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March 6, 2004


Let's go back to Thursday for a moment, and Andrew Sullivan's summary of his view about civil disobedience. There's something similar, here, to my objections about the civil rights lingo cooption. As I've complained before, to compare the San Francisco marriages to staying seated at a segregated lunch counter is grossly to misrepresent the two events; the mayor, in this case, is serving the lunches. Similarly, is it really "civil disobedience" when civil officers lead the charge?

This matter comes together in more nettlesome ways when Sullivan writes:

Where such civil marriages can legitimately take place under the law (as appears to be the case in Oregon), there's no problem.

Yet, as Michael Williams points out, administrators in Oregon have been behaving in ways that put the legitimacy of their action in a murky light, to say the least. Mark from Outdoors Pro explains:

During the press conference this morning, Commissioner Serena Cruz seemed almost giddy about this. It's obvious how this entire thing came about. These four commissioners decided that they wanted to "legalize" gay marriage, so they instructed their lawyer to come up with a legal argument, however flimsy, to justify it. In the process, they completely avoided any possibility for contrary arguments to arise until after they'd started issuing licenses, making it more difficult to "undo" their actions.

The commissioners' "closed-door meetings" weren't just closed to the public. Also locked out (not informed, to be more precise) was the only male commissioner — also the only one opposed to gay marriage. Moreover, the three-day waiting period was waived.

Bringing it back to Sullivan, all of this points to something that I've been saying lately: he — and I think he's representative of his side — uses words differently than most everybody else. When he says states should address whether to accept out-of-state gay marriages with "democratic deliberation," he means that the courts decide. As he explains today, democracy applies in that the people of a state have the ability to pass laws to preempt the courts' (or the attorney generals') decisions:

Nothing is being forced on New York State. If New Yorkers wanted to pass a law, like 38 other states, that would refuse to recognize Massachusetts' marriages, they could easily do so. But they haven't. State autonomy means that states not only can refuse to recognize another state's marriages, but that they can agree to recognize them as well. Liberal states might well decide to recognize Massachusetts' marriages. That's not a violation of the principle I laid out at all. [David] Frum doesn't seem to have the faintest grasp of the legal principles involved here.

That last sentence is pretty bold. Sullivan must be aware — and his careful language these past fifteen years attests that he is — that when most people hear the phrase "let the states decide," they imagine the voters, or at least the legislatures, doing the deciding. The word "decide" tends to carry an active connotation. Keep an eye out for this sort of thing when discussing gay marriage. Not surprisingly, given the central issue of dispute, words don't always mean what you think they mean.

(I also want to note the gall that it took for Sullivan to complain that Frum "refuses to answer my simple question." Reading disputes that others have had with him will show that this is a frequent complaint of Sullivan's opponents.)

Keeping with Sullivan's aggressiveness, yesterday, responding to Krauthammer's review of The Passion (my take on that here), it seems to me that Sullivan gets darn near libel:

Gibson doesn't recognize the authority of the current Pope; he doesn't recognize the current mass - the central ritual of Catholics across the world. People are mistaken in believing that he merely prefers the Latin mass; he doesn't. He favors the Tridentine mass, a relic. He believes that all non-Catholics are going to hell, another heresy. He is clearly and palpably anti-Semitic. His movie is an act of aggression against Jews, and, as such, is an act of aggression against Catholicism and the current Pope's heroic efforts to confront the shameful history of the Church with regard to the Jewish people.

While it's great to see that, in addition to his newfound dislike of pornography, Sullivan has renewed his affection for the Pope, I wonder from where Sullivan's getting his information. He hasn't, as far as I've seen, presented any of it, and certain points are, last I heard, more applicable to Gibson Sr. than to his famous son. Somehow, too, I'm sure that others (perhaps among my readers?) more familiar with Gibson and the Tridentine mass will find more Sullivanesque distortion going on in that passage. For my part, I'm left only able to marvel at this:

He doesn't mention that young Jewish children actually turn into demons at one point in the movie, a device that only students of medieval anti-Semitism would notice. In fact, one reason that today's viewers do not notice the hatred of Jews in the movie is because, mercifuly, they are not familiar with the medieval tropes that signal evil and that Gibson trafficks in. Gibson knows.

Mel Gibson — anti-Semitic mastermind! Of course, one could note that the children torment Judas, and if we assume that the city is entirely Jewish, it would have been a bit odd for non-Jewish children to be playing in the streets. (I read, somewhere else, the point that Jerusalem was a crossroads, making it a presumption that only Jews would have been among the crowd.) More stunning, however, is Sullivan's admission that "only students of medieval anti-Semitism" would notice it. It seems to me that 1) a person could find any artistic device used for objectionable purposes throughout history, and 2) that it was an odd strategy of Gibson's to hide messages in his movies that only his enemies would spot. Ah but Western Christians and Jews aren't the target market of Gibson's propaganda, according to Sullivan's fevered mind:

And he knows how his movie will play in those parts of the world where anti-Semitic tropes are still recognized.

The sheer brilliance of Mel Gibson is clear. He made a movie about the crucifixion of Christ, complete with heavy reference to the theology of the Eucharist, so that Muslims and Euro-secularists would see it and get all riled up at the Jews. It isn't even vague attempts to further domestic bigotry of which Sullivan is accusing Gibson (which would be a serious enough accusation). He's imagining an intricate and well-researched plan to spark violence in other parts of the world.

Is this part of the world included, I wonder?

Posted by Justin Katz at March 6, 2004 2:44 PM

Hey Justin, Along these lines, did you catch the article in Sunday's ProJo (originally run in the Boston Globe) about how town clerks in Massachusetts are awaiting a ruling on whether to hand out out-of-state marriage licenses because a 1919 law expressly prohibits doing so if the marriage would be illegal in the home state of the wannabe newlyweds? Sullivan specifically used this law in one of his justifications to Frum last week. The kick to the piece is how advocates of gay marriage supposedly aren't worried about it. Makes sense, it's just some silly old law...I'm in a rush, so I can't provide any links, but thought I'd give you a heads up.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at March 7, 2004 12:54 PM

I haven't had a chance to read that piece, yet, but my understanding is that the relevant legal language is such that, if a town clerk gives out licenses illegally or by mistake, those licenses are still valid. In other words, national turmoil depends (in this specific aspect of the larger issue) on the full vetting of applicants by town clerks across Massachusetts.

I could be wrong, though.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 7, 2004 5:35 PM

I blogged about this a few days ago, here is what Sullivan said about the particular law.

"It has long been established law that the states have a public policy exception to recognizing marriages from other states; and Massachusetts' marriage licenses, to cite the current controversy, are even issued on the condition that they are void elsewhere if unapproved in other states."

The text of the cited law states:

Chapter 207: Section 11 Non-residents; marriages contrary to laws of domiciled state

Section 11. No marriage shall be contracted in this commonwealth by a party residing and intending to continue to reside in another jurisdiction if such marriage would be void if contracted in such other jurisdiction, and every marriage contracted in this commonwealth in violation hereof shall be null and void.

Again, we have Sullivan trying to logically refute an FMA while at the same time, he knows full well that no evidence to this point would lead any to believe that the Mass. Judicial System works on logic, much less by the rule of law they are charged to uphold.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at March 7, 2004 8:35 PM