By Ryan Scott
Supporters of gay marriage are actually conservatives, even if they don’t realize it, renowned journalist Andrew Sullivan argued at a debate on gay marriage Wednesday.
As an institution, marriage is based upon the conservative trait of personal responsibility, Sullivan told an audience in Lee Chapel on the Washington and Lee University campus. Marriage allows society to exist without the constant pervasive presence of government, Sullivan said.
His opponent in the debate, columnist Maggie Gallagher, agreed that marriage is based upon responsibility, but she argued that the purpose of marriage is procreation and that gay marriages jeopardize both the institution and society at large.
Gallagher, a syndicated commentator and co-founder of the anti-gay marriage National Organization for Marriage, said the government has always been and should remain involved in defining marriage because society has a vested interest in the continued reproduction of its members.
She contrasted her view of marriage with the “soulmate” theory, which defines marriage as being based solely upon the love of the individuals involved, which she dismissed as insufficient to explain why society works to bring men and women together.
“Marriage is a status, not a personal choice,” she said. She argued that gay marriage does not work to serve society because the “ideal” situation for a child involves being raised by both a mother and a father.
Gallagher claimed that the gay marriage movement is the “capstone” of an ideology that views love as more important than procreation. She said that in modern society, marriage’s function as procreation is unclear, and that is why people can even see gay marriage as a possibility.
The debate was presented by two organizations that do not typically agree on issues – OutLaw, the organization supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual students at the Washington and Lee School of Law, and the university’s Federalist Society, an organization dedicated to the principle of small government.
Several other university organizations, including the history department and the president’s office, co-sponsored the event. Several private donors also contributed. Marc Zappala, treasurer of OutLaw, would not disclose the speakers’ fees, but he did note that “the number of co-sponsors reflects both the fees of our high-profile speakers and the interest people in the university had in our event.”
Though they worked together to create the event, OutLaw and the Federalist Society did not cooperate in choosing the debaters.
Gallagher presented the opponents of gay marriage as being victimized by a society that is “raising the cost of speaking out against gay marriage.” She claimed that people are afraid they will be unable to find jobs if they speak out against marriage equality, saying the evidence for the oppression of anti-gay marriage advocates is abundant.
“It’s hard to see if you’re pro-gay marriage,” she said. Gallagher said her only goal in appearing at Washington and Lee was to make the members of the audience who support gay marriage realize that good, rational people can also be opposed to gay marriage.
Sullivan, who writes The Dish column for The Daily Beast and wrote this week’s cover story in Newsweek, “The Forgotten Jesus,” opened by saying that the right of free speech should be defended for anti-gay marriage advocates, and that calling them names was neither necessary nor productive.
Sullivan argued that while homosexuals are the minority, they experience “the same misery, the same joy” of love as heterosexuals, and that allowing them marriage gives gay individuals a goal around which to structure their lives and relationships. He said the repression of gay marriage would banish gay individuals to the “sexual and social” chaos from which marriage protects people. To exclude the minority from a core institution of society, he argued, is to marginalize, demean and dehumanize.
Sullivan, a gay Catholic, explained how he saw acceptance of gay marriage to be a conservative idea because conservatism represents “a fundamental recognition of reality,” and thus institutions should change to reflect a changing reality. He described himself as a Constitutionalist, and said that the core idea of the Constitution was equality under the law.
He noted that marriage is already allowed for heterosexual couples who cannot or are unwilling to have children, and decried the denial of that right to homosexual couples as a “gross inequality.”
When a member of the audience asked Sullivan about the Bible’s description of homosexuality as an “abomination,” Sullivan responded that the New Testament superseded the laws of Leviticus, where that term is used. He noted that Jesus taught his followers that loving each other was more important than following the rules of the Old Testament.
“The law matters, but if you have to choose between the law and love, choose love,” said Sullivan, summarizing the teachings of Jesus.
The debate became most heated when a member of the audience brought up the recent controversy that has sprung up around the National Organization for Marriage. Recently leaked confidential documents from NOM reveal the organization’s plans “to drive a wedge between gays and blacks,” whom the documents describe as “two key Democratic constituencies.” The documents also expose the organization’s attempts to find children of gay couples to speak out against gay marriage.
Gallagher attempted to distance herself from the documents, saying that she had been opposed to them when they were made, although her name is on one of the documents.
While she acknowledged that the idea of dividing the African-American and homosexual communities is offensive, Gallagher stood by her organization’s attempt to find children whom she described as “managed” – she wouldn’t say raised – by gay couples to speak out against their parents’ lifestyle.
Sullivan expressed disgust at that idea, saying that it was “wicked” to ask children to testify against their own parents. He described the notion as “anti-family,” called it a “despicable practice,” and said it was a sign of “moral corruption.”
The debate concluded with a comparison of the arguments against gay marriage and those once used to oppose interracial marriage. Gallagher called that a false analogy, as the arguments against miscegenation were based upon oppression and division. But she claimed that her position was based on bringing men and women together.
Sullivan argued that the comparison was accurate and relevant, as the opposition to both homosexual and interracial marriage is based upon separating the minority from the majority. Sullivan said that whatever the intent of anti-gay marriage laws, in effect they reduced gay individuals to second-class citizenship.
“[That] is the greatest civil rights injustice of our time,” he said.