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Topics In the News
Dan Savage vs. Brian Brown: The Dinner Table Debate
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/22/12
Last updated on: 08/23/12
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Dan Savage at his "dinner table" debate with Brian Brown.

The much anticipated "dinner table" debate between Dan Savage and the National Organization for Marriage's Brian Brown took place on August 15, 2012 and is now online. The debate, which was agreed to after the faux controversy that was stirred up by anti-gay groups when Savage criticized the use of the Bible to condemn homosexuality at a National High School Journalism conference in April, took place in Seattle at the home of Savage and his husband Terry Miller. It was moderated by Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times.

As I reported here, Savage raised the ire of the usual suspects in April when he told the journalism students that there is a lot of "bullshit" in the Bible and described a small number of students who walked out during his keynote address as "pansy-assed."

In response to the criticism from anti-gay groups, Savage issued a qualified apology. In a post at his Savage Love blog at The Stranger, entitled "On 'Bullshit' and 'Pansy-Assed,'" he wrote, "I would like to apologize for describing that walk out as a pansy-assed move. I wasn't calling the handful of students who left pansies (2800+ students, most of them Christian, stayed and listened), just the walk-out itself."

"But," he continued, "that's a distinction without a difference--kinda like when religious conservatives tell their gay friends that they 'love the sinner, hate the sin.' They're often shocked when their gay friends get upset because, hey, they were making a distinction between the person (lovable!) and the person's actions (not so much!). But gay people feel insulted by 'love the sinner, hate the sin' because it is insulting. Likewise, my use of 'pansy-assed' was insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong. And I apologize for saying it."

He reiterated his central point: "There are untrue things in the Bible--and the Koran and the Book of Mormon and every other 'sacred' text--and you don't have to take my word for it: just look at all the biblical 'shoulds,' 'shall nots,' and 'abominations' that religious conservatives already choose to ignore. They know that not everything in the Bible is true."

He concluded, "All Christians read the Bible selectively. Some read it hypocritically--and the hypocrites react very angrily when anyone has the nerve to point that out."

Savage ultimately challenged Brown to debate the issue in his home. He invited Brown to join his family for dinner and a recorded debate. Brown accepted the invitation, with the stipulation that he wanted to bring his own camera crew, a condition Savage accepted.

The video of the debate is now online. In it, Savage repeats many of the points he made earlier, including his criticism of the Bible and of Christians who cherry-pick the Bible to find authority for their own prejudices.

As typical of anti-gay Christians, Brown seemed less interested in actually discussing either Biblical exegesis or the specific consequences of same-sex marriage than in claiming the mantle of victim.

In the most revealing moment of the debate, Brown makes an incredibly narcissistic move. He says that the primary consequence of marriage equality is not that gay and lesbian couples and their children will receive government recognition and benefits, but simply that Christians who share his beliefs will be labeled bigots, "that those of us who know that marriage is the union of a man and a woman--that we are deserving of treatment less than others because we are bigots and we deserve what we get."

Brown's ability to reverse the positions of gay people and the opponents of marriage equality is breathtaking. He and his colleagues are working feverishly on the very premise--that gay people are deserving of treatment less than others--that he fears will apply to conservative Christians should they lose the battle. He seems unaware of the rich irony of his revelation.

Brown posits the question of marriage equality as an abstract issue that does not affect the lives and gay men and lesbians and their families. Hence, they have no empathy for us, but they are acutely aware that they may be hurt, not by being denied any rights, but by being called "bigot" or, more frightening to them, simply deemed irrelvant.

The video begins with two 10-minute opening statements. Savage discusses the speech he gave to the journalism conference that prompted a walkout by some Christian students, the Bible, and the discredited Regnerus study of families that NOM has promoted.

Brown spends most of his opening statement complaining that opponents of same-sex marriage have been demonized and attacked.

In the discussion that follows, Savage explains why the Family Research Council has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"If we hear about the abomination that is a man lying with a man, we never hear about the hundred plus other things that are labeled abominations in the old testament and why not?," Savage asks. "Why this selective cherry picking just to attack gay people to justify anti-gay bigotry. And I'm sorry there's no other word for it. I don't think principled opposition to same-sex marriage is necesarily bigotry. THAT is bigotry. What the FRC has put out there is unquestionable bigotry, which is why they were labeled a hate group, not by 'gayland', not by me, but by the Southern Poverty Law Center."

As the conversation turns to marriage equality, Brown simply asserts his well-worn mantra that same-sex marriage is not marriage. "Gay marriage cannot exist. There cannot be a marriage of two men or two women," he insists. "Just because the state says it's so--this is not based upon reality. You can call a cat a dog in the law but a cat does not become a dog."

The video runs for one hour and six minutes.

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