Archive for January, 2012

Governors O’Malley (MD) and Gregoire (WA) Interviewed About Same-Sex Marriage Legislation in Their States

January 29, 2012

Why Civil Rights Issues Shouldn’t Be Up for a Popular Vote. Newark’s Mayor “Gets It.”

January 29, 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie last week reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage legislation in the state while supporting the idea of a referendum on the matter. He commented,

The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Civil Rights era will recognize this statement as bunk. Can Governor Christie be so ignorant of one of the most important popular movements in American history? Anyone who has seen Ken Burns’s Eyes on the Prize knows that no referendum granting equal rights to African Americans would ever have passed in any Southern state in the 60s. Many blacks were in fact disenfranchised at the time.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s response to Governor Christie’s is brilliant:

Rick Santorum Should Ditch the “Slippery-Slope” Metaphor

January 25, 2012

Rick Santorum

Would somebody please explain to Rick Santorum why he was booed at a recent town hall appearance in Concord, New Hampshire?

When a young lady in the audience asked him about “two men who want to marry the person that they love,” he cut her off, saying, “What about three men?” Then he trotted out his boilerplate “slippery slope” argument:

It’s important that if we’re going to have a discussion based on rational thought, that we employ reason. Reason says that if you think it’s OK for two, you have to differentiate with me why it’s not OK for three. Let’s just have a discussion about what that means. If she reflects the values that marriage can be for anybody or any group of people, as many as is necessary, any two people or any three or four, marriage really means whatever you want it to mean. [emphasis mine]

Here’s my point of view. And we’re done talking about this issue. We’re going to move on to something else.

Santorum appears not to understand the meaning of “discussion,” the purpose of town halls, or the requirements of rational thought. After rudely interrupting this audience member and insulting her intelligence, he offers an argument that is fundamentally flawed, then declares the “discussion” will be closed after he has stated his point of view. What could be more irking to an audience?

His argument is flawed for two reasons.

(1) If two, then why not three?

First, consider this part of his statement: “Reason says that if you think it’s OK for two, you have to differentiate with me why it’s not OK for three.”

This astonishing and utterly unreasonable claim is not just a momentary lapse on Santorum’s part, because he has said it before—many times. Taken at face value, it means that any monogamous marriage is the first step on the slippery slope to polygamy. And that begs the question, “Why not also ban opposite-sex marriage in that case?”

How are we to explain this bizarre statement? I suspect, though I cannot possibly confirm, that a word or phrase is missing after the adjective “two.” Santorum has mentally edited out a phrase from that position, and that phrase is something like “wicked and depraved persons,” which he has used before. He thinks but cannot say, “…if it’s OK for two wicked and depraved persons to marry, then why not three?” Or maybe the thought-phrase was “two of those people,” or “two perverts.” Something said in the company of family and close friends cannot be uttered when the public is listening.

(2) The slippery slope

The second flaw in Santorum’s response is his very choice of the slippery-slope argument, which logicians, jurists, and scientists universally regard as a logical fallacy.

The fallacy of the slippery slope argument is in supposing that a single step in a particular direction will inevitably lead to taking all the remaining steps. This may be true in the case of jumping off a rooftop, but it is not true in other life situations where choices are still available after the initial step has been taken.

Consider the following argument: “If we lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, there will only be further demands to lower it to 16, and then to 14. Before we know it, our newborns will be drinking wine instead of milk.”

In this example, the regression from twenty-one to zero is linear, and common sense tells us the skids are not greased and that babies will not soon be drinking wine. But what of Santorum’s “regression” from same-sex marriage to polygamy? It is neither more nor less linear than the “regression” from opposite-sex marriage to polygamy. Both entail increments of one or more, and so again we have equivalence of the two.

Also, if the steps are in the proper order and are in fact slippery, then couldn’t we conclude that opposite-sex marriage is the first step on the slippery stairway? Why choose the second step and not the first as the one to avoid?

And what if we were to discover that Santorum’s first two “steps” are in the wrong order and that polygamous relationships were the norm before monogamous ones in most societies? This was in fact the pattern in nearly all the cultures of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Polygyny was clearly approved in the Torah (Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 17:17) and was practiced among Jews as late as the second century CE. Only within the last hundred years or so has monogamy been in the ascendancy.

If Santorum is to characterize the historical shift away from polygamy as a “progression” and not a “regression,” then where is he to place our newest entrant in the marriage game, i.e., same-sex marriage?  Is it also a progression, or is it a regression following a progression?

The point of all these questions is to show that slippery-slope analogies inevitably lead to muddled thinking of the kind Santorum displayed in Concord. His audience very likely sensed his confusion and resented his refusal to own up to it.

There is a viable alternative to slippery-slope argumentation, and it lies in evaluating every form of behavior on its own merits. We deserve to hear Rick Santorum’s reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex American couples who do not share his particular religious views. So far, he has advanced his badly broken line of reasoning because his objection to same-sex marriage must, for political reasons, appear to be grounded in logic, not church doctrine. Let’s hope that a dogged debate moderator somewhere down the line will smoke him out on this.

