Our Night at a Christian ‘Marriage Symposium’ October 11, 2011

Our Night at a Christian ‘Marriage Symposium’

This is a guest post by readers Heather and Rod.

Along with their respective partners, both attended a recent “Marriage Symposium” (PDF) sponsored by the Illinois Family Institute and Patriots United — undercover, on my behalf.

Their reports are below, with Heather in regular font and Rod in red font.

When I heard that the Illinois Family Institute and Patriots United were going to host a Marriage Symposium I was excited to go check it out. I knew that I would likely disagree with what the speakers had to say, but I wanted to see if my notions were accurate. What I heard throughout the evening came with little surprise.

We arrived about 10 minutes before the event began, but we heard on our way in that they were going to start late because there weren’t enough people in attendance yet. My husband and I made our way around the room picking up any free literature that was available. As we were doing this, more people shuffled in.

I counted approximately 58 people, not including the speakers, in attendance. The audience was largely white, consisting of middle-aged and older couples. There were a few single men in attendance, and one African-American couple. There were also two politicians there mingling before the event. One approached us, but then didn’t introduce himself once he found out we’re from DeKalb and thus not in his district.

Steph and I arrived just before the start of the event. We joined a group of about 50 people who were mostly 40- and 50-somethings rounded out by a handful of seniors. I did see one female who appeared to be in her thirties, but otherwise, this event (which was open to the public) didn’t attract any young adults… other than Heather and her husband who gave us a low-key wave and smile 🙂

Before the meeting began, local politicians were gathering up signatures for the upcoming election and free reading material was laid out on a few tables to the side.

About 20 minutes after our arrival, David Smith, IFI’s Executive Director, opened with prayer and introduced the evening’s agenda — that homosexuality was a threat to the institution of marriage. He understood the resistance to keep marriage defined as one man and one woman and said that the liberals were trying to “shut us up.”

The first speaker was Dr. Michael Brown, a reformed drug addict and author of A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been. He began his lecture by saying that he was going to address Biblical, theological, and social issues. He discussed the poor moral state of America, and contended that “homosexual activism” was one cause of it. Dr. Brown continued that we must “reach out and resist” — reach out with compassion, and resist activism with courage. Then he explained the Biblical and theological reasons why it’s dangerous to “re-define marriage.”

He told a story of a young man from Sudan who was caught fornicating with a goat.

Due to local laws (and in an attempt to humiliate this man), he had to marry the goat. He also told a similar story of a man in Malaysia who was caught copulating with a cow… and the story of a woman with a mental disorder who’s been married to the Berlin Wall for 29 years.

He brought the point back around in support of his view that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, not man and animal or man and object. If we expanded the definition, he said, why not include incest, polygamy, or polyamory? Why does it have to be just two people? Dr. Brown argued that in Genesis 1, God created man and woman in His image and it was this foundation on which the rest of Scripture was based. When a man and woman came together, there was a full representation of God along with “unique biological compatibility with the ability to procreate and emotional complementarity.”

According to Dr. Brown, the end goal of gay activism is an assault on gender where gender itself becomes the enemy.

He went on by posing the question: Do we want government more or less involved in our lives? Why did the government even care about the issue of marriage? According to Brown, the government gets involved because the state conveys benefits on marriage and marriage conveys benefits on the state. Strength in community is founded upon healthy marriages and families, so when this breaks down, so did society. Only in a male/female marriage could society grow with future generations and posterity.

Brown made the point that homosexual parents were greedy because they were knowingly depriving their child of a mother or a father. A boy who is raised by two moms will be feminized, and a girl who is raised by two moms will be masculinized. He also stated that for these children, statistically, “there [was] a much greater chance of promiscuity and breaking sexual boundaries, even [using] promiscuousness to prove they’re not gay.”

Didn’t the Bible also support slavery, though? Dr. Brown addressed that issue, too. He stated, “In the past, the church has supported slavery; in the past, the church has supported segregation; in the past, the church has supported oppression and suppression.” He suggested that through the abuse and misuse of Scripture, the slave trade was born. It was the abuse and misuse of Scripture that related to these civil rights issues, though, and (clearly) the issue of marriage was not a civil rights issue because the union between man and woman is the absolute foundation of the Scripture. (Got all that?) He wanted us to remember the numerous places in the Scripture that praised women, and that the spread of the Gospel in ancient times occurred because it was so liberating to women. There is not a single negative word about women in the Scripture. There is not a syllable in the Scripture that supports slavery, segregation, or oppression, and there are no positive words in Scripture supporting homosexuality.

Were people born gay? Dr. Brown didn’t believe that at all. He pointed out that traits like skin color and gender are immutable, but not homosexuality. There was no “gay gene” because the scientists have not discovered it — even if they had, being born a certain way was not an excuse for a particular type of sinful behavior. He reiterated that there was no comparison to the civil rights movement here at all (no matter what gay activists said).

