Discussing Gay Marriage with Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat

Yesterday morning, between handing out bowls of oatmeal, I read Danny Westneat’s column in The Seattle Times, which ran with the headline “The right is left behind by election.”  Dismayed by his lack of understanding of conservative objections to the gay marriage movement, I dashed off an email to him, expressing my frustrations.  A few hours later, when I came home from playgroup, I was surprised to see he’d emailed me back.  I responded; he replied; I answered; he retorted; we went back and forth until about the time I started dinner.

I’m pleased that a columnist at our region’s largest newspaper found my criticism compelling enough to begin a discussion (I assume he doesn’t debate every disgruntled reader).  And while I’m thoroughly tired of the subject of gay marriage, I found it refreshing to have an intelligent exchange without any name-calling.  I’ve participated in many Facebook debates on the subject, in which my opponents have responded to my sincere arguments by calling me “hateful,” “horrible,” “F-d up,” and “offensive.”  Almost invariably, these ambassadors of tolerance attack my religion and argue that my belief in right and wrong renders me unable to see the issue clearly. 

I feel a moral responsibility to stand up for my convictions, especially when it seems that common sense is being smothered by political correctness.  Fortunately, I have a thick skin, and I’m willing to be the punching bag.  I know many people who agree with my views but have told me they will never state their opinion publicly for fear of retaliation.  I can’t say I blame them! 

Anyway, below is my discussion with Mr. Westneat.  I’m not sure how he feels about my publishing it, but as a journalist he knows that, unless he negotiates beforehand, every conversation is on the record.

Dear Danny,

I am discouraged that someone of your intellectual capacity has succumbed to the groupthink of our generation.  Marriage between a man and woman is an institution invented by nature, not the government or church.  Every society ever known to man has practiced it, suggesting that it’s a biological necessity.   In other words, no community has survived without employing marriage as a fundamental social unit.  Your argument that we ought to let gays do what they want suggests that gays are not already free to do what they want, but that is not the case.  Gay couples can live however they choose, and their friends, neighbors and churches can even call them “married” if they choose.  Furthermore, gay couples already had all the legal rights of married couples.  The reason religious people are so discouraged is because gay marriage laws actually violate our religious freedom; they force us to use a word to mean something it has never meant, coercing us into the notion that gay relationships are on the same moral and social footing as heterosexual relationships.  Look up the word “marriage” in the dictionary; we’ve changed the definition.  Since when did the state have the right to engineer our culture by redefining words?  People like you are forcing their secular religion on me.   

Lara

Danny:  Thanks for your note. You wrote: “The reason religious people are so discouraged is because gay marriage laws actually violate our religious freedom; they force us to use a word to mean something it has never meant, coercing us into the notion that gay relationships are on the same moral and social footing as heterosexual relationships.”

I disagree. In your church you are free to continue to define marriage as one man and one woman. It is in the arena of civil marriage that things have changed. It is not a religious freedom issue what happens in the civic space. At least it shouldn’t be. Personally, I feel that when church and state are separated, completely, it strengthens both the church and the state. They are not good for one another.

Also, what happened in the election is that the community decided, as a group, that in the civic space, gay relationships ARE “on the same moral and social footing as heterosexual relationships.” To me that is a good thing. But it’s also true that you don’t have to agree, and you certainly don’t have to honor this at your church.

I appreciate the feedback,

Danny

Me: You write “that the community decided, as a group, that in the civic space, gay relationships ARE ‘on the same moral and social footing as heterosexual relationships.'”  You neglect to acknowledge, though, that gay couples were already on the same legal footing, which is the only civic space the government should be concerned with.  It’s not government’s job to dictate popular culture, especially when doing so means altering the English language.  If you look up marriage in the dictionary, you’ll see that we’ve embarked on a strange road of redefining words in order to avoid hurting people’s feelings.  It reminds me of Orson Orwell’s “1984,” in which the government changes the language in order to manipulate people’s understanding. 

I know this is a lost cause in our state, but I am disappointed in you–and all of the The Seattle Times staff for that matter–for failing to report conservative arguments.  If all I read was The Seattle Times, I would think there was no conservative argument.  

Danny:  They are not on the same legal footing. Quick example: They can’t file jointly on their income tax return.  There are countless examples like that. They won’t be on the same legal footing until federal laws are changed. Which is coming.

The government is not dictating popular culture. The people endorsed a change because the people want it. You can’t really blame the government when the people voted for it and support it.

Me:  Your example is a federal one; so why not change the federal law to grant them the same legal rights as a married couple?  Why redefine an ancient institution?  In our state, it was the government who first decided to restructure society, and now the majority of our state’s voters have supported the government.  However, we must remember that the law won by a slim majority and only in a few counties.  In this instance, we have liberal cities forcing their values on the more conservative rural counties. 

But let’s pretend for a moment that it was voted for by the majority in all the counties; it wouldn’t change the fact that government is forcing on everybody (especially future generations) a radical social experiment without any historical precedent. 

We’ve taken the concept of individual rights to a crazy extreme.  What next?  Do I, as a woman, have a right to be called a man?  Women have all the legal rights of men, but in practice we fail to obtain the same political and economic status?  So should we outlaw the concept of gender?  Maybe we should keep that in the Church too, especially since transgender people don’t fit traditional definitions. 

Danny:  We could try to change federal law to grant them separate rights, but a number of courts have already ruled that separate isn’t really equal. Separate never is actually equal. So the movement is to just  let them get married. It’s real equality.

