Thursday, August 12, 2010

When FLG Asserts That He Is Smarter Than A Lot Of Other Bloggers

The Ancient oftens accuses me of underestimating my intellectual abilities. Well, nothing stirs my contempt for other people's intelligence, and in a zero sum manner bolsters my intellectual self-assessment, than somebody who arrives at the same conclusion as I do but with jackass reasoning.

Today, we have Rick Ungar over at the League and also from True/Slant who gives us a terrible argument complete with ridiculous strawmen in favor of the recent court ruling overturning Prop 8. Again, FLG favors gay marriage, but arguments like this make him wonder whether the people who agree with him have even given it due thought.

First, Rick argues that Joe Scarborough was wrong to oppose the court ruling because it is popular with the American people. He writes:
Scarborough is likely right about what Americans believe on this issue. As we know, every single state that has put the issue to a vote has found that the majority of their voters very much do not want same sex marriage.

But Joe should know that equal protection under the law is not subject to the vagaries of popular opinion at any given point in time.

There are two things at play here. 1) I'm very comfortable with courts overturning the expressed will of the people via referendum. It is far better for democracy, though less expedient, to convince the people to reverse their express will then to overturn them through a less democratic judicial ruling. However, we don't have mere majority rule. This brings me to 2) gay people have the exact same right to marry people that everybody else does. They have to choose a partner of the opposite sex. Now, you say they don't want to. OK. But that's not unequal protection. That's demanding a change.

Rick then begins to build the strawman:
While many have shown up on the chat shows to express their delight or disgust with Judge Walker’s ruling on Prop. 8, nobody seems to want to address this issue for what it is –religious and cultural comfort versus civil rights under the law.

They may be right.

While I may not see it this way, I can appreciate how people of certain religious views could view same sex marriage as a serious affront to God’s will and intent for those of us on the planet.

Indeed, most analysts believe that Prop. 8 would have gone down to defeat in California had the state’s African American community approached the question as a civil rights issue. They did not. They approached it as a religious issue, voted to ban same sex marriage and proved to be the crucial factor in the passage of Prop. 8.

See. He says understands. Unfortunately, for those of the religious bent, it doesn't really matter.

But civil rights do not exist at the whim of the populace or any particular segment of the same. Indeed, that is precisely what the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is, in part, all about.

Now, the obvious question I want to ask is: Could one call the entire idea that gay marriage be allowed a relatively recent whim of a particular segment of the population? The equal protection thing doesn't really hold because, as I wrote above, no man or woman is denied the right to marry. One just has to choose a partner that meets certain criteria. That some segment of the population doesn't like the existing and historical criteria doesn't mean that equal protection has been violated.

Anybody with thoughts realizes this argument is getting silly, but then comes the zenith:
In America, each of us is entitled to practice our own religion so long as our practice doesn’t harm others. While one devout Christian may view same sex marriage as a serious violation of the religion, I know many in the Gay and Lesbian communities who believe that they too are sincere, practicing Christians.

Yes, I know that the first group of Christians would say that the second group can hardly call themselves the same if they believe in gay marriage, but isn’t that precisely why this country was set up as a secular system based on a constitution? People will always disagree on religion. We have thousands of years of history to show us what happens when people clash on the basis of religion.

People die…by the millions.

That strawman having been setup and torn down, Rick proceeds ham-handedly:
Gay marriage cannot be a religious question under our system of government. And that means it must, in fact, be treated as a civil rights question.

So, where is the state’s interest in determining just whom can marry whom? Can anyone tell me who is being harmed by permitting people to make their own decision regarding the choice of their partner?

I’ve heard the argument that healthy children need both a father and a mother. While, personally, I think this is a great thing, if this is to be the basis of barring gay marriage, why have we permitted divorce when there are children in existence from a heterosexual marriage? What about children born out of wedlock? As none of this is illegal, the inconsistency would appear obvious.

What’s more, who is to say that two parents of the same sex cannot divide up the traditional roles of mother and father and make it available to their children?