Dr. Brown also pointed out that the “full image of God [was] one man and one woman,” not two men or two women. Did that mean God had two genders? I only remember “Him” being referred to as a male…

I also found it ironic that, on the table, was a pamphlet titled “77 Non-Religious Reasons to Support Man/Woman Marriage” (PDF).

You would think that a dozen reasons might be enough, but if we have all these secular reasons, why did we need Dr. Brown’s religious reasons?

Dr. Brown is very aware that people who support marriage equality will ask, “What’s wrong with two consenting adults loving each other?” His response was, “How about two brothers?” He also noted that this was a good question to ask if you wanted to see liberals stammer. [Cue audience laughter]

Actually, I think that’s a fair question. We know that there are laws about marrying someone in your bloodline, but why does the law exist? Two brothers don’t stand a chance at getting each other pregnant. That rules out congenital birth defects. Aside from that, though, what if it was a male and female relative, like Lot and his daughters from Genesis? Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt for looking over her shoulder, but Lot receives no punishment from God for getting drunk and having sex with his offspring… twice.

Dr. Brown said that the best way to raise children was with a man and a woman. With any other scenario, you could tell that something was missing.

Of the homosexual couples and single parents that I know, I don’t notice that their children are deficient in anything. They’re well-mannered and literate and they play nice with other children. To hint that this “missing” product somehow manifests itself into children is an insult to both the parents and their children.

The next speaker of the night was Austin Nimocks, a senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund. He began his lecture with a slew of statistics all of which seemed to blend together and lose meaning. He argued that gay marriage was the biggest challenge to religious freedom in the United States. Through the use of a few numbers, he relayed the message that equal protection did not apply to homosexuals since only 0.55% of households were same-sex and that, of a sample of 1500 “Middle Americans,” an overwhelming 62% of them defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

He hoped that Minnesota and North Carolina would become the 33rd and 34th states to affirm marriage. He also discussed the recent passing of Civil Unions in Illinois. He contended that this was having an overall negative effect on the state because of the inability of religious charities to operate within the State without denying their fundamental beliefs. He equated the closing of Catholic Charities adoption agencies with an “imposition of state theology.”

Just like Dr. Brown, Nimocks also argued for the “natural” state of marriage. It was “natural” for a man to marry a woman. They could procreate, they have “natural” compatibility, and society depended on this form of marriage to supply the next generation of people.

Overall, Nimocks was comfortable behind the microphone, but he wasn’t engaging at all. His lecture was probably the most dry of the bunch. He liked his statistics, but only a handful were backed up by any credible reference.

Nimocks was partly right that procreation between a man and a woman is the “natural” method for making babies, but it’s not the gender of the parents that matters when it comes to the child’s development. It’s the quality of mentorship. Procreation isn’t necessarily a primary motive for getting married, either.

Nimocks views marriage equality as an “attack on gender in society and gender roles.” I think the idea of “gender roles” is passé, anyway. In these days it’s common for two parents to work or share domestic chores.

The final speaker of the night was Laurie Higgins, the Director of School Advocacy & Cultural Analysis for the Illinois Family Institute. She started her lecture by stating her agreement with the previous speakers. She argued that the “end game” of gay activists was to silence conservatives and that they were using anti-bullying programs as a means of silencing “our views,” as they viewed Christians beliefs as “creating a climate of bias.” She also warned against using the term “sexual orientation,” and said that this term had no place in our laws or schools because it implied “biological determinism.”

Higgins continued with an ad populum argument that, in the “latest polls,” only 1.7% of the population identified as homosexual… as opposed to the 10% that most people believe. (As if that should change how we perceive gay people?) She said conservatives face two “special problems” with the national issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage: Cowardice and Ignorance.

What is homosexuality? She argued that there were two categories of the existential human condition: race and biological gender, both immutable. We could not draw any behavioral or moral implications from these traits. On the other hand, there were subjective feelings such as homosexuality, incest, and polygamy. These traits were actively chosen by the individual, according to her. Even if there was a scientific basis for them (like a gay gene), science told us nothing about moral “good.” Because homosexuality is something people choose, it is also up to us to decide which of our “myriad of impulses” should be acted upon and which should not.

Higgins pointed out that gay activists often related their struggles to racism, but she felt that racism was not analogous to opposing same-sex marriage because race was an immutable trait and homosexuality was not.

Just like Dr. Brown, Laurie Higgins argued for the right of children to be raised in a household with both a mother and a father. Marriage between a man and a woman was fundamental to a healthy society. It is a natural pairing because men and women can procreate and have biological, sexual, and emotional complementarity. She stated that since gay couples are “sterile by design,” they obviously do not fit the requirements for marriage. While acknowledging that homosexuals can love and be loved, they cannot provide for children what a traditional mother and father can provide for them.

