Runyan defends his lone vote against same-sex benefits

I hadn’t really pictured Cameron Runyan as a culture warrior. But here, in the process of defending a vote, he takes on moral relativism, postmodernism, and other newfangled stuff.

Not the sort of stuff you usually hear city councilmen going on about.

Anyway, I pass it on verbatim:

Cameron Runyan for Columbia City Council
Why I cannot support the redefinition of marriage
My recent, lone vote against providing homosexual couples with marriage benefits has caused quite a stir in the capital city of Columbia.  I hope this will shed a ray of light on my action.
Let me first address two primary issues.  First, nothing I say below on this topic means that I do not care deeply about the people who are in the midst of these issues.  I do care, and will continue to care for them.  I also pray that as they read this, they can be as respectful of my worldview as they require others to be of theirs.  Second, there was a time in my life when I believed, like an increasing number in our culture, that what is truth for one person may or may not be truth for another person.  I believed that we should essentially let people do whatever makes them happy within their version of truth.
However, a few years ago, my eyes were opened to the reality that the increasing moral relativism of our post-modern culture is contributing to the unraveling of the societal foundations we all depend on.  Because so many in our culture now see all moral issues as being relative to the individual, we are quickly becoming a society where any absolute moral truth no longer exists.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with the contemporary issues surrounding human sexuality.
Twenty-five years ago, there was not one country on the planet where same sex marriage was legal.  Today, the push to redefine marriage and sexuality has become the issue of utmost moral urgency in our culture.  This movement has led us to redefine gender and the central institution of the family in ways that no previous generation in the history of the world could imagine.  We now face the once incomprehensible notion that a person can choose their gender and, further that they can choose the type of marriage arrangement they desire within their chosen gender.  The fruit of this unprecedented revolution is that absolute moral truths have been exchanged for a relativistic belief system in which nothing can be known with certainty.
City Council’s vote addressed same sex couples but the impact of this moral revolution extends far beyond that because once moral absolutes are removed, anything goes.  Even Facebook is in on the revolution.  Users there can now choose from more than fifty different gender options.  Earlier this year in Utah, a judge struck down that state’s anti-polygamy law opening the way for polygamous and polyamorous marriages.
In Germany, the restraints are even being removed from incest to allow for sexual fulfillment.  A recent ruling there declared, “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”
Historic women’s colleges are now being forced to accept transgender men and are, ironically in the position of discriminating against women in favor of men.  On other college campuses, students are being encouraged to choose their “preferred gender pronoun” and to change them as often as they wish.  These students may literally choose to be male today, female tomorrow and to have no gender next week.
The moral revolution in the educational arena is also entering our high schools as well.  In a Kentucky high school, a child who was born a boy, but now identifies as a girl, has recently been allowed to use the lady’s facilities along with the school’s girls.
At the end of the day, I have been elected as one of three at-large, city wide officials to represent all the people of our state’s capital city.  The balance of council did their job representing one portion of Columbia.  I have chosen to represent the rest.

In service,

Cameron Runyan

Councilman, City of Columbia, SC

39 thoughts on “Runyan defends his lone vote against same-sex benefits

  1. M. Prince

    Well, in my unofficial role as fact-checker for all things German, I have to point out that Mr. Runyan gets it flat wrong when he writes that in Germany “restraints are even being removed from incest to allow for sexual fulfillment”. By referring to a “recent ruling,” he makes it appear that laws have been changed in this regard. They haven’t. All that happened was that an ethics council (composed of scientists and other experts whose job is to offer government advice on various subjects) issued a non-binding opinion (voting 14 in favor and 9 against) that sexual relations between siblings should no longer be a criminal offense – though only in cases where the pair involved did not grow up together and met as adults. But that’s where it ends. There is no movement toward making any change to the law and the current government has already dismissed the matter. I can only suppose that Mr. Runyan believes those European libertines are capable of practically anything and is ready to assume the worst – as the general tenor of his op-ed would indicate.

  2. Mark Stewart

    It’s an interesting take on “morality”. I think the opposite, however. This issue isn’t about moral relativity; it’s about the opposite. Likewise, nowhere does he support the idea that gay marriage has, or will, alter “the central institution of the family”.

