You’ve heard of the debate. (Um .. but in case you haven’t: on the left, sporting a brown suit, is president of the National Organization for Marriage Brian Brown, who is very much against gay marriage; on the right, sporting impressive biceps, is Dan Savage (It Gets Better , Savage Love, Savage U.), an advocate for gay marriage and people being sane generally. Between them is Mark Oppenheimer, who writes about religion for The New York Times. It’s Aug. 15; they’re in Dan’s dining room; they’d just had dinner; following dinner was their much-anticipated “Dinner Table Debate.”)
You’ve watched the video of the debate (or can, if you haven’t, below).
Now you can also read the debate, thanks to straight Christian ally of LGBTQ people Jessica Wode. Ms. Wode, who runs the website whenicameout.com, tirelessly transcribed the entire debate; she sent it to me; I asked Dan if it was cool with him if I ran it; he said, “Sure; it must be massive”; he was right. The longest blog post in the history of the world begins after the video. (If you’d like to read a piece I recently wrote for Dan’s blog, see 16, Christian, and surrounded by bigots.)
OPPENHEIMER: Okay, so this is the dinner table debate. I’m Mark Oppenheimer, I write for the New York Times. I write the Beliefs column. Who are you?
SAVAGE: I’m Dan Savage. I write Savage Love. And run my mouth. And run myself into ditches sometimes running my mouth.
OPPENHEIMER: Who are you?
BROWN: Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
OPPENHEIMER: OK, so just to be clear of why we’re here. Back in April, April 2012—today’s August 15—Dan spoke at a high school—at the National High School Journalism Convention and he said—and there’s some ellipses in here—I’ve cut out some things—but I think I’ve been true to the spirit of it. He said, “We can learn to ignore the bull—” the original word was longer—“we can learn to ignore the bull in the Bible about gay people the same way we learned to ignore the bull in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation—” etc. “We can ignore what the Bible says about slaves because the Bible got slavery wrong.” That was a piece of what you said back in April. And some students walked out. The majority stayed, but a—you know, a dozen or two, it seemed, walked out. I wasn’t there; Brian wasn’t there, but some walked out. And then in the days following, many critics attacked Dan for being—for having attacked the Bible and attacked Christianity in the presence of these high school kids. About a week later, Brian Brown wrote—was it on your blog? ’Cause it was too long for a tweet.
BROWN: Yeah, it was on the blog and I think also in an e-mail.
OPPENHEIMER: It was on the blog and—an e-mail to whom?
BROWN: To all of our supporters.
OPPENHEIMER: To all your supporters.
SAVAGE: But not to me.
OPPENHEIMER: But not to Dan.
BROWN: Well, I don’t know that I had your e-mail address—
OPPENHEIMER: Hey, hey, hey.
BROWN: But I do now! [laughs]
OPPENHEIMER: He said, “Let me lay down a public challenge to Dan Savage right here and now. You want to savage the Bible? Christian morality? Traditional marriage? Pope Benedict? I’m here—you name the time and place and let’s see what a big man you are with someone who can talk back.” Ellipses. “You will find out how venal and ridiculous your views of these things are if you dare to accept a challenge.” Is that about right? [Brown nods.] OK. And then later in May—again, we’re talking about three, four months ago—in your podcast, Dan, you said, “I accept that challenge, and I’ll—” you said, “Tell me where and when,” you said, “My living room.” Although we’re actually in your dining room.
SAVAGE: Did I say living room?
OPPENHEIMER: Where—what did you say? Dining room? Dining room.
SAVAGE: You said name the time and place; I said my house after dinner.
OPPENHEIMER: So—and you kindly invited me as a veteran of these—of these culture wars to moderate and I was grateful that Brian was willing to have me as a moderator. And your neighbor John Colwell, a fine Seattle-area chef to his four children, cooked us some fine meals. And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to take about an hour, and I said that since you [gesturing to Savage] were the one—you [gesturing to Brown] challenged him to say those things, to be a big man and say those things in your presence—I’m going to let him say those things; based on that challenge, he gets to go first, and we’re going to—a dozen to fifteen minutes or so—we’re not going to be fascistic about this—to reiterate what it is you felt, that you were trying to communicate, about—about the Bible, and about Christianity, or religion more broadly, and gay people. And then you’re [gesturing to Brown] going to get to reply at about the same length, and I’ll be the judge of that, and then we’re going to have a conversation.
SAVAGE: So you’re gonna—you’ll cut me off when I’m done?
OPPENHEIMER: I will cut you off. Exactly.
SAVAGE: Oh, OK, so I don’t need to set a timer?
OPPENHEIMER: Don’t worry. When you’re being a motormouth, I’m going to cut you off.
SAVAGE: I’m a motormouth all the time!
OPPENHEIMER: All right, I’m going to cut you off. So Dan Savage, take it away.
SAVAGE: OK, you suggested that the title for the debate should be “Christianity Is Bad for LGBT Americans.”
OPPENHEIMER: I said if we were doing high school debate, as I once participated and coached, the topic would be something like, “Be It Resolved: Christianity Is Bad for LGBTQ Americans.”
SAVAGE: And my response to that is Christianity doesn’t have to be bad for LGBTQ Americans. And I think that frame implicitly accepts the premise—one of, I think, the two big lies, the two big false dichotomies promoted by your side [gesturing to Brown] of this debate—and that is that there are gay people and there are Christians and they’re at war. When the actual fact is that the overwhelming majority of LGBTQ Americans are Christians or, like me, were raised in Christian families and come from Christian faith backgrounds. You know, Eugene Robinson and Father Michael Judge spring immediately to mind as examples of openly gay American Christians. The other big false lie, I think, false dichotomy that your side promotes is that you’re either a supporter of traditional marriage, a “savager” of traditional marriage, or a supporter of marriage equality, when you can actually, I think, be a supporter of both. I am a rabid supporter of my siblings’ traditional marriages, of my family’s, of my friends’, my neighbors’ traditional marriages, John Colwell and his wife, Michi Cass, who made dinner tonight, I support their traditional marriage. It’s not an either/or choice.
We’re here because of the Bible and my big mouth and that speech to a high school journalism conference where I was invited to give the same speech I give at colleges and have given frequently and they told me to pull no punches and I didn’t have to moderate my usual tone, and they certainly knew who I was when they invited me. There were 3,000 kids at that speech, 3,000 high school students, who had been warned that I shoot my mouth off and sometimes touch on taboo topics. Twenty-four walked out, of 3,000. The three thous—2,900-plus who stayed, the overwhelming majority, were Christian. There wasn’t 3,000 Zoroastrian American high school students who stayed for the rest of the speech.
It was wrong of me in that—those remarks to describe the walkout, the reaction, as “pansy-ass.” That was name-calling and I apologized for that. And it was wrong of me. I also, if you watch the whole tape that was put up, at the end of that tape, I apologize if I may have offended the kids who left and invite them back in for the rest of the speech. I did say that there is bullshit in the Bible, and for that I have not apologized and I will not apologize. Bullshit means untrue words or ideas. There’s this Mark Twain quote that I love, that I’m gonna read. “It is full of interest,” he says of the Bible. “It has noble poetry in it, some clever fables, some blood-drenched history, some good morals, a wealth of obscenity and upwards of a thousand lies.” Which is 19th-century Mark Twain saying, “bullshit in the Bible.”
Was I bullying? The Economist says no: “Bullying is a strong picking on the weak, not the other way around. The other way around is satire.” I won’t read that whole quote, but they go on to unpack why I wasn’t bullying, and I don’t believe I was bullying either.
Brian challenged us to a debate about the Bible, and I’d like to address some things in the Bible if that’s OK with Mr. Moderator.
OPPENHEIMER: It is OK.
