Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Coming Societal Trainwreck

A societal trainwreck is coming. Soon. On one train is our First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. On the other is gay marriage.

Already, there has been a casualty---Catholic Charities of Boston.

"Catholic Charities of Boston, one of the nation's oldest adoption agencies, had long specialized in finding good homes for hard to place kids," says Maggie Gallagher, author of "The Coming Conflict between Same-sex Marriage and Religious Liberty". However, Catholic Charities in Boston is now out of the adoption business.

Why? Massachusetts's court mandated gay-marriage.

[I]n November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered gay marriage. The majority ruled that only animus against gay people could explain why anyone would want to treat opposite-sex and same-sex couples differently.

To operate in Massachusetts, an adoption agency must be licensed by the state. And to get a license, an agency must pledge to obey state laws barring discrimination--including the decade-old ban on orientation discrimination. With the legalization of gay marriage in the state, discrimination against same-sex couples would be outlawed, too...Ron Madnick, president of the Massachusetts chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, [claimed]: "Even if Catholic Charities ceased receiving tax support and gave up its role as a state contractor, it still could not refuse to place children with same-sex couples."

[T]he Becket Fund [a religious liberty law firm which defends any faith group] brought together ten religious liberty scholars of right and left to look at the question of the impact of gay marriage on the freedom of religion. Picarello [of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty] summarizes: "All the scholars we got together see a problem; they all see a conflict coming. They differ on how it should be resolved and who should win, but they all see a conflict coming."

These are not necessarily scholars who oppose gay marriage...the scholars who favor gay marriage found it relatively easy to foresee looming legal pressures on faith-based organizations opposed to gay marriage.
Of course in principle, people's right to free speech, our most cherished liberty, will not be infringed upon. At least, that's the theory. In reality,
People who favor gay rights face no penalty for speaking their views, but can inflict a risk of litigation, investigation, and formal and informal career penalties on others whose views they dislike. Meanwhile, people who think gay marriage is wrong cannot know for sure where the line is now or where it will be redrawn in the near future. "Soft" coercion produces no martyrs to disturb anyone's conscience, yet it is highly effective in chilling the speech of ordinary people.
The churches themselves might have a First Amendment defense if a state government or state courts tried to withdraw their exemption, ... but "the
para-church institutions are very much at risk and may be put out of business because of the licensing issues, or for these other reasons--it's very unclear. None of us nonprofits can function without [state] tax exemption. As a practical matter, any large charity needs that real estate tax exemption."

There are already examples of this kind of church-state conflict from recent history.

[Robin] Wilson predicts "a concerted effort to take same-sex marriage from a negative right to be free of state interference to a positive entitlement to assistance by others. Although Roe and Griswold established only the right to noninterference by the state in a woman's abortion and contraceptive decisions, family planning advocates have worked strenuously to force individual institutions to provide controversial services, and to force individual health care providers to participate in them."

"This litigation after Roe," she says, "provides a convincing prediction about the trajectory that litigation after Goodridge will take" (Goodridge being the Massachusetts supreme court decision that legalized gay marriage). The post-Roe litigation also provides fair warning about the limits of First Amendment protection. The lever used to force hospitals and doctors to perform abortions and sterilizations was the receipt of any public money. "Given the status of most churches as state
nonprofits and federally tax-exempt organizations, it is likely that public support arguments will be advanced to compel churches to participate in same-sex marriage. Thus, churches in Massachusetts (and perhaps soon other states) may have much to worry about," Wilson writes. "Churches that oppose same-sex marriage today may perceive a credible, palpable threat to their tax-exempt status, the benefits of which are substantial."
Access the complete story here.

Personally, I don't care much what people do in their private lives. Big people can make big people decisions. I have no desire to regulate whether people smoke their lungs out, drink their livers into cirrhosis, smash their heads because they failed to where a seatbelt in their cars or a helmet on a motorcycle, or whatever. I have no interest in going into people's bedrooms to regulate their behavior there either.

