Dialogue about gay marriage

September 4, 2007 | 19 comments
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This month’s Dialogue prominently features a discussion of gay marriage. Surprise number one: The lead article, by Randolph Mulhestein, is one of the best articles against gay marriage that I’ve read. This is not because the author offers pathbreaking new conclusions, but because he gathers evidence from a variety of sources and presents others’ evidence and argument in a reasonable and measured way, stripped of the usual anti-gay stereotypes. He qualifies (most of) his conclusions and assumptions, connects his points with analytic throughness, and doesn’t often overreach. As a result, he does a good job of presenting anti-SSM arguments on their merits, without the usual baggage of anti-gay hysteria.

One might still disagree with those arguments, of course. The author draws on some assumptions that I disagree with, and goes too far in some conclusions, I thought. But as a whole, the article was very solidly written and argued.

Muhlestein’s article is followed by a reply that exemplifies some of the criticisms of Dialogue that have been leveled in this forum (and elsewhere). Wayne Schow’s reply article is personal, subjective, and emotional; anecdotal evidence and counterfactual speculation are drawn on freely. This is a shame, because Schow does notice and point out many of the weaknesses in Muhlestein’s argument. But as a whole, Schow’s reply is unsatisfying — it seemed unorganized and scattered, content to make fun of Muhlestein’s copious endnotes rather than drawing on sources of its own.

(I was surprised to see that Muhlestein had no reply of his own. This is probably due to the exigencies of publication timing.)

I’ve stated here and elsewhere that I support same-sex marriage. This month’s Dialogue hasn’t changed my views. But I am happy to see arguments being made against SSM in a thoughtful way. Out of these two articles, I thought that Muhlestein’s did a much better job of presenting his argument — even though I disagree with the substance of Muhlestein’s conclusion, and even though Schow got in the last word.

Well done, Dialogue.

19 Responses to Dialogue about gay marriage

  1. Steve Evans on September 4, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    I would expect that Muhlestein will have ample opportunity to reply to Schow’s article either in subsequent Dialogue articles or in letters to the editor.

    I found both articles to be interesting and thoughtful, but completely talking past each other. In this respect they represented a distillation of the last five years of the Bloggernacle.

  2. MikeInWeHo on September 4, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Is this article available online anywhere?

  3. Adam Greenwood on September 4, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    I disagree with Steve Evans. I do not have rabies.

  4. Randy B. on September 4, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    I haven’t yet gotten through Schow’s article, but my assessment of Muhlestein’s is much the same as Steve’s — merely a distillation of countless conversations in the bloggernacle. I didn’t see him move the discussion forward much.

  5. Ray on September 4, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    What Mike asked.

  6. Adam Greenwood on September 4, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Assembling, polishing, and publishing arguments is useful, even if they already exist in a raw form scattered across the interstices of the bloggernacle.

  7. Ray on September 4, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    #6, if such an exercise were banned, lawyers would starve – as would just about every professor, whose plagiarism is condoned because it’s attributed.

  8. Jacob J on September 4, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    No (#2 and #5), the article is not available online. Dialogue was generous enough to provide the article on the flood from this issue free of charge, but you have to pay for the SSA articles.

  9. Jacob J on September 4, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Sorry, SSM, not SSA.

  10. Kevin Barney on September 4, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Thanks for this notice of the new Dialogue. I am anxiously awaiting my copy, which has yet to arrive (one of the curses of not living in the west).

  11. AHLDuke on September 4, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    Kaimi, I understand your sentiments about wanting to see the anti-SSM arguments laid out in a rational manner. A couple of years ago, Lynn Wardle, BYU law professor, came to my law school and made an anti-Roe presentation for the Federalist Society. My law school is extremely liberal and therefore disinclined to accept his views in the first place. But he did not help his case by making a total mush of the arguments against abortion. It was painful for both the Mormons present who both believed in what he was saying and those of us who did not.

  12. Jack on September 4, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    Well I’m glad to see that good ol’ right vs wrong still has it’s nose above the flood of footnotes.

  13. Aaron Brown on September 5, 2007 at 12:22 am

    Funny, Kaimi. I liked Muhelstein’s article less than you did, liked Schow’s more than you did, and I’m less of a fan of SSM than you are. Go figure.

    Aaron B

  14. Brian on September 5, 2007 at 4:46 am

    If gay marriage were legal, would we then be condoning that action as a society, much the same way abortion is seemed to be condoned by society?

  15. warno on September 5, 2007 at 8:46 am

    Re #11, nothing did more to begin shifting my thinking on SSM than to see Lynn Wardle get annihilated in a debate with Evan Wolfson of the Lambda Defense Fund at the U. law school way back in 1996. I went in seeing SSM as a real pie-in-the-sky academic dream and I left thinking “Wow, if that’s the best the conservative legal community can come up with this might actually happen.” Prof. Wardle seemed like a real nice man but he was no match intellectually or rhetorically on that day before what was probably about as sympathetic a law school audience as he could find outside of Provo.

  16. BTD Greg on September 5, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    I’m still waiting for someone to make the quintessential argument for ambivalence toward SSM. Then I can jump on that person’s bandwagon with enthusiasm.

  17. dpc on September 5, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    There was an article in the Ave Maria Law Review by Maggie Gallagher in 2006 as a defense of heterosexual marriage. Although not directly related to SSM (it was written for a Catholic audience with Catholic issues in mind), it did do a good job of explaining the benefits of heterosexual marriage and a society\’s interest in promoting such unions while not promoting other relationships. I think rational arguments against SSM are there (just as I believe that there are rational arguments for SSM); however, the debate is not so much based on cool-headed rationality, it is focused on emotion and the proponents of SSM have the upper hand in that respect (i.e. the expansion of civil rights and the inherent equality of humankind versus distasteful religious and traditionalism rhetoric).

  18. Ray on September 5, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    BTD Greg – How about someone who opposes redefining marriage but supports civil union benefits – or, more specifically, supports “union” as a civil term (applied by the government to whatever arrangement the people approve) and “marriage” as a religious term (applied by individual religious groups to whatever arrangement they approve)? It’s not ambivalence, but…

    dpc, the biggest problem with every argument I have heard against SSM or SSCU (Same Sex Civil Union) is that those who make them rarely think through their arguments thoroughly and are willing to apply the same rationale to traditional, heterosexual unions. [Easy example: "Every child is entitled to be raised by a mother and a father" completely ignores those with single parents. According to the stated rationale, we should remove these children from their single parent homes and place them in homes with both a father and a mother - and it also ignores the plight of children in homes with two parents, one of whom is abusive (a situation to which no child is entitled)]. IMO, the only rational argument against all forms of authorized same-sex union is a strictly religious one – that God has commanded against it. Anything else turns the discussion into a political debate, and the political argument for such unions is MUCH stronger than that which is opposed.

    Given that belief, I respect the Church’s position on SSM as the best one I have seen. The Church itself does not try to rationalize the stance; it simply proclaims it to be the will of God, while softening its stance against homosexuals themselves. (Evangelicals, OTOH, take the same basic stance on SSM, but they continue to demonize homosexuals and blame them for the ruin that has become marriage in this country.) I personally am immersed in the political reality of our time, so I espouse one religious belief (the Church’s) and a different political position (as outlined above).

  19. Douglas Hunter on October 30, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    A very late comment on this thread. I wanted to mention that I wrote a lengthy letter to the editor concerning these articles and it is posted on the Dialogue website, in the letters section.