Same-sex Marriage Debate with Colin Craig, Louisa Wall and Matthew Flannagan

On Tuesday, 2 October of 2012, The Auckland University Students Association (AUSA) held a debate on the controversial topic of same-sex marriage. The moot for the debate was “This House supports the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Zealand.” Those who filled the 600+ seat lecture theatre to capacity were treated to an electric atmosphere and night of stimulating arguments and counter-responses. Both teams had three participants each.

On the affirmative team

  • Louisa Wall Labour Party MP and the drafter of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage
  • Levi Joule Queer Rights Officer of AUSA and the Auckland Regional Chair for Young Labour
  • Bonnie Hartfield Co-chair of Legaliselove

On the negative team

You can view the debate in full here. [1] Intelligent comments and questions are welcome below, but keep it civil.

 

A summary of the debate from my perspective.

From my perspective the debate was a success, and credit to Max Lim who organized the event with his team from the AUSA is due. Though the crowd was clearly for the motion and came with a biased and unbending predisposition, the weight of the arguments fell on the negative side.

On the affirmative side of this debate, Labour MP Louisa Wall’s opening speech was bafflingly structured to emphasize the history of the struggle for same-sex marriage. Her sole arguments for the moot seemed to be that widening the scope of those who can marry to include same-sex couples is advancing human rights, equality and tolerance, and is timely reflecting today’s New Zealand society. She pre-empted a possible criticism by strongly stating that her bill would not legitimize polygamous and incestual relationships such as others have claimed, and that those who say so, she believed, were being disingenuous and propagating propaganda based on fear and hatred. Bonnie Hartfield and Levi Joule neither added to affirmative’s case nor responded to the negative team. Hartfield began with a pretext of responding to Colin Craig, but then began on an awkwardly scripted, though humorous nevertheless, pro forma discharge of hot air. Her one point, unaddressed by the negative team, was that the marriage of same-sex couples would not change the significance of other married couple’s commitment to eachother.[2]

The negative team was far more decisive. Conservative Party leader Colin Craig played to audience in a kiwi-bloke-ish style, perhaps obscuring the substance of his arguments but with a flair that was certainly entertaining. This substance was that one cannot simply change the nature of something we all know and recognize with legislation, and that the current law was adequate for maintaining equal treatment for same-sex couples while appropriately and intelligently maintaining the difference between them.

Auckland University Student Chaplain Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio (“Joe”) – my personal highlight – in the style of philosopher William Lane Craig, clearly stated the contentions they were defending,

1. there are no compelling reasons to support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and 
2. there are good reasons to oppose it.

Then he exposed the affirmative teams arguments both as fundamentally flawed (for marriage is not a universal right) and as emotive sloganeering (for “marriage equality” does not recognize what marriage actually is, which is more than just romance), then summarized his arguments with the following two syllogisms.

A) Universal human rights are universal rights
B) Marriage is not a universal right (since there are exceptions to those who can marry)
C) Therefore, traditional marriage does not deprive same-sex couples of a universal human right.
 
A) A component of marriage’s definition is the ability, in principle, to pro-create.
B) A same-sex couple cannot pro-create, whether incidentally or in-principle.
C) Therefore, same-sex couples do not fit within what marriage actually is.

 

Overall Joe’s presentation was irenic and well-received, clear and focused, and scored some major hits to which the affirmative team would not recover. The sounding of the warning timer appeared to fluster him and diminished the overall impact of his argument. It appeared as if he edited down his speech on the fly to finish sooner. However, he recovered well and finished strong. The wording of the syllogisms could be tightened up a little and would have been a hundred times more impacting had the premises and conclusions been projected for all to see on the screens behind him.

Dr. Matthew Flannagan, an associate of Thinking Matters, first gave three reasons to not support same-sex marriage in New Zealand.

1. If equality is a valid basis for accepting same-sex marriage, then it is a valid basis for rejecting the proposed legislation, for the bill is still discriminatory against other couples.[3] Thus the appeal to equality is contradictory and a red-herrings.

2. But even if the appeal to equality were sound, it wouldn’t justify the conclusion to legalise same-sex marriage, for same-sex couples already have all the rights of married couples[4] and giving something a different name doesn’t change the substance of what it is.[5] 

3. Doing so has the potential to restrict others civil liberties, for should the legislation be passed, people who provide services for wedding ceremonies would be compelled by NZ law to provide those services to same-sex couples as well despite their religious objections.[6] This is a paradigmatic example of restricting the freedom of religion.

Dr. Flannagan then dismantled the affirmative team by showing they had no basis for justifying the legislation. Three examples are as follows. That the law should reflect the people in society, stated by Louisa Wall, is not a good reason to pass the legislation, because there are a lot of single people in society and marriage should not apply to them. That the law should not tell us who we can and cannot have sex with, as raised by Bonnie Hartfield, is not a good reason to pass the legislation, for neither the debate nor the legislation is regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality. That a large number of people believe in this is not a good reason to pass the legislation, because it assumes that because a large number of people believe in something then it is must be just, but the assumption is false and, moreover, not even believed by the affirmative team.

Overall Dr. Flannagan’s presentation was brilliantly thought-out and responsive to the opposing team, cementing their victory over them. Though rushed, it lacked only the polish of presentation one could expect from a seasoned public speaker.