Higgins finished her lecture by pointing out that marriage was a pre-political institution and, therefore, not a civil right. She urged everyone to talk to friends, family, neighbors, government representatives, and church leaders about opposing same-sex marriage as it has a clear detrimental effect on society.

Higgins urged the group to refrain from using the terms “sexual orientation” and “gay” because it’s beginning to normalize homosexuality and it’s empowering gays.

Glad to know it’s working.

She then attributed the low numbers of support for her agenda to “cowardice and lack of knowledge.”

I don’t think that’s why. I think it’s because people are becoming more tolerant to harmless acts that lack any influence on their household. She warned that some people would say something similar to that, but contended that it still contributed to the breakdown of society as a whole. There was no tangible evidence offered of how society is failing or will fail.

I wasn’t surprised to hear the usual slippery slope arguments and anecdotes from her. Higgins reiterated some comments from Dr. Brown about marrying goats and pedophilia.

Neither example is analogous to marriage equality which supports rights for consenting adults. Children are not wise enough to make such a decision (as opposed to adults) and a goat is certainly not a consenting party.

So did the event achieve its goals? I’m honestly not sure what the point was… Everyone there seemed to agree with every point made, evidenced by the affirmative head shaking that was happening during the lectures. It really was as if they were preaching to the choir, so to speak. There were some calls for activism and plugs to buy books.

I think that the people there are so affirmed by their religious beliefs that they really think they are making the right decisions. They are willing to stand up for what they believe in, and I’m not sure that any amount of evidence would be able to sway their opinions. I believe them when they say they don’t harbor ill feelings toward individual gay people, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they “love” gay people. They really believe that all gay people make an active decision to be gay, and so they hold out hope that some may eventually be “reformed.”

The only thing that really surprised me was the point Laurie Higgins made that hate crime laws and bullying rules only served to promote the gay agenda. I had no idea that people would be opposed to laws and rules that I feel are clearly necessary. I learned a lot about their opinions and the arguments they used to support them. I can now also put a face on the ultra-conservatives. They were more personable than I expected, and there is definitely a real human side to these people, but I can’t help but feel sorry for these people who are so entrenched in their Christianity that they will never be able to understand an opposing viewpoint.

There were a lot of other societal issues surrounding the anti-gay rhetoric which were criticized by the speakers — things like the Dakota Ary incident, incest, homosexual children’s books, and the comparison of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (formerly Amputee Identity Disorder) to gender surgeries.

Higgins also railed against the exploitation of children for homosexuality by relating a story about a boy who was forced to go on stage with a pink and purple tutu. She’s right on that point. I agree that children should not be encouraged to promote a political agenda which is beyond their natural capacity to reason.

Of course, from the extreme right, all of these things are in the same boat since they consider LGBT to be a type of perversion or illness. That’s all beside the point. The motive of the LGBT community is for marriage rights and not any of this string of comparisons that were used to stir emotions of the audience.

I’m glad we attended the meeting. It was an unpleasant, but necessary reminder of the Far Right’s mission to keep religion an influencing component of secular law. Yes, there were some rough remarks, but that’s to be expected when a person holds a different worldview. From observing the disposition of the speakers, it appears that those of us who support marriage equality are on the right track. We are making progress regardless of what they say.

After the event, I asked my wife what she thought of it. She said she was “glad to see the age of the people” in the crowd as well as how “few people actually came.” I completely agree with her.

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  • the woman’s text is plain and the man’s text is bright noticeable red.
    This is a great non-sexist start.

    … lol. just kidding.

  • Trina

    It’s always illuminating to hear what goes on inside these religious gatherings.   I was struck by a couple of things.  First, the ‘fact’ that christianity and the bible have been so very responsible for improvements in the status of women.  You could have fooled me.  I guess it’s very ‘freeing’ for a woman (not me!) to be submissive, know her place, and always be a follower.  Second, of course, was all the blather about homosexuality.  Personally, I’m straight, and it heterosexuality seems perfectly normal to me.  To my gay friends, though, it’s of course the opposite.  In the long run, I think (and fervently hope) that the people speaking, and their audience, are fighting a losing battle in terms of public opinion.  I’m glad I wasn’t there, but also glad that someone was, to give us the ‘scoop.’

  • Drew M.

    nvm. I fail at reading comprehension.

  • Heather attended and cowrote the article. Steph is the spouse of Rod, the other writer.

  • TychaBrahe

    There really aren’t a whole lot of negative ideas expressed about women in the Bible when you compare it to the time in which it was written.  The idea of submission to male authority seems oppressive to you, but it was a free human woman who was submitting, which is very different from the woman-an-property idea that was around at the time.   If you look at the treatment of women in the Middle East and Western Asia now, where women are stoned as adulterers for being raped, and where a man who wants a wife has to merely kidnap her and hold her in his family home overnight, after which she is assumed to no longer be a virgin and of no use to anyone but the man who wants here…the Old Testament starts to look a bit better.