SAVAGE: You know, I’m from a Catholic background. My dad was a Catholic deacon; my mom was a Catholic lay minister. I attended a seminary for a couple of years—a preparatory seminary, a high school seminary. I’m not unfamiliar with the Christian Bible or the Christian tradition or the Catholic tradition. There are two—you know, “In the beginning,” let’s begin with the beginning of the Bible—you get two conflicting, contradictory creation narratives right off the bat. Chapter 1 of Genesis and chapter 2 of Genesis, most Biblical scholars believe are two different creation narratives that have just been piggybacked together, or set side-by-side. Most people read them uncritically and don’t notice that everything’s created in a different order and for a different reason. At the end of the first creation narrative in Genesis, God creates “humankind.” Not Adam and Eve, but humanity itself created “in our image, male and female, He created them”—plural. And then chapter 2 of Genesis, a couple of verses in, it all starts over again. We have another creation narrative. And everything’s created for a different reason, in a different order. Man is created first and placed in what must have been a very depressing garden because God had not yet created plants. He places man in a garden and then creates plants. And then God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And His response to that dilemma for man is not to create woman—not yet—but is to create animals. And He brings the animals to Adam; he names them. Adam has some agency and some choice here; he’s allowed to express a preference. And he rejects all of these animals as potential partners, so God creates Eve.
And why does He create Eve? To create a co-parent for Adam? No, to create a partner for Adam, because “it is not good for man to be alone.” The message of Eve, before they get down to the being fruitful and multiplying, is the original purpose of Eve’s is companionship, because it is not good for man to be alone. The contradictions—and of course, both of these stories, these creation narratives, can’t be literally true. I think if you’re a Christian, who believes that the Bible is literally true, the inerrant word of God, here is God telling you in the first three pages that you can’t take what comes next literally because there’s a contradiction here, and a massive one. That was my father’s interpretation of the first two books of Genesis, is God opens with the, “Here are two beautiful stories, you have to work out the meanings; obviously you can’t take the Bible literally word for word.”
The contradictions continue. “Thou shalt not kill”—the Israelites spend a whole lot of time killing people on God’s orders. Jesus says the old law must be followed; Paul contradicts him.
The one place, and this is what I said that was so controversial at the journalism conference, where there isn’t really a conflict in the Bible is slavery. Leviticus 25:44-46: “As for your male and female slaves, whom you may have: You may buy male and female slaves from the nations that are around you. They may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever.” In the New Testament, Timothy: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. If anyone teaches otherwise, and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with Godliness, he is puffed up with conceit; he knows nothing.” This is a verse that was thrown in the face of American abolitionists, before and during the second—or the Civil War. The Reverend Richard Fuller, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in the years before the Civil War was able to say, with a straight face and because it’s true, “What God has sanctioned in the Old Testament and permitted in the New cannot be the sin.”
Like I said to the high school journalism students, Sam Harris in his book, Letter to a Christian Nation, says the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong, and that was slavery. And my—[?]—my point was that the Bible, if it got something as easy and obvious as slavery wrong, what are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? I put those odds at about 100 percent. Pat Robertson was recently asked about this. I don’t know if you saw that clip? [Brown shakes his head.] On the—his show, he was asked if America was founded as a Christian nation, why did we allow slavery? And he answer was, “Like it or not, if you read the Bible, in the Old Testament slavery is permitted.” That’s a half-truth; in both Testaments slavery is permitted and sanctioned. But then Robertson said something uncharacteristically profound: “We have moved in our conception of the value of human beings until we realized that slavery was terribly wrong.” And so what he’s saying there is not just that we realized slavery was wrong; also we realized the Bible was wrong about slavery.
I don’t think LGBT Americans are asking American Christians to do anything that you haven’t already done. Move in your conception of the value of human beings. In this instance, human beings who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Many American Christians—we know you can move, because many American Christians have already moved in their value of the conception of human beings, because many American Christians, including a majority of American Catholics, support marriage rights for—support same-sex—rights for same-sex couples. Not a majority for marriage, but a majority for either civil unions, all incidents of marriage, and/or marriage. I don’t think support for our full civil equality requires fundamental—or evangelical Christians, or Catholics, or anyone else to change their theology, to change their perspective on the morality of what it means to be gay. Just to sign off on our full civil equality. Tolerate doesn’t mean celebrate; tolerate means endure or put up with. And I think that Christians—conservative Christians—can learn to tolerate legal civil same-sex marriage the way they’ve learned to tolerate legal divorce, which violates Catholic teaching, interfaith marriages, and non-religious marriages.
You know, John Shore, who’s a Christian blogger, a pro-gay-marriage Christian blogger and author, he says that the Bible has no place in a conversation about the legality or illegality of gay marriage. Illegal is not a religious term. In a pluralistic society, you know, people are free to live their religious values. And I believe people are free to proselytize. If somebody wants to talk me out of my marriage to Terry, I think that they should knock themselves out. I don’t think that they have a right to use the law to do that, to deny us equal protection under the law because of their interpretation of the Bible, or their interpretation of God’s will. Imposing your interpretation of the Bible on someone else is not religious freedom, as you’ve attempted to redefine it. That is religious tyranny.
OPPENHEIMER: Brian? You wanna—?
BROWN: He left some time on the table!
OPPENHEIMER: He left some time on the table.
SAVAGE: Well, I actually have more. I’m happy to run my mouth
OPPENHEIMER: He took about—that’s about 10 minutes. He took about 10 minutes, but do you wanna—he’s throwing it to you, so do you wanna—
SAVAGE: Actually, I have one more Bible thing. Can it throw it out there?
BROWN: Yeah, go ahead.
OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, go for it. Go for it. We’re all friends here.
SAVAGE: You know, returning to the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments, there’s stuff in there for straight people: “Thou shalt not commit adultery”—thou shalt not be Newt Gingrich, in the new modern American translation, it could be. But there’s also “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” And I do feel that NOM and other—
OPPENHEIMER: NOM being the National Organization for Marriage.
SAVAGE: For marriage—is in the bearing false witness business, and routinely bears false witness against your lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered neighbors. The conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia, which organizations like the Family Research Council have done explicitly. NOM tends to do it through linking and through surrogates; most recently Reverend Willy Owens, a “NOM religious liaison,” condemned gay marriage and suggested that support for gay marriage is the same as condoning child molesta—pardon me, child molestation.
But the one that really galls me personally as a parent is the Regnerus study that you guys are promoting. That the Witherspoon Institute that is linked to NOM funded at the tune—you know, for three-quarters of a million dollars. The claim is that this compared the outcome for children who were raised by same-sex couples and children who were raised by “traditional” marriage couples. And that is—that is a lie. The study has been widely criticized. There were 248 kids in the study who were classed as having gay or lesbian parents. Only 2 of those 248 kids were raised by a same-sex couple from birth. That study’s now been audited by the journal that published it. The professor who was—who conducted the audit has praised Mark Regnerus in the past, written letters of recommendation for Mark Regnerus, he’s not an enemy of Mark Regnerus, and he concluded that the paper should never have been published because the study did not examine children of gay and lesbian parents. And what happens is, I think what NOM is doing, is very much like the Tobacco Institute in the ’70s and ’80s. Studies of same-sex parents have shown that our kids are as happy, healthy, well-adjusted, as other people’s children, and so now, through the Witherspoon Institute, they’re beginning to fund their own studies and getting the results that you want to get. And if that requires cooking the books and distorting and potentially, in the process, destroying this young scholar’s career, because he’s now being investigated by the University of Texas for academic—I forget the word—misconduct, and could get bounced. You know, here’s a book from the American Psychological Association that runs through all the research into families headed by same-sex couples and concludes that our kids are fine. And there’s this mountain of evidence. You weren’t able to produce any evidence at the Prop 8 trials in California proving that our kids were in any way suffering or harmed by having same-sex parents.
