Monday, March 29, 2004

Correction

A few days ago I quoted Nick Zukin taking me to task for my dogmatism regarding same-sex marriage. Nick wished to point out the following:

"It should be noted that a) I'm not a conservative, and b) I am an admitted
relativist."


My apologies, Nick. I shouldn't have pigeon-holed you at all, especially incorrectly. Feel free to apply your relativism to either or both sides of the marriage debate.

Haiti Update

Yep, if there's any doubt this was a right wing coup that occurred with the blessing of ruling class interests in Haiti, the U.S. and elsewhere...

Haiti's army turns back the clock

Red Pepper magazine - April 2004 --

Article by Charles Arthur

It didn't take long for the new order in Haiti to
reveal itself. The day after President Aristide 'left'
for exile, 34 union members at the Ouanaminthe garment
assembly factory run by the Dominican Grupo M company,
were fired. The next morning, when the 600-strong
workforce decided to strike, a group of armed men
launched a violent attack. Some unionists were
handcuffed, many others were beaten up, and the
workers were forced back inside the factory.

The aggressors were members of the so-called rebel
force, fresh from their victory over the government of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They said they had
been called to the factory by management, to deal with
workers "causing trouble".

As in so many Haitian towns, the Ouanaminthe
insurgents had taken over from the police. Their
leaders say they are former members of the Haitian
Army, the FAD'H, a force demobilised by Aristide in
1995. Some, such as Guy Philippe and Gilbert Dragon,
were trained by the US in Ecuador and flown home to
senior positions in the new Haitian police force in
the mid-1990s.


[...]

full at -

< http://www.nosweat.org.uk/print.php?sid=860 >

The freedom to brutally union-bust. American-inspired values at their very best, folks...

Thursday, March 25, 2004

One of the stated purposes of this web journal is "Research Clearinghouse." One of the points I have tried to make over and over again is that we ought not frame the situation in Iraq as "U.S. versus terrorists" with no other side being represented. Indeed, in my opinion, the healthiest position for progressives to take is a skeptical refusal to align ourselves with either side when both sides are, essentially, using terror and violence as their primary tools...and when neither of those sides will outright reject the loss of innocent life as a side-effect of their politics.

I think there's a chance that in posting Falah Alwan's speech below, a few more people will read it than if I didn't, so here it is, courtesy of the English version of the web page for the Workers' Communist Party of Iraq.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Falah Alwan’s speech, leader of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq at the demonstration held in Bern-Switzerland on March 20, 2004

A year of war against the Iraqi Masses

A year of living under dark scenario

On Behalf of the Iraqi workers, the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq and on my own behalf, I extend warm greetings to everyone in this demonstration.

I take this opportunity to thank all freedom-loving people, civilised humanity, antiwar activists and opponents of terrorisms and occupation for their support for the Iraqi people.

Human tragedies and destruction caused by the latest war by the USA and its allies against Iraq are enormous. This war not only devastated the infrastructures but also caused deep suffering and human catastrophes across the country.

People around the world saw through the media coverage, how innocent people, including children, the elderly, and women were killed. We have once again seen the scene of corpuses and destroyed buildings lying everywhere as the result of this barbaric war.

America lunched its war in the name of democracy and fighting terrorisms.

However, what kind of democracy has America created for the Iraqi people?

The result was thousands of innocent victims as the direct result of American war and occupation or as the result of the daily bombings as a consequence of this occupation, insecurity, uncertainty, millions of unemployed and thousands of displaced people, the rise of extremely reactionary and terrorist forces which are trying to impose their reactionary policies on the society, and possibility of ethnic and sectarian wars.

Amid these horrible circumstances, the Iraqi workers are standing up to the USA policies and the policies of the Iraqi Governing Council hand picked by the USA and formed of the most reactionary religious, and ethnocentric groups, head of tribes and mercenaries.

The progressive section of the Iraqi workers is in the forefront of the fight against war, and occupation and for freedom and civility.

While the bourgeois forces are in fierce fight on power and to define the society along religious, racial and ethnic lines, the Iraqi workers have demonstrated that they are the only force which strugglers for the unity of the society and against ethnic and sectarian conflicts.

