Four open-ended questions on gay marriage

SchiefferChristopher Scanlan of the Poynter Institute explained the power of open-ended questions, especially for the presidential debates, in a New York Times op-ed piece on Tuesday:

Unlike its rhetorical opposite, the closed-ended question, which limits possible answers to yes, no and “I don’t know,” open-ended questions require an expansive response. If questions are the traffic signals that direct an interview, open-ended questions are green lights, closed-ended are reds.

The truth of Scanlan’s observation stood out for me on Wednesday evening when Bob Schieffer reduced the complicated issue of gay marriage to this: “Both of you are opposed to gay marriage. But to understand how you have come to that conclusion, I want to ask you a more basic question. Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?”

The question is about 10 years behind the curve in the lively debate about gay marriage. Justin Lee, a gay Christian who began his Justin’s World website while still a student at Wake Forest University, debunks four of the myths that often surround the question of whether homosexuality is a choice. Lee believes homosexual desires are not a choice, but here is how he summarizes the four myths:

° Either homosexuality is a choice or else it is genetic. There is no middle ground.

° A Christian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful must logically believe that no one is born gay.

° If homosexuality is genetic, then gays deserve legal minority status. Otherwise, they don’t.

° The origin or “cause” of homosexuality has been proven.

(Lee last updated Justin’s World in 2002, but confirmed via email that he stands behind what he wrote there. More recently, he has since written an essay for GayChristian.net that argues in favor of gay marriage.)

These are some open-ended questions about gay marriage that I hope some journalists will explore — if not with presidential candidates, then with other important figures in the gay-marriage debate:

° Some clergy and journalist Michael Kinsley have proposed separating civil marriage from marriage as a religious rite. How well do you think such an approach would work in the United States?

° What is the state’s interest, if any, in preserving a definition of marriage as involving a man and a woman?

° Jon Meacham of Newsweek has said, “We have changed the definition of marriage before, and so we can change it again.” For what philosophical reasons do you oppose redefining marriage to incorporate gay and lesbian couples?

° In what ways might our culture address gay marriage without turning it into a decades-long battle in the culture wars?

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  • http://www.relapsedcatholic.com Kathy Shaidle

    If it turns out anorexia is “genetic” does that make it something to be encouraged rather than cured? Just askin’.

  • http://www.tatumweb.com/ Rich Tatum

    So much rests on this argument:

    « Either homosexuality is a choice or else it is genetic. There is no

    middle ground. »

    I hope the fallacy here is clear to everbody who reads it.

    Why would a genetic predisposition eliminate one’s responsibility or ability to choose? Are some genetic issues void of moral consequence? Are others not? Who decides?

    Rich.

  • Brian Lewis

    Isn’t the point of the culture wars that they don’t end?

    Rather when something is firmly ensconced as part of the culture wars, it can be used again and again in political campaign after political campaign, often divorced from reality or real people’s lives.

    And if we succeed in removing homosexuality or gay marriage fom the culture wars,something else, just as divisive will replace it. Maybe stem cell research, immigration law or …

    if the culture wars outlive their usefulness then other bloodless wars will have to be invented.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    “The question is about 10 years behind the curve in the lively debate about gay marriage.” Yes, but a more widely-known example should have been Andrew Sullivan’s “Virtually Normal,” more so than “Justin’s World.” To paraphrase Sullivan’s groundbreaking argument, he convincingly argued that the question of etiology (is homosexuality genetic or caused by environmental factors?) is irrelevant to the public debate. The only relevant question is whether homosexuality is experienced as an involuntary condition by adults.

    That said, I think Bob Schieffer’s question is nevertheless timely. Polls consistently show that a great number of religious Americans continue to believe homosexuality is a choice, and that this belief influences their political opinions. Politicians like George W. Bush know better, but lie to the American people (“I don’t know”) in order to cynically appeal to those in their base who don’t know better.

