No-One Expects the Marquette Inquisition

With apologies to Robert Tracinski.

Cheryl Abbate, a grad student teaching “Theory of Ethics” at Marquette University, recently told a student that if he wants to speak against gay marriage, he should drop her class.  We do not know the student’s name but we do know that he secretly recorded the conversation, which took place after class, on his cell phone, and that the recording has been heard by Marquette political science professor Prof. John McAdams, and by a Fox News reporter among others.

The student says he approached Ms. Abbate after class because she had put up a discussion list of controversial topics, including gun control, death penalty, gay rights on the blackboard and when it came to gay rights, she just crossed it off saying “everybody agrees about that”.  Ms. Abbate later claimed to Inside Higher Ed that this was just a case of not enough time to discuss all topics.  But on tape she told the student after class than any opposition to gay marriage would offend gay students in her class and so should not happen. When the student complained to Marquette, he was referred to the Chair of the philosophy department, who blew off the complaint.

I am not surprised that this could in Midwest universities, because it has already happened to at least one Catholic student at a public high school in Michigan.

I wish I were surprised it is happening in an allegedly Catholic university, but two years ago I was invited to address a small group of students at Georgetown, and the employee who invited me to address them told me we were having a small, private meeting, because it was unacceptable at this allegedly Catholic university to publicly oppose gay marriage.

Where is the Catholic leadership of the school in all this?  A simple reprimand to the teacher involved, after listening to the tape, and a reminder of respect for freedom of speech and for Catholicism is all it would have taken.  Why so little interest in creating a culture on campus on a Catholic university that includes, in its respect for diverse views,  respect for the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Perhaps the first Jesuit Pope could put in a good word for Catholicism at Marquette, an allegedly Jesuit institution.  Oh, how far the intellectual arm of the Roman Catholic Church has apparently fallen.

Let me state the obvious: Within the velvet glove of the “love makes a family” crowd, there is a very effective and unashamedly iron fist.

The peculiar analogy between sexual orientation and racism is destructive of key goods in society: like pluralism and civility and respect for free speech.

I first glimpsed what this false race analogy would mean a decade ago, when I was invited to debate at Yale Law School.

I made the case against same-sex marriage I have always made, which is that marriage is about uniting the two great halves of humanity, male and female, so children can know the love and care of their mother and father.  And I pointed out that accepting the premises that lead to gay marriage, roughly “there is no morally significant difference between same-sex and opposite sex couples when it comes to marriage, and if you see a difference, there is something wrong with you; you are like a bigot opposed to interracial marriage,” would have some pretty severe consequences for those most committed to the traditional understanding of marriage.

Back in those days the first question I usually got from puzzled Ivy League students was some version of “This won’t affect you, why do you care?”  Presumptively behind this question was the idea you must be driven by dark, irrational fears and hatred of gay people, or you wouldn’t bother to defend our historic marriage tradition.   When a young Yale law student asked that question, I ticked down for her how the law and society treat those opposed to interracial marriage—in licensing, accreditation, tax-exempt status, hiring and firing, for example.  I watched as she turned on a dime and said, “You are right, that is how we should treat bigots opposed to gay marriage.” “Well then, I told her politely, “you can’t complain I don’t have skin in this game.”

Rationally speaking, the race analogy fails on multiple levels.

For instance, the evidence by now is pretty clear that homosexuality is not primarily genetic. Most things have some genetic influence, the study above notes that there is research showing that 28 percent of the propensity to care for tropical fish can be attributed to genetics, using standard models (see Footnote 8).  Many lesbians say their identity is chosen, not fixed, and sexual fluidity appears to be typical in women.

Nor are same-sex couples just the same as opposite sex couples.  Quite apart from the obvious fact that same-sex unions do not give rise to new life (without deliberately editing out of a child’s life an opposite sex partner in that process) the evidence, based on nationally representative samples, that children raised by same-sex couples do not do as well as children raised by their own married mother and father is also growing.

Morally speaking the race analogy fails because gay people are simply not in the same situation as black Americans were after the Civil War and until the Civil Rights revolution: a section of the country that was militarily conquered attempted to use social power to keep black people second-class citizens. Without denying the personal suffering many gay people experience, it is also true that gay people occupy positions of social and political power, in areas as diverse as the academy, Hollywood and politics.

Meanwhile the number of professions being closed to those who publicly oppose gay marriage is growing, from university administrators, to judges, to lawyers at major law firms, to tech company CEOs.

The biggest difference is that sexual acts, while difficult to control, are a choice, whether you are gay or straight. As I wrote in “Why Accommodate?”:

“A free society cannot be frozen by today. We have to hold out for possibilities yet undreamt of in our contemporary essentialist philosophizing about orientation. Even if those of us who believe in the conclusion that gay sex is good or morally neutral, cannot therefore deny the reality of the process of moral reflection, which includes the necessity of considering possible critiques.

Here is the strongest form of my argument: disagreement about the nature, meaning, and purpose of human sexuality cannot be redefined as bigotry without doing a profound injustice to all our human rights, including to advocates of gay rights. . . . Gay people who have concluded that gay sex is good deserve to live in a society where that decision is respected and understood as the result of a moral reflection, not policed by government and law as if it were a characteristic over which human beings have no control.”

There are many conceptual pathways to gay rights that are closer to truth and more respectful of diversity, not to mention the intellectual mission of the university.  But though, rationally speaking, the race analogy is hard to sustain, politically speaking it leads to great power.  Human beings being constructed as they are the gay rights movement is unlikely to surrender this club so long as wielding it works.

4 thoughts on “No-One Expects the Marquette Inquisition”

  1. The Marquette thing is another case of the far-right (and particularly Fox News’ Todd Starnes) playing a game of telephone that puts much hearsay about fact. And as is often the case, the person at the center (grad student Cheryl Abbate) is suffering cruel and unjustified attack because of the smears.

    Even some who are inclined to side with conservative causes are outraged at associate political science professor John McAdams for going after a grad student like this.

    Here’s some solid info: http://dailynous.com/2014/12/02/response-to-mcadamss-attack-on-abbate/

    http://dailynous.com/2014/11/18/philosophy-grad-student-target-of-political-smear-campaign/

  2. Hmm, that prediction you made in your 2004 U.of St.Thomas article, about the momentum shifting against the cause of same-sex marriage…180° off unfortunately. You didn’t see the anti-intellectual style — by that point firmly established in the universities — breaking out and taking over in journalism and the legal profession.

  3. You seriously misunderstand the question, “This won’t affect you, why do you care?”

    They are asking you care if other people (not yourself) end up in same sex marriage. Who cares if your neighbors are two women, two men, or a heterosexual couple?

    1. The “it won’t affect you” argument is the most vapid of all arguments. A law that made homosexuality a capital offense would similarly not affect me, but does that make it OK? I would also be unaffected by a law to reinstate slavery for blacks, or one that forced people of Japanese descent into internment camps, etc. Are you saying that there would be nothing wrong with me supporting such laws, since they “don’t affect me?”

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