By John Corvino
During a recent family vacation I found myself reading “Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting” by Glenn Stanton and Bill Maier. Stanton is senior analyst for marriage and sexuality at Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based right-wing group. I’ve debated him on gay marriage and have found him articulate and gracious (albeit dead wrong). Since I will soon be debating him again, I thought it worthwhile to examine his research more closely.
Glenn and I have an odd relationship. On the one hand, we strenuously disagree about many things. Moreover, I think that his views are not only false, but harmful: his work hurts my people. On the other hand, I sincerely believe that his heart’s in the right place. I also find him genuinely pleasant. Indeed, we’ve reached a point where we freely joke with each other. Once, after not corresponding for a while, he e-mailed to ask what I’d been up to. I wrote back, “Oh, you know – keeping busy destroying the family.”
More recently he wrote to ask if I knew the incoming director of HRC. I replied, “I think we hooked up in the dunes on Fire Island back in the 90s, but there were lots of people having sex that afternoon and I’m not good with names. Just kidding!”
Partly I make such jokes to poke fun at the myths about gays perpetrated by his ilk. But mostly I do it because humor enhances friendships, and I think of Glenn as a friend, of sorts. (I wouldn’t take him on vacation with me – just his book.) After all, there is some overlap in our respective missions: while we disagree on gay marriage, we agree on the importance of reasoned, mutually respectful public debate. So we are allies to a point.
So there I was in Mexico with my family – my parents, my sister, her boyfriend, my partner – lying on a beach near Cancun reading “Marriage on Trial.” Behold the homosexual lifestyle.
Not surprisingly, I found much objectionable in the book. But of all the falsehoods and non-sequiturs that I came across, what riled me the most was his claim that “same-sex marriages make either gender irrelevant” (p. 29). It’s a point that he makes in our debates as well: “Same-sex marriage says that half the human race doesn’t matter.”
If anyone were so perverse as to award prizes for preposterous commentary, this claim would be a formidable contender. The fact that I prefer to marry a man doesn’t mean that women don’t matter. It doesn’t even mean that women don’t matter to me. (Indeed, many do.) It simply means that I haven’t fallen in love with one.
What rule of logic licenses this bizarre inference? Why think that when men marry men, women don’t matter; or when women marry women, men don’t matter? I suppose, on this logic, that when a person marries someone younger, older people don’t matter, or when a person marries someone older, younger people don’t matter. Or better yet: when people remain single, nobody matters.
Indeed, there’s something rather insulting about this view of the world. It suggests that women only matter insofar as men marry them, and vice-versa. I have no doubt that some same-sex marriage opponents believe this. But I expect better from Glenn.
This experience has reinforced my view that the topic of homosexuality makes otherwise intelligent people say stupid things. Take the section where Stanton and Maier ask, “Why does the male-female nature of marriage matter?” Glenn recounts the story of a meeting of traditional marriage advocates where one of the participants described the gathering as “a marriage of people concerned about marriage.”
He then writes, “It would have been foolish to describe this cooperative effort as a ‘marriage’ if we were all from the same mind or political spin. But because our differences complemented each other and the work we were doing, she was right to describe it as a marriage” (p. 126).
In the very next paragraph he writes, “Same-sex unions are not marriage because they don’t bring the two different parts of humanity together. They bring similar things togetherÉ”
What is striking about this juxtaposition is that he begins with an example that recognizes how people can complement each other IN WAYS OTHER THAN GENDER (i.e. different political mindsets). But he then seems completely to miss his own insight.
I intend to take Glenn to task on this when I debate him later this week. Indeed, over the next month I’ll be doing eight talks or debates on these subjects in five states. I’ll report some of my more interesting experiences in this column.