February 29, 2004

Passion Sans Distraction

[Note: There are "spoilers" here (as if you don't know the story), but they are meant to unspoil the spoiling of other reviews.]

So anyway.

When the end credits started, I didn't know what to do. There was no point in sitting through a running list of strangers' names, but what else? Just walk out the door? Well, that's what we have to do, I guess — out to Newport's cobblestones. On with life.

The first thing to say is that I'm astonished at the inability of the movie's critics to see it as artwork. I don't know if they want a documentary or a homily, but what they get is — tada — a movie, and a great movie, at that. Once my head had been cleared with fresh air, I shook it to think how much some critics have missed. The idea first came to me when Judas was being hounded by a gang of devil children. Depending on your point of view, the guy is either being driven mad by his conscience or set upon by demons (I would say they're the same thing); that he sees children mocking him through the hills and a maggot-ridden lamb is no stretch. Consider that he rubs his lips raw, having been stunned by Jesus' admonition about the betraying kiss. (To be honest, I thought Gibson's portrayal of Judas inspired.)

Anti-Semitism. Frankly and directly, if you sit through this movie looking for evidence of anti-Semitism, you've wasted whatever price of admission you paid. It is clear that Gibson did what he could to neutralize any ethnicity-specific blame. But mostly, it seems to me, he endeavored to prevent this controversy from distracting from the message, because, as I read him, the contrast between the Jews (from among whom Jesus came) and the Romans is absolutely central — as a mechanism to highlight qualities of the latter, not the former. Andrew Sullivan, for one, complained that there were "a few actors in those scenes who look like classic hook-nosed Jews." What did he want? Blond hair and slanted eyes? The entire argument over this aspect of the film represents, to put it bluntly, the worst of identity politics, supercilious disdain for our shared humanity. And I won't let my review be polluted by it any further.

Violence. Yes, Jesus is beaten, and he bleeds copiously. But perhaps based on the hype and loose associations with Quentin Tarantino, I found it less gory than I'd expected. I mean, come on. Whenever I hear "Stuck in the Middle with You," I picture that scene in Reservoir Dogs when the gangster cuts the cop's ear off and dances around the room with it ("Hello?"); in Pulp Fiction a kid's brains are casually blown out in a car (catching in Samuel Jackson's afro, as I recall), and an entire scene is devoted to its cleaning. What culture are these critics living in?

Yeah, when the whip actually got stuck in Jesus' side, I thought it was a bit much, but that was the only moment that (for me) even came close to the warnings I'd heard. Sullivan's description of the whipping scene makes me wonder if the theater to which I went got a censored version. "Skin flying through the air"? "Chunks [torn] out of a wooden table"? Maybe I need new glasses. Having read Sullivan's assertion that "no human being could sruvive [sic] it," when I saw the scene itself, I thought of the part in C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy, in which Aslan claws a princes, condemning her to days in bed, and later explains that her experience had been exactly the same as a girl whom she had caused to be whipped.

Sullivan also mentions "yet another money shot" in which a crow pecks out one of the crucified criminals' eyes. Perhaps it was overdrawn, but it isn't wanton in context. A while back I caught a late-night cable creep show in which a guy is handcuffed to a corpse in the middle of the desert and a buzzard comes and plucks the living guy's eye out — literally, you see it come out. Gibson isn't anywhere near that level of gratuity. It would have been more accurate to say, in the present instance, that the crow "attacks the criminal's face."

I've frontloaded these points to get them out of the way, because all they are are distractions. Allow them to slip away just a little (which far too many people seem unwilling to do), and the "artistic message" can begin to show through. Little moments about which people complain — that to some make no sense whatsoever — come into focus. And with such astonishing ease that I'm surprised that, even having read so few reviews, I haven't seen the message.

It seems to me that Gibson has picked up on something in the Gospels that, even when I was an atheist, I've always thought was underplayed considering its relevance to our times, John 18:38: "'What is truth?' Pilate asked." As others have noted, in the movie, Pilate's truth is one of bureaucratic responsibility. But what it ought to highlight — this single moment that is certainly among the most relevant of the entire Bible for our times — is that The Passion of the Christ was created within and for viewing from our modern perch.

Sullivan (whom, if you haven't noticed, I'm using emblematically, here) catches that he is supposed to identify with Pilate, but — tellingly — he takes from that identification that Pilate is portrayed as a saint. He's not; he's our representation.

Everything Pilate does is an attempt to avoid his fate. He sends Jesus away; he brings up a lunatic Barabbas in an attempt to trick the crowd into letting Jesus go; and then he makes a huge, dramatic show of washing his hands of the matter. It isn't the his fault, he declares, it's the Jews'. Jesus' blood is on their head, not his, he says, reaching for the towel to...

The towel? A white towel? Why yes, and thus we realize that he's wrong. Here we've a double irony with which to contend. The first is that Pilate doesn't realize that the very same towel that he uses to symbolically free himself from blame symbolically links him right back to Jesus' blood — because his wife gave Mary just such a towel, and Mary used it to sop up the blood left after the whipping. The second irony is that Sullivan interpreted Mrs. Pilate's towel-giving moment as an out-of-the-way gesture to excuse her husband, when it accomplished just the opposite.

If we keep our minds on the towels, Mrs. Pilate's concern throughout makes sense dramatically to enable the Christian soiling of the Romans' fine linen. It may go a little far, but if you're of a mind, you could further consider that the reason Jesus' blood finds its way into Pilate's symbolism is the very simple, human compassion of one woman for another.

Now, keeping this in mind, rewind a bit. Sullivan says that "the Roman torturers are obviously evil," but I saw them somewhat differently. They're base; some of them are just plain nuts. They are, in fact, the sort of characters to whom one would expect a departmentalized and regimented polity to assign the monstrous work of torture. With that minor adjustment, a subtext ought to click into place when Pilate's top guy, Abenader, comes storming in and yells (approximately, emphasis added): "Your orders were to beat him, not to scourge him to death."

What Pilate and Abenader don't see, for all their concern about Caesar's displeasure and the mob over whom they govern with contempt, is that their order and their organization cannot contain the madness in their own ranks. The representatives of Rome's dark side spilt the blood, after all, that implicates Pilate. They drag Jesus through the streets attracting attention to him, making his crucifixion seem extra significant — converting people along the way.

And that's why I was tempted to call an aspect of a review by Michael Coren, another Christian critic, obscene:

Indeed, the scene where a Roman soldier plunges his spear into Christ's side is, I am sorry, almost like something out of Monty Python. The soldier and those around him shower in the water and blood that cascades out of Yeshua's body.

But I can only feel a sort of vague sadness that Coren, for whatever reason, instinctively translated the movie into a cartoon. With his description in mind, I expected those mad torturers to prance under a tide of blood. In the actual scene, however, one soldier kneels before the gushing liquid, and he's a character that we followed all the way through the streets, increasingly taken aback by the scene unfolding around him, stopping to ask who Mary is. He, in other words, is the most fully drawn of a sketch we see increasingly throughout the cross bearing, which begins among an angry mob and ends among sympathetic witnesses.

A woman comes up to wipe Jesus' face; another woman urges Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus because he's "a holy man"; Simon goes from a plea that it doesn't concern him to active defense and support of Jesus. (He's another character whom Gibson renders masterfully, giving the audience [me, anyway] a real sense of what it means for this man to have walked with Jesus in those final steps; it happened quickly, but I think Gibson even has Simon get poked a bit by the crown of thorns.)

Gibson did make decisions that I would have advised against, some vociferously. The shot of Satan after the crucifixion seemed unnecessary, almost comical, and pulled me right out of the story. I'll definitely have to see the film again; there's so much to ponder. However, on first impression, I find myself wondering what movie some people watched and what they'd been expecting.

For your part, dear reader, watch the movie, and don't let all that nonsense that distracts us from Truth in real life cause you to miss the significance of the film — as a work of art.

Disputations Tom beat me to expression of something regarding Pilate that I mentioned in the comments to this post and was just about to flesh out as an addendum. Now I don't have to:

I have observed, though, that portraying Pilate in this way is seen by many as tantamount to excusing him.

If, for a moment, we can set aside the history of Christian anti-Semitism, which is inextricably related to all this, I think we still have a phenomenon worth ruminating on. Presented with a man (or character, if you prefer) who, knowing the man before him is innocent, orders his execution for political reasons, some see a man all but free of guilt.

This is astonishing. It is as though they believe washing his hands actually removes Pilate's guilt. As though they believe Pilate's attempt to deny responsibility for Jesus' death actually transferred responsibility elsewhere.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:39 PM | Comments (7)

February 27, 2004

How 'Bout the Dots, Deroy?

The latest mention of Deroy Murdock on this blog was in the context of Christians, with whom I took issue, who were complaining that National Review didn't stick to the social conservative line. To be sure, I also disagreed with the argument with which Murdock set off his spark of the flare, but I saw it as a difference to be addressed, not dismissed. Today, he justifies my continued admiration for him by proving that, whether wrong or right, he stands on principle:

The ACLU's supporters should contemplate where this organization has placed itself vis-à-vis NAMBLA and the Boy Scouts. The ACLU seemingly believes that everyone deserves a lawyer, no matter how odious his case. Perhaps, although it would be nice to see NAMBLA siphon its own bank account rather than the ACLU's to justify its evil ways. The ACLU decides for itself where to devote its finite resources. Hence, its leaders freely chose to stand with cheerleaders for pederasty while torpedoing those who mentor rather than rape little boys.

Today's ACLU makes one wish it would find some whales to save.

Of course, I would point out to Murdock that he's coming close to connecting some of the very dots that lead social conservatives to differ from him on such issues as gay marriage. Also of course, such persuasion is not possible to the extent that those in my gang have pushed him away.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:06 PM | Comments (2)

And then the Wave of Similitude

Well, Marcus Ross today opened his student paper to discover something that brings back memories of my own time at his university: a unanimous cry that he's wrong. Some letters poorly written. Some hilarious. One from a professor. Marcus ought, of course, to be allowed the learning experience of juggling these various tints of monochrome minds; if he intends to remain in the Northeast and to proudly wear the label of "conservative," he'll need the experience.

But I can't resist dipping in.

First up is Katie Block, who writes from the broadly researched position of one who has interviewed her friends on the matter:

In recent days I have walked around the University of Rhode Island campus talking to people I know about gay marriage. Everyone I have talked to has simply said that homosexuals should have the right to marry, it just makes sense.

Such are the critical thinking skills of the acquaintances of a member of Students for Social Change. Well, yes, I suppose that, if one's defining cause is "social change," then redefining marriage does, indeed, "just make sense." Of course, if Ms. Block wishes to further her personal cause of making sense, I'd suggest that she spend some time researching Constitutional law:

My answer to this is that as far as I can remember there is supposed to be a separation of church and state. Therefore, this amendment President Bush wants to put in which defines marriage is unconstitutional in itself. Marriage has no place in the Constitution if it is taken as a religious entity. The government has no right to define marriage. It does, however, have the obligation to uphold the Constitution which, if I remember correctly, says that all men are created equal.

Alright. Maybe it would be a bit ambitious for her to begin with Constitutional law, because one would presume that such studies require some knowledge of what's actually in the Constitution. That stuff about all men being created equal is in the Declaration of Independence. Moreover, specifically speaking, the Establishment Clause, debatably rendered as "separation of church and state," is in the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments to the Constitution, following which are the other amendments. All of these amendments are, by definition, "constitutional," and since the Federal Marriage Amendment would go at the end of that list, it, too, would acquire that adjective.

With this as a foundation, perhaps Ms. Block could begin pondering such questions as:

  • If the government has no right to define marriage, why are activists appealing to it to redefine the institution?
  • And how can a young woman devoted to "social change" consider a document written hundreds of years ago to be immutable?

Once these points are considered, perhaps she can move on to the next level of profundity:

  • Whom does she believe created men so equally?
  • And wasn't Mr. Ross's central complaint about gay marriage that men are created just a bit too equally to be complementary parents?

After all of this hard learning and deep thinking, it might be healthy to inject a bit of levity into the debate. For this, we turn to Keri Mirkovich, who begins:

Marcus Ross, in his recent opinion of the regulation of same-sex marriages, made the same mistake as every other pundit trying to push for the abolishment of gay marriage: assuming that he could truly understand the other side of the argument.

Of course, one could get bogged down in taking offense at the blithe declaration that opponents of gay marriage are just too dumb to understand the minds of its supporters. But let's move along to the very next line, which couldn't have been written better by even our side's least-dumb parodist:

The only argument against gay marriage is religious. Period.

As it happens, in the twisting of things, Ms. Mirkovich concludes by making a superb argument for a Constitutional amendment:

The Supreme Court should be brought this issue as soon as possible so that finally this matter can be settled.

Lastly, we come to the smashing of Ross's "ill-reasoned recent publication" by Library and Political Science Professor Olivier Vocino. Quothe the professor:

Marcus wrote, "What's to stop a 42-year-old man from "marrying" his 15-year-old boyfriend?" The law, Marcus, would stop such a silly thing.

Oh silly Marcus. Of course, the law currently stops homosexuals from marrying, and the basis for the law is precisely what Ross was addressing:

If the definition of marriage is to be so radically altered, as the gay community argues it should, then we as a society require rigorous justification for that change, as well as an understanding of what the new boundaries will be. If the reasoning for allowing same-sex marriage is "because I love them and they love me" coupled with "it isn't fair otherwise" then this is shoddy reasoning indeed. How can this protect our society from truly egregious behavior such as incest and molestation (where minors could be pressured to affirm consent) without appealing to something entirely arbitrary? What's to stop a 42-year-old man from "marrying" his 15-year-old boyfriend?

Rather than researching age-of-consent laws, Prof. Vocino might have better spent his time rereading young Marcus's piece. He's asking about reasoning, not mechanism. At least Cheryl Jacques, of the Human Rights Campaign, got that far when she gave the reason, "Because I don't approve of that."

The professor swings and misses, again:

Or, Marcus, you also said, "If the reasoning for allowing same-sex marriage is 'because I love them and they love me'....is 'shoddy reasoning.'" I'd like to know why heterosexuals marry. It can't because they love each other....I assume you think that is "shoddy reasoning," too.

To the text, Professor! Ross referenced "the reasoning for allowing," not the reason that they would want to be allowed. Ben Franklin may have been correct to quip that "a reasonable Creature" is capable of creating a reason for anything he "has a mind to do," but even that venerable statesman, whose name Ms. Block will find when she peruses the Constitution, left open the reasoning his fellow citizens ought to apply to the question of allowing it. (Although he did move to open each session of the Constitutional convention with a prayer for God's illumination on the obscurity of "political truth.")

For my part, I'll leave it to Mr. Ross to discern what "real issue" Prof. Vocino might present for "good conservatives to be concerned with."

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:14 PM | Comments (6)
Marriage & Family

A Note on Correspondence

Being as swamped as I am, I thought it worth posting a note that I've got several emails waiting in my inbox to which I intend to reply. If yours is one of them, know that I'm holding on to it until I've got a moment to reply with consideration.

Not to worry. The Big Project should be done this weekend.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:34 AM
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February 26, 2004

Name That Cliché

Jay Nordlinger quotes, as he puts it, "the lady who would be First Lady," Mrs. Kerry-Heinz:

What has been most damaging, I think — to all of us — about many of the actions of this administration has been the cynicism with which they have perpetrated their positions and with which they have used us to trap us and to, in a sense, terrorize us, because they paralyze us.

Whether deliberately or not, Mr. Nordlinger missed the obvious contemporary cliché suggested by so many utterances of "us."

C'mon. You don't need me to spell it out.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM

A Passionate Disagreement

Having not seen the movie, I'm limited in the extent to which I'm able to comment, but I have to get a few thoughts about reaction to The Passion of the Christ out of my head so other thoughts can flow while I walk the dog.

Although I'm surprised that John Derbyshire linked to it with approval, I'm not surprised by Christian Canadian writer Michael Coren's thoughts on the movie. Coren's review brings to mind previous indications of a cross-denomination schism. On one side are believers in what Rev. Donald Sensing calls "Metrosexual Jesus." Put simply, these are people who don't believe that religion should ever make anybody feel badly about themselves, no matter what they insist on doing. Doctrine should change with the times to accommodate the people living in them, and the softer, gentler side of Jesus is taken as license to do so. Does he have a speck in his eye?, they ask the righteous. Well, what of the plank in yours? If the accusation were turned on the person judging another for intolerance, and if the accuser could be made to address the complaint directly, I can only assume a relativist fog would arise, in which the speck/plank comparison changes with perspective such that everybody else's eyes have specks while yours, if you are judging, will always have a plank. Or something.

On the other end are people who believe in what might be called "South American Prison Jesus." These are people who take religion as they have found it, realized that they will sin and be judged, and move on from there. Of course, it is healthy for these folks, among whom I count myself, to realize that Christ's forgiveness does await... if we repent. But the point is that the religion is real. Evil must be faced, particularly within ourselves.

So, based just on a quick look at his column and his Web site, I'm guessing that Coren's closer to the Metrosexual Jesus crowd than he is to the South American Prison Jesus crowd. And it makes sense to me that such people will have a soul-deep dislike of Mel Gibson's movie. This is particularly true of those with the aesthetic sense suggested by his Web site. (If you visit it, make sure to stick around long enough for the music to kick in.) It is even more particularly true of a person likely to write the following:

This is some pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic blood cult. It is populated with medieval-type caricatures, screaming out of context, laughing at suffering. ...

The flashbacks seem, with one touching exception depicting Jesus as a child, to be mere attempts to push Catholic eucharistic theology onto the audience.

Putting aside sectarian prejudice, one line strikes to the heart of the matter: the movie "is also so, well, so anti-humanity." That's, well, sort of the point. Humanity brings this ugly sin into the world. It's cliché to say, but Coren, almost by his own admission, wants the "majesty and pathos" without the scourging. As I understand Gibson's intention, it isn't, ultimately, as much a movie about Christ as about us, what we did, and about what we must acknowledge having done. We, I needn't remind Coren, have not yet been raised up into majesty.

One way not to acknowledge this is to throw out decoys that have the tangential benefit of making us feel oh-so-compassionate and full of pathos. A big one in this case is anti-Semitism. Yesterday, Michael Graham wrote in the Corner:

I don't know what the reviewers who see even a hint of anti-Semitism are looking at. While the Jewish leaders certainly aren't heroes, several members of their ranks step forward to defend Christ and denounce the way he is treated. The battle over Jesus isn't Jew vs. Christian in this movie. It's Jew vs. Jew, with both factions doing what they believe is right.

In fact, Gibson uses a moment in the Crucifixion to all but declare Caiaphas and his allies "Not Guilty!" for the death of Christ. It's not subtle in the least, and the fact that most reviews I've read skip this moment indicates to me they're doing their part to keep the unfounded controversy alive.

Let me be perfectly clear: There is no way to honestly say this movie is either anti-Semitic or promotes anti-Semitism. That is simply not true, and people who have seen the film and make that claim are being dishonest or ignorant.

To be entirely honest about my own biases, I expected Andrew Sullivan, if he said anything substantive, to relate the movie to his central cause. That seems to me a perfectly normal and understandable reaction. But this, I did not expect:

Is it anti-Semitic? The question has to be placed in the context of the Gospels and it is hard to reproduce the story without risking such inferences. But in my view, Gibson goes much further than what might be forgivable. The first scene in which Caiphas appears has him relaying to Judas how much money he has agreed to hand over in return for Jesus. The Jew - fussing over money again! There are a few actors in those scenes who look like classic hook-nosed Jews of Nazi imagery, hissing and plotting and fulminating against the Christ. For good measure, Gibson has the Jewish priestly elite beat Jesus up as well, before they hand him over to the Romans; and he has Jesus telling Pilate that he is not responsible - the Jewish elite is. Pilate and his wife are portrayed as saints forced by politics and the Jewish elders to kill a man they know is innocent. Again, this reflects part of the Gospels, but Gibson goes further. He presents Pilate's wife as actually finding Mary, providing towels to wipe up Jesus' blood, arguing for Jesus' release. Yes, the Roman torturers are obviously evil; yes, a few Jews dissent; and, of course, all the disciples are Jewish. I wouldn't say that this movie is motivated by anti-Semitism. It's motivated by psychotic sadism. But Gibson does nothing to mitigate the dangerous anti-Semitic elements of the story and goes some way toward exaggerating and highlighting them. To my mind, that is categorically unforgivable. Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, this movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics as well as Jews who are determined to confront that legacy. In that sense alone, it is a deeply immoral work of art.

Some of this requires one to see the movie, although modest replies are obvious: Making an issue of the amount of Judas's payment? See Matthew 27:6 and 7, but particularly 9. The Jewish priests rough Jesus up? See Matthew 26:67, Mark 14:65, and John 18:22.

For now, what jumps out the most, however, is the line, "Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity." To illustrate why I picked up on that specifically, I offer another citation — Sullivan's Love Undetectable, page 19: "The loathing of each group [gays and Jews] is also closely linked to fear, and the fear is fanned, in many ways, by the distortion of a particular strain in Christian theology."

Mike Potemra offers his thoughts on the matter:

Now, I saw this movie, too, twice, and I was especially on the lookout for signs of anti-Semitism or an overstress on Jewish guilt. I didn't see it—and I think if Andrew hadn't been angry at the film on other grounds, he wouldn't have seen it either.
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:37 PM | Comments (4)

Mothers Can Like Sports, Too

[Gabriel Rosenberg made a comment to this post that I thought sufficiently important to put my reply in the main body of the blog. (It also didn't hurt that it took me so long to write it.)]

He talks about a Dad making it to more baseball games. In my family, it was my Mom who was the big baseball fan. My Dad preferred football. If he thinks it is important for his children to have a parent of each gender, he should marry someone of the opposite gender. In our society we generally allow parents to decide what is best for their own children.

— I'll admit that this is an attractive argument. The catch is that the well-being of young Gabriel Rosenberg isn't, of itself, a tremendously "compelling state interest." Let's leave aside that these examples, such as the sports reference, are meant to capture much more intricate arguments about much more subtle relationships. If your mother truly was a baseball enthusiast and wasn't just supporting her son's endeavors, she was unique in that respect.

But again, the sports reference is only emblematic. Allow me to quote our friend Andrew Sullivan in a New York Times Magazine piece on testosterone:

And the difference is a real one. This is so obvious a point that we sometimes miss it. But without that difference, it would be hard to justify separate sports leagues for men and women, just as it would be hard not to suspect judicial bias behind the fact that of the 98 people executed last year in the United States, 100 percent came from a group that composes a little less than 50 percent of the population; that is, men. When the discrepancy is racial, we wring our hands. That it is sexual raises no red flags. Similarly, it is not surprising that 55 percent of everyone arrested in 1998 was under the age of 25 -- the years when male testosterone levels are at their natural peak.

Of course, Sullivan's example isn't a shining one for the male parent (although he elsewhere notes that testosterone levels drop in men in stable marriages); his point throughout is that testosterone affects a person in every way, and "an average woman has 40 to 60 nanograms of testosterone in a deciliter of blood plasma. An average man has 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter." My point, because I am most definitely not a biology-is-destiny type, is that, no matter how you approach the question, men and woman are different in significant ways. To argue that they are not is, resurrecting a metaphor, akin to arguing that triangles and rectangles are not different in significant ways when it comes to skyscraper construction.

This doesn't quite reach your point. Even so, you'll say, it is a matter of opinion whether those differences, however significant they may be, are crucial contributors to the proper development of a child. That they are indeed strikes me as obvious, and I believe recent sociological research backs up what just about everybody believes to be true anyway. At the very least, we can say that your proposal is entirely untested on a societal scale (a scale at which no individual can possibly comprehend every relevant factor), and that the stakes gambled to test it are cataclysmically high.

The entire point of encouraging marriage in any civic form is to address society-wide realities. When it comes to civil marriage, that is, your individualistic point, as emotionally compelling as it may be, is either irrelevant or subversive of the civil institution. Now, you can argue to the public that men and women are not, on average, significantly different when it comes to childrearing. Or you can argue that civil marriage ought to be abolished. But you can't argue that parents have a right to receive public endorsements for every choice that they make in contravention of public belief.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:38 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Life Outdoing Fiction

Lane Core notes, from the New York Sun, a piece by Alicia Colon. This part is too eye-popping not to quote; it's one of those documents that sends you searching for signs of fraud or farce, even though it indicates something that you intuit could be true:

Over 40 years ago, Rep. A.S. Herlong of Florida introduced into the Congressional Record, January 10, 1963, excerpts of a book written by a former FBI agent, Cleon Skousen.

It was called "The Naked Communist," and the excerpts were "current communist goals." There were 45 in all, at least 40 of which have been achieved. These are some that need to be noted as apropos to what is going on in America today:

  • Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
  • Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as "normal, natural, healthy."
  • Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with social religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity, which does not need a "religious crutch."
  • Discredit the family as an institution.
  • Use technical decisions of the courts to weaken basic American institutions by claiming their activities violate civil rights.
  • Eliminate prayer or any phrase of religious expression in the schools on the grounds that it violates the principle of "separation of church and state."

After some quick research, I can't locate this portion of the Congressional Record on any Web sites in which I'm especially confident (e.g., with a .gov), but this page seems to present information according with every other instance of its mention. Here are a few more objectives that might cause a shiver:

  • U.S. willingness to capitulate in preference to engaging in atomic war.
  • Develop the illusion that total disarmament [by] the United States would be a demonstration of moral strength.
  • Promote the U.N. as the only hope for mankind. If its charter is rewritten, demand that it be set up as a one-world government with its own independent armed forces. (Some Communist leaders believe the world can be taken over as easily by the U.N. as by Moscow. Sometimes these two centers compete with each other as they are now doing in the Congo.)
  • Discredit the American Constitution by calling it inadequate, old-fashioned, out of step with modern needs, a hindrance to cooperation between nations on a worldwide basis.

Of course, even assuming that these were actually concerns read into the Congressional Record forty years ago, this doesn't mean that there's an orchestrated conspiracy going on. Forecasting changes that would further the cause of communism would likely lead to some hits even if there's nothing more deliberate than a sort of creeping socialism in the culture. Nonetheless, the matter is worth at least as much consideration as the question about whom the terrorists would want to win the next election — which isn't a loony or superfluous question in the least.

