A Plea For Civility About Same-Sex Marriage

The video is a shorter version of this script:

The most common assumption today is that if someone doesn’t agree with changing the definition of marriage to include gay couples, it’s because they’re ignorant and hate gay people.  That’s wrong.  So assuming that someone who disagrees with you must be evil and stupid does not help make the world a better place.  It’s divisive and cruel.  It’s also an ad hominem attack and a straw man argument that should be beneath all of us.  I’m not going to make the case for traditional marriage here.  There’s something basic that needs to be done first.

I want to make five main points today:

First: Society doesn’t work well when we misrepresent people we disagree with.  We have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Many of you may be thinking, “That’s ironic!  Here’s someone saying that being mean to those who oppose gay marriage is wrong, when it’s their opposition that’s really mean.”  I want to be clear here: Neither I, nor anyone I know or am aware of, condones treating others badly because of any differences.

I accept that those who support same-sex marriage mean what they say: they’re not trying to degrade the institution of the family; they just want respect and dignity.  They want the privileges and esteem that come with marriage.  I see legitimate desires there; I think everybody does; there’s room for us all to talk.

I want the rest of society to at least accept that we mean what we say about altering marriage having long-term negative consequences for society in general.  Once again, you might not end up agreeing with that or even understand where we’re coming from, but can we at least agree that it’s not justified to automatically call us lying, drooling, knuckle-dragging Nazis?


Second: Humility is a virtue.

The cultural case for same-sex marriage, especially as it’s made in the media, is more moralistic than the most rabid puritan ever dreamed of.  Look at the language in the media and popular activism: it’s self-righteous, judgmental, and starkly black and white.  That kind of simplistic, triumphalist propaganda is closer to fascism than democracy.  Nobody should be proud of that.  It’s also a case of begging the question.  It’s easy to prove the perfection of your position when it’s based on opinions that you treat as fact.  You could be the most pro-same-sex marriage person in the world and still see that this is all true.

Please hear us out.  Maybe neither of us will change our minds, but let’s have open and honest discussions, without childish name calling.


By the way, you may well ask here, “Has your side opened its mind to maybe being wrong?”  And again, I think so.  It’s almost impossible to live in America and not be faced with this moral dilemma almost daily.  But even if someone hasn’t really analyzed their own position, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Let’s be honest: same-sex marriage will probably be legal nationwide soon.  Please don’t spike the ball.  Please don’t harass and punish those who have dared to question this.  Please listen to us and talk to us, not shout at us.  We haven’t always communicated very well, either, but since your side seems to have the power now, please, take the high road.


Third: Everybody still has the right to participate in the public sphere.

That aggressive tone in the social crusade for same-sex marriage sometimes results in people saying things like, “Those old fashioned people, those bigots and religious nuts just need to shut up and go away.  We shouldn’t tolerate their intolerance.”  That’s wrong, too.  That’s not how a free country works.

Everybody gets to air their views and participate in the political process, trying to persuade each other.  Sometimes people say, “Don’t force your beliefs on us.”  But that is how a free country works.  Whenever you vote, you’re trying to force your views on others who vote differently.  It’s OK.  We all get to vote our conscience, however our philosophies originate, without fear of being blacklisted for our beliefs.

Please don’t try to circumvent the marketplace of ideas—if your ideas are really the best, they will prevail.  Hasn’t that always been true?  We don’t need to silence each other.  We need to listen.


Fourth: I want to talk to my fellow conservatives now: if we want to defend the family and build bridges in this world, there are things we need to do better.

I really don’t believe that there’s much serious discrimination in our society, but we need to watch how we talk and act.  Think of how we feel when we hear others, even accidentally, be rude or dismissive about our politics or religion.  That makes it hard for us to trust them, right?  We have to be better.

There are solid reasons to object to this revolution.  The social science is there, the logical and legal questions are valid.  We need to make our case clearly and convincingly in the public arena, not just lick our wounds on AM radio and console ourselves as the modern world’s version of the light brigade.

The pro-gay marriage crowd often defines down our humanity because of political expediency—for some of them, yes, there’s a calculated strategy involved—but also because we just haven’t worked hard enough to show real kindness.  We have to reach out more.

Imagine if we could all behave with so much charity that supporters of gay marriage would have to say, “You know, I disagree with them, but I see that their point of view is based on good things.  They’re not motivated by hate or ignorance.  They mean what they say about wanting to help children and society.  They are truly kind to everybody.  I think they’re wrong, but we can be friends.”  Maybe some won’t accept that decency at face value, but we absolutely need to try.


Fifth: There are things we can all agree on.

Maybe we agree that families and children in our society are in trouble, at least in some ways.  Maybe we agree that we need to seek common ground on our rights and priorities.  Hopefully we agree that we all need to tone down the nasty rhetoric and approach each other as people, not stereotypes.

I think it has to universally understood that families and children today are not as strong as they used to be.  I’ll be honest here, I don’t think same-sex marriage is the biggest threat to children and families out there, but just part of a larger problem of society devaluing institutions that prioritize and protect children, and make adult convenience our goal, instead—divorce and cohabitation are the worst offenders, especially, but also same-sex marriage and abortion and more, all of them contribute to this.

I’ve worked with young people for my entire adult life, and I’ve seen the damage made in hundreds of lives by adult decisions about marriage and family.  I wish we as conservatives worked harder at combating the whole spectrum of social experiments that undermine children, not just this one.


Look, if you support gay marriage, you’re going to come away from this video thinking the same way, and that’s fine.  My purpose here was not to make the case for preserving traditional marriage—that’s for another day.  My purpose here was to promote civility.

We need to have deeper conversations about the rights and responsibilities at stake here. We need to figure out what’s truly best for everybody in the long run.  I just hope, and I know we can, do this without resorting to juvenile cliches and obnoxious insults.

I want to say on behalf of religious people and conservatives in general, if any of you have ever been bullied or disrespected because you’re gay, I’m sorry that happened to you.  I hope it stops today.  And I hope that whatever else happens, we’ll start looking each other in the eye, with mutual respect, and talk.