A chance for me to share my thoughts (or, maybe just vent a bit).
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Thought Exercise on the Uses of the Cudgel of “Religious Freedom”
Lately, we’ve seen a number of states, most notably Arizona, consider or even pass legislation that would permit discrimination in order to “protect” the “religious freedom” of the person doing the discriminating (rather than protecting the person being discriminated against). Obviously, the impetus for these bills has been the “fear” that a baker, florist, or photographer might have to provide services for a same-sex marriage. But the sorts of bills that we’ve seen have gone far beyond addressing that seemingly narrow concern and have, instead, been far broader.
Take, for example the bill that was vetoed in Arizona last week, which provided that implementation of laws “shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the law is “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest”. The burden of proof appears to be on the person opposing the claim of religious freedom. Thus, even if Arizona had a law that prohibited discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation (which it doesn’t), a person could claim that baking a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding (which isn’t permitted in Arizona) placed a substantial burden on the exercise* of the baker’s religion and it would be up to the same-sex couple to prove either than the burden wasn’t substantial or that the law furthered a compelling government interest and was the least restrictive means. Not an easy burden of proof.
But let’s stop thinking just about gay couples wanting to get married and broaden our view to what else these sorts of “protections” of religious freedom might cover, and then see what we think about “religious freedom” in these alternate contexts. Thus, even if you believe that a religious business** should be able to decline to provide services to a same-sex wedding on religious grounds, which of the following would you also agree would be acceptable?
Could that baker also refuse to sell cookies to a gay couple that walks in off the street? What if it’s just a single gay guy or even someone who might be gay? What if it’s a gay guy who says that he doesn’t “engage in the homosexual lifestyle” anymore (love the sinner, hate the sin, so to speak…)? Can the baker simply refuse to do any business at all with homosexuals and cite his “religious freedom” as a sort of license to discriminate? Or is there some kind of line between homosexuality generally and same-sex marriage, in particular?
How about, instead of a gay couple, the prospective customer is a divorced woman and the baker is a devout Catholic who believes that marriage is eternal and that divorce is improper? Could the baker refuse to bake a cake for the woman’s remarriage? Or what if, instead of being divorced, she was a single mother who bore a child out of wedlock? Could the baker refuse her service on those grounds? What if the woman’s fiancé wasn’t Catholic? Could the baker refuse her service because he believes that interfaith marriages are prohibited by his religion?
What if the baker believes that the only way to salvation is through Jesus (isn’t that what the sign people are always holding up at football games means?). Could the baker refuse to sell cookies to anyone who hasn’t been “saved” by Jesus? Or, said differently, could the baker refuse to sell cookies to Jews, Muslims, and atheists because those prospective customers don’t have a relationship with the baker’s god (or at least not the sort of relationship that the baker deems requisite)? Could the baker adopt and enforce a “Christians only” policy for his bakery? What about Catholics only?
Now, let’s move away from the hypothetical baker and turn our attention, instead, to the lunch counter at the local diner. Do your answers to any of the preceding change with the change in locale or type of business? If so, why? If so, why would it be OK for a baker to decline to deliver a cake to a same-sex wedding but it wouldn’t be OK for the owner of a diner to turn away a honeymooning same-sex couple?
So what if the prospective customer is African-American or Latino and the owner of the diner is a fundamentalist Mormon who believes that dark-skinned people are somehow lesser (I don’t really understand Mormon philosophy, but from what I’ve read, The Book of Mormon places dark-skinned people in a lesser role of some kind; feel free to correct me if my understanding is in error)? What if the owner of the diner was a white, Christian segregationist that used the Bible to justify keeping blacks out of his store prior to the Civil Rights Act? Should he be able to return to the era of keeping a “whites only” lunch counter on the basis of his sincerely held religious belief that G-d created separate races and intended for them to be kept separate?
Should the Jewish owner of a deli be permitted to refuse to serve someone with a tattoo, someone who eats shrimp, someone who eats cheeseburgers, gets haircuts, wears garments made of mixed fabrics, or kneels in front of a cross? Should that Jewish deli owner be permitted to refuse to serve someone of Palestinian or German origin? Should a Jewish deli owner suddenly be allowed to violate the terms of his lease and close his restaurant on Saturday, even though the lease requires him to be open? Or, if the business in question was a auto dealership in Indiana, could its observant Jewish owner sell autos on Sunday notwithstanding the “blue law” prohibition against auto sales on Sunday; after all, the observant Jewish owner in question couldn’t sell cars on Saturday due to work being forbidden on his Sabbath, so wouldn’t prohibiting from selling autos on the Christian Sabbath violate his religious freedom?
And what about, say, hospitals? Should a Catholic hospital be permitted to refuse to treat gay patients? What about divorced patients? What about patients who support the death penalty or who use birth control or who voted for the candidate that the Bishop said wasn’t a good Catholic? Should a Catholic hospital be permitted to turn away patients who aren’t Catholic (or at least Christian)? Perhaps we should have separate (but equal, of course) hospitals for Catholics and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and … hmmm, just how many hospitals would we need? Are there enough Sikhs in Indianapolis to support their own hospital if “Christian” hospitals decide that Sikhs look a bit too much like Muslims to be treated?
Could a Muslim taxi driver refuse to pick up a woman who isn’t wearing a veil or isn’t accompanied by a man? Could that Muslim taxi driver refuse to pick up someone carrying alcohol? Could that Muslim taxi driver refuse to deliver a passenger to a restaurant that specializes in pork ribs?
And I suppose that Hindu florists could refuse to provide flowers to a wedding at which meat will be served, right? Maybe “religious” hotel owners could refuse to accept reservations from unmarried couples. Perhaps they could just require unmarried couples to sign a pledge not to engage in pre-marital sex in the hotel bed.
Obviously, if we start allowing people to operate their businesses with exceptions to anti-discrimination laws in order to protect “religious freedom”, then things are going to get very complicated, very quickly. Hopefully, businesses will start putting signs up in their windows to warn prospective customers that the business observes a “no gays allowed” or “whites only” or “Muslims not welcome” policy. After all, I’d hate to wait in line to buy some cookies only to learn that the baker didn’t serve Jews.
“But, but, but…” I hear you saying, “the only objection is to serving gays, because same-sex marriage is against the teachings of the Bible!” First, I’m not going to get back into the issue of what the Bible really says about homosexuals. I’ve talked about that plenty (and probably will so again). Rather, let me ask this question: The Bible demands many things and prohibits many other things; so why is it just same-sex marriage (or homosexuality, more generally) that triggers these claims of “religious freedom”? What is it about homosexuality that elevates that particular “prohibition” above all of the other requirements and prohibitions in the Bible? And if that prohibition is really so important, why aren’t we putting to death men who engage in homosexual behavior as the Bible also requires? You know, for religious freedom?
Um, wait a minute. Didn’t the use of the “religious freedom” argument get its first real airing with regard to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer-provided insurance include birth control? Yep. So obviously, it isn’t just homosexuality in play. Nope. It’s homosexuality and reproductive rights. Or perhaps it’s homosexuality and sexuality. Anything else? But of course, that doesn’t answer the question of why these two issues are trigger a “right” to religious freedom, but other Biblical commands and prohibitions don’t (yet).
One of the arguments that I’ve heard, is that homosexuality is different from the other sorts of protected classes, because homosexuality is not an “inherent characteristic” but is, rather, a “self-professed behavior” or a “choice”. And, thus, homosexuality should not be entitled to protection from discrimination in the same way that we protect race, religion, gender, national origin, and so forth. Um, wait. Religion? Isn’t that a choice, too? But we protect people from discrimination on the basis of their religion. How can it be that religious freedom can’t be a reason to discriminate on the basis of religion itself. You don’t suppose that the reason for discriminating might actually have little to do religion itself and more to do with basic attitudes toward homosexuality (icky!) or sexuality (slut!), do you?
Interestingly, the conservative Christians who support these bills also believe that America is becoming increasingly antagonistic toward members of their own faith. They have long decried the secularizing and pluralizing of America’s public square. They’ve argued that America is, in Robert Bork’s phrase, “slouching toward Gomorrah” and becoming post-Christian or even anti-Christian.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who supports these bills, also once wrote, “The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”
If Christians really believe they are becoming a marginalized movement, why would they want to disempower marginalized people in the marketplace? It’s easy to codify your own biases when you’re part of the majority and get to be the one refusing services to others. But what if you’re the minority? What if others are turning you away because they think you are the abominable one?
Many Christians believe that the Book of Revelation predicts a coming time of persecution and evil. In the apocalyptic book’s 13th chapter, it is predicted that a time will come when Christians won’t be able to buy or sell in the marketplace. If Christians believe this time is coming, they must also ask, “How might such a reality be realized?” Could it be that they are unwittingly becoming the authors of their own demise?
Conservative Christian activists often argue that these bills put us on a ride down a slippery slope that could lead to the government forcing conservative Christian pastors to perform same-sex weddings against their wills. (Never mind that legal exemptions for houses of worship and pastors are woven deeply into American law or that there is no historical precedent for such predictions.)
But these prophets of doom only acknowledge one side of the slope. They fail to consider how these laws could be used against members of their own communities. If you are able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious conviction, others must be allowed to do the same when you are on the other side of the counter. You can’t have your wedding cake and eat it too.
The ancient King Solomon, a man Christians believe to be the wisest person ever to live, once wrote, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.”
If this is the pit that Christians intend to dig, they better line the bottom with pillows.
Furthermore, if we can discriminate on the basis of “religious freedom”, why can’t we also act in other ways or ignore other laws that might impact our religious freedoms? Why can’t I smoke peyote if my religion requires it? Why can’t I sacrifice an animal in the public square if I need to do so to please my deity’s requirements? Why can’t I stone my disobedient child or rape your daughter and then pay you a few shekels for the right to marry her? Why can’t I have four wives is Allah says that’s acceptable?
If I don’t drive on shabbat, then shouldn’t I get a 1/7th discount on the portion of my taxes that pays for roads? If I’m opposed to the death penalty or to war, then shouldn’t my taxes be excluded from paying for those? If meat is forbidden to my religion, then why should my tax dollars pay for USDA meat inspections? If not, then isn’t my religious freedom being infringed by making me pay for things that I don’t or can’t use because of my religious beliefs?
Thus, the real question to ask is whether applying the “defense” of religious freedom (or is it an offensive weapon to be wielded like a cudgel against those who don’t share your religious beliefs?) is available to all people and all religious beliefs for all types of conduct, or if only those professing the right religious beliefs are entitled to their particular freedoms (and only for those religious obligations or prohibitions that they care about, hypocrisy be damned [yes, pun intended]).
Either we are a secular society that respects religions but recognizes that laws of general applicability can’t be trumped or vetoed by religious belief or we will become a highly fragmented realm made up of separate, and largely unequal, religious groups fighting over their respective place in a theocratic system. And based on human history, when religions come into conflict, especially when there is either money or power involved, the result tends to cause streets to run red with the blood of those killed in the name of deity or theology.
*This post isn’t really about the Arizona bill, so I don’t want to get too lost in the weeds. But it is probably worth noting how Arizona’s law defines “exercise of religion”: “‘Exercise of religion’ means the practice or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”
**Businesses aren’t religious; people are. But that’s a discussion for another day. For the purpose of today’s discussion, I’ll pretend that a business has religious views. In the meantime, please let me know next time you see Hobby Lobby in the pews, a Catholic business in a confessional or taking communion, a Jewish business getting a bar mitzvah, or a Muslim business making the hajj.
Slippery Slope or Religious Freedom? Mutually Exclusive Arguments
I want to undertake a very brief thought exercise.
One of the most common arguments against same-sex marriage is that allowing same-sex marriage would be the first step down a slippery slope that would lead, inevitably, to polygamy. Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion about why that argument is wrong, why there is no slippery slope, or why polygamy is fundamentally different than same-sex marriage. I’ll save those discussions for another day. For that matter, I’ll also leave for another day any discussion of polygamy itself.
Instead, I’d just like to compare that slippery slope argument with the new objection to same-sex marriage that has been getting lots of attention, lately: the infringement of the “religious freedom” of those who oppose homosexuality.
Do you see the problem?
On one hand, people are saying we can’t allow same-sex marriage because that will lead to polygamy. But at the same time, they’re saying, we can’t allow same-sex marriage because it infringes on their religious freedom. Yet doesn’t a prohibition on polygamy directly infringe upon the religious freedom of fundamentalist Mormons and Muslims (and any other groups with religious texts allowing or encouraging polygamy)? And isn’t that infringement upon the religious freedom of polygamists much more direct —and with a much greater impact — than the “impact” to a religious person of allowing a same-sex couple to marry?
