’m not so sure that it is a right in the same way that speech is) fuels the argument that polygamous couples have a right to marry and so on and that kids have to be indoctrinated in schools. Society cannot define rights.

    Marriage is an arrangement defined by society which has changed over the years (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse).

    We who support SSM need to make the case to society at-large that extending marriage to monogamous gay couples is of benefit to society. Jon Rauch does an excellent job in his book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.

    Couples, straight and gay, in married (in its real sense, not of convenience) relationships are a benefit to society (and to the raising of kids). And allowing gays to marry doesn’t make that any less true.

    Comment by SoCalRobert — October 22, 2008 @ 8:48 pm - October 22, 2008

  13. Did I just write “polygamous couples”?! You know what I mean. (oops)

    Comment by SoCalRobert — October 22, 2008 @ 8:49 pm - October 22, 2008

  14. I am not sure that the supporters of Prop 8 would be willing to debate the opponents in a reasonable fashion. I am one of 4 people out of 200 people I have polled in my own little world about Prop 8 who oppose it. When I try to engage the others in a debate about this the get all nasty and pull out the God card. They don’t want to hear a rational thought. I think it is sad on both sides of the issue. Many times I feel like I am in Junior High again.

    Comment by Jennifer — October 22, 2008 @ 11:11 pm - October 22, 2008

  15. GPW and Scott,

    I’m glad you appreciated my comment.

    Thanks for your thanks. :)

    Comment by Dave — October 23, 2008 @ 12:26 am - October 23, 2008

  16. Jennifer has a point about the “God card”. It’s hard to argue with Him (God, not Obama).

    Among the masses, I really don’t think all that many people have really taken the time to think about marriage as an institution. I’ve talked to plenty of people opposed to SSM who’ve never heard of, say, Stanley Kurtz or Maggie Gallagher who’ve written extensively against SSM nor have most people ever heard of Jonathan Rauch or Andrew Sullivan (in his pre-BDS days) who’ve written in support. They just think it’s wrong – just because.

    The problem we have now is lack of time. Due to idiot mayors and judges who apparently have the authority to overrule elected legislatures when they “vote incorrectly” on issues they should stay out of, SSM opponents have “gone nuclear”.

    It hasn’t helped that so many on the pro-SSM side have resorted to calling religious people and others who oppose SSM for a variety of reasons “haters and bigots”, “superstitious knuckle draggers”, and all the rest. As I’ve said before, most people tune out as soon as you tell them that they’re stupid/evil/bigoted/etc.

    Had the debate remained in the political arena (legislatures), we may have had a chance. Once the judges got involved, people in more and more states have voted to simply place the issue out of reach of the judges. When something is written into a constitution, it can’t be unconstitutional. Constitutions are a lot harder to change than are statutes.

    The irony in all this is that activist (usually liberal) judges are appointed by liberal politicians. People seem happy to have liberal politicians and judges as long as they give them what they want and not so happy when they give them something they don’t want.

    Comment by SoCalRobert — October 23, 2008 @ 12:57 am - October 23, 2008

  17. Torrentprime,

    In all seriousness, why should ANYONE listen to you? You don’t behave like a person worthy of people’s attention. Why should anyone listen to the gay left? They don’t behave like people who want to get along and be a part of civilized society.

    They show absolutely zero respect to people they disagree with, they do everything in their power to insult, offend, demean, disenfranchise and railroad them.

    Its people like you that guarantee that if gay marriage is ever to be, it will be because of people like us.

    Comment by American Elephant — October 23, 2008 @ 3:34 am - October 23, 2008

  18. Socal,

    It is not a right. Most people have heard the axiom, “your right to swing your arms ends at my face”, but precious few seem to understand what it means.

    It means there is no such thing as a right that requires the participation of another. If you cant do it yourself, it isnt a right. You have the right to say what you want, but as liberals frequently dont get, you dont have the right to have anyone listen to you.

    Marriage is the same way — gay or straight. Basically it is the societal approval and encouragement of a behavior. No one has a right to have society approve of them or their behavior.

    Comment by American Elephant — October 23, 2008 @ 3:43 am - October 23, 2008

  19. I agree that a serious debate is lacking. Stosh2′s comment about civil partnerships in the UK might be considered a little out of place since they lack the same sort of history of Separate But Equal that existed in the US until about 40 years ago. That was the point made in the Goodridge decision back in 2003.