Here's another little wrinkle — almost definitely just a coincidence. While looking into The Naked Communist, I came across this, from a 1998 review of the book on Amazon:

Cleon Skousen used this text for a course at Brigham Young University. ...

Now at BYU, in a required course for Poly Sci. majors, Stan Taylor methodically debunks Skousen's "Naked Communist" and Gary Allen's "None Dare Call it Conspiracy." Stan also sits on key policy-making boards for the LDS Church to determine the Church's stand regarding Communist nations.

As it happens, last night I received a highly suspicious email, with a zip file attached in the fashion of the MyDoom virus, and the text: "you are a bad writer." The email address, if you haven't guessed, was from byu.edu.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:13 PM | Comments (2)

The Gay Marriage Debate in Satire

Scott Ott had two satires reacting from the President's announcement of support for a marriage amendment that I didn't get around to linking to. "Bush Backs Amendment Defining 'Mayor'" brought to mind Gabriel Rosenberg's comment to a recent post, here, asking whether the courts had a right to redefine "governor" to include women.

Meanwhile, "Bush Backs Traditional Marriage, AndrewSullivan.com Hardest Hit" is a humorous reminder of the odd position in which pundits who advocate for a particular cause are in. Whether their side wins or loses a particular significant event, the pundits are likely to experience a career boost. There isn't inherently anything wrong with that — advocates of non-economic causes have to manage somehow — but I thought this part of Ott's piece aptly cutting:

"Not only will AndrewSullivan.com be hard hit," said an unnamed expert in constitutional PR, "But Mr. Sullivan's PayPal donation link will take a beating as liberals and homosexuals race to combat the amendment by funding Andrew's promotional efforts."

Mr. Sullivan could not be reached for comment since he is appearing on several dozen news and talk shows.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:33 PM
Marriage & Family

Signs of Intelligence

Keeping up my small-scale efforts to encourage youngsters to think like me, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate Marcus Ross of the University of Rhode Island's Students for the Awareness of Conservatism for braving the zeitgeist to enunciate, intelligently, academic blasphemy:

Proponents of same-sex marriage insist their quest for marriage is the same as the fight to abolish laws prohibiting interracial marriage during the Civil Rights era. But here's where the analogy of interracial and same-sex marriage breaks down: there are no fundamental differences between black, white, Asian or Latino males. Skin color is superficial and (to me, anyway) irrelevant as to who someone wants to marry. But the differences between a man and a woman (irrespective of race)? Those are relevant. Males and females are certainly equal, but they clearly are not identical, nor are the types of relationships in which they engage.
Posted by Justin Katz at 5:17 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

I Knew This Day Would Come

Sorry to get such a late start with the blogging today. We had to drive out to New Bedford for an extensive sonogram (reason for concern, but not much to worry about). On the way back, we stopped at BJs so that we won't have to do so this weekend, and I picked up some much-needed coffee. And, well, a day that I knew was coming has arrived.

Here's the can that I just emptied:

And here's the can that I just opened:

I've known that this little part of life would change just as irrevocably as that terrible rip in all of our lives two-plus years ago. A sort of subtle reminder and distant ripple. I'd held out some miniscule hope that the company would maintain its anachronistic packaging, but that hope had been little more than wishful thinking. The packaging of the twin pack wrapper has long borne the scar of reality:

I imagine the company was just using up its old cans.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:00 PM

February 25, 2004

Discrimination in the Name of Openness

It is reasonable to anticipate that, should gay civil marriage come to be, the next push will be to force religious institutions either to perform gay marriages or to disconnect from the ability to grant civil marital status as part of religious ceremonies. Nonetheless, I didn't think it worth worrying about anything specific — such as the loss of tax exemption — because I largely agreed with Eugene Volokh:

He said churches could raise a "significant constitutional defense" to keeping their tax-exempt status. He noted, for instance, the Catholic Church has faced criticism for years because it doesn't ordain women as priests.

"Churches, quite clearly, have the right to marry or not marry whoever they please," Volokh said. "Maybe somebody could sue them for discrimination in marriage, but the churches will certainly win."

Of course, even on this basis alone, one could suggest that they'll maintain the right to marry whomever they want, while losing the public recognition of those ceremonies. But the SCOTUS ruling regarding discrimination against students in Washington state just because they'll pursue religious studies does much to push Volokh's confidence toward religious folks' worries. Here he is on the Washington scholarship case:

The result, I think, genuinely is the discrimination against religion that people have complained about (sometimes wrongly, but here rightly) -- not just exclusion of either pro-religion or anti-religion messages from the government's own speech, but a regime where the government may discriminate against private religious institutions and programs, but may not discriminate in their favor. Now this is a wrong that is indeed worth amending the Constitution over.

Rick Garnette says that the court "has authorized discrimination by state actors against those who take their religious faith seriously." Prof. Bainbridge positions the ruling in opposition to the frequent calls for the courts to "protect minorities from the 'tyranny' of the majority," a sentiment that gay marriage advocates have voiced to justify pushing their cause through the judiciary.

Put it all together, adding in suppression of free religious speech in Canada and action against the Boy Scouts in the United States, and the circumstances seem to justify moving from vague suspicion into open concern. Volokh suggests that the discrimination against religion is "worth amending the Constitution over," but I wonder to what rallying cry he would tie such a movement. The U.S. Religious Scholarship Protection Amendment?

Too many people have been wooed by specious arguments about "separation of church and state" and convinced that it requires the very discrimination that Volokh decries for a general religion-protection amendment to gain traction. Similarly, too many fair-minded and reasonable people with faith in the law, such as Mr. Volokh, are misidentifying the trends and motivation behind them and underestimating the extent to which judges don't share that faith — or at least believe themselves to be its main prophets.

Increasingly, it seems to me that marriage, and the amendment to protect it, represent just about the strongest conceivable position from which to push back on this attack on the Constitution and, ultimately, on freedom. The FMA would not only slow the tide, but it would also break justifiable pleas for equality from advocacy with less-noble intentions. And, as I've said, when the ripples settle down, when the right circumstances are achieved, it can be repealed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:09 PM | Comments (2)

Separation Means Suppression, Apparently

And the elite delegitimization of religion as a worthwhile pursuit continues:

The Supreme Court, in a new rendering on separation of church and state, voted Wednesday to let states withhold scholarships from students studying theology.

The court's 7-2 ruling held that the state of Washington was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to a college student who was studying to be a minister. That holding applies even when money is available to students studying anything else.

I don't know the specifics of this case, but it would seem relevant to ask whether a student seeking a healthy education in secular humanism and the genius of Marxism would have similar difficulties procuring tax-payer dollars.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:55 AM | Comments (3)

More Advocacy from the Velvet Rag

The Providence Journal, which has barely mentioned a major protest against gay marriage in Boston and not so much as whispered about smaller protests in closer cities for which it serves as the major paper, is giving top billing to a small gathering of the most liberal of liberal ministers in Rhode Island.

It's just shameful. Saddening and shameful. In an article about religious people, on a topic for which the biggest strawman is that the only arguments against gay marriage are religious, the paper didn't offer a single opposing argument. We're told that the Catholic Church opposes gay marriage, and we get this:

"This group of clergy got together to announce and demonstrate to the public that they, a respectable church, and members of other respectable churches -- in distinction from only the Roman Catholic Church -- were in support of this change in social policy," Perry said after the news conference.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for Bishop Robert Mulvee, the head of the Providence Catholic Diocese, said the bishop would work to oppose any bills legalizing gay marriage.

While most speakers at the event yesterday did not specifically refer to the Catholic Church, some urged legislators not to oppose gay marriage on religious grounds.

Instead, it would seem, legislators are to support it on religious grounds:

The Rev. Dr. William C. Trench, of the United Methodist Church in East Greenwich, said his support for gay marriage is based on his religious beliefs.

Marriage, he said, "is a promise made before God and the community to love one another forever."

And the Velvet Rag continues to sell its soul for gay marriage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:49 AM
News Media

Too Much Class

I'm starting to think that the gay marriage debate is indicative of nothing so much as class differences. Consider Glenn Reynolds's thoughts:

That said, I'm still against it, just as I was against the Defense of Marriage Act that Bill Clinton signed. I know plenty of gay people who are, for all practical purposes, married. I don't see what's wrong with them getting married. I don't understand how letting gay people get married threatens heterosexual marriage (here's an amusing post on that subject). And, in fact, I suspect that to the extent it makes any difference at all in the wider society, gay marriage will prove to be a fundamentally conservative institution, with married gays taking the role of solid citizens that married people have traditionally taken.

I continue to be disappointed by what is essentially a position dismissing all concerns — even more so because this position hasn't changed one bit since June. How does one argue with a perspective that puts aside thousands of words of argument and various social-study analyses on the basis of a few acquaintances? I don't know Prof. Reynolds's gay friends, but is the professorial class really one on which to base cultural policy?

It's not unlike Andrew Sullivan's declaration that "the living, breathing reality of civil marriage in America" is that it's more about coupling than childbearing and family. As I've shown, this is nonsense. Last night, I walked into the living room during a commercial and asked my wife what she was watching. To paraphrase: "That show with the married guy and the kids." I laughed, because there are any number of shows that fit the description.

I mean no disrespect to Prof. Reynolds, of course, but the vision of marriage in academia or in the blue-state jet-set in which Sullivan lives simply don't constitute a plausible — or sane — model for the whole of society. Add to this that middle and working class folks who argue for gay marriage seem disproportionately likely to have had bad experiences with marriage, and it doesn't evince paranoia to suggest that at issue is the removal of perhaps the most significant cultural guardrail.

And, frankly, I'd be much more comfortable with the expressed opinions of the likes of Prof. Reynolds if they took to the time to address others' concerns more extensively than with reference to friends and shows of hand in the law-school classroom.

Just to clarify: "People I know" isn't inadmissible as evidence; it just isn't wholly adequate. It requires, at least, some justification for believing that those people are representative and a willingness to address conflicts between experience and broader information.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:20 AM | Comments (7)
Marriage & Family

February 24, 2004

Fair-Minded Extremism

I had just about decided not to post my thoughts on the comments to an entry by Roger Simon. What strikes me is the sheer extremism, the fundamentalist confidence, and the belief that only hateful people could take a contrary position. There's no concern for the way in which the "right" policy is implemented. There's no concern about the adverse consequences that accompany even the most righteous change, when that change is as profound as gay marriage would be.

The reason I wasn't going to mention those comments is that they got me thinking that perhaps it would be worth exploring the extent to which Internet demographics play into the arguments. If I had to characterize the standard online position on my side, it would be that tying up some legal issues for gay couples would be fair and compassionate, but that there are reasons for society to single out male-female unions for special approval. There's a quip here, an expression of disbelief there, but for the most part, it is understood, at the very least, that there are shades of motivation and reasonableness on the other side of the issue.

Of course, I'm aware that there are probably chat rooms and certainly computerless folks out there who would put Simon's commenters to shame in the vitriol department with the opposite point of view. That's why I began to wonder whether one could generalize about the relative ages and social positions of those who take both sides on the Internet. The "college kid" corollary on the conservative side of the gay marriage issue is probably far less likely to have ready access to a computer and sufficient interest to read and comment on political blogs than would be an actual college kid.

Anyway, as I implied, there's much to be considered here, and it's hardly so obvious that it can be stated confidently, and I don't have the highest confidence in my ponderosity today. But... then I came across Andrew Sullivan's screed, which could really knock a person back a step. Support for the marriage amendment, according to Sullivan, can be nothing other than a hateful political ploy. That's it. End of story.

Now, I have sympathy for Sullivan in this. Not only is he gay, and not only does he seem to have identified the right to marry as some sort of balm that would retroactively heal the wounds of his childhood, but he's devoted a substantial portion of the latter half of his life to this cause. It would, in fact, be a bit surprising, perhaps disconcerting, if his blog-speed reaction had been of completely even temper.

Nonetheless, I can't help but feel that he's let something more constant show through. I'll be exploring some of this in greater depth in the very near future, but Sullivan changes tone so dramatically when he feels he's got the upper hand versus when he feels he's losing leverage that it's reasonable to be wary of making any judgments based on promises of magnanimity when he thinks the issue is going his way. Frankly, I suspect he's not alone, among gay marriage supporters, in this. He's said that the civil-rights, gay-marriage-supporting, assimilationist side of the gay community has won some sort of internal battle of ideologies. I'm not so sure that's what's happened; I'm not even sure that can be said of Sullivan himself.

So, in short, I think it worth your time to read Sullivan's comments; he hasn't summarized his talking points more concisely anywhere. From the "sacred document" appeal, to race baiting, to accusations of politics, to — yes — assumption of bigotry:

That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way.

If you're of good will, in other words, you must oppose this President. If this feeling is deeper than just-stung swearing, I fear Sullivan is badly misunderstanding which way this issue is going to go:

We must appeal to the fair-minded center of the country that balks at the hatred and fear that much of the religious right feeds on.

You may support gay marriage. You may even believe that, deep down, opposition to it stems from some sort of prejudice. But one thing it is delusional to believe is that the "fair-minded center" will look at the President's speech this morning and see hatred and fear of homosexuals. The actual direction in which those emotions are running couldn't be clearer.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:14 PM
Marriage & Family

Off Day

For the sake of a project that I'd like to finish up this week, I had intended to blog only lightly today, anyway. However, I've been alternating between feeling tired and nauseous since I woke up, so know that whatever posts there are were written through somewhat of a fog.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:45 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Here We Go

Well, sides are being taken, and the President has just chosen his:

The union of man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious or natural roots without weakening the good influence of society today.

I actually didn't catch the speech, so I'll have to keep an eye out for transcripts or streaming media. (Shouldn't those things be just about instantaneous nowadays?) Check the Corner, up from here, for some coverage.

While I'm there, I thought I'd address a couple of things that Ramesh Ponnuru has said. First, there's his response to Andrew Sullivan, who asked whether civil union laws already on the books would be nullified by the FMA. Here's Ponnuru:

The amendment is supposed to block recurrences of such judicial edicts--so you would not see other states following the same pattern. Whether the existing civil unions and civil-unions laws would be nullified is, I think, unanswerable based on FMA alone. It would depend on the applicable law regarding how to handle retrospective changes to the law. Supporters of FMA who agree with one another about every other detail of what its impact would be may well disagree on this question.

I don't know what laws there are pertaining to the continuation of pre-amendment laws. However, changing the question just a little to address whether other states could pass the same laws after the FMA is passed, I'd have to say that I don't believe so. At least Vermont's and California's civil union laws pretty explicitly grant incidents of marriage, as such, to unmarried couples.

In a tangential post, Tim Graham asks:

Ramesh, in your wire story there, isn't it funny that the media always use the term "ban" so-called gay marriages? How do you "ban" something that is presently not officially recognized in most states?

Ponnuru's response is that "it's not inaccurate as a description of a forward-looking prohibition." That's true enough, but I don't think it covers Graham's intended quip. The media has been using "ban" all along, as in: "The SJC today struck down the ban on gay marriages." Personally, this particular instance of spin has bugged me for a while.

The White House's Web site has a transcript and video.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:32 AM | Comments (13)
Marriage & Family

February 23, 2004

Some Links Without (Much) Comment

I've held on to various items with the intention to write about them, but for various reasons I haven't found the time. So, here they are:

At some point in the future, I'm sure I'll stop being angered by such media antics as Brent Bozell mentions — as the networks and papers carefully craft their preferred reality — but that reasonable perspective has thus far eluded me.

Rev. Donald Sensing has been writing on the gay marriage thing from various angles. Of particular note is an essay in which he explores differences in the way we approach marriage as a concept.

Joining the two previous topics, Rod Dreher suggests that burying stories about events in the gay marriage battle, as is being done, is exactly what he would do if he held the opposite opinion, a position of power, and loose ethical guidelines.

Patrick Sweeney chides Rush Limbaugh for spinning the lethargy with which Republican politicians have moved to deal with the gay marriage issue. The comments drifted toward the likely extent of the coming cultural struggle. An optimist might suggest that we've an opportunity to undo 1968, in a manner of speaking.

Edward Feser, meanwhile, responds to some reactions to his exploration of why the American academy is such a Leftist stronghold, proving, as he does so, that humor is an apt complement to intelligence.

And last, a couple in Australia raises a question that I've often wondered in the context of late-age remarriage of divorced people with children of opposite sex: to what extent does it serve to "set up" the kids with an intimate, in-house relationship of their own? I wonder just how common this turn of events is and wouldn't be surprised to find it hardly rare at all.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:04 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Right on Track with the Trends

Back in early January, I noted that Andrew Sullivan was evincing a selective memory when he declared, "When gay marriage gets an actual popular majority, as it soon will in Massachusetts, they won't be able to hide behind their argument about 'judicial activism' and will have to be candid that their real, anti-gay goal."

At the time, a new Zogby poll was indicating that the trend was precisely the opposite. While just after Goodridge a Boston Globe survey found a majority of Massachusetts supporting gay marriage (50% to 38%) and opposed to a man-woman-marriage amendment (53% to 36%), the Zogby poll reversed the results of the first question (42% support for versus 52% opposition to gay marriage) and narrowed the second (49% opposition to versus 48% support for an amendment).

Well, Stanley Kurtz points out that the first trend has continued. The Globe has released the results of another poll. Now, only 35% support gay marriage, while 53% oppose it. The question of the amendment, however, has splintered into a more complicated matter, in part as a result of the legislature's attempts to find compromise amendments, with each option polling as follows:

Restrict marriage to heterosexuals: 45% yes, 47% no
Heterosexual marriage, but mandated civil unions: 36% yes, 49% no
Heterosexual marriage, with civil unions defined by legislature: 30% yes, 55% no

At least part of the problem seems to be a misunderstanding of the legal contingencies (which is, of course, absolutely understandable). 71% wanted the issue to be decided by voters in a statewide referendum, and 57% wanted voters to be presented with several options. It seems likely that, as voters come to understand that the only way for them to have a say is if there's an amendment, support will climb, and that they'll choose the option allowing them the most direct control. In that respect, they run right into the linguistic problems arising with the FMA — how to allow something for the people and their representatives while blocking the courts.

Incidentally, I think these numbers indicate another dynamic that I've come to see as likely: whichever way the battle goes, ultimately, there will be a temporary uptick in marriage and decrease in divorce, because the issue of marriage has been on people's minds. Whether as a result of folks' pondering what, in their marriages, is or ought to be blocked to gays or touting the benefits of marriage to which gays ought to have access, the perceived value of the institution rises. If gay marriage wins out, however, this advance will be short lived as the issue fades and as newlyweds enter the scene having never given the matter such deep thought.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:50 PM
Marriage & Family

Just a Question

Am I a wacko extremist type? I do try to be reasonable, but arguments do tend to carry me away.

It isn't just an ego thing, I don't think, that leads me to be disappointed that I didn't merit mention in Ponnuru's article, considering that he makes a point of establishing a broad view of the debate, via links. If there's something to the omission, I wonder what, specifically, could be more prudently done, on my part, in the future. The Lord knows that, between the Providence Journal and Jonah Goldberg, I didn't make any friends last week.

Perhaps it's just an indication that, while I'm making progress, my hopes are getting ahead of reasonable expectations. Perhaps, however, it might be helpful for me at least to act as if I've reached a point at which it would be advantageous for the leash on my lips, so to speak, to be tightened. I've never had a mentor nor instruction on these sorts of considerations, so it's all a bit like fumbling in the dark.

Okay, end insecure catharsis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:00 PM | Comments (4)
Diary & Confession

We Can Be Reasonable, Here

In addressing some of the objections to the FMA that I've fielded recently, Ramesh Ponnuru offers a reminder of something that it's easy to forget: agreement with the marriage amendment in whatever form those negotiating the wording think can pass doesn't mean there won't be degrees of preferred policy different. I could back this, for example, if it would help the cause:

As for the suggestion that no possible language will work, let me offer a suggestion: Strike the words "state or" from the second sentence of the amendment. That is to say, make it possible for a state law to be construed to require the conferral of benefits on same-sex couples. But continue to block the construal of a state constitution that way. That deletion should make Volokh's scenario go away. And amendment supporters would not be giving up very much. What they are most concerned about is the idea that a court will take one of the "majestic generalities" typically found in constitutions and give it a specific meaning they do not believe it can bear. Statutes, by their nature, are less susceptible to this kind of thing. And if a state court took interpretive liberties with a statute, it would be much easier for the state legislature to correct the problem — it would simply need to pass a new statute.

To be sure, if changes are to be made, I'd rather they just clarify what I believe that the FMA already does: allows civil unions as long as they're built without reference to marriage. But that's a subtle point, in the big picture, that I would gladly trade. Particularly if polls continue to trend as I'll be noting in a post or two...

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:45 AM
Marriage & Family

Sexual Corruption

In part because of a blog post by Oswald Sobrino, I've been thinking about the spiritual consequences of sex. Specifically, I mean the mirror attitudes that "it's just sex" and that sex can be spiritually rewarding, from which often follows the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church (among other prudes) makes way too much of it.

Certainly, one could argue that the Church only seems to elevate it above many other sins because it is an area in which religious tradition jars painfully against modern mores. In our times, particularly, sex happens to be an activity that people seem inclined to defend, even at the expense of faith. It is often clear, at least to me, where those who most strenuously argue that the Church should change its teachings have become perfect examples, themselves, of the reason it should not. Their religion has become more of a New Age naturalism, and when they refer to the spiritual benefits of sex, they're more likely to characterize it as a gift of "our nature" than of God — even if they believe themselves to be devoted Christians.

Explication of this corruption of faith, however, is of limited utility in a world so far gone. Moreover, even I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that the government ought to legislate explicitly so as to diminish neo-paganism. It is a blessing, therefore, that we for whom that actually is a goal find the very same corruption at work in a more social context.

The stages that follow overlap, within an individual and across society. To the extent that they represent a continuous trend, they won't all take the same amount of time to resolve to the next step. But I think the list gives some sort of structure to the logical progression of sexual corruption.

First, the glass onion is thrown up, peeling on the way:

  1. Couples acknowledge that the ultimate purpose of sex is procreation and ought only to be had within marriage. They do, however, make use of the natural patterns of the women's fertility to keep some form of control over the rate of their families' growth. But even by the very strategy through which they seek to avoid conception, through their awareness, they affirm the central purpose of sex. Moreover, they affirm their mutual empathy, and the sex, open to procreation, is unitive, including the romance and even the foreplay. At worst, conception is an accident for which they must take responsibility within a family already ideally suited for children. This is the current position of the Catholic Church, as I understand it and as I believe it ought to be.
  2. Reasoning that their timing strategy essentially enables sex without procreative intent, and seeking to limit unanticipated childbearing, the spouses see little reason not to use contraception. To some degree, for some methods, this introduces a risk of very-early abortion, but not always, not for sure, and not by intent. Nonetheless, deny it or not, the difference between timing pitches and putting up a wall is the separation of the target from the throw. Sex separates from procreation. Worse still, any resulting children aren't accidental gifts, but outright errors — failures for which, not the parents, but the contraceptives are responsible.
  3. Since there's very little chance, and zero intent, that sperm will connect with egg, the method and location of orgasm becomes moot. Even used as intended, the parts are merely engaged in a sort of mutual masturbation, so there's no reason not to vary their usage. The objective continues to be, after all, the connection and expression of intimate love.
  4. But now the location makes a larger leap. Since sex is starting to be seen as just a exchange of pleasure, and since the likely need for family arrangements that allow for unexpected children is greatly diminished, marriage is no longer a prerequisite. Sex separates from marriage. Worse, not only are errors the fault of the contraceptives, but the parents are not prepared for the responsibility. Moreover, the lessened profundity of the act makes the consequence seem an unfair punishment.
  5. At this point, sex needn't be within marriage, and it needn't involve the type of sex that can result in children. The complementary parts, no longer being treated as necessarily complementary in any real sense, become unnecessary. A member of one's own sex can, after all, assist in sodomy. Sex separates from gender.

This is about where our culture is right now, although we are rushing toward the next stage, at which the glass onion begins to fall back down:

  1. To the extent that marriage is seen as just a committed relationship in which to have more meaningful non-procreative sex, same-sex couples begin to claim a right to it. The benefits that they desire are not only within their relationship, of course, but social as well. If a straight sibling can get married with no set intention to have children, why should the gay sibling be deprived of mom's gleaming look while passing the string beans along with the question, "When are you two going to get serious?" Marriage, in this view, is essentially about an emotional bond between two adults, so why should homosexuals be excluded from the social approval that results from taking that step?
  2. But there's still a difference. The married straight sibling makes mom positively beam over the honey-dipped carrots with an announcement of pending parent-(and, therefore, grandparent)-hood. Part of marriage is, after all, the shared responsibility of parenthood and the deepening of family ties that comes with being at the start of a new branch. So now adoption becomes a necessity, and to the extent that gay couples aren't discriminated against in the adoption process (and who would think to do such a thing?) children are deprived of the experience of having either a mother or a father — by design.
  3. But there's still a difference. The child is still distinct from the parents. For this, there's the simple solution of IVF or a surrogate mother or father; either way, the child is something to be made for its parents. In an echo of the introduction of contraception into sex, we see the introduction of other people — by contract — into the childbearing process. And in the case of IVF, it involves the creation of dozens of doomed lives.
  4. But there's still a difference. Grandma can't hold the child lovingly and attribute its eyes to parent 1 and its nose to parent 2. The child doesn't unify the parents; they can't revel in the blending together of their two selves. Who, then, could deny this loving — and married — couple access to cloning technology? What ethical walls could stand in the way of the research required to perfect it?

I'm sure there are a substantial number of people — particularly among those who read the Internet regularly — who would have no problem with any innovation up to and including cloning. From there, who can guess the next step? Would a married couple requesting the pill for the first time have believed anybody loony enough to suggest that gay marriage — let alone cloning — would be the result? Whether folks in the Sixties had reason or capability to see it, the trend is coded, so to speak, in the intial steps of the liberalization of sexual morality, with the innovation of contraception.