    Now, individual women were criticized, such as Lot’s wife and Jezebel, but there was also Deborah, Esther, Ruth, Naomi, and Sarah.

  • TychaBrahe

    Hemand, you really have to prepare your spies better.  They didn’t know that Christian anti-gay bigots oppose anti-bullying laws?  But anti-bullying laws would prevent Christians from denouncing the sin of homosexuality!  It’s an attack on their freedom of speech and religion.  

    No, seriously.


  • “but it was a free human woman who was submitting”

    I have to comment on this…
    So you’re saying that a woman had the right to choose her husband and it was her choice to submit to him? No pressure of who she had to marry?
    Once you are forced to marry someone, and then forced to submit to the will of that someone, you are a slave.

    And what you say about how women are treated in the Middle East and Western Asia now… You really ought to read the bible…

  • Anonymous

    “Higgins also railed against the exploitation of children for homosexuality by relating a story about a boy who was forced to go on stage with a pink and purple tutu. She’s right on that point.”

    I’m sure you didn’t just accept Higgins account of what happened without corroboration, because it would be grossly irresponsible to lend this woman any credence… can we have a link to this story please?

  • Anonymous

    Usually I collect the particularly wrong/outrageous parts of these posts to rant about in a comment, but it’s just an overload of Fail today so I’ll pick on just a few things:

    I find it fascinating how Christians always point to polygamy as the first slippery slope consequence of legalizing gay marriage. Now it could be true that polygamy will be the next big fight, but:

    A – It is a discussion that has nothing to do with the gay marriage fight. Extending voting rights (at least in theory) to black men did not lead to giving the right to vote to women, and it was a fight that had to be fought on its own. I guess that’s just a long way of saying that we should remember that the slippery slope is a fallacy.

    B – There is incredibly ample scriptural support for polygamy. Many of the key figures of the Bible had many wives and there is never a word of condemnation for a man who has many wives. I know these people are masters of turning scripture around so it says what they want it to say, but I’m amused that they would use as an example of a “bad outcome” something that is positively celebrated in their holy text.

    She argued that there were two categories of the
    existential human condition: race and biological gender, both immutable.

    Laurie is really amazing. She manages levels of wrongness within wrongness, like some kind of demented Russian nesting doll. In fact race is not a biological trait at all, but a cultural construct. I defy Laurie or anyone to come up with a paper that shows that our conception of “race” is meaningful on a biological level. Of course, considering her reaction to the multiple studies showing that homosexuality is in no way a choice; sticking her fingers in her ears and yelling “Praise Jesus!”, I’m hardly shocked she doesn’t understand biological matters.

    Ah well, good to know the enemy I suppose. They’re already losing, but its worth it to keep a watchful eye open. There’s also the added benefit of having them fearfully looking around their little meetings wondering where the spy is. Thank you to Heather and Rod and their spouses for listening so we didn’t have to.

  • Ben Parsonage

    The only thing in this article/convention I found even remotely new and interesting was the incest question. When you think about it, most arguments made in favor of gay marriage could easily be used for incestuous ones as well. Especially in the case of homosexual incestuous relationships where inbreeding depression is a non issue.  What are people’s thoughts on this? I’m not really sure of what I think.

  • Nordog

    Why is it that some social constructs are more prone to certain diseases such as sickle cell anemia and diabetes?

  • T-Rex

    Must have been creepy as hell. I get all creeped out just walking into a church, but to attend a fundy Xian gathering bashing non-Xians and homosexuals must be very disturbing. The amount of stupid in that room must have been suffocating.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not saying there are no such things as certain biological human populations and even that some of these populations carry common traits that can even be visible to the naked eye, but I am saying that the cultural notion of race is so far removed from any kind of systematic rigor or biological characterization as to render it utterly and completely meaningless.

    Obama is black. Really? He’s got a white mother, but no one would ever classify him as white. If our notion of race in any way tracked biology, Obama would not be considered merely “black”. In fact, to the extent you can track people through their genetics to a certain ancestral region, a pretty hefty proportion of African Americans would track to…Europe! Yet they are universally considered “black”. Oh and let’s talk about black for a minute. Africa is a gigantic continent. The notion that Luo, Tutsis, Hutus, African Pygmies and Zulus (to name a few) are all really just one uniform “race” is not supported by a shred of scientific evidence. In fact, the opposite is true. Genetic studies found that Africans in many cases show the greatest amount of genetic diversity, sometimes resulting in wide divergences in people living in almost neighboring villages.

