On the Dan Savage v. Brian Brown Debate: Can We Please Just Admit That We’re Different?

If you don’t typically watch one hour and six minute long YouTube videos, then you might not have seen the one where Mark Oppenheimer moderated a debate between Dan Savage and Brian Brown. Well, that happened.

Brian Brown is the President of the National Organization of Marriage, an anti-gay advocacy organization and Dan Savage is a syndicated columnist, gay rights activist, the guy behind It Gets Better and so on and so forth. I think you get the idea. The whole premise of this debate came out of a comment that Savage made during a speech to high school journalism students. He said, “there is some bullshit in the Bible.” I thought that was a pretty tempered and reasonable comment considering that the Bible does suggest we stone unchaste brides, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. Savage was given some time at the top of the debate to defend those comments, Brown was given some time to respond, and then shit got real.

Before we get into the meat of what went down, let me say this: like others who derive pleasure from engaging in volatile arguments, I had discussed and heard much of what was touched upon in this debate before – many times. However, the debate did clarify a shiny new piece of the puzzle for me that I never saw quite as clearly whilst in the heat of debate, as I did while watching Savage argue for the right to marry. That shiny new nugget is this: gays and straights are different. Weird, right? Let me explain.

Savage was sitting across the table from Brown with a stack of materials – statistics, quotes, personal notes and dissected thought processes. Meanwhile, Brown had nothing at his side – other than a small notepad that I don’t think he ever touched. Brown apparently didn’t need any notes, background information, research findings or any sort of material to use as a reference point for his argument. This is not because Brown is a superior orator or debater – it’s because, at the end of the day, his argument isn’t based on any such worldly materials, it’s rooted in his belief that:

“…cultures throughout human history have shared, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that this is a unique and special union… there is something unique about men and women, there is something unique about marriage between men and women.”

Brown’s repetition and continued return to this belief while Savage referenced notes and delivered arguments triggered the teeniest out-of-body experience – this feeling that no matter what you say you’re up against an immovable reality (in the context in which this debate has been framed) and that reality is the fact that we are different. A union between a man and a woman is unique. However, a union between a woman and a woman or a man and a man is also unique. These are different relationships, different experiences and different unions.

At about the twenty-minute mark, once we got passed the personal defenses and minimal niceties, Brown set up this argument. He framed the debate for the remaining forty-five minutes, when he said:

“On one side there is the idea that there is something unique and special about men and women coming together in marriage and no other union of whatever kind is the same thing as marriage. There is something special and unique about marriage…. And there is the second idea…[that says] there is nothing morally different between men and men, women and women united together, they’re all the same.”

brian brown

Unfortunately, Savage didn’t even question the framing of Brown’s debate. He never said that this should not be a debate about whether or not there is something (morally or otherwise) different between a straight union and a gay union. He never demanded that instead, this is a debate about the rights of two consenting adults to form a legal and equal union. Instead, Savage accepted this premise and the entire framing of the conversation and addressed the notion of difference as laid out by Brown. That was a real bummer.

I understand that saying that we’re different goes against the LGBT activist code of honor and the Human Rights Campaign’s talking points but I don’t think trying to convince people like Brown to see us as all the same is really working for us. Even if it does in the short-term – a bunch of million-dollar ad buys featuring cute, gay families might help win some state referendums – in the long-run, it’s a big mistake because it avoids, rather than addresses a reality. It puts us in the position of having to plead (as Savage did) to be part of the straight group, as opposed to saying we’re all different, we’re all unique, and when it comes to equal rights that shouldn’t matter.

It actually triggered flashbacks to this asshole Candace in my fourth grade class who used to stand on top of the playground and tell (only some kids) that they weren’t special enough to play on the wooden playground. Those kids had to play on the sad patch of muddy grass on the outskirts of the monkey bars. Brown (in words that could have easily been stolen from that buttface Candace) insisted repeatedly, that he and all straight people are special and unique and no matter what Savage says he will never be special in that same way. Savage tried his best – the entire LGBT movement is trying its best – to say “that’s not true” or even “that’s not fair.”

When Brown spoke these words from atop his wooden playground:

“What the truth is, and what our faith has taught and other faiths have taught and what, frankly, people of no faith can come to through natural law – is the simple idea that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. And you say, ‘well we don’t want to change your institution, we want to be a part of it.’

Savage should have told fourth-grade Candace and Brown to go fuck themselves and then he should have taken his friends, expanded that patch of grass and built a new playground out of stainless steel and diamonds.