The closing statement of the negative team by Colin Craig, though off-the-cuff, summarized adequately the debate and the arguments, but in doing so lost the overall clarity of the negative team’s coordinated case. The closing statement of the affirmative team by Louisa Wall began more as a first rebuttal, first responding to Colin Craig’s citation of European Court of Human Rights from his first speech, then referencing Section 29 of the current Marriage Act (a flailing attempt to subvert Dr. Flannagan’s third point), and then gave a reason each to discriminate against polygamous and incestual relationships (ostensibly “central to negative’s case,” but in reality not central at all – not even central to Dr. Flannagan’s first argument to not support same-sex marriage in NZ). Her closing however soon collapsed into an impassioned but irrelevant speech about “growing up” as a society, having “grown-up conversations” like other countries, and being able to provide young people, like Levi – who  apparently don’t have the freedom to be safe when exploring their sexual self-determination – with some value and respect.

The question and answer period which followed really made plain the mood of the crowd. There was a barely restrained mixture of anger and amusement, and an unreasoning obstinacy from those, both for and against the moot, who had come to the debate an immovable conviction. To me this showed the incompetence of university students ability to adequately evaluate debates of this sort. It showed the inroads that have already been made by the affirmative team’s powerful but empty rhetoric. The question and answer period further revealed Lousia Wall as a skilled politician as she dodged some very pointed questions and even failed to comprehend pertinent issues that were raised. (Had I not been on the camera, I would have liked to have asked for all the talk about inequality, what universal or human rights do NZ same-sex couples lack?).

The debate overall showed Dr. Matthew Flannagan to be a first-class apologist as he presented his own logical arguments and the logical fallacies and assumptions used by the opposing team, and answered questions from hostile people in the crowd. It also showed me Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio has a very promising future as an apologist and public speaker. I look forward to seeing where Joe goes from here.

The response card and its results I see as irrelevant and a waste of time.

 

Footnotes

[1] Thinking Matters was there to record the event in order to make a resource, particularly for our New Zealand followers who will face the question of the
legalization of same-sex marriage in the coming year. As this subject is also of great interest internationally, and since we have noted a scarceness of good resources generally available with a lack of civil, constructive and intelligent dialogue on this issue, it is also intended to be a resource for our international followers. Much of
the content is specific to the New Zealand context, however most of the arguments offered here can be translated to other contexts without great effort. It is also our hope that providing this full and unedited account of the proceedings that any inclined to misrepresent the debate after-the-fact will be silenced, and those responsible for misinforming the public will be held accountable.

[2] Though since it would change the meaning and significance of the social and civil institution of marriage in NZ for all New Zealanders, the point was indirectly addressed.

[3] Dr. Flannagan mentions there are 15 other types of couples which Louisa’s bill discriminates against.

[4] Two exceptions were mentioned. The first was recognition of relationship status outside NZ (which NZ does not have control over). The second was the right to adopt children (a right which could be obtained by same-sex couples by changing the adoption act, which is already in the process of being done).

[5] Bonnie Hartfield and Levi Joule both put forward the argument that same-sex couples were not currently able to attain the social-status of other married couples had because of the institution’s history and tradition. The argument is unsound, for by attaining the name they would deny that history and tradition.

[6] This was reportedly based on 3 separate legal opinions. For more information visit here

30 replies
  1. Matthew Flannagan
    Matthew Flannagan says:

    Hi Stuart thanks for the review, I did not release I was “rushed” in my presentation, but seeing I had 8 minutes to respond to three speeches I guess I probably was. 

    You mention in note 6, three separate legal opinions, two of those are on line one is Ian Bassett’s http://www.protectmarriage.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Legal-Opinion-Marriage-Act-Amendment-Bill.pdf St Matthews have a rebuttal opinion  http://stmatthews.org.nz/images/UserFiles/File/A%20response%20to%20Ian%20Bassett.pdfwhich while disputing what he says about ministers actually agrees with the claim that churches  can be compelled to provide same sex weddings. The other was an opinion I have from the Human Rights commission  Interestingly, the law society recently was asked to comment on Louisa’s comments about ministers not being compelled to marry and suggests it is wanting, here http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/58316/Marriage-Definition-of-Marriage-Amendment-Bill-091112.pdf. 

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the post and the video link. Interesting topic. I haven’t reviewed the whole debate yet, but I find it quite interesting that Christian apologists are choosing to debate this topic largely on secular grounds. Does the theological argument against same-sex marriage not carry water, or do you not think it will have any traction in a quite-rightly non-religious public sphere? I mean, I think I probably agree that existing marriages laws are not depriving the LGBT community of a universal human right, but that is not really the basis of your objection, is it?

    The reason I raise it is because (let’s be honest) – Christian’s oppose same-sex marriage primarily because ‘they’ by and large believe homosexuality to be a sin. If the basis for this belief was sound, underpinning as it does your opposition to same-sex marriage, then surely it should form the basis of your rebuttal. I feel that arguments such as ‘well it is a discriminatory bill because it doesn’t incorporate other forms of relationship’ are tangential, and skirt the real basis for your disapproval.

    Democracy Now! has covered two prominent examples in the States – one involving a male couple, where the foreign-born husband faced deportation because the marriage wasn’t recognised in their home state, despite his role a primary care-giver for a cancer-stricken American citizen. The second involved a massive inheritance tax paid by a woman who’s partner died – a tax she wouldn’t have had to pay had their marriage been legally recognised.

    The reality is that same-sex couples are not given the same entitlements in many settings, and your objection to their being granted the same entitlements are based on your theology – so why pretend some other basis? Let’s have the discussion in plain sight, please.

  3. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    This is a good point in my opinion—I’m not really sold on the secular arguments against SSM, and I think when push comes to shove the debate will always come down to the ethics of homosexuality itself.

