Gay Marriage. Why Are We Still Talking About It?

  Author Emily Dietle | Originally Posted at Emilyhasbooks

...

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.

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Comment by Lewal on October 24, 2012 at 12:46pm

I think it definitely lies in combating "the standard anti-equality rhetoric." Which is to say, with this issue specifically, I definitely think the best way to win the war is to take away your opposition's reason to fight. I've been down this road with a close friend of mine (guns, babies, Reagan) who immediately jumped to "Because the institution of marriage is sacred," at which point I simply asked him why. This lead to an exploration of marriage's origins, which in my experience is always far more beneficial than debaters typically appreciate. Most people hit the origin of an idea like it's a pit-stop, when everything you need is in it. By the end of it I'd convinced him that he didn't care (which, if you're the guy signing off on it, is technically a yes).

Comment by greyfoot on October 24, 2012 at 6:08pm

"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."

That sums up my criticism of the current liberal approach to this issue, which actually isn't liberal at all, but libertarian. Kris's response is a perfect example of this. While I don't dismiss the Libertarian philosophy (which is a completely different entity than the Libertarian ideology--but then, all ideology is bad), and while I the "get the government out of marriage completely" argument isn't necessarily unreasonable, there are some issues that are intrinsically important to a culture and society, and gay marriage is one.

"...marriage is a social institution." Completely and utterly true. What this means is that it is a MUCH deeper issue than one's tax exemption status, or right to benefits. It's a custom with a long history and tradition, an inextricable facet to our culture--to civilization period--and to dismiss this fact derisively is one of the biggest mistakes proponents make. Advocates for gay marriage, of which I am an ardent one, are asking to change the culture. It's important that we recognize and acknowledge this. Failure to do so only feeds more ammunition to opponents, who often profess that this new demand (that homosexuality in general, as it were) is just some perverted whim advocated by valueless leftist liberals. It's no wonder that opponents so often even refuse to hear that it's a civil rights issue.

We need to show opponents why this cultural change we're asking for would be a (potential) benefit. We need to show them why this particular tradition they're trying to uphold isn't a good one for modern society. We need to recognize that while our opponents' position technically IS bigoted, they are confused about such an accusation because it connotes emotional hatred, which many of those opponents don't actually feel. This is identical to the racial issues of the early and mid 20th Century. Opponents always deny this, but can never supply a credible reason why.

Most importantly, we need to do all of this calmly and rationally. Stop screaming, stop demonizing, stop with the banal, nihilistic "humanity sucks" quips. We care about humanity, and we care about this culture. And I can only conclude that homosexuals feel the same way, else why would they be asking to be recognized by it?

Comment by Dr.Grixis on October 24, 2012 at 7:25pm

Because two men kissing is considered icky? And because people mistake emotions for moral truths? We really are just monkeys with nice hats and silly rituals, not really as advanced as we'd like to think, although often capable of fooling ourselves into believing we are.....

Comment by kris feenstra on October 24, 2012 at 8:23pm

That sums up my criticism of the current liberal approach to this issue, which actually isn't liberal at all, but libertarian. Kris's response is a perfect example of this.

As a point of clarification, I am not taking a libertarian stance with my post. The underlying point was simply that legislators and judiciaries need to be accountable to more objective and rational criteria than have been set forth by same-sex marriage opponents in the debate thus far. This is, fundamentally, a deeper and more important issue than the same-sex marriage debate itself.

Comment by Strega on October 24, 2012 at 8:32pm

You know, I don't think we gay people need to be 'married".  I'd have been perfectly happy getting "garried", definition thereof to be a gay unity to include all the legal rights and privileges of a married hereto couple, without being seen by a god to be unified. 

Just now, my American wife can come to the UK to live with me as my spouse.  However, I do not have that right in reverse. ( I am here in the US on a work permit and will hope to keep extending that until my business is successful enough for me not to be integral to its operation any more.)

Garriage and Marriage would have to be mutually exclusive.  The same tax breaks should be allowed for both.  Isn't it ridiculous that in the US, a loving gay partnership of decades can end in one persons death and the other having to pay inheritance tax just because of their gender?  And this initiating from a church that doesn't pay tax itself?

There are cases in US courts regarding Federal employees not having spouse benefits because of the gender issue, and also one on the inheritance tax issue. 

Nobody is demanding that churches change their religious opinions.  All that is required is federal level 'committed partnership' recognition along with any non-religious privilege that entails.  What is the down side?  If a state wants to opt out and refuse to acknowledge gay partnerships, let it do so.  Gay couples can stick it out or move to another state.  The default position should be inclusion, however.

Comment by greyfoot on October 24, 2012 at 8:51pm

Clarification noted, Kris. Though, I must disagree, for, as I was pointing out in my post, how and why law makers and judges deal with same-sex marriage IS the issue. The government has always been involved, and a (semi) successful governing practice is to weigh two fundamental criteria: moral imperative and cost-benefit analysis. Neither of these criteria can be ignored, and so the task is, therefore, monumental, not to mention extremely difficult. At the risk of sounding relativistic, the appearance of objectivity and rationality change depending upon the legislator and the judge. Therefore, I think the more productive debate is about the validity of accepting homosexuality in our culture.

Comment by kris feenstra on October 24, 2012 at 8:54pm

"The government has always been involved..."

I am not stating anything to the contrary. Whether the government should or should not be involved is an issue which I am not addressing here at all. Cost-benefit is not overly difficult to address in this particular case as opponents have yet to establish any tangible cost apart from personal dissatisfaction.

Comment by greyfoot on October 24, 2012 at 10:15pm

"Nobody is demanding that churches change their religious opinions.  All that is required is federal level 'committed partnership' recognition along with any non-religious privilege that entails.  What is the down side?  If a state wants to opt out and refuse to acknowledge gay partnerships, let it do so.  Gay couples can stick it out or move to another state.  The default position should be inclusion, however."

Streg, this is where it gets convoluted here in the States. Your mention of "federal level" negates, in many Americans' eyes, a state's right to opt out of anything, since federal covers all states. Therefore, what's the point of having any federal jurisdiction over the practice at all, if indeed we want to let individual states decide? And if individual states can discriminate in that way, what ELSE can they discriminate about? Race? Gender? These are questions we need to ask ourselves.

More so, though, there are plenty of homosexuals who DO want the recognition from religion and the subsequent customs ingrained in the culture, as many of them are religious themselves. Yes, this creates an odd paradox from our secular perspective, but that doesn't mean these people, odd as we may find them, don't exist. We have to consider all of these factors.

Comment by Unseen on October 24, 2012 at 10:26pm

We've discussed this before in at least one other thread.

There are a number of sticky angles to the issue. One is the interpretation of The Constitution. If one were to take the view many do that the correct interpretation of The Constitution involves interpreting it in light of the intentions and attitudes of The Founding Fathers, in which case buggering or hanging slaves would probably be okay but marrying homosexuals would not. Several of our Supreme Court justices take the position that this is the way to interpret the document.

Another sticky angle is that many gays will not accept a domestic partnership and want to be able to use the word "married" even if there's absolutely no difference between a marriage and a domestic partnership in every other way than the terminology. Because of this intransigence, there is no solution in sight.

Comment by kris feenstra on October 24, 2012 at 11:12pm
At the federal level there is largely just the issue of DOMA, if I am not mistaken.

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