Instead, Savage responded by trying to explain that the definition of marriage has changed in the last hundred or so years. The rules for acceptance have changed. It’s no longer a property contract centered on procreation but is instead about, “commitment and love…establishing that next of kin…finding that one person in the world to be there for you, who you will be there for.” We know this shtick – the definition of marriage has already evolved so now evolve more and let us in. I understand why he went there, and he went there well. The problem is that he is still playing by Brown’s rules and trying to negotiate in such a way, that Brown will accept him when he says:

“There is this argument on your side that we want to change the institution of marriage… we don’t want to change the institution of marriage… This isn’t an attack on anyone’s faith… it takes nothing from you or your definition of marriage for the institution of marriage as straight people currently define and practice it to be open to accommodate us as well. We are three-ish percent of the population. We are not going to de-center what it means to be a man and a woman form what it means to be married, by allowing same sex couples to marry. If anything, it affirms the original, sort of understanding, of marriage and it’s importance, particularly for family life. To bring us into that order.”

dan savage and his husband terry miller

Oy. It bothers me, first, because it is a faulty argument: if Brown’s definition of marriage is that marriage is between a man and a woman then by letting gay people get married we would be changing the institution. Savage can’t say we don’t want to change the institution of marriage – of course we do. Right now, the institution of marriage is predominately defined as a union between a man and a woman and we want to change that. Secondly, this is a pathetic argument. It puts Savage, an unbelievably impressive, smart, bold writer and activist in the position of asking a shithead like Brown to please, pretty please, if we promise not to mess anything up and follow most of his rules about family and love to please let us into his club and “bring us into that order.”

Well, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I have absolutely no interest in convincing Brown to let me join his club. To quote my hero, Sarah Silverman:

“I cannot imagine wanting to get married right now at this time in America. If you’re for equal rights, why would you get married right now? It’s like joining a country club that doesn’t allow blacks or Jews. There’s no difference. Why would I wanna join that club? It’s gross.”

The debate between Savage and Brown, at its core, was really just a fight over whether or not gay people can be deemed appropriate or special enough in the eyes of people like Brown to be permitted in the institution of marriage. This is the wrong debate and the wrong fight because it’s based on the false premise that we have to prove our sameness in order to be granted equal rights. That’s a real problem for us. It disadvantages us legally, culturally, socially and emotionally. It also leads to the kind of debates like the one that Brown and Savage had – one that spends way too much time on questions like “is the Bible a justification for denying gay marriage?”

Instead of trying to argue that I can fit into your rules and regulations and be the same, why can’t we just live by our own rules and have our own unique value? Because, you’re right: my relationships are not the same as yours. My uniqueness is different. My value and contribution to society – as a human being and someone who isn’t straight – is also different. You live by your Bible and I’ll live by mine.

Once Oppenheimer started to push Brown and Savage away from the Bible talk and at about the fifty-minute mark posed the pretty genius question of:

“If you’re making an honest argument, one with integrity, then presumably, if it’s based on evidence, rather than just ideology, presumably, some evidence could come along that would make you change your mind…could any evidence come along that would make you say gay marriage is a good idea?”

This was the moment when Brown started foaming at the mouth (literally) because this deeply rooted belief of his uniqueness as a heterosexual, married man was being brought into question. “It would be like saying, ‘What would convince you that a square could be a circle?’”

I’m actually ok with this. The way Brown said it and the beliefs he holds that inform it gross me out – but on a basic level, I’m ok with the assertion of this difference. I am not the same as Brown. I do think some people are circles and some are squares and some are all kind of shapes I wouldn’t even know how to identify. Oppenheimer pushed to make sure he understood correctly that there is no evidence, ever in the world, that would convince Brown that gays should be allowed to get married. It got really interesting for a few minutes.

Unfortunately Savage continued down the same path of negotiating for acceptance based on sameness and not being a threat of change. Brown started getting a case of crazy eye at the idea of gays being able to marry and said: “This good, true and beautiful thing that is marriage, the union of a man and a woman – we will have our public culture and law saying that this is not true.” Instead of Savage trying to assuage his fears by responding as he did with, “How is it going to say that when over 90% of all marriages are still going to be opposite sex marriages even if gay people can get married?”

