...between Andrew Sullivan, the gay conservative blogger, and Douglas Wilson, an Evangelical theologian. Chaired by Peter Hitchens with a sore throat.
I really love a well-conducted, good-humoured debate. This one becomes rather tetchy at times but remains more or less friendly. Both participants accept the good faith of the other.
It's hard to tell who gets the better of it. As some people have already pointed out in the comment section to the video, and on Peter Hitchens's blog, Sullivan tends to appeal to emotion rather than argument, at least at the beginning of the debate. Later on he lands some strong blows against Wilson, who does not argue against same-sex marriage on the grounds of natural law but appeals unapologetically to Scripture. When he is repeatedly urged to exlain what harm same-sex marriage causes, he can only argue that it opens the door to polygamy.
Sullivan challenges Wilson to describe the ill effects of same-sex marriage since it was introduced in various states. It doesn't seem to occur to Wilson to point out that a few years is hardly sufficient for the ramifications of same-sex marriage to be observed.
As for me, it is not simply my profession of the Catholic faith that makes me oppose same-sex marriage. I am utterly and totally incapable of believing that romantic love between two people of the same sex is the same as romantic love between a man and a woman-- or that it is as valuable. And this is not just because marriage should be open to procreation, or because making same-sex love equivalent to opposite-sex love then opens the door for an acceptance of polygamy and incest and other variations.
It's because I believe in a transcendental order. I believe that the difference between male and female is absolutely central to human culture and society. I believe it is a difference that makes a difference, and that should make a difference. And I believe that when we strike at that central knot-- when we declare that masculinity and feminity are irrelevant to the matter where they have always mattered the most-- then we devalue not only sex but the entire idea of a transcendental order underlying human life. The consequences may not be observable in any empirical way (though they might well be), but the subtler consequence is that all deep-seated and ancient intuitions about the way life and society should be are under suspicion. The very idea of a natural order is under attack.
I find this debate so interesting because, not only is it intrinsically important, but it illustrates a typical quandary that social and moral conservatives find themselves facing. It is hard to argue against same-sex marriage. Not only does it make you seem like a meanie, but the arguments against it seem weak, on the face of it. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue from a sense of wrongness which is difficult to translate into rational arguments. This sense of wrongness could simply be called prejudice (and of course, it often is). But the same sense of wrongness is what we often fall back on when trying to justify moral positions which don't seem open to rational argument, but which most people would want to defend. Why do we consider variety better than uniformity? Why do we consider moral character to be more important and praiseworthy than intellect or physique? Why do we hold childhood innocence to be important?
In this, as in so many ways, my Catholicism merely ratifies my instinctual belief.
I make these arguments even though I know (and regret) that they might cause pain and offence to gay people, and despite knowing that many people are born homosexual, and despite knowing (as Andrew Sullivan points out in this debate) that homosexuality is not only narrowly about sex but pervades the entire personality. I feel no personal animus towards gay people whatsoever. It seems very probable that, in modern society, most people deliberately offend against both Christian morals and natural law in their sexual behaviour, whether that is through the use of pornography, though masturbation, through pre-marital sex, or in some other way. (Interestingly, Sullivan defends both pre-marital sex and masturbation in this debate.) So I see no reason to single gays out for special disapproval. But what I will never accept-- what I can never accept-- is that homosexual desire and heterosexual desire are simply two variations of the same thing, and are morally on a par with each other.
Incidentally, I would be grateful if anyone else could point me to any worthwhile debates (I mean formal debates, not TV studio debates) that are available for viewing on the internet. Any subject of reasonably general interest wil do. I've seen the various debates about God and religion between William Lane Craig, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Dinesh D'Souza, et al. Thanks!