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Anderson Delivers 'A Case Against Gay Marriage'

Students Pack Lecture Halls, Question Speaker

News Editor

Published: Friday, September 27, 2013

Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 00:09


Graham Beck / Heights Editor

Students sat on the floor, wedged between backpacks and pressed back against the walls. Brightly colored “Support Love” t-shirts were sprinkled liberally throughout the audience in Cushing 001 on Thursday night, as students gathered to hear—and question—Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation.

Titled “A Case Against Gay Marriage,” Anderson’s presentation was arranged by the St. Thomas More Society (STM), a student-run group at Boston College. Rev. Ronald Tacelli, S.J., the group’s faculty advisor and a professor in the philosophy department, introduced Anderson, stating that the event would be more question-and-answer based, as opposed to the panel that had originally been planned. “When I see the size of the crowd, I think it was a better idea,” he said, eliciting laughter.

The large turnout for the talk can be attributed in part to a Facebook event created earlier in the week by BC Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH). The event, formed in opposition to Anderson’s talk after an email about it was sent out to students on the philosophy and theology departments’ listservs, encouraged students to show up wearing Support Love shirts and to participate in the discussion. “This is not the type of programming that fosters an accepting environment for students,” the event description read. “This event is going to have to rely on the audience for any hope of a balancing opinion presence.”

After Tacelli’s introduction, Anderson began by running down a list of things upon which he would not be basing his argument: morality, sexual orientation/homosexuality, religion, tradition. “I think frequently people have an expectation of what they’re going to hear,” he said. “I make a philosophical and policy argument about marriage.”

He then asked a question of the crowd. “From the looks of the t-shirts, this is probably a challenge for most of the audience,” he said. “I want to know what you think marriage is … that’s actually the question that people in favor of redefining marriage refuse to answer. And they refuse to answer that question by hiding behind what I think is a rather sloppy slogan: marriage equality.”

Anderson said that everyone involved in the debate over marriage is ultimately in favor of equality. “We all want the government to treat all real marriages in the same way. The question is, what type of relationship is a marriage?”

According to Anderson, advocating a redefinition of marriage “conflates the marital relationship with companionship writ large.” The increasingly common conceptualization of marriage as an intense emotional relationship with a “number one person,” he said, fails to explain the tradition of American policy and marriage law.

Anderson listed the norms surrounding marriage in the U.S.: monogamy, sexual exclusivity, permanency, the involvement of the government, and the connection with family life. He asserted that each factor is not necessarily a precursor to an intense emotional connection, questioning why all are still widely accepted as martial norms even by those who advocate for marriage reform. After posing this question to the audience, Anderson went on to present a summary of the argument articulated in the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, which he co-authored with Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis.

Marriage, he argued, exists as an institution not to legitimize adult relationships, but to ensure the wellbeing of children.

“From the government’s perspective, marriage exists to unite a man and a woman as husband and wife to be mother and father to any children that their union creates,” he said. “It’s based on the truth that men and women are distinct and complementary, that reproduction requires a man and a woman, that children deserve a mother and a father. Part of this is based on the reality that there’s no such thing as parenting—there’s mothering and there’s fathering. Men and women interact with children in distinct and unique ways, and children do best when raised with a mother and a father.”

At this point, Tacelli interrupted to inform the crowd that BCPD had requested that the event be moved to a larger auditorium, McGuinn 121. The audience left Cushing slightly before 8 p.m., and Anderson resumed his point on government interest in marriage less than 10 minutes later.

“The marriage law in American history has traditionally incentivized men and women to commit to each other,” Anderson said. “Marriage is a personal relationship that benefits the public good in a way that very few other personal relationships do. It’s the least restrictive way that a political community has to ensure the wellbeing of children—it’s the least restrictive, least coercive way to ensure that someone raises that child.”

He continued by asserting that the state could incentivize marriage between a man and a woman without criminalizing other relationships. “Another one of the sloppy slogans that I think some used here was talking about legalizing same-sex marriage, or saying that a state voted to ban same-sex marriage, that they voted to criminalize same-sex marriage,” Anderson said. “Nowhere in the 50 states is it illegal for two people of the same sex to live with each other or love each other … One of the primary arguments you’ll hear is that we’re supposed to legalize same-sex marriage. Not having the government recognize your relationship is not the same thing as the government making your relationship illegal, and sloppy language normally reveals sloppy thinking, which normally reveals an error.”

