The very good fusionist group, America's Future Foundation, which aims to get libertarians and actual limited government, free market conservatives, independents and centrists to all debate amongst themselves (send them a check!), sponsored a debate last night on gay marriage, specifically what role if any the federal government should have in gay marriage.
GOProud's Matt Bechstein
There were four presenters: GOProud's Matt Bechstein; the National Organization for Marriage's Thomas Peters; the Cato Institute's Jason Kuznicki; and the Family Research Council's Henry Potrykus.
AmericanPapist Thomas Peters
It was a balanced and well educated group. Bechstein and Kuznicki are both openly gay, Kuznicki married with an adopted daughter; Peters and Potrykus are presumably straight, since they took the anti-gay marriage side, and allowed everyone to assume they were straight without saying so, as, among other types of people, straight people so often do. One person from each side was a PhD (Kuznicki and Potrykus), and Potrykus and Peters also have multiple master's degrees. So one would expect this foursome to be able to deliver a good show, debate wise.
GOProud's Matt Bechstein; my hand handing Henry Potrykus a program so he could see who was speaking
I went and sat in the front row with the official AFF photographer, so I could attempt to video it. Truth be told I had this fantasy, before the event, of my manly defense of Maggie Gallagher's right to free speech, as I lept before her to prevent a glitter zombie's attempt to take out her eye with this season's fashionable gay excretion. But Maggie didn't show and neither did the glitteroids. Indeed, though I had promoted this event some to the DC gay community, the Washington Blade, MetroWeekly, and the DC gay political class didn't show. I guess the gay paper photogs won't come unless you promise them drunks with tattoos in leather harnesses. There were a lot of unusually attractive young men who I have never seen at an AFF event before. But I knew beforehand they were not glitteroids, since they were all clean with good hair cuts, wearing tastefully matching sweaters and shirts.
GOProud's Matt Bechstein
One of the funny things about the debate was how pretty the anti-gay guys were. Not that Bechstein and Kuznicki wouldn't be allowed to eat crackers in most people's beds, but...Mr. Peters... that hair, those eyes. Mr. Peters, runs a blog called AmericanPapist (also the name of his FaceBook and Twitter entities). I think there is a danger that Mr. Peters' looks and craftiness might lead to his running for office. He spoke second after Bechstein and cleverly polled the audience by a show of hands before talking, as to whether they favored a federal prohibition of gay marriage (1 or 2 hands), a federal mandate of gay marriage (1 or 2 hands), or the federal government not being involved in defining marriage (dozens of hands). He then recognized aloud that he was speaking to a libertarianish audience, and tailored his remarks to them, making the common neoconservative argument that a free libertarian society doesn't work unless you first have the state cull and train the herd so that they all behave well enough to be allowed to be free (both he and Potrykus basically argued that without forcing people to be heterosexuals who birth at above a replacement level, and raise stable, skilled, educated kids, neither government nor private retirement programs, or indeed the economy as a whole, can function).
GOProud's Matt Bechstein
Potrykus was clearly very nervous as a speaker, fumbling a bit with books and papers, disconcerted by the fact that he had no way to display his elaborate power point presentations of graphs showing that pension plans were underfunded and the population, especially of educated and assimilated workers, was shrinking. Though this debate was free of both gay people calling the anti-gays bigots, and anti-gays calling gays disgusting abominations who engage in icky butt-secks, Potrykus did (unwittingly?) try to send a Hardball-ian thrill up the legs of the gay men in the audience by being the only interlocuter to use the word anus.
National Organization for Marriage's Thomas Peters
Ironically, the pro-gays (Bechstein and Kuznicki) were rather Old Testament-ish in their legalism, as they mainly talked about federalism and the 10th Amendment, and read aloud from the Constitution; the anti-gays were rather airy fairy, discussing the importance of the generative, heterosexual ethos for a flourishing community.
