DOMA decision: judge not, unless you’re liberal

(Sam Howzit/Foter/CC BY)

Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on Windsor v US is remarkable on a number of levels.  It’s an exceedingly rare instance where liberals celebrate an old, rich white person getting huge tax break.  In this case, it is to the tune of $363,053.  I wonder what principled reason leads the Left to applaud rather than object to the outcome.

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy supplies that principled reason.  It seems on his view that President Bill Clinton and a sweeping majority of the 104th Congress were bigots intent on inflicting “injury and indignity” on gay couples, a “politically unpopular group.”  Does this sound a bit . . . judgmental?  It’s hard to believe that gays and lesbians are “unpopular” in 2013, a mere 17 years after the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) came into effect.  Flipping on any random television sitcom, reality show, or talk show indicates the contrary.

So what has changed in that brief span of time in America, in the hearts of Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Chuck Schumer, high-profile Democrats who voted for DOMA but now celebrate its demise?  Perhaps there was something akin to President Obama’s “evolution.”  A subjective, personal premise for legislation.

This would explain why, when politicians and media throw about “equality” or “discrimination” in the public square, candor and lucidity seem to be in short supply.  President Obama merely asserts that DOMA was “discrimination enshrined in law.”  What is the condition where discrimination obtains?  I didn’t see Justice Kennedy supply it.  If I were to guess, that criteria likely hinges on what the Critical Race Theory professor at Harvard Law had for lunch.

The SCOTUS Windsor ruling is anything but assuring for the integrity of our democratic republic. Especially in light of growing irresponsibility in the Executive.  California Governor Schwarzenegger shirked his duty to defend Proposition 8 without consequence.  Likewise, President Obama and Eric Holder were rather . . . discriminating when it came to whether or not the Justice Department would defend DOMA in court.  This is not the rule of law.  What happened to impartiality and professionalism, let alone charity in disagreement?

There’s a rational basis for government to recognize and enforce marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman.  As a class, heterosexual relationships tend to produce children, and those children need to be protected against the parents’ inclination to terminate that commitment.  To make marriage an issue of equal protection of benefits undercuts that indispensable reality.  Inheritance issues, visitation rights, and so on–there’s an app for that.  It’s called civil unions.

Neither should government dole out marriage as a way to validate feelings or affirm dignity.  Sure, there were real dignity issues in the Jim Crow era.  That was half a century ago.

Sometimes people complain about “legislating morality.”  Never mind the incoherence of that critique; what are laws supposed to be if not moral?  But I get the point; some legislative pushes come off as offensive, judgmental, and needlessly intrusive.  Here we have not just “legislating morality,” but legislating from the bench.

When it comes to making distinctions, it seems we have a one-way street, a double standard in effect today.  Judge not, unless you’re liberal.


Gross media bias against traditional marriage

Yahoo’s The Ticket ran a story with this headline today: “Argument against gay marriage in California hinges on accidental pregnancies.”  Word ford word, this is the most biased caption I’ve ever encountered.  Consider this alternative: “Legal case for traditional marriage in California rests on biological distinctions.”

The text of the article quotes brilliant conservative casemaker Paul Clement as referring to “unplanned and unintended offspring.”  Perhaps after having read the War on Women Writing Style Manual, some editor at Yahoo News chose to represent this as “accidental pregnancies.”  Accidental, as in the cringe-inducing “Sweetie, you were an accident.”  And pregnancies, as in, “Oh no, the government wants to mess with womens’ wombs again.”  The headline is clearly crafted for those who think laws are meant to preserve their moral autonomy rather than serve the continuation of civilization.

The news copy writer, Liz Goodwin, describes Clement and his colleagues as “opponents to gay marriage.”  This antagonistic characterization facilitates the readers’ conflation of social and legal sanction.  One can oppose legal recognition of same sex marriage while still supporting the right of two people of the same sex to pursue a life together, have a public wedding ceremony, obtain a civil union, and be entitled to federal and state benefits.  Goodwin seems less interested in making this important distinction than in stoking the outrage of social liberals.

The article goes on to chronicle “the government’s right to ban gay marriage” since the 1970s.  What ban?  Were same sex marriages banned in 1950 and in 1900 as well?  No, as with abortion at the time the Constitution was adopted, the thing was practically unheard of.