It seems to my that same-sex marriage opponents have destroyed at least one of their own arguments here. Either they don’t really care about the so-called slippery slope to polygamy because they recognize that efforts to stop polygamy are infringements upon religious freedom or religious freedom isn’t really that meaningful if it involves a religious viewpoint with which they disagree (or someone else’s religious freedom).
If I’m missing something, let me know, but it appears that the argument based on polygamy and the argument based on religious freedom are mutually exclusive.
Old-Fashioned Anti-Semitism: Still on Public Display
Today’s post is a bit of a departure as it relates an anecdote rather that discussing a particular issue.
Let me set the scene: This past weekend, I spent Friday evening and Saturday morning at a bat mitzvah. In the meantime, my wife and kids drove to Atlanta so that my daughter could compete in a massive cheerleading competition (her team finished 3rd out of 11 or 5th out of 22, depending on how you want to categorize things…). I flew down to Atlanta after the bat mitzvah so that I could still see my daughter compete on the second day of her competition. We stayed at the Omni CNN Center which is adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center where the competition was held.
Anyway, I made it to the hotel around dinner time. We talked a little bit about the bat mitzvah. After dinner, the family decided to go up to the room and watch a movie (we don’t like to go out or do anything “active” when my daughter competes the next day). I, however, wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie. I was reading a good book (An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, if you must know) and wanted to read instead. Trying to read a book in a small hotel room while the family is watching a movie is not really a great plan, so I decided to go down to the hotel lobby and see if I could find a quiet corner in which to read my book. Luckily, I found just such a place on one of the hotel’s mezzanine levels. And that’s when things got interesting.
While hunting for a place to sit, I walked by a couch and chair arrangement at which eight to ten women (obviously “cheer moms”) were sitting. I didn’t really pay any attention to them as I spotted the chair that I chose to sit in to read. Before picking up my book, though, I decided to catch up on my Twitter feed. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop on those women, but as their conversation got a bit louder it became almost impossible to not hear at least some of what was being talked about.
My ears really began to perk up when I heard one of the women say “Catholics” quite loudly and in a tone that could only be called sneering or even angry. At that point I began to actually try to listen to see if I could hear more of what was being said (and without turning around to be obvious; they were about 20-30 feet away from me). I think that I was actually a bit shocked to be hearing someone so loudly denigrating Catholics. The next thing that I was able to hear was the same woman make several statements to another explaining why Catholicism was bad and why the target of her statement should consider leaving the Catholic church. At one point in this relatively brief diatribe, the speaker said that the Catholic church was “of the devil” and I also heard a reference to Satan. She also claimed that her evangelical church was “closer to G-d”.
I found this all rather interesting and so I posted several tweets. (You do follow me on Twitter, right?)
I’m in hotel lounge eavesdropping on woman explaining to another why Catholic Church is “of the devil” & evangelical church closer to G-d.
Catholic woman being proselytized has way, way more patience than I would. Patience of a saint perhaps? But I do expect eventual fireworks.
This is way more entertaining than my book about the Dreyfus affair. I just wish I could hear better.
I guess it would be bad to go sit with them or ask them to talk louder so that I could listen in more easily.
(Note that for some reason, I remain unable to embed tweets directly on this blog; I’m working on the problem, but so far I haven’t been able to figure it out…)
Now perhaps I was just tired. Perhaps I was in a somewhat hyper-sensitive mood. Perhaps I was just feeling sort of “hyper-Jewish” after having spent time at a bat mitzvah and given that I was reading a book about the Dreyfus Affair. In any event, I found myself almost in a state of alert or vigilance, waiting to see what was going to happen. And the conversation did quiet down for a moment or two until I heard, quite loudly, “No, of course you wouldn’t hear that on the news. Jews control the media!”
One of the women then said, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
And score! We just had our first “Jews control…” comment. “You don’t really believe that, do you?” says Ms. Catholic.
I didn’t hear what immediately followed, but after a very few quiet moments, the real anti-Semitism started flying (and not just from the woman who had been making statements about Catholicism; even the woman that I took to be Catholic offered some thoughts on Jews…). Included in what I could hear, were the following:
“Some Jews moved in near us. I went over to wish them a Merry Christmas and they said ‘Happy Holidays’ to me. You see, they really do want to take away Christmas.
“There were some Jews on our street, too. I went over one time to meet them. I thought I’d be nice. So I asked to borrow a Christmas tree cookie cutter. The lady said that she was Jewish and didn’t have a Christmas tree cookie cutter. I mean, how rude was that? What did her religion have to do with anything?”
In response to that statement, another woman said something like “Yeah, Jews are always throwing their religion in your face because they think they’re better than us.
Yet another voice claimed that Jews were “hateful” and seemed to link hate to the use of “Happy Holidays”.
Another woman sneered the term “chosen people” loudly, but the rest of her comment was too quiet to hear.
And, of course, one of the women, had to talk about Jews only caring about money (it sounded like she was linking money to friendship, but I couldn’t make out the details).
There was more, but it was hard to get the full content of most of the other statements, other than hearing the word “Jews” tossed about in the tone that one might hear men in white hoods use when talking about “niggers”. I tried to tweet what I was hearing, but it was hard to capture the full flavor and context in 140 characters and it was even harder to keep up with the rapid-fire delivery of the anti-Semitic statements. Thus, all I managed was:
Ms. Evangelical now explaining how hateful it is to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that each voice in this discussion had a pronounced southern accent. Make of that what you will.
And the bigoted statements continued, for several minutes at least. It was almost like each woman, in sharing her “experiences” with Jews, was trying to outdo the last. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a bunch of women bragging about their kids and trying to top the achievements of their friends’ children; rather this group of women was trying to top each other with stories of just how bad Jews are.
Finally, I’d enough. I’m not sure exactly which statement it was that set me off or whether it was just overhearing so many anti-Semitic stereotypes being repeated ad nauseum. So, as I said on Twitter:
Now we’ve launched into a full blown anti-Semitic diatribe. I’ve had enough.
Walked over & said, “As the Jew in the room, I want you to know that I don't appreciate the anti-Semitic comments I can’t help overhearing.”
Told them it was wrong to judge or stereotype people on the basis of their religion, national origin, sexuality, or skin color.
As I mentioned skin color I looked straight at the African-American & Southeast Asian women in the group.
And then I walked away.
Eventually, I found another quiet place to sit and from there I tweeted about the incident (the tweets above plus those that follow):
To say that they appeared to be stunned would be an understatement. Jaws on floor.
I suspect several of these women are unrepentant bigots who’ve never been called out for their bigotry.
I further suspect that the two women of color, who had been silent during the entire exchange, are too cowed to speak up for themselves.
Or it could be that they don’t object to bigotry so long as they’re not the target.
But if we don’t call out overt bigotry - publicly shame those who express bigotry like that - then we’ll never rid society of this evil.
I wonder what these charming ladies have to say about the large contingent of gay cheerleaders, cheer coaches, and cheer judges.
I’m not sure if I shamed them or if they think there was nothing wrong with the views they were expressing and that I was the “bad guy”.
It just sickens me that in this day & age people are still comfortable spouting off that sort of bigoted, hateful speech loudly in public.
It makes you wonder how much worse their private comments are. More troubling: What are they teaching their children?
There were also a number of other tweets as I interacted with others who were following along and asked me questions about what had happened.
After asking my rhetorical question about what the women are teaching their children, I thought of (and tweeted) a stanza from the song “We’re Not in Kansas” by Big Country:
What did you learn at home today? Did you learn to hate in the proper way? Did your liberated parents patronize your friends Cos they had enough money cos they had the right skin?
I’m not really sure that I have much to add at this point. I guess I’m still a bit shocked, not that people still harbor these sorts of sentiments, but rather that they feel comfortable displaying their anti-Semitism in public. I’m a bit shocked that the Catholic woman (at least I presume that the woman to whom the proselytization seemed to be directed was Catholic) didn’t stand up for herself more vocally (or perhaps she did and I couldn’t hear her). And I guess I’m a bit shocked that the two women of color (one was African-American and the other appeared to be Indian or Pakistani) remained silent during the exchange … at least as far as I can tell. Of course, perhaps I’m stereotyping those women by presuming that people of color are more sensitive to overt bigotry.
We still hear racism from many different sources, directed primarily at African Americans and Latinos. We still hear nativism and xenophobia. We still see religious bigotry directed at Muslims and others. And I continue to see lots of anti-Semitism expressed across the web, sometimes related to Israel, but oftentimes not. However, it has been a while since I’ve heard this sort of anti-Semitic drivel (or anti-Catholic for that matter) expressed so publicly, so vehemently, and by so many people (instead of just a lone bigot).
I don’t know that I’m able draw any conclusions from any of this other than to note that bigotry remains alive and well and that it remains the obligation of society when confronted with these sorts of statements to stand up and call out those who continue to harbor and share such bigoted ideas. To quote myself:
But if we don’t call out overt bigotry - publicly shame those who express bigotry like that - then we’ll never rid society of this evil.
If you happened to listen to the testimony offered to the Senate Rules Committee on Monday by proponents of HRJ3 (the proposal to add a ban on same-sex marriage into Indiana’s Constitution), you might have thought that the issue before the Senate was whether to adopt laws to protect Hoosier children and/or encourage married Hoosiers to procreate rather than deciding whether to incorporate a ban on same-sex marriage (and civil unions) into the Indiana Constitution. Speaker after speaker after speaker talked about the alleged harm to children from same-sex marriages or discussed the State’s interest in procreation. But these arguments are red herrings, shiny objects designed to catch the attention of those who haven’t paid close attention to the real issues or, perhaps, to offer a thin veneer of “reason” behind which to hide their bigotry.
Now, for the sake of argument (and only for the sake of argument!), I’m going to assume as true the proposition set forth by the proponents of HJR3 that children do better in two-parent heterosexual marriages. I don’t think that’s precisely what the empirical data or scientific literature demonstrates, but I’m going to accept it for purposes of this discussion. And I’m going to assume that the State does have an interest in procreation (though I don’t think that I agree with that proposition either). I want to analyze the proponents’ arguments as they relate to children assuming all of the facts (well, lies might be closer to the … um … truth…) that the proponents used to support their arguments. And I want to show why, even assuming the “truth” of those propositions, opposition to same-sex marriage on the basis of those arguments is wrong (let alone a desire simply to “double ban” what is already illegal and enshrine discrimination into the Constitution).
I can certainly see how the argument might, at least at first blush, sound appealing: We shouldn’t let homosexuals get married because their children won’t do as well as children raised in heterosexual “traditional” marriages. But let’s dig a bit deeper than that overly simplistic argument. For one thing, not all marriages are about children. Many couples marry and never have children. Other couples marry long after children have been raised and moved out to live their own lives (whether following divorce or the death of a first spouse). So the “concern” with how children will fare should have no bearing on deciding whether couples who don’t want or can’t have children should be permitted to marry. Obviously, HJR3 doesn’t include an exception for same-sex couples who don’t plan on having children, but if the motivating issue for proponents of HJR3 is “the children”, then shouldn’t such an exception exist? And doesn’t the omission of an exception for childless couples serve to demonstrate that the real goal has little to do with children and more to do, simply, with opposition to homosexuality?
Similarly, whether a same-sex couple can marry is completely divorced (sorry, pun intended) from whether an unmarried same-sex couple can adopt a child. Are proponents of HJR3 suggesting that homosexual couples be prohibited from adopting a child, too? Because if a primary reason to prohibit them marrying is the “adverse” effect on the child, then shouldn’t the adoption itself be prohibited? If not, then it would seem that the “concern” for the child’s well-being isn’t really all that sincere.
Moreover, what do proponents of HJR3 say about the natural child of one member of a same-sex relationship? Should that child be taken out of the home? Should the other member of the same-sex relationship be prohibited from adopting the child? Most importantly, are we expected to believe that the child will fare worse if the couple are married than if they simply cohabitate?
After all, what is the difference between a child raised in a household with same-sex parents and one raised in a household with same-sex married parents? I’d suggest that the stability of marriage would be better for the child. Moreover, I’d further suggest that children raised in same-sex households will be better off knowing that the state and its citizens are welcoming of that child’s family structure rather than denigrating the status of the child’s parents to the point of wanting to explicitly prohibit the recognition of the relationship of the child’s parents. I mean, just think about it. Will little Johnny do better in school if his same-sex parents are welcomed as a part of the community or if the community points fingers at them and says “you’re not wanted here?” Let there be no mistake: HJR3 is nothing more than the State of Indiana saying “fuck you” and “get out” to gay Hoosiers (and “don’t even think of coming here” to prospective new Hoosiers).
