“Pro-family” NY lawmaker wants mandatory parenting workshops

In the New York legislature, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-South Bronx) has introduced a bill that would break new ground in government intrusion into family life. It would require parents of school-aged children to attend a series of state-sponsored parenting skills workshops, regardless of whether their fitness as parents has come under any particular question. Attendance at four workshops would be required as a condition of children’s advancement to seventh grade. The bill would empower the state education bureaucracy to regulate the content and administration of the workshops. (More details in my new post at Cato.) For good measure, employers would be required to provide paid days off for their employees who are parents to attend.

If anyone should be screaming bloody murder about a proposal like this, it should be “pro-family” conservative groups. It’s an appalling venture in big government on so many different levels: it presupposes that government knows more about raising kids than actual parents, it serves as an entering wedge for the state to re-educate parents in officially approved ideas about family life, and it invites further incursion into intimate matters once workshop facilitators begin to query parents about their use of “bad” child-rearing techniques.

But there’s a political catch. The measure’s lead sponsor, Sen. Diaz, a Pentecostal preacher-turned-politician, is a longtime darling of national social-conservative groups, due in no small part to his relentless opposition to gays and their interests over the years. He’s been an especially valued ally because of his standing as a Democrat, a minority politician, and a representative of some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.

Aside from a few social issues, Diaz’s record has mostly been one of a standard big-government advocate and lavish spender, for which national social-conservative groups have been happy to give him a pass. Will they give him a pass on this one too?

Slippery slope on the “Sister Wives” case? Not really

Earlier this month a federal judge struck down parts of Utah law, distinctive to that state, that had made it unlawful for persons to cohabitate in what they consider polygamous relations. Various traditionalist conservatives immediately began saying “I told you so”: this new development was really just a logical next step down the slippery slope, and the legal advance of gay marriage has now begun to usher in polygamy, exactly as they predicted. A column by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe conveniently summarizes the argument. Since I disputed this very question two months ago in these columns in an exchange with Mona Charen, I am happy to weigh in.

Unfortunately, Jacoby does not give readers a very precise account of the Utah cohabitation ruling. Judge Clarke Waddoups didn’t accord legal recognition to polygamous relationships as marriages — indeed, he made it a point that he was doing nothing of the sort. Nor did he cite Perry or Windsor. The effect of his ruling, so far as I have been able to tell, is to put Utah on the same general footing as other states as regards legal treatment of households like Kody Brown’s: they won’t face arrest or other legal sanctions for cohabiting with each other, but at the same time no legal recognition will be accorded to their marriages (beyond that of the first wife).

It’s true that the new opinion does cite Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down laws against gay sexual relations, and it would be fair to say that there is something of a logical connection (or “slippery slope”) between Justice Anthony Kennedy’s broad language in Lawrence, recognized at the time as capacious, and tougher judicial scrutiny of other laws that (like the Texas statute in Lawrence) criminalize nonmarital private adult sexual activity. But that’s not the same issue as legal recognition of polygamous marriages. If decriminalizing plural cohabitation — which happened a long time ago in most of the country, Utah aside– necessitated such recognition, wouldn’t we have seen some state slide down that slope by now?

Incidentally, Judge Waddoups actually relied in some of his reasoning (through complications I will not spell out here) on principles of religious freedom as explicated in earlier pro-religious-liberty decisions. I hope we aren’t being asked to worry about a slippery slope on that too.

P.S. I should have noted that this topic was aired in the comments section of a Steve Miller post above; see Tom Scharbach’s informative first comment in particular.

What gay marriage advocates supposedly “must” believe, vs. what they actually do believe

Have you noticed that social conservatives’ notions of what gay-marriage advocates supposedly “must” believe are often very wide of what most actually-existing gay-marriage advocates do believe? Here’s social conservative Mona Charen writing at National Review:

Advocates of gay marriage tend to argue that those in opposition are no better than the drunken thugs who beat up homosexuals outside of bars.

Do they? She gives no examples of which gay marriage advocates draw that uncharitable comparison, let alone enough examples to show that this is the general tendency of argument on our side. Certainly it would be hard to fit Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America into this category, or Andrew Sullivan’s famous and influential 1989 essay, or the work of John Corvino. Even among advocates less temperate in tone, few are unaware that most current advocates of gay marriage, from President Obama on down, previously took a position against it.

