The Institute for American Values streamed John Corvino’s and Maggie Gallagher’s cordial discussion of same-sex marriage (SSM) on June 7th, 2012 at 18:00 EDT. An archived video of the event is now available. A respectful and lively exchange between two intelligent people who respect one another (rather than see one another as the demonic incarnation of all that is wrong in the world, i.e., the United States) demonstrated, at least, that Gallagher is indeed—as I suspected—a human being and not a construction of the technical media and NOM’s publicity machine. Nevertheless, their discussion ignored key dimensions of the struggle for and against LGBT legal protections. Corvino’s and Gallagher’s friendship and engagement with mostly philosophical (or theoretical) arguments for and against SSM tended to treat the question as a hypothetical and never engaged with the realities of the campaign against civil equality for LGBT people. By treating marriage theoretically—as though it were a potential object, a fantasy to be studied from afar—they ignore the simple fact that opponents of SSM are fighting directly against existing LBGT couples and families. As even Noah Millman points out (via Andrew Sullivan), gay and lesbian couples already live in de facto common-law marriages:
Numerous gay couples settle down for long-term, even life-long relationships of mutual support. They jointly own property. They bear, adopt, and rear children. These are already existing realities, not hypotheticals. They are not the product of state diktats; they are the product of organic cultural change which, in turn, has shaped changes in the law. The question before the people is whether to recognize these realities, and, if so, as what. “As marriage” is one answer – the answer favored by those who want to secure those already-existing arrangements, for families already in them and for future generations who might want to form similar arrangements. And it’s the answer that seems to be getting intuitively more persuasive to more and more people as they look at these couples and at straight marriages and don’t see any fundamental differences that the law should be cognizant of.
To his credit, John Corvino tangentially approaches this point by making the ethical argument that marriage is about two people’s love and commitment—and, presumably, love doesn’t yet need legal recognition to exist. Gallagher essentially argues, as she summarized in one sentence for David Blankenhorn (who hosted the debate), that marriage is about the intimate connection of sex and children (i.e., that sex produces children). That’s a particularly specious connection considering that humans have sex (most of them anyway) year-round, while other species have specific mating seasons. For the former, sex and procreation fortunately coincide, while for the latter, the two have a more necessary connection. That’s a scientific question anyway, which Gallagher isn’t qualified to opine on and which has little to do with marriage.
In fact, getting from children to sex to marriage requires so many leaps that it weakens her position. What if we don’t agree that sex, much less marriage, necessarily leads to children, especially in the age of birth control and couples who choose not to have children? The argument she makes to Blankenhorn is really against LGBT couples raising children, against divorce for any couple, and against contraception. It sounds more and more like an orthodox Catholic position all the time, and more and more out of step with the way people (including lay Catholics) actually conduct themselves. Gallagher’s case is a Catholic, theological one slightly disguised as a biological and secular, philosophical one. You must accept her religious premises to agree with everything that follows—the fact that Corvino (and most people) don’t accept those premises is the reason he will never agree (philosophically) with her.