Sunday, February 29, 2004

Long way home

I'll be on the road this afternoon for oh, about seven hours, heading home from D.C. (hence the paucity of posts this weekend). Would just like to make the observation that while Maryland and West Virginia go quickly enough, Ohio takes a freaking long time to drive through. Doh!

A few more Passion links

Good commentary from S.T. Karnick on NRO, and a roundup of all NRO's takes on the film here. To follow the box office gross of the film, you can check here, with an article here.

Quod est veritas?

So says Pontius Pilate rhetorically, dismissively, when questioning Jesus of Nazareth. But the prisoner has already told him, told us, the answer:

You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. -Jn 18:37

I was able to see the Passion of the Christ yesterday, after a year of following the controversy and story of the film online. There's not too much I can add to all the myriad reviews already out there, but I thought I would share a least a few of my reflections (this will probably be ongoing - it takes a little while to process!)

I can understand those who simply took issue with aspects of the film as a film, those who would have made different dramatic choices, would have added a bit here, would not have directed so much attention there, would perhaps have directed a different film. All of those are fair criticisms (I, for instance, might have added a bit more to show the Resurrection, or closed the film with John 3:16 or another verse). I feel, however, that many reviewers who have criticized this movie simply did not, for lack of a better phrase, get it. Mel Gibson's film is not about Liberal Hippie Jesus, or Buddy Jesus, or Wimpy Jesus. Mel Gibson's film is about the Son of Man and Son of God, and it is uncompromising in its demands upon the audience to experience Christ's suffering and death with him, and to accept our own complicity in his suffering and death. Part of the Catholic profession of faith, made in every Mass, states, "For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died, and was buried." That is what this movie is about.

"But concentrating on the end of Christ's life ignores the rest of it: the teachings, the parables, the miracles, the essence of Jesus' ministry," says the Columbus Dispatch's Frank Gabrenya. Well, yes and no: Gibson's movie was not supposed to be about the whole of Christ's life and ministry, but about, as announced in the title, the Passion of Christ - from the Last Supper through the crucifixion and the Resurrection - but Gibson does show, through flashbacks, parts of Jesus's ministry. We see the entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, part of the Sermon on the Mount, the forgiveness of the adulterous woman, and other small bits of his public and nonpublic life. The scenes are very effectively used, in my opinion. "This is my body," Christ says as he breaks bread with his disciples: and we flash to the nails pounded into his hands. "This is my blood," he says as he passes the cup to his disciples: and we see it poured out for us.

"Savagery overwhelms message of love and mercy," complains Gabrenya. But the whole movie is about love and mercy. All of this, all Christ's suffering, the movie makes clear, he accepted voluntarily, for us and our salvation. He was the perfect, because perfectly innocent, sacrifice, the only person whose death could absolve the world of its sin. The part that I cried the most at was when, as Jesus has collapsed, rocks cutting into his bleeding, broken body on Golgotha after he has completed the Via Dolorosa, Jesus picks himself up and crawls toward his cross to be nailed to it. After all his suffering, there was more to come, and at every moment, he chose it willingly - for our sake. Greater love hath no man than this, he has told us, than to lay down one's life for a friend. Thus he has shown us the greatest love of all. And even as his agony overwhelms him, he cries out for forgiveness for his tormenters. What greater mercy could any man show?

I think it is possible to have artistic issues with this movie, but many of the media reviewers take issue not with the direction or the art, but with the message. And I think that, unfortunately, is to miss the entire point of the movie. But the incredible success of the film over the past four days (almost $100 million in four days!) shows that the movie is connecting with a huge audience that reviewers like Gabrenya simply will never understand. All I know is that I will never walk the Stations of the Cross again without these images in my mind, and I hope that meditation and reflection on the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection will be made more powerful and real for everyone who witnesses it.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

"Welcome to the marriage movement"

Elizabeth Marquardt posts:

...Similarly, my mayor, Richard Daley, said last week in support of SSM that those who are bothered by it should "look in the mirror" and look at the divorce rate.

To all of them I say, welcome to the marriage movement. Interestingly, some of those who just months ago would have feared saying something negative about our divorce rate (who wants to look like a right wing conservative, after all?) [IL: Elizabeth is a Democrat] suddenly are willing to bash divorce when the topic of SSM comes up. Great. If they're concerned about divorce I have many suggestions about what they can do to help out. In the meantime, they might consider that at least some and perhaps many of us who are worried about SSM have *also* been worried about and working on the problem of divorce long before these family issues hit their own radar screen.

Query...

for Steve Podraza. Does he mean to suggest that everyone who supports the federal marriage amendment is ignorant and an idiot, or is this a more general commentary that 51% of the population can determine policy in a democracy even if every one of them happens to be an idiot? Just curious.

Also, he asks: Does it matter that their argument cannot withstand rational scrutiny?

Please let me know what you think "our" argument is (I can assure you, as my posts among many others' demonstrate, it's not "plug [our] ears and yell “sanctity, sanctity, sanctity” over and over again"), and how it fails to withstand rational scrutiny. It makes perfect sense to me, and I'm always happy to discuss :) That's part of what our online discourse is about, after all, right? (Besides being a place to vent our own viewpoints, anyway :)

Also: funny post from zipsix about activist judges (scroll up). They do get everywhere!

Sliding down the slippery slope

I expect there to be general discontent with my "what about incest and polygamy?" posts. But do they really have nothing to do with the matter at hand, as Ms Jacques insists below?

Here's the thing: incest is related to homosexual behavior inasmuch as both represent relatively uncommon forms of sexual behavior, whether the practitioners sincerely cannot control their feelings, or can (whether there truly is love involved, or not). Forty years ago, it was clear to pretty much everyone that sodomy was on the same order as incestuous relations, etc. (It still is, today, to most of the world.) Now, insofar as we have greater sympathy and tolerance for people who cannot control their feelings, and we recognize that some people have strong relationships that might not have been approved of in the past, we are better off today. However, it represents a peculiar form of blindness to honestly believe (as Ms Jacques appears to) that just as stigmas fell away from homosexuality (to the extremely unlikely point that we are now debating gay "marriage"), they will not also fall away from incest, polygyny, polyamory, or what have you. It's as though it used to be (and this is simplistic, but it's the best visualization I could come up with at the moment)

A | B C D E

where "A" is heterosexual behavior (generally within marriage), on the "acceptable" side of the line, with everything else clearly delineated on the other side. Now it is (or attempting to be)

A B | C D E

where "B" is homosexual behavior and now is (or would be) "acceptable" and include marriage as part of that general acceptance. Of course, supporters of SSM, like everyone else, can make judgments (even moral ones) about which kinds of relationships are conducive to human well-being and which aren't. Of course they can. Like everyone else, they can draw lines. But once you've moved the line once, then if those same arguments which were successful in normalizing gay behavior are valid, and are used by groups clamoring for C, D, and E, then you have to find other principles to stop it. Given the arguments based on love and consent, it's hard to find any such principles. That is, if "B" became accepted on the arguments that love was sincerely involved, that adults were giving full consent, and that private behavior cannot be regulated by morals legislation, then what if advocates for "C" also point out that love may be sincerely involved, adults involved are consenting, and their private behavior cannot be regulated by morals legislation? And if marriage then necessarily follows from the destigmatization of the behavior, to accomodate families that exist, to give the benefits and incidents of marriage to the parties involved?

But incest is illegal because of possibilities of birth defects, and the likelihood of coercion, it is pointed out. But what if there is no chance of pregnancy? And on what grounds can the state presume coercion if two adults say they have freely consented? Polygamy is even more likely a case, since it already exists in some parts of the world (including breakaway sects in Utah), and has in history. But it hurts women, it is pointed out. But what if the women have consented? Polyamory groups also exist and are clamoring for recognition of their families as well. On what grounds do we deny them their rights? Some people accept that all these must follow - others, like Ms Jacques, resist it (partly because it's so much easier to make the case to the American people that oh, we're not asking for what those people are asking, we're just two people).

I don't mean to be flip at all, and I recognize there was, in between that "A" and "B", a shift to destigmatize pretty much all sex outside of marriage, among heterosexuals first. There's no blame or condemnation being made, merely a pointing out that if arguments which compel one conclusion may also be employed to compel another conclusion, and the two conclusions may not really be wholly distinguished (this is the form of arguments lawyers follow all the time), we better be ready for all those conclusions to follow upon the first, right now.