  • thecosmopolitan

    Perhaps Mr. Tatum could give an example or two of some genetic issues that don’t eliminate one’s responsibility or ability to choose?

    I’m just askin’ (and repeating the smarmy dodge Kathy used in the first post in this thread)

    Chris

  • Mary Russell

    I think homosexuality can be compared to alcoholism. Alcohol abuse is a genetic problem, but so much more factors into whether one actually becomes an alcoholic, including nurture, environment, and, yes, “choice”.

  • Ken

    The answer to what interest the state has in preserving the definition of marraige as is lies in the question as to why the state – the community as a whole – regulates marraige now. What does a legally and socially sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman contribute to the community that makes it worthwhile to pay partner benefits, survivor benefits, retirement subsidies, etc.? Do same-sex relationships exhibit the qualities which make it reasonable to suppose they will make comparable contributions to the community?

  • Joshua Cordell

    A couple of facts.

    ° Homosexuality is not healthy, this based on unbiased statistics like; life expectancy, disease, odds of being a serial killer, etc.

    ° Homosexuality is DeEvolution – if practiced by all humans, mankind would come to an end.

    Regardless of if you feel homosexuality is a choice or not, you have to agree with nature that it is wrong.

  • http://www.relapsedcatholic.com Kathy Shaidle

    Chris, lighten up.

  • Roger Bennett

    Jonathan Turley’s recent defense of Polygamy in USA Today makes the point that married people continue having extramarital sexual relations, which are perfectly lawful in today’s legal environment, including procreative relations. Not infrequently, there is concurrent cohabitation with multiple sexual partners, a sort of de facto polygamy, and a house teeming with children. Ergo, banning polygamy is hypocritical.

    If the presence of children in these polyamorous arrangements gives some extra punch to Tobias’ argument, doesn’t that suggest that the state’s interest in marriage truly is its procreative potential and the the consequent need to protect children — notwithstanding the imperfections in how the state has realized that interest especially starting with the decoupling of sex and procreation in the sexual revolution?

    So I think the question about the state’s interest is the best of the excellent open-ended bunch.

    RWB

  • Steve

    Regarding Justin Lee’s comment:

    A Christian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful must logically believe that no one is born gay.

    This is a good argument for having more John Calvin in Sunday School. It just doesn’t follow, Justin. An informed (reformed?) Christian believes that we are all born sinful. Gay or otherwise doesn’t have to come into the picture.

  • http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com Jeff the Baptist

    “To paraphrase Sullivan’s groundbreaking argument… The only relevant question is whether homosexuality is experienced as an involuntary condition by adults.”

    This argument is neither revolutionary or groundbreaking. Its just the genetic argument reposited. Just because you have a tendency towards homosexuality, no matter what the cause, does not make it right (or wrong). As others point out, alcoholism is not considered a good thing by anyone even though may people develop it as adolescents. There are also many psychological disorders that one can carry or develop in adulthood (like depression). The idea that this justifies them is obviously false. Why is homosexuality different?

    No matter what, we have a choice in what we do. We are not automatons purely driven by our programming.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Steve writes:

    > Regarding Justin Lee’s comment:

    > A Christian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful must logically

    > believe that no one is born gay.

    Justin Lee is not saying this is so. This is one of four myths that he debunks.

  • http://www.tatumweb.com/ Rich Tatum

    Obesity has been linked to several genetic factors outside of one’s ability to choose. Those descended from a non-European (read: caucasian) gene-pool are far more likely to be obese after being exposed to modern processed foods (read: sugar). However, no doctor I’ve ever heard of tells their obese patients to forget about changing behavior in any way to avoid the health risis. Now, obviously, there’s no moral issue attached to obesity, pe se, but from the Christian worldview, there are moral issues that flow from gluttony, and obesity is often seen as a consequence of gluttony.

    The truly gluttonous might say, “But I’m genetically predisposed toward obesity!” and continue his sinful lifestyle.