    American Elephant, I wasn’t aware that being gay was a behavior…especially since homosexuality was stripped from the DSMIV as a mental illness…

    Comment by J — October 23, 2008 @ 7:44 am - October 23, 2008

  20. “It means there is no such thing as a right that requires the participation of another.”

    More to the point, there is no such thing as a right whose exercise requires the infringement of another. This is why there is no “right to healthcare,” or “shelter,” or “food,” or “a living wage,” because each of those requires that somebody be forced to provide it.

    Comment by rightwingprof — October 23, 2008 @ 11:10 am - October 23, 2008

  21. “Many people I know would support civil partnerships for same sex couples but will not support calling it marriage.” Gee, then maybe you should vote for Obama who believes in civil unions with full equality of marriage rights?

    I’m just saying… ;-)

    It would be great to have discussions but who on the Right really wants to have a discussion about state recognized gay domestic partnerships? James Dobson? Sarah Palin? John McCain? All three are against any kind of state recognized domestic partnership. There are others like Schwarzenegger but he’s routinely called a “RINO” these days. Powell? Ditto. The people on the Right who might be sympathetic are the moderates who seem to be pushed out of the GOP today.

    Can you give us any names of major conservative figures who have tried to have a serious discussion about gay domestic partnerships to workout a compromise?

    Seriously, isn’t there more discussions on the “Left”? You do have more give and take on the notion of “marriage” versus “civil unions” by major figures.

    As for the pretense of the unreasonable Left, aren’t you ignoring deliberately the like of Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, Pat Buchanan, Franklin Graham, and most others with large followings? Moderate Republicans like McCain, unfortunately, are pushed to the far right.

    Why not examine Palin’s increased, vocal support of a federal marriage amendment as part of an election strategy? Her recent interview with James Dobson indicates her view that her views will become McCain’s views and enacted.

    That said, why should there be any discussion on people wanting to have some kind of legal marriage/domestic partnership rights? By not being forceful in one’s belief in equality, doesn’t one put oneself in a subservient role?

    The rights for interracial marriage did not take place because of a conversation. It was a battle that the Supreme Court decided in Loving v. Virginia. Similarly, the decisions striking down sodomy laws by the Supreme Court was needed.

    Reading this thread, I am reminded of the discussions held between Dr. King and some fearful religious Civil Rights leaders who afraid that an aggressive push for their rights would be destructive. History proved King right. Just as did W.E.B Dubois’ position against Booker T. Washington’s.

    Sometimes, it’s better to fight for one’s humanity because others just don’t want to give an inch.

    Honestly, do you think that Mr. Dobson or Ms. Palin want to give you any recognized domestic partnerships? What do their words say?

    http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/10/22/1582325.aspx

    Comment by blake — October 23, 2008 @ 11:18 am - October 23, 2008

  22. Here’s what more and more Gay Americans are doing; withholding all federal tax until our FAMILIES and CHILDREN have Marriage Equality.

    Our society and its laws treat us as SUB-Americans. Yet they expect us to pay taxes.
    R-e-a-l-l-y?

    I seriously doubt we will EVER have equality in other areas of life (military, adoption, hate crimes) until the US government starts to treat our families and children AS WORTHY AS other families. How do we expect to enlist in the military openly, adopt children without discrimination, or walk safely out and about in the world if our HOMES, our FAMILIES, are viewed as SUB-human in the eyes of the law?! What is more important than FAMILY?

    Is SUB-American OK as a tax-payer? R-e-a-l-l-y?

    Comment by John Bisceglia — October 23, 2008 @ 12:10 pm - October 23, 2008

  23. Blake, the simple fact of the matter is that gay Democrats and liberals like yourself, for all your whining and crying about “fighting”, are perfectly content to endorse and support FMA supporters when they are Democrat leftists.

    In short, since you endorse and support it when Democrats do it, you are being nothing more than a hypocrite when you criticize Republicans.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — October 23, 2008 @ 12:18 pm - October 23, 2008

  24. #19: I kind of like that idea.

    Gay deadbeats unite!

    Comment by Attmay — October 23, 2008 @ 1:58 pm - October 23, 2008

  25. ND30,

    Sorry if this is a repeat, but nowhere have I ever supported Democrats who support the FMA! You will never find those comments ever coming from me.