The USA wants to enforce its New World Order and is trying to make Iraq a model. This has been through two destructive wars, which turned Iraq to a field for settling international conflicts and striking new balances among international forces and reactionary poles.

The labour movement should also set its model in Iraq and world widely which defends civility and save the humanity using civilized and humanist methods.

The progressive workers and freedom loving people in Iraq have been in frontline in the struggle against the policies of the USA and the reactionary forces in Iraq.

Let’s make Iraq the starting point for building such powerful labour movement

Lets escalate our protests for brining an end to the war of terrorists and for a better world. A world where people are free and equal. A world free of exploitation, poverty and deprivation, free of reactionary movements and thoughts, free of national and religious discrimination and free of reactionary ideas and thoughts.

Lets escalate our struggle for building a world of unconditional freedom of belief, expression and thinking. A world of full and unconditional equality between men and women. This can only be achieved by a strong freedom loving movement on the scale of the world united on the basis of these humanist aspirations.

Support the labour movement in Iraq

Support its representative, the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq

Long live the international movement for freedom and equality.

Falah Alwan

Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unison in Iraq

March 20,2004
REACTIONS TO "BIGOTRY AND THE GAY MARRIAGE QUESTION"

My friend Scott wrote me this email:

"Relating to consent, you write: "Those who ask, seriously or ironically, why promoting same-sex marriage won't open the door to legal incest, interspecies marriage, child rape, and the like are not merely committing a slippery slope fallacy of the worst kind. Nor are they only guilty of a failure to consider the difference between agency and non-consent, or in the ability and inability to communicate that consent in the public forum." Gay marriage critics may be guilty of the failure to differentiate as you do. But their understanding of consent is probably closer to our legal and cultural traditions than yours. You may readily grant that (and even consider it a root of the problem). But, if so, then the burden should be upon you, rather than them, to articulate and defend your theory of consent.

"As for the slippery slope, let me add some other considerations. Let's grant that there are "effective consent" problems with incest, bestiality, and statutory rape. Assume that in each of the following scenarios (a) there is effective consent between the parties and (b) no third party is directly harmed. Should unregulated boxing be legal? How about dueling? Assisted suicide? (In the assisted suicide category, include cases such as the recent one in Germany where a man responded to a cannibal's classified ad and consented to be slaughtered and eaten.) Prostitution? Suttee? Sado-masochism? Why or why not? My point isn't to provide an alternative slippery slope. (I'm no opponent of gay marriage.) It's to get you to think about and clarify your theory of consent."


And re-think consent I certainly will. In reality, my own theory of consent (if I have one) is much more grounded in materialism than liberalism. Russell Arben Fox, whose link is on this page, says my arguments for gay marriage have a strong liberal tone, and it's true that I am appropriating Rawls and applying a liberal interpretation of both Habermas and even Marx in trying to find a language justifying equal access to state-sanctioned partnerships. In an email, Russell reaches similar critical agreement with me, but is, as always, honest about his caveats:

"I'm critical enough to secularist conception of the public square to distrust the Rawlsian lines you invoke to distinguish private belief from public reasons. That being said, it isn't as though "private beliefs" can't and shouldn't themselves be subjected to public critique; they should be, and in my view, most of the "private" conceptions, such as those employed by OSC above, have a serious lack of support. He goes on to say that accepting a "redefinition" of marriage to include homosexual declarations would be at "the expense of the common language, democratic process, and the facts of human social organization." Strong claims, but I doubt there is anything substantive there backing them up. The "common language" of marriage? The common language of marriage, as anyone can see, is exactly what you assume it to be: a public declaration of attachment and commitment. The "democratic process"? This actually holds some weight for me, since I don't like judicial fiats...but I'm not sure I like constitutional fiats any better. And "the facts of human social organization"? How can a "human social organization" which allows for no-fault divorce, adultery without sanction, and a powerful notion of a right to "privacy" possibly articulate an argument against the recognition of homosexual affection?