And this bearing of false witness against same-sex families is potentially very dangerous, particularly the linking homosexual with pedophilia. Forty percent of homeless teenagers are LGBT kids who were thrown out of the house after they were outed or came out to their families. I’ve heard from scores of kids whose parents threw them out after they found out that they were gay because they were worried that their gay children would—were pedophiles who would molest their younger siblings. And that is a bit of poison that NOM and other organizations continue to inject into the culture. And real LGBT kids suffer and die as a result of that poison being injected into the culture.
You know, I’m old enough—do I have another minute?
OPPENHEIMER: You have two minutes.
SAVAGE: I have two minutes. I am old enough to remember—’cause I am 47 years old—Falwell and Anita Bryant back in the day and the argument—that my father believed and repeated to me when I was a child—was that gay people were a threat to the family because we didn’t marry. Because we didn’t have children. Because we weren’t invested in future generations. Because we lived a purely hedonistic lifestyle that was all about the next orgasm, and wasn’t about love and commitment and family. And that was the slam from Falwell et al was we were a threat to the family because we didn’t marry, because we didn’t have children. Now somehow the goalposts are in an entirely—not just moved, they’re in a new stadium, where we are a threat to the family because we marry. We are a threat to the family because we have children. And it can’t be both. We can’t be a threat to the family when we model a life without commitment, a life without children, a life without an investment in the future and a threat to the family when we marry, or we have children, or we do commit to each other and commit to a future and commit to raising our children responsibly.
[Pause; Oppenheimer gestures to Brown]
BROWN: My turn.
OPPENHEIMER: Your turn.
BROWN: Well, I don’t know where to begin. I will begin by thanking Dan for opening up his house and having me. It was a great dinner earlier, and it was kind of you to have me in your home. You said you don’t regularly do this in your home; I can’t imagine—I can’t imagine why not! Actually, I can, I mean, it’s—obviously having cameras here and everything else, so thank you, you’ve been a very gracious host.
SAVAGE: And we appreciate you accepting the invitation.
BROWN: Yeah, I was glad to do it. As I said, you know, this is an argument about public policy and about ideas. This is not an argument about us trying to hurt individuals, and hopefully, on your side, folks not trying to hurt us. Unfortunately, often that it what it has descended to today. We know there was a shooting at the Family Research Council. In my view, attempts to label the Family Research Council, as I think Dan just laid out, maybe he didn’t say the words, but to say that it’s a hate group, or hateful, because it has a different opinion about homosexuality and marriage, I think is profoundly wrong. I think it eats at the core of our civil discourse, and I think much of what Dan has just said follows along these same lines. I don’t know where to begin because we’re all entitled to our own opinions but we’re not entitled to our own facts. And factually, you’re simply wrong on a number of levels. Number one, when you talk about the Regnerus study, NOM did not fund the Regnerus study at all. Because there are board members of NOM and the Witherspoon Institute—that’s often the case. I mean, if you looked at how many Ford Foundation grants have been given out and look at the members of the Ford Foundation board and then look at other boards, to then make this giant quantum leap to say, “Any other board that the Ford Foundation board members were a part of—they’re responsible for the study” and somehow this means that there’s something untoward happening is simply false, and people know that.
As far as Regnerus’ study, understand this: Regnerus’ study is the largest study of its kind ever done. The other studies that you point to here [gesturing to APA book] are snowball studies. What they attempt to do is to find homosexual parents, have the homosexual parents talk about the effects on their children, and they have homosexual parents find other parents that they know. This is not exactly a scientific way to conduct a study. And completely against what you said about the Sherkat audit, although Sherkat himself has—does not have kind things to say about the study, he does say that the proper procedures were generally followed. And they were. And you ask, “Why aren’t there more studies like this?” Well, take a look around. What folks are doing is trying to destroy Mark Regnerus because he had the audacity to do a study in which he challenged conventional thinking. He obeyed proper scientific method, and he came to a different conclusion. And instead of then arguing about the conclusion, we actually have scholars trying to get him fired. Everyone knows that it’s the case that if you stick your head up in academia or in much of elite culture and say, “I believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” or have evidence that shows that children do best with both mothers and fathers, that you are going to face a massive amount of pushback. You are going to be targeted.
And again, attempts to say that our beliefs are the equivalent of hatred, or bigotry, or that we are poisoning people, or we are trying to hurt people, or we are trying to kill people, as some have said on the other side—I receive e-mails from folks all of the time—that is unacceptable in our civil discourse. We have never said anything like that. I have compl—always, and NOM has always, condemned violence or hatred of any kind toward anyone on our side or your side. It has no place in this debate.
But that really isn’t the question, is it? The question is: Is this idea that cultures throughout human history have shared, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that this is a unique and special union—and it isn’t only religion that states this, because marriage is pre-political; it isn’t the state that creates marriage, and different religions with very different ideas about public morality all share this understanding of marriage—is this very idea, that there’s something unique about men and women, there’s something unique about marriage between men and women, that this union is important for society, important for children, is in the best interest of children—is simply saying that now somehow hateful? Somehow bigoted? Somehow harmful? The fact that some people don’t want to hear that—and again, I’m in your home right now, I’m stating my beliefs, I’m not doing it in a way where I’m attempting to attack you—I’m saying what—what—as far—what the truth is. And what—what our faith has taught, other faiths have taught, and what frankly people of no faith can come to through natural law—the simple idea that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
And you say, well, we don’t want to change your institution; we want to be a part of it. There are two ideas on the table, and this debate, and what happened to these—these kids in this assembly, and other, other attempts to label our side as hateful and bigoted, make clear the stakes. On one side is the idea that there’s something unique and special about men and women coming together in marriage, and no other union, of whatever kind, is—is the same thing as marriage. There’s something special and unique about marriage that’s in the best interest of society and culture. And there’s the second idea, and I hear it in what you were just saying, but it comes out more clearly in debates, when I ask point blank the question to folks I’m debating with, and the idea is: There is nothing morally different between men and men, women and women, and men and women united together. They’re all the same. And folks that think that there is—folks like me, people, you know, largely of religious faith communities that because of their faith believe that this is the case, or people, again, who maybe not because of religion believe this is the case—that we’re the equivalent of racists and bigots. This comes up time and time again, and frankly I think it’s wrong. I don’t think it’s based on the facts of the argument. I don’t think that it furthers the argument, and I think that it does create this impasse.
As far as the attack on Christianity, come on, I mean, anyone who saw that knows that that was completely unacceptable, Dan. I mean, saying that someone’s religion is BS when my understanding is that you were not brought into that assembly to talk about that—that’s, in fact, what the folks who—who brought you on, when they distanced themselves from your comments, that’s what they say. You were not brought in to talk about the Bible and Christianity, but you did so on your own. To have a bunch of high school students—to attack their religious beliefs, even if you don’t disagree with them, it’s not appropriate. It doesn’t show respect. Again, I am a Catholic. I have evangelical friends; I have Orthodox Jewish friends. Your attack on the ritual code of the Old Testament, for example: I don’t adhere to that—I have a particular view of the history of the church—but I have respect for my Orthodox Jewish friends who do. You say whole—point blank, “No one accepts this anymore.” Well, there are plenty of Orthodox Jews that do accept—when you talk about not eating shellfish or whatever else.