At the end of the day this is about the discomfort people have with gay marriage based either on religion or cultural discomfort- not unlike the cultural discomfort that many once had (and, hopefully, fewer now have) towards African Americans in our society.

Again, marriage has historically been a covenant, a pledge of mind, body, and soul, between two people for the implicit and very often explicit purposes of producing and raising children. That people have recent used marriage for other purposes or that people raise children outside of marriage doesn't change its primary purpose. If you say it's not about having children, then do we allow incestuous marriages? If you say it's merely a legal contract like any other, and not a pledge of mind, body, and soul, then can three or more people enter into that contract? It's pretty hard to deny that there isn't a slippery slope when what you are arguing is that people have a civil right to marry the people they love whomever they be as long as they are adults.

Then, we get to the cultural impact. Liberals, with their short time horizon analysis, say the world, the social fabric if you will, isn't going to rip apart the minute gay marriage is allowed. Therefore, we should let people marry those whom they love.

But that's not the long-term analysis. The longer term analysis is something more like this:
Many people repeat the trope that we live in a Christian nation. They say this stupidly and without understanding. On the other hand, we do live in a nation whose laws, culture, institutions, norms, traditions, etc that have been largely formed by protestants, for good or ill. Years and years of decisions made within the confines of the protestant worldview. Why does this matter?

Well, Luther, as he was casting off the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, needed something else to provide order, and he turned toward the family unit. Consequently, the nuclear family plays an extremely important role in the organization of protestant dominated nations. (This isn't to say that family isn't important in non-protestant countries, but that it plays a unique role in the organization of protestant ones.) There is evidence, empirical evidence, that the breakdown in the nuclear family, the lack of fathers, whathaveyou, has at the very least coincided with other problems that reasonable people have to admit are probably linked. Put simply: The breakdown in the family unit over the past few decades has had demonstrable societal consequences.

Therefore, the question is not necessarily whether gay marriage will rip society apart as soon as it happens, but whether it is a part, and perhaps a very important part, of a long slide undermining the hallowed place this society historically placed the family. It's now an arrangement to be dissolve and reconstituted at will. Some say no-fault and easy divorce is the bigger threat, and perhaps it is. But lack of earthquake engineering in a building doesn't justify ripping up a dam to protect against floods.

Anyway, my view is that this really boils down to a cut view about whether gay marriage is going to have long-term deleterious effects on society. All told, I think increasing commitment will have a net benefit on society, so I'm in favor. On the other hand, I take very seriously the slippery slope that incestuous and polygamous marriages, or at least the fights over them, will follow. What's the point of this post then?

Well, I hate bad arguments and this guy's amounts to: The state has no legal right to tell people who love each other that they can't get married, and anybody who disagrees is a religious motivated bigot, and probably racist too, whose ideas have historically been the cause of millions of deaths. True/Slant pays this guy for shit like this?

Say what you want about me, but I take seriously the idea that one must seek out and be able to articulate the best argument of those who disagree with you. In this regard, I am far superior and much smarter than the majority of bloggers out there because, well, I have coherent thoughts and not inconsistent often contradictory intellectual mush between my ears.


Flavia said...

Well, Luther, as he was casting off the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, needed something else to provide order, and he turned toward the family unit. Consequently, the nuclear family plays an extremely important role in the organization of protestant dominated nations.

Sure. But there's also an argument to be made (and I'm not the first one to make it) that Protestantism, and especially the emergence of the Protestant middle-class, is responsible for our belief in companionate marriage (and of course for the elevation of marriage itself, rather than seeing it as a second-best to priestly chastity)--our notion that we should be able to choose our own partners, marry for love, and have marriage be a species of friendship.

Milton's divorce tracts of the 1640s went even further, arguing that procreation and even sexual compatibility were not the primary reason for the institution of marriage, but that it was to relieve human loneliness by providing us with a "fit conversing soul" in our spouse.

