Correcting the past

It's never too late to get it right.

Tonight at 8 ET is the first of two LGBTQ presidential forums, which you can watch live (or later) here:

Curiously, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang are the only two candidates who have stated they will participate in neither, so take from that what you will. I’ll have a full round-up of what gets said next week.

There’s a bunch of LGBTQ news today, of course, but first I want to share something special.


A 45-year-old correction and apology

Back in 2014, I wrote a story about a 1974 debate on same-sex marriage between Frank Kameny and Tobias Simon that had newly been made available to watch online by WGBH in Boston. The show The Advocates featured a structured debate format with guest experts, pretty similar to what you might hear today on Intelligence Squared. I found it stunning to watch a conversation that happened four decades — and a year, as it turned out! — before marriage equality became the law of the land.

When I worked on the story, I learned that all of the debate’s participants had since passed away except for Professor Robin Smith, one of the witnesses for the opposition. I was able to make contact with him at the time, and he told me in our brief phone call that he felt his arguments against marriage equality were “transparently bad,” that he has repudiated them entirely, and that he regrets his participation.

I was surprised to hear again from Professor Smith this week, more than five years after our previous contact. He informed me that when I had talked to him back in 2014, his life was focused on caring for his wife as she was developing dementia. Sadly, she passed away earlier this month. He felt that he really hadn’t adequately addressed his appearance in that 1974 debate, and wondered if he could still offer a longer statement now that he had a chance to think more about it. I told him I couldn’t do much about the original story given ThinkProgress has shut down and I no longer work there, but I told him I would publish his statement in full here.

So here is Robin Smith, Texas A&M University Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, with some thoughts about his 45-year-old arguments against marriage equality on The Advocates:

The argument against same-sex marriage that I presented on The Advocates in 1974 rested on a purely transactional view of civil marriage: as a contract between the spouses and the state, or society, in which the spouses undertake to produce and raise children and the state in return provides them with certain benefits.  On that very narrow basis, I argued, marriage would not be available to same-sex couples because they could not, for biological reasons, uphold their side of the contract to produce and raise children. This argument was, by design, concerned only with marriage as a civil institution and the tax and other benefits associated with it: it was totally separate from any thesis about sexual unions, and as I said in the episode itself I thought the state had no business whatever in interfering in private relationships, whether gay or straight. For many years, I have regarded those arguments as deeply flawed and easily refuted, and I should have said so more clearly and forcefully in an effort to prevent their pernicious use.

First, even construed narrowly in transactional terms, my argument shows both too much and too little: too much, because it can readily be extended to childless heterosexual marriages or those with abusive parents, and too little, because — even in 1974, but much more today — same-sex couples can obviously raise children by means of adoption, surrogacy, and other measures.  If my argument were valid, then civil marriage would reduce to a bounty provided to couples who undertook to raise the next generation.  As such, childless couples would be ineligible for it, as would abusive or neglectful parents, while same-sex couples would be eligible for it so long as they did undertake to raise children.

Second, the narrow picture of marriage on which it rests is simply mistaken.  Even in Christian liturgy, the purposes of marriage are said to include the fostering of loving relationships between spouses as well as the possibility of producing and raising children. And that benefit is not simply a benefit to the spouses but also a benefit to the society, since society consists of the individuals that constitute it: a benefit to the spouses is a benefit to society in itself, apart from any further beneficial consequences it may have.

I also argued in my original presentation that heterosexual marriages had social value on the grounds that sexual orientation was largely a learned matter and that the goal of perpetuating society was better served by such marriages, in which children would likely acquire a heterosexual orientation.  I'm embarrassed to have given this argument at all, given that the weight of evidence against the notion that sexual orientation is learned now seems to be overwhelming.  However, there is a related point that could be used against my position: parenting behavior does appear to be learned by children from their parents.  On that basis, caring and nurturing gay parents are likely to turn out children — gay or straight — who will themselves be good parents, while abusive parents may pass their abusiveness on to their children.  There is consequently no argument here against gay marriage.

We as humans form, by our nature, loving and supporting relationships with one another, and both those in such relationships, and the society that surrounds them, are in happier condition because of it. To restrict social support of such relationships to heterosexual couples is therefore to deny gay members of society that benefit, unjustly.  While this point is perhaps generally taken as obvious today, my appreciation of its significance has deepened over the 52 years of  my own marriage and with my observation of the centrality of long-term relationships (gay or straight) in the lives of our friends.  That is perhaps a trivial observation, but I think it is true.

I therefore repudiate my 1974 arguments entirely, and I regret and apologize for any harm they may have caused.

