When We Have A Civil Discussion Of Marriage Equality, It Will Hurt

12.06.2011, 5:37 PM

A civil debate about marriage equality that includes lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is very challenging. And yet, obviously, a debate about same-sex marriage that excludes LGB people, for example by making them feel attacked and unsafe, would lack legitimacy.

The trouble is, the debate inherently will make LGB people feel attacked, unsafe or at least hurt.

I want to discuss some of the inevitable pitfalls for anyone — or any website — trying to provide a place for a civil debate on marriage equality.

There are some arguments no reasonable person makes anymore. A person arguing that consensual gay sex is intrinsically immoral and perverse has disqualified themselves from reasonable debate. In mainstream society this is a settled question, and there’s no longer any need for any LGB person or ally to answer such arguments anymore (except perhaps with a raised finger).

From the point of view of a website wishing to facilitate a civil debate on same-sex marriage, such arguments must be moderated away, and the people making the arguments should be banned. It is no longer reasonable to expect LGB people to take such abuse with respect, any more than it would be reasonable to expect a Jewish person to listen respectfully to an argument that Jews are intrinsically weak and contemptible.

Of course, what is and isn’t “reasonable” is a moving target (albeit one that moves painfully slowly). Before world war two, “reasonable” Americans could express appalling opinions appalling opinions about Jews and few would blink. Within my lifetime, the argument that LGB sexuality is a gross deviation was considered perfectly normal. These are now settled debates in reasonable company, but they didn’t settle themselves; they were settled by decades of hard work and hard arguments.

But that’s an easy case. Let’s consider a harder case.

Even relatively reasonable arguments against marriage equality can rightly feel hurtful to LGB people. For example, it’s common for SSM (same-sex marriage) opponents to argue that “kids need both a mother and a father, and because same-sex marriage can’t provide that, it’s bad for society and kids.”

It’s one thing to make that argument as a matter of theory; it’s quite another to hear it when you’re a child of same-sex parents, or a same-sex couple raising a child, or a LGB person who’d like to raise children someday. Some LGB people can hear that without becoming defensive or feeling hurt, just because they have a talent for compartmentalization, or for letting arguments flow off like water off a duck’s back. But most people don’t have that talent, and it would be unreasonable to expect all LGB people to have that talent in order to participate in civil debate.

Virtually all arguments against same-sex marriage will feel hurtful to many reasonable, civil LGB people. Not 100% of LGB people will feel that way — some lucky folks have that water-off-a-duck’s-back talent — but many will. This is to be expected. LGB people are arguing about their own lives, their own rights, and their own dignity as equal citizens. It’s inherently personal.

At the same time, obviously, we can’t have a debate in which marriage equality opponents are expected to withhold all their arguments in order to avoid hurting LGB people. And, clearly, many people on both sides actively want to have this debate.

So what do we do with that?

I don’t really have a solution, other than to accept that these things will happen. Opponents of SSM will say things that LGB people experience as dehumanizing; lesbian and gay people will say “I found that hurtful to hear.” Good-hearted opponents of SSM will be hurt to know that they’ve said something that injured another person.

The right of SSM opponents to explain why they oppose marriage equality shouldn’t be doubted; but neither should the right of LGB people to say when they feel they’ve been hurt.

In a comment on this issue, Fannie wrote:

A two-way dialogue between people on opposing sides of an issue often will result in one or both of them feeling hurt, often for legitimate reasons. To me, I go into conversations willing to accept that risk.

What I’m less willing to accept is interacting with people who don’t abide by shared “ground rules” of communication – like people who regularly accuse others of acting in bad faith. For instance, there is an important difference between saying “what you said hurt me” and “you meant to hurt me.”

That’s a good start.

There’s much more to be said on this subject, but I think that’s enough for one post.


48 Responses to “When We Have A Civil Discussion Of Marriage Equality, It Will Hurt”

  1. Chairm says:

    Barry said:

    A person arguing that consensual gay sex is intrinsically immoral and perverse has disqualified themselves from reasonable debate.

    You, and not they, would disqualify them.

    Readers will note that you referred to “the person arguing”. The focus ought to be on the substance of the argument. You appear to be granting yourself permission to make ad hom attacks and to chase from the public square the arguments you do not favor.

    Namecalling is not an argument. Insults are not an argument. On that we can readly agree.

    The proponents of SSM insist that homosexuality and gay identity must take center stage in these discussions. You did it yourself when you first guest-blogged here at FSB. You brought it, emphasized it, and depend on it in your advocacy and so it is up for fair comment.

    Yes, the discussion ought to be forthright and civil because the moral argument is a serious argument, meaning it is not trivial, hateful, out of bounds.

    On the other hand, if you want homosexuality to be off the table, then, put forth the argument for the type of relationship you have in mind without the overwrought emphasis on homosexuality and gay identity.

  2. hello says:

    Among supporters of married mother/father families the key in this debate, I believe, is what one believes to be the cause of homosexuality. Those who believe it is a choice and that gays could become attracted to the opposite sex if they wished will support BS like conversion therapy. Those who believe that once a person reaches adulthood with a gay orientation can almost never change will be more amenable to SSM. But at this point no one really knows why some people are gay and if it were conclusively proven what causes it I think the debate would change.

  3. Chris says:

    Chairm: “The proponents of SSM insist that homosexuality and gay identity must take center stage in these discussions.”

    I disagree. Many proponents of SSM have insisted that gay people take center stage in these discussions. Since those are the people who are most affected by these discussions, that is hardly the unreasonable demand you make it out to be. In fact, it is unreasonable for you to expect that, in a discussion about policy change, we decenter the people who are most affected by said change.

    It is clear from your argumentation style that you prefer to debate using abstractions and ideals. Please understand that gay people don’t have that luxury. You are framing the debate in terms of “the marriage idea” and “the SSM idea,” while proponents of SSM are framing the debate in terms of their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Is it any wonder, then, that SSM proponents are winning?

    Also, you expressed above that you do not believe the argument that homosexuality is immoral is disqualifying. Do you believe this is a good argument? I have often in the past perceived your exasperation over the “gay emphasis” of pro-SSM rhetoric as somewhat veiled hostility toward gay people in general. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I believe Christopher asked you the other day to make your feelings about gay people clear; I second that request.