"In other words, in the Western world today, there simply isn't a readily available and widely accepted philosophical or moral framework which would treat homosexuality the same as tree-love. We don't talk that way, don't act that way, don't vote that way. One of the reasons that so many opponents of same-sex marriage have scrambled to appropriate traditionalist Catholic reasoning about marriage is because that line of argument does have some substance behind it--it really does treat marriage as something other than a public declaration of attachment and commitment. For orthodox Catholics, marriage--and the sexual act in marriage--is a sacrament which has everything to do with God's relationship to creation and a telos for humankind; that is why Catholicism denies the validity (not to mention the morality!) all forms of contraception, the act of divorce, and many other modern innovations which are taken for granted today. In other words, against truly believing, pious, anti-modern Catholics, and few other believers like them, I would say that your ascription of "bigotry" fails, because they honestly reject the premise of "competent consent." But for anyone who does not embrace that whole line, who does in fact think marriage is about love (but, er, just not that sort of love), I'd say your ascription of bigotry would be a difficult to reject."


Somewhat more skeptical is Nick Zukin, who responded:

"I don't care if you use the word "bigot" really. The effects of such
language are yours to live with, and that's the real problem with throwing
it around. But I think "tangible state interest" phrase is an interesting
bit of libertarian rhetoric that could unravel the argument. Why is the
search for a "tangible state interest" any less based in "private,
metaphysical beliefs" that those who just say the law should be God's law or that laws should be based on communal beliefs, traditions, etc?"


I think many thinking conservatives collapse into relativism as a reaction to strong spiritually-based arguments in favor of same-sex marriage. They say "see--you're being dogmatic too!" An interesting and troubling strategy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

BIGOTRY AND THE GAY MARRIAGE QUESTION

As a heterosexual male, I naturally wonder sometimes why the issue of same-sex marriage pushes such intense buttons within me. I know that I am concerned about justice (both in the sense of giving each their due and in the concerns over procedural justice I share with Habermas and Rawls, and the distributive justice I derivatively identify with the Marxist tradition), but that alone doesn't explain it. I get passionate about a good many issues of justice, but none so much as this. Perhaps I even get angrier about it than some of my gay friends, but I think that's more due to my confrontational nature and fundamental immaturity than to our relative levels of concern.

But I think that, for me, the issue is irreducible to ethical systems of justice or political struggle, although both are vitally important components in winning an eventual victory in the fight. No, I think it's about love. I think the combination of being an incurable romantic and a dogmatic deliberative democrat (the idea, not the party) means that I will and have ended friendships, polemicized loudly, and felt my heart race over the gay marriage question. And the combination of understanding love and failing to understand why I would deny my responsibility for others compels me, insistently, to believe in allowing responsible moral agents to enter into mutually consented, and constructed, covenants.

Those who ask, seriously or ironically, why promoting same-sex marriage won't open the door to legal incest, interspecies marriage, child rape, and the like are not merely committing a slippery slope fallacy of the worst kind. Nor are they only guilty of a failure to consider the difference between agency and non-consent, or in the ability and inability to communicate that consent in the public forum. I can't marry a tree, and when we get to the point where I could, we'll talk again.

Instead, I believe those who make the slippery slope argument are cursed with an inability or unwillingness to extend fellow human agents basic moral consideration and are therefore resorting to ill-conceived and disingenuous arguments (after all, if the threshold is competent consent, none of their arguments are true) as a substitution for deliberative reasoning. And those who would deploy their religious principles on the unwilling for the purpose of defining that unwilling out of the scope of moral agency, are likewise cursed. That foundational insensitivity is not something any government, state, or collective can instantly eradicate, but when governments and other collective entities are presented with a choice between defining moral agents in or out of access to social goods, and when the choice to deny access is based on private, metaphysical beliefs rather than tangible state interest, we call such governments --and the people who support them-- bigots.

Already, those of us who've used that word in this debate have been chastised for it, and I'll concede that it's a powerful, damning term. It is, however, worth a second look, if only to contextualize the struggle for moral recognition and the arguments and images normally invoked against whatever differential traits separate the majority from the minority. Bigotry isn't just about the clearest or starkest differences among us. Most of those differences --race and ethnicity, gender, class, and even religion-- are as problematic to pin down as sexual orientation is. The scientific consensus is that race is largely a construct, and even gender is an unstable term in a world of contingent gender roles and bodies that don't fit the norm. Those who would balk at calling gay rights-deniers bigots should remember that whatever the antecedent causes of homosexuality, we routinely decry bigotry against Mormons, Catholics and Jews, and surely religion, if not religious heritage, is at least as much a choice as sexual orientation--and probably much more so.