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Sat Sep 28 2013 09:26
Thank you Ms. Hildebrandt for a great job of reporting. I attended the event. I particularly appreciate your decision to include Ryan Anderson's actual remarks in your article. In my experience, too many reporters of events of this nature don't make the extra effort to quote the speakers and the presenters at length. Instead the reader is typically short changed with inaccurate paraphrasing or out of context quotations.
Anyone who wasn't able to attend and who reads your article will (perhaps for the first time) have the opportunity to consider the arguments and reflect on the case that the defenders of traditional marriage like Mr. Anderson are bringing forward into the public square. You have done a great service to everyone interested in this vital debate.
Few media outlets have the integrity it seems - or perhaps it's the courage - to give traditional marriage supporters a platform to make their case. Boston College, the St. Thomas More Society, and your publication truly deserve praise in this regard.
For reasons that are a mystery to me, it is clear that the proponents of traditional marriage have been judged and targeted as haters simply for holding a different viewpoint as legitimate and coherent as it is. My observation of the opponents of traditional marriage is that they all too often have adopted the tactics of the mob in their engagement in this debate complete with hostility, intimidation and a reflexive disrespect.
Sadly many of these behaviors were on display in the auditorium last night. Mr. Anderson's presentation and responses to questions were frequently interrupted with hissing, booing, and barely contained giggling. And during the Q&A most of the "challenging" questions from attendees were instantly met with wild applause before any chance for a response from the guest speaker. What is this other than intimidation and disrespect indicating me that any possible answer was prejudged to be unworthy of consideration at best and perhaps even hateful?
Behavior like this creates a climate that closes off debate. In the wider culture these bullying tactics are purposely employed because the goal is to intentionally stifle debate. It is especially sad however to see them on display in an academic setting where the search for truth and understanding in an environment of respectful dialog should be the common goal.
That they have become so common and acceptable regardless of the venue and especially around this topic is not meant as a gratuitous insult or a matter of opinion. Simply consider the remarks by Mr. V in the concluding paragraph.
He flatly states that the participants could have "easily and justifiably" descended into "emotional outbursts."
What is it about listening to a differing opinion which is well researched, well thought-out, sincerely held and respectfully presented that could possibly justify and lead to an easy descent into emotional outbursts?
Fri Sep 27 2013 17:11
Despite Anderson's protests, I definitly saw his prejudice showing. Throughout his talk, he referred to social science research as a basis for understanding what works best for children, and therefore for the larger public good. He also stated that there are not yet comprehensive, controlled, double-blind studies regarding the outcomes of children raised by opposite and same-sex parents. Yet, despite saying there is no compelling evidence, he continued to say that children do best when raised by the man and woman who created them. Where is he getting this information? He just said that the studies don't exist, so how does he know where children do better? The only thing left is his subjective opinion.
Fri Sep 27 2013 14:42
The only reason we arrived at monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanency was because of the male-female aspect?
For those same sex couples who are together for three, four decades, they would definitely disagree.
Fri Sep 27 2013 13:07

"If he really believes what he's saying, he should be fighting single parenthood and marriage licenses for infertile couples too."

A) Do you know if he is or not? If not, this was a pointless statement.
B) It is because sex and marriage has been reduced so much in people's eyes that there are so many single parent homes. So, yes, single parent homes that result from a broken relationship should be fought against in the sense that people need to have a better understanding of what love and marriage is.
C) You are drawing a false parallel between same-sex couples and infertile couples. Heterosexual couples may be infertile because one or both of the partners is individually infertile due to accident, surgery, age, etc. Same-sex couples are infertile not because either may be individually infertile (they may both be fertile) but because the act itself is inherently infertile. In short, the marital act of a heterosexual couple at least points to procreation since, if both partner's reproductive systems were working properly, a child could result; but the marital act of a homosexual couple never points to procreation.

"So he's depending on the fact that he can bully around this allegedly small minority group."

This is a typical non-sequitur. How is engaging in dialogue with not a trace of threat bullying? I do not think that word means what you think it means.

"As usual, the 'rational' argument against gay marriage turns out to be a childish tautology -- 'marriage equals a man and a woman because I SAY SO.' These people are frauds."

So Anderson provides a historical basis for traditional marriage and explains the interest of society in promoting certain characteristics in a family which are of larger import in heterosexual relationships than homosexual relationships, and you boil it all down to "...because I SAY SO"? That type of short-sighted thinking can then be applied to any argument you provide in support of same-sex marriages. In other words, all of your arguments can be easily dismissed by stating "marriage can equal a man and a man or a woman and a woman because STEVE SAYS SO."

"That's why Americans are embracing marriage equality -- these folks haven't come up with an argument yet that isn't barely-cloaked prejudice and twisted rationalizations that wouldn't impress a 6th-grade debate team."

If you support "marriage equality", then you must also support marriages between young boys and old men, as well as between mothers and daughters, right? Otherwise, you are excluding people from being married and are guilty of the very thing you are accusing supporters of the traditional view of marriage.

