Wendell Berry’s remarks on gay marriage at Georgetown College were previously only available in reported excerpts. The college has now posted the full video of his comments on YouTube. You can watch it above. You can listen to the full argument in the video above, but here’s the heart of what Berry said:
My argument, much abbreviated both times, was that sexual practices of consenting adults ought not to be subjected to the government’s approval or disapproval, and that domestic partnerships in which people who live together and devote their lives to one another ought to receive the spousal rights, protections and privileges that the government allows to heterosexual couples.
Berry’s remarks begin at 28:03.
(HT: Russell Moore)
How is that sentence not a flaming contradiction? Isn’t granting “rights, protections and privileges” government “approval”?
This is not a “slam” in any way shape or form, but your question is emblematic of what absolutely blows my mind about the movement to oppose same-sex marriage. Nobody seems to get that “legality != approval”.
Consider that our nation, from its earliest days, was founded with “rights and protections” for speech, which have since been interpreted to cover blasphemy. Does that mean blasphemous speech has been “subjected to the government’s approval or disapproval” and that the decision to protect such speech amounts to “approval”?
Given that you (like me) disapprove of blasphemy, should that disapproval lead you to oppose this interpretation of our first amendment speech rights (i.e. that blasphemous speech is protected)?
The difference is, a First Amendment right is a liberty that is government-neutral. It’s about things people say and activities they do wholly on their own, with no government sanctioning.
I believe in the freedom of gay couples to live as married in their own eyes and in the eyes of whatever nongovernmental authority marries them. I strongly oppose sodomy laws and any other attempt by the state to prohibit their private activities. I have no problem with gay marriage if there is no government involvement at all; that would make it none of my business.
But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the state sanctioning and granting privileges that did not apply to gay couples before. Since my tax dollars fund the state, it represents me, so I get a say.
Likewise, if the government were to fund or sanction blasphemous speech, I’d oppose that on the same grounds. That’s a big leap from merely allowing it.
There seems to be a fair bit of semantics going on here. Guaranteed blasphemous speech is “government-neutral” whereas legal status for same-sex marriages is “sanctioning” those marriages. How does conferring first amendment protection on blasphemous speech not amount to “sanctioning” that speech?
Let me take these sentences and tweak them: “We’re talking about the state sanctioning and granting privileges that did not apply to gay couples before. Since my tax dollars fund the state, it represents me, so I get a say.”
Imagine blasphemous speech weren’t currently afforded first amendment protection and there was a movement afoot to make it protected. Based on your objections to legal recognition for same-sex marriage, could you not raise the same objection to protecting blasphemous speech:
We’re talking about the state sanctioning and granting privileges that did not apply to blasphemers before. Since my tax dollars fund the state, it represents me, so I get a say.
The state currently extends marriage rights to heterosexual couples; in order to deny them to same-sex couples it must demonstrate how these relationships are qualitatively “lesser” than heterosexual relationships in such a way that they don’t merit such protection (*) or it must demonstrate that the state has a compelling interest in declining to recognize them despite of their functional equivalency.
(*) The state’s argument for the inferiority of same-sex relationships cannot simply be an appeal to religious dogma, Christian or otherwise.
“How does conferring first amendment protection on blasphemous speech not amount to “sanctioning” that speech?”
Because the government plays no active role in aiding or rewarding the blasphemy. It doesn’t issue blasphemy licenses; it doesn’t lead to privileges for blasphemers’ families related to health benefits, estate rights, etc.; it doesn’t bestow tax benefits for blasphemy.
A blasphemer blasphemes wholly on his own, with no active help from the state at all. Passive permittance is a far cry from the tangible benefits that come with legal recognition of marriage. It’s not just semantics.
Now if we lived in your hypothetical and I wanted blasphemy to be permitted, I wouldn’t be advocating for any of the above forms of sanctioning, but just for the legal freedom to do it on one’s own. To protect blasphemy from government forbiddance. Therefore the same objections wouldn’t be used against me, since, as I said, I have no wish to forbid private homosexual activity.
I don’t see a contradiction (flaming or otherwise). The phrase, “domestic partnerships in which people who live together and devote their lives to one another” does not say anything about the sexual relationship between the parties.
So when did YOU fall off the vegetable truck? This morning?
I’m not sure what you mean. I guess you think that people that devote their lives to one another necessarily have a sexual relationship with each other. Or maybe you think that withholding spousal rights, protections and privileges will keep people from having sexual relationships.
It’s obvious that Wendell Berry was referring to _sexual_ “partnerships,” so it’s just dumb to pretend that he could have been talking about same-sex room-mates who really like each other. Or something.
Secondly, just because people are running around having sex with their own gender doesn’t mean society should or must legally recognize it, for many, many reasons.
Of course Berry is talking about gay relationships. But there is no contradiction when he says that sexual relationships between two consenting adults shouldn’t be subjected to government scrutiny and then says that civil unions should be granted by government because he defined civil unions without referring to a sexual ethic of any kind. Berry suggests that the government will ignore the sexual dynamic when granting civil unions, thus not giving approval to a single kind or any kind of sexual relationship. Yes, this opens the door to nontraditional partnerships, but there is no contradiction as Keith Kraska had mentioned.
Denny, does ignoring when someone calls another a vegetable/dumb on your blog mean that you necessarily approve of such coarse statements?
I didn’t say YOU were dumb, I said that your STATEMENT was dumb. If you can’t understand the distinction, then, well, no comment.
Also, how absurd to equate belittling a specific statement with calling another human being a “vegetable.” That’s a vile epithet, one we usually hear vomited out in description of people who aren’t conscious or able to care for themselves. I wouldn’t stoop to that word anymore than I would call a black person by the “n” word. Once again, if you can’t see the difference, I can’t help you.
J O E B L A C K M O N
Friendly piece of advice, cause I feel like we’ve bonded and stuff. Proverbs 26:4–that verse is your friend when dealing with poltical and theological liberals. Of course, theological liberls are also political liberals but, hey.
Just trying to help a sister out, yo.
When you rhetorically ask when someone “fell off the turnip truck” most folks interpret that as an accusation of naïveté against them personally instead of criticism of a particular statement. If that’s not the meaning you intend then you might consider a different phrasing.
this line of reasoning would also apply to polygamous and incestuous relationships. What a wonderful world we are passing to our kids.
Thanks bro. Unfortunately that’s a lesson it takes a lifetime to learn. Thank you for the gentle reminder.
It took me a moment but I think I realized what our friend meant by “vegetable.” I used the adage about “falling off the vegetable truck,” which needn’t be specifically tied to vegetables. It merely means that one is overly naive. So Nathan, I apologize if you were unable to grasp the cliche. Would it make you feel better if I changed it to “falling off the wagon?”
J O E B L A C K M O N
Now, you can remind me when I get a little too “crunk”. 🙂
The phrase is “falling off the turnip truck.” When you said vegetable truck, I didn’t know what you meant. I assumed the worst for convenience in making a point about what it means to allow things to occur versus actually giving approval of them.
It’s easy to assume the worst of your comments because your tone is brusk. I’m not offended by your statements, but going easy on the harsh wording will facilitate a better dialog.
Btw, “falling off the wagon” has an entirely different meaning.
But if I wasn’t brusque, I wouldn’t be Elizabeth Anscombe.