Transcript: Evan Wolfson on Nightline
The following is a transcript of the debate that aired the last half of the Nightline coverage of the Hawaiian case and the freedom to marry. The original transcript is here. The first half of the show was a video segment shot in Hawaii to set the stage for the debate.
TED KOPPEL: When we come back, two views: One from the Gay Rights Community, the other from a Traditional Family Values Advocate.
TED KOPPEL: Robert Knight is the cultural director of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group. Evan Wolfson is the senior staff attorney of the LAMBDA Legal Defense Fund. He was a co-council in the Hawaii case. And I'd like to begin by asking you, Mr. Wolfson, why is it so important to attain for Gays the institution of marriage? Would it not be equally valid just to get something like the Domestic Partnership law that the Hawaiians are talking about?
EVAN WOLFSON: Well, no. Marriage, we have long recognized in this country, is a basic human right and a very important personal choice that people make in their life; perhaps the most important choice they make. And Gay people want to make that choice with the person they love for the same mix of reasons that non-Gay people do: Emotional and practical, legal and economic, romantic, for some religious. And those couples ought to be able to make that choice without the government interfering in the choice.
TED KOPPEL: And yet that right, to a certain degree, already exists. There are all kinds of ministers who are prepared to perform that ritual. The only thing that is truly missing right now are the economic and legal benefits that derive under the institution of marriage.
EVAN WOLFSON: Well, it is true that many same-sex couples today are being married religiously by their church.
TED KOPPEL: That's why I'm coming back to you and saying: If, on the one hand, you already have the opportunity to fulfill the romantic, the emotional conditions that you describe, is not the only thing that is missing the legal and the economic and wouldn't those be covered under the domestic partnership law?
EVAN WOLFSON: Well, no, because domestic partnership, even if -- were it to be extended in its fullest capacity doesn't come close to approaching all of the legal and economic and important social benefits, responsibilities, rights and obligations that come with the institution of marriage. And I don't think many non-gay people would choose to give up the opportunity to marry legally just in order to be able to marry in church.
TED KOPPEL: Problems with that?
ROBERT KNIGHT: I've got a lot of problems with that. First of all, we didn't just invent marriage with Ozzie and Harriette. You know, this is an institution that has been universal. It has been in cultures world wide. It's been backed by every major religion on the planet. It's the foundational building block of civilization. Confucius said, 3,500 years ago, "Uh, you can't mess with the formula and not do any damage to society." [sic]
TED KOPPEL: Oh, we've been messing with the formula for thousands of years. The formula is constantly being changed. You cannot argue, Mr. Knight, that the institution of marriage today bears any real resemblance to the institution of marriage, for example, during the medieval days.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Yes, I can. Marriage has been pretty much the same over the centuries. Webster's Dictionary defines it as the uniting of a man and woman.
TED KOPPEL: Yes, but in those days --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Husband and wife --
TED KOPPEL: -- In those days the unity between a man and woman gave the man total rights over the woman, total dominion over the woman. It doesn't bear any resemblance at all to the kind of marriage that we have today.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Well, Ted, you still haven't taken an entire gender out of the equation. Marriage is the uniting of two sexes. That's the definition. So when homosexuals say, "We want the right to marry" they've alrea dy got it. But they don't --
TED KOPPEL: Defined --
ROBERT KNIGHT: They don't meet the requirement.
TED KOPPEL: Defined --
ROBERT KNIGHT: The requirements are between the sexes!
TED KOPPEL: Defined by whom? Defined by whom? Requirements as defined by whom?
ROBERT KNIGHT: Every major culture on the planet, all major religions. I mean, Ted, come on! You're talking as if marriage hadn't existed; something we invented to oppress homosexuals. And that's nonsense.
TED KOPPEL: No, no, no. What I'm doing --
ROBERT KNIGHT: It's the --
TED KOPPEL: -- What I am doing, Mr. Knight -- and forgive me, we should let our other guest have a chance to get in here, too -- but what I am saying is that marriage -- you refer to marriage as though it were some unchanging institution that has not in any manner been modified over the years --
ROBERT KNIGHT: It has not --
TED KOPPEL: -- and, it has.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Well, it has not been modified to the extent that the homosexuals are asking, which is to eliminate an entire gender from it. It's the bringing together of the two sexes. Once you don't do that, you leave an entire gender out, that makes it something else entirely. It's not the same psychological dynamics, emotional dynamics. Homosexuals do not do what mom and dad do in the bedroom. They don't provide children. The role models that mom and dad --
TED KOPPEL: Well --
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- it's an entirely different animal that doesn't deserve the same benefits that society gives marriage.
TED KOPPEL: Mr. Wolfson?
EVAN WOLFSON: Well, I mean, Mr. Knight has made a series of arguments. One important point I think we have to realize is that these very same arguments were being made by groups like Mr. Knight's less than 30 years ago when our society defined marriage as, by definition, between people of the same race. And --
ROBERT KNIGHT: No, we never made that --
EVAN WOLFSON: -- and
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- argument, sir. Don't throw me in with racists because that's a false argument.
