Op-Ed: The Word 'Hate' Ends Debate On Gay Marriage In the passionate debate over gay marriage, supporters sometimes accuse those who disagree with them of spreading hate. It raises a difficult question: Where do you draw the line between what constitutes fair debate, however spirited, and what can be appropriately deemed as hate speech?
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Op-Ed: The Word 'Hate' Ends Debate On Gay Marriage

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Op-Ed: The Word 'Hate' Ends Debate On Gay Marriage

Op-Ed: The Word 'Hate' Ends Debate On Gay Marriage

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In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Matthew Franck argued that we need robust, even passionate debate on the issue, but that the charge of hate is not a contribution to argument. It's the recourse of people who would rather not have an argument at all.

H: Nice to have you on the program today.

M: Thanks, Neal. Very nice to join you.

CONAN: And you wrote that a determined effort is afoot in cultural bastions controlled by the left, who anathematize traditional views of sexual morality, particularly opposition to same-sex marriage, as the expression of hatred that cannot be tolerated in a decent, civil society. How so?

M: The American people are pretty solidly against gay marriage, at present. I think the most reliable polling is 57 percent. Nearly three in five Americans opposing gay marriage. Three-fifths of the state, as you mentioned, Neal, have banned it explicitly in their constitutions. But there is an effort, I think, to achieve a victory in the culture and a victory in the courts. And the hate label is part of that strategy.

CONAN: You write: The Southern Poverty Law Center, a once-respected civil rights organization, publishes a report identifying a dozen or so anti- gay hate groups, some for no apparent reason other than that - their vocal opposition to same-sex marriage. Do you deny that there are not anti-gay hate groups, that homophobia exists?

M: Now, that plus the watch list status - I think that this is just - a kind of disreputable attack strategy by the SPLC, rather than an honest engagement in the public debate over the questions at issue.

CONAN: A lot of the debate is framed in terms of the - well, you mentioned the Southern Poverty Law Center, a once-respected civil rights organization. It is framed in the same kind of terminology as the civil rights arguments - that gay men and lesbians want the same rights as other people, and that those opposing it are opposing their right.

M: Mm-hmm. So the argument is made. I don't agree with that argument. I'm not persuaded by it, and I think most Americans are not. There's frequently an effort to analogize the situation of gay couples to the situation of interracial couples 45 years ago. As everyone should know - and this is history...

CONAN: Before the Loving decision...

M: And in order to fold them into the institution of marriage, we don't merely have to remove an obstacle to their marriage. We have to redefine what marriage is. And that's where, I think, the debate needs to be. What is marriage? And what do we take it to be? And what change are we undertaking if we extend it to gay couples? My argument, and the argument of many marriage advocates - traditional marriage advocates - is that the extension of marriage to gay couples is not an expansion of the institution but an inversion of it, and a dismantling of it.

CONAN: You say that the - to ignore arguments of traditional marriage's defenders, that marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that children will have mothers and fathers.

M: Right.

CONAN: And well, there's that. There's also plenty of examples of people well over the age of capable of having children who get married.

M: Now, it is true that the law has never prevented infertile couples from marrying or couples past the age of - where childbearing is normally possible...

CONAN: Or the couples who don't want to have children, yeah.

M: Pardon me?

CONAN: Or couples who simply don't want to have children.

M: Only those couples that are, in principle, of a kind capable of procreation - in principle - are understood to be marriageable under the traditional understanding. And that's men and women.

CONAN: Gabe is on the line, Gabe calling us from Cambridge in Massachusetts.

GABE: Hey. How are you? Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

GABE: But, you know, I would just like to make the point that when you talk about people's civil rights, you don't poll the population to think what - you know, ask what they think. If we had done so, we, you know, we may have never gotten rid of slavery and, you know, women may not be able to vote. So I just would like to ask your guest, you know, why does it bother him so much? What is he afraid of?

M: Well, to say that some civil right is being denied is, of course, to beg the very question at issue. So what we have to do first is...

GABE: I would like to talk about that. You know, I recently got married, two years ago.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GABE: And I didn't, you know, necessarily think there'd a big change, but I noticed right away the way in which the society was responding to me because I was married was totally different. Because I had a ring on my finger, suddenly I had, you know, all sorts of, you know, credibility and respect and options that I didn't have when I was single. And so...

CONAN: Gabe, I think you have to give Matthew Franck a chance to answer your question.

GABE: Yeah.

M: I don't think that there are - let me address the constitutional issue. I think that it is surprising how much ground has been caned, frankly, by the argument for gay marriage in the courts, because I don't think that even 10 years ago or 15 years ago, there was any serious argument being made by anyone that - say the 14th Amendment accords same sex couples the right to marry. This is plausible only on a basis that says that courts can make the Constitution say anything, more or less, at will, the kind of living Constitution arguments. But tradition, history, the text of the Constitution, simply don't point to it.

CONAN: So far, and to my knowledge, the advocates of gay marriage have not been able to come up with an answer to the question - what is marriage - that will give a principled account of why marriage should be limited to two, or why it should be a sexual partnership, or why it should be legally recognized at all.

CONAN: And Gabe, we will stipulate that you would disagree because...

GABE: Yeah.

CONAN: We're talking with Matthew Franck. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

CONAN: And I think - well, you might disagree with some of the particulars there, Matthew Franck. Hate is being played on both sides. I think that's accurate.

M: On the other side, there is, I think - on the other hand - a kind of mainstreaming of the strategy to anathematize, which is what I described in my article.

CONAN: Among those you describe as part of the strategy is the judge in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Judge Vaughn Walker held that California's Proposition 8 enacted without reason a private moral view about the nature of marriage that cannot properly be embodied in public policy.

M: Right, exactly right. And that brings us back to what I think is a key to a lot of what's going on. In the courts, a key legal question is: Is there a rational basis for a policy? If there is not a rational basis, then it cannot be upheld on equal protection or perhaps due process grounds. And so I think the full-court press we see in the culture has a kind of judicial parallel. The idea is if you can propagate the idea that defenders of gay marriage have no rational basis for defending marriage, as it has always been known in every human civilization, as the union of men and women, for - chiefly - for procreative ends, but if you can say that there's no rational basis for that, then you achieve a great strategic goal in the courts of law, which is to have judges hold that no rational basis exists for such distinctions in the law and therefore, laws like Prop 8 have to fall.

CONAN: And we will see what the 9th Circuit decides - and I suspect, eventually, the Supreme Court. Matthew Franck, thank you very much for your time today.

M: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Guest Political Junkie Mara Liasson is with us tomorrow. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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