And we would appreciate his leaving polygamy, “man-on-dog” sex, and other forms of diversion out of the discussion. They do not belong there.

The 2012 Fight for Marriage Equality in Washington State Begins

January 20, 2012

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire

Support from the Governor and the Legislature

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire announced on January 4, 2012 that she would not just support but actually propose legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. Her decision was cheered by advocates of marriage equality, who believe the measures (SB 6239 and HB 2516) will be approved in the current legislative session. As of this writing, supporters need only to find one more vote in the Senate for the measure to pass. The state House already has enough support for the measure.

Meanwhile, six prominent and high-profile Washington companies have publicly supported the effort: Microsoft, Vulcan, NIKE, RealNetworks, Group Health Cooperative, and Concur. A spokesperson for Microsoft explained his company’s decision:

As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families.

If the measures pass, Washington will become the seventh state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. The others are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

Since 2007, same-sex couples in Washington have been able to register for Domestic Partnership status, which accords them virtually all the benefits that the state can offer to married couples. They are still denied over 1000 federal benefits, however. Passage of a marriage equality measure will send a powerful message to the U.S. Congress that the time has come to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The proposed legislation pertains only to civil marriage and contains no provisions requiring faith groups to officiate at weddings.

Anti-Equality Forces Mobilize

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which fights marriage equality throughout the U.S., has pledged $250,000 to help fund primary challenges to Republican legislators who support the measures. NOM will also support efforts to bring the matter to a referendum vote in November 2012.

The Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC) has also denounced the measures in a hyperbolic press release claiming that same-sex marriage threatens “the stability of society” and “the continuation of the human race.” They urge parishioners to “pray for married couples and families,” as if straight marriages were now in imminent danger of collapse.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW) has been critical of Microsoft and other Washington companies for their support of the measures, claiming that these companies essentially caved to bullying tactics by proponents of same-sex marriage. FPIW is associated with the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defense Fund, and Focus on the Family, all of which fight legalization of same-sex marriage on the state and federal levels.

Stephen Pidgeon

Stephen Pidgeon, a hyper-conservative attorney from Everett, WA, filed an initiative against the proposed marriage equality measure just six days after Gov. Gregoire’s announcement. The initiative would reaffirm the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Pidgeon has also declared he will join the race for Attorney General against Reagan Dunn, a Metropolitan King County Council member who supports same-sex marriage. Pidgeon is considered a loose cannon even in his own party after writing “The Obama Error,” where he claimed that President Obama is a Muslim who wants to place this country under the “iron fist of an Islamic Caliphate.” His chances against Dunn, an experienced politician, are thought to be slim, and his ability to garner support for an initiative is also in doubt. From the gay community’s perspective, he may be the ideal opponent in this contest.

The Bent Angle will provide periodic updates and commentary on developments in Washington State’s tug-of-war over marriage equality. Also check with Washington United for Marriage for updates and to explore ways you can help.

Can’t Find a Purpose Without Religion? Try This One.

January 19, 2012

From Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Natures,” pp. 695-96:

“Though our escape from destructive contests is not a cosmic purpose, it is a human purpose. Defenders of religion have long claimed that in the absence of divine edicts, morality can never be grounded outside ourselves. People can pursue only selfish interests, perhaps tweaked by taste or fashion, and are sentenced to live lives of relativism and nihilism. We can now appreciate why this line of argument is mistaken. Discovering earthly ways in which human beings can flourish, including stratagems to overcome the tragedy of the inherent appeal of aggression, should be purpose enough for anyone. It is a goal that is nobler than joining a celestial choir, melting into a cosmic spirit, or being reincarnated into a higher life-form, because the goal can be justified to any fellow thinker rather than being inculcated to arbitrary factions by charisma, tradition, or force. And … it is a goal on which progress can be made—progress that is halting and incomplete, but unmistakable nonetheless.”

What Mitt Romney Should Tell the GOP

January 15, 2012


What Mitt Romney Could Say to Win the Republican Nomination

by Sam Harris

Governor Mitt Romney has yet to persuade the religious conservatives in his party that he is fit to be President of the United States. However, he could probably appease the Republican base and secure his party’s nomination if he made the following remarks prior to the South Carolina Primary:

My fellow Republicans,

I would like to address your lingering concerns about my candidacy. Some of you have expressed doubts about my commitment to a variety of social causes—and some have even questioned my religious faith. Tonight, I will speak from the heart, about the values that unite us.

First, on the subject of gay rights, let me make my position perfectly clear: I am as sickened by homosexuality as any man or woman in this country. It is true that I wrote a letter in 1994 where I said that “we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern,” and for this I have been mocked and pilloried, especially by Evangelicals. But ask yourselves, what did I mean by “equality”? I meant that all men and women must be given an equal chance to live a righteous life.

Continue reading Sam Harris’s piece here.

