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  • Toward a More Civil Union on Marriage

    A vandalized Chick-fil-A store in Torrance, California (credit: Reuters)

    Yesterday’s shooting at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Family Research Council (FRC) stunned the nation. FRC’s long-time security guard, Leo Johnson, was shot in the arm by a gunman carrying a box of ammunition in his backpack trying to gain access to the building. Law enforcement hailed Leo a hero for his role in tackling and disarming the shooter, and reports today suggest Leo is recovering well from surgery. (Full disclosure: I worked at FRC between 1994 and 2002, and Leo’s warm greeting has always been a highlight of return visits.)

    Leaders across the political spectrum have condemned the violent act, from conservative allies of FRC to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to President Obama, the Human Rights Campaign, two dozen other LGBT organizations, and the DC Center for the LGBT Community where the shooter reportedly volunteered. The near-universal condemnation (the exceptions seem to fester in the backwaters of the Twittersphere) is a very welcome sign.

    In eschewing such violence, we fortify our resolve to live peacefully with our deepest differences and to pursue consensus about societal norms through politics. Broadly speaking, politics isn’t just the electoral mechanics we typically think of. It’s how we conduct our life together as a people. It relies on debate, persuasion, negotiation…and tolerance. It demands that we communicate, especially when it comes to differences about deeply held beliefs, about the merits of our ideas.

    While such resolve is fresh in the mind, this is a critical juncture for reflecting on the character of our political discourse over issues related to sexuality and marriage. We await a likely announcement this fall from the U.S. Supreme Court that it will take up cases involving marriage, following what has turned out to be a very hot summer of intolerance toward traditional views of marriage.

    Since June, scorching backlash has been directed at the author of a peer-reviewed study that shows some negative outcomes for young adults whose parents had same-sex relationships. Such findings conflict with an assertion in Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion overturning California’s marriage amendment, known as Proposition 8, that there is no difference between children of same-sex parents and their peers raised in married mother-and-father households.

    Mark Regnerus’s New Family Structures Study improves on prior research through its use of a large, nationally representative sample, as three expert reviews published in the same journal acknowledge. Demographer Cynthia Osborne, for example, says that “the Regnerus study is more scientifically rigorous than most of the other studies in this area.”

    That didn’t stop the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) from denouncing the study as a “flawed, misleading, and scientifically unsound paper that seeks to disparage lesbian and gay parents.” Another source wrote off the study as “dangerous propaganda.” An assistant editor at The New Republic called Regnerus a “retrograde researcher” and suggested that this study should “mark the beginning of the end of Mark Regnerus’s credibility with respectable news outlets.”

    Allegations from an activist blogger triggered a scientific misconduct inquiry into Regnerus’s work at the University of Texas. The editor of the sociological journal that published the study got such intensely hostile responses that he decided to resort to an internal audit to show the integrity of the publication process.

    Then came the Chick-fil-A flap in July. When Dan Cathy, president and COO of the privately held company, made comments in a press interview supporting the “biblical definition of the family unit,” big city politicians from Boston to Chicago to San Francisco threatened to bar the chicken franchise from their communities. Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno announced: “Because of [Cathy's] ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A’s permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward.”

    That runs directly afoul of the First Amendment. A government official may not deny a business license because he doesn’t like things that the applicant has said, as my colleague John Malcolm explained in a recent post. As long as they abide by the law, writes Malcolm, “the owners of Chick-fil-A are well within their rights to say what they want and to put into effect their professed desire to operate Chick-fil-A based ‘on biblical principles.’” Based on the enormous response to Chick-fil-A appreciation day, many Americans would like the company to keep doing just that.

    But the brutal summer lumbers on, and two days ago, the Human Rights Campaign ran a blog titled “Paul Ryan Speaking at Hate Group’s Annual Conference“—referring to FRC’s Values Voter Summit. As the blog explains, “FRC has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” The post remains, jarringly, four entries down from the Joint Statement from LGBT Organizations on FRC Shooting.