    That said, there are a couple of good reasons Christians use secular arguments:

    1. It’s a lot easier to refute secularists on their own terms than try to convince them they should accept ours.

    2. In view of (1), we have to be pragmatic in picking our battles. I think apologists like Matt recognize we’ve lost the cultural battle when it comes to recognizing the immorality of homosexual behavior; so trying to mount an argument on the basis of that immorality just undermines our position, rather than offering any reason to take us seriously in the minds of most people.

    Btw, I’m not sure why you say the “quite-rightly non-religious public sphere”. Presumably you’re trying to say something like “the public sphere should not be influenced by religious ideology”. But that raises the obvious question of why not, since that in itself is an ideology. Do you think the public sphere must be inherently secular? If so, why?

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    In reverse order –

    Sorry, that was poorly phrased – not something I should attempt to be pithy with. I meant it as a hat-tip to the U.S. in some ways – despite the terrible problems there in terms of actually separating church and state, the first amendment is remarkable for its foresight. Jefferson’s ‘wall of separation’ is key here, because it protects both your right to practice a brand of Christianity as you see fit, and my right not to. Other than the idea that Christian pastors might be forced by law to marry same-sex couples (something I join you in opposing), I don’t see freedom of religion infringed by the legalisation of same-sex marriage – although as I said, this is interesting to me and I’m interested to see if Christian’s have a different view.

     Anyway, to rephrase your paraphrase, what I meant was that debate within the public sphere (or more accurately, the legislature and judiciary) should not be beholden to any perceived religious basis or foundation, because it blurs the debate.

    For example, I often hear it said that countries like New Zealand have been ‘founded on Judeo-Christian values’. We can argue that point, but my concern is that it seems to offer cover to arguments like ‘homosexuality is immoral because our God says it is’, or similar. It relies on acceptance of our proposed Christian and therefore God-based framework of morality. But clearly this is not an argument if you don’t accept the premise of God’s existence – in the public sphere, homosexuality’s morality or immorality should be debated on empirical grounds, because legislation regarding homosexuality is in the context of a complex, pluralistic society, with many people who do not describe to your premise. If one of the debaters proposed the idea that homosexuality is immoral, with the bible as the basis for the claim, and this argument subsequently became embedded in law, then the separation of church and state has disappeared.

    It’s partly why I think religious folk should be debating this issue from the true theological position (that homosexuality is immoral, if you’ll permit me to generalise) such that we can judge your actual position on its merits, rather than on a faux basis. The theological objection at least has the benefit of being forthright, where as I find the objections summarised in this blog post to be moot points.

    But I think your point [2] is right – it probably does undermine your position. The question is, why? In my view, the argument that homosexuality is immoral is, in itself, immoral – equivalent to an argument that being black is immoral, or being left-handed is immoral. Returning to the problem, though – the debate does not seem to tackle the ‘morality’ elephant in the room because the Christian apologists have chosen not acknowledge it. I think it should be discussed, and I think you do to?

  5. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Tom, I agree with the separation of church and state. The problem is, like you, I don’t agree with the separation of morality and state…and I believe the only true morality is Christian morality.

    In one sense, it doesn’t really concern me when a secular state makes laws in accordance to secular morality. But in another sense, obviously I believe those laws are immoral, and I would prefer the state to not be rejecting God’s law. (I should acknowledge that these are just my intuitions as a Christian; I haven’t studied politics and I’m not really interested in it—so it’s possible you could press me into some odd corners, and I might have to attenuate my position some.)

    Re point [2], the reason it undermines our position is that most people believe not only that homosexuality is not wrong, but that to believe otherwise is itself highly immoral. Instead of judging what is right by some logical standard, they judge it largely by whether it is “tolerant”. Ironically, they are then highly intolerant of views which they think are intolerant. Odd. But it has the effect of replacing discussion with ad hominem (“bigot”, “intolerant” etc), thereby effectively shutting down any posibility of debate.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Yes, I can see the ad hominem attacks would be frustrating. I also appreciate that Christians who believe homosexuality to be ‘wrong’ are not in themselves ‘bad people’ – this is a truism, but worth stating, because while I might think your views on homosexuality are wrong, it doesn’t follow that you are a bad person, yet some Christians are cast in this light in the public discourse. Which is not fair.

    The liberal tendency to ‘tolerance’, which I formally held firm to, is – as you note – problematic. For example, western democracies have a recent history of ‘tolerating’ Islam with the goal of social diversity. In reality, while Islam is an entirely benign belief system for the vast majority of Muslims, the Hadith has at its core some themes which are antithetical to enlightenment and western values. I love the idea of living and working amongst Afghan refugees, East African migrants, people from South Asia – this is important to me. But Islam itself is not something I am ease with in an intellectual sense (without wanting to generalise), for all the obvious reasons, from Salman Rushdie to the Danish cartoons.

    That said, I think I probably put the traditional Christian view of homosexuality in a similar category. I agree, we should judge what is right ‘by some logical standard’. I think we are converging on the point that the theological basis for treating homosexuality as sin can also be judged by some logical standards which do not rely on circular theological reasoning. Back to the start, then, it is interesting that public discourse from Christians on this subject largely avoids the issue, as in the debate above.

    Most humanists will quickly acknowledge that Christian morality and, as you call it, broadly secular morality converge in a number of arenas – the golden rule, the good Samaritan, the ‘love thy neighbour’ precept. I guess as a ‘humanist’ I see a contradiction within Christianity between ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and ‘homosexuality is immoral’. That discussion should be held openly – it’s a shame that people on the left have apparently been so aggressive in their criticism of the Christian position that Christian’s don’t feel comfortable stating the position in a forum like Auckland University.

