Six Serious Questions We Want to Ask Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage
I suppose you're wondering why we've invited you here today, the day Washington state joined the world of the future by approving the kinds of weddings you don't care for. It's not to denounce you, or to make fun of you, or to ask you to explain the head-spinning contradiction that is Rick Santorum's assertion that the overturn of Prop. 8 robbed seven million Californians of their rights.
No, today we just want to try to understand you. Here's six serious questions we've been dying to ask you. Are you willing to think them through? Would you like a beverage before we start, perhaps a Mountain Dew or a Michelob Ultra? (JUST KIDDING!)
Question One: In what previous civil rights struggles would you have been proud to be part of the majority denying rights to a minority? Please list these chronologically.
Question Two: Have you ever met a really old white person who speaks with warmth about segregation? Maybe one who has a good, decent heart, for the most part, but still out of habit or fear or perhaps something darker casually uses racial slurs or -- like one nice old fellow I know -- complains that "colored"s shouldn't be quarterbacks or shouldn't live in a particular neighborhood?
Do you ever fear that, to your kids and grandchildren, you might one day sound like that, too?
Question Three: The parents of opposite-sex couples are often eager -- and even pushy -- to get those couples married and official. That's just how American parents are. Now, imagine that a friend or coworker is a parent to a gay American with a longtime partner. And let's say that, over coffee, that friend or coworker says, "Maybe now that Prop. 8 has been struck down, my child will finally get around to tying the knot." How would you tell your friend that his or her child should not be allowed this right?
Question Four: Since no law will ever keep same-sex couples from enjoying fulfilling, life-long relationships with each other, in public and in private, what real and demonstrable harm would allowing those couples to marry pose to you or your community?
Question Five: Have you ever read the Serenity Prayer? Seriously, resisting the inevitable is a real waste of energy.
Question Six: For several years I taught college English in the county that The New Republic once deemed the homeschool capital of America. I encouraged my students to argue their beliefs with force and pride, even if I didn't share those beliefs. But, as the years passed, I began recommending that they not write papers arguing against gay marriage. (I never forbade them, of course.)
The problem was that even the brightest students made a hash of these. The key to persuasive writing is convincing others that a truth that you might hold is one that they might come to find true, too. To accomplish this, a writer must rely on logical reasoning and empirical evidence from outside his or her own personal stock of beliefs. In most of these papers, the students asserted that the institution of marriage would suffer irreparable damage if it were opened to same sex couples. ... and then they would flounder for paragraphs, finding no real-world evidence and relying instead upon slippery-slope nonsense and chatter from their own private worlds: Here's what a grandfather believed, or here's what a preacher insists, or here's the romantic idea of marriage that kids grow up with, and wouldn't it be sad if it changed?
In short, they couldn't mount a serious argument.
That eventually became an assignment. If a student said, "I want to write my paper about why gay marriage is bad!" I would insist that he or she first produce an outline with at least three strong pieces of evidence.
Many tried, including A students. And none ever came up with even one.
So, here's my last question: If you were in an entry-level composition course, and you had to write a persuasive paper arguing that gay marriage would harm America, could you craft arguments that would convince an impartial outsider who doesn't share your exact set of beliefs and assumptions? And if that paper were to sit in your attic for fifty years, until a descendant discovered it, would those arguments still have power -- or would you look hopelessly of your time?