Towards the end of the piece, Goodwin offers a slippery slope analysis of legal reasoning like Clement’s.  The fear is that the success of such an argument could justify further marriage restrictions based on infertility or being beyond childbearing age.  This is absurd.  Those kind of determinations would be impractically intrusive and a waste of government time, money, and energy.  Not unlike a recent proposal by Missouri Democrats to ban the possession of assault rifles.

Note that in Goodwin’s story, the slippery slope is a one way deal.  But consider the opposite.  If we expand the meaning of marriage to include same sex couples, what really stops us from honoring polygamous marriages or even more unconventional arrangements?

Leave it to liberals to fail to make the proper distinctions.  The Justice Department has gone after the Defense of Marriage Act on the basis of expanding federal entitlement benefits.  But marriage is not about entitlement benefits.  Per an amicus briefing, the Department declared, “Marriage is far more than a societal means of dealing with unintended pregnancies.”  Since when did we decide that government should have its imprint on all those other things marriage is also about?

The most sensible understanding of the state’s role in marriage is that it has a vested interest in seeing as many children as possible raised in stable homes with both of their natural parents.  Sometimes that’s not feasible, and an alternative like adoption may be required.  Let caring and committed gay couples do that if they wish.  But if the state wants to expand entitlement benefits to a new class of relationship, it needn’t redefine marriage.  Civil unions should do the job just fine.  To redefine marriage on a passionate but arbitrary conviction that it’s a civil rights issue would send a disasterous signal that marriage is about having your personal feelings validated by the government.  And that, anyone should be able to see, is ridiculous.

Liberal outrage boosts carbon emissions

At the end of my workday today, I proceeded to Alta Arden Chick-Fil-A.  As with other locations throughout the country, there was a considerable line at the drive thru.  Many have posted their pictures and made reports.  Instead of a picture, I’m offering here a sketch I took toward the beginning of my hour long wait.

What was the atmosphere like?  Quite congenial from what I could tell.  All sorts of people and cute little kids running around under their parents’ watchful eye.  If there were any bigots there, you wouldn’t know.  Hate levels were negligible, reading at a low 0.029 pico-Sharptons.

For all their outrage, liberals have only managed to launch a thousand drive thru queues.  With all the exhaust spewing from the attendant trucks and SUVs, Leftist indignation correlates to a rise in carbon emissions.  Coincidentally, National Review’s lead essay today deals in part with progressives’ disdain for cars.

Once I got my order, I sped back home.  I had the spicy chicken sandwich with the waffle fries, and they didn’t disappoint.  The first time I had Chick-Fil-A was when I was staying with family in the South–as in southern California.  Contrary to how the media reports it, the Chick-Fil-A empire reaches far past the Mason-Dixon line.  It’s firmly established in my blue state, as San Francisco mayor Ed Lee certainly knows.  Forty miles is close enough for him.  Fortunately for my taste buds, I am beyond that radius.  The City by the Bay still makes for a nice day trip though.

Surely some nonpartisans are scratching their heads today at the latest culture war battle.  What’s the big deal with this Chick-Fil-A appreciation day?  Some say it’s about affirming Biblical truth, and some say it’s about freedom of speech.  These are both right and good, but the question of tolerance is the most pivotal one.

To remain a free, fair, and open society, we need to recover the original meaning of tolerance.  That means respecting the person who disagrees with your views.  This does not happen when traditional marriage defenders are dismissed out of hand as bigots and haters.  As with many things that touch on God, judgment, personal choice, and equality, too much of the conversation is controlled by the gut and not by a clear and open mind.

Today’s massive Chick-Fil-A turnout is not a mere spectacle, but a stand firmly taken.  A stand not in the name of blind faith or bitter clinging, but in the hope of a more charitable discourse.  Just maybe, we’re turning a cultural corner.

Chick-Fil-A and the language of (in)tolerance

A few days ago, Boston mayor Thomas Menino told burgeoning restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A it was not welcome in his city.  Responding to chain president Dan Cathy’s personal opinions–on city letterhead, no less–he decried the restauranteur as “prejudiced,” insisting there’s no room in Boston for “discrimination.”  He concluded that to allow Chick-Fil-A in his city would be an “insult” to gay couples whose marriage ceremonies he proudly presided over.  Fellow mayor Rahm Emanuel soon tried to one up Menino by appealing to “Chicago values,” an incredible claim for a place which, politically speaking, is a values wasteland.