    But what about the root cause of gluttony? Gluttony might be viewed as another aspect of an “addictive personality,” but I’ve read reports indicating that “susceptibility to addictive behaviors is an inborn or genetic trait.” Does this susceptibility eliminate the health and moral needs of the gluttonous to abstain from overeating?

    Does innate susceptibility absolve the workaholic, the alcoholic, the sexually addicted, the gambler, the violent abuser?

    I’m no medical or psychological expert. But I suspect that there are several factors that lead to behaviors such as homosexuality, and some of them may in fact be genetic. But, then, aren’t all behaviors influenced by our genetic makeup to some degree?

    If we accept that homosexuality is a genetically sourced imperative that destroys one’s ability to choose, then where do we draw the line? Why does homosexuality get a pass and nothing else? If anything else is a function of DNA, then what other behaviors are we going to embrace, applaud, and protect because “the Devil in in my genes made me do it?”

    It’s a slick, sweaty slope we should avoid.

    Regards,

    Rich Tatum.

  • thecosmopolitan

    Kathy:

    Smarmy conservative passive aggression is as smarmy conservative passive aggression does, don’t you think? Just askin’, you know.

    Oleaginously yours,

    Chris

  • http://www.relapsedcatholic.com Kathy Shaidle

    Duly noted Chris. I’ll remember to be more aggressive with you and less passive next time.

  • james

    Bisexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, asexual, hmmm, genetics, wrong or right, explainable. How can we pass judgment on any of these if its genetics, come on lets get down and dirty, discuss them all, allow or don’t allow, lets not be shy.

    Morality is an unbelievably important aspect of societies, almost unexplainably important. We cannot allow an `if it feels good do it` mentality to thrive and expand. Such ethical issues underlie all as a society. You know what’s funny, although I’m unsure of any empirical data; homosexuality is more acceptable, I think, then masturbation. This does not mean that some think masturbation is fine, I believe that some who would question masturbation would openly accept homosexuality. How can you come to this conclusion? Can you imagine a news show discussing homosexuality and their rights, etc and then the looks on the eyes of questioner or questioned if asked, `Did you masturbate today`. Yet the act of homosexuality wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.

    Genetics aside, morals and ethics must place highly in our society; family is a building block of all nations, decadence and self-absorption the downfall, any one for a stroll to the roman bathhouses.

  • james

    This should say, `This does not mean that some think masturbation isn’t fine`

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Jeff the Baptist: We disagree. Why in the world should homosexuality be considered morally wrong, or comparable to things like alcoholism? Nobody has ever explained THAT one, except by appealing to prejudice and folly. Oops, I forget. You’re one of those people who think, “Because my God or Binky the Space Clown says so,” is a good moral reason. Never mind.

  • Joshua Cordell

    Joe Perez,

    Just look at the homosexual lifestyle and tell me that there is nothing wrong with it! Look at the statistics and say that they don’t mean anything. Look at the shattered lives that homosexuality leaves behind. I think that you and Binky the Space Clown both have your heads in the clouds if you can’t see why homosexuality is morally wrong.

  • Joshua Cordell

    A question:

    If being gay is genetic, could someone please give me an example of a similar genetic trait? For example skin color can be traced to you parents, so ethnicity doesn’t count.

    Seriously I’m looking for a real answer, I don’t believe that homosexuality is genetic, but I am open to someone making a reasonable arguement for it, which I have yet to hear.

  • Ken

    Joe Perez provides the perfect expression of the homosexualist argument: whatever it’s origins, the condition is in no way an abnormality or disorder such as alcoholism. Perez, of course, pretends that those who stand with 5000 years or more of human experience should justify themselve as though they were the innovators. Joe’s appeal to Prejudice and Folly has about the same force as the Christian’s appeal to God’s Word as an explanation of the overwhelming human experience of homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered.

    But what I originally meant to comment on the notion that being “gay” is not a choice. This sometimes gets said as though gays have no choices.

