The great debate of 2012: Corvino and Gallagher discuss same-sex marriage

New book sheds light on both sides of marriage equality

By Bridgette M. Redman


In the often bitter debate over marriage equality, it can be difficult for the two sides to find common ground - or even speak civilly to one another. The book "Debating Same-Sex Marriage" is an attempt by gay scholar and columnist Dr. John Corvino and the co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage Maggie Gallagher to model just such behavior and "to promote dialogue in the face of a sometimes ugly division," as they say in the introduction. They write both to convince others of their views and to make the "effort to 'achieve disagreement' - that is, to uncover exactly where they differ and why."

The result is the newly released Oxford University Press book that meticulously lays out the case both for and against same-sex marriages. Each author offers a rebuttal to the case laid out by the other.

"One thing I would encourage people to do is to look at the book and see that it is possible to be civil while still being spirited and rigorous," Corvino said. "I don't think Maggie and I were shy about criticizing each other's arguments where they merited criticism. We didn't play nice for the sake of playing nice - we went after each other with passion and vigor."

This passion and vigor has earned praise for the book from such widely diverse readers as former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum and the founder of the "It Gets Better" initiative Dan Savage. Both endorse the book, though for widely different reasons.

Corvino has already come under fire from some colleagues in the LGBT community who argue that co-publishing a book with Gallagher lends greater legitimacy to her platform and those who argue against marriage equality. His response is that Gallagher already has a platform - one that nearly half of Americans agree with.

"So the question for our side is how are we going to respond to that platform?" Corvino asked. "I don't think that ignoring them is a good option. Doing a book with Gallagher enabled me to do two things I couldn't do with a book of my own: (1) reach some of the people on her side who wouldn't buy a book written just by me, and (2) force her to tease out her arguments in a sustained way, and then have her respond to a direct critique of those arguments."

The book has been several years in the making. Corvino recruited Gallagher to write the counter-case. The two of them had corresponded and debated many times when Corvino was approached a few years ago by an editor at Oxford University Press to write a point-counterpoint book on same-sex marriage.

"I agreed and I got Maggie Gallagher to agree as well," Corvino explained. "I had considered proposing another academic...but the academics who argue against same-sex marriage these days tend to do so from a narrow natural-law framework, and I thought that would limit the usefulness and appeal of the book. Gallagher does a good job, I think, of presenting a more thoughtful and articulate version of the arguments that are occurring on the ground."

The book focuses on the moral and political arguments for and against same-sex marriage, while purposely staying away from some approaches. The introduction explains, "This book is a debate about marriage as a legal and social institution: should it include same-sex couples? It is not about whether there is a constitutional right to such marriage, or about whether particular religious denominations should bless same-sex unions, although some of its content will be relevant to those debates."

Instead, the focus is on whether legalizing same-sex marriages is good for society or bad for society - with two vastly different answers. While Corvino acknowledges that it is difficult to engage in the debate without addressing the theological aspects that are a large part of the opposition, but he said that religious belief has very little place in determining our civil law.

"The problem when you start bringing in God's intention is that God doesn't respond to e-mail," Corvino said. "It is hard to get God to weigh in directly on this. Different people have different senses of what God reveals, and they're all trying to get divine backing for their particular positions. It made sense for the purpose of what we're trying to achieve here'."

Instead, Corvino focuses on the three-fold argument that relationships are good for people, marriages are good for relationships and some people are gay. He talks about how everyone - straight and LGBT - benefit from living in a just society that treats everyone equally under the law.

Gallagher, meanwhile, argues that our social structure depends on our giving special importance to relationships that create new life.

"These three ideas - sex makes babies, society needs babies, children need mothers and fathers - do help explain the most peculiar thing about marriage at all: Why is the law involved? Why does civil marriage exist?" she writes.

From these basic premises, they build their arguments and rebuttals in the 296-page book. The prolonged and thoughtful debate explains why people on both sides are quick to praise the work.

Book Excerpt

Maggie Gallagher:

Two big ideas about marriage must necessarily change if same-sex couples are to be considered in law and by society as just as married as anyone else.

The first is the idea that marriage has something centrally to do with regulating "responsible procreation." If two men are a marriage, marriage is obviously not about getting mothers and fathers for children. Period. The law itself repudiates that as a core feature of marriage.

Moreover, same-sex marriage also necessarily calls into question related marital norms: Why sex? Why fidelity? Why permanence? Why not sisters? Why only two?

In the marriage system we have inherited, the answer to these questions are quite clear: They rest in two great principles the society endorses: marriage is oriented toward protecting children by giving them a mother and father--and every child is equally worthy of protection.

John Corvino:

According to Gallagher, the central function of marriage is to signal the ideal that children need a mother and father. She thinks it's clear that same-sex marriage would repudiate this function: "If two men are a marriage, marriage is obviously not about getting mothers and fathers for children. Period" .

Where Gallagher throws down a "Period," I see room for discussion. Marriage is indeed about getting mothers and fathers for children, but it is not only about that, and the other functions can be sufficient in themselves. The elderly-couple example proves this. Their marriage is not about getting mothers and fathers for children, and yet we still recognize it as worthwhile, because of another important marital theme: No one should have to face life alone. Gallagher imposes a double standard here: when infertile heterosexuals marry, they're just a harmless exception to the general rule, whereas when gays marry, they somehow repudiate the institution's core purpose.

Meet the author at Pride

Author John Corvino will be at Motor City Pride in Hart Plaza, on Sat. and Sun. from 2:30 - 3:30 p.m. to sign copies of his just released book. Stop by the Information Booth at the main entrance which BTL will be staffing during the festival and you can meet him and purchase your own autographed copy.

Reprinted from Debating Same-Sex Marriage by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher with permission from Oxford University Press USA Copyright (c) 2012 by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher.

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