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John Corvino, the 'Gay Moralist' of Detroit

John Corvino


Almost no one is 100 percent liberal or conservative on every issue known to humankind. But to follow political debates on TV, radio, or social media, one would think the entire world is like a seesaw, with people clinging tightly to the right or left and never, ever edging over to engage with the other side – and if they do, it's with a lot of yelling and imbalance.
 
John Corvino is a refreshing antidote to the screaminess on one of the central issue of our times – marriage equality. It befits his work as a philosophy professor at Wayne State University; as such, he needs to think deeply about the very nature of morality and why we behave the way we do. It also befits his life; he's an out gay man who has been with his partner, Mark, for 13 years.
 
Not only has he crafted well-considered, well-articulated arguments about marriage equality (contrasted with the all-too-common Facebook-meme level discussion around the issue); he's taken on Maggie Gallagher, one of the most vocal opponents of marriage equality, in a series of public debates and a book, Debating Same-Sex Marriage.
 
"As a philosophy professor who teaches contemporary moral issues and looks at moral controversies of various sorts,  I think it's important to engage with those with whom we disagree because we may learn something that can sharpen our understanding," he says.
 
It's important to realize the other side presumably came to their position, not matter how wrong you might consider it to be, with a high level of discernment and thought similar to one's own, and not immediately brush off such a worldview as hate or fear. "I know some of these people to be reasonable and generally decent people," Corvino says. "When someone I think of as smart and reasonable and decent disagrees with me on something, for purely intellectual reasons it's interesting to consider how that person can have the same evidence and come to such radically different conclusions."
 
It's also dangerous to ostracize someone for a wrongheaded viewpoint, even if that viewpoint might be personally hurtful, Corvino says. Shunning someone just drives them underground, and does not open their minds and hearts. "To write those people off as beyond polite conversation is not just unkind to them, it's a strategic mistake," he says. "They will still teach their views at home and teach them to their children. Some of those children will turn out to be gay, and (that teaching) will be very damaging to them."
 
Corvino has carved out a media niche as "The Gay Moralist," as his former blog was called, from a home base in Detroit where he arrived 16 years ago. He was lured by the possibility of a tenure-track professorship in philosophy – the type of opportunity that runs thin on the ground. But he quickly learned to love Detroit for its diversity and culture, while the lower cost of living allowed him the freedom to pursue his intellectual interests. One thing that has been a surprising plus, he says, is Detroit's lack of a "gayborhood" — because LGTBQ people are part of the fabric of more diverse neighborhoods and not isolated in their own communities, it allows for greater understanding on personal and political levels.
 
Michigan will likely be slow to see full marriage equality, Corvino says. But increasingly, it's becoming an idea whose time has come for more and more people. "For those that still hold that position, it's not something they hold lightly," he says. "It's a deep and powerful conviction for them that is backed up by their belief that this is what God commands. I don’t think that's going to entirely disappear, but I think it's going to increasingly become a minority view." 

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This story originally appeared on Urban Innovation Exchange.

Amy Kuras is a Detroit-based freelance writer.


Photos by Doug Coombe.
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