NOM's Thomas Peters argues that there should be no gay marriage because straight people keep abandoning children
Unfortunately for them the anti-gays never proved that gay marriage is a threat to the heterosexual family. They did cite well known facts about the demise of the heterosexual family, with heterosexuals delaying marriage and reproduction, as well as having fewer kids and more of them outside of wedlock. Gays, especially marrying gays, seem if anything, to be a kind of social safety net and clean up service for badly behaving heterosexuals, since they adopt these parentless kids produced by less than ideal heterosexuals, and keep the tots from being either abortions or orphans.
NOM's Thomas Peters argues that the government must be involved in marriage because it's a public good, and market failure would lead to neglected kids
Peters makes three arguments: 1) marriage, family and children are public goods, so the State must step in and ensure that there is never market failure leading to neglected kids (the form of the standard argument for public education); 2) the State must ensure well-raised children since badly-raised children grow up to be unproductive and socially costly criminals, unskilled workers, etc. that leads to an expansion in government when the welfare state has to take care of these people (the form of the standard argument for Obamacare, including coerced taxpayer support for contraception); and 3) only a heterosexual couple is a self-sufficient, self-sustaining reproductive unit that can generate children.
AmericanPapist blogger Thomas Peters argues that the prevalence of divorce leads to second guessing about marriage, and therefore gay marriage is bad
Arguments #1 and #2 are the standard "liberal" fallacies, assuming that the state does more good than harm to the objects of its purported affections, and that the absence of sufficient regulation is the reason we have dysfunctional families, insufficient reproduction, and badly raised children currently. Like all "liberal" arguments, it depends on rather blindered assumptions, including that the State's current squandering of wealth and intervention in the family, doesn't cause these problems, preventing people from having more kids by taxing and inflating away their wealth, and preventing children from being raised better by denying families' school choice.
NOM's Thomas Peters argues that legitimate needs are better addressed by powers of attorney, domestic partnerships etc.
The core and ultimate argument of all opponents of gay marriage has as its major premise that a heterosexual family, with one man and one woman providing both types of gender-inflected parental love to a child, is the ideal family. The minor premise is that a homosexual couple in itself does not provide this (especially if they are feckless, separatist, or oblivious, and fail to incorporate grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, or the other biological parent, etc.). The conclusion is: a gay couple household is, ceteris paribus, inferior to a heterosexual couple household.
GOProud's Bechstein and CATO's Kuznicki argue that under federalism we already have states with different marriage laws about marrying cousins etc.
This argument about the superiority of the ideal heterosexual child raising couple has a number of problems. Lots of kids who gay couples could be or are adopting and raising have no chance of seeing the Platonic eide of Mom and Dad, and will without gay parents be either aborted, or orphans, or fostered, or raised by a struggling single parent. So it is hard to see how gay marriage and gay families are harming these kids or heterosexuality rather than helping it.
A lovely young lady asks about the metaphysics of gender during the Q&A
Or perhaps the concern is not with gay and lesbian adoption, but with the gayby boom, gays and lesbians actually procreating. One would think that this would be welcome, given the birth dearth the anti-gays are concerned about, but no. Presumably they don't believe in a kind of Margaret Sanger progressive "liberal fascist" eugenics, where gays and lesbians are prevented from procreating a gay genome. If so that would require not just banning gay marriage, but sterilizing gay and lesbian people, since otherwise they might go underground as they did in earlier epochs of Christendom, and interbreed with the heterosexuals.
An audience member ask about longitudinal studies of gay parented children
Dr. Potrykus kept repairing to a thesis that a paradigm shift in which everyone among "Western peoples" (which must include Japan, and perhaps now Korea and China) now selfishly favor "polymorphous serial polygamy" instead of marriage-for-life combined with families with 3 or more children, is leading to our economic decline (during the social afterwards, Potrykus became more comfortable and unknowingly ended up in an all-libertarian grouplet including at least one gay person, and admitted that our budgetary problems are actually due at least in part to a population that lives a lot longer than Social Security's founders ever thought that they would, and rapidly innovating medical technologies that are terrifically expensive if they are to be made widely available shortly after they are developed). There was no explanation of how the behavior of the 2% of the population that is gay or lesbian is seducing all these heterosexuals into imitating our polymorphous serial polygamy. There was no explanation of how encouraging those among the gays to give up such sexual looseness for traditional monogamy (pace gay marriage advocate Jonathan Rauch) makes heterosexuals sluttier instead of more committed to marriage.