  4. fannie says:

    Chairm,

    Saying that consensual gay sex is immoral or perverse is hurtful to many gay people.

    And, given that many people find it hurtful when people say that gay sex or homosexuality is immoral and perverse, what is the point of saying it? Given that such a statement is a subjective judgment call, what do you reckon it “proves” when people say that homosexuality is perverse?

    You won’t even find many professional “marriage defenders” like the National Organization for Marriage and various state marriage groups making that explicit judgment anymore, because courts are increasingly unwilling to view moral disapproval of homosexuality or gay sex as a legitimate justifications for laws.

    That is partly why “marriage defenders” now put forth more civil arguments couched in terminology like “responsible procreation” and “every child needs a mom and a dad.”

    What I further find problematic about your statement is that you seem to be suggesting that as long as people identify as gay, then it is okay to attack homosexuality as immoral, because they’re Putting It Out There.

    And, well, it’s not clear to me what you objection is here. Are you opposed to people calling themselves gay? Do you deny that homosexuality exists?

    You take a lot of issue with people allegedly making the gay identity “take center stage” in conversations about same-sex marriage, but if one accepts that gay people are part of reality, then is it really unfair or unexpected that gay people might fight for certain rights?

    It seems like maybe this is another really big disconnect between you and a lot of the commenters here. While others who oppose SSM concede that gay Americans have legitimate needs and a legit identity as gay people, your starting point in the conversation is that gay people can’t even talk about gay rights without you calling “gay identity politics,” like, a “corruptive influence” on the whole conversation.

    And so, the conversation with you never really progresses much beyond those sorts of accusations. IMO, as a gay person, it feels to me that your commentary invisibilizes what it means to be gay. Even if you have, like, the best intent ever, I experience your outspoken disapproval of “gay identity politics” as an erasure. And let me tell you, many supporters of SSM, and gay people especially, are not going to be receptive to arguments that do that.

  5. A person arguing that consensual gay sex is intrinsically immoral and perverse has disqualified themselves from reasonable debate.

    You, and not they, would disqualify them.

    Readers will note that you referred to “the person arguing”. The focus ought to be on the substance of the argument. You appear to be granting yourself permission to make ad hom attacks and to chase from the public square the arguments you do not favor.

    I’m not chasing anyone off, Chairm. I don’t have that power. I’m just making an observation about the current state of the national debate.

    I’ll bet you $200, donated to the charity of your choice, that no matter who wins the Republican nomination, when he or she is debating President Obama and the subject of SSM comes up, they will NOT argue that LGB sex is perverse and immoral. Nor will Obama say that, not even when justifying why he opposes SSM.

    Not even Rick Santorum would say that if (by some miracle) he wins the GOP nomination, because he’d become less popular if he said that. The argument that gay sex is immoral, at least when it comes to the American center, is dead.

    So, that’s my prediction: Whoever wins the GOP nomination, once she or he is running against Obama, will NOT make the “gay sex is morally wrong” argument. In fact, they’ll probably say that they have nothing against gay people at all. Will you bet $200 that I’m wrong about that?

    * * *

    Also, I didn’t make an ad hom argument. An ad hominem is a specific logical fallacy, which goes something like “your argument is wrong because of [insert irrelevant personal trait here].”

    So if Lucy tells Linus he’s out of the mainstream, that’s not an ad hominem. For it to be an ad hominem, Lucy must assert that Linus’ argument is wrong because of an irrelevant personal trait of Linus’ (e.g., “security blankets don’t really help you, because you’re out of the mainstream.”). Without that element of false argumentation, it can’t be an ad hom.

    The argument that gay sex is immoral isn’t wrong because it’s out of the mainstream. Rather, that argument is out of the mainstream because it’s wrong.

    (Really, it’s out of the mainstream because most Americans believe it’s wrong. But I couldn’t resist the more elegant phrasing.)

  6. Peter Hoh says:

    Henceforth, I shall argue for same-sex marriage, but only for straight people.

  7. Hernan says:

    Is it not enough what straight people have done to the traditional sort of marriage? Must we be turned loose upon SSM as well? A slippery slope, indeed.

  8. Hernan says:

    Me:

    I claim that “the oath of fidelity” (pledging partnership and not to be confused with sexual fidelity) is the core of marriage because it is both necessary and sufficient for marriage. Love, sex, and procreation demonstrably do not meet that standard. Official sanction, legal or religious, weakly (at best) can be claimed to also meet that standard. However, the existence of competing, mutually exclusive claims for the authority to grant official sanction to marry puts strong limitations on its necessity and sufficiency that are not compatible with a claim to be “core”. At any rate, most official sanctions simply solemnify an oath of fidelity and perhaps should not be considered truly independent of that oath.

    Barry:

    In my view, marriage is the institution by which people who aren’t each other’s immediate kin, become each other’s immediate kin. This has the useful secondary effect of making two families, who may not have had previous connections, into kin.

    Observations:
    Neither stated core mentions homosexuality.

    Neither stated core is dependent on any particular “why” one would get married (love, money, sex, procreation, parental satisfaction, political necessity, etc).

    Barry, I think our “cores” are essentially equivalent. I could as easily call my core “the oath of family”. Family implies an expected level of fidelity. An oath (or set of oaths) is the institutional mechanism for making close kin of less-close-kin (all humans share a common ancestor).

    In the interest of on-topic-ness, I wonder if there is anything personally hurtful in the formulation or presentation of these cores? I mean where a reader would feel personally and directly attacked rather than more vague “I worry about the effect on society/culture/etc”. It’s not that the latter isn’t meaningful, just not what I am interested in.

    In the interest of civility, I wanted to address a couple of features Chairm said “cores” should have. Roughly, the core should:

    (1) Justify the “special status” of marriage in the law and culture

    It seems to me that societies would be well served in both supporting oath-keeping and binding its members to one another into networks of mutual, reciprocal interests. Both of these interests are served by binding families together by oath.

    (2)Clearly differentiate marriage from non-marriage relationships.

    This seems simple: you make an oath or you don’t. Someone who will not formally commit to you just isn’t that into you and that is worth knowing.