    As my colleague Tom Messner has written, “This is not ‘live and let live.’” These and other episodes fall far short of the tolerance that should characterize public life in America where we enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association.

    Given the magnitude of the policy questions at hand in our nation’s great ongoing marriage debate, we should encourage more research and dialogue in this area. To marginalize as illegitimate those whose research contributions or statements might support maintaining the institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman is a disservice to public discourse and social harmony. (By the way, this includes a majority of voters in the 32 states where the question has been put to them.) Even before the FRC shooting, this summer’s string of uncivil responses falls far short of the tolerant discourse we’ll need to navigate the deep and widespread differences on this issue.

    It’s good that we can all agree that waving a gun and yelling “I don’t like your politics” sabotages the very definition of politics. Now let’s agree that supporting traditional marriage isn’t cause for shunning from civil discourse and the public square.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    16 Responses to Toward a More Civil Union on Marriage

    1. A shot against a gay person should be punished the same as a shot against a gay person. Then why do we have hate crimes on the books?

    2. Poins says:

      Your other posts may make sense (I certainly do agree with you on the mayors), but you condemning people for correctly labeling the FRC a hate group is wrong. Do you think that any other than a hate group would have senior policy analysts working, who say that they want to export homosexuals from the United States, and that they should be put in jail?

      Do you think that a non-hate group would work against a Congressional resolution condemning the Uganda bill that prescribed the death penalty for gay people? Do you think that a non-hate group would have its president say that killing gay people is upholding moral conduct?

      • Bobbie says:

        where did you here that? from people that oppose the FRC? Your confusing "hate" with your intolerance of "opinion" and "beliefs" where the real "hate" exists. Why not stop hurting yourself and research the definition of 'hate" and "opinion" and "beliefs" and respect the answers from the FRC, THEMSELVES. One thing the law has no legitimate ability to judge are personal emotions. Now that America's government took it upon themselves to do just that while defyng their own duty to make this happen, America is in true danger!

    3. francesdrakewrites says:

      The whole World is watching to see how America solves this problem. May God guide us and keep us.

    4. Beth Elliott says:

      Despite the title of this article, there was nothing in it about "civil unions" as an alternative to same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage advocates assert that domestic partnerships, in addition to not being universally available, do not afford same-sex couples full ability to plan for full life cycles together in terms of insurance coverage, inheritance and assumed durable power of attorney rights and the like, and that in real life situations (e.g., hospital emergency rooms) they are not always honored.

      As long as this is perceived to be true, this issue will not go away. If the only conservative alternaive presented is "just suck it up," this issue will not go away.

      Assuming people will not stop forming same-sex relationships just because they're told not to (and sodomy laws didn't stop them), is there a conservative solution that strengthens marriage (and gets buy-in from the underclass that badly needs it) while allowing same-sex couples the tools to make effective life-long commitments entailing mutual care?

    5. Patrick says:

      Comparing the children of broken homes to the children of intact homes and saying the outcomes are because a parent was gay is ludicrous. Real research would compare children of intact heterosexual couples to children of intact gay couples. If there aren't enough to compare, then we can't draw conclusions. That's how real research works. Allowing such poor practices to stand unchallenged would be irresponsible.

      Calling intolerance 'intolerance' does not make one intolerant. No one is trying to stop straight couples from getting married, in other words, no one is opposing 'traditional' marriage. Make all the traditional marriages you want, no one is against that. But without bigotry and intolerance, what basis does anyone have to deny other people such a basic right?

      Defending traditional marriage should be focused on lowering our 50% divorce rate and lowering our teen pregnancy problem. Fighting gay rights is a red herring. Gay marriage has no impact on 'traditional' marriage. There will always be traditional marriage whether gays marry or not. There will always be gays raising children whether they marry or not. The only reason left for people to oppose gay marriage is blind hate. Standing unquestioningly behind such ridiculous "research" illustrates this. Denying basic rights and then blaming the victims for their outrage illustrates it as well.