Cato@Liberty blog editor Jason Kuznicki on abuse of the commerce clause
I guess I can be thankful that at least no one blamed sexual selfishness and libertinism on Ayn Rand.
Though I don't think this was a bad debate, one would do better to read Jonathan Rauch, Leon Kass, and Martha Craven Nussbaum. Rauch is right that gay people getting married and raising kids is a socially conservative and stabilizing force, though so small as to have no real effect, other than of course granting gay people dignity, legal equality, and individual liberty, ending one strife-ridden front in a culture war, and helping some orphans find a home. Leon Kass is right that men and women are different and generative love and raising and culturing children is a central and essential part of society, and biblical and other writers have a lot of wise things to tell us about this. Martha Nussbaum is right that much of the opposition to gays is a purely emotional and atavistic reaction of revulsion to something just because it is different (or, actually, not different) -- somehow various forms of sodomy take on a special ickiness because the body one is imagining them being performed with is the same sex instead of a different sex, even though the oral or anal penetration, or fellatio or cunnilingus is still oral or anal penetration or fellatio or cunnilingus.
The interlocuters and the audience came and went with the same conceptual confusions:
The fact that men and women are different means that marriage contracts or licenses must be different for male-female couples and male-male or female-female couples, and that those differences must be State codified and State mandated. Should that carry over into drivers' licenses? Labor contracts? Wills?
Perhaps not, because the generative coupling of marriage involves the femaleness and maleness coming together in collaboration in a way that they do not when men and women simply work together as venture capitalists or surgical teams etc. So then we are saying that the State must mandate the correct articulation of the femaleness-joining-with-maleness because left to themselves the average heterosexual will do a bad job of it, or worse yet, watch too much Sex and the City and begin to act like gay men? Is this then replicated in every other aspect of life? Must the State step in and mandate the correct articulation of parent-and-child-coming-together in child raising? Student and teacher coming together in learning? Etc.
A final note: one of the audience members, in the Q&A, reproduced above, demands longitudinal studies with controlled study groups, so we can really see if gay and straight couples are, ceteris paribus, equally good as parents. He complains that all the studies are full of these high income lesbian couples, who use sperm banks with donor dads from Yale. He leaves out, and may not know, that when gay couples (or even singles) very deliberately plan a pregnancy and child, they have very often finished college, or even graduate and professional school, started a career or business, and even bought a home. They may even be so old that the older woman in a lesbian couple can no longer have children, biologically. The resulting studies often show that lesbian couples raise better children than the average heterosexual.
He will never get his controlled study. He will never find enough pregnant teen moms who haven't finished high school and end up on welfare among the lesbians (etc.) His conceptual failure is in imagining that gays and lesbians are "like" America as a whole and there are "average" Americans. It would be more correct to views gays, and perhaps lesbians separately, as among the many ethnic groups in America, along with Jews, Ethiopian immigrants, Appalachian Scotch-Irish, native Americans on reservations, etc etc. These groups, as any good conservative reader of Thomas Sowell would know, have very different family sizes and have children at very different ages. American Jews, for example, have fewer children and have them later in life. Gays and lesbians, at least when it comes to having children, may be more like secular Jews than they are like poor urban Puerto Ricans. And the solution for the birth dearth may be the same for many of these groups, including philanthropic support for early or more child-rearing, especially programs that make it easier for people to simultaneously have larger families and do the things (graduate school) for which they were delaying starting a family.
If you are reading this now you are welcome to come back after President's day -- I may upload the remaining videos by then!