    (3) Justify the exclusion of non-eligible relationships (incestuous, underage, non-sentient, plural)

    Incestuous relationships would be excluded (weakly) by simple redundancy. Underage and non-sentient relationships can be excluded because children (or animals, trees, etc) cannot meaningfully make the oath. I do not include plural marriage because plural marriages are marriages. They are problematic enough to warrant extra regulation, but cannot formally be excluded under these cores.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    For the record, Maggie really isn’t addressing any of the issues being discussed in this thread, which is really about the issue of civility and the terms of the debate.

  10. Jeffrey says:

    So radioactive that literally everyone is talking about it and NOM was able to raise millions of dollars to talk about it. So radioactive that most of the GOP candidates showed up a debate focused solely on culture war questions and all talked about SSM.

  11. Jeffrey says:

    Karen, would you acknowledge that the heated rhetoric on this topic has also been fueled by the anti-SSM forces and the issue is “radioactive” (if it is) because of the tactics of people who oppose SSM? While Maggie blames the “progressive left,” would you join people in agreeing that the “radical right” has also made this issue difficult for politicians and policy makers because of their approach?

  12. anonymous says:

    Barry correctly writes that “there are some arguments no reasonable person makes anymore. A person arguing that consensual gay sex is intrinsically immoral and perverse has disqualified themselves from reasonable debate. In mainstream society this is a settled question, and there’s no longer any need for any LGB person or ally to answer such arguments anymore (except perhaps with a raised finger).”

    Very true. But the problem is that many or most of those people who fight the idea of gay marriage are doing so precisely because they believe that gay sex is intrinsically immoral and/or perverse.

    If we as a society are to resolve this issue, perhaps we need to confront head on the issue that you claim has already been settled. Just because people don’t want to base their objection to gay marriage on the premise that gay sex is “immoral” or “perverse” does not mean they don’t believe that gay sex is immoral or perverse. They understand that such premises have been taken off the table, either because they are too hurtful for gay people to hear or because they are unfashionably old-fashioned. So there is a difference here between what people are willing to say publicly and what they really think.

    Is it better to preserve the feelings of gay people by not allowing anti-
    SSM people to say publicly what they really think and asking them to invent more complicated, roundabout arguments to justify their objections to gay marriage? Or would it be better to get those private beliefs out onto the table and discuss them?

  13. Tristian says:

    I sort of don’t get this. Civility in discourse means something like being reasonably well mannered and genuinely receptive of what others are saying, showing a willingness to at least hear and consider what others are arguing and responding with reasoned arguments of one’s own rather that with personal attacks. The value of such an exchange is precisely the opportunity it affords us to express our beliefs have them subject to the scrutiny of those who disagree. If in the context of such an exchange one party ends up hurt, it can only because it hurts to find or hear that others disagree or disapprove, as it surely can. But finding that and why others disagree or disapprove is the whole point. Making yourself vulnerable is the price of admission to robust debates about contentious issues.

    I also have rather serious doubts about the idea that those who judge consensual gay sex as immoral have somehow disqualified themselves from civil discourse on gay marriage. Says who? If the claim is that “no reasonable person” says such things, the arguments is patently unsound. Plenty of reasonable people say such things. If the argument is that such views are “out of the mainstream” I have to ask who cares? Since when is that a standard that determines what views we should or should not take seriously? To suggest anyone expressing such views should be banned from discussions for that alone is rank censorship of the worse kind.

  14. La Lubu says:

    Tristian, I don’t believe that Barry suggested that such views be *banned* from public discourse, only that such views are not worth considering. Not all opinions are worthy of consideration—only those that are substantive. Merely expecting others to have the same pre-existing biases, and to reject the arguments of others when they do not accept those pre-existing biases as fact is not substantive. “Gay sex–eww!” isn’t an argument; it is even less so when the arguer believes that the same sexual practices engaged in by heterosexual couples are not “eww!”

  15. Tristian says:

    Well, what he said was

    From the point of view of a website wishing to facilitate a civil debate on same-sex marriage, such arguments must be moderated away, and the people making the arguments should be banned.

    Maybe he meant by this those who don’t really argue or those who condemn gays by way of patently offensive stereotypes and so on should be banned. If so, that would be reasonable.

  16. anonymous says:

    LaLubu, you say that “not all opinions are worthy of consideration—only those that are substantive.” Do you mean the view that gay sex is “immoral and perverse”? Is that the view that is not worthy of consideration? I ask because that seems like such a sweeping statement, to dismiss 3000 years’ worth of Judeo-Christian teaching on sexual morality. You may disagree with it, but to say that it is “not worthy of consideration” does not seem quite reasonable.

    Could you clarify?

  17. fannie says:

    “I ask because that seems like such a sweeping statement, to dismiss 3000 years’ worth of Judeo-Christian teaching on sexual morality.”

    Given the extent to which Judeo-Christian texts actually explicitly reference same-sex sexual behavior, it seems as though the teachings would actually be encompassed in 10 seconds rather than 3000 years.

    Interesting though. I’ve seen several people in this comment thread suggest that “gay sex is immoral/perverse” is a legitimate argument. It certainly runs contrary to the popular talking point of anti-SSM groups that the opposition to SSM Definitely Isn’t Based In Mora Disapproval Of Homosexuality.

    I guess that is validating, in a weird way. Mostly because it’s what many of us LGB people have suspected was true anyway.

  18. La Lubu says:

    Anonymous, if that argument is to be substantive, then the arguer need to be able to point to some objective standard of proof. What, or how, is “gay sex” perverse or immoral? Simply stating “because my religion says so” isn’t substantive—it’s not based in fact.

  19. anonymous says:

    LaLubu, I agree that saying “it’s immoral because my religion says so” is not substantive. However, you have to deal with the fact that that is indeed the reason most people give for objecting to gay marriage (I saw this piece of information recently, forget where). I suspect that these people have difficulty articulating their discomfort with gay marriage and so fall back on religion. But that does not mean that their discomfort with gay marriage is without rational basis or that a case cannot be made to justify their position, either on moral grounds or on the grounds of gay sexuality’s being “perverse.”

    By declaring those aspects of the issue off-limits for discussion, as Barry suggests we should do, proponents of SSM miss the opportunity to deal with their opponents’ central objections — their actual beliefs — rather than with their tangential arguments (about gay marriage’s effects on children, for instance). And so the two sides will never truly engage with each other.