Savage should have simply said – you keep your idea of what is “good, true and beautiful” and you call it marriage and you get it sanctioned in your religious institutions. I’ll keep my own idea of what is “good, true and beautiful” and I’ll call it a legal union. We will both have the same rights under this legal union – all consenting adults will have the same rights under this legal union. Meanwhile, you go ahead and be a circle and Ill go ahead and be a square and we’ll make the appropriate, non-government officiated arrangements to label and identify ourselves as such.

We don’t need to pander and promise to Brown that we won’t take over and change his idea of what “good, true and beautiful” means because we’re just a teeny, tiny group of people. Instead, let Brown keep this belief in his specialness – he is very attached to it and nothing is going to change that. He can believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman and I can believe that marriage is between any consenting adults.

At the end of the one hour and six minutes, a big part of what I took away could actually be summed up (shockingly) by a rogue comment by Brown: “Just because you believe something is wrong does not mean you make it illegal.”


Brown and his cohorts (and plenty of other people) probably believe that lots of things I do and believe are wrong. Good for them. I think lots of things they do are sad and gross. When it comes to discrimination and equal rights, this is a moot point. If you want to argue about equal protection and the “rational basis test” as a justification for denying me this right – bring it on (as is currently happening in the Prop 8 case and elsewhere). But don’t try and justify discrimination on the grounds of your beliefs – be they Biblical interpretations or personal poems.

Watching, instead of taking part, in such a visceral debate drove home the fact that we cannot have an argument of beliefs. Most people are not going to budge on their definition of marriage and I think that’s ok. To that end, this debate illustrated the benefits of simply owning our differences and the potential solution of not caring about the word “marriage.” The only thing that really matters is that consenting adults are able to come together under a legal union with all of the legal benefits afforded any legal union.

Meanwhile, let Brown believe whatever he wants to believe when it comes how special and unique he is. I certainly have no interest in convincing anyone that my specialness is anything, even remotely, similar to Brown’s specialness. I’m much more comfortable explaining all the ways in which we’re different.

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” column exists for individual queer people to tell their own personal stories and share compelling experiences. These personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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Amy York Rubin

Amy has written 3 articles for us.


  1. Anyone else notice that Brian Brown is wearing the same jacket in the debate as he is in the photo?

    [wait for it]

    Not only does he have a limited set of views, he also has a limited wardrobe!
    ho HO!

  2. This is so amazing. I don’t care if they want to call it civil union, legal union, breakfast club or marriage, but whatever it is, it should give us all the same legal and social rights as heterosexual marriage.

  3. Nice piece. I agree (from the sound of it, since I didn’t watch it), that Savage missed an opportunity. And most likely because he didn’t quite think that way. It’s almost as if he drank the Bruce Bauer “A Place at the Table” Kool-Aid, though I doubt he would agree with that. The debate is along the lines of the classic equality vs difference debate. If Savage wanted to stick to his guns. the basic point that marriage as an institution has changed drastically over time is the best one for allowing it change more now. Because allow same-sex couples to marry would change the institution as we know it today, for sure. And yeah, I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a problem with three people entering into a similar contract.

    I can’t believe I actually agree with Christine Todd Whitman on something like this, but I do. Get marriage off the law books, and make civil unions the state-recognized contract. Get married in a church or somewhere other than the JoftheP, and keep your institution. I don’t care. In this context, there’s room in equality for everyone to have the same rights.

    • I don’t know who Christine Todd Whitman is, but that is pretty much my position on marriage too – get the state out of it. Stop making marriage (which already has social limitations on who you can marry, besides gender – level of sexual/romantic attraction, “compatibility”, whatever) a state issue. Open up the rights that are normally conferred by marriage to anyone of whatever status. At least then single parents don’t have to go through hell to get their kids in school (like my best friend had to go through) or people like me don’t have to rely on marrying a local to get goddamn permanent residency because the immigration system is so fucked up.

      Thing is, this Autostraddle article is a rarity in the marriage equality debates. More common is the sentiment that leads to signs like “I didn’t ask my husband/wife/etc to ‘civil union’ me”. They’re not content with having the same rights under a different name. People want MARRIAGE.

      I was actually really annoyed at the reaction of fellow queermos when the Queensland Government took out the public ceremony part from same-sex civil unions (apparently because the Christians complained). Yeah sure, the impetus wasn’t so great, and it ended up being the harbinger for a lot of atrocious rights-culling and funding cuts. But so much drama was blown on *this ceremony removal alone*, as though it was the WORST THING EVER to happen to queer people and that we were all in the dark closet ages ZOMG. In the meantime our resident LGBTQ support org loses money and has to fire a lot of people because the Gov’s like “yeah no” (ESPECIALLY because they were seen as ‘too political’ for getting behind the marriage equality movement) but they still struggled to raise funds. And so many other minority queers and at-risk queers are in various strife regardless of who’s in power, but all the local queers want to talk about was “waaaah they want us to register our marriages as though we were dogs”. Seriously, that’s the least of your problems.