    There is some debate on the usefulness of biological clustering that seeks to group humans according to their ancestral geographical location. I’m skeptical myself. What isn’t unclear however is that the common conception of race, the one used by virtually everyone (including Laurie) has little relationship to any kind of minimally rigorous clustering.

  • b00ger

    The some of the slippery slope comments do need addressed. Particularly the ones about incest and polygamy (not so much the ones about goats or walls). From a purely logic, consenting adults view of marriage, there really is no argument against these other forms of marriage. There can be detrimental biological outcomes for society if incest is allowed to run rampant, but if the couple agrees to not have children or to adopt, what your left with again is two consenting adults. While this might be socially taboo, there really is no reason why it should be against the law. The downside I see here is that for the most part incestuous relationships are going to start before the age of consent. In the case of say an older sibling forcing themselves on a younger sibling or a parent on a child, there is a power differential there that favors the more mature party.

    Polygamy is another hard thing to get around. On the face of it, you have consenting adults. However, polygamy in its most practices form consists of a harem for a single male. A lot of the time the women are forced to stay in the marriage through fear and intimidation. I have known some polyamorous couples, but mainly they are married to one person and swing with other couples.
    I don’t really know what my final thoughts are on this subject. What are other people’s thoughts?

  • Erp

    Race is a social construct though ancestry is not.   One can be ‘Black’ and have mostly European ancestry.  US society tends to consider someone is ‘Black’ if one parent is ‘Black’,  Asian if  one parent is ‘Asian’ and one ‘White’, and ‘White’ only if both parents are ‘White’.  Someone with ‘Black’ ancestry who is sufficiently pale may ‘pass’ as ‘White’ and often not tell their children (this was probably more true in the days of legal segregation and miscegenation laws).

  • You probably shouldn’t hotlink the image directly from illinoisfamily.org.

  • Anonymous

    This is BS. Women were treated quite well in Egypt, for example. On the other hand, women are treated as chattel in the Bible.

    where women are stoned as adulterers for being raped, and where a man
    who wants a wife has to merely kidnap her and hold her in his family
    home overnight, after which she is assumed to no longer be a virgin and
    of no use to anyone but the man who wants her

    All this is straight out of the Old Testament.

  • Anonymous

    women are stoned as adulterers for being raped, and where a man who
    wants a wife has to merely kidnap her and hold her in his family home
    overnight, after which she is assumed to no longer be a virgin and of no
    use to anyone but the man who wants here…the Old Testament starts to
    look a bit better

    Uhhhm are you sure about that?

    If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then
    ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall
    stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not,
    being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s
    wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you. Deuteronomy 22:23-24

    So if he covers your mouth or puts a knife to your neck, that really just means you wanted it you dirty whore, and you’ll be stoned.

    Then there’s the matter of Exodus 21:7-11 ( a bit long to quote) which discusses the niceties of how to deal with your female sex-slaves. Oh and there’s all the places in the Bible the heroes order the mass rape of virgin girls and slaughter of non-virgin women.

    Yeah, it’s not good for many women in the Middle East, but pretending like the Old Testament had decent morality by comparison is just not gonna fly.

  • Spencer

    Incest is a complicated issue, mainly because of obvious genetic issues and abuse, but if two (or more; I also support polyamory) close relatives want to marry, I have no issues.

  • Spencer

    Incest is a complicated issue, mainly because of obvious genetic issues and abuse, but if two (or more; I also support polyamory) close relatives want to marry, I have no issues.

  • Anonymous

    As long as the partners are consenting adults and peers (i.e. roughly the same generation), I have no problem with incest.  Siblings or cousins? Okay. Parent/child or aunt-uncle/niece-nephew? Not generally okay because of the authority & power issues involved.

  • Anonymous

    There is nothing wrong with polyamory, but as you said as practiced by religious people it’s nearly always polygyny. It’s the only way it legally works. The man has all the power and women have less, though they can divorce if they want to (in some cultures). It’s a legal nightmare to recognize all possible constellations. Even when there are no children involved.
    Polygyny also has detrimental effects on society when most people practice it. There are countries where there is a shortage of marriageable women. So naturally, the bride price increases to the point where many families have trouble affording it.

    It should be socially acceptable for people to live in polyamorous relationships, but I’m not sure if proper legal recognition of the arrangement as a whole is even possible.

    As for the “gays” thing. “Gay” has become the preferred term. It’s used as an insult in youth language, but in the media it’s the recommended neutral word. As opposed to “homosexual” which has clinical and negative connotations.

  • Anonymous

    The word “biological gender” doesn’t make sense to begin with. Sex is the biological component. Gender is usually considered a social construct or how people express themselves

  • Anonymous

    If you isolate populations so they mostly breed among themselves, genetic diseases will naturally spread more easily – especially if the populations are small. That isn’t confined to ethnic groups, but can also include religion

  • Anonymous

    I have pretty strong concerns about power inbalances in these relationships, but I don’t think that would disqualify them on their own. 70 year old rich men marrying 18 year old poor girls is legal, even when there’s an obvious power inbalance involved.