My suspicion is that society won't get as far as pushing cloning specifically for the benefit of gay parents (even if that is one excuse put forward). To reach that point, every "conservative" argument for gay marriage must pan out. In all likelihood, the cultural link between parenthood and marriage would fade just as the cultural link between sex and marriage and the biological link between sex and childbearing faded before it. And no matter the ethical qualms one might have with the smashing glass onion, the dissolution of marriage and the norms that it protects would in no way represent a silver lining.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:37 AM | Comments (2)

February 22, 2004

All 'Cause of Little Ol' Me?

I just noticed that the Providence Journal's Web folks replaced the picture of their front page that I had used in my post about its coverage of reaction to Gov. Carcieri's terrorism bill to a blank, while every other picture is still available. Curious.

If their concern had been for the resources used for each download, one would have expected techies to remove the file or just change its name. Guess I'll return to the practice of hosting pictures on my own server.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:35 PM
News Media

More Perspective on Abuse

The Diocese of Fall River gave us a preview (PDF) of the abuse statistics that are about to hit the media, and I have to say, after years of scandal, they actually aren't as bad as one would have expected from the coverage. Keep in mind, of course, that this is only one diocese, and for context, consider that Fall River was among the first to be hit by the scandal and was the diocese in which Bishop O'Malley earned his reputation as a fixer, so to speak.

Out of 1,353 priests serving since 1954, 32 were the subject of allegations — 2.37%. In total, there were 216 allegations. Unfortunately, the diocese didn't note how many were ultimately substantiated. The bulletin insert also doesn't include such information as the ages or gender of the children.

Now, here's the eye popper: only six of the alleged incidents occurred after 1980. That means that 97.2% of all accusations involved abuse happening during the great cultural convulsion of the Seventies, Sixties, and late Fifties. Moreover, all but 10% — all but 22 allegations — came to light after 1990, which is when the diocese began investigating and addressing the problem.

Of course, any abuse is too much, and of course, the Church oughtn't attempt to absolve itself by pointing a finger at the culture. But it is certainly significant that, at least in our diocese, the problem had largely abated well before action had been taken and before the extent of the problem was known.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:50 PM
The Church

February 21, 2004

Two Women, No Men

The discovery that the first lesbian couple married as if for real in the United States were, in fact, old-time man-haters brought forward an interesting paradox. Here are two women who, if their lesbianism was an inherent, unchangeable aspect of their psychological composition, spent years and expended copious effort attempting to liberate other women from bonds that the pair, themselves, would never have chosen to enter in the first place.

It would be a safe bet that Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin have, at some point in each of their lives, spoken the phrase, "I don't need a man to make me whole." And yet, central to the rights-based argument for gay marriage is the rhetoric that being unable to marry makes homosexuals "less than human." Perhaps it's a little trite, but the take-away message seems to be that straights don't need marriage to be complete, but gays do.

Talk about a reversal of natural law!

Now here's an interesting question. Several of the most vocal proponents of gay marriage have made the distinction between gay marriage and polygamy that, with the latter, there would be a valid concern about the development of a bachelor underclass. Anthropological history, as I understand, makes that a pretty safe bet.

At the same time, some of those same SSM proponents have admitted that they believe women's sexuality to be more fluid, more of a choice. Once the choice is made, lesbians, where given the chance, are more likely to marry than gay men (Vermont civil unions are two to one). Similarly, the "superfidelity" of female-female unions has been often touted as canceling out the likely higher rates of infidelity among male-male unions. Now throw on this mound of factors the reality that the "glass ceiling" is just about gone and adoption rights are sure to follow marriage rights, and that revolutionary techniques in fertility and artificial conception are coming into their own.

It seems to me that female-female unions might be just as likely to have the male-underclass effect as polygamy. Maybe more likely. After all, if a man marries two women, there's only one man left out; if a woman marries a woman, there are two resulting bachelors. Of course, this is in a realm of unknowability about the effects of gay marriage, but at the very least, it would seem a reasonable challenge to the blithe leveraging of lesbians as self-evidently good for the institution of marriage as a whole.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:54 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

The Soul of an Amendment

Given the rules for passage of a Constitutional amendment, balances and compromises must certainly be struck. As I noted yesterday, Jonathan Rauch (who is personally against any amendment having to do with marriage, anyway) has suggested that it would be easier to pass an amendment that does nothing more than restrict the gay marriage movement to state-by-state action. He would even leave state judiciaries free to do as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has done.

I've already suggested that such an amendment would sap the motivation of the amendment's strongest supporters, and I just recalled something that one such supporter, Robert Knight, said back in 2001:

Once you abandon morality, you must rely solely on utilitarian arguments. This is one of the weaknesses of the current campaign for the Federal Marriage Amendment: Its defenders have purposely avoided making moral arguments. No constitutional amendment campaign can succeed without a great moral principle driving it. Curbing judicial power is appealing, to be sure, but it is not enough to motivate the mass movement necessary to generate success. Nobody goes into the trenches to preserve a "national debate." Just because homosexual pressure groups are attacking the proposal with vehemence does not mean it is the best vehicle. They react with outrage at any resistance to their agenda.

Seen in this light, Rauch's proposal would siphon off even the "moral principle" having to do with curbing judicial power. By hammering conservatives for abandoning federalism, he seeks to enshrine it as the sole motivation for acting at all. The balance of principle between morality, social requirements, separation of powers, and federalism would be completely restricted to what — for me, at least — ought to be seen as more of a guideline for action rather than its purpose.

Of further interest is that the aspect of the FMA that Rauch would keep is mainly that expressed in the second sentence. In his own attacks on the FMA (which are too plentiful for me to go sifting through right now), Andrew Sullivan has taken the opposite approach, concentrating on limiting conservatives' action merely to the man-and-woman definition.

And this, ultimately, highlights a bit of sleight of hand on Rauch's part. He is characterizing his solution as "to constitutionalize DOMA." But the Defense of Marriage Act, itself, defines marriage as between a man and a woman. In effect, therefore, the FMA as it currently stands does essentially what Rauch is claiming his amendment would do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:28 PM | Comments (22)
Marriage & Family

More Objective News About Gay Marriage

Victor Lams brought my attention to an AP report on MSNBC regarding the latest legal happenings in San Francisco. Thereon, I noticed an interactive map with information about the various states' laws regarding gay marriage.

Look closely, and you'll see that the map is provided by Lambda Legal, a major — and I mean central — advocate for gay marriage. Hardly an objective source! And, not surprisingly, if you click on Rhode Island, the following text appears:

A bill is pending that would legalize and allow for same sex marriage in Rhode Island. It is the only pro-same sex marriage bill to have a hearing in the country

Of course, also having a hearing is a bill to ban same-sex marriage, a factoid that Lamda apparently didn't think worthy of mention. Wonder what else goes without saying.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:41 AM
Marriage & Family

February 20, 2004

Latest Editions

I just had to play along with Jeff and Victor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:23 PM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

The Wisdom of Fools

Among the hardest to take of the arguments of gay marriage's proponents is that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. I find myself rubbing my eyes when I read something like this from Andrew Sullivan:

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. But he was adamant about the impermissibility of divorce. How can the Protestant right ignore his direct teachings on one and yet demand Constitutional action against the other?

He links to a piece by Jack Miles that imagines a young conservative Christian — such as myself — attempting to explain to Jesus why the Defense of Marriage Act isn't a prohibition of divorce. The implication is that Christians have no business opposing gay marriage. Personally, were Jesus to read Miles's column, I think His reaction might be more along the lines of, "Are you people nuts?"

Okay, okay. Of course that wouldn't be His reaction. However, He might say, "Didn't Paul tell you that my Father made His nature and, therefore, His will plain? And didn't he warn that, in wickedness, men would suppress the truth? That, claiming to be wise, they would become fools?

"If you will not believe Paul in what he has told you, perhaps you will look to what is plain in what I said about divorce. 'At the beginning the Creator made them male and female.' And when my disciples protested that my prohibition of divorce was so difficult as to make it better never to marry, is it not plain what I meant by marriage in the way in which I responded?"

It may be a debating point that one must look outside of the Gospels for an explicit condemnation of homosexuality. That does not mean, however, that it doesn't push the boundaries of credulity into foolish wisdom to suggest that Jesus wouldn't have objected to gay marriage.

(Note: Of course, being a member of the Catholic right, I'm presumably in the clear vis-a-vis the speck/plank thing.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:17 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

The Perils of Blogging

As Jonah Goldberg has indicated, the version of the previous post that now appears is a revision of the original. Since Jonah used the Corner to express his entirely justified reaction to the sentiment that I've edited out, I thought it worth clarifying the matter and issuing something by way of warning to my fellow bloggers.

I opened the original version of the post with what, in my tired Friday morning mind, I intended to be a bit of playful, in the dugout, ball boy jibing of a major leaguer. I didn't mean to sneer or even, really, to accuse Jonah of anything improper. The "cool" comment wasn't meant to imply that he puts forward arguments in which he doesn't believe or expresses conflicts that he doesn't feel are real. Actually, I don't even know that I'd characterize a desire to be "cool," in this sense, as an invalid reason for taking positions.

I posted the entry and emailed Jonah. Within minutes, he had emailed back expressing offense, and within a couple minutes more, I had agreed, revised, and emailed an apology. If a single person read the post as objectionably written, I'd be surprised.

Here's the warning to fellow bloggers: this is minor stuff, in the big picture, particularly if these are seen as personal interactions in the context of a hobby. The danger arises for folks, like me, who are trying to find a way into a career, and who are just starting — for the first time ever — to feel a little give in the door.

Blogging is too quick, perhaps, and a silly overstatement or wayward tone can slip through one's fingers before it can be retracted.

Well, it's retracted, if not forgotten. Back to that doorknob.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:59 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

Allowing the Other Side to Mend Our Own Divisions

There's a gang of relatively well-known conservatives who seem inclined to walk a difficult line of amicability between warring factions on both sides of social disputes. Sometimes, however, it seems to present a problem for them to remain within the boundaries beyond which mainstream friends, like Andrew Sullivan, would start calling them names like "poseur" or "theocon."

Jonah Goldberg, amicable as he is, has been among the most visibly affected by this dilemma, and he solidified his standing with a vaguely disconcerting column that virtually pulsated with his frustration at the growing discomfort of the strategy of doing nothing, to which he's inclined:

I also suspect that millions of Americans share my attitude toward the subject of gay marriage: Enough already. Whether you're for it or against it, many of us just don't want to hear about it anymore — like those commercials featuring mothers and daughters walking on the beach having conversations nobody ever wanted to overhear.

Just make it go away!

But, of course, it won't just go away. There are two sides with irreconcilable intentions. Unfortunately, as Jonah's compatriot Nick Schulz makes clear, it looks as if some number of folks who share Goldberg's frustration are preparing to pounce on a suggestion by Jonathan Rauch as some sort of ideological and emotional life raft. Rauch writes:

So if the problem is the worry that federal judges will impose Massachusetts's gay marriages on the entire country, the way to take care of that would be to constitutionalize DOMA. The sample wording I give in my book is:

'Nothing in this Constitution requires any state or the federal government to recognize anything other than the union of one man and one woman as a marriage.'

Somehow it has gone without mention that Jonathan Rauch has long been a key figure pushing gay marriage; Schulz even calls him a "non-partisan writer." Non-partisan in what sense? Here he is in 2001:

I know, I know. Kurtz will simply insist that real, committed marriage will never be normative for homosexuals; gays just don't have that "dynamic of male-female sexuality" thing. Unfortunately, I don't think I can persuade him by telling him about all the gay people I know who have committed their enduring love and care to each other. I doubt I could persuade him even by telling him about all the men I know who have fed and comforted and carried their dying partners, and covered their partners with their bodies to keep them warm, and held their hands at the end and then sobbed and sobbed. Who is more fit to marry, the homosexual who comes home every night to wipe the vomit from the chin of his wasting partner, or the heterosexual who serves his first wife with divorce papers while she is in the hospital with cancer so that he can get on with marrying his second wife? Alas, I think I know what Kurtz would say.

To be sure, Rauch has no particular qualms about pursuing nationalization through litigation, an option that he has left open with his latest proposal. As he slips into his email to Schulz (parenthetically), "Activist state judges are the states' business, so long as no state can impose its own decision on others."

And that's the part that makes it a bit optimistic of Rauch and Schulz to present this amendment as more easily passed. Maybe those who don't want to take a position on the cultural question of gay marriage — as opposed to the easy procedural principle of federalism — will jump to it, but support will be lost among those who are most firmly convinced that action of some kind is necessary in the first place. One need only recall the arguments over sodomy, Lawrence, and Santorum to realize that this expanded apathy won't be shared by gay marriage activists who will apply national pressures and resources to the legal battle in each individual state. And in each individual state, it won't take more than a handful of judges to pound that gavel in their favor.

It ought to be seen as peculiar, to say the least, that passionate supporters of gay marriage would presume to propose a compromise for factions on the other side. And it certainly oughtn't be taken at face value. The day after he wrote the passionate argument that homosexuals deserve marriage, presented above, Rauch expressed a willingness to add "or any state's Constitution" to his proposed amendment. Since he wouldn't support it in any form, suggested by him or otherwise, and probably suspects that watering it down will make it less likely to pass, not more, Rauch is free to negotiate text as convenient.

Which leads us to the shining light of wisdom with which Goldberg closed his latest column:

The trouble with all of this is that a federalism-based compromise only works if you trust that the other side is acting in good faith. If Frank & Co. have no respect for the law of California, why should we expect them to respect the laws anywhere?

Both those who tout federalism uber alles and those who would prefer that the gay marriage debate just go away would best serve their interests by backing the two-sentence Federal Marriage Amendment. It will take the urgency out of the fight. It will allow homosexual advocates to work toward procuring rights for their unions in each state — through the legislature. And it will still leave open the possibility that, through assimilation and interpersonal relationships, homosexuals will change their culture and the larger one that we share such that ambivalence isn't a matter of internal conflict, but of measured experience.

I thought it pertinent to mention, here, that I've responded to Jonah's justified complaint.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:47 AM
Marriage & Family

A Piling of Argument

Links to worthwhile pieces about gay marriage have begun to clog my bookmarks file, so I thought I'd put them all together in one post. They're all related, inherently, anyway.

Let me start with an anecdote. My wife teaches third grade, and the mother of one of the girls in her class mentioned that the gay marriage debate has found its way into her daughter's head. The girl saw something about it on the news and turned around to declare, "I don't see what the problem is. They're just people; let them marry." I haven't fully explored the implications, myself, but my initial reactions are to be bemused that many adults aren't managing deeper thought than that little girl and to recoil some from the reality that, to address the girl's question, one would have to skirt such topics as are known to sap innocence.

The always-worth-reading Boston University professor Peter Wood brought that anecdote to mind with a piece on NRO looking at gay marriage — and civil unions — from his anthropological point of view:

He noted that, as he has gone around and talked to people in the state about the issue, he has found many who are diffident. They have essentially bought the line, "Why should I care? If two gay people get married, how does that hurt me?" In truth, it probably wouldn't. The destructive consequences would fall mainly on the young and the vulnerable who would grow up in a society without the bulwark of traditional marriage protecting them against the excesses of their own immature appetites and the rapacious desire of older males ever eager to expand the zone of sexual permissiveness.

That "expanding zone of sexual permissiveness" isn't just the paranoid vision of conservatives unable to deal with shifting mores. As Christopher Johnson notes, pedophiles are beginning to feel the pull of their right to be free of "adultist oppression":

For most of his life, he has buried his emotions and masked his long-secreted attraction. It wasn't until recently that Ashford decided to throw off the shackles of pedophilia and shed light on what he says is a misunderstood "sexual orientation." Last year, he became perhaps one of the first pedophiles in the world to put his name and face on a Web site to publicly profess his love for children.

Of course, the anthropological view is only one way of looking at a problem and, therefore, isn't wholly sufficient to require a particular policy. Yet, the indications that the adverse shifts in culture of which Prof. Wood warns and that Mr. Ashford's pleas make tangible are coming from many directions. Stanley Kurtz, for example, tells of the intentions of family law professors to leverage gay marriage to introduce group marriage, and not just for the purposes of increasing the potential for lawyers' fees:

These contracts would recognize marriages in any combination of number or gender. Ertman's goal is to render distinctions between any possible sexual grouping "morally neutral." Again, what’s interesting here is that all of these radicals favor gay marriage. Yet each sees gay marriage as a stepping stone to the effective abolition of marriage itself.

Linda Chavez, meanwhile, notes that gay marriage advocates "reject the notion that there is anything radical about their demand or that it would do harm to the institution of marriage itself," yet while spying in the liberal quarters of the radio spectrum:

Jonathan Katz [no relation], the executive director of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies at Yale University (named for the founder of the confrontational gay rights group ACT-UP) admitted on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" this week that gay marriage "would revolutionize the institution of marriage itself. The advent of lesbian and gay marriage might, in fact, serve to not only reinvigorate but to redefine an institution that is increasingly viewed by many in our culture as having outlived its usefulness."

One thing, we can hope, that has not outlived its usefulness is the law. Domenico Bettinelli thinks it might be possible that Massachusetts law would permit "Gov. Mitt Romney... simply to declare the judiciary has overreached into executive powers and issue an executive order stating to that effect." While such action on the East Coast front of the battle would require some governmental spine, the administrators of California's government have recourse to a more obvious and less controversial justification for upholding the rule of law. As David Morrison quotes:

"Instead of saying bride or groom, the form in San Francisco says applicant one and applicant two," Lafaro said. The license form also uses the terms "unmarried individuals" rather than "unmarried man" or "unmarried woman.

"The changes make the licenses invalid," Evans said.

Nice 'n' neat. Of course, this is going to be a messy cultural struggle, without those straightforward defenses always available, and without the administrative confidence always to exploit them. To help bolster the spine (or change the mind) of your particular representatives, you might do as Lane Core has done.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:13 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Two Realities Regarding the Middle East

I can't recall where it was, but after Michael Ledeen told the story of his conveying a source in Iraq to the CIA to investigate some uranium — an opportunity that the CIA never took — somebody, probably many people, merely scoffed. Right, they suggested, the CIA is ignoring the secret sources of journalists for no reason whatsoever.


And we may see them with atomic bombs. Oddly, just as the foreign minister was announcing Iran's intention to sell enriched uranium to interested parties — thereby spitting in the eye of the French, German, and English diplomats who sang love songs to themselves just a few short months ago, proclaiming they had negotiated an end to the Iranian nuclear program — two smugglers were arrested in Iraq, near Mosul, with what an Iraqi general described as a barrel of uranium. Here is what General Hikmat Mahmoud Mohammed had to say about the event: "This material is in the category of weapons of mass destruction, which is why the investigation is secret. The two suspects were transferred to American forces, who are in charge of the inquiry."

Compulsive readers of these little essays may remember that, late last summer, I told CIA that I had been informed of a supply of enriched uranium in Iraq, some of which had been carried to Iran a few years ago. I had offered to put CIA in touch with the original couriers, who said they would take American inspectors to the site, but CIA could not be bothered to go look.

I am told that the uranium in the barrel near Mosul came from the same secret laboratory. Perhaps now the CIA will think better of my sources, and work harder to find these materials.

Of course, this is Ledeen, again, and if you thought him a liar before, you'll see no reason to change your mind. On the other hand, if you believed him before, you've got reason to ratchet up your concern once again, as we watch, helpless, the scenes unfold with a frightening inevitability.

We've got two major strains of belief about reality, in this country. Unfortunately, when the discrepancy resolves, it's sure to be through calamity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:31 AM
Middle East

Capitulating to the Mob

Eugene Volokh points out that Rhode Island's Governor Carcieri has withdrawn his anti-terrorism bill from the legislature's agenda:

Carcieri said his legislation was written after a thorough review of laws to prevent and prosecute terrorism. Noting that state government has a responsibility to protect the public by "responding to new and evolving threats," Carcieri said his office decided that some laws needed to be updated.

He said today he will continue to examine the issue.

"Going forward, I will solicit input from a variety of interested and informed parties to determine what alterations to our existing laws are necessary to protect public safety in a post-911 world.

Personally, I'm ambivalent about the bill. I'm not sure why Rhode Island would need it, unless to maintain, locally, laws and procedures under threat for political reasons in the USA Patriot Act, and Carcieri is apparently not sufficiently convinced of its necessity to make the case. Furthermore, there was language that would have had to be tweaked as the bill went through the legislative process.

But it is simply infuriating to see a gang consisting of the media, the ACLU, and a mob of "experts" distort facts and bully the governor into bending to whatever their agenda is. Surely, Carcieri's quick capitulation — and countless surrenders across the country over the years — had an emboldening effect on these groups, and the raw power that it indicates ought to be of concern to anybody who understands that there is, in fact, a balance to be struck between individual liberty and communal well being.

While there is reason to be thankful that legions of watchdogs are out there combing the law on behalf of our individual freedoms, a level of civility has been lost. The groups' knowledge of their power is certainly responsible in some degree.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:19 AM

For Your Coffee Break

I've been meaning to mention that Ferry Halim has another heartwarming game over at Orisinal. I don't know what it is about his style, but the games, simple as they are, just make me feel good.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:04 AM
Quips & Asides

February 19, 2004

One Thing Leads to Another

Well, just as I was about to wrap up the blogging for today, I noticed an interesting exchange between Eve Tushnet and Barry Deutsch on the Marriage Debate blog (scroll up from here). Deutsch writes, back on his own blog, in the context of couples' varying sacrifices for the benefit of society, and I don't want to jump into the middle of the debate in that context, so I'll stick to a matter that runs through the middle of it.

Although he tries to cover it up with a reference to discrimination, the very first commenter to Deutsch's post brings up a useful analogue: public schools, which even childless folks are deprived of income to support. The benefit to society of public schools isn't, strictly speaking, the increased knowledge of a particular child. Timmy could, after all, move to Mongolia and live like a king, to no benefit whatsoever to the people back in Duluth. The benefit to society is an educated citizenry, and that derives from the general prioritization of education.

Just so, the relevant (the central) benefit of marital law is to ensure that as many children as possible are born into and raised within marital relationships. It's an on-average thing, of course, and people will rightly make different judgments for their own lives. Put succinctly, the benefit to society is that childbearing and parenthood be culturally linked with marriage. This provides some of the perspective that I think Deutsch misses. It isn't one couple's sacrifice for the benefit of another couple's children; it's a small minority of couples' sacrifice for American children's benefit as a whole (and gay parents are an even smaller minority).

Deutsch makes an interesting comment that highlights the reason this benefit must derive from a general cultural understanding rather than an explicit rule:

She talks about "men who father children when they wish they hadn't" - a reference, I think, to forcing noncustodial fathers to pay child support (among other policies). I agree with that - but noncustodial mothers should also be forced to pay child support. And if child support laws protected the children of straight fathers, but not the children of gay fathers, that would be disgusting.

The obvious question is: how did those gay fathers come to have children? Straight men can father children by accident, which is part of why we encourage straight couples to marry even when they have no intention of becoming parents. Infertile straight couples, on the other hand, don't know that they can't have children until they're already trying, and only about 1% of couples prove, ultimately, to be sterile. But even sterility can't be made a bar to marriage because the level of intrusiveness to check would act as a disincentive to marriage.

In contrast, homosexual couples that have children have had to make a deliberate effort to become parents. Society can be confident, in other words, that the small percentage of homosexuals who are parents have already bought into at least some of the culture of parenthood. This also indicates a truth that gets lost in all of the fighting over civil marriage: homosexuals aren't prevented from forming whatever relationships they like and calling them whatever they like. To the extent that they are barred from marriage, as society defines it, it is a function of their biology, not of legal whim.

This is why it's ludicrous for Deutsch to posit a world in which it would be possible for "a social scientist put together reams of evidence proving that it doesn't benefit society when Jews get married." Religious and ethnic distinctions are of an entirely different type than distinctions by orientation. More importantly, the central distinctions of marriage have everything to do, in definition and in practice, with the way in which homosexuals differ from heterosexuals.

I just want to clarify that I've left aside all of Deutsch's assumptions and the various offshoot disputes that arise out of this complicated debate that aren't immediately relevant to the specific point that I wanted to make. On the matter of gay parenting, for example, there are discussions that must be had (elsewhere and eventually) regarding such things as the ethics and social complications of artificial conception methods, as well as the sociological debate with respect to adoption. In essence, I've assumed the best all around.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:34 PM
Marriage & Family

Divinely Defined Incidents

Jacob Levy has responded to the post in which I addressed his argument about the FMA. He says (Levy's emphasis):

If "incidents of marriage" really has nothing to do with civil unions, then it has nothing to do with them for either the legislature or the judiciary. And the judiciary, empowered to construe the Civil Unions Act as granting some privileges to gay couples because those privileges are not incidents of marriage, must also be empowered to construe other sources of law as granting, or requiring the grant, of those privileges.

In addressing the FMA without reference to the legal context in which it would exist, it seems to me that Levy comes close to defining away the distinctions between legislation and adjudication. Because, as I said, the FMA doesn't contain the words "civil union," a legislature could pass a law creating something with that name, but with a purpose having nothing to do with marriage-like relationships. At the same time, unless there's some constitutional mandate requiring them, the judiciary can't legislate them into existence.

Suppose the legislature created "civil unions" whereby a person could receive certain benefits for registering to pay somebody else's college loans. The fact that the legislature can do so does not mean, of itself, that the corresponding judiciary could declare that people deserve to have somebody else pay off their debts, or that people who pay others' loans deserve some sort of benefit. Or take healthcare. A legislature could pass a law giving civil employees the ability to include a single other person under their health coverage. That, of itself, doesn't mean that a judge could declare that every civil employee already has that ability as a right.

Moreover, a legislature could put restrictions on this benefit — say, only permitting elderly parents to be the non-employee beneficiaries. In contrast, while it is possible to imagine, theoretically, that a judge could find some law somewhere to construe as requiring healthcare benefits to all, it's quite a bit more difficult to imagine a basis on which the judge could limit that right to a specific group. This is why, in Massachusetts, civil unions would have been a wholly political compromise, not founded in the rights-based language of Goodridge. With this in mind, return to Levy:

Any civil unions created by the legislature that included any right or privilege traditionally associated with marriage forces the judiciary to decide: have "incidents of marriage" been distributed here?