    This reads as someone who fears the future and clings to the known, no matter how imperfect. This is just one small topic – and one not particularly germane to Columbia City Council – but if this is the way that Runyan thinks about issues, then I am not so sure that he is a worthy representative of the City – especially the City at large.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      He has shown himself often to be a pawn of the religious right–Cubby Culbertson and the Christ Central guy…at least after he used the LGBT community to get elected. The same LGBT community that has been open about its “agenda” to be treated equally on all counts, including the right to marry.
      His position is wrong on so many points. Gender is not “chosen,” any more than sexual orientation is “chosen”– while doctors and parents , and even society, may assign a gender to a child, people are what they are. Why the insistence on binary genders, anyway? Where is the harm?
      My home restrooms are unisex–I would not mind using unisex restrooms in public, so long as no one peed on the seat–I’m looking at all you hovering women!
      and he no more “respects” the position of the LGBT community than they do his. This piece is full of “disrespect.”
      And if his position were that blacks should not have equal rights, is that worthy of “respect”?

      1. Mark Stewart

        If one is going to go into morals, it would seem to me that starting with the big, universal ones would be what one would turn to first: Things like “all people are created equal” and “do unto your neighbor as you would have done to you” – those sorts of ideals. I don’t disagree that there are universal moralities that people generally believe. We just need to be careful when we call something “moral” when what we really are trying to obfuscate is intolerance or fear. Being equally tolerant of others – especially when this does not impinge on any other person – would seem to me to be a morally absolutist sort of position which we should strive to uphold.

        Rereading his press release – I actually found the last line, “I have chosen to represent the rest” to be incredibly sanctimonious.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            I do not think he is saying gender or sexual orientation are matters of objective reality.
            “We now face the once incomprehensible notion that a person can choose their gender and, further that they can choose the type of marriage arrangement they desire within their chosen gender.”
            People do not “choose” their gender. They recognize it. It takes time, sometimes, to strip away social conditioning.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I don’t think Cameron was saying “there are universal moralities that people generally believe.”

          The way I understood it, it had nothing to do with what people believe. I think he was saying that there are certain things that are so, whether people believe them or not.

          Sort of the way gravity is a fact, and will affect you, whether you believe in it or not.

          I thought that was why he brought in such things as the phenomenon of people saying they are of one gender one day, and of the other (or one of Facebook’s fifty) the next. Basically saying there’s an objective reality that is not a matter of an individual’s opinion.

          But maybe I misread him…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            But I could be projecting, because that is the sort of thinking that underlies my view on abortion.

            I believe that a fetus either is or isn’t an individual human life with the moral claim on us that any human has. I believe this is so whether we believe it is so or not.

            I could be wrong in assuming that the fetus IS a human with moral worth. Someone else could be wrong in assuming that the fetus is not. But it really doesn’t matter WHAT we think — there is an objective truth that is independent of our opinions.

            But the one thing I know I reject is that the humanity of that life changes according to the opinion of an individual person. That if one pregnant woman sees the life she’s carrying as a baby, and the other sees it as a blob of cells without moral claim on us, that does not change the essential nature of that life. And that is what the “pro-choice” position requires.

            The fact that no human being can prove, to the satisfaction of all others, whether the fetus is human or not, absolutely requires that we extend to it the benefit of the doubt. Its moral worth, or lack thereof, is something that exists independently, regardless of our opinion of it.

            Like gravity.

            I don’t know that Cameron expressed it all that well — and maybe I haven’t either. Nor am I certain that the concept applies to the situation he’s talking about. But that’s what I thought he was trying to get at, and that intrigued me. As I said, it’s not the usual stuff of city council debates…

            1. M. Prince

              Actually, gravity is a relative construct, too. Can’t even depend on time any more, not since that durned Einstein came along.

            2. Kathryn Fenner

              A fetus is human. It isn’t canine or bovine. What cannot be proven is whether it is an independent human life worthy of as many rights as the woman who carries it.

          2. Mark Stewart

            Morality is by definition a human agreement as to meaning. There is no absolutism such as with gravity. There is not even religious absolutism.

            If there are things that are just “so”, this would have to account for the fact that sexuality and gender are as “imperfectly” expressed as every other aspect of our physical/mental/emotional being. We are all created as deviations from the norm. Not one person is the norm – or ever has been. God may want us all to view ourselves as similar, but we were created with entropy injected at ever turn. To me, this makes for a far richer, more vibrant, and more adaptable world.

            Sorry, but the idea that some gay people want to be recognized for committing themselves to the bonds of matrimony is hardly the worst thing that ever happened to our society. Compared to this, I can better understand why there was a rejection of the hippy 60s, etc by more conservative people. But rejecting people because they want to promote and abide by a pillar of social order, that I just do not understand. Except in terms of prejudice and fearfulness that is.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Well, I was about to add that the objective-reality argument probably applies better to such issues as a person’s gender than it does to same-sex marriage.