The rest of Charen’s article advances the oft-heard argument that polygamy is next, on the not particularly convincing ground that some magazine (Slate) just ran a piece by some pseudonymous practitioner of polyamory. (Yes, that’s the sure sign of a social movement on the cusp of mainstream acceptance; its spokesmen write pseudonymously). Such pieces have been a staple of reader titillation in the popular culture since well before the 1969 comedy Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, which has at no point signaled that a serious social movement to introduce polygamy was in the offing.

Like her co-thinker Ryan Anderson, Charen imagines that no one can come up with principled reasons to back same-sex marriage that do not also extend to polygamy. The fact is that there are multiple and distinct principled reasons, which is one reason it’s not that easy to find anyone (let alone everyone) who is enthusiastic about both causes at once. Feminists, for example, surely a powerful influence on these discussions, have their own internally logical and consistent reasons to support SSM and oppose polygamy (which notoriously correlates around the world with weakened status for women, very much in contrast with gay marriage). Social-welfare advocates who know that being married is a powerful predictor of health, happiness and prosperity have often seen merit in same-sex marriage because it extends the hope of marriage to more persons, but have reason to look askance at polygamy since in polygamous cultures more males never find lifelong mates. And so forth for other groups.

Meanwhile, the West actually does have two real-world constituencies for legalized polygamy, both extremely small. One is the minuscule group of old-school Muslim and splinter-Mormon practitioners who typically ground the practice in tradition, divine will, and scripture, and who very often are implacably opposed to same-sex marriage. The other is the not much bigger fringe of polyamorists and free-love advocates, many of whom were at best tepid toward SSM, seeing it as herding gays into bourgeois domesticity. It should go without saying that the second group is unlikely to team up with the first into an effective public movement, nor are the numbers of either likely to grow radically, short of mass immigration from certain pre-modern parts of the world.

Our side is winning on gay marriage for a very simple reason, which is that millions of mothers think, “I didn’t choose for my kid to be gay, but since he is, I hope he settles down with the right person.” I have never, ever heard a mother say “I didn’t choose for my kid to want multiple mates, but since he does, I hope he settles down with the right three or four women.” Isn’t it time writers like Charen and Anderson dropped this trope?

Remembering Jane Addams

The Google Doodle today honors Jane Addams, founder of social work in America, pacifist, women’s rights activist, immigration assimilationist, “Boston marriage” participant, and key figure in a dozen social reform movements including those promoting probation and juvenile courts in the criminal justice system.

I didn’t recall ever seeing her discussed by libertarians, but it turns out Milton Friedman cited her alongside Florence Nightingale and Albert Schweitzer as an example of the philanthropic achievements that can be “the product of individual genius, of strongly held minority views, of a social climate permitting variety and diversity.” To give the other side its due, Stephen Hicks discusses some of her less attractive Progressive instincts here.

On the Boston marriage, by the way, see coverage in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, and WBEZ. Addams’ devoted lifelong companion was Mary Rozet Smith, with whom she spent thirty years until the two died a year apart. Reports WBEZ, “They also made major financial decisions, such as co-owning a home in Maine. At one point they considered adopting a child together.”

Addams’ best-known contribution may have been as the American champion of the settlement house movement, which reached out to distressed immigrants to help them solve their problems with an emphasis on education and assimilation to middle-class American standards, as well as social reform more broadly. Today’s progressivism finds it somewhat complicated to deal with such a legacy, which may be one reason she has been suffering an eclipse from her previous status as possibly the most admired American woman ever.

On Joseph Bottum, “A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage”

A formidable, subtle, and wide-ranging exponent of orthodox Catholicism, Joseph Bottum has long held a high place on my (not all that lengthy) list of writers I really wish we could convince. So I join Steve Miller in thinking it’s a pretty big deal to see him write a piece for Commonweal entitled, “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” (More from the reliably interesting Mark Oppenheimer in the New York Times.)