Steve, I am afraid your hatred and poorly-thought-out rationalizations and arguments leave you in no position to criticize Anderson's criticizing of "slopping thinking". I also suspect that your hatred is so strong that you will not engage in any fruitful dialogue, which is why I wrote this response more for other people reading it than you. I hope you eventually get control of your emotions so that you can discuss this rationally instead of disregarding everything simply out of contempt.

*signing off*

Fri Sep 27 2013 12:39
Marriage as public policy should be about giving kids the best possible chance of having a Mom and a Dad. The government doesn't incentivize single parenthood for the same reason it shouldn't incentivize same-sex unions -- they don't accomplish this end. It takes a mother and father to bring a child into being, and having a mother and father is still the best context for a child to grow up in. People are free to live alternative lifestyles, if they please, but the government should not have to recognize a two-dad or a two-mom setup as a "marriage" any more than it should call a single-parent or polyamorous home a married home for tax purposes. Those aren't the conditions marriage was meant to foster.
Chris W
Fri Sep 27 2013 12:38
Steve, respectfully, when someone is going to criticize an argument, they ought to articulate that argument for others so that you can be sure that you understand it, and so they can understand what you are critiquing. You nor the article ever stated his argument about why infertile couples or single parents should still be allowed to raise children. Instead you lambast it and call it sloppy without informing people what you are attacking. It's hard to take you seriously when all you seem to want to do is throw around accusations and call people names just because they think differently than you.
Fri Sep 27 2013 12:11
Steve Silberman, please go read Anderson's arguments in "What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense". He does argue against single parenthood. He argues for the permanence of marriage and equates all challenges to marriage, including "same-sex marriage", no-fault divorce, and serial monogamy in the same bucket. The book also addresses your point about infertile couples as well. The summary of the talk here on this web page mentioned that the question-and-answer session got into "whether a non-child-producing heterosexual relationship could be considered a marriage," which is precisely your question, though I would have liked a more detailed summary of the rest of the Q&A session.

While I appreciate your engagement and am sure you're an intelligent person, calling someone who disagrees with you "childish" and a "fraud" doesn't really help your argument. Anderson, Girgis, and George's arguments have been hailed as some of the most well thought out defenses of traditional marriage of late. I would recommend that, though you clearly disagree with their conclusions, that you at least attempt to understand their arguments before dismissing them as tautologies. I assure you that your objections are ones that are specifically considered, though you may well disagree with their conclusions.

J. Morales
Fri Sep 27 2013 11:31
Mr. Anderson is a fantastic speaker and he presents a strong case that I have yet to see any proponent of SSM match. Unfortunately, this battle is not just fought in the intellectual arena. Kudos to everyone. The article is very fair-minded and objective and I'm proud that students who disagreed with Mr. Anderson kept it respectful and of course, kudos to Mr. Anderson for his tireless work on behalf of marriage.
Fri Sep 27 2013 11:19
Steve, your point is confused. You act as the law has long been recognizing "gay marriages," and now Anderson and similarly minded people are pushing to "ban" them. But it's the exact opposite. The norm has been that "gay marriage" is not recognized as a marriage by the state, and a movement has grown up to try to change the definition of marriage. So, if it is in fact true that gay couples, in the absence of marriage recognition, are doing a good job raising children, then why would a continuation of traditional marriage law make those families less stable?

The burden of proof is on your side to show why SSM would be good for children and for society. Some folks (like Andrew Sullivan) make plausible arguments for that. You, however, do not-you simply resort to calling someone who disagrees with you "prejudiced" and "a fraud."

Fri Sep 27 2013 11:13
actually, in regards to Steves point, the government not recognizing same sex couples as married does not prevent that couple from raising children and removing the title of "married" does not intrinsically destabilize the child rearing environment
Fri Sep 27 2013 11:13
But it did impress the Supreme Court of the United States. See page 8 and 13, 12-307 United States vs. Windsor (2013) (Alito, J., dissenting).
Fri Sep 27 2013 10:44
So, apparently Steve didn't read the article - or the argument Mr. Anderson presented. It is hard to get people to think past their prejudice.
Steve Silberman
Fri Sep 27 2013 09:28
Anderson is in no position to criticize "sloppy thinking." His critique of gay marriage depends on ignoring the inconvenient facts that thousands of gay families (and single parents, for that matter) are raising children, and by banning gay marriage, he's condemning these children to growing up in less stable and economically secure homes. If he really believes what he's saying, he should be fighting single parenthood and marriage licenses for infertile couples too. But he won't. because the cruelty in his argument would become too blatant. So he's depending on the fact that he can bully around this allegedly small minority group. As usual, the "rational" argument against gay marriage turns out to be a childish tautology -- "marriage equals a man and a woman because I SAY SO." These people are frauds. That's why Americans are embracing marriage equality -- these folks haven't come up with an argument yet that isn't barely-cloaked prejudice and twisted rationalizations that wouldn't impress a 6th-grade debate team.

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