  • Paul Barnes

    I wonder what the response would be if we found the “gay gene” and people aborted their baby because they would be gay…

    I think there needs to a clarification between the homosexual act and “being gay”.

  • http://jonrowe.blogspot.com Jon Rowe, Esq.

    I haven’t yet checked this website, but b/n what is written here, it sounds like, “how to make illogical arguments in favor of gay rights 101.” It’s almost entirely wrong on all 4 grounds.

    “° Either homosexuality is a choice or else it is genetic. There is no middle ground.”

    Wrong, there are plenty of things that are NOT genetic and NOT choices. For instance, how many of us “choose” to be fluent in English? Our being fluent in English is 1) unchosen, 2) immutable/unwirable, and 3) Wholly developmental.

    Moreover, the writer fails to appreciate the difference between biological and genetic. There can be and are biological differences that don’t result from the genes of the individual. Example: neo-natal hormones. The same fertilized egg can come out bioligically different depending on the womb of the mother. Not only that but identical twins come out genetically the same but biologically (slightly) different, because each twin reacts slightly different to the hormone in its mother’s womb. And indeed much evidence points to a biological basis for homosexuality that results as much from hormones in the womb as from genetic predisposition.

    “° A Christian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful must logically believe that no one is born gay.”

    Again wrong. One can believe that one is born an “alcoholic” — and yes, that is, in many cases, a genetic/biological thing that is pre-destined from birth — and still believe that the condition leads to sinful behavior, or at least behavior that ought to be supressed. What if science shows that the tendency to commit violent crimes is genetically inherited and there from birth (as some science is beginning to show)?

    “° If homosexuality is genetic, then gays deserve legal minority status. Otherwise, they don’t.”

    Wrong, we don’t give minority status to everything that is genetic? Do we give it to alcholics? How about blue-eyed folks? And we DO give minority status to things that are wholly matters of CHOICE and CONDUCT. Religion, unlike sexual orientation, is wholly a matter of choice and receives civil rights status. Pregnancy also involves choice & conduct and receives civil rights status under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. And many disabilities covered under the ADA, for instance, the late Christopher Reeve’s, result from conduct and choice (and this goes to show that IMMUTABLE things, like paralysis, can result from chosen conduct).

    “° The origin or “cause” of homosexuality has been proven.”

    Wrong — the origin is still a mystery. However, good science has pointed us in the direction such that we can conclusively say a few things like, 1) there is a genetic component, 2) it’s not 100% genetic, 3) most likely hormones in the womb also contribute to the condition, 4) the orientation is fixed at a very early stage in one’s life, like the age of 4 and under and is so deeply rooted, that we can categorize it “involuntary and unchangeable,” like our fluency in English.

    An aside:

    “Homosexuality is not healthy, this based on unbiased statistics like; life expectancy, disease, odds of being a serial killer, etc.”

    Bullshit! Most of those statistics are the furthest thing from “unbaised.” Most come from gay-hating crank and exposed fraud, Paul Cameron.

  • http://jonrowe.blogspot.com Jon Rowe, Esq.

    Aha–went to Justin’s world and saw that he was doing the same thing as I was.

    The thing is, these are “myths” that only uninformed people hold to. The most persuasive cases for gay rights are made by folks who don’t need to cling to “myths” in order to make their case.

    Knocking down these myths does nothing against the case for gay rights. It’s truly knocking down a “straw-man.”

  • http://jonrowe.blogspot.com Jon Rowe, Esq.

    “A question:

    If being gay is genetic, could someone please give me an example of a similar genetic trait? For example skin color can be traced to you parents, so ethnicity doesn’t count.

    Seriously I’m looking for a real answer, I don’t believe that homosexuality is genetic, but I am open to someone making a reasonable arguement for it, which I have yet to hear.”