  7. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Why do you think there’s a contradiction between the second commandment (love your neighbor as yourself) and the view that homosexual conduct is immoral?

    Maybe answering that could help us converge on the standard by which we should judge this view.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    OK, well I concede that if you accept the theological premises of Christianity, then you could quite easily argue that there is no contradiction in those two precepts – i.e., (as a suggestion), 

    My friend Caleb is gay
    I love my friend Caleb
    I believe that because he is gay he is going to hell
    Therefore, out of my love for Caleb I will tell him that his behaviour is immoral to save him from hell

    A bit simple, granted, but I can accept the argument in and of itself. 

    On the other hand, setting Christianity aside, if you believe homosexuality to be an unselected characteristic or trait in the same form as race, left-handedness or eye colour (rather than a choice, not to imply this is something you have suggested) then to ‘love my friend as myself’ would be to omit accusations that they are immoral for a characteristic over which they have no agency, and furthermore a characteristic which has no  automatic negative connotations whatsoever, but is unusual only in as much as it is less common than heterosexuality. 

    All that aside, I didn’t intend that particular point to be important. I still think the Christian side of this argument has all its work still to do. 

  9. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    But I don’t think people are immoral for having a characteristic they didn’t choose. I think they are immoral for exercising that characteristic.

    Just as I don’t think it’s immoral for men to be attracted to women; but I do think it’s immoral for men to have extra-marital sex with women.

    The issue really comes down to whether we have been designed to function in a certain way by God, and whether he has revealed what is permissible and what is not as regards our sexuality etc. That is where the disagreement lies.

  10. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Why should it matter if Christians also have theological reasons to object to something? Additional reasons, or “secular” reasons if you wish to call them that, are not subverted at all if you also have theological reasons. Neither are they subverted if one has theological motivations for presenting them. To suggest that they are is a classic ad hominem. Unless your suggesting the arguments are in some way circular? In which case, the burden is on you to show they are circular. 

    Since these additional reasons are ones that everyone can agree with, it is in a forum like this university debate that it is entirely appropriate to present them. As all the negative teams speakers emphasised, you don’t have to be a Christian to agree with the negative team in this debate. It doesn’t matter what your sexual pereferences are. And as proof these arguments are religiously-neutral, from my falible memory, “Joe” cites two Austrailian politicians, quoting one at length, themselves both homosexuals.

    As to the restriction of freedom of religion issue in New Zealand if this Bill is passed, the Law Society has recently weighed in on the sbject. http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/home/for_the_public/for_the_media/latest_news/news/december-2012/complex-technical-issues-in-drafting-of-same-sex-marriage-bill/

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    ‘Why should it matter if Christians also have theological reasons to object to something? ‘ 

    Well it doesn’t. But my interpretation (I think Bnonn agrees) is that the primary basis for Christian objections to same-sex marriage is theological, but because most people outside of the Christian community reject the theological argument, Christians are using secular arguments to promote their theological objection. All I am saying is I think it’s important that the Christian position be represented accurately. In a free society you should be free to present a theological, moral objection to same-sex marriage – just as I should be free to review and reject such an objection. I want to know what you actually think. Especially given the weakness of the secular objections that have been presented. 

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    ‘The issue really comes down to whether we have been designed to function in a certain way by God, and whether he has revealed what is permissible and what is not as regards our sexuality etc. That is where the disagreement lies.’I think that is entirely accurate. The problem we are converging on is that we will never agree on this issue without agreement on the God premise… so which position should take precedent in the legislature?

  13. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    From a democratic perspective, the position that should take precedence in the legislature is the position which the majority agree with.

    From a moral perspective, the position that should take precedence is the position that is right.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    ^^ I agree; the problem we have is trying to ensure the two converge, which is to say we want the majority of people to adopt and vote for the ‘right’ moral standpoint. Obviously I would contend that that is what we’ll see here. 

    ‘Just as I don’t think it’s immoral for men to be attracted to women; but I do think it’s immoral for men to have extra-marital sex with women.’This brings up one of the secular arguments that is intended to address the concerns of Christians. I think you probably accept that gay men and women are attracted to other men and women. In fact they are probably having sex right now. If they can legally marry, does this not improve the context in which they maintain a relationship? Having sex and a long-term relationship within a marriage rather then outside of one? 

  15. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    If you want to contend that SSM is moral, then you need to have a logical standard against which to judge it. What’s your standard?

     

    If they can legally marry, does this not improve the context in which they maintain a relationship?

    Well there are a couple of problems there:

    1. Pragmatic concerns don’t trump moral concerns. So even if it is true that gay relationships will be improved (whatever that means) by marriage, that hardly imposes any obligation to allow gays to marry, since since gay relationships are themselves immoral.

    2. Same sex marriage is a contradiction in terms. So asking me if gays wouldn’t benefit from being able to legally marry is like asking me if women wouldn’t benefit from being able to join men’s clubs. Even if they would, a coed men’s club is a contradiction in terms. Now, you might decide that women should be able to join women’s clubs (for the analogy, civil unions), but calling them men’s clubs (marriage) won’t actually make them men’s clubs.

    3. Even if gay marriage were not a contradiction in terms, the reason the state recognizes and gives particular benefits to marriage is not because of romance. It is because of (1) the socially stabilizing effect of marriage and (2) the procreative effect of marriage (you can’t maintain a society without children). Since gay couples cannot have children, (2) is off the table from the start. And since gay relationships, according to all the research I’ve seen, are orders of magnitude more subject to infidelity, violence, and breakup than marriages are, why should (1) be recognized for gays?