You know what, though? It’s not just same-sex marriages that are (allegedly) bad for children. If I’m not mistaken, studies also show that children raised in single-parent households fare less well than children raised in two-parent households (again, I think that is what the current research shows, and I don’t know if that research shows a causal effect or if it is the reasons for the existence of single-parent family that are the real factors determining the child’s well-being [such as poverty]). So why don’t we require unwed pregnant mothers to marry? Why don’t we require unwed women to be on birth control? Why don’t we require teenage males to obtain reversible vasectomies (reversible upon marriage, of course)? After all, those sorts of requirements might help alleviate the “problem” of having children raised outside the optimal “traditional” family unit. Or I guess we could just have the state come along and take children away from single mothers and put them in “traditional” state foster care facilities (at least until the slut single woman marries).
I am, however, not sure what to do in the case of a two-parent family when one of the parents dies. It seems that forcing the surviving parent to immediately remarry would be a bit harsh (though, if the woman is the surviving parent and the deceased husband has brothers, than it would at least be a traditional Biblical arrangement…). Then again, forcing the surviving spouse to remarry would probably not be as harsh as taking the children away to “protect” them.
Which of course leads to the question of how to protect children from other sorts of situations that might prove detrimental to their upbringing. You, know, things like poverty, homelessness, lack of access to affordable, high quality medicine, and so forth. I’d certainly argue that all of those problems are going to be far, far worse for children that having two dads. Or what about things like interracial marriages or interreligious marriages? Obviously, those sorts of things may cause some degree of hardship for children (“are you white or black?” and “so do you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah?”). But we wouldn’t think of stopping those marriages because of any perceived harm to children, would we?
We permit alcoholics to marry. We permit people who’ve been convicted of crimes, including spousal or child abuse, to marry. We permit people living in poverty to marry. We even allow some minors to marry if their parents consent. And we “allow” people to have children even if the environment into which those children are born is suboptimal. We don’t stop convicted abusers or felons from having children, we don’t stop alcoholics or those with multiple DUIs from having children, and we don’t stop the poor from having children. Ah, but gays… Oh, that sort of “suboptimal” environment is just too … um … icky?
The focus of many of the proponents was the well-being of children. And yet so little attention is being paid to other factors that have adverse impacts on families. When they’re not advocating to stop same-sex marriage, are the proponents of HJR3 also working to end childhood hunger, to help with housing and heat for children living in poverty, to ensure that all children have access to affordable, high quality medical care, to be sure that children attending unlicensed religious daycare facilities are safe, or any of the other things that our system demands for the well-being of our children? No. They’re not. In fact, some of them are the same people actively working against keeping children safe and who oppose efforts to simply provide needed help to our working poor.
Feeding hungry children, being sure that they have access to medicine, and just keeping them safe haven’t brought these “advocates” to the State House to demand action. Nope. But a pair of lesbians getting married? Now that is worth protesting. Constitutional amendments to provide access to healthcare? No, way! Constitutional amendments to discriminate against gays? For the children, of course!
And what about the State of Indiana’s alleged interest in procreation (and again, remember that I’m going to presume that the Indiana actually has such an interest…)? If we need to stop homosexual couples from getting married because allowing them to do so will somehow have an adverse effect upon the state’s interest in procreation, then don’t we need to stop the marriages of all couples who might marry but not procreate? Clearly infertile people ought not to be allowed to marry; their marriage does nothing to advance the state’s interest in procreation. And I suppose that, in order to advance the state’s interest in procreation, those seeking a marriage license should probably have to both provide medical evidence of the capacity to procreate and sign a certification of intent to procreate (do we jail those who expressed an interest in procreation but who later change their minds?). Seems reasonable, no? After all, if the State wants to keep some people from marrying because of the interest in procreation, then shouldn’t that interest apply to all Hoosiers whose marriages might not advance the interest of procreation? Or should we be discriminating against just some Hoosiers who might not procreate?
Now obviously, given the state’s interest in procreation, we should ban all forms of birth control as well as vasectomies. Oops. Access to birth control is a right under the United States Constitution. But we should still probably be able to ban vasectomies, right? Or at least highly regulate doctors performing vasectomies (admitting privileges and tight controls on facilities) and require men seeking a vasectomy to undergo a waiting period, get a penile ultrasound, and look at an ultrasound of a fetus. Of course things get a bit more complicated when we think about post-menopausal women. I mean, just think of all the viable sperm still swimming around in men married to women who can no longer conceive. How does the continuation of that marriage further the Indiana’s interest in procreation? I don’t know if we should require couples to divorce so that the man can marry a woman still capable of ovulating. Perhaps we should simply require the man to donate sperm regularly.
And what do we do with people who don’t want to have children? They are making a decision not to act in a way that advances the interests of the State of Indiana (sort of like rooting for Kentucky, perhaps). I mean, think about it. We have some people who want to get married and who might even want to have children (or at least adopt), but the State of Indiana wants to crawl into their bedroom and say, “no, no, no” just because the people are gay. In other words, with HJR3, some Hoosiers have no problem letting straight people decide not to have kids and say, “fuck you” to the State of Indiana and its interest in procreation while not giving gay Hoosiers who might want children the right to act in accordance with the so-called procreation interest of the state.
Which of course brings me to nuns, monks, and priests. I mean, seriously, how can a state with an interest in procreation, tolerate a whole class of people who choose to never marry and never procreate on the basis of religion?
So tell me why allowing two men who love each other to marry (instead of just “living in sin”) will cause birthrates to go down? … Are gay men currently having babies but if the Constitution isn’t amended, they’ll stop? And I’ve read about plenty of lesbians who do have babies. Are we to believe that if they can get married to one another, they’ll stop having those babies? Um, why? [Do HJR3 proponents] have empirical evidence from any of the states that presently allow same-sex marriage to show that birth rates have declined (and that such decline can be fairly attributable to same-sex marriages)? And why would allowing a same-sex marriage have any impact on whether children will be raised by their natural parents? Will the Child Catcher come around and demand that children be ripped from their homes and given to gay couples. Seems farfetched. If we presume that homosexuals aren’t procreating (which seems to be one of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage), then how will marriage impact the procreation in “traditional” families? If the concern is that some children might be raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship, isn’t that child still being raised by a natural parent? No, not by both natural parents, but then how many children are raised by both natural parents when one of them is gay anyway?
OK. Deep breath.
How does the interest in procreation really have any bearing on same-sex marriages? Do proponents of HJR3 really think that there will be fewer children born in Indiana if gay couples are allowed to marry? Really? What do they expect to happen? Masses of closeted gays will suddenly divorce their straight partners in order to have a same-sex marriage? And even that sort of nonsense presumes that same-sex marriages won’t produce children or won’t provide homes for children via adoption. For that matter, why is it that marriage is so critical to the issue of procreation? First, how many children are being born out of wedlock anyway? And how many children are being born to (or adopted) by same-sex couples who cohabitate (and who just might get married, if permitted)?
There may be reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. However, neither “for the children” nor procreation are viable reasons to keep two people who want to be treated the same as all others from marrying.
The “Merry Christmas” Bill: Indiana Inches Ever-Closer to Becoming a Theocracy
The “War on Christmas” is once again being fought here in Indiana. After last year’s stunning defeats in which all Christian houses of worship were banned in the State of Indiana and Hoosier children were required to convert to Islam, some Hoosier lawmakers are trying to fight back. Um, what? Christian churches weren’t banned last year? Hoosier children can still invoke the name of Jesus in their prayers? Christmas trees are still permitted on front lawns and in family rooms? The shopping malls still have Santa Claus? Are you sure? Hmm. Oh, I see now. A greeter at Walmart said “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas and an elementary school teacher didn’t do enough to prostelytize to the students in her class. That must explain Senate Bill 326 (SB326), offered by, among others, Sen. Dennis Kruse (you know, the same Hoosier lawmaker that wanted school children to recite The Lord’s Prayer each day), and passed by the Senate 48-0.
(a) Each school corporation may:
(1) instruct students about the history of traditional winter celebrations; and
(2) allow students and employees to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including:
(A) "Merry Christmas";
(B) "Happy Hanukkah";
(C) "Happy Holidays"; and
(D) other seasonal greetings.
(b) Except as provided in subsection (c), a school corporation may display on property owned by the school corporation scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a Menorah, Christmas tree, Nativity scene, or other religious symbol associated with traditional winter celebrations, if the display includes a scene or symbol of: (1) more than one (1) religion; or (2) one (1) religion and at least one (1) secular scene or symbol.
(c) A display described in subsection (b) may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.
(d) The state board shall develop guidelines to assist school corporations in developing appropriate instruction and displays concerning traditional winter celebrations.
Now practically speaking, SB326, if passed by the House and signed by the Governor (both likely) really won’t do much of anything. Well, nothing other than violate the United States Constitution. Issues of church-state are governed primarily by the United States Constitution and, in particular, the establishment clause of the First Amendment. I suspect that at least some of Sen. Kruse’s Senate colleagues are aware of that. Nevertheless, they want to be seen as doing something to combat the so-called “War on Christmas”. Otherwise, Bill O’Reilly might call them pinheads. Or liberals. Hence SB326.
Let’s look briefly at the provisions of this bill. Section (a)(1) tells schools that they can teach students “about the history of traditional winter celebrations”. Um, was there a prohibition against teaching students the history of traditional winter celebrations? No, there wasn’t. Teachers have always been permitted to teach history and probably wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t teach history. And history involves religion and religious celebrations. Just try teaching European History without discussing the absolute carnage caused by incessant warfare often prompted by different interpretations of Biblical scripture or the millions of innocents slaughtered in the name of G-d, Jesus, or Allah.
I will be interested to see the blowback when a teacher begins to teach his students that December 25 is probably not the real birth date of Jesus but, rather, was likely chosen as the date on which Christmas would be celebrated because of its link to Saturnalia and other pagan winter festivals. For that matter, I look forward to hearing students telling their parents all about the pagan and other winter celebrations that they’ve been taught. Stonehenge exists for a reason; it’s part of history that should be taught along with other traditional “winter celebrations”. Oh, and query why we’re only concerned with “winter celebrations”. Can teachers teach the history of autumn celebrations? What about spring or summer? Why is it just winter celebrations that merit their very own statute. It couldn’t have something to do with wanting to be sure that our schools teach about Christmas could it?
Next we have Section (a)(2) which purports to “allow” students and faculty to “offer traditional greetings” and lists several acceptable greetings. Again, was there some law or policy that prohibited a student or faculty member from offering any of these sorts of “traditional greetings”? It seems that news sources like Faux News keep claiming that this school or that school have prohibited people from even mentioning Christmas, and, almost always, those claims are false (or at least greatly exaggerated). For that matter, I thought that the use of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” was one of the signs of the apocalypse War on Christmas. The blowback here should be great when a snarky teacher starts greeting his students with “Io Saturnalia!” (the “io” is pronounced “yo”…). “Hail Satan” might also be appropriate as, apparently, some Satanists also celebrate the winter solstice. And if a teacher practices Skyclad Wicca, can he offer a traditional winter solstice greeting in the nude? That should make for an entertaining classroom experience.
Then we get to the real core of SB326: The right to display a nativity scene. After all, how can we expect our schoolchildren to learn good Christian moral values if they don’t have to observe the baby Jesus in their classrooms. I mean, it’s not like families could erect a crèche at home and Indiana certainly doesn’t have many churches to take up the calling of helping children learn about Jesus. (While looking at Google Maps, I tried to do a quick count of the number of churches in close proximity to the middle school my kids attend; I stopped counting at eleven [and that count included one so-called evangelical “megachurch”].) No. Many schools in Indiana seem to think that part of their role remains to teach Christianity to their students, whether in the form of overtly religious songs in choir performances or the use of Christian symbols and observances.
But you see, everything should be A-OK because a school can’t just display a nativity scene. Nope. Under SB326 the school must also display a scene or symbol from another religion or a secular symbol. Because, you know, the best way to respect the constitutional separation of church and state is to violate that separation not once, but twice. You see, this is the mistake that many Christians make: They think that putting a menorah next to their nativity scene will make us Jews happy. Wrong. Most of us would prefer to honor the separation of church and state and have no religious displays in our public schools. We (well most of us) are perfectly happy to have our menorahs in our homes and in our synagogues. Maybe even in our businesses. But we don’t need them in our kids’ classrooms. I don’t know. Maybe we’re not so insecure about our beliefs that we need the sort of constant reinforcement?