    In fact, it’s fair to say that most of the people whom I admire as progressives would never endorse the FMA. I know that Obama, Biden, and McCain have all spoken out against the FMA.

    So, where do you get off saying that I, personally, have endorsed any Democrat that supports the FMA?

    Look, you said that there are no discussion on the Left. Obviously, that is not true if the leaders of the party have come out against the FMA and there are few conservative Democrats who do support the FMA. But, getting back to the main thesis of this posting, having a conversation of gay marriage and partnerships, aren’t those conversations mostly taking place in a civil manner on the Left?

    Look Obama & Biden support civil unions with full marriage equality. That gives a nod to religious folks but gives gays FULL benefits of marriage before federal and state laws.

    So, let me ask the question of you. What major figures on the Right are willing to have a conversation about offering marriage or full equivalent benefits of marriage to gays? McCain, Palin, Limbaugh, Dobson, Franklin Graham, etc. are all against any kind of legal framework for domestic partnerships for gays.

    Republicans like Schwarzenegger and other moderates are being pushed out of the party when they question things. Giuliani, a moderate, tossed gays under the bus when he ran for the presidency.

    Again, I’d like to have a discussion with you, but I would prefer if you, ND30, did not try to shove words or endorsements down my throat.

    Comment by blake — October 23, 2008 @ 2:09 pm - October 23, 2008

  26. Blake,

    I feel compelled to respond to your post.

    You make a mistake common to people on the left: you identify the right with the Christian right. Your beginning your list with James Dobson illustrates this. While Republican politicians do an inordinate amount of pandering to conservative/reactionary Christians these people do not account for the entire American right.

    There is no cohesive, unified American right that corresponds to the American left. The right consists of the various members of the anti-left.

    I am not convinced that Sarah Palin and John McCain are opposed to any and all recognition of gay couples. And Colin Powell is most certainly a RINO as his recent endorsement of Barack Obama has shown.

    Can you give us any names of major conservative figures who have tried to have a serious discussion about gay domestic partnerships to workout a compromise?

    The whole point of GPW’s essay was that it is very difficult to discuss compromise with people who think any disagreement with them is pure evil.

    Seriously, isn’t there more discussions on the “Left”? You do have more give and take on the notion of “marriage” versus “civil unions” by major figures.

    The give and take you mention is by politicians looking for votes.

    aren’t you ignoring deliberately the like of Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, Pat Buchanan, Franklin Graham

    Dobson again? I don’t know about all of these people, but Limbaugh doesn’t oppose legal recognition and protection for gay couples. He just doesn’t believe a gay relationship is a marriage. See my post (#3) above.

    Why not examine Palin’s increased, vocal support of a federal marriage amendment as part of an election strategy? Her recent interview with James Dobson indicates her view that her views will become McCain’s views and enacted.

    No, it does not. Please note President Bush’s support for the FMA and Vice President Cheney’s support for same-sex marriage.

    why should there be any discussion on people wanting to have some kind of legal marriage/domestic partnership rights?

    Because in a democratic nation any change in law requires a discussion.

    By not being forceful in one’s belief in equality, doesn’t one put oneself in a subservient role?

    Probably. However, forcefully defending one’s opinions doesn’t require reducing other people’s reasonable concerns to irrational prejudice and hatred.

    The rights for interracial marriage did not take place because of a conversation. It was a battle that the Supreme Court decided in Loving v. Virginia.

    Loving was decided by a straightforward application of the 14th amendment as the category of race has nothing to do with the marital relationship. And because something was won in court doesn’t mean it could never have been won by convincing the electorate.

    Similarly, the decisions striking down sodomy laws by the Supreme Court was needed.

    It is strange to compare the court review of non-enforced sodomy laws with review of actively enforced miscegenation laws. In any event, the perceived need for striking down anti-sodomy laws says nothing about the reasoning the Supreme Court used in doing so –something you seem to care nothing about.

    Comment by Dave — October 23, 2008 @ 4:53 pm - October 23, 2008

  27. J,

    I didnt say being gay was a behavior. I said that marriage was a behavior. Marrying a person of the opposite sex is one behavior, a relationship with a person of the same sex is a different behavior.

    Comment by American Elephant — October 23, 2008 @ 4:59 pm - October 23, 2008

  28. Let me try this for a third time…

    ND30,

    I do not, nor have I ever endorsed any liberal who supports the FMA. Where have I had said. Please do not insert words into my mouth.