Fair questions

A good suggestion over at NRO:

I believe, however, that given present circumstances that the best strategy is to take the mayor at his word and employ "street theatre" in a provocative way in order to force the other side to defend their marital nihilism in all its glory. Here's the plan: Have about 50 folks go to San Francisco city hall and request marriage licenses, but not for gay marriages, rather, for other sorts of "unions" that are also forbidden by the state: three bisexuals from two genders, one person who wants to marry himself (and have him accuse the mayor of "numberism," the prejudice that marriage must include more than one person), two married couples who want a temporary "wife-swap lease," a couple consisting of two brothers, two sisters, or a brother and a sister, an adult mother and son, and a man who wants to add a second wife and a first husband in order to have a "marital ensemble," etc., etc. Let's see if the mayor will give these people "marriage" licenses. If not, why not? If not, then the jig is up and the mayor actually has to explain the grounds on which he will not give licenses to these folks. But what could those grounds be? That it would break the law? That marriage has a nature, a purpose, that is not the result of social construction or state fiat? If so, then what is it and why?

I mean, Rosie O'Donnell wants to marry her partner for the spousal immunity privilege in court (not that the privilege would be valid in New York, but...). If they can do it, why not (as I read somewhere yesterday) two mob bosses who don't want to testify against each other? If it's all about the legal incidents, who says sex even has to be involved? Who is the state to pry into whether a couple actually is having sexual relations? And so why not that adult father and son? (No kids can possibly result, they may love each other or simply want legal incidents, the state has no authority to presume coercion, they wouldn't be hurting anyone...)

The question was put to Cheryl Jacques, President of the Human Rights Campaign, on "Crossfire" the other night. How did she respond?

CARLSON: I beg your pardon. I want to -- I want to ask you a question. And I want you to answer it. No one ever answers this question. And perhaps you will.

The standards that the Massachusetts Supreme Court set was intimacy. People are intimate, share intimacy, they deserve to be married. Why draw the line at two people, say? Why shouldn't a group of three men, for instance, by that standard, be able to be married? It's an honest question. I'd like an honest answer, please.

JACQUES: Here's an honest answer. Tucker, I'm raising two sons. I want them to be in love with a committed partner. I want them to have a family. I want grandchildren. I want them to take care of each other. I want them to share each other's health insurance. I want, when one of them dies, the other one to be able to receive Social Security survivor benefits, because they'll pay into it, as I do.

CARLSON: OK, but you haven't answered the question yet.

JACQUES: I just answered it.

CARLSON: No, no, why not three?

JACQUES: I want two committed parents, like every family.

CARLSON: But why deny the right of free people

JACQUES: Because I don't approve of that.

[IL: I thought that was not an appropriate "reason" to have...?]

CARLSON: Why don't you approve of it?

BEGALA: Who is asking for it?

HAYWORTH: Well, I'll tell you who is asking for it.

JACQUES: The American Pediatrics Association, all the leading groups say two committed parents.

CARLSON: But give me a reason. I don't understand.

JACQUES: That's what makes for a healthy family and a loving family and that's what I want.

HAYWORTH: Paul asked, who is asking for this? And the sad fact is, right now, polygamists are petitioning the courts in Utah.

JACQUES: That's not what this is about.

HAYWORTH: No, it's precisely what this is about.

CARLSON: Why isn't that what it is about?

JACQUES: Because that's a different show with different advocates.

Well, that clears things right up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Cool

Comparisons on an astronomical level are always a little hard to grasp (more energy in three hours than the sun emits in a century??) but definitely fun to contemplate.

Veritatis splendor

Oh, man. (One last post on Passion, then no more for awhile, I promise!) I'm not surprised a lot of the "Cream of the Crop" are calling this movie (on average) "rotten." All I know is that even the "Making of" video of this film is powerful (link via C&EI). But then, I'm a biased audience (although if people I trust had dismissed the movie, I wouldn't have paid it much mind either). In any event, one last quote this evening (thanks to a friend). From C.S. Lewis: our options in response to the critical question, "Who do you say that I am?"

I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I am ready to accept Jesus as the great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

By the numbers

Professor Whaley spoke to the Federalist Society today on the topic of SSM. I appreciated his willingness to speak to students, and I thought the discussion was a good one (of course, I'll always be indebted to Prof. Whaley for his recordings of the "Contracts" Sum & Substance tapes that I spent a lot of time listening to last year!).

One of the points of discussion was something I was prompted to go back and look up again to double check once I got home - namely, the professor's frequent assertion that at least one-tenth of the population was homosexual. I pointed out that Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, PFLAG, People for the American Way, and others in their amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas last year, conceded in a fairly formal manner (at note 16) what many activists have conceded for years, that the percentage is far lower.

The most widely accepted study of sexual practices in the United States is the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS). The NHSLS found that 2.8% of the male, and 1.4% of the female, population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. See Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sex: Sexual Practices in the United States (1994).

Prof. Whaley indicated that this number was a lowball, designed to make homosexual practices seem less threatening numerically, and obtained by "two women knocking on doors." However, it appears, first, that HRC's purposes might have been served better by presenting a higher number to show that many people were affected by the sodomy laws, than by purposely downplaying numbers. Second, the NHSLS's survey seems to have been conducted in a methodologically sound, not arbitrary, way, that has been widely accepted, to judge by the wide credibility afforded the survey. The Williams Project on sexual orientation law and policy at UCLA Law, for instance, says that

[t]he NHSLS is considered methodologically strong for a number of reasons: it was conducted by highly-regarded researchers; it carefully developed a random and statistically-significant data set; and it carefully trained its researchers about how to question people concerning their sexual practices. (p.3)

None of this matters for the fact that we should treat all people with dignity and respect as individuals. But it matters for the sake of intellectual honesty in all of our discussions (since the ten percent number is often innocently taken as fact), and it has some relevance as we are confronted with the question of redefining the central institution of civilization around the world and throughout history, which has always been between men and women.

Head-scratcher

New reports reveal the staggering statistic that nine million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases were contracted in 2000. What could possibly have caused this?

Half of all young Americans will get a sexually transmitted disease by the age of 25, perhaps because they are ignorant about protection or embarrassed to ask for it, according to several reports issued on Tuesday.

Or perhaps, I don't know, because they had sex with more than one person by the age of 25, instead of one person for life within marriage? But no, abstinence before marriage wouldn't help the problem:

They [the reports] said the U.S. government's policy of preferring abstinence-only education would only increase those rates.

Researchers in studies like this always take for granted, as they say "abstinence, but," that it is an unchangeable certainty people will have sex as teenagers or young adults outside of marriage. But it wasn't always this way; why should it always necessarily be so in the future? "True Love Waits" movements are gaining popularity among young people around the country. My point is, I think at this point, most people understand how to use protection if they want to make responsible choices about their own lives (which many people can and do). That is, I think we can safely assume 9 million young people in 2000 didn't somehow completely miss the safe sex message growing up in the 80's and 90's. The conclusion I would draw from these studies is not that people aren't educated or don't try to use protection - I think many people know about responsible decision-making and try to practice it - but rather that "safe sex" is often largely a myth.

It said three diseases -- human papillomavirus or genital wart virus, a parasitic infection called trichomoniasis and chlamydia -- accounted for 88 percent of all new cases of STDs in 15- to 24-year-olds. Wart virus is the major cause of cervical cancer while chlamydia can cause infertility.

I should think it's at least plausible that teenagers could be motivated to try to avoid those unfortunate and unpleasant consequences, in the only way guaranteed to do so: abstinence. These are horrible consequences that are causing millions of people to suffer (and be affected possibly for life), when they could have been prevented.

EDIT: It is important to stress that "abstinence-only" education does not consist of a "sex is bad, so don't do it, full stop" message. Of course something like that would be ineffective and inappropriate. Abstinence-based sex education, rather, teaches about what sex is (biologically speaking) and then encourages abstinence, providing reasons why this is advisable - no risk of pregnancy, HPV, wart virus, parasitic infections, etc. People can make their own responsible decisions, and many do, but abstinence makes sense as a teaching tool because it is the only way to be sure of avoiding the afore-mentioned risks. Telling kids about "safe sex," just by virtue of teaching it, encourages them to believe that it really can be safe, i.e., negative-consequence-free, when in fact, nine million young Americans in 2000 alone learned the hard way that it often isn't.

Two more commentaries

Normally, even though I read his reviews on most movies, I end up disagreeing with Roger Ebert, and find mildly irritating the way he throws random political asides into his reviews. Given his general secularism, then, I was surprised to see he's given the Passion four stars.

