— Marriage & Family —

April 21, 2013

Three Same Sex Marriage Bill to be Voted on this Week; Broad and Narrow Protections for Religious Freedom All Still Alive in Committee

Carroll Andrew Morse

Three same-sex marriage bills have been posted for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on this Tuesday, S0038 and H5015A which would authorize same sex marriage by statute, and S0708 which calls for a referendum on the issue. One or more of them could reach the Senate floor by Thursday (see item #7 from Ian Donnis).

The Providence Journal's Randal Edgar did an excellent job last Sunday describing the opposite poles of religious freedom embodied in the two bills receiving the bulk of recent attention, as well as the possible other positions in between…

One bill [S0038] — nearly identical to a bill that passed 51 to 19 in the House — would give Rhode Island the fewest religious protections among states where lawmakers have approved same-sex marriage. The only states with fewer protections would be Massachusetts and Iowa, where the courts legalized same-sex marriage, and Maine, one of three states to adopt it last year by popular vote.

The other bill [S0708] would give Rhode Island one of the longest lists of protections, extending them to areas other states have bypassed…

[S]ame-sex marriage laws in the six states that have legalized it through legislation, as well as the District of Columbia, tend to fall between the two Rhode Island bills, and they sometimes touch on different issues.

Vermont, New Hampshire and Maryland allow religiously affiliated fraternal organizations to limit insurance coverage to spouses in heterosexual marriage, as the Ciccone bill would do.

Maryland, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia protect religious organizations from promoting same-sex marriage through religious programs, counseling and retreats that violate the organization’s beliefs — an area not expressly covered in either Rhode Island bill.

In addition, laws in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Maryland are expressly wider in scope in defining organizations that cannot be required to participate in any ceremony related to the "solemnization or celebration" of a marriage. For example, Connecticut law specifically exempts "any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society" from having "to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage".

The wide range of organizational forms listed in other state laws has direct bearing on what has become a common but dubious claim of many SSM advocates, that already existing RI law makes adding anything beyond a thin exemption to a same-sex marriage law unnecessary. As Edgar writes...

Rhode Island also has a Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which allows governmental restriction “of a person’s free exercise of religion” only when the restriction comes from “a rule of general applicability, and does not intentionally discriminate against religion.” The restriction must also be “essential to further a compelling government interest.”

“The protections already exist,” said Bela August Walker, a law professor at Roger Williams University.

I did a quick search, to see whether the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act had ever been interpreted, and came across its consideration in New Life Worship Center vs. Town of Smithfield Zoning Board of Review (2010). In a decision where one aspect of several was the interaction between the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and local zoning decisions the Superior Court quoted this principle to be followed in religious freedom cases…
"Of course, every building owned by a religious organization does not fall within [the definition of religious exercise]. Buildings used by religious organizations for secular activities or to generate revenue to finance religious activities are not automatically protected."
Could this mean that a revenue-generating hall rental can remove use of a facility from the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and perhaps from other current laws, related to religious freedom? Case law suggests it's possible.

There is also the question of how the narrow constructs of "religious institution" and "religious organization" relate to the canonical religious freedom and same-sex marriage thought-example, the Knights of Columbus. Because of arcane Federal tax rules, individual Knights of Columbus chapters don't incorporate under the same section of tax-code usually used by other "religious" organizations. They incorporate as "fraternal lodges” or “fraternal benefit societies” (and a bit of RI case law [Levasseur vs. Knights of Columbus (1963)] does indeed refer to a K of C chapter as a “fraternal benefit society”). When it come times for a court to interpret religious exemptions in terms of Rhode Island law, could the fact that the Federal Government see an organization as a “fraternal benefit society” and not a “religious organization” make a difference?

States like New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York have made a clear, unmistakable choice on this. What is there to be gained by Rhode Island leaving any ambiguity in its statutes on this issue?

* * *

In any coherent analysis, the position taken by some SSM advocates that S0038 provides “strong” protections for religious freedom cannot be reconciled with an insistence that existing protections not be overlapped. If a SSM law has been constructed to avoid “protections [that] already exist”, then the ability of the government to require clergy to perform marriages must not be prohibited anywhere else in the structure of Rhode Island law -- which further implies that state government can order clergy to perform marriages, if the particular "protection of freedom of religion in marriage" section of S0038 is repealed at a future time.

The other possibility, of course, is that S0038's religious freedom protections merely reaffirm what is already enshrined elsewhere in law. But if it is OK to reaffirm a principle that we all hope is already very clear, i.e. government cannot order religious institutions to perform marriages, then it is more than OK to also clarify an area of the law where definite ambiguities exist, i.e. the meaning and scope of "religious institution" or “religious organization” under Rhode Island law. New York/Connecticut style language that makes clear that “religious organization” can mean more than just a house of worship would tell the public – including the judges who might have to interpret this law in the future – what exactly the law is intended to cover.

At the end of the debate on the legislation related to this issue, not everyone will be in agreement about what should be covered by religious protections related to same-sex marriage -- but before the law is voted on, there should be a clear understanding about what will be covered.

March 21, 2013

Same Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom at the Rhode Island Senate Today

Carroll Andrew Morse

This afternoon, the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee will hear two same-sex marriage bills, S0708 which would put the question to a Constitutional voter referendum in 2014, and S0038 which would directly authorize same-sex marriage by statute. In terms of the guarantees of "protection of religious freedom in marriage", the bills are polar opposites. The referendum bill would create one of the most expansive religious freedom protection regimes associated with same-sex marriage in the country, covering not only religious organizations, but also non-religiously affiliated "small businesses". In contrast, both the House and Senate statutory authorization bills would create one of the nation's weakest freedom of religion in marriage regimes.

To begin, let's note that the Senate Bill directly authorizing same-sex marriage, S0038, as submitted, is an improvement over the version already passed by the House (H5015). The House bill would make Rhode Island the only state in the US to put conditions into an SSM law that religious organizations must meet in order to keep control over their religious doctrine...

15-3-6.1. Protection of freedom of religion in marriage. – (a) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States constitution and article I, section 3 of the Rhode Island constitution, each religious institution has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms, as long as such policies are consistent with sections 15-1-2, 15-1-3, 15-1-4 and 15-1-5.
Civil law conditions for keeping exclusive control of religious teachings are quite the radical departure from any concept of "separation of church and state". S0038, on the other hand (if it doesn't get amended), lists no conditions that must be met, stating simply...
15-3-6.1. Protection of freedom of religion in marriage. – (a) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 3 of the Rhode Island Constitution, each religious institution has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms.
The above language would place Rhode Island with a minority of same-sex marriage states, along with New Hampshire and Maryland, that make overt declarations about religious institutions retaining exclusive control of their own doctrine, as the SSM statutes enacted by most other states include no such statement. This implies one of two things; either the idea that exclusive control of religious doctrine belongs to religious organizations was in most places considered self-evident OR these other states are reserving the right to set limits on the "exclusive control" that religious organizations have over their doctrines.

With those options in mind, consider what Rhode Island's same-sex marriage advocates are calling strong protection, the language above and a second religious freedom clause in the proposed law...

(b) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 3 of 1 the Rhode Island Constitution, no regularly licensed or ordained clergyperson, minister, elder, priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination as described and authorized in sections 15-3-5 and 15-3-6 of the general laws to officiate at a civil marriage, is required to solemnize any marriage. A regularly licensed or ordained clergyperson, minister, elder, priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action based on a refusal to solemnize any marriage under this chapter.
If this section were to be stripped from the bill, either before being passed into law or at some future time, what would be different?

In the best-case scenario, the answer is nothing, i.e. nothing changes because Constitutional "separation of church and state" already prevents the state from ordering clergy to perform any religious actions -- implying, in turn, that the religious freedom sections in S0038/H5105 are only meaningful the event of a worse-case, where government has assumed a power to direct clergypeople in certain of their actions so long as there is no law saying it can't.

A number of same-sex marriage advocates in Rhode Island have actively opposed extending freedom of religion protections further than control of church doctrine and the activities of clergy, even though that is what most other states that have legalized SSM have done, i.e. expressly state that religious organizations, defined more broadly than houses of worship alone, cannot be legally required to participate in the solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage[s] that violate their religious beliefs. For example, a Projo op-ed written by Roger Williams Law Professor Leah Donaldson and promoted by Rhode Islander's United for Marriage took the position that...

H.B. 5015 already offers strong protections for those churches, clergy and religious organizations that have religious objections to marriage equality. Professor Wilson also neglects to mention the various exemptions for religious organizations that currently exist in Rhode Island law. Rhode Island’s anti-discrimination laws already state that they do not “impose any duty on a religious organization.” Additionally, Rhode Island’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects Rhode Islanders’ religious liberty to an even greater degree than the U.S. Constitution. While many could disagree that such broad exemptions are good policy, these issues are already addressed in Rhode Island’s General Laws, and nothing in H.B. 5015 would change religious protections.
However, it makes little sense to argue that a reaffirmation of what (we hope) is already certain, that clergy cannot be ordered to perform marriages by government is an important factor in the Rhode Island same-sex marriage bill, while simultaneously arguing that a clarification of something more ambiguous, services provided by religious organizations related to marriage celebrations, is wholly unnecessary.

To use the canonical example, even if you believe that the proposed SSM law in conjunction with existing Rhode Island law obviously disallows a lawsuit against a Knights of Columbus hall which refuses to host a same-sex wedding reception, clarifying this in the new law would be no different from reaffirming that the government cannot order clergy to perform marriages. Since the law is being rewritten anyway, no substantial burden is imposed by incorporating one more set of changes making clear that a Knights of Columbus facility cannot be sued over this issue -- if that is the outcome that is desired.

January 25, 2013

Marriage's Decline, and Society's

Justin Katz

(This essay appears in the January 25, 2013, Providence Journal.)

For two years in a row now, The Journal’s article about the first baby born in the new year has contained no mention whatsoever of a father. Studies on the subject are clear that fatherlessness will be a disadvantage to these children, even if they weren’t already being born into disadvantaged communities.

We don’t hear much about it, locally, but we’re looking at a dangerous trend, and we’re ignoring the real harm to the children who will grow up to be our neighbors. In some neighborhoods of Providence and Newport, fewer than one in four black or Hispanic children live in homes with both of their parents.

It has seemed as if every article about education in Providence lately has included a teacher or student making reference to suburban Barrington as the distant, unreachable example with which city kids must strive to compete. Well, much of Barrington, East Greenwich, Exeter, and North Kingstown is notable for being on the opposite side of the spectrum in family life. Most children of every race there live with two parents.

Typically, to the extent that our society tries to address this problem, it focuses on symptoms, not causes, so we end up with a strategy of negation and perverse incentives. We try to prevent the children from ever being born by sterilizing the population through expanded access to contraception and stopping those who are conceived from ever taking their first breaths by aborting them. Then we use government programs and handouts to try to soften the hardship that the breakdown of the family causes.

One needn’t oppose such strategies, though, to admit the plain fact that, at the very least, they aren’t enough. The missing piece — I would say the necessary centerpiece — is the family structure that our society has been abandoning unwisely for a half a century.

Basically, as our culture advanced, it developed a way to control behavior with minimal coercion and with maximum freedom. It was to link men and women to each other and to the children whom they create through the institution of marriage. Marriage gives people a framework within which to behave responsibly.

It will never have perfect success, of course, because people aren’t perfect, but it is straightforward to understand that there is something inherently risky about sex outside of marriage and that the children whom men and women create together are living manifestations of the marriage that their parents should have.

Because it’s a way of conveying expectations, it doesn’t matter that some couples prove not to be fertile or choose not to have children. Their relationship involves an act that for almost all couples can bring new human life into the world, and so we have one institution for all. There’s no need for statements of intent or proof of fertility.

Such a message may sound simplistic, but that’s the point. It’s an institution meant to impart profound guidelines in a way that everybody can comprehend. Marriage, ultimately, is about the behavior and responsibilities of people who have the power to create children almost accidentally. It doesn’t take a sociology degree to use that power, and so the deep philosophies one hears in public debate about marriage are inadequate to define the culture.

We’ve drifted a long way from this understanding, to be sure, and many people have thrived outside of the marital model. But I’d point to the contrast of Providence and Barrington as a consequence. Who has been hurt by a sex-obsessed culture and no-fault divorce? Who is being harmed as state after state declares that gender doesn’t matter for marriage? Who is most affected by the idea that there’s nothing so different about the relationship between men and women that the law and compassionate people can treat it as unique?

Tragically, it’s those who have the least ability to take on any more obstacles: children who already face an uphill battle pursuing the American Dream. Children like Rhode Island’s first babies. Children whom Rhode Island should actually put first.

None of them will be testifying at the State House about the difference that it would have made to their lives if their mothers and fathers had understood the connection between them and their own adult relationships. And it definitely isn’t easy or comfortable to speak up in their place, but politeness and compassion count for little if we won’t even acknowledge such a central source of disadvantage in our community.

January 18, 2013

The Knights of Columbus and Rhode Island's Proposed Same-Sex Marriage Law

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Islanders United For Marriage, a same-sex marriage advocacy coalition, issued a press release yesterday which included a fact-check style response to a paid advertisement run in the Warwick Beacon by the National Organization for Marriage, a same-sex marriage opposition group. The press release claimed that the NOM ad contained "falsehoods and misleading statements". The first "fact check" item read...

Claim: Faith organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, will be forced to host same-sex weddings in their facilities against their will.

Fact: A Vermont inn refused to host a same-sex wedding and was penalized. However, the legal repercussions were not due to Vermont’s marriage equality law, but rather a state anti-discrimination law.

The inn owners cited “personal feelings” to justify their decision not to host the wedding of a lesbian couple. But Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act prohibits public accommodations, such as inns, restaurants and schools that serve the public, “from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation.” Rhode Island law currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and HB5015 will not change affect that protection.

This analysis by RIers United for Marriage -- especially as it relates to what might happen in Rhode Island -- is incomplete at best, ignoring specific protections for religious organizations that are part of existing Vermont law, but have no analog in the proposed RI law.

The claim in the press release begins with a "faith organization", yet the supposed debunking discusses a privately owned inn. Note, for the record, that most privately owned inns are not considered to be "faith organizations". The difference is significant, because Vermont specifically refers to the intersection of marriage and religiously-affiliated organizations in its public accommodations law...

4502(l) - Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage.
Presumably, the Knights of Columbus are covered somewhere in the opening legalese.

If this section of Vermont law were not in force, then whatever action was taken against the owners of the inn could also have been initiated against the Knights of Columbus. This is an important fact for the fact-checkers to consider, since protections for religious organizations in Vermont law (and in Connecticut law, and in New York law and in New Hampshire law, for that matter) are much broader than the corresponding provisions in the proposed Rhode Island SSM law. The "protection of freedom of religion in marriage" in the House's SSM bill extends no further than statements that clergypeople are not required to officiate or solemnize any marriage and that religious organizations can control their own doctrine, and would not cover activities like usage of K of C facilities.

(Whether the supposed "protection of freedom of religion in marriage" provisions in the House's same-sex marriage bill mean anything at all is itself an open question, i.e. in their absence, could the state actually begin to order churches to perform marriages in accordance with a new state-mandated marriage doctrine?)

Now, technically speaking, it is accurate for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage to claim that the proposed law doesn't weaken any existing protections for religious organizations with respect to same-sex marriage -- but only because current Rhode Island law does not presume the existence of same-sex marriage, so there is nothing in the law directly related to SSM to weaken. Current Rhode Island law does, however, provide a section on conscience and religious organization protection with respect to civil unions that is similar in spirit to the law in Vermont...

15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:

(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or

(2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or

(3) To treat as valid any civil union; if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

(b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action for such failure or refusal.

If the words "civil union" in this section of the law were changed to "marriage", then it would be clear that a Knights of Columbus chapter could not be sued for not accommodating a same-sex marriage, but that is not a proposal on the proverbial table at the moment. Whether Rhode Island's same sex marriage advocates are wedded (har har) to the barely-existent to non-existent protections for religious freedom incorporated in the current House bill remains to be seen.

Statutes from other New England States and New York concerning same sex marriage and religious organizations and beliefs are available here.

January 17, 2013

To Save Constitutional Liberty, Save Marriage

Justin Katz

With advocates' having finally managed to bring the issue of same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court, it is critical that those who believe in limited government understand one thing: If the Constitution does not allow the people of the United States to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, then it does not allow them to govern themselves.

One often hears the classic quotations of the American Founders, such as "our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people," but we can go ol' John Adams one better: Plainly stated, there is no mechanism for limited government — not federalism, not separation of powers, not representative democracy — that can maintain freedom if the government cannot reflect, but can redefine, the culture of the governed.

Put differently, if the people of the United States cannot insert cultural notions into government that would be wholly inappropriate coming from elected officials, then elected officials will use government to change the culture to their advantage or their own liking. That could be same-sex marriage. It could be some vague "holiday tree" during a school celebration of the solstice. It could be the assumption of Big Gulp evil. Or it could be the elevation of "equity” above Truth and Justice.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

January 8, 2013

The Hollow Religious Protection in Rhode Island's Proposed Same-Sex Marriage Law

Carroll Andrew Morse

The "protection of freedom of religion" in the same-sex marriage bill introduced into the Rhode Island House by Representative Arthur Handy (D - Cranston) is extremely narrow. As it currently stands, the text reads...

15-3-6.1. Protection of freedom of religion in marriage (a) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States constitution and article I, section 3 of the Rhode Island constitution, each religious institution has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms, as long as such policies are consistent with sections 15-1-2, 15-1-3 and 15-1-4. No court or other state or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission shall compel, prevent, or interfere in any way with any religious institution’s decisions about marriage eligibility within that particular faith’s tradition.

(b) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the first amendment to the United States constitution and article I, section 3 of 1 the Rhode Island constitution, no regularly licensed or ordained clergyperson, minister, elder, priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination as described and authorized in sections 15-3-5 and 15-3-6 of the general laws to officiate at a civil marriage, is required to solemnize any marriage. A regularly licensed or ordained clergyperson, minister, elder, priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any church or religious denomination shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action based on a refusal to solemnize any marriage under this chapter. No state agency or local government may base a decision to penalize, withhold benefits from, or refuse to contract with any church or religious denomination on the refusal of a person associated with such church or religious denomination to solemnize a marriage under this chapter.

The meaningfulness of these provisions can be judged by the following test: Suppose 15-3-6.1 (a) and (b) were to be repealed by a future legislature, while everything else in the proposed law remained in place. In the absence of those two sections, would the state then be able to set "doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry" for religious institutions (part a), and could churches or religious denominations who refuse to perform same-sex marriages be sued in civil court (part b)? I think there is a pretty broad consensus that this would not be the case (or am I wrong on this?).

By definition, an "exemption" that changes nothing if absent is not an exemption.

Rhode Island's current civil unions law contains much broader protection for conscience and religious organizations, which Rep. Handy's bill would repeal...

15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:

(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or

(2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or

(3) To treat as valid 1 any civil union; if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. (b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action for such failure or refusal.

Maintaining a suitable analog to this provision would place a Rhode Island same-sex marriage law very much in line with the laws passed in most of the other New England states (Maine is the exception) and New York. Replacing the existing provision with the proposed one would open the question of whether the new language simply affirms basic constitutional principles without changing their scope, or whether it implies that there are issues of religious doctrine, policy, and teaching outside of marriage that are not off-limits to some form of state control.

The various religious exemption sections of the same-sex marriage laws from Rhode Island's neighbors can be viewed in the post immediately below.

Religious Protections in New England (and New York) Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island citizens, legislators and lobbyists are invited to use this compilation of various laws from neighboring states relating to marriage and freedom of religion protections as a resource for their upcoming deliberations on same-sex marriage.


Section 46b 22b:
Refusal to solemnize or participate in ceremony solemnizing a marriage on religious grounds. (a) No member of the clergy authorized to join persons in marriage pursuant to section 46b-22 shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3 of article first of the Constitution of the state.

(b) No church or qualified church-controlled organization, as defined in 26 USC 3121, shall be required to participate in a ceremony solemnizing a marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of that church or qualified church-controlled organization.

Section 46b 35a:

Refusal to provide services or accommodations related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage on religious grounds. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage and such solemnization or celebration is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action, or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.

Section 46b 35b:

Effect of marriage equality law on provision of adoption, foster care or social services by religious organization. Nothing in public act 09-13* shall be deemed or construed to affect the manner in which a religious organization may provide adoption, foster care or social services if such religious organization does not receive state or federal funds for that specific program or purpose.


Somewhere in Title 19-A, when Maine gets around to updating its statutes. Here's the language directly from the bill that became the 2012 referendum:
Religious exemption. This chapter does not require any member of the clergy to perform or any church, religious denomination or other religious institution to host any marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of that member of the clergy, church, religious denomination or other religious institution. The refusal to perform or host a marriage under this subsection cannot be the basis for a lawsuit or liability and does not affect the tax-exempt status of the church, religious denomination or other religious institution.

New Hampshire

Title XLIII, Chapter 457, Section 37:

Affirmation of Freedom of Religion in Marriage. – Each religious organization, association, or society has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, teachings, and beliefs regarding who may marry within their faith.

I. Members of the clergy as described in RSA 457:31 or other persons otherwise authorized under law to solemnize a marriage shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of their right to free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by part I, article 5 of the New Hampshire constitution.

II. No religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, shall be required to participate in a ceremony solemnizing marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of such organization, association, or society.

III. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if such request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage through religious counseling, programs, courses, retreats, or housing designated for married individuals, and such solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage is in violation of his or her religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society.

IV. The marriage laws of this state shall not be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of members pursuant to RSA 418:5, and shall not require a fraternal benefit society that has been established and is operating for charitable or educational purposes and which is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the fraternal benefit society's free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and part I, article 5 of the New Hampshire constitution.

V. Nothing in this chapter shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions provided to religious organizations under RSA 354-A:18.

New York

Domestic Relations, Article 3, section 10-B:
§ 10-b. Religious exception. 1. Notwithstanding any state, local or municipal law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or other provision of law to the contrary, a religious entity as defined under the education law or section two of the religious corporations law, or a corporation incorporated under the benevolent orders law or described in the benevolent orders law but formed under any other law of this state, or a not-for-profit corporation operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation, or any employee thereof, being managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious corporation, benevolent order, or a not-for-profit corporation as described in this subdivision, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. Any such refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits, or discriminate against such religious corporation, benevolent order, a not-for-profit corporation operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation, or any employee thereof being managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious corporation, benevolent order, or a not-for-profit corporation.

2. Notwithstanding any state, local or municipal law or rule, regulation, ordinance, or other provision of law to the contrary, nothing in this article shall limit or diminish the right, pursuant to subdivision eleven of section two hundred ninety-six of the executive law, of any religious or denominational institution or organization, or any organization operated for charitable or educational purposes, which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, to limit employment or sales or rental of housing accommodations or admission to or give preference to persons of the same religion or denomination or from taking such action as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained.

3. Nothing in this section shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions otherwise provided to religious organizations under section three of article one of the constitution of the state of New York.


Title 18, Chapter 105, Section 5144(b):
This section does not require a member of the clergy authorized to solemnize a marriage as set forth in subsection (a) of this section, nor societies of Friends or Quakers, the Christadelphian Ecclesia, or the Baha'i Faith to solemnize any marriage, and any refusal to do so shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.

Title 9, Chapter 139, Section 4502(l):

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges in accordance with this subsection shall not create any civil claim or cause of action. This subsection shall not be construed to limit a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization from selectively providing services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to some individuals with respect to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage but not to others.

Title 8, Chapter 121, Section 4501(b):

The civil marriage laws shall not be construed to affect the ability of a society to determine the admission of its members as provided in section 4464 of this title, or to determine the scope of beneficiaries in accordance with section 4477 of this title, and shall not require a society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the society’s free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of United States or by Chapter I, Article 3 of the Constitution of the State of Vermont.

January 2, 2013

Things We Read Today (45), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Feeling hopeful, RI?; "top priority" is shown, not stated; RI gets fatherless children first; surviving sans regulation; surviving sans net income; and surviving sans a documented framework for working together.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

October 6, 2012

Marriage Rules Beyond the Ken of Kids

Justin Katz

This essay originally appeared in the Providence Journal on June 8, 2009. Given that periodical's revamped Web site, the essay is no longer available online, so I'm reproducing it here.

The preschooler's question at the dinner table probably wasn't as new to recent generations as a parent's first reaction might suggest: Can a girl marry a girl? It's the sort of question that children ask — have always asked — as they assess the world and its rules. It's a request for clarification of an inchoate understanding of what marriage is.

What was new to the American family, in that conversation, was the first grader's response to her sister's inquiry: Her friend's aunts are married to each other. The government of the next state over was the first to answer "yes," so there you go. A millennia-old process by which marriage defines appropriate, healthy relationships between the men and women whom boys and girls become is now obscured.

As with many challenges of the modern day, we who maintain a sense of marriage's value as an opposite-sex, fundamentally procreative institution must be willing and able to correct society's misdirection of our children. We must be able to explain to them our beliefs and long thought on the relevant issues, and we must be comfortable with the reality that our children will one day form and act upon their own conclusions. It serves no intellectual, spiritual, or rhetorical purpose to complain of the compounding nature of this burden. Still, observing such very direct examples of the effect that same-sex marriage will have on our culture and society is disconcerting.

That redefining marriage will indeed have an effect is a reality that a number of our compatriots wish not to face. With the escalating cost imposed by unfair accusations of bigotry, it is certainly easier to grab hold of emotional absolution. We all wish happiness for our homosexual friends and family members, but many of us allow the tint of that desire to cast an absurd light on wholly reasonable arguments, transforming them into something that they're not. Scoffing at the notion that a particular heterosexual marriage will change midstream should homosexual relationships be called by the same name is a convenient way to avoid addressing the fact that traditionalists aren't expressing that notion in the first place.

Supporters of same-sex marriage should consider the sisters introduced above, who even at their young age feel differently about boys than about their female friends. The "yes" or "no" offered at the dinner table sets the course for learning as they piece together a basic understanding of marriage that will underpin their related behavior throughout their lives. As pre-sexual youths, they learn mainly that their strange feelings toward boys are somehow — in the mysterious world of adults — associated with the concept of marriage.

Strange feelings become attraction, which progresses through sexual desire to the drive to procreate. In the traditional framework, the mystique of marriage encapsulates the entire cycle. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage. Thus has society woven ties of mutual care and responsibility between men, women, and the children whom only such pairs can bring into the world.

The consequence of providing a different answer to the initial question will be knowable only through the experiment that radicals are intent on conducting in the laboratory of humankind. (They'll leave no control group, if they can help it.) Ironically, adults who dismiss the possibility that the strength of marital ties will suffer from the dramatic change do so on the basis of precisely the underlying sense that they wish to modify: They grew up with the traditional presentation of marriage, so their fully developed intellects can extend a mature conceptualization thereof to encompass homosexual relationships that mirror the image.

A child does not have the luxury of that perspective. Children have no underlying sense through which to comprehend that their "icky" feelings toward the opposite sex will ultimately form the foundation for lifelong relationships, consummated in the persons of their own children, linking humanity across generations. If, in that first encounter with the concept of marriage, they learn that a girl can indeed marry a girl if they want to, if they love each other, that fact isn't an exception that builds on the institution. It's a constituent part of the rule. Whatever marriage therefore is, for them, it is not intrinsically a relationship for those whose expressions of intimacy tend to turn them into parents.

Moreover, children have no context to differentiate their presexual feelings for the opposite sex from their deeper interpersonal comfort with and affinity for their same-sex friends. Saying that marriage is a relationship of love, in other words, doesn't describe the form of love.

These abstractions are well beyond the ken of preschoolers, of course, which points to society's reason for developing a straightforward cultural institution like marriage, about which rules and mythologies could develop. At the nexus of feelings and law and culture and biology, men and women come together in an irreducibly unique way, and erasing the language by which we teach proper responsibility will ensure that questions at the dinner tables of the future are of a more ominous tone.

October 4, 2012

Things We Read Today (24), Thursday

Justin Katz

West Warwick for all; the essence of education reform; declines in people births; declines in business births; the easy street to dependency.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 26, 2012

Gay Marriage: Winning by Losing, or Something

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis wonders, "Was Laura Pisaturo’s loss to Michael McCaffrey actually a win for same-sex marriage supporters?"

[A] closer reading of the election reveals a more nuanced outlook — one in which same-sex marriage could have a better shot of passing the Senate in 2013 than widely recognized.

The outlook remains murky, to be sure, even for close observers of that chamber. But consider the following:

– Although McCaffrey beat Pisaturo with 53.3 percent of the vote, the margin dividing them (226 votes) was relatively close for an incumbent with a big war chest who hadn’t faced a challenger in some time.

So does McCaffrey, a potential sucessor to Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, want to face another such challenge? (He didn’t return a call seeking comment.) Pisaturo says she didn’t present herself as a single-issue candidate, yet part of the reason for backing her would fade away if the Senate backed same-sex marriage....

For her part, Pisaturo declines to make any predictions about the fate in the Senate of same-sex marriage legislation. She says it’s too early to know whether she’ll run again in 2014. (Pisaturo says, too, that jobs and the economy, and changing the culture of the Statehouse, were bigger issues in her campaign than same-sex marriage.).

The battleground is in the primary, and Donnis' observation that the pressure felt by McCaffrey this time around may affect his decision to block any such vote in the Senate going forward is a viable possibility. (Though I would note that McCaffrey's war chest, which is still pretty big, was offset by outside help from single-issue--gay marriage, pro-abortion--PACs). But Donnis also quotes Warwick Rep. Frank Ferri who says, in affect, the tide is turning and gay marriage could be passed in 2013. I have my doubts.

A look at the historic election returns for McCaffrey's district in Warwick may provide some helpful context.

YearPrimaryGeneralDiff.Primay OppGeneral OppNote
1994ND4923--Y (3621)Governor
1996156464114847NY (1728)President
2000178664764690NY (1984)President
20121831?-Y (1605)?President

*NOTE: "Governor" and "President" indicates election year coincided with a state- or national election. Opponent vote totals are in ( ) in respective "Opp" columns.

First, it's clear that the 2012 primary between McCaffrey and Pisaturo saw a higher level of turnout than all of McCaffrey's previous primaries. That's to be expected since he's run unopposed since at least 1996 (and possibly 1994, but there was no primary election data at the RI Board of Elections web site for that year). Also unsurprising is that the closest election McCaffrey had ever had--up to the 2012 primary--was the 1994 General Election contest--his first--when he beat his Republican opponent by 1300 votes. Since then? Smooth sailing until this year's primary.

One other item of interest is that, since 2000, McCaffrey has received more primary votes (when he's usually the only candidate running!) during years in which there is a gubernatorial primary (which are "off year" elections) in Rhode Island than during Presidential election years. I wonder if that is the norm statewide? Anyway, since 2002, he's run unopposed in every General election contest and has received anywhere between 7500-9700 votes. In the general elections when he did have a Republican opponent, he garnered 5,000-6,000 votes.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, based on historical numbers, lets say there are around 10,000 likely voters in the district. I think it's a safe assumption to make that the most vociferous and motivated gay marriage supporters (Democrats and unaffiliated) turned out for Laura Pisaturo in the Democratic Primary. In total, around 3,400 Democrats voted in the primary. Less than half of them (1,600) supported a gay marriage candidate.

According to Ferri, we are to believe that the 7,500 or so unaffiliated voters, who are mostly of the same socially conservative, pro-labor union mindset as McCaffrey (and include 1,800 or so Republican/Repulican-leaning unafilliated voters)--and don't include the hard-core gay marriage supporters who already supported Pisaturo in the primary--are on the cusp of pushing for gay marriage. I just don't think so.

In actuality, I don't think many care because it's not the most important thing on their radar right now. That would be the economy. Something our General Assembly should really be focusing on, not this stuff.

Things We Read Today (19), Tuesday

Justin Katz

Believing the political worst of priests; spinning bad SAT results; the skill of being trainable; the strange market valuation in Unionland.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 12, 2012

RE: The Senate District 29 "Bellwether"

Marc Comtois

Just a follow up on yesterday's post regarding the Senate-29 Democratic primary race between incumbent Michael McCaffrey and challenger Lisa Pisaturo, which McCaffrey won by 6% in a low turnout election. A Pisaturo win would have undoubtedly been taken as a sign that the Rhode Island electorate was ready to embrace gay marriage. But what about a loss? It depended on the margin and turnout, I thought. Let's see. Dan McGowan played it straight:

The Senate Judiciary chairman [McCaffrey] got his first real challenge in years, but was able to hold off Laura Pisaturo, who had strong backing from the marriage equality group, Fight Back RI.
David Scharfenberg:
Tonight's Democratic primaries were not kind to gay marriage supporters, who claimed just one of six key state senate races....After tonight, then, it is hard to see a significant change in the balance of power in a state senate where about half of current members are opposed to gay marriage, a third are in support, and the rest are in the toss-up category...The only consolation for advocates is that none of the races - with the possible exception of Pisaturo's challenge to state Senator Michael McCaffrey - can be read as a referendum on gay marriage, which was little mentioned on the campaign trail. Indeed, public polling suggests solid majority support for same-sex nuptials in Rhode Island, which bodes well in the long term.
So the results weren't good for gay marriage advocates but that doesn't matter because only one race (McCaffrey/Pisaturo) really highlighted it....and polling! Okay. Bob Plain went with the "noble loss" theme:
While both Lauara Pisaturo, of Warwick, and Bob DaSilva, of East Providence, lost, they both had strong showings and only lost to powerful incumbents by a total of of less than 300 votes. That doesn’t speak well for Michael McCaffrey or Dan DaPonte, who beat them, both who are committee chairmen and are in the good graces of leadership. Their votes may not change on marriage equality because of the nail-biting victories (though DaPonte was on the fence) others may swing once they see that even powerful incumbents can be vulnerable.
I'm sure they're a-scared now. Interestingly, Plain didn't talk much about how Pisaturo and the other hyped gay marriage candidates got substantial, late-in-the-game funding from what is essentially a one-man evil--no it's not, it's for a progressive cause! Super-PAC, as reported by Scharfenberg:
Tim Gill, a reclusive technology magnate from the Centennial State, is the leading figure in a nationwide network of gay rights activists who have been funding state-level legislative races for years now in a bid to tip the balance on same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues. He recently poured $20,000 into a group called People for Rhode Island's Future that is backing six pro-gay marriage state senate candidates.
Finally, Warwick Beacon reporter Kim Kalunian tweeted this from Pisaturo's concession speech:"fear and hate...put into people's minds on marriage equality" created a "backlash".

Conclusion? While six gay marriage supporting Democrats received funds from a single-issue Super PAC, only Pisaturo's race (and maybe DaSilva's) was actually a referendum on gay marriage. Their close losses prove that powerful, connected pro-union but socially conservative politicians--who rely on "fear and hate"--should be on the lookout next time around. Got it?

September 1, 2012

Rev. Rich Takes a Stand Against Small Children

Justin Katz

Back when the Episcopal/Anglican Church was finding itself fraught with international internal turmoil over the appointment of an openly and actively homosexual bishop in New Hampshire, Catholic writer and blogger Mark Shea predicted, as an aphorism, that the organization would gradually turn toward the promotion of homosexuality. I always considered that a plausible, but not inevitable, course of the future.

After crossing an intellectual line, human organizations have a tendency to correct for excess, to transform into something unrecognizable, or to fade into non-existence. Shea's prediction was of the second category, but either of the other two (or even other variations of the middle one) remain possible for the Episcopal Church.

Rev. Timothy Rich, a relatively new rector at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in East Greenwich gives some evidence that Shea's prediction has certainly not been negated. Previously, it's interesting to note, Rich worked very closely with the aforementioned homosexual bishop, Eugene Robinson, as an assistant and Canon in New Hampshire.

During a summer in which Boy Scouts of America affirmed its policy of excluding "open and avowed homosexuals," Rev. Rich determined to investigate whether his church had any connection with the group. It turned out that a local Cub Scout pack — mainly boys aged six to eleven — uses the church for meetings.

The fifty boys involved are a bit young for the policy to have much effect, and Cub Master Jeff Lehoullier indicates that Pack 4 would do nothing to actively enforce the rule, even if it applied to pre-adolescent children. And who's to say but that by the time these actual flesh-and-blood children nearest Rich's flock reach the age of Eagle Scout, the organization won't have changed its view?

But Rich has some modicum of power, and he feels he must use it to "take a stand" against a national organization with which the church under his authority has a very limited, indirect relationship. That his action might have an adverse effect on dozens of the community's children — and that, by his action, he appears to be the one propagandizing a culture-war position beyond their ken — is a secondary consideration.

If radical rectors are to force a change in Boy Scout policy from the outside, thousands and thousands of children will have to be thus harmed and made to feel dirty and excluded by adults who ostensibly hold offices of respect in their community. Rich insists that, when it comes to the individual boys, he "support[s] them and applaud[s] their efforts," but apparently, when more than one of them gather together, they must be cast out and scorned.

No doubt, he's flattered by the media attention (his humble claims notwithstanding), and no doubt many people whose opinions he values highly have figuratively and literally slapped him on the back. The rest of us ought to question the motives and assumptions behind the movement of which he's made East Greenwich a part.


I realize that a good portion of readers don't find discussion of scripture all that persuasive, but some further thought on this matter led me to an observation that definitely merits mention.

While reading comments on the East Greenwich Patch article on this issue, a phrase from the Bible came to mind: "Let the children come to me."

It's from Matthew 19, and the expanded passage is worth consideration.

Just before the disciples attempt to prevent the children from approaching Jesus, He has been explaining that the Old Testament permission to divorce should not apply to His followers because, "from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female'... For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."

The disciples object that the teaching is so hard that "it is better not to marry." And Jesus suggests that some are "incapable" of marriage. Some translations of the Bible have Jesus referring to such people as "eunuchs."

Again, I realize that not everybody assigns spiritual weight to the Bible, but I would think that a Christian preacher would be inclined to do so. And this passage has many layers of profundity, all ultimately reinforcing a traditional view of marriage. The man and woman become "one flesh," and then the children come forward. Nobody should attempt to "separate" what God has joined, meaning the husband and wife, and then the disciples attempt to separate the children from Jesus, who in Catholic theology is the bridegroom of the Church.

In some practices, Episcopal theology differs substantially from Catholic, but it seems to me Rector Rich should contemplate this passage deeply, as should the members of his church.

August 12, 2012

Robert Oscar Lopez: "Growing Up With Two Moms: The Untold Children’s View"

Marc Comtois

Robert Oscar Lopez writes of the internal confusion he dealt with being raised by his lesbian mother and her partner.

Quite simply, growing up with gay parents was very difficult, and not because of prejudice from neighbors....When your home life is so drastically different from everyone around you, in a fundamental way striking at basic physical relations, you grow up weird....My peers learned all the unwritten rules of decorum and body language in their homes; they understood what was appropriate to say in certain settings and what wasn’t; they learned both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine social mechanisms.

Even if my peers’ parents were divorced, and many of them were, they still grew up seeing male and female social models. They learned, typically, how to be bold and unflinching from male figures and how to write thank-you cards and be sensitive from female figures. These are stereotypes, of course, but stereotypes come in handy when you inevitably leave the safety of your lesbian mom’s trailer and have to work and survive in a world where everybody thinks in stereotypical terms, even gays....Gay people who grew up in straight parents’ households may have struggled with their sexual orientation; but when it came to the vast social universe of adaptations not dealing with sexuality—how to act, how to speak, how to behave—they had the advantage of learning at home. Many gays don’t realize what a blessing it was to be reared in a traditional home.

On their own, singular testimonials don't prove any sort of rule, no matter how handy and predisposition-proving they are. However, Lopez wrote this piece as a personal confirmation of a study done by Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas that shows that there are indeed some differences to be found in children raised by gay or lesbian families and those raised in traditional families. (Another study by Loren Marks shows that previous surveys of LGBT households--which mostly conclude there is either no difference or the kids of gay parents actually fare better than those raised in traditional households--were much narrower in scope than is characteristic of similar, less polarizing sociological studies. For example, most surveys focused on upper-income families or relied on self-reporters who, unsurprisingly, tended to reflect positively on their family outcomes). Understandably, Regnerus' study has been vociferously challenged. For instance, Darren E. Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University, gave his opininion on Regnerus' study:
Among the problems Sherkat identified is the paper’s definition of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers”—an aspect that has been the focus of much of the public criticism. A woman could be identified as a “lesbian mother” in the study if she had had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the brevity of that relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child as a couple.
Lopez, informed by his own experience, thinks that Sherkat and others are completely wrong. (For a more even-handed critique of Regnerus, I encourage everyone to read Slate's Will Saletan who concludes, correctly I think, that "Stability, not orientation, is the story" of Regnerus' study.)
The problem with Sherkat’s disqualification of Regnerus’s work is a manifold chicken-and-egg conundrum. Though Sherkat uses the term “LGBT” in the same interview...he privileges that L and G and discriminates severely against the B, bisexuals.

Where do children of LGBT parents come from? If the parents are 100-percent gay or lesbian, then the chances are that the children were conceived through surrogacy or insemination, or else adopted. Those cases are such a tiny percentage of LGBT parents, however, that it would be virtually impossible to find more than a half-dozen in a random sampling of tens of thousands of adults.

Most LGBT parents are, like me, and technically like my mother, “bisexual”—the forgotten B. We conceived our children because we engaged in heterosexual intercourse. Social complications naturally arise if you conceive a child with the opposite sex but still have attractions to the same sex. Sherkat calls these complications disqualifiable, as they are corrupting the purity of a homosexual model of parenting....

The other chicken-and-egg problem of Sherkat’s dismissal deals with conservative ideology. Many have dismissed my story with four simple words: “But you are conservative.” Yes, I am. How did I get that way? I moved to the right wing because I lived in precisely the kind of anti-normative, marginalized, and oppressed identity environment that the left celebrates: I am a bisexual Latino intellectual, raised by a lesbian, who experienced poverty in the Bronx as a young adult. I’m perceptive enough to notice that liberal social policies don’t actually help people in those conditions. Especially damning is the liberal attitude that we shouldn’t be judgmental about sex. In the Bronx gay world, I cleaned out enough apartments of men who’d died of AIDS to understand that resistance to sexual temptation is central to any kind of humane society. Sex can be hurtful not only because of infectious diseases but also because it leaves us vulnerable and more likely to cling to people who don’t love us, mourn those who leave us, and not know how to escape those who need us but whom we don’t love. The left understands none of that. That’s why I am conservative.

He goes on to further explain how, in his experience, the "B"s (bisexuals) in the LGBT community get short shrift not only from both their gay peers but, importantly, from social scientists. He concludes:
Having lived for forty-one years as a strange man, I see it as tragically fitting that the first instinct of experts and gay activists is to exclude my life profile as unfit for any “data sample,” or as Dr. Sherkat calls it, “bullshit.” So the game has gone for at least twenty-five years. For all the talk about LGBT alliances, bisexuality falls by the wayside, thanks to scholars such as Sherkat. For all the chatter about a “queer” movement, queer activists are just as likely to restrict their social circles to professionalized, normal people who know how to throw charming parties, make small talk, and blend in with the Art Deco furniture.

I thank Mark Regnerus. Far from being “bullshit,” his work is affirming to me, because it acknowledges what the gay activist movement has sought laboriously to erase, or at least ignore. Whether homosexuality is chosen or inbred, whether gay marriage gets legalized or not, being strange is hard; it takes a mental toll, makes it harder to find friends, interferes with professional growth, and sometimes leads one down a sodden path to self-medication in the form of alcoholism, drugs, gambling, antisocial behavior, and irresponsible sex. The children of same-sex couples have a tough road ahead of them—I know, because I have been there. The last thing we should do is make them feel guilty if the strain gets to them and they feel strange. We owe them, at the least, a dose of honesty. Thank you, Mark Regnerus, for taking the time to listen.

July 11, 2012

Gay Man Makes the Underlying Argument for Traditional Marriage

Justin Katz

To kick off an article with an adults-only title on Slate, Jesse Bering inadvertently establishes the core of the case for marriage's remaining an opposite-sex institution (via Instapundit):

One of the best things about being a gay man is that one doesn’t have to worry about accidentally impregnating his partner, or, for that matter, getting knocked up.

To be sure, as a father I'm inclined to see Bering's perceived blessing as a severe downside of homosexuality, but that's a matter of perspective. In objective terms, though, we can all agree that the possibility of creating new human life is pretty much a definitive characteristic of relationships.

And it's a definitive characteristic that same-sex marriage advocates hope to forbid our society to acknowledge in public policy — or, more precisely, hope to forbid our society from continuing to acknowledge after an unbroken history going back as far as it's reasonable to conceive of there being any such thing as "public policy" in Western civilization.

Those of us on the other side would further argue that this one policy is central to the family structures that have enabled our society to advance as far as it has. Even if we presume ourselves to have evolved beyond the need of such traditions (which would be presumptuous, indeed), we cannot deny that children are necessary if our civilization and its unique virtues are to continue to exist.

I may disagree with Bering about fertility's being a detriment, but it can hardly be argued that the power it imparts requires a high degree of responsibility... and that society has an interest in encouraging understanding of that fact... and that maximal liberty necessitates that understanding be fostered more by culture and by statute... and that culture operates such that the simple core idea that an intimate relationship between a man and a woman is unique cannot be contradicted in our shared law if it is to be effective.

Somehow, progressives see in this logical series of thoughts not just error, but bigotry. Be that as it may, Bering's playful opening illustrates that the alternative is willful delusion. Clearly, he has no need to order his life as if he might impregnate his partner. And clearly, his society has no need to fear the consequences of his failing to make that sort of preparation.

That is not to say that there aren't parallel interests that should suggest a preference for all intimate relationships to be stable and monogamous, but those who would rewrite our culture find it unacceptably insensitive to acknowledge that intimacy can differ in very profound ways.

May 14, 2012

Marriage and the Rule of Law

Justin Katz

Here's the thing with Governor Linc Chafee's executive order: It simply isn't possible to support it and plausibly believe that government should represent an even playing field with divided powers, agreed-upon definitions, and consistent rules for changing policy toward one's own preferences.

Look, I was arguing against same-sex marriage before the topic was hot. And for a few months before that, I was arguing for same-sex marriage before that was cool. I state that merely by way of claiming some authority for the assertion that the arguments really haven't changed much.

What has changed — or rather, what never materialized — is a lack of concern among either vociferous or passive supporters of same-sex marriage about the means of its implementation. I do believe that a society that denies itself the ability to treat responsible procreative pairings as something special has increased its likelihood of deterioration, but if it undermines the rule of law in doing so, it's surely doomed.

Back in 1904, the Rhode Island Supreme Court made a much-cited ruling in a case called Ex Parte Chase that a marriage performed in Massachusetts was valid in Rhode Island. Specifically, the marriage involved a couple that had crossed the border in order to evade Rhode Island's guardianship laws. The non-consenting parents were not able to undo the license.

Nobody questioned that the relationship was a marriage. Indeed, the pair could have been married in their home state if their parents had been more permissive.

That's a long, long way from insisting that one state can change the very definition of the relationship that marriage is meant to indicate, forcing others to recognize them as something that they do not believe them to be. Yet, in February 2007 RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch took the opportunity of a request for an advisory opinion to do just that.

While offering his office's legal opinion on the narrow matter of a government agency's providing employee benefits on the basis of a Massachusetts marriage, Lynch let his thoughts wander to much broader legal matters. In the final paragraph, though, the scope of his project returns to its actual (though still objectionable) authority: "we advise the Board of Governors that it should accord marital status to its employees who were lawfully married in Massachusetts."

Basically, it was a legal CYA memo that the official legal counsel for the State of Rhode Island would defend a particular side of the argument in court. If anything, though, Lynch's reasoning has less force now, because the state has enacted civil unions as something explicitly different from marriage. In a rational world, it would be acknowledged that same-sex marriages are against the state's public policy.

But we don't live in a rational state.

Instead, we have a governor returning to his regular practice of pushing executive authority to (and past) its limits. His executive order on same-sex marriage goes well beyond the in-house distribution of employee benefits:

All executive state departments, agencies, and offices shall recognize the lawful marriages of same-sex couples as valid for any purpose arising with the execution of its duties.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) lists a few of the instances in which the governor's order will change policy, but their compilation is surely too limited. The "duties" of state agencies are pervasive and reach well into the private sector. State agencies license; they regulate. What the governor issued today was an invitation for the filing of lawsuits.

I'd be surprised if local activists don't already have some targets in mind. Are agencies tasked with investigating discrimination now required to "execute their duties" when private parties don't recognize Massachusetts marriage licenses? Are bureaucrats that promulgate regulations now to enforce a new definition of marriage?

Be a little creative, and possibilities come quickly to mind. And with the route by which advocates have pursued the incremental imposition of their policy preference outside of the democratic process, it is less likely that their opposition will win protections that might otherwise have been carved out during legislative negotiations. Continued tolerance of private citizens with a different view will be reliant upon the benevolence of those imposing the definition.

Thus, the whole project comes back around to recasting our government as one governed by pure power.

January 31, 2012

False Denials of Comparison Between Roads and Families

Justin Katz

In further proof of his lax moral standards,* it took Mangeek too long to read my post responding to one of his recent comments for his own response to attract much attention, so I'll reprint it here:

... what I'm trying to say, Justin, is that I think conservatives (for the most part) are finding all the wrong explanations for why things are the way they are...

I can put a dollar-value on the per-pound impact of the weight of a car on roads. It's a direct cause-and-effect relationship that allows large vehicle drivers to externalize part of the societal costs they are responsible for onto those of us who live more modest lifestyles.

Meanwhile, while you can draw correlations between marital status and costs on society, I'm not sure they're cause-and-effect. In any case, we already 'reward and punish things we like/dislike' via different tax rates on married people, homeowners, business owners, and trust-fund kids.

Maybe society would be better-served overall if families were encouraged to (for example) drive safer, more efficient, and less costly vehicles (or buy smaller homes, or not take out $BIG student loans, etc.) than if we mandated which gender and legal configurations they were allowed to be. Just Sayin'.

It's important to note that my post was in reaction to his questioning the necessity of moral judgment in society. In the above, he does little more than agree that he's got no problem with the practice in concept, just on the particulars.

But on those particulars, his argument is clearly flawed. As a point of fact, he cannot "put a dollar-value on the per-pound impact of the weight of a car on roads." He could, perhaps, put such a value on the effects of a specific car under very narrow circumstances, but it could hardly accurately describe the different usages of the actual people he'd like to tax.

Let's say Joe drives a vehicle with a heavy curb weight — some kind of SUV — but he hardly ever puts additional weight inside it (after all, he's only 120 lbs), and he only drives it a quarter mile each morning and afternoon before he is across his city's border and therefore off the roads for which he's ostensibly being taxed. Meanwhile, 400 lb Bob has a much lighter curb-weight car, but he typically drives it filled to brimming with books and other heavy objects; moreover, his routine calls for him to drive it 10 miles each way across the town in which he lives.

And that's before we get into their driving styles. Joe takes it easy, while driving, and tries to slow down for intersections over greater distances. Bob is heavy on the gas pedal and the brakes, very often peeling out when starting and skidding when stopping.

In short, Mangeek cannot present his moral preference as a clear transfer of cost in a cause-effect relationship. Indeed, work in all of the relevant variables and defining the cost of cars by their weight isn't much different than attributing costs to divorce and out-of-wedlock births. All else being equal, I've no doubt that heavier vehicles exact more of a toll on the roads, but the same can be said of broken families.

Nowhere is Mangeek's skewed comparison more clear than in his closing. We aren't comparing a soft "encouragement" of vehicle types to a stiff penalty against particular relationships. Quite the opposite is true: He wants to exact a penalizing tax against owners of larger vehicles, while he objects to mere recognition of a family type that still ought to be considered to be ideal.

* Note: This opening phrase is tongue in cheek.

August 6, 2011

A Father Is a Father

Justin Katz

At its core, the key argument against same-sex marriage is that it prevents our society from creating any distinction between relationships that are plainly different in significant ways. Men and women are different, and when they pair up, their intimate relationship has consequences that no other form of relationship has. Moreover, an ideal doesn't have to apply absolutely in every case for it to remain valuable for society to be able to describe and uphold it.

Such were the thoughts to come to mind when reading that fathers make a difference in their children's lives, and that fatherhood is in decline:

While it is well known how important a father's involvement is to healthy child development, a very interesting and lesser known finding comes from a 26-year longitudinal study which says that the strongest factor indicating whether children practiced high levels of empathic concern for others in their adult years was whether they had an involved father in their life. In fact, father care was a stronger indicator here than the three strongest maternal factors combined! The study explained, "These results appear to fit with previous findings indicating that pro-social behaviors such as altruism and generosity in children were related to active involvement in child care by fathers."

This does not in the least gainsay the important of mothers. It does, however, suggest that we oughtn't dramatically modify the cultural institution — marriage — that marks as uniquely desirable the family units that bring mothers and fathers together.

July 6, 2011

Different Is Not Equivalent

Justin Katz

State Senator Donna Nesselbush (D, Pawtucket) gets to the heart of the civil unions/same-sex marriage matter:

Nesselbush said she initially planned to support [civil union legislation] "as a step forward," but changed her mind because of language — added on the House floor — that exempts religious groups from recognizing a civil union or treating such couples the same as they would treat married couples.

In her comments on the Senate floor, Nesselbush said those who support the bill are "essentially institutionalizing inequality."

"So while extending valuable rights, if passed, this legislation would essentially establish a separate status, and separate is never equal," she said.

The bottom line is that separate and unequal are entirely appropriate when two groups are not similarly situated. Unless one takes the extreme radical view that men and women are not differentiable — that they are entirely the same — then there will remain the possibility that it's reasonable to treat the relationships that they have with each other as unique.

What activists like Nesselbush wish to do is to disallow society from observing the uniqueness of intimate relationships between members of our species' two genders, which by their nature have the capacity to generate new human beings. Judgment might be different were our government not so pervasive in its regulation of everyday life — were it possible for social institutions to make the substantive statement of behaving as if their beliefs are actually true.

The religious exemption in the civil union bill at least preserves that ability in some minimal (albeit insufficient) way. Every individual and organization ought to be empowered to treat marriage between a man and a woman as uniquely worthy of recognition, and our government ought to do the same.

June 22, 2011

Rhode Island Hurts Famlies

Justin Katz

In a moving letter (that does not appear to be online), small-business-owner David Durfee of North Scituate tells of his historical need to work harder to "overcome the obstacles created by the General Assembly" but expresses gratitude for having been able to be nearby for his father during his final days. He goes on:

It was then that I realized what the politicians in this state have taken from us. How blind I was to a problem I could not resolve with just hard work!

It is that our sons and daughters see no future for themselves in Rhode Island. My two oldest children have already moved out of state. I now realize the increasing likelihood that the pleasure of having my children around me as I age has been stolen from me. More friends are talking about moving to be with their children. With them will go their wealth and businesses.

Such are the effects of bad governance. I continue to fear that a line may have already been crossed: That enough families have up and left over the years that there is no longer a voting base to turn the situation around. Still, except for those few who are well enough connected to secure employment for their entire families (such as the Iannazzis and Ruggerios), the damage described by Durfee is applied to most of those who benefit from Rhode Island's bad governance as well as those of us who don't.

June 14, 2011

The Media Style Book on "Rights"

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal reprint of this article has the headline "Gay rights: The backlash" and the following lead:

Some who oppose gay rights say their views are targets of discrimination.

I'm not sure I've ever seen such an excellent example of the way in which media bias begins even at the level of the style book. With one exception, every example of the "rights" in question is same-sex marriage. The one exception isn't even about any kind of rights, but about a group encouraging gays to change their orientation.

