Jennifer Roback Morse debates same-sex marriage at SMU


Southern Methodist University hosts a debate between Dr J (invited by the Federalist Society) and Dallas attorney (invited by OutLaw) on the legal definition of marriage.

The MP3 file is here.

Here is my snarky summary. Just bear in mind that Dr. J’s opponent is a lawyer, so I want to be clear that I am caricaturing and satirizing her speeches deliberately for humor, and these are not factual statements about what she said at all. So don’t sue me.

I do think you should listen to her actual words to see what factual arguments she makes, and whether her reasoning about what marriage is is compatible with polygamy, incestuous marriage, and anything else involving loving, committed consenting adults. And it you like this debate, you can find other debates on the Ruth Institute podcast. Jennifer Roback Morse is the William Lane Craig of the marriage issue.

Dr. Morse opening speech

No-Fault divorce as a case study:
– studies were produced to show that as long as divorced parents were happy, the divorced children would be fine
– but that research was wrong, children do suffer from divorce
– when you change the understanding of marriage, you change the way that generations relate
– you have to wait for one or more generations to see the effects of the change

The essential public purpose of marriage:
– to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another
– marriage exists in virtually every known society
– societies need marriage in order to allow children to develop over a period of time
– human babies have a long period of dependency, and we need parents to sick around for the duration
– there are many private reasons to get married, but we are insterested in the public purpose
– marriage identifies two people who made the child as having responsibility for the child

Marriage and the law
– currently there is the presumption of paternity – the woman’s husband is presumed to be the father
– the presumption of paternity is being changed to the presumption of the parent
– now, the other partner is presumed to be the other parent
– but if same-sex marriage were legal, the partner is never the child’s biological parent
– so, if you redefine marriage, then you are necessarily re-defining parenthood as well
– the children of same-sex unions are not being treated equally
– the children of same-sex unions are not going to have the same access to their biological parents

– children have a right to know who their mother and father are
– in general, children need a mother and father when they are growing up
– we have lots of data from single parents, divorced parents, divorced/remarried parents to show it

Biological parents and the state:
– in countries that redefine marriage, the state determines who the parents are
– the state creates criteria independent of biology to decide who parents are
– this is too much power for the state to have.

Opponent’s opening speech:

Marriage is about people having feelings of love, not the rights of children:
– marriage has no definition outside of what the state says it is
– there are lots of children being raised in same-sex households
– marriage is not necessarily about parenting, because old infertile people get married
– it doesn’t matter what children need or want, so long as adults feel happy
– lots of liberal organizations say that same-sex parents are BETTER than married bio-parents
– a family can be anything that we decide it is
– marriage has no basis biologically, marriage is assigned by the state with a civil license

– there are lots of rights and responsibilities that married couples have that same-sex couples don’t
– for example bereavement leave, property inheritance, visitation rights, joint tax returns, etc.

Same-sex marriage is the same as multi-racial marriage:
– men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable

Keep your morality off my selfishness:
– it’s nobody else’s business if children don’t grow up with their mothers and fathers

Dr. Morse’s rebuttal:

– your statistics on the number of children in same-sex households are false: here are the actual numbers
– interracial marriage IS marriage: it produces children and requires parents be attached to those children
– a better solution to same-sex couples with children is adoption, not redefining marriage

Opponent’s rebuttal:

You’re a meany!
– if you don’t like same-sex marriage, then you opposed desegregation
– if you don’t like same-sex marriage, then you opposed women getting the right to vote
– I believe in justice, equality and civil rights, you don’t
– Yay social justice! I’m on the right side of history!

7 thoughts on “Jennifer Roback Morse debates same-sex marriage at SMU”

  1. When my eldest daughter was 18 months old my husband and I were separated (a separation that lasted 2 years) and I simply told my daughter that Daddy was at work. With the exception of child abuse there is no reason why the child shouldn’t have access to their biological parents or why the image of what a proper marriage looks like should change. SSM, even simple dating in front of the children will harm their psyche. Mothers especially need to be aware of this. Great post WK love the snark!


  2. Your snark is not without provocation. It seems that Dr. J’s challenger appealed to emotion in order to sway opinion, rather than facts, such as that which comprised the totality of Dr. J’s position.


  3. Dr. Morse undercut her entire biological-parent argument when she indicated in the final installment she supported lesbian couples adopting children. She ignored the 1200 laws with a dismissive “I am not impressed” (bad idea when addressing potential lawyers) and I found her very, very weak responding to marriages without children. Further, she inaccurately stated what her opponent was claiming regarding Loving and—even worse—failed to distinguish Lawrence or its implications.

    On the other hand, her opponent used too many emotional arguments (the comparison to Civil Rights Movements may be apt, but it is not one’s strongest argument) and the presentation seemed…muddled. I fear the point on Lawrence was lost.

    P.S., the Statistics are also muddled. I have found the statistic indicating 1 – 9 million children have a parent who is gay, but not that particular number for children within a same-sex household.


    1. Well, for the gay adoption, she would require sign-off by the bio-parent. Nothing is going to be perfect, and this is a debate. Think of how Dr. Craig tries to bracket the evolution issue or the fate of the unevangelized in his debates with atheists. It may be the case that he would prefer to discuss the evidence for and against the origin of the first replicator, or discuss his well-developed ideas on middle-knowledge. But there just isn’t time. So you make a concession and move on.

      I wouldn’t blame her though – the speeches are so short that she really doesn’t have time to developer her ideas. I really beleive in Dr. Morse on this issue, and I know she would have a lot more to say if she had more time.

      What did you think of her using no-fault divorce to show why we need to be careful about redefining marriage? I think that is an excellent example. As you know, I am pretty critical of women not being careful about vetting men before marrying them. I think that the whole no-fault divorce things was a way to make it even less necessary for women to take responsibility for who they marry. About 70% of divorces are the choice of the wife to quit, and she has a lot to gain with the division of marital property, alimony and possibly child support. Make divorce TOO EASY hurts children, I think, because it makes it less important to court and prepare carefully. It makes it easier to just be emotional about the whole thing instead of being analytical.

      Sorry if this offends you, I’m just trying to protect the children who suffer from adults being selfish. Yes, adults should be free, but children are so small and vulnerable… shouldn’t we encourage grown-ups to have a care about the harm they cause to the little ones?


    2. Wintery Knight,

      Regardless whether the adoption is by the biological parent signing off, or termination of parentage by the state, or sperm donor, once Dr. Morse concedes it is acceptable for the State to allow such parental arrangements outside marriage, she eliminates her own argument a biological parent is essential to the purpose of Marriage.

      If she only has a short period to frame an argument, best to not then annihilate her own point within that same period!

      Her argument regarding No-Fault Divorce was….interesting. I would disagree it is a re-definition of marriage. It did not re-define marriage; it was a redefinition of divorce—something different than marriage. While one could argue it modified personal approach to marriage—a more casual attitude—as Dr. Morse originally pointed out: personal reasons for divorce (to show the old boyfriend, like the dress, can get out of it easily) are not essential reasons.

      The day after No-Fault divorce came into effect, the same people could/could not marriage. The same restrictions applied as to age, mental capability, marital status, kinship, etc. While I tried to appreciate what she was trying to say—that it was a “redefinition of marriage”—from a legal and social status (where this debate is being framed), it did not.


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