A Pleasant Bigotry

Northwest sockeye salmon with Washington sweet corn. Heirloom tomatoes. New-potato gnocchi. Roasted peaches with an oat-and-almond crumble. Cocktails, and then wine. No, that’s not what was served for dinner in Casa Likko last night, although I wish it was. It’s what celebrity unofficial spokesgay* Dan Savage and National Organization for Marriage (an anti-SSM advocacy organization) President Brian Brown shared for dinner as part of their symposium on August 15, 2012, in Savage’s home. The whole hour-long, post-dinner debate is on YouTube, and the reporter’s writeup was published in the Gray Lady yesterday.

I wanted to say that the menu was more interesting than the debate. I wanted to say that I heard nothing new in the discussion. But that’s not quite true. Mr. Brown entrenched me further in my advocacy for legally treating same-sex marriages the same as mixed-sex marriages.

Mr. Brown’s primary talking point during the discussion was that “…marriage is that institution by which society connects children to their biological mothers and fathers,” (at 39:32). As framed in this discussion, it was a pleasant enough cloak on bigotry, and a rhetorically interesting blend of the definitional argument against SSM (“the union of a man and a woman is the definition of marriage, it is, it is, it is!”) and the procreative argument (“biologically, only a man and a woman can make a baby, therefore mixed-sex marriages (MSM’s) are different”).

But it’s still a claim that mixed-sex marriages are qualitatively better than same-sex marriages, and therefore entitled to special privilege under the law.

Brown goes on to argue that not all opposition to SSM is rooted in bigotry. I agree with that, although I think he does it the way he does to gloss over the existence of real anti-gay bigotry motivating a substantial segment of opposition to SSM. But the point is, no, one does not have to be a bigot to be opposed to SSM, which is right. It’s also not the point. A legal ban on SSM treats a person who wish to enter into an SSM differently and less favorably than a person who wishes to enter into MSM. I am a man. If I wish to marry a woman; I can. But if I wish to marry a man, I cannot.

Why? According to Brown, “…marriage is that institution by which society connects children to their biological mothers and fathers.” My desire to father a child, or capability of doing so in the first place, is somehow irrelevant to that?

By this logic, MSM must somehow be linked to procreation. And it isn’t, it just isn’t, and even “traditionally,” it hasn’t been that way, not for a long time. Sterile couples can marry. They can adopt children and legally become parents despite the lack of biological relationship. Couples who do not wish to have children, or who wish to but somehow fail to, can still marry. Couples who each have their own children from previous relationships can marry (and adopt one another’s children, sometimes). Parents who divorce are sometimes legally stripped of their rights as parents for any of a number of reasons. We have already legally severed biological parentage from marriage.

Brown claims that SSM advocates must prove that opposition to SSM must be motivated by bigotry. That rhetorical turn was made in a subtle way, subtle enough that Savage didn’t challenge it. I think he didn’t because he got caught up in the historically and intellectually interesting recital of the evolution of Christian doctrine, which is a rabbit hole that Brown either deliberately went down or fell into himself. Maybe the booze had something to do with it, although both men looked to be in sufficient command of their faculties that blaming a missed maneuver in an argument on the wine is more an excuse than an explanation.

What Brown brought to the table was friendly, smart, and pleasant. I don’t think he’s a bigot and Savage was forthright about earlier remarks of his that were uncharitable to Christianity and to Christians — he apologized for them. But that doesn’t change the underlying issue. Brown wishes to see the law treat Savage’s family differently from (say) mine. Although he seems to accept Savage’s family for what it is, and he stops short of calling Savage’s family “bad” or “wrong,” he nevertheless insists that my marriage to my wife is somehow better than Savage’s marriage to his husband. This, despite the fact that Savage and his husband have a child, and my wife and I do not and cannot and do not wish to have one.

I’m sure the salmon was nice and the discussion was both productive and set properly. Good for both of them for doing it that way. I’m unpersuaded to alter my position, though.


* I can use that word, right? My friend Dr. Saunders uses it, but he’s in the club, as it were, and I’m not. But I find the portmanteau amusing, charming, and descriptive — and I am pretty solidly on record as an ally of the LGBT folk and the pro-SSM movement. And in the front page past, special dispensation was granted.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.