    I think procreation between close relatives should most certainly be banned, but I have a hard time finding a reason that two fully consenting adults should not be allowed to marry as long as they aren’t causing harm to anyone else. Ick factor (and there’s a huge, and often biologically ingrained, ick factor) is not a valid argument and it strikes me that it’s really what’s at play in most opposition.

    I do think that it’s a different issue to gay marriage in one crucial respect. Without gay marriage, gay people are precluded the possibility of a fufilled married life. Banning gay marriage has the added cruelty that it basically bars a whole group of people fron the institution altogether.

  • Katherine Magee

    [quote] Dr. Brown is very aware that people who support
    marriage equality will ask, “What’s wrong with two consenting adults
    loving each other?” His response was, “How about two brothers?” He
    also noted that this was a good question to ask if you wanted to see
    liberals stammer. [Cue audience laughter] [/quote]

  • It seems like so much of (legal) marriage is a means of designating one person, your spouse, as your primary next of kin.  I think it would be difficult to adapt that to a situation with more than two people, especially since the idea of someone being the primary anything implies that there is only one person filling that role.  With polygamy, the role of primary next of kin would have to be split between multiple people.  While I have no moral objection to granting polygamous marriage licenses to consenting adults , it does seem like it could be a logistical nightmare.

    For example: Imagine three people are in a polygamous marriage.  Spouse #1 falls into a persistent vegetative state and doesn’t have a living will or medical directive.  Spouse #2 thinks that Spouse #1 would want to stay on life support indefinitely.  Spouse #3 thinks that Spouse #1 would want life support to be removed.  Which spouse gets the final say?

    I think you touched on an important aspect of our incest taboos.  It’s not just that there’s an increased risk for genetic defects in children.  With incestual relationships there is almost always, as you put it, a power differential that makes it difficult to tell if the subordinate person is truly giving consent.  Legalizing romantic relationships between nuclear family members could open the floodgates to sexual abuse.  A father could convince his Stockholm Syndrome’d daughter to marry him on her 18th birthday (or give his “permission” for her to marry him at an even younger age), and any chance of prosecuting his sexual abuse goes POOF.

  • Gus Snarp

    There’s a pretty simple argument when you consider marriage as a legal contract (which, from the point of view of government, is all that it is). Because it is a legal contract which serves the purpose of creating a family bond where none previously existed, one could argue that it can only be applied to individuals who are not already close relatives. On polygamy it’s a simple matter of practicality. The legal contract conveys certain rights that could become too complicated if more than two individuals are included in the contract (not too mention expensive). The fact that marriage sets social security survivor benefits, health insurance and other dependent benefits, and other benefits that are simply too difficult and costly to allow to be extended to any number of spouses merits limiting marriage to a single spouse.

    These arguments certainly aren’t conclusive, but they seem reasonable to me. But let’s say these arguments aren’t good enough and polygamy and marriage of close relatives becomes legally acceptable. Does that really hurt anyone? Is it going to take off and spread through society? I don’t think so. As long as we’re talking about consenting adults, it’s not that big a deal. We would certainly need to change laws on dependent benefits and social security survivor benefits to keep costs under control, but it wouldn’t be the end of our civilization.

  • Gus Snarp

    I don’t think I’d be very good at reporting on an event like this. I don’t think I could sit through it without standing up and shouting out arguments, or just walking out. Thanks for your patient reporting.

  • Anonymous

    I support incest in theory. I say “in theory” because of the power and abuse issues involved with minor participants. But I believe that any two consenting adults should be allowed to participate in whatever kind of sexual relationship they want – regardless of how they are related.

    I also think these consenting adults should be able to have children together. We do not ban “ordinary” couples who carry dangerous genetic diseases from having children, even if it is almost certain that any or all of their offspring will be affected. How then can we say closely related couples should not be allowed to procreate because there is a high chance their offspring will have some genetic defect? Consider also that there is no guarantee that children of closely related parents will have some genetic disorder; meanwhile some genetic diseases which are not exclusive to incestuous partners are guaranteed to be passed on to children.

  • Anonymous

    This looks like a mistake post.

  • Anonymous

    This looks like a mistake post.

  • Ben Parsonage

    I would have to agree with you. There’s a fairly hefty ick factor to get over, but as pointed out above, that’s no reason to outlaw something. Parent/offspring starts to get a bit iffy, but siblings there really isn’t a good reason to not allow it. HermioneJeanGranger also makes a very good point that we don’t forbid people with say, Huntington’s from having children, so inbreeding depression, which is negligible as long as incest isn’t totally rampant anyway, is invalid as an argument against it.