Is the film "good" or "great?" I imagine each person's reaction (visceral, theological, artistic) will differ. I was moved by the depth of feeling, by the skill of the actors and technicians, by their desire to see this project through no matter what. To discuss individual performances, such as James Caviezel's heroic depiction of the ordeal, is almost beside the point. This isn't a movie about performances, although it has powerful ones, or about technique, although it is awesome, or about cinematography (although Caleb Deschanel paints with an artist's eye), or music (although John Debney supports the content without distracting from it).

It is a film about an idea. An idea that it is necessary to fully comprehend the Passion if Christianity is to make any sense. Gibson has communicated his idea with a singleminded urgency. Many will disagree. Some will agree, but be horrified by the graphic treatment. I myself am no longer religious in the sense that a long-ago altar boy thought he should be, but I can respond to the power of belief whether I agree or not, and when I find it in a film, I must respect it.

Ebert also says this is the most violent film he's ever seen. He might mean the most intimately violent film he's ever seen, given that he's raved previously about such gore-fests as "Kill Bill," but I think in this film the violence is clearly designed to serve a purpose. It's not cartoonish; it's not violent for the sake of thrill-seeking. It's violent because that's the reality of what happened, to an innocent man, for us and our salvation.

Also: Michael Medved shares his views from a Jewish perspective, with a thoughtful consideration of Jewish-Christian relations and how they may be affected by this film.

Giving the American people a choice

Dave Barry for President!

Geek alert

I can't help it, I'm happy about this news. The Star Wars movies were the only ones I brought with me to college (except for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course), and I've been watching them at least since I was five. I can make no apologies for my dorkiness in this regard :)

Passion takes

C&EI links to two good reviews of Mel Gibson's Passion, by Ezra Levant and Rod Dreher. The reviews keep coming in to say how powerful this film really is. It is only a movie, after all - but for people of our time, movies are one of the most vivid and impacting ways to make things "real" for us, and even if you properly keep things in perspective, who among us hasn't ever been moved by a film? I must admit to being nervous to seeing this, however ... but I've got my tickets for Saturday.

People, actions, and moral evaluation

Steve thinks I merely pay lip service to tolerance and compassion. I've little doubt he also dismisses the president's words along the same lines (which words I fully endorse):

Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities. We should also conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger. In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency.

I can't convince Steve of my goodwill - except by my words, actions, and tone, and simply by being truthful. It is inconsistent with Christian teaching to hate people because of who they are, or indeed to hate at all. Love, however, does not mean acceptance of all actions; and I do not embrace the Newspeak definition of "tolerance" as "wholehearted affirmation." Though I believe that homosexual actions are wrong, I would not move to pass laws against them as done in the privacy of homes (I refer to Chris's thoughtful post which suggests that "the fact in and of itself that your morality finds another's decision to be wrong is not a legitimate reason to outlaw something" [emphasis mine], but if considerations validating one's morality become "problems of general concern for society," it is appropriate to have laws dealing with the subject). Because "my" morality as regards SSM absolutely is validated by reasons of general social concern, I cannot sanction the redefinition of the central institution of civilization: marriage. This isn't a personal judgment or condemnation of individuals; it is a move to protect marriage and the family from further crumbling in our society, so that we don't look like Scandinavia very shortly, so that we can continue the effort to protect our children and our families. Furthermore, for me and a few billion others - including, my perception is sincerely, the president - this position is wholly in keeping with Christian (in my case, more specifically Catholic) teaching.

8. Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage. The inevitable consequence of legal recognition of homosexual unions would be the redefinition of marriage, which would become, in its legal status, an institution devoid of essential reference to factors linked to heterosexuality; for example, procreation and raising children. If, from the legal standpoint, marriage between a man and a woman were to be considered just one possible form of marriage, the concept of marriage would undergo a radical transformation, with grave detriment to the common good. By putting homosexual unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and the family, the State acts arbitrarily and in contradiction with its duties.

The principles of respect and non-discrimination cannot be invoked to support legal recognition of homosexual unions. Differentiating between persons or refusing social recognition or benefits is unacceptable only when it is contrary to justice.(16) The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.

Nor can the principle of the proper autonomy of the individual be reasonably invoked. It is one thing to maintain that individual citizens may freely engage in those activities that interest them and that this falls within the common civil right to freedom; it is something quite different to hold that activities which do not represent a significant or positive contribution to the development of the human person in society can receive specific and categorical legal recognition by the State.

Media watch

Media Research Center's Tim Graham is right on target with his imagining of how a different media might report the president's endorsement of FMA this morning:

If Reuters were right wing . . .

WASHINGTON -- Citing broad congressional majorities in sync with his position, President Bush this morning moved to strengthen the institution of marriage from judicial and political assaults by activists pushing what they call "gay marriage."

Of course, given the strong liberal leanings of the elite media and their general disconnect from average Americans, that type of phrasing is literally unthinkable :)

Monday, February 23, 2004

Ethics - we'll worry about them later

The pope cautions about issues involved with new medical technology, saying that while there are many "promising prospects for the good of humanity," we must be careful to guard against "the spread of currents of thought of utilitarian and hedonist inspiration."

In other words, life is not a commodity. We do well to remember that when considering the largely unregulated artificial reproductive technologies industry, which is currently at least a $2 billion a year industry - selling hope to often emotionally vulnerable couples at only about $10,000 a pop, where there is a 30% chance of successful conception, implantation, pregnancy and birth on the first try, with probabilities declining each subsequent time. The therapy required to harvest women's eggs requires extremely unnaturally high levels of hormones. The procedure required to harvest those eggs and subsequently reimplant them is embarassing and potentially hazardous. Ethics of paying up to $15,000 to financially needy college students or poor women to go through the harvesting process are largely unconsidered. If implantation works, there are still issues of multiple births and, even when multiple embryos have been "selectively reduced," (i.e., aborted), low birth weights and all the (often severe) health problems attendant to low birth weight, for children and mothers with higher-risk pregnancies; the effects of this are generally unstudied.

These are difficult issues, and it's tough to suggest, when seeing the success stories, that there could be anything wrong with the situation when couples who desperately want and would do anything to conceive, actually do conceive a child. Still, we must be careful to see children not as a right, but as a gift (what about the children waiting to be adopted?), and we must be careful not to let the artificial reproductive technology spin out of control, as it may already be doing, before we've even had a chance to consider the myriad ethical issues involved.

La liberté du discours?

First amendment scholars take note: it doesn't exist in France, where journalists can be fired for suggesting that maybe, perhaps, the French media leans, oh, just *slightly* anti-American and anti-Israel. Regardless of one's views on the Iraq war or the Palestinian conflict, I think most of us can agree that we should be allowed to have, and publish, different views on the subject? Send over the ACLU! (Professor Goldberger would be proud :)
If French journalists are certain of the justice of their anti-Americanism, other journalists are forming their own certainties about France. Says EURSOC’s Neil Dodds, “If you credit France with the most cynical, self-interested motivation, you will usually be proved right.”

Political hot potatoes

Ever since John Fund's political analysis became available to subscribers only, I've missed reading his commentary. (Then again, it's probably chump change for the demographics the WSJ pulls in, who also pay for the whole rest of the paper online.) Happily, he has a new article up today, this time about the politics of SSM. It's a dicey issue for both parties, since Democrats are aware of backlashes from the public (already happening in Massachusetts). Republicans have issues of their own.

Republicans still have to be careful about appearing, or being, intolerant and leaving themselves open to charges of hypocrisy. David Boaz of the Cato Institute once wrote a powerful piece in the New York Times chiding family-values conservatives for criticizing gays while most social problems--abortion, divorce, latchkey kids, out-of-wedlock births--result from misbehaving heterosexuals. He noted that articles on homosexuality in conservative publications far outnumber those on, say divorce. "Scapegoating gay men and lesbians may get conservatives some votes, but it is not going to solve any of American families' real problems," he says.

I would emphasize that "or being" point - it's important that conservatives actually be, consistent with their principles, tolerant and accepting of individuals, even if they firmly oppose actions such as SSM. (Aside: not that I put any faith in the Republican Party as such ... as Mark Shea often points out, we usually have a choice between the stupid party and the evil party ... neither has much of an advantage as they squabble over the political middle. I always identify as a conservative first, on political matters, and would be quite happy to vote for a Democrat who was socially conservative. They're usually forced out, though.)