              Whether a person or an animal is male or female or a gynandromorph (or reproduces through parthenogenesis or some such) is something I would trust a biologist to be able to tell us with a high degree of certainty.

              For that reason, I could see the objective-reality argument applying better in that instance…

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’m reminded, perhaps irrelevantly, of when I coached senior little league, back when I was a senior in high school in Hawaii.

              The little brother of one of my friends was on this team, and for whatever reason, no Dads had come forward to volunteer to coach. So my friend Steve said HE would coach his brother’s team, and enlisted me and a third school friend to help him.

              Steve had nearly shoulder length hair. So did his little brother. Sometimes the kid would be subjected to trash talk because of this. But it was never bad at any of the games I coached.

              I missed the day that it blew up, but I remember every detail of the incident as it was told to me. Some of the PARENTS in the stands were heckling the kid, saying things like, “How do you know he’s really a boy?”

              The mother of one of the Hawaiian kids on OUR team said indignantly, “You look in his PANTS, that’s how!” The Caucasian woman who had heckled the boy got huffy in return, saying, “Well, I don’t have to sit here and listen to some foul-mouthed Hawaiian!”

              The Hawaiian lady got up and started to leave the stands. As she passed in front of the obnoxious white woman, she punched her in the belly. The two women then really got into it, rolling down the bleachers, according to my informant.

              An ugly scene, and I suppose I was lucky to have missed it. And no one acted with perfect decorum.

              But our Hawaiian mom had the stronger argument on her side, and not just morally. No matter what the OPINION of anyone in the stands as to our player’s gender, there was a way to empirically determine the objective reality…

            3. Kathryn Fenner

              Biologists can tell us what the chromosomal profile of a being is, and I suppose if it is a simply XX or XY situation, we can decide that that being is male or female. What about other situations?
              And sex isn’t gender. Gender is a societal construct. Gender cannot be established, at this point, biologically. It is, it seems, in the eye of the possessor.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Tell you what — rather than just delete your comment, which violates the civility rules of this blog, I’ll give you a chance to back that up. Because I’m completely puzzled — I can’t imagine what evidence you would base such a statement on…

  3. Rusty Inman

    One wonders if Mr. Runyan slept through Philosophy 101, Logic 101 and Ethics 101. That would seem the only viable explanation for his failure to realize that, by assuming/positing a moral absolute for community life, one assumes the role of moral arbiter for that community. By doing so, he/she paradoxically engages in the kind of moral relativism that, by parading as moral absolutism, represents the greatest danger/threat to community life.

    Moral absolutes are part and parcel of community life. But moral absolutes that sustain positive, healthy and sustainable community life are not externally imposed at a single point in time. They rather, evolve or develop over time—sometimes a long time—within the context of that community’s broadening life, experience and history; i.e., we live and, hopefully, we learn. Thus are those absolutes maddeningly general in nature and maddeningly specific—i.e., relative, situational—in application.

    In my community, Love is a/the moral absolute. Of Love as a moral absolute, I am certain—it has been “tested by the spirits” and long ago passed with an “A”. But, of what Love—to act in a loving way—means in its particularities, ah, there is the rub. As I said, maddeningly general in nature and maddeningly specific—i.e., relative, situational—in application. And, as I implied, worked out “in fear and trembling” in the midst of a community of loving accountability.

    Mr. Runyan’s inability to grasp the nuances of “moral arbitration” within the context of community, his inability to comprehend that what he calls “this moral revolution” reaches much further back in our history than “twenty-five years” and his embarrassing reliance on rather apocalyptic references to make his case crimp the credibility of his argument. Furthermore, his apparent ignorance relative to the transgender issues arriving over the far horizon is disturbing when seen in the context of his column—it quickly descends into a rant all dressed up in Brooks Brothers.

    A lifetime ago, my wife, a psychiatric nurse, spoke of the difference between being “critical” and being “curious.” It is a paradigm that I consider incredibly profound precisely because it is so incredibly simple. And because, of course, it is so incredibly true. My suggestion would be that Mr. Runyan perhaps consider the differences between the two and the very different paths down which each leads.

    In closing, I might add that, when I was a boy, my grandmother was convinced that the prohibition against “playing cards” was a moral absolute. Imagine my curiosity when, as a college student, I wandered into her house during a trip home to find her playing bridge with three other members of her Sunday School class.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful contribution, Rusty. I’m sorry it sat there so long waiting to be moderated.

      Tell me more about the contrast between “critical” and “curious.” I’m not familiar with those two concepts as being part of a dichotomy, so I’m… curious.

