Gay Marriage Today: Why Not Polygamy Tommorow? …Here’s Why

May 20, 2008

Advocates of gay marriage are often far too glib about their institutional goals. Myself included. We dismiss all sorts of slippery-slope and social fears as simply being based on bigotry (and perhaps we luck out there, because we often turn out to be right, even if it was just a knee-jerk accusation). But many of those fears do make logical sense, particularly when social changes are made by judicial rulings based on distressingly broad and unmoderated principles.

One of the most legitimate of these fears has always been that judicial rulings about gay marriage that are based on bare notions of equality and fairness would carve a path towards the legal recognition of, well, polygamy. And with a polygamist cult controversy still driving news cycles, and HBO’s Big Love back for another season, polygamy can no longer be casually dismissed as an esoteric issue.

That doesn’t mean, that it can’t be dismissed though. It just means that it’s going to take a lot of serious work and argument to do it.

And so, over at Volokh Conspiracy, Dale Carpenter has penned a must-read “Cliff’s Notes” version of some of the best arguments against the “gay marriage/polygamy” connection. Personally, I find them convincing. I’d appreciate any arguments concerning why I should not.

As to the recent California gay-marriage decision itself, I’m of two minds. It should come as no surprise that I like the result. But I also have very strong sympathies with the view that the judges in this case (most of whom were Republicans, by the way) are using methods that overstep important boundaries in our system of government.

On the other hand (again!), I have slightly less sympathy given the fact that people often write constitutional and legal language that claims to be based on lofty moral principles and language… but then whine when someone actually goes and takes those principles seriously, rather than merely conventionally. If you don’t want constitutions to be treated any differently than literal regulations and craven contracts of social convention, then don’t write them as if they were shining beacons of truth and justice.

For all the gay couples who will finally be able to codify their partnerships in the law of our society, there’s little to offer aside from congratulations.

Update: Over at Dean’s World, Dean links to law prof John Witte Jr. and his take on the issue. Among other things, though, Witte notes that one of the traditional reasons that polygamy has been verbotten in the West is that is “routinizes patriarchy.” I’m no women’s studies stooge, but that particular reason strikes me as a little implausible except as a very, very recent development.

Fail? Critics Respond to Pinker’s Essay on “Dignity” as Ethically Worthless

May 17, 2008

In response to Stephen Pinker’s essay bemoaning the vacuity of “dignity” as a concept in bioethics, let’s highlight some critical responses from other thinkers: Yuval Levin, Ross Douthat, and Alan Jacobs.

Let’s accept every single one of their criticisms about Pinker’s tone, his paranoia, and his obviously less than impartial personal opinions about people like Leon Kass. Nevertheless, Pinker does very clearly and very directly raise a lot of serious, and possibly fundamental, problems with the concept of “dignity” in bioethics. And none of these writers seem interested in responding to that particular challenge. Which is too bad, because that’s really the only interesting part of the whole debate in the first place.

As one commenter said:

I’m not convinced Pinker has all the answers, but he seems to be taking the dignity argument more seriously than Jacobs, Douthat, or Levin. I tend to expect better of all three of those names. If Pinker was only 20% substance, that’s a higher percentage than any of the rest of us have achieved today.

Just to be a little provocative myself, let me say that I suspect the high regard that conservative scholars have for “dignity” lies in the fact that it, unlike the concepts of liberty and personal autonomy mediated by due process which have served us quite well so far, “dignity” is malleable enough that it allows the otherwise absurd idea that a random citizen sitting on their front porch is violating their own dignity by behaving in a way those scholars find distasteful (like licking an ice cream cone, or holding the hand of their gay lover). This also alleviates the often distressing inability to directly justify their dislikes as being immoral or harmful in any sensible, non-theological fashion.

“Dignity” also has the amazing power to declare morally important actions and objects that have no “personal” capacity in and of themselves: such as nerveless, intention-less cells that happen to have certain proteins active (i.e. fertilized eggs), but lack any objective capacity that anyone can tie to an ethical interest. If you can’t explain why breaking apart an embryo is morally wrong in any sensibly direct fashion, well then you can always argue that doing so is a sort of bitter voodoo-doll assault on humanity’s dignity, by proxy!