Menino’s letter in particular is unwarranted in its use of charged language.  He and his allies have read base motives into Dan Cathy’s recent comments, which were issued earnestly in a radio interview.  If you listen, it’s clear he’s not hopped up on hate, or motivated by bigotry; his words flow from a reasoned, sincere conviction.  Neither has his company been yet charged of legally-actionable discrimination.  The mayors and their fellow critics are free to dislike Cathy and his firm, but while their claims of prejudice and discrimination go unsubstantiated, they cannot be taken seriously.

Some have justified their indignation by pointing to Chick-Fil-A’s past charitable contributions.  Media reports (here, here, and here) have alternately labeled Cathy, the company, and the donation recipients as “anti-gay” for ultimately opposing same-sex marriage initiatives.  But within these reports, the label goes unexplained and unchallenged.  The reader must naturally take it to be descriptive of one who is against gay people themselves, an utter slander that people of good will ought to reject.

In a similar fashion, the broad, vague charge of “homophobia” came with coverage of Google’s recent “Legalize love” campaign.  To call one homophobic is just as destructive to discourse, as it imparts a motive of irrational fear to the one being described.  In popular usage it is synonymous with hate.

These words ought not to be bandied about by press claiming fairness and objectivity.  Yet, media have a long, bad habit of describing conservatives as phobic and painting them in “anti” terms, as in anti-abortion or anti-spending.  Pro-choice advocates are never referred to as anti-unborn or anti-child.  Deficit spenders are never called anti-frugal.  This is a function of the Orwellian intersection of the tolerance paradigm and positive rights.  Tolerance as presently understood never allows us to question the ever-expanding field of rights, even though reason assures that absurdity must ensue at some point.

Those who want real tolerance have to abandon these loaded terms that implicitly judge the hearts and inner motivations of other individuals.  The hypocrisy of using such labels hurts one’s own cause as much as the conversational climate at large.

Fortunately, the mayors have backed off a bit from their testy declarations.  As the controversy continues to roil, may more people become cognizant of the language used, and realize that same-sex marriage opponents should not be automatically equated with bigots.  We all carry our own personal experiences, shadowboxing with traumas of the past.  Let’s not allow these to cloud an important and necessary conversation.

Why should government endorse same sex marriage?

The above fictional account touches on the gimmicky raffles the Obama campaign has been using to raise money.  Small-time donors first had a chance to meet George Clooney, and now  Sarah Jessica Parker.  For Mother’s Day, there was the opportunity to win mom a tweet from the President himself.

The other issue I’ve depicted and invite you examine for the remainder of this post is gay marriage.  The tendency in the public square is to conflate cultural practice with government endorsement.  We saw this two weeks ago when some folks were upset with North Carolina’s poll but pleased with President Obama’s evolution.  If we want a lucid discourse on marriage, we need to parse the cultural practice from government endorsement.  The critical question to ask: why is this new task of endorsement—with its associated costs—necessary?

Supporters of gay marriage often say it’s a civil  rights issue, inviting a comparison to the historic plight of racial minorities.  But the gay community’s experience today is nothing like the suffering under Jim Crow.  The collective socioeconomic status of homosexuals doesn’t reflect some sort of pervasive systemic bias.  And Federal laws already protect against sexual orientation discrimination.  The relative lack of exigency is a strike against the necessity of endorsement.

Yet, through personal experience, many feel gay marriage to have the moral force of a civil rights issue.  “Equality!” is the cry.  What is government supposed to equalize: individuals or relationships?  The state certainly treats individuals differently.  Men must sign up for selective service; women don’t.  Divorcing mothers tend to win custody over fathers.  And government  justifiably treats relationships differently too:  marriages are proscribed on the basis on age, blood relation, ability to consent, or number of  partners in the relationship.  Having strong feelings about equality doesn’t make government endorsement necessary.

The question remains, why endorse?  One with an expansive view of government may say that endorsement validates or affirms the humanity of gay individuals.  But personal affirmation is not the state’s  business.  We all have God-breathed dignity in spite of what government says about us.  Dissidents living under oppressive regimes around the world know this.  It’s our patrimony as Americans to know and live this truth without such pointed help from Uncle Sam.