Levy's insertion of the word "traditionally" is arbitrary. "Traditionally" in what sense? To whom? Are tax benefits traditional? Is the "marriage penalty"? Traditional incidents of marriage can fall away, and the government can add incidents to marriage or take them away — a special first-time home buyer plan, for example.

So, a legislature could pass a law giving a $10,000 down-payment gift to married couples. It could pass another law giving a $10,000 down-payment gift to civil-unioned couples. Yet, the judiciary could not introduce that same policy arbitrarily, and if it somehow found a right to $10,000 written into the constitution, it's extremely difficult to see why it would be limited to married people, or civil unions, or groups of people, or what have you.

In this example, the FMA would restrict both the legislature and the judiciary from expanding that $10,000 marital perk to others on the basis of its being a marital perk. In the amendment's language, the fact that married couples are currently entitled to the money, of itself, cannot be construed to require that other couples or groups are similarly entitled. But a legislature, by its nature, isn't limited to discerning what the law requires or restricted from setting up parallel perks; a judiciary, by its nature, is.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:07 PM
Marriage & Family

GOP Sadness Continues

Honestly, I don't know what difference official party affiliation makes — as distinct from actual votes — but I think I'll be changing mine to Independent. Partisan fights that break the bounds of principle ought, of course, to be anathema to responsible politicians, but that can be accomplished by bending principle to avoid the appearance of impropriety, as well.

I'm sick of political compromise taking the form of submission, of discovering corruption being allowed to become more controversial than the corruption itself, and this reaction, to the Roger Williams College Republicans' "political parody" white-student scholarship, while minor, might be the last straw:

One of the harshest rebukes of the College Republicans so far has come from the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

In a letter sent to the student group Tuesday, Ed Gillespie said the scholarship is "contrary to the principles of the party I proudly chair" and severed all ties to the College Republicans.

The GOP "in no way supports this scholarship or the message of exclusion it conveys," he wrote. "I am at this time suspending the Roger Williams University College Republicans' right to use the symbols . . . of the Republican Party."

Well, Mr. Gillespie, I am at this time suspending the GOP's right to use my name for whatever purposes my voter registration entitles. And please stop wasting paper to beg me for money.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:09 PM | Comments (3)

The Spin Before the Lie

Apparently, in a smaller, less ballyhooed, front-page article by Gerald Carbone in its Wednesday edition, the Providence Journal merely spun the information that, today, it leaves out. That doesn't, to my mind, mitigate its complete disregard for the truth today, particularly considering that yesterday's article is absent from its extended online coverage. (I had to dig for yesterday's piece.)

Look, I agree that the definition of "weapons of mass destruction" that the bill suggests ought to be tightened so some overzealous prosecutor and judge don't conspire to include guns, but that's why our legislative process works as it does. Language changes as it moves toward approval. And to the extent that citizens cannot trust those who claim interest in protecting their rights, the system will not function as intended. Consider:

Carcieri's bill defines terrorism as: "a violent act or an act dangerous to human life" that is "intended to: intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination, kidnapping or aircraft piracy." ...

Steven Brown, executive director of Rhode Island's ACLU, wrote: "This definition of terrorism has the potential to significantly chill legitimate protest."

Picket lines, for example, are "at least in part designed to 'intimidate' or 'coerce.' If a striking worker shoves a person trying to cross a picket line," he or she could be sentenced to life in prison for committing a violent act while trying to coerce a civilian, Brown wrote.

The Projo's published definition, inexplicably, leaves out the words "that is in violation of the criminal laws of this state." That isn't an insignificant, or innocent, omission. The hypothetical striking worker's shove, in other words, would have to rise to the level of a crime in its own right. Furthermore, it would take more than a little license on a judge's part to construe the line-crosser as "a civilian population." And further still, this is simply a definition, to which laws describing criminal acts and penalties refer — as I described in the previous post.

Of course, that judges can't be trusted not to stretch definitions beyond the ability of legislators to be specific is among the major problems that our country currently faces. (Not that it isn't a precedent that the ACLU often seems inclined encourage.) But again, this is why the governor doesn't make laws all by himself. This is why there's an extended procedure for moving bills through the legislative process.

For non-profit organizations and ostensibly objective media outlets to indulge in reactions that can only be motivated by politics is more dangerous than anything the governor has proposed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)
News Media

The Providence Journal and Untruth

I hereby dub today, February 19, 2004, as A Day of Complete Astonishment. The Providence Journal, the "news" section of which I'll be hardly inclined to treat as nonfiction hereafter, is hyperventilating over a bill proposed by Rhode Island's governor, Donald Carcieri:

Constitutional scholars and First Amendment advocates reacted with shock yesterday at Governor Carcieri's homeland security proposal, saying it threatens protected free speech and assembly in ways not seen in decades.

No other state in the nation, they said, has attempted such an encroachment on civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism. And they predicted the legislation could never survive a constitutional challenge.

"When I was reading it in the newspaper this morning, my jaw dropped," said Lawrence E. Rothstein, a lawyer who teaches political science at the University of Rhode Island. "It shocked me that anyone would try this."

"Did he do this in writing?" asked Paul McMasters, a nationally recognized expert at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

Carcieri has proposed, among several other steps, making it illegal in Rhode Island to "speak, utter, or print" statements in support of anarchy or government overthrow.

This is simply false. Something not true. A lie. But it goes on for several dozen paragraphs, even citing a media ethics professor who goes along with the deception. The only section that even risks breaking the storyline, presenting the other side, or causing confused brows to furrow comes at paragraphs 16 and 17:

On Tuesday, Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, characterized the 1919 laws as dormant and "blatantly unconstitutional."

Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said the laws had existed without court challenge and government abuse for nearly a century. He said the lack of prosecutions under these laws "points to the tremendous amount of discretion that has been employed" by prosecutors.

Should this buried slip-of-the-truth inspire sufficient curiosity to read a third of the way through the legalistic bill, which the Projo offers (only online) as a PDF, one's faith in the objectivity and interest in educating readers at the state's major newspaper might be shaken. The essential purpose of the bill is merely to add language to include terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in existing law. In fact, the paragraph that the Providence Journal believes to justify quoting "expert" after "expert" accusing the governor of seeking to become a fascist dictator is Title 11 of the General Laws Chapter 43, Criminal Offenses, Treason and Related Offenses, Advocating forcible overthrow of the government. And the sweeping change that the governor proposes that would "take the state of Rhode Island back 200 years"? The governor would like to add the phrase, "or advocates an act or acts of terrorism."

That's it. That's the news — the actual information — and it somehow didn't find its way into Tom Mooney's breathless reportage on the front page of the Providence Journal.

Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable.

Huh. The Providence Journal's Web folks replaced the picture of their front page to which I had linked to a blank, while every other picture is still available. Curious.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:37 AM
News Media

Tyranny Is Here

In a post titled "The Law is no obstacle anymore," Donald Sensing opined that "America is one generation at most away from true tyranny." Well, the loony Left Coast is racing to prove Rev. Sensing optimistic:

The second judge told the plaintiffs that they would likely succeed on the merits eventually, but that for now, he couldn't accept their proposed court order because of a punctuation error.

It all came down to a semicolon, the judge said.

"I am not trying to be petty here, but it is a big deal. ... That semicolon is a big deal," said San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren.

The Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund had asked the judge to issue an order commanding the city to "cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to and/or solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples; to show cause before this court."

"The way you've written this it has a semicolon where it should have the word 'or,'" the judge told them. "I don't have the authority to issue it under these circumstances."

The law in the United States of America is now a joke to be openly flouted in the name of progressive social change. Stanley Kurtz is exactly right:

When it comes to gay marriage, affirmative action, and other hot button social issues, conservatives are used to being shut out of mainstream debate. That has sparked the growth of a whole alternative media. But I think we're seeing something new here-a new level of disregard by liberal elites for the broader public, and for the very idea of democratic debate and decision making. When state and national opinion, a recent referendum, and the plain meaning of the law, are openly disregarded by political and legal officials, the bases of civil comity are eroded in fundamental ways. Whether gay marriage is eventually nationalized or not, I think we're all going to pay a price for the way this battle is being fought. In any case, at this point, it is absurd to ask conservatives to trust in the good faith of judges. If you think anything short of an amendment can stop gay marriage, you are dreaming.

Yesterday, I questioned and argued against Jacob Levy's worries about the setting of an abstract legal precedent. At this point, that's just so much navel gazing. If that con artist of a judge Warren slips away from this with just a dour look from some government officials and a wink from others, the legal stability of this country is in serious danger. Apart from that, one thing's for sure: This movement is not about marriage.

Gabriel Rosenberg writes in the comments, linking to a different summary, that it wasn't that the judge rejected the motion because of typo, but that he couldn't grant the motion as written, only as he suggested it be written. More importantly, by setting a date for a hearing, he granted the motion as if it had been written correctly.

Readers can judge for themselves whether or not this treatment — and the six-week window of ambiguity created — is an objective application of the law. As I commented to a related post by Bryan Preston, I rather suspect that a judge would have acted more decisively, or at least more expeditiously, were the issue different. Readers can also judge for themselves whether the entire episode makes a joke of the law, nonetheless.

And in so judging, it might be enlightening to ponder the significance of these judicially created windows, both in Massachusetts and San Francisco, during which the law will be as the judges wish it to be. "Public wasting of funds" doesn't begin to describe the confusion that these moves will cause as homosexual couples seek to apply their temporarily legal status to every situation in which marriage is relevant — including the benefits and recognition offered by private entities.

Those lawsuits will be forthcoming, I'm sure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:43 AM | Comments (4)

A Random Thought About Governance

Before I head off to bed, I just wanted to express an idea that I haven't been able to extricate from my thoughts since early this evening. While my mind wandered on matters pertaining to the separation of church and state, my glance fell on a picture of John Edwards. And like a culture left in the petri dish too long, an idea germinated.

Try to imagine the public reaction if a priest — not a generic "reverend" like Rev. Sharpton — but an honest to goodness man of the cloth were to run for President. Forget the partisan fanatics: how do you think you would react if a candidate showed up for a debate with a Roman collar — or any visible marking of clergy from any religion? Frankly, I don't think I'd be too comfortable with it.

So why, then, with our government's much more defined rules regarding the separation of the branches, do we not flinch when a lawyer runs for President? Clearly, such a candidate's background, worldview, and sympathies lie with the courthouse. Doesn't it blur the line between the executive and judicial branches for one whose beliefs formed within the context of the latter to run for high office in the former?

Shouldn't we, at the ballot box, perform a suffragian version of Shakespeare's advice about lawyers?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:44 AM | Comments (1)

February 18, 2004

You're Welcome, Mr. Kristol

With the exception of a similar argument from Ramesh Ponnuru, I haven't seen my central point with respect to the FMA and civil unions explicitly repeated anywhere — either restated or refuted — even though I've been stating it repeatedly (and pointing it out to others) since July. Well, the point has finally found its way into the arguments of Those Who Matter, specifically the Weekly Standard:

Insofar as the amendment affects legislatures, it merely requires them to specify the benefits they wish to give to relationships outside marriage--which is what civil-union legislation ought to do in the first place.
Posted by Justin Katz at 4:13 PM
Bloggers Blogging

The FMA Will Work as Promised and Doesn't Change the Rules of Government

If you don't like the layout of this page, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

My recent mentions of some of the key players in the San Francisco marriage coup notwithstanding, I don't believe there to be an active conspiracy to institute gay marriage across the country. I do believe, however, that there's a sort of incidental conspiracy, just as a function of variation among its proponents. So, for example, you get old-school lesbian feminists and anti-assimilationists working with public officials in San Francisco to disregard the law sufficiently to allow a wedge to be inserted. Meanwhile, you get folks like Andrew Sullivan pushing the case on the terms of those who prefer to work within the law. Thus, Sullivan stokes doubts and inspires certain strategies among his opposition, while San Fran Mayor Newsom and lesbian activist Kate Kendell undermine the very foundations on which fair-minded strategies for resolution could be formed.

University of Chicago PoliSci Professor Jacob Levy today joins Sullivan in the attempt to whittle away at the confidence of those who wish to halt or slow the advance of gay marriage. First, Levy rephrases a point that Sullivan has made before, with a new wrinkle at the end:

The second sentence has become the focus of controversy because of the undefined scope of the phrase "legal incidents thereof," which some FMA supporters have said they mean to ban judicially- but not legislatively-created civil unions. But the text doesn't actually do that.

The reason has to do with the mechanics of how the state would go about "creating" civil unions. In the normal course of things, the legislature would write a civil unions law--let's call it the "Civil Unions Act of 2004"--which the judiciary would then deem to have created a civil union. The problem is that, if you allow the judiciary to deem that the Civil Unions Act of 2004 has created a right to a civil union--in other words, to "construe" a the legislation as doing so--you also have to allow the judiciary to construe other sources of law--for example, the equal protection clause of a state constitution--as creating that right as well.

Why is this important? Because the converse is also true. If you try to prevent the judiciary from deeming that something like the equal protection clause creates a civil union--which is what supporters of the FMA hope to do--then you also prevent the judiciary from deeming that the "Civil Unions Act of 2004" creates a civil union.

The problem with this arises when one realizes, having read the Federal Marriage Amendment dozens of times, that nowhere therein are the words "civil union." Here, read it again:

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.

Consider, a state legislature could pass that CUA of '04 granting couples merely the right to a slip of government-stamped paper with the partners' names and a big smiley face sticker on it. There being nothing in the FMA about smiley-faced papers, and the judiciary not having the power to insist that stamping them is a service that the state must offer, we see how a legislature could do what the courts could not.

Of course, the "incidents of marriage" phrase is the rub. But here again, the principle holds, because the legislature could grant specifically enumerated rights to civil unions — without reference to marriage — thereby making those rights no longer exclusively "incidents of marriage." Imagine that the state's marriage licenses happen to be the only official documents that are currently marked with smiley faces. The FMA would forbid a judge from declaring that civil unions deserve to be marked with the same stickers on the basis that they are used for marriages. However, the legislature could simply define the visual approbation as a newly minted incident of civil unions.

This is a point that I've argued — and have been largely ignored by those to whom I've been responding — many, many times. However, Levy adds a new point to the debate, leveraging, as Sullivan has done, another principle that conservatives hold dear along with their belief in the importance of traditional families: federalism.

There is another, subtler problem with the FMA's second sentence: It does not merely limit and constrain state laws. It dictates a rule about how state laws and state constitutions will be construed and interpreted by the state's own courts. That is an unprecedented intrusion into the autonomy of the states' legal systems. Instead of limiting state law with federal law, from the outside, it would distort state law from within.

In trying to limit the scope of their infringement of states' practical rights — whether for political or principled reasons — the supporters of the FMA have, according to Levy, intruded upon a procedural right. The complaint seems to be that, rather than declaring that a state can't say something to be true, the amendment would play a sort of governmental mind game whereby the state could say it, but couldn't mean it. This is an important distinction, in Levy's view, because:

A state's law prohibiting miscegenation... will be overridden by federal courts enforcing the federal Constitution. But the federal courts are interpreting federal law when they do so, not state law. It is an important principle of American federalism that only state courts may do the latter. ...

The FMA... would compel not the conclusion that federal law overrides any state's attempt to create gay marriage or civil unions, but the conclusion that, no matter what the state's legislature, constitutional convention or referendum, or judiciary decided, state law never created gay marriage or civil unions in the first place. For example, if a state's legislature and voters agreed... to amend their state constitutions to say that "Civil marriage in this state shall be available to couples of the same sex," state judges would be compelled, by their oaths to the federal Constitution and its supremacy clause, to deny that the state constitution meant what it said.

The Fourteenth Amendment includes language that draws this distinction (emphasis added):

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States

The legislature cannot make such a law, and the judiciary could not enforce it. In effect, the FMA would, Levy is arguing, allow the former, but not the latter by forcing the court to declare that the "making" was a meaningless gesture, and this crosses some line of principle across which... what? Well, on that count, I'm not sure. For one thing, I'm not convinced that the line hasn't already been crossed in certain cases. The 14th is rather more specific in this respect than other amendments. The 15th Amendment, for example, merely declares that the right "to vote shall not be denied or abridged by... any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Can the law be made? Or just not enforced? Or believed to do what it claims to do? The 13th Amendment is even worse (emphasis added):

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

It seems to me that, while it isn't specifically mentioned, the Rhode Island legislature, for example, could pass a law saying that conservatives may be retained by private parties for "compulsory labor," but that the judiciary would thereafter have to rule that I (for instance) could not be treated as such because the state of being into which the law claims to place me does not, in fact, exist — much as Levy suggests a court would have to conclude that civil unions don't exist, no matter what the law says.

It's an instructive comparison. It isn't difficult to model a movement challenging the very definition of "slavery." A conservative, in this analogy, isn't really a person, inasmuch personhood requires a soul, as made evident by agreement with certain reasonable and humane policies. Therefore, since the Constitution doesn't explicitly limit a person's right to own a "conservative," a court could find that right to exist already therein. Moreover, this must be the case, because exploiting a conservative's natural drive to work hard, even for pay, is akin to "slavery," which must, therefore, be permitted so as to allow conservatives to live full and productive lives. To finesse a way through this, a Constitutional amendment could be proposed to (1) affirm the definition of slavery, (2) allow states to pass laws permitting the hiring of conservatives, and (3) forbid courts from declaring such employment to be unconstitutional slavery.

This is, of course, a silly comparison, but remember: Levy is talking about a principle, which as such must be always and everywhere true if it is to have the force that Levy is claiming for it. Otherwise, Levy would have to argue, instead, that the principle isn't worth breaking in this case. If he were to do so, I'd argue that he is wrong. But as the conservative bondage scenario illustrates to ridiculous degree, the proper answer for those who support the current definition of "marriage" to the objection that Levy is actually making is: So what!

We're making use of a mechanism that exists within the law to address a specific and unforeseen problem. That doesn't necessitate that the same mechanism be used in the same fashion in the future any more than the rarity of Constitutional amendment forbids it.

(via Instapundit)

Mr. Levy has responded here, and I've continued the discussion here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:35 PM | Comments (5)
Marriage & Family

Anti-Assimilationist Marriage

Sorry to belabor this San Francisco matter, but I'm fascinated by it. You see, all this time, I've been under the impression that I'm arguing with advocates for gay marriage in good faith — that homosexuals want in. They don't want to be locked out of the American family anymore. That is, in fact, their best argument.

But this San Francisco "civil disobedience" is bringing some interesting characters into the story. As I pointed out in the previous post, we've got the 1970s man-hating lesbians in the mix. Apparently, they were called in by Kate Kendell (the weepy woman all the way on the left of this photo). Investigating Ms. Kendell, I came across this from 2001 (emphasis added):

What I think is going to happen as we grow in numbers is the importance of legal protections will become an absolute demand. ... It will be a demand of our community that our relationships and our children are entitled to equal opportunities and protection, and we will be less focused on an assimilation model. Because, for example, we have recent research - which those of us who have been parents of young adults have known all along - that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are somewhat more likely to have a greater fluidity in their sexual expression and may in fact be more likely to identity as lesbian or gay. And given this research, what we as parents and advocates have to do is unshackle our selves from internal homophobia and celebrate the fact that our kids are being raised in households where their sexual orientation is not rigidly dictated by societal messages about heterosexuality.

Frankly, I don't think very many people who support gay marriage, for one reason or another, understand the intentions of its other advocates. For some mainstream gay activists, like Ms. Kendell, it isn't a matter of formulating a policy to deal with homosexuals in our midst, as Andrew Sullivan suggests. For her, it is about an expanding, independent class of people rejecting "rigidly dictated" social norms.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:14 AM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

February 17, 2004

Well, How About That

You've seen the picture of the first two lesbians married in San Francisco? Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin? According to the Associated Press, "San Francisco officials" worked to keep the marriage quiet so the radical ceremony could be completed before anybody could move to stop it. Also according to the AP, the pair are "longtime lesbian activists."

Well, Craig Henry has pointed me to Richard Bennett's explanation of some of Del Martin's activism, which included a book called Battered Wives and a penchant for fabricating anti-male statistics and historical revisionism. As Radley Balko reluctantly admits, "they're lifelong she-woman man-hating feminists." Balko goes on:

Of course, that the one couple AP snapped to represent the city's act of gay marriage civil disobedience turned out, in that one instance, to validate conservatives' worst fears about gay marriage doesn't validate those fears in any broader sense.

But what if that one "snapped" couple was the very first — and part of an orchestrated, secretive assault on California's marriage laws? Heterosexuals may have done a whole lot of damage to the institution of marriage over the decades, but these two ladies have been more than willing to help them along. Wrote Ms. Martin in 1977:

The nuclear family is the building block of American society, and the social, religious, educational and economic institutions of society are designed to maintain, support and strengthen family ties even if the people involved can't stand the sight of one another.

Somehow, I think supporters of traditional marriage have quite a bit of leeway to raise questions before they can be accused of paranoia. And anybody interested in fair dealing and public discourse ought to have some questions, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:29 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

How Sad Is the Rhode Island GOP?

So sad that Chairwoman Patricia Morgan is distancing herself from some antics of the College Republicans at Roger Williams University, a group that operates without the benefit of party support:

A whites-only scholarship being offered by the College Republicans at Roger Williams University is "disturbing," says the state's Republican chairwoman.

"It does not move us forward in a reasonable debate over the issues," Patricia Morgan said yesterday.

She emphasized that the student group is not sponsored or supported by the state Republican Party.

Morgan responded after learning that the College Republicans are offering a scholarship -- which now stands at $250 -- that is only open to applicants who are white. The group created the scholarship as a statement against affirmative action. It is not endorsed by the university administration.

Though she did acknowledge that the debate over affirmative action is valid, she said the student group's tactics have "racist overtones."

Interestingly, although the Providence Journal frequently gives URLs for groups on which it reports, and although it actually mentions the College Republicans' Web site, it apparently didn't consider it a service to its readers to save them the trouble of Googling. Well, since I'm always at your service, here's the link.

On that page, they've got a sort of low-tech blog, on which I found this entry, which doesn't surprise me in the least:

Many RWU College Republican members think that Dan Yorke is a jackass

And who can blame them? He spent an hour today trashing Jason, calling him hateful, and saying beautiful things like "this isn't a good kid; this is a bad kid!"

Jason tried to call in and defend himself, but wasn't put through on the show. Dan basically parroted the same old, threadbare, tired socialist poo-poo about the white oppressor class and the poor victimized minorities . Does Dan know all the white students on campus who need the money? When individuals called in to defend our positions, he shouted them down.

It's rough being Republican in Rhode Island. Hey, maybe that should have been the criterion for the scholarship; nobody's more oppressed than Rhode Island conservatives. I wonder what the state GOP would have thought.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:03 PM | Comments (6)

Abusing the Numbers

Glenn Reynolds — probably inadvertently — puts a little spin on the topic of priestly sex abuse as he passes it along to his readers:

Bottom line: It's huge: "even though the report entirely discards incidents involving a further 3,300 priests who had died, and only deals with incidents in which a victim of abuse has come forward, the number still represents over 4 percent of all priests who served in that period."

At the very least, it would seem a significant oversight for Reynolds not to include a consideration that Patrick Belton, whom he quotes, mentions in passing: that 4% represents accusations, not confirmed incidents. Closer inspection shows, however, that while the CNN report from which Belton gets his information certainly shows that sex abuse was a problem, Belton misstated the perspective, leading Prof. Reynolds to convey some outright errors.

For one thing, that 3,300 number isn't priests; it's accusations. And more importantly, they apparently are included in the 4% figure. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

The survey, to be released February 27, found that children made more than 11,000 allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The 4,450 accused priests represent about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests who served during the 52 years covered by the study. ...

More than half of the accused priests had only one allegation against them. Nearly 25 percent, or 1,112 priests, had two or three allegations, and almost 13 percent, or 578 priests, had four to nine allegations, according to the draft report. Nearly 3 percent, or 133 of the priests, had 10 or more allegations.

The report said that 6,700 of the 11,000 allegations were investigated and substantiated, and another 1,000 were unsubstantiated. The remaining 3,300 were not investigated because the priests involved had died by the time the allegation was made.

Objectively speaking, I imagine that the substantiation rate for the deceased priests would be lower than the average (since there's that much less disincentive to make a false accusation), but for this post, let's assume that the 87% of accusations that held up in the 7,700 cases that were investigated is valid for the total. That makes a total 9,570 substantiated accusations.

Unfortunately, we don't know how many priests are exonerated by those 1,430 unsubstantiated claims. We can figure out that 59%, or 2,627, of the 4,450 priests were only accused once. If all of the unsubstantiated claims were made against this group, that would leave the total number of priests facing substantiated charges at 3,020, or 2.7% of priests who served over the 52-year period.

Obviously, if all of the unsubstantiated claims were made against priests with other, substantiated, accusations against them, the number would remain at 4%. But that's really not very likely. I'd guess that one-accusation priests would have a higher rate of false claims than the average, but let's not assume that. Instead, let's just apply that 87% substantiation rate directly to the number of priests. That leads to 3,872, or 3.5% of the 110,000 serving priests.

Of course, Reynolds, following Belton, conveyed that 3,300 priests weren't investigated, which would have left 1,150 priests, or 1% of all priests serving. Furthermore, Reynolds didn't mention that we're dealing with "accusations," so the number that fits the circumstances he conveys to his readers (cutting out the 13% of unsubstantiated claims) would drop another 150 priests out of the total, leaving 1,000, or 0.9% of the pool of priests. As in:

It's huge: "even though the report entirely discards incidents involving a further 3,300 priests who had died, and only deals with incidents in which a victim of abuse has come forward, the number still represents 0.9 percent of all priests who served in that period.

Any abusing priests are too many, of course, but for purposes of "perspective," we do well not to over report the problem by 444%. Now that's huge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:08 PM | Comments (1)
News Media

How disappointed I'll be in my children...

... if they decide to go to Yale. Simply unconscionable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:20 PM

No Plain Dealing

One way in which Andrew Sullivan's advocacy-over-argument approach becomes apparent is in how he reacts when he begins to see where he's been arguing from a mistaken premise. For example, it seems that he no longer feels secure in denying that the FMA will do exactly as I and others have said it will do, but rather than openly explore the foundations of his heated rhetoric, unpacking the new implications, he tweaks his language:

The possibility of civil unions - as the equivalent or simulacrum of civil marriage for gay couples - would be removed everywhere by this amendment.