It is worth noting, however, that there is a hidden problem with Section (b) of SB326. Remember, the bill purports to permit a religious symbol (such as a nativity scene) so long as it is displayed with the symbol from another religion or with a secular symbol. Like a Christmas tree. You see, the leading Supreme Court case on the topic (Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984)) held that a Christmas tree was not a religious symbol, but rather, was secular in nature. Thus a teacher would be complying with SB326 if she were to have a crèche, a Christmas tree, and maybe a Santa on her desk. Only one “traditional winter celebration” would be honored, but hey, it’s the “right” celebration, so yeah…
But, if the current Supreme Court caselaw says that it’s OK to have a religious symbol if accompanied by secular symbols (like, um, say, a Christmas tree), then what is the point of SB326 anyway?
And what if the secular symbol placed next to the crèche is an American flag (or the flag of the State of Indiana). Would that make the crèche OK? Or might that proximity of the flag run afoul of Section (c) which we’ll come to in a moment?
Finally, what happens when a teacher chooses not to erect a crèche or a menorah, but rather, a group of pagan symbols (maybe with a Buddha and some incense for good measure). I’m sure that everyone will be OK with that right? Query: Can a teacher put a joint next to her Christmas tree and say that it’s a symbol of Rastafarian belief? Even better will be the really snarky (and brave) teacher who puts the joint in a colander to honor Rastafarians and Pastafarians together! Even a teacher that doesn’t push boundaries too far, but chooses, for example, to honor Judaism and Islam instead of Christianity will, I’m sure, face to condemnation or backlash, right?
Next we come to Section (c) which prohibits “a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief”. How nice. So query: Does “Have a Merry Christmas” (note the use of the directive “to have” in that message) encourage adherence to Christianity? More critically, can a message that discourages adherence to a particular belief be posted? Would “If you pray to Allah, you’re going to Hell” be an acceptable message next to that crèche? What about a message that eating a Christmas ham will damn you to Hell because pork is an abomination?
As I mentioned at the beginning, even if passed SB326 probably won’t have any real practical effect on what is and is not acceptable. Supreme Court precedents like Lynch v. Donnelly govern. That being said, I’m sure that some school administrators or teachers will feel emboldened by the “rights” granted by SB326 and will endeavor to use those newly granted rights to wage their own defense (or would it be offense?) in the so-called War on Christmas. And in doing so, they’re likely to walk right into the buzzsaw of costly establishment clause litigation for which SB326 will be of little practical defensive value. Relying on a state statute is not a viable defense to violating the prohibitions of the United States Constitution.
Oh, and this would probably be a good time to quote Article 1 Section 4 of Indiana’s Constitution: “No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.”
SB326 may make some legislators feel like they’re doing something. It may give them something to point to when they go home and talk to the voters who elected them. But practically speaking, it won’t do much. And, more importantly, is legislation clearly designed to add religion into our public schools really what Indiana needs? Hmm. Let’s see. We’re gonna double ban same-sex marriage because of the Bible and we’re going to adopt legislation to help promote religion in our public schools because of a mythical War on Christmas. Those are but two examples of the how religion — and almost exclusively a right-of-center Christian understanding of religion — is being used to form the basis of laws and policy. Yep. Indiana is taking yet more steps into becoming a theocracy.
Update: Almost immediately after posting, I thought of one other point worth making. The bill directly relates to school corporations and not to individual schools or teachers. Thus, a teacher might run afoul of a school corporation for putting up an “unapproved” winter celebration symbol. Of course, the decision of which “traditional winter celebrations” are permitted or approved or which symbols can and can’t be used is obviously fraught with peril. I can’t wait to hear a school board explain its decision to permit displays related to Christianity but to prohibit displays related to Islam, Wicca, or other religious beliefs. Yeah, the courts will love that.
The Amendment (HJR-3 and the Process of Amending Indiana’s Constitution)
Earlier this week, the Indiana House of Representatives passed an amended version of House Joint Resolution 3 (HJR-3), the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages. The amended version of HJR-3 now goes to the Indiana Senate for consideration. The question that some are posing is whether the amended version of HJR-3, if passed by the Senate, could be on the ballot for Indiana voters in November 2014. Though some are trying to make this sound like an open issue, I think that the language of Indiana’s Constitution makes it clear that the amended version of HJR-3 could only be placed on the ballot for Hoosier voters if approved by the Indiana General Assembly in 2015 or 2016 (and thus, not be eligible to be on the ballot until November 2016).
First, let’s look at the language of the Indiana Constitution (and if you’re a Hoosier and you’ve never read Indiana’s Constitution, it might be worth spending a bit of your time to do so; you might be surprised by a few of the provisions it contains). The operative provision for amending the Constitution is Article 16, Section 1:
Section 1. (a) An amendment to this Constitution may be proposed in either branch of the General Assembly. If the amendment is agreed to by a majority of the members elected to each of the two houses, the proposed amendment shall, with the yeas and nays thereon, be entered on their journals, and referred to the General Assembly to be chosen at the next general election.
(b) If, in the General Assembly so next chosen, the proposed amendment is agreed to by a majority of all the members elected to each House, then the General Assembly shall submit the amendment to the electors of the State at the next general election.
(c) If a majority of the electors voting on the amendment ratify the amendment, the amendment becomes a part of this Constitution.
The key thing to note in this language is the use of “the” and “an” when referring to a proposed amendment to the Constitution. Section 1(a) states that if “the amendment” is agreed to, then “the proposed amendment shall … be entered … and referred to the General Assembly … chosen at the next general election”. In other words, the Constitution looks at a proposed amendment as a whole, single entity, not a series of piecemeal words.
So let’s go back to 2011 when HJR-6 (the numbering previously assigned to what is now HJR-3) was passed by both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly. Here is the text of HJR-6 in its entirety:
A JOINT RESOLUTION proposing an amendment to Article 1 of the Indiana Constitution concerning marriage.
Be it resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana:
SECTION 1. The following amendment to the Constitution of the State of Indiana is proposed and agreed to by this, the One Hundred Seventeenth General Assembly of the State of Indiana, and is referred to the next General Assembly for reconsideration and agreement.
SECTION 2. ARTICLE 1 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF INDIANA IS AMENDED BY ADDING A NEW SECTION TO READ AS FOLLOWS: Section 38. Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.
Note, once again, the use of “an” and “the” to refer to the proposed amendment. The language refers to proposing “an amendment” and Section 1 makes specific mention of referring the “following amendment” to the next General Assembly. So what precisely was referred to the “next General Assembly” (in other words, the General Assembly elected in November 2012)?
A NEW SECTION TO READ AS FOLLOWS: Section 38. Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.
The 2011 Indiana General Assembly proposed to add Section 38 to Indiana’s Bill of Rights that would consist of the specified two sentences. Nothing more. And nothing less. That was “the amendment” that was proposed by the General Assembly in 2011. It was a single, unified amendment; it wasn’t two amendments of one sentence each. It wasn’t a proposed amendment subject to being severed. It was “an amendment” and it was referred to the next General Assembly.
Which brings me to the current incarnation of HJR-3, as amended:
A JOINT RESOLUTION proposing an amendment to Article 1 of the Constitution of the State of Indiana by adding a new Section concerning marriage.
Be it resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana:
SECTION 1. The following amendment to the Constitution of the State of Indiana is proposed and agreed to by this, the One Hundred Eighteenth General Assembly of the State of Indiana, and is referred to the next General Assembly for reconsideration and agreement.
SECTION 2. ARTICLE 1 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF INDIANA IS AMENDED BY ADDING A NEW SECTION TO READ AS FOLLOWS: Section 38. Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.
Now, the first thing to note is that the amended version of HJR-3 that was passed by the House specifically notes that is “referred to the next General Assembly for reconsideration and agreement” in the same way that HJR-6, when passed in 2011, was referred to the current General Assembly for reconsideration and agreement. That language alone should put the issue to rest; after all, if the amendment that is voted upon and agreed to by the General Assembly specifically states that it is referred to the next General Assembly for reconsideration and agreement, then it is hard to see how anyone could argue that the One Hundred Nineteenth General Assembly would not need to reconsider and agree to the proposed amendment before it could be put before Hoosier voters.
Moreover, when HJR-6 was passed in 2011 and referred to the current General Assembly for review, it consisted of two sentences (think of them as the “marriage provision” and the “civil union provision”). What was the purpose of referring HJR-6 to the current General Assembly? It was for the General Assembly to reconsider and agree. This week, the House of Representatives of the Indiana General Assembly did reconsider the language of HJR-6 (as embodied in HJR-3) and they did not agree. Instead, the House voted to amend that language by deleting the civil union provision.
I suppose that the General Assembly, when it passed HJR-6 in 2011, could have given the next General Assembly the option to agree to all of the language or just the first sentence. But that isn’t what happened. In 2011, the General Assembly passed an amendment and referred that amendment, as a whole, to the next General Assembly for reconsideration.
Obviously, the Senate could “un-amend” HJR-3 to make its language identical to HJR-6. In that case, HJR-3 would go back to the House for another vote. So, if both the House and Senate were to pass HJR-3 with language identical to the amendment passed in 2011, then it would satisfy the requirements of Article 16 Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution and would go before voters in November 2014. I’m hoping that either the Senate doesn’t have the votes necessary to “un-amend” HJR-3 or that, even if the Senate does so, the House won’t approve that version of the proposed amendment (and given that 52 members of the House were willing to amend the language in the first place, it becomes anybody’s guess as to what would happen if the House is asked to vote on the original language of HJR-3).
But there is another possibility worth considering. What if the Senate can’t muster the support to add the problematic second sentence (the civil union provision) back into HJR-3, but does amend HJR-3 to remove the language referring the proposed amendment to the next General Assembly? And what happens if the House votes on and agrees to that version of HJR-3? Would an HJR-3 that contained a single sentence that is identical to one of the sentences in HJR-6 be eligible to go before Hoosier voters in November 2014?
I don’t think so.
Remember what I wrote about above with regard to all of the uses of “an” and “the” and things the “following amendment”? I think that it would be laughable for anyone to argue that requirement that the “next General Assembly” reconsider and agree to a proposed amendment be satisfied by passage of only a part of the original amendment. The two-sentence version of HJR-6 is simply not the same amendment as the one-sentence version of HJR-3. Do we know that all of those who voted for the HJR-6 in 2011 would have voted for it without the civil union provision? We can speculate that they would have, but we don’t know because they didn’t take that vote.
Of course the best resolution of this entire mess would be for either the House or Senate to simply vote down HJR-3, whether with the original or amended language. Doing so would spare Indiana the costly and divisive campaign to determine whether the amendment should be on the ballot and whether, if on the ballot, it should be adopted. And it would spare Indiana the indignity of voting, in the second decade of the 21st Century, to enshrine discrimination into the Constitution.
Update: I meant to mention this story and quotation from Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller:
One alternative that has been floated is removing the so-called “second sentence” in the amendment, which extends the ban to civil unions and employer benefits. But legislative leaders are split on whether altering the language would reset the clock on the state’s lengthy constitutional amendment process.
Zoeller said Friday he had looked into the issue but could not find a clear precedent.
“There hasn’t been a case directly on point,” he said. “So had there been a question asked and answered, I’d be able to point to something specifically for people to refer to. The fact that it has not been fully addressed leaves it open to supposition as to what a federal court might do or what a state court might do.”
I find it interesting that Attorney General Zoeller talks about case law on the subject but makes no reference to the actual language of the Indiana Constitution. Hmm. Shouldn’t people, at least as a starting point, refer to the language of the Constitution and, perhaps, to the language of HJR-6?
For those who are curious, there is a single Indiana Supreme Court (Roeschlein v. Thomas, 280 N.E.2d 581 (1972)) case that discusses the amendment process, but doesn’t involve the issue that would be presented if the amended version of HJR-3 were to be adopted. Rather, in that case, the issue involved alleged defects in the technicalities of the passage of the proposed amendment by the General Assembly, rather than an examination of the impact of passage of versions of an amendment containing different language.
Sec. 2. The liberty of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child is a fundamental right.
Sec. 3. A governmental entity may not infringe on the right described under section 2 of this chapter without demonstrating that the governmental entity's governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.
The bill also includes a definition of “governmental entity” and some other technical elements. But the text above is the “meat” of the proposed legislation.
So what in the world: (a) was SB100 aimed at; and (b) would SB100 actually do?