    Palin has made her claims quite clear that she supports an amendment to the US Constitution to make gays second class citizens. Palin spoke directly to James Dobson about this and her belief that she could persuade McCain to accept her position.

    Now. Obama says that he is willing to compromise for rights and religious beliefs: gays get full rights of marriage but under civil unions.

    Thus, members on the Left are willing to discuss the religious versus legal framework for domestic partnerships recognized by the state.

    Now, can discuss with me similar prominent conservatives/Republicans who are willing to have those kinds of discussions? I can think of Schwarzenegger, but he’s a moderate and has been denounced like Powell as a RINO.

    On the national scene, who is there? Limbaugh, Bennett, Gingrich, Malkin, Dobson?

    So, let’s talk about how different legal positions and how the Left and Right are working to achieve some kind of equal protection for gay Americans.

    I know that there are some moderates who have spoken out after loved ones came forward but they don’t seem to have much sway. Can you help me understand who others are?

    Also, given that Palin has been aggressively stating her beliefs against gay unions, whether marriage or civil unions, do you think this might be a campaign tactic to reach out to the fundamentalists, evangelicals, and other hard right, anti-gay forces? If not, why do you think Palin has taken a position in contrast to McCain’s stated beliefs?

    Comment by blakes — October 23, 2008 @ 5:49 pm - October 23, 2008

  29. Aggressively, Blakes?

    Correct me (with a link) if I’m wrong but every comment Sarah Palin has offered on gay marriage has been in response to a question. That’s quite the opposite of aggression.

    And I don’t recall her ever, at least during this campaign, speaking out against civil unions.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — October 23, 2008 @ 5:57 pm - October 23, 2008

  30. I do not, nor have I ever endorsed any liberal who supports the FMA.

    And again, these gay Democrats think we don’t see what they’re doing.

    Gays like Blake whine about Sarah Palin, but they clap and cheer and give money to Democrats who hold exactly the same positions and call them “pro-gay” and “gay-supportive”.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — October 23, 2008 @ 6:19 pm - October 23, 2008

  31. Blake,

    You don’t seem to have read my comment (#22) above.

    I’ve already told you about Rush Limbaugh. Now just what do you know about Bennett, Gingrich, and Malkin? You throw their names around without giving any specifics or providing any references.

    Comment by Dave — October 23, 2008 @ 7:48 pm - October 23, 2008

  32. #15: AE, I agree that “rights” don’t require the participation of others (strictly speaking).

    I was trying to make the point that demanding marriage as a civil right (and using the courts to “correct” a recalcitrant citizenry) was ineffective and is backfiring.

    I still believe that a convincing case could be made that allowing SSM would benefit the society at-large. The courts’ short-circuiting of the political process has pretty well made the discussion moot.

    Comment by SoCalRobert — October 23, 2008 @ 9:11 pm - October 23, 2008

  33. To: Blame Gays First Crowd
    Re: Failure to see the forest

    http://www.cbs8.com/stories/story.144185.html

    Comment by jimmy — October 23, 2008 @ 10:03 pm - October 23, 2008

  34. PS The majority of these folks against gay equality, or fairness for gays, or full citizenship for gays, whatever you want to call it…the majority of these folks are conservative and GOP…which means they are much closer to “gay” “patriots”. Therefore, get in there and debate them. And stop debating gays.

    Comment by jimmy — October 23, 2008 @ 10:06 pm - October 23, 2008

  35. Socal,

    Agree with everything u just said.

    ‘cept just to be anal: its not that rights don’t require the participation of others, its that they cannot or they infringe on that persons liberty.

    Comment by American Elephant — October 24, 2008 @ 2:01 am - October 24, 2008

  36. Jimmy,

    Initiatives against SSM routinely get 60 – 70% of the vote in favor. You can call those people “bigots” (and look like an idiot), or you can accept that they have a right to believe like tehy do, and then go to work to try to change their minds.

    You can preen about how “morally superior” you are, or you can try to actually make your case to the people who you want to give you something.

    You want to tell me why society benefits by extending marriage to same sex couples? I’ll listen.

    Want to whine about “fairness” and “equality”? I’ll tune you out.

    Your choice.

    Comment by Greg Q — October 25, 2008 @ 7:25 am - October 25, 2008

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