However, society as a whole will lose out if religious people and groups lose their churches and organizations because of this growing conflict. Religious schools could be forced to close down if they choose not to bow to the government. Many parents, both religious and non-religious, have depended on religious schools to educate their young. They would lose out. What about religious camps, retreats, shelters, and community centers? Any facility that courts deem a place of public accommodation could be in danger of lawsuit and might be forced to close. The public will again be the big losers in such cases. The para-church organizations are among the first to arrive in disaster hit areas such as in Louisiana after Katrina. Many of these organizations may no longer exist once demands by the state are made upon them. Even casual speech in the workplace could be stifled as corporate lawyers seek to suppress simple self-expression for fear of lawsuits.

In a world in which a simple Quaker librarian from Ohio State can be accused of sexual harassment for suggesting conservative books like, "It Takes a Family" for a freshman reading list, the chill could affect everyone.

As we argue over where our culture should go and what our rights actually are, let's be careful not to damage the most valuable rights we have. The first amendment is first for a reason. The people who founded this nation knew that before all else the free exercise of American's religious beliefs, their freedom of speech, and their right to peaceably assemble was tantamount to true liberty. These are crucial rights to preserve.


At 5/23/2006 2:29 PM, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

I think that while things look especially grim at the moment, we may actually be on the verge of a real change. PC crested in the 1990's, and while we're seeing the vestiges of PC influence still surfacing occasionally, I think they are not a show of power, but rather of dwindling and dying influence. It is often that a movement becomes most violent and extreme before it dies, like a last thrashing, frantic attempt at survival. I call this effect "fearbiter" from the effect animals will show when terrified and cornered - they'll attack even people that they know, love and trust out of sheer terror and desperation.

On the other hand, God's extraordinary patience may have about ended with this nation and we may be facing the consequences of decades of contempt for Him and His glory. We'll see, but either way it turns out, I know I can trust Him.

At 5/23/2006 4:10 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

A possible solution to the gay marriage issue in particular:

1. Remove the term "marriage" from the legal discourse, and replace it with civil union.

2. Increase the realm of the civil union to include more groups, including but not limited to homosexuals. This would have the added benefit of helping out older folks, for instance, because two friends could live together, help each other live more comfortably, and get some kind of legal benefit for their initiative.

3. Put marriage solely within the confines of the church. If a couple gets married in, say, the Catholic church, they would be both married spiritually and obtain a civil union legally.

This takes a lot of the sting out of the public discourse, and might also curtail the retaliatory legal/social action that happens against churches as a result.

It's just an idea to throw out there. I haven't fully analyzed the repurcussions or anything. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with the whole concept myself to be honest.

At 5/23/2006 4:23 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Mr. Taylor---I do hope you are right in your analysis (first paragraph). I do wonder.

At 5/23/2006 4:29 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Andy--You make some interesting suggestions. I'm not sure how I feel about them. I'll have to think on them.

I do know that marriage has always been an incredibly important societal contract that all cultures have honored. Also, marriage by its very nature is exclusive. All cultures have limited it to male/female unions. Even in societies that allowed polygamy, it was fairly rare, and in my opinion, showed the man's (usually the man...grr) wealth.

At 5/24/2006 10:02 AM, Blogger Martha said...

"A societal trainwreck is coming. Soon. On one train is our First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. On the other is gay marriage."

This assumption is both a factious dispute, and a ludicrous conclusion.

At 5/24/2006 10:21 AM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Go read the original article. All the best legal minds in the field of civil rights disagree with you.

At 5/24/2006 10:46 AM, Blogger AnonymousOpinion said...


My problem is that your point #2 brings up the question of qualification for government funded entitlements, rules, tax implications, and social security benefits, and property rights regarding people who are engaged in civil unions.