As far as slavery goes, again, you’re just completely wrong. Your interpretation of Scripture, Sam Harris’ interpretation of Scripture, is completely wrong. If you look at the societies and cultures in which Jews lived, if you look at the Code of Hammurabi, for example, you see that a master over a slave had total control of life and death, could do anything at will, essentially. That is not the case in Judaism. Is a certain form of slavery accepted? Yes. But if you move to the New Testament, this is much more like indentured servitude. People would sell themselves essentially into a period of indentured servitude, usually between six and seven years, and then they could be released, and they could get money for that. Now this wasn’t always the case; this is very complicated. David Brion Davis has written an excellent book. There are a number of historians that are secular historians that have written excellent books on the problem of slavery in Western culture. But to say point blank that the Bible is a pro-slavery document is just point blank false. What you’re essentially saying is that your interpretation trumps that of Frederick Douglass, of Harriet Beecher Stowe, of William Wilberforce, of William Lloyd Garrison, and all of the abolitionists, who pointed directly to the—the verse—the, um, book of the Bible that you attempt to justify this notion that the Bible is pro-slavery, Philemon. They all pointed to Philemon to say look what Paul does. Paul tells Onesimus—he tells Philemon to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother, a dear brother in Christ.
And this gets to the heart of what Christianity is to the world, and Christianity’s view on traditional sexual morality. Christianity is, if anything, radical. It’s radical in its view of human dignity, of the human dignity of each and every one of us. The reason I’m here is because I believe in your human dignity [pointing to Savage], I believe in your human dignity [pointing to Oppenheimer]. I’m willing to come and argue with you because of my respect for you. This notion of equality before God, of us all having this dignity before God, is key to the Scriptures. And deep-seated within the New Testament, which was to come out in Eugene the Fourth’s condemnation of the slave trade, in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church condemnation of slavery, in the work of the abolitionists and William Wilberforce, is this radical dignity of human beings.
But this call that we have to live out the Gospel message of love, of creating a civilization of love, is not at odds with my—our idea of marriage. Scripture begins with a marriage, its middle point is the wedding feast at Cana, and it ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb. The notion of the uniqueness of men and women is not some side thing in Scripture; it’s a key part of our view of humanity, that there are two halves of humanity, male and female, and that we complement each other, and that complementary bears fruit in children—can bear fruit in children, and that, even without children, that the unitive nature of marriage brings together the two great halves of humanity. This is not something that we will ever discard. We will always have this view. There will be Christians who always stand up for this view. And they don’t do so, in my view, overwhelmingly because of any animus or hatred. They do so because they believe that this is true. They believe that faith and reason are not at odds here, that Scripture reinforces something that’s true about human nature, and good, and beautiful. What I see attempted here, and sometimes in other things that you’ve said that are—that I think are much more colorful that what you just laid out, is the notion that we are deserving, that those of us who—who know that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, that we’re deserving of treatment less than others because we are bigots and we deserve what we get. And I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think that helps further the debate, and I think that the attack on Christianity, as I said earlier—I don’t think that people look at that and say, “Hey, you know, Dan Savage, has a point.” If anything, it makes people say, “Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this? This doesn’t further your argument.” So I don’t think it furthers your argument, and I think it’s wrong. How much time do I have left?
OPPENHEIMER: You have, uh, about two minutes left.
BROWN: Yeah. The other—the other point that I think needs to be made is that this is not just Catholics, this is not just evangelical Christians, this is not just Orthodox Jews. That people outside of faith traditions, as I said earlier, still understand the uniqueness of marriage, and that if you point to me people who are saying—and I’ve done this before—people that are using reason to get to ends of attacking gays, I will be the first to condemn it. I’ve done it time and time again. But I don’t accept—no, I don’t accept that someone having a differing opinion, a different analysis of science, what you just laid out about Mark Regnerus, that somehow because his science doesn’t agree with the argument that you’ve put forward, that the APA has put forward, that somehow there’s a right to demonize or attack him. I think it’s wrong, and, you know, I think that if we want to have a debate, let’s do it civilly, let’s do it based upon, as I say, looking at the best Scripture scholars. Sam Harris is not one of the best Scripture scholars; he’s just wrong. It doesn’t even pay attention to the abolitionists’ argument; you just act like they don’t exist. It’s wrong. So let’s have a civil debate. Let’s base it about facts, not innuendo, and if we do that, I’m firmly convinced that—that folks will not somehow move to supporting same-sex marriage. I think that what you’ll see is that people will understand that folks like me have a reasoned point, and that reason and faith are not necessarily at odds.
SAVAGE: May I respond?
OPPENHEIMER: Five minutes?
SAVAGE: Um, you know, people can conclude that same-sex marriage is wrong, and they’re free not to enter into same-sex marriages. If you conclude that same-sex marriage is a wrong because of your faith, you don’t have a right to impose that limitation on other people who happen to disagree with you. And there are other Christian—Christians, Christian denominations, Christian pastors who would like to legally marry people as your church can legally marry people, and it’s a denial of their religious freedom to deny them that right.
Mark Regnerus is not in trouble for his conclusion; he’s in trouble for his methodology, which was cooked. And he is in trouble because his study didn’t study what he claimed it studied, not because of the findings. If somebody rolled out a rock-solid study that showed that gay parents were less good for kids than straight parents that was unassailable science and replicable science, there wouldn’t really be an argument about that study. Mark Regnerus is in trouble because his study is corrupt.
As for the FRC being labeled a hate group by the Fam—by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it’s not because they’re pro-family, it’s not because they’re even anti-gay-marriage. The Boy Scouts are anti-gay-marriage; the Catholic Church is anti-gay-marriage, has not been so labeled. It’s been labeled thusly for things like a publication called “Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys,” put out by the Family Research Council, that states, “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the prophets of a new sexual order. Homosexual activists publicly disassociate themselves from pedophiles as a part of this public relations strategy.” That is why they’ve been labeled a hate group. Not because they’re for a limited definition of marriage that excludes gay people.You know, there’s been a lot of writing about my speech—after the, like, the shitstorm because I said the word bullshit—there’s been a lot of writing after the fact with Christian writers, thoughtful Christian writers, admitting that I am right. I was not attacking Christianity. I didn’t say Christianity is bullshit. I said there is bullshit in the Bible. I was talking about selective literal readings of the Bible. People who reach into Leviticus and say, “We as modern—‘A man shall not lie with a man, as he lies with a woman,’” but then ignore Deuteronomy: “A woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night must be stoned to death at her father’s doorstep.” If Leviticus is in force, why isn’t Deuteronomy? If we hear about “the abomination” that is a man lying with a man, we never hear about the hundred-plus other things that are labeled abominations in the Old Testament. And why not? Why this selective cherry-picking just to attack gay people? To justify really anti-gay bigotry. And I’m sorry, there’s no other word for it. I don’t think that opposition—principled opposition—to same-sex marriage is necessarily bigotry. That [pointing to FRC publication] is bigotry. What the Family Research Council has put out there is unquestionable bigotry, which is why they were labeled a hate group, not by “Gayland.” Not by me. But by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
And, you know, there’s this argument on your side that we want to change the institution of marriage. Do I have any time left?
OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, yeah, take a couple more—two minutes.
SAVAGE: Um, we don’t want to change the institution of marriage. The fact of the matter is, heterosexuals have changed the institution of marriage. Marriage for most of recorded human history was polygamous. Marriage for most of recorded human history was a property transaction, where one man took possession of another man’s daughter, and during that property transaction she became a wife. Men had—and this was the case for many, many centuries, and about a hundred years ago we began to redefine marriage to be an egalitarian institution where two people create each other as their next of kin through marriage. And it’s not a gendered institution anymore. It’s not about babies. It’s about commitment and love. It’s about establishing that next of kin. It’s about finding that one person in the world to be there for you who you will be for—be there for. And marriage just isn’t defined by sex roles anymore. Or the presence of children. The only time we hear that marriage is defined by children, or monogamy, or faith, is when gay people want to get married. Suddenly marriage is defined by children when gay people want to get married. You just had dinner with my son. We have children. Gay people have children. Adoptions by same-sex couples over the last ten years have tripled in the United States. If marriage is about children and the state made us D.J.’s parents, why won’t the state then give us a civil marriage? Not a religious ceremony, but a civil marriage license that affords us the same rights, responsibilities that any other straight couple that the state gave children to and made parents, legal parents, would be afforded. This isn’t an attack on anyone’s faith. Legal civil marriage doesn’t require anybody’s church to approve or officiate or accommodate married same-sex couples. It takes nothing from you or your definition of marriage for the institution of marriage as straight people currently define it and practice it, to be open to accommodate us as well. We’re 3-ish percent of the population. We are not going to de-center what it means to be a man and a woman from what it means to be married by allowing same-sex couples to marry. If anything it affirms the original sort of understanding of marriage and its importance, particularly for family life, to bring us into that order.
