Brian Brown, the head of the National Organization for Marriage, spoke yesterday at an antigay conference hosted by antigay pastor Jim Garlow at his antigay church. A lot of antigay assholes had a lot of antigay shit to say at Garlow's antigay conference. (Although one antigay preacher got caught telling the truth: Preachers and pastors and priests and rabbis and imams are not going to get arrested for refusing to marry gay couples.) But gay blogger and activist (and husband and dad) Jeremy Hooper, who deserves a medal for watching the whole damn thing, flagged some comments Brian Brown made about my family:
National Organization For Marriage president Brian Brown told the audience that Dan Savage and his husband are "intentionally depriving" their adopted son of his mother and father. He also claims that Dan's husband yelled all kinds of "anti-Catholic" things at Brian, which I find highly suspect.
Way, way back in the summer of 2012, Brown challenged me to a debate about gay marriage. He would debate me "anytime, anywhere," he said, and he challenged me to name the time and place. "My house," I said, "after dinner." Brown did come to dinner—the story of his visit to Capitol Hill makes up the last chapter of American Savage—and you can watch our debate here. But as for Brown's remarks yesterday about our debate...
Brown sure can pack an awful lot of false witness into four and a half minutes. I will try—and I will fail—to keep my response brief...
1. I wasn't speaking at a "forced assembly" at a public high school but at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in Seattle in 2012. There are 3,000 students in the room, juniors and seniors, and the organizers told me to speak to them like I would speak to a college audience. Fewer than 25 walked out. I was rude to the walker-outers, that's true, and I've apologized for that. But I did not attack Christians or Christianity. I said that there is bullshit in the Bible. And there is. My writeup of the JEA/NSPA conference is here.
2. Brown wants the crowd at that hate fest to think there was something unfair about having Mark Oppenheimer moderate our debate. Oppenheimer writes about faith issues for the New York Times. Both Brown and I both had veto power over the moderator, and Oppenheimer was there by our mutual assent. Oppenheimer wrote an insightful, respectful, empathy-inducing profile of Maggie Gallagher, NOM's founder, and Brown and the rest of the gang at NOM were comfortable having him moderate the debate. I have e-mail exchanges that prove Brian knew Mark would be moderating and that Brian approved of the choice. (Mark's piece for the NYT about the debate is here.)
3. I didn't attempt to be cordial. I was cordial, goddammit. I pulled a cordial muscle being cordial to Brown.
4. Brian came to my house for dinner to prove that Christians shouldn't be afraid of what exactly? Northwest sockeye salmon with Washington sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, and new-potato gnocchi? "No matter what happens," Brown reassures the crowd, "God's going to watch out for us!" The crowd applauds. Then Brian Brown goes on to challenge all Christians everywhere to be just as "bold and fearless" as Brian Brown is because in the end Jesus will protect them from... "roasted peaches with an oat-and-almond crumble."
5. Brown said—or he says he said—this to me about my son: "He has a father and mother. Every child has both a father and a mother. And to intentionally deprive him of ever having a chance to have both a man and woman in his life is not a moral good, Dan, it's wrong."
My son's original mother and father were homeless street kids. Our son's mom did the right thing when she placed him for adoption—she knew she couldn't raise a child—and it was an open adoption, as I told Brown at our dinner. In an open adoption, the birth mom (and the birth dad, too, if he's in the picture) chooses the family her child is placed with and has ongoing contact with the child after the adoption. We're still in touch with our son's mom; she's one of the many women in our son's life.
Should our birth mother have picked an opposite-sex couple instead? She did. Twice. Our birth mom picked two other couples before picking us. Both of these straight couples declined to adopt our son because his mom had been drinking before she realized she was pregnant. (She stopped cold turkey the moment she learned she was pregnant.) Terry and I weren't among the available choices when our son's mom made her first and second picks; she's told us that we would've been her first choice if our paperwork had been finished sooner, and I believe her. But our son had three chances at a mother and a father: his biological parents and those other two couples.
Terry and I did not "deprive" our son of a mother and a father. We provided him with a stable home and two loving parents after his opposite-sex bio parents came through for him (by doing an open adoption) and two sets of prospective adoptive parents failed him (by declining to adopt him). Our son's biological mom, again, absolutely did the right thing for her son—at every step. She didn't fail him. But those other two couples? Their overblown fears of fetal alcohol exposure wound up depriving them of the chance to raise and love a great kid. They failed themselves.
Religious conservatives like Brown make it sound like gay and lesbian parents are stealing kids from heterosexual couples. "Every kid should have a mom and a dad—and they would all have a mom and a dad if it weren't for those all those awful gay and lesbian couples out there snatching babies away from moms and dads!" In actual fact there are more kids who need to be adopted than there are couples or singles out there willing and able to adopt them. The choice for many kids—the choice for my own son—wasn't between gay parents and straight parents. It was between parents and no parents.
To oppose adoptions by same-sex couples is to support denying homes to children who need them.
6. Brown states that Terry yelled "anti-Catholic" things at him once the cameras were off: "Terry from upstairs just started screaming. Just hurling, I mean, he was just screaming, just cussing, and saying, you know—I won't repeat what he said. Most of it was going after the Catholic Church and the pope."
