Our Opponents’ Confessions
May 7th, 2013
Sometimes I hear a line of reasoning so bizarre that all I can do is look for the psychological issues behind it. I find this happening quite a lot with opponents of same-sex marriage, and the irony is that often their stated goal is to offer an objective justification for their beliefs, but what they deliver is so idiosyncratic, so utterly dependent on a strange and subjective inner life, that all they end up doing is proving their own irrelevance.
Look at three cases: Doug Mainwaring, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, and Robert George. Each of them says something that actually turns out to be true — true for them, true of them — but in a sad and sometimes baffling way.
Doug Mainwaring is one of NOM’s favorite homosexuals; he gives testimony against same-sex marriage. Apparently he married, had a child, left the family to be one of those hedonistic gays, and then reunited everyone under the same roof in a sexless relationship with his wife so that his offspring could be raised by Mom and Dad. And you know what? Fine. But then he writes this:
Over the last couple of years, I’ve found our decision to rebuild our family ratified time after time. One day as I turned to climb the stairs I saw my sixteen-year-old son walk past his mom as she sat reading in the living room. As he did, he paused and stooped down to kiss her and give her a hug, and then continued on. With two dads in the house, this little moment of warmth and tenderness would never have occurred. My varsity-track-and-football-playing son and I can give each other a bear hug or a pat on the back, but the kiss thing is never going to happen. To be fully formed, children need to be free to generously receive from and express affection to parents of both genders. Genderless marriages deny this fullness.
Well, one thing’s for sure. With Doug Mainwaring for his dad, that kid definitely needs a second parent in the house. Doug ought to be saying this in shame as a confession of his inadequate parenting. But it never occurs to him that many fathers — conservative, heterosexual fathers included — are quite comfortable giving their sons a kiss and a hug.
This, by the way, is another example of why we’ll win: another statement by another opponent guaranteed not to persuade, but to garner a reaction of what-planet-are-you-from?
The takeaway: When Doug Mainwaring talks about the limitations of having two fathers, he’s just telling us something about himself.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien
Former Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland made the news into two completely different, shocking but not entirely surprising ways. First, he opposed same-sex marriage in the UK, calling it grotesque, analogizing it to slavery, and declaring same-sex civil unions to be:
…harmful to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of those involved.
And less than a year later, O’Brien was forced to resign due to a long history of making unwanted sexual advances to priests, and for having been physically involved with one of his accusers for years.
Now that O’Brien has been humbled I can look at him with pity. He was so twisted by his beliefs that any half-relationship he could could dare to attempt would inevitably be “harmful to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of those involved.”
The takeway: When Cardinal Keith O’Brien talks about the harm done by gay relationships, he’s just telling us something about himself.
Robert George is a distinguished Princeton professor who writes terrible, almost incoherent Natural Law arguments against homosexuality, birth control, and masturbation. His goal is to show that Catholic teaching can be derived rationally.
His work is a lot like what would happen if I heard about a Ryan Gosling kissing booth: my goal would be just to get there, no matter how labored, tortuous, or ridiculous the route. It’s the same way with Robert George and the view that masturbation is wrong: The Church says it is, so that’s his destination, and it doesn’t matter labored, tortuous, or ridiculous his reasoning, as long as he gets there.
Here are some key quotes:
The body is not rightly treated as a machine for having experiences…
[I]t is contrary to reason—bad and immoral—to sacrifice one’s psychosomatic integrity, or to instrumentalize a part of oneself, for the sake of some desired experience, whether it is getting drunk, enjoying a psychedelic drug trip or having an orgasm…
In masturbation and other non-marital sex acts, by contrast, ‘one does not choose to act for a goal which fulfills oneself as a unified, bodily person. The only immediate goal is satisfaction for the conscious self; and so the body, not being part of the whole for whose sake the act is done, serves only as an extrinsic instrument.’…
[Acts like masturbation] damage personal integrity insofar as those acts effect an existential alienation of the body from the conscious self by simply using the body as an experience-inducing machine. Thus, such behavior should, for moral reasons, be avoided.
In case that’s opaque, here’s my brief (and surely inadequate) summary:
- Having an integrated mind and body is self-evidently good. Thus anything which breaks that integration is bad.
- Masturbation means the mind is treating the body like an instrument for its conscious gratification, thus alienating the body from the mind and destroying that self-evidently good gratification, making it harmful and immoral.
- This is also true of gay sex or any other sex act that doesn’t culminate with a married penis in its married vagina.
Robert George’s logic on sex is unfathomable to me. I read his words but doubt my understanding because they so completely contradict the experience of my own life. It’s like reading an intricately-reasoned argument that you shouldn’t keep elephants in your house because they’re too small to keep track of; there’s no need to dismantle the argument line by line — it’s enough to answer, “Have you seen an elephant?” Or, in George’s case, “Have you had sex?”
Sex, with someone you love, purely for emotional closeness, does not split the mind and body. It unites them. It dissolves the barriers between body, spirit, and mind.
And masturbation? Masturbation is one way the mind discovers the body. It can be something you do to clean the pipes and stop your body from yelling at you, but it can also be — for adolescents, especially — a fundamental way of exploring your entire self. Not just mind, not just body, not just emotion, but all three at once.
So all I can do is wonder at the inner life of a man who not only came up with this reasoning, but who thought it would convince others. This speculation is worth what you paid for it, but here’s my best attempt: I can imagine a man who has been taught that masturbation is wrong, sinful, wicked. It exposes weakness of mind and character. He tries to abstain, but every time he gives in he’s hit with guilt, and his conscious mind feels betrayed by his body. And that, folks, is mind-body alienation.