How would a civil union differ from a incorporated or unincorporated partnership as defined by the state, and what additional benefit would a civil union have that is not covered by two people of any gender that have power of attorney for one another?

Would these civil unions be easier or more difficult to disolve than a marriage or vary by state as divorce laws do?

Why would anyone bother with a church wedding if they can have all the benefits without the committment?

Unfortunately, many weddings I've attended in the last year were mostly dog and pony shows. I find it a little silly to go to the expense of a wedding in these cases. It's difficult to consecrate something if it had been consummated a long time ago.

At 5/24/2006 1:29 PM, Blogger Martha said...

"All the best legal minds..."


At 5/24/2006 1:59 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Seriously, Martha, you need to go read the original article that I linked to. Do you have a problem with the credentials of the legal experts gathered together for the discussion? Are you a better legal mind in that field than they?

At 5/24/2006 4:59 PM, Blogger AnonymousOpinion said...

It's not so bad, the SCOTUS Boy Scouts of America v. Dale ruling held that the Boy Scouts still had a First Amendment right of expressive association and could choose to not allow a homosexual to be a scoutmaster.

Applying New Jersey’s public accommodations law to require the Boy Scouts to admit Dale violates the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment right of expressive association. Government actions that unconstitutionally burden that right may take many forms, one of which is intrusion into a group’s internal affairs by forcing it to accept a member it does not desire. Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 623. Such forced membership is unconstitutional if the person’s presence affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.

See: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/99-699.ZS.html

At 5/24/2006 9:14 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

I have no doubt that my proposal has all sorts of legal repercussions, but I doubt any of them would make the concept untenable.

You might have answered your own question regarding people who would bypass marriage in favor of the civil union. Sure they would bypass it, and that would help place marriage back in an incredibly serious and holy light.

Then again, it might ruin everything for tons of reasons I have not yet considered. Just an idea.

At 5/24/2006 9:23 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...


My hubby and I were discussing some of your ideas. Now you know that I will object to some bec of my worldview, but that's beside the point. We were taking practicality. We kinda like the idea of being able to help each other out, esp as people get older, but then we decided that employers might get pretty upset about health care for every employee and his/her whatevers and that employers might decide to cover only the employee and then families will be left to fend for themselves. Currently, employers do a lot to help families with benefits, but if pushed much further eg having to cover every Tom, Dick, Harry, Jane, and Susie that the employee lists, they might say forget it, we can't afford it. I have no hard data on this. This is a just suppose kind of statement.

At 5/24/2006 10:27 PM, Blogger Martha said...

Are you a better legal mind in that field than they?

Obviously - yes.

At 5/24/2006 11:41 PM, Blogger AnonymousOpinion said...

My employer does cover same or opposite sex partners with the qualification of 12 months of committment (I need to read the manual here) or cohabitation - but blood relatives don't count.

At 5/25/2006 6:37 AM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Right. I know that when my youngest brother was living with his girlfriend/fiancee his employer covered them both which was good since there was a baby on the way.

The question is how much more stretching can an employer be expected to do? How about the kids of the sig. other? What about when (if) polygamy comes back into practice. Seriously, directly after the Supreme Court Lawrence decision of 2003 advocates of polygamy started getting their legal arguments together. Since polygamy actually does have a long, if not tortured, history in humanity, how could we not accept that too?

At 5/25/2006 1:58 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

I agree that the polygamy question is a little sticky, but I think that could be addressed by mandating that all partnerships be between two people. Don't ask me for the legal arguments to support this idea, because I have none, but I bet they're out there.

I'm not in love with the idea of gay marriage either, but I suppose I am willing to try unusual approaches to the problem. Despite my misgivings, I try to keep these two points on the table:

- One of my best friends from high school is gay, and there is absolutely no way he would have chosen it. It has made his life a lot tougher.
- The anti-homosexual statements of the apostle Paul need to in some sense be taken within the context of the time period, during which Greco-Roman culture dominated the Mediterranean. Many practitioners of the homosexual lifestyle in that era had motivations that were a world away from those faced by gays in our time.

