Georgetown University’s College Republicans and College Democrats hosted “A Catholic Family Conversation” on LGBT issues last night. The event at the Jesuit school was moderated by columnist E.J. Dionne and featured a debate between author/blogger Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage.
At the outset, Gallagher asked for a show of hands on where members of the audience stood on gay marriage. There appeared to be more supporters than opponents (not surprising given the mostly young audience and data on widespread Catholic support for LGBT equality). That may be why Gallagher condescendingly told young Catholics who support gay marriage not to pat themselves on the back for bravery, because, she said, what takes courage these days is to defend the church’s teaching. Gallagher and others were wearing a NOM button that tries, clumsily and not very successfully IMHO, to co-opt the term “marriage equality”:
Dionne spoke about his own journey from opposition to support for marriage equality. “Be not afraid,” he said, quoting from the day’s Gospel reading to suggest that Catholics should not fear conversation or engagement with modernity. He said that the Catholic Church has sometimes challenged modernity and sometimes been enriched by it, and sometimes both.
Many of Gallagher’s arguments were familiar to those who follow the marriage issue: Gallagher insisted that marriage is primarily about procreation and that “traditional” marriage serves a societal benefit of ensuring that children are raised by their mothers and fathers. She asked how society would be able to channel young men’s sexual energies into marriage if the traditional ideal of marriage is redefined as bigotry.
Gallagher said she was “shocked” at how opponents of gay marriage are being stigmatized as akin to racists and claimed that the gay rights movement is going to create intensifying conflict between the government and faith communities. (Perhaps she was thinking about NOM board member Orson Scott Card’s call for the overthrow of the government and Constitution if that Constitution is interpreted to permit gay couples to marry.)
In response to one audience question about what she would say to a teen in despair, she said she would counsel that God loves him, and claimed that she would confront his bullies because she has no respect or tolerance for bullying. When a later questioner asked how that statement could be reconciled with some of the groups NOM works with, she essentially dismissed the question by saying she couldn’t respond without specific examples. (We’d be happy to provide a few, or a ton.)
Gallagher slammed Catholics for Equality, which helped organize the event, calling on the group to repent for language she thought too critical of the church. (She seems sensitive in that regard, saying during the debate that Sullivan’s blunt criticism of the pope’s denigrating language about gay people made her want to cry.) And although she criticized her opponents for being uncivil, NOM distributed a flyer to attendees attacking Catholics for Equality. (The flyer slammed People For the American Way as an “anti-religious group funded by George Soros.”)
Sullivan was particularly effective as a speaker because he combined hard-hitting debate about the logic of NOM’s positions and the consequences of the church’s anti-gay teachings with a very personal, moving and disarming honesty about his own life and the way it has been strengthened by his marriage and his husband’s love.
Sullivan said he agreed with much of what Gallagher said about heterosexual marriage as an amazing, beautiful, mysterious event, but that he does not accept that marriage is an “either/or” proposition, adding that neither his parents’ marriage nor his sister’s is invalidated by his own. Sullivan told Gallagher that of course it hurt that she was trying to forcibly divorce him from his husband. It was, he said, a dehumanizing effort to deny gay people human happiness.
For more on the event, see journalist Sarah Posner’s report here.