I do take issue with Boaz's complaint that pro-family organizations don't do enough to combat other social problems, though he is right those don't always receive as much play. When I worked at Family Research Council, though, and from my long exposure to Focus on the Family and some other groups, it is quite evident that these groups care quite a lot about helping families survive and thrive in light of the perfect mess heterosexuals have already made of family life in the last 40 years. There's work going on on all fronts: but the current matter of SSM has been thrust upon us and demands attention now. It's far from the only issue social conservatives are worried about, however.

Extrinsic matters

The debate rages on about whether SSM is a civil rights matter. David Blankenhorn and Debra Saunders weigh in against, and I (obviously) agree with them. To impose racial requirements on marriage is to impose a qualification that has nothing to do with what marriage is. To see this, and to discredit the analogy to the American Civil Rights movement, one need only take a perspective broader than that of American history (specifically, history of some Southern states) in the last hundred years or so:

Marriage is an institution that has existed in every civilization around the world, since the beginning of civilization. Therefore, it has clearly existed in nonwhite, and non-racially-homogeneous cultures. Therefore, race can have had nothing ever to do with marriage as an institution. When the people who passed anti-miscegenation laws did so, they were grafting a purely arbitrary characteristic - wrong as a matter of law, and simply wrong - onto marriage. Why they did so is also relevant: they did so to "keep the races separate." This repulsive, discriminatory intent was based on a morally neutral characteristic - the race of some Americans - and was particularly offensive given the terrible history of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation in this country. They did this out of racism: there was nothing about marriage as an institution - which existed between people of different races everywhere around the world (including other states in America!), for thousands of years - that ever suggested race had anything to do with it.

By contrast, people who seek to keep marriage between a man and a woman are in keeping with thousands of years of tradition around the world, including everywhere in this country. Tradition by itself is not reason to justify it, of course, but there are many reasons that this particular tradition was formed (and is maintained everywhere today around the world except for a few select locales in Northern Europe and North America, where it has been recently imposed) - marriage has to do with children, with the union of men and women who are designed to be complementary, to support each other, to promote a stable society. Marriage has not been formed as an institution between men and women with any discriminatory intent based on gender - there is no desire to discriminate against men or women by this definition. Marriage has not even been formed as an institution, historically, around the world, with the specific intent to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but was formed for entirely other reasons having to do with protection of children, the good of the man and woman, the promotion of stable society (it may have had something to do with the marital act, but actions are rational things to make moral evaluations of). Homosexual behavior has clearly existed in other cultures, and yet never been part of the conception of marriage as an institution, because marriage was about something else, which is fundamentally to do with the unique complementarity of men and women. But finally, even if so, people with same-sex attraction never faced the same awful legacy of slavery and clear oppression of segregation and Jim Crow that African-Americans did. Some clearly disagree with me, but I don't feel I'm saying anything particularly radical here.

Few people are saying that homosexual behavior should be illegal; most accept that doing what one wants in one's home is a private affair, so to speak. But the debate over SSM goes beyond tolerance for private behavior or acceptance of individuals regardless of their feelings, into forcing governmental and highly public approval of those actions, by redefining with an element heretofore wholly unknown to it, the institution (developed between men and women for reasons) central to civilization.

Merci beaucoup

Thanks very much to Mark Shea for linking to my blog, and thanks to Sheavites who are stopping by! I can't help you if you're a Michigan fan, seeing as how both my schools hold particular grudges against the hated Blue from up north, but I'll do my best to be a good contributor to St Blog's nonetheless :) You can scroll down to here, here or here if you'd like to read some of my more Catholic-inclined posts so far.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

What is to be done

This post will be a bit incoherent, so I apologize upfront. The cover story in the Dispatch today leaves me with a general feeling of despair, even though I know that's not right. It follows a day in the life of a 27-year-old Columbus homeless woman and her six children, as they navigate school, social services, and the YWCA's Interfaith Hospitality Network. The woman is doing her best to get back on her feet, as social workers help her locate an apartment and get a job. The way the IHN works is that families stay in local churches for one week at a time, with a maximum time limit they can stay in the system, I think. The kids get transportation to school and volunteer families help play with the kids, prepare the homes each week for new families, and cook meals. (My family volunteered a couple of times when I was younger.) These people are doing good work - Christ's work. And the homeless families are the ones in need.

But I just have to wonder, how? How does one get into these situations? This woman has six children by four different men. She had three, three years in a row, starting at age 17. How does a woman keep making those choices to get into those situations? Who are the men who take advantage of this, disappearing shortly thereafter as soon as it becomes clear there is a "problem"? Well, most are probably men who had no father figures in their own lives. But here's what made me probably the angriest: a picture of the father of the youngest three children, who "dropped by" one of the shelters to play with his daughter. He "dropped by"? Well, way to take responsibility there, jerk. So nice of you to drop by the homeless shelter where you've left the mother of three of your children. Shame it has to be like this for her. Naturally, the woman in the story receives no child support from any of the children's fathers, even the one who still "drops by".

I worked for a family lawyer for a few months in South Bend, and saw many stories like this. In one case, we helped a woman obtain child support from the father of two of her children. He, naturally, had other children out there vying for the withholds from his paychecks. She, naturally, was pregnant with someone else's child as well. It's just tragic, because everyone involved reaps the unfortunate consequences of their own decisions. You do what you can, because it's all you can do. You help out the children, keep them in school and healthy. You volunteer and provide shelter, you cook meals, you donate money, you help women and children find support in the laws, and you try to change some of the unfairness in the system. But in the end, you have to change the cultural values. And how do you do that?

We have to start valuing fatherhood again. Dan Quayle was right.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Whatever and ever. Amen.

If you have time for a long read, I highly recommend this article on diversity from First Things. It's about truth, justice, and the Western tradition of reason as applied to universities and academic thought.

Diversity can rightly be called a value-free term. All it does, ordinarily, is identify a condition of unlikeness between or among things. It reports this difference as a fact and by itself indicates nothing of the goodness or badness of that fact. Rather, the happenstance of goodness or badness depends on factors other than the diversity itself. The population, for example, is marked by diverse conditions of physical and mental well-being among its members. Some are healthy, others are sick. Better if all were healthy and there were no diversity on this score. Diversity here happens to be linked to a deviation from the normative conditions of health and well-being. It’s bad. The presence of physical suffering and mental anguish does not ground the “celebration of diversity” recommended by bumper stickers and university administrators.

But then of course universities use the term not as the morally neutral term it is. Rather they transform it into a buzzword to identify an ideal of university education. And that ideal, like all objects of human aspiration, presupposes a comprehensive view of mankind—one according to which human beings are poised to become, merely through their own efforts, psychologically and spiritually complete. Recognizing the pathological consequences of this false conception of diversity is crucial. But even more important is coming to understand the truth that it actively (though perhaps unconsciously) seeks to obscure—namely, the truth about human diversity and its implications for our hopes for wholeness...

Higher law and intellectual consistency

One of the things I've been noticing lately in comments of many advocates of SSM is the belief that DOMA laws or any laws specifically denying recognition to gay "marriage" are objectively wrong. To be sure, some people simply argue that those laws are unconstitutional, without reference to any normative statement of the rightness or wrongness of such laws. However, others, including many of the pro-SSM posters at the Marriage Debate blog, make a more fundamental argument that nonrecognition of gay marriage constitutes a denial of dignity, abstract equality, and even human rights. I've heard the justifications of "an unjust law is no law" many times over the last few days.

To what authority do these advocates appeal?

I'm working out my thoughts on this, but it seems to me that those who are arguing that gays have fundamental rights to marriage equality are appealing to higher principles - that the right to marry includes the right to marry someone of the same sex, because that is simply just. Even if the state doesn't grant the right, there is a higher, natural right. Equality is not merely a constitutional guarantee, but something even higher, something we all can recognize. Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson - all of these recognized that there were natural rights, that we were "endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights" that exist outside of the state, outside of the written, positive law. Sometimes the postive law will conflict with or infringe on our natural rights, and then these laws will be unjust - and therefore, no law at all. We might even have a moral imperative to oppose them.

Well, if you accept that there is such a thing as natural rights, then how do we determine them? This is not a new question; it has been pondered by great thinkers dating back at least to Aristotle. The Catholic tradition of natural law, as best espoused by St. Thomas Aquinas, holds that natural rights and natural law may be discerned by reason and empiricism - observation of the world around us. Drawing on the old thinkers, just laws could be those that improved the human condition (in the Catholic case, not hindering man's relationship to God) or that promoted the stability of society. From Locke and Jefferson's perspective, that positive law would be just which ensured man's freedom to life, liberty, and property (or pursuit of happiness) and did not infringe on others' rights to the same (though I believe it was a concept of ordered liberty, not liberty as license). For Lincoln, in that tradition, slavery - though a part of positive enacted law - was unjust, as it violated the natural human right to be free, that is, not subject to enslavement. All these rights we could know by reason and observation.