In other words, an objective media would have characterized it as same-sex marriage opponents who are the targets of discrimination. That doesn't quite have the same propagandistic ring, though.

June 3, 2011

Re:Who Is Michael Chippendale?

Justin Katz

Representative Chippendale responded to my thoughts on his comments related to civil unions:

Hi guys, it's the horse's mouth here...

I used scripture for 2 reasons. First, I'm a Christian and we use the word of the Lord to help guide us when making decisions. There are guiding principles that are far worse - I can assure you. The General Assembly prays every day before session... God isn't a four letter word in the State House (yet). And Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I had been receiving a lot of comments from folks who were using scripture to justify their position against the bill... so when I rose to speak (which was not planned, I figured that I would just shut up and vote, but I was compelled to engage) - I was saying (in a 'between the lines' sort of way) "I can use scripture too. And I choose to use it to offer a different perspective than what all of us (legislators) have been hearing since January!"

So don't read too much into the simple verse I used. It is not a Republican v. Democrat issue... it was an issue where everyone in the room had their own reasons and feelings behind their votes...

And as a footnote, I still can sit at the cool-kids table...

Before offering further response on the specific issue at hand, I should address a common misconception about my commentary. When I hear somebody say something that interacts with political philosophy in an interesting way, I point it out. That I think a statement represents an erroneous application of this or that principle does not mean that the speaker is thereby to be pushed into the Crowley category and ostracized. It doesn't even mean that I take the comment to be an accurate indication of the speakers whole philosophy on life.

In this specific instance, I think Rep. Chippendale's comment was not only reckless in the view of appropriate governance that it expresses (i.e., that an elected official should not feel empowered to vote a particular way on a legitimate public policy question) but also erroneous in its theology (i.e., in recasting love of fellow human beings as requiring elision of real differences between relationship types).

June 1, 2011

Who Is Michael Chippendale? An Elected Official.

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick highlights the reasoning that state Representative Michael Chippendale (R, Foster) offered for voting in favor of the recently passed civil unions bill, and that reasoning seems to me to be incomplete. I'll note, first, that I come to much the same conclusion as Chippendale, although I favor civil unions that build a slate of rights and privileges from scratch, rather than with reference to marriage, which is what the legislation does:

15-3.1-6. Benefits, protections, and responsibilities. -- A party to a civil union lawfully entered into pursuant to this chapter shall have all the rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative rules, court decisions, the common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law as people joined together pursuant to chapter 15-3.

15-3 is the chapter that describes civil marriage, and as I've said before, if as a society we're going to create a relationship that confers marriage-like rights, we ought to be explicit about what rights ought to be included and why. Marriage, as traditionally understood, still has the distinction that, by their nature, a husband and wife can create children. In terms of state law, it's absurd for Fitzpatrick to call this legislation "a weak substitute for legalizing same-sex marriage," because there are no benefits to marriage that it leaves out. It may, from his standpoint, have been morally timid not to merge the institutions, but the only sense in which the law, itself, can be said to be "weak" is that it doesn't force religious people or organizations to eliminate their own understanding of marriage everywhere beyond the pulpit.

But back to Chippendale:

Chippendale noted he'd voted against the civil-unions bill in committee and that people quoted Scripture in testifying against the bill.

"But you know what?" he said. "At the end of the day, if my Lord Jesus Christ were here, he would say what he already has said: 'What you do to the least of my children you do to me.' And who in God's name am I to stand here and push a button that would injure one of my brothers and sisters? As a man of faith, I don't have that right."

Chippendale, a Catholic whose district extends to Foster, Glocester and Coventry, voted for the bill, saying, "I'm going to have a lot of people to answer to in my district. But I'm going to say to them: What you do to the least of God's children you do to him."

Who is Chippendale to push a vote button in the General Assembly? Well, he's an elected representative voting on an issue of public policy, and if a society cannot determine through representative democracy that one relationship is different from another in a key way that suggests different benefits, responsibilities, and codification in the law, then there really is no right to self governance.

What's particularly objectionable about Chippendale's reasoning is that it is about as close to theocracy as anybody is apt to get in our time and place. The tolerance of Catholic Christianity does not negate our rights to shape our society in a way that has proven to be the most effective at growing prosperity, decreasing poverty, increasing liberty, and maintaining peace. We'll all have different notions of what that requires, but to insist that setting some small space aside in our society and in the law for the particular human coupling that tends toward the creation of children is hardly injury to our brothers and sisters. Indeed, to the extent that doing otherwise further erodes the institution of marriage, right down to the underpinnings that any traditionalist reform would require, such actions truly do harm "the least of God's children"; they just aren't there in front of us holding protests and applying rhetorical pressure..

April 27, 2011

Fox Proposes Civil Unions

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis broke the story that House Speaker Gordon Fox is throwing his weight behind Civil Union legislation in lieu of a gay marriage bill:

Based on your input, along with the fact that it is now clear to me that there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate, I will recommend that the House not move forward with a vote on the marriage equality bill during this legislative session. I will instead support full passage of a civil unions’ bill that grants important and long overdue legal rights to same-sex couples inRhode Island.

I have had conversations with Senate leadership and, unlike the marriage equality bill, I am optimistic that a civil unions’ bill can gain passage in both chambers during this legislative session.

The new civil union bill is currently being drafted and will soon be ready for introduction and public inspection. I will be one of the sponsors.

This has been the pragmatic approach all along and its obvious that Speaker Fox is taking what he can get. Besides the legal considerations granted to gay couples, let's hope that the bill also includes allowances for non-gay couples (siblings, parent/child, friends, etc.).

UPDATE: More from Ian - MERI isn't pleased.

April 7, 2011

The Way the Marriage Battle Should Be Resolved

Justin Katz

It appears already to be doomed, but this bill is precisely how state governments should go about addressing hardship experienced by couples that cannot marry:

Sponsored by Rep. Peter Petrarca, D-Lincoln, the bill would allow "any two ... unmarried persons who are excluded" from marrying under state law to establish "reciprocal beneficiary agreements" that allow their partners to oversee issues such as emergency medical care, medical decisions and decisions on "the disposition" of a person’s remains.

The relationship formed in homosexual couples is different in substantive ways from the relationship formed between heterosexual couples, most critically in the latter's ability to create children almost casually. It is not bigotry to insist that such an ability is not frivolous, and it is eminently reasonable to suggest that civic policies should maintain room for the encouragement of cultural acknowledgment of that difference. Doing so does not "create two classes," as Marriage Equality Rhode Island spokesman Bill Fischer asserts; it accurately recognizes two categories of behavior.

There are rights, however, to which people who've taken on the responsibility of caring for each other should have access, but they should be assessed on their individual merits. That appears to be what Petrarca's legislation would do.

It's interesting to note, by the way, which group is the de facto moderate in the local debate:

The Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, a traditional marriage-advocacy group, supports the bill, said its executive director, Christopher Plante.

"We don't oppose it. We think that it's a good way to try to address some of those issues that gays and lesbians, and not only gays and lesbians, have when they try to assign rights to significant others," said Plante, who also did not attend the hearing.

Perhaps on an emotional level it's true, but intellectually, the same-sex marriage cause is not about equal rights; it's about erasing a real distinction between two different human relationships. And it's about eliminating the right of Americans to recognize that distinction.

March 28, 2011

My Social Cause for Your Law and Order

Justin Katz

Most people probably have an idealized image of the legislative process as one in which legislators draft bills that they desire, other legislators sign on as they're interested, and everybody votes according to their understanding of the consequences. It seems somehow foreign to everyday life to trade votes on unrelated issues and such, but in a vote-counting occupation like lawmaking, it's inevitable.

And so, state representative Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown) is surely doing no more than offering a look into the regular processes of the General Assembly by going public with one example:

The bill's main sponsor, state Rep Teresa Tanzi last week asked Doreen Costa if she wanted one of the five coveted spots as an official co-sponsor. The legislation is meant to prevent people like Michael Woodmansee---who killed a 5-year-old boy in the 1970s---from leaving prison early. Tanzi, a Democrat, represents South Kingstown, where the boy lived. ...

"I have to horse trade," Tanzi replied, according to Costa. "She said, 'You have to vote gay marriage out of committee.'"

In one sense, there's nothing surprising about this at all. Tanzi has a desirable legislative property, and she wishes to trade partial ownership of it to remove a roadblock on an issue about which she's interested, for whatever reason. In a practical sense, also, there's little to remark. As Costa makes clear, co-sponsorship is not a prerequisite for her vote, so the offer does not affect the likelihood of the bill's final passage.

Still, when we reapply the context, the matter takes on a distasteful aroma. Tanzi has under her control a sensitive issue concerning the gruesome murder of a young child and the ability of victims to be assured that dangerous killers will not roam the streets again while still relatively young. Using that ownership to buy votes for a long-discussed and still-controversial issue like same-sex marriage is cynical, to say the least.

March 24, 2011

Hard Cases Make Bad Law

Justin Katz

If one's stand on a political or social issue is principled, then it ought to be maintained even when it is emotionally difficult to do so, and in the case of Pat Baker, it is certainly difficult.

Baker was recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and she is now spending her days advocating for a change in law that would make the woman whom she married in Massachusetts in 2005 eligible for survivor benefits through Social Security:

"I worked for those benefits. And when I say worked, I worked hard. You name it, it's happened. I've found inmates hanging; I've found inmates dead from suicide. I've been traumatized mentally and physically, only to get to this point in my life when I'm terminally ill ... and I find out my wife is being begrudged $1,861 a month," Baker said.

The circumstances highlight both the rationale for the survivor benefits and the risk in expanding marriage to same-sex couples. On the first count, throughout most of the time that Social Security has been around (and even more of the time before it was), it was understood that, typically, one spouse had been less active economically and more active domestically. Depriving the non-working spouse of retirement benefits because the working spouse had died ignored the very notion of marriage as a means of creating a single entity of two people, who then spend their lives working as a team, particularly with the activity of raising children.

To be sure, frequent divorce and remarriage has decreased the confidence with which such assumptions can be made, but the cultural understanding of marriage is still very much intact, and our society should be looking to bolster it, not modify it further.

It's quite predictable that allowing two people of the same sex to marry and, thereby, gain the benefits of spouses will change the culture of the institution. Why, for one, would it not become common for marriage to develop into a relationship for late-life companions, even if they are only what used to be known as "friends"? The incentive to pair up for the purpose of maximizing retirement and other benefits would be tremendous. If that's something that we want to encourage — and there are definitely worthy arguments for it — then why have any restrictions at all, such as those against marrying near kin and multiple people?

Of course, as I've said before, if same-sex marriage were to arrive in conjunction with tighter laws against divorce, then the calculation would change. I've yet to find, however, an advocate for SSM who thinks that spouses shouldn't be able to dissolve their marriages very easily.

In the specific case of Social Security, the easier solution would be to transition it toward a defined-contribution plan that creates an asset capable of being bequeathed.

March 8, 2011

What Inspires Political Activity?

Justin Katz

A recent iteration of First Things' "While We're at It" feature mentioned the Wall Street Journal lament of feminist Erica Jong that breeding and raising children is a fad that just won't die. From the lament:

Unless you've been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life's greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness.

The intellectual problems that Jong evinces are plentiful. (Why, for one, should we criticize celebrities for adopting third-world children in addition to having their own, even as we point to "abandoned children" as a standing problem?) Much of what she writes can be dismissed on purely ideological grounds; that is, if the reader doesn't share the ideology, the points are without sense.

However, the First Things blurb is a little unfair, in that Jong's initial statements of ideological gunk are really just a foundation on which she builds more interesting walls, some of which are certainly reasonable, even insightful:

What is so troubling about these theories of parenting—both pre- and postnatal—is that they seem like attempts to exert control in a world that is increasingly out of control. We can't get rid of the carcinogens in the environment, but we can make sure that our kids arrive at school each day with a reusable lunch bag full of produce from the farmers' market. We can't do anything about loose nukes falling into the hands of terrorists, but we can make sure that our progeny's every waking hour is tightly scheduled with edifying activities.

Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child's home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers. We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.

In her attempt to connect these dots, Jong joins strange principles that jar discordantly with reality:

... although attachment parenting comes with an exquisite progressive pedigree, it is a perfect tool for the political right. It certainly serves to keep mothers and fathers out of the political process. If you are busy raising children without societal help and trying to earn a living during a recession, you don't have much time to question and change the world that you and your children inhabit. What exhausted, overworked parent has time to protest under such conditions?

If there's a conservative who has advocated "attachment parenting" — which entails parents' effectively binding themselves to their children — I haven't read his or her work. And, moreover, if there's a politically active right-winger who wants to divert devoted parents from the political fight, he or she has wisely learned to keep that counter-intuitive intention quiet.

Perhaps her imagination doesn't reach that far, but Jong need only have brought to mind the conservative's vision of an ideal family... even a cliché version of that vision: One parent able to stay home with the children, neighborhoods full of such nuclear, one-income households and churches full of such families. After all, the kids don't need such close watching when there are parents watching from nearly every house on the block.

And I can't help but wonder, too, what the motivation for political activism is supposed to be (apart from dedicated advocacy for the Special Interest of Me) when children aren't part of the equation.

March 2, 2011

"Democracy" Is Whatever Gets the Special Interest Its Way

Justin Katz

One can only be grateful for the first word in Stephen Fortunato Jr.'s title of "retired Rhode Island Superior Court judge," given his recent equation of voters in voting booths to clansmen in sheets and, implicitly, voting to lynching. (It would seem that fears of a judicial oligarchy are hardly misplaced when the institution is or has been in the hands of such men.)

Even before the jurist slams down his over-sized gavel on the heads of the population whom he was once presumed to serve, though, Fortunato's reasoning is deeply flawed:

NOM's push to put the question of the gay unions on a ballot is a ploy to subvert the orderly workings of our democratic processes. Representatives are sent to the State House to exercise their good judgment after they have heard testimony and been lobbied by all sides. In a case such as gay marriage, testimony will be presented by advocates on both sides, including religious leaders, psychologists, constitutional scholars and statisticians, not to mention a few buffoons. These hearings and debates will be reported in the media, dissected and criticized. The legislators will vote on the issue and then face praise, rejection or indifference from their constituencies.

The anonymity of the ballot box on issues of fundamental rights permits no such discussion, and NOM has capitalized on this in the 30 states, including in supposedly tolerant California, where it has defeated gay-marriage referenda. The outcome has usually been different when the matter has been argued in open and transparent legislatures and courts.

The issue is not that arguments won't be aired in both cases. The distinction is that legislators draw all of the interest in the issue toward a limited number of politicians who will sit through some perfunctory hearings. In the case of a referendum, interested parties will make their arguments as broadly as possible — op-ed pages, television advertisements, and so on.

It's also interesting that Fortunato slips into passive voice when he writes that "representatives are sent to the State House." By whom? Well, presumably by the same voters whom he doesn't trust to vote on same-sex marriage. Of course, when electing a politician, the issue is never as clear as voting according to one's own opinion; not only are politicians able to triangulate across multiple issues, but there's a reason for cliches about dishonesty.

February 22, 2011

Domesticity Will Always Look Domestic

Justin Katz

An interesting article in Sunday's Providence Journal paints delays in marriage and increases in cohabitation among young adults in an almost Rockwellian light:

For starters, young adults today aren't just delaying marriage, but other milestones as well, Settersten says. Many of us are leaving our childhood bedrooms later, taking time to see the world, pursue advanced degrees and foster early careers before thinking about marriage or kids. ...

It's also not uncommon for unmarried couples to purchase homes together.

Falling real estate prices, the first-time homebuyer tax credit and a cramped apartment prompted Jessica Willis, 27, and Joshua Hatch, 32, to buy a fixer-upper in Tiverton last April.

The couple, who have been in a relationship for three-and-a-half years, say they plan to get married at some point, but feel no rush.

I've no doubt that Willis, Hatch, and the other examples cited in the article, are responsible adults with a real commitment to each other, but the article thereby glosses over one glaring fact: it describes the lifestyles of responsible, relatively secure adults. As I've argued many times in the context of the same-sex marriage debate, the institution functions by building cultural expectations for people in certain living situations.

The responsible people label their relationships as marriage so that society has a model toward which it can nudge those who require one. Adults having sex, having children, buying homes, and so on should do so on a foundation of long commitment, and that commitment is known as marriage.

The fact that those who are truly committed and responsible will eventually get marriage doesn't answer the problem of example, because it merely strengthens the principle of "when we're ready," which the less committed and responsible will never be. It also pushes back the milestone at which marriage is considered a necessity.

This point arose back in the early-to-mid '00s, mainly when commentator Stanley Kurtz studied family trends in Scandinavia. Some of the relevant articles are no longer online, but here's a post that I entered into the debate. What was clear, for that region, was that couples were beginning to have their first children out of wedlock and that instances of the same behavior among couples with more children was increasing, with most rapid increase among single-parent households.

Sure, it makes for an interesting lifestyle piece to examine the decisions of individual people, but it misses the broader trend. Moreover, while it would be obnoxious to attack those people for decisions that they make given their own perspectives and circumstances, we also should not brush the trends that they represent aside.

February 13, 2011

Make Sure One set of Rights doesn't trump Another

Marc Comtois

We hear a lot of the rights-based arguments being made in favor of same-sex marriage hereabouts, including the call to RI Founder Roger Williams and the "separation of church and state". The arguments for religious liberty have seemed muted in the coverage of the debate. In today's ProJo, Professor Robin Wilson (co-editor of the book Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts) explains how RI's proposed gay marriage laws do a bad job of ensuring religious liberty, stating, "Every other state law authorizing same-sex marriage provides more protection..." He also explains that, to his mind, religious exemptions would go a long way towards a compromise solution:

Exemptions provide a middle way, respecting both the interests of same-sex couples and religious liberty. By avoiding a winner-takes-all outcome, exemptions turn down the temperature on a contentious issue.

Exemptions also serve the interests of same-sex marriage supporters by taking a powerful argument against same-sex marriage away from opponents.

He gives examples of such exemptions contained in other same-sex marriage laws:
•  a religiously affiliated group that owns a reception hall limit its space to celebrating only traditional marriages when to do otherwise would violate their religious tenets, a basic protection provided by every same-sex marriage statute outside Rhode Island.

• a religiously affiliated adoption agency place children only with heterosexual married couples so long as they don’t receive government support, as Connecticut did.

• religiously affiliated fraternal organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, limit insurance coverage to spouses in traditional marriages, as Connecticut and Vermont allow.

•  a religiously affiliated organization extend spousal benefits only to individuals in marriages recognized by its faith, as New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont have all done....

Without specific protections, religious organizations that step aside from celebrating same-sex marriages may be subject to private lawsuits under laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status. And these organizations may face stiff penalties from the government.

In addition to such institutional safeguards, Wilson explains that protections for religious individuals--in the spirit of Roger Williams--should also be included:
As broad as the exemptions enacted elsewhere are, they leave out much-needed protections for individuals. Judges, justices of the peace, marriage-license clerks, and individuals in ordinary commerce — bakers, photographers, caterers — who prefer for religious reasons to step aside from same-sex marriages should be allowed to do so when no hardship will result to same-sex couples.
I don't think that sincere religious opponents to same-sex marriage will be mollified by such pragmatic compromises, however. But politicians might.

February 10, 2011

Gay Marriage Hits the State House

Marc Comtois

By now, I think we're all familiar with the arguments. The ProJo covered the story and GoLocalProv's Stephen Beale has a piece regarding a potential compromise being floated that would have all Rhode Island marriages be called civil unions. The details:

“There seems to be an issue with a word and I want to make sure there is equality,” said state Rep. Karen MacBeth, a self-described conservative Democrat from Cumberland. “If we’re hung up on a word, let’s use a different word.”

If the current bill to legalize gay marriage successfully makes it to the House floor, MacBeth is considering offering an amendment that would substitute the phrase “civil unions” for “marriage.” As a result, the state would stop offering marriage licenses and instead offer civil unions to both straight and gay couples.

One veteran state rep whom she declined to name has told MacBeth that it would be too much of an undertaking to strip the word “marriage” from all state laws. MacBeth, however, points to the recent debate over taking out the phrase “Providence Plantations” from the state name. “If we can take a vote on changing the name of the state, we can certainly vote on changing the word ‘marriage,’” she said.

While several legislators across the political/ideological spectrum seem in favor of enacting a civil union law of some sort--or at least putting it before the Rhode Island voters--it doesn't look like the activists on either side of the issue are crazy about this "cut the baby in half" solution.

February 8, 2011

How To End the Tyranny of "Held For Further Study" II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Three high-profile bills go before their Rhode Island House of Representatives committees this week, 1) the bill, referred to the Labor Committee to be heard today, that would make the provisions of former Governor Carcieri's executive order on illegal immigration into law, and 2 and 3) bills, referred to the Judiciary Committee to be heard on Wednesday, one establishing same-sex marriage at the statutory level, the other defining marriage as being between a man and a woman at the Constitutional level. (h/t Ian Donnis)

Given the recent history of legislature action in Rhode Island, the question is, once these bills go to committee, who will make the decision on whether they are eventually sent to the full House for a floor vote: the members of the committee together, or the Speaker of the House alone? Does a committee decide what happens to the bill referred to it, or does a committee immediately hand bills back to the Speaker of the House and say "you tell us what to do"?

I have no inside information on what the majority committee positions are in the case of the immigration and the same-sex marriage bills, but they are certainly not instances where straight party-line votes are expected. And if any RI Representative believes that that a majority of a committee on which they serve would decide the fate of a bill differently from what the House leadership would allow, there are the procedures she or he can follow (consistent with Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, referenced in the House Rules) to help a bill get its rightful consideration.

  1. If the committee meeting begins, as is common practice in Rhode Island legislative committee meetings, with a motion to hold every bill on the current agenda for "further study", any representative can make a motion to "divide the question", and have the bill they are interested in (same-sex marriage, immigration, etc.) considered as a separate vote.
  2. If the legislature follows its own customs and practice, the motion to divide the question should be granted by the committee chair automatically, without a vote being needed. If you check the Journals of proceedings on the House floor, motions to divide the question are routinely granted without a vote being taken, as long as the Speaker rules that a question is divisible. There is absolutely no question that a motion to vote on multiple bills at the same time is divisible into separate votes.
  3. Then when the bill of interest comes up for its separate consideration, if a motion to "hold it for further study" is immediately made, that motion opens the question for debate (it the language of parliamentary law, any motion that would send the bill out of committee falls into the category of a "main motion" which opens general debate on the subject). Any representative who wants to speak on the substance of the question should be afforded the opportunity to do so, before any vote is taken, and the debate should follow the same rules that are followed when bills that have been blessed by the Speaker and the Committee chair are considered. However, just as importantly...
  4. Motions to either postpone definitely, or to lay the bill on the table (two separate options) are now in order. The important difference between a vote to "hold for further study" and a vote for "to postpone definitely" is that further study sends a bill back to the full House, where its fate is placed into the hands of the Speaker, while "definite postponement" keeps the bill in committee, where its fate must still be decided at a later time by a majority vote of the committee, no matter what the Speaker or the committee chairperson thinks.

    A motion for definite postponement could take the form, for example, of a motion to postpone consideration of bill until after the people who have come to testify on that day have been heard, or until the next committee meeting, or until the first committee meeting after witnesses have been heard, etc. Also, according to Mason's Manual, the motion for definite postponement is debatable to the degree that the "propriety of the postponement" is discussed, meaning that it would be perfectly in order for the Rep who made the motion (or any other Rep on the committee) to explain to the other members of the committee (and the audience for the hearing) during their speaking time how this motion keeps the fate of the bill in the hands of the committee, instead of transferring it to the Speaker. (The first time this procedure is used, this might also make for some interesting blank and confused stares on the faces of certain legislators).

  5. The motion to postpone definitely does have to be voted on -- which means the real question about invoking this process centers on whether the members of a committee charged with considering a bill believe that the Speaker of the House would make the same decision on the bill that they would. If they think the Speaker would not allow a bill to get a vote on the House floor, even though a majority of the committee would supports it, then they should follow the procedure described above.
Look, I know that the 19th century language used as the names for some of these motions can make parts of the process sound arcane, but this is not parliamentary trickery being sketched out. This is, in fact just the opposite, a review of some accepted and staid rules, adopted over the centuries of American democracy, to ensure that legislatures are run as the gatherings of equally-ranked representatives of the people that they are intended to be. In the specific context of the RI legislature, those particular principles that need protecting are...
  1. That legislatures make decisions on substantive matters by majority vote.
  2. That legislators cannot be forced to vote on substantive matters, before they have had an opportunity to deliberate them.
  3. That legislators cannot be required to consider unrelated bills at the same time.
If you think those principles are unreasonable, then the form of government you believe in is something other than democratic.

February 3, 2011

When One Group's Ascendency Must Prevent Another's

Justin Katz

It's fascinating to hear people who wish to radically alter the law and culture by any means necessary and silence their opposition attempt to explain why the other side is the home of oppression and closed mindedness. One specimen of the genre, oddly not apparently online, comes courtesy David Adams Murphy.

After introducing his subject as a response to Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin's "anti-secularist blather," in a prior op-ed about Governor Lincoln Chafee's apparent aversion to public prayer, Murphy explains the First Amendment as intended, in part, "to keep any one faith from having ascendancy over another in government." How this is to be accomplished — that is, how the worldview of a majority of Americans (whatever that might be) is to be suppressed so as to give it equal weight to the worldview of a minority — he does not detail. Instead, Murphy elides all evidence that the Founders were religious believers, some of whom stressed the importance of religion if a democratic republic could hope to survive. He then whips out the secularist's cheat-sheet list of Christians' improprieties and atrocities.

Finally, Murphy presumes to declare Tobin's true purpose:

Why does the bishop call for religious influence on government? Because he desires a power to influence he doesn't deserve, but nevertheless enjoyed over Governor Chafee's nitwit predecessor. The unelected leader of this diocese, selected by the pope (who is nothing less than a bureaucratically appointed monarch), seeks to form public policy from his pulpit, dictate laws that conform with his interpretation of scripture, and doubtless funnel public monies to his church's coffers.

Doubtless. Of course, the fact that some sort of prayer has been a tradition long preceding Governor Carcieri does not come up for consideration. It would be far too much to expect the likes of Murphy to ponder the significance of the fact that a religion's political power, such as it is, derives mostly from its ability to persuade voters that its assessment of reality is correct and applies to a particular issue in such-and-such a way.

Murphy's central concern is clearly to disallow Christians to bring their religion to the table for public debate or even, one can justifiably suppose, into the voting booth. He therefore must paint their spiritual leaders as power-hungry descendants of barbarians and dictators and stir up the specter of insidious corruption in the modern day.

If Mr. Thomas Tobin, resident of Rhode Island, were Murphy's actual target, his string of vitriol and hostility would be manifestly inappropriate. One can conclude, therefore, that it isn't the bishop himself that Murphy fears and loathes, but the electoral majority that might agree with him. David Adams Murphy's declaration of "disgust" points mainly at the rest of us, and his insinuation is that we, his fellow Rhode Islanders, are mere op-eds or homilies away from burning witches and Joan D'Arc. We must be stopped. We must be prevented from hearing the seductive lure of clerics who ask us to acknowledge that political leaders are only human beings in need of guidance and humility about the extent of their authority.

In other words, Murphy's tones are those of the totalitarian, not Tobin's.

February 2, 2011

The Scope of Religious Freedom

Justin Katz

A recent article (apparently not online) in The Rhode Island Catholic summarized same-sex marriage legislation introduced to the General Assembly as follows:

Both Chafee and House Speaker Gordon Fox support allowing same-sex couples to marry. Last Thursday, Rep. Arthur Handy and Sen. Rhoda Perry filed bills that would recognize "civil marriage" between same gender individuals, but giving religious institutions the opportunity not to participate.

Having some history following this issue, I thought to take a look at the actual language that the local diocesan newspaper treats as containing religious exemptions. Here's the text of the relevant paragraphs of H5012:

Protection of freedom of religion in marriage. – (a) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 3 of the Rhode Island Constitution, each religious institution has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms. No court or other state or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission shall compel, prevent, or interfere in any way with any religious institution's decisions about marriage eligibility within that particular faith's tradition.

(b) Consistent with the guarantees of freedom of religion set forth by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 3 of the Rhode Island Constitution, ordained clergy, ministers or elders as described and authorized in sections and 15-3-6 of the general laws to officiate at a civil marriage shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage.

The legislation also adds a paragraph distinguishing legally recognized marriages as civil marriages. Arguably, a hostile judge could find that language describing eligible "officials empowered to join persons in marriage" does not mean clergy have a right to perform civil marriage if they refuse to do so without regard to the gender of the spouses.

More importantly, the freedom-of-religion section of the bill is narrowly worded to protect "decisions about marriage eligibility within that particular faith's tradition." That includes the definition of marriage for activities related to the exercise of religion, but does not necessarily include the definition for activities related to employment within the religious organization or to receipt of services provided thereby. In other words, the fact that a church does not recognize same-sex marriage for the purposes of its religious rites does not mean that it will be permitted to do so when providing benefits to employees spouses or when determining what counts as marriage when distributing charitable services.

Religious faiths tend not to segment their religious activities apart from the way they live their lives in all capacities. That is, to believers charity is an expression of faith, as is one's interaction in the workplace. The government (and this particular legislation) does not share that broad view.

February 1, 2011

Marriage as Healthcare Policy

Justin Katz

Pankaj Ahire, of Charlestown, uses extremely condemnatory language, laying the potential death of his same-sex partner at the foot of RI Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin:

The lack of marriage equality implies that my excellent health and dental insurance does not cover my partner. Unfortunately, my partner has had health issues, and could not go to a doctor. To see him suffer when I could have provided for him is agonizing to say the least.

But more importantly if tomorrow something happens to my partner, you can bet that I will take him straight to emergency room. Who foots the bill now? The State of Rhode Island. In this economic climate, shouldn't taxpayers try to get coverage for as many people as possible? Marriage equality is a way to do that.

Ahire provides an excellent example of the error in progressive thinking that has wrought so much damage throughout the United States and Western society at least since the mid-1800s. Radically altering cultural institutions in order to serve immediate economic and personal desires and needs — no matter how just and urgent they may be — ignores the pillars that have evolved over centuries and that such institutions developed to support.

Marriage is fundamentally about joining of the two halves of human biology, man and woman, most significantly in the bodies of the children that only a man and a woman can create. The ability to extend employment benefits to a loved one is not its key quality, neither is tax policy, neither is a government stamp of equality, and behaving as if any of these ancillary aspects should be focal points undermines an institution that is in dire need of fortification, in our time.

Mr. Ahire would be more rational to direct his ire at those who've held up healthcare reform. He'd be more intelligent to advocate for reforms that lower the cost thereof and increase freedom and choice when it comes to insurance plans and means of acquiring medical services.

January 16, 2011

Grappling with Truth Isn't Easy

Justin Katz

One of the more amorphous aspects of the Catholic Church that persuades me of the wisdom of its approach to conceptualizing life is that it eschews easy answers to thorny problems. (That doesn't mean, of course, that individual Catholics or even broad movements of them don't from time to time slip into human habits.) Bishop Tobin raised a case-in-point example of this quality in a September essay:

The gist of the letter [from the grandmother of a homosexual young man] is found in this paragraph: "Many men and women could not find themselves in love with a person of the same sex unless God made them that way. What is very serious is the attitude of disapproval and even violence that is often extended to gays. We are called to love everyone and not to be judgmental. When Church leaders speak out, it gives silent permission to others not to love gays."

Bishop Tobin cycles through a number of issues that create similar challenges for the reconciliation of the Church's call to love with its moral conclusions, returning to the topic at hand:

As I wrote to my correspondent, the fact that the Church has love and respect for homosexual persons does not mean that we can ignore the immorality of homosexual acts or the homosexual culture. Nor does our respect for homosexual persons mean that we should sit back silently while a highly-organized political movement seeks to hijack the institution of holy matrimony and change its definition as a union of man and woman — a definition that comes from God and has existed from the beginning of mankind.

That people with homosexual inclinations are human beings worthy of love and respect, that they experience their own intimate loves no less intensely than do heterosexuals, and even that their desires are natural do not negate the moral reasoning of the Church when it comes to their expression of their love — much less the longstanding and well developed theology that centers on the institution of marriage.

The easiest path is to grab onto any justification to allow people to do as they want to do, but what people want to do is not always (even often) the same as what they ought to do. If the "progressive" tendency is to cut loose tradition and moral gravity in order to accommodate the mores of the day, an equally facile mirror tendency is to cut loose the requirements for tolerance and compassion.

Neither approach fully accomplishes the goal toward which it is oriented. By letting love become license, the dogmatic liberal shirks the responsibility to guide and to be faithful stewards of the culture that has brought humanity so far. By letting responsibility become a yoke of rules without regard to the difficulties that they impose and rejection that they might imply, the dogmatic conservative fails to adequately apply the lessons of the culture that he strives to protect.

December 31, 2010

The Bourgeois Change

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg makes an interesting point about the particular victories of America's homosexual movement:

... Watch ABC's Modern Family. The sitcom is supposed to be "subversive" in part because it features a gay couple with an adopted daughter from Asia. And you can see why both liberal proponents and conservative opponents of gay marriage see it that way. But imagine you hate the institution of marriage and then watch Modern Family's hardworking bourgeois gay couple through those eyes. What's being subverted? Traditional marriage, or some bohemian identity-politics fantasy of homosexuality? ...

Or look at the decision to let gays openly serve in the military through the eyes of a principled hater of all things military. From that perspective, gays have just been co-opted by The Man. Meanwhile, the folks who used Don't Ask, Don't Tell as an excuse to keep the military from recruiting on campuses just saw their argument go up in flames.

Deep tradition and culture travel through time more as planets than comets, so they tend to absorb radical satellites that orbit them, but over time, the relatively small changes do shift their course. This speaks to the basic distinction, I think, between a conservative approach to addressing social change and the liberal one: there are ways to domesticate the gay subculture (or, rather, to give homosexuals a more domestic option) that reinforce the purpose of marriage rather than undermining it; there could have been ways of advancing equal rights for women and ending institutional male chauvinism without damaging family structure and reordering education to the detriment of boys; and there could have been ways of ushering black Americans from segregation to true equality without creating lasting racial divisions and a racial underclass, especially in inner cities, for whom hope is little more than a political slogan.

Essentially, the better approach is to maintain basic structural principles — such as the integral relationship between marriage and procreation — and allow the culture to do the slow work of kneading injustices and unnecessary restrictions out of traditions. The more radical approach of pushing social change through legal manipulation and pop-cultural affirmation has the effect of undermining the critical structural principles even as the tradition moves along with its own momentum. Consider another paragraph from Goldberg:

As a sexual-lifestyle experiment, they failed pretty miserably, the greatest proof being that the affluent and educated children (and grandchildren) of the baby boomers have re-embraced the bourgeois notion of marriage as an essential part of a successful life. Sadly, it's the lower-middle class that increasingly sees marriage as an out-of-reach luxury. The irony is that such bourgeois values — monogamy, hard work, etc. — are the best guarantors of success and happiness.

Those who are already educated and whose families are already on a healthy path draw from the lessons of tradition for their own benefit, but because the essential rationales of the traditions have been voided, they do not reinforce them. They marry, for example, because marriage ensures the best environment in which to raise children, but they do so as if of their own personal assessment of individual circumstances, not because the institution of marriage is such that it ineradicably binds two adults together and to the children that they create. The consequence emerges first with those who can't articulate the value of marriage or the importance of their children, but who have in generations past felt compelled to follow the family model nonetheless. Younger generations that once benefited from their parents' conformity no longer will, because their parents will understand marriage to be mainly about themselves and their own preferences.

In summary, Goldberg's essay ultimately comes down to an observation that radical change does not repercuss instantly. Civilization is a long-term project, though, and its course can move from one of continued advancement toward one of dissolution.

December 13, 2010

The Proper Frame of Traditionalist Mind

Justin Katz

Advocates or same-sex marriage do everything they can to paint supporters of traditional marriage as motivated by animus and hatred. They strive to obscure the very basic difference between biological pairs that, by their nature, can create children and those that cannot. It's all too easy, under that fire, to back into a small range of argument that does little to contradict their more outlandish and offensive assertions.

Ron Sider reminds traditionalists — specifically evangelicals, in his case — that we should fight back against such attacks by making them manifestly implausible:

Tragically, because of our own mistakes and sin, we evangelicals have almost no credibility on this topic. We have tolerated genuine hatred of gays; we should have taken the lead in condemning gay bashing but were largely silent; we have neglected to act in gentle love with people among us struggling with their sexual identity; and we have used the gay community as a foil to raise funds for political campaigns. We have made it easy for the media to suggest that the fanatics who carry signs announcing “God hates fags” actually speak for large numbers of evangelicals.

Worst of all, we have failed to deal honestly with the major threat to marriage and the family: heterosexual adultery and divorce. Evangelicals divorce at the same rate as the rest of the population. Many evangelical leaders have failed to speak against cheap divorce because they and their people were getting divorced just like everyone else. And yet we have had the gall to use the tiny (5 percent or less) gay community as a whipping boy that we labeled as the great threat to marriage.

The difficulty, on the latter count, is that the same-sex marriage movement has pushed the front line of the marriage debate away from divorce, because the nature of the couples is logically prior to the appropriate rules of their relationships. Sider is correct, when he writes:

... we should seek to change the divorce laws, especially no-fault divorce. When children are involved, the law should deny no-fault divorce and in other ways make divorce more difficult. This, not gay marriage, is the area of marriage law that affects the vast majority of our children. We should be spending the overwhelming majority of the time we devote to marriage law to changing the law that permits cheap divorce for heterosexuals.

But if society's concept of marriage as a relationship is such that it explicitly excludes the capacity for shared biological children as its sine qua non, then the argument for tightened divorce laws loses much of its punch. SSM presents marriage as an emotional and legal arrangement between two consenting adults; on what grounds does the government disallow them from divorcing? Having discarded the notion that the marriage is written into our biology and deserves support as a cultural institution above government, there would seem to be little basis for forcing unhappy couples to take a broader societal good into consideration as they order their affairs.

December 1, 2010

The Concern About Marriage's Future

Justin Katz

A comment that Mangeek left to a recent post on marriage and polygamy merits thought and response:

I'm having a really hard time seeing what's so bad about polygamy that it needs to be prohibited. I'm guessing that even if gay marriage and polygamy were allowed, the vast majority of people will still choose the 'standard configuration' we're all familiar with.

I'd rephrase his guess: The majority of people may continue to incline toward opposite-sex pairs, at least while the cultural echo of traditional marriage continues, but that doesn't mean that they'll continue to enter into them — particularly not with the sense of longevity and obligation that has been the key to the institution's success in Western society.

Same-sex marriage puts the final, irrevocable tear in the notion that the biological ability of men and women to create children through their intimacy is the single most relevant factor in marriage. Parents who pair up for life resolve questions of responsibility. They firmly set their children within lines of lineage tying them to the families and societies into which they're born. They affirm that they are joined in the children that they have jointly made and instill a sort of existential security on which healthy worldviews and habits can be built.

If that one basic requirement is removed, marriage is ultimately about the choices and well-being of adults. Don't get me wrong: the recent plausibility of same-sex marriage is a result of the institution's deterioration, not the cause of it. We've been treating marriage as a personal lifestyle choice for decades with the common practice of the serial polygamy of divorce and remarriage. Once same-sex marriage is written into the law and thereby enforced in the culture, it isn't even arguable that the traditional view of marriage applies except as an individual option among many.

I've argued many times that the whole point of responsible adults' investing in the institution of marriage is to create a culture of marriage that draws less responsible adults toward it, thus being an active force in society, rather than a mere marker of legal responsibilities and benefits. If marriage is, by contrast, about the mutual care and support of adults, then it is a real question whether a particular woman (to pick one gender) is better off slogging through life with a peer husband or signing on as wife number 2 or 22 of a billionaire.

We're still wrapped up in the romantic sense of marriage, so from our current place in history it seems universal and unchangeable that people will marry for love, rather than security, but it that won't last. Indeed, creating that sense was part of what made traditional marriage a powerful force for directing our culture. Without it, not only would children not be as thoroughly intertwined with diverse and dispersed cultures (as opposed to local tribes and insular nations), but the society would drift toward hierarchies defined not merely by money and political power, but by family structure.

This is the point at which I'd bring up Russ's comment, immediately following Mangeek's:

Ummm, cause and effect requires that something actually has been tried (exactly what the professor above said). As Drucker put it...

"There is no 'scientific' way to set objectives... There are rightly value judgements ... one reason for this is that the decisions stand under incurable uncertainty. They are concerned with the future. And we have no 'facts' concerning the future."

Russ is responding to my suggestion that radicals/progressives have taken, as their method of operation, grand experiments with human society, basing rapid changes on the limited ability of people to foresee consequences. He doesn't really object so much as restate his willingness to ignore the objection.

Lost in the spat, though, is the fact that tradition and cultural competition is human society's way of experimenting over time and recording the results. Looking back at history, it appears to me, at least, that society's that fostered a strong tradition of opposite-sex, two-person marriage became more democratic, more free, and more prosperous. That's not a record with which we should experiment except by the long slow process of cultural adjustment, not by the fiat of politically captured legislatures, and certainly not by the declarations of unelected judges.

November 29, 2010

Chafee's Aimin' to Give It

Justin Katz

What's the famous H.L. Menken quotation? "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." I suspect that's going to be the unofficial slogan of the Linc Chafee years in Rhode Island. It came to mind when the Department of Revenue found that Chafee's plan to tax everything that moves in Rhode Island would actually increase the taxes that we pay by $121 million, rather than the $89.4 million that he'd been claiming:

The list of 93 items that are exempt from the existing 7-percent state sales tax, in addition to food, clothing and medicine, is made up of items that state lawmakers deliberately chose not to tax, among them: school meals, prosthetic devices and sales to charitable, educational and religious organizations. Also included: equipment purchased for manufacturing purposes and adaptive equipment that helps amputee veterans drive their cars. [Don't forget heating fuel.]

When asked last week whether Chafee favors taxing such items, his spokesman, Michael Trainor, said the former U.S. senator "never wavered" during the campaign from his plan to establish a 1-percent tax on exempt items, and is not wavering now.

"Certainly, in the early days of his administration, there needs to be additional revenue," Trainor said. "He views this as a temporary extension to the exempt items that would be retired as soon as the budget situation is under control."

And what happens when "the budget system" (along with spending) becomes more out of control? Well, the difference between items currently taxed at 7% and those to be taxed at 1% is minimal, wouldn't you say?

The quotation came to mind, again, when Chafee dug in on his pledge to wipe away E-Verify at the state level, doubled down with an intention to bring this campaign across state borders, and offered this non sequitur, which raises serious questions about the governor-elect's capacity for reason:

"We have a disaster of an economy. Unemployment is one of the worst in the country. We're way worse than our neighbors, who all have the same labor laws as us," except for the immigration order, he said. "Obviously it's not working."

Blaming the state's economic woes on the fact that the state government has at least minimal controls against the hiring of illegal immigrants is nonsense on its face. Can the man who is soon to be the chief executive of our state think no more clearly than that? Even the Providence Journal editors think Chafee's way off, on this one:

The governor-elect argued that E-Verify "simply doesn’t work" and "has proved ineffective."

That would surprise people with much greater expertise on the subject, including Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security for President Obama, whom Mr. Chafee strongly supports.

"E-Verify is a smart, simple and effective tool that helps employers and businesses throughout the nation maintain a legal workforce," Ms. Napolitano said this month, in announcing that the program is being expanded at the federal level to include U.S. passports and passport cards for employment verification. Thirteen states now mandate E-Verify and the number will grow. (See "Chafee understates use of E-Verify system," news, Nov. 19.)

And even you don't agree with Chris Plante and the National Organization of Marriage, perhaps you'll hear echoes of Menken in the Chafee camp's handling of Plante's effort at least to be heard on the issue in the governor's office:

[Dhavee spokesman Michael Trainor] also denied ever telling Plante "that the governor-elect would sit down with him." In fact, Trainor said, his letter reflected his belief that a meeting would probably "not be productive" in light of Chafee's "long-established position" on the issue.

But Trainor said Chafee is, in fact, open to talking with Plante one-on-one about the issue. Explaining why his own letter to Plante did not raise this possibility, Trainor said it was sent without the governor-elect's knowledge, amid "literally hundreds of requests for meetings."

"But now that Mr. Plante has decided to make a public issue of this, Lincoln Chafee is more than willing to have him in and to have a conversation."

It's just basic politics to make some effort to allow the opposition to feel as if it has had input, thereby defusing some of the bitterness from the debate. Governor Carcieri, for one, met with advocates for same-sex marriage even though his stand was at least as strong in the opposite direction as Chafee's.

The frightening theme that recurs with every article concerning the soon-to-be governor of Rhode Island is that the people of the state are going to have to look to the General Assembly for balance and reason while Chafee's in the executive seat. Those who believe that the healthiest outcome for Rhode Island would be a hastening of its demise (and therefore, its recovery) may soon get their wish.

November 24, 2010

The Radicals' Approach to Social Engineering

Justin Katz

This entry to a recent First Things "While We're at It" column contains a familiar intellectual construction:

... The British Columbia Supreme Court will consider the legality of the province's laws after two members of a Mormon community in Bountiful, British Columbia, were charged with polygamy. The case will center primarily on religious freedom, but it may provide an opportunity to rethink the justification for banning polygamy.

"The problem," says Queen's University law professor Beverley Baines, "is that Canadian culture has changed significantly and there are many people living secretly in polygamous relationships. There is an assumption that polygamy is bad for women and children--but as long as it's a crime, no one is going to belly up and say they're living in the relationship. Until they decriminalize it we can't know if it's harmful in Canada."

The first thought to mind is Nancy Pelosi's admonition that Congress had to pass ObamaCare to see what it contained, but it hadn't previously occurred to me how apt a summary of the radical, or progressive, approach to social change that statement really was. It's all a grand experiment to them, no matter how many lives are damaged by the cultural underpinnings that they're so eager to sweep away.

Of course, to the extent that they are willing to consider evidence at all, progressives are likely aware that so many factors come into play, in the social arena, that no instance of cause and effect is ever free of the opportunity to dissemble and make excuses.

November 7, 2010

The Marriage Disconnect

Justin Katz

In linking to a post by James Joyner, Instapundit Glenn Reynolds directly conveys Joyner's concern, which the latter states thus:

I'm not sure what's shocking: That the rate for blacks has tripled in my lifetime or that whites have now surpassed the level of pathology Moynihan described.

But note this part of the extended block quote that Joyner draws from the relevant AP article:

As the issue of black unwed parenthood inches into public discourse, Carroll is among the few speaking boldly about it. And as a black woman who has brought thousands of babies into the world, who has sacrificed income to serve Houston's poor, Carroll is among the few whom black women will actually listen to.

"A mama can't give it all. And neither can a daddy, not by themselves," Carroll says. "Part of the reason is because you can only give that which you have. A mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child's life."

Anchor Rising readers are familiar with this point, but this point of view belongs fully articulated in the same-sex marriage debate. It makes for a disjointed set of ideological points to lament out-of-wedlock birth — especially in these terms — and not to explain why it is less lamentable than the inability of homosexual activists to change the definition of marriage.

October 27, 2010

There's the "M" Word Again

Justin Katz

Jennifer Marshall approaches a point frequently made on Anchor Rising from another direction:

Waiting until marriage to have children is the second of three "golden rules" for avoiding poverty that researchers identified over the years: (1) graduate from high school; (2) marry before having children; and (3) get a job.

Actually, being married is even more significant than graduating from high school for avoiding poverty. Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, shows this in a new paper, "Marriage: America's No. 1 Weapon Against Child Poverty." By contrast, typical responses to poverty call for more spending on government programs. Far from helping poor Americans escape dependency, however, massive increases in welfare spending over the past four decades have entrenched poverty across generations.

Marriage and childbirth must be inextricably linked, conceptually, to foster a society in which (1) having to get married feels like a real potential consequence of the behavior that leads to childbirth and (2) children are born into households in which their parents have formed a partnership for their emotional and economic well-being. For the subsequent generation, having close familial relationships with both male and female parents — creating direct lines of lineage along a family tree — will decrease the behavior that leads branches into dire circumstances.

September 28, 2010

The Marriage Game, as Predicted

Justin Katz

A recent editorial in National Review concerning same-sex marriage is a good summary of arguments that traditionalists, like me, have been making for nearly a decade now:

If it is true, as we are constantly told, that American law will soon redefine marriage to accommodate same-sex partnerships, the proximate cause for this development will not be that public opinion favors it, although it appears to be moving in that direction. It will be that the most influential Americans, particularly those in law and the media, have been coming increasingly to regard opposition to same-sex marriage as irrational at best and bigoted at worst. They therefore dismiss expressions of that opposition, even when voiced by a majority in a progressive state, as illegitimate. Judges who believe that same-sex marriage is obviously just and right can easily find ways to read their views into constitutions, to the applause of the like-minded.

The emerging elite consensus in favor of same-sex marriage has an element of self-delusion about it. It denies that same-sex marriage would work a radical change in American law or society, insisting to the contrary that within a few years of its triumph everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about. But its simultaneous insistence that opponents are the moral equivalent of the white supremacists of yesteryear belies these bland assurances. Our tolerance for racism is quite limited: The government, while it generally respects the relevant constitutional limits, is active in the cause of marginalizing racists and eradicating racist beliefs and behaviors. Moreover, social sanctions against racism, both overt and implied, are robust. If our society is truly to regard opposition to same-sex marriage as equivalent to racism, it will have to undergo change both dramatic and extensive. Churches that object, for example, will have to be put in the same cultural position as Bob Jones University was in the days when it banned interracial dating, until they too join the consensus.

There was a notable shift, following the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's Goodridge decision, when advocates for same-sex marriage ceased to try to conduct an intellectual discussion, as Andrew Sullivan had most notably been doing for many years prior, and simply ceased to respond seriously to objections. The entire movement, right up to the judges who have answered the call for activism, has proceeded with large blinders to the possibility that those who disagree, first, might have a point, and second, have a right to shape the relevant law in their system of supposed self government.

The practice continues, even as the obvious next steps emerge before our very eyes:

TLC, the network responsible for behemoth family exposes like "Kate Plus 8" and "19 Kids and Counting," is turning its reality TV attention to another kind of domestic abundance: polygamy. "Sister Wives," premiering at 10 p.m. today, follows a fundamentalist Mormon family composed of one daddy, three mommies and 13 children living under one roof.

"It just felt like our story needed to be told," said Kody, the affable patriarch who works in advertising and lives with his family in Lehi, Utah. "There's a lot of stereotypes out there that are actually perpetuated by the press. I wanted to make sure the world understood that we're polygamists, but we're not the polygamists that you think you know."

August 18, 2010

Questions of Law and Questions of Power

Justin Katz

Edwin Meese is not impressed with U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision that the Constitution requires recognition of same-sex marriage:

By refusing to acknowledge binding Supreme Court precedent, substantial evidence produced at trial that was contrary to the holding and plain common sense, the ruling exhibits none of the requirements of a traditional decision. This opinion is arbitrary and capricious, and its alarming legal methodology and overtly policy-driven tenor are too extreme to stand.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the result, structurally sound opinions always confront binding legal precedent. Walker's is a clear exception because the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on whether a state's refusal to authorize same-sex marriage violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. In 1972, Baker v. Nelson, a case over whether Minnesota violated the Constitution by issuing marriage licenses only to opposite-sex couples, was unanimously thrown out on the merits, for lack of a substantial federal question. The Supreme Court's action establishes a binding precedent in favor of Proposition 8. But Judge Walker's ruling doesn't mention Baker, much less attempt to distinguish it or accept its findings.

A summary of the legal history of Baker illustrates that many of the arguments for the maintenance of traditional marriage were the same back in the early '70s as they are now — notably that marriage is intrinsically tied to procreation, that some opposite-sex couples' decision not to fulfill that link (or inability to do so) in no way eliminates the norm, and differences of race and of sex are not equivalent. The difference, nowadays, is that a significant portion of the ruling class — those in the judiciary leading the way — has decided simply to ignore basic meaning and common sense.

August 13, 2010

The Basic Point on Marriage

Justin Katz

Ross Douthat states well the essential argument for preservation of traditional marriage that I've been making:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It's a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it's that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Douthat goes on to note the long deterioration of the ideal among heterosexuals, but he doesn't present the specific relevance of same-sex marriage thereto. He's right to decry serial polygamy (multiple marriage partners throughout life via the mechanism of divorce). However, same-sex marriage doesn't stand in potential contrast to that trend; it locks into law the view of marriage that enables it: being primarily about mutual care and romantic affection between adults, with the binds of procreation secondary. Worse, it lays the foundation for further dissolution of the institution to an anything-goes practice centered on the benefits permitted to spouses.

August 9, 2010

Generation Why Bother

Justin Katz

I guess it's among the hardships of wealth. Jeff Opdyke laments that his son doesn't have the drive that he did, as a teenager, to earn money, mostly because he and his wife have admittedly been a bit too generous:

We get a lot of satisfaction in doing that. But it comes with a pretty big downside—one we're only now beginning to grasp. Because of it, our son, who understands money far better than his young sister at this point, doesn't understand what it means to pay his own freight. He has learned to count on Mom and Dad.

I remember, at a very young age, walking around my apartment complex trying to sell toys that I no longer wanted. At one point, I set up a stand on a semi-main road selling pictures that I'd drawn. (I think I charged a quarter each, tacking on another dime if the picture was signed.) My career advanced to soccer referee and then record-store retail.

Perhaps the objects of desire make a difference. At thirteen and younger, I mainly wanted action figures and comic books, which had a low enough price tag that the work translated quickly into things. It seems that higher ticket items are more prominent these days — videogames and iphones and such — which probably contributes to the nonchalance of Opdyke's son at the prospect of making a few bucks mowing lawns.

Although, there's surely something cultural in play, whether broadly (covering most families) or narrowly (depending on the attitudes of nearby friends). My friends and I would patrol miles of neighborhoods selling the service of snow shoveling.

Of course, there's the opposing concern of parents:

[A former colleague's] daughter, on the other hand, "always had jobs when she was old enough, and offers the opposite lesson," my friend says. "She worked too hard and didn't enjoy herself enough when she had the opportunity. Now she has a full-time job, has her two weeks off, and I think she missed out."

Missed out on what? A teenager's job becomes part of the experience of youth. And without enough money to keep up with peers, kids can miss out anyway. I started down my path of debt when my first credit card arrived just in time to allow me to go on a beech vacation with my late-teenage pals. If I hadn't already had experience with what it means to work, I'd probably be in an even deeper hole, now, and with less natural drive to work my way out of it.

It's a complaint of every generation of parents, no doubt, but it feels as if the times aren't helping — what with all of the comforts and distractions, on one hand, and the well-honed traps that make spending money easy. As Opdyke suggests, "physical, maybe even uncomfortable, low-paying work" can be a healthy experience, of itself, if it serves to motivate young adults, but with the wireless glow of gadgets all around and the comforts of even working class homes, the lesson of "why bother" can take some effort to impart.

August 4, 2010

Marriage However They Want It

Justin Katz

Yes, there are distinctions, and obviously, it is possible to argue both points simultaneously, but consider the circumstances that some early federal judicial rulings on same-sex marriage have created. A judge in Massachusetts has declared that the U.S. Congress and President cannot define marriage for the purposes of federal law, because the Constitution leaves the definition of marriage to the states. Now, a judge in California has single-handedly insisted that the people of that state, following the process of changing their constitution in order to affirm the definition of marriage as a relationship between members of the opposite sex, have violated the national Constitution.