  • Anonymous

    True, but I thought it was overkill to get into that. Gender is more complex than XX vs. XY but in the vast majority of cases gender identification coincides with chromosomes and in any event almost certainly is a purely biological occurance, even in cases where they don’t coincide, so that giving a biological label to gender is not really inaccurate the way it is giving it to race.

  • Anonymous

    Maintaining a taboo against incest is useful in preventing cases of sexual abuse (family members are more vulnerable to other family members), and maintaining the proper functioning of families (family relationships are useful for emotional and financial support, and complicating them with sexual issues would harm those relationships). In addition, the burden on liberty imposed by making incest illegal is extremely minimal. There’s billions of people you’re allowed to have sex with, and a dozen that you’re not allowed — not a big deal.

    The reason to be opposed to polygamy is simple, one man, many wives = some men, no wives. Males without the prospect of marriage are dangerous for society.

    And no, these slipper slope arguments don’t need to be addressed.  Allowing gay and lesbian people to get married is right or it’s wrong on its own merits. Even if these slopes truly were slippery (and I don’t think they are), rejecting a proposition because you don’t like another conclusion that it logically leads to is called an “appeal to the consequences” and is an invalid form of reasoning.

  • Anonymous

    Most people don’t spend their time thinking about incest, so it’s not surprising that when you put someone on the spot and say “Hey, give me an iron-clad argument against incest, quick!” it’s difficult to come up with. There’s no movement to legalize incest, and thus there’s really no reason to be prepared with arguments against it in the first place. The entire issue is a red herring. As people become less “icked out” by homosexuality, they need to associate it with things that people still find icky. And the way that they do that is to just keep mentioning the two things in the same sentence.

    But it’s not too difficult to come up with arguments against incest if you do give it some thought (and unfortunately, because this is a favorite anti-gay talking point, some of us have had to do that). I’ve given one in another part of this thread, and other people have as well.

  • Anonymous

    You have to add the final sentence to that paragraph for it to make sense:  “I agree that children should not be encouraged to promote a political agenda which is beyond their natural capacity to reason.” 

    I don’t think he is agreeing that the story of the boy in a tutu is real but rather that that example would be exploitation of children for a political stance they could not understand.  I’ve done a few searches for some story about a boy forced on stage in a tutu and can’t find anything, so the story may or may not be real, but the point being made is accurate.

  • Anonymous

    The “forced on stage” part is probably pure fabrication. There have been one or two stories in the media recently where boys had a feminine gender expression and preferred to dress like girls and play with “girly” toys. And their parents fully indulged and supported them because it made them happy. They are probably referring to that

  • Anonymous

    No, I don’t have to add the final sentence. “She’s right on *that* point” — ‘that’ is referring to the preceding sentences. If it was referring to the following sentences, it would say: “She’s right on this point:”

    Would dressing up as a pilgrim be ‘exploitation of children for a political stance they could not understand’? What about dressing up as Abraham Lincoln?

    Pretty much everyone agrees in the abstract that children shouldn’t be exploited. Where we disagree is what exactly constitutes exploitation. So, without having a concrete example of what we’re talking about, we can’t really say anything interesting.

  • Kat

    I thought it was funny they used the quote “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” on one of their handouts. I have to assume they didn’t really think beyond the “woman needs a man” part of that… essentially what that line is saying is that a fish has absolutely no use for a bicycle, and therefore a woman has no use for a man. Not necessarily a sentiment I agree with, but clearly not a good quote for this handout (I suppose they could have been pointing out that certain ideas they don’t approve of are becoming more popular, but that seems unlikely as it is not really addressed). 

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know how to even begin to address all the ignorance spewing from this “symposium”, but I was going through the 77 reasons PDF and stopped at number 4:

    Man/woman marriage provides children with access to their genetic, cultural, and social heritage. 

    I was adopted at birth. I’m not genetically related to my family. I wasn’t given any papers describing my ancestors’ nationality, so it’s anyone’s guess if I share the same national origins as the rest of my family. 

    Guess what? None of that has ever mattered. I’m still my parents’ son. My dad and I still rock out to the same music. My mom and I both love to discuss the education system. My dad and I like to update each other on conservative policies being implemented so we can analyze how barbaric and backwards they are. My mom and I spoil the family dogs together. My family and I don’t share the same religious views (they’re Roman Catholic) but we respect and tolerate each other’s beliefs. We all love to visit the grandparents for family dinners and ping-pong (even though grandpa always wins). To say that same-sex marriage should be banned because it denies children the opportunity to share the same DNA or national origins as their parents implies that children who don’t share such traits with their parents are deprived of something, or that their parents aren’t doing a good job of being parents. I can’t even begin to describe how insulting that feels to both my parents and I. We haven’t always agreed on everything, but I can’t imagine life any other way than with my adoptive parents. I wouldn’t want a life any other way given the option to choose. I’m fucking sick of hearing these bull-shit arguments that don’t have anything to do with how effectively parents can raise their children from these awful people. Total bull-shit. 