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    With regards to a secular logical standard – as you know, there is no absolute ‘god/bible’ equivalent to the Christian basis for morality. But I think this is beneficial. It allows the secular position to evolve on the basis of new evidence and logic, which is essentially what this bill represents (to me, at least). I think, if you take the position of a gay man or woman in today’s society, knowing as they do that their sexual preferences are arbitrary, they would turn your initial statement around – if you want to contend that homosexuality is IMMORAL, you need to demonstrate why. 

    We’re back to the start of the discussion, and I have a feeling we can’t find common ground because your best, and core, answer is ‘because God says  it is’ (despite the limited secular objections), where as I don’t accept the premise. 

    [1] I agree with the logic, I just don’t think you have proven it to be immoral.

    [2] If I understand you, this is an argument over definition. I’m not really sure what the purpose of this definition is other than to exclude  same-sex relationships?

    [3] This is an interesting point – I think things like those studies could be at the front of the debate, because they speak to the actual problem Christians have with homosexuality. However anecdotally, I know of Christians who have had affairs, I know of atheists who have had affairs, and I know of gay people in long-term relationships without any problems (internally). I don’t think it would go far to suggest to the gay community that they be excluded from marriage because they are statistically more likely to make a mess of the relationship – this would quite rightly be considered offensive (do you agree?) 

  17. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    To say the secular standard is “evolving” is just to say that it is no more than a corporate opinion. But what do the personal tastes of a group of people have to do with right and wrong? You can’t just redefine morality to mean “personal taste”.

    I don’t think it would go far to suggest to the gay community that they
    be excluded from marriage because they are statistically more likely to
    make a mess of the relationship – this would quite rightly be considered
    offensive (do you agree?)

    Given the benefits for which the state gives special privileges to married couples, I don’t see how it is offensive to preclude a group that statistically speaking does not convey those benefits on the state.

  18. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    What benefits do heterosexual married couples have that same-sex civil-unioned couples lack? (1) Adoption. (Can be amended by tweaking the adoption rules so does not require redefining marriage). (2) The social manna that the institution of marriage has. (However the inclusion same-sex couples in the tradition rejects the tradition). What else is there?

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Maybe ‘evolved’ is better than ‘evolving.’ All I mean by that is, secular morality is open to new evidence and can adapt to suit it. By example, if some comprehensive study showed that between the ages of 9 and 12, children learned more and were happier in ‘all boys’ and ‘all girls’ school environments, then it might make sense for the state to introduce a school system that catered to this reality. It’s a flippant example, but what i mean is that some issues are nuanced and certainly not specifically addressed in the bible – so an evidence-based and considered approach to some moral issues is beneficial.

    In a similar sense, it’s conceivable that same-sex marriage will progressively normalise homosexuality and same-sex relationships in a social sense. The consequence might be that gay school students are considered less and less ‘different” by their peers, reducing bullying and, at the extreme, teen suicide. (One of my peers at school in West Auckland attempted suicide at 16 for that exact reason. And Christianity doesn’t just call homosexualtiy ‘different’, but calls it ‘immoral’ – imagine that proposition when you’re 12 years old and discovering your sexuality). In the secular world, if this benefit of same-sex marriage can be conclusively demonstrated (and surely that’s a possibility), the in the ‘moral landscape’ sense, we would of course endorse, legalise, and promote same-sex marriage. In contrast, Christians cannot do this because of the absolute nature of the bible. There is no moral evolution, there is just moral absolutism. I think you agree.

    In terms of the original point, is there is a moral argument against same-sex marriage that the Christian community can present and that doesn’t rely on the ‘God’ premise?

    With respect to civil unions – the same-sex marriage bill is essentially a request from the gay community, and their supporters, that they be permitted to marry – and not be segregated in a social sense, or by law. They are entitled to make the request and entitled to have it considered. There are technical and moral arguments against this prospect – I’m yet to hear anything approaching a compelling moral argument, and Bnonn I think you agree that this is the basis of the Christian opposition. If it continues to rely on ‘because God says so’ then I think we all know that the bill will pass.

  20. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    By example, if some comprehensive study showed that between the ages of 9
    and 12, children learned more and were happier in ‘all boys’ and ‘all
    girls’ school environments, then it might make sense for the state to
    introduce a school system that catered to this reality.

    Could you explain how this is an example of morality being open to evidence? I can’t see anything in this example which obviously relates to morality at all.

    Christianity doesn’t just call homosexualtiy ‘different’, but calls it
    ‘immoral’ – imagine that proposition when you’re 12 years old and
    discovering your sexuality

    Christianity calls homosexual conduct immoral, not homosexual orientation. It also calls fornication immoral—imagine that proposition when you’re 16 years old and discovering the pleasure of angsty teenage lust-filled sex. None of this seems to have any bearing on deciding what actually is moral.

    In a similar sense, it’s conceivable that same-sex marriage will
    progressively normalise homosexuality and same-sex relationships in a
    social sense. The consequence might be that gay school students are
    considered less and less ‘different” by their peers, reducing bullying
    and, at the extreme, teen suicide.

    Presumably you think this is a good thing, morally speaking. But why? You still haven’t told us what the moral standard is you’re using. If that standard is indeed evolving, then that seems to just be another way of saying it is arbitrary. But actually I don’t think it is evolving. From what you’ve said so far, it sounds like you think it is constant, and rather it is just society which is evolving to adhere more closely to it. But then the question remains: what is it? You obviously know enough about it to think we are moving toward it. So let’s have a look at it.