Now if some activists see gay marriage as a right, the denial of which is manifestly wrong, then they must be appealing to a higher law, saying that liberty includes the right to marry someone of the same sex. Do we know that from reason? But reason does support the institution of marriage being maintained as is (or strengthening it). Do we know that from observation? But it is not necessarily clear from historical observation, or observation of current societies around the world, that such a "right" exists. Nevertheless, suppose we concede that such a right does exist, because marriage is a normative good - and committed, monogamous relationships are good for individuals and society. Will the Human Rights Campaign then join with groups like the Family Research Council (or start their own group) to take this idea to its logical conclusions, arguing for tougher divorce laws (because, objectively, "no fault" divorce laws weaken societal conceptions of the permanence of marriage and discourage attempts to make commitment real)? Will they argue that the appropriate context for sexual relationships is within the bounds of that committed, monogamous relationship of marriage - even if we can't mandate it by law, but encourage laws promoting this - because sexual promiscuity (or any nonmarital sexual relationships) is contrary to the good of monogamy and fidelity in marriage, spreading diseases (like HPV, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis, chlamydia), often resulting in children born or raised out of the stability of wedlock, etc., which are harmful to society? (Because we know, by reason and observation, that the epidemic of STDs and illegitimacy is harmful to society.) In short, will advocates of the natural right to marry - because marriage, with commitment and monogamy, is a good - promote policies which are rationally ordered to the bolstering of that right?

I suspect that the answer is no, that - as John O'Sullivan suggests - if all pro-marriage advocates were to try to pass a law which would legalize SSM and at the same time make divorce very difficult, such a law would have little chance of passing. After all, the gay rights movement has its roots in the sexual revolution, which rejected any normative context for sexual relationships, for heterosexuals or homosexuals. In other words, this "right" is more about doing what you feel is good, with a nod towards not hurting anyone else: except that sexual promiscuity (freedom-as-license) has harmed and does harm others - such as children who are born in unstable situations, people who live in the resultant higher-crime higher-welfare society, or people who are infected with or even die from STDs. If SSM advocates believe in marriage as a good, then if they are honest they should also want to strengthen marriage as a whole cultural institution, helping out pro-family groups like FRC, for instance by encouraging abstinence before marriage or strengthening the permanence of marriage by repealing "no fault" divorce laws. If, on the other hand, SSM advocates want marriage as a means to societal acceptance of homosexual actions and feelings, then the debate is probably not about higher rights and social justice, but simple tolerance for tolerance's sake.

"A cold Scandinavian hell"

NR's estimable John O'Sullivan has a good article on marriage in this week's issue (not available online). The conservative case for gay marriage doesn't hold; opening up the institution to same-sex partners, polygamists, or other variations of couples weakens the conception and importance of the institution as a whole (what's so special about it, after all, if it's not really permanent in a lot of cases and pretty much anyone can do it?)

Whatever its conservative advocates may argue, gay marriage would be not a move toward greater stability in homosexual relationships, but just another domino falling in the slow-motion collapse of marriage in the Western world. Radical advocates of gay marriage support it for that very reason. As Stanley Kurtz has persuasively demonstrated, the end result of this trend is visible in Scandinavia — where marriage is gradually dying away, replaced by cohabitation, family dissolution, and child-rearing by the welfare state. Gay marriage in Scandinavia has done nothing to halt these trends.

Now, Kurtz didn't show that gay marriage caused the decline of marriage in Scandinavia. He did, however, refute the conservative case for gay marriage (that gay marriage would actually strengthen marriage by promoting committed monogamous relationships) by showing that marriage has not been strengthened at all where gay marriage has effectively been legal for a decade; instead it has continued to decline. However, if SSM is likely to become a reality in this country (which I don't accept yet, but O'Sullivan seems to) he offers these strategies for conservative lawmakers:

Conservatives should advocate three broad principles on the marriage issue. First, marriage should be hard to get out of — and if there are children under 16 in the family, it should be very hard to get out of. Second, since society recognizes that marriage is a serious mutual sharing of responsibilities for the lives of others, mainly children, marriage should be given real fiscal and social advantages over the single life and non-marital living arrangements. (Once very substantial, these advantages have atrophied in recent years under the influence of feminism, individualism, and liberal theories of fiscal non-discrimination.) Third, there should be no reforms that seem to grant social or governmental approval for non-marital sexual partnerships.

If gay marriage is to be forced on us by non-democratic bodies, we should seek to embed these counteracting principles in legislation. One of the consolations this might provide is the actual rescue of traditional marriage from descent into a cold Scandinavian hell.

I think what O'Sullivan is suggesting is that if conservative advocates of SSM (such as Andrew Sullivan) truly want "public commitment" and not simply "equality of esteem," then social conservatives should take them at their word, and enlist them in the movement to strengthen the institution of marriage. I think this is unlikely (see above post), but conservative reforms of the law, making divorces more difficult to obtain or withholding benefits from unmarried sexual relationship, could still be enacted even if SSM becomes a legal reality.

Pryor events

Thanks to a recess appointment by the president, William Pryor is now a judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Under the guise of objectivity, the Times is having conniptions. Here's the teaser from everybody's favorite fair and balanced news source:

William H. Pryor, an outspoken opponent of legalized abortion, was installed on a federal appeals court while Congress was in recess.

Get that? Pryor, "an outspoken opponent of legalized abortion." Not, "the Alabama attorney general." Well, to be fair, the actual article does say that, but it goes on to say:

Mr. Pryor is known for, among other things, defending the right of high school athletes to pray "spontaneously" and for his initial support of an Alabama state judge who posted the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and erected a monument engraved with the Commandments in the Supreme Court rotunda.

Actually, Pryor upheld the law in the Judge Moore case, ordering him to comply with the Court of Appeals ruling and remove the statue from the courthouse. At the time, conservatives wondered - but only fleetingly - if that fact would attract any notice from the left. Pryor is personally opposed to several things but by all accounts has never let that stand in the way of his enforcing the law, and the Moore case was a timely example of that. Southern Appeal has the roundup of howls of indignation from the left (comments at C&EI also).

Now, it's true that Pryor is opposed to legalized abortion - consistent with his Catholic faith. (It's never stopped him from upholding the law, but he does oppose it.) He was slammed on this by Senate Dems in the committee hearings on his nominations. But what happened then was, in my view, extraordinary. When most pro-life people come before the Senate and are asked, "Did you say abortion was wrong here, and here?" the appropriate response - if you want any chance of being confirmed - is to back away from it somewhat, explain that it's not really what you feel. Pryor didn't do that. Instead: "I stand by that comment," Pryor said. "I believe that not only is [Roe] unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution, but it has led to a morally wrong result. It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children." He stopped the Democrats - including such "Catholic" politicians as Kennedy - dead in their tracks. Reading this account of the hearings brought tears to my eyes. I hope that if I were ever faced with the same situation, I would have enough courage to stand up for my beliefs as earnestly as Pryor did. And that's not wrong: belief that abortion is wrong, or that Roe was wrong as a matter of Constitutional interpretation, should not disqualify anyone from sitting on the bench, so long as they are able to follow precedent if that is what the job requires - as sitting on the appeals court does require.

Again, in the end, what matters to Pryor's ability to be a judge (with regard to abortion), given that he is highly qualified to be a judge, is this:

"I have a record as attorney general that is separate from my personal beliefs," [Pryor said]. "I am able to put aside personal beliefs and follow the law, even when I strongly disagree with it."

Since the Democrats in the Senate did not do the courtesy of putting the veracity of that assertion up for a yes-or-no vote, the president has gone ahead and appointed him. I have no doubt he'll do an excellent job.

Friday, February 20, 2004

All you need is love

Well, well. Looks like Derbyshire isn't grumpy all the time, after all. I think I am experiencing some cognitive dissonance in reading this article, though ... where's the pessimism? The dourness? Humbug :)

One of life's certainties

Of course, whether one decides to live in Maryland, Virginia, or DC in the metropolitan Washington area (where I am planning to end up), the tax hit will be steep. Although it appears Maryland is the best out of the three in some ways - especially with Virginia's obnoxious car tax (which apparently Republicans aren't going to repeal, see below) - I shouldn't let my whole decision process be affected by the tax laws, should I?