  • Chris

    Was the Goat male or female?

  • Yeah, this story sounds suspicious to me. If anything, it seems like something religious conservatives would do. There’s a long history of shaming boys by forcing them to wear female clothing.

  • I’ve had tons of arguments with religious conservatives on this issue, and I can tell you that they do indeed believe that adoption is inferior. According to them, it’s second-rate and not as good as a “natural” family.

    As you said, these people are awful. I was born by donor insemination and raised by two lesbian moms, so I’ve got quite a lot of experience dealing with them. They really don’t care about the truth. They refuse to take into account actual, reputable studies (which of course disprove their ludicrous theories) and they refuse to listen to those of us who actually, you know, have been raised in the types of families that they’re condemning. All that matters to them is their religion. Nothing anyone in the secular world could do or say would ever change their minds on this issue. They’re just too far gone.

  • Anonymous

    Even polygamists don’t think same-sex marriage will lead to legal plural marriages:

    They don’t even want legalized marriages. They just don’t want to be punished for the living arrangements they already have. For them “legalizing polygamy” doesn’t mean legal plural marriages

  • Drew M.

    Yep. I figured that out about 45 seconds after hitting “Post.”


  • Anonymous

    Sure the US is morally bankrupt, but it has nothing to do AT ALL with gay activists. I am sick to death of people decrying the moral bankruptcy of this country, when all they mean is that people are having sex more freely than they once were. They’re all puritans, afraid someone somewhere is having fun (and they’re jealous).

  • Edmond

    For those who are finding themselves without a good argument when the marriage equality debate heads for incest territory:  I always explain that gay couples are seeking marriage because it provides us with the legal basis to protect the families that we are trying to build.  It gives us the right to make our own decisions about property, inheritance, pensions, etc.  But people who are ALREADY family already have those protections.  They don’t need them twice, by getting married also.

    Besides, there’s this:


  • Heather Adams

    Hi Anna,

    That is the basic feeling I had about the people there. The mental gymnastics these people go through must be exhausting. There were a handful of anecdotal stories told of children who had been raised by same-sex parents, and they sounded somewhat contrived. I’m glad to hear an opinion from someone who has first hand experience with this issue. Thanks for your reply :).


  • Hollaz

    Oh to let you know some fox commenter believes that Obama is no black at all because of white parents and Cain would be the first legitimate African American president so to say (just FYI not something I really endorse) source:http://thinkprogress.org/media/2011/10/06/338107/ingraham-suggests-cain-would-be-the-real-first-black-president-because-obama-has-white-relatives/

  • So, uh, what, adopted kids aren’t “natural”?

    Fuck. That.

  • I’d love to know what kinds of stories they’re telling! I wouldn’t be surprised if they just made things up. Some of the things they said in their presentation are blatantly untrue, so I’m curious whether the children of same-sex parents mentioned in their stories actually exist.

    I used to argue these issues a lot on various debate boards, but I got sick of it after a while. You can’t reason with fundamentalists. They keep moving the goalposts. If you give them 100 studies, they’ll find fault with every single one of them. Eventually I came to understand that they’re not interested in evidence, and that there’s no study I could provide that would make them change their minds. That’s the trouble with religion. Their minds are already made up, and as long as they rely on the Bible as their ultimate authority, their homophobia isn’t going away.

  • Rich Wilson

    The US is unique in that we have a particular privilege saved for legally joined couples- Health Insurance (and other job related benefits).  If we did allow polygamy, then we’d have to deal with the “how many dependents are we responsible for?” question from employers.

    Or better yet, get over the idea of health insurance being tied to your job.

  • Rich Wilson

    And as I mentioned above, there may be perfectly valid reasons for two people who don’t have sex with each other to want the benefits of at least a civil union.  I have a straight friend who wanted to get a civil union with his long time partner so that she could get his work related health benefits, but they can’t since they’re not same-sex (this is in CA).  You can get a domestic partnership in CA if you’re opposite sex, but only if one partner is over 62.  http://www.sos.ca.gov/dpregistry/faqs.htm#question3

    There are benefits afforded to married couples that are not afforded to other family members.  What kind of sex they are or are not having shouldn’t enter into it.

  • Anonymous

    Civil unions are mostly like marriages on a state level. Their dissolution is basically a divorce. It’s not a contract you can just dissolve that easily. If you are willing to go that far you may as well get married

  • Rich Wilson

    They’re well aware of the similarities between domestic partnership and marriage, and have their own reasons for their desire.  And while we can tell a non-blood related opposite sex couple “you might as well get married”, the advice doesn’t work in other situations.

  • Agreed on both points.

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