Perhaps I'm not alone in inferring that the game is rigged and in taking this instance as evidence of the broader relentlessness of a ruling class that disagrees with the people of, by, and for whom the government is supposed to exist. On the blog Gay Patriot (via Instapundit), B. Daniel Blatt highlights some evidence that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled based, above all, on his own value system, rather than the law or the consensus of Americans:

Whoah, this guy is given more to popular jargon that to constitutional interpretation: "the evidence shows that Proposition 8 harms the state's interest in equality, because it mandates that men and women be treated differently based on antiquated and discredited notions of gender." Antiquated and discredited notions of gender? Discredited by whom? Sociologists writing in the 1970s, inventing a social construct out of thin air?

Commenting to a related post on the Volokh Conspiracy, Bart DePalma extrapolates the broader oligarchical question well:

The federal courts are not doing the Dems any favors.

Missouri's Prop C showed that the voters are already in full rebellion over an imperial Congress taking control of their health insurance against their will.

Then, last month, a district court judge in AZ decreed that the most popular law in the country — Arizona's attempt to enforce federal immigration law — was likely unconstitutional because it would be contrary to Obama policy not to enforce the law.

Now, a district court judge in San Fran has literally decreed that homosexual unions are marriages and the voters of CA were irrational to vote otherwise.

The courts may have just added law and order and social issue voters to the tsunami already headed to the ballot box in November.

How many more times does the ruling class think voters can be denied before there is a revolution — first at the ballot box and then if that fails on the streets?

If I may paint in even broader strokes: Incremental imposition of a national worldview — which is not very far, at all, from an organized religion — had served progressives well for a number of decades, as they infiltrated opinion-forming sectors of society, such as education and entertainment. By that method, they numbed and isolated their opposition. By a more political method, they drew in constituencies wanting some change to the order of American society, whether by encouraging dependency on government or picking the sides in cultural battles that appeal to our most basic desires and disruptive impulses (sex most prominently).

In recent decades, cultural conservatives aligned with civil libertarians and began building means of conveying their ideas even when locked out of more traditional media. At the beginning of this millennium, I'd have wagered that the conservative arguments thus promulgated would gradually win the day against the bankrupt and totalitarian ideas of the Left, and that the discoursive struggle would be between the right-leaning erstwhile allies. Unfortunately, the combination of 9/11 and President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" confused the trend and ushered in a far-left Democrat Congress and President Obama, who slithered into office on a centrist lie and a stolen dream.

Perhaps liberals have lost faith in incrementalism and are attempting to leap several rungs of the ladder at a time. Or perhaps conservatives are now better positioned to respond to the usurpation of our civil society. Whatever the case, big questions have been brought forward for pivotal answers, and support for immediate outcomes could come at the cost of much more fundamental concerns.

July 25, 2010

Liberty Isn't Their Concern

Justin Katz

Somehow the headline "Voicing their views" feels a bit discordant over an article that includes this detail:

Speakers from the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage seemed startled as they were encircled by counter-protesters who yelled, sang and waved the rainbow flag associated with the gay-pride movement. Then, as some 170 protesters — most wearing red T-shirts — rattled plastic bottles filled with coins as a distraction, the group's president pointed to their tactics as yet another example of why same-sex marriage should not be legalized.

Two days earlier, the same-sex marriage advocacy group Marriage Equality RI had held its own rally, got its free publicity, and if there was any counter-protesting on the scene, it wasn't so overt as to be noticed by reporter Randal Edgar. But allowing the opposition that much courtesy is apparently a step too far for SSM activists. For them, those who disagree must be silenced — driven from the public square.

I'd ballpark the likelihood that legalized SSM will satisfy that aggression at zero percent. The next movement to be drowned out and intimidated will be that seeking permission for traditionalists to hold to their views of marriage in their private capacity — in the way they conduct their businesses, associate in groups, and offer their charity.

Not to make too much of a theme of it, but once again, one can observe that the urge to be on "the right side of history" is easily manipulable to put well-intentioned citizens in league with those who would oppress others because they've woven a translucent cloak of victimhood from conflicts of the past. That force that we've personified as Evil is perfectly happy to switch from oppressing homosexuals to leveraging homosexuals to oppress traditionalists and knock down the social structures that enabled our society to advance to its current state.

(Indeed, a traditionalist, myself, I'm inclined to see that as the intention all along.)

July 22, 2010

Marriage Is What We Make It

Justin Katz

Commenter Rasputin scoffs at my suggestion that, as men become less useful as economic partners and less attractive as mates, heterosexual women will begin marrying each other. You can call the idea crazy, but remember that you did so when the New York Times or Dateline runs a story about the trend of "BFF second marriages" within a decade of pervasive same-sex marriage.

To the extent that the SSM movement retains the centrality of children to our idea of marriage, it insists that men and women are entirely interchangeable in their raising. They proffer having two parents as somehow the key to that task but insist that their genders don't matter. The overall message of SSM, however, is that marriage is not about children at all.

So what does that leave marriage to be about? It made sense, as our civilization came up with the social formula that brought us to our current level of advancement, for a layer of romantic mystique to be woven into the marriage culture for added profundity, but our society is burning the last fumes of such notions of soul mates and couples' being "meant for each other." Common and easy divorce and cultural narcissism are eliminating the last vestiges. Some people even argue that we're simply living too long for expectations of a single mate to be realistic. With the removal of the real miracle of childbirth — whereby a child literally joins the two parents in one body — from our understanding of marriage, there's no need for romance to play a role.

Best-friend marriages won't start out as sexual relationships. Divorced mothers will quickly realize the advantages of teaming up, and marriage will help them in that regard. (Kate & Allie was a popular TV show back when it was still considered craziness to predict the probability of same-sex marriage.) Over time, individual couples and next-generation pairings may move to satisfy each other's sexual desires, but it isn't really necessary for the cultural phenomenon to occur; it's long been a joke, after all, that married couples stop having sex, anyway.

We tend to forget, as these public debates develop, that our basic sense of what things mean — the essential understanding that everybody shares — changes. Everybody currently over thirty formed their sense of marriage before SSM was considered a possibility, so it's easy to fit the new relationships into the old formula and expect everything else to stay the same. That won't be the case.

Part of the very reason to have marriage is to create cultural expectations that men and women who behave in such a way as to create children will provide those children with stable homes consisting of their mothers and fathers. If that behavior is no longer in the equation, then there's no reason for sex to be, and to the extent that marriage continues to offer practical benefits to the spouses, it will become an attractive option to anybody (pairs, at first) who trusts somebody else — whether divorced mothers or shiftless young men.

July 14, 2010

Getting Past the Circular Fiat

Justin Katz

Accusations of bigotry notwithstanding, I've long maintained that what drew me into the same-sex marriage debate about a decade ago was the intriguing and telling argument driving the innovation. The point is perhaps best summed in a passage from Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal, which I quoted in a post some years ago:

Some might argue that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman; and it is difficult to argue with a definition. But if marriage is articulated beyond this circular fiat, then the argument for its exclusivity to one man and one woman disappears.

My proximate concern was that this reasoning justifies any change to marriage, and its method any change to anything. If we put aside, for example, that marriage is by definition a relationship between two people, well, the argument for polygamy is perfectly coherent and logical. Obviously, if we define marriage beyond its definition, then its definition is something else. That there are reasons for the mere definition is a fact that we neatly put aside.

That dynamic has occurred to me as we've had internal debate about the Tenth Amendment reasoning in District Court Judge Joseph Tauro's rulings on the topic of same-sex marriage (here, here, here, and here). From my perspective, Tauro's reasoning proceeds as if from the "what if" of whether the federal government has a right to tie strings to its spending. The argument may be perfectly coherent and logical from that point on, but I haven't yet heard a satisfactory argument about why that's an appropriate starting point.

It's certainly an attractive way to begin an argument for some fundamental change in previously held beliefs — putting, as it does, defenders in the position of decoding all of the internal justifications that cultural evolution has built into the definition and belief. But it's surely inadequate. Back when I was arguing against Sullivan and his allies, in the earlier days of the public debate, nobody considered this route to finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The two paths to that result were thought to be the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution or the Equal Protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

One can argue that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley divined an argument that we all had overlooked, but it seems to me at least probable that the reason we overlooked it was that it conflicted with our beliefs about the government's right to set policy around its own programs. Perhaps we were wrong, but a bit more explanation related to that error should be required.

Be that as it may, we're well into the realm of folks who prioritize cranial activity, and that's simply not how most people come to their conclusions. For most, the answer to the question of "what if there's no difference between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples" is something like: "Then I can stop being called a bigot by emotional people and feel as if I'm on the 'right side of history.'" Well, as understandable as that response may be, it's not a formula for the preservation of principles that have worked for our society or for progress as we seek to move forward.

The same is true of Tauro's rulings, which add a legal, wonkish layer of recircled fiat on top of the cultural one that men and women are interchangeable within sexual relationships.

July 10, 2010

Congress Lacks a Constitutionally Granted Power to Define Marriage, † Œ Ø ¿

Justin Katz

Andrew's #5 makes me wonder whether he isn't too enamored of the opportunity to oppose lefitsts in the course of supporting a liberal judicial ruling. I'll admit that I, too, find it very interesting that my reasons for disagreeing with Judge Tauro's rulings (as I understand them) ought to ally me with a variety of left-wingers. They dislike federalism that subverts their statist aims; I dislike federalism that collects taxes that will transfer to states with no federal definition of terms required.

I'd note, for one obvious instance, that it is accepted practice that it is left to sovereign states to regulate abortion, as long as women have the right thereto (per Roe v. Wade et al.) according to some basic requirements. How would Tauro's reasoning not invalidate such legislation as the Hyde Amendment, preventing federal funding of abortions? If a state determines that abortion should be among the procedures covered by public healthcare programs,then it would seem that Tauro has left the federal government no recourse but to supply money to the state without defining the limits of acceptable procedures.

More to the point, though, I'm not persuaded that Andrew's #2 actually answers my objection (and Brassband's). Note, especially, the first sentence:

Attorney General Coakley's argument, which Judge Tauro agreed with, is that when the Federal government creates its own definition of marriage, it requires states to keep track of different types of marriages, even if the states don't recognize the Federal distinctions in their own laws.

In the case (essentially) of contractual requirements for the issuance of federal dollars, "marriage" is a definable term, not unlike "eligible participant" or "owner" or "the company" or "applicable service." Given the complexities of our layers of government and their many overlapping programs, the fact that "marriage" means something different for the purpose of federal contracts than for state contracts hardly creates an undue burden.

Under such an approach, it would be impossible for the federal government to do anything without exceeding its powers, in some way. Recall that the Constitution leaves authority not just to the states, but also to the people. According to the reasoning that Andrew describes, he could just as well say that the federal government, in creating any job or office, should not be able to set requirements because "it is not enough to say the [applicant] can opt-out of this requirement by not participating."

I write all this, of course, from within the belief that the federal government should not be as big and all-spending as it is. Wishing for a less powerful national government, however, should not lead us to accept a government that's small in control of taxpayer dollars but just as big in handing them out.

Re: Congress Lacks a Constitutionally Granted Power to Define Marriage

Justin Katz

As Andrew's post on Judge Tauro's ruling concerning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) proves, conservatives will find a great deal of intellectual meat in the development — setting principles of federalism against a traditional understanding of marriage. I'll have more to say on the issue in days to come, but for the moment, discussion in the comment section is definitely worth a look. Commenter Brassband offers an objection:

I haven't had a chance to go through these opinions with any care, but based on what I've seen I don't get the 10th amendment argument.

There's nothing that compels a state to participate in Medicaid -- or in a range of other federal programs.

For a state that is offended by DOMA's application to Medicaid recipients within its borders, the solution is to reject Medicaid and provide all of the funding for that type of program from State funds, and give the benefits to whomever the State likes.

Doesn't seem like a very well reasoned 10th amendment decision, from everything I've seen.

To which Andrew responds:

On the technical side, Judge Tauro's Tenth Amendment ruling is based on a First-Circuit precedent...
In United States v. Bongiorno, the First Circuit held that "a Tenth Amendment attack on a federal statute cannot succeed without three ingredients: (1) the statute must regulate the States as States, (2) it must concern attributes of state sovereignty, and (3) it must be of such a nature that compliance with it would impair a state’s ability to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions."

More broadly, the ruling basically says that if the states have never given away their authority in an area of governance (and, according to Bongiorno, the area is integral to the state), then the 10th Amendment makes clear that the states remain sovereign, and the Federal government cannot make its own set of rules in that area. I know that's not usually how the 10th Amendment has been interpreted (on the few occasions that it has been), but it seems to be closer to its original meaning than is the idea that the Federal government has a broad authority to do anything it decides for itself promotes the "general welfare", with states being allowed to opt-out of programs that are not based on more specifically enumerated powers.

It seems to me that Andrew's explanation (and, I take it, Tauro's) doesn't address Brassband's objection. The key is number 3 in the internal blockquote, which requires that a challenge on Tenth Amendment grounds involve a regulation:

... of such a nature that compliance with it would impair a state’s ability to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions.

DOMA doesn't regulate a state's activities as a sovereign entity. It regulates them as a dependent entity. That is, the state need only comply with the regulation to the extent that it (for example) chooses to rely on federal funds for Medicaid.

I've written before that I think that the spending mechanism for federal imposition of policy is corrupting of states' sovereignty, but circumstances are much worse if the federal government is seen as merely a source of nationwide taxpayer dollars for individual states. Where conservatives typically decry the strings that come with federal dollars, it's directly related to the regulation. This occurs, for example, when the feds offer aid for education and then dictate how individual school districts must construct their programs (or their faculties or student bodies).

In this case, even that isn't happening. The government isn't saying that states can only receive Medicaid funds if they define marriage along federal guidelines; it's saying that the funds can only be distributed in ways that accord with the federal government's understanding of marriage. Applying this to the Bongiorno rules for a Tenth Amendment challenge, one would have to argue that (again, for example) refusing Medicaid "would impair a state’s ability to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions." That's undoubtedly true, in a practical sense, but codifying it into law isn't a turn of events that ought to encourage conservatives (and libertarians, much less).

The most immediate reason conservatives should be wary is that it means that Americans no longer possess a substantive say in the application of their taxdollars, when those dollars are given to the states. The secondary reason, which will perhaps prove more insidious, is that it opens up a new area in which the federal judiciary has authority to determine when taxpayers retain that right and when they don't.

July 9, 2010

Massachusetts District Court Says that Congress Lacks a Constitutionally Granted Power to Define Marriage

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a decision issued yesterday, the Federal District Court for Massachusetts overturned a portion of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for reasons including the violation of the Tenth Amendment and Congress lacking an enumerated basis for defining marriage, in the case of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services.

Section 3 of DOMA prohibited any definition of marriage other than that of a union of one man and one woman from being used by the Federal government, including eligibility rules for Federal benefits. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley challenged the law last year arguing, amongst other points, that...

Congress lacks the authority under Article I of the United States Constitution to regulate the field of domestic relations, including marriage [and that] Section 3 of DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment, exceeds Congress’s Article I powers, and runs afoul of the Constitution’s principles of federalism by creating an extensive federal regulatory scheme that interferes with and undermines the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define marriage and to regulate the marital status of its citizens.
In other words, Congress lacked the power to define marriage, even for Federal law, because a power to involve itself in regulating domestic relations had never been delegated to Congress. And in deciding the case, District Court Judge Joseph Tauro agreed that Federalist arguments have to be taken seriously in this and in any other area...
It is a fundamental principle underlying our federalist system of government that "[e]very law enacted by Congress must be based on one or more of its powers enumerated in the Constitution." And, correspondingly, the Tenth Amendment provides that "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The division between state and federal powers delineated by the Constitution is not merely “formalistic." Rather, the Tenth Amendment “leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty." This reflects a founding principle of governance in this country, that "[s]tates are not mere political subdivision of the United States," but rather sovereigns unto themselves.
In its defense, the Federal Government argued that an enumerated power allowing Congress to define marriage can be found in the "Spending Clause" of the US Constitution (Article I section 8)...
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States
...which has been interpreted to allow Congress to set conditions on how Federal monies are spent, in pursuit of the promotion of the general welfare. But Judge Tauro rejected this justification as a basis for DOMA, on the grounds that...
  1. The courts have previously held that the broad grant of power in Spending Clause cannot be used to justify Congressional actions that violate more sharply defined section of the Constitution, and
  2. Section 3 of DOMA "violated the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution" (decided in Gill vs. Office of Personnel Management, the companion case to Massachusetts v. HHS, and decided by Judge Tauro on the same day).
Judge Tauro's ruling also made note that the scope of Section 3 of DOMA extended beyond just "spending"...
It is...worth noting that DOMA’s reach is not limited to provisions relating to federal spending. The broad sweep of DOMA, potentially affecting the application of 1,138 federal statutory provisions in the United States Code in which marital status is a factor, impacts, among other things, copyright protections, provisions relating to leave to care for a spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and testimonial privileges.
...suggesting that the Spending Clause might not have been an adequate justification for Section 3 of DOMA, even if it had been decided that there was no conflict with the rest of the Constitution. Given that the opinion makes no further mention of whether the impacts of DOMA outside of spending or monetary benefits can be justified by the Spending Clause, I believe the implication is that there is no way that DOMA could have met Constitutional requirements in any non-spending area of the law, if it was unable to meet Constitutional requirements directly related to spending.

The rationale offered by Judge Tauro with regard to the Tenth Amendment was more direct. He found that Section 3 of DOMA violated it, without dependence on any other Constitutional provisions...

That DOMA plainly intrudes on a core area of state sovereignty -- the ability to define the marital status of its citizens -- also convinces this court that the statute violates the Tenth Amendment...

This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status. The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid.

However, while this part of the opinion directly invokes the Tenth Amendment, it does so in a manner more limited than the plain wording of the Amendment would suggest. Judge Tauro's opinion, drawing from established circuit-level precedent, stresses that the Tenth Amendment applies to areas which, in addition to not being delegated to the Federal Government, must also be areas which clearly belong to the state governments. This adds an extra condition on Tenth Amendment protections, not found in the Amendment's text, which makes no reference to a subset of non-delegated state powers being the special ones that are protected.

So while I can applaud Judge Tauro's general principle of taking the idea of enumerated powers and Tenth Amendment seriously, the specifics of his ruling highlight a substantial gap that currently exists in our nation's Federalism-related jurisprudence. While the Federal government cannot intrude into an area that is fundamental to the sovereignty of a state, and cannot use the "Spending Clause" to justify actions that conflict with other parts of the Constitution, there is still a large range of possible Federal actions whose Constitutionality is not clearly defined by the courts, i.e. actions that courts do not declare to be essential to state sovereignty, and that are not in conflict with the Constitution but that are not expressly delegated to the Federal Government.

June 16, 2010

Proving Sex Ed Policies a Failure

Justin Katz

One hears, from time to time, that abstinence only sex education has been proven to be a failure.
Not only is the proof arguably incorrect, but the entire premise misses the mark. Abstinence education hardly enjoyed meager implementation, let alone the pervasive reinforcement that would be necessary for society-wide effect.

But I do wonder what those who continue to offer the common complaint that a small devotion to abstinence in the broad sphere of public school sex ed didn't change anything would say about this:

The United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph has an article this morning documenting the high rate of repeat abortions among young girls in Great Britain. According to the article, 89 girls aged 17 or under who terminated a pregnancy last year had had at least two abortions previously. Furthermore, 2009 figures from the Department of Health indicate that for the first time, more than a third (34 percent) of abortions were performed on women who had already ended one or more pregnancies.

While these statistics are tragic, the article unfortunately fails to link these outcomes to Britain's permissive policies with regard to abortion, contraception, and sex education. For instance, England has no parental-consent requirement. In both 1982 and 2006 the courts ruled that minor girls can obtain abortions without their parental permission. These high rates of repeat abortions provide good evidence that effective parental-involvement laws might be able to prevent minors from obtaining multiple abortions by providing parents with an early indication of their child's sexual activity.

Abortion isn't the only indicator that "comprehensive" sex ed, British-style, has failed to resolve or has in fact made worse. But it's such an article of faith that all we have to do is teach children how to have sex safely that few stop to notice that the operative clause in that belief is "teach children how to have sex."

June 5, 2010

UPDATED: Doggedly Raising the Contraceptive Point

Justin Katz

Frankly, the comments to my post on contraception were about what I expected. The Pill, condoms, and their less common company are secular sacraments, and people are very reluctant to place them on the table for skeptical scrutiny. (It might... or might not... go too far to imply an underlying sense of prickliness about their insinuation of naughty behavior.) One comment I'd like to highlight, though, comes from Dan:

I think not having three kids by the time I got out of school has worked out pretty favorably for me. A girl in my high school class did things the old fashioned way and is now a mother of three who works at a local Stop and Shop (along with significant government aid). I suppose for the 10% or so of young adults who can, voluntarily or involuntarily, plausibly commit to total abstinence until marriage it works out alright.

The first thing to say is that it's a little peculiar for a libertarian principalist to argue such things from anecdote. If that's the standard, I'll see Dan's "girl from high school" and raise him dozens of men and women with whom I've been acquainted, during my adult life, who've spent their lives childless and still wind up menially employed and in need of assistance. If readers wish to head in such a direction, we could take up the question of whether effective self-sterilization leads to perpetual adolescence among people who never face parental responsibility.

The larger point comes with the second thing I'd say in response to Dan. He's reluctant to accept the notion that modern contraception bifurcated the "mating market" into distinct "sex" and "marriage" markets, but it doesn't contradict the argument to ignore it. Indeed, his rejoinder is fully in keeping with the analysis that I cited by Timothy Reichert, who notes (for example) that two-income couples have decreased the value of labor and increased the cost of such essentials as homes. Reichert summarizes this aspect of his argument as follows:

By now, it should be clear to the reader that, in my view, contraception is, contrary to the rhetoric of the sexual revolution, deeply sexist in nature. Contraception has resulted in an enormous redistribution of welfare from women to men, as well as an intertemporal redistribution of welfare from a typical woman's later, childrearing years to her earlier years.

In other words, the benefit that Dan has derived has arguably come at a cost to young families — with an emphasis on women and children. In my earlier post, I suggested that the loosening of young women's inhibitions has overall been to the benefit of men. Dan's reply, as a young professional male, is that he's enjoyed that benefit quite a bit. Well, fine.

It's interesting, in this context, to introduce a recent study of teens' attitudes toward sex. I note, in passing, that contrary to Dan's 10% number, a majority of the teens reported having not had sex. As the full report (PDF) makes clear, teen sex has actually been decreasing. Unfortunately, there's a dark lining to the study:

It found that most teenagers do not frown on having children outside of marriage, however.

"The majority of teens -- 64 percent of males and 71 percent of females -- 'agree' or 'strongly agree' that 'it is okay for an unmarried female to have a child'," the report reads.

I offer the hypothesis that the bifurcation of the "mating market," following the contraceptive revolution, was among the factors that placed our society on a path away from the "marriage market," perhaps suggesting that the "sex market" will ultimately replace the "mating market." With the commonplace declarations that pregnancy and childbirth are ultimately the woman's choice and the market dynamics described by Reichert, men have been moving away from the sense of responsibility for their offspring, which is not an option for women, who have nonetheless had incentive to begin behaving, culturally and sexually, more like men.


As I began this post by implying, something strange happens when one raises this topic — or any topic having to do with the behavioral revolutions of the past half-century. It's as if we all become teenagers defending our habitual misbehavior.

To clarify what I'd thought was clear: I'm not suggesting that we could or should put the contraceptive cat back in the bag. There are circumstances in which they're necessary, and truth be told, I wouldn't restrict their usage by adults were I able to conform the law entirely to my liking. (Although, I would still argue that the residents of individual states should have that authority, acting democratically.)

But the fact that something is — on the whole — good, neutral, or just not worth repealing does not mean that it is beyond reproach, just as the fact that something has harmful effects does not mean that we must attempt to rip it out of the law and culture in its entirety. Rather, by openly discussing problems, we can make the slow cultural adjustments that conservatives tend to prefer on such matters.

June 3, 2010

Contraception and Distortion of a Market

Justin Katz

Timothy Reichert had a very interesting analysis in the May issue of First Things applying economic and social science principles to the effect of the Pill on American relationships. (Unfortunately, the magazine appears to be having long-term technical difficulties with its firewall, so even a subscription might not enable access.) Here's the premise with which he begins:

What are the social processes that should be logically included under the rubric of contraception? First and foremost, contraception divides what was once a single mating "market," wherein men and women paired in marriage, into two separate markets — a market for sexual relationships that most people now frequent during the early phase of their adult lifetimes (I will refer to this as the "sex market"), and a market for marital relationships that is inhabited during the later phases (I will refer to this as the "marriage market").

Challenging the unmitigated blessing of birth control has been a secular apostasy for most of my adult life, but that's just another indication of the recklessness with which our society pursues immediate gratification without consideration of consequences. Even clearly positive developments — such as the end of racial segregation and the beginning of women's liberation — can have negative consequences that are exacerbated by the way in which a change of practice comes about and is sustained. It behooves us, then, to be frank about those consequences as something distinct from the emotional cry against recrudescence.

In the case of contraception, writes Reichert:

The result is easy to see. From the perspective of women, the sex market is one in which they have more bargaining power than men. They are the scarce commodity in this market and can command higher "prices" than men while inhabiting it.

But the picture is very different once these same women make the switch to the marriage market. The relative scarcity of marriageable men means that the competition among women for marriageable men is far fiercer than that faced by prior generations of women. Over time, this means that the "deals they cut" become worse for them and better for men.

Reichert doesn't take the obvious tangent of observing that women — especially young women — have been responding to this new dynamic by behaving increasingly like men in the sex market. Indeed, it's not a new point to suggest that the loosening of young women's inhibitions is overall to the benefit of men — young and old. Indeed, if letches of old had sought to design a system that played to their lusts, they couldn't have done much better than the path that we're currently on.

Reichert goes on to explore the effects of the split of the "mating market" on various aspects of life and relationships, and consistently finds that the changes are ultimately to the detriment of women — and the children to whom women are naturally more deeply bonded. The details are too extensive to summarize, here, but a passage that Reichert quotes from a 2009 article by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers offers the upshot:

... measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women's declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups in industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.

May 2, 2010

How the Accommodating Institution Declines

Justin Katz

Apparently, in fields that debate such things, there's been an attempt to apply economic principles to explain the ebbs and flows of attendance in different churches. John Lamont does some difference splitting and paints a persuasive picture (subscription required). Because "the rewards of religion are supernatural and, therefore, unseen," the healthy religion, he explains, requires a different form of evidence, which is more visible where it is more distinctive:

Zeal and commitment are also necessary to lessen the "free rider" problem that plagues all voluntary groups — the problem of members who take the benefits of membership without contributing themselves. One can add to these considerations the fact that much of the appeal of religion comes from its providing moral principles with which to structure one's life. Such principles are far more effective when one sees that most of the people around one are following them. A community of people who, by and large, follow the principles of a morally demanding religion is far more effective moral educator than any amount of preaching — a factor that is especially important for parents. Thus, a church has to set high standards for membership in order to be attractive, and the churches that set high standards are the churches that will grow. Those with low standards will shrink because low standards reduce the rewards for religious commitment below the required cost in time and effort. This is why, as Finke and Stark assert, "the churching of America was accomplished by aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness."

The problem arises with each incremental argument that this or that rule is arbitrary and may be discarded, often with the ultimately erroneous expectation that the church might be more attractive if its costs were lower. Lamont quotes from The Churching of America, 1776–2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark:

... other things being equal, people will always be in favor of a modest reduction in their costs. In this fashion, humans begin to bargain with their churches for lower tension and fewer sacrifices. They usually succeed, both because it is those with the most influence — the clergy and the leading laity — who most desire to lower the level of sacrifice and because each reduction seems so small and engenders widespread approval.

This perspective applies, to some degree, to cultural matters, as well. With marriage, for example, a great many people who formed their fundamental understanding of the institution long ago don't see why an easing of divorce, here, and the erasure of gender rules, there, ought to have any effect on their own marriages. As the rules ease, though, and boundaries of the institution become less clear, those who are not already formed in their perspectives have less reason to follow the well-trodden path.

The benefits to the individual spouse are, as with religion, supernatural, but they're also social and cultural. (Of course, the benefits to children born into stable marital homes are quite tangible.) If people don't draw the satisfaction of feeling a part of something greater, upon which participants agree — that is, if an institution merely provides a title for something that each participant defines for him or herself — the calculated rewards for forming relationships that are insoluble even when difficult or for devoting time and energy to religious practices even when disruptive become more and more difficult to reconcile.

March 29, 2010

Marriage and Parenthood for Minorities

Justin Katz

Although those who wish to fling accusations of bigotry seldom manage to hear, I've long maintained that same-sex marriage is a bad idea because of its effects on the institution, not a matter of oppression. The typical response is the intellectually inept claim that calling a particular same-sex relationship "marriage" will not affect any particular existing opposite-sex marriage. That's more likely than not to be true, but it's the cultural effect that will have repercussions, harming the most vulnerable in our society, for whose welfare a strong marital culture should be reclaimed and maintained.

The point arises, at this time, because of an echo in a race-related AP article that's been widely published over the past few days (emphasis added):

The founder estimates more than 300 celebrations are being held this weekend. The aim is to try to stabilize, if not reverse, the trend of non-commitment within the black community. According to 2009 census figures, 41.9 percent of black adults had never married, compared to 23.6 percent of whites. Studies show blacks also are more likely than other ethnic groups to divorce and bear children out of wedlock.

Experts blame the disparities in part on high black male unemployment, high black male imprisonment and the moderate performance of black men in college compared with black women.

They also note the lack of positive images of black marriage in the media and several misperceptions about matrimony - that it's for white people, that it's a ball and chain, that fatherhood and marriage are not linked.

If marriage is principally about the love and comfort of the adults, and not about the fact that what they do tends to create children, then those inclined to shirk responsibility are free of a cultural mechanism to tie them to their children, and the other adult with whom those children are biologically linked. Our society has certainly gone too far down that path, already, but changing the legal definition of "marriage" would cement the flawed principle into the culture.

March 5, 2010

The Bigger Government, the More Established Its Religion

Justin Katz

An editorial in the Rhode Island Catholic points to another Catholic charity pushed out of business by redefinition of the ground out from under it:

Time and time again proponents of homosexual marriage have promised churches and religious institutions they have nothing to fear from their radical proposal to redefine marriage. Yet last week Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington announced that it is ending its foster care and public adoption program after the District of Columbia said the charity would be ineligible for service because of the new law recognizing homosexual "marriage." The D.C. City Council's law recognizing homosexual "marriage" required religious entities which serve the general public to provide services to homosexual couples, even if doing so violated their religious beliefs. Exemptions were allowed only for performing marriages or for those entities which do not serve the public.

For 80 years Catholic Charities has provided high quality social services to the most vulnerable in our nation's capital. It seems surprising that the local D.C. government would want to put the Catholic Church out of the foster care business. Corporal works of mercy are no less important to the life of the church than its sacramental ministry. Forbidding the church to perform them is a serious blow to its religious liberty. Why would the government do that? Under the guise of equality and tolerance they seek to impose the radical homosexual agenda to redefine marriage and family life at all costs; even violating the religious freedom of the Catholic Church. Their commitment to equality is apparently so strong that they are willing to put Catholic Charities out of business because it won't promote an agenda that it views as morally wrong.

As we've noticed before, and with even more advanced evidence from Europe, the tendency is for government to define religious liberty ever more narrowly. The extreme would be a proclamation that one is permitted to believe however one wants, but not actually to pollute the public discourse with those beliefs by doing anything so secular and communal as speaking publicly.

Churches stop too soon in their assessments of such controversies, though. Sure, it's a violation of their liberties for the government to mandate that they treat marriages identically even when their constituent parts are substantially different. But right now, they're engaged in dueling civil rights claims, making it a political matter, not a principled one, who will win.

What the Catholic Church, especially, ought to be considering is that, were it not for pervasive government involvement in charitable endeavors, the threat to religious charities would be minimal. Yet, one often hears Catholic priests and other religious officials advocating for even more expansive government involvement in social welfare. Once government takes on the responsibility as a hub for good works, it will inevitably define how and to whom they must and can be provided, and once that definition is available to the political process, special interests, such as the homosexual movement, will seek to turn it toward their own ends.

March 1, 2010

Everybody Needs a Dad

Justin Katz

In a recent column, Julia Steiny ran through various ways in which fathers are, in general, distinguishable from mothers. Here's a sample:

... dads bring other huge contributions. For one thing, they play. That fatherly roughhousing that most kids love actually aids brain development. Play has been proven to enhance learning, and dads usually play with their kids more than moms. This play "promotes confidence in motor skills, courage, risk-taking and autonomy. It puts the kid on the path of healthy development and gives the child strong self-esteem," Glantz said. Even as they're wrestling with one another, the child can feel the love. And, "Dad's love is valuable like nothing else."

What all of the differences come down to, it seems to me, is that a father has unconditional love, like a mother, but without the sense of unity. As Steiny quotes from researcher Tonya Glantz:

"... think of how dads talk. It feels like: 'You are here with me' as opposed to 'You are a part of me.'"

That somewhat different relationship is not only something learned by the experience of being an actual parent, but also something that has been woven into our personalities and culture, in conformance with out biological natures. Whether you want to believe it's purely evolutionary or admit a Maker, fatherhood is expansive in the subtlety of its inherent effects on our society. (Which, of course, ties into the theological discussions that we've had around here, from time to time.)

What I've written above will have broad currency, in our culture, when the topic is education, parental responsibility, social work, and so on. However, much as fatherhood is broader than, say, an economic relationship, the concept of fatherhood and its importance ought to have implications for how we conceive of such things as marriage.

The Providence Journal and Advocate

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal news departments have clearly been populated by advocates for same-sex marriage for quite some time. Staff Writer Maria Armental takes it to another level with this:

Politically liberal, Rhode Island is split when it comes to gay issues: it remains the only New England state that hasn’t recognized gay marriage.

(Maine voters overturned that state’s same-sex law in November).

If you didn't already know the whole backstory — the imposition of marriage redefinition through the judiciary and the targeted big-money advocacy through state legislatures, combined with a populist push to maintain the traditional understanding of the institution — you'd likely miss the fact that Rhode Island is not the "only New England state" that doesn't "recognize gay marriage." I don't see any explanation for Armental's subtle language except an intention to mislead readers of her newspaper. Most people won't read "that hasn't recognized" as "that hasn't, at some point in its history, recognized"; they'll think Maine voters overturned the traditional definition.

Objective reportage, one supposes, would have come too close to conveying the impression that the same-sex marriage "split" across New England is between the politically powerful and the people for the Providence Journal.

February 18, 2010

A Cultural Turnaround Based on Experience

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting result from a survey of U.S. Catholics done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, appearing in an article in the Rhode Island Catholic, but not apparently online anywhere:

"The youngest Catholics ... look a lot more like the pre-Vatican II [than the] Vatican II or post-Vatican II cohorts," [social scientist Barbara Dafoe Whitehead] said. "Huge majorities - 80 percent or more - of these youngest Catholics believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment and that people don't take marriage seriously enough when divorce is readilly available."

Many children of this generation have experienced divorce in their own families, and they are determined not to divorce themselves, Whitehead said.

Of course, one should also consider the possibility that increasing liberalism after Vatican II led to fewer Catholics of the sort who would disagree with this young generation and a concentration of traditionalists among those who are still religious (which could be a leaping point for further discussion about the effectiveness at liberalizing doctrine to be more amenable to shifts in cultural mores). Still, it's not difficult to imagine cultural backlash among a generation that's been on the receiving end of negative life-changing trends such as increases in divorce.

What would be the texting jargon for "'til death do us part"?

January 16, 2010

Successfully Avoiding Divorce Requires Marriage

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to point out a problem with Lefteris Pavlides's objection to a recent report that Rhode Island is among the unhappiest states in the country. Declares Pavlides:

Year after year the so-called "happy" states are on the top of broken homes and children in single families. For my money whole, two-parent families have a better chance at true happiness. The states with the highest divorce rates also have the lowest taxes, which means they have the lowest services for those suffering and the worst educational opportunities for their children. These not very children-friendly places can not be very happy.

His evidence for this claim is that the supposedly most happy states have higher divorce rates than the unhappy states. It's been a while since I dug into these numbers deeply, but I'm sure my 2004 discovery holds: Divorce rates are calculated per 1,000 of the population, not of marriages, and the states with the highest divorce rates per 1,000 residents also have much higher marriage rates per 1,000 residents.

If I were inclined to provocation, I'd suggest that married Northeasterners should hold on to their spouses for dear life... miserable people might find it difficult to find gold twice.

December 26, 2009

Marriage Every Which Way

Justin Katz

The typical response from the opposition has been simply dismissive when I've argued the inappropriateness of civil rights claims for same-sex marriage. Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and it's plainly true that nothing bars homosexuals from entering into such relationships except their own desire. Advocates for the redefinition of marriage respond, essentially: "Gee, great. They have a right to something they naturally do not want and are barred from equating what they want with that to which they have a right."

In that context, one discerns a degree of self-refutation in such testimony as that offered by Erna Howarth, of Coventry:

I was married to a wonderful man for 26 years before his passing. I am now in a committed relationship with a wonderful woman. We have been together for eight years. There is no difference! ...

This country was founded to allow its citizens to live and believe freely, despite our differences. It was founded to prevent discriminatory laws that deprive the minority the same rights as the majority!

As an American citizen, I have the right to marry the person I am in a committed relationship with, to live and work where I choose. No one has the right to tell me no!

How much clearer can it be that Ms. Howarth has precisely the same right as any of her fellow Americans to enter into the relationship that the society understands as marriage? What she is actually claiming is a right to define the terms by which her fellow Americans may define their society. She claims for herself, that is, the right to deny those with whom she disagrees the ability to affirm the bleedingly obvious distinction between male-female relationships and, in her case, female-female relationships.

The conversation could proceed in a variety of directions — from the relative importance of self-governance to the requirement of specificity in the law to the variety of "committed relationships" to which Howarth's argument may also be applied. The fundamental disagreement will follow us on all counts, however. To the Howarths of the modern day, one need only recast one's preferences as a "right" in order to demand wholesale reworking of the entire civic sphere.

December 12, 2009

That Which You Cannot Believe

Justin Katz

Frankly, I believe a newspaper should have the right to take this sort of action, but I think it sufficiently outrageous that advertisers and readers should react negatively:

Larry Grard, 58, of Winslow covered the November election for Maine Today, the vote in which Maine citizens rejected homosexual "marriage." Subsequently, he received a press release at work from a homosexual activist which read: "We will not allow the lies and hate – the foundation on which our opponents build their campaign --- to break our spirits." Being a devout Catholic, Grard was offended by the release's blanket reference to opponents of same-sex marriage.

So, using his private email accounte, Grard wrote back:

Who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the yes on 1 crowd. You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!

Subsequently, the long-time employee and his cooking-columnist wife lost their jobs with the paper. Message sent, I guess.

December 6, 2009

Anti-Intellectual Radicals

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to offer kudos for this excellent letter by David Carlin, who is, somewhat surprisingly, a sociology and philosophy professor at CCRI:

The question of whether or not anti-SSM people are motivated by bigotry is an empirical question, and I submit (as would Dr. Harrop, I believe) that if their motives were empirically examined, it would be discovered that they are not so motivated. But those associated with the gay movement are rarely interested in this empirical question. Instead — behaving in a purely propagandistic and thoroughly unscientific manner — they simply classify anybody opposed to their agenda as "bigoted" and "homophobic." Thus no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary will persuade them to withdraw their accusations.

One of my great objections to the gay movement is its profound anti-intellectualism — that is, its absolute refusal to keep its mind open to empirical evidence that might contradict its propaganda.

That's from the November 22 Providence Journal. I wonder whether the professor's had any threats against his job, or the like.

December 3, 2009

The SSM Train's Lost Momentum

Justin Katz

You may have heard that same-sex marriage failed to gain approval in the New York legislature. William Duncan makes an astute observation:

That is why the marriage redefinition push has relied so strongly on the inevitability claim — to overwhelm legislators' and voters' qualms about same-sex marriage with a fear that they will be labeled bigots. The leader of the Human Rights Campaign reacted to today's vote with this inevitability talking point: "The senators who voted against marriage equality today are on the wrong side of history, but the history of marriage equality will not end with today's vote."

Again and again, the inevitability claim has been rebutted by reality, but it is a tenacious idea, at least partially because it appeals to the cult of novelty that holds sway among media elites. That's why every "setback" for gay marriage is proclaimed a "shocking" development even though each is just a repeat of something that's happened over and over again.

It isn't bigotry to believe that society should maintain a special categorization for relationships that tend to create human life. Redefining marriage to include people of the same sex would disallow our ability to acknowledge this distinction and thereby hinder cultural efforts to ensure an appropriate respect for that biological power. Advocates would do well to stop insisting that this is all post hoc rationalization extending from an unstated hatred of homosexuals and, instead, accept that it's a sincere position with obvious political force and perhaps even a point or two worth considering during efforts to radically remodel the structure of our society.

December 1, 2009

The Importance of Ideals

Justin Katz

In the cycle of my reading list, I've finally come back around to The Feynman Lectures on Physics and have been working through Volume II, Mainly Electromagnetism and Matter. An off-topic note for the wide margins of the page came to mind while reading the following paragraph (emphasis added):

We have gotten the following interesting result: If we go high enough in frequency, the electric field at the center of our condenser will be one way and the electric field near the edge will point in the opposite direction. ... At the edge of the plates, the electric field will have a rather high magnitude opposite the direction we would expect. That is the terrible thing that can happen to a capacitor at high frequencies. If we go to very high frequencies, the direction of the electric field oscillates back and forth many times as we go out from the center of the capacitor. Also there are the magnetic fields associated with these electric fields. It is not surprising that our capacitor doesn't look like the ideal capacitance for high frequencies. We may even start to wonder whether it looks more like a capacitor or an inductance. We should emphasize that there are even more complicated effects that we have neglected which happen at the edges of the capacitor. For instance, there will be a radiation of waves out past the edges, so the fields are even more complicated than the ones we have computed, but we will not worry about those effects now.

Repeatedly throughout the lectures, Feynman notes where the equations and principles on which he's expounding represent ideal, not necessarily real or even possible, circumstances. We codify those ideals because, for a range of practical applications, they are "close enough" and because the basic rules are preliminary requirements for understanding subsequent adjustments and variations. There's something similar in Platonic and Augustinian philosophy, wherein an ideal of everything exists in another dimension (in God), and we take advantage of such abstractions in order to understand how the world works and to establish baselines from which to progress.

My marginal note had to do with a letter by Vivian Olsiewski Healey in the latest issue of First Things (not online):

Bodily Union is very important, but it is arbitrary to assume that it is more important than any other element of marriage. Should a paraplegic who cannot perform sexual intercourse be denied the right to marry? People with such disabilities are married within the Catholic Church, which shows that bodily union cannot be isolated from the other aspects of interpersonal union.

Once we accept that many couples married in the Catholic Church do not live up to the ideal of complete sacred unions of bodies, minds, and spirits, we will see that the sanctity of marriage is not bassed solely on physical union.

One often hears a sort of negative variation of this argument, pointing to deficiencies in individual marriages or deviations from the ideal as evidence that the institution ought to be redefined to exclude the requirement of opposite sex, because it's more about the spiritual connection than the physical. To fulfill its social function, though, marriage must maintain a plain, ideal definition to which individuals make their adjustments, and erasing the bodily union of a man and a woman in the person of their child changes the institution's intrinsic nature.

Built according to plan, a strong marital culture will have positive effects at its edges and beyond. The existence of those effects, like the imperfections in its core, do not justify refashioning according to different ideals.

November 29, 2009

The Conservative Eagle Has Two Wings

Justin Katz

Periodically, one picks up a hint from the libertarian quarters of the broader tea party movement that they see, in it, an opportunity to assert economic conservatism apart from social conservatism. As I noted while observing the size and diversity of the crowd at the marriage-vow-renewal ceremony hosted by the National Organization for Marriage - Rhode Island, I don't see that as a plausible political strategy. The point emerges, again, with this information from NOM's national head Maggie Gallagher:

Over in New York, the collapse of Dede Scozzafava is another big story. Scozzafava was handpicked to become the first openly pro-gay marriage Republican in a district where the vast majority of Republicans and independents (and even a big chunk of Democrats) oppose gay marriage.

A National Organization of Marriage poll of likely voters in New York's 23rd Congressional District revealed that fully 50 percent of her opponent's supporters said that Scozzafava's vote for gay marriage was a factor in their decision not to support her.

Granted, I watched that race only peripherally, and political horse-race commentary tends to focus on less, well, mushy subjects than social issues (which is to say it tends to be wonkish), but I hadn't seen the marriage issue mentioned as a factor in Doug Hoffman's out-of-nowhere wave. Obviously, Maggie has reason to emphasize her core issue, and the shorthand of "liberal v. conservative" still includes the social issues in most cases.

Still, it's worth reasserting that conservatism will fail if it doesn't apply its principles across the board. In conjunction with liberal morality, conservative economics only feed an aristocracy and modern conservative governance fails, but not before creating a seedy underclass.

November 24, 2009

On "Conservative Cases"

Justin Katz

Conservatives should appreciate the organic nature of public discourse. Leave it to leftists to long for a controlled setting — like a classroom or a non-profit board meeting — in which some mediator decisively declares points won or lost. In the broader society, topics move forward and swing back to the beginning as new participants make discoveries of arguments that others thought had been addressed long ago.

Admittedly, it does take some effort to appreciate such a process, and with the ease of the Internet as a record keeper, it's frustrating when obvious, already repeated counterarguments are not quickly found. For example, in Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick's discovery, on Sunday, of the "conservative case" for same-sex marriage, this is the entirety of his summary of the opposing opinion:

In opposing same-sex marriage, some conservatives cite the Scriptures and talk about values. But they could just as easily cite those sources in support of same-sex marriage, talking about the values of fidelity and commitment, fairness and equality, love and acceptance.

Fitzpatrick dutifully spends several paragraphs rebutting the appeal to Scripture. He subsequently offers a bait-and-switch when he addresses the appeal to procreation as the unique marker of the male-female relationship, which justifies a unique category for their intimate relationships. For that, he relies on a California judge's questioning, of Proposition 8 supporters, what harm same-sex marriage could do to the goal of furthering stability in procreative relationships and why marriages between elderly men and women don't have the same effect.

This is well-trodden ground. The idea of marriage is a matter of basics and obvious realities that any sentient adult can perceive: Men and women who have sex tend toward procreation. That is, they can create children with no direct intention to do so. To say that marriage is a relationship between men and women, and only men and women, is a recognition that that fact is at least sufficiently important to merit a special institution that society can leverage to maximize the number of children born and raised by the parents who created them. The age of the spouses has no effect on this simple equation, not the least because it isn't obvious to all who see the couple at the grocery store that their relationship has never been procreative.

Fitzpatrick is correct, in his quoting of New York Times columnist David Brooks, that "we should consider it scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity." The problem is that, relative numbers being what they are, it would be a travesty to allow the "conservative case" for same-sex marriage to come at the expense of the conservative case for opposite-sex marriage. Several of Fitzpatrick's sources emphasize that marriage and fidelity are on the ropes, with adultery and the serial adultery of divorce and remarriage, but they leave it as implied (not argued) that broadening marriage's scope will somehow strengthen its force.

This 2008 article by Joe Kort, in Psychology Today, comes to mind:

I've wanted to write an article on this topic ever since I began working with a gay male couple who told me that they were monogamous. After several months, however, they informed me they had had a three-way. When I asked if they had changed from monogamy, they said, "No."

I was confused. Maybe I hadn't gotten the correct information in our initial consultation? I told them, "I thought you told me you were monogamous," and they said, "We are." Now I was REALLY confused! So I said, "But you just told me you were monogamous."

Their reply was, "We are monogamous. We only have three-ways together, and are never sexual with others apart from each other."

Here's something a little closer to home, by Timothy Cavanaugh and David Abbott, in Medicine and Health Rhode Island (emphasis added):

Without stereotyping gay men as promiscuous, providers need to address the role that sexual activity may play in their patients' lives. In a recent behavioral survey of gay men, 75% had more than one partner in the past year; 27% had 10 or more. Some gay men find their sex partners at bars, bathhouses, private sex parties, public "cruising" areas like parks and rest stops, and, increasingly, on the internet. Others have traditional dating experiences, and many gay men have been happily partnered for years, despite their inability to legally marry. A longstanding relationship does not ensure sexual monogamy: many gay men have sex outside their relationships, often with the consent of their primary partners.

Gay columnist David Benkof notes that even mainstream homosexuals might not mean "monogamy" when they say "monogamy." Similarly to the concept of marriage, they've redefined the word to suit their subculture.

None of this is meant to derail the debate into accusations of wickedness or to prove, in some sense, that homosexuals aren't worthy of marriage. Indeed, the weakness of heterosexuals is what makes a strong marital culture so important. The point is that introducing a radical element to the faltering institution of marriage won't affirm its principles, it will collapse them.

For all the talk of marriage and fidelity among them — and criticism of conservatives who've divorced — it's a glaring omission that nobody who finds the "conservative case" for same-sex marriage persuasive advocates for tighter divorce laws in the mix. Is nobody concerned with the practical and legal risks of modifying a designation with far-reaching implications (such as immigration, rights to employment benefits and pensions, and even protections against testifying in court) in such a way as to include any adult pair, while allowing that designation to remain easily dissoluble?

Of course, it's been clearly stated for years that homosexuals want marriage as it is: little more than a cultural nod with benefits. As I explained in my 2005 National Review article on Andrew Sullivan and his advocacy for same-sex marriage, they want the full range of choices available to heterosexuals, whatever those choices might be and no matter the relevance of a given choice to them.

By the nature of their relationships, homosexuals cannot create children as a nearly accidental matter. Therefore, while society should certainly develop some mechanism to encourage them toward more stable relationships, doing so should not be accomplished by flatly denying the consequence of that which makes opposite-sex intimate relationships unique.

November 15, 2009

Continued Advocacy

Justin Katz

As expected, the Providence Journal Sunday edition marks the fourth out of the last five days that the gay-funeral/governor-veto story has landed on the front page, this time with the personal story, by Randal Edgar, of Mark Goldberg, one of the advocates for the legislation.

Goldberg's experience with the current law was terrible — so much so that it's difficult to believe that a more efficient government wouldn't have been able to resolve the matter much more quickly (and humanely) under existing policies. That said, I disagree with the governor; this "piecemeal" approach is precisely appropriate — certainly more so than legislation granting "all but the name" marriage-like partnerships for homosexuals. The reason is that, as we enact laws recognizing relationships, we should ask ourselves the questions of "what" and "why."

Take, for example, this explanation for Goldberg's motivation, in today's paper:

GOLDBERG SAYS the delays were all the more frustrating because he was grieving.

"Here's somebody just lying on a slab, and you're thinking, what is the dignity in this," he said. "I still loved the man and I wanted to do what was right for him, what was honorable, and respectful."

Are married people, homosexual partners, and people with nearby family members the only ones with a claim to dignity in death? Compassion provides no explanation for the expansive definition of "domestic partner" provided in the vetoed legislation. Why must one be "financially interdependent" in order to have a sincere desire to execute the last wishes of somebody for whom one cared? Why, for that matter, does the legislation contain language stating that such partners could not be "related by blood to a degree which would prohibit marriage in the state of Rhode Island? Under the funeral law, all such relations have rights to claim bodily remains.

It's difficult not to suspect an ulterior motive in injecting the definition at some highly emotional point in the law. Personally, I say we do away with that necessity: Put the legislation's description into the law somewhere more central, defining the "domestic partner" relationship for all purposes, and then on an issue-by-issue basis, decide whether a particular right or privilege ought to apply... or ought to be expanded more broadly.

November 14, 2009

Did Somebody Mention Propaganda?

Justin Katz

Curious to note that today marks the third time in four days that the Providence Journal has run the governor-as-bigot story on the front page. And unless I've missed it, the paper's reporters have yet to indicate that they've any interest in disrupting that there is nobody in Rhode Island whose views fall within any proximity to the governor's stance. Indeed, for today's article, Steve Peoples sought comment from Marriage Equality Rhode Island, but didn't apparently bother to call the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island.

We'll see whether the newspaper's advocacy carries over to the big Sunday edition.

November 4, 2009

As Maine Goes....

Marc Comtois

Maine became the 31st state to reaffirm via popular vote (and agree with President Obama) that marriage is between a man and a woman. The contrast was really between the coast and the inland/north. A look at the vote breakdown by county reveals that, in the end, the coastal counties of Cumberland (dominated by Portland and surrounding 'burbs) and Hancock (Bar Harbor, Acadia and various coastal "arts" towns) counties were the only to support gay marriage. Those voting to overturn the legislature-approved gay marriage law held a razor-thin margin in the 3 coastal counties of York, Sagadahoc and Knox, had a bigger margin in Lincoln and Waldo and handily won in Downeast Washington county and all of the internal counties. {There is a more detailed, town by town map here - ed.}

On the other hand, Maine voters approved medical marijuana, rejected a Taxpayer Bill of Rights and rejected a proposal to decrease the excise tax. Mixed message? Not really, if you consider the independent nature of the average Maine voter. Ideology doesn't fare very well in the Pine Tree state. Some may call it middle-of-the road, or moderate, others pragmatic. On the tax issues, Mainers don't think you should take away funding vehicles for programs that many have come to depend upon. Whether that dependence is good or bad is a different matter--if the programs are there now, they have to be paid for somehow.

On social issues, Mainers generally have a laissez-faire attitude. You leave them alone, they'll leave you alone. And, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. One would think that would translate into an opposite result on the gay marriage issue. But Mainers really don't like other people telling them what to do--or changing what things mean out from under them. If you're going to impose your will on them without asking them first (even if they elected you), they're not going to like it. That being said, I suspect that if a civil union arrangement similar to that proposed in Referendum 71 in Washington state (note, the same coastal/inland divide) were proposed, it would pass in Maine (and many other places). The word and traditional understanding of marriage still matters, for now.

Looks Like a Turnaround

Justin Katz

We'll hear all sorts of contradictory analyses, in the days to come, among which will be assurances that there are no broad conclusions to be drawn, but key votes up and down the East Coast, yesterday, certainly don't disprove the notion of a turnaround toward our nation's Republican, conservative strain:

  • Republican Chris Christie took the New Jersey governor seat from Democrat Jon Corzine.
  • Republican Bob McDonnell took the Virginia governor seat from Democrat Creigh Deeds.
  • Democrat Bill Owens narrowly won a New York Congressional District race, with 49% of the vote, against Conservative Doug Hoffman's 46% and RINO Dierdre Scozzafava's 6%. Had the Republicans not gone with the "Republican who can win" and attacked the Conservative, it isn't unreasonable to suggest that they would have won that race, too.
  • Voters in Maine nullified the legislature's imposition of same-sex marriage, for the state, making it the 31st of 31 states in which the people have affirmed the traditional definition of marriage, regardless of the imperious maneuverings of judges and votes bought by ultrarich left-wing activists.

Actually, looking at that last bullet point, it mightn't be accurate to characterize the national results as "a turnaround." After all, President Obama supported traditional marriage, as a candidate, and ran overall as a centrist, even a fiscal conservative in some fevered minds. If there's a lesson in this for the president, it's probably that the people of the United States of America have figured out that he lied.

November 2, 2009

Fathers as Biological Stimulus

Justin Katz

One can only extrapolate so much from this news, but it's certainly interesting — especially given various discussions of family types:

Conventional wisdom holds that two parents are better than one. Scientists are now finding that growing up without a father actually changes the way your brain develops.

German biologist Anna Katharina Braun and others are conducting research on animals that are typically raised by two parents, in the hopes of better understanding the impact on humans of being raised by a single parent. Dr. Braun's work focuses on degus, small rodents related to guinea pigs and chinchillas, because mother and father degus naturally raise their babies together.