As is often the case, I’m being a little glib here myself. But I don’t think I’m entirely without merit either. It’s true that personal autonomy has it’s own gray areas and problems, but it at least makes sense on some concrete level, especially as a principle value in a diverse and contentious society, and that provides a far more promising foundation than a concept that seems to mean everything and nothing. Furthermore, many of its problems can be redressed far more easily than the critics I referenced above allow. Even under a personal autonomy framework, we can, for instance, still understand why respecting the wishes of someone when they are not actively awake or unconscious would be important.

In that spirit, here’s a much more intriguing and substantive response to the Pinker article, from another writer at the American Scene, Noah Millman.

Roving Bands of Eunuchs Seek to Steal Your Johnson: We Thought We Had it Bad With “Gay Panic”

March 31, 2008

I didn’t understand half the cultural concepts mentioned when I first read this article: why there are roving bands of eunuchs in India at all, what a “male issue” is (an elaborate term for baby boy?), and why, exactly a group of eunuchs would forcibly chop off some poor kids’ private parts. To be honest, it sounded much like yet another element of the so-called “penis panics” that have from time to time erupted in some Asian cultures.

But from this news of the weird tidbit I stumbled onto yet another intriguing wrinkle in culture and sexuality I’d been completely ignorant of.

Read the rest of this entry »

Today’s Wit and Wisdom from Vox Day: “Women Ruin Everything” Edition

March 11, 2008

If you aren’t reading WorldNetDaily’s own Vox Day (Theodore Beale), then apparently you didn’t know that invisible angels and demons are constantly fighting it out all around us, and Vox is leading the charge for the forces of good. Satan’s latest tool to ruin America? Infecting important professions like science with women in order to destroy them:

Women love education; it’s the actual application they don’t particularly like. Whereas the first thought of a woman who enjoys the idea of painting is to take an art appreciation class, a similarly interested man is more likely to just pick up a paintbrush and paint something – usually a naked woman.

Of course, this will sound to equalitarians and their sympathizers like nothing more than male whining, but it’s nothing of the sort. Because they are the intellectual driving force of humanity, men will be fine. They will simply continue to do what they have always done and pursue the same challenges they have always pursued, focused on the realities of success rather than its superficial attributes. It is the institutions they are exiting, voluntarily and involuntarily, that will be destroyed instead. It is written that “women ruin everything”; having destroyed the liberal arts, the classics and the pseudo-sciences, it is now abundantly clear that the more rigorous sciences are next on the equalitarians’ destructive agenda. And so, in the not-too-distant future, two plus two will finally be determined to equal five if a women feels that it should, or at least it will as long as she happens to feel that way. (emphasis added)

Thus ends today’s lesson.

And please, ladies. If you question the wisdom, remember: Vox drives a turbo Porsche sportscar. So, secretly, you admire and adore him anyway.

Bonus: Orac, in his own 100% laudatory celebration of Vox, points out another of Vox’s notable insights: suggesting that we could use the Holocaust as a model for peacefully rounding up illegal immigrants.

I’m Not Gay Bashing, I’m Just a Coward: Oklahoma’s Sally Kerns Caught on Tape

March 10, 2008

Seems like everyone’s been talking about Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kerns and her little tirade against homosexuality. Kerns believed she was speaking to a small group of like-minded supporters, but when the audio got leaked, she instantly became a national embarrassment:

Kerns has complained that her remarks are edited and taken out of context:

I am totally against hate speech. Always have been and always will be. What you heard on YouTube was from a talk I gave on the aggressive movement to fund homosexuals and pro-homosexual candidates across the country and here in Oklahoma now that an openly homosexual is running for a statewide seat. The account given on YouTube took my words out of context and omitted other parts stringing certain words together to make it appear I was engaging in hate speech. I was not and would never do such a thing. The YouTube account is a blatant misrepresentation of my talk.

Now, the remarks clearly do seem to be edited, but as far as I can tell, edited mostly to highlight hateful, ridiculous claim after claim rather than to substantively distort her remarks. It’s quite clear from the video, rather than disguised, that she is railing against “homosexual candidates”: what she doesn’t seem to understand is that this is precisely what people find to be hateful in the first place. Notice also that she doesn’t actually give any examples of things that were distorted or taken out of context. And then there’s the usual “I didn’t say that… I stand by what I said” two-step:

I said nothing that wasn’t true. The homosexual agenda is real, the movement is aggressive, and it is a very real threat to the sacred institution of marriage and the traditional family unit. They are actively seeking to remove conservatives from the political arena. My talk was to a Republican group and I was speaking about the homosexual agenda to defeat conservative Republicans. They want to silence anyone who does not approve their lifestyle. They want their freedom but don’t want those who disagree to have their freedom.

