One of my favourite TV shows is The West Wing. It’s the only DVD collection I have. (I’ve never found the time to sit down and watch it, but still . . .)

Fans of The West Wing will be familiar with the old “walk and talk.” Characters are filmed walking through corridors while engaging in lengthy conversation. It’s a film and TV vanity which allows writers to insert dense dialogue into a scene without stretching audience’s attention span.

The West Wing didn’t invent this technique, but it perfected it. It’s one of the reasons I love The West Wing. It allowed writers to explore complex policy issues and competing ideological visions in an intelligent and even exhilarating way. If only the public discourse — from parliamentary debates to Q&A discussions — was as intelligent and engaging.

Still, now and then something comes up which does remind me of The West Wing. A recent debate about same sex marriage on Piers Morgan Live is a shining example. The protagonists were Ryan Anderson (a researcher and fellow of a conservative think-tank), Suze Orman (an author and TV host who is married to her lesbian partner), and — of course — Piers Morgan.

(Incidentally, Ryan Anderson featured in last week’s New York Times: Young Opponents of Gay Marriage Undaunted by Battle Ahead.)

What a refreshing debate! Civil. Thoughtful (mostly). And, I think, constructive. It illustrates very well how and why queer theorists have reframed marriage so that an increasing majority now construe same-sex marriage as a “human right” owed to homosexuals.

If you have the time, watch the full fifteen minutes:

It’s fascinating that Anderson’s main argument falls flat. He expresses it very well: “The primary function that marriage serves in every society is protecting the rights of children.”

I agree with Anderson, but it seems that most do not. Orman insists, “This isn’t about children!” Anderson replies, “It should be though.” I think Anderson and I are in the minority.

Popular understanding of the primary function of marriage has been reworked: it is no longer protecting the rights of children, but protecting the rights of adults to love other adults. As though illustrating my point, Anderson really sets the cat among the pigeons with this howler:

Marriage is what connects the mother and the father with each other for the child.

This self-evident (I thought) claim evokes audible sighs of disapproval from the TV audience. “No!” Orman replies. “Marriage is what connects the husband and the wife together as one.”

Children and marriage are no longer viewed to be inherently related — anymore than procreation and sex. Same sex marriage is the fruit of a contraceptive mentality folks. Humanae Vitae may be unpopular, but it sure is prophetic.

Piers Morgan’s contributions are also illustrative. In summing up, he declares Anderson’s defence of marriage to be unfair and intolerant. This is the heavy yoke which even the Catholic Church must now bear: intolerance. Bigotry even.

I can understand why people think this way, but it doesn’t demonstrate very clear thinking. I say that with the greatest respect. (I cringed when Orman presumed her opponent was ignorant.) But I think many people seem to conflate disagreement of principles with the oppression of people. This isn’t a new problem. Fulton Sheen identified the same confusion in 1932:

There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance. Tolerance is always supposed to be desirable because it is taken to be synonymous with broadmindedness. Intolerance is always supposed to be undesirable, because it is taken to be synonymous with narrow-mindedness. This is not true, for tolerance and intolerance apply to two totally different things. Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons.

Anderson was unable to reply to the claim that opposition to same-sex marriage is intolerant. But Dr Greg is able to reply. If you click on only one link on this post, follow this one: “Dear Dr. Greg, Don’t be a bigot.” Letter from a Child of a Gay Father.

I’d like to finish on a more positive note. If you click on only two links on this post, make sure this is the second one: Catholic, Gay and Feeling Fine. This isn’t the universal experience, but it should be. And we can pray that one day it is.