When deprived of their father, the degu pups exhibit both short- and long-term changes in nerve-cell growth in different regions of the brain. Dr. Braun, director of the Institute of Biology at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, and her colleagues are also looking at how these physical changes affect offspring behavior.

Generally speaking, it has seemed to me that nature sets upper and lower boundaries as well as proclivities, while nurture directs the individual within that range. Ultimately, it makes no sense to draw a stark line between biology and psychology; they're more of a continuum.

A Difficult Judgmentalism

Justin Katz

While by no means condoning his behavior, some commenters decline to judge the lifestyle of George Holland, which Marc described on Thursday. Writes Joe:

I don't know - it seems the guy was genuinely liked by these women [with whom he fathered children] - they probably wouldn't all get on the same page to fabricate a story if he were that bad. I don't like to judge other peoples' lifestyle arrangements because there are "conventional" families wherein the worst imaginable types of abuse occur, out of sight, out of mind.

Our society has determined that non-judgmentalism is a virtue, but it seems to me to be as facile and irresponsible as a judgmentalism that follows a strict, unconsidered line and conveniently exempts the behavior of the person who's being judgmental. Passing judgment shouldn't be done frivolously or as a means of directing attention away from one's own behavior, but leveling all personal decisions ignores millennia of cultural experience and shirking the duty to exert individual social pressure ensures that we'll all pay the price, in the forms of both government cleanup and cultural decay.

Tabetha offers anecdotal evidence of one such abusive "conventional family":

Lakesha Garrett, who was recently accused of murder, was once a promising straight A student at Classical HS with 3 scholarships lined up for college. I know this because she and I were very close friends as teenagers. However, she was the victim of horrible abuse - abuse so terrible that there is actually a child abuse law in RI named for her family. To the outside world, Lakesha came from a "conventional" family. Her mom and dad were married, she and her siblings shared the same two parents, and her parents were outwardly religious, church-going folks who owned several rental properties in the West End and Southside area. However, there was a much darker side to this family. ... So, while the children of this guy Holland may not be living in what many consider ideal circumstances, perhaps they will turn out much more well-adjusted than some kids that you think are living with "proper" families. The mothers of these children may be doing a better job than some of the families you think are great. I don't know since I don't know these people myself. It is not always easy to see where children are most open to harm.

Perhaps. Maybe. Earlier, Tabetha implies that the children of folks like Holland might be justifiably removed, but it shouldn't be difficult to find examples of foster and adoptive homes that turned abusive.

Humanity isn't formed with cookie cutters, and few are entirely evil. Therefore, it isn't enough to say that one guy who resigned his children to an "unconventional family" was decent and tried to do the best for them, while this other family looked normal and did horrible things to their kids. If Holland had made the not-so-difficult decision to limit his fatherhood experience to the mother and children with whom he'd begun, it's reasonable to suggest that he would have advanced in a more healthy direction, rather than a direction such as Tabetha describes in the Garretts. On the other hand, imagine if Mr. Garrett had lived after Holland's example.

Holland's children and others who've observed his story have learned from him and from the women's reactions, that his behavior was just fine. And maybe we could accept that if the qualities that mitigated the effects, on his part, were universal. But his sons might not be so apt to consider their children. His daughters might not see similar behavior in their boyfriends as a warning sign. To the extent that societal approval affects those who are making the right decisions (and the effect isn't nil), why should they work so hard at building families and restraining their temptations when they'd avoid negative reactions were they to freewheel just shy of abuse and drug dealing?

Pretending that we don't know where this path leads when taken not by a single family, but by a society, is irresponsible and doesn't absolve us of guilt any more than freely pointing fingers at everybody else does.

October 7, 2009

Marriage Is a Social, Procreative Institution

Justin Katz

In the current issue of The RI Catholic Fr. John Kiley has a worthwhile counterpoint to the pro-SSM event that I covered last night. Unfortunately, Fr. Kiley's essay doesn't appear online, but the he captures the gist in the following:

... Nowadays marriage has become almost entirely a matter of personal relationships. Marriages are supposed to be romantic affairs, or so most of Western society would like to believe. Yet love as the sole basis for marriage is fairly new in history.

As the popular musical "Fiddler on the Roof" testified, it was the matchmaker who drew couples together in peasant villages. Elsewhere it was parents and property and inheritances and religion and nationality that largely guided the marital destinies of young people.

The unifying principle behind various examples that Fr. Kiley describes is that marriage is about lineage and community development. Over time (notably in parallel with increases in economic comfort and medical proficiency), Western society has rightly increased individuals' right to decide how to participate in and define that development, but same-sex marriage would undermine the very principle. It would make marriage, by its definition, nothing other than a legal compact between two currently extant individuals.

Divorced from the biological possibility of children — explicitly rejecting the idea that marriage has anything inherently to do with their creation — the institution whereby society has set apart the specific circumstance in which two people, two families, and potentially two cultures are literally joined and embodied in a unique human life would relegate that continuity to the whims of individuals.

Marriage from Their Perspective

Justin Katz

Yes, I still have video to post from the afternoon session of the Republican Northeast Conference, as well as from John Loughlin's healthcare forum in Tiverton, but since RI Future's Brian Hull was at last night's same-sex marriage event, as well, a competitive streak spurred me to secure initial bragging rights for coverage. (I say "initial" because he was closer and will probably have better results.)

Click the "continue reading" link below for the rest of the video. Of potential interest to some is RI Democrat Chairman Bill Lynch's spiel spanning clips six and seven about the importance of electing liberal Democrats, which non-liberal Democrats might want to consider as we move toward the next election.

Continue reading "Marriage from Their Perspective"

October 6, 2009

Taking in the Other Side

Justin Katz

Maybe it's a creeping infection of journalistic curiosity, spurred on by the purchase of an inexpensive camcorder and a new addiction to YouTubing, but I decided to come to the panel discussion hosted by the RI Young Democrats and some college student lawyer groups on The Future of Same-Sex Marriage in Rhode Island. I'll say this for the Left: if this venue is any indication, they opt for much more comfortable seating. (Although, the downside is that, after a day spent climbing up and down ladders custom-milling exterior trim to patch rot, the comfort may not be conducive to my continued lucidity.)

Within moments of my arriving, Kim Ahern came over to introduce herself and to forewarn me that it wasn't the intention of this event to present both sides. I assured her that such was not my expectation.

I see that Brian Hull from RI Future is also videotaping. I wonder if my doing the same will make him feel any pressure to cover right-leaning events, too.

7:11 p.m.

Roger Williams University Law Professor Courtney Cahill is currently reviewing the legal history of the issue, tracing through Hawaii in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Massachusetts Supreme Court Goodridge ruling.

7:14 p.m.

Cahill spoke against the argument that marriage is inextricably linked with procreation, offering the usual claims about fertility and such. That goes right to the basic, frustrating difficulty that emerges with the defense of traditional marriage: The link with procreation is so implicit that the laws built on top of it essentially did little more than adjust the application of the principle, but folks treat those adjustments of evidence against the essential nature of child birth and parenting.

Curiously, one of Cahill's points was that, if marriage were about procreation, then the law would permit couples to sue for divorce after a period of proven infertility. What's odd is that one doesn't need such an excuse to sue for divorce. A law allowing such a thing would be redundant. As I've written many, many times before, advocates for same-sex marriage would likely find waning opposition if they promoted, in concert, stronger divorce laws.

7:22 p.m.

Representative Frank Ferri (D., Warwick) just took the table with Representative Art Handy (D., Cranston) to bring the audience up to speed on relevant legislation in Rhode Island.

Ferri began by saying that his experience with his Canada-granted marriage has been that, as neighbors and others have gotten to know the couple, opposition to same-sex marriage has faded with familiarity. That's certainly understandable, given a common difficulty among people to partition their thinking such that liking somebody who wants a certain change in the law becomes the main reason to support it. Understandable, but not conducive to civic or social health.

7:31 p.m.

I was going to note that Elizabeth Dennigan is here and speculate about her relationship to the progressives, but then Frank Ferri noted all of the lawmakers in the room, and there are allmost a dozen.

7:34 p.m.

RI Democrat Chairman Bill Lynch began by saying: "I think I'm here because I've sort of become the punching bag for Governor Carcieri on this issue." He specifies that he's here in personal capacity.

7:37 p.m.

Lynch noted that, if he had been hit by a car on the way over here, "a chain of events" would have helped her wife through it, but his sister's same-sex spouse would not have the same benefits. Personally, I agree that people should be able to set up such legal entanglements with whomever they like, but I fail to see why it should be a prerequisite that they're sexually intimate (or in a relationship that mirrored such).

7:40 p.m.

The ACLU's Stephen Brown thinks "the writing is on the wall, no matter what anybody on the other side might say."

Rev. Eugene Dyszlewski expressed happiness to be sitting on the "far left of the table."

7:47 p.m.

First question: Why was this state in the vanguard to offer homosexuals protections for various matters, but slow on this particular one.

The general answer has been the Catholics in the state. Lynch read a letter chiding him about effectively calling Roman Catholic "sectarian extremists." He didn't really address the charge; he just says he sometimes likes to "have fun at the governor's expense" and in no way intends to disrespect others' rights to believe what the like. Bull.

7:48 p.m.

Second question, directed first to the reverend, had to do with religions' standing on the issue. His response was, essentially, that the Roman Catholics shouldn't try to impose their beliefs on the state. That's a distraction.

Frank Ferri says minds are changing, and he expects SSM in RI within the next two years.

7:52 p.m.

Ferri: Catholic preachers have been telling parishioners that gays "are evil, that we're going to hell." You know, I've been Catholic for a number of years, now, and I've never, ever heard that sermon. Indeed, I've periodically be disheartened to hear insinuations in the other direction.

7:53 p.m.

Lynch noted that President Bill Clinton has, within the past couple of weeks, saying that he's chanaged his mind and believes that the nation should institute same-sex marriage state by state.

Lynch: Vitriol about the governor's speaking at the Massachusetts Family Institute as an "insult" to Rhode Islanders. Somehow he doesn't see the parallel to his ability to come here and declare that he's speaking on his own behalf, not the party's. He's repeating, again and again, that people should vote out Catholic Democrats and those who agree with them. As I've said before, no Roman Catholic Rhode Islander can support the party of Bill Lynch.

7:57 p.m.

The Democratic list is now at 30%, with about 60% unaffiliated.

7:59 p.m.

Art Handy thinks the real obstacle to SSM legislation has been the inevitability of a gubernatorial veto that the legislature couldn't overturn. That may (or may not) have a bearing on the Democrat primary.

8:02 p.m.

It would be nigh upon a statement of fact that I'm the attendee most opposed to same-sex marriage, but I wonder if there's even anybody in the room with reservations.

8:04 p.m.

Audience question about the slippery slope argument to poligamy et al. Handy is stating, pretty much, that all arguments against same-sex marriage are all red herrings.

Stephen Brown is likening opposition to same-sex marriage to racism prior to Loving v. Virginia, which erased bans on interracial marriage. Interestingly, Maggie Gallagher frequently points out that, following the legalization of SSM, those who believe in traditional marriage will be treated as racists are now treated. Not quite a red herring, huh?

8:11 p.m.

A woman who says she works in a very Catholic law office in which the common wisdom is that the state is just too Catholic for same-sex marriage to pass. She then cited the recent Taubman Center poll finding support for same sex marriage, which reminds me that I have yet to hear back about demographic factors in the survey.

8:18 p.m.

Stephen Brown just derided the absurdity of the RI Supreme Court ruling against same-sex divorce, even as the law allows the nullification of marriages (e.g., in cases of bigamy and incest) entered into elsewhere. Do these folks not understand or just ignore the obvious point that there is a difference between holding a marriage to be illegal and holding a relationship not to be a marriage in the first place.

8:27 p.m.

If I may echo, with tongue in cheek, a statement to which I've objected in other events that I've covered: Surprisingly, the evening went off without any violence... or even violent rhetoric. (Of course, I haven't made it to my car, yet.)

I missed her name, but I do want to compliment the moderator, who kept an admirably tight ship.

September 15, 2009

The Extremists Among Us

Justin Katz

An editorial in the latest RI Catholic takes state Democrat Chairman Bill Lynch to task for calling Governor Carcieri a "sectarian extremist" for associating with the Massachusetts Family Institute. More germane, I'd say, are the following paragraphs from an op-ed in the previous issue by Michelle Cretella and Arthur Goldberg:

As for the premises, first there is no "gay gene." Homosexual attraction is not genetic like skin color. Numerous experts including Dr. Dean Hamer, the openly homosexual "gay gene" researcher and Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project agree that homosexuality is not hard-wired by DNA. Avowed lesbian, Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Developmental Biology and Women Studies at Brown University, summarized the situation well 8 years ago, "[Although the claim that homosexuality is genetic] provides a legal argument that is, at the moment, actually having some sway in court, [f]or me, it's a very shaky place. It's bad science and bad politics."

"Bad science" because persons of differing sexual orientation are genetically indistinguishable and sexual orientation can change. Fausto-Sterling herself is an example. She had been married prior to her committed same-sex relationship with playwright Paula Vogel. Regarding her experience of sexual plasticity Fausto-Sterling explains, "The women's movement opened up the feminine in a way that was new to me, and so my involvement made possible my becoming a lesbian."

Over 100 studies document change of homosexual orientation. Even Dr. Robert Spitzer, the father of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the "Bible of Psychiatry", altered his lifetime view and now supports the right to re-orientation therapy. In 2003 he published a study confirming that many dissatisfied homosexuals can make substantial long-term changes in their orientation.

I highlight this section because Lynch's response to the editorial would be that opposition to same-sex marriage is reasonable, but that the MFI goes much farther. His argument, in other words, probably wouldn't differ very much from the statement by Queer Action RI that the Family Institute "basically wants to eradicate gay people." But the MFI does not go any farther, in truth, than Cretella and Goldberg, who in turn do not go any farther than the Catholic Church.

I emailed Mr. Lynch with the specific question of how he differentiates between the "sectarian extremists" of his imagination and the church to which so many Rhode Islanders belong, and I received the following response:

Thank you for your recent email sent to me via the RI Democratic Party. While I may not agree with you I appreciate your sincere interest and thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to inform me of your thoughts on this issue. Regards, Bill Lynch

Clearly, the unlikelihood of my supporting Lynch in any way counts against me in his cost-benefit analysis of considered response, but I don't see how faithful Catholics can support Mr. Lynch in any fashion until he shows enough consideration of their Church to take a moment to explain why they are not "sectarian extremists" of such evil that the governor shouldn't associate with them in any way.

September 12, 2009

Government and Society

Justin Katz

Robert George offers an important basis for emphasis here, but there's an important inward extension to his description of the law:

The law is a teacher. It will teach either that marriage is a reality in which people can choose to participate, but whose contours people cannot make and remake at will, or it will teach that marriage is a mere convention, which is malleable in such a way that individuals, couples, or, indeed, groups can choose to make of it whatever suits their desires, goals, and so on. The result, given the biases of human sexual psychology, will be the development of practices and ideologies that truly tend to undermine the sound understanding and practice of marriage, together with the development of pathologies that tend to reinforce the very practices and ideologies that cause them.

The inward extension is that, as much as the law is a teacher, its "students" in a democratic society must ultimately approve of the lesson. It's a matter of give and take — mutual reinforcement. The country's people construct the law, and the law helps to guide their behavior. Regulations act as guidelines toward a desired end.

This same adjustment must be made to an excellent piece by RI locals Michelle Cretella and Arthur Goldberg:

Legislators and justices will do well to heed the findings of J.D. Unwin, British anthropologist and author of Sex and Culture. After studying 86 societies spanning 5,000 years of history he found a distinct correlation between increasing sexual freedom and social decline. Unwin postulated that when social regulations forbid indiscriminate satisfaction of sexual impulses, the sublimated sexual impulses are channeled into a "social energy" that builds society. Conversely, he found no instance in which a society retained its creative energy after abandoning monogamous male-female relationships.

The described findings certainly represent a crucial splash of cold water, but it isn't merely "legislators and justices" who should feel its chill. Indeed, if such personages come alone to the revelation, it would be inappropriate for them to impose it on an unwilling nation. It is the entire network of intellectual and cultural elites that must heed the warning.

The unique project of the United States is to regulate outside of the law as much as possible. American society comes to agreement about the minimum boundaries within which everybody can achieve their goals, and the law provides those boundaries. The difficulty when it comes to marriage is that one side would like the law to enable its goal of declaring same-sex relationships to be indistinguishable in any profound way from opposite-sex relationships. Cultural elites have proven scandalously blind to the fact that such a proposition is utterly preposterous in just about every light (biology not least among them), requiring traditionalists to point out that the requested modification to the law would make it more difficult for our society to maintain its goal of advancement — even cultural survival.

It would be difficult to overstate the fundamental importance of this debate, because the culture of marriage is perhaps the most significant means of non-government regulation of behavior. Reading Cretella and Goldberg, those of us who trace political threads might find significance in the fact that sexual libertinism is so often married with statist, progressive movements. Just so, it's difficult not to wonder whether radical redefinition of our entire society isn't the actual goal of those who wish to modify marriage.

September 9, 2009

When She Chooses the Scarlet Letter

Justin Katz

Oft overlooked, at the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, is Hester Prynne's resistance to calls for her to become a sort of feminist messiah. Having turned toward prudence, she suggests that the archetypal woman will not conquer through deviancy, but through fulfillment of her feminine character. A recent letter from Don Rittman of East Greenwich arguably touches on the theme from the other side of a poorly chosen history:

A society cannot destroy all the premises, both good and bad, that support a fundamental social norm and expect that norm to remain healthy. Responsible fatherhood had basically become such a norm. We still believe in it; we just don't believe in the things that made it possible. Neither, frankly, does Froma Harrop, not from what one sees in most of her "social-issue" writings, which are fraught with wishful thinking.

A recurring theme, in the story of mankind, is our, well, infelicity when making cultural decisions. When we presume to make calculations and radically alter policy in the name of expediency, we let our prized cattle out with the rats. By contrast, when we allow freedom to emerge as an outgrowth of intrinsic tradition, with its millennia of embedded experience, our society advances in all ways.

In the case of freeing women from the oppressive conditions into which they'd fallen as an overcompensation in humanity's learning curve, making them equal in the law and stopping there would have allowed the culture to work through the significance of the change. Instead, lunging forces within the culture pushed for too much, too quickly. Beyond freedom from a particular man or even a broader patriarchy, progressives sought to procure freedom — essentially — from being a woman.

And as happens when we dive to push tradition out the window in contravention of human nature, the consequence tends to be the opposite of what's intended. As Richard Stith writes in "Her Choice, Her Problem":

Throughout human history, children have been the consequence of natural sexual relations between men and women. Both sexes knew they were equally responsible for their children, and society had somehow to facilitate their upbringing. Even the advent of birth control did not fundamentally change this dynamic, for all forms of contraception are fallible.

Elective abortion changes everything. Abortion absolutely prevents the birth of a child. A woman’s choice for or against abortion breaks the causal link between conception and birth. It matters little what or who caused conception or whether the male insisted on having unprotected intercourse. It is she alone who finally decides whether the child comes into the world. She is the responsible one. For the first time in history, the father and the doctor and the health-insurance actuary can point a finger at her as the person who allowed an inconvenient human being to come into the world.

Predictably, the counter action will be more laws, infringing on more freedoms, and with more unimaginable, yet foreseeable, consequences.

September 3, 2009

Living Together as Stall Technique

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting check on received wisdom:

It seems to many like the sensible thing to do: Move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend, spend more time together, save money by splitting the rent and see if you can share a bathroom every morning without wanting to kill each other. ...

[Scott] Stanley, a University of Denver psychologist, has spent the past 15 years trying to figure out why premarital cohabitation is associated with lower levels of satisfaction in marriage and a greater potential for divorce.

Not surprisingly (now that somebody else has researched it), many of those who transition into marriage from cohabitation approach each step as the the least possible commitment at the time, so by the time they find a catalyst for release from the escalating promise that they didn't want to make, they find it must be done via divorce.

Extrapolating the findings a bit, it seems likely that erosion of the profundity that the culture attributes to marriage has been increasing the likelihood that people see the change in category as little more than a step in a spectrum — certainly not a fundamental change in one's state of being. The ease of divorce facilitates this impression by removing a trigger for deep consideration and discussion.

Silencing "Sectarian Extremists"

Justin Katz

Dan Yorke has posted his conversation with gay activist Susan Heroux, who has been calling on the governor to withdraw from a speaking engagement with the Massachusetts Family Institute. Yesterday, Dan raised the issue with Governor Carcieri.

In between, RI Democrat Party Chairman Bill Lynch called in to discuss his press release proclaiming Carcieri a "sectarian extremist" for supporting such a group. What Lynch managed to clarify is that his willingness to raise the rhetoric to that level of heat — indeed, this entire controversy — is based on no additional information than the existence of this paragraph on the group's Web site:

MFI does not consider homosexual behavior to be merely an alternate lifestyle or sexual "preference"; it is an unhealthy practice and destructive to individuals, families and society. Our compassion for those plagued by same-sex attraction compels us to support the healing of those who wish to change their behavior. MFI strongly opposes any efforts by political activists to normalize homosexual behavior and all attempts to equate homosexuality with benign characteristics such as skin color, or the "gay rights" movement with the civil rights movement.

Those stirring up the issue have offered no evidence that the Massachusetts group actively introduces opposition to homosexuality for public debate as an aggressive campaign to turn back the clock. Their stance is wholly defensive. Indeed, the only current action in this area that I found on their Web site was opposition to a bill that would give men the right to enter women's facilities (such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and "single sex residential facilities like emergency shelters") provided they're dressed as women. This is sectarian extremism?

Regarding the mention of attempts to "normalize" homosexuality, the example on the Family Institute's Web site is a program by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to indoctrinate school children to, for example, avoid using gendered pronouns, hold "drag show" fundraisers, and be familiar with sexual reassignment surgery (PDF).

As I suggested when I called in to Dan's show on Tuesday, Susan Heroux's complaint against MFI's position "against gay people living as gay people" is a matter of defense of tradition, not attempts to impose a way of life on individual citizens. The whole campaign on the left, now including the RI Democrat Party, is to delegitimize such defense. (To put the issue in context, it would be interesting to know Lynch's position on unisex bathrooms and drag shows in public schools.)

I do not approve of the above-quoted paragraph and would argue that the Massachusetts Family Institute should adjust its position in such a way as to enable communication across the cultural divide for the purpose of encouraging healthier behavior and conservative family values without requiring a complete repudiation of attractions that many Americans take to be irrevocable attributes of who they are. But Heroux characterized the MFI as a slightly "less obvious" version of the KKK, and it's a short step to declaring, say, the Catholic Church as a gang of "sectarian extremists." That's where they're going with this.

Putting the rhetoric aside, the Massachusetts Family Institute pursues reactive resistance to an aggressive radical movement. Heroux and Lynch, on the other hand, wish to marginalize that effort and exclude such groups from civic discourse. So who's the intolerant extremist?

September 1, 2009

Civil Unions for All Means All Under the Government

Justin Katz

Dan Yorke hosted an interesting conversation this afternoon on WPRO regarding the manufactured controversy over Governor Carcieri's plans to speak at an event hosted by the Massachusetts Family Institute. I've asked Dan to post the audio of his interview with Susan Heroux on his PodCast page, and I'm hoping to procure the audio of my subsequent phone conversation with him.

But while that's all in the works, it's worth responding to something suggested by a regular caller to WPRO, and pretty much weekly star of Matt Allen's open-line hour on Fridays before the Violent Roundtable (although I confess that my ineptitude with names leaves me unable to provide his). Being of the more libertarian conservative school of thought, he raised the suggestion that the government should offer only civil unions, with citizens free to sanctify their unions however they wish.

The essential problem with eliminating civil recognition of marriage in favor of universal civil unions is that a civil union is something granted by the government, while marriage entails the government's recognition of something that transcends itself. Marriage, that is, is prior to government; that's why it's a civil right; that's why it is evil for the government to dictate that, for example, black folks can't marry white folks. Civil unions would, by definition, be manipulable.

It's important for government to recognize marriage, as traditionally understood, because households built around intimate male-female relationships tend toward the creation of new life in an inviolable family unit. Again, this transcends government. Homosexual households are not equivalent because they must procure children by some means external to the relationship, and one way or another, that process already involves — requires — government regulation (as with adoption).

It should be noted, of course, that our freedom to associate with each other also transcends government (and ought to do so more), so homosexual relationships between adults are inviolable by that mechanism, in concert with a variety of other relationship types.

August 24, 2009

An Attack on Legal Representation

Justin Katz

I hadn't heard of this (or don't remember having heard of it) before reading Maggie Gallagher's recent summary of the battle over same-sex marriage:

When word spread at Harvard Law School last month that one of the most successful recruiters of its graduates, Ropes & Gray, was helping Catholic Charities explore ways to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children, gay and lesbian students wanted to stop the law firm it its tracks. ...

Two weeks ago, Ropes said it would no longer do legal work to assist the bishops in their efforts to stop gay adoptions, and last week Catholic Charities said it would end its adoption program because it could not reconcile church doctrine, which holds that gay adoptions are "gravely immoral," with state antidiscrimination laws.

Unless I'm missing something, it would be more accurate to say that Catholic Charities wanted help avoiding same-sex adoptions, for its own operations, not preventing other groups from allowing them. That's not a small distinction.

Readers may find some relief in the fact that, according to the first link (from which I drew the blockquote), the young future lawyers had some qualms about bullying a lawfirm from serving a client, but as with much else, the gay agenda trumps.

August 18, 2009

Ending a Long History, I Guess

Justin Katz

Here's a bizarre explanation for Blount Fine Foods' pulling sponsorship from the traditional marriage event on Sunday:

Corporate philanthropy and good citizenship has been part of Blount's mission since inception. In keeping with that, we have a long track record of donating Blount-brand chowder and other products to all non-profits in our home area that request it for events. These donations of soup are just simple gestures of goodwill and were certainly not intended to be interpreted otherwise. It's very concerning to us that anyone would think otherwise and as a result, we are reviewing our policy going forward.

Additionally, Blount notified the organizers of the Rhode Island event in question that the company would not be providing a donation, soup or otherwise.

A long history of goodwill... until same-sex marriage activists insist that there is no social sphere free of their politics. This speaks to a long-running cognitive dissonance behind positioning of SSM as a live-and-let-live movement. This gay activist (astonishingly the only "news" result for a Google search for "Maggie Gallagher Rhode Island) expresses scorn that Rhode Island is the only state "in the northeast that will tolerate these folks."

Yup, can't tolerate those traditionalists and Christians who gather together to listen to music, have a meal, and renew marriage vows. Rout us out. Lock us up until we swear to conversion.

August 17, 2009

The Daily Advocate

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal outdoes itself with a much attenuated version of this AP filing. The Projo splashes the headline and lead:

Fighting gay marriage hurts Mormon image
Observers say the church's heavy-handed intervention into California politics will linger and has left the faith's image tarnished.

What observers does the article cite? The organizer of a gay "kiss-in" and the executive director of a San Francisco lesbian advocacy group, the latter of whom bases her observation on what she's hearing "from my community and from straight progressive individuals."

I wonder how much of the current angst in American society has its origin in the utter distrust of the news media to even attempt to offer an objective explanation of current events and policy debates.

August 16, 2009

NOM Marriage Picnic

Justin Katz

Conservatives in this state must share a certain apprehension as they drive to ideologically tinted events — hoping that somebody shows up, but not the wrong people, and maybe it'll be an indication of our powerlessness, but what if we have to prove ourselves in front of a one-time crowd... Well, tea parties aside, the traditional marriage event that National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island is hosting at Aldrich Mansion in Warwick is definitely among the best attended right-leaning events that I've attended thus far. In fact, I may have to allocate some Anchor Rising resources to pay a parking ticket, since I'm not sure the line of cars down the street is actually legal:

And talk about gemstone corners of Rhode Island:

From where I sit on the stairs overlooking the lawn and the bay, I think I'm looking directly at the hill down which I walked my dog countless times and marveled at the view though I had no idea what I was looking at. How can Rhode Island encompass Rhode Island? [I apologize if that thought seems scattered, but I was interrupted midsentence by somebody who wanted to impress his young charges with the fact that I speak regularly with Matt Allen... certainly not an interruption that I minded!]

Whatever else this event proves, a major takeaway is just how abstract and intellectual is the argument that "fiscal conservatives" and libertarians can jettison us social conservatives. Attendance aside, this is by far the most diverse crowd that I've seen at any conservative event. You want hope shaking the opposition to its core? Come to an event like this.

I wonder if that explains some of the disgusting vitriol that social and religious conservatives attract from progressives...


Here's NOM-RI Executive Director Chris Plante:

And NOM President Maggie Gallagher:

And to be fair and balanced, here's the protest out on the street just after Gallagher's speech:


I don't agree with everything that the speaker who initiated the marriage vow renewal section of the program said. He ends the following clip, for example, thus:

You have not defined marriage, you have not shaped marriage, and you have not set its boundaries in place; rather, marriage has defined you. It has shaped you, and it has set boundaries in goodly places. And so it should be. We all choose to submit to marriage and should never seek to have marriage submit to us.

In terms of the functioning of marriage, as an institution, married couples do indeed define and shape the institution, which is why society must encourage them to respect the boundaries that it imposes. Put differently, it is because our own relationships define marriage that we must submit to it.

But minute disputes aside, hearing this speaker (especially in the context of the day) contributes to the sense that there's something peculiar about protesting such an event:

There were children running around with their faces panted. There were bouncy houses. The bulk of the performances weren't political, but musical. If right-wingers were to protest a similar gay family day organized by a group that advocates for same-sex marriage on a lazy summer Sunday, they'd rightly be lumped in with the Phelps family, but on the left, the impulse to protest — to frighten away attendees concerned with what their children might witness — is mainstream.

The small group of protesters who showed up, however, did evoke the tragedy of the issue. For the most part, they only wish to be accepted, to live their lives in as close an accord as possible to the ideals that the culture had put forward to them, but their ordering inclines incompatibly. Their predicament (meant neutrally) is one through which our culture has only recently begun to wend its rules, and understandably, they wish for it to bend as they desire.

Marriage is what it is, though, and it would be to universal detriment to divorce it from the principle that men and women are uniquely compatible with each other in ways of breadth and depth that no other relationship to similitude.


One absence that didn't strike me until I was getting ready to leave was that of politicians. The only candidate or current elected official whom I saw was Will Grapentine, and he's more ubiquitous at conservative events than either Caprio or the governor.

July 31, 2009

A Thread Through Culture-War Stories

Justin Katz

In response to my reservations about grand preening in celebration of a "counter protest" that exponentially outnumbered the mentally feeble Phelps family whom it targeted, commenter Chris offered the following:

I approve of both the reporting, and the action. I like the idea that 1) our kids have learned to spot human junk, and react accordingly ( there's always a built-in respect for elders taught to kids. Its good for them to know when to shake it off ), and 2) the projo carrying it helps other kids to learn to markings of this kind of animal, and learn to reject it out of hand faster.

Its a pity violence isn't allowed. It would be a quicker lesson for those things.

Such comments are typically best let to evaporate like gasoline, because regardless of the extent to which they capture something existent in the thoughts and emotions of more moderate sympathizers, elevation of extremists repels all parties by pushing them to different corners. In other words, it doesn't help us to resolve disputes if one party gives the impression that it believes its opposition to have more common ground with the lunatics in its midst than with those engaged in conversation. It's difficult enough to convey innate sympathy despite disagreement.

But Chris draws with his bright red crayon a line to the anti-traditionalist assault in Warwick. Note the protective gauze that Providence Journal reporter Kate Bramson wraps around the perpetrators:

The weapons included mayonnaise, ketchup and salsa — but also pepper spray, a glass jar and fists.

A difference of opinion over gay marriage sparked the incident, and emotions escalated quickly. Punches were thrown.

A small group of men visiting Rhode Island this week urging people to support traditional marriage called the police.

Offended by the men's message, four young women now face charges of assault or battery and disorderly conduct. The youngest, 17, also faces a more serious charge — felony assault with a dangerous substance.

On a hot, sticky Tuesday afternoon, on a grassy area just in front of the Rhode Island Mall, stood six men from a group headquartered in Spring Grove, Pa. They were dressed in suits, red sashes flung over their shoulders. ...

Driving by, stuck at a red light on Route 113, two women saw the men. Once the light turned green and the driver accelerated, the passenger threw a bottle out the window. ...

The men dispute the women's account and face no charges. Four are listed in the police report as victims ...

"I feel immature," Scungio said Thursday. "... We obviously shouldn't have gone up to them at all, because none of this would have happened."

Bramson may have backed away (slightly) from reporter Maria Armental's jocularity, yesterday, but her spin is made more stunning by its incorporation of more details. In her attempt to excuse physical violence, including the use of pepper spray, Bramson casts the whole thing as a street-side debate gone wrong; even the weather and the traffic signal were culprits, let alone the audacity of those men with "red sashes flung over their shoulders." Never mind that the assault was premeditated. Never mind that two women somehow multiplied into four — with one just happening to drive by in time to participate in the attack. Never mind that the police report contravenes Bramson's scenario of a two-way dispute with the opposing tellings to be balanced equally. Nineteen-year-old Kristen Scungio and her pals just got carried away in their understandable "immature" reaction to that "anti" group.

Pat the kids on their heads; they're blameless, really. Chris's lesson appears well on its way to being learned.

Between the two incidents, the murder of abortionist George Tiller sparked discussion about the responsibility of pro-lifers generally for the flares of the occasional madman. Such associations are nothing more than political acts meant to silence opposition; freedom of speech — the entire principle of democracy — means little if taking a particular position about public policy of itself imparts culpability when the susceptibility of humanity to evil appears in an isolated stranger's horrific action.

Advocating on behalf of our traditional understanding of marriage does not translate into blame should somebody, somewhere take the issue as a context for the expression of his or her personal frustrations. By the same token, advocating for the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships does not translate into blame for affronts in the other direction. However, publicly celebrating the sport of mocking extremists and making light of the escalating violence of "counter protests" against traditionalists leads us toward a future in which ignorance will be no defense. Sadly, it's embedded within the narrative according to which progressives choose and pursue their advocacy; according to the script, traditionalists are always the oppressors, and kids can hardly be faulted for their overly zealous support for freedom and equality.

July 29, 2009


Justin Katz

Remind me, again, who the intolerant bigots are?

The police are investigating an assault Tuesday on Bald Hill Road.

The weapon of choice: soda, salsa, eggs ...

"Your basic garden variety of food condiments," Capt. Robert Nelson said Wednesday.

It started as the four men stood at the median on Bald Hill Road and East Avenue around 2:40 p.m. protesting against same-sex marriage.

The location, Nelson noted, afforded them a roomy median and prime visibility.

They caught the attention of a group of women in one of the cars.

The women, who apparently objected to their message, flung a soda bottle at the men and vowed to return.

And back they were, about 15 minutes later, hurling at the men a mélange of food ingredients and drinks and a full repertoire of profanities, Nelson said.

One of the women swashed a protester with pepper spray.

No one was hurt and no arrests have been made, Nelson said

Note the jocular tone Maria Armental applies to her reportage and, in the game that is becoming all too frequently appropriate, imagine how the story would be presented if the men had been protesting for same-sex marriage.

July 9, 2009

Have Progressives Discovered the Tenth Amendment?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is suing the Federal Government on behalf of the state of Massachusetts, claiming that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act "interferes with the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage". A portion of the suit alleges that the Federal Government has exceeded the limitations on its power set by the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution...

81. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly reserves to the states all powers except those limited powers granted to the federal government.

82. The Tenth Amendment ensures the division of powers between the states and federal government that is necessary for the dual sovereignty of the federal system.

83. The Tenth Amendment preserves for the states the authority to regulate and define marriage for their citizens.

84. Congress lacks the authority under Article I of the United States Constitution to regulate the field of domestic relations, including marriage.

85. Section 3 of DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment, exceeds Congress’s Article I powers, and runs afoul of the Constitution’s principles of federalism by creating an extensive federal regulatory scheme that interferes with and undermines the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define marriage and to regulate the marital status of its citizens.

86. Enforcement of Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutionally commandeers the Commonwealth and its employees as agents of the federal government’s regulatory scheme and requires the Commonwealth to facilitate the implementation of a discriminatory federal policy.

The suit stakes out the position that Congress doesn't have the right to establish a definition of marriage, even for Federal law, because establishing a definition of marriage is reserved to the states.

Though I oppose legalizing same-sex marriage (just like President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joseph Biden do), given that the power to define marriage is certainly not delegated to the Federal government anywhere in the Constitution, if some kind of reasonable alignment between written law and rationality still exists in the world of self-governance, then it is difficult to see where the definition of marriage isn't something that is outside of the power of the Federal Government to decide, if the Tenth Amendment has any meaning at all.

But I also wonder if progressives and other cultural liberals who support Attorney General Coakley's action will be able to identify other areas where the reach of the Federal government needs to be scaled back to be brought into line with the Tenth Amendment, or if their sudden discovery of its importance will be applied only to same-sex marriage, as a case of activists arguing principles they doesn't really believe in, in order to get the policy outcome they want.

In case you've forgotten, the Tenth Amendment reads...

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
(Note: Readers from Bristol, RI may want to check with town authorities, to determine if reading the above excerpt complies with all local regulations).

July 2, 2009

The Unknown Variable in the Marriage Poll

Justin Katz

This recent letter from Lewis Prescott, of Lincoln, reminded me that I have yet to receive a response to phone and email inquiries about the age-range breakdown behind Brown professor Marion Orr's recent poll finding support for same-sex marriage. Prescott is suspicious:

If you ever want to take a poll and have the results turn out the way you would like them to be, then have Brown University do it. It has a system of convoluted questions and acceptable answers that could tilt the leaning tower of Pisa back to its upright position.

Me, I'm ready to believe the poll's results. I'd just like to be able to look for interesting patterns across polls and find it surprising that an Ivy League academic would obscure a very relevant variable.

June 27, 2009

Evolving Out of Social Chaos

Justin Katz

Among the more foolish slams against traditionalists is that our views are arbitrary religious dictates disconnected from realms of clear reality like science. Folks who believe that trope would likely find Faye Flam's mention of homosexuality in her recent op-ed on male behavior to count as evidence:

I also learned there’s abundant homosexual behavior in male animals. Killer whales and manatees engage in gay trysts, while gay geese and ducks latch onto one another in devoted male-male partnerships. About 8 percent of domestic rams are gay — a persistent source of frustration for sheep breeders.

There are many theories about the persistence of homosexuality in nature — but one of the most interesting connects it to the power of diversity, which gives creatures the flexibility to adapt to different circumstances.

If homosexuality is natural, the errant thinking goes, then it ought to be fully accepted, and such relationships ought to be treated in like kind to the closest heterosexual relationship. That is, marriage should be redefined as an intimate pairing so as to incorporate the natural affections of gays. As it happens, I happen to agree that homosexuality ought to be accepted as natural, although I don't believe the government should strive to force any more than civil tolerance among those who do not accept it. On a personal level, I'd encourage homosexuals toward the strictures of what I believe to be an accurate religion, but in similar fashion to my encouragement of heterosexuals whose behavior is immoral by that measure.

On the marriage count, though, I'd raise a subsequent paragraph from Flam:

Other men just want to have fun. One man I interviewed admitted to having sex with more than 200 women by the time he turned 40. But he was ready to change — and hoped to find someone to inspire him to settle down. Others may start out devoted to one partner but then their circumstances change — they get elected governor of some state — and they start mating with other women, too.

Society's project is to mold rough human nature toward healthier, more productive ends — to learn over the millennia what practices are fruitful and which are detrimental. Marriage is a mechanism for just such a molding, so the fact that an impulse or desire is natural has no bearing on whether marriage ought to bend in its favor. Marriage is meant to pull that philanderer into the devoted relationship into which he says he'd settle down if somebody "inspired" him so that children aren't left without fathers and mothers without support for their children.

The plain biological reality is that these concerns do not exist in homosexual relationships. Other concerns do, and ought not be sloughed away, but insistence on total equivalence would be a reckless response to the existence of partial similarity.

June 24, 2009

The Clarity of the Point Is the Point Itself on Marriage

Justin Katz

In a letter responding to my recent op-ed on same-sex marriage, Peter Asen does the service of illustrating why opposition to same-sex marriage is not the same as anti-gay bigotry. Readers should be apprised of the fact that I did not argue that homosexuality should be hidden from view. Rather, I suggested that marriage should remain an opposite-sex relationship that is fundamentally procreative in its meaning.

The Providence Journal was helpful in titling Asen's letter, "Boys already see gay pairs holding hands." Boys also see friends hugging and siblings kissing. My point was not that children cannot process the reality of differing relationships; it was that they should understand marriage to be uniquely intended for relationships that tend to have as an outcome (and typically an intention) the creation of children.

Asen misinterprets my point to be that girls and boys will grow up wanting to marry their friends, as if by first option. To be honest, I don't find it difficult to imagine older women bequeathing the honor on their dearest friends or young men finding it financially advantageous to sign each other up as spouses. A variety of circumstances might provide incentives — in a nation and culture of loose divorce rules — to enter into marriage, from work benefits to immigration policy.

That is not, however, my central concern, nor was it the argument of my op-ed. In a society with a multitude of relationship types, it remains true that children will eventually have to be told why they can't (or shouldn't) marry their friends, and with the innovation of same-sex marriage, the explanation can no longer include the fact that husbands and wives tend to make each other mommies and daddies. They won't, for that reason, conclude that marrying a pal is equivalent to marrying a lover, but they will, at the deep level of understanding what is just true, have a different sense of what it means to transform a lover into a spouse.

June 19, 2009

The Marriage Debate in the Wake of the Buckley Conservative Movement

Justin Katz

For the opening speech of the Portsmouth Institute's Friday session, Maggie Gallagher traced the effects of a few cultural (particularly marital) trends on the conservative fusionism that William F. Buckley, Jr., helped to develop.

Some highlights:

  • On the character Bill Buckley cut for himself by "refusing to grow" (meaning to become gradually more liberal upon becoming famous). Stream, download (52 sec).
  • On the left's attack on conservative fusionism, assuming neutrality and leveraging Americans' general prosperity. The focus of this audio clip is abortion, but the interesting application to the same-sex marriage issue comes, first, in the further challenge of the notion that cultural traditionalism can coexist with limited government and, second, in the disallowance of traditionalists to continue to practice their faiths without bowing, in the public square, to a radical proclamation on marriage. Stream, download (2 min, 5 sec).
  • On the intellectual difficulty that divorce and same-sex marriage present to those who wish to choose a traditional marital arrangement, in which both sides agree on the indissoluble nature of the relationship — are enabled, that is, to make vows that they truly know mean in the eyes of the law what they profess them to mean. Stream, download (3 min, 25 sec)
  • On the same-sex marriage movement's attempt to make marriage address the cultural problem of toleration in such a way as to detract from the institution's ability to address its own mission. Stream, download (59 sec)
  • On the danger (especially for cultural conservatism) that the traditionalism of the creative class — in which group Gallagher includes business people, especially entrepreneurs — are breaking away from the structures of society that have nourished our own. Stream, download (2 min, 25 sec)

June 16, 2009

Interesting Poll Results

Justin Katz

One hardly needs to be a far-right-winger to observe that the Providence Journal has been a local booster of the same-sex marriage cause, so it's not but so interesting to compare for bias the front-page coverage of the Victor Profughi poll, commissioned by the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, finding more opposed than supportive, with the front-page coverage of Marion Orr's Brown poll finding conflicting results in May. The lead for the latter:

Nearly two of every three people surveyed in the Brown University poll favored the concept, and the results spotlight a generational divide

For the former:

But some question the pollster's methodology and challenge the results, which run counter to a previous survey's findings.

The different results are likely explained largely by the ages of the respondents. Random evening calls to registered voters netted Profughi only 31.3% under the age of fifty. Orr hasn't released comparable information from his poll, although like the Providence Journal, I've got a request in.

Left-wing Brown professor and congressional candidate Jennifer Lawless complains that Profughi used the word "personally," although she doesn't explain why seeing the issue in personal terms would increase opposition to same-sex marriage. One could just as easily argue that Orr's "Would you support or oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to get married" might make it sound as if "opposition" means actively speaking out against it, and the vast majority of Rhode Islanders simply don't see the issue as that important.

More pointed criticism has been directed at a new question from Profughi:

Thinking about this issue further, some people say that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose, but they do not have the right to redefine marriage for all of society. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with that statement?

Fifty-seven percent agreed, and 34% disagreed, but the problem with relying on this question to taint the other results is that the question was second to last. All of the other substantive questions had been asked and answered before this supposed "push poll" question entered the conversation, with the exception being the final question about support for teaching school children about gay marriage, which 66% opposed and 25% supported.

Putting aside the political wrangling over language and demographics, one thing that emerges from both surveys is that support for same-sex marriage decreases as the respondent considers it. Profughi recorded 36% support for same-sex marriage and 43% opposition, but after an interposing question about whether voters should "have the opportunity to decide" about same-sex marriage, he recorded 52% support for a "proposal" declaring that "only marriage between a man and a woman will be valid or recognized in Rhode Island," with 38% opposition. (The differences entailed folks coming off the "don't know/undecided" bench.) Similarly, Orr recorded 60% support for SSM and 31% opposition, but after a question about civil unions, only 55% supported marriage.

The reality of the issue is that most people don't want to have to be in the position of talking about it. When it comes up, their initial response is more favorable, as if to make the topic go away, but when other options are presented or other angles considered, underlying concerns begin to emerge.

June 8, 2009

What Marriage Means to Children

Justin Katz

I've got a piece in today's Providence Journal in which I attempt to explain a subtle mechanism whereby the simple change in the definition of marriage to incorporate same-sex couples can have a profound effect on society. It isn't about the effect on adults' current marriages, but on marriages yet to be consummated.

After a Difficult Violent Roundtable, Part 3

Justin Katz

As I intimated yesterday, conservatives' appropriate fear of populist movements connects with our conviction that the nexus of power and desire ought to be checked. (One can be fearful even of that which is necessary, of course.) During Friday night's all–Anchor Rising Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show, Marc and Matt kicked off a related conversation in which the latter took the position that structures allowing more direct democracy — such as public referenda — ought to proliferate.

The problem with developing a taste for simple majority rule is that the masses know what they want, but not necessarily how to go about getting it or, even less, how to balance competing needs and interests. This isn't to take the line that the dirty common folk lack the intelligence to comprehend cause and effect and the possibility of unintended consequences; the salient factor filters through the mechanics of a movement. However well a given voter comprehends how his own interests might be balanced and what compromises would be tolerable in achieving them, by the time political action builds to critical mass, his interests and negotiable thresholds must be overlaid with thousands of variations.

If a movement is to avoid a fizzle from noise, it must be led. Only in sharp, very specific outrages will large groups of people congeal with minimal guidance to answer a question of public policy. In most cases, a handful of leaders with the time and motivation must sort out the series of binaries by which more subtle decisions are reached — "yes" to this policy, "no" to that one, "yes" to this request, "no" to that demand. When the democracy remains representative, those leaders may be held accountable for the results, even as their daily popularity rises and falls over each answer. When those leaders are as voices in the crowd — shouting out suggestions to which the populist cry returns a "hear, hear" — their accountability dissipates, as does the feasibility of subtlety. It becomes guidance by explosion, not by instruction. A herding of votes.

When it comes to the practical operation of a society, democracy is best enacted in escalating tiers — elections followed by referenda followed by revolution — but always with a philosophical tendency to worry about anarchic expressions of power. A population enthralled with its democratic override is at risk of wielding it too lightly, toward ends that are never adequately articulated until the knots cinch tight.

June 7, 2009

After a Difficult Violent Roundtable, Part 2

Justin Katz

A second conversation in which sufficient articulation proved difficult on Friday night's all–Anchor Rising Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show related to Matt's statement that the Catholic Church is in some respects an anti-American institution. Having such a strong statement catch one off guard doesn't make measured extemporaneous response an easy accomplishment, but upon reflection, I'd suggest that Matt is backing into a perilous political philosophy.

The Roman Catholic Church — any church, for that matter — should not be an "American" institution. The U.S.A. exists as an entity and as an idea; to the extent that an authentically American church were not redundant, it would be dangerous. A religion with policy conclusions in lock-step with the practice of the American idea would necessarily lend theological import to a quintessentially secular project. It would be a fundamental establishment of religion, marrying Church and State.

There is not only great value in, but essential need for cultural institutions completely separate from the reigning polity — with a source and structure of authority that is distinct from the nation's governmental strategy. Where members of the hierarchy are wrong in prudential matters, Catholics should discuss (even debate) the issues and argue for the Church's proper role, but all should realize that the Church's interests are not the same as the country's. Sometimes one will be wrong, or the human beings who guide it will step beyond their appropriate boundaries; sometimes the other will be the culprit; but that's reason to accept them as mutual ballast.

In an objective analysis, Matt's imputation of anti-Americanism on the part of the Church based on the public policies for which some of its representatives advocate is identical to the impulse of those within the hierarchy who wish overzealously to leverage the government's powers of taxation. Both sides judge and prescribe as if the two pillars of society ought to be more of a continuous support, in which the visibility of light is indicative of fatal cracks, not expected separation.

Let's not dilute anti-Americanism. I don't believe it is Matt's point of view that the Roman Catholic Church takes as its goal the downfall or diminution of the United States as a secular construct. The institutional Church has watched governments rise and fall throughout its history, and there are multiple bold lines between supporting policies that are arguably detrimental to the civic body and calling for the downfall of a Great Satan. An instructive distinction exists between President Ronald Reagan's characterization of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and Pope John Paul II's view of communism as "a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself" that became "a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world."

Both the United States of America and the Roman Catholic Church are centrally concerned with liberty. For one, it's liberty from oppression by people; for the other, it's liberty from oppression by sin and evil. Those concerned with either in particular should pay close attention to the other, but nobody should expect their requirements always to be the same, just as nobody should drive the two apart because one — accurately or erroneously — points in a different direction from time to time.

The project of post-Enlightenment conservatism (as we understand it today) is to layer balances and restraints against human nature, and theologically, the impulse to declare opposition amounts to a Church of Me, in which the individual pushes away a perspective that ought to be given credence. Here, the philosophical thread leads to a final point of contention on Friday night — namely, conservative wariness of populism — which I'll address after I've trimmed some hedges and made my way through the Sunday paper.

June 6, 2009

After a Difficult Violent Roundtable, Part 1

Justin Katz

Last night's Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show was the most difficult public appearance/talk show that I've done yet. Probably because Matt correctly assessed that an hour of harmony wouldn't have been very interesting, his questions touched on a number of weighty subjects on which expressing comprehensive thoughts on the spot is not easy.

For instance, take Matt's reference to Rep. John Loughlin's suggestion that the government get out of the marriage business, and permit everybody civil unions, because "marriage is a religious concept." That attempt at compromise (I'd call it a cop-out) is simply based on a false premise. Marriage is not a religious concept; it transcends religion, not only in the sense that all religions throughout history have recognized its opposite-sex nature, as I mentioned last night, but also in the sense that it resides at the intersection of multiple social strata: religion (yes), but also family, heritage, government, property, history, and so on, all of which find relevance in the biological fact of a man and a woman's ability to become one in the person of a child.

Religion's role in marriage is to lend the mysticism that makes the relationship profound, and therefore worthy of lifelong vows. Ancestry roots children in their society. Property gives motivation for productivity and economic prudence, particularly with a long-term view of generations. And government's role is to protect the community that it governs, in this context, by protecting the familial structure on which all of Western society's progress has been founded.

Consequently, government has even more objective, secular interest in encouraging stable marriages — that is, permanent unions between intimate men and women — than it does in encouraging the additional social good of consistent mutual care, which is ultimately what civil unions would recognize. Even the requirement of intimacy would be impossible for the government to require or assume, opening the door for civil unions between anybody and anybody (or anybodies).

For government to reduce all mutual care relationships to a level field, relying on religious groups to define their profundity, it would create a necessary equivalence between them. By declining to adhere to a consistent definition understood across the aforementioned strata, the government referee would be declaring the concept of marriage available for redefinition and throwing it to cultural forces that include not only religious organizations, but also pop-culture industries. If nothing else, the social noise would end the marital institution's utility.

Matt's suggestion — fantastic in principle — that we should refuse to acknowledge the government's authority as lexicographer skirts an assessment of what is actually happening. Drawn forward by well financed and highly motivated special interests and prodded by a complicit media industry, the government has been forcing a new definition of marriage into the culture. That being the case, following Matt's political philosophy would actually require the people to demand that the government explicitly affirm the definition of marriage under which their culture has operated throughout history until such time as it is understood by all to have changed.

In other words, the trajectory of the change currently involves the government's redefinition in order to manipulate the culture. Those playing defense on the traditionalist side are not the ones ceding authority to the political class, nor is there equivalence between our attempts to hold the government in place and the attempts of radicals to drag it into the cultural fight.

The initial question that sparked our discussion, on the radio, was whether the government should be granting heretofore marital rights and privileges piecemeal, one by one, to same-sex couples. The topic shifted a bit by the time it got to me, but my answer would have been that such an approach is precisely the appropriate one. Formed back when people actually believed that same-sex marriage was sufficiently inconceivable that a constitutional amendment was not necessary, my view has long been that the governments at various levels should affirm the traditional definition of marriage and do so in such a way as to enable state-level legislation easing the difficulties that those with other relationship types face. Require that legislation to define new relationships and their privileges without reference to marriage (i.e., no "all rights and privileges of marriage" language), thus requiring our society to come to consensus about the justification, purpose, and meaning of each change.

Cultural forces will vie to define the new unions, and it would be appropriate for those on the same-sex marriage side to refer to themselves as married, if they so choose, as well as to strive for the broader society's similar understanding of their relationships. Over time, the culture may come to see no significant difference between civil unions and marriage, or perhaps the distinctions between mutual-care relationships and procreative marriages will become more prominent. All the debate, however, and experimentation would be performed outside of the core institution of marriage and without the government's being used as a lever to roll the cultural boulder.

June 1, 2009

Is This How Democratic Compromise Is Supposed to Work?

Justin Katz

Put aside the contentious context of the debate in question. Doesn't something just seem wrong about this?

Because a compromise must receive unanimous support to survive, Roberge was then removed from the committee and replaced with Sen. Matthew Houde, D-Plainfield, who voted with the majority. Roberge said she was disappointed she was removed.

What's the point of having a rule requiring unanimity if it means merely that a legislative body must be able to put the right number of agreeable people in a room?

May 29, 2009

As the 80's Rock Band Asia Almost Once Said: Your Inconsistency, It Really Comes as No Surprise…

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the core of Miss California Carrie Prejean's now-famous statement of her position on gay marriage…

I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.
And here is one of President Barack Obama's statements of his position on gay marriage, this one from an interview by the Reverend Rick Warren…
I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.
For holding this position on gay marriage, Pat Crowley of Rhode Island's Future argues that Miss Prejean and President Obama (and former Warwick City Councilman Robert Cushman) should be considered "bigoted primadonas" (sic)…
Time was, considering people lesser beings, not entitled to the same legal protections as others, would rightly award you the moniker of bigot…NO MORE! Now, thanks to Mr. Cushman and the others that rose to the defense of Ms Prejean she wasn’t being bigoted at al…she was simply willing to speak her mind…and how American is that?...

So speaking you mind is courageous, but telling the person who speaks their mind they are a bigoted primadona who is using their platform to confirm their own superiority and reinforced the inferiority of others, well, that is unpatriotic.

Oh wait, Mr. Crowley doesn't include President Obama on his list of bigots. Or does he? Maybe at some point he'll clarify.


