Archive for September, 2013

As many of you know, and as I posted about earlier this week, Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation came to Boston College to make a case against marriage equality (he doesn’t like that term; he uses the term same-sex marriage; more on that in a minute).  No longer a student, nor in the Boston area, I was unable to attend this event, so I am going to comment using the video snippets I’ve seen and the summary found in student newspapers, as well as my conversation with students who attended the lecture.

The centerpiece of Mr. Anderson’s post was not what I thought it would be: as a Ph.D candidate from Notre Dame, I expected a theological argument rooted in Catholic catechism.  Surprisingly, he chose not to go this route.  Perhaps he knew that the Boston College student body, despite being predominantly Catholic, does not buy into current Catholic social teaching in this way (just look at the overwhelming support for BCSSH, or the fact that most of the people in the audience were rocking Support Love gear or there in protest of the nature of the event).   I would have respected this argument, although I don’t agree with it, as it is a same-sex marriage as an idea is simply inconceivable under a Catholic telos.

Instead, he took a more utilitarian/instrumentalist approach, arguing that same-sex marriage would undermine what marriage is for.  He argues that the reason the government has a vested interest in promoting exclusive, permanent companionship is because of the public good served by raising children in two-parent households (specifically with male and female parents).  He claims social science (though I’ve not heard of any specific study he cited – I certainly hope he is not referring to the Regenerus study) backs up this position.

I think this is a narrow – and frankly naïve – view of the public good served by committed, exclusive, permanent relationships (one grounded in a culturally specific view of who and how children are raised).   There are certainly other public goods served by commited, exclusive, permanent relationships:

  1. Disease control: exclusive, committed relationships reduce the public health risk of STI transmission.  What would the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and early 90s have looked like if there was a mechanism – an expectation, even – of committed exclusive relationships in the gay community; if people weren’t driven into short-term, casual, sexual encounters by the stigma and underground nature of having same-sex attraction?
  2. Individual health and life expectancy: Research shows that those who are discriminated against experience an increase in negative health consequences related to stress (e.g., heart disease, decreased life expectancy).  Indeed, research shows that even the thought of the possibility of someone discriminating against you – popularly dubbed stereotype threat – results in increased anxiety and decreased health outcomes.  Studies have recently provided a correlation between marriage equality and increased life expectancy.
  3. Financial stability: a family unit comprised of two committed adults is more financially stable than a single individual.  This is especially true in families with children (indeed, he points out that children growing up with one parent is a social travesty).
  4. The adoption issue: there are hundreds of thousands of children without committed family units, under the care of foster agencies and being moved from home to home.  This instability must be worse than being raised in the care of a same-sex couple.  I think it would take a special kind of stubbornness to argue otherwise.  This puts a tax on public service programs that directly implicate the government’s interests.
  5. Equity: I think this is the strongest argument, though Mr. Anderson finds it weak (along with its complement, marriage equality).  It is simply a matter of fairness that denying federal or state benefits on the basis of an innate, generally immutable characteristic is unjust.  Perhaps he argues that this is not an innate characteristic, but I do not think he made that argument in his presentation.    This injustice runs contrary to the fundamental principles of fairness embedded in American culture.

There were other issues raised in Anderson’s responses.  He brought up some slippery-slope arguments: why not redefine it to include pedophilia (to which I would respond this is an issue of the ability to consent, which no one suggests adults with same-sex attraction do not possess), or why not “throuples” (to which I would say – indeed, why not?  Polyamory is not conventional in our society but I see no reason not to recognize permanent, exclusive partnerships of more than two persons.  Indeed, marriage historically has included these options, so I do not see why such would be problematic in this instance).

Even if I believed Anderson’s claim that children grow up best in a male-female household (which assumes an essentialist perspective of gender roles that I do not share, and I do not believe any research backs up this claim and have seen studies to the contrary), certainly two parents is better than one or no parents.  Certainly two same-sex parents is better than two opposite-sex parents who do not love each other, simply because they were pushed into a heterosexual relationship without heterosexual attraction.

There were a couple of other claims that I will not address here: one of which tried to use the fact that cheating is defined by “reproductive acts” and not, say, playing Tennis with another person, to show that marriage is really defined by reproductive acts and not just relationship/companionship.  Most people I know, however, would see romantically kissing another, or oral sex, as examples of cheating as well, and certainly gay men and women can do both of these things (with relatively impressive results), and so are just as capable of adultery as any other; another that men teach aggression and women teach nurture that ignores recent trends in sociology towards a feminist or critical theory perspective on gender.