Of course there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical, but you and I know what those are without listing them I would imagine. I just figure that, through a careful process, we might be able to arrive at a compromise that would take some of the sting out of the issue for folks like us while still allowing for some increased choices for those with other lifestyles. As I see it there are two possibilities that could arise from the implementation of a law along the lines of what I suggested:

- Granted new legal backing, the homosexual lifestyle could spread like wildfire and undermine or society.
- Granted new legal backing, those fighting for the homosexual lifestyle would no longer have a reason to complain, thus reducing the impact of homosexual lifestyle on American culture.

I wish I was able to read more. I imagine a study of some modern European nations might shed some light on possible outcomes, as could a solid ancient history lesson.

At 5/25/2006 2:50 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Well, I agree most people who are gay don't "choose" it. There are probably many factors that could contribute to it.

I have no desire to see gays persecuted for being gay. One of my girlfriend's kids is gay. There's a lot of stuff there that I really am not at liberty to discuss, of course. Suffice it to say I respect him as a person even as I don't fully like the lifestyle he leads. I was there for a major life event, I care for him very much, and I would never disrespect him and don't want anyone else to either.

That said, I believe the marriage contract has a long history, from the very beginning. It is still primarily about children, making them, and providing an appropriate model of male/female for developing boys and girls as they are cared for through the growing process. That has generally ranked higher by far throughout history than the idea of marriage for personal fulfillment or to spend one's life with one's "soul mate".

As to a law restricting it to only two people--- if we are going to completely change the meaning of marriage--- why?

At 5/25/2006 3:40 PM, Anonymous MarkNS said...

Andy is bang on. What is the government doing in the marriage business at all? The concept of marriage is a very personal issue. Some people define it based upon the teachings of formal religion, some upon other beliefs. The government should be out of the marriage business completely. The legal aspects of it should be covered by contract law. Two (or more) people should be able to select how they want to define their relationships (financially, sexually, whatever). There should be no government bestowed rights or benefits because of these personal decisions(eg. tax law). Everyone should have the same rights based on their value as individuals not upon their choice of relationships. The issue of employee health benefits is a red herring. Employers can offer whatever benefits they think they need to get the employees they want.
Please bear in mind that removing the legal concept of marriage in no way diminishes the obvious responsibilities that parents have towards their children. It has long been shown that marriage is not necessary to have kids.
I look at choices like gay marriage and polygamy as akin to canned spinach. I hate canned spinach, will never partake of it but I don't think it should be outlawed.

At 5/25/2006 5:09 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Wow. I hear you, but I truly disagree.

The foundation of a nation is the family. Healthy families make for stronger nations with fewer social problems. This is partly why govts should work to promote strong marriages.

Marriage not necessary to have children? Technically no, but to have emotionally healthy productive children? Statistically yes. Children from broken families are more likely to do drugs, have sex at early ages (creating illegitimate children which they cannot care for or raise properly, and getting STDs), get in trouble with the law, drop out of high school, have other emotional issues, etc. (the list really does go on). The data is actually quite clear. The best place for children is in a home with an adequate (not even great, mind you) mother and father. The social ills that have befallen us bec of the breakdown of marriage are tremendous. Longitudinal studies show that children whose parents did not stay together ie divorced are more likely to get divorced themselves and score worse on a number of psychological indicators, well into adulthood. If we screw up marriage any more than we have with the no-fault divorce, etc, we can expect more messed up kids. That's why this matters.

At 5/25/2006 6:07 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

Yep, I agree with you on all those points. I will add that no-fault divorce does sometimes help people in really bad situations. My mother actually went through one of these, and I think her life was in danger in some capacity. This was quite a bit before I was around, so I don't know much. Still, overall the problems seem to greatly outweigh the advantages, and the odds are good that there could exist other alternatives for specific situations that would remove the "need" for the no-fault divorce.

