Up for Debate
He lives in the manicured neighborhood of Sherwood Forest, Detroit, where auto-industry execs once retreated to cocktails in their mini-mansions after laboring at halcyon day jobs. I live on the tumbleweed-riddled Colorado plains, where flatness rolls in from Kansas and meets the Rocky Mountain Front Range. My home is where the deer and the antelope play, and eat our shrubs. His is not far from where Eminem used to play.
I spend my days researching family anthropology at a large evangelical ministry. My nonworking hours are spent alongside my wife, raising our five young children and meeting the omnipresent demands of homework, music, and art lessons. He is an atheist teaching philosophy at an urban university who spends his nonworking hours working in the garden, hosting dinner gatherings with his partner, and keeping active in local GLBT politics.
He was raised on Long Island and prefers Democratic politics. I was raised in the panhandle of Florida and find more connection with Republicans. He is a fastidiously dressed man; as long as my khakis don't show any kid-delivered jam stains, I'm good.
John Corvino and I are highly unlikely though dear friends who travel long distances for one purpose: to fight passionately with each other in front of large crowds. At the invitation of law schools and student activities groups, we have met at colleges a few times each semester for the last six years to debate the issue of same-sex marriage and parenting. We are compelled by the conviction that it's a topic too important to be left to the cheap exchange of sound bites. And we want to show young people how democracy not only allows but actually demands debate that is thoughtful, passionately disagreeable, yet civil. We have no interest in maintaining a lowest-common-denominator, kumbaya civility.
John and I constantly hear disbelief at how we can be so opposed on such a life-shaping issue yet remain friends. "I drink," John jokingly replies. Myself? I try to imbibe grace. John has hosted me at his own campus and had me to his beautiful home. I have met his partner, Mark, who struck me, ironically, as the kind of man many fathers would want their daughters to meet. I have also had John visit Focus on the Family, but the sudden death of my father required that I leave him with my colleagues. They reportedly had a fabulous time discussing the politics of sexuality and how we can forgo stereotypes and understand what really divides us.
For example, I have learned that John's sexual orientation does not stem from an unhealthy relationship with his father or from an overbearing mother. We in fact agree that homosexuality cannot necessarily be attributed to nature or lack of nurture, that there's a complex dynamic at play. John discovers things about me that surprise him, such as that I can believe the world is older than 6,000 years and remain an evangelical in good standing. I have fun explaining that the God I believe in is not the one he doesn't believe in, observing he is more of a hopeful agnostic than a hard-edged atheist. John retorts that he is probably the best judge of what he is.
Both John and I have a good deal of debate experience with other opponents over the years, but with mixed results. I have debated one gentleman who runs a national organization against marriage itself, but somehow finds it worth defending when it has same-sex as a prefix. John once debated a pastor who displayed portraits of each of his many children on the auditorium stage. Our paths crossed when John had a positive experience debating a friend of mine; when he couldn't make another event at John's invitation, I stood in.