While I am not making a positive argument for some kind of obligation to call gay rights-deniers bigots, I am unconvinced by any argument I've heard thus far against the use of the term. Some argue that it's inappropriate because the denial of same-sex marriage rights is a reasonable belief, whether ultimately defensible or not. Some concede that those who would actively persecute or shun homosexuals can reasonably be called bigots, but those who oppose same sex marriage don't necessarily support persecution or shunning. Although I understand the sentiment, its resultant argument is unpersuasive. For we (those in favor of such rights) would--and did--call those people bigots who opposed interracial marriage, whether or not said opponents believed in the racial superiority of whites. In fact, it is more reasonable to withhold the term bigot from someone who privately believes in racial superiority but publicly supports interracial marriage rights, because that person has exercised an important democratic obligation: They have refused to make their private metaphysical beliefs the basis of public policy.

Still others argue that calling people bigots will make them angry and hurt, and undermine the struggle for acceptance by alienating potential supporters. I suppose that it's a given that people will get angry if we call them bigots, and I suppose there's a possibility that some of those people would otherwise, eventually, come to their senses and allow consenting agents to enter into mutual agreements. But I don't think it hurt the civil rights struggle to call white racists bigots, and there's at least as much of a chance that such stark and honest language will provide all of us with a clarity unavailable in terms such as "heterosexist," or "advocate of traditional marriage." In a world where various rhetorical actors struggle for legitimacy, dominance, emancipation or repression, calling things as we see them can sometimes be both a cogent and self-consistent strategy.

It's a rather simple matter: If you believe, as I do, that there is, in a democracy based on procedural equality, no reason to deny people the ability to access state sanction and legal benefits for their mutually consentual relationships, then you also believe that the denial of such access is arbitrary and capricious, that it is based on a private and ultimately subjective belief that ought not be the basis of public policy. When, in the face of such a situation, some people continue to oppose that access because they feel that some people have an innately superior right to access than others, such beliefs can be called prejudicial, and thus their adherents can accurately be called bigots. Thus, there is a defensible argument for calling them bigots, although one needn't feel compelled to do so.

Coming soon: A review of The Economist's case for gay marriage.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Thoughts on Haiti

Whether covertly or indirectly (and the events of the recent weeks have "covert action" written all over them), the United States is now presiding over a turkey shoot, a coup whose "rebels" are killing Aristide supporters at will, a betrayal on par with the betrayal of the Spanish Republicans in their fight against Francisco Franco, and a huge, loud, bloody rejection of leftist leadership in the hemisphere.

One could grant all of the allegations against Aristide, rumors and facts, those that have been floating around for years (he's self-obsessed, irrational, brutal to his opponents) and those that are fairly recent (he's wrecking the economy) and those things, if all true, still wouldn't justify the U.S. supporting a coup led by the old Duvalier regime's death squad leaders. And guess what? Baby Doc is going back to Haiti. That's right. He feels safe now. Things have changed for the better, he says.

Here's what the WSWS's Bill Van Auken says today about these better days and heroic coup leaders:

Led by former death squad members and soldiers linked to previous coup attempts, the well-armed thugs quickly took over the barracks facing the National Palace and declared their intention to reconstitute the Haitian Army. This corrupt and brutal force—a legacy of the first US occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934—was disbanded by Aristide in 1995. According to some reports, the army’s former commander, General Herard Abraham, is preparing to return from exile in Miami to resume his post.Among the first acts of the right-wing gunmen was the storming of the penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, freeing some 2,000 prisoners. Apparently, the main aim of this action was to liberate a number of notorious killers from previous dictatorships, including Prosper Avril, who headed a military junta that ruled the country from 1988 to 1990 and was convicted on charges of illegally imprisoning and torturing political dissidents. The action also provided a fresh group of recruits for the terror squads from among the criminals who were let loose.Guy Philippe, a former army officer and police chief who was charged with drug trafficking and conducting summary executions, is a leader of the “rebels.” On Tuesday, he proclaimed himself Haiti’s “military chief” and announced his intention to arrest Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who has remained effectively imprisoned in his office. Other members of Aristide’s cabinet fled Haiti, seeking asylum in the neighboring Dominican Republic.In a telling indication of the political forces unleashed by the US-backed coup, Haiti’s former “president for life” Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who has lived in exile in Paris since 1986, announced that he intends to return to Haiti as soon as possible.