  20. Hernan says:

    But that does not mean that their discomfort with gay marriage is without rational basis or that a case cannot be made to justify their position, either on moral grounds or on the grounds of gay sexuality’s being “perverse.”

    So… do it. Specify the rational basis. Make the case.

  21. Tristian says:

    We all have our intellectual prejudices, topics or proponents of views we’re just not going to bother with. My list includes, for example, Holocaust deniers. Life is short and I’ve better things to do than listen to or read stuff I’m pretty sure is going to be as stupid as it is noxious. However, in saying this I am also saying I’m not interested in civil discussions with such people–I’m not. If were, I would be committed to hearing them out and responding with reasoned arguments. I can’t have it both ways.

    I think the worry some of have with Barry’s post is that he seems to want to have it both ways–he expresses a willingness to engage in civil discussions with anti-SSM folks while also presuming to rule some of their arguments beneath consideration.

  22. La Lubu says:

    Exactly. They either have to state their actual objections (such as, fear that if same-sex relationships were given more formal approval and recognition bysociety, that fewer people will be heterosexual and the human race will die out from too few people procreating), or they have to provide verifiable evidence that “gay sex” (in parentheses once again to acknowledge that heterosexuals often engage in the same sex acts) is immoral (sorry, can’t think of an example for that one. I have heard the “why would anyone be heterosexual if homosexuality is allowed” one, though).

  23. La Lubu says:

    I think the worry some of have with Barry’s post is that he seems to want to have it both ways–he expresses a willingness to engage in civil discussions with anti-SSM folks while also presuming to rule some of their arguments beneath consideration.

    And that’s fair. But Barry has a long and storied history of spending a lot of time in civil discussions with people he disagrees with vehemently. In my eyes, he is a Jedi master of nonviolent verbal communication. Not to speak for him, but since he appears to be busy…I think the point is: some people can change their minds. Others can’t. Barry leans towards erring on the side of possibility. It’s not something that everyone can do, and it’s not something that anyone can do under all circumstances. But he tries more than most, and he is doing so in good faith, without selling out his values, his loved ones, or himself.

  24. anonymous says:

    Okay, Hernan. I will try to make a case for why someone might define homosexuality as “perverse” or “immoral.” I am sure there are better arguments than mine out there, but for whatever it’s worth, here is one explanation:

    With respect to homosexuality’s being “perverse”, there are any number of sexual behaviors or acts that are seen as “perverse.” On a continuum of roughly least to most objectionable would be masturbation, promiscuity (one-night stands), various fetishes involving objects, homosexuality, etc. — and in a class of their own as most repugnant — incest, bestiality, pedophilia.

    Why this hierarchy of least to most repugnant? One theory might be that the farther a sexual behavior strays from the two most important functions of sexuality, which are reproduction and male/female pair-bonding (to keep the male around to raise the child) the more it is disapproved of. Of course sexuality has other purposes (pleasure, expressions of power and dominance, stress relief) but these serve ancillary purposes and don’t further the survival of the species.

    For instance, it may be why we find masturbation mildly distasteful, although it hurts absolutely no one — because it involves neither reproduction nor pair-bonding. You can apply this principle to various behaviors. Heterosexual sex between old people? Distasteful but not repugnant because while it will not produce offspring, it involves male-female pair bonding. Incest? Inappropriate, socially disruptive pair bond and impaired offspring. Does not further the species Bestiality? No pair bond, no offspring. And so on down the line. Therefore, homosexual relations (no male-female pair bond, no possibility of offspring) would be more distasteful than heterosexual intercourse using birth control (male-female pair bond but no offspring) but less so than incest (a same-sex pair bond could be seen as less socially disruptive than an incestuous one).

    An argument trying to explain why these behaviors have traditionally been viewed as immoral would follow the same lines. To the extent that it doesn’t further the survival of the species, it is more or less disapproved of.

  25. Hey, sorry I’ve been absent. I’ve been busy, then I’ve been feeling a bit sick, then I’ve been sick and busy.

    * * *

    Tristian, La Lubu, Fannie, Hernan, Jeffrey, Karen, and Peter, you all have permission to continue beyond the three-comment limit on this thread.

    Anonymous, you also have permission, but pretty-please make up a better handle for yourself.

    * * *

    Tristian wrote:

    I also have rather serious doubts about the idea that those who judge consensual gay sex as immoral have somehow disqualified themselves from civil discourse on gay marriage. Says who?

    See my previous comment to Chairm. Would you care to take my $200 bet?

    If the argument is that such views are “out of the mainstream” I have to ask who cares? Since when is that a standard that determines what views we should or should not take seriously?

    From my perspective, as someone who wishes to see marriage equality across the country, it matters a lot which opposition arguments matter and which ones lack cultural legitimacy.

    From my perspective, as a blog moderator (not of this blog, but of my own blog), it also matters a lot, because I have to consider what I can reasonably expect LGB readers to put up with in the name of a civil debate.

    To suggest anyone expressing such views should be banned from discussions for that alone is rank censorship of the worse kind.

    I assume you’re being hyperbolic here; surely you don’t really think that banning someone from my blog’s comments is just as bad as (for example) soldiers executing the editor of a newspaper for printing an anti-government editorial.

    I’d argue that moderating a blog discussion is not censorship, and in fact broadens the scope of public discussion, compared to a world in which no one moderated their website’s discussions.

    There is no such thing as a discussion that includes everyone. If we decide to have a website in which the view that people who believe gay sex is intrinsically immoral and perverse is treated respectfully and not moderated, then there are going to be some people who be so sickened by that egregious insult to LGB people that they will feel unable to participate in that website’s discussion.

    Likewise, if we have a discussion in which we insist on the equal dignity of LGB people, there are going to be some bigoted people who will be so disgusted by the idea of LGB human beings being treated with respect and dignity that they will feel unable to participate.

    When we allow party “A” to participate in a website, party “B” will feel unable to participate, and vice-versa. That’s the way it goes. And if we decide to never have any rules, and just have a general free-for-all, then the entire web will sink to a morass of insults, yelling, and people who type in all caps. (Kind of like the comments on YouTube.) And those who feel unable to participate in that sort of forum will be effectively silenced.