Notice how supporting this or that candidate is all of a sudden an attempt to “silence” people or deny them their freedom. Again, no actual examples are given as to how anyone is silenced or denied any of their freedom. Meanwhile, this is the very woman trying to censor any books from school libraries that mention gay people in a positive light. As with the Intelligent Design film Expelled!, talking about “freedom of speech” here is simply an attempt to change the subject: restating that someone has the right to say something is not an answer to the question of whether you agree with it or support it, or whether it has merit. The fact that someone is free to speak does not mean that voting them out of office is silencing their views. It’s judging them and responding to them.

But what’s truly pathetic is the way she tries to hide behind her religion in excusing her opinions in her media responses. The fact that someone believes that their bigotry is endorsed by a holy text doesn’t make you one iota less morally responsible for holding those views. People who believe that they are acting under orders do not suddenly become blameless for carrying them out, and certainly not with the sort of passion this woman demonstrates. The Bible doesn’t contain any of the psuedo-scientific nonsense she peddles about gay life-expectancy: that stuff was actively made up and promoted by activists trying to demean and attack gay people.

If you’re going to hate on gays, fine. But the fact that you think you have God on your side is irrelevant to whether or not you deserve condemnation, nor does it magically transform your bigotry into “facts.”

Update: Ed Brayton at Dispatches posts a powerful statement from one of the victims of Oklahoma City bombings speaking out against Kerns’ bigotry.  One obvious quibble with it is that McVeigh was not in any demonstrable sense a Christian extremist motivated by religion, as the author seems to imply.  But other than that, it’s really a quite brilliant and very appropriate response.

Sorry Spitzer, Can’t Help Ya’ There: NY Governor “Escorted” Off to Political Oblivion

March 10, 2008

I’m with Kevin Drum: I don’t think prostitution/escortism should be illegal, or is necessarily always a bad thing (though it can very often be part of bad things). But if you’re going to make a career of putting people in jail for a particular victimless crime, then I don’t have a lot of sympathy left when you get caught committing it.

Like Cindy McCain and her prescription drug abuse, I imagine the trajectory here will be the usual one for rich and connected folks who commit crimes: they face daunting “personal problems” that are all very tragic but ultimately make them into better people as they overcome them with the help of friends and family. Meanwhile, those that earn less than 50,000 a year don’t have the luxury of celebrity tell-all pathos: they’re simply locked up in jail without so much as a tearful interview on 60 minutes or even a stint at a rehab resort.

The penalties for “johns” aren’t particularly high, and Spitzer has likely only ruined his career instead of his life as a free man, but there’s certainly as much poetic irony here as all the anti-gay politicians who ended up being on the “down low.”

Update: Randy Balko points out the amusing insanity of right-wing bloggers piling on to condemn and celebrate Spitzer’s downfall: all of them a virtual mirror image of Spitzer’s own contradictory stand. They’ve spent years defending Republican politicians who had procured prostitutes like David Vitter, only to turn around and suddenly discover that hiring an escort demands an immediate resignation. How can even a conservative blogger of the year justify this scatterbrained stance? Why the inconsistency?

Shut up, that’s why.

Gay Threat to Israel Revealed: It’s Earthquakes!

February 21, 2008

Back when Israeli Kessnet member Nissim Ze’ev was ranting about how gays were a plague that would destroy Israel, I wondered openly just what the heck he could possibly mean: how exactly were gay people going to go about destroying the Middle East’s only functional democracy, one that’s more progressive in its legal attitudes towards gay people than even the US?

It turns out that his fellow member of the Shas party, Shlomo Benizri, has the answer: its earthquakes. Gay people cause earthquakes now. The most charming thing about his accusation (or at least how it was translated) is that he seemed to phrase it as sort of aside, as if it were just an uncontroversial fact that everyone was already aware of:

He called on lawmakers to stop “passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the state of Israel, which anyway brings about earthquakes”.

You know, it’s a bad idea, and anyway it brings about earthquakes, so there’s that, too!

Israeli Knesset Member Warns of “Gay Plague”

January 29, 2008

…and proposes the creation of “rehabilitation centers.” Just in case you were worried, they wouldn’t be mandatory… unless of course, you are actually caught in the act of gay by his gaystapo.