That's not what happened. I'm not going to accuse Brian of lying—memory is tricky (it may play special tricks on people who regard dining with fags as an act of bravery)—but I was scribbling notes during and after the debate, because I knew this experience was going to be a chapter in something, and I can say with certainty that Terry did not scream at Brown or go after the Catholic Church or the pope. He did, however, lob a single cuss in Brown's direction.
I detailed the exchange in the "Bigot Christmas" chapter of American Savage:
If you watched the Dinner Table Debate on YouTube... you only saw the first hour. Brian, Mark, and I continued to argue long after the cameras were turned off; the camera crew joined in after we stopped filming, and John, leaning against the counter in the kitchen, lobbed some questions our way. A second bottle of wine was opened.
Terry had returned after an hour, expecting that the debate would be over, and he was annoyed to find us still deep in discussion. Terry began to get angry—with me and with Mark. The camera crew had packed up and left, but Mark and Brian and I were still sitting at the dining room table, still arguing, and, as far as Terry was concerned, enjoying ourselves far too much. At one point I looked up and Terry was standing in the door to the dining room, directly behind Brian Brown, making slicing motions across his neck and mouthing the word "ENOUGH."
With no sign that the debate would ever stop—Mark kept peppering Brown with questions—Terry finally marched into the dining room, walked around the table, faced Brian Brown, and said that he had one question for him.
"Do you think our son should be taken from us?"
Brian made an effort to look pained. He almost pulled it off.
"You shouldn't ask me a question when you know you won't like the answer," Brown said.
Terry took a breath, shot a look at me that said "three weeks in Hawaii," then looked back at Brown, raised his arm, and pointed at the front door.
"Get the fuck out of my house," Terry said.
That was it. No screaming, no yelling, no hurling. Brian and Mark made their way to the door, we shook hands, and Brian left with Mark. Terry didn't attack the pope, Terry didn't attack any Catholics. For the record: Terry married into a Catholic family—his own son is a baptized Catholic—and he lives in a house full of crucifixes and plaster saints and he has never once slapped me across the face for crossing myself on an airplane. Terry does not hate Catholics.
Mark Oppenheimer backs up my version of events. I forwarded a link to Brown's remarks to Oppenheimer and he e-mailed me back:
I was there for the whole evening, and what's more I left with Brian—he gave me a ride back to his hotel, or I gave him one, or something, and then we stayed up drinking til about 4 a.m. And we had a good vigorous argument about a lot of stuff, but not once the whole time did he say that Terry had made anti-Catholic comments—which is the kind of thing that would come up between a conservative Catholic with something like nine children and the religion columnist for the New York Times. Certainly Terry didn't want Brian at your house—he was ferociously pantomiming shooing him away behind his back, as you and Brian and I gabbed on and on in your front hall—but anti-Catholic slurs? I simply have no memory of that. Looking back through my e-mails, I now notice that in one on-the-record exchange that Brian and I had after the fact, when I was fact-checking my Times piece about our dinner, he said something about Terry going on an anti-Catholic rant—but then as now, I have no idea what he was talking about.
What's more, Brian never once suggested another moderator, as I recall. And I know he had read my work on conservative Catholics—I have done long profiles of his fellow conservative Catholics Maggie Gallagher and Ross Douthat and Eve Tushnet, and since our dinner Opus Dei priest John McCloskey and Father Roger Landry—and must have thought I would give everyone a fair shake. If he didn't, one thinks he would have asked for a different moderator. He's not exactly shy about standing up for what he thinks is right.
And while I'm on the subject, I'd still love to sit down for a long interview with Brian, for an article. I'd publish the whole transcript online, so people could judge if I was being fair. But he never returns my calls, tweets, passenger-pigeon letter drops, etc."
Brian Brown—brave enough to eat roasted peaches in the presence of a
known blown homosexual... but not brave enough to sit for an interview with Mark Oppenheimer. (Really, Brian. God protected you from the peach crumble—won't he protect you from Mark Oppenheimer?)
7. One last detail about the debate that...
Terry crossed through the living room and opened the front door as Mark and Brian rose from the table and made their way to the foyer. They were standing by the door facing me, their backs to Terry, as I shook Brown's hand one last time. Terry was standing behind Mark, quietly seething, holding the door open. When Mark said he had one more question for us—just one more—Terry picked up an imaginary knife and started stabbing Mark in the back.
"Who do you think is winning?" Mark asked. "Your side, Dan? Or yours, Brian?"
Our side is winning, I said: An unbroken series of polls showed that a majority of Americans now supported marriage equality. Brian said his side was winning: An unbroken string of victories at the ballot box—thirty-two in a row—showed that majorities of Americans, whenever they are given a chance to vote, reject same-sex marriage. Every single time marriage equality had been on the ballot, Brown pointed out, voters had rejected it.
"We are on a winning streak that shows no signs of stopping," Brown said.
In August of 2012, when Brian Brown came to dinner, American same-sex couples could only legally marry in five states. Now same-sex couples can marry in 37 states—and we're waiting on a Supreme Court decision that will hopefully legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 21 countries around the world, with France, Finland, England, Wales, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Uruguay all achieving marriage equality since Brian Brown stood at my front door and declared that his side was winning. Northern Ireland and Australia are next, and there's movement in Germany.
Brian Brown is losing. He's already lost. His remarks yesterday—Dan Savage's husband was so mean to me!—demonstrate that it's all over except the pouting.