A couple of weeks ago I volunteered for Basic Rights Oregon, for a night of calling Oregonians and trying to persuade them to support marriage equality.
At the training, me and other pro-equality volunteers roleplayed conversations before we went onto the phones. Roleplaying the part of someone opposed to same-sex marriage, I explained that I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with gay sex or gay relationships per se., but that I was concerned with how changing the definition of marriage would alter the country’s already fragile marriage culture. If there’s no longer a special status set aside for generative relationships, how will we continue to say that every child needs and deserves a father and a mother?
My roleplaying partner was bewildered, and scanned through the sheet of suggested responses to common arguments without finding anything helpful.
Later, once I was on the phone talking to real-life opponents of same-sex marriage, it became apparent why such intellectual arguments against marriage equality hadn’t been included on Basic Right Oregon’s cheat sheet.
It’s because those arguments never came up.
What I heard, over and over, from opponents of same-sex marriage is that they’re against it because “that’s what the Bible says.”
That’s what all but two opponents of SSM I spoke to said. Other callers seemed to have a similar experience.
While there are logical rebuttals to “that’s what the Bible says,” some of which were on our cheat sheet, the responses that might score points in a formal debate didn’t seem persuasive.
What seemed to be more effective was to talk to people about their own marriages (if they were married). How long have you been married? Why did you want to get married? Why do you think gay people want to marry?
Most people said what anyone would say — that they married because they were in love, because they wanted to build a family, because it was the right time.
Don’t get me wrong, it was extremely rare for someone to change their minds (none of the people I spoke to did). But even among those who didn’t change their mind, most said that gay and lesbian couples want to get married for the same reasons they did.
I’m sort of addicted to the process of civil argumentation. It helps me to clarify my own arguments and thinking, and it also helps me avoid bad mental habits (like demonizing those who disagree with me). But I’m not sure that the sort of careful, highly intellectualized discussions we have on this site really have much to do with the real “gay marriage” issue as understood by most Americans.
And in the end, the issue will probably be decided more by cohort replacement — by older voters being replaced by younger voters — than by persuasion and changing minds.