Anderson did not argue the typical bigoted claims: that homosexuality is naturally immoral, that gay parents would corrupt children, that homosexual persons were perverts, etc.  And although he used pedophilia in a slippery-slope context, he did not directly compare gay men or women to pedophiles.  He even acknowledged that such was not his argument.  That this wasn’t about disrespecting individual persons, or arguing from a place of religious superiority.  He also did not make the Catholic argument about the natural purpose of life being reproduction and homosexual relationships being incompatible to the design of the Author of life (at least, he tried not to make it in those terms).  Both of those arguments would have been defensible intellectually (even if incompatible with separation of church and state).

Instead, he tried to make a utilitarian argument that I find wholly unconvincing and lacking in analytic rigor.  And that might be the most disappointing element of this whole fiasco.



Mister Anderson….

Posted: September 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

Tomorrow (or today, looking at the clock), Boston College’s St. Thomas More society is sponsoring a speaker from the Heritage Foundation and a Ph.D candidate at Notre Dame.  He will be presenting on the (a?) Catholic church’s case again same-sex marriage.  I don’t expect that there will be anything earth shattering about this presentation; likely a discussion on complimentarity, on the nature of what marriage is and the Church’s view of its purpose.  In fact, the speaker, Ryan T. Anderson, has said as much in his previous works.  It is no surprise that Boston College would host such a speaker.  Perhaps they’re trying to make up for the last time they tried (

Let me make a few important points: I love Boston College.  I very much enjoyed my experience there.  I find the ethos of the campus to be one that supports intellectual discussion around this issue.  Most members of the administration, the professoriate, and the ministry staff are open to discussions of the theological and sociological implications of defining, or as some might have it, re-defining marriage in contemporary society.  By and large, the institution makes an effort — at least at the individual level — to support its lesbian, gay, and bisexual students (from a policy perspective and a programmatic perspective, sometimes that gets a bit more tricky).  I also fully support allowing Mr. Anderson to speak on campus; to not do so would be a violation of the academic freedom that those working in Higher Education so often espouse.  The purpose of education is to promote critical thought and scholarship; to engage in meaningful debate around serious issues of our time.  It would be a grievous mistake to rescind an invitation on ideological grounds (as Providence College just did, in the reverse:

Where I will be critical, and this is where many of the student activist groups on campus are coming from as they plan protests/occupations of this presentation — these same student activist groups, I will say, that regularly push back against the teachings of the conservative Church in a meaningful and (usually) respectul way (GLC, BCSSH, etc.), is that there is no opposing view.  Last Spring, Boston College GLC hosted a student panel designed to raise awareness around issues of being LGBT at BC and, as a student group, had the forethought to include someone who could represent the Catholic position (incidentally, this individual is one of the folks headlining Mr. Anderson’s presentation).  The dialogue was measured and approached a sensitive issue from a number of different perspectives.

So where is that balance here?  Granted, most presentations on campus do not have someone sitting adjacent to the presenter offering counterpoints — but I would argue that most presentations are not on subjects that are so incredibly sensitive to a significant portion of the BC student body.  This is the first year that Boston College has not made the Princeton Review’s (methodologically flawed) list of least-friendly campuses towards LGBTQ students.  As I lived on campus for the two years in graduate school, I saw a change in the campus’s approach towards LGBTQ programming and discussing these issues.  My sense was that people were feeling better about the fact that Boston College really does support all of its community members.   My point, then, is that this one-sided presentation — sent out in an agressive e-mail blast to all students — has the potential to seem like a knife in the back.

Admittedly, Mr. Anderson has not spoken yet.  Perhaps the professor and the student hosting the event will rigorously question Mr. Anderson on these issues and provide just that balance.  My instinct, though, is that this is a lost opportunity — a chance to proselytize to an increasingly liberal student body at the expense of those in the audience who want their identity and their relationships to be compatible with the love they feel for their alma mater.

Tomorrow is a victory for Academic Freedom.  My hunch is that students will turn it into a victory for measured response and reasonable dialogue.  But I can’t help think, given recent history, that it’s all just a little bit Pyrrhic.

* It is also worth noting that Mr. Anderson has taken to Twitter to publicly shame the entire university because of one editorial:

  1. Ryan T. Anderson ‏@RyanT_Anderson18h

    also hopes that I have gay kids. A sad commentary on (Catholic) higher education. Stay classy Boston College. …


  2. Ryan T. Anderson ‏@RyanT_Anderson18h

    Insists she’s not comparing me to Westboro Baptist, but is embarrassed that BC invited me to speak since I’m a hater …