Commenter "Twisting the point" notes that Robert Cushman's op-ed is a viewpoint-neutral argument about the importance of "having the courage to speak our minds and stand up for what we believe" (Cushman's words), and takes no position one way or the other on gay marriage. So it's only Ms. Prejean and President Obama -- if this is about actual positions -- who are characterized as bigoted primadonas (sic) for disagreeing with Mr. Crowley on gay marriage.

Mr. Cushman stands accused only of questioning people's patriotism.

May 18, 2009

Actual Discussion on Marriage

Justin Katz

Pat Crowley offered a pleasant surprise by actually making a counter-point in response to my recent post on encouraging marriage:

Because apparently now the law tells married couples that your ability to marry is relative to your ability to create children. Which makes many marriages, mine included, some how null and void. After all, my wife and I are deliberately choosing not to have children ( I have 3 from a prior marriage but that is a WHOLE ‘nother story). We must be somehow flaunting our liberty to interpret the reason behind the law as we see fit by not reproducing. And what about couples who want to have kids but can’t? And what about adoption? Are people who are married but adopt somehow exploiting a loophole in the law, thus violating the intent? Are they adoptive couples really still married or are they also re-defining the institution by adopting instead of conceiving?

Not to muddy the waters by quipping toward the issue of abortion, but I wonder whether a broader inference could be derived from Crowley's apparent understanding of the notion of choice. By his own admission, his failure to procreate with his current wife is a freely chosen decision, which means that, even if he were correctly understanding my argument, his marriage would not be "null and void," because he and his spouse have the ability to have children. Should they change their minds, or should their birth control method fail, they are already in the relationship into which society ought to prefer that children be born. For similar reasons, the notion of sterility is inadequate as a contradiction of my construct, because sterility is generally not known to be a problem until the couple is already attempting to have children, in which case, again, we want them to be married.

Be that as it may, Crowley makes a common error to the degree that he's actually attempting to understand the opposing side. Marriage is inherently related ("relative" implies degrees of marriage) to the "ability to create children" inasmuch as it has until recently been limited to those pairings that tend toward that end. Men and women tend to create children when they're intimate together, so limiting marriage to relationships that include one of each draws that line.

That a couple does not procreate, by choice or by inability, does not affect the cultural understanding of their relationship type. This is how the culture works — on the basis of principles. Principles are not like the law — which operates on the basis of rules — in that mild contradictions or variations don't represent a break.

(As for his comments on Charles Murray: It's apparent that Crowley has never read the Bell Curve, which did not put forward the argument that he attributes to it.)

May 15, 2009

Society Is a Long-Term Project, and Marriage Matters

Justin Katz

Bob Kerr's dogged obliviousness notwithstanding, the concern of marriage traditionalists is that changing the definition of marriage will have cultural consequences stretching out into the future. Of course, ever since Massachusetts's Goodridge decision forcing just such a redefinition in that state, same-sex marriage advocates have made a point of addressing mainly strawmen and portions of opponents' arguments that don't risk pulling them off message.

From deep in New England, the strategy appears to be working, although other regions may allow other conclusions. Wherever one resides, however, some research explored by Charles Murray deserves a look. A study following women born between 1957 and 1964 found that, among white participants, the overall illegitimacy ratio was 11%. Dividing the group roughly 10-40-40-10 by socioeconomic class, that rate breaks down as follows:

  • Overclass (17 years of education and family incomes over $100,000): 1.7%
  • Middle class (family incomes over $60,000): 4.0%
  • Working class (family incomes less than $60,000): 10.2%
  • Underclass (fewer than 12 years of education and family incomes under $20,000: 44.5%

Murray is in the process of completing updated research, but he describes his current estimates:

Today, the illegitimacy ratio for non-Latino whites is 28 percent. How do the classes break down now? As it happens, I've spent the last few weeks exploring that question. I'm not done, and want to save that discussion for a formal presentation in any case, but here are some tentative estimates: The illegitimacy ratio for the white underclass is probably now in the region of 70 percent. I think that the proportion for the white working class may be above 40 percent. The white middle class is approaching 20 percent—a scarily high figure when you think about all the ways that the middle class has been the spine of the nation.

The white overclass? They're still living in the 1950s—their ratio is probably about 4 or 5 percent tops.

I don't know whether the "current" group includes all women (and therefore those in the previous study), but that ambiguity means that these numbers are a minimum for illegitimacy.

The relevance to same-sex marriage is that such an innovation hinders our society's ability to leverage the institution to arrest this downward slide by erasing the link between marriage and childbirth. Whatever definition of marriage rising generations absorb from our culture, the law will tell them that it has nothing to do with the spouses' ability to create children. Moreover, those toward the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder tend to be more susceptible to the broader culture than their better-off peers.

The women in the older study typically had their children in the '80s and early-to-mid '90s. That means that Murray's new figures trace women one or two generations subsequent. Where the numbers will be in another fifteen to twenty years we can only guess. But when some long-memoried blogger like me points out declining marriage rates, increasing out-of-wedlock births, compounding teenage pregnancies, and so on, we can predict that the short-memoried public will snort at the suggestion that redefining marriage could have had anything to do with the deterioration of marriage culture.

May 6, 2009

Denouncing Nuts... of Two Kinds

Justin Katz

For the record, I have no trouble denouncing these people — a denunciation in which I include both the subject of the linked post and those who associate with its poster. By suggesting that I might "think like" the "God hates fags" lunatics, Crowley illustrates his profound lack of reading comprehension skills and vicious disregard for the truth.

I don't believe that God hates, period, and I have a deep sympathy for homosexuals who wish to live as closely to heretofore heterosexual norms as possible. I've written before that I can envision a route to inclusion of their relationships in the institution of marriage in the long term and have lamented that the zeitgeist and subculture of the same-sex marriage movement make that possibility virtually nil.

Fringe groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and Phelps family get their theology so wrong as to further the cause of evil in the world, both by their own offensive acts and the degree to which they justify the errors of those whom they oppose.

April 28, 2009

Not How It's Supposed to Work

Justin Katz

One bullet stuck out in Mark Patinkin's latest scattered-thoughts column:

It doesn't work to seek your kids' sympathy by saying you had a harder day than they did, because as far as they're concerned, you're supposed to.

So true is this that it's typically a mistake to do the hardship tit-for-tat with one's children. Better to turn the emphasis around to encourage in them such fortitude as you display every day as an adult.

If anybody figures out how to do that, please let me know.

April 10, 2009

A World in Which Marriage and Sex Are Not About Children

Justin Katz

The ACLU-type argument for general liberty to engage in destructive behavior for the preservation of a liberal aesthetic is easy to predict, but there's something new and disturbing in the following argument for the continued legalization of prostitution in the state of Rhode Island:

Critics, including Rose Perry, a Providence mother and member of the group Direct Action for Rights and Equality, said that even with the amendments the latest proposal ignores the harsh reality of what it takes for some families to survive in tough economic times.

"What about the woman who has children who is mainly prostituting to provide for them?" Perry asked. If she gets arrested "the children are going to go to [the Department of Children, Youth and Families] and that's going to be more state expense and then more expense for the woman going to jail. It's just ruining families. I feel what goes on behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors."

One could point out, of course, that Ms. Perry's point is extendable to a wide variety of behaviors, dealing and doing hard drugs notable among them. What's more profound is a juxtaposition, facilitated by the Providence Journal's physical layout, with Froma Harrop's latest column:

"Formality in the law serves some important purposes," Glesner-Fines responded. "It cautions people that what they are getting into is serious."

Yes, that's it. The seriousness of the legal bond between the parents — as well as from parent to child — helps foster a partnership in child-rearing, even if that bond later dissolves in divorce. Why so many women take on motherhood without such formality in place is a mystery. The sad result is a growing sisterhood of drudgery.

Whether she realizes it or not, that's a substantial progression from a woman who recently wrote this:

It's easy to understand why gay people would want to get in on the marriage gravy train. There's just no logic for there being one. A stable marriage is the ideal institution for raising children, but we already have tax benefits focused on parents. Given the growing percentage of unmarried adult Americans, the whole obsession with same-sex marriage has become rather dated.

Keep marriage as a romantic and religious ideal for those who choose to partake. Public policy, on the other hand, should be marriage-neutral.

Perhaps it's a "rather dated" notion, but I'd say there's no "mystery" to continued childbirth without the "formality" of marriage: Men and women are strongly driven to copulate; they're also driven (although with less immediacy) to procreate. Yet, society has long been telling them that sex outside of marriage is just fine and is increasingly declaring that marriage is not, in its essence, about joining parents together with the children whom they create.

When a state supreme court asserts as a footnote (PDF, p. 54) that a child's needing a mother and father is a stereotype, when activists are arguing in the State House that prostitution is a legitimate fall-back during a difficult economy, when other judges are demanding that the morning-after-drug be available over the counter to minors, it isn't surprising that three out of four non-virginal teenage girls report having had unprotected sex. It also isn't surprising that some of them have or go on to have children outside of wedlock or that the fathers feel no obligation to be involved.

If sex is about pleasure (or financial gain), and marriage is about feelings (or benefits), committing to support a family even during the worst of times, even when there is no sex, the feelings seem to fade, and the children prove a challenge, is just one more burden on which a culture of narcissists will not insist.

April 8, 2009

When the Dictator Branch Takes Over for the Representative One

Justin Katz

Andrew McCarthy puts it well:

Courts are not there to resolve national controversies, to stand outside and above the United States. They were created as a sub-section of government to remedy individual injuries, and they were given no power to enforce their judgments. That, indeed, is why Hamilton (in Federalist No. 78) anticipated that the judiciary would be the "least dangerous" branch: It would be "least in a capacity to annoy or injure" the "political rights of the Constitution." In fact, the law of "standing," which addresses what grievances litigants may bring before courts, teaches that the more a controversy affects the body politic rather than the individual citizen, the less appropriate it is for judicial resolution. It is for just such controversies that we have political rights.

We're on track to cede our rights of self-governance to a global judiciary supported by an aristocracy of bureaucrats. Needless to say, we'd be better off if the cart were derailed.

April 7, 2009

Sex Is Not All

Justin Katz

It's a tragicomic truism that members of the cultural movement, with roots in the "Sexual Revolution," that presses for the acceptance of ever more licentious behavior, that peppers popular culture with lewd images and innuendo, and that leverages carnal lust as an enticement toward the trap of its radical worldview often accuse those who stand against them in defense of our society of being obsessed with sex. Here, in the words of commenter Pragmatist:

And why not just admit that this criticism of the president is really about sex Justin? We all know that religious conservatives, above all else, are obsessed with sex: the consequences of straight sex and existence of gay sex. Religious concerns about the environment, war, torture, income inequality seldom pop up on the conseravtive radar. But sex? Well then, hold the presses!

It doesn't take much capacity for objectivity to observe that none of the other issues that Pragmatist lists find anywhere near the concerted advocacy of sex when it comes to promoting sin qua sin, from the religious point of view. Nobody advocates lessons in safe-torture to grammar school children. (Abstinence is unrealistic, after all!) Nobody proposes that war should be a matter of individual choice made as free of consequences as possible.

Moreover, those not quite so blinkered by hostility to the expression of traditional views will likely comprehend that, for religious conservatives, chief among the "consequences of straight sex" is the creation of human life, and therein lies the motivation for determination. Note, for evidence, that the conservative radar is also well tuned to the overtures of scientists to transform human life into a utility. Progressives appear to believe that conservatives see protection of embryos and objection to cloning as front-guard barriers against the fundamental normalization of abortion, which (the story holds) we oppose because cannot keep our minds off the activity that creates a being to be aborted in the first place. The failure to see the true consistent core of this belief system is strongly suggestive of a desperate need to maintain the feeling of moral imprimatur for the commission of evil.

But what of torture? Isn't that an evil act? Yes, of course, and I've yet to hear a religious conservative argue for torture of an anything-to-extract-information degree, and general agreement that torture is unacceptable contributes to the skewed public perception. Because we all agree that our government should not be lopping off fingers one joint at a time, the discussion quickly moves to determination of the line. Truth be told, I've had discussions with other religious conservatives in which I voiced my difficulty seeing mild sleep deprivation and droning music, even stress positions, as torture; that doesn't indicate that conservatism is a philosophy in which torture isn't an issue, but that some of us believe that interrogations of unlawful combatants can be a bit more strenuous than a questionnaire. It's also relevant that the conversation would be a non-starter were the principle under scrutiny the permissibility of performing "enhanced interrogation" on innocent civilians.

What of income inequality? Isn't greed one of the seven deadlies? Aren't we called to serve our brothers and sisters? Yes, of course, but we on the right believe that opportunity is the more effective means of assisting the poor and that coercively redistributive power in the hands of a government body is a recipe for even more damaging outcomes.

Indeed, cycling through the issues that he mentions, one thought recurs with each: Pragmatist really hasn't followed internal debates among conservatives. What emerges from such a study is that there are basic principles held to be irreducible and a broad, fluid field of prudential lines.

At the core of them all, of course, is life, and among the most thoroughly agreed upon conclusions among religious righties is that a society that encourages (not forces) healthy personal choices endows its people with the most powerful possible protectant against a corruption that deadens the instinct for justice across the board. The most sure sources of instruction for discerning social necessities are the traditions that enabled the moral and corporeal advancement of our culture over millennia in the first place.

April 5, 2009

Happiness Is Finding a Pencil

Justin Katz

I find this discouraging, although probably not for the reason one would suspect:

Children do not bring happiness. In fact more often they seem to bring unhappiness. That is the conclusion of one academic study after the next — and there are so many that it makes one wonder if researchers kept trying, hoping for a different result.

What's bothersome isn't that the hard work and substantial expense of being a parent puts a damper on one's sense of happiness; anybody who has children or knows people who have children should expect such a result. Rather, it's disquieting that not only is the finding presented as a surprise, but it's presented as if it ought to make procreation inexplicable. Raising children is among those experiences in life that we undertake because it is part of living — part of what Charles Murray refers to as "a life well lived."

A society that loses its ability to value the rich experience of being human may perceive itself to be more satisfied for a short time, as it rolls forward on the momentum of the health of previous generations, but it will surely decline and lose its feeling of happiness in the process.

However, because I'm not persuaded that one can tease apart demographic categories as these studies do, I'd suggest that it would be a mistake to see child rearing as a socially necessary drain on our individual well-being. Consider that marriage brings the greatest non-income increase in happiness, a finding that holds true even if we factor in parenthood's negative effect. (It's worth mentioning, of course, that the decrease resulting from children would also include the surveys of divorced parents, who would seem more likely to be adversely affected by the responsibilities of parenthood than married parents. There may also be an explanation somewhere in this breakdown for the fact that two children decrease happiness less than one.)

In other words, if we take the family form handed down to us through generations of trial and error, in which children and marriage are held to be inextricably linked, with parenthood and espousal standing as mutually reinforcing components of a person's identity, we find ourselves happier and our society healthier. If we lose faith in our instinctive understanding of what a full life should encompass, we will embark on a selfish path toward general misery.

Statistics and Reasoning

Justin Katz

At Rhody's suggestion in the comments to my post on the Iowa same-sex marriage decision, I took a look at Nate Silver's statistical assessment of the likelihood that Iowans will revoke the decision via constitutional amendment:

I looked at the 30 instances in which a state has attempted to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage by voter initiative. The list includes Arizona twice, which voted on different versions of such an amendment in 2006 and 2008, and excludes Hawaii, which voted to permit the legislature to ban gay marriage but did not actually alter the state's constitution. I then built a regression model that looked at a series of political and demographic variables in each of these states and attempted to predict the percentage of the vote that the marriage ban would receive. ...

So what does this mean for Iowa? The state has roughly average levels of religiosity, including a fair number of white evangelicals, and the model predicts that if Iowans voted on a marriage ban today, it would pass with 56.0 percent of the vote. By 2012, however, the model projects a toss-up: 50.4 percent of Iowans voting to approve the ban, and 49.6 percent opposed. In 2013 and all subsequent years, the model thinks the marriage ban would fail.

The problem is that models don't think; they take what we put in. So, on one hand, the reality of same-sex marriages coming and going may soften Iowans' views. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Iowa has just proven that statutory language is insufficient. People rightly seek the least extreme (and least difficult) method of accomplishing their goals, and if one's goal is to preserve the traditional definition of marriage, nothing within reach of the judiciary is now adequate.

To we who've been arguing this topic for years, that reality has been clear from the start, but it's been a core strategy of homosexual advocates (and progressives more generally) to limit expectations about the next step. Civil unions would never lead to same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage in Massachusetts would never be exported to other states. And so on.

I wouldn't presume to make predictions, but it's going to be more difficult for SSM rhetoricians to insist that leveraging state (and federal) constitutions is overkill.

April 4, 2009

The Fundamental Dishonesty of an Antidemocratic Movement

Justin Katz

If one knows the history of the same-sex marriage debate, the opening paragraph of this editorialized report in the DesMoines Register strikes an odd note:

Basic fairness and constitutional equal protection were the linchpins of Friday's historic Iowa Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage and puts Iowa squarely in the center of the nation’s debate over gay rights.

The redefinition of marriage in Iowa took a peculiar path, indeed, beginning in 1996:

  1. The Supreme Court of Hawaii declared a right to same-sex marriage.
  2. Although the state legislature ultimately circumvented the court, the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act to limit the ruling's implications for other states.
  3. Individual states, including Iowa, passed laws affirming that marriage is definitionally a relationship between people of opposite sex, typically with the intention of securing the protection of the public policy exception interpreted to exist to the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution. In essence, if a state explicitly does not recognize same-sex relationships as marriage, the Constitution cannot force it to treat as valid a same-sex marriage enacted in another state, so states like Iowa made their understanding of marriage explicit.
  4. The Iowa judiciary has taken that statutory affirmation of preexisting principles as an occasion to redefine marriage in the state according to the judges' preference.

In a direct way, the judges of Hawaii exported their activism across state lines not in spite of laws designed to prevent such a thing, but because of those laws. The process does nothing so clearly as illustrate the extent to which democracy is becoming an (at most) dilatory control on the implementation of the social system preferred by the powerful. All that is required is for the powerful to couch their diktats in some mutable principle introduced in a high-level legal source (e.g., the Constitution); the most common such principle is "equal protection," but there may be others that are as yet unexplored.

In an interesting conversational thread on RI Future, commenter Brassband points to this mechanism when he questions the following sentences from the Iowa court's ruling (PDF, page 16):

The process of defining equal protection, as shown by our history as captured and told in court decisions, begins by classifying people into groups. A classification persists until a new understanding of equal protection is achieved. The point in time when the standard of equal protection finally takes a new form is a product of the conviction of one, or many, individuals that a particular grouping results in inequality and the ability of the judicial system to perform its constitutional role free from the influences that tend to make society’s understanding of equal protection resistant to change.

As a matter of grammar, what the court argues, here, is that a society may consider groups to be different in some legally allowable way until a particular individual or several individuals perceive discrimination and take the matter to the courts, and the judges — "free from the [social] influences" under which we ordinary humans labor — declare in their favor. Rhode Island College professor Thomas Schmeling subsequently puts that perspective in the company of a fundamentally sacerdotal yet "well-respected theory" that judges rule based on hunches that are justified in the fact that a jurist "not only has his/her own preferences but is also acquainted with constitutional principles, precedents, the views of other (and higher) court judges, so it's not totally subjective." Schmeling goes on to state the matter in terms of his own take:

... I think the Court here is actually making a sensible point, one which which you may well agree. Here's my read:

1. The legislature creates a classification. (let's use bans on interracial marriage as an example). That classification will remain until two things happen:

a. somebody becomes convinced that the classification creates an inequality (one that violates equal protection) and challenges it in court.

b. A court invalidates it.

Now, the legislation presumably embodies society's understanding of what "equal protection" requires, which (as in the case of bans on interracial marriage) may be nothing more than its irrational prejudices. If the courts do nothing more than reflect that understanding, it will never find any classification violative of equal protection and the court will have failed to fulfill its duty. (Do you agree so far?)

If the legislature's/society's judgement/prejudices accurately reflect the principle embodied in the Constitution's equal protection clause (state or federal...there might be a difference)...there is no problem.

However, if the legislature's/society's judgement departs from an accurate understanding of equal protection, that's a problem. To do its job, the court must obviously get beyond this judgement. To do this, the court must be "free from the influences that tend to make society's understanding of equal protection resistant to change". That is, the court should not simply reflect the views of the people and/or the legislature, it must uncover the "true" principle behind the equal protection clause, and use that principle to judge the classification.

If the members of the court simply say "I think equal protection clause should embody MY prejudices", I think we'll agree that the court has departed from its proper role.

If, on the other hand, the Court adopts a principled interpretation of the clause (which must, of necessity be independent of the prejudices of the judges AND of the prejudices of the legislature/society), the court has fulfilled its proper role.

Consider for a moment who has been excluded from the interpretation of equal protection's "'true' principle": the judges' personal views don't apply, the relevant legislators' personal views don't apply, the people's personal views (as expressed democratically) don't apply, and certainly the personal views of those who penned the Fourteenth Amendment back in 1868 don't apply. So from whence — by whom — is it determined that the true meaning of the equal protection clause requires that the true meaning of marriage be something other than what it has always been understood to be — a relationship between men and women?

Ah, there's the nub. The reality is that, like the interstate process of bouncing judicial rulings, the whole thing is a performance to enact the preferences of an elite class as written into the "hunches" of judges. On the page following the above quotation, the Supreme Court of Iowa states:

The same-sex-marriage debate waged in this case is part of a strong national dialogue centered on a fundamental, deep-seated, traditional institution that has excluded, by state action, a particular class of Iowans.

The whole dance — costumes, streamers, stage props, and all — is a distraction from the truth that the "particular class of Iowans" are not excluded by "state action," but by definition and by the way in which they choose to live their lives.* They are excluded by the fact that humankind has recognized a natural distinction of the intimate relationships into which men and women enter and sought to guide those relationships in the direction of social health — as understood not through contrived experiments, but by centuries of observation and social evolution — through an institution called "marriage," which it acknowledges and privileges as something unique.

Our nation's founders pursued representative democracy as a means of layering social control such that the most basic and profound questions would not become subject to immediate battles of power, but would require engagement of the process and efforts toward persuasion. Progressives' broad-based campaign has been to corrupt process for their own ideological benefit, and it will spell calamity whether the masses respond with a forceful expression of the only forms of power that remain to them or by stepping back and watching their civilization collapse out of an aversion to conflict.

* I am not invoking, here, the "homosexuality is a choice" declaration. I'm merely pointing out that — quite reasonably — homosexuals opt to form their lives around their affections rather than a traditional family structure.

March 24, 2009

B. Frank: Invective Over Reason

Monique Chartier

Is he looking to create a distraction from all of the money he is costing us? Has he run out of substantive arguments on the issue itself?

"At some point, [the Defense of Marriage Act] is going to have to go to the United States Supreme Court," the congressman, a Democrat, said. "I wouldn't want it to go to the United States Supreme Court now because that homophobe Antonin Scalia has got too many votes on this current court."

I remain ambivalent enough on the issue of gay marriage to not have a dog in this fight. But I'm pretty sure of two things.

1.) Someone who opposes gay marriage is not axiomatically a homophobe, even if we expand the definition of "homophobe" beyond "a person who fears gays" to include "a person who dislikes gays". In fact, most people who oppose gay marriage are not homophobes.

2.) Childish name calling by an advocate isn't going to draw undecideds like me towards that side of the issue.

March 21, 2009

The Bastard Boom

Justin Katz

It's a harsh title, I know, and I wouldn't have run it but for the very fact of diminishing stigma evidenced in recent statistics (which is to say that the term "bastard" has no real social force in accord with its actual meaning*):

The 4,317,119 births, reported by federal researchers Wednesday, topped a record first set in 1957 at the height of the baby boom.

Behind the number is both good and bad news. While it shows the U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend, the teen birth rate was up for a second year in a row.

The birth rate rose slightly for women of all ages, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40 percent, continuing a trend that started years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.

For a variety of reasons, it’s become more acceptable for women to have babies without a husband, said Duke University’s S. Philip Morgan, a leading fertility researcher.

Even happy couples may be living together without getting married, experts say. And more women — especially those in their 30s and 40s — are choosing to have children despite their single status.

With cultural trends, causes and effects jumble over each other, so it presumes too much to tease them apart in search of the decisive, but analysts and reporters do a disservice to the public by not mentioning, in this context, the concerted movement over the past decade-plus to redefine marriage as something not intrinsically related to child bearing and rearing. Writing the radical new definition into the law would burn the bridge by which we're crossing into cultural no-man's-land.

That is one way in which same-sex marriages does indeed affect society at large.

* Certainly, I believe it to be to the unmitigated good that children born under such circumstances face less social stigma than once was the case (if any at all). That the parents appear to face less and less, however, is among the contributing factors to our society's decline.

March 14, 2009

The Same-Sex Marriage Zeitgeist

Justin Katz

I struck up an Internet friendship with artist and art reviewer Maureen Mullarkey back in the early days of blogging, begun with an initial contact concerning our agreement about same-sex marriage. That agreement has apparently plunged her into chilling circumstances:

Strange times we live in when it takes a ballot initiative to confirm the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Stranger still when endorsing that definition through the democratic process brings threats and reprisals.

In November, the San Francisco Chronicle published the names and home addresses of everyone who donated money in support of California's Proposition 8 marriage initiative. All available information, plus the amount donated, was broadcast. My name is on that list.

Emails started coming. Heavy with epithets and ad hominems, most in the you-disgust-me vein. Several accused me, personally, of denying the sender his single chance at happiness after a life of unrelieved oppression and second-class citizenship. Some were anonymous but a sizable number were signed, an indication of confidence in collective clout that belied howls of victimhood. New York's Gay City News asked for an interview because I was "one of only four New Yorkers who contributed more than $500."

I ignored the request, trashed the emails, and forgot about them. But the West Coast bureau chief of the New York Daily News did not forget.

The ensuing experiences included finding two men waiting at her apartment to "interview" her one night, receiving promises of professional retribution, and the implicit intimidation that comes with having one's home address published with the tone of "make the bitch pay."

For some, it seems, marriage is not so much about love as about self-validation and an expression of power. Whatever proves true of the former, we ought not expect the latter to be tempered by victory.

March 4, 2009

DOMA Was Never a Protector of Compromise

Justin Katz

Back in the pre-Goodridge days, when those on either side of the same-sex marriage issue would have extensive debates on the merits of arguments, many on the pro-SSM side (notably Andrew Sullivan) argued that the Defense of Marriage Act would prevent a state judiciary from forcing nationalization of same-sex marriage. The traditionalist side pointed out that the arguments that were being made for SSM would be targeted directly at that legislation, and they've now been proven correct:

Now Ritchie, Bush and more than a dozen others are suing the federal government, claiming the act discriminates against gay couples and is unconstitutional because it denies them access to federal benefits that other married couples receive, such as pensions and health insurance. Plaintiffs also include Dean Hara, the widower of former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of the House of Representatives.

Yes, the "new lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording Social Security and other benefits to same-sex couples," but "President Barack Obama has pledged to work to repeal DOMA." In any case, homosexuals from any state would be able to be married in the eyes of the federal government by acquiring the license in a state that offers it.

As I've been saying, the meaning of marriage is the key issue, here. That's why Rhody misses the mark when he comments, elsewhere, that "we can all agree we want to encourage the establishment of the family unit, which is definitely a conservative goal." The point is that a marital household, husband, wife, and (implicitly) their children should be a structure receiving especial encouragement. If there are no gradations to families — if they're all uniformly founded in the revocable choices between adults — then procreative pairs have no additional cultural motivation to see the possibility of having children as a change in the status of their relationship.

There's an ad for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in today's Providence Journal of a man and woman looking at sonograms. "You're a couple, but, you're about to be so much more," reads the caption. That "so much more" should be tied into the culture of marriage, and the main targets of its message should be couples that can become "so much more" even when they don't particularly want to.

March 2, 2009

What the Marriage Debate Means to Each Side

Justin Katz

With my schedule, I wasn't able to attend this year's hearing at the Statehouse on same-sex marriage. The arguments that I've been making for years still stand, though, and to some extent, I'm not convinced that the battle has much to do with reason, anymore (if it ever did).

The dueling radio ads tell the story behind the debate. The traditionalist side, presented by the National Organization for Marriage, expresses concerns about the significance of cultural confusion when important definitions lose their meaning by putting some questions in the mouths of children. The radical side, voiced by Marriage Equality RI, features a marmish school teacher's voice explaining to her class how utterly obvious a civil rights issue marriage is.

The pro-same-sex-marriage ad is indicative of the mindset of the advocates behind its cause: There are no questions; nothing about the issue is so complicated or sensitive that teachers couldn't set about educating their public-school charges. It's amazing that they apparently don't realize how directly they are contributing to a central concern of their target audience: It isn't that Mike and Steve's wedding will affect any heterosexuals' marriages; it's that an entire worldview — one that has persisted throughout history and across boundaries — will be dismissed and attacked as deprecated bigotry as a matter of law and within our public institutions

February 23, 2009

Polls and Principles on Marriage

Justin Katz

I have to say that I'm not sure what to make of Joe Trillo's planned strategy for dealing with same-sex marriage if he becomes governor and the issue comes up:

Were a bill allowing same-sex marriage to make it to his desk as governor, Trillo said he would let a public poll determine whether he vetoed it. "If over 60 percent of the people supported gay marriage ... I would not veto it." Conversely, he says he would "absolutely" sign into law Republican Sen. Leo Blais' bill to prohibit same-sex marriage.

But Trillo said he supports "civil unions" or "life partnerships" because "I basically believe in their cause" and "I think it needs a term or a word used to describe it that would make it totally understandable for what it is."

Now there's a guy hedging his bets. It's as if politicians have such an aversion to this topic that they don't wish to investigate why supporters of traditional marriage believe that the difference is more profound than just a word.

It would also be nice if the quoted political personages — or even the Providence Journal reporter who quotes them, Katherine Gregg — gave some indication of awareness that Senator Leo Blais has also placed on the table a proposal to create "reciprocal beneficiary agreements." Members of the public could justifiably argue that there's a difference from "civil unions," but at least the ruling class and the media would be furthering debate, rather than a cause.

February 3, 2009

Stumbling Down the Logical Aisle

Justin Katz

Ray Hodges' ruminations on the morality of same-sex marriage are reasonable and presented with an even temper. Just so must be the tone of any dialogue on controversial matters. Unfortunately, his argument is a wholly erroneous construct, collapsing under the weight of misapprehensions, categorical non sequiturs, and an a priori conclusion.

The flaws emerge right at the beginning, when Hodges notes that his "question about gay marriage is not why [he, as a Catholic,] should be concerned about legalizing an immoral activity." Of course, the sexual acts to which he refers are already legal. The dispute, in the civic sphere, is whether those sexual acts are sufficiently indistinguishable from those associated with traditional marriage to negate all legal methods of treating the latter as unique. By the end of his letter, having determined to his own satisfaction that homosexual behavior is not immoral, Hodges admits no additional considerations prior to the leap to marital equivalence.

To take up that further argument, however, would rush past the fact that Hodges errs in hinging his reasoning on the false synonymity of "natural" and "moral." Indeed, immorality — sinfulness — comes so naturally to humankind that, we Christians believe, God offered a law to His chosen people (who had a terrible record of obeying it, thereafter) and ultimately went to the length of sacrificing His own Son to free us from the inevitability of sin and death. Natural law, in the Catholic Catechism, is not related to the popular notion of appearing in nature, but to "the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie."

Even in secular terms, one need only trace the effects of humanity's foibles on civilization to see that morality seems most often to be a denial of "natural" tendencies. Marriage, itself, is meant to regulate the natural urge, especially among men, to stray from the families whom heterosexual activities tend to create. It is a foundational institution in our civilization's progress away from raw nature.

Mr. Hodges is free to brush aside core teachings of his Church, such as the critical importance of tradition, but the rejection of a theological worldview does not constitute a case for the innovation of same-sex marriage. We all want to be compassionate, and most of us wish to increase the world's sum of happiness, but radically altering the meaning of marriage is not a path toward either end.

February 2, 2009

Postponement and Corruption

Justin Katz

Word on the street is that the RI Senate Judiciary Committee has indefinitely postponed its hearing on marriage issues.

On a related note, a source in a position to know informs me that the reason even informed citizens can be surprised by such events is that the General Assembly exempts itself from open meeting laws. Apparently, it's an annual tradition: The Republicans move to adhere to the laws, and the Democrats continue the exemption.

Nothing to see there, I guess.

February 1, 2009

Government and Marriage

Justin Katz

I've been getting notices of an RI Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning three marriage-related bills on Tuesday afternoon, but there's currently no information online. The Judiciary Committee isn't on the legislative calendar, and the schedule for the committee lists no meetings.

Acknowledging the short time-frame in which they've been forced to act, the National Organization for Marriage — Rhode Island is asking people to get involved by attending the meeting, writing to the relevant legislators, and (although it's not mentioned on that page) to testify on behalf of the two bills that support traditional marriage.

Both of those bills were introduced by Republican Leo Blais, with one reinforcing the opposite-sex definition of marriage and the other creating "reciprocal beneficiary agreements" that would enable couples not eligible for marriage to gain some explicitly enumerated rights. As long-time readers will know, this is precisely the solution that I support: The government has an interest in supporting committed mutual care, but it also has an interest in affirming the unique relationship between one man and one woman. Inasmuch as it has no interest in, and no right to interfere with, a couple's non-procreative sexual activity (or lack thereof), there is no rational justification for making physical intimacy an implied requirement of an acknowledged relationship of reciprocal care.

January 23, 2009

Life's Potential

Marc Comtois


January 21, 2009

Sitting Down with the Treasurer

Justin Katz

RI General Treasurer Frank Caprio invited Anchor Rising for a sit-down chat in his office last night, centering on pension issues, but touching on various other matters.

In general, I think the four of us in attendance were reasonably impressed with the treasurer's explanations for economic policies and his knowledge of political history in Rhode Island. In specific, some of the more detailed material is going to take time for us to digest prior to comment, but a few clips might be of interest to readers right off the digital recorder:

  • On complete financial transparency in his office, to be unrolled in a few weeks: stream, download
  • In opposition to the use of state-owned vehicles: stream, download
  • I got a chuckle out of the notion of fear among those in his office promoted beyond the union's bounds to become (scary music) at-will employees: stream, download
  • Caprio's got a merit-based promotion system in place with his workers' union, and he thinks the practice is transferrable across government: stream, download
  • Apparently, Rhode Island "only" pays 7% of its revenue toward debt service. I wasn't wholly satisfied with the Caprio's description of the comparative appearance of that statistic against a typical business and wonder whether it's fair to compare the government to a mortgage-paying household: stream, download
  • On the possibility of municipal bankruptcy (or entry into "a process"): stream, download
  • On his pension-plan thinking. Apparently, much of the cost of switching to 401k would come from accounting rules, but with the possible loophole of diminishing, rather than "closing" the defined benefit program: stream, download
  • The reason that Rhode Island actually ranks pretty well when it comes to retiree healthcare costs: stream, download
  • On abortion and same-sex marriage, neither of which would be his center of focus for any campaigns or offices: stream, download
  • Running for governor?: stream, download
  • Wherein I continue to strive for an answer on the social issues: stream, download
  • On eVerify and immigration: stream, download
  • On branding the state otherwise than with corruption and mob films: stream, download
  • With regard to a port project and other initiatives, the treasurer agrees with me that a broadly attractive economic environment (tax cuts included) ought to be the focus of policies: stream, download
  • An interesting response to my question about his thoughts on Republicans running as Democrats ("Why not the reverse?") and a discussion of the RIGOP: stream, download

January 10, 2009

Nonsense Opposition to DOMA

Justin Katz

One doesn't have to follow the same-sex marriage debate for long to recognize a strain of human tendencies with which I became familiar as an ideological minority in the college classroom.

As I duked it out with the professor, most of the students would rush to take his or her side (silence from others being an indicator that they may have feared to take mine), and any excuse to affirm their position would spark a declaration of the form, "See! That's conclusive." Sometimes the catalyst was a reasonable (but not decisive) point, but just as often it was a wholly inadequate analogy or even just a superficial semantic twisting of my own arguments.

Such is the Providence Journal's seconding of former U.S. Congressman and former Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr's recent op-ed arguing for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Barr's key point is utterly nonsensical:

In effect, DOMA's language reflects one-way federalism: It protects only those states that don't want to accept a same-sex marriage granted by another state.

The Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution doesn't need to be guided in two directions on this matter. It simply isn't plausible to suggest that states that want to recognize same-sex marriage might be forced not to because another state does not.

There are only two actual reasons to support the repeal of DOMA. The first is to curry political favor with the homosexual movement and those who like to feel as if they can play the Right Side of History game on their behalf. The second is to enable the judiciary to force a radical change in the definition of marriage from coast to coast, thus enabling elected officials to allow their proclaimed personal view of marriage to be subverted in a way that leaves their hands clean.

In the process, mounds of verbiage are being piled up to excuse the imposition of a policy preference based on emotion, not reason, and to obscure the implication that supporters, while they may believe democracy to be a nifty principle, are much more interested in crafting the laws to suit their own tastes than supporting their fellow Americans' right to shape their own civil society.

December 29, 2008

Redefine a Word and the Problem Goes Away!

Justin Katz

Some readers may have found cause for a sparkle of hope in the following turnabout, as explained in the NY Times:

The number of black children being raised by two parents appears to be edging higher than at any time in a generation, at nearly 40 percent, according to newly released census data.

Demographers said such a trend might be partly attributable to the growing proportion of immigrants in the nation’s black population. It may have been driven, too, by the values of an emerging black middle class, a trend that could be jeopardized by the current economic meltdown.

Unfortunately, I think Domenico Bettinelli is probably correct that the third explanation dominates... and invalidates:

The Census Bureau attributed an indeterminate amount of the increase to revised definitions adopted in 2007, which identify as parents any man and woman living together, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents.

Dom writes:

There's no denying that grandparents, aunts and uncles, foster parents, or just good-hearted folks who raise other people's children are better for these children than not having anything, the re-definition of the word and concept of "parent" broadens its meaning to insensibility and risks watering it down, not unlike what has been done to the word and concept of "marriage" by civil partnerships, same-sex "marriage" and no-fault divorce.

It is undeniable that children are better off when raised by both parents living together in a loving household.

Yep, and as Dom goes on to suggest, the forces of "progress" are laboring to ensure that we soon lack the necessary language even to discuss such plain realities.

December 23, 2008

All in the Name of Civil Rights

Justin Katz

From the town hall to the courthouse, the same-sex marriage movement has been characterized by a willingness to disregard law and democratic practice. (Which isn't surprising, from a crowd that goes so far as to declare a desire to defend a pivotal cultural institution to be bigotry.) California Attorney General Jerry Brown is the latest to shirk his duties and infringe on the civil rights of a majority of citizens in the name of liberty:

In a December 19 press release, the attorney general said: "Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification." He thus endorsed the idea that marriage, as it has always been understood, is so grossly contrary to California's constitutional principles that an amendment protecting that understanding cannot be allowed into the constitution even if duly enacted by voters. ...

All of this serves to confirm the worst fears of Proposition 8's supporters. The political and legal elites of the state have done all within their power to endorse the idea that support for traditional marriage is the rankest kind of bigotry that does not deserve even a nominal word in its favor by government officials.

If Proposition 8 does not hold, this new dogma will be the official state policy — and this in spite of a clear legal mandate of the voters of the state to the contrary.

A court order invalidating Proposition 8 would also give the supreme court a super-constitutional power, above the amendment process provided for in the text of the constitution, to determine what subjects are germane to constitutional lawmaking by the people of the state. There is no other way to understand this new theory that a manufactured and unenumerated "right" can become so "fundamental" that it can no longer be the subject of a simple amendment. And, of course, who will decide whether a right has attained this stature? The California supreme court.

This turn of events highlights two of the three (often willful) blind spots of those who wish the whole icky argument would just go away:

  1. That the philosophical basis and emotional drive will not stop with the imposition of same-sex marriage and will advance to egregious trampling of Americans' rights of conscience, association, and religion.
  2. That among those trampled rights will also be the right, via democratic means, to shape the nature of one's government and society.

It defies reason and historical experience to think that the arguments and processes that bring same-sex marriage to the nation despite the people's wishes (and interests) will not become tools for further assertion of an ideological agenda, even in ways entirely unrelated to marriage, family, and sexuality.


The third blind spot overlooks the likelihood that radical changes to the very essence of the meaning of marriage will indeed affect families — as always, with emphasis on those who are most vulnerable.

December 20, 2008

Allowing Respectful Adjustments

Justin Katz

The solution that David Benkof describes is one that I've been suggesting for years:

The 30 constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, including Proposition 8 in California, are a direct result of the lawsuits-for-marriage strategy practiced by gays and lesbians since the mid-Nineties, including successful suits in Massachusetts, California and Connecticut. So achieving marriage in three gay-friendly states (two now that Proposition 8 has passed in California) came at the expense of barring marriage in 10 times as many states, many much less hospitable to same-sex couples.

Worse, 18 of the constitutional amendments, in places like Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, bar not only marriage but any kind of rights specifically for same-sex couples. That means that even in gay-popular cities like Austin, Texas, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, there can be no benefits for gay and lesbian couples unless and until those statewide amendments are repealed — an unlikely scenario. ...

... a coalition of concerned politicians from both left and right have come together in Salt Lake City with a plan that can be a model for those concerned about the problems faced by same-sex couples anywhere. Guided by Democratic Mayor Ralph Becker, the "mutual commitments" plan was approved with both liberal and conservative support in the city council and the state legislature. It provides a package of rights, including hospital visitation and health care, to any two people who can show financial interdependence. The pair can be a mother and adult daughter, two straight male roommates or lesbian lovers.

The government doesn't ask — and doesn't care — which.

Of course, resolving some of the egregious shortcomings of current law would decrease the arsenal of emotion-based rhetoric in the service of full radical social change and is therefore not likely to be tolerated by the forces of tolerance. And so, people will continue to suffer for the cause.

December 2, 2008

Didn't Chuck and Larry Get "Married"?

Justin Katz

I highlight this only because I think Crowley, in his ineptitude, stumbles into an error of reason that others exhibit more subtly. Pointing to the expressed concern of Howard Weizmann, deputy director of the U.S. Office Of Personnel Management, that expanded domestic partner benefits would increase incidents of the sorts of fraud depicted in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Crowley writes:

Bush administration officials hard at work protecting us from gay people insurance fraud. Now all this silliness can end with a very simple solution: grant marriage rights to all couples and we won’t have to worry about the nuances of Chuck N Larry.

In point of fact, in order to procure their benefits, Chuck and Larry do get married. The only way "granting marriage rights to all couples" avoids fraudulent benefit transfers (for instance) is by legitimizing what had previously been held to be fraud. Marriage and divorce laws being what they are, there would be very little disincentive to "marrying" a friend for benefit, tax, housing, or even testimonial reasons.

If society wishes to create a system that encourages the mutual care of partnered pairs, then it should do so distinctly from marriage; to do otherwise would be to dilute the institution into nothingness. And if we are to set up domestic partnerships/civil unions, it would seem the height of government intrusion to insist that there be verifiable sexual intimacy between the participants.


Here's one further justification for taking Mr. Weizmann's concern seriously, but on a much broader scale:

Marriage to an American citizen remains the most common path to U.S. residency and/or citizenship for foreign nationals, with more than 2.3 million foreign nationals gaining lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in this manner between 1998 and 2007.

November 27, 2008

Pausing History for a Day

Justin Katz

In the way that notions are stirred into the culture, like pollen dissipating into the air, the Tolstoyan view of individuals' cumulative construction of history has been working its way again through the world of commentary. Our lives go on, and history follows.

It occurred to me, looking at four generations of my family at the table, today, that when my son is my grandfather's current age, one hundred and seventy-two years will have passed from my grandfather's birth. Day in, day out, roaring, depression, war, apotheosis, counterculture, war, scandal, stagflation, conservative revolution, vacation from history, terrorism, war, malaise, familiar change... and on into the future. Yet the family albums tell what seems to be a repeated story in different costumes — mother, father, child, crib, tricycle, bicycle, graduation, marriage, child.

I'd never noticed before today the clear familial resemblance of my grandfather and his sons. They're all slender, now, and traced in visits and pictures they'd been out of sync through phases of weight and shape. The well-filled father with the football-player son. The heavy ex-football-player with the Marine brother. I'd also never noticed how much the sister born between them looked like the eldest of us cousins, after me, because she passed away before I'd learned to observe such things.

Someday, my children will find it strange that I can name unknown faces in family photographs. Someday, too, they'll chuckle at the old style of cars and of hair. Perhaps they'll feel that sense of awe when they align the pictures chronologically with their history lessons. Yes, we lived through that — I was in this particular place on that historic day because I was only working part-time from home then, I remember — but it was just life unfolding.

We'll say, "That was the year that such and such happened." But when we talk about life, we'll put it differently: "I was about your age when I lost my job, and I was your mother's age when I finally began digging my way out of debt." In the long view, it's more about those moments of tying it all together than the years of winding threads.

So, among all the reasons that we have to be thankful today — and there are many — we should include the opportunity to pause. We'll be back to making history unravel soon enough; for a moment in time, we should appreciate that our lives are cumulative constructions, too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 21, 2008

For Whom the Bell Chimes

Justin Katz

Per his usual participation, msteven makes a fair and reasonable point:

The truth is that marriage is and always has been open to opposite-sex couples that are not open to children. I agree that the issue isn't JUST about the acceptance of homosexuality, and that allowing SSM is a significant change to the historical definition of marriage. But, as you said, "... circumstances sometimes eliminate the ideal", and I think it is reasonable for SSM advocates to argue that theirs is another circumstance that should be considered. I am NOT saying I totally agree with them or that SSM is 'constitutional’, but that it is about drawing a line.

There is a broad, bold line that must be crossed in order to admit homosexuals as another exception to the marital norm. Indeed, I've already stressed that we oughtn't belittle non-marital family forms. People do their best with what they're given, and forcing them into molds that don't fit as a condition of doing something good — such as caring for others' children or pledging mutual care to another adult — could hardly be to their or society's benefit. Those who incline toward admirable life structures oughtn't be discouraged.

Certainly, there are people who incline toward marriage, and I've long maintained that heterosexuals who enter into matrimony for all the right reasons don't need civil recognition, and changes to the civil institution will affect them not in the least. But such folks invest in the image of marriage in order to make the option as palatable, even as attractive, as it is responsible. The young man whose girlfriend discovers herself to be pregnant should have a clear social model encouraging him to associate his progeny with a stable household including their mother.

If marriage is all about "love," then those whom marriage is meant to change can quite reasonably reject the notion that they should marry on the grounds that they do not love enough. Too be sure, we're too far down this road, already, but same-sex marriage, as an accepted proposition, would solidify the principle as a matter of stark law.

Worse, however, is that "love" is ultimately a religious concept, and civil marriage, if disconnected from the purpose of encouraging potentially procreative pairs toward stable relationships, is really about benefits and mutual care, to which any number of family types could rightly lay claim. In that light, it should be clear that the "exception" of allowing non-procreative, heterosexual couplings to enter into marriage is hardly a compromise at all: It merely creates a simple definition of marriage toward a necessary purpose, without imposing arduous and implausible obstacles, such as fertility tests or procreation pledges as a condition of a marriage license.

November 19, 2008

What It's About

Justin Katz

Fr. John Kiley offers a clarification of purpose on the marriage issue:

What must be maintained at this time, however, is that Christians and other persons of good will have as their primary focus the defense of marriage. As peripheral to Christianity as same-sex activities are, it is not primarily a struggle against homosexuality that must occupy the believer; it is rather a personal re-examination and eager defense of the true meaning of marriage with its emphasis on an enduring union of one man and one woman open to children. It is marriage that Christians and others are protecting. It is not homosexuals that Christians are victimizing. Believers must not be intimidated by those who twist love for marriage into hatred for gays. Homosexuals are not the issue; marriage is.

It is in no way a perpetuation of bigotry to resist radical changes to principles this longstanding:

A stone-age burial in central Germany has yielded the earliest evidence of people living together as a family.

The 4,600-year-old grave contained the remains of a man, woman and two youngsters, and DNA analysis shows they were a mother, father and their children.

People may form relationships as they desire, and circumstances sometimes eliminate the ideal, but that does not mean that we can't uphold the ideal as a practice and as a model.

November 17, 2008

The State of Thought on the Left

Justin Katz

Reading Pat Crowley unpacking a three-sentence summary from my recent post on same-sex marriage is like watching a bad magician pull rags out of his sleeve and pretend that they came out of a nearby jewelry box:

I guess the whole idea about "equal protection", that silly little constitutional issue, isn't relevant on the question of sex. But that is not my point. As a big fan of sex, I am pretty confident that its only purpose isn't child birth. Now I could be wrong about that since I didn't realize that the only purpose of marriage is to legitimize the sexual act. Now of course, that begs the question: which sexual act? I know of at least a few then when executed are guaranteed not to produce a fertilized egg. So in the AR world, I guess the only legitimate sex is the sexual act the does produce a fertilized egg. So what about sex, even THE act, that doesn't produce that fertilized egg? Does that not count? Or does that de-legitimize the marriage? What about the childless marriage, is that no longer legitimate or is the sex involved in the childless marriage some how illegitimate? What about the person who had a first marriage with children and then gets married a second time and doesn't have children? Is the second marriage valid? Would it be advisable for a married couple to keep having sex as frequently as possible in order to procreate? If the answer is yes then obviously AR folks don't have a lot of experience with marriage...

I'm reminded of a scene in Kung Fu Panda in which the clumsy bear bungles his first attempt at a training exercise to hilarious degree, and the master tells him, when the oaf drags himself across the floor, beaten and burnt, "There is now a level zero."

It should go without saying that Crowley's entire exercise is a ploy to avoid addressing my argument providing the reason that maintaining the opposite-sex definition of marriage — that is to say the definition of marriage — is not contrary to equal protection. Unfortunately, the reader base at RI Future was unable to produce a single comment suggesting that Crowley might be indulging in some intellectual dishonesty. Such a crowd is not likely to allow itself even to comprehend a contrary argument, no matter how succinctly put and no matter how free of discriminatory motivation. In them, we see the real anti-intellectualism in modern America.

But to provide something of a remedy, I'll offer the protest that at no point did I make claims about the "only purpose" of marriage or sex. Neither did I offer a declaration of legitimization for various behaviors; that would be a separate discussion.

The point is how marriage functions in society — what it is about marriage that makes it a matter of public interest at all — and that is to maximize the number of children born into households founded on the stable relationships of their mothers and fathers. It's an imperfect world, of course, and exceptions must be made, without belittling others, but it is the key understanding that men and women, together, even quite carelessly, can produce new human life that gives marriage its cultural force.

If marriage is only about their love for each other and their commitment to care for each other, then why is sexual intimacy implied at all? Why not let any two people who wish to help each other through life — mother, daughter, brother, brother — access the rights and privileges thereof?

Sex is well and good, but the burden is on those proposing a radical redefinition of marriage to explain why the public ought to care about the private matters of consenting adults, and why it has any business whatsoever in judging matters of "love."

November 15, 2008

A Tyrannical Mindset

Justin Katz

Of course, we can't tar a social movement with the acts of a few, but at some point, the volume of incidents bespeaks a mindset. One assaulted immigrant may not suffice. One elderly woman mobbed and forced to watch as her cross is stomped may still fall short. I wonder, though, how many vandalized churches must be added to the list for concerns to be acknowledged as reasonable:

Another church building belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been vandalized. This incident in Sandy is the seventh in a string of vandalisms targeting the Church's chapels.

Churches in Weber and Davis counties were also hit by vandals over the weekend, raising concerns about a possible hate crime. In those incidents, vandals shattered doors and windows.

Or perhaps a blacklist exceeds the threshold. (Am I alone in having viewed campaign finance laws as a protection against corrupt government, not as an opportunity to harass opponents' supporters?)

As I said, a mindset begins to emerge, and it tends to be expressed violently in failure and oppressively in success. Where possible, radical change will be forced upon society by way of judicial legislation; where the people block that route, civil society may be threatened. It's written in the emotional foundation of the cause; if religious or secular traditionalism "is hate," then its practitioners don't deserve a place at the table.

When traditionalists prevail, violent backlash against them is ignored, excused, or mitigated through equivalence. And when the radicals prevail, the movement's first principles dictate that policy treat the opposition as having secondary rights.

November 14, 2008

The Armies of Tolerance

Justin Katz

Clearly, this 67-year-old woman was inciting the peaceful crowd to violence.

Too bad the police weren't there to arrest her! (Video of the aftermath, and the original incident from a different angle here.)

November 11, 2008

Through the Cultural Looking Glass

Justin Katz

I see the gang over at RI Future is running hard in the post-election season with same-sex marriage advocacy. I suppose that means we can start the clock until the first accusation that the political right is being divisive by not ceding.

Believe it or not, what drew me so deeply into this debate seven years ago wasn't ideological conviction, but rather the intellectual constructs on which the sides were built, especially the many ways in which the entire issue is premised on a wish-it-to-be-so, through-the-looking-glass reasoning. A glaring expression of that quality that I noted early on came from Andrew Sullivan, in his book Virtually Normal:

Some might argue that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman; and it is difficult to argue with a definition. But if marriage is articulated beyond this circular fiat, then the argument for its exclusivity to one man and one woman disappears.

Yes, a definition is a definition, but if we change the definition, then the definition is something else. Upon this imperative is built the notion that a small minority can declare a right for itself and disenfranchise the majorities who disagree. Quoth Crowley:

The idea that one group of people can vote away the rights of another group of people should scare the living hell out of everyone. Our rights, and the freedom they bring, are not subject to popular vote for a very special reason - because if the powerful can take away the rights of the weak we do not live in a democracy - it is something else, but not a democracy.

Events in California give the statement its first-ever modicum of accuracy — in that the Prop. 8 vote did take away something that had been instituted — but his argument predates even the Goodridge ruling in Massachusetts. The ahistorical assertion is that maintaining a millennial status quo is tantamount to removing newly asserted rights.

Even were the anachronism ignored, however, the wish-it-to-be-so principle applies to the very notion that the male-female definition of marriage tramples the rights of homosexuals. There is no right to public recognition of any particular relationship, and to the extent that the public privileges a certain arrangement, it does not discriminate by excluding relationships that are substantially different. Relationships between people of opposite sex are substantially different from relationships between people of same sex.

Marriage functions, in our society, by associating child-birth with the sex that men have with women, and associating both with a stable familial relationship. That reality simultaneously rebuffs rights-based assertions and hints at the probable long-term result of changing the terms. A definition may be a circular fiat, but rewriting it is likely to boomerang.

November 5, 2008

Re: Marriage Amendments

Justin Katz

As Marc notes, traditional marriage won big, this election, despite a political turnout that would have seemed likely to point in the other direction. For federalist conservatives, these results are pretty close to the ideal of how things should work: The people of each state decide their policies, and when the judiciary over reaches, the people correct it.

Me, I see this heading quickly to the Supreme Court. That's the critical path left to same-sex marriage advocates. The state-by-state strategy is blocked by the will of civilian majorities, but a Constitutional Amendment at the federal level trumps all, and the Supreme Court has transformed itself into a vessel for short-hand amendments.

Marriage Amendments Pass Nationwide

Marc Comtois

Florida, Arizona and probably California have all passed amendments banning gay marriage. As Maggie Gallagher put it:

This vote, like earlier votes in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Michigan, affirms that when it comes to marriage there is no such thing as a blue state or a red state. Americans support marriage as the union of husband and wife.