Right about now, my BA professor would be bemoaning how the crazy tax codes drive rational people to alter their behavior, and my tax professor would just be shrugging his shoulders. I suppose we all have to pay our fair share somewhere, but "fair" is a relative concept when it comes to tax and spending.

Undercover Democrats

That's what these "Republican" senators in Virginia must be, right? Right? Because Republicans wouldn't push for a $3.6 billion tax increase if they had any say in the matter. But apparently, they are.

The Republican Party seized control of state government in the late 1990s, promising to end the annual tax on cars, support business and reduce government spending. Now, Senate Republicans are pushing a tax increase that dwarfs one offered by the Democratic governor, Mark R. Warner. The House GOP is targeting businesses, insisting they pay their fair share.

And it is Warner alone who would hasten repeal of the car tax, a promise made by his Republican predecessor, James S. Gilmore III.

"The whole thing has gotten so weird," said Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University and a longtime observer of politics in Richmond. "It's been mixed up in any number of ways."


The article contains this other, almost funny, note:

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the state's largest and oldest business group, endorsed almost all of Warner's tax plan, infuriating House Republicans, who declared that if business groups want higher taxes, the GOP would give them some.


Yep. Real mature there, guys. Of course, Ohioans who voted for Republicans looking for lower taxes have also been disappointed. Even though the signature petition to repeal the tax increase here apparently has run into some problems, the secretary of state is sounding far more sensible about how to handle state money (headline's a bit slanted here).

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Coming to the table

This story, if it holds, would be very good news (link requires registration). During my time in London, I spent a fair amount of time researching the original partition at independence of India and Pakistan. The most unfortunate aspect of the situation was that it did not have to happen as it did - the civil service and military had been integrated successfully (among Hindus, Muslims, and, I believe, Sikhs) under British rule. But the British were culpable in not responding earlier to Indian calls for independence, in not addressing nationalist movements by Jinnah and others, and in poorly drawing the lines once partition became inevitable (leading to chaotic mass migration). It wasn't entirely their fault - but the resulting violence and hostile relations since have been very unfortunate, to say the least. Peace initiatives between India and Pakistan are thus very welcome moves.

Innovation

Now this is creative. I like the Beatles, and I like some of Jay-Z's songs, but the two of them together? Hmm, now I'm tempted to download (though I don't have a download program since my hard drive was reformatted a few weeks ago) ... perhaps I should check my latest edition of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Or not. Ahem :)

Why timing is everything

So Howard Dean is out of the race. Everyone has an opinion or analysis on his meteoric rise and fall, but since I haven't seen this take in my (limited) browsing of articles this week, I'll offer my two cents.

I think what hurt Dean the most was timing, to wit: Iowa came before New Hampshire. At least as I saw things unfold, Dean had a strong lead in New Hampshire up until the Iowa caucuses, but when Kerry won Iowa (as he was most likely to do - it is a Midwestern state, and Kerry the veteran was more likely to play strongly there) assessments of Dean were immediately revised, and his numbers plunged in other states. (I don't think "the scream" was that big a deal; it was overplayed.) But what if New Hampshire had come first, and Dean had walked away with a victory - taking that victory to other states (even if he still didn't win Iowa)? The whole tone of the press coverage would have played out differently, and Dean couldn't but be considered "electable". His support would not have fallen away as rapidly in other states, because his active grassroots network would have had an important victory to point to and rally new Deaniacs.

It's all what-ifs, of course, but I don't think Dean's support was so ephemeral; only that Iowa, just by virtue of being first, changed a lot of people's perceptions.

Marry your MMBDD

An interesting take on a non-traditional form of marriage among some Australian aborigines, and why Americans' natural inclination to find a happy medium in everything may be impacting the debate on civil unions and marriage.

Also, a portrait of three-parent families in New York/New Jersey. What was that about legally recognized unions of more than two not following from gay marriage, again? I believe it will happen much sooner than we think - it already is in Canada.

Pro Se (a long post)

Well, it turns out that taking the easy way out on "Rule 416" was not an option, so my friends and I had to do a bit more creative thinking. That was occupying my time yesterday, in addition to other work; and apparently that was a good thing, as it has hopefully allowed cooler heads to prevail in our online community. I knew this switch over to public blogging would be interesting, but not, perhaps, quite this interesting. I would like to make a few notes about my posts the other day, and respond at least in part to comments over at Law Dork. First, here is what I did not do in my three posts on Tuesday:

(1) I did not make religious arguments or appeals at all (no "the Bible says so, Q.E.D." comments at all, as far as I can see);

(2) I did not express any animosity toward homosexuals in general, but only opposition to gay marriage;

(3) I did not pass any judgments on or condemn homosexuals as people;

(4) I did not claim to be perfect or beyond reproach in my own life; and

(5) I did not express any objection towards homosexuals acting as they wish in private, or even working to gain - by means of popular persuasion - public support, but only expressed opposition toward gay marriage.

My arguments aren't flawless, and I may not have stated everything as precisely as possible, but that's part of the process of debate - posing arguments, probing them in opposition, then modifying them to strengthen them or adjust to new information. So, here is what, in my view, I did do in my posts:

(1) I argued that the gay rights movement, insofar as it is premised on acceptance for actions and not orientation, is not the same thing as the Civil Rights movement. In my view, those who attempt to appropriate the Civil Rights movement as regards to actions and not merely to immutable characteristics, are attempting to shut down debate on the subject as illegitimate. After all, who can be against civil rights? But the Civil Rights movement applied to discrimination on the basis of race, a morally neutral characteristic that has nothing to do with who we are as people. One might make the same arguments about sexual orientation - but actions premised on that orientation are not the same thing as the orientation.

Actions are fair game for moral evaluation and debate. If X volunteers at a soup kitchen, we might evaluate her action as "good." If X puts on a red shirt instead of a blue one in the morning, we might evaluate his action as "neutral." If X kills someone in cold blood, we might evaluate that action as "bad." Actions are fair game - they're how we evaluate character. The gay marriage debate is about an action of marrying someone of the same sex. Therefore, discussion may rationally be directed to whether such an action is good, neutral, or bad. I believe it is disingenuous to pretend that debate on this subject is automatically wrongheaded or intolerant, as if we were debating whether to "discriminate" purely on the basis of an ascriptive characteristic (like race, hair color - or sexual orientation).

As far as appeals to authority (very MacIntyre-esque :), if only African-Americans are qualified to speak on the subject, well, we can both quote leaders. Rev. Jesse Jackson doesn't support gay marriage; and a consistently higher percentage of African-Americans oppose gay marriage than do whites or Hispanics.

(2) I argued that the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is not simply a religious or an American conception, but is one that may be found in pretty much every civilization around the world since we started having civilization 3000 years ago. I said that it is implausible to claim that the ubiquity of the institution was premised solely on animus toward homosexuals. I suggested that, to the contrary, it might be the case that marriage is based on the complementarity of men and women for rational reasons (e.g., it is oriented toward providing a stable society, stable environments in which to raise children, protection of women, etc.). Furthermore, the fact that same-sex marriage in the form currently being advocated in San Francisco and Massachusetts has not existed in any other place around the world in history, belies the claim that there is a "right" to marry a person of the same sex. That is, as A. Rickey points out, why I placed "right" in quotes there. Rights to privacy, to conduct one's life privately as one wishes, to obtain certain otherwise generally acceptable legal benefits - sure. But there is no "right" to a civil marriage to marry a person of the same sex, at least not one readily discernable from history. And when something has worked fairly well for thousands of years (not always, of course, and not always in quite the same forms), then radically redefining might be problematic. (As the "no fault" divorce revolution had a radical impact on marriage.) Radically redefining something isn't per se problematic - but when we're talking about one of the oldest social institutions in the world, it might be.

(3) I argued that children do best - emotionally, physically, psychologically, educationally, etc. - when raised by their natural, married parents. People often decry emotional or unsubstantiated arguments when it comes to "the children," which is why I supported my assertions with studies showing that children do best with their married parents. (To that end, the scorn of my use of "empirical" evidence somewhat bewildered me - isn't factual or statistical evidence supposed to be what's probative in these discussions?) Other situations which do not meet this ideal obviously exist everywhere, and many of them do great - which is a good thing, which we wish could be true for everyone. But the government does not have to pretend that non-ideal situations are equally as good as more ideal situations, even if it offers support to both types of families, by calling everything (and nothing) "marriage."