OPPENHEIMER: Do you want to take that?
BROWN: Yeah, you know, again, you’re saying what you want to be true, but is not in fact true. Of course it is true that by changing the fundamental nature of marriage—the fundamental nature of marriage, regardless of what any religious institution, regardless of what the state says—by its very definition, marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because only this type of union can bring into society new life and connect that new life with both a mother and a father. Now saying that somehow that’s completely gone because of the ’60s is wrong.
SAVAGE: I didn’t say that!
BROWN: Well, no, you said heterosexuals have already changed the definition of marriage.
SAVAGE: You’ve redefined marriage.
BROWN: No, we have not.
SAVAGE: Do straight people who get married have to have babies, or they’re suddenly not married?
BROWN: Of course—of course they don’t, but they never did. They never did. The notion—the simplistic notion that because parenthood is connected with marriage—because marriage is that institution by which society connects children to their biological mothers and fathers—the simplistic idea that somehow that means what we’re saying is that every single person has to have a child—that’s silly. We never claim that. Marriage is the institution that does this. Two men and two women cannot naturally have their own children; there is a mother or father somewhere. Marriage is the institution that connects that child to both their mother and father, and that’s why the state is interested in marriage. Because marriage is the institution that allows children to know both their mother and father. So to say that somehow changing the definition of marriage will have no effect, will have no effect, is simply wrong. There are two ideas on the table. Only one idea can stand. One idea is the marriage idea, the idea that’s been shared, as I said before, by many different cultures over great expanses of time and place, and that is there’s something special and unique about men and women coming together in marriage, and that society has an interest in uplifting this special and unique institution. And that only this is a marriage. The same-sex marriage idea is that that is wrong, and that those of us who don’t agree are the equivalent of bigots. You put that in the law, and don’t come back and say, “Oh, we’re surprised that now we’re closing down Catholic Charities adoption agency in Massachusetts because it won’t adopt kids to same-sex couples. We’re surprised that we’re removing the tax exemption from Ocean Grove Methodist Association because they won’t allow a part of their property to be used for a civil union ceremony. We’re surprised that the Knights of Columbus are now being fined for not allowing their halls to be used for same-sex marriages.” Why would you not do that? If your new idea of marriage is encoded into the law, it will be used to repress, marginalize, and punish those of us who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and will act on it. That is what will happen.
And the second point of what you just said, again, being in my view quite dismissive of the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholars, saying that a few scholars say that what you’ve just laid out is true is not an argument. The overwhelming majority of Biblical scholars, whether Catholic or evangelical or secular, understand that at the Council of Jerusalem, in 50 A.D., the questions that you’re laying out like, “Why don’t we accept the dietary and ritual restrictions of the Old Testament? Why don’t we accept that in the New Testament?” Well, that was sorted out at the Council of Jerusalem, most of it was, and the reality was that there was a big fight. There was a fight with Judaizers. Marcion, who attempted to say that that old Jewish God is a different God—it’s totally different. There was a—this battle was waged—not a real battle, but an intellectual battle, for quite a while. At the end, it was very clear that, as the Council of Jerusalem said, that Christians did not need to follow all of the Jewish laws, that Christ came to consummate—
BROWN: To be at the fulfillment. But what—but what you fail to distinguish is that the Church’s position on homosexuality was at no point, at no point contested. That there is not an attempt, a—the same sort of argument over what everyone—the Essenes, Jews, Christians—everyone accepted as the truth about human sexuality, that “Male and female He made them,” that this is a special and unique relationship. This is not contested. It’s only in recent years that there have been those who want to claim and rewrite Scripture to say that traditional sexual—traditional sexual morality is optional. Just because you believe in traditional sexual morality does not then mean that somehow you’re hateful or bigoted. I’m here, I’m here to debate you, it doesn’t mean I’m a—I hate you or dislike you.
OPPENHEIMER: OK, so—
BROWN: Go ahead.
OPPENHEIMER: May I stop you there?
OPPENHEIMER: That’s [?]. [Brown laughs.] I’m going to stop you there. So I’d like to interject with a couple questions.
SAVAGE: Well, I have just one quick response.
OPPENHEIMER: All right, you take a quick response.
BROWN: Then do I get a response? [Laughs.]
OPPENHEIMER: You guys can talk to each other. I have some questions.
SAVAGE: The point you made earlier about the abolitionists—the fact that you can make an argument from the Bible that is pro-slavery or anti-slavery doesn’t prove the Bible got slavery right. It proves the Bible is very malleable and you can mine it for either side, including people who mine the Bible for now both sides of the debate about—
BROWN: But that wasn’t the claim, Dan. That wasn’t your claim.
SAVAGE: About homosexuality. Yes, it was my point.
BROWN: You claim that the Bible is a radically pro-slavery document.
OPPENHEIMER: As the Jew—as the Jew here—
SAVAGE: And it is.
OPPENHEIMER: Can I say something as the Jew? As the house Jew?
SAVAGE: Yes. [Brown laughs.]
OPPENHEIMER: You—right—Christians long ago—I want to—I want to cede your point. [Gesturing to Brown.] Christians long ago decided that most of the rules in the Old Testament are not applicable to them. You don’t have to listen to them, right? So—I don’t eat pork. But you do. [Brown nods.] Because your people decided—was it at the Council of Jerusalem or was it—
BROWN: Yes, in A.D. 50.
OPPENHEIMER: I mean, this happened in various stages—“We don’t have to listen to that law.” It says clear in Deuteronomy—
BROWN: But that—but that—
OPPENHEIMER: Wait, wait—let me finish.
OPPENHEIMER: Let me finish. As are some other laws about things like a man lying with a man, as are some other laws about what fibers you can mix together in your clothes, right? But basically, the Old Testament is not controlling—or what we would call the Hebrew Bible—isn’t controlling for your theology. So we can set—
OPPENHEIMER: You would generally set it aside.
BROWN: But that’s not true. No, that’s not true. What you say is set aside, Christianity is the consummation—
OPPENHEIMER: I understand.
BROWN: In our view. We’re not setting aside—
OPPENHEIMER: But certain—
BROWN: There are certain things—
OPPENHEIMER: Certain rules got kept, and certain ones got lost.
BROWN: Jesus himself says—Christ himself says, “Why do—why did you allow a divorce? Why was divorce allowed?” Christ turns around and says, “This was allowed because of hardness of heart.” So it’s clear right in the New Testament that it isn’t everything that’s being swept away, it’s that it’s being consummated in a new law, a new covenant.
OPPENHEIMER: Right, I understand. When the new law and the new covenant was consummated, certain rules that my people take very seriously, like not eating a lamb in its mother—a kid in its mother’s milk, right, because that’s disrespectful to the animal—
OPPENHEIMER: Like not eating shellfish, etc. don’t matter to you anymore as a Christian. [Turning to Savage] And didn’t matter to your father and mother, right? They don’t count. OK? Other laws got kept. The rationale for which ones were kept and which ones weren’t are not immediately apparent to a Hebrew such as me, right?