November 2, 2008

Positioning on Marriage

Justin Katz

It's quite convenient that the New York Times would present Barack Obama as something of a cultural conservative on the issue of same-sex marriage — what with a contentious high-stakes battle over marriage on the ballot in California:

Several gay friends and wealthy gay donors to Senator Barack Obama have asked him over the years why, as a matter of logic and fairness, he opposes same-sex marriage even though he has condemned old miscegenation laws that would have barred his black father from marrying his white mother.

The difference, Mr. Obama has told them, is religion.

As a Christian — he is a member of the United Church of Christ — Mr. Obama believes that marriage is a sacred union, a blessing from God, and one that is intended for a man and a woman exclusively, according to these supporters and Obama campaign advisers. While he does not favor laws that ban same-sex marriage, and has said he is "open to the possibility" that his views may be "misguided," he does not support it and is not inclined to fight for it, his advisers say.

His construction of the issue is entirely in keeping with the scenario that I suggested last week, whereby the Democrats running the federal government would implement civil unions and kick it to the courts to take the dirty-work last step. For example, Obama opposes state-level constitutional amendments defining marriage in the way that he supposedly believes to be correct; without them, the only barrier to judiciary-legislated same-sex marriage coast to coast would be the Defense of Marriage Act. Or consider this:

"Barack is an intellectual guy, and I know he has been thinking through his position on gay marriage, and what is fair for all people," said Michael Bauer, an openly gay fund-raiser for Mr. Obama and an adviser to his campaign on gay issues. "But he is just not there with us on this issue."

He's an "intellectual guy" who is "wary of linking his religion to policy decisions":

"And I was reminded," Mr. Obama added [in The Audacity of Hope], "that it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights."

The odds are very good, I'd say, that a President Obama would discover the error of his ways on marriage long before he'd have any epiphanies on abortion.

October 28, 2008

One Way to National SSM

Justin Katz

Look, I'm not making any claims as to whether and how Obama will seek to silence the political right wing, or how much he'll succeed if he tries. As I've been reading various news items throughout the campaign season, a plot has begun to form. It's not a matter of predicting the future; it's a matter of imagining a scenario and considering whether there's a plausible path from here to there — not to argue that it will happen, but to entertain the imaginative question of whether it could. Behind all the writing, I'm a novelist at heart, and the emergence of a storyline intrigues me.

So, again, I'm not arguing that the following is likely, much less probable. I'm pointing out that something is possible, depending on a wide variety of other factors, and creating that world in a work of fiction would make for an interesting story.

To the above-linked post, msteven comments (in part):

How would Obama or anyone for that matter implement same-sex marriage nationally? Presidents or any political executives don’t have that type of power. Just ask the Mayor of SF. This is not to mention that Obama has already gone on record being against SSM? ...

There is a significant difference between changing positions on taking public campaign money and on same-sex marriage, where the majority of the public is against it. The only reason he would even pursue implementing SSM is if it were to benefit him politically.

Put aside msteven's faith that Obama's relative silence on same-sex marriage indicates a lack of ideological drive rather than the existence of political calculation that would be subject to change. As far as I can tell from his Web site, Obama isn't saying much about the marriage issue, probably for the very reason that msteven notes: his views conflict with those of the majority of the public. From what I've gleaned of Obama's position, though, it's consistent with the "civil unions" solution of giving homosexuals the same benefits and privileges, but without calling it marriage.

Well, unhappily, that's precisely the route to the redefinition of merriage that California and Connecticut have blazed in recent months: Create a "different in name only" institution and then leave it to the courts to declare it unconstitutional not to fold them together. At the national level, that could negate every state law or constitutional amendment defining marriage as strictly an opposite-sex relationship, as well as every federal law (e.g., the Defense of Marriage Act) meant to keep the issue in check.

There are a variety of preconditions required for this to happen, of course, but in a (probably fictional) future that casts Obama in an attempt to suppress the conservative movement, the steps are not implausible. And if, in that world, the president (with the help of a supermajority of his own party in Congress) has successfully minimized the power of talk radio and the Internet, and perhaps begun to manacle private enterprise through unionization, he would have political reason — and cover — to gun for the churches.

October 21, 2008

The Power of Headlines and Scandal

Justin Katz

So, if you were to see the headline "Priest compelled to reveal he's gay," what would you expect to see in the story? That the Church (or somebody) forced him to admit his orientation as a targeted effort laced with malice. But in actuality, the LA Times story to which the Providence Journal gave that title is about a Fresno priest who couldn't stand to be reminded of the Church's teaching on marriage and took his homily as an opportunity to contravene it:

With Proposition 8 on the November ballot, and his own bishop urging Central Valley priests to support its definition of traditional marriage, Farrow told congregants he felt obligated to break "a numbing silence" about church prejudice against homosexuals.

"How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives?" he asked parishioners of the St. Paul Newman Center. "I am morally compelled to vote no on Proposition 8."

Not only that, but he was apparently compelled to notify the local media and do a television interview before Mass and then skip town after Mass. In other words, Farrow's was a premeditated action bringing scandal to his diocese.

The news stories mention Farrow's loss of position and salary, as well as possible defrockment, but it takes an egregious aversion to the nature and purpose of religious organizations not to see how declaring one's Church to be "an accomplice of injustice" provides a fine example of what Roman Catholics mean when they say that a person is not so much actively excommunicated as acknowledged as having excommunicated him or herself. It also provides a taste of the paradigm that will exist in American society if same-sex marriage were to become a part of the law.

In the meantime, Christians should pray for Mr. Farrow — that he overcomes whatever demons have been whispering in his ear and seeks reconciliation.


It's also worth noting that the Providence Journal excised several paragraphs between these two:

"He ambushed us," Gallegos, 44, said while leaving the white concrete-block church with his wife and two children.

Farrow's statements, they said, were not in accord with church teachings.

Non-Catholics might scoff at the presumption of a lay family's correcting a priest with decades of experience on a matter of church teachings. The "they" in the second paragraph, however, was actually "parish leaders," including the parish's Deacon, who read from the bishop's letter that sparked Farrow's action.

The Guilty Husband

Justin Katz

In the past decade or so, every divorce of which I've been aware has been initiated by the wife. That's hardly a broad or representative sample, but I do wonder whether the post-divorce cards are so heavily stacked in women's favor that it affects their understanding of and behavior toward their marriages. With this sort of cultural and legal reality (and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is a reality), it's not surprising that the divorce coven would expand:

Some of the fathers on Illinois's Department of Healthcare and Family Services' "wanted" list got there in the following manner — the wife or girlfriend ended the relationship, left with the kids, and then went to the state to get public assistance. Illinois DHFS then went after the father for child support to repay the cost of the assistance. The father — against whom no wrongdoing has been charged — has probably been deprived of custody of his kids and may not even have any visitation rights, and might not even know where his kids are.

While paying the state, the father also has to hire an attorney and fight his way through the courts just to attempt to see his children. Even if he is awarded visitation rights, recalcitrant mothers often flout these orders with impunity. Low- and moderate-income fathers frequently must choose between paying for legal action to obtain contact with their children, and risk jail time for not paying child support, or paying child support and losing the ability to have contact with their children. These men are hardly "walking away" from their "families and responsibilities."

Sometimes a father in this situation has been paying the teenage children directly because the mother has been using the child support for everything but the children. Nevertheless, the father is saddled with arrearages and declared a "deadbeat." When he presents his stack of canceled checks, the state says, "Sorry that money you paid is a gift — you still owe us child support to reimburse the cost of the public assistance." It is irrelevant that the money was used by the children to buy food, clothing and the necessities of life.

October 20, 2008

The Non-Case for Same-Sex Marriage as a Republican Issue

Justin Katz

So Damien Baldino, blogger at RIRepublican.com and candidate for the Rhode Island House, supports same-sex marriage. I sympathize. I do. In fact, when I began considering the issue back in the spring/summer of 2001, I held the libertarian view, as a government matter, but I rapidly discerned the weakness of the pro side for SSM, and I'm increasingly appreciating how fundamental marriage is for many of the very principles that Baldino emphasizes. Consider:

First, Republicans tend to support small government. To me, that means having a government that focuses on the "basics", preserves individual liberty, and stays out of the private lives of its citizens. Among the most private of these decisions is who one should marry.

On the first point, I recommend that people begin to keep an eye on seemingly unrelated stories, such as the one I noted yesterday, describing hardship and difficulties, with the implication that the government ought to step in and help. Marital dysfunction is often at the center of them, even if the subjects and reporters gloss over it.

Fortifying familial ties, as in nuclear households, is what allows us to preserve freedom in the law and minimize the size of government. Making the necessary edits to the image of marriage in order to include same-sex relationships changes the meaning a very important way. Yes, there ought to be rights and allowances for adults who commit to supporting each other, but I can't for the life of me see why they ought to be limited to people of the same sex who have sex, nor for the life of me why they have to be held up as equivalent to the basic melding of the sexes across generations. If you want the government to focus on "basics," in other words, we need social institutions that secure everything else.

As for the second point, characterizing marriage as a hugely private matter flatly ignores the significance and purpose of the category. It is a public institution; it is a public declaration of intent and a public recognition of responsibility for each other and for the children that married couples typically produce. Indeed, the public approval that marriage allocates is precisely the reason that gay rights advocates have switched from dismissing marriage to coveting it over the past fifteen years.

The need to protect the marriage culture similarly negates Baldino's subsequent paragraph:

Republicans tend to emphasize family values. In my view, supporting family values should involve encouraging marriage. Many couples have children from previous relationships, and may be living together. They are couples in every sense of the word, yet they lack legal protections afforded to heterosexual couples. If these couples are living as families, they should be treated as any other family, with all the legal protections that entails.

This view evades the fact that mothers and fathers are uniquely valuable to children. Same-sex pairings are not "couples" in the sense that they can provide children with both. For the purposes of forming a family, however, they are "couples" in the sense that any pair could be, whether sexually involved or not, whether related in some other way or not. It doesn't take sexual intimacy for people to remain mutually supportive "for years," to purchase property together, or to work together to raise families. Baldino's right that the government shouldn't tell citizens in any such arrangements "who they can marry," but it has to admit that the limitless variety of human relationships cannot all be defined under the umbrella of marriage.

Throw in the damage being done in the judicial and procedural implementation of SSM and the likelihood that an SSM victory will lead to legal presumptions against the practice of many mainstream religions, and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify either acquiescence or the redefinition of conservatism to support this most radical of causes.

October 19, 2008

Changes in Responsibility and Import

Justin Katz

In his two-part (one, two) revisitation of Humanae Vitae, Fr. John Kiley misses the mark in one instance. From part two:

[Contraception] destroys unitive intimacy by dividing the couple: the condom places all responsibility on the husband; the pill or diaphragm places all responsibility on the wife. By passing responsibility to one or the other, artificial birth control is blatant sexism, dividing a couple instead of drawing them together in mutual restraint.

As I suggested some years ago, when I traced the psychological progression from contraception to cloning, contraception actually places the responsibility on the birth control method itself. One or the other of the parents is responsible only when he or she fails to use the contraception (in which case there may be practical reasons to mitigate responsibility yet by blaming the nature of the contraception, as with the inconvenience and sensation-dulling qualities of condoms).

October 18, 2008

The Judiciary as Impediment to Compromise

Justin Katz

A recent editorial from National Review highlights one of the procedural detriments that has been advanced in conjunction with the cause of a progressive marriage regime:

... Connecticut, at least, decided the matter democratically. Those people who objected could try to persuade their fellow citizens to repeal the law.

Now Connecticut's supreme court has decided that marriage in all but name is not good enough, and imposed same-sex marriage on the state. Like other courts, the Connecticut court treated the legislature's attempt to meet gay activists halfway as a reason to throw out the compromise and hand the activists a victory. If the legislature was willing to recognize same-sex unions as though they were marriages, the court reasoned, why not call them marriages too? Opponents of same-sex "marriage" should be warned: Thanks to the courts, compromise is now folly.

As a strategy, "by any means necessary" embeds a belief in the justificatory power of the ends. Me, I worry that the result will be to end more crucial beliefs and practices than our society can afford to lose.

October 12, 2008

Ruling the Culture from the Bench

Justin Katz

Same-sex marriage advocates can make erroneous emotional appeals to Americans' sense of equality, but the pattern that Connecticut's Supreme Court further solidified will have broad and oppressive consequences:

Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities.

"Like these once prevalent views, our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection," Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote for the majority in a 4-to-3 decision that explored the nature of homosexual identity, the history of societal views toward homosexuality and the limits of gay political power compared with that of blacks and women.

The small minority imposed philosophy, rather than interpreted law: from the deliberate elision of factual differences between male-female relationships and same-sex relationships to the self-aggrandizing attempt to be a history maker to the presumption of writing "contemporary appreciations" into law.

At a time when our culture should be fortifying its cultural building blocks, the segment of society that assumes its own moral and intellectual superiority not only over the rest of us, but over all of Western tradition, is instead intent on recreating the world in its own image.

June 27, 2008

Re: A Reality Denied

Monique Chartier

For this post, I was tempted to create another A.R. category - "Children" - because their best interest should be the focus of this issue.

A couple of commenters to Justin's post have expressed scepticism as to Trayce Hansen's thesis - that it is better for a child to be raised by a mother and a father. Commenter Jeff Gale stated that this conclusion is only Dr. Hansen's opinion. Actually, it is an opinion based on extensive studies.

I'm going to take the importance of a mother as read and center on the father.

An article in the February issue of Acta Paediatrica analyzed twenty four papers published over a twenty year period. From the Science Daily review of that article:

Active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behaviour problems in boys and psychological problems in young women, according to a review published in the February issue of Acta Paediatrica.

Swedish researchers also found that regular positive contact reduces criminal behaviour among children in low-income families and enhances cognitive skills like intelligence, reasoning and language development.

Children who lived with both a mother and father figure also had less behavioural problems than those who just lived with their mother.

Let's be clear. We are not talking about a mother or a father who finds him or herself in an unexpected difficult situation and makes the best of it. We are also not talking about a responsible, loving individual or a responsible, loving couple, gay or straight, who adopt an older child. This is obviously preferable to indefinitely bouncing the child from foster home to foster home.

The problem is the deliberate creation of a circumstance under which a child is raised without a mother or a father. The largest group of children in this category is not those with gay parents but those with mothers who got pregnant without arranging for or seriously expecting the father to be a day to day presence in the child's life. That such a circumstance - the planned omission of a mother or a father, for whatever reason - should be avoided for the sake of the child is more than just an opinion.

A Reality Denied

Justin Katz

Trayce Hansen explains plainly and accurately why children need one parent of each sex:

All else being equal, children do best when raised by a married mother and father. It's within this environment that children are most likely to be exposed to the emotional and psychological experiences they need in order to thrive.

Men and women bring diversity to parenting; each makes unique contributions to the rearing of children that can't be replicated by the other. Mothers and fathers simply are not interchangeable. Two women can both be good mothers, but neither can be a good father.

So here are five reasons why it’s in the best interest of children to be raised by both a mother and a father.

Underneath it all, to insist that there is no justification for setting apart the particular familial relationship between a man and a woman heretofore known as marriage is to insist that there is no significant difference between the sexes. That just isn't the case.

I'd overlay onto Hansen's points, by the way, that marriage between biological parents also brings benefits of a sociological and psychological sort related to one's connection to ancestry (not to mention the health benefits of lineal knowledge).

June 19, 2008

Section C Marriages

Justin Katz

Evidently, my Anchor Rising shirt with the target on the back ended up in Marc's laundry, yesterday. Perhaps if I make a similar point to his, but stepping outside the boundaries while the garment is in the wash, we'll manage a fruitful discussion.

Although it is without doubt the hope of many who support same-sex marriage that the homosexual community will absorb the traditional ethos of marriage (fidelity, longevity, domestication, and so on), mixed in with the culture's romantic implications for the institution, the manner in which the change arrives is deeply subversive. I'm not talking about the process of legislating via the judiciary as much as the way in which things are phrased, specifically California's new marriage certificates reading "Party A and Party B." Why not just label each blank "husband/wife"?

The reason is that, for many on the leading edge of the movement, the traditional mores of marriage are as key to the change as the removal of the opposite-sex requirement. It isn't sufficient, for them, that a man could marry a man; they require the notion of husbands to be erased.

So I wonder: If the law is such that corporations can become legal entities, for the purposes of organization, liability, taxes, and so on, why couldn't a business owner "marry" his business, if the legal arrangement is a closer fit with his desires?

To be sure, the culture will disallow such subsequent innovations, after same-sex marriage, for a while, based mainly on the very traditional expectations that will have been erased, but plain logic and legal opportunity create their own logic and motivation.

June 18, 2008

It's Time to Legalize Same-Self Marriage

Marc Comtois

After reading Justin's post, it hit me: why couldn't I marry myself? So, I am here to ask that you join me in advocating for Same-Self marriage (SsM). It's too late for me, but I'm going to fight for those of you who love yourselves more than anyone else and want to spend the rest of your lives with yourselves while enjoying all of the rights--legal, cultural and traditional--that those in two-people marriages (TPMs) enjoy.

I remember the days I spent alone. Forcing myself to meet people who might like me. Enduring dates. It was a life full of constant emotional and psychological trauma. Would anyone ever like me as much as I liked myself? Luckily, I found someone who did. But I know there are people out there who aren't wired that way. You do to. People who are still living the single life and have come to realize that they prefer it that way. The 45 year old I.T. guy; the 54 year old librarian; and, of course, the priest and nun. They all must endure the snickers and stares: why aren't they with anyone. What's wrong with them. It's time to end the stigmatization of the single life in our culture.

And single people are being discriminated against by our own government. We have tax polices that benefit married couples. But isn't the single life the ultimate expression of Liberty as defined by our Constitution? The Equal Protection Clause? Where is it written that it takes two people to be married? Surely you aren't going to argue that all of the law books say so, are you? C'mon, those were written a long time ago when people weren't open-minded enough to understand how modern society would evolve. Hey, if we can move from "man and wife" to "two parties", what's the diff if we just make marriage a solo project?

Don't give me any arguments about how this would affect the rearing of children. It's obvious that there are no practical or legal reasons why a kid needs a parent of each gender. If two dads or two moms are fine, then how can we say that one really cool, supermom or -dad can't do the job? Our society has reached a point where we have a lot of single parents anyway. If the government wants to continue to incentivize marriage, then it needs to do so without discriminating against a whole class of people. Allowing singles to marry themselves will enable them to take advantage of all of the same benefits that those in TPMs enjoy.

I don't think this proposal is that revolutionary. As I said, it comports with the self-reliance and liberties that have characterized our great nation since it's founding. It's time we align our society and government with the clear intent of the Founders, had they lived today. So let's stop the hypocrisy and legalize Same-Self marriage. It's the only fair thing to do.

Differing from Go

Justin Katz

Maggie Gallagher gives the impression of one exasperated with the same-sex marriage debate:

What about polygamy? Is that the natural next step? When people ask me this, my stock answer has become, "I don't know, go ask the guys in the Harvard Law School faculty lounge." Because if the California decision stands, there simply is no longer any case to be made we have begun to win the war for judicial restraint. If a court can rule that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right (i.e., one deeply rooted in our nation's traditions) then it can make up anything. Elite legal minds get to figure out what they think and break it to the rest of us once they've decided. ...

Here's the conclusion I've come to after four-plus years of active participation in the same-sex-marriage debate: Gay marriage is not primarily about marriage. It's also not about Adam and Steve and their personal practical legal needs. It is about inserting into the law the principle that "gay is the new black" — that sexual orientation should be treated exactly the same way we treat race in law and culture.

Gay-marriage advocates say it all the time: People who think marriage is the union of husband and wife are like bigots who opposed interracial marriage. Believe them. They say it because they mean it.

The architects of this strategy have targeted marriage because it stands in the way of the America they want to create: They hope to use the law to reshape the culture in exactly the same way that the law was used to reshape the culture of the old racist south.

Plenty of reason certainly exists for exasperation, considering that precedent, law, and culture can be no defense when the prior assumption being made (and rarely defended) throws all previous language and understanding out the window. Consider one local judge's treasure map toward legalized same-sex divorce in Rhode Island:

... in a December 2007 decision that drew national attention, a divided state Supreme Court ruled that Family Court lacked jurisdiction to grant the divorce. The majority said that under the 1961 law that created Family Court, the word "marriage" meant just one thing — the union of a man and a woman. ...

Yesterday, Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Hurst dismissed Chambers' claim for divorce, saying it is clear Superior Court no longer has jurisdiction to grant divorces now that they're handled in Family Court. And there is no point in posing the jurisdiction question to the Supreme Court, she said.

"If same-sex marriage was not on the legislature's mind in 1961 when it passed the Family Court Act, then same-sex marriage certainly wasn't on its mind when the Superior Court was established over half a century earlier in 1905," Hurst wrote.

But in making the ruling, Hurst raised the question of whether the statute that created Family Court is unconstitutional now that the Supreme Court has interpreted it to say that Family Court cannot grant divorces to same-sex couples.

"The question yet to be asked is whether the Family Court Act, now having been interpreted by the Supreme Court [in the Chambers and Ormiston case] impermissibly deprives spouses in a same-sex marriage to equal protection of law on account of the coincidence in their gender," Hurst said. "Assuming the legislature and the executive branch continue to ignore this problem, the question will be whether the Family Court Act is unconstitutional for the reason that it violates state constitutional principles of equal protection."

See, if we change the definition of a thing, then suddenly everything that we've built upon that thing is subject to toppling in order to enforce the new definition:

  • Assertion: Marriage has nothing to do with the spouses' being of opposite sex.
  • Problem: Law and tradition both make it manifestly clear that marriage is very much a relationship between people of opposite sex.
  • Finding: Any law that has the effect of proving, reinforcing, or putting into action that long-understood definition must therefore be unconstitutional (and therefore in danger of challenge and judicial dictat), because:
  • Assertion: Marriage has nothing to do with the spouses' being of opposite sex.

How in the world could anybody fret that same-sex marriage would have a broader effect than appears to be the case for that nice gay couple on that primetime drama?

June 6, 2008

An Interesting Definition of Pushing

Justin Katz

One must read carefully before taking or rejecting the claims of such studies vociferously, but there's a general point that can be extracted from news about a slowing down of the decrease of sexual activity among teens:

The latest figures renewed the heated debate about sex-education classes that focus on abstinence until marriage, which began receiving federal funding during the period covered by the latest survey.

"Since we've started pushing abstinence, we have seen no change in the numbers on sexual activity," said John Santelli, chairman of the Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University.

Whether or not the reporter's calls for comment are what triggered the "heated debate," it seems to me that Professor Santelli's presumes too much. To wit, by what measure are we "pushing abstinence"? A handful of programs are available, mainly through churches and social organizations (rather than, say, public schools), and all of the accounts that I've read have described programs of limited duration — a few hours over the course of a semester or so.

Santelli's claim is a bit like the protestations of a man who fears bathing that a little bit of soap spilled on his toe didn't make him clean.

June 2, 2008

Do You, Party A, Take Party B...

Justin Katz

Thus is radical change forced upon a society via underhanded activism and deliberately skewed thinking. With an assumption as to what the society considers marriage to be, a court finds as follows:

The appellate judges determined that there is no legal impediment in New York to the recognition of a same-sex marriage. The state Legislature "may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad," the ruling said. "Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York."

A court and bureaucracy in another state does its own feint-step, with the following result:

The guidelines from Janet McKee, chief of California's office of vital records, contained copies of new marriage forms that include lines for "Party A" and "Party B" instead of bride and groom. The gender-neutral nomenclature was developed in consultation with county clerks, according to the letter.

And the governor in the first state takes the opportunity to write the essential definition of marriage right out of public policy:

Paterson spokeswoman Erin Duggan said the May 14 memo is intended to guide the actions of state agencies. It states that agencies must change policies and regulations to make sure "spouse," "husband" and "wife" are clearly understood to include gay couples.

In just such a way might we as easily contrive to find that a driver's license entitles one to fly a plane.

May 28, 2008

What's a Marriage Argument All About?

Justin Katz

The push for same-sex marriage must surely rank highly in recent history among movements that have doggedly ignored the opposition's core objection, and last Thursday's Providence Journal opinion pages encapsulate that myopia nicely. First, an editorial:

... Gays who wed [in California] will help accustom others to this quiet revolution — chiefly by demonstrating that they can be as drained, dulled and divided over housekeeping duties and expenses as anyone else.

Perhaps just as importantly, polls reveal younger Americans as far more accepting than their elders of homosexual relationships. This suggests that, in another generation, much of the fuss will simply wither.

No one would say that marriage is easy. But it affords stability, support and the deep satisfactions that come with commitment. It is also a fine foundation for nurturing families. That people have been denied the privileges of marriage because of their sexual orientation is both sad and unjust.

If only the most astonishing blind spot of these sentences were the assertion that this hugely controversialist, desperately in-your-face movement could conceivably be called a "quiet revolution." Of course, the phrase fits the fantasy that same-sex marriage supporters like to foster for themselves: that the advocates for this radical change are forwarding their goals mainly via righteous living, while the reactionary army shrieks and throws every conceivable social and governmental weapon at the growing inevitability.

No, what stuns is the nonchalance with which the editorial writer tags the essential historical and cultural component of marriage on as an addendum: "It is also a fine foundation for nurturing families." You know, not the ideal. Not even a highly advisable family structure. Just a "fine" setting.

At least Froma Harrop, writing on the opposite page, allows that "a stable marriage is the ideal institution for raising children." Unfortunately, she makes that point as a concession on her way toward the dismissive assertion that "we already have tax benefits focused on parents" — as if the tax code matches the culture in power to persuade. As if a few extra dollars come April balances a general sense — so affirmed as to be a matter of culture and law — that marriage is about families and children and constitutes such a unique and valuable institution that it is raised up at least beyond the level of buying a sawzall as an investment toward a career in carpentry.

Instead, Harrop uses the civil rights claims in Britain's sister-partner suit to eviscerate marriage into related taxable categories:

... they brought their case before the European Court of Human Rights. There they demanded the same tax benefits now afforded married gay as well as hetero couples in Europe. The court turned them down, arguing that their relationship was of a different nature than that of married people. Now what could that different nature be other than the presumption of sexual contact? By the way, do the English taxing authorities know whether a married couple is having sex?

Back in this country, 7 percent of respondents to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they had gotten married to obtain health insurance through their spouse’s plan. "Medically covered" should become a category on the dating sites.

It's easy to understand why gay people would want to get in on the marriage gravy train. There's just no logic for there being one. A stable marriage is the ideal institution for raising children, but we already have tax benefits focused on parents. Given the growing percentage of unmarried adult Americans, the whole obsession with same-sex marriage has become rather dated.

In her hoity ennui, Harrop has dubbed the radical movement as dated, providing evidence and instance, in the process, of an argument that I've been making for years on the marriage issue: If marriage is not about the one thing that only one man and one woman can do in combination, then there's really no grounds for allotting government benediction on the basis of intimacy.

So, Froma goes on to illustrate for all who wonder how same-sex marriage could affect the broader institution the mechanism by which the intrinsic logic of the movement proceeds to do just that. Let people define their romantic relationships as their preference and religion may suggest, but as for a consensus understanding of the institution of marriage, well, hey, there are tax breaks for parents, and there are prisons and (someday again, perhaps) workhouses for those children who might otherwise have benefited from a culture that allowed marriage to do what millennia had — until recently — honed it to do in Western society.

I know, I know, my notions of marriage are "dated." And one can have little doubt that, should the Harrops of the West ever have a fleeting pang of awareness of the damage that their casual revolution will have wrought, they'll persuade themselves that guilt and culpability are equally passé.

May 15, 2008

A Marriage of Culture and Disenfranchisement

Justin Katz

Apparently, it's time to dust off the Federal Marriage Amendment; the California Supreme Court has redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. For those who may have forgotten, the most prominent version of the FMA read as follows:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

As I argued at the time, the effect of this language would be to prevent the expansion of the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and, while enabling state legislatures to grant rights to same-sex couples (a moral, even necessary, capability in some respects), to require that all civil union–type laws to explicitly grant rights to any new unions without the shorthand of referring to marriage.

That arrangement is as it should be for a changing culture because:

  1. It leaves culturally central definitions such as that of marriage to the people
  2. It allows states to acknowledge and accommodate changing life arrangements and adapting social practices, while forcing them to consider what has changed and what that change requires.
  3. If the changes effected by number 2 become sufficiently thorough — and thoroughly accepted — the amendment can be stricken to erase the legal distinction to mirror the by-then erased cultural distinction.

This process is the appropriate one because it enables our society to bring about change in such a way as to preserve that which is good and necessary in marriage, while experimenting with the expansion of its principles to other groups. Of equal importance, it arrests divisive government trends that have made all cultural battles national in scale and hinged them on the largely unelected judicial oligarchy.

Of course, the more likely course of events is for people who think they're marching on "the right side of history" to push their preferred change by any means possible, consequences be damned (or consequences be dismissed and wished away), while other people seek to avoid making ideologically defining decisions that often put them at odds with their own emotional inclinations, as well as the emotional inclinations of those whom they love and respect, thus forcing the opposing side into ever-more-defensive maneuvers, thus ensuring further cultural division and an escalation of civic hostilities.

May 9, 2008

All I Needed to Know About the Latest Ploy for Same-Sex Marriage, I Learned by Listening to Gordon Fox

Justin Katz

Only in the deliberately abstruse logogriph of same-sex marriage advocacy could such a statement be made:

"Divorce can be a more fundamental principle than marriage because it has to do with the due process that's the bedrock of American jurisprudence," Fox said before the hearing. Prohibiting it effectively denies "a fundamental principle of democracy."

Ah, the intellectual contortions that follow a denial of the obvious, which, in this case, means a denial that one cannot be granted a divorce from a marriage that is not marriage. With the smoke and mirrors of "due process" claims, Representative Fox wishes to obscure the reality that a couple must be married in order to end their marriage.

Of course, the goal, here, is redefining marriage, not ensuring procedural democracy... or making sense.

May 3, 2008

Capricious Iniquity!

Justin Katz

I expect it won't be long until courts begin to realize that this capricious obstinacy has no basis in rational adjudication:

Two elderly sisters who live together have lost their final appeal in a discrimination case that claimed they were victims of discrimination under Britain's civil partner law.

Joyce Burden, 90, and her 82-year-old sister Sybil (pictured) claimed that the partner law should have included any two people living in an interdependent relationship.

By not being included in the law they claim they could lose the their family home if either of them dies because the other could not afford to keep the home and pay Britain's death duty tax.

The women fought their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. ...

The civil partnership law was passed in 2004. It grants same-sex couple of all of the rights and obligations of marriage except the name.

When the case began in 2006, Joyce Burden said that "If we were lesbians we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters, and it seems we have no rights at all."

In UK law there is a 40 percent inheritance tax an exemption for the first $500,000. Married couples, and couples in civil partnerships, are exempt from the tax.

The sisters’ house cost about $14,000 to build in 1965 but was recently valued last at about $1.6 million. That would mean the surviving sister would be required to pay nearly $600,000 in death tax.

Great Britain should ditch the oppressive death tax, and if it wants to maintain a law that grants partner benefits to people who cannot, by the nature of their relationship, conceive children, then it should do so fairly.

April 23, 2008

The Cost of Divorce

Justin Katz

A recent study (PDF) produced by a group of family-values organizations, led by the Institute for American Values attempts to quantify the public monetary costs of divorce (emphasis in original):

Based on the methodology, we estimate that family fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year, or more than $1 trillion each decade. ...

These costs arise from increased taxpayer expenditures for antipoverty, criminal justice, and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty.

Arguments could and should be had over the methodology, but inasmuch as I'd intuitively accept the general proposition that divorce comes with a public price tag, that's not what concerns me. Rather, it's the policy implications section that catches my eye (emphasis in original):

First, public concern about the decline of marriage need not be based only on the important negative consequences for child well-being or on moral concerns, as important as these concerns may be. High rates of family fragmentation impose extraordinary costs on taxpayers. Reducing these costs is a legitimate concern of government, policymakers, and legislators, as well as civic leaders and faith communities.

Second, even very small increases in stable marriage rates would result in very large returns to taxpayers. For example, a mere 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.12 billion annually.

Given the modest cost of government and civic marriage-strengthening programs, even more modest success rates in strengthening marriages would be cost-effective.

This is one of those areas in which I think the cultural right has been corrupted by the modern impulse toward big government. If we wish to help families, we should remove some of the stress imposed by high taxes and pervasive regulations. If we wish to encourage marriage, rather than filter money through layered bureaucracies in targeted efforts within the compromise boundaries of public expenditures and support, we should clear the way for those who would teach marriage, so to speak, as a matter of moral imperative.

It isn't too outlandish of a quip to suggest that those who wish to strengthen the culture of marriage ought to focus on such measures as changing the education system to allow parents to choose whatever schools they like for their children — whether religiously based, or not (provided the schools meet a standard of academic rigor). After protecting the definition of marriage, traditionalists should content themselves with dismantling walls against religion and free speech that have sprouted like weeds in the law.

In the long run, expanding the nanny state will do more damage than good.

April 7, 2008

Not Seeing the Cultural Forest for the Sexual Trees

Justin Katz

Doesn't it often seem that modern society proceeds according the following order of operations?

  1. On emotional grounds, declare a change obviously beneficial and of minimal cost, with objections dismissed as outdated or inherently bigoted.
  2. Implement change.
  3. Ignore evidence that the naysayers were correct.
  4. Let things proceed to crisis level.
  5. Restate the original objections under the protection of groundbreaking studies and disguised as much as possible as compatible notions to the original emotional impulse.

Perhaps I've overstated, but such is my general response to this sort of discovery:

An analysis of national data conducted by Child Trends, a research center that focuses on children and youth, found that sexually active teens who identify their relationships with a partner as romantic and who go out socially with that person are more likely to use contraceptives than similar teens in more-casual relationships. ...

In light of this study, Manlove said, it's not enough for parents to focus simply on whether their kids are having sex. They should engage their kids in conversations about what healthy relationships look like, pay attention to the power dynamics of any relationship and stress the importance of contraception.

Not to point out the obvious, but one way in which parents can illustrate, for their children, "what healthy relationships look like" is to raise them within the context of faithful marriages. It's sort of like being "romantic" and "going out socially" for grownups.

Of course, the Western brains aren't yet ready to let go of other ideological blankies from which the "studies" ought to encourage weening. Withholding and being selective when it comes to sex, for example, will give young ladies an edge in "power dynamics." Some adults may wish to give girls that sophisticated view of interpersonal politics whereby sex is perfectly fine, even advisable, when the scepter is betwixt feminine fingers, but recent decades haven't really proven sophistication to be a match for instinct and the reality of biological responsibility.

A second example comes between the lines of the carefully phrased instruction to "stress the importance of contraception." The moderns have learned, you see, that the advice to "use contraception" is a bit too revealing about the likely implications of the mandate. It's as if they think parents' panegyrics to contraception require merely a new choice of words to avoid exacerbating the fruits of decades of safe-sex training:

Use of contraception, in fact, is not as regular as health officials might hope. Four out of 10 sexually active students reported not using contraceptives at all or using them only infrequently. Students who reported having multiple partners were particularly likely not to use protection. ...

... For example, a teen's contraceptive use may change from partner to partner. Using birth control consistently in one relationship doesn't necessarily mean that a young person will do the same with another partner.

The new, improved (and still in-denial) message to children: It is very important that you use contraception even when the sex is casual.

March 24, 2008

Extremism in the Service of Vice Is No Virtue

Justin Katz

Is our society so corrupt that we must remake the argument against prostitution? The seediness, peril, and potential for corruption ought to be clear enough, but they are ultimately reasons for taxation and regulation. Have we been so seduced by an anything-your-heart-desires notion of freedom that we must hesitate over a state-level ban?

Lovers of freedom will certainly find an attractive simplicity in George Carlin's old reasoning that sex is legal, selling's legal, so selling sex should be legal. A step beyond simplicity, however, it becomes apparent that one could just as reasonably suggest that sex is legal, being in public is legal, so having sex in public should be legal, and few of those who would tolerate prostitution (I hope) would accept the requirement that we allow pornographic street theater. No, just as being in public changes the nature of the sexual act, so too does its being for sale.

At the same time, the potential states of a particular thing or act affect its essential meaning. Either we allow it to be in the nature of sex to be salable, or we treat its sale as unnatural. Our choice between the two makes a difference in the import of our decisions about whether and when to give it voluntarily.

Such cultural reasoning isn't generally carried out on an individual basis. The teenage girl contemplating her first sexual encounter won't look to the legal and social treatment of prostitution to gauge the significance of that to which she's being pressured. She might, however, give her submission a deeper level of thought — perhaps even lingering over her intentions and hopes for the future — if her choice is made within a culture that holds sex as too intimate to be commodified. Too sacred to be permitted the attenuating pull of market forces.

(Did I just say "sacred"? Well, yes. Part of our broader illness is our confusion about whether it is appropriate for our pluralistic society to treat certain things as sacred. It is entirely appropriate, as long as we don't hand definitional authority to the priestly caste of a particular religion.)

In the course of her consideration, the young lady would find the purpose of sex to be an unavoidable factor. In largest part, sex affects her future via its essentially procreative nature, with the related impact on that biological and emotional tangle between partners. The thread runs deep:

Economists believe humans act rationally (a somewhat irrational belief, if you ask me), so some conclude that all this out-of-wedlock childbearing is a logical response to market forces, not the result of something as amorphous as "culture." Since many working-class men do not offer the financial stability they used to provide, women see little incentive to marry them. As Obama said, "[M]any black men simply cannot afford to raise a family." (The out-of-wedlock birthrate among black Americans is close to 70 percent.) I'm trying to follow the logic here. I can understand that a woman looking to get married may decide that a man is such a poor economic prospect that he's not husband material (even if a husband with a low income is better than no husband and no income). But how then is that same man, or a string of them, worthy of fathering her children?

And if not worthy of fathering her children, how then worthy of a degree of intimacy once reserved for husbands? The evil of objectification rears its head in multiple corners: loose sex inherently presumes that the other person is merely for pleasure, which is what exempts him or her from being judged by the scale of a lifelong partner, and accepting your own sexual favor as something that can be doled lightly brings into view a price for allowing others to objectify you.

At this point, some minds will be entertaining clichés: that ship has sailed; the horse has left the barn. Sex is what it is, in our society, so why not err on the side of freedom? Let the men be honest about their desires and the women turn a profit. The tacit presumption, though, is that matter won't end badly.

Ships can be turned around over time; horses can be found; and if the legality-by-omission of prostitution in Rhode Island isn't sufficiently shocking to begin the return, then we'll have to hope that a chance remains to do so when the shock comes via discovery of Rhode Island's daughters' means of putting themselves through college.

March 15, 2008

Religious Freedom in a Cave, Under a Blanket, with a Flashlight

Justin Katz

Jon Pincince responds to my most recent post on same-sex marriage essentially by making the counter-assertion:

First, of course society should "allow dissenting opinions about the significance of homosexual relationships," but those opinions should not be written into our laws to deny equal civil rights to those who enter into what some may consider less "significant" relationships.

Second, we must begin with equal civil rights. If there are consequences that flow from that position, then our society's people, organizations and institutions will have to make adjustments to deal with those consequences. For instance, if the Catholic Church is "torn from the adoption business" because it refuses not to discriminate against lawfully married same-sex couples, then other institutions and organizations would have to step in to fill that void, and they would. This would not impinge on the Church's, or any individual Catholic's, religious freedom. They would remain free to believe what they believe and practice as they wish. They would not be free, however, to use religion as an excuse to be exempted from adhering to laws that grant equal civil rights to all members of our society.

His argument has the pleasant consequence (for the pro-SSM side) of avoiding all of the procedural difficulties inherent to life in a free, democratic society in which people disagree about fundamental principles. Civil rights come first, and your bigotry is not a right. We win. You lose. The End. Knock the gavel.

But by what contorted vision of religious freedom — that is, religious citizens' civil rights — can it not be a prohibition of "the free exercise" of religion to bar a Christian organization from offering charitable services in accordance with its members' beliefs?

In keeping with that wispy dismissal of a weighty question, Pincince goes on to treat consequences lightly, indeed. In the delicate balance required of our form of society and government, Pincince insists that his definition of civil rights must come first, with a promise of answered obligation: "other institutions and organizations would have to step in to fill that void, and they would." Would they? Apparently, the Catholic Church's involvement answered some kind of a shortage. More likely than not, the other institution or organization that must step in would prove to be of a taxpayer-funded sort.

From the Catholic's perspective, the mandate of this particular brand of civil rights has harmed those unfortunate children anted as investment in a flawed concept of family — deprived by design of the closest representation of mother and father available to them. Now from the society's perspective, the entire citizenry (with emphasis on the working and middle classes) will be further burdened with the weight of expanding government as a drain on their resources and a meddler in their lives and with the consequences of having brushed away the wise tradition of mother, father, marriage, child, family.

And for what? So that a group of people — better educated and wealthier than the average — can answer the ever expanding requirements of their refusal to acknowledge that, whatever the moral implications, their affections are out of keeping with an historical norm that has value as such. Worse yet: so that a broader segment of society can absorb a ready-made balm of being "on the right side of history," with no direct cost to themselves and many moral and personal palliatives.

Under the preferred regime of Mr. Pincince, Esq., citizens would not be free "to use religion as an excuse to be exempted from adhering to laws that grant equal civil rights to all members of our society." What he doesn't explain is why his civil rights construct ought to be imposed upon his fellow Americans. Perhaps he understands, deep down, that it is built upon a worldview that is ultimately no more objectively founded than the religious views of those to whom he would dictate the law.

March 14, 2008

Not Just a Right

Justin Katz

As Anthony Picarello, General Counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains marriage isn't just about the rights of the individuals; it's about the individuals' relationship with society:

The moral implications of changing the definition of marriage are where the debate has been largely centered. But, the legal implications of that same change are potentially very far-reaching and are beginning to be dealt with across the country, Picarello said.

The legal term "marriage" appears "everywhere" in law, he said, which means that changing the definition of who can legally be married will change countless other laws — from tax laws to employment laws to health care laws.

"Throughout the law, your rights hinge very often on whether or not you [are married]... so, to change the legal definition of marriage in turn is not to change one law but to change many, many at once. These laws, in turn, regulate religious institutions," he said.

For example, the Church employs many teachers whose rights are guaranteed by Rhode Island's employment laws. If one of those teachers were to travel to Massachusetts to marry a same-sex partner, the diocese would immediately be put into the difficult situation of retaining a teacher whose personal moral views were clearly at odds with the Church's and the school's moral codes. Or, the diocese could fire the teacher and likely face a wrongful termination suit.

Picarello provided many more hypothetical examples of the ways that allowing same sex marriage in Rhode Island could affect the way the Church is run. He also detailed the experience that Catholic Charities of Boston has had since Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage in 2004.

It's fair to say that most folks who've an emotional urge to be on the side of those proclaiming the expansion of civil rights will be susceptible to advocates' promises that nobody else will be affected by same-sex marriage. The advocates, themselves, however, are after precisely this forced equality, this forced negation of others' religious freedoms.

The question can be posed thus: Is it better for the Catholic Church to be torn from the adoption business, or for society to allow dissenting opinions about the significance of homosexual relationships?

March 1, 2008

Attacking the Church in the Name of Freedom

Justin Katz

Wielding their new cost-free weapon, radicals continue to attack Christians in Canada:

Catholic Insight, a Canadian magazine known for its fidelity to Church teachings, has been targeted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for publishing articles deemed offensive to homosexuals.

The commission has been investigating the Toronto-based publication since homosexual activist Rob Wells, a member of the Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Pride Center of Edmonton, filed a nine-point complaint last February with the government agency in which he accuses the magazine of promoting "extreme hatred and contempt" against homosexuals.

Apparently, there are no repercussions for filing frivolous complaints, and the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove his innocence. Welcome to the world of modern tolerance — intolerant of speech and increasingly anti-democratic:

The commission is investigating a similar case against the Christian Heritage Party, a political party co-founded by pro-life Catholics and Protestants. The complaint against the party was also initiated by Rob Wells.

February 15, 2008

Slipping into Marriage

Justin Katz

It's only because I know the dispersal of accountability to be a specialty of Rhode Island politicians that I'm suspicious, but a couple of items related to marriage have caught my attention this week. First is news of legislation to be proposed by House Minority Leader Gordon Fox (D, Providence) making same-sex divorce a reality in Rhode Island:

Following December’s 3-to-2 state Supreme Court decision to ban same-sex divorce in Rhode Island, advocates say it is time to take the issue to the General Assembly.

House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox will sponsor the bill to be submitted in the coming days.

"I think the divorce [legislation] is a high priority and I’m going to be working with the people from [Marriage Equality RI] and the ACLU. That's something that should be corrected," Fox said yesterday. "Obviously there was a Supreme Court decision that I agree with the dissent, but even the majority opinion talked about how it's a legislative purview, so I think it's something we should have before the legislature to discuss this year."

Providence Journal writer Cynthia Needham's advocacy-cum-reportage clearly frames the divorce bill as part of the movement for same-sex marriage, which makes me wonder about the following part of the house rules bill (PDF) that Dan Yorke has made infamous for a more egregious matter (underlines and strike-throughs denote proposed additions and deletions):

There shall be a consent calendar on which shall be entered such bills and resolutions as the Speaker, the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader or their designees shall agree upon, and shall be proposed to the House by the Majority Leader or the designee of the Majority Leader on each Thursday during the session in the form of a motion to move the consent calendar. The consent calendar shall contain bills for the restoration of corporate charters and bills for the solemnization of marriage (which shall be assigned to the consent calendar immediately upon introduction), and other bills and resolutions which are of a routine or non-controversial nature, whether originating in the House or the Senate, and in no event shall the consent calendar be considered as a substitute for the regular calendar. Matters of substance shall be placed on the regular calendar and be fully debated and considered by the membership according to these rules. No bill or resolution shall be included on the consent calendar on the date the consent calendar is moved unless copies of the consent calendar in the same form as shall be moved form as it is intended to move the same have been made available to the membership no later than two (2) legislative days prior to the day on which the consent calendar shall be proposed to be moved. All bills and resolutions included on the consent calendar shall be made available in printed form and/or electronically to the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader, the State House library and the Clerk of the House at the same time that copies of the consent calendar are made available under this rule. At the request of a member any bill or resolution shall be removed from those included in the motion. All bills and resolutions designated for action on the consent calendar shall be passed on motion without discussion unless, prior to adjournment on the Wednesday preceding such Thursday a member shall have requested at any time prior to the motion for passage, a member requests removal of a bill or resolution from the consent calendar, in which case such bill or resolution shall be so removed and placed on the regular calendar. Any bill or resolution so removed shall be considered as having appeared on the regular calendar for a period of time equivalent to that during which it appeared on the consent calendar.

Unless I'm misconstruing the process, legislators will be able to solemnize (which means "grant," I believe) marriages on the undebated all-or-nothing consent calendar provided they put forward the proposal before the end of the day Tuesday. The calendar is meant to be for uncontroversial items, but the decisive factor appears to be whether anybody objects, thus moving the item to the regular calendar. In that regard, the new rules cut the window for objections to the end of the session on Wednesday. Come Thursday, the whole calendar must be passed (without discussion) or struck down.

Could it be that the Democrats in the General Assembly are hoping to create an avenue for same-sex marriage without ever having to admit to their constituencies that they have done so?

December 18, 2007

Getting Them Young

Justin Katz

It's taken a while for me to get to it, but it's still worth noting a surprisingly high-profile, front-page, Sunday Journal article by Jennifer Jordan:

About 40 girls under the age of 15 become pregnant each year in Rhode Island.

The number of girls ages 10 to 14 who become pregnant is substantially lower than for older teens. But it underscores the need for better sex education in middle school and at home, say health and education officials.

"This is a public health issue," said Miriam C. Inocencio, president of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island. "We should not be seeing kids this age getting pregnant, many of whom don't have enough information and don't know any better."

Dr. Patricia Flanagan, who heads the Rhode Island Teen Pregnancy Coalition, says that while most youth are not sexually active in middle school, adults should ask themselves if they are doing enough to talk to young teenagers and make sure they understand the consequences of being sexually active.

Throughout the rather long unpaid advertisement news report, there is not a single indication that any trend or shift suggests that increased sex ed for kids is warranted, let alone necessary. Indeed, according to the Planned Parenthood–friendly Guttmacher Institute, in 2000, that 40 girls was 60 (PDF). In other words, the rate is, if anything, dropping. And it fell without programs. Without workshopper "skills." It fell without training, condoms, or pills. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

A cynical reader might muse — as an appropriately skeptical reporter might pursue — that the teen pregnancy, family planning, safe sex, abortion industry has a financial incentive to expand its base, even if it's not socially necessary. Even if it's not culturally advisable. Get them realizing that they need your products and services young — that's the game, and parents shouldn't be comforted by the industry's assertions that the kids won't be spurred to wonder what it needs them for.

December 7, 2007

RI Supreme Court: Gay Couple CANNOT Divorce in Rhode Island

Marc Comtois


The state Supreme Court has ruled that a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts may not divorce in Rhode Island.

The court was split, 3-2, on the decision.

In the case, the court was asked by the Rhode Island Family Court whether Margaret R. Chambers and Cassandra B. Ormiston, two women who were married in Massachusetts, could divorce in Rhode Island.


In the majority opinion, authored by Justice William P. Robinson III, the court said that “well-established principles of statutory construction would lead us ineluctably to conclude that the General Assembly has not granted the Family Court the power to grant a divorce in the situation described in the certified question.”

According to a press release, the court wrote, “The role of the judicial branch is not to make policy, but simply to determine the legislative intent as expressed in the statutes enacted by the General Assembly. In our judgment, when the General Assembly accorded the Family Court the power to grant divorces from ‘the bond of marriage,’ it had in mind only marriages between people of different sexes.”

Later in the 30-page opinion, the court wrote, “We are cognizant of the fact that this observation may be cold comfort to the parties before us. But, if there is to be a remedy to this predicament, fashioning such a remedy would fall within the province of the General Assembly.”

The majority consisted of Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, Justice Francis X. Flaherty and Justice Robinson.

Justice Paul A. Suttell and Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg dissented.

In a dissenting opinion, according to the press release, Suttell wrote that the certified question was extremely narrow in scope, and that it sought recognition of a same-sex marriage for the limited purpose of divorce and no other purpose. Suttell wrote that the question did not address the eligibility of same-sex couples to marry under Rhode Island law. The couple were lawfully married in Massachusetts, and had satisfied the applicable domicile and residence requirements for divorce in Rhode Island.

“The subject matter jurisdiction of the Family Court does not turn on the gender of the parties; rather it turns on their status as a married couple,” Justice Suttell wrote.

“We are in complete agreement with the majority on one critical point, however. The legal recognition that ought to be afforded same-sex marriages for any particular purpose is fundamentally a question of public policy, more appropriately determined by the General Assembly after full and robust public debate.”

Full opinion here.

Continue reading "RI Supreme Court: Gay Couple CANNOT Divorce in Rhode Island"

November 28, 2007

Arguing from Opposite Sides of the Dollar

Justin Katz

As an early-grave-working father of three children, whom my wife and I deliberately brought into the world at a relatively young age ourselves (by modern standards), with nowhere near the income nor savings that an accountant might require to balance out the cost of progeny, I find myself strangely split in my agreement with both parties of the following exchange from the Dan Yorke show:

URI Feinstein hunger center director Kathleen Gorman: How is a woman going to go to work making a minimum wage job or a low wage job if she doesn't have some help with child care?

Dan Yorke: Why did that woman have a child in the first place, not to be able to afford it on her own?

Gorman: You think only wealthy people should have children? That's crazy!

Yorke: Yes! Now we're getting somewhere! Only people who can afford it should do it. That's the core philosophy! Only people who can afford it should do it. We got there. Do you agree?

Gorman: Absolutely not. If all people waited until they had enough money to support their children, there would be no children in the world.

I suspect, however, that my agreement with Ms. Gorman might be superficial: The emphasis on money and affordability, it seems to me, allows a spin (or else a delusive elision) by which practitioners in the welfare industry steal more agreement than they actually deserve.

I don't believe that only "wealthy people" should have children, and I suspect that Yorke does not either. Moreover, the notion of having enough money requires clarification: Have my wife and I come up with the resources to keep our children healthy and well nourished? Obviously. Do we currently have any feasible plan for paying for the grander expenses of the future, such as college? Nope.

Life requires a bit of playing by ear. (And I'd note that Yorke and my shared Church requires us to believe that God is ultimately calling the tune.) Indeed, it would be a mistake to leave out the possibility that having children can play a crucial role in fostering responsibility in the parent — a point of principle that applies regardless of socioeconomic standing. The irreducible notes in the melody are not income and savings, but openness, intentionality, and a willingness to sacrifice.

If it's all about the money, then the Gormans of the world can create the easy illusion that single parents who persist in having children ought to be seen as in familiar circumstances to anybody who ever had to take a night job to cover the cost of braces. That's clearly how this Gorman framed her rejoinder, and I worry that a too-resounding "Yes!" from Yorke may strike populist chords that need not resonate beyond the gimme choir.

November 11, 2007

The Next Step of SSM Dialog, 3: Too Many Won't Abide Their Own Children.

Justin Katz

The third mechanism that I posit as likely to undermine marriage should the definition be changed to include same-sex couples speaks to the core justification of public recognition and government encouragement of the institution.

As I argue in terms of the first mechanism, if the state's irreducible interest in encouraging marriage is to foster mutual care, with its various benefits, then subsequent borders around the definition will not withstand assertions of individual freedom to choose the other person (or the other people). In terms of the second mechanism, I argue that one of those borders is the presumption of sexual intimacy; people with non-sexual relationships would rightly have a claim to benefits that are intended to encourage stable interdependence.

With or without sexual intimacy, if marriage is primarily about the spouses' watching over each other, then doing the hard work to keep a marriage together depends more on the man's (or woman's) desire to care for a particular woman (or man) than on a personal interest in watching over any children whom they've created. There was a time when a man who impregnated a woman was expected to marry her as a matter of course. Now, it's hardly expected that parents should compromise their own emotional impulses so that children born within their marriages can be raised within them, as well. Same-sex marriage would etch this corrosive definition of marriage unreformably into the law.

It is at least plausible to suggest that the reality of same-sex marriages would not affect current marriages between spouses intent on staying together. The obvious observation, however, is that such couples don't need public encouragement in the first place. As with any cultural institution, marriage involves a broad social transaction of investment and benefit: Healthy, advantaged couples model their relationships toward an ideal of marriage for the benefit of those who incline toward the wrong track.

Sterile couples (as actually rare as they are) and the elderly do not disturb the simple message of the investment, because it is clear, on a fundamental level, that an intimate relationship exclusively between a man and a woman is about that which a man and woman can uniquely do together: create children who are the merger of their two genetic and ancestral lines, their two selves. In ordinary dealings with married couples, one cannot tell the parents from the non-parents. Among the latter, one cannot tell the sterile from the attempting from the expectant from the regretful. It is simply known that men and women who are intimate with each other get married, and with the vast majority of marriages' involving procreation, the message is clear.

In part through the law (from no-fault divorce to on-demand abortion), modern culture has made a shameful effort to distort clarity about familial ideals and healthy social behavior. And as one might have expected, that legacy has most harmed those in most need of guidance and encouragement toward good decisions: the poor, the oppressed, and the wayward. If is justifiable to fret about polygamy's ability to create a permanent male underclass, it must be more so to worry about a permanent underclass of bastard children and their irresponsible parents.

In part because it ultimately provides cost savings from social programs serving that underclass, the government's role in the cultural transaction that is the institution of marriage is to acknowledge it and to offer some incentive to fulfill its objective. Culture is fluid, and it would be contrary to the grand idea of our nation to deny citizens the right to work to change it, but government recognition of same-sex marriage would not only open the way for its diminution by dissipation, it would provide the baseline definition by which the culture must operate and would thereby ensure that it fails to operate.