And "parents" is not a gender-neutral term in the way gay marriage advocates tend to assume. "Parents" is a neutral term that is used precisely because the plural of either "mother" or "father" would be "mothers" or "fathers" and thus not include both. If "parents" were intended in its normal usage to mean any two individuals regardless of gender, then "mothers" or "fathers" would be sufficient to describe either pair. Thus, it is disingenuous to claim when I say children, on average, do best with their own married parents, that "parents" is ambiguous and could mean any two individuals. (In the same way, "spouses" is a way to describe a couple because the plural of either gendered word - "wives" or "husbands" - does not encompass both a man and a woman. But "spouses" isn't ordinarily intended to mean that gender is interchangeable within its meaning.) Besides which, gay parents can never both be the natural parents of a child, by definition. The evidence shows that children need their own mother and father if it's at all possible, and society encouraging marriage is the best way to promote that arrangement. When that happens, state welfare costs go down because fewer people are in poverty, public health is improved, fewer people are in jail (thus saving the government money again), and fewer people drop out of school (thus improving the state economy and productivity). All of these seem to me to be rational reasons for supporting marriage as is - and strengthening the institution from the mess heterosexuals have managed to make of it as well, in the last 40 years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The things we take seriously

This article made me laugh a little. Brought to you by the people who write "Warning: product will be hot after heating" labels :)

Word games?

Steve apparently believes that the word "empiricism," as I employ it, actually means something like "my groundless, subjectively personal preferences and/or beliefs." Well, no. One might reasonably suspect that I am more of a textualist - words generally mean what they mean. So "empirical" evidence, as I understand it, means evidence that is verifiable by means of observation or scientific experiment. What was I asserting to be empirically true? The fact that children, on average, do best - physically, emotionally, educationally, psychologically - with their natural, married mother and father (thus showing reasonable grounds for the state to support marriage, as the ideal institution in which to raise children and promote a more stable society, as it currently is - even strengthening it). A few cites from some generally acceptable (I should think) sources:

"Studies indicate that children who grow up in a single-parent family are five times more likely to live in poverty; three times more likely to show antisocial behavior; twice as likely to serve time in prison; and three times more likely to fail school. Also, studies show that 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder come from single-mother homes and that 85 percent of all youths in detention centers come from single-mother homes." --"Poor Prospects: Unmarried, With Children, Battling Odds," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, A14, 1 Apr. 2003

"Blacks, Latinos and children are among the poorest groups in the nation. But the most likely to be poor were families headed by single mothers: In 1994, nearly half of the female-headed households lived in poverty for at least two months in a row, more than three times the poverty rate of married couples. The difference was even more dramatic among the chronically poor. Single moms were eight times as likely to live in poverty for two years than married couples were to be poor for at least two years. "You can't understate the role of family structure," said Robert I. Lerman, an economist at the Urban Institute who studies poverty issues." --"3 in 10 Americans Face Poverty, Study Says," L.A. Times, A15, 10 Aug. 1998

"One of the best predictors of whether a child will grow up in poverty, use drugs and turn to crime is whether or not his parents are married." --"Teen Moms," Wall Street Journal, A14, 8 May 1998

"Children in one-parent families are twice as likely to drop out of school as those in two-parent homes. Boys in one-parent families are much more likely to be both out of school and out of work. Girls in one-parent families are twice as likely to have an out-of-wedlock birth. Professor Wilson cites a Department of Health and Human Services study of 30,000 American households, which found that for whites, blacks, and Hispanics at every income level except for the very highest, children raised in single-parent homes were more likely to be suspended from school, to have emotional problems, and to behave badly. When Cynthia Harper of the University of Pennsylvania and Sara S. McLanahan of Princeton University tracked a sample of 6000 males aged 14 to 22 from 1979 to 1993, they found that boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated. This was true even when other factors, such as race, income, parents' education, and urban residence, were held constant. Indeed, family structure was more important than income." --"1,293,567 Casualties," National Review, 1 May 2000

"Research finds that children raised in single-parent homes are at greater risk of poverty, school dropout, delinquency, teen pregnancy and adult joblessness. All those problems disproportionately affect blacks, but before you decide that race rather than marriage is the active ingredient in the witch's brew, consider a few other points. First, poverty correlates more strongly with a family's marital status than with its race. According to Census Bureau data, a two-parent black household is more likely to be poor than is a two-parent white household, but both are far less likely to be poor than is a mother-only household of either race. In other words, if you are a baby about to be born, your better odds are to choose married black parents over unmarried white ones." --"The National Divide Centers on 'I Do'," L.A. Times, B11, 29 May 2001.


Where do many of these studies come from? HHS reports (from 2002 and 1995 more specifically), DOJ, NIH and CDC statistics, peer-reviewed journals, among other places. One Heritage analysis cites DOJ figures to find that "mothers who never marry are abused at three times the rate of married, separated, and divorced couples combined. Children are six times more likely to be abused in a step-family, 13 times more likely in a family with a single mother living alone, 20 times more likely in a cohabiting natural family, and 33 times more likely if they live with their natural mother and a boyfriend who isn't their father." Those are terrible risks. Marriage is clearly one way to improve them.

Also, stating that my logic is circular does not make it so. Also also, don't worry about John Edwards - I hate to be a single issue voter, but I can never vote for someone who supports partial birth abortion. (Even the Dem I liked most out of the field, Lieberman, had this issue.) Also also also, this post is credited to Ralph the Wonder Llama :D

Records play music?

Sort-of-but-not-really related to the current Moritz blogger topic of how strict professors should be (or have a right to be) about web surfing during class (see here, here, and here, for example), I have to register another beef with the professor who cut down Steve Podraza the other day. This morning, he brought an LP to class to illustrate an example, and proceeded to explain to us what it was. "This, is a record. It plays music. Look! You can't put it in your CD player. It is not a CD. It is a record." No kidding? I know this is unfair, but I just took issue somewhat with his tone. Other people might have said the above in a joking tone; he seemed to be talking down to us. Well: most of us are in our mid to late 20s, which definitely puts us in the age group that knew LPs. No need for condescension.

(All right, I admit I'm probably just smarting a bit like Steve, from questioning which made me feel dumb for believing that downloading some music occasionally - or copying music I own to my own computer, or making compilation CDs for my friends - isn't bad, while downloading movies is. I don't think that's an irrational position to take, nor did most other people in the class, I think, but I was a bit nonplussed. I concede that most likely means I just have to learn how to argue and articulate my views better :)

An appeal that works 4 you

John Edwards is really connecting with a lot of voters (and thus making a strong case for veep), it seems. Much as I distrust trial lawyers, it's hard to deny they're successful for a reason - they're persuasive and sympathetic. I doubt Edwards can pull many votes away from Bush in the South, but he's a better shot for the Dems than another northern candidate would be. Heck, even I like the guy.

It really is about the children

Same-sex marriage would be detrimental to society because it would further undermine the ideal of monogamous heterosexual marriage, which is an ideal in large part because it provides - empirically - the best environment for raising kids, and actually makes the man and woman involved better off, too - empirically - in most cases. Some are certain that radically redefining marriage wouldn't undermine its definition, its conception in society - but how could it not? "No fault" divorce advocates made the same arguments 30 years ago ("Who's it going to hurt? If Jim and Jane get divorced, how does that affect Bob and Jenny in any way? Kids are resilient, they bounce back! But those fragile adults, they have to be happy!") and look at the shambles we are in today. One in three children is born out of wedlock - 7 in 10 of African-American children, almost half of Hispanic children, and that's not good for them (or their mothers):

What the research has shown is that single parenthood correlates more strongly than any other factor (including race) with poverty, abuse and other negative social standards. (For example: "Studies indicate that children who grow up in a single-parent family are five times more likely to live in poverty; three times more likely to show antisocial behavior; twice as likely to serve time in prison; and three times more likely to fail school. Also, studies show that 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder come from single-mother homes and that 85 percent of all youths in detention centers come from single-mother homes." --"Poor Prospects: Unmarried, With Children, Battling Odds," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, A14, 1 Apr. 2003) These difficult realities apply even where parents are absolutely doing their best, applies even to two-parent households where the parents are natural but unmarried, divorced but remarried, or cohabitating. The ironic thing is that many of these studies were done by researchers attempting to demonstrate that divorce did not have a negative impact on children.

I know a lot of families turn out wonderful, well-adjusted kids without the mother and father both being there. More power to them. There are lots of difficult situations that nevertheless turn out well, and I hope they do. I don't even dispute that some gay families raise great, well-adjusted kids. But that doesn't mean that for the majority of children, they don't do best with their natural, married mother and father. I believe the law does best to encourage this ideal. Doesn't mean it doesn't offer support to different families in different family structures - but the law doesn't have to actively promote these as the best possible, or equal to everything else.