English Vowels

January 15, 2012

A beautiful short film based on a 1945 Linguaphone series, “English Pronunciation – A practical handbook for the foreign learner:”

(HT: Andrew Sullivan, Vimeo)

Mitt Romney’s Rin Tin Ear

January 14, 2012

Rachel Maddow does a wonderful job with this story about Mitt’s dog Seamus.

My Name Wasn’t Eric. It Was “Faggot.”

January 14, 2012

EricJames Borges committed suicide two days ago. He was only 19 years old. His Fundamentalist Christian parents had kicked him out after having tried and failed to “exorcize” the gayness from him. He had been mercilessly bullied in school, even in the classroom where a teacher was present. His sense of self-worth was so bruised and battered that not even an emerging support network was able to save him.

So You Wanna Protect and Defend Marriage? Here’s a REALLY GOOD Way!

January 12, 2012

I just read some amazing figures that confirm what I have suspected for a very long time.

First let’s talk about China. Then we’ll talk about the U.S.

An article in The Economist reports that as many as 90% of gay men in China are married to heterosexual women. The figure for lesbians married to straight men is likely to be roughly the same. The population of China is about 1.33 billion, and a significant number of those (perhaps 8% to 10%) are gay or lesbian. You can do the math, factoring out children and adolescents, and the results will show that tens of millions of gay or lesbian Chinese individuals are married to heterosexuals.

Liu Dalin, a sexologist now retired from the University of Shanghai, estimates the number of women married to gay men may be as high as 25 million. Double that and you’ll have the approximate number of homosexuals married to straight partners: 50 million.

Think about it. That’s roughly the combined populations of California and Illinois.

And it’s a staggering number of potentially loveless, childless, and even miserable marriages. A Beijing-based support group called Pink Space reports women entering into deep depression when they realize their husbands do not want to get close to them or touch them. The lack of intimacy almost always leads to low self-esteem, anger, and resentment on both sides. Some of these marriages end in divorce, but most do not.

What are we to make of this miserable state of affairs, and can anything be done to remedy it?

First of all, not even a Roman Catholic would dare describe the conditions of marriage in China as “healthy.” The divorce rate may be low, but the readings for domestic misery must be off the charts. These millions of “odd couples” produce far fewer children than straight couples, and what children they have grow up in dysfunctional homes without healthy role-modeling in matters of sex and love.

Second, we must look for the causes behind this massive “warping” of marriage in China. And they are obvious. Homosexuality is not socially acceptable in China, and so it is almost universally concealed. Then, there is enormous pressure from family and friends to marry and raise children.

Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has campaigned for same-sex marriage for years, but progress is understandably slow in an authoritarian culture like China’s. Mrs. Li believes her country will continue to lag behind every other country in the world on this issue.

Finally, before leaving China, let’s consider a really stretchy hypothetical: What if the taboos around homosexuality there were lifted over the course of a few decades as they have been in the U.S. and Europe? What if China were then to legalize same-sex marriage?

Wouldn’t the outcome be better for everyone involved? Courtship would be much more natural and spontaneous, and every person could choose a spouse from the appropriate pool of candidates—even if there were family pressures to marry certain individuals from within that pool. The chances for marital happiness would be greatly enhanced, and the children of these unions—whether natural or adopted—would be better off knowing that their parents were compatible in a most fundamental way. When parents are happy together, their children have much greater chances for happiness.

Now let’s turn to the U.S., where, I think we will all agree, the problem of sexual orientation mis-matching is not nearly so great as in China. According to The Economist, about 15-20% of gay men in America marry heterosexual women. This is a far cry from the 90% estimate for China.

And what might account for this lower figure? You guessed it: many more GLBTs are now out and proud. Many of them are in domestic partnerships or marriages.

Roughly 25-30 million Americans are gay or lesbian (in a population of 309 million). So, again factoring out children and adolescents, and recognizing that only about 50% of adults are married, we can get a very rough figure of about three million marriages in which only one spouse is heterosexual—not a small number, but much better than China’s 50 million.

Now, presumably, the outcomes for these mismatches are about the same as in China: depression, low-esteem, anger, resentment, childlessness (where children are wanted), poor role-modeling for children (where they are present), and divorce.

But the divorce rate in the U.S. is much higher than in China. Let’s say that half the American “mismatch” marriages end in divorce. That still leaves well over a million mismatched married couples. Meanwhile, the divorcés have wasted years of their lives, and their prospects for re-marriage may not be particularly good.

So, what are we to conclude from all this? Even if my calculations are way wrong (always a possibility), the following conclusions are inescapable:

  1. The institution of marriage, whether in China, the U.S., or any other country, will never be healthy as long as homosexuals are forced by social opprobrium to live closeted lives.
  2. Granting full and equal rights to gays and lesbians will clear the way for them to marry partners of their own orientation.
  3. Legalization of same-sex marriage will result in more marriages, less promiscuity, more loving commitment, and less loneliness and despair.
  4. Any efforts to reverse the trends or “roll back the clock” on LGBT rights in this country will bring us closer to a situation like China’s.
  5. Politicians, preachers, and pundits who sincerely want to “protect” and strengthen the institution of marriage can best do so by supporting efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.