    As an alternative to no rules anywhere, individual websites can set up their own rules. And as a result, pretty much anyone can find a forum somewhere they feel able to participate in, if they want to. Which is why moderation creates more substantive freedom of speech than an utter lack of moderation would.

    Maybe he meant by this those who don’t really argue or those who condemn gays by way of patently offensive stereotypes and so on should be banned. If so, that would be reasonable.

    Well, yes, but imo saying gay sex is intrinsically immoral is itself a “patently offensive stereotype.”

  26. La Lubu, than you for that perfectly lovely comment. I’m all verklempt here. :-)

  27. Tristian wrote:

    My list includes, for example, Holocaust deniers. Life is short and I’ve better things to do than listen to or read stuff I’m pretty sure is going to be as stupid as it is noxious. However, in saying this I am also saying I’m not interested in civil discussions with such people–I’m not. If were, I would be committed to hearing them out and responding with reasoned arguments. I can’t have it both ways.

    I think the worry some of have with Barry’s post is that he seems to want to have it both ways–he expresses a willingness to engage in civil discussions with anti-SSM folks while also presuming to rule some of their arguments beneath consideration.

    Imagine that Schroeder is a defender of Israel, and is willing to engage in civil discussions with critics of Israel.

    One day, Schroeder is having a debate about Israel’s history with Patty, who is a critic of Israel, and Patty — as part of her criticism of Israeli history — starts explaining how the Holocaust never really happened, the gas chambers were a myth, etc..

    Schroeder then decides that although he’s still willing to have civil discussions with mainstream critics of Israel, he’s not willing to have a discussion with Patty, because she’s a holocaust denier.

    In your view, is Schroeder wrong? Is he trying to have it both ways? Does being willing to have a civil debate about Israel obligate him to have a civil debate with someone whose criticism of Israel includes holocaust denial?

    (P.S. BTW, please understand that I’m not saying or implying that holocaust denial is typical among critics of Israel. It is not. But there are a few marginal people who incorporate denialism into their critique of Israel.)

  28. Anonymous asked:

    Is it better to preserve the feelings of gay people by not allowing anti-SSM people to say publicly what they really think and asking them to invent more complicated, roundabout arguments to justify their objections to gay marriage? Or would it be better to get those private beliefs out onto the table and discuss them?

    First of all, anti-SSM folks are “allowed” to say whatever they want. What some people object to is that anti-gay people are not allowed to say whatever they want — for instance, that gay sex is immoral and perverse — without fear of seeming like bigots and cranks.

    On the whole, I think it’s better for society when people who say such things have to worry about being considered bigots and cranks.

    For one thing, it’s necessary for society to be able to move on. If we’re never allowed to observe that a debate is over and it’s time to move on to new debates, I don’t see how social progress could ever occur.

    For another thing, I think one of the ways social progress occurs is that old people die and are replaced by young people with fewer (or at least, different) prejudices. This process is facilitated by young people learning that some views are mainly held by bigots and cranks and do not merit being taken seriously.

    If no views are ever considered unacceptable and cranky, then how do we ever teach young people that (say) anti-semitic views do not deserve equal respect compared to other views?

  29. It’s off-topic for this thread, so I won’t discuss why I hate the term “Judeo-Christian,” but I will suggest that people read this excellent post by David Schraub.

  30. Tristian says:

    Barry, I wouldn’t take your bet because I agree that openly condemning homosexuality per se is becoming increasingly inexpedient. I don’t find that horribly interesting however. Political expedience doesn’t track truth.

    My point about censorship certainly wasn’t that banning the kinds of views in question is bad as measured by actual effect. Rather, the idea of inviting civil discourse while rejecting outright certain views no matter how well argued reflects the worse kind of censorial impulse–it implies ideas are a threat, and that (in this case mild) coercion is an appropriate response. What you see as an “offensive stereotype” I see as a controversial judgment about behavior. The latter shouldn’t be banned when they’re relevant to the topic. Obviously free wheeling debate is not appropriate to every venue. But if we’re talking about framing a debate in a more general way, I cringe at the thought of barring some participants simply on the basis of their holding unpopular beliefs.

    Schroeder is not being inconsistent–he’s no longer talking to someone whose beliefs by his lights puts her beyond the pale. As I said we all do that, and that’s fine. There would be a problem if Holocaust denial were a reasonably well represented position among responsible critics of Israel. In that case I think he’d have to decide whether or not he’s going to engage those critics at all.

    I think it’s pretty clear the underlying issue is whether the morality of gay sex is the sort of thing reasonable people of good will can disagree about. I think it is.

  31. La Lubu says:

    anonymous, I think you’ll have a hard sell convincing people that sexuality that doesn’t involve reproduction is perverse or immoral. When it comes to nonreproductive sex, I think of it as an unequivocal good–and I’m not alone (Exhibit A: 98% of USian woman use or have used birth control to limit reproduction). It’s probably also worth mentioning that when I hear talk about sex being about reproduction, with everything else (like pleasure) an “ancillary” purpose, I think: “hmm. sounds like the voice of someone who has never been pregnant. or never will be pregnant.”

    Because seriously? Pregnancy is hard work. It’s not something we (the majority of us actually doing that work) want to have happen very often. You think “propagation of the species”; I’m thinking: lurching over the toilet, puking. Being blazing hot all the time. Rushing to the bathroom to pee and hoping there isn’t a line. And that’s long before we get into the actualities of labor or complications or how hard multiple pregnancies are on the human body (not to mention the actual work of raising the child, which prior to the invention of infant formula was a very labor-intensive job for the mother—in addition to all her other duties). Just sayin’. If it wasn’t for sexual pleasure, the human race would have died out long ago. Humans are one of the species that have a more difficult time of birth, which is why we (you know, those of us doing the heavy lifting in all that species propagation) used to die of it so often. I’ve heard one too many men blithely talk about how women used to just go out and cop a squat in the fields, give birth, and then be back to work like it was no thing (translation: women are so spoiled now!); none of those peanut galleries ever experienced a 10cm dilated cervix, let alone passing a 13″ circumference head through one. Sex without pregnancy—all good, no bad. (but hey, YMMV)

    That’s worth noting, because prior to the invention of effective, reversible birth control we didn’t have much of a choice on how many children to have. But immediately after such birth control became available? It was immediately adopted. It was literally hallelujah time. Boom. The birth rate went down immediately. If sex without reproduction was actually viewed as taboo, perverse, or immoral….this wouldn’t have happened.

