I went to Ferris State University to watch my friend Justin Schieber participate in a debate over same-sex marriage against David Kallman, a Christian right attorney here in Michigan who has fought tooth and nail against LGBT equality not only in marriage cases but in anti-discrimination cases as well. This is a report on how it went.
Justin went first and he made a conservative argument for same-sex marriage. Noting that marriage provides a wide range of protections and benefits for children, he argued that those protections and benefits apply just as well to the children of gay parents as they do to the children of straight parents. He was careful to explain that there is a difference between religious marriage and civil marriage, saying that churches should be entirely free to perform or refuse to perform any marriage they like, but that the civil institution of marriage should be available equally. He also did some preemptive responses to arguments he figured were going to be made by Kallman.
Kallman’s constructive was rather odd. There were actually very few substantive arguments made. Here a few of the claims he made in his first speech:
1.All religions recognize marriage as between a man and a woman. He even said that Islam recognizes that, while many sects of Islam are highly polygamous. Seems he defeated his own argument.
2. Websters defines marriage as both a legal and religious commitment. Not sure why he thinks this is relevant.
3. The link between marriage and the welfare of children is good for society. Yes, that’s exactly what Justin said. He does not try to explain why this applies only to families headed by straight people.
4. Slippery slope. The redefinition of marriage will not be limited to same-sex marriage, it will lead to legalizing polygamy and marriage between adults and children. He cites Gloria Steinem and someone else as supporting the latter, but doesn’t actually quote them. Then he cites NAMBLA as wanting adult-child marriages. At this point, I wanted to scream.
5. He cites irrelevant social science that children do best “with both biological parents in a conflict-free marriage.” Duh. He claims that there are “hundreds of studies” that show this. But not a single one of those studies compared intact straight families and intact gay families, they all compared intact straight families with broken straight families (divorce, death, etc). This is standard Christian right rhetoric, but the studies simply do not speak to the relevant question or make the relevant analysis.
Next came cross examinations and Justin did a good job of asking him questions that set up later arguments. For instance, he asked Kallman if not allowing gay people to get married is going to lead them to not form couples, to break up existing couples, to not form families or to stop being gay. He said no, of course. This then set up Justin’s argument in rebuttal that all of the arguments about whether gay families are good or bad is irrelevant to the question of whether they should be allowed to get married because they’re still going to form couples and still going to raise children. The only question is whether those families will benefit from the protections given to married couples and the benefits that accrue to their children.
The rebuttals were kind of scattershot on both parts because they didn’t have any prep time built into the format. Prep time is very important because it allows the debaters to take a few minutes before their rebuttal to plan out what they’re going to say, to structure the speech and have a list of the arguments they want to address.
It was in the Q&A that things got most interesting, especially when they get to going back and forth on the slippery slope argument. Justin pointed out that while he doesn’t have any moral problem with polygamy, it’s a far more difficult thing to legalize than same-sex marriage. The change is easy to go from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage, it’s just a slight change of wording. But polygamy raises all kinds of difficult pragmatic problems. How does the inheritance work? Which spouse gets to make medical decisions if the one partner is incapacitated? Do they all have parental rights over children they aren’t actually related to? There are so many practical problems to overcome and so many changes to the law required that the slippery slope argument just doesn’t work very well.
And that’s when Kallman again claimed that it won’t be just polygamy, it will also be adult-child marriage and he actually claimed that all the major gay rights groups endorse and support NAMBLA. Justin asked him to name one and he couldn’t. He referred back to a Harvard Law Review article on the subject from 2011, which he claimed had a list of quotes from those groups proving that they supported NAMBLA. I initially tried to search for the article but nothing showed up. Then I remembered he mentioned a brief he filed in the marriage cases and figured he might cite it, so I looked it up. It was actually the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. You can read it here.
Guess what? It doesn’t even mention NAMBLA. Not once. I can’t find anywhere that it even mentions the idea of adult-child relationships. It mentions polygamy, incest, bestiality and other possible slippery slopes, but not adult-child relationships. It looks like Kallman just plain lied through his teeth.