My initial thought was that SB100 was intended to be a mechanism whereby a parent could opt a child out of certain mandated curriculum in a public school. You don’t want your child to learn about evolution, climate change, world religions, or whatever, then just claim your SB100 parental “liberty” and — boom — your child is excused (unless the state demonstrates that the curriculum in question is “of the highest order and not otherwise served”).
But how else might SB100’s notion of the fundamental right of parental liberty be used in practice? Well, what about vaccinations (Sen. Kruse has also introduced a bill to weaken vaccination requirements)? What about concussion baseline testing or prohibition on athletic participation following a concussion (my child won’t get that football scholarship if he doesn’t play Friday night…)? School uniforms or even a school dress code (I think my kid should be allowed to wear his pants down past his waist)? ISTEP testing (I don’t believe in standardized tests)? Core 40 curriculum credit requirements (my parental liberty is infringed if my kid has to take biology, so gee, Mr. Public School Principal, you have to graduate my kid even though he didn’t take any biology classes). Safety regulations for schools and pre-schools (I should have the right to send my kid to a preschool that doesn’t have fire exits or running water)? Prohibitions on bringing guns into classrooms (I want my kid to be safe, and so what if that makes other kids less safe)? And those are just a few things that I’ve thought about just for schools.
What about elsewhere? Could a parent claim “parental liberty” as a reason that child labor laws couldn’t be enforced (I need the income and my kid needs to learn the value of hard work)? How about car seats for infants and toddlers (I like to have my kid in the front seat next to me so I can tickle him at stoplights)? For that matter think of any of the host of laws that we have regarding parenting and the protection of children. Wouldn’t virtually all of those laws be at risk? Why can’t someone sell nude photos of their child on the Internet or give their child a bottle of vodka and a pack of cigarettes? After all, parental “liberty” is a “fundamental right” … or would be if SB100 is enacted. Curfew? Speed limits? Laws against drugs? I can see someone (probably wearing a tinfoil hat or waving a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag) making the argument in almost any of these cases.
For that matter, think of the cases where people elect not to provide medical treatment to sick children (who often die as a result). Under the parental liberty notion of SB100 (which makes specific reference to “care”), it would seem that the government might have a very difficult time forcing the parent to allow medical treatment for the child, especially if the parent said that the interest in the child’s health was “otherwise served” by prayer. Or what about a judge’s ruling in a divorce custody dispute? How might “liberty” be impacted in that situation?
And note that the SB100 says not just that to be enforced the law must be of the “highest order” but also that the calculus is based, not just on application of the law to society in general or a class of people in particular (i.e., children, or children under 8 years old, or whatever), but rather, “as applied to the person”. Thus, it doesn’t matter if protecting children in auto accidents is of the “highest order”; rather, the only query is whether protecting this particular child is of the “highest order” and not otherwise served.
There is one other thing that is missing from this bill and which may be the most important concept: What about the liberty of the child? So we’re recognizing that a parent has a fundamental right to “direct the upbringing, education, and care” of the child, but what about the child’s fundamental right to good upbringing, a quality education, and appropriate care? What about the child’s fundament right to be free of an abusive parent or a parent who is willing to put the child at risk? Why isn’t that liberty interest a fundamental right?
You have to wonder what Sen. Kruse was thinking about when he wrote (or had Legislative Services write) SB100. But then given some of the prior bills that Sen. Kruse has introduced, we probably shouldn't be too surprised that he would offer a bill like SB100. What we should be surprised about (well, maybe not), is that voters in Indiana would elect someone like Sen. Kruse to office in the first place and then continue to reelect him (he’s in his 3rd term, I believe).
Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Republicans who control the Indiana Senate have appointed Sen. Kruse to be the chair of the Education and Career Development Committee? Seriously.
A Closer Examination of The Indianapolis Star’s “Gay Marriage Ban: The Case Against”
This past weekend, the front page of The Indianapolis Star featured companion articles laying out the case for (Gay marriage ban: The case for) and against (Gay marriage ban: The case against) HJR-3, the proposal to amend Indiana’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage or anything substantially similar to marriage. What I want to do here is to go through and comment upon the article laying out the case for HJR-3 and amending the Constitution (or, for those easily confused, the case against same-sex marriage). One thing to keep in mind, I think, is that it seems that it should be the obligation of those who want to amend the Constitution to make their case; amending the Constitution should not be the default position.
Warning: This is a long post. But the issues are important. (Also, for what it’s worth, the bulk of this post was written before Speaker Bosma decided to move deliberation of HJR-3 from the Judiciary committee to the Elections committee.)
Before diving into the article, it’s worth remembering the language of the proposed amendment:
Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.
So, with that in mind, I’m just going to embed the entire article and offer some comments, paragraph by paragraph. (Note that I’m embedding the entire article to make this comment and criticism easier to follow and in the likely event that at some future date the text is no longer available on the website of The Indianapolis Star. I believe that embedding the text here for the non-commercial purpose of education, comment, and criticism falls within the “fair use” provisions of copyright law.) The original article is presented in green.
When the Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. was still a teen, his parents began opening their home on Sundays to people in the community who were having marital problems, people who were separated or divorced, and even singles giving thought to taking the plunge for the first time.
Take note of the fact that the first person featured in the article is a Christian pastor.
His father, the younger Johnson recalls, would ask a woman how her week went and she might turn and scowl at her husband and say it was rough because he has anger issues. The elder Johnson would ask the man about his temper and maybe even get a public confession. Then he’d turn to the other men in the group and ask if anyone else was wired with a short fuse. Inevitably, hands would go up. The discussion would go on from there.
“It was Jerry Springer on Holy Spirit steroids,” Johnson said.
The signs of success were immediate. What started with a few couples exploded quickly to 80 people streaming into the family home for Sunday marriage counseling sessions that might go on for hours. Thirty years later, the Sunday sessions continue, but at the Living Stones Church in Crown Point, where the younger Johnson is now the pastor.
I think that Rev. Johnson (and his father) should be praised for the work that they’ve been doing. I obviously have nothing against marriage counseling or efforts to help resolve problems among any people. But…
Marriage — the traditional, heterosexual, lifelong, covenant-with-God kind — is serious business for Johnson. Not just because he has been married for 29 years and has eight children, but because he leads an alliance of pastors pushing for a constitutional amendment that would indelibly define marriage in Indiana as between one man and one woman.
Think about that for a moment. Rev. Johnson leads an alliance of clergy who want to amend the law that governs our secular state. For what it’s worth, can you imagine the outrage if a group of Muslim Imams were working together to change the Indiana Constitution to reflect Islamic law? We already have Indiana legislators working on bills to keep Islamic law from even being considered in Indiana. And yet we have an alliance of Christian pastors seeking to impose their particular religious viewpoint, not just into law, but into the Constitution itself.
Moreover note that the type of marriage that Rev. Johnson is concerned with is the “covenant-with-God kind” or marriage. Perhaps Rev. Johnson is not aware that not everyone in Indiana thinks of marriage in a “covenant-with-God” way, especially those Hoosiers are may not worship or believe in a deity or come from a faith tradition in which marriage has a different religious meaning. We should see the dangers, at the outset, of thinking about our laws in terms of “covenant-with-God” issues.
Johnson and others pushing hardest for the amendment are concerned that the time-honored institution is in trouble from those who want to change its definition into something much more abstract. Failure to pass the amendment means an activist judge could strike down Indiana’s existing marriage law, they fear.
In addition, note that this is really the only explanation of why we need to amend the Constitution instead of just relying on the existing law that bans same-sex marriage (and as I pointed out in last week’s post, that argument is essentially a fallacy). And note that this argument totally fails to address the second sentence of HJR-3 that would prevent a future General Assembly from adopting civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Opening Pandora’s box?
If same-sex marriages were to become legal, they say, the same arguments used in the current debate could be applied to new forms of marriage and sexuality. Already,there are organizations that exist to promote polygamy — not necessarily in Indiana, but nationally — and some see that as the next domino to fall.
One thing worth noting is how quickly opponents of marriage equality move the goal posts and stop talking about same-sex marriage and start talking, instead, about polygamy, bestiality, incest, children, and inanimate objects. They can’t keep the discussion on track, perhaps because they know that they’re losing, and thus quickly toss in straw man arguments or worry about the so-called slippery slope. Discussions about polygamy and so forth are important discussions, but they’re not the issue at hand. Moreover, note that Indiana is not presently even discussing whether to legalize same-sex marriages. Rather, the issue is whether to reinforce the existing law that prohibits same-sex marriages with a constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage that would also prevent the Indiana General Assembly from permitting civil unions or domestic partnerships. So the issue, despite what you’ll keep hearing from those advocating for HJR-3 is not whether to permit same-sex marriage but rather just how illegal we really want to make it.
“There's an old African proverb I came across that says, ‘Don't move a fence until you know why it was put there.’ We’re getting ready to move some fences here,” Johnson said.
Again, see my preceding paragraph. We’re not talking about moving any fences. Moreover, under that worldview, we should never seek to solve problems, I guess, until we can identify every possible consequence and outcome. Query, for example, whether Rev. Johnson would have supported keeping “separate but equal” in the law until we “understood” why some people thought blacks and whites should be kept separate; would he have supported keeping anti-miscegenation laws until we understood just what life might be like for multi-racial children? Isn’t that really what he’s saying about same-sex marriages today? That being said, I do find the analogy of a fence to be somewhat interesting: Those who we “favor” get to be on one side of the fence, but those who are disfavored by the majority have to stay on that side of the fence. You know, just like how blacks had to sit on the back of the bus, how some communities want to keep Muslims from erecting mosques, or how some legislators want to keep Spanish-speaking Latinos from full participation in our system until they learn English. One America on one side of the fence and another America on the other side of the fence is not really how I view America.
“We are literally opening a Pandora’s box of perversion in this country,” he said, “and there will be no stopping where this thing goes.”
Ding, ding, ding! And here we go. Why do we need to amend the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages? Because homosexuality is a “perversion”. You know what? I think guns that can be used to kill 20 first graders are a perversion. I think CEOs earning more than 400 times their average worker is a perversion. I think billionaires being able to buy politicians is a perversion. I think children going hungry or living without healthcare is a perversion. I think global energy companies polluting massive areas of our land, sea, and sky is a perversion. So I’m sure that Rev. Johnson will support constitutional amendments to correct those perversions, right? Or is it just gays that he can’t tolerate?
Well, maybe his view of what is perversion is based on his Biblical view; after all the Bible says that male homosexuality is an abomination (and yes, it appears to be limited to men). But you know what? That same sentence from the Bible also said that homosexuals should be put to death. So why isn’t Rev. Johnson advocating the death penalty for gay Hoosiers. For that matter, why isn’t he advocating for the abolition of Red Lobster, football, cotton-polyester blends, and barbershops? After all, those and many other things are also identified as abominations in the Bible. But Rev. Johnson is only worried about gays. I wonder why…
Gay rights groups and others who oppose the marriage amendment make their case in terms of freedom and equality. They cast it as a matter of civil rights, with immediate implications for the couples who want the right to wed.
If the fight against anti-miscegenation laws was a civil rights fight, then why isn’t the fight for marriage equality also a civil rights fight? If the fight for racial equality was a civil rights fight, then why isn’t the fight for equality with regard to sexual orientation a civil rights fight?
But the groups who want to preserve traditional marriage — those seeking passage of marriage amendment that would essentially ban gay marriages — say this issue is much bigger than individual desires. They say it goes to the underpinnings of human society.
“In my opinion,” says Johnson, “what we're tinkering with here is the entire cornerstone and building block of Western civilization, which is no small matter.”
Wait, what? The “entire cornerstone and building block of Western civilization” is marriage that is only between a man and a woman? Really? Western civilization isn’t built on notions of freedom and equality? On governing principles like democracy or the marketplace of ideas? Not even on capitalism? Perhaps Rev. Johnson needs to do a bit of homework on when governments became involved in the institution of marriage. I think that he’ll be surprised to discover that Western civilization predates government involvement in marriage (well, other than arranged marriages designed to tie rival kingdoms together).
I’d also point out that a major underpinning of Rev. Johnson’s likely view of the cornerstone of Western civilization comes from the Bible and Jesus, who, unless we believe Dan Brown, wasn’t married (and nor, for that matter, were many of the Apostles).
Rev. Johnson wants us to put aside “individual desires” for the sake of human society; of course, he didn’t have to put aside his individual desires. Nope. Only those who have individual desires contrary to those espoused under Rev. Johnson’s Biblical view have to set aside their individual desires. Once again, those on one side of the fence don’t get their own individual desires, while those on the other side do.
Johnson isn't alone in his view that preserving traditional marriage is crucial to the health of civil society.