He even claims that Israel is in mortal danger of destruction from gay.

Somehow I don’t see it.

Israel is one of the freest nations on earth in terms of homosexual civil rights. Despite not having a constitutional separation of church and state, they legally recognize gay families (and while they don’t allow gay marriages yet, they do honor those performed in other nations), have solid laws against discrimination, and their military now even allows gay members to serve openly and proudly.

That means that if any actual imminent destruction ever threatens Israel, gay men and women will be right there on the front lines defending their country. It thus seems a poor thank-you to have a member of the government ranting about how they are on the same level as drug-addicts who need to be institutionalized.

Huckabee Admits: Constitution Not Founded On God’s Standards

January 16, 2008

Everyone’s making a big fuss out of Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s recent theocratic gaffe:

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

Ed Brayton at Dispatches, however, notes the real story here: that Huckabee’s statement and its evangelical applause are a tacit admission that the Constitution isn’t a “Christian” document to begin with. If it were, why would it need changing to bring it in line?

In an age when many Christian Nation activists have been implausibly arguing that the country was founded on Christianity all along (and thus they should win all SoCaS court cases by default, or something), many people seem to have forgotten that Christian activists of nearly every other era took the opposite position: that the Constitution was Godless and needed to be fixed. If the Roy Moores of yesteryear had had their way, the preamble to the Constitution would now go something like this (per the language of a proposed amendment in 1864):

We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government…

Huckabee, thankfully, doesn’t seem to have any desire to go anywhere near that far (just banning gay couples from civil equality and making embryos legal people). I still can’t say I’m too impressed, but at least now he’s being a lot more honest and realistic than he was when he was claiming that the country was founded on the Ten Commandments.

Conservapedia: Your Source for Everything Homosexual!

November 20, 2007

Andrew Sullivan takes some time out from obsessing over every little thing he doesn’t like about Hillary Clinton to highlight a rather amusing observation: the current list of top viewed pages on that omnipresent embarrassment to human knowledge, Conservapedia:

  1. Main Page‎ [1,896,827]
  2. Homosexuality‎ [1,483,237]
  3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [516,157]
  4. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [416,589]
  5. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [387,402]
  6. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [327,912]
  7. Homosexuality and Domestic Violence‎ [323,216]
  8. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [311,319]
  9. Homosexuality and Syphilis‎ [261,879]
  10. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [246,832]

Oh gay bowel syndrome, what would the totally straight right-wing man’s man do without you to muse over?

Update: Some bloggers more laudably skeptical than myself have suggested that these results cannot possibly be legitimate.  Sadly, I have to concede that they’re probably right.  Pretty funny as a prank, I suppose, but this really does seem like one of those stories that’s “too good to check,” and for a skeptical blog, that’s an unforgivable omission.  My bad.

Bill O’Reilly on Gay Teens: I Don’t Get Why People Like This Guy

November 11, 2007

I like to understand viewpoints that aren’t my own: to understand how other people think and where they are coming from. But when it comes to tabloid rant-show host Bill O’Reilly, I feel like I’m out of touch. He and his show are incredibly popular. I know that. And yet I just don’t understand how anyone can possibly watch this guy in action and not think he comes off as a pompous, bullying, irrational windbag.

Are there really people out there that don’t find him to be consistently vile? If so can you explain your point of view to me? Can you watch this video, and explain to me how he in any way comes off as likable, intelligent, or even that his argument is rational? Put aside for a second whether or not you share his politics or religious views. Is this a person you think would make a good father or husband or friend, the way he treats people? You’d really buy his book for children and try to raise them to act like he does?

I just don’t get it. I was going to post more about the perennially nasty double standard, wherein the mere existence and mention of the existence of gay couples is somehow tantamount to a sex act performed out in public, whereas mentioning heterosexual couples, even having them be much more openly sexual, is just normal and fine, no cause for concern or media interest. But honestly, I’m having a hard time seeing why I would need to explain that to anyone.

…except that I know that there are literally millions of O’Reilly viewers who probably nodded along with him when he made this ridiculous double-standard argument. And I just don’t get it.

Iran: Now Gay Free!

September 24, 2007

Hoo boy. Iran’s “President” Ahmadinejad claims that his country doesn’t “have homosexuals like in your country.” Considering that gay people in Iran face execution and torture, I really and truly wish he was right.

 But sadly, he’s not.