November 10, 2007

Poly Want Some Evidence?

Justin Katz

Well, whaddaya know:

Many speakers highlighted the fact that as polyamorists, they didn't see themselves as adulterers or swingers. Instead, polyamory involves several simultaneous committed physically intimate relationships. Also, unlike polygamy, made famous by HBO's "Big Love," both females and males may have multiple partners.

Polyamory NYC hosts monthly meetings at the LGBT Community Center averaging about 40 members, with more than 1,000 visiting their Yahoogroup. Members often belong to other local sexuality networks, including Body Temple, Sexy Spirits, One Taste, and various bondage groups. Religious commitments vary from Paganism to Judaism and Unitarianism.

Most members like Normal Ellis, 45, say that monogamy is not a natural state for relationships. After his divorce several years ago, he found himself in a monogamous romance headed toward a second marriage.

"I did some soul-searching and realized that I just wasn't wired that way," said Ellis. He started meeting polyamorous women online and has dated as many as four partners at a time.

Many polyamorous couples have a primary partner, whom they may be married to or live with. They may then form a triad with a third partner, or one partner may take on a second lover outside the relationship. Sometimes a triad will share a home in a "polyamorous V," or both partners will take on a boyfriend or girlfriend outside the relationship. ...

But the purpose of the pride weekend went beyond cuddling and coupling. For many, the politics of polyamory are fraught with discord. Justen Bennett-Maccubbin, the mohawked founder of Polyamorous NYC, said that there is sometimes friction between the gay and polyamorous communities.

"Polyamory is just as much an orientation as being gay," said Bennett-Maccubbin, who started his first polyamorous relationship when he fell in love with a gay couple at 19.

The thing that the SSM movement has to realize is that, when you create a template, people tend to follow it. And in this case, there's no rational basis to stop them from following it all the way to the end.

The Next Step of SSM Dialog, 2: We Won't Abide the Government in Our Bedrooms.

Justin Katz

In my experience with the same-sex marriage debate, the second corruptive mechanism that I suggest in answer to the question of how incorporating homosexual relationships would undermine marriage is often asserted to be the weakest, but it's also the least well understood (whether the fault is mine, a failure of the imagination, or a desire to avoid).

M. Steven elides entirely my explanation in order to find the suggestion "unfair," writing:

It implies that arrangements that are not intimate would increase by allowing same-sex couples to marry by adding a reason to exploit the law for the purpose of mutual care. Yet the same impetus already exists for opposite-sex arrangements. To me, this is sort of a stereotypical 'liberal' argument in that something should not be allowed due to the possibility of exploitation for self-interest. The pro-SSMer could argue that allowing it would decrease the number of corruptive non-intimate arrangements between gay and straight opposite-sex persons.

I'm not suggesting that SSM would add a reason to exploit the law — the reasons exist already — but rather an excuse. My entire argument is that same-sex marriage, as something new, would not carry with it the same instinctive reverence, nor the same cultural connotations. Like it or not, to the average heterosexual, a same-sex marriage would not be a real marriage. It could be laughed off.

Hollywood movies to the contrary aside, there would be no continuing, and extremely minimal initial, test of intimacy. (That's why I titled this point with reference to the government in the bedroom; once the image was used to create the specter of the prurient public spy seeking to ensure that nothing sexual was going on, but it could just as easily involve a prurient public spy verifying that something is.) A readily available prenup, a few words rendered meaningless by divorce law, and the benefits would be acquired. The cost to anybody secure in his or her own sexuality would not exist. Friends and family don't even have to know.

Pragmatist misses the point when he argues that "most heterosexuals marry people of the opposite sex, so the number of heterosexuals eligible to do this is small to begin with." People would not enter into legally exploitative marriages with the intention of permanence. I can easily imagine having married my friend/roommate out of high school if there'd been a gain to it; we would have joked about it with the girls whom we pursued.

But I'm not presenting the exploitation, per se, as the objectionable result. Rather, as I stressed in my extended explanation of corruptive mechanism #1, I'm offering the possible development as an outcome that would undermine the institution of marriage for all.

Heck, I'm not even presenting non-sexual marriages as exclusively exploitative. If the justification given for recognizing civil marriage at all is thinned out in order to include couples that can't, by their nature, almost inadvertently create children, then sex is incidental to the relationship. Pragmatist offers two "non-child-centric" bases for same-sex marriage:

  • It is good for society as a whole when people are paired with someone else who has the "job" of looking out for someone else.
  • It is generally a good thing that men are coupled with partners.

And a third basis for marriage:

  • "The raising of children is one of the most important functions of marriage."

The first and third bases clearly apply to non-sexual couples, including friends and family members. The second arguably applies, as well. One can deduce from Pragmatist's argument that he doesn't believe that it is women who domesticate men. Surely it isn't sex, or even monogamy. Rather, men's participation in partnerships, as Pragmatist writes, "promotes positive social relationships and instills responsibility." Having some degree of declared responsibility is what makes waifish men grow up. In a world that increasingly leads men and women to be well into their adult years before doing the family thing, it would seem to be as much — or perhaps more — in the public interest to encourage heterosexual bachelors to grow up as it is to do the same with homosexuals. (I should note, though, that I believe that it is ultimately women and the procreative link that provide the real impetus in marriage for male maturation.)

Again, the reason same-sex marriage would increase the likelihood of the institution's being treated in this way is that it inherently separates procreation from marriage, not only as a matter of the the individual relationship, but as a matter of basic principles. With marriage bound up in the nearly mystical interweaving of selves (genetically, in children), tying together lines of ancestry into the past and progeny into the future, marriages of convenience carry a natural burden of denial. With the event of SSM, that denial would be ready-made.

Marriage wouldn't be about having babies. It would be about two (or perhaps more) adults helping each other out. Or, as friends might say, getting each other's backs.

And that brings us to mechanism #3.

November 9, 2007

The Next Step of SSM Dialog, 1: Equal Rights Abide No Arbitrary Boundaries.

Justin Katz

This happens with most highly charged topics, but with the same-sex marriage debate, it seems especially common (making the debate particularly tedious after years of engaging in it): After a few steps setting the mutually understood context, the thread becomes lost in opponents' eagerness to make their total case. To review the discussion thus far:

  • Pragmatist asked why the state shouldn't encourage monogamous homosexual relationships.
  • I replied that I'm not opposed to its doing so, except if done from within the institution of marriage, because modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships would undermine the institution, diminishing its ability to encourage stable, monogamous relationships between anybody.
  • Pragmatist asked how incorporating homosexual relationships would undermine marriage.
  • I replied that three corrosive mechanisms would follow a change in the essence marriage from a relationship between a potentially procreative pair to one between intimate adults:
    1. Equal rights abide no arbitrary boundaries. Further changes to the definition of marriage would follow, notably polygamy and intra-family marriages.
    2. We won't abide the government in our bedrooms. The new twist on marriage would be prone to abuse by heterosexuals, who would treat marriage less like a romantic relationship (at least on a temporary basis), and nobody wants the government to be checking to make sure that the relationship is sexual.
    3. Too many won't abide their own children. Muddying the simple definition of marriage as the relationship into which parents ought to enter with each other will make it less effective in creating a cultural expectation that will draw those who might be inclined to shirk their responsibility into stable families.

In short, the argument on the table is that the state should not change marriage in such a way as to include same-sex relationships because doing so will undermine marriage for the three reasons listed. The two possible contrary responses are (A) to argue that equal rights (or some other consideration) make the diminishment of marriage irrelevant to the legitimization of SSM and (B) to argue that none of the three mechanisms will harm the institution significantly. The unfortunate tendency, as an alternative to these two possibilities, is to address each point as if it is intended to stand on its own; the discussion becomes impossible to pin down, because the goal is merely to push the points off the table rather than to address the total argument. It's the difference between testing the strength of a model and rolling marbles onto a pool table.

In this post, I'll endeavor to explain why no responses heretofore made in answer to my assertion of the first corrosive mechanism have any effect on my argument as I've laid it out thus far.

M. Steven, who appears ultimately to come down on my side on the marriage issue, suggests that the "ban on incestuous relationships is already an arbitrary boundary within the current definition... based on moral grounds." In other words, its degree of arbitrariness would not change with the introduction of same-sex relationships into marriage. But this is certainly not true: The arguments against incest are, first, that it does physical and psychic harm to begotten children and, second, that it corrupts other interpersonal roles and affects development. Clearly, same-sex marriage eliminates the concern about the first (which I would consider the more decisive) point, and to the extent that the second point remains, it seems to me to have less force when one pictures two brothers, say, rather than a brother and a sister.

Beyond arbitrariness, though, implicit in the SSM cause is the principle that it is unjust for citizens to impose their moral beliefs on others when it comes to something as personal and inalienable as marital rights.

For his part, Pragmatist takes a broader tack, including social, rather than moral, arguments against incest and polygamy (which M. Steven doesn't address), as well as power dynamics, but I don't think he appreciates the radical change that would be wrought by the separation of gender from marriage. His suggestion, for example, that both incest and polygamy are socially objectionable because "the power dynamics... lead to the exploitation of women, especially young women" is utterly extinguished if marriage ceases to be defined as an opposite-sex affair. Especially with the case for SSM being made on equal rights grounds, and even more so with its leading edge being in the judiciary (what with "rational basis" tests and other attempts at logical adjudication), a definition of marriage that hinges on individualistic love and mutual care offers no justification for an argument from power dynamics.

This consideration also erases Pragmatist's attempt to differentiate homosexual relationships from incest and polygamy because "homosexuals are denied the right to marry anyone they love," as opposed to someone they love (which is supposed all that will be denied of the incestuous and polygamous). I don't think it would disturb his meaning to edit thus: "homosexuals are denied the right to marry anyone they could constitutively love." But the distinction is irrelevant to the legal, or even rights-based, arguments of those who desire incestuous relationships. Is the court (or the legislature) to explain to a man that he may not marry his sister because he has other options?

A person who is truly in love, and who has already chosen a compatible mate, could with reason be termed "that-person-sexual." If, from society's point of view, marriage isn't above all about the children who may be born within the family that it creates — that is, if it is only about the adults' relationship — then the external basis for interfering in the choice disappears. Allowing the someone/anyone distinction would make it valid to argue that barring interracial marriage doesn't interfere with citizens' right to marry someone. "But I don't love any white women," the Caucasian man might say; "I love this black woman."

Polygamy reenters the discussion with the distinction between a legal relationship and a legal marriage. I wouldn't support the criminalization of homosexual relationships. Does Pragmatist support the criminalization of adult incest? Of extramarital affairs and swinging (i.e., non-marital polygamy)? Or consider this one: extra-marital relationships with mutual care and emotional connection, but not sex? One could point out that the polygamist is free to bring others into the relationship but is only allowed an official marriage with a single spouse. Likewise, on could argue that homosexuals are free to form their relationships as they choose; they are only able to enter into marriage according to its definition: with somebody of the opposite sex. (And nobody is forcing them to have civilly recognized marriages.)

The point is that there is a difference between the denial of marriage rights and the denial of relationships. Pragmatist claims never to have "heard of a genetically predisposed polygamist," but it has seemed a commonplace to me that all men are genetically predisposed thusly. That, indeed, is what makes the following a legitimate concern:

Polygamy undermines the social structure because over time, high-status males will attract multiple partners while low-status men will have no options. Society is unwilling to create a permanent underclass of unmarried males.

Again, though, Pragmatist is apparently unaware of the heterosexist underpinnings of his thought. A man who marries a woman and then marries another man is actually alleviating that underclass. On the other hand, considering that a general takeaway of the reading that I've done with respect to sexual orientation is that women's sexuality is more fluid, it's not difficult to imagine women marrying each other even though they might have some attraction to men. In such cases, even a two-person marriage contributes to the creation of a single-male underclass. If that concern were proven to have a significant likelihood of fruition, would that allow "discrimination" against homosexuals with respect to marriage?

Pragmatist may attack my "reflexive conservative support of what society has adopted in the past," but he's at least as inclined to rely upon precisely that traditional understanding of social implications. In a world with same-sex marriage, old calculations no longer apply. In a world in which procreation is not conceptually intrinsic to marriage, why must marriages be presumed to be sexual at all? Why, for example, couldn't a mother-daughter pair claim a right to the mutual-care benefits of marriage? It would certainly assist them in jointly raising the daughter's child from a failed relationship. Or suppose a gay man and a lesbian create a child together and then seek to share parental responsibility, within the structure of marriage, with their gay partners?

And that brings us to mechanism #2.

Questions and Answers on Same-Sex Marriage

Justin Katz

After some brawl-in-the-schoolyard circling, commenter Pragmatist and I have started up another round of the same-sex marriage dialog on Anchor Rising, thus far in the form of a question and answer exchange. Thinking the exercise worthwhile (and curious to see how far we'll get with it this time), I considered a post of its own to be justified, beginning with his first question:

... why shouldn't the state encourage monogamous homosexual relationships? Unless you are prepared to take the position of the president of Iran that homosexuals don't exist, then aren't strong, stable, monogamous homosexual relationships better for society than the opposite?

To which I replied:

I'm not opposed to states' seeking to do so, as long as they structure the new institution of same-sex unions from the ground up, without reference to marriage. (When constitutional amendments have been proposed, I've always backed versions that would leave that possibility open.) My reasoning (on the secular/civil side) is that modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships will undermine the institution as it exists, thus diminishing the states' encouragement of stable, monogamous relationships between heterosexual couples (which, after all, have the added consideration that they can produce children with minimal intention).

I've long said, by the way, that my calculation might change if the pro-SSM movement took up the cause of tighter divorce laws. No takers from your side, yet.


Yes, I have heard this argument many times. But I have never heard a convincing unbundling of this amorphous concern: "modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships will undermine the institution as it exists." How? How does encouraging MORE stable relationships undermine the institution? Perhaps the struggle of homosexuals to establish this right despite overwhelming odds should reinforce the importance of the institution for heterosexuals? Maybe heterosexuals should be inspired by the struggle and value what they have already even more?

I'll start by saying that I do think there's likely been positive development among heterosexuals as the struggle over same-sex marriage has raged, but not because they are inspired by homosexuals' striking belief in the institution. Rather, in formulating their own positions on the issue, at least those who don't take their views directly from the oracles of popular culture are spurred to consider what marriage means to them. What the institution is for, and what that meaning requires of them.

That really is the central question: What is marriage about? Reformulated for use in discussion of public policy, the question is: What is the purpose of the government's recognition of it? By changing the essence of what marriage is, and what it hopes to accomplish, same-sex marriage would undermine the institution in three interrelated ways:

  1. Equal rights abide no arbitrary boundaries. If we enshrine into law the principle that marriage is the recognition of intimate adult relationships, defined according to the proclivities of the individual, all subsequent distinctions are fundamentally arbitrary. Polygamy and adult incestuous relationships will follow. Marriage as the encouragement of a particularly stable form of grouping will become meaningless.
  2. We won't abide the government in our bedrooms. Our culture still has strong presumptions about male-female relationships. Yeah, men and women can be friends, even roommates, but there are boundaries that begin to raise suspicions — notably, living together. For the most part, those suspicions have protected marriage from corruptive arrangements of pure self-interest. The gay rights movement has, to some extent, raised suspicion about platonic same-sex relationships, but were same-sex marriage to become available, I think it likely that heterosexuals would exploit the arrangement for economic reasons. And frankly, I don't see why they shouldn't. If the civil impetus for recognizing marriage is to encourage mutual care of independent citizens (allowing various assumptions of trust and rights such as the famous hospital visits), then there's no reason pairings that don't involve sex shouldn't be included, whether they involve friends or relatives.
  3. Too many won't abide their own children. The most important of the consequences of codifying the romantic, mutual-intimacy-centered vision of marriage into the law is the competing vision that it displaces: that marriage is fundamentally a desirable relationship between a man and a woman because their intimacy can result in the birth of children. Our society gives marriage weight in order to create a cultural expectation that will draw those who might be inclined to shirk their responsibility into stable families. If marriage and the potential of procreation aren't intrinsically linked, then there is less pressure on a man to stick with the mother of his children (or a woman their father) for the family's benefit, even if fleeting romantic feelings don't fulfill his (or her) fantasies.

November 6, 2007

Once Again Making the Central Point, Which Supporters of Same-Sex Marriage Somehow Never Manage to Address (At Least Not Until the Debate Has Gone on Long Enough That the Average Person Has Stopped Reading)

Justin Katz

How is it possible that people who ostensibly pay attention to the news and to the public dialog still make such arguments as Charles Bakst's on behalf of same-sex marriage without addressing a response — stated in many public discussions for years, now — that is central to the opposing side's worldview? Here's Bakst:

[Bishop Tobin] admits the sky hasn’t fallen in Massachusetts. "But I don't think the sky would fall if Massachusetts legalized prostitution, polygamy or incest either."

I cringe when I see such words employed in any discussion of two men or two women who seek the joy, stability and respect offered by marriage.

The bishop asserts that "the onslaught" of gay weddings "should create more than a little anxiety for thoughtful and insightful people." The dictionary defines "onslaught" as "a fierce attack." But gay marriage is not an attack on anyone else or anyone else's marriage.

The movement to recognize same-sex relationships as marriage is an attack on the very meaning of marriage and, as such, harms anybody who benefits, or would benefit in the future, from a strong culture of marriage as it has historically been defined. Topping a list that ultimately includes every person alive and yet to be born are those whose economic, emotional, and (yes) spiritual wellbeing is threatened by their own inclinations away from stable, monogamous marital relationships and those who are born to such people. The increased strain on people who are irrevocably homosexual — and are therefore unlikely to enter into such marriages as they, in possession of full equal rights, are absolutely permitted — is regrettable, but the repercussions of the alternative would be exponentially more so.

Bakst's point of view entirely lacks sense unless "marriage" is, by definition, merely an intimate, committed relationship between adults. However much he might cringe, therefore, both incest and polygamy between consenting adults fall under his representation of equality.

Advocates for the maintenance of traditional marriage have been challenged, in recent years, to define their view of marriage in such a way as to exclude alternative definitions without relying on religious dogma or bigotry. They have done so much more thoroughly than advocates of same-sex marriage (but nothing further) possibly could. Little wonder the latter are so apt to ignore the points of the former.

Perhaps Mr. Bakst, with his expressed wish for "more people, wherever they stand, [to] speak up," will endeavor, in a future column, to prove me wrong.

September 25, 2007

A Nutritionist in Every Classroom?

Marc Comtois

Last week, the Warwick School Department sent our kids home with an opt-out letter from the city-wide Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement of all students. Of course, the actual "opt-out" portion was only mentioned after a longer legitimization of why the program was being implemented (PDF). The letter included dire warnings of the spread of childhood obesity and was followed by an explanation of how our school department was helping to combat the epidemic by attempting to measure the BMI of all Warwick students. It all sounded good on the face of it.

My wife and I discussed the BMI measurement program. We recognized that there may be an overall benefit of having our healthy kids added to the statistical baseline for Rhode Island students. We even briefly played "what if" over whether or not our kids would "suffer" long-term emotional scarring when all of their friends got their BMI and they didn't (heh). In the end, we opted-out. But the BMI is just one component of the "Healthy Schools Initiative" that is being implemented in Warwick. Again, while it all sounds like a good idea, things are getting a little out of hand. Some kids have actually had their lunch boxes searched for contraband by the in-school Food Police.

[Eileen] Brown said...“The teachers sent home [another] letter saying that only healthy snacks would be permitted as of Sept. 17,” she said. “They’re taking what the child eats out of the parents’ hands.”

Eileen said she does her best to send her kids to school with healthy snacks and food that is good for them, but she said she has a problem when teachers start dictating what her children can and can’t eat.

“There’s a possibility of kids not being allowed to eat a snack if the teacher deems it unhealthy,” she said. “They’re dictating what the kids should eat, but that should be a parent’s decision.”

Eileen said she sent one of her daughters to school with a Quaker oatmeal fruit bar, but the girl was told it contained too much sugar and her teacher took it away from her.

Eileen said she looked up nutrition facts for the oatmeal bar and compared them to other fruit snacks, like an apple or grapes and found that the oatmeal bar has less sugar and is healthier than either the apple or grapes.

“Teaching healthy choices and teaching the food pyramid is a good idea, but I don’t agree with kids being told they can’t eat a snack,” she said.

Since when did we ask our teachers to be nutritionists? I've heard them say they do enough already (and they do). Why are we asking them to take time (and, implicitly, money) away from doing the core mission of our schools: EDUCATION.

Now, I understand that healthy eating habits may fall within some broad definition of education, but isn't it up to the parents to decide their child's nutritional needs? But, of course, the school system bureaucrats don't think that enough parents are up to the task of raising healthy kids on their own. They know best. Even better than your child's pediatrician, as a matter of fact.

The Wellness school paradigm is affecting other areas, too. The Sunday ProJo ran a NY Times piece about the "cupcake wars."

...cupcakes have also recently been marched to the front lines of the fat wars, banned from a growing number of classroom birthday parties because of their sugar, fat and “empty calories,” a poster food of the child obesity crisis. This was clear when children returned to school this month to a tightening of regulations, federal and state, on what can be served up between the bells.

And it has led some to wonder whether emotional value, on occasion, might legitimately outweigh nutritional value.

When included on lists of treats that parents are discouraged or forbidden to send to school — and when those policies are, say, put to a vote at the P.T.A. — “cupcakes are deal breakers,” Professor Nestle said. “It sounds like a joke, but it’s a very serious problem on a number of levels. You have to control it.”

As the article implies, cupcakes and other no-no's are integral parts of more than just in-class birthday parties (which are really just snack-time with treats provided by the celebrant's Mom). What would a PTO bake sale be with out things that are, um, baked? The reality is that the PTO (or "A") holds many fund-raisers that have a "sugar component" to help generate revenue for everything from playground equipment to class trips. (Of course, they wouldn't have to do so much fund-raising if the school budget had a little more flexibility). Take away these fund-raising staples, and it gets harder to raise money. It's easier to sell cookies than candles, after all. Ever heard of a Veggie Sale (Carrot Cake and Banana Bread don't count, do they)?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for school improvements built on the tummies of our kids, but this all-encompassing program seems like another bureaucratic over-reach. Look, no one can argue against limiting the sugar and fat intake of our children, but an all-out ban leaves a sour taste in my mouth (couldn't resist). Besides, it could lead to an unanticipated kickback. (Imagine that, a government program that doesn't take unintended consequences into consideration).

Let's say the programs are effective and kids eat healthy for the 6-7 hours at school. What about the rest of the day? I'm sure that some kids and parents will alter their lifestyles and become healthier eaters, but I'll also bet that just as many--if not more--will just put-off the "junk food" gorging until after-school (never mind what can happen over the summer). Heck, some parents may even fall into the trap of thinking that, because little Johnny eats healthy all day at school, he can have chips and a soda because he ate healthy all day.

And this all doesn't even take into account the make-up of the average school lunch (PDF). I wonder who'll be inspecting them? Mmmm, Cheeseburgers, Pizza, Chicken Fingers (Deep Fried), BBQ Ribs, Hot Dogs, Tacos, etc. Oh, sure, there's some veggies, too. But who are we kidding? Are the lunch room monitors going to ensure that every kid eats his veggies? Doubt it.

I bet Mom can pack a lunch that is quite a bit healthier than that, which will contain food that she knows her kids will eat. If they don't, she'll find something that they will. And the school department won't even have to tell her to do it. That's the way it should be.

September 19, 2007

Gay Marriage Fails in Maryland

Marc Comtois

Dale Carpenter writes (h/t):

By 4-3, Maryland's high court today rejected a claim for same-sex marriage under the state constitution. The opinion is more than 100 pages long and is studded with more citations to cases, law reviews and books (including, notably, William Eskridge's Gaylaw), and sociological and scientific studies, than any case yet on the issue.


SSM has lost in every state high court to consider the issue since the stunning success in Goodridge in Massachusetts in 2003. SSM legal advocates lost outright in Washington state and New York in 2006. New Jersey's high court also rejected an SSM claim in 2006, though it did order the recognition of civil unions and left open the possibility of a future pro-SSM ruling. A case is still pending in California's supreme court.

When you consider that SSM legal advocates have carefully chosen the most sympathetic venues since Goodridge, this record of losses is especially significant. It means that strong anti-SSM precedents are being created in the friendliest states, making pro-SSM rulings in other states even more unlikely in the near future. Once California is decided, the initial phase of post-Goodridge litigation will have pretty much run its course. That was the phase that was supposed to start an avalanche of pro-SSM judicial rulings that would quickly lead to gay marriage around the country. It didn't happen. Other cases are pending in states like Iowa, and there's nothing to stop gay couples from filing anywhere else, but the odds are now longer. If SSM is to advance much in the near future, it will probably have to come legislatively.

Carpenter also explains that:
  • The Maryland court rejected the argument that the ban on gay marriages is a form of sex discrimination...

  • It rejected the argument that sexual orientation discrimination should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, citing gays' legislative success in the state as evidence the group is not "politically powerless" and thus needs no unusual judicial protection from the majority.

  • It added that there is not yet a sufficient scientific consensus on whether sexual orientation is "immutable."

  • The court also decided that there is no fundamental right to marry another person of the same sex.

  • Finally, the court concluded that the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples is rational because it furthers (however imperfectly) the state's legitimate interest in encouraging procreation. If the correct level of scrutiny is the traditional rational-basis test, this conclusion is hard to dispute.

  • September 6, 2007

    Studies Show: You Should Let Us Teach Your Children About Our Product!

    Justin Katz

    I'll admit that I was suckered into believing that yet another opinion writer had come to a faulty conclusion about sex ed:

    A SHORT ARTICLE in the Aug. 14 New York Times reported that, according to a survey of more than 15,000 young Americans, abstinence-only programs do not work for HIV prevention. The analysis was published in the August issue of The British Medical Journal and tracked 13 studies.

    Most of the programs were school-based. The random trials included control groups. “None of the programs made any significant difference in preventing pregnancy, reducing unprotected sex, or delaying sexual initiation,” reported The Times. The study replicates results from similar trials.

    Not to be picky, but the report was actually an analysis of various much smaller studies, not a large survey of that many children. And not to repeat myself, but although these studies purport to have scientific control groups, such claims are ludicrous in the face of the children's mingling and their natural interest in collecting information about sex and, moreover, they involve "programs," usually curricula, as opposed to sustained socially based efforts at encouraging specific behavior. (I'd also point out that British researchers might do more good by studying their own problems.)

    Of course, in the case of Barbara Dickinson's op-ed, all of these arguments become moot once the sales pitch is made:

    If you can’t bring yourself to have this conversation, Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island offers a wide range of educational resources and teaching tools on human sexuality and reproductive health available to teenagers and parents. We have skilled counselors who can help your teenager make good decisions.

    As you may have discerned, Ms. Dickinson works for Planned Parenthood, as the chairwoman of the organization's Rhode Island branch. In other words, it's as if a fast-food restaurant's top RI executive placed an op-ed citing studies that eating a balanced lunch once a week for a month didn't have an appreciable effect on health.

    August 27, 2007

    To Fix Education, Fix Families First

    Marc Comtois

    Julia Steiny wrote in the ProJo on Sunday:

    Over the course of this summer, I studied a whole range of troubled kids. Instead of seeing them from the outside as the upsetting little pains-in-the-tush they are, I tried to get a glimpse of their lives. I met kids recovering from sexual abuse, neglect, violence, drug involvement, or their parents’ drug involvement. I talked to the community workers who deal with kids whose lives have been torn apart by a parent going to prison or because the state removed them from their families. Distressed kids sit in our own kids’ classrooms all over the state. We can’t just put them all out — or ignore them.

    Focus instead on the family.

    Because when we put these kids out of our communities into alternative schools and residential placements, we encourage the root problem to fester and get worse. Alternatives — shelters, group homes, the Training School — provide very expensive, rarified worlds that have nothing to do with a kid’s real life.

    Yes, of course, psychiatric hospitals, foster care, and group homes will always be necessary. But we overuse them unconscionably. We have to stop waiting until kids are in a crisis.

    Schools have plenty of problems of their own. But when it comes to troubled behavior, the solutions often lie in the homes. If we fix the family’s dysfunction, we fix the context that is producing a kid’s wiggy behavior. And if the family can’t be fixed — addiction is often the reason — terminate parental rights, and search among the child’s relatives for a healthier permanent family.

    Only by helping the families can we stem the social chaos streaming through the schoolhouse doors.

    And this compassion will be far cheaper than what we’re doing now.

    Along this same vein is a book review by Bradford Wilcox in the August 27 issue of National Review. The book--The Natural Family: A Manifesto, by Allan C. Carlson and Paul T. Mero--contains some interesting theories and prescriptions.

    Continue reading "To Fix Education, Fix Families First"

    August 16, 2007

    No Easy Endings

    Justin Katz

    One tires of the bad-faith rhetoric of modern feminists, social libertines, and vitriolic do-gooders:

    "We know there are some people out there who long for a return to the 'idyllic' 1950s when women knew their place was in the kitchen," the groups wrote, "but we do not expect to hear echoes of it emanating from a gubernatorial court brief!"

    That's from a letter that the Rhode Island affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women, along with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Association of Social Workers/Rhode Island, sent to Governor Carcieri complaining about negativity toward no-fault divorce included in his recent legal brief on same-sex marriage. The bad faith, of course, comes with the imputation that the "idyllic" aspect of the era for men was the ability to deliberately oppress or beat their wives, which (one gets the impression) they were as apt to do as to love and respect them in their more-distinct roles. No fault divorce, the guardians of idyllic modernity claim, has led to "a reduction in domestic violence," and no doubt, they see the current generations of men as pining to trap women once again in more secure marital bonds so that they need no longer feign the unnatural kindness that is the only protection against Single Life Part 2.

    That some of us retrograde men wish to strengthen marriage precisely to tame our more bestial brethren must be incomprehensible to the letter's writers. Yet, somehow the requirement of justification for divorce seems not to have drained the equality and mutual respect from our parents' and grandparents' marriages. Somehow, personal experience suggests that men tend to be the least harmed parties after divorces no matter who initiates them, with women and children having worse results, in that order.

    Of course, it can't be denied that women's standing in society has improved in the recent past, including increased awareness of spousal abuse and a decrease in cultural male chauvinism. But are we to believe that this aspect of our cultural evolution will slip away, rather than continue to define strong marriages, if divorce becomes less of an easy out?

    There are gradations of what people would call legitimate reasons for legal dissolution of a marital bond, but as a general proposition, when there is abuse, there is fault. If one spouse desires an end to the marriage, reforms of divorce laws could consider that to be the fault, such that the divorcing spouse faces some sort of consequences to the benefit of the divorced spouse. Knowledge of an easy out cannot help but adversely affect individual calculations of self control, whereas more certainty of a lifelong commitment increases the need to get along — as well as the incentive not to harm.

    All differences are reconcilable, given time and motivation. By the same token, all partnerships can be corrupted when their existence is a perpetually open question, and as Carcieri's brief put it:

    By inadvertently allowing for opportunistic divorce, the law created a whole new class of inequality as many women and children entered poverty through divorce, and the quality of life for the entire family was reduced.

    August 3, 2007

    Even Though Void or Because Void?

    Justin Katz

    A quick online search didn't lead to the actual documents, but based on the Providence Journal story about the various legal briefs filed in the case of Rhode Island's granting a same-sex divorce, it appears that just about everybody argued predictably, mainly based on broader perspectives than the narrow question facing the court. The one exception comes from the governor:

    Carcieri's brief — signed by Indiana lawyer James Bopp Jr. and local lawyer Joseph S. Larisa Jr., former Republican Gov. Lincoln C. Almond's chief of staff — noted state law says divorces can be granted even when marriages are "void or voidable by law."

    "The Family Court can thus proceed with the divorce petition without a response from this court addressing the legality or the validity of the marriage," the brief said. "Indeed, because of the significance of this issue and the lack of necessity for this court to consider it, the policy of the State of Rhode Island on the issue of same-sex marriage is most properly left to the people to establish through referendum or, at minimum, through the legislative process."

    Matching the quoted language suggests that the following is the relevant statute (emphasis added):

    Marriages void or voidable — Civil death or presumption of death. — Divorces from the bond of marriage shall be decreed in case of any marriage originally void or voidable by law, and in case either party is for crime deemed to be or treated as if civilly dead, or, from absence or other circumstances, may be presumed to be actually dead.

    Contra Carcieri et al., this language appears to indicate a "because," not an "even if" — with which I agree, and for which I would welcome the legal consequences. If the court grants the divorce using this law, it seems to me that it would, in effect, be doing so on the grounds that the marriage is void anyway. That would represent a definitive statement that Rhode Island's public policy does not permit same-sex marriage.

    July 31, 2007

    Controlling the Beast Inside

    Justin Katz

    I've always thought it too obvious to be a blindspot that opponents of abstinence education behave as if a quick course or two ought to do the trick if such an approach were going to work at all. As I've said before, the cultural movement of which such people are a part does not really believe that the safest, healthiest sex occurs within marriage; it believes that restricting sex to lifelong monogamous relationships is unrealistic and, therefore, that the act of setting such expectations is, itself, a central source of the harm that can come from sex, so the lessons it seeks to teach can only increase sexual activity. Valerie Huber offers an example on USA Today's Web site that shows this mindset in the extreme: "one popular [comprehensive, safe-sex] program promoted graphic sexual behavior such as showering together as an acceptable 'abstinent' activity."

    Huber summarizes the other strategy — abstinence education — as follows:

    Abstinence programs offer a holistic approach, teaching teens how to build healthy relationships, increase self-worth and set appropriate boundaries in order to achieve future goals. Abstinence education shares the realities of sexually transmitted diseases and the best way to prevent them. Accurate information about contraception is provided, but always within the context of abstinence as the healthiest choice. The realistic limitations of condoms are shared but without the explicit demonstration and advocacy that characterizes "comprehensive" programs.

    The focus on self-worth and future goals is an important marker of the differences between sex-ed approaches. Sometimes one gets the impression of a They who realize that the more the beast inside us all can be released, the more easily we can be herded. Controlling that beast can give us strength against those who would exploit us.

    I, for one, do not consider it an accident that traditional religious prescriptions and the self-actualizing civilized mandate for self control overlap. That suggestions of the latter are often treated as if they must represent unconstitutional imposition of the former points to the driving force behind the opposing movement.

    July 28, 2007

    Attorney General Activism

    Justin Katz

    Keep an eye out for my piece in the Providence Journal today, "Lynch: Rhode Island’s Activist General?," which addresses Attorney General Patrick Lynch's response to an op-ed by Joseph Cavanagh and Lincoln Oliphant, objecting to Lynch's finding that Rhode Island would recognize same-sex marriages from Massachusetts.

    The heart of the matter is that those pushing same-sex marriage — believing that all opposition comes down to bigotry — behave as if the lack of a "strong public policy against homosexuals" proves that there is no public policy against same-sex marriage. That is incorrect, and it is particularly inaccurate when it comes to analyzing the law. This appears to be another example of liberals, progressives, or whathaveyous treating procedures and the law as if it may be bent whichever way will allow their policy preferences to be forced on their fellow citizens.

    July 23, 2007

    Not Requiring Cultural Deflation

    Justin Katz

    I just wanted to take a moment to thank Governor Carcieri for this:

    Gov. Don Carcieri has vetoed a bill requiring health insurers to cover infertility treatments for unmarried people, saying they shouldn't be forced to subsidize out-of-wedlock births.

    The Republican governor, who opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, warned that eliminating the marriage restriction would also drive up health care costs.

    ''As a matter of public policy, the state should be encouraging the birth of children to two-parent families, not the reverse,'' he said in a written statement Thursday announcing his Wednesday veto.

    We've gone far enough. It's one thing to allow people to seek such treatments even if they aren't married. I would argue that doing so would be an immoral act on several levels, but that's a case that has to be made to individuals as well as to society as a whole. But requiring insurance companies to cover such treatments — beyond the additional costs and disincentive for insurers to operate in Rhode Island — would push us one, possibly decisive, step farther down the self-destructive path of rejecting the traditional family.


    As a government matter, I feel as if I've come across just one more way in which Rhode Island allows itself to be governed via prestidigitation. Note the following from the above-linked story:

    Two weeks ago, Carcieri permitted another bill to become law without his signature that required insurers to increase the age cap on eligible women to 42 from 40. It also required insurers to pay for infertility treatments after a couple fails to conceive or carry a pregnancy after one year of trying, instead of two.

    I did receive, at the time, the General Assembly's press release about that bill's passage in the legislature and didn't see anything sufficiently beyond my normal reservations to make a point of mentioning it. But close inspection reveals that, although the release cites H5251A (PDF) as "the House version," it fails to note the significant addition of the "regardless of marital status" clause. Moreover, there has been no press release for the second bill.

    Call me paranoid, but that looks deliberately misleading — selling one bill to the public, while hoping to slip a similar (but objectionable) through in its wake. And for their role in the process, several Republican representatives (including my own) have made it that much clearer that they must be replaced before the party can move forward.

    July 17, 2007

    Flipping the Bird of Power Dynamics

    Justin Katz

    MRH recites a productive argument 14 comments into my previous post (emphasis his):

    I understand that no one wants to be called a bigot, but it's really dancing right on the edge of offensive when a white guy claims that being accused of bigotry is like a black man being called a "nigger" by a white man. Here's one important consideration that might help to explicate why they're so different: think about the power dynamics involved. When a member of a privileged class insults a member of a disadvantaged class based solely on their membership in that class, it's not the same as a member of the privileged class being insulted because of their behavior.

    One first must dispense with the additional consideration that Matt layers on the central one: In the context of the same-sex marriage debate, the distinction between discrimination based on group membership and based on behavior is precisely that which makes it invidious to categorize support for traditional marriage as inherently bigoted. Forming a lifelong sexual bond with somebody of the same sex is manifestly a different behavior than doing the same with somebody of the opposite sex. Biology and cultural and legal history both support that assertion. Therefore, declaring arguments against same-sex marriage to be inapplicable (because bigoted) to the formation of the laws that govern a citizenry is precisely discrimination against people based solely on their membership in a class — in this case, the class of those who believe it important that their government to continue to set opposite-sex marriages (that is "marriages") apart.

    Now to Matt's central assertion, pared down to its substance:

    When a member of a privileged class insults a member of a disadvantaged class, it's not the same as a member of the privileged class being insulted.

    Let's trace advantages and power with respect to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts:

    • The state's elites — its judicial and other governmental elites, its media elites, i.e., folks who individually and collectively have more than the average amount of power — have inserted their worldview into the marriage laws of Massachusetts.
    • They have done so in the name of protecting people who are born (to my knowledge) with equal distribution across the society and who have higher than average levels of wealth and education.

    It looks to me as if the "privileged class" is still the one doing the insulting. That, I propose, is the genius of identity politics: The heterosexual white (esp. Christian) male is by definition the "privileged class," so applying an assertion of bigotry, a group of disproportionately powerful people (largely white, too, as it happens), can diminish "his" ability to work through democratic processes for the society that he views as best and can isolate him from all of those folks between who either stand to gain privilege via their minority status or want nothing so much as to avoid being accused of harboring deep and irrational hatred that they, for the most part, do not feel.

    July 15, 2007

    Becoming the Bad Guy in Massachusetts

    Justin Katz

    Michael Pakaluk has a suggestion as to the effects on upstanding citizens when legal elites begin dictating their social views:

    Suppose you are a decent family man, not unlike David Parker in Arlington, working hard at a job and trying to raise a family. You take it for granted, as something unquestioned, that only a man and a woman can get married. The alternative strikes you as ridiculous, not even up for debate. Perhaps you are religious and you base your views ultimately on the Bible or Church teaching, or perhaps you simply have good sense. As for homosexuality, you perhaps distinguish between the feelings and the actions; and you wouldn’t think it a good thing to engage in the latter, even if you had the desire to do so.

    In the state of Massachusetts, something happened to such a person between 2003 and today. Four years ago he was a good family man and an upstanding citizen. His views were still reflected in the law and supported in the schools. Today, however, that same man is a bigot. The law is against him, and public schools on principle must teach that such a person is filled with hatred (a “homophobe”) and despicable. Indeed, the schools are obliged to teach his own children that he is a bigot. More than that, they’ll do so convinced that they are fulfilling their high moral duty. And any sign of resistance on his part will be interpreted by them as only more evidence of the man’s bigotry.

    They’ll no more listen to him than the SJC, the governor, or the Legislature did before them.

    They’ve left such a man little alternative but to vote with his feet.

    There are, no doubt, some who would be satisfied to drive out we bad guys, but the satisfaction won't last. All levels of government will become instruments of cultural hegemony if the activists have their way.


    I was remiss in not seeking out and linking to Pakaluk's previous column:

    Parker and Wirthlin sued the Lexington Public Schools (LPS) because of a claimed infringement of their rights as parents.

    When Wirthlin’s son, Joey, was in first grade, his teacher read aloud from a book called “King and King,” about a prince who is instructed by his mother to look for a princess to marry; but the prince is dissatisfied with all of the available princesses, and at last he “marries” another prince. The last page of the book shows the two men kissing.

    Parker’s son, Jacob, brought home from kindergarten a “Diversity Book Bag,” which contained “Who’s In a Family?” a book that the School Library Journal describes in this way:

    “Simple declarative statements move readers from one family configuration to the next, from single children to single parents to same-sex couples. Here and there animal families are juxtaposed with the human, presumably to show that certain situations are natural.”

    The book’s professed aim is to teach that it is perfectly normal for same-sex couples to raise children.

    The fathers of these children claim that LPS infringed their constitutional right to educate their child as they see fit. Since both men are Christians, they also claim that LPS infringed their right to free exercise of religion. They argue that current Massachusetts Law (Chapter 71: Section 32A) requires that, where practicable, parents be notified in advance of sex education discussions and be allowed to opt-out. Thus, they say, LPS should have notified them in advance about anything that promotes homosexuality or a homosexual lifestyle. ...

    “It is reasonable for public educators to teach elementary school students about individuals with different sexual orientations and about various forms of families, including those with same-sex parents, in an effort to eradicate the effects of past discrimination, to reduce the risk of future discrimination and, in the process, to reaffirm our nation’s constitutional commitment to promoting mutual respect among members of our diverse society.”

    Thus wrote District Court Judge Mark Wolf, in his summary dismissal of Wirthlin and Parker’s complaint. Wolf’s reasoning is impeccable, once one accepts the analogy between sexual orientation and skin color. But, again, that analogy has been built into Massachusetts fundamental law through the misguided and rogue opinion of the SJC.

    July 7, 2007

    Are We Raising Our Children To Be Narcissitic Wimps?

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    Expanding on some of the ideas previously discussed in The Cultural Consequences of Offering Endless Quantities of Meaningless Praise, the latest piece (available for a fee) from Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal is entitled Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled:

    …Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were "special" just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.

    Now Mr. Rogers, like Dr. Spock before him, has been targeted for re-evaluation. And he's not the only one. As educators and researchers struggle to define the new parameters of parenting, circa 2007, some are revisiting the language of child ego-boosting. What are the downsides of telling kids they're special? Is it a mistake to have children call us by our first names? When we focus all conversations on our children's lives, are we denying them the insights found when adults talk about adult things?

    Some are calling for a recalibration of the mind-sets and catch-phrases that have taken hold in recent decades. Among the expressions now being challenged:

    "You're special."

    …Signs of narcissism among college students have been rising for 25 years, according to a recent study led by a San Diego State University psychologist. Obviously, Mr. Rogers alone can't be blamed for this. But as Prof. Chance sees it, "he's representative of a culture of excessive doting."

    …Prof. Chance…wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: "The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you'll have to prove it."

    "They're just children."

    When kids are rude, self-absorbed or disrespectful, some parents allow or endure it by saying, "Well, they're just children." The phrase is a worthy one when it's applied to a teachable moment, such as telling kids not to stick their fingers in electrical sockets. But as an excuse or as justification for unacceptable behavior, "They're just children" is just misguided.

    "Call me Cindy."

    Is it appropriate to place kids on the same level as adults, with all of us calling each other by our first names? On one hand, the familiarity can mark a loving closeness between child and adult. But on the other hand, when a child calls an adult Mr. or Ms., it helps him recognize that status is earned by age and experience. It's also a reminder to respect your elders.

    "Tell me about your day."

    It is crucial to talk to kids about their lives, and that dialogue can enrich the whole family. However, parents also need to discuss their own lives and experiences, says Alvin Rosenfeld, a Manhattan-based child psychiatrist who studies family interactions.

    …many parents focus their conversations on their kids. Today's parents "are the best-educated generation ever," says Dr. Rosenfeld. "So why do our kids see us primarily discussing kids' schedules and activities?"

    He encourages parents to talk about their passions and interests; about politics, business, world events. "Because everything is child-centered today, we're depriving children of adults," he says. "If they never see us as adults being adults, how will they deal with important matters when it is their world?"

    What I find so striking is how some people are simply unwilling to discuss the practical implications of certain widespread parenting practices. Since human behavior is heavily influenced by the incentives explicitly or implicitly present in our respective social environments, we are either going to debate the appropriateness of the underlying behavioral incentives created by current parenting practices or be damned to live with their long-term consequences.

    Other posts related to how we are raising children in America include:

    Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children
    Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, Part II
    Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future

    June 15, 2007

    Go Ahead. Make My Father's Day.

    Justin Katz

    What better preparation for the arbitrary holiday celebrating fathers could there be than to goad readers into explaining why fathers don't matter? Or, more specifically, why children don't need mothers and fathers. The Wall Street Journal offers the opportunity:

    A growing body of research offers new insight. Fathers can have a distinct impact on children beyond that of mothers, and in many cases without regard to the fact that they often spend less time with their kids, researchers say. Specifically, dads' early play and the way they talk to their toddlers are emerging as special "father functions" that have a particular and lasting effect. ...

    ... men have a tendency to behave differently with children. ... Fathers tend to engage kids in more rough-and-tumble play, for example. Researchers say this can have a powerful positive impact on children, fostering curiosity and teaching them to regulate emotion and enjoy surprises. ...

    A 2004 study by Catherine Tamis-LeMonda at New York University and others found a link between fathers' warm, stimulating play with their 2-year-olds and better language and cognitive skills in the children a year later, independent of mothers' behavior. The effect endures into adolescence. Dads who play with toddlers in stimulating and encouraging ways tend to have children with healthier relationships at age 16, surpassing mothers' effect, says a 2002 study in the journal Social Development.

    ... Dads also tend to handle misbehavior differently, stressing real-world consequences. Where moms might say, "If you misbehave you're in trouble with me," dads more typically say, "Knock it off...nobody will like you, you'll never get a job" if you behave that way, Dr. Pruett says. Such fathering may reduce teen delinquency. In a 2006 study led by Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew of Child Trends in Washington, D.C., close, supportive fathering was linked to less teen risk-taking and delinquency.

    There's more detail in the article, as well as in the accompanying video, in which the article's author offers the following salient advice to fathers:

    Take good care of your marriage. Study after study shows that strong marriages yield less depressed mothers, more positive parenting, and in the long run children who do better.

    Those who don't believe that children deserve to be raised by their own mothers and fathers typically have a variety of responses. Some simply decline to believe that the extent to which one can generalize about such things is sufficient to stand as evidence in constructing public policy. Some focus on other family types and assume some damage to them if society upholds a different ideal. Some declare that preferences against discrimination override all other considerations.

    But history proves — even families within the scope of every single American's acquaintance prove — that the ideal of a mother and a father living their entire lives in faithful bonds of matrimony and shared parenthood is feasible. Studies show that it is desirable. Plain ol' rational thought brings understanding, if one takes a few steps away from the cult of homogenizing equivocation, that having a model of the ideal is healthy even for families of different forms. Why must we pretend that there is no ideal? Can it be healthy for a society to behave as if privileging one type of relationship is demeaning to all others? How can it be invidious discrimination to insist that there be room to differentiate between relationships that are undeniably different?

    Maybe my fatheresque qualities jar in our feminized society, but it seems to me that a healthier society would offer a firm, but warm, suggestion that those who are insecure in the face of a foreign ideal ought to suck it up and find affirmation in doing the best they can in their own circumstances. There's more than a metaphor in the observation that our society's cultural risk-taking and delinquency, suggestive of disconnection from a father, will have consequences that only growing up can ease.

    June 14, 2007

    Mass. Legislature Rejects Vote on Gay Marriage Amendment

    Marc Comtois


    Massachusetts lawmakers voted Thursday to block a proposed constitutional amendment that would have let voters decide whether to ban gay marriage in the state.

    The narrow vote was a victory for gay marriage advocates and a devastating blow to efforts to reverse a historic 2003 court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

    MORE: Via the Boston Globe:
    A proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was defeated today by a joint session of the Legislature by a vote of 45 to 151, eliminating any chance of getting it on the ballot in November 2008. At least 50 votes were needed to advance the measure.

    The vote came after House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, Senate President Therese Murray, and Governor Deval Patrick conferred this morning and concluded that they have the votes to kill the proposal.

    The three leaders - along with gay rights activists - spent the last several days intensely lobbying a dozen or more state representatives and state senators who had previously supported the amendment but signaled that they were open to changing their positions.

    Because fewer than 50 of the state's 200 lawmakers supported the amendment, it will not appear on the 2008 ballot, giving gay marriage advocates a major victory in their battle with social conservatives to keep same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts.

    Opponents of gay marriage face an increasingly tough battle to win legislative approval of any future petitions to appear on a statewide ballot. The next election available to them is 2012.

    I heard somewhere this morning that both Republicans and Democrats were reluctant to have a Gay Marriage Amendment proposal on the 2008 ballot. How courageous. I guess democracy and the popular vote are only popular if you think you'll get the results you want.

    Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the voters of Massachusetts should have been allowed to weigh in on the issue (and the poll numbers were close, if I recall). Now they'll have to take whatever solace they can from voting against the legislators who denied them.

    June 7, 2007

    Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, Part II

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    Continuing the conversation begun in an earlier post, Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, here are excerpts from a related Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) entitled Helping Overbooked Kids Cut Back:

    ...Written about and discussed for decades, the problem of overscheduled children still looms large. Many parents keep children busy believing that stimulating activities will aid their development; the pattern is most marked among 9- to 12-year-olds. But the trend has gone too far, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in January in the journal "Pediatrics"; kids need more time for free play and family togetherness. Resolving the issue can require some artful life-balancing skills...

    The signs of overload are often more subtle: overtiredness, irritability, falling grades, anxiety or obstinacy. As a recovered overbooker myself, I can attest that it can cause anxiety. My kids, now 16 and 19, say they've forgiven me for signing them up for too much stuff in elementary school. But I now know that it sometimes stressed them out...

    Some parents fear they'll inadvertently stunt their child's potential. Jane Istvan had her son Sam, 8, drop year-round soccer and just do baseball this spring, to preserve two hours a day for family time. But she worries: "What if Sam could have been a fantastic soccer player," and by curbing his activities, "I'm screwing him up?"

    Others fear their kids will be ostracized. At the school Beth Blecherman's 8-year-old son attends, kids who don't play organized sports are sometimes excluded from playground games. But after noticing that large-group activities made her son anxious, Ms. Blecherman, Palo Alto, Calif., is cutting out team sports anyway, and he's happier for it, she says.

    How do you decide what activities to keep and which ones to cut? It's wise to take a measured approach...Alvin Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of "The Overscheduled Child," recommends dividing activities into two groups -- those you regard as essential, such as religious school, and those seen as optional. Schedule the first group, and allow the child to select from the rest, he advises.

    Ask yourself, "What activities make my child glow?" says Kenneth Ginsburg, author of the American Academy of Pediatrics article. "What does she get excited about?" I found keeping kids in activities they don't enjoy won't lead them to continue that pursuit -- no matter how much you hope they will. Instead, heed your child's inner motivations. Ideally, says Dr. Ginsburg, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, they'll seek becoming "a richer, more balanced person" over resume-building or fueling parental pride.

    June 5, 2007

    Advancing the SSM Conversation

    Justin Katz

    Matt from Unlikely Words makes an excellent point in response to my most recent post on same-sex marriage, excellent because it advances a conversation that tends toward talking past one another:

    The statistics don't enter into it. Even accepting the claim (which I don't doubt) that many or even most married couples have children isn't an argument that marriage must be procreative. It's just an argument that it generally is. I accept the descriptive claim that marriages tend to involve procreation. I reject the normative claim that marriage is fundamentally procreative.

    To avoid the deterioration into non-communication, I won't move on without insisting that I've never claimed that marriage must be procreative. My argument is against undermining the link between parenthood and marriage, whereby couples planning to have children get married and couples having sex understand that pregnancy comes with a unified set of responsibilities within a marital household. It is inherent in my promotion of a certain vision of marriage that I believe it to be what we make it, and since we have free will, we can make it what we want. Indeed, inasmuch as advocates for same-sex marriage insist that it is a matter of civil rights, they are the ones dictating a definition of marriage, which gets to the heart of their efforts to subvert our society and effectively disenfranchise people who disagree with them.

    In the public debate over marriage, the two definitions that matter are not the "descriptive" and the "normative" (although procreative marriage is normative to the extent that it describes the norm, which it does), but the cultural and the legal, and in a democratic society, the latter ought to conform with, or at least not interfere with, the former, unless broader principles that the society prioritizes — such as equality — are thereby violated. That is why it is important to understand what marriage is in practice: because there are two ways in which we can know how to balance the various beliefs, interests, and priorities of our fellow citizens, by their actions and by their votes (with a footnote that the voice of those who profess to "speak for" our nation, such as artists in various media, decreasingly represents its people).

    If actions (as interpretable through statistics) and votes confirm that marriage is procreative, then it isn't invidious discrimination (i.e., in violation of the type of discrimination that our society considers overriding of other principles) to assert that homosexual relationships do not qualify. (As individuals, of course, homosexuals are free to enter into marriage as currently defined.)

    Proponents of same-sex marriage who argue anything more than a preference that our understanding of marriage ought to change are claiming a supernormative definition — a moral one — and are thereby promoting essentially a religious belief. The irony is that I have no problem with their seeking to have that belief established in the law; we ought to be able to form our government, in democratic fashion, such that it doesn't conflict with our beliefs, and theirs are free to compete in the social and legislative spheres. Contrary to progressives' affinity for insisting that laws cannot be based on citizens religious convictions, this is how religion should interact with government, and it is in that spirit that I offer my defenses of traditional marriage.

    Advancing the SSM Conversation

    Justin Katz

    Matt from Unlikely Words makes an excellent point in response to my most recent post on same-sex marriage, excellent because it advances a conversation that tends toward talking past one another:

    The statistics don't enter into it. Even accepting the claim (which I don't doubt) that many or even most married couples have children isn't an argument that marriage must be procreative. It's just an argument that it generally is. I accept the descriptive claim that marriages tend to involve procreation. I reject the normative claim that marriage is fundamentally procreative.

    To avoid the deterioration into non-communication, I won't move on without insisting that I've never claimed that marriage must be procreative. My argument is against undermining the link between parenthood and marriage, whereby couples planning to have children get married and couples having sex understand that pregnancy comes with a unified set of responsibilities within a marital household. It is inherent in my promotion of a certain vision of marriage that I believe it to be what we make it, and since we have free will, we can make it what we want. Indeed, inasmuch as advocates for same-sex marriage insist that it is a matter of civil rights, they are the ones dictating a definition of marriage, which gets to the heart of their efforts to subvert our society and effectively disenfranchise people who disagree with them.