    I’m yet to hear anything approaching a compelling moral argument, and
    Bnonn I think you agree that this is the basis of the Christian
    opposition.

    You have yet to hear a compelling moral argument you agree with because you don’t agree that grounding morality in God’s laws is correct. But you haven’t yet explained your alternative.

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    In regards to your last point, I think you concede that it’s not just me. The reason I originally commented on this post is because I know, from experience, that Christians believe homosexuality is ‘wrong’ (or ‘acts’ are wrong), and yet the debate considers secular arguments against same-sex marriage, which is somehow disingenuous. If the apologists had turned up and said ‘homosexuality goes against God’ they would have been dismissed, because it is not even slightly compelling without a premise based on faith. Well government’s can’t legislate on the basis of faith.

    I’m a fan of Sam Harris’ ‘Moral Landscape’ concept. I will let you consider that rather than re-explain it, but it allows for multiple ‘right’ answers to moral questions, focusing on ‘the well being of conscious creatures’. It is a hypothesis, but it is more compelling to me than the bible as a basis for moral truth. I mean if you take the precept ‘though shalt not murder’, we can both probably find scenarios in which it would be right to kill someone else.

    Yes, I do think that’s a good thing. The moral standard is that the suffering of other people is less preferable than the happiness of other people. Christians seem to need God’s guidance to accept that statement, but the billions of non-Christians around the world do not. Much more importantly though, if you accept the hypothetical in my example, you seem to be arguing that a world in which gay teenagers are reclusive and miserable is morally superior to one in which they are accepted and welcome, for the sake of keeping same-sex marriage illegal. If same-sex marriage normalises homosexuality, and improves the lives of gay people throughout new zealand, you need a better moral argument than ‘because God says so’ in order to keep it illegal.

    ‘Could you explain how this is an example of morality being open to
    evidence? I can’t see anything in this example which obviously relates
    to morality at all.’

    Well if children are happier learning in a gender-segregated environment at that age, and our moral premise centres on the well-being of conscious creatures, then it would be morally preferable to provide an education environment incorporating gender separation, improving the happiness of 9-12 year olds.

    I have to take issue with the idea that ‘Christianity calls homosexual conduct immoral, not homosexual orientation.’ This is parsing at its worst. A gay man doesn’t want to have sex with a woman, he wants to have sex with a man. You are saying ‘oh you can be gay, just don’t act on it’ but what is being gay, if it is not acted on? We know Christians hate ‘impure thoughts’, so what – a gay man can’t sleep with men, and can’t think about sleeping with men? So your preference is, what, that gay people be asexual? The ridiculous part of that argument is, as you say, Christians call fornication ‘immoral’ (I have often sighed at the problems the religious suspicion of the female birth canal cause), but fornication is ‘moral’ inside a marriage – the exact thing you are seeking to deny gay people. Just consider this scenario in reverse. You have a natural attraction to women – but this impulse is immoral, unless you are married to that woman. And your government also says ‘oh but you can’t marry a woman, you can only marry a man.’ Let that thought experiment dwell in your mind for a bit and you’ll see why it is so utterly rejected by the secular community. 

  22. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    I’m a fan of Sam Harris’ ‘Moral Landscape’ concept. I will let you
    consider that rather than re-explain it, but it allows for multiple
    ‘right’ answers to moral questions, focusing on ‘the well being of
    conscious creatures’.

    That’s not good news, to be honest. Sam Harris has systematically failed to show his position is defensible against a number of objections—some of them very basic. See for example http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2011/04/how-william-lane-craig-thrashed-sam-harris-like-a-naughty-puppy/

    If you’re trying to advocate a moral theory which has been carefully refuted already, I doubt we’ll make any headway.

    The moral standard is that the suffering of other people is less preferable than the happiness of other people.

    So morality just comes down to a shared preference? Like if we all agreed it was better to not listen to Justin Bieber, then it would be immoral to do so?

    Christians seem to need God’s guidance to accept that statement, but the billions of non-Christians around the world do not.

    You’re mixing up guidance and grounding. Christians don’t think you need to believe in God to know moral truths. But they do think God must exist for there to be moral truths.

    you seem to be arguing that a world in which gay teenagers are reclusive
    and miserable is morally superior to one in which they are accepted and
    welcome

    If we’re going to take a blinkered view of what constitutes a “morally superior” world, I would argue that a world in which there are no gay teenagers, nor lustful ones, nor hateful ones, nor homicidal ones, nor suicidal ones, etc, would be morally superior.

    You are saying ‘oh you can be gay, just don’t act on it’ but what is being gay, if it is not acted on?

    What is being heterosexual, if it is not acted on? Yet Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). You seem to be taking exception to the fact that we are sinful, which I can understand, but is hardly an objection specific to homosexuality.

    but fornication is ‘moral’ inside a marriage – the exact thing you are seeking to deny gay people.

    Fornication, by definition, involves extra-marital sexual relations. That is why it is immoral—because God designed sex to serve a specific function within marriage, and that function is being cast aside. But you can’t just redefine marriage to include gay people and then say, “Look, gay sex is moral now” because God also designed marriage to be a certain way, and gay relationships cast that design aside too.

  23. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    ‘But you can’t just redefine marriage to include gay people and then say,
    “Look, gay sex is moral now” because God also designed marriage to be a
    certain way, and gay relationships cast that design aside too.’

    Haha, no that’s right – but I am not the one who says it is immoral in the first place. I don’t need marriage to say it is moral, I am just trying to find common ground with the Christian position. I can find common ground with the idea that pre-marital sex ‘can’ be immoral – for example, pregnancy shared between 2 people who don’t love each other. Funnily enough, this is one of the problems of sex that the gay community manages to bypass.