OPPENHEIMER: But, so, when you look to justify—let me finish—when you look to justify certain prohibitions on homosexuality, it makes much more sense to look to the New Testament. I just want to take Dan’s point there and say, but the New Testament did get slavery wrong, it’s an ecc—
OPPENHEIMER: Yes, it wasn’t the exact same kind of slavery—
OPPENHEIMER: But it’s an eccentric reading of it to say that it doesn’t say, “Slaves, obey your masters.”
BROWN: It’s not eccentric at all. It’s not eccentric at all.
OPPENHEIMER: What’s more—
SAVAGE: “Obey your masters as if they’re Christ.”
OPPENHEIMER: Let me say one more thing—let me say one more thing, to the Catholic convert here [pointing to Brown]. Right? You find divorce—divorce is not permitted in Catholicism, right? [Brown nods.] But I don’t—it’s not my understanding that the National Organization for Marriage is pushing as hard—
SAVAGE: Or at all…
OPPENHEIMER: —to prohibit divorce—civil divorce as you are to prohibit civil marriage of gay people, right? All I’m saying—the only point I’m making here, as the one who finished his degree in Religion and was a student of David Brion Davis, OK?
OPPENHEIMER: The only point I’m making here is I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that there aren’t specific emphases that get placed on different things at different points in time. So for example, I don’t see you putting money and lobbying efforts towards eliminating the permissibility of divorce.
BROWN: Of course not. Look, we are the only—
SAVAGE: Because that would touch on the rights of straight people.
BROWN: No, no, it has nothing to do with that. We are the only group—we—
SAVAGE: Because then you would be attacking the rights of the majority, and not a tiny defenseless minority.
BROWN: Talking—talking over someone is not an argument.
OPPENHEIMER: No, go ahead.
BROWN: We are the only group that is focusing on this last step to—to permanently alter and fundamentally undermine the nature of marriage, which is to radically redefine it. There is no question that the no-fault divorce revolution, and the notion that marriage is predominantly about me, that marriage is about the self-fulfillment of adults, not the live needs of children, there is no question that that is what got us to this point. But to say that we’ve chosen to—
BROWN: —focus on this one issue—
OPPENHEIMER: Can I just ask—
BROWN: And then you [gesturing to Oppenheimer] decide, “Well, you know, that’s not as important as feeding the poor, or…” Of course not.
OPPENHEIMER: No, no, I’m not—I’m agnostic with it, I’m just asking, because I know you’re a Roman Catholic [Brown nods], and I’m a student and a journalist of this stuff, are you, for example, in favor of making divorce illegal again?
BROWN: No, because you believe something is wrong, doesn’t mean you make it illegal. This is not—
SAVAGE: Then why not—the same policy toward civil gay marriage.
BROWN: But that is—but again, there’s a misunderstanding here. Gay marriage cannot exist. There cannot be a marriage of two men or two women. Just because the state—
SAVAGE: It exists in Canada, and Spain…
BROWN: Just because the state says it’s so, this is not based upon reality.
BROWN: Marriage by—you can call a cat a dog in the law, but a cat does not become a dog. Marriage is by its definition—it is intrinsically some thing. It is not simply about your desires; it is not about my desires, so to—
SAVAGE: Marriage is a package of civil rights and legal responsibilities. No longer is it a gendered institution—
BROWN: For any two people? What about three people or four?
SAVAGE: The merits of polygamy—and, you know, if you want to ban polygamy—most polygamous marriages have been heterosexual. So if you’re worried about the slippery slope, it’s heterosexual marriage that puts us on the slippery slope to polygamy.
BROWN: It isn’t—I’m not making a slippery slope argument here. I’m making an argument based upon logic. I’m saying if your argument is that you want the rights, benefits, and privileges of marriage, and therefore you deserve them and should have them—
SAVAGE: And I want equal protection under the law.
BROWN: Then why should not someone who wants to marry three, four, or five people?
SAVAGE: Equal protection of the law—everyone has a right to marry—everyone who’s straight has a right to marry someone. Right now as a gay person I have a right to marry no one.
BROWN: Well, what about the right of the person who believes that they’re in love with two, three, or four people?
SAVAGE: Jonathan Rauch makes a great argument against polygamous marriages because they do actual harm, because high-status men then collect dozens or hundreds of wives like David in the Bible.
BROWN: This is like the same argument you would reject from me.
SAVAGE: Like Solomon in the Bible…
BROWN: This is the same argument you would reject—
SAVAGE: No, it’s unfair to say to a gay marriage advocate that then we have to make the defense for polygamous marriage or multiple marriages when that’s not my argument or my fight.
BROWN: Just because it’s—
SAVAGE: Let the polygamists make that argument—and those polygamists are all straight.
BROWN: OK, but just because it’s—
SAVAGE: There are no gay people out there making an argument for polygamous marriage.
BROWN: Just because it’s not your argument, doesn’t mean that it naturally follows. If marriage is based primarily about the wishes—of the self-fulfillment of adults, and if the adult definition of marriage—and desire for it—produces this right, then why doesn’t someone have the right to marry two, three, or four people? This—the reason I bring up this point is not because it’s gonna happen tomorrow. The reason I bring up this point is because if marriage is not intrinsically about bringing the two sexes together, if it is not—that is not what it is—and once you go off into this other area, then you have completely destroyed marriage because it is whatever you want it to be.
OPPENHEIMER: Can I—?
SAVAGE: Has polygamous marriage come to Canada, which just had same-sex marriage legalized?
BROWN: Oh, there’s a push for polyamory. Judith Stacey and a number of scholars wrote a whole piece on “Beyond Gay Marriage.”
OPPENHEIMER: So let me—let me interrupt and say that I think the answer—I think the answer to that, as someone with, you know, who’s married and not gay and has no dog in this fight particularly, I think the answer to that might be that the government should evaluate what’s good public policy empirically speaking, right? I know that neither of you will—
SAVAGE: Which is Jonathan Rauch’s argument.
OPPENHEIMER: So let me say I think that that could end up with bad answers for both of you. In principle it could. It might not. But in principle it could. So I actually want to ask each of you: Is there any evidence—right, so this is Karl Popper’s test of falsifiability, right? If you’re making an honest argument, one with integrity, then presumably, it’s based on evidence, rather than just ideology, right? Presumably some evidence could come along that would make you change your mind. And when I asked Maggie Gallagher this question, [gesturing to Brown] your ally, right, I said, “Could any evidence come along that would make you say gay marriage is a good idea?” She basically said—she said, “Such evidence exists, but it would be so hard to ascertain that I can’t reasonably think I’ll ever see it,” right? She basically said no. She will believe what she believes no matter what the evidence is. She can defend herself on her blog if I’ve misunderstood that. I’m trying to be fair to Maggie, whom I do—I do think is, you know, an honest dealer, right? I’d like to ask each of you: Is there any evidence that could come along—what evidence would make you change your mind about anything? It could be gay marriage; it could be the status of homosexuals in society. Is there a piece of evidence that you could see—for example, that in fact gay marriage, or children being raised by gay couples, turns out badly for the children on average? Or for example, that it turns out well for them, on—on average, right? Could you see the evidence that would make you alter your position in some way?
SAVAGE: Could I go first?