These tracts were radical for England in his day, primarily because they argued for divorce in cases of personal incompatibility (rather than sterility/sexual incompatibility), but Milton's ideas about marriage are soundly based in the same kind of Protestant beliefs that the American colonists brought over with them--and might be said to lead in a more or less direct line to some of the arguments in favor of gay marriage today.

FLG said...


More broadly, I'd argue that protestants, perhaps self-interestedly given the existence of a long established and powerful competitor, furthered the cause of religious tolerance, and by extension tolerance more generally.

I think Milton's reasoning, or something very similar, is ultimately why I support gay marriage.

But this isn't the level of discourse or analysis people are putting into this. Ungar's piece is completely devoid of anything I would call intelligent or even interesting thought.

I find the legalistic and contract rhetoric particularly grating. Conversing souls? Much better better argument.

Flavia said...

Sure. I wasn't actually endorsing anything Ungar said. And I agree that a bad argument is a bad argument--and worse when it's in the service of a cause one supports.

I really do love both the phrase and the idea of marriage as a union of "conversing souls." And though Milton did mean, by "conversation," the ability to talk and relate to a partner intellectually and emotionally, in his day "conversation" was just as frequently used to mean sexual intercourse. It's nice the way the phrase links the two kinds of intimacy that we see as most central to marriage today.

Anonymous said...

"This brings me to 2) gay people have the exact same right to marry people that everybody else does. They have to choose a partner of the opposite sex. Now, you say they don't want to. OK. But that's not unequal protection. That's demanding a change."

You nailed it. Right there. The same-sex marriage advocates are demanding a change while demanding they are changing nothing.

And now we have the spectacle of one judge changing everything while saying he's changed nothing also overturning the votes of 7 million Californian voters. And that judge stands to profit monetarily from his own ruling - which used to be a legal standard for recusing oneself from a case. This is not one of liberalism's better moments.

Now I'm jumping here - after Obamacare was past all the Monday morning quarterbackers predisposed to a massive overreach of government - none of whom I think were actual constitutional lawyers - declared "this was constitutional". As we've seen with a recent ruling in VA, this may not necessarily be the case.

And we are in the same boat with Prop 8.

Did you catch this at Volokh Conspiracy? As a whole they favor gay marriage and most of them favor the ruling. This post was intriguing as it echoes your concerns:


Anonymous said...


By Jonathon Adler

By now I’ve read dozens of blog posts and commentaries attesting to the power and persuasiveness of Judge Walker’s opinion striking down California’s Proposition 8 barring gay marriage. But as far as I can tell, everyone I’ve seen take this position was predisposed to accept Judge Walker’s conclusion. Lots of supporters of gay marriage and academics who believe it is a constitutional right celebrate the force of Judge Walker’s reasoning. But what I have yet to see is someone who opposed the legal arguments, or at least approached them as a skeptic, announcing that Judge Walker’s opinion has changed, or at least shaken, their views on the matter. In other words, the commentary on Judge Walker’s opinion is a perfect example of confirmation bias.

I support gay marriage. Marriage, in my view, is first and foremost a private institution and insofar as the state has anything to say in who gets married, I don’t think it should distinguish between gay and straight couples. If two men or two women want to solemnize their love for one another, the government should not stand in their way. I’ve also been convinced by Dale Carpenter’s arguments that recognizing gay marriage is the prudent — and dare I say “conservative” — thing to do. But I am not convinced that gay marriage is required by the 14th Amendment, and Judge Walker’s opinion has not changed my view. He makes many sweeping pronouncements and factual findings with which I agree, but I don’t think his opinion rests on particularly solid legal ground, let alone a proper interpretation of the constitution’s text. It may well be perfect pitch to Justice Kennedy, but predicting the inclinations of one idiosyncratic justice is not a particularly good measure of a legal argument’s intrinsic force. So while some fiind Judge Walker’s opinion powerful and convincing, I remain unconvinced.


Mrs. P

Anonymous said...

You might find this amusing:

Mrs. P

Anonymous said...

This on judicial impeachment is also an interesting read:

Mrs. P

FLG said...

Mrs. P:

Interesting post from Jonathon Adler. I hadn't seen that.

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