Exactly. But by simply inserting the phrase, "as the equivalent or simulacrum of civil marriage," he avoids defining the boundaries of the forms that civil unions could take. Thus, he still feels comfortable sliding right back into his erroneous demagoguery:

In practice, those civil unions could contain nothing that marriage contains, because none of these "incidents" could be upheld or enforced by the courts. Yes, we'll allow you to have a car, but you have to remove the engine and the wheels. That appears to be the real agenda. The FMA is one of the most radical attempts to disenfranchise a group of citizens in history. No air-brushing or spin or sloppy journalism should be allowed to disguise that naked and alarming fact.

The sleight of hand is readily apparent in the way he argues himself from statement to implication. Moreover, he inadvertently illustrates the reason that "simulacrum unions" must be barred if our system of government is to handle this issue effectively.

As evidence that "the religious right would spring into action and sue to gut" civil unions, he cites litigation against California's "gay marriage" law, AB 205. Of course, it requires Sullivan to make recourse to a peculiar form of paranoia to forget that the religious right isn't the only interest group poised to "spring into action." Moreover, it requires an astounding degree of chutzpa for him to point to a legal case that the religious right is losing for this purpose. All he can do, therefore, is suggest with heavy breath (where he uses italics), "imagine that such a suit occurs after the FMA."

But this case is evidence that an amendment imposing some restrictions on civil unions is necessary and desirable. As you may or may not know, California's citizens passed Prop. 22 to legislate that:

Only marriage between a man and a women is valid or recognized in California.

To the extent that lawmakers aren't willing to openly defy that mandate, they have already attempted to work around the law as created through referendum. Consider the text of AB 205:

This bill would extend the rights and duties of marriage to persons registered as domestic partners on and after January 1, 2005. ...

297.5. (a) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.

Thus, the legislature has played, and the judiciary is in the process of allowing, word games to thwart the clearly expressed will of the people of California. Such an action would — and should — be barred by the FMA. However, that certainly doesn't mean that every "incident" of marriage is thereby untouchable. That simply couldn't be true, because many incidents of marriage are and always have been shared by other legal entities (e.g., a will or a power of attorney agreement).

What the FMA will require is for the legislature to take the time to describe all of those rights, protections, benefits, responsibilities, obligations, and duties within the law creating civil unions. How closely they'll be able to come to simply writing out a simulacrum of marriage will be a matter of debate and litigation. Quite obviously, in California, both the legislature and the judiciary would work to get pretty close to marriage. The only danger to the civil-union project, therefore, would be that the people of California would object more strenuously to clearer changes in the law. Fearing such a reality is to distrust our system of government.

Other states would draw a wider margin around marriage, into which civil unions could not penetrate. And through this federalist project, the country would by necessity pursue debate and encourage consideration of the roles of both marriage and homosexuals in society. What conclusion would be reached only time will tell. On one end, perhaps civil unions would carry little more weight (although many more legal benefits) than pinning once did. On the other end, perhaps the country will define them so closely to marriage that the FMA would be repealed.

Either way, that the question is open at all is a testament to the strides that homosexuals have made over the past decades. To allow them to avoid this process of public definition — and perhaps what Sullivan truly desires — is to allow them to avoid the work of cultural assimilation now that they have secured public tolerance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:18 PM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family

Kurtz Nails Sullivan

Stanley Kurtz has put his finger on the reason that Andrew Sullivan can't be treated as if he acts from anything more circumspect and objective than outright advocacy:

As best I can discern it, this is Andrew Sullivan's position on gay marriage: 1) I am willing to argue as if it matters whether gay marriage undermines marriage or not. But if it is shown that gay marriage really does harm marriage, that is irrelevant. Gay marriage is a civil right, and must be granted regardless of its effect on the institution. 2) I am willing to argue as if I expect and prefer to see gay marriage adopted slowly and legislatively on a state by state basis. But if gay marriage is imposed by the courts in Massachusetts, and if that kicks off a process of nationalization, that is irrelevant. Gay marriage is a civil right, and must be granted, even if it is imposed on the nation by a few liberal judges. 3) I am willing to argue as if I believe in the democratic process and respect for law. But if gay marriage is forced on the nation through a campaign of civil disobedience, that is irrelevant. Gay marriage is a civil right, and must be granted, even if it is undertaken in clear violation of the law, and in clear violation of the will of the people of California as expressed in a legally binding democratic referendum.

Read down and up from that link for the full argument. Unfortunately, Sullivan has been extraordinarily effective in setting the terms of this debate in ways that disguise those overriding opinions that ought to make his counsel suspect.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:31 AM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

The Light of Conflict

But then, perhaps my differences with Rev. Sensing grow from the differences of faith and religious understanding that led us to different denominations. Tom of Disputations argues that Catholics have a particular view of the self and the self's place in society that accords with my disagreement with Sensing:

There are ways in which American culture and Catholic culture contradict each other. I have in mind, not the old know-nothing ideas like American Catholics taking their marching orders from Rome, but, in a word, division. In American culture, people are divided into different parts: the professional; the social; the political; the religious. That's nonsense in Catholicism; religion isn't something you do on Sunday, and you are literally the same person at work as at home.

Since there are conflicts between Catholicism and American culture, a Catholic should expect to be conflicted in American culture. He should also expect to be a source of conflict. If he is neither conflicted nor a source of conflict, he should ask himself whether he's doing something wrong.

Similarly, although one area of life blends into another, there can be no true, stark separation between religion and government. If the relationship isn't a source of conflict, it suggests an imbalance that will ensure a desiccated society.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 AM

Constructing the Christian Ghetto

The day after fretting that the form of the gay marriage movement suggests that "America is one generation at most away from true tyranny," Methodist Rev. Donald Sensing seeks to disengage his Church from the general culture:

Instead of getting the state out of then wedding business, I would rather see the church get out of the wedding business.

This is heresy, of course, not in the sense of violating theological-doctrinal standards, but in the sense of crossing a deeply-embedded, socio-religious more. There still remains in American society a strong sense that you are "supposed" to get married in a church by a cleric, even among couples who never otherwise darken a church's door. A lot of times an engaged couple with no active religious life seek a church wedding just to make mom and dad happy, and/or because they want a traditional photo album of wedding pictures.

You can read my lengthy response in Sensing's comments section, if you'd like, but I think commenter Tom Cohoe succinctly captured an aspect of Sensing's "solution" that represents further danger:

Your last post on this subject ended with the thought that tyranny was close. Instead of retreating into the defense of the interests of your church, I think you should fight for the salvation of marriage for the benefit of the whole society.

Marriage works — and it does still work — because it fits well as a sort of interface between so many distinct and separated aspects of life. It connects one generation to the next, one family to another, man to woman, the private family to the public society, and (although libertarians will wrongly decry it) religion to the government. Removing the religion-government link — in our society, as it is constructed — will cause the other links to burst, as well.

Worse yet, it is a fool's delusion to believe that the newly extended church-state barrier will hold. Homosexuals are not simply seeking legal rights that, for the most part, they can already secure through other means. They will chase down withheld approbation wherever it remains. In this, they are perhaps representative of secularists more generally. Moral and religious absolutes are strong and true banners when carried forward into cultural conflict, but they make for irresistible flags to capture when safeguarded like treasure within sectarian walls.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:19 AM


If you've got some time to spare this week, the must-reading assignment is Edward Feser's two part musing on what makes academics so liberal. Christians oughtn't be surprised at the conclusion, although it's worth the effort to see how Feser gets there:

Sin can cloud the mind of any man. In most, the result is a bad character and a bad conscience. But with an intellectual, given his greater powers of imagination and rationalization, it can generate an entire worldview. For though intellectuals are not always to be trusted where first principles are concerned, they are, unlike non-intellectuals, remarkably proficient at drawing out consistently the implications of such principles.

Can the tide be changed? I'm not sure. But of course, the only reason to despair at the inevitable outcome of the "sheer lunacy" of the intellectuals is if you believe their premises. Rejecting those premises, one finds victory even in defeat.

Interesting how sin works.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:55 AM

February 16, 2004

It's a Small Blogosphere, After All

We're all connected, it would seem.

Act One founder and Church of the Masses blogger Barbara Nicolosi let slip that she grew up in the town in which I now live. It looks as if her sister, an opera singer, still lives here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:57 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Another Question Never Asked

John Hawkins asks a question that seems to be pushed aside when the "cool kids" start pontificating after some controversy or other erupts:

Jarvis refers to the people in Congress upset about Jackson flashing the public as a "posse of prudes" and alludes to "book burners". So I feel compelled to ask, "Is there any sort of line at all" for people who feel this way? I mean if the cheerleaders from both teams got together for an unannounced XXX lesbian halftime show, would there still be so many people determined to give off this faux cool "only a prude would be upset by that" vibe about it?
Posted by Justin Katz at 9:50 AM | Comments (1)

Hooray for Robert Whitcomb!

I only read the online version, so I may have missed something, and it must be remembered that we're talking about a holiday Monday, but it appears that Providence Journal editorial page editor, Robert Whitcomb, has recognized the tremendous gap in his paper's coverage of the gay marriage issue. First, he himself has raised a question that his peers in the Rhode Island media have declined to mention:

The gay-marriage issue has emitted a copious quantity of glibness -- such as the suggestion that couples of two men or of two women are pretty much like couples of a man and a woman when it comes to raising children, or any of the other laborious duties of spousedom. After all, men and women are differentiated merely by minor issues of plumbing. Right?

His whole piece is worth reading (and shows evidence of a much more politic mindset than I imagine I'd manage in his social environment). Second, he printed a piece by Rabbi Avi Shafran that suggests that the movement pushing for (what they claim as) equality in the eyes of the law won't stop at that:

Either morality has true meaning and trumps what some people, even many people, wish to do, or it does not. And if moral scruples are indeed conceptually devolved into bigotry, there will be not only denigration and derision of traditionalists, but also discrimination and legal action against them -- as Christopher Kempling's treatment and Connecticut's action against the Boy Scouts well demonstrate.

Kempling is the teacher in British Columbia who was punished by his school for sending letters critical of homosexuality to his local paper. Said a judge in the Supreme Court:

Discriminatory speech is incompatible with the search for truth. In addition, [Mr. Kempling's] publicly discriminatory writings undermine the ability of members of the targeted group, homosexuals, to attain individual self-fulfillment.

Apparently, "the truth" is a category of information to which the B.C. Supreme Court is privvy. We can't afford to ignore the echo that the reference to homosexuals' "self-fulfillment" finds in U.S. gay marriage advocates who declare the right to marry as a prerequisite to being "fully human."

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM | Comments (3)

The Change We Want to See in the World

Donald Sensing reminds us that our governmental problem isn't just that the judiciary is grabbing power, but also that legislatures are willingly handing it over:

What's in it for the legislators or Senators? By applying political, rather than jurisprudential litmus tests to appointees, the elected legislators get to pass the buck for the political agendas off to unelected judges, using them as shields to hide behind when facing the voters. Knowing that major elements of such agendas would never pass the people's muster, politicizing the appointment process has enabled the legislatures to legislate through the judiciary rather than enactments.

In so doing, the people are shunted aside. The power to make the most major decisions affecting the order of society are taken from their hands by subterfuge. Increasingly, our votes at the ballot have less and less effect on what happens in government - and thus, what happens to us.

Frankly, I find the outlook bleak. Reclaiming the government is going to require sustained exertion of political will by large numbers of people. And I'm not sanguine about the chances of accomplishing that. The class that is pushing the change knows its game; usurpation is dressed up as new freedom; changes will be gradual, best-face-forward affairs. There probably won't be a notable leap into totalitarianism, as the Left claims to fear so much from the Patriot Act.

More likely, if the trend can't be reversed or diverted, what we'll see is the steady march of emotionally satisfying, but socially destructive, innovations couched in the terms of moral superiority, followed by invasive and ineffective strategies for handling the damage that results. Living in such a way as to feed superficial appetites with wonders of quick gratification will be facilitated, while life in pursuit of deeper satisfaction and larger meaning, with an emphasis on rational thought and mature policy, will be presented with obstacles and disincentives.

In a way, the gay marriage debate offers, at the very least, a test case. The changes are sought on behalf of a group that is relatively privileged, and whose defining behaviors accord with the elite worldview. Homosexuals are not a minority group with an intergenerational memory, inasmuch as any adverse conditions aren't handed down from gay parent to gay child, in the pattern that digs racial, ethnic, and religious minorities into further squalor. And Andrew Sullivan enunciates the dramatist's lingo with perfection:

Instead of begging for the basic right to marry, gay couples are now demanding it. In San Francisco, they are simply getting married as an act of civil disobedience. And that is also happening across the country. This will alter the debate - as will the actual existence of marriages in Massachusetts in May. The debate will become how to tear gay couples apart, how to demean and marginalize them, rather than an abstract debate about theories of marriage. And as these couples begin to feel what marriage is like, as they experience what civil equality actually is, they will become emboldened. Just as those who refused to leave segregated lunch-counters began to deepen their sense of moral outrage and conviction, so the act of getting married - something heterosexuals simply assume they have - is empowering. When Massachusetts becomes the first free state for gay citizens, the movement will explode. I predict thousands of couples from all over the country and the world will arrive to claim their dignity and rights - and this experience will help transform the argument. I've always believed that if we could get every gay man and lesbian to fully internalize their own equality, to get past the brutalization that society has wrought upon their souls, nothing could stop us from achieving our dream.

Powerful, if overwrought, language, to be sure. But look at what lies beneath it. This tiny minority is simply going to force sweeping social change. There is no plea. There is no appeal to the goodwill of the majority, nor promise of magnanimity. There is no "long federal debate," as Sullivan has so often claimed to value. All arguments on behalf of the long-honed and proven institution of traditional marriage are cast aside as "an abstract debate about theories of marriage." There is, instead, emboldenment. There are declarations that, "when the religious right try to strip us of those marriages, and force us back into second-class status, then we will see something else: resistance." And then? The eye turns toward the institutions of that dreaded "religious right" that still refuse to grant their approval, all in the name of rights and equality.

But this is an insult to the civil rights movements — the "civil disobedience" — that went before. If this is to be equated with courageous blacks sitting at segregated lunch counters, then let's fill out the analogy. In this scenario, the mayor is serving the lunches, and there is no risk to shouting down those who oppose. The power of the media, of the elite, of the university, of the newly enthroned judiciary, and of unelected international bureaucracies is all behind the movement. Saddest of all, the moral power claimed through the sweat and blood of truly oppressed minority groups — the language of freedom made forceful through the humanity of a people clawing their way from slavery and segregation — is being snatched.

In the comments to his post, Rev. Sensing protests that his central concern is the activism of the judiciary, not the issue of gay marriage, itself. But the two cannot so easily be teased apart in the form in which they've entered the political scene. The crisis facing our nation at this point in history lays out for us to see the full range of the problem — down from an internationalist order that seeks to consolidate global power, through a federal and state system in which too many feel that the right to vote is worth about as much as the right to change the channel, through the full range of cultural institutions in which diversity of skin has been made a distraction from the homogeneity of thinking, right on through to individuals who are not satisfied that their rights allow "begging" for redefinition of the basic structural unit of society.

They will not beg? They will not even ask!

It may be that I'm making too much of this. Perhaps the combination of my long involvement in the debate and adverse geographical location is leading me to lose the necessary perspective. Surely the debate will change again when other states with stronger bars to gay marriage and citizens who do not share my region's apathy are dragged into the battle.

But I'm just beginning to piece together the enormity of this moment. A nation that has only just begun to awaken from a decades-long fantasy is being called upon to fight for its very foundation. To take the lead in doing so.

We'll see.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:19 AM

February 15, 2004

Weighing the Evidence

Diogenes offers an opportunity to examine a particular hypothesis and the provided evidence. Here's the hypothesis, from the Boston Globe:

... the dispute has highlighted a tension between the culture of academic communities, with their emphasis on a diversity of views, and traditional religious delineations of right and wrong.

Presented evidence:

On a recent Sunday, before 11 o'clock Mass was over, one outraged parishioner threw many of the fliers into the sacristy's trash and tore down some of the signs adorning a booth, before breaking down in tears. A second churchgoer, too upset to sit through services, went home and wrote an open letter that he distributed after Mass, calling the distribution of the flier "an injustice." ...

When Sheehan refused to shut down the table, Conway made several trips up and down the aisles, carrying piles of the flier and throwing them out in the sacristy. He also tore down some of the signs hung from the table, he said. ...

But Manjapra and Conway insist that such a thing has no place in their Harvard Square church. "The priests have a responsibility to make sure that information distributed on tables adheres to the spirit of the community," Conway said.

If you haven't figured it out, Manjapra and Conway are doing what's known in the Church as "dissenting." The objectionable fliers laid out the Church's position on same-sex marriage, and the two who thought the Church's teaching had no place in their... umm... church are representatives of the "open minded," "diversity of views" academic community. Says one:

"This went beyond a mistake; it's something bigger," said Manjapra, who studies German history at Harvard. "What I'm afraid of is that my church community will become one of exclusion and name-calling."

Yeah, if it can avoid active censorship.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:25 PM

February 14, 2004

Touched by the Spiritual

As one whose faith is primarily a function of reason and intuition, I'm fascinated by indications that people actually directly experience the spiritual in a supernatural way. Victor Lams spotted a story about Catholic exorcists' seeking to involve secular professionals:

Corriere della Sera indicated that the collaboration between priests and medical professionals in cases of possible possession has become common in Italian dioceses. Father Gabrielle Amorth of the Rome diocese-- who is probably the world's most famous exorcist, as the author of a notable book on the topic-- told the newspaper that he would not consider any case without first receiving a report from medical professionals. Among other things, Father Amorth said, a medical evaluation is necessary to determine whether an individual would be prepared to withstand the physical rigor of an exorcism.

Dr. Salvatore DiSalvo, a psychiatrist who has worked with exorcists in Turin, disclosed that the contributions of medical professionals can go far beyond a preliminary screening for symptoms of pathology. The process of an exorcism can sometimes continue for months, he said, and doctors can become involved "in many situations where psychic troubles and evil presences are manifested."

Now, I'm sure skeptics would have themselves a good, knowing chuckle about the idea that exorcists want to involve "real" professionals in their activities. However folks on that side might react, it seems to me they might form a better idea of the mindset of religious people if they considered what it means for exorcists to seek holistic solutions rather than battle over healers' turf.

My own religious view is such that religious claims are not threatened in the least by partial, or even empirically complete, secular explanations and treatments; such is the overlap of the physical and the spiritual. Too often in the modern West, however, it is denied that there is room for each approach to be informed by the other.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 PM

Asking the Right Question About The Passion

Chuck Colson writes on the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Taking his cue from the Newsweek cover story, Colson addresses the question of "Who Killed Jesus?"

The answer is obvious to anybody truly receptive to it, and that might be the problem:

So enough of this foolish controversy. My advice to Christians is that you make it abundantly clear to your friends and neighbors that we are the ones responsible and then take them to see the film. Let them experience the passion and explain to them why it was necessary for Jesus to go to the cross. And be ready with a biblical answer for your Jewish friends who hear all of this propaganda, most of it stirred up by professional activists.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that it is not who is to blame that really has everybody up in arms. The media elite know that if people see this film, the right answer to the haunting question "Who Killed Jesus?" will be clear. What strikes terror into the hearts of the media elite is that people might once again be convicted of sin, repent, and come to faith in Christ.

In other words, the more frightening question is: Why did He have to die?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:00 PM | Comments (1)

Picking Up Each Other's Slack

It has just seemed to be the case that when I'm in a blogging funk or on a limited topical kick, Lane Core picks up the slack with a variety of other topics, and vice versa. Well, as you know, I've been on a limited topical kick lately.

I particularly recommend two columns by Mike Adams to which Lane links. One is Prof. Adams's reading list to shore up a teenager's Christianity before he or she heads off to the godless world of higher education. The other is Adams's conversion — rather, re-conversion — story:

Pictures of Jesus look different in South American prisons. They often portray a painful expression, a crown of thorns, and blood. Not the peaceful look of the ones at home.

I talked to the man with the pictures for quite some time. He had been waiting for trial for over two years. He told me that he had faith that everything would be all right and that he would see his young children again before long. He also told me a lot about the system of justice in Ecuador. The absence of juries, the killing of "escaped" inmates who had been told they were free to go. There were 25-year sentences for drug possession and 16-year sentences for murder.

Before I left the prison, he shook my hand warmly and thanked me for coming to visit. I had already passed through the gates when I realized that I had forgotten to ask him his name.

As soon as I walked outside, I looked up at a giant statue of the Virgin Mary perched upon a hill above the prison. I realized that I had been wrong for a number of years. The man in the prison was right. How else could a prisoner be so happy? And why are so many "free" men miserable?

And, in one of those seemingly significant instances of informational ebb and flow, Patrick Sweeney links to a related news story:

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Two prisoners had themselves crucified by fellow inmates at a jail in southeast Bolivia on Wednesday while others sewed their lips together in protests to demand swifter justice and benefits for prisoners.
Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

Giggles in the Echo Chamber

The Providence Journal has a Valentines Day column about gay marriage today. You'll never guess which side it takes. It's by Unitarian minister — and lawyer — Catherine Cullen. (Honest question: Have I gotten the wrong impression, or is Unitarianism essentially liberalism rephrased as a religion?) Writes Rev. Cullen Esq.:

The right to marry the person we love is a fundamental human right -- perhaps the most fundamental human right.

— Sorry, had to break in: "We" love one person? I wonder if Ms. Cullen is hoping to minimize the necessary rephrasing when the issue moves on to polygamy. —

Same-sex couples in love are members of our families and our communities. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends. They deserve a full acceptance and respect for their loving, committed relationship. They represent a minority, not an abnormality. Homosexuality occurs among us about 10 percent of the time -- the same percentage that left-handedness occurs. Should we ban a left-handed couple from marriage?

This is worthy of publication in the mainstream press? This is serious thought in support of same-sex marriage?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:35 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

February 13, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "The Reluctant Preacher," by Andrew McNabb.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:11 PM

So Much to Which to Object

You may or may not believe this, but I'm tired of thinking, writing, caring about issues surrounding homosexuality. When I began doing so a few years ago, it was predominantly as an intellectual question; Andrew Sullivan dragged me in, essentially, with his dubious argumentation in response to Stanley Kurtz. Nonetheless, I'm working on a related major project at the moment (you'll see), and then I intend to write out my comprehensive stance.

For that reason, I'm not going to address fellow Rhode Island blogger Marc Comtois's "treatise" on the subject comprehensively. Many of his points are where the argument begins, and I'm too in the thick of it to backtrack at this moment in time. However, I do want to note one point that he makes:

I believe that the proponents of gay marriage have needlessly approached this from an antagonistic angle. They have essentially attempted to ram this idea down the throats of the public. Most Americans are tolerant. They don't really care, but if their cherished institutions, as they define them, whether historically accurate or not, are perceived to be under attack, they will resist.

It isn't just on the basis of the institution of marriage that people ought to be offended. In San Francisco, for example, the mayor and some hundreds of homosexuals have given the finger (in Rush Limbaugh's words) to anybody who's concerned about the rule of law (as if the Mass. court didn't do that more extensively, if less dramatically). As the AP report notes, this is not yet another instance of wacky West Coast behavior that the rest of us can laugh off:

Around the country, gays and lesbians emboldened by San Francisco's move and by the constitutional debate over gay marriage in Massachusetts went to courthouses Thursday and Friday demanding their own marriage licenses - and getting summarily rejected, since every state in the nation bans gay marriage.

Personally, I'm not laughing at much of anything related to this topic today. The Providence Journal has taken its relentless advocacy for gay marriage to the next level. Here's part of a letter to the editor from Richard A. Matera (Providence) that ran today:

If the courts are saying that all couples, regardless of who they are, are entitled to the rights of marriage granted by the state, then the religious ceremony should be separated from the civil. This would preserve marriage as defined by religious groups while opening it up to everyone. (It would mean that those having a relious ceremony would also need a civil ceremony.)

Marc suggests some version of this, but Mr. Matera cuts right to the fatal flaw in Marc's more-reasonable approach: this movement is subversive to its core. There are no two ways about it. In order to force affirmation of a minority lifestyle, homosexual activists and utopianist dictator-in-a-bottle liberals will push culturally established, nationally understood acceptance of religious ceremonies out of the public square. To liberate sex from the restraints of parenthood and responsibility, religion must go in the closet.

It wouldn't, apparently, be good enough to declare that homosexuals can be married by whoever will marry them, whether religious or secular; either the movement will seek to force churches and synagogs to perform the ceremonies, or they will, as Matera has suggested, seek to make religious ceremonies irrelevant in the civil sphere. That somebody as considerate, respectful of religion, and conservative as Marc has come darn close to the same solution shows how persuasive the argument could be.

In the more official capacity of a column, the Providence Journal gives voice to a bit of arrogant jeering from Brown anthropology professor William O. Beeman:

How will we know if a married couple is really a man and a woman? The answer is: We can't for sure!

Legislative attempts to restrict marriage are doomed to be ground to powder through repeated litigation in the courts because there is no clear, scientific and strict definition of "man" and "woman." There are millions of people with ambiguous gender in America -- many of them already married -- who render these absolute categories invalid.

In the few legal cases that have emerged in recent years it is clear that courts in different states are defining gender according to completely different criteria. Soon we will not only have different marriage laws in each state, but different gender-definition laws.

There are at least three ways one might try to codify gender under law -- biologically, psychologically and culturally. On close inspection, all of them fail.

And there you have it. Gay marriage has brought the most inane over-intellectualized academic relativism into mainstream thought. Beeman declares that the FMA would ultimately "falter" on the basis of one of the "thousands of existing marriages" in which one of the partners' biology conflicts with his or her genetic makeup. There are 290,342,554 people in the United States. Percentage-wise, those "thousands" barely register. And Beeman believes this "should worry all Americans"? I find the fact that people like Mr. Beeman have access to young minds and mainstream column inches to be far more worrying.