      (The upside to the ‘dog registration’ thing was that it finally allowed for a relationships register in Queensland, which goes a LONG way to getting a partner visa, because Australian Immigration is stupid and doesn’t get that being a ‘de facto couple’ mean there’s no paperwork BY DEFINITION. ><)

  4. I haven’t seen the video, but I hope at some point Savage stands up and says “no one, gay or straight, christian or otherwise, gets to claim marriage as his or her own.”

    And to the Sarah Silverman quote: yeah, it’s an exclusive country club and that sucks. but it affords some pretty attractive rights: citizenship to couples of mixed nationalities, better deal on your taxes, not to mention all of the parental rights. i’ve heard so many people say “ugh, marriage, screw it. let the straight people have it. WE can still be in love.” it’s all fun and games until somebody is about to get deported, or someone can’t legally be a parent to their child.

  5. Meh…but the thing is, we’re not different. Where are the studies that say gay couples are different parents? Where are the studies that stay gay couples are different in their family life in general? If anything, studies about gay marriage has shown that the only differences are positive ones (children who are less judgmental, for instance).

    If the Christian rights definition of marriage is one between a man and a woman, then yes, we would want something “different” by allowing same sex couples to marry. But what Savage is trying to say is that the Christian right’s definition of marriage is NOT between a man and a woman. It has ALWAYS been about more than that. It’s about family, it’s about raising kids, it’s about commitment, etc. etc. – if there is some “special energy” that makes marriage – the act of commitment, of raising kids, etc. – different between a man and a woman than it is between a man and a man or woman and woman, it needs to be proven.

    I think when someone just repeats themselves it’s because they’ve been beat, not because we are up against some immovable truth.

    That said, I agree wholeheartedly with your closer: “just because you believe something is wrong, doesn’t mean you make it illegal.” Mhm. Just because I believe red is the best most beautiful color? Doesn’t mean you should outlaw green. And there’s all there is to it, fair and simple.

    • And, ultimately, I think you can use both arguments. Like, you can maintain that you think the union is the same, but EVEN IF it isn’t…then what? So what? So, I liked the article, definitely, I think Dan should have also tried that path.

  6. “I do think some people are circles and some are squares and some are all kind of shapes I wouldn’t even know how to identify.”

    I reckon I’m a rhombus. A sexy rhombus.

    • Rhombuses (rhobmi?) are clearly pinnacle of shapes. Although triangles are pretty sharp. *rim shot*

    • This discussion of shapes is lovely and all, and I’m sure you’re a fabulous rhombus, but when it comes down to it, two-dimensional shapes are all topologically the same.

  7. This is a really great, well-thought-out piece. I think my heart is where yours is, Amy–I don’t want to be added to this guy’s definition of marriage, because it sucks.

    I’m bi, and even if my life partner is a man, I am not going to be part of this dude’s vision for what marriage should be, because I’m still going to be bi and also I am not going to be part of a marriage that is premised on man-ness and woman-ness coming together. That’s just not what I care about! So even if it would look okay to Brown on the surface, any marriage I am part of is never going to be one that people like that like. It’s just that if I was with a man, I wouldn’t be so vulnerable to being legislated against, but I’m sure they would if they could!

    The difference I feel is not between gay and straight people (not least because: what about the bisexuals and queers?) but between different ideas about How Relationships Should Be.

    So I’m not really against Savage’s assimilationism. I mean, yes, I don’t endorse begging to pretty please let us into the club because we won’t even change it; but that’s because I do think gay people getting marriage can be part of changing marriage in a way that is good for everyone.

    Having said that, I’m not heart and soul in love with the fight for marriage equality. But I think it’s how we’re going to get to a better place, even though I’d prefer non-state marriage, so I support it with my money and I canvass and I vote.

  8. “It puts us in the position of having to plead (as Savage did) to be part of the straight group, as opposed to saying we’re all different, we’re all unique, and when it comes to equal rights that shouldn’t matter.”

    Hell yeah. I’m so tired of begging for tolerance from these jerks. I exhausted myself for years trying to do it back in Texas, and I’m done with it.

    We’re here. We’re different from you. And guess what? That’s totally fine.

