John Corvino: “The Gay Moralist”


These days, we seldom make time to expose ourselves to something intellectual, something inspiring. In fact, the attention span for many web users has been shortened to the length of a minute-long cat video.

So when I discovered Dr. John Corvino’s lecture on YouTube and saw that it’s nearly an hour long, I expected to watch maybe a quarter of it—which is probably why I was surprised when I saw the credits begin to roll.

Video below.

Corvino presents a clear and thoughtful analysis of a question that many people either cannot or do not discuss: “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?”

Corvino, who is openly gay and has been with his partner Mark Lock for 12 years, explains his own moral vision, stating, “I am not asking you to stop making moral judgments or to keep your judgments to yourself…I’m asking you to make sure you have reasons for the moral judgments that you make. I’m asking you to put yourself in people’s shoes before you judge them. And I’m asking you to judge people not on whom they love, but on whether they love.”

I have encountered many who disagree vehemently with LGBT rights seemingly without reason, from the traveling-extremist screaming homophobic hogwash on my alma mater’s free speech lawn, to the otherwise rational compatriot who can only manage to sputter, “It’s just wrong.”

So after hearing Corvino’s stirring words and later that afternoon encountering a familiar anti-gay picketer who sets up at the Powell BART Station in San Francisco, I was inspired to interview Corvino, “The Gay Moralist,” himself.

“There are certainly many claims in the marriage debate that are held uncritically or unreflectively,” Corvino told 429Magazine. “Although the problem is hardly limited to that debate.”

As a professor of philosophy, Corvino says his job is to dig beneath intuition and gut reaction to explore the reasons that justify—or fail to justify—things we commonly believe. 

Certainly I myself have felt the urge, usually out of frustration, to discredit those who disagree with my own morals. But Corvino warns that it is important not to use labels like “bigot” too freely.

“When you call people ‘bigots’ you are saying not merely that you disagree with them, but that their views are beyond the pale, and not worthy of consideration in a decent society,” said Corvino. “That’s a stance that should be used sparingly. I’m not saying that there aren’t bigots on the other side, but we should avoid painting with too broad a brush.”

In addition to being a professor and chair of the Philosophy Department at Wayne State University in Detroit, Corvino is an accomplished columnist and author. His most recent book, “What’s Wrong With Homosexuality?” published in March, has been well received. His work spurred a YouTube series of shorter videos in which Corvino addresses some issues from the book in an accessible, humorous manner. 

“This book is the product of many years of my traveling the country responding to people’s moral and religious objections to same-sex relationships,” Corvino says. “It allowed me to engage the arguments, but also to share my story as a participant in the so-called ‘culture wars.’”

One institution notorious for such objections is the Catholic Church. Corvino had been scheduled to speak at Providence College in Rhode Island on September 26. Yet just days before giving his lecture titled, “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage,” the Catholic university abruptly canceled.

Hugh Lena, Providence College’s Provost, sent the following statement to the faculty via email:

While academic freedom is at the heart of teaching in a Catholic university, the United States bishops maintain that in accord with Ex corde ecclesiae: “the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” (Catholics in Political Life, USCCB, 2004).

By depriving students of a lecture based upon an opposition to the speaker’s moral integrity, it seems that the Catholic university’s “academic freedom” has several strings attached.

Apparently, Lena maintains that the cancellation “had nothing to do with Corvino” and seems to have no intention of apologizing to him. However, earlier this month, the college did add sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination policy—another positive step toward LGBT acceptance within the Catholic faith.

“The truth is that it’s difficult not to feel as if the Providence College administration regards me as a sort of virus, which might infect students if not blocked by some administration-approved surgical mask,” Corvino wrote on his website in response to the incident. “This feeling is sadly familiar, to me and to any gay person. It is the malaise of the closet, the notion that some features of oneself are unspeakable. I am the Other. And if I feel that way, I can only imagine how young gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Providence College students must feel. It is for them that I remain most concerned.”

You can read Corvino’s response in its entirety here

Columnist and co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, Maggie Gallagher, who co-authored the point/counter point book, “Debating Same-Sex Marriage” with Corvino in 2011, wrote in her National Review column, The Corner, that while she agrees that Providence College is right in a “limited sense,” Corvino deserves an apology, writing:

Providence College is right in this limited sense: The rule Catholic colleges are supposed to follow is to have someone on the panel who can speak for Catholic teaching, which was not the original plan. What bothers me is that apparently nobody from the university has bothered to apologize to John Corvino for the rudeness of abruptly cancelling a speaking engagement he accepted in good faith. Following Catholic teaching is not his problem.

On writing the book, “Debating Same-Sex Marriage” with Gallagher, Corvino told 429Magazine that although he and Maggie disagree sharply, they get along well and respect each other.

What’s Wrong With Homosexuality?” and “Debating Same-Sex Marriage” are available on Amazon. Corvino’s lecture, “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?” can be viewed below. 


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