SEATTLE -- It is a conversation that often takes place at dinner tables across this country, but last week two of the most outspoken voices in the same-sex marriage debate literally sat down for dinner and debated the issue on the record and on-camera.
At the invitation of sex advice columnist Dan Savage, the president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) flew to Seattle and debated marriage with Savage in Savage’s dining room in Seattle.
The debate stems from a challenge issued by Brown after Savage gave a profanity-laced speech attacking anti-gay scriptures to a group of high school journalists in Seattle earlier this year. Brown said he would debate Savage anywhere and anytime. Savage accepted the challenge and invited Brown to his home for dinner and a debate moderated by New York Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer.
The debate took place last week, and the video of the hour-long debate has been posted on YouTube since.
Savage began the debate by accusing NOM President Brian Brown of promoting “two big lies” about gays and gay marriage.
“There are gay people and there are Christians, and they’re at war,” said Savage, "when the fact is the overwhelming majority of LGBTQ Americans are Christians or, like me, were raised in Christian families or come from Christian faith backgrounds.”
The other alleged lie that Savage accused Brown and his group of promoting is that people are either supporters of traditional marriage or supporters of marriage equality, "when I think you can be a supporter of both,” said Savage.
Savage spoke for 15 minutes, then Brown began making his case.
“This is an argument about public policy and about ideas. This is not an argument about us trying to hurt individuals and, hopefully on your side, folks not trying to hurt us,” said Brown.
Brown said he believes the debate has already sunken to such levels. The NOM president pointed to a recent shooting at the Family Research Council offices in Washington, D.C. and blamed in part the labeling of the FRC as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center for precipitating the shooting.
Said Brown: “There is something unique about men and women. There is something unique about marriage between men and women, that this union is important for society and important for children, and it’s in the best interest of children.
“(It’s) what our faith has taught, what other faiths have taught and what, frankly, people of no faith can come to through natural law.”
Savage disputed the claim that gays want to change the institution of marriage by arguing heterosexuals had already changed that institution many times over human history.
“Marriage, for most of recorded human history, was polygamist, for most of recorded human history was a property transaction where one man took possession of another man’s daughter, and during that property transaction she became a wife,” said Savage. “About 100 years ago, we began to redefine marriage to be an egalitarian institution where two people create each other as their next of kin through marriage, and it’s not a gendered institution anymore.”
NOM advocates for traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Savage, an openly gay man with a husband and an adopted son, has been outspoken in his support of marriage equality for same-sex couples.
“It’s not about babies. It’s about commitment and love. It’s about establishing that next of kin. It’s about finding that one person in the world to be there for you who you will be there for,” said Savage. “Marriage isn’t just defined by sex roles anymore.”
Said Brown: "By its very definition, marriage is the union between a man and a woman because only this type of union can bring into society new life and connect that new life with both a mother and a father.”
Oppenheimer ended the debate by asking both Savage and Brown to explain their ideal legal definition of marriage.
“Marriage is the legal union of two adults, and that’s what I think it should be,” said Savage. “I believe it should be limited to that.”
Brown said marriage should be “based on their complimentary (traits), based on the ability to have children -- the connection on parenthood -- that they could have children even if they don’t. The gold standard for public policy should be that marriage is the lifelong commitment of one man and one woman.”
Washington state voters will get a chance to weigh in on the issue in November when they decide on the fate of Referendum 74. A vote to approve R-74 would retain the state law which legalized same-sex marriage in Washington. A vote to reject R-74 would overturn that law. The law was passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, but opponents collected enough signatures to put it on hold and ask for voter input.