    Keep marriage. Keep the label. All I want are the rights that go with it. Your label can stay as sanctified as you want it to, because I don’t want anything to do with it.

  9. Savage should have focused a lot more on the differences between civil and religious marriage. i.e. Divorced heterosexual people can get remarried pretty simply, but the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce/second marriages as being valid without jumping through a lot of hoops (I’m not actually Catholic, so I don’t really know how exactly they deal with this). There is no reason that churches could not just extend this non-recognition to gay marriages. Focusing on the rights associated with civil marriage that are not related to any church helps to differentiate between the two.
    Savage stumbled a lot when Brown asked him about polygamous marriages. As long as they are among truly consenting adults, I have no issues with polygamous marriages. However, it is a lot easier to argue that polygamous marriages are inconsistent with the legal rights that come with civil marriage than that consenting adults should not be able to enter into a three-way marriage contract.
    Marriage creates default inheritance rights, which make it so that it is easier to determine who gets what when someone dies. A lot of the efficiency of this system would go away with multiple spouses.
    U.S. immigration policy is fairly strict with who and how many people are let into the country. Permitting polygamous marriages would expand the number of people that could gain citizenship through marriage.
    There is a strong preference for only two people to have parental rights over a child. There is also a strong preference that, if the birth mother was married at the time of birth, the two people with those rights be the married couple.
    Focusing on those factors would bring attention back to the fight for gay marriage being about equal rights. It would also be a lot less problematic then the one Savage made about how polygamy would lead to rich men having many wives which would make it so that other men couldn’t have any.

    • Interesting academic study on the negative effects of polygamy.


      In cultures that permit men to take multiple wives, the intra-sexual competition that occurs causes greater levels of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality than in societies that institutionalize and practice monogamous marriage.

      That is a key finding of a new University of British Columbia-led study that explores the global rise of monogamous marriage as a dominant cultural institution. The study suggests that institutionalized monogamous marriage is rapidly replacing polygamy because it has lower levels of inherent social problems.

      • I can see I wasn’t particularly clear about what I found problematic in Savage’s polygamy argument, I do acknowledge that widespread polygamy can cause massive social issues. I found the argument problematic mainly from a personal choice perspective.

        His argument was along the lines of if one man has 9 wives 8 more men won’t have any wives. While this is a valid statement, saying that men should have access to wives as an argument for limiting marriage to two individuals bothers me for a couple of reasons. 1. No one is entitled to a spouse if that spouse would prefer to be with someone else. 2. The homophobic asshole side of this debate seems to think that allowing gay marriage will cause serious social problems, so telling them that we think polygamous marriages lead to serious social problems could be seen as hypocritical by them.

  10. I used to believe that it was a good thing to reach common ground and compromise.

    I don’t believe that any more.

    We don’t need to talk to Republicans or homophobic bigots.

    We need to defeat them at the ballot box.

    That is the one, and the only, interaction that I want to have with them.

    They are not welcome at my table.

  11. I’m totally with you on the label thing. But as i excitedly read that you agreed with my thinking that it doesn’t matter what we call it, I’d just like the rights and benefits thankyouverymuch, i was also worrying that i’d scroll down into these comments and see people saying “but the word marriage is important! i want a marriage!”
    and i have heard that argument, that without adopting that word, our relationships won’t be seen as real in the eyes of society. but i don’t think it matters. someone who doesn’t think gays should marry isn’t going to think your relationship is more valid because you call the lady you live with your wife.
    I want the rights, I want a word with a little more passion than “partner”, but those other guys can keep their “marriage.”

    Thank you so much for this piece, for sitting through the debate.
    I could see myself turning it off and taking a week to get through it, because dan savage’s talking points can annoy the shit out of me, and don’t get me started on the other guy, but i feel like the fact that this debate took place is incredibly valuable.

    • I just think we should all have the same word in the law books. I’ll keep calling my marriage a marriage because that’s what it is to me, but it can be a civil union according to the state so long as that’s what it is for everyone.

    • Actually, my personal experience tells me the words are super-important. Let’s say, for example, that we’re chatting with the ladies who work at the bank. If my wife had gone in and said “My partner and I are getting a civil union”, the bank ladies would have probably said “Congrats” or somesuch, but I highly doubt the conversation would have gone much beyond that. They have no social convention for how to respond to that statement. On the other hand, when we said “My fiance and I are getting married”, they were thrilled and were able to ask about the ceremony and the reception and all that. Now, my wife and I had a pretty traditional wedding. However, even if we hadn’t, the bank ladies would have known what to say when we said “Oh, we’re going to a J.P. and then having a party later” or whatever our plan was.