    In the public debate over marriage, the two definitions that matter are not the "descriptive" and the "normative" (although procreative marriage is normative to the extent that it describes the norm, which it does), but the cultural and the legal, and in a democratic society, the latter ought to conform with, or at least not interfere with, the former, unless broader principles that the society prioritizes — such as equality — are thereby violated. That is why it is important to understand what marriage is in practice: because there are two ways in which we can know how to balance the various beliefs, interests, and priorities of our fellow citizens, by their actions and by their votes (with a footnote that the voice of those who profess to "speak for" our nation, such as artists in various media, decreasingly represents its people).

    If actions (as interpretable through statistics) and votes confirm that marriage is procreative, then it isn't invidious discrimination (i.e., in violation of the type of discrimination that our society considers overriding of other principles) to assert that homosexual relationships do not qualify. (As individuals, of course, homosexuals are free to enter into marriage as currently defined.)

    Proponents of same-sex marriage who argue anything more than a preference that our understanding of marriage ought to change are claiming a supernormative definition — a moral one — and are thereby promoting essentially a religious belief. The irony is that I have no problem with their seeking to have that belief established in the law; we ought to be able to form our government, in democratic fashion, such that it doesn't conflict with our beliefs, and theirs are free to compete in the social and legislative spheres. Contrary to progressives' affinity for insisting that laws cannot be based on citizens religious convictions, this is how religion should interact with government, and it is in that spirit that I offer my defenses of traditional marriage.

    June 1, 2007

    Maintaining a Light Hand Now to Avoid a Heavy Hand Later

    Justin Katz

    Before the paragraph devolves into raving, commenter Greg asks a valid question worthy of an answer:

    How can we be for a small, non-intrusive government when we tell people that we won't acknowledge their relationships because they don't insert Tab A into Slot B like the rest of us do? And what does it matter to the fabric of society? Except creating a new excluded class. What's the matter? We didn't learn from the lessons of the Civil Rights movement? We aren't tired enough of being tarred as 'racist' now we have to be 'anti-gay', too? Hell, let's just take back the right to vote from the women while we're at it!

    A supra-issue strategic principle for conservatives is that it is more effective, more moral, and more in line with individual liberty to offload as many of the cultural controls that are necessary for a healthy society to other mechanisms and institutions than government. Just so, the culture of marriage has been leveraged to ensure that those children born of men and women's natural interactions are raised in the healthiest possible environment and that families develop into organic chains of support. Undermining the link between parenthood and marriage — whereby couples planning to have children get married and couples having sex understand that pregnancy comes with a unified set of responsibilities within a marital household — will increase the intimacy with which the public is compelled to become involved in individual lives. Think of the development of nannyism in the schools, from detailed sex-ed and lifestyle exploration to in-school counseling and self-esteem peddling. Think of court-determined custody and visitation rights and the financial scrutiny involved in child support. Think of the whole collection of social programs needed, in part, to compensate for the worse than average delinquencies of the bastard class. (It's relevant to note a reference that I heard on NPR yesterday morning to the "marriage gap" between wealthier families that build stable households and poorer families that are more prone to out-of-wedlock births and divorces.)

    Some readers are likely thinking, in accord with arguments made in the past, that, whatever the history of marriage, it is no longer a fundamentally procreative institution, making it unfair to exclude homosexuals. Apart from the simple consideration that, in practice, marriage certainly is still a fundamentally procreative institution, the fact of a cultural drift into detrimental habits does not suggest that we should cut off the possibility of recovery. To write the opposite-sex nature of marriage — and therefore its procreative essence — out of the law would likely push us further from a usable non-governmental shaper of culture and would certainly hinder us in reconstituting a social order in which the government needn't be an absent, but never silent, member of every family.

    May 30, 2007

    Huh? No, let me rephrase: What?

    Justin Katz

    So Froma Harrop knows a "church-going... conventional housewife" from Houston who, reflecting on a picture of Dick Cheney with his two-mommies grandchild, thinks that — although she "is happy that her two young sons and baby girl have a daddy" — it would be nice to have a Mommy No. 2 to keep an eye on things while she goes off to have her hair done, and Harrop's concludes, from this, that "at least one battle in the culture war seems to be coming to a conclusion." Well, if that's the case, can we please stop pretending that there's no such thing as a slippery slope?

    "If otherwise traditional folk smile on lesbian parenthood, can letting these parents marry be far behind?" There's the slope: artificial insemination, lesbian couple parenthood, same-sex marriage. Had one told the pioneers of the first that they were opening the door for the last, they'd have scoffed, probably with no little expression of umbrage, but it really isn't difficult to see where we're going from here. Harrop:

    Long before many lesbian couples began to openly start families, there have been two-mommy households, only we didn’t call them that.

    In traditional families, grandmothers often join the mothering team. Well-to-do households frequently hire nannies, who may do so much of the work that they become the de facto mother-in-chief. So Samuel Cheney is not breaking any new ground in having two women raise him.

    The equation is of same-sex marriage with, essentially, three-parent households. How far behind is solemnizing — and I use that term loosely — those relationships? Indeed, it's difficult to tell whether Froma's pal "Joanna" finds attraction in a female spouse as an alternative or as a supplement. Bring in the daddies — whom we're all awfully "happy" to have stick around from time to time, whom we still need (like it or not) for "fixing the garage door," and whom even Harrop admits "impart different ideals" — and the notion of marriage as a coupling will seem quaint or even retrograde and bigoted.

    It's difficult to articulate the depth of fallaciousness in Harrop's reasoning. From the comparison of an idealized lesbian relationship with a substandard heterosexual one to the unexplored elitist assumption that having another woman as one's significant other would somehow "ease the load" — as if it's manhood, not the requirements of supporting a family, that makes child-rearing one parent's allocated responsibility — apparently in Harrop's imaginings all lesbian couples share the privileges of the famous, wealthy one to which she is referring. Such so-called reasoning is, I fear, far too common in the general population.

    Onward we go, down the slope of "what could it hurt." I can only pray that we won't lack the critical thinking ability to even ask, when the time comes, "How were we supposed to know?" I certainly won't be expecting a Froma Harrop column that addresses the likely consequences of her "I know a lady" approach to social engineering.

    May 21, 2007

    Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    Ann Althouse discusses a New York Times article entitled Putting the Skinned Knees Back Into Playtime in which a popular recent book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, is mentioned.

    David Elkind writes these words in the Introduction to his new book, Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children:

    Children's play - their inborn disposition for curiosity, imagination, and fantasy - is being silenced in the high-tech, commercialized world we have created. Toys, about which children once spun elaborate personal fables, now engender little more than habits of passive consumerism. The spontaneous pickup games that once filled neighborhoods have largely been replaced by organized team sports and computer games. Television sitcoms and movie CDs have all but eliminated the self-initiated dramatic play that once mimicked (and mocked) the adult world. Parents...regard play as a luxury that the contemporary child cannot afford.

    Over the past two decades, children have lost twelve hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities...

    The psychological consequences of the failure to engage in spontaneous, self-initiated play are equally serious and equally worrisome...there is little time for exercising their predisposition for fantasy, imagination and creativity - the mental tools required for success in higher-level math and science...

    In regard to the role of play in child development, I always assumed that children used play to nourish their cognitive, social, and emotional development. But I never made an effort to articulate how play contributes to healthy development at successive age levels. I now appreciate that silencing children's play is as harmful to healthy development (if not more so) as hurrying them to grow up too fast too soon...

    A number of months ago, I came across an article entitled The Importance of Play published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The press release related to the article notes:

    A new report...says free and unstructured play is healthy and - in fact - essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.

    The report...is written in defense of play and in response to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time...

    Whereas play protects children's emotional development, a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for many children...

    The report reaffirms that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare children for success come not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modeling and guidance...

    Still, many parents...worry they will not be acting as proper parents if they do not participate in a hurried lifestyle...

    Oh, if you only knew...

    (H/T: Instapundit).

    April 15, 2007

    Circumnavigating Marriage... Again

    Justin Katz

    I have intended to keep up my end of the same-sex marriage conversation with Matt of Unlikely Words, but various factors have delayed my doing so. For one thing, life keeps trying to trip me up (in ways stated and hinted on Dust in the Light and in ways kept private). Perhaps a more significant, specific reason is that, having argued this subject for so long and from so many angles, it's difficult to muster motivation to repeat arguments that are readily available should one search Anchor Rising or Dust in the Light (or the Internet, for that matter) with a few well-chosen keywords. Rhetorical constructions of the type "I have yet to see an argument" evoke in me an especial weariness; anybody who's looked ought to be better able to restate the actual opinions of those who oppose SSM. Lastly, if I'm to make due admission of pride, I find unnecessary usage of the editorial "sic" — as if to imply that I do not write as carefully as I ought — discouraging. But Matt has offered his position eloquently and with clear intention of fair discourse, so I'll try to do the same, and I do apologize for taking so long.

    The place to start is the heart of the matter. Matt is flatly contradicting himself when he writes that "any religious person should be free to decline to... acknowledge any marriage that offends his or her beliefs." Earlier, when differentiating between discrimination against gays, in not being considered eligible to marry each other, and that against Christians, in not being able to conduct their business or charity in keeping with their belief that marriage is fundamentally a male-female relationship, he wrote:

    I'll grant that, in a world where same-sex marriage is legal and discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, the invitation company might not be free to refuse to print invitations to same-sex marriages. Let's also grant that, if they take public funds, the Christian agency might not be free to decline to place children into households where both parents are of the same sex. Their definitions of marriage would suddenly come into conflict with that of the state and, indeed, they would be guilty of legal [sic] discrimination.

    It may not make a significant difference, but it's worth noting that the Christian adoption agency faces a more essential repercussion than simply the loss of public funds; at least in Massachusetts (from which state my example derives), organizations offering such services must register with the state, and the Catholic adoption service found that it could no longer perform its function at all. Matt may take the position that the loss of a license is merely the reasonable consequence for refusing acknowledgment of same-sex marriage — which the agency is still free to do, in the abstract — but I imagine that I'm not alone in thinking that the coercive power of threatening a vocation (in both professional and religious senses) is tantamount to a denial of freedom. At the very least, that argument takes the same form as an opposing one, that homosexuals are merely not able to register their "marriages" — into which they are still free to enter on a private basis — with the state.

    If Matt's "rubric to decide which [instance of discrimination] is worse" entails "evaluating the harm done to the class or individual discriminated against," I wonder what scale places public recognition of a relationship above the ability to enter into a field of work. Would it be worse to deny homosexuals a right to redefined marriage or to bar them from becoming (say) teachers. Matt may argue that the Christians are still free to provide adoption services, just under a rule that conflicts with their beliefs, but again, that statement takes an identical form to my argument that homosexuals are not barred from marriage — they just prefer to form relationships with those to whom they are sexually attracted (a preference that is certainly understandable).

    Why is it a violation of "a simple question of civil rights" to state that marriage's meaning, at least inasmuch the government is justified in dabbling in it, involves something other (and more) than committed sexual intimacy, thereby excluding homosexual relationships by its nature, yet it is not a violation of the Bill of Rights to insist that Christians must be barred from placing children with adoptive parents in accord with their beliefs? In what way is more harm done by disallowing gays from redefining an age-old institution than by disallowing Christians from shaping their society in accord with their beliefs?

    People can reasonably accept or refute these various arguments, whether they are of the same or different form, but if we are to work together to determine the best directions in which to develop our society — rather than manipulating the law and plying politics to force our own views to the fore — then we must seek at least the empathy that comes with understanding how the other side has arrived at its conclusions. And if we are to construct our own arguments in a way that is comprehensible to those who begin from different worldviews, then our examples and analogies must compare like to like. On topics related to homosexuality, comparisons with racial discrimination seem usually to shirk this imperative. Writes Matt:

    ... I don’t consider the imposition of equality to be discrimination. Was the decision in Brown v. Board of Education discrimination against segregationists? Surely not. Of course, the two cases are not entirely parallel. The distinguishing factor seems to be that the objections are motivated by religion rather than some other value system.

    Actually, the cases are not entirely parallel because, in Brown, the court was imposing equality, while SSM imposes a definition of "marriage." The parallel would be if, in the name of racial equality, the Supreme Court had redefined "school" in a way that would increase the ease with which underprivileged blacks could acquire diplomas. Similarly, and more germanely, comparisons of SSM with miscegenation elide the fact that people of all races could enter into marriage, as it was understood by all, with the dispute being over whether a male of one race ought to be able to marry a female of another. The point is that the traditionalists in my examples are not discriminating against gays qua gays, but in favor of marriage under their definition, and since marriage is a cultural institution with implications for the society's health, such discrimination is legitimate.

    It's worth noting, here, that the discriminatory definition of marriage is not "the traditional religious view," as Matt would have it, but the traditional religious, historical, cultural, and legal view. Moreover, it is not the case that traditionalists are trying "to make it the law" (therefore necessitating "extra-Biblical justification"). It is already the law, and legalistic obfuscation aside, everybody knows that it has always been the law. The burden is on those supporting a redefinition to explain why, now, all of a sudden, we must treat the legal meaning of the word "marriage" differently.

    Back in 2004, Andrew Sullivan attempted to address this problem by arguing that coupling is now "the de facto meaning" of marriage for a majority of people who are married. As I pointed out at the time, that's simply not true. It is safe to say that almost all married men and women already or will have children. Matt offers a few "marginal cases" to prove that "defining marriage as a procreative pair cannot be sustained":

    Can a heterosexual couple who are (independently or mutually) infertile be said to be truly married under this definition? What about a married couple that abstains from sex? And do we want the state to invalidate marriages that do not produce progeny, or require fertility and genetic testing before validating a marriage certificate? Do we want the state to compel married couples to attempt to conceive?

    Addressing infertility (with reference to an older post):

    • Infertility is most commonly seen as a problem within marriage precisely because it makes it more difficult to fulfill a central role of marriage. It therefore cannot be said — as I said of SSM in the quotation to which Matt is responding — that it will "erode the institution's utility." If anything, it affirms the procreative emphasis of marriage.
    • It needn't invalidate a marriage, because infertility is not sterility, and most infertile couples do not ultimately prove to be sterile. (I know I did the research on that, once, but I can't find my resulting writing at this time.)
    • Couples will not generally know that they are infertile, much less be able to give therapies a chance, until they are attempting to have children, and it is precisely the attempt to have children that our society wishes to encourage taking place within the context of marriage.

    That last point leads to a more fundamental one, of which it is easy to lose sight in a debate that has as its focus achieving marriage rights for homosexuals: Marriage isn't positioned in our society as a form of reward. (That credit card commercial in which the king declares the dragonslayer eligible to marry his daughter comes to mind as contrast.) Rather, marriage represents an arrangement into which we wish to usher those pairings that are likely to create children. Therefore, raising barriers such as fertility testing and affidavits of procreative intent would generate disincentive.

    I'll rephrase for emphasis: The essential idea behind public encouragement of marriage is to draw people whose behavior makes conception likely within its structure. This is what we who oppose same-sex marriage are trying to preserve. We do not, as Matt apparently misconstrues, see marriage as a route toward procreation; indeed, pushing people into lifelong monogamous relationships would seem likely to decrease the rate of childbirth. Incorporating homosexuals into marriage would erode the notion that marriage and potentially procreative relationships ought, in principle, to be synonymous in a way that including sterile and abstinent couples does not for the prima facie reason that the former requires said notion's explicit rejection. If one does not accept the proposition that even abstinent couples — in their conspicuous incongruity — affirm this link, then at least it can be said that the opposite-sex aspect of marriage's definition, which abstinent couples do not threaten, is sufficiently specific for society's purposes. (And besides, abstinence is not an inherently permanent state; some might even call it tenuous.)

    Indeed, it is advocacy for same-sex marriage that leads Matt to wonder, "Where, in any of this, should gender matter?" — "this" being "the strengthening of familial and societal ties, the establishment of persistent kin groups and affinities, and the financial stability of combining households, benefits, and assets," which he acknowledges as social benefits of marriage. Well, absent the expansion of those familial ties into future generations via procreation, where in any of that should number matter? Or preexisting relationships, such as exists between siblings?

    To accept those subsequent claims to the "civil right" of marriage would be to make marriage essentially meaningless. To reject them would require a form of discrimination substantively no different from that of which traditionalists are accused when it comes to homosexual marriage. Actually, I take that back; it would be different — more capricious, more invidious. Matt's correct that "not all discrimination is equal." Some discrimination is advisable, as between good and bad clams, as between productive and wasteful activities, as between classics and popular fiction, and as between relationships that tend toward childbirth and those that inherently do not.

    March 10, 2007

    Cocoon Your Kids

    Marc Comtois

    James Lileks (via Glenn Reynolds) thinks he needs to have a talk with his daughter:

    Something’s wrong with my daughter. There’s not a single cartoon character on TV that doesn’t exactly mirror her own experience, and she doesn’t seem bothered by it. But she should. We’ll have to have a talk.
    After he surveys the relative merits of several animated thespians with relation to their ability to serve as proper role models, Lileks wraps up with a discussion of Winnie the Pooh and the fact that Disney may be addressing his faux problem by replacing Christopher Robin with a girl.
    I don’t mind that they’ve introduced a girl into the 100 Acre Woods, and as the father of a daughter I fully support the addition of female characters with whom my daughter could identify. But I know how I’d feel if I had a young boy. There are 100 acres. There’s not room enough for both?
    This relates to something my wife and I were discussing the other day. Kids TV, for the most part, ain't so great. Now, I'll be the first to admit that we have a pretty tight rein on what we allow our kids (they're both under 8) to watch. In fact, we really don't let them watch that much TV at all (though I'm a little more lax...what Dad isn't?)

    Violence is a no-no, end of story, but then there are the "situations."

    Quick, name a major animated Disney (or Pixar) movie where one or more parent isn't absent, dead, dying or doomed? Or where there isn't one extremely bad, nightmarish character who will scare the beejesus out of your younglings? Not many (if any--btw, I'll take suggestions!). Live action movies aren't much better (though Mary Poppins is certainly a favorite in our house) and many shows and movies also feature a missing parent or some sort of back-story tragedy.

    And these are rated "G"?

    As we've brought up our children, we've always wondered why there is such a rush to expose kids to complicated, adult situations. Why rush them into the world of adults, with its sexual innuendos and snarkiness and love of "irony"? Why turn innocence into cynicism so quickly? So they can be "cooler" and "hipper" and "wiser" than all of the other 7 year olds on the block?

    I'm not saying everything has to butterflies, rainbows and ponies. Heck, my kids love the stuff on Animal Planet (obviously not including attacking animals, etc.) or Zoboomafoo, Zoom, Fetch! or Hi-5 (and once, when they were younger, The Wiggles). And as they get older, it's easier to find appropriate stuff on TV. But once in a while they'd like to see a nice movie or TV show (animated or not) about a family that involves some sort of non-violent, non-tragic plot (that means no lost or dying pets!). And a little slapstick is also much appreciated (especially by my youngest). Even kids who can't "identify" with such a story about a (gasp) traditional, nice, well-adjusted family might enjoy it. Maybe they'd be inspired to try to, one day, have a family just like the one they saw on the screen. And wouldn't that be nice?

    As my wife and I concluded, there is such a desire to create entertainment featuring characters to whom today's kids can relate, that we seem to have stopped providing positive--if somewhat idealistic--examples of good kids and parents and the families they comprise. Held hostage by a fear of hurting a child's self-esteem, we've unintentionally (maybe?) limited their exposure to the traditional, well-mannered family because we're either too worried they won't be able to "relate" or concerned we may insult them somehow. Thus, we've projected onto them our own adult conceptions about what is "realistic" and helped steer them down the path towards relativism and cynicism. How sad.

    I wish it weren't so, but I doubt that the situation will change anytime soon. In the end, we can only control what our own kids watch (if anything).

    Now, I'm sure there are some out there thinking, "Sheesh, this guy's living in a freakin' Fantasyland." Well, I'm not. But I try to make sure that my kids are. They will have plenty of time to grow up and learn about the "real world." Meanwhile, my wife and I are going to try like hell to keep your kids in the cocoon as long as we can. We think they'll thank us for it in the end.

    February 24, 2007

    Sympathy for the Opposition, Respect for Its Rights

    Justin Katz

    Reacting to a comment of mine (in the conversation appended to a previous post) concerning the inevitable collision of the gay rights movement with certain fundamental freedoms, such as that of religion, Matt, of Unlikely Words, posting as MRH, writes:

    Two very interesting cases. I'm going to have to think about my response a bit. I think your hypothetical invitation company ought to be free to refuse any customer they want, and I'll have to think a bit more about the Christian adoption agency.

    In my view, these are two examples of groups that are indefensibly discriminating against homosexuals. From my own personal moral point of view, I have no sympathy for them if, in a hypothetical world where two men can get married, they are barred from such discrimination. In general, my sympathies attach more strongly to the victims of discrimination than to agents of discrimination. As a matter of law and policy, however, it's a bit more complicated, and I need to mull it over a bit.

    My first response — said, given my appreciation for Matt's cordiality, with no intended slight — is: What a strange thing for the ostensible champion of liberty and tolerance in this exchange to say! I certainly have sympathy for those who desire same-sex marriage. I think they're wrong, and I think the factors that lead them to their conclusions are ultimately detrimental to them and to society, but I can assure readers that you would find me neither gloating nor joining any spontaneous parades were the traditional definition of marriage to be affirmed with the maximum solidity available in law. Above most issues, matters of love and family affect people very personally — and are bound up with their visions for the future — and for me to have a lack of sympathy for those whose conclusions I oppose would require me to believe that they are all lying about their motives and are, in fact, consciously striving for the downfall of our society. It is disheartening to think that the courteous and discoursive MRH might believe something equivalent from the other side.

    My response to the expression of sympathy for "the victims of discrimination," rather than "agents of discrimination," is to wonder whether Matt's sympathies are applied on the basis of individual cases or he's speaking of victims and agents as class distinctions. If the former, one would expect his sympathies to cycle: The Catholics who are rebuffed for discriminating against homosexuals for purposes of adoption (to keep with the prior example) are, in turn, being discriminated against by the government in relation to the their ability to take private initiative in keeping with their beliefs about the most beneficial homes for children. If the latter, the application of sympathy — presumptuous in its assignment of roles — amounts to declaring a moral preference for homosexuals versus traditional Christians.

    Either way, it oughtn't take but so much intellectual distance to realize that the struggle isn't between religious dogma and objective civil rights, but between two competing ideological worldviews with different understandings of what marriage, in its essence, is:

    • On one side is the romantic vision of two people drawn together by love and a desire for each other's intimate, usually sexual, company. (I've felt there to be evidence of this ethereal romanticism in the incredulity with which some proponents of same-sex marriage react to suggestions that polygamy could follow in the redefinition of allowable "soul mates.") Clearly, if this is the vision of marriage that one holds, and if one believes that homosexuals really do have these feelings in equal capacity to heterosexuals, then it is nothing other than invidious discrimination to deny them equal rights.
    • The other side incorporates a healthy dose of this romantic vision, but it is sublimated to the utility of marriage to bind the genders in biologically affirmed union and to tie generations in an historical thread of ancestry and progeny, often with religious underpinnings. If this is the vision of marriage that one holds, then homosexual relationships, whether they inspire approval or disapprobation, are simply not marriage, and to redefine marriage to include them would inevitably erode the institution's utility.

    Understanding that a critical component of our argument is our claim to a right — through the democratic process — to help to determine marriage law, many who oppose same-sex marriage have striven to express our views in ways that discard diversions and murkiness. That our position remains inexplicable to many on the other side strikes me as an indication that they lack either the sympathy and tolerance to think through foreign arguments or the respect to make the effort.

    February 21, 2007

    Claims of Civil Rights to Aggrandize a Wealthy, Connected, Straight, White Male

    Justin Katz

    As brought to my attention by the Rhode Island Republican Assembly:

    In an unprecedented attack on the Rhode Island Constitution and with complete disregard to the citizens of Rhode Island, Attorney General Patrick Lynch has today, taken on the role of Lord and Master of the citizens of this state by proclaiming that "Rhode Island will recognize same sex marriages lawfully performed in Massachusetts as marriages in Rhode Island."

    He has proclaimed this recognition without the citizens of Rhode Island being given the right to vote on the matter as the citizens in other states have. He has also lifted himself above the Legislative and Executive branches of the State government which have passed no laws recognizing these Massachusetts “activist judges allowed unions”.

    This is a great miscarriage of justice and law by the individual that is charged with the responsibility of enforcing Rhode Island law and protecting our State Constitution, not Creating Laws and issuing Executive Decisions from the office of the Attorney General.

    Details from the Providence Journal's 7 to 7 blog add a little murk to the water:

    Lynch said his office took "great pains" to review state law before determining that legal out-of-state marriages don't contradict the state's public policy.

    "I’m saying there is no legal reason that a couple validly married in Massachusetts should be denied any basic rights in Rhode Island," he said. "That would be wrong."

    Lynch's opinion was issued in response to a recent request from the Board of Governor's for Higher Education. Three state employees had asked their personnel files to be changed to reflect their same-sex marriage status, according to board spokesman Steve Maurano.

    Unless I've missed something in Rhode Island law concerning the attorney general, his power does appear to leave room for him to be "forced to intervene" beyond rulings and statutes put forward by the legislative and judicial branches of Rhode Island state government. The AG's allocated modes of action are to prosecute, to investigate, and to advise. Nowhere are his interpretations deemed legally binding. When faced with civil rights violations, for example, the AG's recourse is to "bring a civil action for injunctive or other appropriate equitable relief" — that is, bring it to the courts.

    Like any lawyer/politician, however, Lynch has left himself (and 7 to 7 reporter Steve Peoples has perpetuated) an ambiguity cum escape clause. The Board of Governor's appears to have approached Lynch in his capacity as the state government's "legal adviser." But unless an adviser is a much different creature in the halls of government, it is not his role to decide that the "Board of Education was threatening to deny people basic rights" and declare, "I wasn’t going to wait." Rather, one would expect him to give the board his opinion, in confidence, and then to defend it against any lawsuits that might arise. Even beyond any question of whether the action that he did take represents a power grab, one must wonder how effectively he would defend a dissenting public board against a lawsuit concerning what he agrees to be "a basic civil rights issue."

    A further astonishing aspect of Lynch's declaration is that it comes at a time when the General Assembly has legislation addressing the matter on the table and the judiciary is grappling with a related question. Although same-sex marriage advocates have successfully framed the debate in the legalistic-sounding terms of whether the "marriages were validly entered into," and despite Lynch's decidedly nonlegalistic rhetoric, the state can deny the benefits of marriage if, as I've argued before, the relationship is simply not marriage according to Rhode Island law.

    On such fundamental matters of social construction, the people of Rhode Island have a right to a say. But since when have these false and manipulative "civil rights" advocates cared about disenfranchising anybody with whom they disagree?

    I caught a segment on this on the eleven o'clock news and it was clear that Lynch had already backed off the "I had to take action" stuff. Now if the rest of the news media and activist groups (I'm thinking mainly, but not exclusively, pro-SSM) would do the same, perhaps legal processes could flow as intended.

    February 9, 2007

    Marriage and Cynical Ballot Initiatives

    Justin Katz

    There's something disconcerting about the cynical use of the democratic process to make political statements, rather than advance a sincerely supported cause:

    An initiative filed by proponents of same-sex marriage would require heterosexual couples to have kids within three years or else have their marriage annulled.

    Initiative 957 was filed by the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance. That group was formed last summer after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage.

    Under the initiative, marriage would be limited to men and women who are able to have children. Couples would be required to prove they can have children in order to get a marriage license, and if they did not have children within three years, their marriage would be subject to annulment.

    All other marriages would be defined as "unrecognized" and people in those marriages would be ineligible to receive any marriage benefits.

    Perhaps what's disconcerting is the treatment of social and civic institutions as stages for performance. Or perhaps what bothers me is that these artistes of the ballot haven't even the depth of understanding to put forward a bit of performance art that more truly captures the position of their opposition. If the "concept" is to present traditionalists' vision of marriage for public scrutiny, then the initiative ought to include a clause stating that any man and woman who parented a child would be instantly married — whether or not they were in a marriage on parole.

    Not that traditionalists think that such an approach would be the ideal marriage law, but having given up on gay lobbyists' ability and/or desire to comprehend the subtleties of our position, perhaps the best we can do is insist on a balanced caricature — one that at least raises usable questions.

    February 8, 2007

    The Unspoken Definition of Civil Unions

    Justin Katz

    As a general rule, I think it best that legislators resist penning bills if they find themselves writing around the thing or quality that motivated them to put pen to statehouse stationary in the first place. Consider the proposed legislation (PDF) to which Marc linked earlier.

    It defines "marriage" as "the legally recognized union of one man and one woman," but it offers no similar definition for civil unions (e.g., "one man and one man, or one woman and one woman"). Stumbling along with the unspoken left unsaid, the bill goes so far as to forbid women from civil uniting with female relatives and men from doing so with male relatives (just as current RI law forbids men from marrying female relatives and women male), but if opposite-sex couples can enter into civil unions — which is nowhere forbidden in the proposed legislation — then people could civil unite with relatives of the opposite sex.

    This oversight (as I'm reasonably confident it is) relates to the reason that I've long stressed that my potential support for civil unions applies only if they are drawn out in the law without reference to marriage. Both those who support and those who oppose civil unions ought to be in favor of requiring that the public debate address what, exactly, is being sought and what qualities suggest particular rights and privileges.

    Watching the House: Civil Unions

    Marc Comtois

    Representatives Paul Crowley, Elaine Coderre (Deputy Majority Whip), John Patrick Shanley, Donald Lally, and J. Russell Jackson have proposed H 5356, which seeks to establish legal Civil Unions in Rhode Island.

    15-3.1-2. Requirements. – For a civil union to be established it shall be necessary that the parties to a civil union satisfy all of the following criteria:

    (1) Neither party shall be a party to another civil union or marriage.
    (2) Upon application to the town or city clerk for the town or city where at least one of the parties resides the clerk shall issue a civil union license. A copy shall be retained by the town or city clerk, and the department of health, division of vital statistics,. At least one party shall sign the application attesting to the accuracy and truth of the application.
    (3) The civil union must be certified by a legally authorized person in accordance with this chapter within sixty (60) days from the date of issue. Within ten (10) days of the certification, the person performing the certification shall return the civil union certificate to the office of the town or city clerk where the license was issued. The department of health, division of vital statistics shall also maintain a copy of the certificate.
    (4) If the civil union is not certified within sixty (60) days from the date of issue the license shall become null and void. 15-3.1-3. Person authorized to certify civil union. – Civil unions may be certified by an authorized person and in accordance with section 15-3-5.

    15-3.1-4. Prohibited civil unions. –
    (1) A woman shall not enter into a civil union with her mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, father's sister or mother's sister.
    (2) A man shall not enter a civil union with his father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, brother's son, sister's son, father's brother or mother's brother.

    15-3.1-5. Restrictions as to minors and incompetent persons. – A civil union license shall not be issued when either party to the intended civil union is:
    (1) under eighteen (18) years of age;
    (2) under a mental incapacity; and/or
    (3) under a guardianship, unless express written consent is given by the legally appointed guardian.

    15-3.1-6. Benefits protections and responsibilities of parties to a civil union. –

    (1) Parties to a civil union shall have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law as are granted to spouses in a marriage.
    (2) A party to a civil union shall be included in any definition or use of the terms "spouse", "family", "immediate family", "dependent", "next of kin", and other terms that denote the spousal relationship.
    (3) Parties to a civil union shall be responsible for the support of one another to the same degree and in the same manner as prescribed under law for married persons.
    (4) Laws regarding domestic relations, including annulment, separation and divorce, child custody, support, property division and maintenance shall apply to parties to a civil union.

    It's marriage by another name. I get the sense that it's intended to be a preemptive, "moderate" solution to the looming Gay Marriage debate here in Rhode Island. It may stand a chance in the House, but I don't think it'll fly in the Senate.

    January 29, 2007

    Mitt Romney on Social Issues

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    I know. I’m not supposed to be posting anything on the 2008 Presidential campaign before June. However, I’m adding a codicil to my New Year’s resolution: I can make an exception when able to present primary-source material about a Presidential candidate (or someone with a Presidential exploratory committee) that adds to a discussion area already active here at Anchor Rising.

    At the National Review Institute’s (direct quote from NRO-Editor-at-Large Jonah Goldberg: "Whatever that is") Conservative Summit held this past weekend in Washington D.C., Presidential Candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave a substantive address on his philosophy concerning the major issues in American politics -- limited and fiscally conservative government, healthcare, foreign policy, and social and life issues. Here's what Governor Romney had to say about gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research...

    Governor Mitt Romney: When I ran [for Governor of Massachusetts], there were a couple of social issues that were part of that debate. You probably know what some of them were.

    One was gay marriage. I opposed then and do now oppose gay marriage and civil unions.

    One was related to abortion. My opponent was in favor of lowering the age where a young woman could get an abortion without parental consent from 18 to 16…I, of course, opposed changing the law in that regard.

    Another issue was the death penalty, I was for, [my opponent] was against.

    Another was English immersion. For a long time, our state had bilingual education, where the schools or the parents get to choose what language their child is taught in. I said that’s just not right. If kids want to be successful in America, they have to learn the language of America. We fought for that, and by the way, I won that one, my opponent did not.

    Now, as you know, after I got elected, Massachusetts became sort of the center stage for a number of very important social issues, one of them being gay marriage. I am proud of the fact that I and my team did everything within our power and within the law to stand up for traditional marriage. This is not, in my view and the view of my team, a matter of adult rights. We respect the rights of gay citizens to live as they wish and to have tolerance and respect and not be discriminated against. I feel that very deeply. At the same time, we believe that marriage is not primarily about adults. In a society, marriage is primarily about the development and nurturing of children. A child’s development, I believe, is enhanced by access to a mom and a dad. I believe in every child’s right to a mom and a dad.

    Now, there’s one key social issue where I did not run as a social conservative, at least one. That was with regards to abortion. I said I would protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion. I’ve changed my view on that, as you probably know.

    Let me tell you the history about that. Some years ago, when I was at the Olympics, I met a guy named Mark Lewis. He was head of our marketing there. He told me that he was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship. I don’t know how far he got. His final interview was with a German interviewer and the interviewer said to him “Mr. Lewis, who is one of your political heroes?” and he said Ronald Reagan. The German had the predictable response -- *GASP*. He said how in the world can you square that statement with what Churchill said, which is that “a young person who is not a liberal has no heart?” Mark responded by repeating the last portion of that Churchillian comment, that “an older person who was not a conservative had no brain” and adding “I, Herr Doctor, simply matured early”.

    On abortion, I wasn’t always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Regan, by the way. But like him, I learned with experience.

    In my case, the point where that experience came most to bear was with regards to learning about stem-cell research. Let me tell you, there are so many different ways of getting stem cells. I was delving into that because my legislature was proposing new legislation that re-defined when life began. I think it’s interesting that the legislature thinks it has the capacity to make that determination. Our state had always said that life began at conception, but they were going to re-define when life began, so I spent some time learning (with, by the way, a number of people in this room who helped) about all of the different types and sources of stem-cells, not only adult stem cells and umbilical stem cells and stem cells from existing lines, but also surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. I supported all of those.

    But for me, there was a bright-line when you started creating new life for the purposes of destruction and experimentation. That was somatic-cell nuclear transfer (or cloning) and also what’s known as embryo farming. At one point, I was sitting down with the head of the stem-cell research department at Harvard and the provost of Harvard University, and they were explaining these techniques to me. I imagined in my mind this embryo farming. Embryo farming is taking donor sperm and donor eggs and putting them together in the laboratory and creating a new embryo. If that’s not creating new life, then I don’t know what is. I imagined row after row after row of racks of these, created either by the cloning process or the farming process. At that point, one of the two gentleman said, “Governor, there’s really not a moral issue at stake here, because we destroy the embryos at 14 days”. I have to tell you, that comment and that perspective hit me very hard. As he left the room with his colleague, I turned to Beth Myers, my chief of staff, and said I want to make it real clear: we have so cheapened the value and sanctity of human life in our society that someone can think there’s not a moral issue because we kill embryos at 14 days.

    Shortly thereafter, I announced I was firmly pro-life.

    Now, you don’t have to take my word for it, by the way. The nice thing about being able to watch governors is you don’t have to look just at what they say, you can look at what they’ve done. Over my term, I had 4 or 5 different measures that came to my desk [concerning life issues] and on every single one I came down on the side of respecting human life. That didn’t make me real popular in the state. Remember, in Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy is considered a moderate….

    In the next few days, I’ll have more from Mitt Romney on other issues, excerpts from Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush on the meaning and future direction of conservatism and from Tony Snow on the Iraq Surge and the President’s new healthcare proposal, plus a whole lot of insights and opinions that I heard discussed at the conference that will bring you up-to-date on the state of conservatism…

    January 9, 2007

    The Face of the Phoenix

    Justin Katz

    An unsigned editorial on thephoenix.com (from which I've borrowed that picture) takes the oh-so-tolerant position that disagreement with its opposition to allowing Massachusetts' citizens to vote on same-sex marriage is simply ugly bigotry:

    Bigot is, to be sure, a nasty name. But what would you call someone who denied women or blacks the right to vote? Or said to women and African-Americans, or even to recently naturalized citizens, that, sure, you can vote, but your vote will count as only a fraction of that of a man or white people or those born in this nation. That is the difference between supporting civil unions or full marriage rights.

    All these years of arguing this issue, and I continue to be flabbergasted by the nonchalance of (on average) wealthy white liberals as they manacle their fashionable crusade for gay marriage to the true horrors of racial discrimination. Have they no shame? Have they no twang of conscience whispering in their "cannot stop the march of time" ears that they are betraying to all who care to observe that their obsession with the white hood is not a legitimate fear, but a fetish? How gladly they'll don it, if given the excuse.

    January 8, 2007

    Canada Makes it Official: Heather Can (legally) have 2 Mommies and a Daddy

    Marc Comtois

    Back in October, I posted, and Justin elaborated (and I further elaborated) about a NY Times story ("Gay Donor or Gay Dad")on the the inherent difficulties and consequences of having 2 lesbian women and a male sperm donor (and possibly his partner) all seeking to press a claim on the parenthood of a child. Yet, these were informal (ie; not legally recognized) relationships. Canada has taken the next logical step from legalizing same-sex marriage to sanctioning a legalizing tripartite parental scheme. Now, in Canada, Tommy has two mommies and a daddy--the judges said so. As Stanley Kurtz writes:

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the court held its ruling until just after Canada’s conservatives failed to reverse judicially imposed same-sex marriage in parliament. Now we know how long after the secure nationalization of same-sex marriage it can take for further radical changes to emerge: about a month...We’ve got a clear instantiation of the slippery slope here.

    January 2, 2007

    Massachusetts Pols End Up Listening to the People

    Marc Comtois

    In the end, the Massachusetts Legislature ignored governor Duval Patrick and decided to listen to the voters--or perhaps the Massachusetts Supreme Court--and voted to allow a vote on a State Constitutional ban on gay marriage.

    Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where gay marriage is legal, on Tuesday voted to advance a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a critical step toward putting the measure the 2008 ballot.

    The proposed amendment, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman but ban future gay marriages, still needs approval of the next legislative session before it can go onto the ballot.

    The vote Tuesday in the constitutional convention came without debate, immediately after Senate President Robert Travaglini officially opened the joint session.

    Earlier in the day, Gov-elect Deval Patrick had met with Travaglini and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to urge against a vote, calling it a "question of conscience." He said the proposed amendment was the first time the amendment process was being used "to consider reinserting discrimination into the constitution."

    But the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that lawmakers' had shirked their constitutional duties in November by recessing instead of voting on the proposal.

    The supporters of the amendment collected signatures from 170,000 people in an effort to get the question on the ballot.

    The amendment would need to be approved by 50 member of the current Legislature and 50 members of the new Legislature before going to voters on the 2008 ballot. On Tuesday, 61 lawmakers backed moving the measure forward, compared to 132 opposed.

    December 18, 2006

    Children of "Murphy Browns" Paying the Price

    Marc Comtois

    Dan Quayle was taken to task many years ago for his "Murphy Brown" speech, in which he said:

    Ultimately however, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

    It doesn't help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown - a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman - mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another "lifestyle choice."

    I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood; network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in , this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong...It's time to talk again about family, hard work, integrity and personal responsibility. We cannot be embarrassed out of our belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most cases for children than one.

    As Quayle said, we social conservative are often pooh-poohed as moralizing busy-bodies. But there's a reason why we care about such things as promoting traditional families. No matter that we can all point to specific, acute examples of imperfect "traditional" families--and there is no "perfect" family--conservatives believe that the basis for a sound family is having a parent of either sex. Dan Quayle voiced those beliefs 14 years ago and since then, many people--both liberal and conservative--have conceded that Quayle was right:
    Ten years later, most anyone involved in child development agrees that two parents are preferable. He beamed while pointing out a recent New York Times headline that read "The Controversial Truth: Two-Parent Families Are Better."

    In 1992, discussing illegitimacy was taboo. Most politicians had steered clear of the subject since 1965, when a then-obscure assistant secretary of labor by the name of Daniel Patrick Moynihan released a report linking poverty among black children to the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births. The report was denounced, and Moynihan was labeled a racist.

    During the 1990s, the climate changed.

    Due to a push by conservatives -- and some liberals -- and to a growing body of research, the subject of illegitimacy became legitimate.

    Press coverage of the topic grew. And, as welfare reform emerged as a major policy priority in Congress, Democrats and Republicans agreed that the government needed to take concrete steps to reduce out-of-wedlock births. A 1993 Atlantic magazine cover story was titled "Dan Quayle Was Right." And later that year, Clinton declared, "I believe the country would be a lot better off if children were born to married couples."

    "We finally removed the gag," says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Rector has helped draft many family-formation provisions of Republican welfare reform bills in Congress. In the 1996 federal welfare reform law, Congress approved federal funding for sexual-abstinence programs and a bonus to states that reduce their ratios of out-of-wedlock births

    Now, all of this expert opinion is fine and dandy, but a new set of voices is making themselves heard. The kids who have lived through the experience. Katrina Clark was one of those kids:
    When she was 32, my mother -- single, and worried that she might never marry and have a family -- allowed a doctor wearing rubber gloves to inject a syringe of sperm from an unknown man into her uterus so that she could have a baby. I am the result: a donor-conceived child.

    And for a while, I was pretty angry about it.

    I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?

    Not so. The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies -- conceived in the late 1980s and early '90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish -- are coming of age, and we have something to say.

    I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.

    We offspring are recognizing the right that was stripped from us at birth -- the right to know who both our parents are. {Emphasis mine.}

    Continue reading "Children of "Murphy Browns" Paying the Price"

    December 4, 2006

    RI Approves Abstinence Education

    Marc Comtois

    Heritage of Rhode Island has overcome intitial objections put forward by the RI Dep't of Education and has received approval to implement it's "Right Time, Right Place" abstinence education program in RI's schools. The key concession seems to be that the "only" of the heretofore proposed "Abstinence-only" program has been dropped.

    “Heritage’s ‘Right-Time, Right-Place’ curriculum offers positive information that will empower our teens to take control of their lives,” [Lidia] Goodinson said at the event that Heritage sponsored to commemorate World AIDS Day yesterday.

    “This abstinence program can only help our present situation and help brighten our children’s futures,” she said.

    Heritage says its program is intended to supplement, rather than supplant, current HIV/AIDS instruction in the public school system. Heritage instructors provide abstinence-only sex education only in the presence of regular classroom teachers responsible for teaching the broader curriculum required of local schools.

    The group operates on an invitation-only basis, offering about 5 hours of instruction, down from the 6½ hours that the instruction lasted when the program was first introduced. {Unfortunately, the Journal's story, despite this clarification, referred to it as an "abstinence-only" program later in the piece.}

    This study shows that abstinence education works, while this study disputes the effectiveness of abstinence only. (Again, note the difference). Given that Heritage's program is only part of a broader sex-ed program, protestations from the ACLU ring a little hollow:
    But the Heritage program still emphasizes marriage as the only safe setting for sex, and that tends to marginalize not only gay and lesbian students but also children being raised by gay and lesbian parents, Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

    The Heritage program also tends to understate the effectiveness of condoms as a form of contraception and means of protection against sexually transmitted diseases, Brown said.

    For both reasons, Brown said, the ACLU is drafting a letter to McWalters expressing concern that the program has been approved.

    This seems like carping to me. The ACLU was initially concerned that this would be an abstinence only program, and now their moving the goalposts. Besides, it seems a bit ironic that the ACLU is arguing that Heritage's program discriminates against Gays and Lesbians because it emphasizes that marriage is the only safe setting for sex when the ACLU is also arguing that Gays and Lesbians should be allowed to marry. So where does their objection go if their latter goal is accomplished?

    Regardless, it seems like the program will go forward and all options will be put on the table for our kids. So, through compromise, RI students will have it reinforced that abstinence is the only method of pregnancy prevention that "works every time it's been tried."

    November 22, 2006

    Leaving the Door Open on the Way Out

    Justin Katz

    It ought to raise suspicions about their cause when marriage advocates seek to advance it through divorce:

    [Karen L. Loewy, staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders] said Rhode Island recognizes marriages validly entered in other jurisdictions, unless there's a strong public policy reason not to, and she said there's no such reason in this case. She said it's the common practice of comity, in which one state recognizes the laws of another.

    The sticky area with same-sex marriage — which one is apt to find with any issue that involves the assertion of a wholly new definition of legal terms — is that the "strong public policy reason not to" derives from the fact that, in Rhode Island, marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. Note the Rhode Island General law respecting marriage licenses:

    15-2-1 License required – Proof of divorce. – (a) Persons intending to be joined together in marriage in this state must first obtain a license from the clerk of the town or city in which:

    (1) The female party to the proposed marriage resides; or in the city or town in which

    (2) The male party resides, if the female party is a nonresident of this state; or in the city or town in which

    (3) The proposed marriage is to be performed, if both parties are nonresidents of this state.

    If Chief Family Court Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. decides to grant the divorce, he will have — despite all of the language throughout Rhode Island law proving marriage to be an opposite-sex affair — acknowledged that a marriage can indeed exist when the spouses are of the same sex. Combine such a decision with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling that Rhode Island need not be seen as forbidding same-sex marriages for the purposes of Massachusetts law, and same-sex marriage will have been successfully imported to Rhode Island purely via judicial maneuvering.

    November 21, 2006

    RE: Heather has Two Mommies....: It's About Heather

    Marc Comtois

    I'd like to thank Justin for elaborating upon my initial post and also direct you to Stanley Kurtz's post on the NY Times Magazine piece, "Gay Donor or Gay Dad?". As Justin explains:

    With "alternative" families, it's not so much that the family's story is more complicated as that it must be made complicated in order to create the illusion of this intangible purpose. Merely from the fact that the parents inherently refuse to acknowledge that their relation to their child is not "normal" — let alone "ideal" — the emphasis changes. Their relationship was never about merging themselves in the person of a child. The surrogate parent — from the start a necessity — was chosen, at best, for "traits that I want for my child" or, at worst, for being "amenable to the lifestyle that I wish to live."
    Kurtz also treads along a similar path:
    Implicitly and explicitly, the NYT article makes the case for accepting this radical new family form–using arguments we’re familiar with from the battle over same-sex marriage. These families want the same thing as everyone else, we’re told. Structural novelty notwithstanding, it’s said that the day-to-day lives of these bold family experimenters are boringly normal. Yes, we’re told, there are problems and instability, yet the same can be said of conventional families. And we’re led to believe that many of the problems faced by these unconventional families stem from the lack of role-models and legal safeguards. That lays the groundwork for a “conservative case” for defining conventional marriage and family out of existence. Just give us the legal safeguards and social precedents for three- and four-parent arrangements and we can prevent many tragic misunderstandings between potentially warring adults...
    To be clear, my primary concern is for the children, not the parents. Do I have sympathy for parents in alternative relationships who want to start a family? Yes. But just because they have the legal ability to bring a child into this world, it doesn't mean it is right. In the aforementioned piece, Kurtz points to a study, The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs, which can be read here. Here is the explanation of the problem that needs to be confronted (for the entire Executive Summary, please read the extended entry, below):
    This report examines the emerging global clash between adult rights and children’s needs in the new meaning of parenthood. It features some of the surprising voices of the first generation of young adults conceived with use of donor sperm. Their concerns, and the large body of social science evidence showing that children, on average, do best when raised by their own married mother and father, suggest that in the global rush to redefine parenthood we need to call a time-out.
    Whether it is through redefining marriage or genetically rengineering children (so they can have, say, 3 genetic parents): all are done to sate the desire of the parents--the children are secondary. These same undesirable motivations are not unique to non-traditional families, but the innovations that are cropping up to accomodate the changing definition of family are being implemented with little forethought for the consequences that will be most felt by the children of such genetic creativity.

    The call for a time-out--to say "Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."--needs to be heeded. In 1955, William F. Buckley was referring to the political and ideological movement of Liberalism. Now, we are confronted with forces that are changing the meaning of the definition of family, which is the fundamental cornerstone of civilized society. Yes, I think the least we can do is say, "Time out."

    Continue reading "RE: Heather has Two Mommies....: It's About Heather"

    November 20, 2006

    Re: Heather has Two Mommies...

    Justin Katz

    I wonder if you've fully articulated your beliefs, here, Marc:

    I agree that--other than their unique family structure--there is nothing that sets these folks apart from "average" people.

    I ask because I think your "however" is insufficiently strong to stand its own ground in the cultural arena:

    However, I think that the baseline structure of the parent/guardian relationships that they have cobbled together, which form the foundation for the family they have "designed," is inherently more complicated and, thus, potentially more confusing and damaging to the children who are supposed to be the most important star(s) of these family constellations.

    Already, within the quotation that you provide, one can find the argument that families formed around heterosexual relationships can be equally complicated — perhaps more so, for having not been "designed." And what if sociologists and psychologists — ever ready to define normalcy into their own intellectual preferences — are able to show that complication is not a detriment to children? I agree with your conclusion, though, so I'd suggest we look for ripples in more fundamental waters.

    However complicated they may become, traditional families offer a very compelling narrative for children's place in the world: They are born through the sexual expression of their parents' love and act as a bridge from ancestry to progeny. In Christian terms, they are the full fruit of their parents' spiritual joining in matrimony, binding their parents (and their parents' families) together in a relationship reminiscent of God's creation of mankind. In evolutionary terms, they represent the joining of their parents traits in a purposeful development of their species. Anywhere within this range of perspectives, they are a significant end, a significant achievement, in themselves.

    Even if they were the product of a "Whoops! We’re pregnant!" conception, children have access to this meaningful construct. Even if the parents separate, the child still has a claim to the romantic, religious, evolutionary context within which he or she was born; it's the parents who have fallen short. Even if the parents adopt the child, he or she fulfills a role for them that the biological parents were not able to need, just as the adoptive parents fulfill a role of which the biological parents were not capable for the child. Now, I'm not saying that we moderns haven't dulled the shine of the marriage ring, or that parents' choices after their children are born do not matter, but in whatever set of terms one chooses, there is an inexpressible truth to this: the genealogical tree is much more than a breeding chart.

    With "alternative" families, it's not so much that the family's story is more complicated as that it must be made complicated in order to create the illusion of this intangible purpose. Merely from the fact that the parents inherently refuse to acknowledge that their relation to their child is not "normal" — let alone "ideal" — the emphasis changes. Their relationship was never about merging themselves in the person of a child. The surrogate parent — from the start a necessity — was chosen, at best, for "traits that I want for my child" or, at worst, for being "amenable to the lifestyle that I wish to live."

    I can hear the objection, already, that heterosexuals choose spouses for the same collection of reasons, but that only highlights what's missing: that the relationship chosen for the sake of the children is at least intended to be the most significant relationship in the parents' lives, in a manifest confirmation of that incalculable meaning.

    I do not doubt (especially having just read a New York Times piece so naked in its leveraging of emotional weight) that the majority of homosexual parents will do the best that they are able for their children, nor that any given family will find broad social or metaphysical considerations possible to overcome. However, they are drawing on a pool of cultural capital while insisting that its plain basis be ignored for their sake, and that is "what the big deal" is.

    Heather has Two Mommies.....and Two Daddies...er Donors...or One Donor and some other Guy

    Marc Comtois

    I urge everyone to read this NY Times Magazine piece, "Gay Donor or Gay Dad?" about the complicated nature of family relationships that can develop when two same-sex partners seek a donor to assist them in starting a family. Reading the whole thing is essential because it is a complicated piece about a new, complicated family structure. Here is what would be considered a picture of a successful relationship:

    Mark, 48, Jean, 37, and Candi, 34, now have two children — Mark (named after his father) is Candi’s biological son, and another boy, Joseph, now 7 months old, is Jean’s biological son. For a long time Mark, who was working as a freelance information technologist and financial consultant in Minneapolis until he took the job at the museum, could arrange his schedule to suit the mothers’ needs. He spends time with the kids once a week, sometimes alone, sometimes with his long-term partner, Jeffrey, who is 36 and went to college with Candi, and sometimes with one or both mothers. The relationship among the fathers and mothers has been a surprise benefit, he said, creating a brother-sister feeling. Despite the fact that the mothers are still financially responsible for the children, Mark has put them in his will. Each birthday and Christmas, he deposits a $1,000 bond for their education. Like any good father, he said, “I want to see them do well.”
    Then there is this confusing explanation of another family (I stress that the story must be read to sort it all out):
    When [R.'s] daughter was 2, her nonbiological mother became impregnated with sperm donated by a gay black friend. She bore twins. A couple of years later, the mothers split up. A custody battle ensued, in which the white mother tried to gain sole custody of all three children. The judge ruled against her. The final agreement essentially assigned the three mixed-race children to the white mother roughly 60 percent of the time and to the black mother 40 percent of the time.

    The current family tree is a crazy circuit board: The black woman has a new female partner. The white woman is now living with a man, and the two have had their own child. So, as R. said, between the one child that R. has with the black mother, the twins borne by the white mother with a black donor and the newest, fourth, child born to her with her new male partner, all of whom have some sort of sibling relation to one another, things can be a little confusing. “They’re quite a little petri dish of a family, as you can imagine,” R. told me.

    Of course, this doesn't mean that such confusion doesn't occur within heterosexual relationships, but these sorts of unions as constructed and designed are--of necessity--complicated from the start. Evidence of both are found in this explanation:
    Candi’s attention returned to me: “Why is this worth a story? It’s not even worth discussing. We’re just as American as our next-door neighbors. You see all these families with stepdads and stepmoms and half brothers and half sisters. What do you say about marriages that 50 percent of the time end in divorce? Why are we so threatening?” Most heterosexual parents, she said, marry, have sex “and then suddenly: ‘Whoops! We’re pregnant!’ Our families are designed. They’re conscious. They don’t just happen by happenstance. We had to sit down and say: O.K., what’s your relationship to the kid going to look like? What’s our relationship to each other going to look like? What’s this family going to look like?” She didn’t understand what the big deal was. “We want the same things that every other family wants! You know? We shop at Costco; we shop at Wal-Mart; we buy diapers. We’re just average. We’re downright boring!”
    I agree that--other than their unique family structure--there is nothing that sets these folks apart from "average" people. However, I think that the baseline structure of the parent/guardian relationships that they have cobbled together, which form the foundation for the family they have "designed," is inherently more complicated and, thus, potentially more confusing and damaging to the children who are supposed to be the most important star(s) of these family constellations.

    I say "supposed to be" because much of the entanglements and complications described in the story arise from the attempts to delineate what "rights" each of the adults have in these relationships with regards to seeing and interacting with the kids. It seems that's what's best for the kids is less important than the type of relationship that the adults will have with those kids. That's not really out of the ordinary: too many adults put their own feelings and desires regarding the parent/child relationship ahead of the children's. Yet, if such misplaced prioritization is bad enough when you have a typical two-parent family, what the heck do we expect can