The real question here is whether or not the government's role in the institution of marriage is pivotal to a nation's maintaining of strong family units. If so, I think we must preserve that, but if not, I would be willing to look at creative solutions. Is there any data on this? Too often data gets lost amidst yelling matches within the political arena, but hopefully someone is investigating.

At 5/25/2006 6:37 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

No-fault divorce: if it helps women (or men) to get out of abusive relationships, ok. However, it has hurt many women. Before if a man decided to leave his wife after 20 years of her staying home, raising a family in lieu of a career, the courts were punitive and she got the bulk of the estate. no no-fault divorce in no way means no divorce to me. I have friends who are divorced and need to be.

Off the top of my head how govt can help:
tax breaks for families to encourage a parent to stay home (instead of tax-breaks for daycare or a second income)
stronger divorce laws to protect a weaker member of the relationship and to encourage families to work out non-violent workable unions (there is definitely data that couples who were unhappy and headed for divorce but who stayed married were very likely to rate themselves very happy within 5 years---relationships and satisfaction with them fluctuate, you see)

More facts: women in married partnerships are less likely to be abused than women in living-together situations.

girls are far more likely to be sexually molested from a boyfriend or step-father than from their own fathers and girls do not adapt all that well to step situations, not nearly so well as boys do.

I would be afraid to remarry if anything, God forbid, every happened in our relationship because of the emotional needs of my kids.

The rest will have to wait

At 5/25/2006 8:01 PM, Anonymous MarkNS said...

I think the point we fundamentally disagree on is the role of government and the true meaning of freedom. I will assume that all of the comments about no-fault divorce etc were not directed at my argument because I don't see what that has to do with gay marriage.

I strongly believe in the right of grown ups to do whatever they choose so long as they hurt no one else. If someone wants to consider themselves married to another consenting adult by jumping over a log or dancing around a maypole...I don't care...no one is victimized.

Most of my friends consider me right wing/conservative...I always thought conservatives believed in small government and freedom. That is why I can't fathom why some of those calling themselves conservative want to intrude on personal choices so much. Why the hell should the government care how a free man or woman chooses to satisfy their sexual urges provided that anyone else involved is freely participating.

At 5/25/2006 9:04 PM, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

No, you're more properly a libertarian: small government and socially liberal. The ultimate question we all must ask is what is the purpose and origin of law? If it's simply to prevent people from hurting one another, then we have far too many laws. If it's the government's expression of the will of the governed, then we might have too few laws. If the law is the political expression of a transcedent, divine will, then our laws are greatly at odds with most moral systems and religions.

We've gone far too long without examining why we do things or even bothering to study what it all means, coasting on previous decisions and pushing the envelope further and further in the name of liberty without thinking about responsibility.

At 5/25/2006 10:01 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

Well said.

And Anna, I like your solutions as well.

At 5/25/2006 10:05 PM, Anonymous MarkNS said...

I agree. I'm more of a libertarian but I am not a pure liberal on the social front. I am, for example, anti-abortion because there is a victim (the fetus/baby). I firmly believe that all freedoms entail attendant responsibilities (eg. the freedom to have sex entails taking responsibility for the children that may result). I am pro death penalty and other firm punishments for those who choose to harm others. Hardly the stereo-typical "social liberal".

As to your very pertinent comments about the "whys" of laws. I would say we have far too many laws. I do, believe, however that arguing that laws should reflect the will of the governed (by necessity, not all the governed, only the majority) can be a rational position. The whole "divine will" rationale for laws is, in my mind, completely irrational. Once one decides to abandon critical thought and simply adhere to religious dogma anything, no matter how heinous, can be deemed acceptable. Look to the crusades, the Taliban, and the inquisition for examples of this.

