Rice University’s Herring Hall was buzzing with conversations about marriage equality after a talk given by philosopher John Corvino a few weeks ago. In his hour-long presentation, Corvino* examined the ethics of the debate about gay marriage in the public square. The evening opened with an introduction to the progress being made across the states in the struggle for marriage equality, and outlined the importance of local activism and acquiring the public support from ministers and unions in regions where anti-marriage equality ballots are up for a vote. After the talk, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of Debating Same-Sex Marriage, a book Corvino co-authored with the National Organization for Marriage’s ultra-conservative Maggie Gallagher.
If you’re asking, as one of their publishers asked, “What’s left to argue?” then you should definitely pick up a copy, as there is a lot left to talk about. Sure, on the East and West coasts the issue of same-sex marriage is nearly a non-issue, but in all States in between, it’s a topic of contention with a lot of hateful rhetoric attached. You may also be asking yourself, “Why talk about it in Texas?” Even though it’s highly unlikely that the laws in TX or any other Southern State will change anytime soon, by creating a dialogue about same-sex marriage and LGBT equality in general- we can influence current debates elsewhere, and soften hearts and minds here. It takes time.
As Corvino’s own friendship with Gallagher shows, the closer our relationships are with those that oppose us, the more thoughtful the dialogue becomes. Most unexpectedly, their bonds of friendship encouraged Gallagher to stand up against “stupid remarks” made by NOM supporters. Again, from Corvino- we need to let people know why marriage equality is important to us, and we need to be mindful of presenting ourselves in a way that is welcoming to productive conversation.
I’d also argue that the same should be applied to issues of state-church separation and atheist equality- we must first get people to listen. Which brings me to an important point that Corvino brought up in his talk, “If we value marriage, we cannot honour only one faith or denomination- marriage is for all people.”
Fascinatingly, Corvino’s talk didn’t only combat the standard anti-equality rhetoric, he also addressed some of our own LGBT positive pitfalls. The “morality is a private matter and we shouldn’t be discussing this” line was rebutted with the fact that marriage is a social institution, not only a private matter. We care about morality, and this conversation is both valid and important to society as a whole. Secondly, while we often hear people proclaim that “this is the last frontier of the civil rights movement,” it’s not. We don’t know our moral blind spots, and we should never be complacent in seeking them out.
*John Corvino is Associate Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Wayne State University. Applause should also go to Houston’s best independent bookstore, Brazos Bookstore, that provided copies of Corvino’s book for sale at the event, which was co-hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and Rice’s Department of Philosophy and the Centerfor the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.