    Sociobiologist Chandler Burr has put forth the closest analogy: Left-handedness.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Jon Rowe writes:

    {The thing is, these are “myths” that only uninformed people hold to. The most persuasive cases for gay rights are made by folks who don’t need to cling to “myths” in order to make their case.}

    The point of the post was not to knock down gay rights. It was to critique the weakness of Bob Schieffer’s close-ended question and to propose four open-ended alternatives.

    John Kerry said in response to Schieffer’s question: “We’re all God’s children, Bob. And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was, she’s being who she was born as.”

    That sounds awfully similar to Myth 1.

    And Bob Schieffer told radio host Don Imus on Thursday morning that if homosexual orientation is not a choice, that settles the question of gay marriage — a position otherwise known as Myth 3.

    I agree that a case for gay marriage can be made quite apart from these four myths. Neither John Kerry nor Bob Schieffer was making it, at least in these remarks.

    Having said that, I sure could have done a better job of making clear what Jason Lee was arguing on his website. More than one person took the four myths as Lee’s beliefs, which they assuredly are not.

  • T Holloway

    In the spirit of the original post, allow me to suggest these questions, which I do not believe are off-topic:

    1. Should a heterosexual couple who are atheists and have no intention of having children be permitted to marry in a civil ceremony? Why or why not?

    2. Should the same couple be permitted to marry if they intend, by mutual consent and in the privacy of their own home, to practice “deviant” sexuality, such as sadomasochism? Why or why not? Assume that they intend to be completely faithful to each other.

    3. Should the same couple be permitted to marry if they intend, by mutual consent, NOT to be completely faithful to each other (“open marriage”, “polyamory”)? Why or why not?

    Assume in all cases that there are no other impediments whatever to the marriage, and that only civil marriage is contemplated. Moderator: feel free to remove this if you think it is wandering a bit far afield.

  • T Holloway

    Sorry, one more –

    4. Should the couple (heterosexual, atheists, no intention of having children) be permitted to marry if they are first cousins? NB: be careful about thinking you know current law on this one.

    Same provisos as previous three questions. My apologies for neglecting to include this in the previous post.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Just a reminder here, folks.

    The purpose of this blog is not to debate religion and moral topics. The goal is to debate how the mainstream media COVER these topics.

    So our goal is to see the media either avoid the kinds of shouting matches going on here (seeking articulate voices at a higher level or argument) or to at least cover both sides of them accurately.

    I like Doug’s suggestion that we need to know the questions that the press can ask and pry out new insights and information.

    One of mine has always been: How will the Supreme Court DEFINE a condition that is a scientific mystery? Meanwhile, remember my questions about the status and origins of bisexuality? It still stands.

  • http://carmelsundae.blogspot.com Joel

    “4. Should the couple (heterosexual, atheists, no intention of having children) be permitted to marry if they are first cousins? NB: be careful about thinking you know current law on this one.”

    How about uncle and niece (or the analogous aunt/nephew)? If no children are contemplated (and in these days of abortion on demand, their wish is Planned Parenthood’s command), there are no genetic issues (pardon the pun) involved. That leaves only the “ick factor,” which the entire argument forgay marriage renders entirely subjective. How about parent/child, or siblings?

    THolloway makes some excellent points. If we draw them totheir logical conclusion, we end up with all morality surrounding marriage distilled down to the “ick factor.” What other morality can we do this with? What morality can we NOT so reduce?

  • http://jonrowe.blogspot.com Jon Rowe, Esq.

    If the “ICK” factor has anything to do with morality, then I’d say that Rosanne Barr should never have been allowed to have gotten married to anyone…not now, not ever.

    Re: incest. Were Adam & Eve “married”? Were there children? If so, then the human race is propagated via brother/sister incest marriages.

  • http://jonrowe.blogspot.com Jon Rowe, Esq.

    Oops. That should have read, “were their children?”

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Joe Perez here. For conservative religionists who responded to my comment, you have given no reasons why I shouldn’t look around the world at divorce, child abuse, rape, and STDs and condemn the heterosexual lifestyle as such. Your arguments are ridiculous, as usual.