      The REASON I’m curious is that I fear I might be on the “critical” end of the spectrum, and I suspect that’s not a good thing…

      1. Rusty Inman


        The curious/critical dichotomy is worthy of long, long discussion and, just as probably, a book preferably written by Scott Peck when he was still in his “The Road Less Traveled” writing mode—which I fear he absented as soon as he finished the book. No worry, though, as I will be brief and sketchy—partly because I am dedicated to clearing brush away from the steps that lead down the bluff to my old dock here on the Congaree (and doing so today) and partly because it seems a long, long discussion best had with oneself before had with others.

        I am, like everyone else, flawed to the core. And, like far too many, can be far too aware of it—self-awareness being both blessing and curse. When those flaws find some type of expressive form—in the words of the traditional liturgy, “by thought, word or deed”—-I sometimes respond in a purely self-critical way. Though I’ve never been drawn to literal self-flagellation, I have on too many occasions engaged in its figurative form—I can beat myself up with the best of them. It is one thing to be “sorry” for one’s “sins.” It is one thing for “the remembrance of them” to be “grievous unto us”. It is quite another to be so self-critical that, as a fellow traveler once worded it, “the urge to purge” is so strong that anything less than figurative self-flagellation just won’t suffice as proper penance.

        Ramping down the criticality in favor of curiosity is, I have found in my own life, far less destructive and far more constructive than its reverse. Thus, I more often, these days, respond to my own flaws with curiosity than criticality. Rather than beating myself up, I work at exploring the “What?” and “Why?” and “Where did that come from?” of my “grievous” thoughts, words and deeds with an eye to a greater understanding of myself—who I was, who I am, where I came from, where I am, who I want to be, where I want to be, how I got from who and where I was to who and where I am and how I am going to get from who and where I am to who and where I want to be.

        Criticality shuts that conversation down in favor of what is, in actuality, a lazy form of penance; i.e., having beat myself up, I feel better and, feeling better, see no real need to much understand or change anything. Such “cheap grace” gives me a pass on doing the real work of confession and repentance—this being the best argument for retiring the notion of “penance” (or, at least, sending it on an extended vacation to, say, Las Vegas). When the “feelings” pass, I am no different than I was before and, thus, am condemned to make the same mistakes over and over again.

        Curiosity does not give me a pass per my flaws. If anything, it forces me into a deeper engagement with my darker angels—a sometimes scary dialogue. But, when that self-conversation has been had and that particular little journey is over, I tend to emerge a bit changed, a bit transformed and a bit more free. Even better, I have not added more scars to a soul/spirit that, as is the case with all of us, already has far too many that are in need of healing.

        The dynamics are somewhat similar when applied to the way one responds to others.

        I can choose to respond to someone who is different from me—in one or a number of the innumerable ways he/she might be different from me—by being appreciative of the differences, critical of the differences or curious about the differences.

        The first and the last of those responses are both affirming and inclusive. Each of them opens a door to both mutual- and self-understanding. Each of them carries the promise of coming to know the other person as a person (in existential terms, as a Thou and not an It), which forever alters the way I relate to him/her. Appreciation of and curiosity about the other always expands one’s horizons and enlarges one’s circle.

        Criticality, on the other hand, closes the door to understanding—both mutual- and self-. It shuts down both conversation and dialogue and can be the prelude to an “us vs. them” or “I’m right/You’re wrong” paradigm that implies the possibility of objectifying and demeaning and excluding and sometimes intentionally hurting the other. After all, as long as I can objectify you, I can say what I want about you and/or do what I want to you and feel nothing more than a vague ambivalence—“So?”

        I have gone on too long and that brush is no closer to being cleared. There is much there and even more beneath it. If you decide to take on that paradigm, I’ll be interested in where it leads you.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Interesting. I’m not sure that greater curiosity about my own faults would lead to anything constructive. I’m concerned that such closer examination tends to greater self-loathing.

          But I think there needs to be enough self-examination to understand that my faults are indeed faults, and not just endearing idiosyncrasies or some such. And to understand them well enough to, as you say, achieve some measure of positive change.

          I was more concerned with the business of being critical of others. I’m trying to apply it to myself…

          I’ll confess to not being curious enough about others. To cite sages in my own family, many years ago, my wife told me that her mother held that there were two kinds of people in the world — people people, and things people. (There being a strong implication that it’s better to be the former than the latter.) Being self-obsessed, I thought about that with regard to myself, and said honestly that as much as I’d like to be able to claim to be a people person, I really didn’t think I was either.

