Debating Gay Marriage [Index Post]

Debating Gay Marriage [Index Post] February 7, 2012

There’s a controversy brewing at my alma mater.  As the kickoff to True Love Week (meant to contrast with the concurrently running Sex Week at Yale), organizers invited Professor Anthony Esolen of Providence College to speak on “The Person as a Gift.”  A few days before the keynote, IvyGate publicized Esolen’s fervent writings about the destructive power of gay marriage.  Activists on campus organized a kiss-in and then marched out of Esolen’s talk.

I disapprove of demonstrations that interrupt speakers, if any other alternative is possible.  I think the kiss-in would be better timed if it occurred before Esolen began or at the conclusion of his remarks.  And if you’ve come to protest a controversial speaker, it is poor form to walk out of the talk.  We deplore that kind of behavior when it’s the other side doing it and robbing us of our ability to change their minds.  I agree with Minhal Baig, who wrote in The Yale Daily News today:

The impolite spectacle did not make me any more sympathetic to the talk; nor did the lackluster talk make me any more sympathetic to the spectacle… [T]he demonstrators had no seriousness in purpose; the kiss-in was an effort to defeat Esolen’s arguments not in a discursive manner but through visceral exhibitionism. It made no argument but this: We think you’re wrong, and we don’t like what you have to say.

A number of my friends got into an extended fight on facebook over whether Esolen’s views on gay marriage and homosexuality disqualified him to speak at Yale.  Choosing not to give someone a platform is not the same thing as abrogating their free speech, and it can be productive to debate community norms on acceptable speech.  However, as everyone got more engaged in this metadebate, Esolen’s content was obscured.

One conservative friend of mine, Matthew Gerken, accused folks on my side of the gay marriage debate of shying away from the strongest arguments of the opposition.  So I’ve invited him to summarize those arguments as a guest poster to this blog.  His first post will go up this afternoon, and I’ll respond on Wednesday.  All posts in this series will be listed below, for ease of reference.

I’ll add that I know Matthew personally, and I know he does not speak from malevolence, but from honest disagreement.  So skip the comments impugning his character.  If you think (like I do) that he’s wrong, nail him on the content.

  1. Gay Marriage and Male Friendship – Matt’s opening sortie.  Does legitimizing gay marriage sexualize platonic friendships?
  2. Weighing the Consequences of Gay Marriage – My first reply to Matt.  Any major cultural change has collateral damage, so how do we minimize it and balance it against the reforms we seek.
  3. When Men Treat Men Like Men Treat Women – Part two of my reply to Matt.  Why are we acting as though balancing friendship and sexual tension is a new problem?
  4. Leah’s Handy Guide to Not Letting Eros Destroy Philia – Debating gay marriage/giving relationship advice is like tomato/tomahto, right?
  5. Divorce and the Doctrine of Individualism – Matt debut’s his second argument: affirming gay marriage entrenches everything wrong with modern marriage
  6. Whaddya Wanna Get Married For? – Pitching Matt and everyone else on the secular cousin of sacramental marriage: gay covenant marriage
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  • Patrick

    What you’re seeing is a cultural shift in moral values. For many in my generation, being against gay marriage is a despicable opinion, and advancing anti-gay beliefs is a morally culpable act. So, in accordance with usual human norms of moral behavior, anti-gay individuals are being ostracized for their failure to uphold the minimal moral standards of decent society.

    I agree with you that this is in conflict with values regarding open discourse and debate, which implicitly signal that both sides have socially legitimate points of view.

    But I also think that this is how social change occurs. If we want this sort of protest to stop, we need to come up with some other method of utilizing ostracism. Because ostracism is going to happen.

  • This reminds me of debates while I was at university about inviting figures such as Nick Griffin to speak.
    I have always been in favour of asking controversial speakers to come and make their case, but insisting on a robust Q&A at the end of their talk as part of the deal. It allows their controversial opinion out there, but then allows them to get hammered by the audience into the bargain.

    • leahlibresco

      Very much agreed on the Q&A. I don’t know what the Esolen format was, I’ll have to ask some undergrad friends.

      • Minnie

        There was a very long Q&A at the end, but there were few students left in attendance.

  • “Choosing not to give someone a platform is not the same thing as abrogating their free speech, and it can be productive to debate community norms on acceptable speech.”

    This is very much what I believe. We are not required to give every person a platform to speak from. We should be prevented from going after someone’s own platform but, if we have a platform, we are not required to let just anyone use it.

    • As an individual, I agree: there is no value in listening and even propagating stupid opinions. Of course in following this strategy I rely in my ability to detect stupid opinions (which may be wrong, but I have a right to make my own mistakes).

      With a group, there is a problem if part of a group believes that an opinion is stupid, and another part believes otherwise. (If the whole group agrees that an opinion is stupid, this problem does not exist.) How does a group, as a whole, decide? Saying that any (sufficiently large and sufficiently organized) part of the group can deny the platform is equivalent to saying that such part of the group is allowed to pass the stupidity judgement on behalf of the whole group. I can imagine situations where a decision-making process like this is… well, stupid.

  • Molly

    I supported the idea of gay s for a very long time and a trip to Taize changed that. While there, a very interesting thought came to me. The gay lifestyle doesn’t serve life, instead it serves only self. It cannot create anything greater than self. One cannot serve both God and self at the same time, we all must choose which path we serve, since there is only one truth. We cannot serve both. And what about those people who are infertile? There is a story about Sarah, Abrham’s wife, who ended up pregnant at a very old age. On a personal level, my mom was told she could never have kids, and she suffered several miscarriages before and after my birth. And there are countless other stories like my mom’s. God can work with what he created, He cannot work with what perverts the nature of truth or creation. Child bearing is in accordance of natural progression. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, we cannot deny that nothing in creation stands alone. For example, when a tree dies, it never dies in vain, instead it goes back to the earth and helps new life grow, animals and bugs find homes in the decaying wood, etc. I will say this again, homosexuality cannot naturally produce anything bigger or greater than self, it doesn’t fit in anywhere in the natural flow of life. Alcoholism, drug addictions, masturbation, and homosexuality are all in the same category which is self serving. However, majority of homosexuals dont even understand this about themselves. Gays are of course are souls, created by God and deserve like any of us, since we are all sinners, to be treated with love and dignity. But like anyone suffering from an addiction, this lifestyle needs to be addressed with compassion, and not condoned.

    • leahlibresco

      Would you say the same thing of celibacy? In the context of consecrated life?

      • 1. It takes theological premises to approve of consecrated life.
        2. Consecrated life is not merely continence.
        3. Continence is not a lack of sexuality.
        4. To abstain from indulging in sexual passions is not the same as indulging in bad sexual passions.