How perfectly Beeman's thinking illustrates the relationship between the corrosive nature of the exception and the tyranny of the minority! The exception is made to invalidate the applicability of the rule to social construction, and a legal principle emphasizing equality forces the claims of the majority to the fringes of the law. The institutional bulwarks of Western civilization — the very standards, practices, and tacit ethics that have enabled our society to accomplish what it has — are to be trampled for the sake of an intellectual joke! And who will drown in the wave of corruption and misery that will inevitably follow? Not Ivy League professors, that's for sure.

The determination to force the gay marriage change and the raw political power of the social elite in my region have left me discouraged, lately. But one doesn't have to look far to discover why the fight must be kept up, and the arrogance of that elite perhaps justifies hope that the great bulk of people, who just want these maddening issues to leave them alone, one way or another, will be snapped into the realization of what's at stake.

Folks like Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch make their "conservative case" for gay marriage persuasively. We cannot forget, however, that if we who oppose gay marriage lose the fight, Andrew and Jonathan aren't the ones who win.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:57 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

February 12, 2004

Stickiness for a "First Amendment Absolutist"

Andrew Sullivan has ignored the argument that I've made that the two-sentence FMA would allow states to set up civil unions, provided they enumerate the rights, privileges, and responsibilities granted, and I'm pretty sure he's done so deliberately. I've just assumed that was another facet of his ongoing attempt to paint the FMA in the blood red of fundamentalist oppression.

But there may very well be a more-specific reason for his wanting to leave the point out of the debate, having to do with uncomfortable questions that it would raise. An obvious talking point for those who support the FMA that, surprisingly, I haven't heard mentioned is that, with full marriage, homosexuals become entitled to anything that heterosexual spouses are entitled to — public or private. If an employer provides health benefits, say, to an employee's spouse, it won't make a legal difference whether that spouse is the same sex as the employee or not. Now consider this from an email related to the FMA that Sullivan posted back in July:

Suppose a state enacts a statute that: (1) establishes civil unions, which may include same-sex partners; (2) makes it incumbent upon employers to extend the same domestic partnership benefits to employees' "civil union" spouses that it does to employees' "marriage" spouses; and (3) creates a cause of action against any employer that fails to comply with (2). Suppose then that a gay man enters a civil union with his partner, requests the domestic partnership benefits, and the employer refuses. Employee sues. It seems to me that under the statute, in order for a court to grant relief, it will have to find that the language of the statute conferrs "legal incidents of marriage" on an unmarried couple. Just because the "plain reading" of the statute provides a legal incident of marriage doesn't mean that the court is not "construing" the statute when it grants relief. The FMA would prohibit the court from doing that, making parts (2) and (3) of the statute unenforceable. At that point, what's left of the civil union that distinguishes it from a novelty marriage license won at a carnival?

This is similar to the scenario that Eugene Volokh has imagined, except that Volokh had the good sense to make the hypothetical homosexual employed by the state. It's ridiculous to suggest that private companies' benefits are all that separate marriage from "novelty marriage." What Sullivan's version highlights is that he wants to ensure that "civil union" becomes defined in the public eye as "might as well be marriage." It highlights something a bit more insidious in context of my reading of the two-sentence FMA.

In that reading, a state legislature could pass a bill that mandates for "civil unions" every single right, privilege, or responsibility that it grants to married couples. What the amendment disallows the legislature to do is to force private entities to equate marriage and civil unions. Personally, in the generic company, I oppose discrimination against homosexuals (although I think it ought to be a right that employers have). However, a law that forces any employer who offers benefits to spouses to also offer those benefits to civil unioned gay partners crosses the line into forcing that employer to "approve" of the homosexual relationship itself.

Of course, even with the FMA, the legislature has a way around this problem, but that way highlights Constitutional questions — already inherent in the full gay marriage — that Sullivan and other SSM supporters would prefer remain without voice. With the latter, a marriage is a marriage is a marriage. With the former, a legislature could just add a "public or private institution" clause to bring about the same effect. In the language Sullivan's reader uses, private employers are specifically required to "extend the same domestic partnership benefits." That's already more specific than an FMA without the second sentence would require.

I can't say definitively, but it seems to me that a legislature, abetted by its state's judiciary, could get around even the two-sentence FMA by taking pains to find some reference other than "marriage" and avoiding language like "extend." Be that as it may, Sullivan's objection, put in practical terms, is that a Federal Marriage Amendment would make it somewhat harder for the government to force private entities and citizens to treat homosexual unions as marriages.

Rather than say as much, it's much more politically savvy to disguise the ease with which gay marriage would yield the same results behind rhetoric about "a very clever device to strip gay couples of any civil protections whatsoever."

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:59 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

It's a Natural, Private Expression of Emotion; Save Me a Seat!

Barbara Nicolosi posted a brief commentary by Pat Phalen about the latest (and worst) episode of Joan of Arcadia. I thought this part worth sharing:

I was also disappointed to see the obvious attempt to start dealing with teen sexuality like every other program deals with it (teens don't think, they just have sex. All of them. It's fun...Let's watch.).
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:00 AM | Comments (5)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Three Women on a French Canal," by Heide Atkins.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:34 AM

"I think it could help spur a medical revolution."

Well, it had to happen somewhere. In South Korea, live human beings are now considered an involuntary resource for their parts.

I don't know what all the fuss is about. I'm sure North Korea has fully grown people whose organs are available for the price of a bullet and a scalpel.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:22 AM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2004

Changing the Subject

Cox & Forkum are on a roll with their political cartoons. All of the ones currently on the main page are worth a look, but this one is particularly cutting.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:25 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Final Thoughts on SSM... for Today... Probably

In passing, I caught a little bit of rhetoric from a Massachusetts legislator on television, just now, and what he was saying reinforced something that has been puzzling me ever since the court unequivocally made the issue all or nothing.

He was saying something about how, if the court had found the right to gay marriage in the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment under "strict scrutiny," the matter would have gone straight to the Supreme Court. In my years of discussing this issue, I've never heard that put forward as a possibility. In other words, either that legislator let slip some secret plan of the gay marriage forces, or he erroneously put asterisks around the controversy for anybody whose main objection is judicial tyranny.

He also put asterisks around a broader trend that I've been noticing: supporters of gay marriage have been moving quickly to erase any chance of civil unions as a middle ground. They're going for the gold ring — all or nothing. The two bills that are coming to the Rhode Island legislature are just that: traditional marriage or genderless marriage.

I'm not so sure that it's the case, but if the common knowledge is that, barring a Constitutional amendment, gay marriage is inevitable based purely on public support, I'm in a quandary as to the thinking of its supporters. The only thing that I can imagine is that they've got more complete information confirming what I've said before about people tending to oppose gay marriage, and especially its judicial imposition, when they are forced to actually think about it. Even so, the more-substantial trend is the one that they've declared among younger Americans.

Unless they've got information suggesting that the tide is turning against them in that demographic (as I suspect it will), one would think they'd take a different approach. If Stanley Kurtz is right that gay marriage is going to be a huge issue over the coming year, a factor that will hurt the cause, its proponents should be seeking to put a rational, patient face on their advocacy. They might, for example, actually support the intriguing strategy of declaring a moratorium on gay marriages until the people have had their say. If that's too much of a risk, not leaving enough time to flush the old fogies out of the demographic picture, then one would think, at the very least, they'd frequently cite the quirk in Massachusetts law, noted by Kurtz, that forbids marriage licenses' being granted to out-of-staters whose marriages would be illegal in their home states (sections 10–13 here).

Do undisclosed polls indicate that support of gay marriage was a function of apathy? Is there new data suggesting that kids aren't as liberally minded as previously thought? Or do things look so sunny for the FMA that same-sex marriage supporters feel compelled to hurry their desired outcome through the courts?

I don't know, yet, but the political fight surrounding the issue is sure to be enthralling throughout the year.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:21 PM | Comments (3)
Marriage & Family

Complete Agreement... Sort Of

I agree with Karen S. Hayes of Narragansett, Rhode Island, 100% when she writes: "It's time to stop letting narrow-minded zealots define [the gay marriage] issue." It would be wonderful, for example, if Andrew Sullivan would stop calling Republicans "theocons" and writing stuff like this:

But their second sentence is a stealth bomb aimed directly at gay couples, stripping them of any rights or benefits or protections. If the president endorses the Musgrave Amendment, he will be declaring war on gay couples, in order to boost his political fortunes. That's the reality, however they want to dress it up.

Even assuming he were correct about the stripped rights, benefits, and protections (and he's not correct), it would be possible for people to suggest differently without its being a "stealth bomb." And surely, the President could back the amendment in such a way as to avoid "declaring war."

Ms. Hayes goes on to ask a question that I've pondered myself: "why don't they stop playing on people's fears and address the real issues?" For example, Glenn Reynolds cuts out a whole slew of political and legal issues when he declares: "Those pushing the FMA are, in fact, afraid of democracy -- trying to lock in their eroding position on gay marriage against future democratic change." Surely the professor knows that the most the FMA can be said to do is to require that fully indistinguishable gay marriage rights be granted by means of another Constitutional amendment, rather than read into a Constitution by a handful of judges. After all, I don't imagine he wants gay marriage to be mandated nationwide through such methods as brought it to Massachusetts, when he's written the following about Goodridge:

Though I'm in favor of gay marriage, the Massachusetts opinion is just unpersuasive. There's astonishingly little in the way of actual legal analysis there, and that hurts them.

Moreover, I've often found myself wondering about those who are pushing for further innovations in marital law what Ms. Hayes expresses here:

Why don't they talk about why it's easier to get married than to get a driver's license; why so many men abuse their partners and so many women think they deserve abuse; why there's so little political debate about what it would really take to keep marriages and families strong?

I know I've long worried about the effects of divorce, and my concern ratchets everytime National Review or some other conservative periodical mentions the problems of "no fault" divorce. The FMA clearly must be seen as only a first step in marriage reform; as Ms. Hayes so movingly writes, "no constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman could have saved my parents' marriage, or my own."

Of course, keeping with what seems to be a pervasive trend, this divorced child of divorce is actually writing in favor of gay marriage, and calling conservatives bigots. After all, how could SSM affect her marriage? It's over! And if marriage means so little to such people... hey, why not just grant the "right" to everybody? (Although, I'm not quite sure how to reconcile her support for SSM with her complaint about the ease of obtaining a license.)

As she says, "marriage and the 'traditional family' have been in trouble for decades." Now is not the time to start drawing lines in its demise. Darn it, that would be unfair. Instead, we should relive the high of those social movements that were just kicking into gear as marriage began to deteriorate and "stand up for justice and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans."

And there could be no better way to accomplish that goal than to broaden the rules for entry into the institution of which Karen S. Hayes of Narragansett, Rhode Island, has such a high opinion and that has brought her, personally, so much justice and happiness.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:34 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Names of God," by Gary Bolstridge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:32 PM

Smaller Hurdles to a Steamroller

Gabriel Rosenberg, with whom I had what turned out to be a preliminary discussion of the implications of the Massachusetts gay marriage decision for such next-step innovations as incest and polygamy has now expanded his thoughts into two posts. When it comes right down to it, while he has made some reasonable arguments — ones to which I may very well refer if things devolve so dramatically in the future — and considered various angles, the whole endeavor strikes me as beside the point.

The reason I say that is the tenuousness of the distinction between abstract contemplation and practical, political considerations. Look, even, at Dr. Rosenberg's closing sentence:

Of course, I believe the US Constitution's 14th amendment requires same-sex marriage everywhere, but until the time that is recogized I do not buy arguments that a federal marriage amendment is needed to avoid the chaos of differing state regulations.

So, he believes that one state's gay marriage laws ought to be federalized, and he would presumably oppose an amendment even if that proved to be the case, but he intends to dismiss arguments on behalf of the amendment until it is too late for them to have any chance of being put into effect. That's a bit like a supporter of abortion declaring in 1970 that the issue oughtn't be federalized until the Supreme Court writes the "right" into the Constitution.

I'm grateful to Dr. Rosenberg for his cordial interaction with me, thus far, so I hope he won't consider this to be a break in that standard, but I must say that his arguments throughout are typical of the strategy of the more intellectual of gay marriage's supporters. The strategy is merely to mollify concerns and to cast objections as unreasonable... until their objective is a fait accompli. A movement that has pushed its cause through the courts has almost no credibility to argue that further undesirable advances will find the way blocked.

Moreover, the arguments put forward for same sex marriage — issues of privacy, consensuality, discrimination, civil rights, personal love and humanity, practical necessity for mutual care — easily overcome the vague principles suggested as barriers to such things as incest and polygamy. This is true for the simple reason that almost none of the barriers — with the exception of parent/child incest — has self-evidently, or even arguably (in some cases), better foundation than maintaining the link between marriage, procreation, and child rearing.

Sure, a marital relationship would violate a sibling relationship, and even just the possibility of the former would have detrimental effects on the latter. But if marriage is only a public concern because it encourages stability and takes on some of the responsibility for mutual care — and if it is not the homosexual sex act, itself, that the government is encouraging via SSM — then it is difficult to see why a sibling relationship, in which the government currently expresses no, or minimal, public interest, couldn't simply be strengthened into a marital relationship. Dr. Rosenberg writes:

I should also note that it is possible to view the right to marry as a right as more of a right to designate someone as kin. Under this view a person wishing to marry kin is not being unjustly denied this right since they are already related.

As it happens, more rights and responsibilities accrue to "marital kin" than do to biological kin. The right being denied, therefore, is the right to designate a person as a kin of primary mutual responsibility. In short, while "role conflict" may be sociological and anthropological concern, the gay marriage debate, by its very approach, has stressed the public policy and legality concerns.

In light of the gay marriage issue, consider Dr. Rosenberg's mention that "some states allow first cousins to marry provided they are incapable of procreation"; with same-sex couples, this concern is entirely eliminated. More directly, the government's right to make judgments based upon what relationships are sexualized, or even whether sex can or cannot be presumed, is a central assumption under assault by the panoply of arguments being made for gay marriage. Thanks to such judicial decisions as Griswold (marital privacy with respect to contraception) and Lawrence (personal privacy with respect to sodomy), the moral and interpersonal aspects of public policy are of diminished applicability — a fact that bleeds into the legal concern.

A look at Massachuetts's laws concerning sex shows the related thinking and trends in thinking. Sodomy was a "crime against nature" (gay and bestiality) punishable with up to 20 years in prison or an "unnatural and lascivious act" (heterosexual) punishable for less. The 1974 case Commonwealth v. Balthazar restricted the illegality of the latter to public behavior, "inapplicable to private, consensual conduct of adults," with the former following by extension in a 2002 case.

Fornication was from the beginning a much lesser offense. In 1981, Fort v. Fort linked it with adultery and cohabitation: "The crimes of fornication, adultery, and lewd and lascivious cohabitation are never, or substantially never, made the subject of prosecution." Subsequently, a 1994 court questioned the fornication law's constitutionality.

The distinct track from sodomy, which won the race to full legality, is interesting. What's the main difference between sodomy and fornication, adultery, and cohabitation? The potential for conception outside of marriage. With the link between sex and childbearing eroding with relation to diminishing concern about fornication, a judgment in which a 1983 court upheld the constitutionality of the adultery statute would seem to come into question. Thus, just as sodomy laws ceased to be an impediment to gay marriage, laws against adultery and sexualized cohabitation may not long be an impediment to group marriage.

For its part, the wording of the incest statute is best seen in context of two points from Dr. Rosenberg:

So what specific role conflicts emerge from allowing polgyamy or incestuous marriage? Foremost is the legal right of a married couple to have sexual relations conflicting with the legal prohibitions of adultery and incest. ...

Some have argued that [taking on an additional spouse] would be okay if the old spouse consents. ... just how is the old spouse supposed to grant this consent? Tom wants to marry Sally, so he goes to Sue to ask for permission. I think it's reasonable to assume that just asking Sue could cause some problems in their marriage. Suppose Sue doesn't want to give her consent. She risks losing her spouse if she doesn't accede. I believe this is a case where consent can't freely be given. A similar issue of consent arises with regards to incest especially parent-child.

The first significant piece, here, is that the argument with respect to polygamy/adultery is circular. Unlike SSM/sodomy, adultery is defined by the marital relationship. Yes, wedding band — no, adultery. As for consent, the idea that the fear of losing a relationship constitutes loss of the ability to consent would cover any sexual act one could think to mention. With loosened public restraints on private sexual behavior, with the ease of divorce, and with the defining public interest in marriage being mutual care, the government's right to say "no" on behalf of Sue is a shaky matter, indeed.

As Dr. Rosenberg states, even just Tom's asking would rock the stability of the marriage... if Sue objects. But asking is not illegal, and extramarital affairs are barely illegal. Moreover, Sue can sleep with Sally just as well as Tom can, and if marriage is reduced to a set of privileges, responsibilities, and benefits bequeathed through public contract, then there's little reason to prevent a married couple — as a single public entity — from extending the contract to another person.

Now, here's Massachusetts's statute on incest:

Persons within degrees of consanguinity within which marriages are prohibited or declared by law to be incestuous and void, who intermarry or have sexual intercourse with each other, or who engage in sexual activities with each other, including but not limited to, oral or anal intercourse, fellatio, cunnilingus, or other penetration of a part of a person's body, or insertion of an object into the genital or anal opening of another person's body, or the manual manipulation of the genitalia of another person's body, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 20 years or in the house of correction for not more than 21/2 years.

Once again, with respect to the question of consanguineous marriage, we've got a circular dimension: if it's not forbidden as a matter of marriage, it's not forbidden as a matter of sex. Moreover, if the law against fornication is deemed unconstitutional, none of the enumerated sexual acts are forbidden of themselves — not the sodomy, for moral reasons, and not the intercourse, for reasons having to do with conception.

At the risk of tying the matter up too cutely, one can take the sentencing limit for incest as a final, poignant symbol. It is pretty much identical to the original sentencing limit for gay sex.

My objective with this post is not to argue that, if gay marriage is allowed, then polygamous or incestuous marriages ought to follow. It is also not to suggest that I disagree with Dr. Rosenberg's reasoning. However, the bottom line is that, if I can find these legal holes — without recourse to bookshelves of laws and legal precedent from which to pick and choose quotations — then some lawyer, somewhere, certainly can do much better.

The point is that our system has gone well beyond the point at which the judiciary can be trusted to judge the balance between private liberties and legitimate public claims to restrict them. That being the case, we who oppose gay marriage cannot afford to accept dubious reassurances from those on the other side that they'll be able to close the door to the courthouse behind them.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:15 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

February 10, 2004

Spiritual Intimacy

Domenico Bettinelli has a first-hand account of the Boston rally against gay marriage. One important factor that he highlights is that the overtly religious groups who represent the central pillar of opposition have to be careful not to forget that many of their allies are such for secular reasons, and that many among their own ranks (such as myself) actually prefer to make civil arguments against civil changes in the definition of marriage.

The religious aspect comes in ultimately, of course, as it must for anything in life, if we acknowledge that God is part of life. However, it isn't the stronger argument in the public square, and there are legitimate reasons for keeping our religious beliefs distinct from our political opinions. With the culture as it currently stands, even in the secular state, gay marriage presents an unacceptable amount of risk. However, under the right circumstances, some form of it could actually be beneficial.

Many people who read this blog would probably consider that to be a radical statement, and in some ways it is. If we really dig down to what is important in life, though, it oughtn't be difficult to imagine circumstances and to formulate an institution that would move forward even the most fundamental Christian objectives. Here's David Morrison describing his own relationship, which is, essentially, a same-sex union, but one founded on emotional fidelity and spiritual growth:

Intimacy. Real intimacy, not the euphamism for sexual activity that the word so often provides nowadays. Real intimacy is characterized by honesty and trust, two qualities which can only arise over time. These are important because they are the stuff that everyone genuinely needs to have in their lives; the stuff that is the most enduring. We live a deeper and more committed life as a chaste couple now than we ever did when we were sexually active.

Couldn't even the Catholic Church recognize and encourage such partnerships? Not right now, of course; the endeavor would simply create a wink-wink, nudge-nudge structure to bypass dogma. But I can't help but feel that if we acknowledge that there is some irreducible minority of people whose emotions will simply be stronger toward those of the same sex, and if we place relationships such as David's as a model for homosexuals, with the real — if distant — prospect of institutional recognition, then we could break this stalemate, which is ultimately untenable and destructive. We could redirect this particular manifestation of progress toward conservative ends.

David has responded to this post, advising against movement toward what I advise above. I suppose I should stress that I'm really just thinking out loud. This is part of a larger, much more involved, view of potential public and religious policies that I've been developing that includes many other aspects and considerations, to be addressed over time. Of course, I don't envision a straight line into such a society; each step will require benchmarks and the sort of social pressure that tends not to become available when ideas are put into practice. Some of the ideals, however, and even just the initiation of some sort of goal, even if undefined, would surely do some good.

David notes, specifically, one of the aspects that has been a central component to my thinking in this area, but that I didn't touch on, here: friendship. Ultimately, that's what the "spiritual unions" would be, and as such, there would have to be an ethic involved that allowed for transition into marriage with a person of the opposite sex.

Again, we're not talking about anything that can be put forward as actionable in the foreseeable future. In fact, the first step of my inchoate "plan" is the enactment of the Federal Marriage Amendment, including, as it would, the abolition of most civil union/domestic partnership laws on the books (but only to the extent that they explicitly pin civil unions to the marriage). But I guess what I'm trying to formulate is a way to begin to shift the views of homosexuals such that they don't see living within the Church as an impossible achievement and to give them a way to recast their understanding of themselves and their relationship with God.

This would require social views to change not just among homosexuals, but among the entire population, and I suspect that the broader shift in perspective would be profoundly healthy. I'm convinced, for example, that just the debate over gay marriage, itself, has the potential to strengthen some heterosexuals' understanding of and approach to their own marriages — to the extent that they don't conclude, as so many do, that marriage is "all about" the love of two adults for each other.

Moreover, the issue obviously has such tremendous resonance that it would be a tremendous loss of opportunity not to harness it for the cause of social and spiritual betterment. Without some long-term strategy, assuming we win the gay marriage battle, American culture will just sink back into the same ol' mutual animosity and heterosexual apathy about what it is marriages represent.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:11 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

The Cross-Denomination Schism

Calvin Presbyterian minister Graham Standish describes a rift that Christians (and others) probably take intuitively to be correct:

Have modern Christians become a people of two faiths divided by a common Bible? Looking at the increasing division among Christians on so many topics, it's hard not to think so. At a time when the walls dividing denominations from each other are crumbling, a new wall is rising -- one dividing Christians into two competing camps. In one camp are evangelicals, and in the other camp are progressives.

And, to be sure, I've found myself forming connections that cross denominations, but that characteristically unify us in opposition to other factions within our respective Churches. Where his observation begins to go off is with Standish's undue sympathy for the "progressives," leading him to feel split:

On the issue of homosexuality, each side claims that it is being true to scripture. And both are right if you consider the basis of their beliefs. For example, Great Commissioners are clear that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and they are right. Although the Bible doesn't deal much with the issue of homosexuality, when it does, it condemns it.

Still, Great Commanders are right in reminding us of the biblical command to look first at the log in our own eye, rather than the speck in another's, for prejudice is a sin; and that we who are without sin should cast the first stone, for all of us are sinners. They remind us that we are not to judge, but rather to love those who have been judged and persecuted. ...

The sad thing, whether we are talking about Christianity or politics, is that there are far too many of us who are stuck in the middle of the conflict. Like children of divorce we are increasingly being asked to choose one or the other, when really we love both.

However, as Methodist minister Donald Sensing points out, this is a false dichotomy. Drawing from a study that is, admittedly, somewhat dated (1978), Sensing rephrases evangelical (Great Commissioners) and progressive (Great Commanders) as born again and ethical, respectively:

The researchers wrote they expected the ethical Christians would score higher on the Social Interest Survey, motivated primarily by Christ's ethical teachings. It was not so. "The born again group scored higher in social interest in both age groups studied, even though they are primarily committed to the person of Christ and secondarily committed to the ethics [of Christ]. These results support the notion that born again commitment fosters greater internalization of Christian ethics" ...

... Other significant points this study uncovered were that born again commitment is more likely to mature over a person's life than the ethical type and that "an intense, mature and personal religious commitment fosters a sense of purpose in life and a greater concern for the welfare of others."

The distinction that the 1978 study picked up has expanded into a wide division. On one side are those who see their faith as mainly a prescription for living — a sort of wellness plan. If socially progressive movements, such as the acceptance of homosexuality, are seen as making people feel better about themselves, then justification for them must be found in scripture and tradition. Unfortunately, as Sensing notes, one hardly needs formal religion for this purpose, and one certainly doesn't require belief in the Son of God.

The other side is obscured by being called "evangelical" and "born again." These terms aren't, strictly speaking, accurate; born agains needn't have been born again, and evangelicals needn't be Protestants who emphasize preaching. Conservative Catholics, for example, are semantically excluded. What I see as being the real quality that defines this second group is that they — we — emphasize the "realness" of Christ, and the palpable quality of our faith. We define our ethics according to what we consider to be the true nature of reality, a Truth that requires study and discernment, as distinct from emotion and intuition, every bit as much as any science.

Thus, Standish's "progressives" and Sensing's "ethical Christians" are akin to political liberals who seek to cure symptoms, to change racial employment statistics by force of quota, for example, without pursuing policies to demand the development of responsible behavior. The poor deserve welfare, and sin must be redefined for the sake of self-esteem.

To the extent that we on the other side see welfare as an impediment to the discovery of self-worth and self-esteem as an illusory distraction from spiritual salvation, there can be no reconciliation of these views. And to the extent that we root our conclusions in scripture, tradition, evidence, and logic, the gap in the very languages that we speak cannot help but expand.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:47 PM

Bias Bias Everwhere

Allow me to take a moment to offer moral support to Chris Boucher at my alma mater, the University of Rhode Island, who is keeping up a fight in which I engaged not so long ago:

I also feel the need to remind you that the term "Wealthy White Republicans" aside from being blatantly racist as well as biased, is a misnomer. A significant portion of the wealth in Rhode Island has sided with the Democrats, and from my own observations as a past candidate, the Republicans are predominately made of hard working people that own small businesses, pay their taxes, and send their kids to state colleges, like URI. Though it may surprise you, some of them are actually not white!