And, in greater detail:

The “rebels” include such elements as Louis Jodel Chamblain, who led the Tontons Macoute death squads during the waning years of the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1980s and then returned as one of the heads of the Haitian Front for Advancement and Progress, or FRAPH.The FRAPH, a paramilitary group formed under the military regime that took power when Aristide was first overthrown in a US-backed coup in 1991, received financial support and political guidance from the US Central Intelligence Agency and is blamed for the murder of at least 3,000 Haitians.


Aristide maintains he was forced into exile. The important point for me is that even if he was not forced to resign in some immediate manner (and I can't imagine under what other circumstances he would have left office), the larger, material forces were bearing down on him, and those forces were contingent arms of both American and Hatian elites.

Much of the information concerning the role of the CIA, and the U.S. in general, in perpetuating elite rule in Haiti was buried back in 1994, during the height of the original coup. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting detailed it back then:

Some major media -- including the Washington Post, New York Times, CBS and NBC -- did pick up on Allan Nairn's reporting in The Nation (10/24/94) about U.S. ties to the Haitian death squad FRAPH. But an interesting pattern was noted by Village Voice press critic James Ledbetter (10/18/94): Most outlets covered Nairn's revelation that FRAPH leader Emannuel Constantwas a paid informant of the CIA. But Constant's statement that he was encouraged to form FRAPH by the U.S. military intelligence attache, who wanted a "balance" to forces seeking the return of ousted President Aristide, was reported only "sporadically," Ledbetter noted. And Constant's charge that this same U.S. intelligence official, along with the top-ranking CIA officer in Haiti, were both present in Haiti's military headquarters the day that Aristide was overthrown, was almost totally ignored.This pattern suggests that the mainstream press is not ready to fully discuss U.S. intelligence involvement with the forces that the U.S. military is supposedly in Haiti to displace. It's OK to admit that the CIA is getting information from unsavory organizations, but looking into whether those unsavory organizations were set up by the CIA? They'll leave that to The Nation.

I'll make no arguments or conclusions about this situation just yet, other than the obvious fact that the forces ousting Aristide are about a hundred times more brutal and are connected to about a thousand times more money than Aristide himself ever has been. Whatever the pretext, it's obvious that this is a class war.

New Marxism Essay

From Michael D. Yates, in the new Monthly Review, an impressive plea for working-class internationalism (what's that???) in the struggle against capitalism--a struggle Yates judges to be alive and well, and very, very necessary.

Gay Marriage: Too Much Happening

Still no more essays attacking same sex marriage in a face-to-face format. Meanwhile, Jason West got charged, and more and more mayors are performing the ceremonies or declaring their intent to do so.

I feel like I have a responsibility to write an essay entitled "How Not to Argue about Same Sex Marriage," but I can't be that objective. I am missing the essential necessity for heteronormativity in this conversation. If Al Simpson can get it, if my mother can get it, if Dick Cheney, in his more private moments, can get it, why can't [fill in the blank].

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

A good debate weekend for the Pokes

Chris Crowe and Brian DeLong beat Weber's Shackelford and Roake twice, and provided Idaho State's Dewey and Dewey with their only loss, to win a spot at the 2004 National Debate Tournament, the Big Dance of American-style policy debate. Chris and Brian were aided by another Pokes team, Josh Schmerge and Jess Ryan, who knocked out Arizona State's Russell and Gray to capture a run-off spot, then sacrificed to Chris and Brian who were the higher seed. Chris was also named the tournament's second best speaker, quite an accomplishment for a sophomore.