          She said that actually, there was a third category — ideas people. I was happy with that designation. Ideas motivate, interest and excite me. I wish I were more of a people person, but I’m not. I’m an INTP, and practically off the charts on the I and the N. And the I is described this way: “The extravert’s flow is directed outward toward people and objects, and the introvert’s is directed inward toward concepts and ideas.”

          This can sometimes lead to me being horribly insensitive of other people. I remember once in a meeting with other editors at the newspaper, when I was still in the newsroom, I was staring at a spot on the ceiling listening to a proposition that a fellow editor was setting forth for us to consider. When she finished (maybe even BEFORE she finished), I, still staring at the ceiling, immediately said, “Wrong! No, that’s completely wrong, and here’s why…” Our then executive-editor angrily denounced my behavior, saying I had been appallingly dismissive to my colleague. Apparently, those people looking at her saw that she looked as though she had been slapped when I came out with my “Wrong!” I saw nothing of the kind. I didn’t see a person at all; I just saw a flawed idea, and couldn’t wait to take it apart.

          I felt horrible. I was deeply sorry, and apologized profusely to my colleague.

          Anyway, I tend not to be critical of PEOPLE (less because I am kind and empathetic, but because I’m not as interested as I should be in them personally). Nor am I very curious about them, to my shame. But I will often eviscerate their ideas. The problem comes in when their self-concepts are inextricably tied up with those ideas. Then I can’t criticize the ideas without their possessors feeling that THEY are being dismissed, criticized, discounted. And it is therefore pointless to debate the point with them; they can’t see it as anything but a personal attack. When I can see that that is the case, I try to just hold off from saying what I think…

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      A great thought piece.
      “moral absolutes that sustain positive, healthy and sustainable community life are not externally imposed at a single point in time.” I think Runyan believes that all morality derives from a single source, the Bible, as interpreted by Baptist preachers. I understand well all the holes in that “argument” but I believe that is what he believes…
      That and that there is no moral relativism in soliciting the support of the LGBT community when you are running for office and then thumping your Bible once you are elected…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        But to your point, “a great thought piece,” I concur, and we need to encourage Mr. Inman to contribute more often (this was his first comment ever). He’d be a good addition.

        I’ve written him a note apologizing for his comment waiting several hours for moderation, and have assured him of speedier processing in the future, particularly since he appears to be using his real, full name.

        I have to cringe a bit at his observation, “One wonders if Mr. Runyan slept through Philosophy 101, Logic 101 and Ethics 101” since I never even took such courses. I crammed my schedule in college with history, political science and English electives. And the two things I’ve always wished I’d worked in somehow were philosophy and logic — and perhaps rhetoric, if that was even in the catalogue. I had tested out of math and foreign language, and took the absolute minimum of science, so my schedule was wide open. Yet I could hardly find enough room in it to take all the history and poli sci courses I wanted. Then there were the requirements for a journalism major that I had to take, most of them a waste of time — journalism is a trade for literate people. You don’t learn it by sitting in class; you learn it by doing. At least I got a second major in history at the last minute.

        College went by too quickly, that’s all I can say…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, and I also want to thank Cameron, for launching a discussion about intellectual underpinnings of a political stance. He may not be as elegant a writer as Mr. Inman, but he did get the ball rolling.

          Those who disagree with him should thank him as well, if only because he gave them something substantial to shoot at. Aside from what you see here, and SCLegislator’s parody grade, I see that the Rev. Neal Jones has taken keyboard in hand to deconstruct Cameron’s piece, reaching the conclusions that you’d expect…

            1. Mark Stewart

              Maybe churches will want to continue to sanction marriage within a religious context? There is no reason churches must be forced, as you say. Creeping is generally how people and institutions adjust to evolution – and even to revolution. This is decidedly not revolutionary, however. So I see no reason to expect churches not to continue to perform marriages.

            2. Kathryn Fenner

              The citation linked to said that a church-owned retreat facility could not discriminate in whom it rented to, not that the church had to marry the same sex couple.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          I normally decry anti-intellectualism (I also eschew it, having taken all those English courses), but my failure to have studied philosophy has engendered in me an anti-intellectual response under certain circumstances. When people start using words like “epistemological” and “ontological,” I start to get a whiff of bovine leavings.

          At least I recognize this flaw in myself. But I still get a kick out of parodies of such discussions:

          Sonja: Judgment of any system, or a priori relationship or phenomenon exists in an irrational, or metaphysical, or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstract empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.
          Boris: Yes, I’ve said that many times…


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