    Almost all cultures have strong taboos against incest, bestiality and pedophilia. That isn’t true of masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, frottage, or other sexual practices, and it hasn’t been true of sexual acts between same-sex partners. I know of no cultures that regard sex by older people as perverse (perhaps you can name one?). Dildoes have been discovered at archaeological sites, including this one from 28,000 years ago. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed from the earliest dawn of humanity—sex is all about the pleasure. People were not seeking to necessarily propagate the species.

    Tristian, I have to disagree with this statement: Rather, the idea of inviting civil discourse while rejecting outright certain views no matter how well argued reflects the worse kind of censorial impulse–it implies ideas are a threat, and that (in this case mild) coercion is an appropriate response.

    Stating that some views are off the table, because their expression is intrinsically in bad faith opens the possibility of discourse. If someone enters a discussion and makes it clear that he or she does not respect the personhood of his or her opponents, those opponents are not obligated to entertain his or her arguments. If one makes a bigoted comment, one not entitled to have others consider this comment with the same regard as a nonbigoted comment. One also has to realize that one is responsible for one’s own actions; that if one expresses bigotry, others will conclude that one is a bigot.

    A glance at any of the threads of any large, unmoderated online public venue ought to be proof enough that moderation of content leads to more productive conversation than otherwise.

  32. La Lubu says:

    I think it’s pretty clear the underlying issue is whether the morality of gay sex is the sort of thing reasonable people of good will can disagree about. I think it is.

    I disagree. If someone states that the only moral gay person is a celibate gay person, they are not being reasonable nor are they acting in good will—particularly if many of their opponents in the discussion on SSM have openly identified themselves as gay men or lesbians in a committed partnership. “You are immoral” isn’t an argument.

  33. Tristian says:

    if someone enters a discussion and makes it clear that he or she does not respect the personhood of his or her opponents, those opponents are not obligated to entertain his or her arguments. If one makes a bigoted comment, one not entitled to have others consider this comment with the same regard as a nonbigoted comment.

    I agree with this. What I see no reason to believe is that someone whose understanding of sexual morality would condemn homosexuality is necessarily guilty of any or all of this. You’ve gone from a focus on a judgment or viewpoint to how it’s expressed.

  34. hello says:

    I support gay marriage. But I think, for all of the time and energy that so many people on both sides of the issue put into the debate, that the inevitable legalization of gay marriage will have little real affect on most Americans’ lives. First of all, very few Americans identify as gay, lesbian or trans (approximately 4% according to the link below). Those of us who live in urban areas or college towns with relatively large concentrations of gays may not realize how numerically rare they are. Which leaves more than 90% of Americans who are straight and would never marry a person of the same sex regardless of its legality. Secondly, the pattern in Europe and in liberal American states is that gay activists fight hard for gay marriage/civil unions, with a lot of support from ordinary gays. When it is legalized, there’s a flurry of well-publicized gay weddings that peters out and while most gays want the option to marry far fewer actually will, compared to straights who marry. So I think that what everyone is arguing about so passionately will have a direct affect on a miniscule percentage of Americans, including children in gay households.

    However far fewer people seem interested in the reality that marriage is disappearing among poorly and moderately educated straight Americans even though this large demographic vastly outnumber gays, lesbians and transgenders. In sheer numbers the marital behavior of masses of heterosexuals who lack bachelor’s degrees will have a much greater impact on American society than the marital behavior of a small percentage of sexual minorities. Gay marriage is important but it is not the only important issue facing American families. Yet the chattering classes don’t seem to understand this demographic fact at all, or they just don’t care. Why?

  35. Chairm says:

    Barry,

    The argument for the man-woman criterion of marriage is not an argument against same-sex sexual behavior.

    The argument for marriage existed long before SSM was the figment of a gay activist’ imagination. Only incidentally is the argument for marriage idea an argument against the SSM idea. The two ideas are in conflcit.

    I think that Elizabeth and David can attest to this. What the more intellectually-inclined put forth is really just an amplification of the common understanding of marriage. There is no huge irreconcilable split as you would protray it.

    * * *

    As a seperate matter, the moral argument against same-sex sexual behavior remains undefeated in substantive argument. The best one might do is make the case for moral neutrality rather than moral approbation. An emotional appeal might persuade but emotion alone does not suffice as a winning argument.

    In terms of substantive argument, the moral case against same-sex sexual behavior is powerful because it is well-reasoned and compassionate. It is right because it has withstood the attempts to knock it down.

    If you want to keep score by political optics, fine, but that elides the fact that the moral argument stands heads and shoulders above the attempts to topple it on substance alone.

    In terms of answering the SSM campaign, well, the argument against same-sex sexual behavior is an argument against the moral equivalence of the marital relationship and the sexualized same-sex relationship.

    Hence the results in surveys. People respond to the SSM campaign’s portrayal of SSM as a moral affirmation of the homosexual relationship. Neutrality is a pose. This is marital status; and a status on par with marriage would indeed entail moral approbation.

    * * *

    In my comment I said that you appeared to be giving yourself permission to make ad hom attacks.

    You misrepresented me as having claimed that you had made an ad hom attack in your blogpost.

    Here is what I said — and what you quoted from my comment:

    You appear to be granting yourself permission to make ad hom attacks and to chase from the public square the arguments you do not favor.

    I stand by that observation. The “you” is not singular.

    Barry asserted:

    The argument that gay sex is immoral isn’t wrong because it’s out of the mainstream. Rather, that argument is out of the mainstream because it’s wrong.

    Not convinced.

    Since you have retreated to moral neutrality, in argument, it is revealing that you would now announce in a flight of rehtorical excess a sense of superiority in political terms. identity politics seeps into your remarks almost without fail. You are not alone among SSMers in that regard.

    The moral argument is about sexual behavior.