“I don't think there’s any logical stopping point once you go beyond the time-tested boundaries of one man and one woman,” said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.
If two men are allowed to marry, Clark asks, then why not three? Why not four?
See what I mean? We’ve jumped back onto the slippery slope to discuss polygamy, even though neither polygamy nor the acceptance of same-sex marriage are the issues facing Indiana right now. I could discuss the differences between same-sex marriage and polygamy, but that’s not really the point (nor is this the time).
“Wherever you draw the line, that’s the next boundary that people will go after,” Clark said. “There are people out there who are very open in saying that we shouldn’t have marriage or family at all.”
Yes. And there are also people saying that the Earth is flat, that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or that we should abolish the military and the police. There are people out there that will say anything. But the fear of what some might advocate for in the future is not a reason to adopt discriminatory constitutional amendments now. You know, I bet back in the ’60s when many states prohibited blacks and whites from marrying, some people argued that the next step would be same-sex marriage. Thus, to follow Clark’s logic, we should never have set foot on the slippery slope of banning anti-miscegenation laws, right? We probably shouldn’t have allowed African Americans or women to share some form of political equality because who knows what will follow from that? Some African Americans advocate reparations for slavery. Maybe Muslims will demand the right to practice their religion or Latinos will demand fair immigration policies. Or (gasp), homosexuals will want the promise of equal treatment under the law to apply to them.
Same-sex marriage is a more radical altering of the family structure, said Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, than China's policy of limiting families to one child, which created an imbalance of men to women. Same-sex marriages will mean lower birthrates and fewer children raised by both of their natural parents. The result, he says, will be problems that mirror those of broken homes.
The sheer … um … stupidity of this argument is really hard to wrap a brain around. First, let’s take care of the easy part. Smith is comparing allowing loving couples to marry to the Chinese “one child” policy that led to sex-selective abortions and an imbalance in the ratio of men to women. Hmm. I guess I don’t quite see how allowing people who love one another to marry has any basis for comparison whatsoever to a policy limiting the number of children that a married couple can have. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. But, once again, you can see quite clearly the lengths to which same-sex marriage opponents and those who advocate for HJR-3 must go to try to make some kind of argument to support their position. If the best argument that you can make in favor of amending the Constitution is that same-sex marriage is like China’s one child policy, then aren’t you really admitting that you’ve already lost the debate and have no real intellectually honest arguments?
But moving on to the other part of Smith’s argument is where humor comes into play. Smith claims that “[s]ame-sex marriages will mean lower birthrates and fewer children raised by both of their natural parents” and then, to add some insult to his idiocy, claims that the result will “mirror those of broken homes”. Ok. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
So tell me why allowing two men who love each other to marry (instead of just “living in sin”) will cause birthrates to go down? (Damn! I forgot. The issue isn’t allowing same-sex marriage; the issue is prohibiting that which the law already prohibits. I got sucked into their argument. Growl.) Are gay men currently having babies but if the Constitution isn’t amended, they’ll stop? And I’ve read about plenty of lesbians who do have babies. Are we to believe that if they can get married to one another, they’ll stop having those babies? Um, why? Does Smith have empirical evidence from any of the states that presently allow same-sex marriage to show that birth rates have declined (and that such decline can be fairly attributable to same-sex marriages)? And why would allowing a same-sex marriage have any impact on whether children will be raised by their natural parents? Will the Child Catcher come around and demand that children be ripped from their homes and given to gay couples. Seems farfetched. If we presume that homosexuals aren’t procreating (which seems to be one of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage), then how will marriage impact the procreation in “traditional” families? If the concern is that some children might be raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship, isn’t that child still being raised by a natural parent? No, not by both natural parents, but then how many children are raised by both natural parents when one of them is gay anyway?
Oh, and “broken homes”. Right. Almost forgot about that. Remind me again about the percentage of American children living in single-parent households (so-called “broken homes”). Forget about the number of children being raised in a same-sex relationship; how many children are being raised by both natural parents period? Apparently, to marriage equality opponents, ’tis better that children live in a single-parent family (or maybe in a foster care facility) than with a married same-sex couple. Does that make any sense? But at the same time that they decry broken homes, they advocate for a policy that will restrict the number of children that can live in a two-parent family. Are you ready to take the leap and compare a home with two loving parents to a “broken family” just because the parents happen to be of the same gender? Moreover, note the conceit that all opposite sex, two parent families are, in essence, good families. Yet we know that certainly isn’t the truth.
Let’s also note that just because the parents aren’t married, doesn’t mean that they’re not living together and raising the children as a family. Marriage equality opponents may not view that as a family, but I think more and more Americans are coming to view the word “family” as being inclusive of all sorts of relationships. So just because “marriage” is prohibited, doesn’t mean that children won’t be raised in loving, stable, two-parent households. And I for one think that environment is better than a single-parent household or a “traditional” family in which the children aren’t shown the love and care that they deserve. Which is worse: Two good, same-sex parents or two bad heterosexual parents. Isn’t that really the consideration that we should be using?
Traditional marriage between one man and one woman, Smith said, is elemental to healthy families, and one of the building blocks of a strong nation. It is an ideal, he says, held up since the Code of Hammurabi and the ancient Greeks, one “recognized across all times and centuries.”
I’ve already touched on some of these points, but let’s look at a few others. First, Smith talks about the Code of Hammurabi and the ancient Greeks. In all honesty, I have no idea what the Code of Hammurabi said about same-sex marriage (nor do I care); nor do I know what the ancient Greeks considered “traditional marriage” to be, but I do know that homosexuality was relatively common in ancient Greece, including relationships between older men and younger boys. So, I’m not really sure that’s the comparison that Smith wants to make. I also find it interesting that Smith looks to the Code of Hammurabi and ancient Greece and not to the Bible. Hmm. Could that be because “traditional marriage” wasn’t so traditional in the Bible? Remind me again about how many wives Jacob had (or the fact that he had to “pay” for them with seven years of labor). Traditional marriage, huh? Or then there is King Solomon and his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Neat deal if you can get away with it (I suspect my wife would frown…), but not exactly the sort of “traditional marriage” that Smith says has been “recognized across all times and centuries”.
Note further than Smith isn’t just talking about Western civilization. No. He speaks of the Code of Hammurabi (which came from Babylon [i.e., Iraq]) and “all times and centuries”. Hmm. Unless I’m mistaken, polygamy was practiced in the United States by Mormons until late in the 19th Century. Polygamy remains common in numerous other societies across the globe. Many societies do recognize “traditional marriage” of one man and one … very, young girl who has no consent to her marriage. But hey, at least there’s none of that icky gay sex. And I don’t think Smith would think much of Native American “two spirits” or “berdaches”. In other words, “traditional marriage” (if by that we mean a man and a woman and leave out things like consent, adulthood, and love, and focus solely on the who part of the equation) may be the most common and most widely accepted form of marriage, but it certainly isn’t the sole building block.
And note that Smith sort of cavalierly tells us that “traditional marriage” is “elemental” to healthy families. Really? Why? It seems to me that, as I said before, a loving family is more important than a traditional family. I’d suggest that money is probably more elemental to a healthy family that “traditional marriage”. I’m sure that there are a lot of single-parent families (not to mention same-sex families) that are far healthier that a many “traditional families”. Moreover Smith makes the leap from healthy families to a “strong nation”. Again, why does a traditional family make a nation stronger? Do traditional families make better soldiers? Pay more taxes? What? What is it about a traditional family, without regard for the nature of the people in that family and whether they love one another or make good parents, that makes them the building blocks of a strong nation? Just because they can procreate? Seems like you need more than lots and lots of babies to be strong. There are a lot of countries with lots of “traditional marriages” and lots of babies that aren’t really “strong nations”. So all I can really conclude is that Smith is simply trying to scare those who listen to him and who don’t think deeply about these issues.
What the definition of marriage would become, if the current one is expanded, isn't clear to Johnson. During testimony Monday before the House Judiciary Committee, he said it could lead to “sexual anarchy,” a characterization that drew several scoffs.
“When a river has no boundaries, it is actually what we call a swamp,” Johnson said. “And there are all kinds of nasty critters and scary critters that are roaming around swamps.”
Nasty, scary critters and swamps? What the… And “sexual anarchy”? Um… I hate to tell this to Rev. Johnson, but I’d say that people have been experimenting with sex in all sorts of interesting ways since … well … since the first human dude and Neanderthal babe tried to make a little interspecies boogaloo. I wonder if Rev. Johnson has ever heard of the Kama Sutra or ever heard about some of the excesses of the hippie movement. It seems that human sexuality has been in a state of anarchy since the beginning of time while people like Rev. Johnson have spent their time trying to make people ashamed of their own bodies and sexual desires. Anybody want to bet on whether Rev. Johnson approves of honest sex education in school or prefers an “abstinence only” curriculum.
Also, maybe I’m reading his comment incorrectly, but it sure seemed to me as if Rev. Johnson implied that homosexuals are “nasty critters and scary critters”. So you have to query whether his real goal is preventing same-sex marriages or if homosexuality, in general, is the target of his righteous indigestion (and yes, I know that I wrote “indigestion” and not “indignation”; I was having a little fun, people…).
Fundamental to concerns about the direction of the family, for many supporters of the amendment, is a faith-based belief that marriage was created by God, that it was intended to be between one man and one woman, that it is an ideal reinforced by human anatomy and that the presence of both masculine and feminine role models in a home is vital to the healthy development of children.
I’ll come back to the human anatomy and masculine and feminine role models later. But this paragraph really identifies the core reasoning of the proponents of HJR-3 and opponents of marriage equality: G-d. They believe that “marriage was created by God" and was “intended to be between one man and one woman”. Again, remember all of the instances in which that wasn’t true in the Bible. But even that isn’t what’s really important here. No. The important thing is that neither the United States nor the State of Indiana are theocracies. We don’t make laws based on what G-d created or “intended” (and just how do they know what G-d intended?). If we made laws to conform to the apparently narrow understanding of Biblical “intent”, then wouldn’t we still be stoning children who talk back to their parents? Wouldn’t divorce be illegal? Wouldn’t we still have slaves? I mean, just look at the Ten Commandments (the tablets, not the movie!); depending on how you count, only three of those commandments are laws. And why are opponents of same-sex marriage so focused on the “rules” about homosexuality and so willing to ignore the enormous number of other rules, commandments, obligations, and prohibitions? Does Rev. Johnson allow women to speak in his church? Because one of the Apostles said that was a big “no no”.
Anyway, the point here is that Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and any other people of faith are and will remain free to think homosexuality and same-sex marriage is wrong, just as they can think that interfaith marriages are wrong, that interracial marriages are wrong, that evolution is wrong, that abortion is wrong, or that Duck Dynasty is a good TV show. They can believe that. And you know what? Nobody will tell them that they can’t believe it (though we may tell them why we think they’re wrong). More importantly, nobody will make them get divorced and have a gay wedding (though it would make a great TV show for Bravo), just as nobody is forcing them to marry outside their faith or their race, just as nobody is forcing them to have an abortion. But under our system of government, the religious views of some, even if a majority, don’t dictate how everyone else must live. If they did, how do we explain even permitting other religions to exist in America, let alone be freely practiced? Is that what G-d intended? Based on that whole “no other gods” thing, I kinda doubt it…
We are a secular nation. Sure, some of the Founding Fathers were influenced by Biblical principals; others fought against the Bible (or even tried to remove its supernatural elements). But they crafted a constitutional framework that separates church and state, that protects the minority from the so-called “tyranny of the majority”, that operates on the basis of laws created by humans for humans today, not on the basis of un-provable intentions set down in writing thousands of years ago in a very different time and place and to address, most likely, very different concerns and problems.
OK. I could go on, but… OK. Moving on.
“We have to have that true masculine and that true feminine in harmony, and that can only really be played out when a man and a woman are in that marriage relationship,” said Greg Wallace, executive director of Hope & New Life Ministries, which advises churches on how to minister to people with same-sex attractions.
I mentioned that I would come back to the issue masculine and feminine role models. Sorry, but I don’t see a requirement that a marriage include masculine and feminine role models now. Masculine women can marry; so can effeminate men. For that matter, “flaming” homosexual men can marry women and “butch” lesbians can marry men, but I don’t think that the masculine and feminine role models in those sorts of family environments are what Wallace and other opponents of same-sex marriage have in mind. It seems to me that this argument is really focusing on the insecurities of those making the argument. Or, it may be setting an idealistic hope. But we don’t base decisions on who can form a family based on someone else’s ideals and hopes. We don’t check testosterone and estrogen before we allow marriages to be sure that we have the proper amounts of masculinity or femininity. When we issue a marriage license do we need to check for fertility? For that matter, we don’t test prospective brides and grooms to be sure that they’ll make good parents, let alone role models, let alone masculine and feminine role models. So to use this as a reason to amend the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages that are already prohibited by statute seems more than a bit farfetched.