Unlike some readers, I admired the essay’s meandering and discursive quality. To fall back on metaphor: if you’re feeling extremely conflicted on a topic, take a long walk for some fresh air. Those who don’t have patience for the entire thing and want more of a political statement might want to skip to the remarkable section where Bottum writes about how he regrets signing and helping draft the Manhattan Declaration (Robby George, Charles Colson, etc.), a manifesto of resistance to the modern liberal polity which attempts to link and in the process deeply confounds the three causes of abortion, religious liberty and same-sex marriage. As critics have already noted, Bottum makes no attempt to take down George’s position on the basis of logic, but then it’s not as if logic was the basis of that position in the first place.

The obloquy from former allies has landed like the ton of boulders I would have anticipated, including (in ascending order of charity and interest) Mark Shea at Patheos, Matthew Franck at First Things (where Bottum served long as editor), Rod Dreher at Patheos, and Sam Rocha at Patheos. Then there are the online commenters, proffering every turncoat trope one might expect. He’s just trying to curry favor with the NY Times? Check. He’s just trying to sell copies of his next book? Check. No matter how many times one has seen this process in action — from Norman Podhoretz’s Breaking Ranks to what happened to David Blankenhorn last year — it’s hard to imagine being the one it happens to. And Podhoretz’s and Blankenhorn’s are essentially secular examples: imagine the pressure when religious orthodoxy itself is perceived as being at stake.

Those looking for a more syllogistic as opposed to literary attempt to square same-sex marriage with Catholic orthodoxy may want to check out Paul Griffiths’ essay in Commonweal nine years back. But not to subtract from the respect owing to Griffiths, it is Bottum’s essay I expect to revisit again and again.

Roger Parloff on Supreme Court politics

Did Justice Kennedy plan to write a sweeping Perry opinion until nervous liberal justices yanked the standing rug from under him? There’s been speculation to that effect ever since the Court’s big day, but now Roger Parloff of Fortune offers circumstantial evidence in the form of passages from Kennedy’s Windsor opinion (and Scalia’s dissent). Excerpt:

…it’s possible, and I think likely, that when Kennedy realized he wasn’t going to get to write an opinion on the merits in Perry he at least imported into the DOMA ruling some of his thoughts bearing upon how cases like Perry should be decided.

How can I possibly say that? Kennedy’s diction throughout his DOMA ruling (including the passages from it that Scalia quotes so bitterly) often evokes that of the briefs filed on behalf of the Perry plaintiffs (the same-sex couples eager to marry in California) more than that of the briefs filed on behalf of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case.

Whelan: I’ll use scare quotes around “marry” whenever I feel like it

The other day on Twitter I criticized Ed Whelan, who writes at National Review “Bench Memos” and runs the religious-right Ethics and Public Policy Center, for using scare quotes around the word “marry.” More specifically, Whelan wrote of a hypothetical “Adam and Steve” (no, he still hasn’t tired of that trope) “who ‘marry’ in New York but reside (or later move to) Virginia.”

Now, responding to my criticism, Whelan has written a whole blog post on the topic. He expresses the view that it is “unfair and misguided” to take offense at the usage, and says my criticism has moved him to reflect that perhaps when referring to legalized same-sex marriage he should use scare quotes more often around the words “marry” and “marriage.” Following through on this, he proceeds in a second post to use scare quotes around the particular marriage of two actual people in California following the lifting of the Prop 8 ban.

Whelan claims that his difference with me arises solely from our difference on the substantive merits.* Yet a quick inspection of the dissents by Justice Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito in U.S. v. Windsor shows that neither of them used ironic or scare quotes around “marriage” or “marry” when describing same-sex unions, with Scalia passing up at least 13 chances to do so and Alito passing up at least 16. Likewise, I believe many prominent critics of gay marriage, such as author Maggie Gallagher, generally avoid the scare-quote usage. I see no reason to suspect that these figures take a substantively different view of the marriage issue than does Whelan. I think the more likely explanation is that they are more concerned not to give offense.

National Review editor Rich Lowry recently complained that it’s terribly unfair to tar his colleagues with “animus” on this topic — they just oppose gay marriage on principle, that’s all. No doubt Whelan would also find it unfair too. He’s merely unwilling “to conform to a politically correct usage” just to avoid giving offense. So don’t go around getting him mixed up with those media-whipped wusses who hold back their true opinions — you know, the ones like Scalia and Alito and Gallagher.