He's addressing the young writers and editors of the Good 5¢ Cigar, a paper that, today, offers a "news" story lamenting the failure of a Cuban government official to secure a visa and speak at the university. Somehow the fledgling reporter failed to mention that Cubans, including journalists, don't have to make plans to visit U.S. campuses to be "robbed of the right to information and dialogue." Of course, one can see how that angle has much less relevance than the fact that "Cuba has universal health care and free education."

Meanwhile, the major media is busy egregiously spinning news from Iraq, as Glenn Reynolds has noted. Although, ABCNews provides a ray of hope. Acknowledging a problem is, after all, the first step in fixing it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:00 PM
News Media

Songs You Should Know 02/10/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Nonchalant" by Mr. Chu.

"Nonchalant" Mr. Chu, Hard Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Chu's Next

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:38 PM

The Frightening Influence

My mind keeps drifting back to the ordeal with Dan Yorke yesterday, so perhaps it'll help to exorcise the demon if I write out my thoughts.

The sentence about his seeing marriage as "not unlike a job" clearly overstated the concept that I was trying to get across. What I was trying to convey was the oversight in his conclusion — that he attributed the fact that he didn't think to recommend a priest to a friend considering divorce to something that the Church is doing wrong, without considering what it indicates about his own perspective.

In conjunction with his dogged repetition that the only significant question is whether "it affects my marriage if two guys get married" reflects the one-generation-deep thinking that has wrought so much damage in our society. That this rhetoric has been such a long-standing declaration on his part, treated as utterly decisive, suggests that framing the issue thus gives Yorke an intellectual excuse for his emotional preference.

He went on to suggest that the Boston diocese's efforts, through demonstration and democracy, to affect the government of the state somehow violates the principle of separation of church and state. This isn't a poorly informed teenager in the high school debate club, some ignorant libertarian blogger, or a vitriolic atheist running off copies of his pamphlet at Kinkos; Dan Yorke has a relatively high degree of influence in this state, with a high platform and large megaphone.

Of course, I have the ability not to listen. And obviously, I have a right to use whatever platform I can establish to criticize him. The problem is that there's no proportionate forum through which to uphold the other side of the debate, and with the issue at hand, there is apparently a pervasive groupthink at the radio station and in every newspaper in the state. That fact alone ought to lead any insiders who privilege fair debate to question themselves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:37 AM
News Media

February 9, 2004

Don't Know Why It's So Confusing

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded to Andrew Sullivan's (probably) mistaken characterization of the two-sentence FMA with a similar argument to the one that I made yesterday. Eugene Volokh has already argued that Ramesh is wrong.

I'm not a lawyer, as Mr. Volokh is, but it seems to me that his argument makes complex something that is relatively simple. (Of course, some might suggest that that's the way law works.) The following passages don't capture Volokh's argument, but they contain the points that I wish to rebut:

As I've argued earlier, imagine that the New York legislature or the California voters decide to create a "civil union" statute, under which gays can enter into such a union. The statute then requires all state and local government officials to treat civil unions as tantamount to marriages, for purposes of child custody, divorce, intestate succession, wrongful death litigation, and so on. ...

So[, Ponnuru argues,] a legislatively created civil union statute that (for instance) completely tracks all the benefits and burdens of marriage wouldn't have to be "construed to require that . . . the legal incidents [of marital status] . . . be conferred upon unmarried couples" -- rather, it will simply be construed to eliminate any "incidents" of marriage under state law, except for the label "marriage."

This is a creative argument, but I don't think it's quite right.

I think Volokh has argued around the simple solution in such a way as to misconstrue what Ponnuru is saying. In short, Volokh is correct that a legislature couldn't create a short-hand civil union law that "completely tracks all the benefits and burdens of marriage." The matter that he doesn't address at all is the possibility of a legislature's specifically enumerating the rights that accrue to a civil union.

For example, one part could declare that "those entered into a civil union will have full familial hospital visitation rights" (or whatever the language might be). Alternately, as was done with parts of the Patriot Act, the legislature could pass civil union statutes that amend the laws in which marriage rights are granted. So, keeping with the hospital example, the new law would declare that "[the hospital visitation law] is hereby amended to include 'or civil union partner' after the word 'spouse.'"

In this way, nobody is "construing" anything. The legislatures are simply making particular — specific — incidents of marriage incidents of civil unions, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:33 PM
Marriage & Family

Something I Need to Work On

AM 630 WPRO talk host Dan Yorke just roped me into listening to his show for longer than just my round-trip to the post office, which is my habit. He's talking about gay marriage, and he told an anecdote about a friend of his. The friend was thinking about leaving his wife, and Yorke suggested therapy, not even thinking to suggest a priest (they're both Catholic), an oversight that blamed on the Church.

Well, to get to the point: I emailed him, hoping to make a reasonable statement, but for the second time in my interaction with his show, Mr. Yorke read the preliminary buildup but stopped at the sentence at which my argument began. It's largely my fault; my initial rhetoric is far too stringent, considering the dynamic and relative power inherent in the format. But here's the email, which Mr. Yorke stopped reading when he got to "not unlike a job."


I've resisted calling in regarding the gay marriage matter because I don't even know where to start. Frankly, I don't even think you're asking the right question. It isn't a question of whether a particular gay marriage will harm your marriage; it's a question of the larger institution. It's more about your daughter's marriage, someday, than yours.

There are a variety of arguments that I'll leave aside just now, but I think your story about your friend creates an opening. First, the fact that you see your failure to advise your friend to see a priest as the fault of the Church illustrates how little you see marriage as a crucial matter of one's life and relationship with God, taking it to be a secular responsibility not unlike a job. Second, the fact that your friend is considering leaving his wife because "it's not there anymore" and it's "like being married to his sister" shows how much marriage has become a contract of romantic love rather than a commitment to stability no matter what.

That second point relates to the central factor that gives the government any legitimate reason to dabble in affairs of the heart in the first place: children. I don't know whether your friend has children or not, but civil marriage is a pointless exercise if it doesn't keep couples together even when they feel compelled to leave, and the reason that it doesn't do so as effectively as it once did is that we have this idea that it's all about passion and romantic love. On the basis of their biology, folding homosexuals into the institution --- at least for now, and particularly by judicial activism --- would write adult love into the law as the only defining attribute of civil marriage.

If it's all about adult love, then the government has no place getting mixed up in it. If it's only about mutual care, then any two people, or group of people, have a claim, and marriage means nothing.

I can promise you that I will never feel myself justified in writing self-help books about making friends and networking. I also suspect that my declining devotion to talk radio is a trend founded in wisdom.

But I'll tell ya: the broader, most reasonable arguments against gay marriage are locked out of the Rhode Island media, as far as I've been able to tell.

Incidentally, I'm sure the gay marriage issue is going to hit Rhode Island in the not-too-distant future, and if the debate remains as one-sided as it is now, I don't see much room for hope.

On further reflection, it seems to me that the long pause when Yorke stopped reading my email could have indicated that he read more and decided that it didn't make the point he wanted to make. He also did little more than scoff off my point about what the real question should be. Adding that observation to my having been disconnected before hitting the air on the same issue a while back makes me wonder how much of the publicly aired debate is being deliberately crafted by WPRO, as it obviously is by the print media. This strikes me as among the most dangerous attributes of the gay marriage battle.

My reach isn't very far, but — perhaps contradictory to what one would expect — it's even less far within the context of Rhode Island. If anybody's got any ideas about ways to force the other side of the debate — which conforms with the majority opinion, after all — into the public view, I'd love to hear them.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:19 PM
Marriage & Family

"All We Are Saying..."

Lane Core has John Kerry's complete statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. The now-Senator's impassioned closing certainly rings true in these days when many in the United States seek to disallow its self defense on the simple grounds that Vietnam was Vietnam:

But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more, and so when in thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say "Vietnam" and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.

It turned, alright. Not unlike milk past the expiration date.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:24 PM | Comments (1)

The Surprise of the Century

Hey, you'll never guess what's starting to come to light: the Oil for Food program was corrupt. It seems Saddam was using it to enrich himself and to buy influence around the world.

Huh. My faith is shaken. Well, at least we can be confident that the International Criminal Court will ensure justice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:15 PM
International Affairs

We're Not Playing with Him

Some academics at Amherst have made it clear that they are incapable of winning reasoned discussion about the issues of the day.

When Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at Amherst next week, we will not be in attendance. We will neither ask questions nor debate Justice Scalia because we believe that the liberal ideals of constructive disagreement and debate only work when both sides act upon these ideals in good faith. We will not offer a tacit endorsement of this man’s presence on campus.

In other words, the professorial signatories don't believe that they can state their case with sufficient clarity to overcome Scalia's conservatism... in ideological territory friendly to the professors. Somehow the statement that the academics "will stay away" reads like more of a promise than a threat.

(Memo to academics: When you grandstand through such a letter, it might be best to avoid putting such names as "Nasser Hussain" at the very beginning of the list. I know nothing of the professor, but surely such bright folks as yourselves can see how the syllables and their associations in the geopolitical realm will evoke snickers.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:12 PM

Shame on the Providence Journal!

I'm trying to put together — for myself, and perhaps to sell as an essay — a coherent, conservative, compassionate, and principled strategy for handling the gay marriage debate that could, in the long run, serve everybody's interests. But what so often derails me in this sort of thinking is my raw fury at ostensibly objective media sources taking it upon themselves to be nothing short of propaganda organs for gay marriage proponents.

Yesterday, 2,000 people gathered in Boston to demand the right to vote on gay marriage. And the Providence Journal — hereafter the Velvet Rag — which hasn't, as far as I know, said a single word about smaller protests for the same purpose in other cities for which it is the closest major paper, ran an embarrassing puff piece on the promising future of the gay marriage industry in Provincetown. "The Cape Cod community long known for welcoming gays and lesbians is already marketing itself as a wedding mecca."

Note that last word — "mecca" — in the lead, and then consider the potentially offensive image with which the paper ran this story below the fold on its front page:

The story says not a single word about the protests, not one mention of the arguments of those who oppose gay marriage. Instead we get flowery imagery:

Massachusetts requires a three-day waiting period, so the "I do's" could start here on May 20, just as the crocuses are bursting behind white picket fences.

And Provincetown is described as having a "spirit of openness," "welcoming qualities," and "tradition of tolerance." And the kicker? The most egregious aspect of this non-news news story, published by a major newspaper that is geographically located in the thick of things but that can't be bothered to present anything other than raw propaganda?

The Velvet Rag borrowed it from the Los Angeles Times.

Reasonable people can disagree about gay marriage — both concerning its validity and the way in which that validity ought to be determined and translated into policy — but the joint co-option of what are perhaps the two most important secular institutions for the preservation of individual liberty — the courts and the press — for radical minority group advocacy ought not be tolerated by anybody whose interest in freedom and cooperation rises above waist level.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:42 AM
News Media

February 8, 2004

Does He Not See It, or Not Want to See It?

Having read hundreds of thousands of words by Andrew Sullivan over the past couple of weeks, I've gained in sympathy and respect for him. But he's simply off his rocker when it comes to this Federal Marriage Amendment. It's as if decades of advocacy and the high and disappointment of the Hawaii battle in the late '90s have made him unable to address the amendment with a level head. (Whether it's deception or error, I won't guess.) Consider the way in which he handles the probability that the two-sentence version of the FMA will be the one put forward:

My italics. All the legal incidents thereof. That language doesn't need to be in there if you're just banning marriage for gays. If you merely wanted to keep the word marriage from gays, you would simply withhold "marital status." But by barring "all the legal incidents" of marriage - in state or federal law - the amendment would render all civil unions and domestic partnerships legally and constitutionally void everywhere in America. The religious right know what they're doing. And they use the word "construe" - not "judicially construe" - but simpy "construe" to make this amendment as devastating to gay couples' rights as they possibly can. This isn't just about restraining courts from protecting gay couples. It isn't about protecting the word marriage. It's about removing every single civil and legal protection gay couples have. That's why the religious right has signed on.

What Sullivan pretends, or mistakenly believes, here, is that the "incidents" of marriage are some universal truth written in the DNA of society. The incidents of marriage vary from culture to culture, from country to country, and from state to state. All this language prevents is the sort of "civil union" that the Massachusetts legislature put forward in an attempt to "compromise" with its corresponding judiciary — essentially defining a "civil union" as a marriage without the word "marriage."

As I've argued extensively, legislatures will still be able to define "civil unions" with incidentses (sic) similar to those of marriage. In fact, with respect to the two- and three-sentence versions, Sullivan has it backwards. The three-sentence version would require that all civil unions thus created be open to everybody; the two-sentence version leaves more room for legislatures to experiment with gender distinctions.

From the point of view of Sullivan and his fellow gay marriage advocates, this will require only that the debate be fought on a sort of per-benefit basis. States will be able to determine the degree and method of encouraging homosexuals to remain committed, of rewarding any pair for providing mutual care, and of preserving the overwhelmingly understood purpose of marriage: the birth and rearing of future generations.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:22 PM
Marriage & Family

Call a Slaying a Slaying

Michael Williams has apparently been criticized for using such heated and biased rhetoric as calling the convenience killing of unborn children "murder." To the contrary, it seems to me that pro-lifers do themselves no good by giving their opponents — or waverers — a reason to suspect that they tacitly don't really believe what they say about the magnitude of the offense.

The criticism does have relevance in a different aspect of the debate, however. I'm convinced that among the highest obstacles keeping abortion legal is the individual moral culpability of those who have had, or even supported, abortions. If it's murder, they've murdered, or supported murder. In that respect, perhaps an argument could be made that it would be more effective to acclimate them to the idea that abortion is wrong before hitting them with the full gravity of its wrongness.

Frankly, I don't think that's a significant factor at this point — overbalanced by the longevity and ubiquity of the fight as well as by the necessity of passion to build a sense of the magnitude of the individual choice. That's not even to mention the magnitude of the social atrocity; as Michael writes (emphasis his):

It's fine and good to win a debate fairly without resorting to emotional rhetoric, but sometimes the issue is so important that it's better to win at any cost than to worry about intellectual niceties. Such is the case with abortion. I'm all for detached, objective discussion in most cases, but one-third of my generation has been murdered by their parents. I'm more concerned with stopping the butchery than with dispassioned objectivity, and I purposefully use emotional terminology to tailor my message in the manner I believe will be most effective in convincing my readers.
Posted by Justin Katz at 3:23 PM | Comments (4)

A Trimmed Word Here, a Tucked Conjugation There

From the first time I saw the phrase, "we were almost all wrong," as a headline, I knew that the presentation of David Kay's opinion was going to be... well... edited in a certain way. A little removal of context, the change of "were" to "was," and here's what we get, in this instance from the Associated Press:

Bush said former chief weapons inspector David Kay, who has said that U.S. intelligence was "almost all wrong" about Saddam's arms, said Saddam found the "capacity to produce weapons."

The take away message: everything we thought we knew was wrong (and Bush is lying). But of course, that's not at all what Kay meant. Here's what he said (and here's the video):

Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here.

Sen. [Edward] Kennedy knows very directly. Senator Kennedy and I talked on several occasions prior to the war that my view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction.

I would also point out that many governments that chose not to support this war -- certainly, the French president, [Jacques] Chirac, as I recall in April of last year, referred to Iraq's possession of WMD.

The Germans certainly -- the intelligence service believed that there were WMD.

It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgment, and that is most disturbing.

Kay is clearly saying that everybody was wrong about the extent of Iraq's existing WMD stockpiles, not that anybody in particular was wrong about everything. One could perhaps suggest that the AP just let a little bit of a grammatical error slip in — which would be unforgivable enough for an international news wire to do — except that reporter Deb Riechmann used "U.S. intelligence" to represent a group that included such varied parties as David Kay himself, the French, and the Germans (and perhaps even Saddam Hussein).

This is precisely the reason that I find myself instinctively searching for original transcripts. Now, that would be a worthwhile service: a wire that provided the actual words that people use, in context.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 PM | Comments (3)
News Media

February 7, 2004

From the Blog to the Bank

Glenn Reynolds is praising Blogads. That's understandable, considering that the four that he's got on his main page right now are earning him — on top of his professorial salary, freelance writing payments, speaking gigs, and whatever his wife makes — a little bit more than the total income on which my family of three (plus dog) currently lives.

Don't get me wrong; I don't begrudge Prof. Reynolds a dime of what he makes. It just seems as if riches pile on top of riches. Me, I'd be happy just making a living doing the sorts of things that I don't consider to be drudge work. And the methods of earning income through a blog that John Hawkins recommends not only add a layer of administrative effort, but they seem to require an approach that I am reluctant to take. I'm not averse to advertising, as a practice, but it moves the emphasis from the conveyance of my ideas to you and toward the channeling of your money to an advertiser.

Not that my readership is such that advertising would be particularly lucrative, anyway. But there has been an increase in the number of people who visit Dust in the Light, so perhaps it's worth taking the opportunity of this post to mention the way in which I would prefer to make money through this blog if I could: Confidence Place. Perhaps you'll consider picking up a book:

Or two:

Whether your purchase is motivated by an interest to read or just to contribute, you can be assured that the boost to the author's spirits will far exceed the dollar amount. And hey, since I don't anticipate additional print runs (at least in the books' current form), perhaps you'll acquire what will one day be a collector's item — and autographed, too.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:20 PM
Sales & Fundraising

Make 'em Drag Ya

Much as he would yell at athletes on the television, my father liked to offer advice to the characters in the movies that we would watch. One of the most frequent mistakes that fictional characters make occurs during abductions — whether being kidnapped, taken as a hostage, or just forced to accompany the villain in his escape from the hero.

"Make him drag you!" my dad would yell. And so I grew up wondering how it could be that a firm grip on one's wrist is sufficient to coax an entire, sentient body to assist in its own capture.

It shouldn't be, as Donald Sensing agrees in a list of tips that he has given to his daughter, and that I will one day give to mine. The bottom line: do not go willingly.

Of course, as Amy Welborn points out so eloquently, our culture is out to make our daughters accomplices in their own abduction of a different sort.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:44 PM

More Walls than One

You may have come across Steve Kellmeyer's piece about the misguided notion of a strict separation between church and state — as opposed to other potential walls — but if you haven't read it, it's worth your time:

Why did Jefferson think this wall of separation was needed? Because the American Revolution happened two hundred years too soon. Thomas Jefferson was a well-read man, but he was completely ignorant of evolutionary theory. How could he be otherwise? It wouldn’t be invented for another fifty years. He knew Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but knew not a thing of what Marx would write twenty years after Jefferson died. Besides, Jefferson was the man who re-wrote the Gospels by taking out all references to miracles. He didn't believe in them, you see. He thought Jesus was a nice moral teacher, but not God. C.S. Lewis was not yet a gleam in his father's eye, so Jefferson was unaware of the Liar, Lunatic, Lord argument, and he wasn't smart enough to figure it out for himself.
Posted by Justin Katz at 4:28 PM

February 6, 2004

Shocked to Their Senses

Perhaps we can, as Carson Holloway seems to imply, see a silver lining to the Super Bowl debacle in that it might have been a shock to people's lulled senses of right and wrong.

It ought to work that people who get offended at a specific event trace their reasoning back to other areas in which their sense of offense has been unduly dulled. I tend to suspect that we're stuck with the a lopsided tendency, though, whereby people consider their lack of general offense and conclude that they oughtn't be offended at something even more outrageous.

Whatever the case, something in these sentences caught my attention:

Of course, these "artists" might respond that their publicity seeking did not, by their own standards, violate any moral norms. After all, it is evident that the entertainment industry does not hold to the same canons of sexual propriety as its traditionalist critics. The act is undeniably unprincipled, however, from the standpoint of the morality to which many members of the entertainment elite parade their adherence — a morality of sensitivity to America's regrettable history of inequality and exploitation. In their lust to make headlines, it apparently never occurred to these people to wonder, or perhaps to care, how it would look, in light of that history and the still-sensitive wounds arising from it, to depict a white man forcibly tearing the clothes off a black woman.

You know, it hadn't even occurred to me — nor have I read it elsewhere mentioned — that the two performers are of different races. That seems to me to indicate — although not necessarily — something positive.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:03 PM

Everybody's Got an Argument Now

Well, hey, what could be more stable than a relationship of one?

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:53 PM
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Spitting Distance," by Janette van de Geest Van Gruisen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:13 PM


Having reread the Goodridge decision last night, I see that I overstated the court's reasoning in the comments to this post, but only to the extent that I suggested that it was explicit rather than implicit. The difference, here, is instructive toward understanding the magnitude of what the court has done.

An argument based on definition is inherently circular to some degree. Obviously, if the definition of marriage is "the union of a man and a woman," arguing that it fixes discrimination against homosexuals to change the definition assumes that there existed a relevant discrimination. In other words, it presumes that there is some more essentially true definition of marriage than that which Massachusetts law has always considered to be the case. Thus, the "remedy" is to make the legal definition accord with the actual definition, the latter being presumed by the assertion that there is discrimination.

The court has relied heavily on its ability to "refine" common-law so as to redefine a term whose meaning and usage it admits. To illustrate this, create a new word that means, by the relationship that it intends to describe, "the union of a man and a woman" — "mawage" — in contrast to a new word that means "the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman" — "fratrage." One could go through all of Massachusetts's law and legal precedent, therefore, and replace "marriage" with "mawage" without changing the meaning one bit. Inasmuch as nobody would prevent a gay man from marrying a lesbian, homosexuals are not barred from entering into mawage. Similarly, neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals have a right to receive recognition nor benefits for entering into fratrage.

Furthermore, every bit of law that the court cited either to affirm its decision or to dismiss the arguments of the state, contains within it the understanding, tacit or otherwise, that marriage was still mawage. Previous decisions, made in the knowledge that they were exceptions, bounded by the definition of mawage, are now cited to illustrate "intent" that marriage not be definingly procreative (for example).

Keeping with that example, it is plain that the procreative nature of marriage was protected and regulated for by the very definition of the people involved. For a variety of reasons, many of which should be obvious, it was deemed best that this regulation be "soft" and, in related fashion, that exceptions were neutral toward the social understanding of marriage and even furthered some of those aims. The court argued that Massachusetts's laws "do not privilege procreative heterosexual intercourse between married people above every other form of adult intimacy and every other means of creating a family." But the point is that marriage — mawage — was the way in which that intercourse was privileged.

Ignoring the degree to which precedent was determined by its larger context, the court simply dismisses such arguments as those involving stability and optimal parentage and asserts its belief that same-sex marriage does not threaten the larger institution. Being a little flip, admittedly, one could suggest that previous courts' determination that such things as grandparent visitation rights would not threaten marriage has been transformed into self-evident precedent that gay marriage will not do so.

In short, the court has determined that there is, in fact, no difference — not only legally, but socially — between mawage and fratrage. And the only way that this can be true is if there is no difference between men and women. These are determinations that a society can make, of course, even if it is wrong to do so. However, if such judgments are not the purpose for and do not indicate the importance of representative democracy rather than judicial oligarchy, I don't know what could possibly be or do so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:17 AM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

February 5, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "SanGimignano (Siena) Italy," by Len DeAngelis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:42 PM

The Height of Parody

In addition to a hilarious distillation of a typical Democratic Underground thread, John Hawkins links to one Iraqi's reflections about the ways in which his life has gotten worse since the toppling of Saddam:

Then a friend of mine told me that it was payment day and when I got my salary, they gave me these strange banknotes with no pictures of any Iraqi president. I remember well, and I said it here before, that my salary was around 17$ a month before the war. This time they gave me 200 thousand Iraqi Dinars which if divided by the current exchange rate (which is now 1330 ID for each US$) will be about 150 $ and what was worse is that they confirmed a raise has been approved to make that 300$ starting from the next month with possible raises in the future. And I saw clearly what that meant, they are bribing us! yes, I’m not an idiot! they’re going to steal our oil, and they can say they’re giving the money back to us and that they even assigned billions of dollars to build Iraq and push many countries to cut down the Iraqi debts, but WE are still the ones who are going to lose, and don’t ask me how, because I’ll be damned if I knew the answer.

You might (or might not) be surprised by his conclusion.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:50 PM

Next Up for Reverence: The Eighties?

Lileks speaks truth to power, culturally speaking:

God no. Please no. I think I speak for millions when I say that I am deathly sick of the counterculture sixties. The music, the war, the protests, all the hagiography - it's not a reflection of the era's importance but the self-importance of the generation who hung on the bus as it trundled along down the same old rutted road of history.. I'm tired of hearing about the boomers' days of whine and neuroses; I'm weary of ritual genuflection to their musical icons; I'm utterly disinterested in most of the pop-cult trivia they hold so dear. We'll probably be better off when that demographic pig has been excreted from the python so we can see the era clearly without choking on the smoke.

The culture is certainly due for some redefinition, and I think it's happening. Too slowly, of course, for we who can't wait for the day that Britney Spears scandalizes MTV by putting her clothes back on.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:44 PM

From My Email to the Public's Ear

Oops. When I responded to George McAllister's questions about same-sex marriages in history — tired and ill as I was — it didn't occur to me that the email might be published.

I don't mean to suggest that my points weren't considered, just that they weren't said as well as they might have been. That'll learn me!

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:38 PM
Marriage & Family

The Day After

Well, I can't say I'm impressed with the President's statement:

Today's ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is deeply troubling. Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. If activist judges insist on re-defining marriage by court order, the only alternative will be the constitutional process. We must do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage.

When will we be justified in dropping the "if"? Of course, we already know that "activist" judges will so insist, but when can we declare there to be enough of them? Two states? Three? The twelve (I think) with legislatures that haven't passed DOMAs? The thirteenth? Whenever the issue hits the Supreme Court?