Wallace said he lived what he described as a gay "lifestyle" for eight years before deciding to renew his commitment to his Christian faith. After doing so, he came to believe God's perfect design for marriage was one between a man and a woman. For the past 26 years, he's been married to a woman he says he has grown closer to over time.
Oh, I see. He lived a “gay ‘lifestyle’” before “renewing his commitment to his Christian faith”. Of course this ignores scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a choice (yeah, I know, people will argue about that, just as they’ll argue that global warming is a hoax, evolution is “theory”, President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, and Xenu brought humans to earth on his galactic DC-8). Look, I’m happy that Wallace is happy. That’s great. But it doesn’t really explain why other people shouldn’t also be happy, does it? I get mine but you can’t have yours because G-d! Yeah, that’s a winning argument. And don’t forget that many homosexuals believe that they are living with their own commitment to their Christian faith (or to some other faith); but apparently Wallace thinks that he gets to decide which sort of commitment to faith is the correct version. Fences again.
Wallace acknowledges the church has done poorly in its outreach to the gay community, and he is less certain than others about the implications for society if same-sex marriage comes to pass. But he is convinced that the vast majority of gay people are not interested in the right to marry. They just want to be left alone. Pushing for marriage rights, he said, are a vocal minority of activists.
The “church has done poorly in its outreach to the gay community”? Gee. Ya think? “Burn in Hell” does seem like a poor outreach message. “God hates fags” isn’t a terribly effective message either, I don’t think. Nor does “you don’t have the right to marry the person that you love … but I do”. And I’m curious to know where Wallace comes up with his notion that the “vast majority of gay people are not interested in the right to marry.” Well, then. Even assuming that was true (and if it was, why are there so many people pushing so hard in so many places?), why should that be used as the basis for preventing those who do want to marry from doing so? You know, last time I checked, it seemed that fewer heterosexuals were marrying (with many choosing to stay single and others deciding to cohabitate but not marry). Just how many hipsters need to decide that they don’t want to get married before we should prohibit heterosexual marriage?
I’d also suggest that during the Civil Rights era, it was a “vocal minority of activists” who were marching for racial equality. Most African Americans wanted equality, but they also didn’t want to get beaten by the police or killed by men in white hoods. The same is likely true of the gay community today. Many want to be left alone; many others are afraid for their friends and family to even know that they’re gay. But that shouldn’t be seen as opposition to equality.
Like Johnson and others, Wallace shares a concern frequently voiced by traditionalists — that allowing same-sex marriage could have repercussions with regard to free speech. Churches and other congregations with long-held beliefs about the sinfulness of gay behavior eventually could face lawsuits, they fear, even hate-crime charges, if they stick to the doctrine they've been teaching for centuries.
"I think the religious liberties become front and center if you have same-sex marriage, not in an alarmist way, but it is just a logical progression," said Smith, of the Indiana Family Institute.
This argument angers me more than just about any others. No. Permitting same-sex marriage will not have repercussions regarding free speech or infringe on the religious liberties of those who oppose same-sex marriage. And certainly a decision not to amend the Constitution (remember, the issue is amending the Constitution, not adopting same-sex marriages) won’t impact free speech or liberty rights. I looked at the “religious freedom” component of this argument a few months ago in my post Using the Claim of “Religious Freedom” as a Weapon Without Considering What it Really Means.
When HJR-3 proponents and marriage equality opponents veer into discussion of hate crimes … well, they’re simply lying in order to scare people. For one thing, have you ever heard of someone being arrested, let alone being charged with a hate crime, simply for saying that they don’t agree with ______ [insert your favorite issue]? If you stand on a street corner tomorrow and say that you hate Muslims and think that they should be sent back to Saudi Arabia, will you be arrested? If you stand on that street corner and say that you don’t think whites and blacks should be allowed to marry one another, will you be charged with a hate crime? If you protest a military funeral holding a sign that says “God Hates Fags” will you be arrested and charged with a hate crime? Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church do it daily, and they’re not in jail. And if you stand on that street corner or on your pulpit, pound your fist or your Bible, and shout at the top of your lungs that gays are going to Hell or that they’re an abomination you still haven’t committed a hate crime and whether or not same-sex marriages are permitted won’t change that!
You see, what people who make this argument conveniently forget to mention is that it isn’t a hate crime to speak. Nope. If it were, huge swaths of the country would be in jail. (Just think of some of the rhetoric directed toward President Obama…) No. In order to rise to the level of a hate crime, the speech must be coupled with an otherwise already illegal act. Thus, if you walk up to an African American man on the street and call him the N-word, you’ve proven yourself to be a racist asshole, but you haven’t committed a hate crime. But if you say the N-word as you punch him? Now, you may have committed a hate crime. Just this weekend, I read a (semi-)humorous take on this issue by Fred Clark on the Slacktivist blog: Are Indiana pastors routinely committing assault on Sundays? Maybe we need to ask that of Rev. Johnson.
Others warn that public schools will begin teaching children that same-sex marriage is acceptable, even if that contradicts the religious beliefs of their parents. There are concerns that everyone from wedding photographers to cake makers and wedding venues would face discrimination lawsuits if business owners — based on their religious beliefs — refused to accommodate same-sex couples.
“I don't think these are far-fetched,” Smith said. “I don't think they are alarmist either.”
This sort of combines two commonly-heard arguments, each of which could easily be the subject of a much longer analysis. So I’ll try to be brief. First, what do we want schools to teach our children? That some children live in “non-families” and that their faux parents are going to Hell? Don’t we already teach children things that may conflict with religious beliefs? (And of course, that explains why so many Christians don’t want schools to teach evolution or global warming or safe sex or anything about other religions or this book or that book and so on and so forth.) But you know what? If you want your kids to only learn what the Bible teaches, then send those kids to a religious school or keep them at home. For my part, I want our schools to teach children tolerance and respect and love. I want our children to learn that families, just like people, come in all sorts of flavors and varieties. The religious beliefs of same-sex marriage opponents are also likely to be “offended” if schools teach that it’s OK for some children to be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, or atheist. Yet we don’t expect our schools to teach children that only one sort of religious view is “acceptable”. Nope. We expect our schools to mold educated children who can thrive in our society; we don’t expect our schools to teach bigotry or to base what is right and wrong on the religious views of just one segment of the population.
To be certain, the faith community in Indiana — and the nation — is far from monolithic in its views of the marriage amendment and same-sex marriage in general. Some denominations now allow gay clergy or offer blessings of same-sex unions. About 300 Hoosier faith leaders signed a letter opposing the amendment. Some surveys show that even among evangelical Christians — where support for the marriage amendment is strongest — there is a softening of views towards same-sex marriage among younger believers.
People of different faith traditions disagree on marriage-related issues. However, each of us who signs this letter respects the right of religious groups to decide whether or not to sanction marriage or other unions of same-gender couples. The Indiana Bill of Rights guarantees the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, and prevents the giving of a legal preference to any creed. Preferring and codifying one particular religious view of marriage in the Indiana Constitution flies in the face of both of these guarantees.
The drafters of the Indiana Constitution included six provisions in Bill of Rights that seek, in various ways, to ensure that the government does not interfere with, or direct, religious beliefs or practices. We ask you to respect this grant of religious freedom and allow Indiana’s various faith communities to continue to discern their individual paths with respect to same-gender marriage or other same-gender unions.
The following faith communities, all found within Indiana, have publicly affirmed and include same sex marriages in their polity: The Alliance of Baptists, Metropolitan Community Churches, United Church of Christ, Community of Christ, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist, Unity, Native Americans along with independent churches and individual faith communities from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Society of Friends, Christian Church Disciples of Christ , Buddhist , Hindu and Muslims. Episcopal and Presbyterian churches include blessings of holy unions.
And query this: Wasn’t one reason for the separation of church and state precisely so that the state and church didn’t become entangled with one another especially as various churches worked (or fought) through their differences? Some churches and faiths believe homosexuality is evil, evil, evil. Others, like those represented by the signatories the aforementioned letter, seem much more welcoming. Is our state’s law, let alone Constitution, the place for religions to fight over these views? It is worth noting how those who cite the Bible and G-d as the basis for their opposition to same-sex marriage (and support for HJR-3) do so on the presumption that only they know what G-d really intended; those faith traditions with a different viewpoint must, by definition, be wrong. Of course, if there is that much room to argue about Biblical intent, then perhaps it really isn’t that clear. If we look at the history of Europe over the last thousand years or so and the numerous wars fought and massacres committed in the name of G-d, then perhaps that should serve as a warning to us today about trying to use one view of Biblical intent as a sword against those with a different understanding.
But, clearly, the core of the opposition to same sex marriage — and the motor propelling the push for defining marriage in the state constitution — is an argument based on traditional readings of Scripture.
The first chapter of Genesis, said Dean Bouzeos, a pastor who is executive director of The Gathering Place in Greenwood, explains how God created man in his own image "male and female." Later references in Genesis identify gender roles. In other texts he cites, the city of Sodom was destroyed because of depravity and homosexuality.
So, because some people believe that G-d destroyed Sodom because of homosexuality, then we shouldn’t let a gay Hindu couple marry? (And, while I don’t want to get into a debate about theology and Biblical “history”, it’s worth noting that not everyone who believes in the Biblical stories agrees that Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality; for example according to Ezekiel 16:49-50: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Hmm. Nothing about icky gay sex there.) Because one creation story says that G-d created man in his own image, we shouldn’t let Native Americans, who have a completely different creation story, follow the dictates of their own hearts and traditions? And what about those who don’t believe in any deity at all? Because you believe in a deity means that I must live my life in conformance with your beliefs and my own ethics, morals, and worldview are of no value?
And who cares how Genesis identifies gender roles. First, note how Christians who oppose marriage equality are quick to point to the Old Testament when it serves their purposes (gender roles, gay male sex is an abomination, and so forth) while completely ignoring the inconvenient parts (slavery, prohibitions on … well … lots and lots of things). Second, when we talk about “gender roles” do we mean that whole notion that women are supposed to be subservient to men, that women from a conquered nation (think Afghanistan or Iraq) are to be taken as slaves, that men can have hundreds of concubines to go with their hundreds of wives, that women have no part to play in the creation of Christian theology (how many of the Apostles were women?), that menstruating women are unclean and cannot be touched until they take a ritual bath, and so forth? Sorry, but I think society in general has moved beyond many of those bronze-age gender roles.
In the Christian gospel of Matthew, Bouzeos notes, Jesus cites Hebrew scriptures and says a man and a woman shall come together in marriage. The Apostle Paul wrote in his epistles about a litany of sins that bring God's judgment, including homosexual acts.
“I think,” Bouzeos said, “there is pretty clear evidence in Scripture.”
Look, I’m not a Biblical scholar and I’m certainly no expert on the New Testament or Christian Theology. But, as I’ve said repeatedly, the Bible and pronouncements made 2,000 or more years ago are not the basis for our modern laws. Remind me again what Jesus said about sexting? For that matter, remind me again what Jesus, not an Apostle, but Jesus himself, said about homosexuality. The answer is nothing. Now I know that this next point will be offensive to some, but that doesn’t make it less important: What supporters of HJR-3 and opponents to same-sex marriage want us to do is to take our cues on the issue of who can be married from the sayings of a man who never married and who associated with a group of men, most of whom never married, and whose writings have been the subject of a church structure that in its most dominant form, is comprised solely of men who have never married. But people who believe in those writings get to tell others, including those who follow different faiths, who should be allowed to marry?
Such certainty is not limited to evangelical Christians. Rabbi Yisrael Gettinger, of Congregation B’nai Torah in Indianapolis, said his Orthodox Jewish tradition is equally clear that homosexual activity is, biblically speaking, “outlawed.”
“One cannot be more certain of something being inappropriate if it’s called an abomination in the Bible,” Gettinger said. “Those are not my words. Those are the Bible’s words. Those are God’s words.”