EVAN WOLFSON: Well, I'm not -- I didn't say anything about whether you're a racist or not. What I said --
ROBERT KNIGHT: You said my organization --
EVAN WOLFSON: -- what I said was --
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- said that. It did not and does not.
EVAN WOLFSON: -- what I said was that the very same arguments were being made less than 30 years ago that marriage is, by definition, people of the same race. And that if you have people of different races marrying it'll destroy civilization.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Some people made that argument, but marriage --
EVAN WOLFSON: Yes. Well, it's more than just some people --
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- because of gender has been universal!
EVAN WOLFSON: More than some people made that argument. That was on the law of this country and it took the Supreme Court to strike down that law even though the polls showed that, at the time, Americans were overwhelmingly opposed. Today --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Sure it was struck down. It was wrong.
EVAN WOLFSON: Of course it should have. It was terrible and it was wrong, and 30 years -- now, 30 years later we all say, "That was wrong" and recognize it, even those of us who were sporting it --
TED KOPPEL: Gentlemen, let's --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Do you know how many Blacks are furious with that argument?
TED KOPPEL: We're going to have to take a short break, but when we come back what I would like to do is pick up on a point that Mr. Knight made a moment ago and which you, Mr. Wolfson, have not yet challenged. And that is that the entire intent of marriage is for the creation of children. We'll be back on that point in a moment.
TED KOPPEL: And we're back with Robert Knight and Evan Wolfson. Mr. Wolfson, pick up on this notion of children. Quite clearly, that is the one thing that homosexual couples are not capable of producing.
EVAN WOLFSON: Well, actually, it may be true that homosexual couples or same-sex couples do not produce children together. But we do raise children. Many couples have children and they wish -- many of them wish to raise those children within the institution of marriage. So it really makes no sense to deny a marriage license to the children of those parents and to have their parents be able to choose marriage if that's what they want. And I would also point out that on the other hand, many non-Gay people get married all the time who don't have children, who can't have children, who choose not to have children. And we do give them marriage licenses. We don't believe, in this country, that people are forced to have children in order to get a marriage license.
TED KOPPEL: Let's pick --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Marriage --
TED KOPPEL: -- Let's pick up on that point, Mr. Knight, because that, at least, is an intellectually compelling point. You can't say to people when they go into marriage, you know, unless you sign a statement saying that you're going to procreate and have children, this is not going to be a valid marriage.
ROBERT KNIGHT: That's true. But marriage in and of itself is a good. It brings men and women together. It tames men to a great extent, 'cause men have a sexual drive that is quite different from that of women. But when you take a homosexual relationship you got [sic] two people with a gender identity deficit that are trying to fulfill it through the other. That's totally different psychology from a man and a woman who already know who they are, and are seeking the compliment. And children know the difference. What you're saying --
EVAN WOLFSON: This is what --
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- What you're saying --
EVAN WOLFSON: Mr. Knight --
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- Excuse me! Let me finish this. What you're saying is men and women are interchangeable. Or it doesn't matter if you don't have a mom or a dad. I mean --
EVAN WOLFSON: No. What we are saying is --
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- this is not --
EVAN WOLFSON: -- what we are saying is that marriage is a very important, personal choice, and the choice ought to be made by the couple. Not by the State. Not by politicians. And not by groups such as yours.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Then leave the State out of it! Okay? If that's all you want, then quit trying to force it on the rest of us --
EVAN WOLFSON: What we are litigating in Hawaii --
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- and forcing us to accept what we know is wrong.
EVAN WOLFSON: -- What we are litigating in Hawaii is a case that says that the State should stop interfering with people's choice of whom to marry --
ROBERT KNIGHT: No, no. You're --
EVAN WOLFSON: -- that's all this case is about.
ROBERT KNIGHT: No, it isn't! It's about tyranny. Because you would force small business people, religious people, to accept what they know is wrong, under the law.
EVAN WOLFSON: You know that that's simply not true. The --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Yes, I do! That's what happens under Gay rights.
EVAN WOLFSON: -- that is --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Ask the boy scouts!
EVAN WOLFSON: That is simply untrue.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Ask the boy scouts what Gay rights are about.
EVAN WOLFSON: What we are talking about --
TED KOPPEL: Wait a second. We're drifting away a little bit from the narrower discussion that I was hoping we were going to have this evening. That is strictly the issue of Gay marriage.
EVAN WOLFSON: And I think --
TED KOPPEL: What again, Mr. Knight, is your objection to Gay marriage as it relates to small businessmen and others?
ROBERT KNIGHT: Okay. When you use the law to validate something like marriage, you impose it on everyone. That means you go into business places and you say, "You must accept this couple as married. And you must give them any benefits that marriage accrues according to your company's benefits." What if I'm a devout --
EVAN WOLFSON: That's not true.
