3 Interesting Moments From Dan Savage's Debate With a Gay-Marriage Opponent

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The men went back and forth on the Bible, religious freedom, and what evidence would change their minds.



Remember when popular sex columnist and gay-marriage advocate Dan Savage spoke to the National High School Journalism Convention in Seattle, prompting some Christian students to walk out after he asserted that there is some "bullshit" in the Bible? Recall that Brian Brown, an opponent of gay marriage, responded by issuing a debate challenge, saying, "You want to savage the Bible? Christian morality? Traditional marriage? Pope Benedict? I'm here, you name the time and the place and let's see what a big man you are in a debate with someone who can talk back." 

The debate has now happened. Journalist Mark Oppenheimer served as moderator. The whole thing runs about an hour with ample time for each man to speak. Too many ideas were exchanged to summarize them all. Here are three moments I found noteworthy.

THE BIBLE AND HOMOSEXUALITY

Dan Savage pressed Brown to explain why many Christians have no problem rejecting much of what's in the Bible, but cannot bring themselves to conclude that it got homosexuality is wrong:

The Bible, if it got something as easy and obvious as slavery wrong, what are the odds that it got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? I put those odds at about 100 percent. Pat Robertson was recently asked about this. He was asked, "If America was founded as a Christian nation why did we allow slavery?" And his answer was, "Like it or not, if you read the Bible, in the Old Testament slavery is permitted." That's a half-truth. In both testaments slavery is permitted and sanctioned. But then Robertson said something uncharacteristically profound: "We have moved in our conception of human beings until we realized that slavery was terribly wrong." And so what he's saying there is not just that we realized slavery is terribly wrong. Also, we realized the bible was wrong about slavery. I don't think LGBT Americans are asking American Christians to do anything that you haven't already done.

Move in your conception of the value of human beings.

FEAR OF LOSING RELIGIOUS FREEDOMBrown presumes that if pro-gay marriage forces win traditional religious people will be labeled as bigots and persecuted:

You put that in the law, and don't come back and say, "We're surprised that we're closing down Catholic Charities adoption agency in Massachusetts because it won't adopt kids to same sex couples. We're surprised that we're removing the tax exemption from Ocean Grove Methodist Association because they won't allow part of their property to be used for a civil union ceremony. We're surprised that the Knights of Columbus are now being fined for not allowing their halls to be used for same sex marriages." Why would you not do that? If your new idea of marriage is encoded into the law, it will be used to repress, marginalize and punish those of us who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. That is what will happen.

WHAT WOULD CHANGE YOUR MIND?

Stepping in as moderator, Mark Oppenheimer pointed out that both men were making at least some theoretically falsifiable arguments about the desirability of gay marriage in society, and asked if there was any evidence that could come out in a way they didn't expect and change their minds.

Dan Savage went first, and said that if a country that adopted gay marriage improbably found that it somehow really had caused a slide down a slippery slope, and that animal-human unions were happening, or the molestation of children had been normalized, he might change his position.

Around the 57-minute mark, Mark Oppenheimer pressed Brian Brown to answer the same question. It's theoretically possible, Oppenheimer said, that many more states pass gay marriage and that years from now it's conclusively demonstrated that kids raised in same-sex families are as well off, or even (though Oppenheimer sees no reason to expect this) that kids raised by parents joined in a gay union are happier than straight kids. What if the evidence bore out that conclusion for a thousand years. Would that cause Brian Brown to reconsider his position?

It would not.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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