I don’t like ad hominem arguments. That being said, sometimes it is worth knowing a little bit about the speaker. Rabbi Gettinger is the rabbi at Congregation B’nai Torah, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Indianapolis. If we could stretch rabbis along a spectrum from most conservative to most liberal, Rabbi Gettinger would be … well, let’s just say that he wouldn’t be on the liberal side of that spectrum. But that’s just fine. He and his congregants have a religious view and they are certainly allowed to express that view. But for the casual reader of the article, it may seem as if the viewpoint expressed by Rabbi Gettinger is the Jewish view on the subject. It is not. First, the Orthodox community of which Rabbi Gettinger is a part makes up only about 22% of the Jewish population nationally, while in Indiana the Orthodox community probably accounts for less than 10% of the Jewish population. Moreover, the article doesn’t mention that the two largest branches of Judaism (both nationally and in Indiana), the Reform and Conservative movements, have endorsed same-sex marriage. So too has the Reconstructionist movement which is very strong here in Central Indiana (if smaller nationally). And note that the clerical letter mentioned above was signed by Rabbi Michael Friedland, Sinai Temple, South Bend, Rabbi Stanley Halpern, Temple Israel, Gary Congregation Beth Shalom, Indianapolis, Rabbi Bruce J. Pfeffer, Chaplain, Bureau of Jewish Education, Indianapolis, Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, Rabbi Sandy E. Sasso, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow, Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, Carmel, Rabbi Susan L. Shifron, Helene G. Simon Hillel Center, Bloomington, Rabbi Nadia Siritsky, Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, Butler University Hillel, Indianapolis, Rabbi Heidi F. Waldmann, IU Health Staff Chaplain, Carmel, Rabbi Mira B. Wasserman, Congregation Beth Shalom, Bloomington, Rabbi Paula Winnig, Executive Director of Bureau of Jewish Education, Indianapolis, and Cantor Janice Roger, Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. That list includes, I believe, the vast majority of congregational rabbis in Indiana. So Rabbi Gettinger’s viewpoint may represent his congregants and the Orthodox movement, but it is not representative of Jews generally or of Hoosier Jews in particular.
However, before I continue, I do want to make one further point about Rabbi Gettinger to demonstrate just how concerned he is with the views of other Jews or the larger Jewish population in general. Several years ago, he was invited by Republicans to address the Indiana General Assembly on the issue of abortion. It is my understanding that during his testimony, he told the General Assembly that any contrary views that had previously been expressed by other rabbis (most likely he was referring to Rabbi Dennis Sasso who had previously testified on the issue of when life begins) were lies. Not “different” or “controversial” or “subject to differing interpretations by different branches of Judaism”. Nope. Views that weren’t in line with his were lies. (Again, I was not present for Rabbi Gettinger’s testimony, but that is how it has been characterized to me by several people.) I do know that representatives of Rabbi Gettinger’s synagogue tried to tell the rest of the Indianapolis Jewish community that it was only the Orthodox Jewish community that understood “Torah truth” and, thus, should have a veto over views expressed by the remainder of the organized Jewish community in Indianapolis. Thus, perhaps Rabbi Gettinger’s views on same-sex marriage should be taken with a tiny grain of salt.
Some contend that faith should not be the basis for deciding public policy, but pastors like Johnson say everyone in this debate brings a worldview to the table — be they believers or not.
“At the end of the day,” Johnson said, “somebody's worldview is going to prevail.”
Yes, somebody’s worldview is going to prevail. We all understand that. But we have to remember that worldview is not necessarily the same as religion. More importantly, and more fundamentally, we have to remember that one of the most important things that our system of government was designed to do was to insure that the worldview of the majority, even a vast majority, cannot trample the rights of the minority. The vast majority of Hoosiers are Christians; but they can’t outlaw Islam or prevent Muslims from practicing their faith. The vast majority of Hoosiers are white; but they can’t write laws specifically designed to discriminate against people of color. Furthermore, remember that what we’re talking about here is the law and the Constitution and a prohibition. We’re not telling “believers” that they must have a gay wedding, attend a gay wedding, or even approve of gay weddings; we’re just saying that they shouldn’t be able to tell others that they can’t get married.
Yet even among the most steadfast supporters for traditional marriage, there is an acknowledgment that marriage has been weakened by other things, such as high divorce rates and people who choose to live together out of wedlock. There is also a recognition that same-sex relationships are a fact of life in modern America.
The key is whether the state follows the lead of gay activists and recognizes those relationships as marriage.
“People can live however they want. They can do whatever they want,” said Clark, with the American Family Association. “But, as a matter of public policy, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. If marriage becomes anything any group desires or wants it to be, it loses its importance. If marriage means anything, it means nothing.”
Um, what? That’s another one of those cute little flashes of rhetoric that means nothing. How about this: Right now, married Hoosiers can own property as “tenants by the entireties”. That is a special way of owning property open only to married couples. Sure, a gay couple could own property together, but not as tenants by the entireties. That is but one example (out of literally hundreds) of how marriage means something under the law. The question is simply who should be allowed to marry. I’d also be curious to know if Clark has empirical evidence from states like Massachusetts and Iowa, New York or California, that show that marriage “means nothing”. And of course, allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn’t mean “marriage becomes anything any group desires”. Just fear-mongering again. All it means is that marriage is a union between two people, hopefully in love.
Gay couples, said Smith, with the Family Institute, are free to live as they see fit.
After reading that sentence the first time, I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. Really? Do we really think that Smith and the Indiana Family Institute believe that gay couples are free to live as they see fit? I could probably write a whole article on efforts that groups like this have made to try to criminalize homosexual conduct, prevent gay couples from adopting, oppose sexual orientation and gender identity in human rights ordinances, and so forth.
But there's one thing they shouldn’t be allowed to do: “They don’t get to redefine marriage for the rest of us.”
Another one of those red herrings. Nobody is looking to “redefine” marriage for everyone else. If a particular religion wants to limit marriage to heterosexual couples, to heterosexual couples of the same faith, to heterosexual couples of the same faith who agreed to be bound by some sort of covenant, or to heterosexual couples of the same faith who agree to be bound by a covenant and to be fruitful and multiply … well that’s just fine. But those people shouldn’t be able to tell others that they can’t enter into a relationship that is sanctioned, not just by houses of worship, but by the government.
To Johnson, who with his wife, Marion, now leads marriage encounter weekends for couples, and whose parents have been nurturing marriages for decades, the union of a man and a woman in marriage is something precious that needs protecting.
I have yet to hear a good explanation for what people mean when they say “protect marriage”. If the Constitutional amendment is not passed, will Rev. Johnson and Marion get divorced? If Indiana were to permit same-sex marriage, would Rev. Johnson and Marion love each other less or feel less committed to each other? Would Rev. Johnson start frequenting a gay bar wearing chaps or his wife start watching Ellen and listening to Melissa Etheridge songs? If so, then I think that they have problems other than marriage equality issues. But if not, then I still don’t understand what it is that needs protecting.
“God created marriage. God established the principles for marriage, and if we follow God’s wisdom, Johnson says, “we enjoy the benefits of marriage.”
Rev. Johnson may believe that G-d created marriage (but don’t forget what Biblical marriages really looked like), but again, not all faiths have the same belief or understanding. As to the “benefits of marriage”, if he’s talking about religious or spiritual benefits, then I guess that’s for him to decide. But what about the “benefits of marriage” in our tax codes, in our property laws, in hospital visitation rights, and so forth. Why shouldn’t the “benefits of marriage” be available to homosexual couples. (And before you say, “Gee, gay couples can write legal documents…”, let me ask you why those couples should have to spend money to have an attorney draft documents to accomplish what a heterosexual married couple is given by operation of law? I’d also remind you that, as with the example of tenants by the entireties mentioned above, no legal document can accomplish some of the benefits provided by the law.)
A ban or a definition?
Is the HJR-3 amendment a “ban” on same-sex marriage or a “definition” of marriage?
The Rev. Ron Johnson Jr., pastor of Living Stones Church in Crown Point, objects to the notion that this debate is about a marriage ban, as groups, including many gay activists who seek the defeat of the amendment, have called it. The referendum would ask voters whether they agree with the statement: “Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana...” As Johnson puts it: “Nobody is trying to ban marriage. We are trying to protect marriage from a redefinition of marriage. Marriage is already in existence. I would say to those people that you already have the freedom to live as you are choosing to live. However, you do not have the freedom to redefine marriage for the rest of us.”
Hard to believe he really wants to play semantics. And did you note that when Rev. Johnson talks about what the referendum on HJR-3 would ask Hoosiers, he conveniently omits the second sentence: “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.” Hmm. I wonder why he left that out if the goal of HJR-3 is supposedly not to ban something like civil unions.
Finally, here is the video of Rev. Johnson that accompanied the story on The Indianapolis Star website (unfortunately, I couldn’t find a transcript and I don’t have the time to generate one):
The first thing that Rev. Johnson discusses is social science data that he claims shows that children “thrive” in homes with a mother and a father. First, I’m not sure that is a fair characterization of the social science data; there is a oft-quoted study from Texas from a few years ago but, to the best of my recollection, that study only compared two-parent households to single-parent households, it didn’t compare same-sex parents to opposite-sex parents in a controlled study.
And even if that is what the social science says, Rev. Johnson misses the point in two ways: First, presuming that opposite sex parents are better for children doesn’t tell us that same-sex parents are bad for children or are worse for children than single-parent families. Second, just because one family situation is “better” or “optimal” doesn’t mean we prohibit marriages (and note that not all marriages involve children…) if the resulting family structure might be suboptimal for children. We permit alcoholics to marry. We permit people who’ve been convicted of crimes, including spousal or child abuse, to marry. We permit people living in poverty to marry. We even allow some minors to marry if their parents consent. And we “allow” people to have children even if the environment into which those children are born is suboptimal. We don’t stop convicted abusers or felons from having children, we don’t stop alcoholics or those with multiple DUIs from having children, and we don’t stop the poor from having children. Ah, but gays… Oh, that sort of “suboptimal” environment is just too … um … icky?
Rev. Johnson also says that it takes a father and a mother to “produce” a child. I’d actually quibble semantics a bit. It takes a sperm and an egg. Just because a woman produces an egg, doesn’t make her a mother; just because a man ejaculated some sperm doesn’t make him a father. I’d argue that being a father or a mother involves love, caring, compassion, and so forth. And I would argue that while it might take a sperm and an egg to “produce” a child, it takes loving, caring parents (or a loving and caring parent) to raise a child.
Then Rev. Johnson makes the bizarre claim that “emotional bonds are not as strong as ‘covenant union’”. So-called “covenant marriage” is something that the religious right has been pushing for years. In essence, it is a sort of “super-marriage” from which it is much more difficult to obtain a divorce (along with other elements that I frankly don’t understand). But note the switch from the argument of why he wants a ban on same-sex marriage to promoting covenant marriage. Rev. Johnson is concerned about “emotional bonds” changing. But think about what he’s really saying: Marriage isn’t about love and once you say “I do” you’re stuck, even if you fall out of love. Yet, at the same time that he’s saying that, he’s also saying that people who do love one another shouldn’t be allowed to marry if Rev. Johnson and others like him disapprove.
He also makes a wonderful claim that marriage is about being committed to somebody for the rest of your life. Isn’t that what homosexual couples want to be able to do? He goes on to talk about profound changes that marriage makes in people (though he then couches it in terms of covenant marriage). But if I isolated those two sentences from the rest of Rev. Johnson’s statement, you’d probably think that he supported same-sex marriage!
Rev. Johnson then says that we need to stop talking about religion and start talking about what “works” and what is “true”. So does he have empirical evidence that same-sex marriages don’t “work”? And isn’t it odd that his “truth” comes from his Biblical worldview? I mean, we know that it is true that 2+2=4; we know that it’s true that the Earth orbits the sun. But I’m not sure that everyone would agree that the Bible is “true”. And do we know that it’s “true” that same-sex marriages are somehow bad or wrong? For that matter, based on divorce rates that hover around 50%, do we know that it’s “true” that marriages are good? In the end, though, I’m not really sure what he means when talking about “truth” other than as a way of saying that what he takes away from the Bible is “true” and what others take away from their own “religious” views (whether religious or not, according to Rev. Johnson) may be not be “true” … at least not if it disagrees with his truth.
Well, I think that about covers it. Certainly there is more to be said on the issue of HJR-3 specifically and same-sex marriage more broadly. I’ve written about those issues extensively on this blog and I have no doubt that I’ll continue to do so. But right now, the focus is HJR-3 and the Indiana General Assembly. If you think that HJR-3 is a bad idea, please let your legislator know. And maybe give a few dollars to an organization like Freedom Indiana that is working hard to prevent passage of HJR-3 and to help in the fight for marriage equality.
Although I shouldn't have to say it, any opinion expressed herein is solely that of the author and is not necessarily representative of any association or organization with which I may be affiliated or involved.