In opening up two weeks ago, Vice President Biden gushed about commitment and love.  But governmental recognition of marriage, which boils down to enforcing a contract, is an unsexy thing.  It’s not about feeling love or commitment.  It’s a man and woman assenting to being bound by the law, with the end of raising children well in mind.  With the contract, the couple faces an increased cost of separation, and so does the court system for that matter.  This is another reason why government shouldn’t recognize relationships it doesn’t have to.  And it doesn’t have to because same sex couples never produce children naturally, while opposite sex couples do all the time.  Simultaneously, they face pressures that would separate them from each other.  It’s a bit ignoble, but that is the human condition.

All this to say government needn’t recognize gay marriage.  In fact, the  push for recognition sends the dangerous signal that government’s role is to correct every perceived societal slight, or worse, validate our personal feelings.  Each of us should feel free to pursue any relationship or endeavor we find fulfilling.  Just keep government out of it if you’re able.

President Obama’s off-base

The White House’s campaign messaging has been all over the place in recent weeks.  And contrary to his 2008 promise, the President has come off as more of a divider than a uniter.  Not to be confused with President Bush, who was mocked for proclaiming himself the “Decider.”

The Obama team’s trail of message wreckage started with February’s awkwardly handled contraception mandate work around, which, for all the trouble, still leaves some religious organizations paying indirectly for services they find unconscionable.

Then, erupting inconveniently last week was President Obama’s personal “evolution” on gay marriage. Many observers saw the President’s hand forced by discretion-challenged Vice President Joe Biden.  What’s most vexing about this iteration of the marriage debate is not the particular stance taken, but the justification as to how one arrives there.  Biden baffled us all with the idea that the 1998-2006 sitcom Will and Grace was for him some pivotal, moral tour de force.

As one poll shows, Obama and company seem to have alienated swing voters on the social issues.  But  they have tried mightily to boost their standing with female voters, trumpeting the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as a great and early first term accomplishment.  All the act does is give women more time to sue their bosses for the phantom menace of wage discrimination–a boon for Democrat’s loyal base of litigious attorneys.  Touted as historic and consequential, the act is only known because the Obama team has dusted it off as a showpiece for the 2012 campaign.

Indeed, the Ledbetter Act featured prominently as part of the Life of Julia, a fictional every-woman whose slideshow biography was quickly and widely ridiculed for its earnest portrayal of a hopelessly lonely, overly dependent, Obama-centered life.  Rather than making the conventional, family-oriented “Harry and Louise” kitchen table-type pitch, The Life of Julia deliberately caters to the fervent, perennially disaffected fringe that is Obama’s base.

To see just how hard the Campaigner-in-Chief has tacked toward those who self-identify as embattled and aggrieved, we need only look to the recent “dueling” commencement speeches delivered this past week.  Conservative commentator Michael Medved noted that of all the colleges in the country he could have spoken at, President Obama chose the elite, astronomically expensive Barnard College.  His audience at the women’s liberal arts college was a particularly concentrated sample of privilege: women now far surpass men in educational achievement by the numbers, from undergraduate enrollment to attainment of advanced degrees.  Yet, the faculty and students were ebullient when the President was introduced as one who appointed so many women and minorities to the highest offices.  Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s receptive audience at Liberty University, with its larger student body and more affordable tuition, was a far more representative cross-section of America, on the socioeconomic level not to mention anything of gender representation.

The White House has garnered a few days’ media attention on other issues: “spiking the football” at the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, and the economic distractions of the Buffett Rule and the student loan rate relief.  The former was no help to the incumbent, with liberal Arianna Huffington calling one Democratic campaign spot “despicable.”  The paltry Buffett Rule captures more class resentment votes than it would actual marginal revenue from the wealthy.  Likewise, the playing up of the student loan rate extension nakedly caters to the college age vote, while dangerously distorting market decisions about the relative value of earning a degree.

All told, the President seems pretty set on stoking his base with the visceral fuel of social, class, and identity politics.  Meanwhile, substantive solutions for the economy, as well as the sensibility of swing voters, remain neglected.  Sending Biden around with the fib that he’s working class will only go so far.  We’ll see in the months ahead if the Obama team can refocus, or if Romney, sticking to the economy and clearly rising, can build and maintain a respectable distance.  Let’s hope so for our country’s sake.


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