* * *

*As has been pointed out, a large body of traditionalist Catholics dispute the spiritual validity of remarriages by persons who have not had a church-approved annulment, yet a scare-quote formulation like “re-‘marry'” is seldom seen, outside perhaps an explicitly sectarian context.

More: welcome readers from Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish) and Eric Zorn (Chicago Tribune).

The “least reported fact” about Wednesday’s rulings?

In the latest of their many writings purporting to advance the “truth about marriage,” on Thursday, at Public Discourse, traditionalists Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George begin thus:

Here’s the least reported fact about yesterday’s rulings on marriage: the Supreme Court refused to give Ted Olson and David Boies, the lawyers suing to overturn Prop 8, what they wanted. The Court refused to redefine marriage for the entire nation….

The least reported fact, that is, except that major news organizations were not the least bit shy about reporting it. Reuters, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all put the Court’s refusal to overturn state marriage laws in the second sentence of their reports. The New York Times further handed over prime online space to none other than Ryan T. Anderson to say the same thing, while USA Today quoted Girgis-Anderson-George soulmate Tony Perkins, chair of the Family Research Council, reciting the same talking point. And so on for many other news reports.

So if you’re wondering whether Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson and Robby George managed to get even one sentence into their latest installment of the “truth about marriage” without veering sharply from the truth, the answer is: No, they didn’t.

Gay Marriage and the Federal Budget

If you haven’t heard much about the effects of DOMA’s downfall on the federal budget, that’s because there isn’t expected to be much of an effect. True, various benefits such as health and survivor benefits will now be paid to spouses of civilian workers and military personnel, and some gay persons will be entitled to Social Security benefits based on spouses’ earnings. On the other hand, it would not be surprising to see married gay couples’ income profiles falling more often on the “marriage penalty” rather than the “marriage bonus” territory on this interesting tax chart. And a host of benefit and subsidy programs, most importantly Medicaid but also other means- or income-tested programs, will save money once a spouse’s assets and income can be taken into account. All in all, a 2004 CBO study suggests the impact on the federal budget is likely to be very slightly positive. Josh Barro has the details here. He concludes:

The fiscal benefits aren’t a crucial reason to support same-sex marriage, but they do lend support to one of the “conservative” cases for it. Marriage is a structure through which people depend on each other, so they don’t have to depend on the government. For gay men and lesbians to take advantage of that fiscally friendly option, the government has to make it legal for us to marry.

Capitalism and the gays, cont’d: the theology of unnatural transactions

Jeet Heer, via Alex Tabarrok:

Aristotle’s linkage of non-procreative sex with usury profoundly influenced Christian thinkers. Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica codified the fusion of Aristotle with Christianity, argued that sodomy and usury were both “sins against nature, in which the very order of nature is violated, an injury done to God himself, who sets nature in order.” Echoing Aquinas, Dante placed sodomites and usurers in the same circle of Hell in the Divine Comedy. In his 1935 tract “Social Credit,” Ezra Pound, whose obsession with crackpot economics took him down many historical byways, argued that “usury and sodomy, the Church condemned as a pair, to one hell, the same for one reason, namely that they are both against natural increase.”

There is a flipside to this tradition of seeing sodomy as the enemy of the natural economy of the household: The counter-tradition of liberal economics founded by Adam Smith challenged the household model by seeing economics as rooted in the free trade of goods between households and nations. Precisely because Smith was more receptive to previously condemned or taboo economic activities like trade and manufacturing, he was also more open to sexual liberalism.

The long-held orthodox Christian view was that the charging of any interest at all on lent money is improper, a view that if taken seriously tends to retard the emergence of whole sectors of the modern economy such as banking and insurance. This view persists in conservative Muslim theology, with the result that elaborate “Islamic banking” institutions have arisen in the Middle East to achieve many of the same effects without overstepping the letter of religious law. Most of the Christian world has engaged in a more straightforward modernization of its theology, with the old usury prohibitions lingering on, if at all, as a condemnation of the charging of unreasonably high rates of interest. Prohibitions on nonprocreative sex, one may hope, are proceeding on a similar trajectory of decay.