A Letter to Rick Perry

This piece was written in 2011 for a Critical Thinking & Composition class. Our instructor tasked us with using Rogerian Argumentation technique to appeal to someone who was against same-sex marriage. We were to write a hypothetical letter to said person, and I chose Texas governor Rick Perry.

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments regarding Prop. 8, I thought this would be a good time to pull this from the archive. I received an A on this assignment, with my instructor saying how "astounding" it was, in both logic and prose. She liked it so much, in fact, that she asked for a copy to keep in her permanent file.

Dear Governor Perry-

I write this letter to you in good faith because I’d like to provide you with feedback concerning your views on same-sex marriage. Rest assured that it is not my intention to play the antagonist nor ridicule your views; my goal is to simply address them logically. I have the utmost respect for your views on marriage: one man-plus-one woman, vital to families, and a cornerstone ideal to society. In fact, in the general scope, I agree wholeheartedly with your viewpoints. However, I respectfully take issue with your views in terms of their broader implications, particularly how your views could negatively impact your White House aspirations. I’d like to discuss why I believe showing tolerance for same-sex marriage would bolster your odds at achieving your goal of becoming America’s 45th president.

Before I make my pitch, though, I want to reiterate that while I don’t share your views on same-sex marriage, I do agree with you on how marriage works in a universal context. That is, I fully agree that marriage has historically (and religiously) been about one man and one woman, that it’s played an integral part in building families, and that it’s long been the universal norm. Those points are perfectly valid and completely understood. That being said, however, logical counterpoints can be derived from each of these universal truths, all of which support the legalization of gay marriage. What’s more, they’re all points that deserve careful consideration if you want to excel in advancing your political career to its zenith.

First, let’s look at the numbers. First and foremost, your job, obviously, is to attract voters — on both sides of the ticket. By your entrenching against gay marriage, you’re throwing caution to the wind at many votes. According to a recent Gallup poll (May 2011), 53 percent of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage, and 70 percent of people ages 18 to 34 in support of its legalization. That’s a substantial gain from 1996, when only 27 percent were in favor. (Even conservatives had a plus-3 gain from 25 percent in 2010 to 28 percent this year.) In addition, the Gay Marriage Research Center reported last year that “public support for gay marriage has increased [about] 1% annually over the last two decades”. Further, they also reported that “...a majority of Americans will support gay marriage by 2012”. What do these statistics mean? They clearly mean that Americans views of the marital paradigm is shifting rapidly. To most, marriage isn’t (or shouldn’t be) limited to one man and one woman anymore.

It would be prudent for you and your advisors to come to grips with this reality, and not downplay or ignore this trend. Again, the statistics are crystal clear that the issue of same-sex marriage is undergoing an increasingly noticeable paradigm shift. Certainly, there’ll always be opposition, but the recognizance and acceptance of this revolution would do wonders for your chance at the nomination and potential presidency.

In relation to your political successfulness, your theoretical Constitutional amendment would do much to stifle your growth, in my opinion. My reasoning for this is simply that there’s no legally defensible rationale that could hold water. In other words, putting aside the moral/cultural aspects, how could the Supreme Court legitimately rule same-sex marriage unconstitutional? In a purely legal context, marriage is nothing more than a contract. Common sense dictates that it’s unlawful for the government to prohibit two otherwise fit people from willfully entering into an agreement based solely on their sexual orientation. Thus, to do so would be discriminatory and run contrary to the spirit of the Civil Rights Act. Furthermore, the justice system was designed to enable people (think suffrage; the Civil Rights Act), not prohibit them. Placing an arbitrary stipulation on a contract that’s otherwise perfectly valid is disingenuous. Suffice it to say, I don’t believe your amendment will have much of a life. Passing it would be without precedent and a slippery slope to trouble. Ir’s just not feasible. Most importantly, though, pledging to push for this law and to appoint like-minded Supreme Court judges to push for this law would cause you to lose traction at the polls. My advice to you is to ax this idea because not only is it unfeasible, but it doesn’t do much in the way of voter confidence and motivation to punch your side of the ballot.

In regards to your core beliefs surrounding marriage and its place in society, I’m willing to concede a few points.

First, to your assertion that marriage is a product of one man and one woman, does marriage have to remain so static? By contrast, if one is looking at marriage through a strict legal prism, there is no legally defensible reason why same-sex couples shouldn’t marry, and that they shouldn’t be afforded the same spousal benefits as heterosexual couples. But I will grant that marriage is rooted deeply in religious doctrine as being between one man and one woman. (That the standard vows include the phrase “in holy matrimony” is no coincidence.) Therefore, marriage is this context is largely a matter of interpretation, depending upon what your religious beliefs are. As someone who’s not especially devout, it would be hypocritical to condemn one’s views on marriage based on their spiritual inclination.