    You didn’t really address my point, though. You are saying heterosexual people having sex when married is not sinful. I’m sure you also concede that sex is natural and fun in this form. But you are denying what is natural and fun to homosexual people under ALL circumstances. Is there a circumstance where you could concede gay sex is LESS immoral were it to occur within a legal marriage (I know you describe them as mutually exclusive, but for arguments sake). If not, then could you possibly see that having some significant significant percentage of the population eternally denied their sexuality, suppressing and oppressing sexual desire, under ALL circumstances, ‘because God says so’, is not only going to cause problems (Catholic rapist priests, for example), but be fundamentally rejected by the society you live in? You will simply find yourself on the other side of the fence. You are entitled to fulfill your own sexual desires, under certain preconditions, but our gay friends are denied the same entitlement – full stop.

    ‘You’re mixing up guidance and grounding. Christians don’t think you need to believe in God to know moral truths. But they do think God must exist for there to be moral truths.’

    Fair point and well stated. The only problem is in a situation like this one, where the ‘moral truths’ of Christianity are slowly ebbing away because they simply don’t align with what is in front of us. We know normal, functioning, positive members of society who simply happen to be gay, and your moral truths tell them ‘well it’s OK to be gay, but just make sure you don’t think about being gay, or in any circumstances act on being gay, because that is immoral and God will judge you for it’. I don’t see where saying ‘homosexual orientation is not immoral’ actually gets you – it doesn’t do anything except attempt to absolve Christians of their own guilt for telling other people that they are immoral in and of themselves.

    ‘If we’re going to take a blinkered view of what constitutes a “morally
    superior” world, I would argue that a world in which there are no gay
    teenagers, nor lustful ones, nor hateful ones, nor homicidal ones, nor
    suicidal ones, etc, would be morally superior.’

    Again, I don’t feel you address the point. We don’t have control over there being gay teenagers, what we do have some control over is whether we tell them their sexual orientation is immoral and watch the consequences, or whether we permit them the same social norms we enjoy, and they are happy rather than tormented. Putting aside the simplicity of that dichotomy, I think you are essentially saying that having gay marriage is MORE immoral than having suicidal teenagers.

  24. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Is there a circumstance where you could concede gay sex is LESS immoral
    were it to occur within a legal marriage (I know you describe them as
    mutually exclusive, but for arguments sake).

    Since marriage is designed by God to be between a man and a woman, a law which “legalizes” gay marriage would simply be an invalid and immoral law. Ttwo people engaged in an immoral activity aren’t being “less” immoral just because their activity is sanctioned by an immoral law.

    Of course, God judges the heart and the intentions, not the letter of the law. So I suppose a gay couple who actually believed fornication was wrong, but also believed in gay marriage, might be “less” immoral by refraining from having sex until they were married. Their intent was to be moral, and that does factor into God’s judgment.

    If not, then could you
    possibly see that having some significant significant percentage of the
    population eternally denied their sexuality, suppressing and oppressing
    sexual desire, under ALL circumstances, ‘because God says so’, is not
    only going to cause problems (Catholic rapist priests, for example), but
    be fundamentally rejected by the society you live in?

    Sure, assuming the society is not Christian. Traditionally, of course, it was the other way around: gay relationships were rejected because society was founded on Christian values.

    The only problem is in a situation like this one, where the ‘moral
    truths’ of Christianity are slowly ebbing away because they simply don’t
    align with what is in front of us. We know normal, functioning,
    positive members of society who simply happen to be gay

    I’m not sure how the fact that gays can be useful members of society indicates that Christianity’s view of homosexuality is wrong. Are you saying that being a functioning member of society is how we should judge moral claims? I doubt you’d say that, but I can’t see another way to make the connection you’re trying to make.

    it doesn’t do anything except attempt to absolve Christians of their
    own guilt for telling other people that they are immoral in and of
    themselves.

    Why would Christians feel guilt about the doctrine of total depravity? And how would maintaining that homosexual conduct is immoral absolve them of those feelings? I don’t get what you’re saying, and it seems oddly off topic.

    I don’t feel you address the point. We don’t have control over there
    being gay teenagers, what we do have some control over is whether we
    tell them their sexual orientation is immoral and watch the
    consequences, or whether we permit them the same social norms we enjoy,
    and they are happy rather than tormented.

    Of course, we tell teenagers that any kind of lust is immoral—not just homosexual lust. So again it seems like your beef is with Christian sexuality in general, and the idea that sex is designed for a specific purpose. But of course, if sex actually is designed for a specific purpose, and if lust actually is immoral, then the fact that teenagers don’t like that as much as a lie isn’t of any real significance at all. It seems like you’re trying to judge the morality of homosexuality by how well gay teenagers do when they believe it is okay, as opposed to when they believe it is immoral. But again, I doubt that’s really your intent because the feelings of teenagers is obviously not a logical moral standard.

    Unfortunately, you have yet to provide any kind of logical moral standard we can use. You’ve talked about human flourishing, but presumably you are arguing that human flourishing is good. Yet if human flourishing is the standard for judging morality, then “good” in that sentence just means “human flourishing”—in which case you plainly have not explained what goodness is in any meaningful way. On the other hand, if “good” in that sentence has real meaning, then human flourishing is not the standard by which you’re judging it.

