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Authors debate gay marriage

John Cameron | Friday, October 26, 2012

The co-authors of “Debating Same-Sex Marriage” tackled the hot-button issue last night at a debate by the same name.

Maggie Gallagher, former president of the National Organization for Marriage, and John Corvino, chair of philosophy at Wayne State University, discussed how each believes same-sex marriage would impact children, society and the institution of marriage.

Corvino introduced his defense of gay marriage by arguing that it would not impact straight couples already or seeking to become married.

“Gay people find happiness in same-sex marriage,” he said. “When they find that happiness, it does not take away anything from you. … Giving marriage to gay people does not mean taking it away from straight people.”

Gallagher, however, said she believed allowing same-sex marriage would detract from the important societal norm defining marriage’s key purpose as building cohesion between man, woman and child, an arrangement under which she believes children thrive most.

“We need a cultural mechanism for attaching father to mother and children for a bond and for communicating to both men and women that there’s something very important at stake here,” she said. “Children are at risk if parents don’t get and stay married and build basic, average, decent-enough marriages.”

Gallagher supported her assertion by recounting her own experience as an unmarried senior – and self-professed pro-life atheist – at Yale in 1982, when she became pregnant. Several years later, Gallagher’s son began asking about his absent father.

“There’s something very deep in the human heart about [wanting a mother and father],” she said. “I wasn’t able to give him what my mother and father, working together, were able to give me.”

Corvino cited a number of authorities, including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, claiming children of same-sex couples are not, in fact, worse off than those from heterosexual families.

“When you compare intact same-sex couples with intact heterosexual couples, controlling for other variables, we find children do just as well,” he said. “Every major health and welfare association that has commented on this issue has said the same thing.”

Gallagher pointed to the commonality of heterosexual marriage across time and societies, singling its institution out as one of the only “universals” of human life.

“Marriage is a virtually universal human social institution,” she said. “Marriage evolves and changes over time, and yet, over and over again in completely different societies, there’s a certain basic shape that emerges.”

She said the common three principles upon which marriage is based throughout human cultures is the natural drive toward reproductive sex, society’s need to maintain a population and a child’s right to both a mother and a father.

“This is not some archaic relic,” she said. “This is the common human experience.”

Corvino said marriage’s other purposes make it an important concept even for those unable to reproduce traditionally.

“People say the natural purpose of sex and marriage is procreation,” he said. “It’s pretty clear to me that a natural purpose of sex and marriage is procreation, but the only purpose? It seems that sex has these other important purposes: the expression of affection, sharing of intimacy. … What do you say to infertile heterosexual couples, or elderly couples, that their marriage is pointless?”

Beyond recognizing relationships, Corvino said marriage offers crucial legal benefits to same-sex couples, including healthcare rights, social security, immigration and divorce.

“It also does certain things legally for relationships,” he said. “One of the reasons for gay marriage is gay divorce.”

Gallagher said the legal aspects of marriage are secondary to its purpose.

“Marriage as a legal contract is really not that significant,” she said. “Most of the legal structures, even the ones John described, have very little to do with what people expect, want or need in marriage.”

The legal matters hanging in the balance, Gallagher argued, are the rights of those opposed to gay marriage should it become a widespread institution, citing an instance of a diversity officer at a college being suspending following her signing of a petition relating to the issue.

“It gets worse because I think the classic understanding of marriage is not only going to be repudiated, but it’s going to be actively oppressed by law, culture and society after same-sex marriage.”

Corvino said the real issue comes down to overlooking crucial aspects of human nature over issues of biology.

“What so often happens in this debate is that we reduce people – and their lives and their feelings and relationships, and all that makes them up – to parts, and we miss the larger picture,” he said. “I think in this debate, we can do better than that.”

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