    It is not about identity. But you could not resist invoking gay identity politics — i.e. “gay sex” — even as your fellow SSMers routinely claim not to emphasize homosexuality and gay identity in their pro-SSM arguments and rhetoric.

    The argument regarding homosexuality is related but distinct from the argument that stands for marriage and against SSM.

    It is related first by the SSM campaign’s insistence that gay identity is of such great societal significance and political force that the marriage law must be recast in its image. But marriage and homosexuality are very seperate matters.

    * * *

    Chris said:

    In fact, it is unreasonable for you to expect that, in a discussion about policy change, we decenter the people who are most affected by said change.

    It is good of you acknowledge the homosexual emphasis as a fact of the pro-SSM rhetoric and argumentation.

    If the center of the conflcit was homosexual people, with the stress on people, then, you’d acknowledge that no homosexual persons is barred from marraige just because he feels same-sex sexual attraction. No, the conflict is really between the marriage idea and the SSM idea and the well-being of society (i.e. the people). That includes people of all kinds, not just those who’d describe themselves as part of this or that group identity.

    The same-sex category of relationship types is not defined by homosexuality nor by gay identity. Indeed, the same-sex category is a subset of the nonmarriage category in which the vast majority of people are neither homosexual nor gay.

    Society’s foundational social institution is at stake. The gay identity group has been encouraged to cultivate an exagerated sense of its own importance and gravitas.

    That need not be part and parcel of the argument for the type of relationship that SSM argumentation highlights — shorn of the homosexual emphasis. Most of the types of relationships within the nonmarriage category merits equal treatment without favoritism for the gay identity group. The rest of nonmarraige is comprised on people, too, but for some reason they are pushed to the sidelines by SSM argumentation’s special emphasis.

    Nonmarraige exists. It is not defined by gay this or gay that.

    Marriage exists. It is defined by its essentials, as a social institution, which comes down to its core meaning.

    What Barry and other SSMers have offered — the SSM idea — is perfectly situated in the nonmarriage category. But the homosexual emphasis would create the mistaken impression that SSM-as-marriage is based on waht marriage is not rather than what marriage is.

    * * *

    Fannie asked:

    And, given that many people find it hurtful when people say that gay sex or homosexuality is immoral and perverse, what is the point of saying it?

    Suppose someone asserted a moral equivalence that you were convicned was false. The truth deserves to be spoken, surely.

    Now, granted, some people will say things with the aim of causing hurt feelings. But even then, that would not make the truth untrue.

    Ask yourself what is the point of stating the moral truth in the midst of people who assert the contrary.

    Fannie said:

    [...] courts are increasingly unwilling to view moral disapproval of homosexuality or gay sex as a legitimate justifications for laws.

    Actually, the leading voices of NOM are aware that people feel hurt by gratuitous repetition of moral disapproval. It is not that the moral argument is wrong, but that marraige defenders are sensitive to exactly what you are asking us to be empathetic about.

    And see my remarks at the top of this comment. The marriage idea merits defending on its merits; disapproval of the moral equivalence proposed by the SSM campaign is a legitmate basis for lawmaking.

    Sometimes “the courts” get it wrong. SSMers are fond of pointing that out when the homosexual emphasis fails.

    It would be a horrible thing for “the courts” to bleach moral arguments out of law-making. On the other hand, the judicial process is not justly empowered to insunate an agenda of forcing supposed moral neutrality on society’s governance. To the extent that such bleaching is done for the sake of identity politics, it is an abuse of the judicial role.

    Fannie said:

    That is partly why “marriage defenders” now put forth more civil arguments couched in terminology like “responsible procreation” and “every child needs a mom and a dad.”

    Okay, I was going to respond further too your comment but I will stop with this: you have just transgressed your own stated standard against impugning the motives of others; the argument for responsible procreation and every child needs and a mom and a dad are not facades. We are not arguing in bad faith.

  36. anonymous says:

    LaLubu, I was not saying that non-reproductive sex is “immoral” or “perverse.” I was looking for a principle whereby I could explain why certain types of sexual activity are viewed as immoral or perverse in certain historical periods and cultures, especially ours. The one I came up with — sex as both reproduction and source of social cohesion and organization — was the one that seemed to apply best to the reasoning behind the formation of various sexual taboos, including those against homosexuality, bestiality, and incest between consenting adults, as well as disapproval of masturbation and promiscuity. I was looking for a reason why certain sexual behaviors that do not cause any harm and bring pleasure are still frowned upon in our society.

    If sex were really just “all about the pleasure” (anything goes between consenting adults) we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.

  37. La Lubu says:

    I was looking for a reason why certain sexual behaviors that do not cause any harm and bring pleasure are still frowned upon in our society.

    I understand. I think you had a hard time finding a reason because there are no rational reasons. Please understand also, that all I am saying with the “sex is all about the pleasure” comment is that…that’s why people are having it. They find it pleasurable. Intensely so (when done right!), and that people have always sought out ways in which to have that pleasure without also risking pregnancy. Because…after I had my daughter? I wasn’t up for any of that anytime soon, LOL! (and I wanted to be a parent!) But there’s no such thing as a bad day for an orgasm.

  38. anonymous says:

    To put it more simply, the general principle in our society seems to be that any sexual behavior that has no purpose beyond pleasure is seen as more or less distasteful (or immoral or perverse if you want to use those words). I think that the success of the gay rights movement is in convincing many people that homosexual relations can have such a purpose beyond pure pleasure, as a way of sealing an emotional bond between people of homosexual orientation and therefore creating a monogamous couple which contributes to an orderly society. This may be why the view of gay sex as “immoral” and “perverse” is becoming less common, as Barry points out.

  39. La Lubu says:

    To put it more simply, the general principle in our society seems to be that any sexual behavior that has no purpose beyond pleasure is seen as more or less distasteful (or immoral or perverse if you want to use those words).

    And I see what you’re saying (and understand that you, yourself are not claiming this view). But….I still maintain that people show their true beliefs by what they do, not what they say (talk is cheap, action not words, yadda yadda), and the sheer fact that the overwhelming majority of heterosexual couples engage in sexual acts that provide a great deal of pleasure without those acts resulting in pregnancy (that in fact, they take steps to actively prevent pregnancy even in the type of acts that have a high likelihood of causing it)…speaks volumes as to how people really feel about nonprocreative sex.

