The Gay Marriage Debate: Framing the Argument

My friends Chris and Camron have a radio show, Everything is Illuminated, on the campus radio station at their college. Said college, which my mother also attended, happens to be a smallish, well-regarded Catholic liberal arts institution, but the “Catholic” part of that has not stopped them from tackling a number of subjects that probably would not amuse Il Papa. (Given that it’s college radio, though, nobody who’s actually listening has expressed any particular dismay.) The show runs from 9:00 to 10:00 PM every Tuesday (listen here), often running over its allotted time when the following DJ fails to show up, and yesterday evening’s controversial subject was gay marriage, a subject about which I know a certain amount.

“American cultural perspectives of homosexuality” is such a gigantic topic that I couldn’t hope to frame the argument for gay rights in any sort of a coherent fashion… and yet it seems that’s exactly what I’ve done. I spoke at great length about this on the program last night (thanks again for having me on, by the way, guys) and after doing a little more thinking would like to place what I’ve come up with here for your reading. I’m sure this has all been said before, but maybe it hasn’t been collected like this or summarized in a non-offensive way. I think a lot of times, gay writers take these things as a foregone conclusion and write in terms of derision to the other side, which is unlikely to convince them. Perhaps this will change a few minds.

NOTE: Below I use the blanket term “opponents” to mean those who believe that gay marriage, or homosexuality in general, are wrong. It was shorter than writing “anti-gay activists” or similar, and more accurate than “conservatives” or “Christians”.

Opponents believe that being gay is a conscious choice to engage in a behavior, specifically a sex act, and a disgusting one at that. New Hampshire state representative Nancy Elliot spoke at an assembly meeting about “taking the penis of one man, putting it in the rectum of another man, and wiggling it around in excrement” as compared to “the one-flesh union of a man and woman”. She then went on to claim (falsely, as it turned out) that fifth-graders were being shown pictures of gay anal sex and heavily implied that these children were being encouraged to engage in such acts. This belies a number of very important beliefs this woman holds, correct me if I’m wrong:

  1. Homosexuality, gay marriage, and gay rights can all be reduced to one sex act.
  2. This sex act is abnormal, unsanitary, and immoral.
  3. If gay marriage is legal, some children may see this sex act as “normal” and may choose to engage in it, to the exclusion of the normal, sanitary, moral sex act.
  4. Gay rights advocates want children to engage in this abnormal sex act.

From this we can perhaps extrapolate a few deeper, but less explicitly stated points.

  1. Gay people cannot and do not love each other the way that straight people can and do. They are merely engaging in a sex act.
  2. Because that sex act is abnormal and immoral, gay couples do not deserve the same rights as straight couples. Straight couples are in love, and that love is pure and it comes from God, therefore their union can be blessed. Gay couples are engaging in a sex act that is explicitly forbidden in the Bible, and thus they do not do it out of love. God has stated that that sex act is wrong, and therefore it must be discouraged. In particular, impressionable children should be discouraged from engaging in it.
  3. Therefore, not only do gay people not deserve the right to get married, they should not be protected from discrimination or hatred at all. Their sex act is immoral and wrong, and should be discouraged. Withholding good things from them will discourage them from engaging in that sex act and will encourage them to engage in the correct sex act.

You with me so far?

All of the things above have been stated at one time or another by the opponents, even if they’re only speaking to those already on their side. They truly and genuinely believe that gay people are not in love. They keep hammering that to their people, so I need to keep hammering it to you: In the minds of the opponents, what gay people feel is not love.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean for this to be so long. I wanted it to be simple, easy to argue. Let’s try again. Buried in there might actually be the central arguments that the other side is making:

Homosexuality is a chosen behavior, and it is the wrong choice. By discouraging the behavior, we are encouraging the right choice.

This seems pretty simple, and indeed you will see that it is a point that has been made many times before. But it gets lost in the morass of what I wrote above it, and when the pro-gay side answers, they answer with a similarly tangled web. I think we need a simplified answer.

Despite what you believe the Bible to say, homosexuality is not a choice, it is an innate, immutable orientation. By encouraging negative behavior towards homosexual people, you are not encouraging them to make a correct choice because they are not faced with one.

There are so many more points of discussion there, useful when talking to people. Asking them when they made their choice not to fall in love with people of the same sex is a good one. But the battle is made most difficult because it requires gay people to be patient and explain things succintly, without animus toward Christianity, and it requires speaking to opponents one at a time and making clear that it’s about love, it’s not about the sex act. Opponents have gone so far as to claim that gay people have no right to use the term “love”, because they genuinely believe that is not what we feel. The only way to change that believe is to tell them otherwise. Showing them has not worked.

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