SAVAGE: If marriage—if same-sex marriage, you know, in Canada somehow, slid towards people marrying their horses—which is a pamphlet that the Family Research Council put out, comparing same-sex marriage to people marrying animals—or child rape or other things that I find morally outrageous and offensive, that might change my position on same-sex marriage. The idea, though, that same-sex marriage is harming children—the choice isn’t for kids like my son D.J. between straight couples and gay couples. There are more children out there who need to be adopted than there are families to take them. The choice literally for our son was me and Terry or no one. Terry—uh, D.J.’s birth mother was nine—eight and a half months pregnant. She had approached two heterosexual couples who turned her down. There were three straight couples that failed D.J. before he was adopted by Terry and I. Even if there were social science showing that the outcomes for children were less optimal with a same-sex couple as parents, a same-sex couple as parents is still more optimal, is still a better thing for a child than no parents at all, or bouncing around foster care being abused, physically abused. So that’s my answer to your question.
You know, you’re such a Gatling gun of examples. I do have to throw out the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which you threw out as an example of gay people—of legal gay marriage somehow oppressing people of faith. That was in New Jersey where there is no right to same-sex marriage.
BROWN: No, but there’s civil unions.
SAVAGE: There’s civil unions. This isn’t about discrim—it’s about discrimination law. They had a tax exempt status for this pavilion. This lesbian couple wanted to use the pavilion for their civil union ceremony. The tax exempt status that the church had filed for didn’t allow them to discriminate against them; it had to be open to the general public. They lost that tax exempt status for the pavilion. The state helped them file for the correct tax exempt status, which is a religious organization tax exempt status, and now they have their tax exempt status for the pavilion and they can exclude anyone that they like. The outcome for the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was positive. Those lesbians did them a favor by attempting to rent that thing because it identified that they’ve filed for the wrong tax exempt status.
BROWN: I cannot—
SAVAGE: It is—it is—
OPPENHEIMER: So that was two minutes.
SAVAGE: It is false witness for you to cite that as an example.
BROWN: No, it isn’t. No, it’s completely wrong.
OPPENHEIMER: You can take two minutes, but in that time I want you to tell me what evidence would make you change your position.
BROWN: Well, first, I have to answer this.
OPPENHEIMER: OK, but in your two minutes.
BROWN: Again, Dan, you’re just—you’re just wrong on this. Look, for two years, you have a religious organization that loses part of its state tax exempt status, and then you say, because it took two extra years more, no harm, no foul, in fact things are better. Wrong. That’s completely wrong. And you fail to bring up, obviously, Massachusetts Catholic Charities or some of the other examples because—
SAVAGE: I can address that too; I was just going to take one.
OPPENHEIMER: No, it’s his two minutes. It’s his two minutes.
BROWN: No, because, because—
SAVAGE: Google it. Google it, people.
BROWN: Please Google it.
SAVAGE: Because everything you say has been debunked.
BROWN: Yeah. No, they have not been debunked at all because what people will claim is that this is because of—because of discrimination law. Well, of course, if the state incorporates your new idea of same-sex marriage, then discrimination law’s tentacles go much, much further.
SAVAGE: Only if you’re taking state money. You can’t take state money and discriminate!
OPPENHEIMER: I want to hear—
BROWN: Dan is again—please—I—no, you have to let me—
SAVAGE: The Mormon charities in Massachusetts—
OPPENHEIMER: Dan, hold on.
SAVAGE: —are still discriminating against same-sex couples.
BROWN: You have to let me respond and at least clarify simple, point blank untruths. It is untruth—it is a simple untruth, and anyone can look it up—that the reason Massachusetts—Boston Catholic Charities lost its tax exempt status was because it was taking state money. That is verifiably, point blank false. That was not the reason the state gave. The state said, “You are discriminating by not placing kids with same-sex couples.” It has nothing to do with state money. So—so that is just wrong.
OPPENHEIMER: Can I just ask—I do want to—just to keep us on time—
SAVAGE: [Holding up a piece of paper] Someone should get a close-up of this.
OPPENHEIMER: Is there any evidence that could come that would cause you to change your positions in any way?
BROWN: Well, I disagree with your—your—your experiential Karl Popper analysis in the first place with something like this.
BROWN: Because this is an area of first principle. This is an area of basic reason. It would be like saying, “Would you find evidence—what would convince you that a square could be a circle?”
OPPENHEIMER: OK. OK, so I just want to be clear on that. Even if—and I’m not mocking your position at all, I want to be clear—even if, 50 years from now, when a certain number of states have had same-sex marriage and have had children raised by same-sex couples and civil unions, etc. etc., we have some—logically speaking, a body of reasonable social science could exist that shows that these children are well raised and happy—
BROWN: I don’t—
OPPENHEIMER: In principle, it could even show they’re happier. I’m not saying there’s any reason they would be. But in principle, logically, it could show that. You still wouldn’t change your position.
BROWN: I wouldn’t change the idea that there’s something fundamentally real about marriage as a man and woman.
OPPENHEIMER: OK, a thousand years’ worth of that kind of evidence.
SAVAGE: Allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn’t take anything away from—
BROWN: It does, it fundamentally undermines—
SAVAGE: —that understanding of marriage.
OPPENHEIMER: What—I just want—again, I just want to be clear.
BROWN: We disagree on this, Dan. I think it—it clearly does. It does take away—
OPPENHEIMER: What does it take away?
BROWN: Well, it—
SAVAGE: Because if I’m married too it somehow diminishes your opposite-sex marriage?
OPPENHEIMER: Who—so let me ask—I actually think, in principle, there could be harms. I’d like to know what they would be.
BROWN: Oh, the harms are very clear. I laid out some of them. When you change the definition of marriage, you don’t just change it for Dan, you change it for everyone. You change the public policy, the public understanding of marriage.
OPPENHEIMER: OK, so what’s the fallout from that?
BROWN: Well, the fallout from that is everything from schools—what’s taught to our children in schools. Our kids are taught that it’s the same thing for Mary to grow up and marry a girl as to marry a boy. Same for—for Johnny. And that those of us who think differently are essentially bigots.
OPPENHEIMER: OK, but aside from—so, you’ve—you’ve—I think established your belief that there would be extra opprobrium against people who believe differently. But would anyone’s marriages be worse?
BROWN: Well, I think it damages—I think it fundamentally damages the institution to take something that is not a marriage and to say it is.
OPPENHEIMER: Damages how? I mean, and again, I just want—I’m an empiricist here. Damages how? Will there be—will more marriages fail? Will fewer marriages happen? What’s the empirical fallout you’re predicting? ’Cause we’re going down this road.
BROWN: You don’t want—I don’t actually think we’re actually going down this road.
OPPENHEIMER: Well, if we go down this road.
SAVAGE: We are going down this road.
OPPENHEIMER: So far. Let me put it this way. Empirically speaking, in the last ten years, we’ve moved some piece down this road.
BROWN: I—I don’t—
OPPENHEIMER: What’s the fallout from that?
BROWN: I think—again, 32 of 32 states have voted to protect marriage—
OPPENHEIMER: I got the talking points. But there’s more states now that have gay marriage than 10 years ago.
BROWN: But that’s—but—
OPPENHEIMER: What’s the fallout you predict from that?
BROWN: Well, the fallout I’ve already laid out to you. You don’t like the arguments—
OPPENHEIMER: No, is there fallout in people’s marriages? I understand there’s fallout in that you’ll be called a bigot. And you will be. I understand. Is there fallout in the quality of people’s marriages?
BROWN: It’s not just that we’ll be called a bigot. It’s that the whole—the whole notion of this good, true, and beautiful thing that is marriage, the union of a man and a woman, we will have our public culture and law saying that that good, true, and beautiful thing is not true.
OPPENHEIMER: Right, but—
BROWN: And that our acceptance of that—
SAVAGE: How is it going to say that when 97, roughly, over 90 percent of all marriages are still gonna be opposite-sex marriages, even if gay people can get married?
BROWN: It doesn’t matter. In New York and in other states, you have not seen large numbers of same-sex marriages, but you’ve still seen Justices of the Peace told they can no longer have their job.
SAVAGE: Who are state employees with a state function.