The clinch players during this two-day quest for qualification in Las Vegas were UW assistant coaches Sarah Stone Watt and Jimbo Maritato. Chris and Brian were down 0-2 (surprisingly so, but we needn't discuss that) when Sarah and Jimbo rallied them and scouted info, helped them research answers to new strategies, and in general never stopped believing in them. It was inspiring to see the teamwork this weekend, including by another Wyoming team, Will Jensen and Seth "Pinto" Ellsworth, who had a rough tournament competitively, but whose hard work also benefitted Chris and Brian.

Meanwhile, up in Salem, OR, UW's Joshua House and Kristen Barton managed another stellar tournament at the Hatfield Debates sponsored by Willamette University, where they were third overall out of nearly 70 teams. Josh and Kristen have won the largest parliamentary tournament of the year (Point Loma's Sunset Cliffs Classic) and have been in quarter-finals or better at every large invitational in the nation. Josh and Kristen showed, once again, why they are ranked fifth in the nation out of over 1000 teams in the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence rankings.

Emily Cram and Angela Granum also managed to break out of the field for Wyoming at the Hatfields, advancing to the first elimination round. Go pokes!


Update on New Paltz and Jason West

Christopher Cooper writes on edebate:

"I don't think Jason is in trouble. As I understand it, the charges he is facing have nothing to do with the same-sex issue (on face), but whether he is allowed to marry folks without licenses.

"Interestingly, the section of the state domestic relations law cited by West as justification for his actions says in part that ''nothing in this article contained shall be construed to render void by reason of a failure to procure a marriage license any marriage solemnized between persons of full age.''

"And...the law firm Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe has agreed to handle the case pro bono should the marriages be challenged in court, West said. The law firm has offices in New York City, San Francisco and other cities across the country."

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Essay Contest Update

So only one writer has taken my challenge to compose a face-to-face rejoinder of same sex marriage to a gay couple. I'll talk later about the implications of this lack of interest. I posted this challenge to hundreds of people...

In the meantime, here is the essay, and we'll call the writer "Entry #1" for now. Perhaps we could name the essay "Incrementalism," but I don't want to second-guess the writer or this well-constructed essay:

(The following views are not endorsed by this web journal or its author)

Dear Patricia and Rosemary,

Of course its hard for me to explain to you why I would support something that you perceive as discriminatory. But I need to assure you that my opposition to same-sex marriage is not because I question your morality or fidelity. I don't adhere to grotesque stereotypes about predatory "gays" out trying to recruit children nor do I hold to literal interpretation of obsolescent Old Testament injunctions against homosexuality. Even if I believed in the precept that homosexuality was intrinsically immoral, I would still oppose the state acting as enforcer of personal morality.

So, if that's the case, why would I oppose your "right" of gay marriage? Quite simply, it is because we as a society aren't there yet -- we're not culturally able to make an immediate shift to gay marriage.

In the public debates, people argue over whether marriage is an institution of the state or an institution of religion. Of course, marriage encompasses aspects of both, with different couples partaking in religious and state aspects seperately. Some couples are only married by the state (I was married by a judge) while others embrace forms of marriage that are explicitly religious (such as the Mormons' "temple marriage").

But I think we can agree that "marriage" is fundamentally a cultural institution -- it is a concept that is deeply imbued with cultural and emotional meaning. It is a foundational building block for the conceptual map that people use to see the world.

This is important to recognize because this means that people's reactions towards the institution of marriage are not entirely rational. "Marriage" is a symbol that strikes deeply into people's ways of viewing the world. Indeed, this is probably precisely why you want to get married -- you have a completely understandable and legitimate desire to access that symbol and integrate it into your lives.

There, now since I've explicitly endorsed the legitimacy of your desire to get married, you're probably wondering how I could possibly have a coherent reason for still opposing gay marriage. But please hear me out.

Since marriage is such a conceptually foundational symbol in our culture and since people's reactions to it are not completely rational and are imbued with emotional overtones that are only partially consciously recognized, when a proposal comes up -- like gay marriage -- that suggests important changes to how that institution will be defined it is felt by many as "threatening". Such people will often be unable to articulate precisely what is "threatening" about the proposed change and they will also be unable to state explicitly how it even affects them. But the "this just isn't right" feeling is very powerful.

