In the midst of the to and fro during the past couple of weeks over the policy and politics of gay marriage, I got an e-mail from the Family Research Council:
"To help educate you, your family, your friends, and your church, we're making available our documentary The Problem with Same-sex Marriage for free online streaming for the first time."
I'm weary of the sound bites. Tony Perkins, president of the FRC, is a favored talking TV head, one of the many battling to make his points in a sentence or two. I wondered if I would be more edified by him in a long-form presentation.
I'll summarize what I found, with a minimum of commentary. Skim it if you like. And then I'll tell you what I thought was missing. (Hint: Reacquaint yourself with the definition of the idiom "begging the question.")
The link took me to a page with the video titled: "The Problem with Same-sex Marriage: How It Will Affect You and Your Children."
The presentation weighs in at 28:57. Production values are pretty typical for 2012. Iconic images and video clips without copyright issues are interspersed with talking heads. Over a bed of music that is supposed to inspire or warn.
We start out with an aerial shot of Washington, D.C. followed by video of Perkins driving through the town, ending up at the Supreme Court building. Perkins starts with a whack at Roe v. Wade and the evils of abortion. He segues into the topic for this production by explaining that several marriage-related lawsuits are in their way to the Supreme Court.
We hear a bit about the federal Defense Of Marriage Act with a couple of talking heads blasting the Obama administration for refusing to defend it in court. But others are taking up the defense of the law that defines marriage as one man and one woman. So it's likely to make it to the Supremes.
"The outcome of that case could change the definition of marriage nationwide -- forever!"
Cue dramatic music. (And cue me raising one eyebrow. SCOTUS decisions are forever? See Plessy v. Ferguson. And if that's so, why is the FRC battling continually against Roe v. Wade? Forever is, well, forever.)
We visit Massachusetts. Where we meet some locals who explain that the state court that legalized gay marriage back in 2003 created some changes. For one thing, kids are taught in schools that gay and lesbian marriages are OK.
We meet David and Tonia Parker, who retell a tale from 2005. Their 7-year-old son came home telling them about a story read in class: "A King and a King." About a prince who marries a prince. Kids are being taught that being gay is OK.
Mom and dad are horrified. They go to the school demanding accommodation with their religious objections. They wanted to be alerted before same-sex marriage was mentioned in class, so they could opt out for their son.
"The accommodation they made was to put me in handcuffs and put me in jail," Dad says. (What the video doesn't say: Dad was charged with trespassing, arrested for refusing to leave the school without an accommodation. He and another family sued in state court, seeking an accommodation. Lost. Sued in federal court. Lost. Appealed. Lost.)
All these years later, Dad chokes up when telling the story. Clearly a deeply held, emotional position.
Julie Hamilton, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, is one of the expert talking heads. School-age children are still evolving their identities, she says. And if they decide they are gay or something other than heterosexual, that can "have the effect of closing out options."
If same-sex marriage is legal, Perkins says, "it becomes a legal platform for introducing our children to homosexual material."
We hear about a "recent study" of 262 families showing that children raised in same-sex households are much more likely to end up gay or lesbian. (We're not given the name of the author of the study: Paul Cameron, who was booted and resigned from the American Psychological Association and has been accused of misrepresenting research. His 2006 study was actually pulled together from three smaller studies. And has been criticized for not including a random sample of families. Small, non-random data sets are significantly less likely to offer results representative of a larger population. Cameron and some others in the field defend his work. Let's move on.)
Next segment discusses the impact of same-sex marriage on religious liberty.
John C. Rankin, president of the Theological Education Institute, explains what's at stake:
"Religious liberty is the big one. If you don't have that, you have no other liberties," he said.
And how does same-sex marriage fit in?
"It ultimately is a theological issue between a sexuality given by the God of Genesis 1 and 2, the one true creator, and any other idea outside the bible," he says.
We meet a woman who we're told was expelled from a counselor training program because she's unwilling to counsel same-sex couples (at least not as same-sex couples. Presumably, she'd be willing to counsel them into changing their orientation.)
We meet an American Anglican priest who tells us he was homosexual and changed. Married and fathered five kids. And wrote a book about his experiences that was condemned in France. (What is it with modern American conservatives and the French? The US founders seemed to like LaFayette just fine.)
Next we meet counselors who minister to homosexuals and several people who say they've changed -- or are successfully struggling against -- their sexual attraction to people of the same sex. Several sincere stories of lives they say were transformed for the better.
Perkins tells us: "Legal experts agree that religious freedom and same-sex marriage cannot co-exist." (Seriously? How about all the legal experts on the other side of the argument? Wishing them away does not make it so.)
And now a question: "Is it really marriage?" We get lovely video of the Anglican wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (It really was a lovely ceremony, yes?) The significance to this production is in the wedding liturgy that emphasizes the one-man/one-woman idea.
One counselor tells us that same-sex marriage isn't really marriage: "Because if falls short of our creator's intentions, we reject it as being both sinful and unhealthy."
Another counselor gets graphic: "If you become one flesh as God intends, the sex organs of the same sex will not become one flesh." (Um. How about sexual activities that are not procreative in nature by heterosexual couples? God says no to those, too? Just wondering.)
Perkins trots out the dire stats about heterosexual marriage in America. The high divorce rate, the problem of infidelity. He blames the sexual revolution (Cue stills and video -- no kidding -- from the psychedelic '60s.). A little unclear where he's going with this.
What to do? We don't elect the Supreme Court but we do elect the president and the senators who make the decisions about who gets on the court. Cast your vote wisely. And pray for the justices.
What was missing? The phrase "begging the question" has nothing to do with asking for a question. It's a logical fallacy wherein the conclusion of an argument is the same as a premiss for the argument. (See: Tautology.)
This production is almost one long begging of the question. What's the problem with same-sex marriage? Same-sex marriage is a problem because same-sex marriage is a problem. If you don't come to this video already believing that gay marriage is bad, there's almost nothing here to convince you.
Unless you believe there is something unhealthy or otherwise wrong about same-sex relationships, why is it wrong for schools to teach kids that it's OK? Should parents have the right to opt out? (Compare with schools teaching about tolerance for people of other races or religions. Do you give parents the kill switch there?) If being gay isn't an illness, should counselors be trying to help people change? Unless not being hetero is bad, and even if that small study about the children of same-sex couples is right, so what?
The only argument the video offers for why same-sex marriage is inherently bad is the discussion of God's will regarding marriage. If you needed reminding that conservative Christians say that God disapproves of same-sex attraction (much less marriage), and you find that reminder suddenly compelling, it's here for you.
But if you think the government should make its decisions in the application of the rule of law without explicitly tilting toward any particular faith, you'll come away from this half hour with little that can even be argued with.
If one could suggest an objective standard for why homosexuality is bad -- involving no appeal to one religion's claim about the will of the Almighty -- one could make a case for special legal restrictions on the rights of homosexuals. And two sides could engage in actual debate. But this video does zero in even trying to advance that argument.
The physicist Wolfgang Pauli famously dismissed a student's badly flawed scientific paper: "That is not only not right, it's not even wrong!" Meaning that the theory wasn't presented in a way that could be addressed logically.
Unless you already agree with Perkins, that's how you'd likely react to this video.