As we exchanged more emails, Professor Smith shared just a few more thoughts of context he asked me to include:

Academic philosophers spend their entire careers arguing about issues: it's not an accidental matter that the most common career choice of undergraduate philosophy majors is law school.  We teach by teaching students to understand all the arguments concerning a subject, and in class we try to present alternative positions without ourselves arguing for a specific point of view.

In 1974, I was young and at the beginning of my career, and I approached The Advocates much as a philosophy teacher, presenting arguments for a position that I expected others to counter with arguments against it. My younger self now looks very naive to me, failing to realize that the practice of considering the merits of arguments instead of advocating a view sometimes appears strange to others.  I recall that early in my career, I had a very good friend with whom I loved to argue about philosophical issues (or anything else).  For the two of us, that was enjoyable; then I learned that some other faculty thought it was a bad idea to have the two of us at a party since we'd always get involved in a "disagreement.”

At first, I was a bit surprised that Professor Smith would want to address something like this so soon after his wife’s passing, but then I read his words and I think it makes sense why thoughts about the significance of marriage might be on his mind.

I can’t speak on behalf of anybody else — especially given I wouldn’t be born for another decade after that debate — but I personally feel like Professor Smith is greatly deserving of our forgiveness, our admiration, and our deepest sympathies. In this time of his own grief, he reached out to make sure that other people knew the value of a loving, life-long companion. We can all only hope that our own lived experiences inform such wisdom and grace.

Thanks you, Professor Smith.

Onto today’s news:


The ghost of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Today marks eight years since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” took effect and lesbian, gay, and bi military service members could finally be open about their identities without risk of losing their jobs. Marine Corps veteran Stephen Peters noted the anniversary in an op-ed for The Advocate, laying out the ongoing effort to challenge President Trump’s similar policy prohibiting transgender people from serving openly.

This week, the Austin Monthly profiled Map Pesqueira, a college sophomore who was kicked out of ROTC because of the ban. He is still fighting to re-enroll in ROTC and restore his scholarship, but in the meantime, his life plan has been shattered. Pesqueira appeared alongside the profile’s author, David Leffler, on a segment on FOX 7 Austin to discuss his story.

How NOT to address your past homophobia

We just had that touching statement from Professor Smith and here comes Eugene Scalia, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor. Scalia, not unlike his father the late Supreme Court justice, has a history of some pretty homophobic views. “I do not think we should treat it as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family life,” he wrote of homosexuality in 1985.

When pressed on these views during his confirmation hearing this week, Scalia squirmed his way out of addressing whether he still feels the same way. “I would, certainly, enforce the law,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t write those words today,” because they would hurt his gay friends. Gay friends, gay friends, where have I heard that before?

Oh right, it’s what bigots say when they don’t want to be held accountable for their views! And Scalia never actually answered the question as to whether his views have actually changed. I’m guessing they haven’t.

A victory for “hate groups,” a loss for hate groups

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is the go-to authority for documenting hate around the country, and for many years now, they have also documented the groups that promote hate against LGBTQ people. Those groups really hate that title — pun intended — because many (like Amazon, for example) trust the SPLC and those groups face consequences as a result. Rather than address the myriad positions they’ve taken to earn that designation, however, they have conspired in recent years to try to attack SPLC’s reputation. One group, D. James Kennedy Ministries (formerly Coral Ridge Ministries), even sued to try to prevent “hate group” labeling entirely.

Well, that didn’t work. A federal judge this week tossed the lawsuit out, ruling that the SPLC has a First Amendment right to call anti-LGBTQ organizations “hate groups.” #IfTheShoeFits

Hate group takes victory lap over discrimination ruling

Speaking of hate groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is taking a big victory lap this week after the Arizona Supreme Court handed them a license to discriminate against same-sex couples.

For reasons I can’t understand, Religion News Service gave the calligrapher plaintiffs a platform for an op-ed to defend their desire to refuse service. In their sappy self-portrait of victimization, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Brust & Nib claim that they’re “taking a stand for everyone’s freedom… even those who disagree with us.” The article is chock full of fallacious claims about LGBTQ protections; blogger David Cary Hart has a blow-by-blow if you want to get into it.

Meanwhile, ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner, who also represents florist Barronelle Stutzman, took to Fox News alongside Duka to discuss the case. The ruling “protects people of all faiths and people of no faiths to be able to express their views consistent with who they are,” Waggoner lied.

Oh, and the Catholics are happy too. The Arizona Catholic Conference praised the ruling as “a positive development for religious liberty” that will protect Koski and Duka from “potential government coercion.” The statement claims the Catholic Church “firmly oppos[es] any forms of unjust discrimination,” which leaves me to conclude that they must view treating same-sex couples as second class citizens as a form of just discrimination.

Quick Hits


Until next time, stay platinum! Have a great weekend!

(Robin Smith photo credit: WGBH’s Open Vault/The Advocates.)

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