  25. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    ‘Of course, God judges the heart and the intentions, not the letter of
    the law. So I suppose a gay couple who actually believed fornication
    was wrong, but also believed in gay marriage, might be “less” immoral by
    refraining from having sex until they were married. Their intent was to
    be moral, and that does factor into God’s judgment.’
     
    This statement is in good faith, so I’m not trying to trap you, but it sounds to me that you might concede that:

    Homosexuality exists within our society, and
    Homosexuality is conceivably LESS immoral, or, more moral, if it occurs within a marriage

    I wonder if you could also say it is less sinful? Morality and sin are intertwined here I assume.

    With all that in mind, I think we get to the point that the secular community is a little confused over – that same-sex marriage should be less objectionable to Christians than simply not having same sex marriage.

    ‘Of course, we tell teenagers that any kind of lust is immoral—not just
    homosexual lust. So again it seems like your beef is with Christian
    sexuality in general, and the idea that sex is designed for a specific
    purpose.’

    The difference should be obvious to you, and I have already stated it – heterosexual teenage lust can be quenched, if that is the right term, through marriage, with a couple of assumptions about commitment and compatibility. However, homosexual teenage lust, according to the Christian position, can never be validated or recognised or answered. I realise that you think ‘well, and neither should it be’, but then – you’re not gay. The best we seem to have on the table is that if gay people get married they could conceivably be ‘less immoral’.
     

  26. Matt
    Matt says:

    Hi Bnonn

     
    Part of the reason is my take on apologetic method ,  and how it can be applied in ethics.

    I
    think opponents of same sex marriage and supporters of it differ profoundly in their
    basic presuppositions and the differences in same sex marriage simply reflect
    these differences. For example opponents tend to believe in the authority of
    scripture, believe God exists, that he has issued commands and that one command
    is a command to refrain from same sex activity, others define the institution of
    marriage and so on. Proponents particular in the debate in question tend to
    reject these they have a different understanding of meta ethics and tend to
    view reasoning as autonomous and so on. This means that debating the issue is
    quite difficult and trying to argue that your position is true by appealing  appeals to a kind of common netural body of
    assumptions accepted by both parties is not going to be successful. This is one
    reason btw why I reject the kind of “liberal rawlsian” position on religion and
    public life as it assumes there is a common set of assumptions around issues
    like this that is agreed upon by all and thick enough to provide premises which
    can adjudicate rationally debates on issues like that. I think that’s a chimera

    So
    my take on things is that one needs a more indirect dialectical approach one
    has to (a) spell out the presuppositions of ones own position and show how
    opposition same sex marriage makes sense given those presuppositions. (b)
    defend that position against potential defeaters by rebutting these defeaters  (c) show that if you accept the opponents
    presuppositions then the conclusions they draw are implausible, problematic from
    their own perspective.

    In
    the debate I was third speaker and hence responsible for rebuttal and hence
    I  focused on (b) and (c). I was arguing
    that the arguments they gave and the position they sketched were problematic on
    their own terms. So Lousia Wall for example employed moral premises and a
    perspective on morality that was not just absurd, but one which she her-self
    did not consistently embrace so that her own Bill contradicted itself within a
    matter of two pages. 

  27. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    This statement is in good faith, so I’m not trying to trap you, but it sounds to me that you might concede that:

    Homosexuality exists within our society, and
    Homosexuality is conceivably LESS immoral, or, more moral, if it occurs within a marriage

    Again, since homosexual marriage is a contradiction in terms, this is nonsensical. We can play thought-games about gays who believe in Christian sexual ethics except for Christian homosexual ethics, but even if such people exist, that doesn’t give us justification for legalizing gay marriage, since there is literally no such thing as gay marriage.

    I wonder if you could also say it is less sinful? Morality and sin are intertwined here I assume.

    Sin is simply deviation from God’s law. To say something is immoral is to say it is sinful, and vice versa. Christians just tend to use the terms “immoral” or “unethical” rather than “sinful” because the latter has connotations to many non-Christians, and that can cloud an otherwise decent discussion with emotion.

    The difference should be obvious to you, and I have already stated it – heterosexual teenage lust can be quenched, if that is the right term, through marriage, with a couple of assumptions about commitment and compatibility. However, homosexual teenage lust, according to the Christian position, can never be validated or recognised or answered. I realise that you think ‘well, and neither should it be’, but then – you’re not gay.

    I don’t see your point. I’m not a pedophile or a sociopath either—yet presumably you don’t think this disqualifies me from denying that the unfulfilled lust of pedophiles and sociopaths constitutes some kind of argument. Of course, homosexuality is not as extreme a perversion as those things, but if it indeed is still a perversion, then the point stands.

    You need to make some kind of argument rather than just playing on some vague feeling of sympathy towards people who are unfortunate enough to be homosexual.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Interesting debate and great summary Stu. I agree with you that I would have loved to have asked the affirmatives “what rights are homosexuals currently denied?”. Matt (who spoke brilliantly) touched on it and no one on the affirmative would touch it. They wouldn’t have a choice in the Q&A time. Colin Craig’s jovial manner was very irritating and the crunchies bordered his performance on patronising. Joe sounded really good. Despite having his time cut off unfairly (grr). The second and third speakers on the affirmative were a waste of space and didn’t listen to the negative’s arguments at all. I would have rather Louisa Wall had responded each time, although she dodged arguments frequently as well. Of most dissapointment was the moderater. She showed no authority in stopping the heckling (or even cheering before the speakers had finished). It was also unprofessional to issue the response cards before the debate had even started. Piss poor effort ms AUSA President!

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I can’t believe one of the audience claimed neither side had clearly defined the difference between a man and a woman. It makes me ashamed of my university!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>