      So here’s a situation where we talked with members of our community who would have been ‘fine with’ whatever form of union we had, but whose social conventions helped them be excited for us because we were having a wedding and a marriage.

  12. ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ well, yeah, but no one wants to put something called a harfin-hoover-poop-buckle up to their nose.

    I don’t want civil unions or domestic partner ships, I want marriage.

    • Your analogy is pretty broken for me. Marriage is not the sweet smelling rose (regardless of the name), for the very reason that it is and has been an oppressive institution that intends to (and has intended to) keep out many. That is to say, what we call a rose is actually a piece of shit that we are told to desire because it is labeled a rose and treated as if it were one. It’s not.

      I don’t want it.

      • But some people do, and I support their right to be *absolutely the same* as any heterosexual married couple, since it’s important to them. If opposite-sex couples have access to ‘marriage’, then same-sex couples should have access to the same, if they want it. I’ve read same-sex couples saying that their families were nice about their Civil Union, but when they got ‘married’, suddenly they were treated as a ‘real married couple’ – more like their married siblings. It’s as though their families just saw them as cohabiting partners before, regardless of their CU ceremony. So for some people, it helps their family validate their relationship.

        In the UK, we have had Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples for some years. They confer the same legal rights and responsibilities as civil marriage, (with a couple of silly exceptions for dissolution of the CP – such as that you can’t dissolve a CP for adultery, but you can divorce for adultery, which is frankly insulting), and yet people are campaigning for same-sex marriage anyway. It will add nothing to the rights they already have. It’s about the social acceptability, and about being ‘seen to be’ absolutely equal. Equal but different is not equal. CPs or CUs are a great first step, but for many people they are just that: a first step, not the end of the journey towards equality.

        Personally, it makes no difference to me: I’d rather be not-married than married. I dislike the concept politically, and also I’m ritual-averse and feel horribly self-conscious when I’m the focus of attention. But for some people (including both of my partners) it is incredibly important.

        For those of us to whom it makes no difference, we don’t have to buy into the institution if we don’t choose to. But we have to acknowledge that ours is not the only point of view, and that equality of access to social institutions should be there as an option for those who want it.

  13. I guess one thing that being a trans woman (and not-perfectly-passable) has going for it is that it put me where the “I’m the same as you” approach was a waste of my time. I feel better going with the approach that says, “Whether I’m different from you or not, I’m a human being trying to self-determine and this in no way hurts you except in ways you choose to be offended by it. You have no right to demand that others behave in a way you deem acceptable when their behavior doesn’t touch you except so far as you involve yourself in it.”
    Not saying I’m ever successful, just that the normalcy card has not found its way into my deck, yet.

    • To me, one thing being a trans* woman gives me is that i soon will no longer be able to marry my girlfriend, whereas i could now. If i did now, i would have to get a divorce or not be recognised as myself, which is stupid, i’m still the same me, so why was it acceptable then and not now?

      Though to be honest, if there were soe other way to differentiate the state union that would be good, and i could still just say i’m married.

  14. I think this is a really compelling argument against trying too hard to get into the overwhelmingly hetero marriage club, but I did think that it was just slightly flawed in that Brown didn’t say in that quote simply that woman/man marriages and man/man, woman/woman marriages are different; he said that they were MORALLY different. And that is something that I DO think we can argue against. Sure they’re different kinds of unions. I think I can get behind that. But to say that they’re MORALLY different? No. No they’re not, and that’s the crucial point.

  15. While I understand where you’re coming from, I really don’t agree that we should “build a new stainless steel and diamond playground.” The idea of giving up and creating our own values and improvised unions seems a little bit too much like “separate but equal” to me. We have a right to be married. I want to call my wife “my wife.” Not my partner or my special lady friend or my legal union sanctioned significant other or whatever. Marriage has a special significance that we are all entitled to share in as human beings, and as Americans we deserve the equal rights under the constitution granted to spouses.

    I think that Dan Savage made a well reasoned, intelligent argument against a person who, like you said, will never change his opinion, Unfortunately there are people like that out there. However, maybe this argument will make someone think more critically about the issues. Then again, maybe it won’t. Either way, I intend to keep fighting to enjoy the same rights as straight people, and pity the people like Brian Brown who are lost in hate and ignorance

    • Also, the argument isn’t to change Brian Brown’s mind. It’s to change the minds of everyone who’s watching. (Because let’s be honest here – nothing Brian Brown could have said would have changed Dan Savage’s mind either.)