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- what if I'm an Orthodox Jew? Okay? And I've got a company, and I don't want to give same-sex benefits to a couple 'cause I think it's wrong. My Torah tells me it's wrong. The law would say, "Well,you're out of line, sir. You're a bigot and we're gonna [sic] go after you." This is a giant club to beat America with --
EVAN WOLFSON: There is no law -- as Mr. Knight knows -- there is no law that requires businesses to provide benefits to married couples. However --
ROBERT KNIGHT: There are laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, okay?
EVAN WOLFSON: As well as --
ROBERT KNIGHT: If you add marriage --
EVAN WOLFSON: -- against religion and race and so on. And --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Yeah, right. Alright. But if you add marriage to it they will be coming into the work places with a big hammer. That's what it's all about. When you change the law you're talking about coercion.
EVAN WOLFSON: You can make all the scare arguments you want --
ROBERT KNIGHT: They're realistic.
EVAN WOLFSON: -- What it comes down to is that the State is restricting who can get married. The State is telling people, a whole group of people, that they cannot marry --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Oh, they can marry
EVAN WOLFSON: -- the people they want.
ROBERT KNIGHT: They can marry. They just have to meet the requirements. Okay? If you grow wine [sic] in California, you can't call it New York wine, okay? There's truth in labeling, and homosexual relationships are a counterfeit. They are not married!
EVAN WOLFSON: What's very telling, Mr. Koppel, is that Mr. Knight when asked the reason why Gay people should not have an equal right to marry is unable to come up with a reason --
ROBERT KNIGHT: I said they could marry!
EVAN WOLFSON: -- There is simply no good reason. He points to children --
TED KOPPEL: I'm sorry. Let me just be sure --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Oh, I've got a whole list of reasons --
TED KOPPEL: -- No, no, no. We're coming down to the end of our time here. When you said they can marry, Mr. Knight, you mean they can marry, but not one another.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Exactly. They can meet the requirements that the State asks them to do because when you put a man and a woman together, it creates a different thing. It creates a good that helps society, whether they have kids or not. Homosexual relationships are not crucial to the survival of society, but you can bet marriage is. And if you start messing with it, you're messing with the building block of civilization itself. And Gay activists who are very honest have said, "We're not so much interested in getting marriage as we are in using it to change the fundamental morality of this country."
EVAN WOLFSON: When you --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Tom [last name slurred on tape] has said that.
EVAN WOLFSON: When you --
ROBERT KNIGHT: Michelangelo Signoreli [sp?] has said that.
EVAN WOLFSON: When you look at couples like Joe and Pat, or Ninia and Genora and the others, these are people who are in love, who want to get married, who want to make a public commitment to one another, and to take on rights and responsibilities. And it is very hard for me to see why people like you find that so threatening.
ROBERT KNIGHT: Because --
TED KOPPEL: Excuse me. You are both politically very conscious. What do you think is going to happen? Very quickly, because we only have a few seconds left. What do you think is going to happen in Hawaii? Mr. Knight?
ROBERT KNIGHT: I think the Hawaiian Supreme Court will probably trash the definition of marriage and say homosexuals can marry, thus creating a constitutional crisis. Because the full faith and credit clause of the constitution says the states have to recognize each other's licenses. But if Utah says, look, your --
EVAN WOLFSON: Can I get a word in there?
ROBERT KNIGHT: -- your definition is different from ours, that causes a crisis.
TED KOPPEL: Mr. Wolfson?
ROBERT KNIGHT: And you're gonna [sic] see more states protect marriage.
EVAN WOLFSON: What I think is going to happen is that for the first time the American people are going to understand that a whole group of Americans have been denied the right to marry and they are going to say -- the fair minded people are going to say -- this is a choice that belongs to the couple, not the State. The government shouldn't be interfering. And to the -- if we respect marriage in society, we should make it a choice available to couples who are willing to make a commitment.
TED KOPPEL: You are clearly coming at it from radically different points of view, but at least on this one note I think you're in agreement. Then you think that Hawaii is going to validate same-sex marriage.
ROBERT KNIGHT: It's a very liberal supreme court. They're the ones who raised the issue --
TED KOPPEL: I got you. But at least I'll take any little note of agreement I can find. Gentlemen, thank you both very much. Mr. Knight. Mr. Wolfson. I'll be back in just a moment.
MY BRIEF COMMENTS: Maybe I'm stating the obvious here, but how is saying, "Gays can marry as long as they meet the requirements" any different from telling Black people, "Sure you can ride public transportation, as long as you meet the requirements: sit in the back seats only." This seems, to me, a question of equal access.
Mr. Knight says, "It [marriage] creates a good that helps society, whether they have kids or not." I couldn't agree more. If it's argued that marriage is crucial to the survival of society, then it would seem that permitting all citizens (not just most citizens) the freedom to marry would only benefit society.
Mr. Knight states that legalizing same-gender marriages will create a constitutional crisis because of the full-faith-and-credit clause. Since Utah has already legally declared marriage to be defined as only between people of the opposite gender, Mr. Knight's statement is absolutely true. SO WHAT? If Utah had legally defined marriage as only between people of the same race or religion, that also would have created a constitutional crisis. What's the point here?