This ancient institution of marriage has been redefined many, many times.

Lara:  The legal benefits and obligations of marriage have changed over time, but marriage has never meant anything besides a social/sexual union between a man and a woman.  Furthemore, marriage has always served a vital societal need in that it secures a father to his children by tying him to their mother. Gay marriage does the opposite: it encourages the notion that two men or two women are a normal replacement for biological parents.  This is troubling, considering the body of research that supports the natural, common sense notion that children should be raised by their own parents.

Danny:  Well, I don’t want to re-debate this in its entirety, not after nine months of it. But the comments about gay parents are wrong, in my view. Plus, gay parents are already raising children all over the place. My fifth-grader has three gay parent families just in his one class. That train left the station long ago, regardless of the issue of marriage. So why not let them marry? If anything it will make their families stronger, which seems like a good thing.

There’s nothing troubling about these families by the way …

Lara:  The train of gay families may be on its way in liberal enclaves, but it’s not common anywhere else, and the fact that the train has left is no reason to encourage its going.  I have no problem with gay parents adopting children if there’s a shortage of adoptive parents.  I do, however, have a real problem with sperm and egg banks. Donating an egg or a sperm amounts to donating (or selling!) children.  This reminds me of another of my high school reads, “Brave New World,” in which children are created without the use of sex. 

The research on children raised by gay couples is controversial, but if we take divorce or formula-feeding as historical lessons, we must admit that our past, brave new notions about what is healthy for children have harmed children’s well-being.  Nature knows best, and I find it a stretch of reason and common sense to think that the process of falling in love and sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is only incidental to the reproductive cycle.  Sometimes biological parents are not available, and we must find substitutes.  But to intentionally deny a child the right of being raised by his or her mother and father is immoral.

This is the point where Danny became tired of me, but because this is my blog, I can add one more counter-argument:  the idea that separate cannot be equal in the case of marriages and civil unions is based on a false analogy with racial segregation in schools.  School segregation involved different locations, different buildings, different staff, whereas this issue is only about a different word.  Surely we can write a law that says gay couples have the same legal rights and obligations as married couples and expect judges to enforce that.

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9 Responses to Discussing Gay Marriage with Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat

  1. camilla says:

    Just want to say, that I agree with Danny — his arguments are more sound, his reasoning more logical, his morals taking a higher ground by focusing on equality & agency instead of definitions/traditions/relative morals.

    • camilla says:

      Oh, I forgot to add that I really think that you should give his opinion more weight.. Your posting the conversation makes it seems as if you feel you trounced him, but I think that your point of view would benefit more from internalizing his side better.
      That’s my two cents.

      • Lara says:

        I never suggested that I trounced him; part of the reason I chose to publish this debate is because I think both sides are adequately represented. Of course, I think my side of the argument has more weight, or else I wouldn’t be arguing it. For you, equality and choice are most important; for me the rights and well-being of children are most important. If you’re curious what I mean by the “rights” of children, please see my post titled “Protecting Children’s Rights.”

  2. Jacob says:

    Your arguments are incoherent and completely false. You claim

    ” Marriage between a man and woman is an institution invented by nature, not the government or church. ”

    There is no logical person on the face of the planet who would claim this. If marriage is a “natural” institution, then we would see the marriage of zebras and chimpanzees occurring naturally in nature. Marriage is, in a semantic sense, only applicable to humans and is therefore a human institution. Who created this institution, however, is completely irrelevant. All the rest of your rhetoric could have been used in the 1950s against anti-miscegenation laws. He grew weary of your attacks because they have no basis in reality.

    • Lara says:

      Jacob, Of course zebras and chimpanzees do not have weddings, but some animals actually do mate for life, including many humans. When I say marriage is a natural institution, I mean that it’s not limited to a certain culture or religion; it’s found in every culture and religion throughout history.

      • Jacob says:

        Okay. Let’s talk about some definitions here for a minute

        Natural: Adj. “Existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.”

        I highlight the last part. Also, you have failed to address the issues of polygamy or polyandry. Those are far more common than we are willing to admit. So is actually changing the “definition of marriage” a harmful thing? In fact, in your argument you have used the dictionary definition of marriage as a major point and yet you have misused natural in this circumstance. Marriage is an institution that is found throughout the world. It takes different forms, however. To say that the idea of monogamy is in all cultures and religions is just incorrect. Look at our own Mormon history. For many years Mormons touted celestial marriage as polygamy and we gave reasoning why polygamy was inherently superior to monogamy. Isn’t it interesting how the worm has turned? I smell hypocrisy in the Mormon rhetoric…

        • Lara says:

          Natural has different meanings and connotations, but I’m willing to accept the definition you gave. If we’re going by that definition, then the word I should have used is “primal” or “universal.” The gyst of my argument remains the same, though: marriage was not created by the government or the church; it’s an ancient and enduring institution, a fundamental social unit in every part of the world. And when I say marriage, I am including polygamy in the same category as monogamy. Polygamy is different from monogamy, of course, but it still secures a father to his children by tying him to his mother. With polygamy, a child is neither fatherless nor motherless. Polygamy makes sense biologically, especially when there’s a shortage of men. And actually, our church doctrine has not changed on polygamy; we have only changed our practice. I used to be bothered by the idea of polygamy, but after reading 200 personal diaries from our church’s polygamous era, after learning more about polygamy in other cultures, and after experiencing marriage and motherhood for myself, I am not bothered by it anymore.

  3. ckrw says:

    Your title needs to change. Because you and I clearly do not share the same worldview.

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