    I think it’s also worth remembering that very few cultures up until modern times had any cultural prohibition against lesbians—including the cultures that had strict social prohibitions against gay men. A big part of why gay men having sex was considered problematic in those cultures is because one party was considered as “being the woman”—lowering himself in social status. The issue wasn’t the particular sexual act, but the lower status; lower status being fine for women, but undignified in men. Lesbians were considered a problem because women can’t lower themselves further; they are already lesser beings, not full citizens.

    It’s not an argument I can get with; I reject any worldview that requires me to believe I am lesser-than. I think reasonable people of good will can recognize that no one should be expected to assert the view that they are intrinsically less human because of whatever category they occupy, no?

  40. Chris says:

    Chairm:

    If the center of the conflcit was homosexual people, with the stress on people, then, you’d acknowledge that no homosexual persons is barred from marraige just because he feels same-sex sexual attraction.

    No I wouldn’t, because that would be absurd. As fannie’s most recent article points out, it is hurtful to tell gay people “You can still get married, as long as it’s a sham marriage to someone you can never feel true romantic or sexual attraction to.” If you think saying such a thing would be a sign of putting a “stress on people,” then you really have no idea how to talk to people as people.

    Which is really quite clear from most of what you write. For instance: this paragraph:

    That need not be part and parcel of the argument for the type of relationship that SSM argumentation highlights — shorn of the homosexual emphasis. Most of the types of relationships within the nonmarriage category merits equal treatment without favoritism for the gay identity group. The rest of nonmarraige is comprised on people, too, but for some reason they are pushed to the sidelines by SSM argumentation’s special emphasis.

    I had to read this over three times before I understood what you were trying to say. Why do you continue to argue in this way? You’ve been told countless times by other posters here that your rhetoric is overly complex and unclear. And that’s not because we’re all just simpletons who can’t follow an intellectual argument; we’re all intelligent folks. But your comments indicate that you’re not interested in an actual dialogue. You are talking at us, not with us.

    Furthermore, you have now come out and said that you believe the moral argument against homosexuality is not only “powerful,” but “right.” You said this even after it was pointed out to you that such arguments are hurtful to LGBT people. Thank you for finally making your opinions about gay people clear.

    Barry, since you have stated that such arguments should be moderated away and the people who make them should be banned, I suggest that you take such action against Chairm. His comments are not productive, and he is not interested in a real debate.

  41. Chris, I’m not a moderator on FSB, and can’t make that decision. The only thing I can do is not give Chairm permission to post more than three times on any of my threads.

    In general, though, it’s probably better to take specific complaints about a poster to email rather than posting about them in the comments.

    With all respect, I would really prefer that “should Chairm be banned?” not become the topic under discussion in this thread. I’d appreciate it if folks could let that specific question drop.

  42. fannie says:

    hello asked:

    “However far fewer people seem interested in the reality that marriage is disappearing among poorly and moderately educated straight Americans even though this large demographic vastly outnumber gays, lesbians and transgenders……Yet the chattering classes don’t seem to understand this demographic fact at all, or they just don’t care. Why?”

    If your observation is true, I would reckon that at least one reason for this is because “porrly and moderately educated straight Americans” are not legally denied the right to marry their partners. The just aren’t utilizing a right that is available to them. And, there are likely many reasons why. Whereas, with LGB people, we can readily pinpoint one major reason we aren’t getting married: the state won’t grant us marriage licenses with our chosen partners.

    Chairm,

    In answer to my question as to why people would make a statement about the alleged immorality of homosexuailty when it is known to be hurtful, you responded:

    “The truth deserves to be spoken, surely.

    Now, granted, some people will say things with the aim of causing hurt feelings. But even then, that would not make the truth untrue.”

    Truth should be spoken. But what counts as truth regarding moral matters varies greatly among people, particularly in a nation as religiously and spiritually diverse as the US. You’re talking about the moral truth of homosexuality as though it’s as simple, objective, and clear-cut as calling a flower a flower, which just isn’t an accurate characterization.

    Calling homosexuality immoral isn’t just a matter of hurt feelings, it’s a matter of other people possessing moral truths that they believe are just as valid as the truths that you and others believe you possess.

    SCOTUS has therefore correctly held that moral disapproval is not enough to justify discriminatory laws against gay people. So when you say:

    “It would be a horrible thing for ‘the courts’ to bleach moral arguments out of law-making. On the other hand, the judicial process is not justly empowered to insunate an agenda of forcing supposed moral neutrality on society’s governance. To the extent that such bleaching is done for the sake of identity politics, it is an abuse of the judicial role.”

    You state a lot of conclusions here without supporting arguments, but you are still wrong. Such “bleaching” as you call it, is not done merely for the sake of the “identity politics” that you so abhor, it is done to respect the reality that diversity regarding what is and is not moral exists in the US. It is done to respect the reality that the state doesn’t always have legitimate reasons to restrict the freedom and liberty of its citizens.

    With respect to this:

    “the argument for responsible procreation and every child needs and a mom and a dad are not facades. We are not arguing in bad faith.”

    You say “we,” but I’m not sure you’re really speaking as the representative of all SSM opponents.

    But anyway, I imply no bad faith. I don’t doubt that some opponents of SSM truly are just concerned with responsible procreation.

    But it has also been my experience that there are also people who (a) do not at all speak of their opposition to SSM in that manner, and who really just have a big problem with gay people, and (b) there are also people who are concerned with responsible procreation and who ALSO morally disapprove of gay people.

    There also seem to be opponents of SSM who do not think homosexuality is immoral (like, I believe, David Blankenhorn).

  43. fannie says:

    “As fannie’s most recent article points out, it is hurtful to tell gay people ‘You can still get married, as long as it’s a sham marriage to someone you can never feel true romantic or sexual attraction to.’”

    I’d actually be interested in seeing how or whether Chairm would respond to that post of mine, since he’s one of the people who puts forth the argument that Gays Already Can Marry (People of the other sex, of course).

    If he understood that gays and lesbians entering into heterosexual marriage often do not result in positive outcomes, he might better understand the (what he calls) “the homosexual emphasis” of SSM advocacy.