Accordingly, when people have these inarticulate feelings of "threat" to something (like marriage) that is fundamental to their conceptual map, they often respond emotionally, even angrily, to defend the conceptual map -- the "traditional way" from the perceived threat. This is the source of the anti-gay marriage backlash -- people's natural unease and discomfort with a fundamental alteration (however well-justified) in an institution that is perceived as extremely important.

So, then, we are left with two things in deep tension with each other. On the one hand, we have your legitimate and important desire to be married to the person of your choice. On the other hand, we have the legitimate and important perceptions of a "threat" against the fundamental cultural institution of marriage. Our important challenge is now to figure out how to reconcile these conflicting imperatives.

The overriding imperative that I think almost everyone would agree to is the importance of non-discrimination. The state should not seek to impose one group's morality upon another in a way that infringes upon their equal protection under the law. Thus, our goal is to seek equality for same-sex couples. But the question is how to get there and, strongly related, how to obtain incremental gains in that direction as quickly as possible.

Gay marriage imposed by court fiat is precisely the wrong way to go right now. Because it provokes the feelings of "threat" in the strongest way, it guarentees the strongest backlash and the strong likelihood of additional barriers and new types of discrimination and even violence arising from the irrational reaction to the "threat" of gay marriage. Reform of the cultural concept of marriage is like a Chinese finger puzzle -- the more one moves directly, the more the goal is frustrated.

What we need to do instead is to assuage people's fears about cultural change and demonstrate publicly that same-sex couples are not a genuine threat to society or to the institution of marriate. Civil unions are the best available institution to do this.

Civil unions would allow you to publicly declare and legally enact your commitment to each other. Civil unions would also ensure access to the important legal benefits from the state, such as inheritence, health care benefits, and next-of-kin rights. In this way, civil unions would serve as a major step towards non-discrimination that solves almost all of the discriminatory aspects that you have been living with for a long time now.

Of course, I understand that the access to the cultural symbol of marriage in civil unions is only partial. "Seperate but equal" status is, as the courts have observed, rarely equal in social status. But it is important for you to realize that change is hard. Whether we like it or not, people's minds are not going to be altered overnight no matter what we do. And moving to override people's cultural queasiness about gay marriage only guarentees frustration and failure, along with an unnecessary and tragic increase in overt discrimination.

However, civil unions offer a ray of hope in that they are a transitional institution. As the institution of civil unions became common and mature, people would be able to observe for themselves that there was no massive outbreak of new sexual immorality, polygamy, bestiality, pedophilia or any of the other grotesque predictions about what would result from legally recognized same-sex unions. Instead, people of good faith (which I think most people are) would begin to see that same-sex couples in civil unions had the same kind of lives, concerns, problems, and joys that married couples had. Thus, the institution of civil unions would serve to progressively undermine the conceptual distinction between "civil unions" and "marriages". After a relatively short period of time -- probably merely a couple of decades -- we would wake up one day to find that the cultural symbol of "marriage" had already been redefined in people's minds in a way that judicial fiat could never, ever do. At that time, the seperate institutions could be joined.

Patricia and Rosemary, no one can deny your joy at being together or your legitimate desire to enshrine your union within the symbol of marriage. Unfortunately, we also cannot deny the current state of our culture, where "marriage" exists as a fundamental cultural symbol that beyond the power of any court or legislature to modify directly. Thus, my opposition to gay marriage is grounded in the question of timing and method -- how do we properly change our society to make it more open and non-discriminatory? We can agree on the goal of non-discrimination and tolerance and I hope we can also agree that civil unions offer the best path to get there even though it may not be all that you want for yourselves and all your friends want for you.


(the preceding was an essay contest entry and the following is me again)

I think this is a well-written response, and that's all I will say for now. I am interested in what others have to say. Send comments to stannard67@aol.com.

The writer makes a great effort to distance the position of this letter from the position of anti-gay conservatives. I still wonder what the Christian will say (and what's frustrating is I have asked a number of Christians to respond and they have all refused). The lack of response tells me --disturbingly, because these are mostly people I know personally-- that the priority of those intelligent conservatives out there who want to restrict marriage is to be correct rather than to be good; to be right about their arguments and secure in their comfortable, self-contained belief systems rather than face those to whom they wish to deny access to a part of their beloved contract-based minimal state.