The purpose of government involvement in marriage is NOT to encourage procreation. But it is to promote the stability of families for any children that are born. The state absolutely has a vested interest in promoting institutions that are going to result in a healthier, less violent, more educated, more economically stable populace. And since every empirical study shows that children do best when raised by their natural, married parents*, the state has a perfectly rational reason to promote such family structures.

(*Adoption is a special case, because it is focused primarily on the child (and trying to give the child the best chance possible), not on recognizing given adult relationships.)

Again, how does gay marriage fit into all this? Kids need their mother and father. By biology, it is *never possible* for a gay couple to have natural children, or by definition to have the complementary relationship of a man and a woman. By nature, a gay couple (even if monogamous, even if sincerely in love) does not help uphold the ideal of marriage as based on a man and a woman. And society needs to reinforce what marriage is about, by encouraging marriage, supporting it as a norm so that the culture values the institution. If it opens the floodgates on the definition of marriage, the dam of which is already badly cracked by high divorce rates and nonmarital birth rates, marriage means everything, and nothing. Kids pay the price. And society, in its turn (by paying the costs of more welfare, more health care, more people in prison, less educated/less productive populace), does too.

If you're going to San Francisco...

I've been a huge 49ers fan for most of my life, but I have felt for awhile now that it's about time the city of San Francisco just kind of floated off into the ocean to be its own happy place of leftist nirvana. Would anyone miss it?

Moving on . . . Tom Sylvester posts on the weaker arguments against SSM, those which do seem to be wrongly premised on anti-gay animus. He accurately notes, "Many in elite circles are unaware of any non-religious, rational arguments against same-sex marriage that don't stem from a moral disapproval of homosexuality." Well, that is unfortunate, because those arguments are there: and I believe they are conclusive. A case against SSM can be made entirely without reference to religion, or grounding in animus. It's important those arguments are made, for many reasons - but not least, because this debate isn't about "religion" vs. "rights". Before addressing other points in this argument (as will come throughout the blog), it is important to make this clear.

Marriage isn't just "America in 2004" or "Western Europe since the Middle Ages." It's America since 1620, Western Europe for over 1000 years - and the rest of the world, West and East, for 3000 years to the present. Look at ancient China, ancient India, ancient Japan, the Pacific islands, American Indians, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, the Hebrews, Nigeria, the Incans, the Aztecs, the Mayans, Inuit, Mongolia, Mesopotamia, the Celts, ancient Babylonia, ancient and modern Islam, modern China, modern India, modern Japan, Vietnam, Hmong, ancient and modern Russia, Europe from its beginnings, and more...

Marriage has certainly also been customary and between men and women in America for the last 400 years. That's a lot of legal precedent for this definition.

Basically, there's no way to argue marriage hasn't been between men and women, been oriented toward children, and constituted a central part of civilization, for most of recorded history across world civilizations. Every culture everywhere has had marriage as a significant custom, as between a man and a woman, differing sometimes in form or significance (and sometimes with a man and a few wives), but never widely or successfully deviating from the basic complementary nature of men and women. That's because when children are born, they do best - empirically speaking - raised by their natural, married mother and father, and society functions best that way (see Plato, The Republic, for contrary ideas about the family that never worked). Not every situation works out to the ideal, but the government doesn't have to encourage those non-ideal situations. People certainly have no standing to declare a special "right" to have those non-ideal situations recognized.

Could anyone really, honestly believe all of this was designed for 3000 years around the entire world for NO reason except irrational animus toward homosexuality, such that it must be radically redefined to redress injuries to "rights"?

I'm sorry, but that's so implausible as to be incredible. One must take a broader view of history than one informed by only the past ten (10) years of northern European leftist sensibilities. Marriage is not just any contract, nor has it ever been. Marriage is not just a stamp of approval on the relationship of any two people who love each other, nor has it ever been.

Leave Rosa Parks alone

Andrew Sullivan breezily remarks today that "I know this [handing out "marriage" licenses to gay couples in San Francisco] is breaking the law. But Rosa Parks broke the law as well. . . . We shall overcome." Can we finally settle this? (Rhetorical question: of course the answer is no, it works too well for the activists.) Race is not the same thing as actions based on sexual orientation. The gay rights movement is not the same as the Civil Rights movement.

Race is a morally neutral characteristic. Behavior (action) has moral content. With an ascriptive characteristic like race, talking about it in terms of good or bad is not legitimate - race simply is, and (outside of some cultural associations) is not determinative of character. Behavior, on the other hand, can be good, neutral, or bad, but - and this is key - the discussion about which of the three values applies is a legitimate discussion to have. Behavior is how we determine character. Homosexuals who try to appropriate the Civil Rights movement, and liken their struggle for societal acceptance to that of racial minorities, are, it seems to me, attempting to shut down all debate a priori on the legitimacy of homosexual behavior as if it is the same thing as an ascriptive characteristic like race -- or, perhaps more appropriately, sexual orientation by itself.

How does this relate to marriage? Loving recognized that antimiscegenation laws were horribly inequitable (not to mention clearly in violation of the 14th amendment, designed to provide equal protection on the basis of race) because race was not relevant to the institution of marriage. That is, marriage, across pretty much every society in the history of the world, from Inuits to Indians, Mayans to Mesopotamians, was between a man and a woman. Race was never pertinent to that definition. It generally wasn't even part of the definition in this country in most states. But to change the definition to a man and a man, or a woman and a woman (with the necessarily different actions between them), would be to change the fundamental definition, premised on sexual actions. Martin Luther King asked that we judge not on the color of our skin, but the content of our character (as evidenced, presumably, by actions). That makes perfect sense. Actions we can control; race we can't. Lawrence and Goodridge have to do with private actions legitimized without, necessarily, democratically expressed approval (in fact, widespread opposition). Again, race isn't relevant to the definition of marriage because it doesn't affect the action at the heart of marital union, but homosexual actions do. The law is allowed to make distinctions based on actions - it does it all the time. (People are thrown into jail for their actions adjudged to be bad, not because of ascriptive characteristics they can't help.)

People may ultimately decide that gay marriage is morally acceptable. However, judges (and activists) should not be allowed to summarily shut down debate on the subject (or assume it settled) by misappropriating the language of civil rights. Regardless of whether you think the fact would be good, neutral, or bad, SSM fundamentally changes what marriage is.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Bad prescription

Overlawyered points to reports that Ohio doctors are taking measures into their own hands when it comes to tort reform. The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the last iteration of tort reform laws in a 4-3 decision (State ex rel. Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers v. Sheward, 715 N.E.2d 1062 (Ohio 1999)), where it was questionable that the case should even have been heard in the way it was challenged. As Chief Justice Moyer pointed out in dissent, "[T]his original action fails to meet the long-established requirements for the granting of a writ of mandamus or writ of prohibition." I'm not sure what the current state of tort reform law is in the state. But I think it's good that doctors are trying to fight back here against "shotgun" suits that name every doctor even tangentially connected to a patient's case, without even exploration of whether each doctor may bear responsibility for actions specifically resulting in plaintiff's injury, thus causing some doctors major headaches in just trying to get their names removed as defendants.

I've heard the arguments on both sides here. On one side, it's ATLA blaming the insurance companies for being irresponsible investors, and holding out legitimately tragic cases to draw our sympathy. On the other, it's the reality of good doctors being driven out of practice by insurance costs tripling (or more), causing hospitals to decline in quality of services offered and individuals to be out of luck in finding specialist doctors. And that's because of out-of-control jury verdicts. Several of my friends' parents who are doctors have simply stopped practicing in their fields because the insurance costs were too high; one of my friends decided against medicine altogether for similar reasons. (No, anecdotes aren't probative - but news reports bear this out.) I believe it's imperative we rein in runaway juries and the trial bar, and limit noneconomic damages to appropriate amounts. Ohio doctors can use the relief.

Silly Americans

If we were only enlightened Europeans, see, we wouldn't be hung up on these "taboos" about explicit nudity and suggestions of incest being more accessible to all cinema-goers. Poor Bertolucci, having to deal with us. Maybe he, with the help of the fawning elite media, can help destigmatize it all for us.

Something else to worry about

So if global warming was already a bit worrisome, now it seems climatologists (?) have a new theory: everything could go wrong all at once, without warning. John Derbyshire links to an article saying that the Pentagon is now planning for the possibility of the ocean currents slowing down, glaciers levelling New York, mass refugee migration, and wars over food and water breaking out.

Cheerful thought.