    6. Korean Vet Ray says:

      One very good reason to elect a veto proof conservative Senate and keep the House of Reps. conservative. Then convert DOMA to a constitutional amendment instead of just a statute, thereby taking any decision out of the hands of any black roabed liberal "constitution is a living document," judges.

    7. Joanne says:

      Well said! Thank you.

    8. Stefan says:

      I had no idea you worked at FRC Jennifer. That sure explains a lot of the ignorant articles that you write.

      Free speech goes both ways. We have every right to speak out against Chik-fil-A, boycott them, etc just as much as Dan Cathy has to donate money to hate groups (yes, that's what they are).

      To me it's always the other way around. The religious right cries afoul if someone calls them out on their ignorant, hateful views, and how they try and force them onto society (I have no problem with them having said views btw, so long as it stays in their chruch). What they don't understand is that sometimes in life your actions have consequences, and if you truly believe in something you should accept said consequences and not complain when they occur.

    9. JeffreyRO5 says:

      The Regnerus study has been roundly condemned as an opinion piece, since it lacks key features of a genuine academic study, such as a control group. The University of Texas will be issuing the results of its inquiry any day now and it's not looking good for Mr. Regnerus.

      If we want a peaceful world, we must treat all citizens equally under the law (at the least). Religionists are free to hate gay people but they aren't free to advocate fewer legal rights for them.

    10. Wedey says:

      I would probably go along with a civil union, as I don't care what two people do. I don't approve but if they want to live together, it is not up to me to care. However, the marriage contract is sacred in this country and should only apply to a man and a woman who want to share a life together and bear children and raise those children. They'd better be careful what they wish for, as look what people who get married, it doesn't work out and they go through divorces, child custody rulings etc. I just don't think that people try hard enough to make a marriage work. And I blame that on women working. I worked an know how hard it is to raise and family, sustain a marriage etc. When they say women can have it all, not if they are putting their all into making it work. And I am totally against people that just keep having kids that aren't married. I would think if you have kids, you would want them to have a mother and a father and a stable home life. That is why we have so many troubled kids. Family just are intact anymore.

    11. CforUS says:

      Civil union is by far the better solution than the calls to allow same sex marriage. Plain and simple, marriage is between a man and a woman, period. Civil union allows same sex couples much of the benefits "married" couples enjoy. In many ways the civil union contract can be liberalized and definitely strengthened. Any couple engaging in a civil union should be held accountable for their agreement to join in the contract. If they choose to dissolve the union the procedures need to be very similar to diverse procedures. The danger we face by changing the definition of marriage is the interpretations that go along with those changes. In states that allow same sex marriages we have already seen petitions to allow marriage between human and animal, as well as marriage to multiple same sex "partners". Better civil union statutes are a much better way to go.

    12. No Govt. Intervention Required says:

      I see no need for federal or even state government involvement at all. If a religious institution doesn’t want to “marry” a couple, so be it. If a “justice of the peace” doesn’t wish to “marry” a couple, so be it. If an insurance provider doesn’t want to recognize a “marriage”, then so be it. If a person’s will stipulates that they want their belongings bequeathed to someone, then we honor that request as a matter of practice. We should not be running to the heavy hand of government to fix a social “issue”. The cure is often times worse than the disease, so to speak.

    13. Bobbie says:

      tastes like frail, personal intolerance to perfection!

    14. Scott_Rose says:

      The Regnerus study is a bought-and-paid-for hoax, not science. In her post above, Jennifer Marshall repeats stupid propaganda that has been thoroughly debunked for a long time already. For example, she quotes commentary about the Regnerus study that published alongside it. What she doesn't tell you, is that all of those sources were PAID study design consultants. They had CONFLICTS OF INTEREST in commenting on the study. So did many of the study's peer reviewers, which is to say, there was no peer review at all. Corrupt peer review is not peer review. The "study" is a bought-and-paid-for hoax.

    15. Antonio says:

      Is it going to take a war to stop these people pushing their agenda by force and intimidation? Because where I'm from when some uses force and intimidation the response is force and real intimidation.

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