I'm drawn once again to Emmanuel Levinas, not because I think Levinas would have been at all comfortable with same sex marriage, but because his foundational beliefs about communication and justification would compel him to at least face the "gay other" and attempt to explain his position...as well as concede the ultimate problematicity and incompleteness of such an ethical doctrine.

I'm troubled about it (the lack of interest in justifying restrictions to the face of those restricted) because each and every person who refuses such engagement knows someone who is gay.

Interesting Comments

All that said, I have to share some comments anonymously from some Christians (Mormons, actually) who won't commit to the essay, but who are honest about their feelings on the issue:

This email in particular is funny, self-aware, and makes an important point that restricting types of marriage is the province of religious covenants. The writer is explaining his dilemma in talking about gay marriage to a non-christian friend:

To me homosexual practices in themselves aren't de facto wrongs, but rather engaging in homosexual practices when one has promised to refrain from homosexuality is wrong. (Call me a Pharisee, but I'm kinda contractual about the gospel.) I could tell her that her behaviors are inconsistent with the teaching of my church, indeed, most churches, but, as you said, I don't think that would get me anywhere.

The other argument would be to suggest that homosexuality is somehow un-natural. On this score, however, I recently had the misfortune to see a JPEG of a monkey sipping his own urine as he was peeing. I can only conclude that nature, as such, is truly sick and two women engaged in a sexual relationship is pretty far down on the "against nature" list.

Which leaves me with my "no-need-to-stick-your-neck-out" argument. Kinda weak, but, in the context of this particular couple, probably justified. Of course, this line of reasoning has the same fault as the thinking of the Weimar legislators -- maybe if we just elect him Chancellor, he'll just shut up.


Jason West and New Paltz

I'll just provide some exerpts from articles about Jason's work as mayor of the village of New Paltz. Jason has been performing marriages there for a week and has caused all hell to break loose. Jason is a former Marist debater! Last weekend he took time out from national attention to judge at the CEDA East Regionals. He's good friends with my friends Max, Andy, and Jimbo. I haven't met him personally, but I look forward to it when I do. He has instantiated something I hoped would happen and if he goes to jail, watch this site for continued updates and channels of material and rhetorical aid.

Here is Jason West's most recent statement to the press:

"Marriage is a declaration of love, devotion and commitment. It is a public acknowledgement of a couple's willingness to share their lives and to love, trust and compromise. It is also an important civil institution that provides legal protections, benefits and responsibilities. The couples who were recently married have made this important commitment, and we join them in celebrating their loving unions.

"Upon becoming mayor of the Village of New Paltz, I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the State of New York. I take this oath very seriously, particularly as it relates to my duty to conduct marriages. I firmly believe that it would be both unfair and contrary to the New York Constitution to deny the benefits and responsibilities afforded by marriage to same-sex couples. Two adults who decide to make the commitment of marriage should not be denied the protections of marriage."


Now this got big when Gov. Pataki told NY AG Eliot Spitzer (who I am told is a pretty straight guy and a hard ass) to go stop Jason West from performing these marriages. According to today's New York Daily News:

"State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer declared yesterday that
same-sex couples should be allowed to wed - openly defying Gov. Pataki's stance on the controversial issue.

"I have no problem with gay marriage," Spitzer told the Daily News. "I think the law has moved to a point where people are comfortable that [marriage] can be extended to people of the same sex," he said."


The plot thickens. Now, the Mayor of Ithaca is going to do it too...according to today's New York Times:

"Carolyn K. Peterson, the mayor of Ithaca, told a packed news conference at City Hall that the clerk would accept marriage applications by same-sex couples and forward them to the state's Department of Health for a ruling on whether they could be granted. In doing so, she said, she would force the issue into the courts."

The best evidence that Jason West has really accomplished something is that the Reverend Fred Phelps is going to New Paltz. Phelps, a traveling fire-and-brimstone hater based in Topeka, has made several trips to Wyoming advancing the incredibly uninsightful notion that Matthew Sheppard is burning in hell. Wyoming has used those visits as rallying points to build an impressive public image of tolerance. I am sure that came in handy when lawmakers rejected a Wyoming Defense of Marriage Act last month.

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