    Since I’ve already dissed the religious righties, now I have to signal disagreement with Mr. Rowe, who writes: “The thing is, these are “myths” that only uninformed people hold to. The most persuasive cases for gay rights are made by folks who don’t need to cling to “myths” in order to make their case.” (1) You are right that folks who make persuasive cases for gay rights are indeed folks who don’t cling to “myths”; (2) You fail to observe that the MOST persuasive case for gay rights are made by those who can place the rational critique of “myths” into a spiritual perspective that includes and transcends your merely rationalistic, materialistic values. Humanism without spirituality is a step down the road of decline and decay.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    tmatt:

    “The purpose of this blog is not to debate religion and moral topics.” Thanks for the reminder Terry. I hope you’ll be a little flexible, because sometimes these issues are intertwined.

    I think your questions about bisexuality and the One of mine has always been: How will Supreme Court are very good. Personally I’m not sure that the scientific mystery angle is so good, though. I seem to recall a Supreme Court Justice quoting Andrew Sullivan’s book in some ruling somewhere. Sullivan’s argument makes the issue of the scientific mystery irrelevant, and contrary to the imaginations of Jeff the Baptist, Sullivan’s argument is much more influential among intellectuals than arguments of the sort you would find on the Jeff’s World website. And for good reason. The origins of homosexuality discoverable through science are irrelevant to public policy and Supreme Court decisions. The meaningful question is whether adults in our society experience homosexuality as an involuntary conditiion. If so, then a liberal society must take that into account. Of course all the theocrats among your readership would disagree. Sigh.

  • T Holloway

    Just to clarify, the point about the first cousin (rather than brother/sister, uncle/niece, etc.) question was that while it does in fact have a high “ick” factor among many people (one person I asked was certain that first-cousin marriage was prohibited by Federal law), I can find no Biblical prohibition of it (rather the opposite), and it is legal in (very) approximately half of the United States, illegal in approximately half, with a few states having provisos in the middle. I asked an attorney friend who had some solid knowledge of family law whether _cousins_ who legally married in one state and moved to a state that prohibited cousin marriage would be legally married there. She didn’t know. :)

    I am not an activist re: cousin (or other relative) marriage, it just seems like an very interesting parallel.

    The set of questions was intended to make two general points:

    1. It might be better to place gay marriage within the broader conception of who _in general_ should be prohibited from marrying and why, rather than seeing homosexuality as the main (or even only) question about marriage.

    2. Isolate some of the “ick” (I usually use “yuk”) factor that lies behind much of the nominal reasoning that is going on.

    IMHO, broadening the debate into “who should have what marriage rights and why” might be more _intellectually_ useful than just looking at gay marriage — though it’s also not going to happen. :)

    regards,

    T Holloway

  • http://journals.aol.com/nocon6929/DrBsFinestKindMedicalclinicandFi/ Nancy Reyes

    In some way, all the conversations are wrong.

    You see, the “heresy” behind gay marriage is not homosexuality per se, but the idea that biological gender does not matter, that male and female are societal constructs. John Paul II’s writings on the theology of the body (and Edith Stein’s essays on feminism) are actually more correct biologically: We women have equality with men in jobs and actions, but even then, our femininity/masculinity is so deeply embeded in our selves that we approach our jobs by expressing our gender.

    Gender marxists insist if we are to be free, we need to see humans as independent identical entities who are free. Those oppoing “gay marriage” insist human beings have real freedom and identity that are linked with our biological reality, with our families, and with our society.

    Destroy gender identity, you not only skewer the law to ignore the biological reality of gender (i.e. having babies) but you destroy laws and customs that protect these realities (e.g. pregnant women being sent into combat)

    As for gays, Catholics traditionally see this biological tendency similar to that of alcoholism or a bad tendency: an inborn tendency toward sin that lessens our ability to consent to that sin perfectly, so when we “fall” it may be venial rather than mortal…but if we try to fight it, we will be more blessed than those who condemn it…


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