The takeway: When Robert George talks about the morality of sex, he’s just telling us something about himself.
Of course, when all of us talk about sex or love or family, we’re really just telling people something about ourselves. We know this. The last few generations who’ve grown to adulthood know this (most of them, anyway). The only people who don’t know this, it seems, are our opponents.
Prop 8 Amicus Briefs, Brought to You by the Lunatic Fringe
January 30th, 2013
Dozens of organizations and individuals have filed Amicus Curiae briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing either for or against California’s Proposition 8. A couple of them are worth looking at, if for no other reason than for their entertainment value. For example, there’s this brief filed by Margie Phelps for Westboro
Baptist Church. Amicus Curiae briefs are expected to follow several conventions, and the ways in which Westboro’s brief observes them is indicative of Westboro’s highly entertaining approach to things.
First, instead of being a brief in support of petitioners (the pro-Prop 8 side) or respondents (the side that wants to overturn Prop 8), Westboro’s brief is filed “in support of neither party.” Okay.
And then there’s the Table of Authorities. A typical brief will be loaded up with citations to case law, along with other citations to “other authorities,” which would include sources like studies, articles, books, speeches, transcripts, etc. Of Westboro’s 66 citations under “Other Authorities,” 36 of them are Bible quotes. Which means that there are several pages with nothing but reproduced bible passages, including five pages devoted to the entire story of Sodom and Gomorrah. (“This historical event described in Genesis 19:1-28, Holy Bible, must be considered at this hour…”) The brief also has a lengthy retelling of the Great Flood (“The description of the complete destruction of all mankind – a population as or bigger than today’s population…”).
And after all that, Westboro concludes:
Same-sex marriage will destroy this nation. If the leaders of this country treat what God has called abominable as something to be respected, revered,and blessed with the seal of approval of the government, that will cross a final line with God. The harm that will befall this nation, when the condign destructive wrath of God pours out on a nation that purposefully, in a calculating manner, institutionalizes marriage licenses for same-sex unions, is the ultimate harm to the health, welfare and safety of the people. The government is duty bound – in this Christian nation – to institute the standard of God on marriage, and pass and uphold laws that forbid same-sex marriage.
By the way, Westboro filed an identical brief for United States v Windsor, which challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. If nothing else, I guess that ensures both consistency as well as economy.
Another interesting brief (PDF: 127KB/ 14 pages) calling for the court to uphold Prop 8 comes from a man by the name of David Benkoff. It’s been nearly four years since we last heard from him. Here’s how Timothy Kincaid introduced him to BTB readers in 2008:
David Benkof has been getting a bit of attention lately.
And at first glace David appears to be a young gay man who believes that there are better options for gay couples than marriage, that the community should join him in prioritizing other more pressing issues, that the marriage discussion is harming the efforts of gay couples in red states to get recognition for their unions, and that he wants to help. We’d also think that he’s a gay columnist, that he speaks for an influential collection of gay thinkers, and that he is part of the gay and lesbian community and shares our goals and dreams.
None of that is true.
During the Prop 8 campaign, he trotted out his gay/straight/bi/Idunno-guy-against-same-sex-marriage schtick with a web site called “Gays Defend Marriage,” in which he claimed to be a “gay columnist” who was against same-sex marriage. Timothy Kincaid exposed the charade, Benkoff doubled down, and then he abruptly left the scene, saying he “recently learned quite a bit of disturbing information that makes it impossible for me to continue supporting a movement I no longer respect.”
Well, he’s back now. And for this amicus brief, Benkof teamed up with Robert Oscar Lopez (described as a bisexual man who was raised by two lesbian mothers and who is currently heterosexually married), and Doug Mainwaring (a man who raised two teenage sons after separating from his wife and coming out gay.) Again, we see a familiar pattern: people with life credentials which are supposed to demonstrate their connection to the gay community but who are arguing that the gay community needs to be shown its second-class place in society. Lopez has been playing that schtick at the Witherspoon Institute, which sponsored the flawed Regneres paper claiming to study “gay parents.” Lopez contributed an anti-gay tract at the Witherspoon Institute’s web site praising Regnerus’s paper. Mainwaring is a NOM discovery, who wrote in opposition to same-sex marriage in a tea party newsletter and, more recently, in The Christian Post. Their brief includes all of the standard NOM talking points — watered down and polited up, like NOM might be when on its very best behavior — to try to make the impression that there is an undiscovered reservoir of gay people who oppose marriage equality:
Amici come from a variety of families of origin, we have different religious beliefs and we differ among ourselves about whether legislature should redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. We all believe, however, that Americans ought not be labeled hateful bigots for opposing redefinition.
Our position is based on a shared commitment that marriage is society’s institutional expression of a child’s right to a mother and a father. We are not alone. The ongoing debate over marriage in France has prominently featured gay people who support keeping the understanding of marriage as a union of a husband and wife.
We, and they, believe gay people should be free to love and live as they choose but we also recognize that society has a right to express a rational preference for the kind of unions necessary to the survival of the whole society, and to the well-being of children. Some gay, lesbian and bisexual people will benefit from this preference as they marry a person of the opposite sex.
As you can well guess, Benkof and friends are utterly silent about how LGB people might “benefit from this preference.” They just kind of put that out there. The rest of the brief is basically 14 pages of concern trolling amidst a complete absence of actual facts. (Interestingly, they don’t even bother to mention the Regnerus paper.) It’s much like the Westboro brief that way. Birds of a feather…