Christopher Scanlan of the Poynter Institute explained the power of open-ended questions, especially for the presidential debates, in a New York Times op-ed piece on Tuesday:
Unlike its rhetorical opposite, the closed-ended question, which limits possible answers to yes, no and "I don't know," open-ended questions require an expansive response. If questions are the traffic signals that direct an interview, open-ended questions are green lights, closed-ended are reds.
The truth of Scanlan's observation stood out for me on Wednesday evening when Bob Schieffer reduced the complicated issue of gay marriage to this: "Both of you are opposed to gay marriage. But to understand how you have come to that conclusion, I want to ask you a more basic question. Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?"
The question is about 10 years behind the curve in the lively debate about gay marriage. Justin Lee, a gay Christian who began his Justin's World website while still a student at Wake Forest University, debunks four of the myths that often surround the question of whether homosexuality is a choice. Lee believes homosexual desires are not a choice, but here is how he summarizes the four myths:
Ã‚Â° Either homosexuality is a choice or else it is genetic. There is no middle ground.
Ã‚Â° A Christian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful must logically believe that no one is born gay.
Ã‚Â° If homosexuality is genetic, then gays deserve legal minority status. Otherwise, they don't.
Ã‚Â° The origin or "cause" of homosexuality has been proven.
(Lee last updated Justin's World in 2002, but confirmed via email that he stands behind what he wrote there. More recently, he has since written an essay for GayChristian.net that argues in favor of gay marriage.)
These are some open-ended questions about gay marriage that I hope some journalists will explore -- if not with presidential candidates, then with other important figures in the gay-marriage debate:
Ã‚Â° What is the state's interest, if any, in preserving a definition of marriage as involving a man and a woman?
Ã‚Â° Jon Meacham of Newsweek has said, "We have changed the definition of marriage before, and so we can change it again." For what philosophical reasons do you oppose redefining marriage to incorporate gay and lesbian couples?
Ã‚Â° In what ways might our culture address gay marriage without turning it into a decades-long battle in the culture wars?