  16. This article was fantastic. Not gonna lie, it kind of blew my mind, just because I’ve never thought about marriage equality any other way than the “sameness” argument.

    Also, I don’t know how to feel here, just because I have a whole lot of problems with Dan Savage…

  17. Every relationship I know is different.

    Hetero, homo, couple, triad or beyond. Doesn’t matter. Everyone brings their own values and expectations to the table. In every relationship.

    And every single person who enters into a marriage contract changes the definition of marriage to suit their own needs.

    And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great.

  18. Interesting debate. Bookmarking the video so I can watch all of it later today.

    Just to reply to the Sarah Silverman quote, which got got me thinking about how allies can sometimes say things that queers can’t get away with, any queer who suggested that straight people marrying each other is like “joining a country club that doesn’t allow blacks or Jews,” would face immediate howls of outrage. Which maybe she did. I don’t know if she did or not because I can’t find evidence of any backlash on the almighty Google.

    2 cents on the main subject at hand: the author’s characterization of Brown as someone who deems himself, as a heterosexual, “special” and “more deserving” makes logical sense, but homophobes don’t see it that way. They see themselves as normal, not exceptional, and in their eyes we are the deviant exception claiming “special rights” for ourselves.

    So with that in mind, I liked what I read of Dan Savage’s argument because it makes us look normal and reasonable, two qualities homophobes claim for themselves in the same-sex marriage debate. In twenty years (hopefully) Savage’s argument is going to look eminently reasonable, and Brown will be just another bigot. But then, I fall on the side of: I don’t want a special shiny playground, I just want to play on the same playground as everybody else, and judging by the responses on this thread, not everyone feels that way. Which is valid, too, I guess.

  19. “At about the twenty-minute mark, once we got passed the personal defenses and minimal niceties, Brown set up this argument. He framed the debate for the remaining forty-five minutes, when he said:”

    passed should be past

  20. Society will not treat legal unions between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man equally unless they are called the same thing under the law.


    We’re not going to be able to change the legal wording in laws and and legal documents to another word. You can’t go and edit the wording of laws without having to go through the whole legal process of introducing and voting on bills.

    It doesn’t matter if we don’t care about the word “marriage”. The rest of the world does, and that’s the world we have to live in. Marriage is the word we will be oppressed with until we change it’s definition to be more inclusive just as we have in the past.

  21. I love how people who say they believe in the Biblical definition of marriage ignore ALL of the Biblical definitions of marriage:
    man+brother’s widow, man+wife+concubines, man+wife+wife+wife, male soldier+prisoner of war, etc. There are a lot more that are not considered legal in many societies today. If they want to argue that it would change the definition of marriage, well, they have already done so, unless they accept all of the marriage types in the Bible.

  22. He lost me when he tried to argue that slavery in the bible was different than the slavery we had in America. That was the first clue that he lost all credibility he had when it comes to the bible being the authority on what is ok and what’s not ok. Slavery is slavery period, an indentured servant is a slave. And back in biblical time slaves had the same rights and chances at freedom as the slaves in America…..NONE! I put money on if Brown was around 50 or 70 years ago he would be wearing a white hood because the bible says so.

  23. After watching the debate I think Dan did an amazing job owning Brian Brown at every opportunity. Dan addressed in almost all of his arguments the concept of difference (ex. “it’s your right to believe such and such…give us a civil, non-religious marriage and that won’t infringe on your rights…” – Dan opening second argument). However, Dan came full circle on the idea that “marriage between a man and woman was good for society”, which is the only reason NOM would have a right to lobby secular state institutions to adopt their religious definition of marriage. For this reason, Dan showed various studies that undermined this concept and focused on ‘evidence’ and ‘studies’ as the cornerstone of a just and civil society. He wasn’t saying that gay people are the same in all aspects, just the ones that matter to secular marriage! In fact, he brought the subject of difference full circle by saying that gay people ARE trying to do something different with marriage than Brown is trying to do with it – and they aren’t the only ones! (“Straight people have changed the definition of marriage over the centuries, too – now it’s about such and such, commitment, blahblah” – Dan in second argument again). Then in the questioning section: “Just because something is…you shouldn’t make it illegal” – Brown “THEN WHY SHOULDN’T GAY PEOPLE GET CIVIL MARRIED” – Dan, said in a crazy tone because he has said this like eight times throughout the argument.

