Keeping it civil

By |2006-02-09T09:00:00-05:00February 9th, 2006|News|

By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman

One is a passionate pro-gay family activist and an atheist. The other works for a self-styled Christian organization that works to limit legal protections for LGBT-headed families. Both men feel that their cause is moral, right, and just. But far from being enemies glaring at each other across the chasm of America’s cultural divide, Wayne State University professor and BTL columnist John Corvino and Glenn Stanton, the senior analyst for marriage and sexuality for Focus on the Family, are sharing a table at forums around the country.
Beginning on Monday, Feb. 13 at Wayne State University, Corvino and Stanton will bring “Same-Sex Marriage: A Civil Debate” to Michigan campuses.
Stanton and Corvino may disagree about public policy, but they are in complete agreement about the importance of civil debate.
“This [the equal marriage debate] is a very serious public question and we need forums where this issue is able rise above the “crossfire” mentality of personal accusations and sound bites,” said Stanton. “People from both sides need to see people passionately disagree, hopefully thoughtfully, and do so with personal civility. I am very troubled at the lack of serious disagreement handled with civility in our nation.”
“Marriage is, in an important sense, a public institution, and public institutions deserve a serious public dialogue,” Corvino agreed. “Glenn and I are trying to facilitate a conversation about the kind of society we aspire to be. We disagree about the result, but we agree about the process: reasoned dialogue, rather than personal attacks.”
“I don’t want to soft-pedal our differences: they are deep and important, and the issues we discuss affect people’s lives in powerful ways,” Corvino added. “But our common goal of civil dialogue, together with our personal rapport, enables us to maintain a friendly relationship despite these differences.”
“John has become a very good friend,” said Stanton, “and I thought our growing friendship would cause us to ‘pull our punches’ with each other, but the respect we have for each other has tightened our respective arguments and made the debates livelier, and hopefully more beneficial for the audiences on each side of the issue. Interestingly, we enjoy sharing meals together before and after the debates.”
Corvino said that he and Stanton have debated four times in the past. “So we’ve grown to know each other’s positions well. I think this helps to make the debate more refined and more rigorous: we can avoid talking past each other and instead cut right to the chase.”
Both men said that while they have debated before audiences across the political spectrum, Stanton is the one who has received the majority of rude responses from audience members who disagree with his position.
“We usually speak at either liberal or moderate schools,” Stanton said. “Only once have we spoken at a conservative school, and this particular one was very conservative. John was anxious for how he would be received and I was glad to see that he was treated with great respect. I, however, spoke at the University of Wisconsin, Madison recently and was hissed at – hissed at, like vaudeville! The situation also required a police escort to my car. That event however, was without John. If he had been there, the reaction would have been much better, I am sure.”
Corvino said of the conservative school, Hampden-Sydney College, an all-male school in rural Virginia, “It was a very conservative crowd. But it was also a smart crowd, and the evening ended up being one of my most rewarding experiences doing this sort of work.”
As for the hostile reactions that Stanton has experienced, “I’m embarrassed to say that when it happens it’s more typically directed toward Glenn than toward me. I understand people’s anger: this issue affects their lives, and he is arguing to deny them something that none of us wants to deny to him,” Corvino said.
“But I still believe that we make more progress in the long term by civil discussion than by shouting at each other,” he added. “Truth is durable; it needn’t fear scrutiny. I believe that strongly, and I know that Glenn does, too – hence the debates.”
“John and I are both very disturbed by audience members who don’t conduct themselves well, regardless of which side they are on,” Stanton said. “But that is very rare. Most people seem thankful for the way and seriousness with which we engage the issue and our obvious respect for each other.”
Stanton added that one reason he loves his work is that it allows him to interact with diverse individuals. “One of the things I like best about my work is interacting with others who are different from me,” he said. “Makes life more interesting.”
“I love the opportunity to have a friend in John were we can try to demonstrate in a real way how two people can passionately disagree on very serious matters, and still esteem one another. We would like to have others join us in that,” Stanton said.

“Same-Sex Marriage: A Civil Debate,” with John Corvino and Glenn Stanton will take place at three venues in Michigan during the week of Feb. 13:
Detroit, Feb. 13: Wayne State University’s Community Arts Auditorium, 7 p.m.
Grand Rapids, Feb. 15: Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof Center, Grand River Room, 4 p.m.
Mount Pleasant, Feb. 16: Central Michigan University’s Bovee University Center Auditorium. 7 p.m.
For more information about the program visit

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.