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Why gay man and activist John Corvino wrote a book with Maggie Gallagher

by Jeremy Hooper

In the year since the release of the book he co-authored with Maggie Gallagher, Debating Same-Sex Marriage, many of you have wondered why LGBT activist and gay man John Corvino (pic.) chose to link his name and Screen Shot 2013-05-24 At 8.56.37 Amliterary gifts to someone who has fought so hard against the equal rights (and, by extension, worth) of same-sex couples. This happened just this week, in fact, when one of my posts about Maggie sparked a comment-thread discussion about the book and why John supposedly wrote it.

As a fellow author and activist who both knows and is fond of John, I've stepped in a few times to offer my thoughts on the subject. However, I thought it'd be far more interesting to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, which is why I asked John to chat about his choice, which some have perceived as "madness," and the methodology that motivated it. Our conversation follows.

JEREMY HOOPER: Many of my readers want to know, so let's start with the big question: Why did you do a book with Maggie Gallagher?

JOHN CORVINO: I get asked this question a lot, and I find it odd. It’s a debate book, which means that we’re on opposite sides, which means I think she’s wrong. So it’s a collaboration, sure, but it’s a collaboration I did for the purpose of refuting her. I thought there was value in forcing her to lay out her arguments in a sustained way where they would be subject to direct criticism, which she would then have to respond to.

HOOPER: But did you worry that you were helping raise her platform? Because I will say, personally, that my hesitancy in doing a book like this would be in the promotion. As an author myself, I know how much proverbial blood, how much literal sweat, and how many actual tears go into promoting a book, but it's largely worth it because you are promoting a product that you fully believe in. Did you worry about, in your push to raise your own needed voice, you were helping raise the volume on hers?

CORVINO: Maggie already had, and has, a platform—although that platform seems to be crumbling. At the time we did the book, the pro-equality side had lost in every single one of the thirty-odd states where marriage had been put on the ballot. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. I know we’ve made dizzying progress in recent months, but it's worth remembering that such progress didn’t come without a fight—and part of that fight involved countering the bad—but often rhetorically successful—arguments that Maggie and others had been promoting for so long.

I notice that one of your readers wrote in a comment, “Did anyone write a ‘your side/my side’ book for an interracial marriage debate? A ‘your side/my side’ book with Anita Bryant? A debate for the civil rights act in the 60s?” Um, yes, actually. These topics were all hotly debated at the time—sometimes in books and articles, often on stage in public forums. Bryant may not have co-authored a book, but Harvey Milk regularly debated John Briggs on the Prop. 6 initiative in California, which was directly inspired by Bryant’s Dade County measure—which was also hotly debated. At the time the book came out, about 50% of the country was on Maggie’s side.

HOOPER: The difference that some of my readers have brought up that both you and Gallagher directly profit from the book. Thoughts?

CORVINO: I can tell you that I’ve given away more to pro-gay causes in the last couple of years than I’ve made on this book—which is hardly difficult, given how very little money there is in academic publishing. Trust me: if making money were the driving force, Maggie and I would have turned down the book deal, since it kept us both from more profitable opportunities.

I think Maggie and I each make less than a dollar per book. If some of your readers don’t want to buy it because they don’t want to give one cent to Maggie Gallagher, that’s fine. They can borrow it from the library if they want. Or they can watch my videos on Youtube.

HOOPER: I certainly understand that point about profit! [*SIDE NOTE: SUPPORT LGBT AUTHORS, PEOPLE—BUY OUR BOOKS!]. But pushing the point a bit: maybe the book wasn’t profitable, but some would argue Img 4171that it raised your profile, which in turn leads to speaking appearances...

CORVINO: I generally do get paid for speaking appearances, whether they’re solo talks or debates. It’s part of what I do for a living, and it’s work: not just the couple of hours on stage where I have to be “on” for the audience, but the day or so out of my life when I’m schlepping across the country, rushing through airports, staying in bland hotels (instead of being home with my awesome hubby) and so on. I’m not complaining—I’m grateful for the work that I do—but I won’t apologize for being paid for working.

If anything, Maggie’s profile seems to have diminished since the book came out. Whether the book had anything to do with that, I can’t say. Brian Brown is now much more the face of NOM.

HOOPER: So let's talk process. How did the project come about?

CORVINO: The project started when Oxford University Press approached me about doing a book on the marriage debate for their point/counterpoint series, which already had volumes on affirmative action, abortion, the existence of God and so on. The format is a pretty familiar one for academic philosophers. The idea is not that all views are equally legitimate—a silly and self-refuting position if ever there were one—but rather that the best way to get out the truth is through rigorous debate. John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century-utilitarian, wrote about “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Clearly, I think Maggie is in error.

HOOPER: Did they assign Maggie to the book?

CORVINO: They asked me for suggestions, and she was one of my top suggestions. I had considered doing the book with another academic, such as Prof. Robert George of Princeton (NOM's co-founder; currently visiting at Harvard). But most of the academic philosophers working on this issue from the other side do so from a somewhat esoteric natural-law perspective, which doesn’t always have a lot of resonance with folks on the ground. I wanted the book to be useful to people involved in “real-world” debates in states around the country, and I thought Maggie was the best person to give an articulate version of the popular arguments from her side.

HOOPER: And you still debate Maggie, right?

CORVINO: Yes, though there are fewer of them. I like doing debates because it gives me access to an audience that wouldn’t otherwise come and listen to me. And if I can be a positive influence in any way on “Maggie’s people,” I think that’s important. Remember, some of those people end up having LGBT kids.

That’s another reason I did the book: right-wingers who won’t buy a book by John Corvino—or Evan Wolfson, or Martha Nussbaum, or any other equal-rights advocate—will buy this one because Maggie’s name is on it. Many of them will read arguments (from me) that they need to hear.

HOOPER: That last point makes a lot of sense to me, as someone who also gears my message to wide audiences. My guiding image is that of small crowd filled with people on our side, folks from "their" side, and some who are somewhere in the middle. Even when I seem to be talking to Maggie or Tony Perkins or whoever, I'm really using them as a vehicle to make my points, in hopes that some who are listening in on our conversation will find more compelling evidence in my words than in Maggie's or Tony's.

But that leads me to the ultimate question for us both, with which I'll close this interview. That is: Do you really think our arguments from reason make the difference that we think/ hope they do? At this point in the debate, are there enough opponents whose lack of support or demonstrated animus is motivated by reason?

CORVINO: Most people—on all sides of this issue—have mixed motivations. Even as a philosophy professor, I’m the first person to grant that people’s minds on the issue are most readily moved when we’ve captured their hearts on this issue—when they get to know real-life LGBT people as their neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, CNN news anchors or whatever. That’s one reason why both of my books—especially the new one, What’s Wrong with Homosexuality?—include a lot of personal anecdotes. But I still believe in the power of ideas. Sometimes what arguments can do is to introduce cognitive dissonance and doubt, which can pave the way for a change of heart.

HOOPER: Here's to powerful ideas and changed hearts! Thanks so much for your time, John.

CORVINO: Thanks, Jeremy. I appreciate all that you do. And I loved your book!

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