At 5/25/2006 10:49 PM, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

I think that it's an error to presume that basing your morality on an objective, absolute source is neccessarily irrational or without rational effort. For example, the basis of English Common Law was heavily influenced by Christian law and especially the 10 Commandments. Certainly few can argue with the logic of not kiling, not lying and not stealing at the very basis.

At 5/26/2006 1:41 PM, Anonymous NosyNeighbor said...

Wait a minute -- less government is a very big part of conservatism. So how can you agree with the government coming into anyone's home and life and telling them that they need to stay in a marriage that they don't want to be in for whatever reason they choose? This is America after all. You don't have to get divorced if you don't want to but don't tell me what's in the best interest of myself or my children. That's where I draw the line.

Sure, there is a "perfect" situation for raising a child but tell me how many children have experienced this perfection? None! Whether they came from a one-parent household or two. It's a fantasy. You don't HAVE TO have two parents to raise a fine, upstanding adult who contributes to society. Would it be easier to do so with two parents as opposed to one? Probably! But is it necessary? Absolutely not! How ridiculous!

At 5/26/2006 3:04 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

hmmm. It seems you missed this part of my comment:
"no no-fault divorce in no way means no divorce to me. I have friends who are divorced and need to be."

I don't go asking people who are divorced why they are. I don't know if they don't tell me. People do tell me lots of stuff (in person), however, bec. they sense that I actually do care. (Something you cannot necessarily see in a comment section or post of a blog)

One example, a very close friend of mine went through a divorce while I was friends with her. I knew there were problems, but I didn't know the specifics for a long time bec she just couldn't talk about it. As it turns out she was absolutely justified in the divorce by anyone's standards; even if she wasn't, though, I'd still stand by her, and although poor and struggling, she's done an excellent job with her kids *against* the odds.

Regardless of an *individual's* experience, however, you cannot change the statistics from the longitudinal studies that show that *on average* kids from divorced families do worse on many psychological indicators than those from intact families and that those difficulties continue for decades. Does that mean that they are doomed? Of course not, but it does mean that there are some serious difficulties that the average divorced family will not overcome nearly as easily as intact ones.

Marriage is a covenantal contract. Govt and the legal system esp was developed to make sure people kept their contracts, among other things. People get downright ticked off when they have a contract and one party didn't fulfill his side of the agreement. They get so angry that they run to the govt legal system to get the powers that be to enforce the contract or make some kind of equitable compensation for the breech of contract. When people say "for better or worse, in sickness or in health, til death do us part" which was the standard line for a long time, that was a contract and the legal system supported the wronged party when someone broke that promise. Because marriage historically has been that kind of contract, the law usually required some very good reasons for breaking it (abuse, other criminal acts, abandonment, adultery being prime examples, although the list could probably go on).

At 5/30/2006 2:50 PM, Anonymous NosyNeighbor said...

I agree that marriage is a contract and should be entered into with the intention of fulfilling your obligations to that contract. However, realistically contracts are broken everyday. It doesn't make it right but it's a fact. It's a shame that some children do suffer and experience hardships due to divorce. Some children in intact families suffer and experience hardships as well. It's not a perfect world.

With the climbing divorce rates in this country and the subsequent number of children being affected on the rise, I'm not sure your "statistics" of children from intact families performing better than children from broken/divorced families is going to hold up much longer. As a society we will (hopefully) adapt to this trend.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. Or are we agreeing? I don't know -- I'm not feeling well and probably am not thinking clearly. Sorry if I'm rambling.

At 6/01/2006 12:08 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Hope you are feeling better. You sounded lucid to me.

Yeah, we probably won't reach complete agreement, but that's ok.

Again, I do think there are very valid reasons for divorce. I don't agree with the idea of divorce for any reason. How many of us would marry if our spouse to be said: "I agree to love you and support you for as long as I want to." Definitely not as confidence inspiring as "til death do us part", ya know? I think we have a right to expect that things would have to get pretty bad before someone would walk out on us and our kids.

Does that make sense or am I just beating a dead horse?


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