BROWN: Well, again, and you think—and you think—
SAVAGE: Do you think a Justice of the Peace—a Justice of the Peace, on belief—on faith grounds, should be able to deny a marriage license, signing a marriage license, for an interfaith couple because it violates their religious beliefs?
BROWN: Of course not, and I don’t think it should happen for interracial marriages either, but those are totally different things. Again, you’re comparing apples to oranges.
SAVAGE: I’m comparing one kind of discrimination to another kind of discrimination.
BROWN: No, it isn’t discrimination. That’s where we disagree. If it was discrimination, I would support your position. It’s not discrimination—
SAVAGE: It is discrimination.
BROWN: —to call an apple an apple and an orange an orange.
SAVAGE: It’s discrimination between two different kinds of couples based on the gender and orientations of those couples.
BROWN: No. Then I can have the same argument, what I laid out earlier, why are you not discriminating against folks who believe that they can marry two, three, or four people? This whole discrimination language is false because before you ever get to this point, you have to show that somehow it’s the same thing. It’s not the same thing. Unions of two men and two women are not the same.
SAVAGE: Because they can’t produce a child.
BROWN: Well, that’s one very—very clear reality.
SAVAGE: That’s the one you keep hammering away at.
BROWN: Well, they also don’t bring the two halves of humanity together. We believe—I believe—there’s something important in that union, that there are two halves of humanity. Bringing those two halves together in a faithful, committed, monogamous relationship is very, very important.
SAVAGE: So Lyle Menendez—
OPPENHEIMER: We’ll go two minutes more.
SAVAGE: —one of the two Menendez brothers who murdered—Lyle Menendez, one of the two Menendez brothers who murdered their parents, is legally married. Got married. They’ll never consummate this marriage; they will never have children. You will never bring those two halves of humanity together in the Menendez marriage because Lyle Menendez is going to be in prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole. Lyle Menendez can marry and that does no harm to marriage, but somehow allowing Terry and I to marry, the parents of that child that you had dinner with, is going to do irrevocable harm to marriage as an institution. How?
BROWN: Traditionally, consummation was a part of marriage throughout Western—
OPPENHEIMER: OK, lemme end with this—
SAVAGE: How does the Menendez marriage not harm…?
BROWN: Well, again, you can create any example, you can bring up any example of folks who’ve been divorced four or fives times, you can create this Lyle Menendez example—
SAVAGE: I didn’t create it.
BROWN: Well, but it has absolutely no bearing to the fundamental question of what is marriage?
OPPENHEIMER: Can I—?
BROWN: Marriage is by its nature the conjugal union of one man and one woman. Just because heterosexuals betray fidelity, they betray anything that you’ve laid out—
SAVAGE: Historically, more marriages have been polygamous than any other form.
BROWN: Well, that, again—
SAVAGE: Over the course of human history. So this one man-one woman thing is a misnomer and it is not Biblical.
SAVAGE: How many wives did Solomon have? How many wives did David have?
BROWN: So you just only accept part of the New Testament—by the time—Old Testament. By the time of the New Testament, polygamy was basically gone. Your history is wrong, ’cause you say the whole Bible accepts—
SAVAGE: I said the Old Testament.
BROWN: No, you said—you said the Bible. But regardless—
OPPENHEIMER: OK, so we’re just going to take one more minute, and I’m going to pose the question. I’m gonna pose the question, which is, I’d like to know, you each get one minute, and then we’ll—then we’ll stop.
SAVAGE: Oh my God.
OPPENHEIMER: ’Cause it’s an hour’s time.
SAVAGE: I feel like we’re just getting started.
BROWN: We only have one minute.
OPPENHEIMER: And then we’ll stay and we’ll just like [punches other hand] pummel each other.
BROWN: He’s gonna take me out back and… [mimics punching]
OPPENHEIMER: So here’s the question—
SAVAGE: Oh, for crying out loud.
OPPENHEIMER: Here’s the question I have, which is—and you have one minute each, which I think that’s enough time—what kind of marriage regime do you endorse? If you could create the law from scratch, and I want to know from you [turns to Savage] why wouldn’t polygamy be allowed, right? What regime are you going to create and why would you include what you’d include and exclude what you’d exclude? And what marriage regime would you create [turns to Brown] including would divorce be permissible, etc. etc., and if so, why, and if not, why not? Again, we’re all talking the realm of ideal. None of us is controlling history here, but I’d like to know, if you were counseling people on what kind of laws to make in an ideal world, what would the regime look like? Dan, do you want to go first?
SAVAGE: Marriage is the legal union of two adults, and that’s what I think it should be, and I believe it should be limited to that. I think Jon—I can’t paraphrase Jonathan Rauch’s argument against polygamy, but I think polygamy fails on its merits, because polygamy is tied to a class structure that is destabilizing, that creates scores of unmarriageable men—polygamy is always one man with many, many wives—how many wives would Donald Trump have is polygamy was legal and possible for Donald Trump? Probably countless at this point. And when one man has 30 wives, 10 wives—there’s another man—there’s nine men who have no wives, when one man has 10 wives. And that’s destabilizing to society, and it fails on its merits for the harm that it does. Same-sex marriage does no harm; it does not fail on the merits of doing harm to other people. The only way gay people harm people when they marry is when gay people marry straight people, which is the Religious Right’s prescription for us; we’re not supposed to be gay, we’re supposed to be ex-gay, and marry women and fake it. Um, and that is—if anyone goes to the Straight Spouse Network, reads about the damage done when gay people enter into opposite-sex marriages—unworkable. I think marriage is the legal union of two adults. Marriage should not be incestuous, and I don’t believe it should be polygamous either, and I don’t know any gay person who does. And I know there are some radical writers and thinkers out there but you can’t pen me with them just because I’m for same-sex marriage and so are they plus a whole lot else.
OPPENHEIMER: OK. [Gestures to Brown.] What would your marriage regime look like?
BROWN: Yeah, the question obviously is not whether or not Dan supports polyamory or polygamy or multiple marriages. It’s not the question. The question is, by what reason do you not? And I don’t think Jonathan Rauch’s argument holds water if you fundamentally—torn away the fundamental—the nature of what marriage is, as the union of a man and a woman, based on their complementarity, based on the ability to have children, the connection between parenthood—that they could have children, even if they don’t—once you do away with that and you make it only about adult desires, then I’m not even talking about polygamy—what about three men? What about whatever you want? This is not—does not mean that I’m saying this is going to happen tomorrow. I’m not saying that at all; I’m saying by what reason do you oppose it? And I don’t think there is a reason. As far as an ideal marriage regime: I think marriage in America before the no-fault divorce revolution, as far as the legal structure. Now, again, there’s no period at which everything is perfect; things can always be better. But there is no doubt in my mind that the reason we’re even debating this topic, the reason this topic really doesn’t come up until quite recently, is because only in a society that has lost the conception of marriage as being intricately tied to parenthood and children, about children’s real needs rather than adult desires, only at that point do we see Western cultures especially embracing this new notion of marriage where it could actually be same-sex marriage. So, um, you know, you brought up the issue of divorce. Do I believe in divorce? No. Aquinas says that there—obviously laws have to fit a certain culture and a culture with widespread divorce trying to make something, you know, illegal is wrong, but I think we should make it a lot more difficult; I think that no-fault divorce should go—go away, and that, that the gold standard for public policy should be that marriage is the lifelong commitment of one man and one woman.
OPPENHEIMER: OK. Well, we’ll hang out for a while and keep talking. [Brown nods.]
BROWN: [Shaking Oppenheimer’s hand] Thank you.
SAVAGE: [Shaking Oppenheimer’s hand] Thank you.
BROWN: [Shaking Savage’s hand] Thank you.
OPPENHEIMER: And so, the dinner table is closed.