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Dinner debate hour reveals anti-gay-marriage group's clever defense

hey don't have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."This is what the politics of fear and division look like.By accusing Savage "and your side," of lab
Zach Wahls
by Zach Wahls


The anti-gay-marriage movement would have you believe they are the persecuted. It’s a defense with which they have found success.

In what can only be described as an odd couple, Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which lobbies against gay marriage, and Dan Savage, the columnist and outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, sat down for an hour-long conversation and debate.

The pretext for their sit-down goes back to this spring when Savage called some passages of the Bible “bull@!$%#,” and Brown challenged him to a public debate. The resulting video, released this week, was a powerful lesson in the politics of fear and how it is leveraged by the anti-marriage-equality movement.

The most important parts of the hour boiled down to an admission and a general observation. The former arrived when Mark Oppenheimer, author and the evening's moderator, pointed out to Brown that his organization, which says in its mission statement that it exists, "to protect marriage," does not lobby to reintroduce laws that barred divorce for married couples. He asked Brown if he supported making divorce illegal.

"No,” Brown responded. “Because you believe something is wrong doesn't mean you make it illegal."

I don't need to explain why this is a prescient statement.

On to the general observation: I counted nearly 25 separate instances of Mr. Brown claiming he or other supporters of "traditional" marriage were being attacked, verbally, or physically.



I headed over to NOM's website to see if I might find any clues. Indeed! If you stop by the "Get Informed" section, you'll find a page with nine talking points. In bold and ALL CAPS you can even find THE MOST EFFECTIVE SINGLE SENTENCE "to help protect marriage," which is:

"Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."

Is this starting to make any sense?

NOM--and plenty of other anti-gay groups--like to pit themselves in a David and Goliath, "Us vs. Them" mentality. It's right there in their MOST EFFECTIVE SINGLE SENTENCE!!!

"[T]hey don't have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."

This is what the politics of fear and division look like.

By accusing Savage "and your side," of labeling people as hateful or bigoted because they support traditional marriage, Brown positions his cause as the victim--even though same-sex marriage is illegal in more than 85% of the United States.

And we’re onto the two-step shuffle. Brown opened his remarks by talking about the need for logic and reason, chiding Savage with that tried-and-true cliché, "You're entitled to your opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts." When pressed for evidence, Brown fell back on asserting that "marriage is the unification of the two great halves of humanity," by definition. He is therefore unwilling to consider new evidence that might prove him wrong.

Yes. He actually said that.

So I'm not sure that "debate" is actually the best way to describe the hour. Instead of discussing Savage's arguments, Brown described the need for a "civil debate," accused supporters of same-sex marriage of being intolerant bullies and then resorted to faux-intelligent-sounding but tautological arguments about the nature of man and woman that transcended the need for evidence.

The American people deserve better. We need discussion. We need intellectually honest evidence. We need people who possess minds capable of reflection, analysis, and a willingness to evolve after considering new evidence, even--especially--if it might prove them wrong.

This is a difficult and sometimes even painful discussion for many of us. NOM's politics of fear and division and overly-rehearsed talking points are not helping the conversation: they're stifling it.


Zach Wahls is a sixth-generation Iowan, author of My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family, Green Bay Packers fan and a commentator on LGBT and youth issues. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.