Secondly, I do agree with you regarding marriage’s role in providing familial structure. I will agree that, yes, in terms of more “traditional” family values, the one man-plus-one-woman dynamic lends itself well to building a solid foundation. I agree with this because, as much I believe the concept of marriage has expanded, the institution of marriage wouldn’t have stood the test of time had it been ineffective. In addition, I fully understand and respect the ideal that children need male and female role models, and I agree that the family starts with marriage. There are exceptions, of course, like having children out of wedlock, but the fact remains that the traditional family unit has historically been born out of this dynamic. And, quite frankly, it’s been pretty successful given that this has been the setup for centuries.

Lastly, to your point about the one man-plus-one woman ideal being the accepted societal norm, there’s no question that’s true. It’s a valid point. This dynamic has been in place for centuries (again, largely due to religion) and it’s worked well for the most part. The most obvious advantage is that this setup encourages reproduction, which in turn helps further populate the planet. Religious undertones notwithstanding, the idea that marriage has been the proven norm is valid on the basis that people get married as an excuse to reproduce, thereby assuring posterity. After all, Henry VIII didn’t marry eight times because he had trouble finding Ms. Right. (The truth is, King Henry was hell bent on producing a male heir to his throne for political reasons.) Thus, it’s hard to argue that what you believe isn’t true or invalid because, the fact of the matter is, you’re absolutely right. The “traditional” view of marriage is justifiably held in high esteem.

But that doesn’t mean ideologies can’t evolve over time. Indeed, despite the fact that I am in general agreement with you over the broad strokes of your beliefs, there are also equally legit counterarguments that should be heard. In other words, my points of contention are more about details and minutia as opposed to all-encompassing generalizations. To wit…

Regarding marriage as a one man-plus-one woman deal, who’s to say that the concept can’t change? While this country was founded with religious sentiment in mind, that doesn’t mean that the dynamic can’t or shouldn’t adapt. Again, legally speaking, marriage is contractual, and same-sex couples are simply trying to enter into a contract. That the government denies them the opportunity presumably based on religious grounds (they would call it moral or ethical, but it’s religious nonetheless) is without legal ground and borderline infringing on the separation of church and state. More to the point, marriage is undoubtedly a religious affair. Government legislation means lawmakers are threading a very fine, very muddled line. The challenge lies in defining marriage without using religion as a precursor, and getting people to look at marriage objectively. A constitutional ban isn’t the solution because the dissenting opinion from Chief Justice Roberts (or whomever writes it) will state that such a law come treacherously close to, again, violating the separation of church and state and/or civil rights. This bill is so controversial it’s virtually impossible to even ponder.

As for the man/woman dynamic being paramount to family structure, that ideal is naive in that it disregards the many different types of families. It also implies that anything less than a mother and a father is illegitimate, thus less morally and ethically sound. Just because a family consists of two mommies or two daddies doesn’t mean their moral compass is somehow uncalibrated. Same-sex couples have just as much vested in family values as heterosexual couples do. And children won’t be harmed either. There isn’t any concrete data to prove this, but anecdotally there isn’t strong evidence suggesting that children who come from same-sex families have a considerably worse upbringing. In fact, one could argue that coming from such a background helps children in becoming more tolerant, accepting, and willing to break gender-based stereotypes. Further, whomever gender model is missing in the home is likely found outside via extracurricular activities and/or friends. It’s also important to keep in mind that even more “traditional” family units have their black eyes, so it’s not as if hailing from such an environment means one has a greater sense of purity. The point is, as well as the traditional family has worked, it’s not (or shouldn’t be) the end-all, be-all in our society. And, as I alluded to earlier with the Gallup reference, more and more people are inclined to agree with this line of thinking. It just makes sense.

Finally, the idea that we must preserve the old guard shows that we, as a society, are reluctant (perhaps even afraid) to grow intellectually. As I said, why should marriage live forever as a static concept? Why can’t we, as a society, adapt our mentality to embrace the idea that marriage can mean different things? That isn’t to say the status quo should be abolished, just altered somewhat to accommodate those who choose to live this increasingly-mainstream lifestyle. We shouldn’t punish those who don’t conform. If anything, that goes against the grain of American idealism. Thus, I firmly believe your campaign would benefit from you adapting your mindset to being at least tolerant of those whose opinions differ from yours. The reality is gay marriage doesn’t harm anyone in any way but ideological, and it would be the hallmark of your term if you recognized this and allowed everyone to interpret marriage as they see fit. In other words, don’t ostracize those who you disagree with.

Personally, my views on same-sex marriage are simple: it should be legalized because there isn’t any reason not to, and I don’t believe a separate-but-equal thing like “civil union” is an appropriate compromise. Same-sex couples should enjoy the same legal perks as heterosexual couples do. They deserve to be wholly recognized on the grounds that they’re two fully capable and willful people entering into an agreement. Period. What it comes down to for me is that the prohibition of gay marriage is a civil rights issue not dissimilar to what African-Americans faced. Gays may not be facing the overt Jim Crow-type persecution, but they’re being discriminated against nonetheless. It’s very non-sensical and easily rectifiable.

In closing, I’d like to share a quote from Clint Eastwood that sums up my feelings. In speaking to GQ magazine last month on this topic, he said, in part, “…just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.” Whether or not people are in favor of same-sex marriage, I think Clint’s words are quite apt and a code to live by.