Part of what we're now seeing, I think, is the downside of elected officials. Judges who are appointed needn't fear a public opinion that they may or may not realize exists. Those politicians who put reelection above right have to guess which way public opinion will fall. As Hadley Arkes, who has been fighting this fight since the mid-'90s, points out, the other branches are not without power:

In the meantime, it might be said that the court itself has offered a series of slogans searching for a principle; and yet that may impute too high a reach to Chief Justice Marshall and her colleagues. The judges in the majority were mainly making it clear that they were in charge, and would have nothing less than what they had "invited" the legislature to produce. Those folks seasoned in the legislature must retain some ordinary reflexes found among ordinary human beings, and if they retain at least some minimal self-respect, this gesture of contempt by the court should be enough to push them over the edge. It is not enough to put off for two years a constitutional amendment. There are things to be done even now. The governor seems to be studying again the lessons taught by Lincoln on the limits of the court and the constitutional responsibilities of the political branches. As Lincoln reminded us, the executive and the legislature could respect the disposition of any case in regard to the litigants, but they may not be obliged to accept the principle articulated by the court. The court might issue injunctions to registrars throughout the state, ordering them to give marriage licenses to people of the same sex.

But the constitution of the state is clear that the laws on marriage belong mainly in the domain of the legislature, and the legislature has the decisive authority to determine the terms on which courts may issue injunctions.

For his part, Stanley Kurtz keeps up the point-counterpoint with Andrew Sullivan — with a sometimes futile tenacity and patience that fills me with admiration. This time around, Mr. Kurtz (in addition to linking to me) notes that the Scandinavian experience suggests that the push for gay marriage may have the effect of bringing about all of the harm of which we who oppose it speak, while producing none of the benefits to society that the proponents promise.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan applies to the federalism vs. courts problem a similar strategy to that which characterizes his handling of the promiscuity problem. On the latter count, he has responded to the objection that homosexual inclinations toward monogamy are, at best, unknown by declaring that he, personally, believes that "adultery should be as anathema as it is in heterosexual marriage" (Virtually Normal, 221) — although it's not clear how much "as it is" should be — without reference to those who would necessarily walk through the door with him. Now, he declares that he, personally, would prefer the public debate the issue and come to agreement with him, but if the courts step in and decide that he's right, he wouldn't be in a position to complain.

For another perspective (that agrees with him), Sullivan points to Armed Liberal, who, despite being twice divorced and currently cohabiting, presumes to define the whatfor of marriage. Here's the first and lesser of two areas of error (emphasis in original):

Historically, [marriage] has been tied to sex and procreation - which means heterosexual sex - but that tie is eroding, in the face of the increasing sexualization of society.

Eroding? It's eroded, folks. Paris Hilton may be 'deeply shamed' by the release of her self-made video; but the next celebrity won't be, and soon we'll have migrated celebrity to something like Gibson's character Tally Isham, whose entire life (especially the naughty bits) becomes the subject of a reality show. Soon we'll be just a credit card away from the weekend cavorts of our media stars, whose stardom will be reinforced, not destroyed, by granting us this access.

No, actually, that tie is nowhere near eroded. The tie of marriage to procreation remains strong despite "the increasing sexualization of society." It appears that the issue that A.L. is substituting for the point that he's trying to make is the link between sex and procreation, on which matter I couldn't rationally disagree, but when sex becomes procreative in the U.S., it is almost universally expected to be within marriage.

This confusion of the relationships between sex, procreation, and marriage surely relate to A.L.'s second, more pernicious, error, which might as well be exhibit C in the case of those who argue that gay marriage will further damage the utility of marriage to encourage the healthy raising of children (emphasis added):

It means that I will take care of her, and be taken care of by her in turn, and that in the time where long shadows come over our lives, we won't be alone in facing them. And it has primacy over your other relationships. The act of saying to this person "You are the most important person in my life. Not my children, not my boss, not my pastor or anyone else matters more to me than you do," fundamentally changes both one's life and one's relationships to others.

And there you have it. The feelings of adults are sacred. The kids? They'll adjust.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:27 PM
Marriage & Family

February 4, 2004

The What Now in Massachusetts

I can't believe that anybody expected the civil union diversion to work in the case of Massachusetts. The court's Goodridge decision was built around 1) a redefinition of marriage, and 2) the application of a pure equal treatment rule to that definition. To allow a civil union compromise (which, given that the word following "civil" would have been the only difference, mattered hardly at all) would have been to admit the contempt for representative democracy that the Goodridge decision represented. As the court's latest decree puts it:

After reviewing the marriage ban under the deferential rational basis standard, the court concluded that the Department of Public Health "failed to identify any relevant characteristic that would justify shutting the door to civil marriage to a person who wishes to marry someone of the same sex." ... The Goodridge decision by the court made no reference to the concept of "civil unions," nor did the separate concurring opinion of Justice Greaney. Rather, it was the lawfulness under the Massachusetts Constitution of the bar to civil marriage itself, "a vital social institution," ... that the court was asked to decide. The court decided the question after extensively reviewing the government's justifications for the marriage ban.

In response to the plaintiffs' specific request for relief, the court preserved the marriage licensing statute, but refined the common-law definition of civil marriage to mean "the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others." ... The entry of judgment was stayed "for 180 days to permit the Legislature to take such action as it may deem appropriate." ... The purpose of the stay was to afford the Legislature an opportunity to conform the existing statutes to the provisions of the Goodridge decision.

What this document has essentially done is to state the extent of the court's previous actions more succinctly. It "refined the common-law definition of civil marriage" and sent the issue to the Legislature solely to enable that body to update the laws to conform with the new definition.

So now, barring federal action, only extreme measures remain if the advent of gay marriage is to be forestalled. The other branches of the Massachusetts government can come up with some creative way around the problem, such as requiring all marriage intentions for the next two years to be registered before May or, at least, putting a moratorium on the granting of marriage licenses to out-of-state couples. Or they can reassert the powers that ostensibly balance the branches. The legislature can impeach and replace the judges with a new batch who will change the ruling (however that works there), or the executive can refuse to administer the new law.

Since none of those moves are likely to occur, and since the state's constitution cannot be amended until 2006, the state that, in 2001, had the lowest divorce rate of any state or (probably) country in the Western world (PDF) will instantly have the most liberal marriage laws on the planet. And this will be the case for at least two years. If, at the end of that period, marriage does revert to a heterosexual institution, it may actually prove to have been for the better — for Massachusetts — that the change was imposed by the courts, because the law of marriage, not the population's idea of it, will have been the only shift, and probably not for long enough to affect the culture.

However, I don't think it unreasonable to predict that, by August of this year, every state in the union will have a gay marriage lawsuit pending. By May of 2005, every state judiciary in America will have had the option of declaring gay marriage legal in their states, because the federal Defense of Marriage Act does no more than give the courts, acting on behalf of their states, an out. In some states, the decision will go one way; in other states, it'll go the other way.

Thus, in the near future, we'll all be seeing maps in the news illustrating which states permit and which states do not permit gay marriage. The justifications for federal lawsuits on those maps' basis will by myriad, but one of the more likely has to do with the federal right of citizens to travel freely within the country. Perhaps even before the people of Massachusetts have had a chance to amend the state's constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States of America will have come under enough pressure to reconcile the varying marriage laws one way or the other that the justices will take the matter out of their hands. Unless there's a Federal Marriage Amendment in place, the SCOTUS will surely repeat the Massachusetts court's performance.

Meanwhile, perhaps beginning as early as this summer, that state's Supreme Court will very likely be asked whether, under its own logic, there is really a "rational basis" to deny the civil right of related couples and multiple-partner relationships to "the benefits of marriage," particularly in light of the way in which it defined the very purpose of civil marriage today (emphasis added):

This is not a matter of social policy but of constitutional interpretation. As the court concluded in Goodridge, the traditional, historic nature and meaning of civil marriage in Massachusetts is as a wholly secular and dynamic legal institution, the governmental aim of which is to encourage stable adult relationships for the good of the individual and of the community, especially its children. The very nature and purpose of civil marriage, the court concluded, renders unconstitutional any attempt to ban all same-sex couples, as same-sex couples, from entering into civil marriage.

Since the court didn't deign even to consider questions of stability with respect to homosexual couplings, it would be inconsistent for it to do so when consanguinity and number come into question. Indeed, as I suggested back in November, every consanguinity law in Massachusetts, as far as I can tell, refers to opposite-sex marriage, and it's hardly a stretch to expand the denial of "rational basis" to same-sex relatives. Consider this intriguing remark in today's release (emphasis added):

The dissimilitude between the terms "civil marriage" and "civil union" is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status.

In short: the next few years may see the fighting of the decisive battles in the culture war, because this issue goes well beyond gay marriage, even well beyond marriage. I oppose same-sex marriage of itself, but I am furious about the larger, underlying aspects of its imposition. I am sick of elite judges declaring the law and the mainstream media pushing the desires of the insulated community that populates it. Perhaps it is the growing discontent with the judiciary and the budding of alternative media that have pushed this issue into the culture war arena so firmly.

Whatever the cause and the sides, the domestic battles over the next five to ten years will not really be about same-sex marriage. The turmoil and unrest could drag in every issue on which our nation is divided. In some ways this could be a good thing; perhaps Roe v. Wade will come back onto the table — especially if the role of the judiciary comes under contention.

Considering the magnitude of the situation, the breadth and extent of the debates to come suggests that we conservatives, we of the Culture of Life, ought to begin to think more broadly. And do so quickly. For one thing, this means cementing our coalitions where we're united and softening our disagreements where we're not. For another thing, it means staking out ground and setting other offensives and Plan Bs into motion. For example, efforts ought to be redoubled to tighten divorce laws and institute adultery laws; people are about to begin really thinking about what their marriages mean, so we may be able to overcome the apathy that has corroded the institution for decades. Such initiatives would also serve to diminish the probable damage of gay marriage, even were it to become the law of the land.

In the interest of fostering this stronger alliance, I thought I'd close with an apology. I used to scoff at California and think it the source of corruption in our society. And the state has taken that role to a great degree. However, California's has been a creeping influence through cultural media. What I realized today is that New England and the Northeast of the United States constitute a much more significant threat. New Hampshire Episcopalians elected a bishop who tore a hole in that Church's foundation; Vermont Democrats contributed the man who set the extremist tone for the party's primaries; Massachusetts has introduced gay marriage into the law; New York introduced Hillary Clinton as an official agent of the federal government; New Jersey is preparing the way for genetic research and cloning.

I shudder to think what my state's contribution to this assault on the rest of the nation will be, and as a New Englander, I'm sorry that ours has been the region to initiate the conflagration in earnest. But I pray that through my efforts I can mitigate its effect when it comes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:53 PM | Comments (7)
Marriage & Family

A Political Epiphany

Hey, I've got an idea! Why doesn't the President sacrifice some support among his base of voters in order to add a cultural aspect to his image that will soften the impression that the cultural elite have of him? Surely, if he increases funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, or something, liberals couldn't continue to see him as a right-wing stereotype.


Posted by Justin Katz at 6:21 PM | Comments (1)

Not on My Channel

James Pinkerton, in whose opinion I've had less and less interest over the past year or so, thinks that the "Repressive Right," by asking the FCC to react to the travesty of the non-football parts of the Super Bowl, is going to push society into the wilds of cable and the Internet, prepare the way for the government expand into those wilds, and open the door for left-wing political censorship on television. In actuality, if anybody is going to bring about this outcome it will be the Lascivious Libertarians and Libertines.

The blinders of their own brand of puritanism are leading the Pinkertons of America to a failure to understand not just politics, but reality itself. They completely miss the compromise and perspective wherein lies the wisdom of conservatism. Every line is drawn with a big thick crayon, and as Craig Henry notes, they are all drawn where the libertarians would like them to be, with scarcely a mention of where they are.

This was not just a new low for network television; it was a new low for network television that happened to be achieved during the Super Bowl — the single-most-watched event in America. This was not just an accidental spectacle from which the performer recovered with coquettish professionalism; it was a direct and obvious assault on the very idea of decency, extending to include the disturbing commercials sprinkled like cyanide salt throughout the game. By failing to understand that and to use their platforms to caution against allowing a reasonable and natural reaction to go too far in the future, people who are absolutists about their free speech in my livingroom make of themselves yet another extreme from which to choose. And most people, given such a choice, will pick the extreme that at least aligns with their general view of society.

What makes Pinkerton's view even more ridiculous, however, is his suggestion, in essence, that we have to allow trash on television or else nobody will actually watch television — or that we must bring cable to television to avoid television's going to cable. As if people are clamoring for more trash during the Super Bowl. Frankly, I've never heard anybody express the hope that the following year's halftime show and commercials would be more depraved. It may have worked, over the past several decades, that the business of entertainment has managed to maintain an audience while substituting titillation for talent, but it's not a trend that can continue forever.

The well for those murky and salaciously addictive waters is nearly dry, and Pinkerton is making it more likely that society will choose just to fill it in rather than draw from it more reservedly. When the antics of the degradation shysters manage to unite me and Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop against them, red flags ought to go up. And the license-at-all-costs crowd ought to take heed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:52 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

What's at Stake in the Music Industry

Yeah, I think it's safe to say that we're no longer dealing with merely a cynical trend in which each generation of rock stars attempts to be more shocking than the previous.

We all know where you're apt to end up when you hit the bottom of depravity's pit and start digging.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 PM

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

The Redwood Review poem of the week is "Meetings on the Road, II: Immortal Conflict," by me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:08 PM

The Humanity of the Sinner

And the corruption of the sin.

Of course, reading several of an author's books in succession begets sympathy in the reader, particularly if there had been a human empathy to begin with, and particularly if the author is as eloquent as Andrew Sullivan. I just came across a parallel that is profound in many ways — several conflicting, all tragically ironic — and it's really too bad that Sullivan apparently didn't spot it.

Here's a passage from Virtually Normal (7–8). Sullivan is writing about the initial indications of his homosexuality:

Not that this was a truly sexual condition. In some sense, physical contact had, in a somewhat comic way, implanted itself in my mind. But it was still intensely abstract. I remember when I was around seven or eight seeing a bare-chested man on television one night and feeling such an intense longing for him that I determined to become a doctor. That way, I figured, I could render the man unconscious and lie on top of him when no one else was in the room. ... already I had divined that the expression of any kind of longing would have to take devious and subterranean forms. I would have to be an outlaw in order to be complete.

And here are a few lines from Love Undetectable (22). Sullivan has volunteered to assist a man with AIDS through the last few months of his life:

I remember one day lying down on top of him to restrain him as his brittle, burning body shook uncontrollably with the convulsions of fever. I had never done such a thing to a grown man before — and as I did, the defenses I had put up between us, the categories that until then had helped me make sense of my life and his, these defenses began to crumble into something more like solidarity.
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:45 AM

February 3, 2004

Songs You Should Know 02/03/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Sarah's Lullaby" by Victor Lams.

"Sarah's Lullaby" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:16 PM | Comments (2)

Sullivan Cedes?

As part of his latest counter in his most-recent outbreak of argument with Andrew Sullivan, Stanley Kurtz examines Norwegian marriage at the district level:

One district bans clergy who oppose gay marriage (and these same clergy are the ones who criticize unmarried parenthood). Another district lionizes leftist professors who cite gay unions to prove that marriage has no intrinsic connection to parenthood. If both districts have high out-of-wedlock birthrates, it's reasonable to conclude that gay marriage contributes to those rates.

After completely dodging the fact that Kurtz caught him trying to have it both ways with the term "de facto marriage," Sullivan responds by — get this — comparing Massachusetts and Texas. One must admire the audacity of a pundit who, having just finished speaking of the many factors that contribute to the erosion of marriage, answers an attempt to draw out significant local differences within a notoriously homogeneous region by citing those two states. For a sense of the magnitude of that audacity, compare the three regions by demographic profile.

Much more interesting is Sullivan's subsequent stratagem:

Kurtz argues that civil marriage is still for procreation, not coupling. As an aspiration, that's defensible. As an empirical matter, it's false. According to the Census, 52.1 percent of married couples are in households with no children present. Now many of these may be because the kids have grown up. Many are also because the couple has decided not to have children; or are re-married with no kids; or are infertile; or any other range of possibilities. (I haven't been able to find any stats on how many marriages - second, third or first - never have kids. Can anyone help?) But that's a lot of non-procreative marriages and married couples with no kids in the house. If coupling isn't the de facto meaning of that relationship, what else is? That's the living, breathing reality of civil marriage in America. Given that reality, how can civil marriage be denied gay couples?

It's true that I don't hover at quite the socio-economic level at which Sullivan does, but I find that 52.1% number extremely surprising. I know of very few married couples who are childless. So the relevant question is: How many marriages does Sullivan rule out with his "many are" clauses? Stated differently: How many of those marriages lack children under 18 for a reason that is either neutral toward or supportive of the notion that marriage is primarily procreative?

To begin with, let's note that Sullivan understated his case. He used data for households that include "related children under 18 years," while the table to which he links shows that the number of married couples living with their own children is only 45.6%. (So he could have used 54.4%.) According to the CDC, the average age at which women have their first children is about 25 years. So, for generalized purposes, it would seem that it is only reasonable to expect women between the ages of 25 and about 45 to have children under 18 years old.

Applying a little bit of basic calculation to the relevant data from the 2000 Census shows that 45.2% of married women fall in this range. Not surprisingly for me and my acquaintances, that number is only 0.4% removed from the number of marriages with minor children. Remember, also, that another 1% of couples prove sterile, and that women toward the higher end of the range at hand were more likely to have their first children when a few years younger than those toward the lower end.

So, does Sullivan now cede his argument? Almost all young married couples, according to these statistics, will have children — that is, consider their marriages to be procreative. Anybody who has a child knows that it changes the entire orientation of one's life, so those over 45 are very likely to continue to see their marriages as definingly procreative. Really, in a country averaging 2.07 children per adult woman, but in which 24.1% of women have never been married, where does Sullivan think all those children come from?

More to the point, if that's the living, breathing reality of civil marriage in America, does Andrew Sullivan admit that civil marriage can be denied gay couples?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:57 PM | Comments (32)
Marriage & Family

A Numbers Game

Among the barrage of rhetorical questions that accompany the argument in favor of gay marriage is this: How can such a small minority redefine marriage for such a vast majority? The standard answer — absolutely correct — is that homosexuals' influence on society is extremely disproportionate to their actual numbers. Justice Scalia recognized this in his dissent from Romer v. Evans:

The problem (a problem, that is, for those who wish to retain social disapprobation of homosexuality) is that, because those who engage in homosexual conduct tend to reside in disproportionate numbers in certain communities ... have high disposable income ... and of course care about homosexual-rights issues much more ardently than the public at large, they possess political power much greater than their numbers, both locally and statewide.

And of course, it is indisputable that homosexual causes are put forth not only by homosexuals themselves, but also by elites in such culturally critical institutions as education, law, entertainment, and the arts. Once again, this objection, like so many others, is frequently brushed aside with the cudgels of accusations of bigotry or intransigence.

I recently read, somewhere (I think in a book review in National Review), an idea about unequal pay scales for men and women that nobody from whom I received my education had thought worthy of mention: Men were generally the sole breadwinners, so paying women less was a way in which to ensure that families did not require both spouses to seek full-time employment. Now, you can disagree with this premise, or challenge its insurmountability, but it got me to wondering about something in the gay marriage debate.

Another piece fell into place when I came across a recent survey (PDF) of homosexuals in Rhode Island. As I've already noted, I find this survey's results highly problematic. Nonetheless, they can serve as a somewhat realistic example of homosexuals' disproportion of influence without reference to activism.

According to the summary document for the survey (PDF), "81.1% of the LGBTQ sample for all [Rhode Island] participants over the age of 25" have college degrees. The summary also notes that only 25.6% of all Rhode Islanders of the same age group have a bachelors degree or higher; I'll use 26.4%, which I found on a census table (PDF), so as to compensate somewhat for the fact that the survey includes two-year degrees, while the census does not.

For the sake of simplicity, assume that 5% of Rhode Islanders are homosexual. (It's probably closer to 3% for the population as a whole, but Rhode Island is liberal, gay-friendly, and between New York and Boston.) That means that 4% of the population are homosexuals with college degrees. Subtracting that from the 26.4% total, to get the 22.4% of the population who are straights with college degrees, we find that one out of every 5.6 people in Rhode Island with college degrees are homosexual.

Even considering the vagaries and problems of the numbers involved, here, it can certainly be stated that the disproportionate influence of homosexuals extends far beyond Hollywood. Generally speaking, in every office in Rhode Island that requires a college degree as a baseline, there is a higher percentage of homosexuals than there is of non-whites in the state overall.

The implications of this analysis are more significant than as a measure of influence. Among the premises of marriage, spanning from the theological to the civil, is that it creates a single entity of the two people. With that in mind, consider the competitive disadvantage that heterosexual married couples will face economically speaking. I've had a hard time tracking down dual-income married statistics, but the Christian Science Monitor put the percentage of "dewks" (dual-employed with kids) for 1998 at 51%.

At this point, the various statistics from various sources become unwieldy, and much data is unknown (e.g., how many homosexuals would actually marry). However, as a matter of biology and sociology, it is very likely that heterosexuals will remain much more likely to have children. In the next post, I intend to show that almost all married couples between the ages of 25 and 45 have children under 18; the rate for homosexual marriage would surely come nowhere near that. The higher rates of higher education and lower rates of parenthood among homosexuals combine to harm — not just theoretically, but actually — the single greatest purpose that gives even secular society an interest in recognizing and "rewarding" marriage.

This way of approaching the debate is still new to me, requiring substantial consideration of the way in which the numbers ought to be estimated and compared. Suffice, for now, to say that not only would the possibility of matrimony offer homosexuals incentive to pair up (as distinct from the culture of that pairing), but it would do so more than it does for heterosexuals. And it does so to the competitive disadvantage of the family form that society has the most interest in encouraging: procreative marriages in which one parent takes on the "occupation" of raising the children.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:45 PM | Comments (5)
Marriage & Family

February 2, 2004

On Products' Icky Impressions

I didn't see the half-time show last night; to be honest, I only watched the last six minutes of the game. Even within that brief viewing, however, I was struck by the disturbing undertone of some of the commercials, and my wife assured me that others had been much worse.

In his piece about the dreadful material that permeated the televising of the football game, Tom Shales mentions a commercial for that Van Helsing movie. I'm not sure what channel we were watching, but around dinnertime, that commercial came on the television, and I noticed that my two-year-old daughter had stopped running around and stood staring. I hesitated for a moment to get out of my seat and grab the remote, thinking that, as is usually the case, the extreme violence of that initial grabbing moment would give way to non-violent plot points, or at least to some less shocking action. That didn't happen.

The television advertising world, it would seem, has lost all concern for the sensibilities of its viewers. One would think that self-interest would compel companies to avoid having their products associated with uncomfortable feelings. In the case of movie commercials, one would expect this same dynamic to affect the decisions of a network.

Frankly, I'm at a loss to explain it. I will, however, hazard the suggestion that the business folks are rapidly giving their marketing departments enough rope to hang the companies. All involved have seemed to assume that they can — must — continue to push the boundaries of taste in order to achieve the same effect, whatever that effect is. I simply believe that people will not acclimate forever and will, if not actively object, begin changing the channel.

I'm certainly going to keep the remote closer at hand, and I'm increasingly inclined to hit the Off button.

On a related note: I bet the Bush administration is relieved that it didn't slate its NEA budget increase announcement for this week!

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:45 PM

Two Quick Thoughts on Gay Marriage

Among the problems for the traditionalist side of the gay marriage debate is that matters of culturally internalized understanding have to be reformulated into arguments, while supporters of gay marriage are working from emotional impulse and the layer of logic in which the individual thinker operates. In that sense, those who oppose gay marriage are having to play catch-up, while those who support it are merely having to make assertion after assertion. Every modern teenager knows that "why not?" beats "because that's the way it is" when the two collide on a level playing field.

One instance of this type of exchange in the gay marriage debate has to do with the matter of infertility. I've seen a few variations, both of phrasing and depth, but there are two essential answers that have been given when it is raised as unfair or hypocritical that those who oppose gay marriage do not also oppose infertile marriage.

The first is mainly aesthetic: infertile couples still capture the "form" of marriage, contributing to the social ethic that results in the creation of children for others, if not for them. After all, looking down a list of married couples, you could not tell the fertile from the infertile. The second is mainly practical: to introduce a process of fertility screening as a prerequisite for marriage would add a measure of disincentive to entry. Since children are born naturally to fertile couples, we should ensure that the strainer through which those couples pass into marriage is not tightened to block the infertile.

Although I agree with both of these points, they haven't proven very effective armor against the statements that they are meant to deflect. However, one counter response that I've recently come across, which puts the matter of the non-procreative sex of infertile couples into the Catholic sphere, raises an area of thought that combines the two justifications in a more thorough and concrete way.

In short, and admitting that I know little about infertility, following Catholic sexual teachings, a couple mightn't have any reason to suspect that they are infertile until they are already married. Of course, there are ways of testing, but at least for the men in the equation, those ways are — as far as I know — intrinsically forbidden, through the requirement of masturbation. Moreover, once suspicion arises and infertility is deemed likely, therapy cannot begin in earnest without sex, which means, for the Catholic, without marriage. And on top of all this, add the fact that faithful Catholics do not have the option of divorce.

Requiring by law that couples prove fertility, therefore, would be a Constitutional impossibility for the reason that it directly contradicts the religious beliefs of a large portion of the population. Indirectly, it would change the entire landscape — already distorted — of sexual behavior: premarital sex would be practically mandated, and initial cohabiting would be preferable. With homosexuals, no test is required, because the relationship is sterile by its nature.

This argument keeps marriage of the elderly a more difficult matter to address in this context. For now, I'd suggest that, in the religious context, it cannot be as readily presumed that elderly couples will have sex (and Sarah, after all, was in her 90s when she gave birth to Isaac) and, in the secular context, senior citizens are in much more immediate need of mutual care.

I've gone on longer than I'd intended, here, but there was one other quick point that I wanted to mention in passing. I've noticed that those who argue on behalf of gay marriage have a tendency to slip between putting forward as their examples gay men and lesbians. For example, the former are cited to give gay marriage a positive mandate: men must be tamed. The latter are cited to compete with heterosexuals when it comes to stability. Doesn't this tendency suggest something about the unique efficiency of heterosexual marriage — about complementarity? Men must find maturity through responsibility, and women require, more frequently, assistance with the responsibilities with which they find themselves.

Whether one accepts the weight of complementarity or not, it is plain that these arguments for gay marriage are no proof against polygamy. If anything, accepting them as valid would make group marriages more justifiable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:54 AM | Comments (12)
Marriage & Family