    Yes, Dan sidetracked once or twice with a couple quotes (the 3% comment definitely jarred me), but overall I didn’t see this defining his argument in the least.

    I think this debate showed that Brown was a hypocrite, hateful, and blinded by dogma. Go Dan Savage.

  24. “Savage should have told fourth-grade Candace and Brown to go fuck themselves and then he should have taken his friends, expanded that patch of grass and built a new playground out of stainless steel and diamonds.”

    Yes. <3

  25. I understand why some people argue why must some want the specific word marriage, but it’s crazy how much one word can mean to certain people. I personally want marriage too, not something else because if it is something else it only proves to me that I’m still valued beneath the heterosexual majority. I don’t want to feel like I must be different, I want to say “I’m marrying the girl of my dreams”, or if I ever have kids I want to be able to say “I married your mom….” these little things mean soo much to me as a person and maybe it’s because my grandparents were married for over 50 years until my grandpa died (my grandma still hasn’t stopped loving him), or maybe it’s because I see my mom and step dad soo happy in their marriage, that I too want marriage. Of course marriage, just like any relationship, has bumps in the road, but it’s the what the word marriage stands for in my eyes that makes me want the term too. I am not trying to ask for too much, all I want is to 1) feel like I am truly equal to all heterosexuals and 2) I want to have hope that maybe I can celebrate 50 years of marriage and happiness, like my grandparents and parents, with the love of my life.

  26. Just to clarify one quick thing that’s popping up in this amazing comment thread: no one, including me, is suggesting you can’t have the word “marriage.” I was suggesting that you and anyone else can use any word you want to define your relationships and yourselves. However, the word “marriage” shouldn’t be a legal and state sanctioned institution afforded specific rights. Under the law, we should all have the same rights and one uniform legal union (thus avoiding the ‘separate but equal’ comparisons). If you want to get married in your non-government institution of choice, you can and should, but under the law we should only have one, rights-afforded union.

    This could actually be used as a starting point for a much longer conversation about the deconstruction of marriage as any kind of legal entity whatesoever and instead the re-association of rights to any kind of caregiving relationship. For example, why should union-based rights only be afforded to romantic or sexual unions? Why shouldn’t a child supporting her elderly mother be able to apply for a legal union and gain certain caregiving benefits? Of course, certain types of benefits for specific caregiving relationships do apply but they are separate from the idea of a romantic union and I think that’s a mistake. I don’t think the government should give a shit about whether I’m having sex with my partner, whether I have children with my partner, whether I’m romantically involved with my partner or whether we’re just roommates who contribute to the economy and co-parent. The part that the state should care about and thus have a vested interest in supporting is the part about us being active, employed, members of our socioeconomic environment and therefore they should give us economic, health and social benefits to enable us as active and productive members of society.

    Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting on this, btw. It’s so interesting and motivating reading so many smart and not mean comments.

    • That’s a really, really interesting point — that it should be about an exchange relation set up within the limits of certain kinship definitions, instead of random attributes (straight, sexually-involved) that automatically gets benefits… I hadn’t looked at it that way before.

  27. Here here for one kind of legal union. I maintain that it should be called a civil union purely for the potential of proposing with “let’s get civilized”.

  28. I agree with you on almost everything, and you’ve seriously opened my mind on what we should be fighting for.

    You’re correct, I don’t want to act like them in order to join their exclusive club, I’m not willing to loose all of my values or change my beliefes and actions in order to tred carefully enough to not change their institution of marriage at all. We do need them to understand that we don’t want their ‘Marriage’ anyway and it’s simply the legal rights we’re after.

    However, by accepting Marriage by a different name will render us still unequal, we will remain to have something viewable as lesser due to it’s difference. And I have no doubt that they will use that against us in all ways. Therefore, we do actually need them to evolve, that’s the only way we’ll get full recognition and rights without stupid asshole-y loop holes and bullshit.

    So, although it seems like a laborious pile of crap waiting for the evolution to happen as we are dealing with people such as Brown, for whom the idea of marriage is a deep rooted belief which is obviously not founded on decent evidence, it will be worth it for the end result.

  29. I love this! Thank you. I watched the video last week and when it was done I was mad and all I could think was why didn’t Dan bring up the point that marriage is a contract between two parties that were assumed/defined at the time to be a man and a woman! Thank you for articulating it much better than I ever could.

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