No Argument

Straight couples write their own ticket. That’s why they can’t craft an argument to justify excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. It’s not because we want to redefine it. It’s because straight people redefined it to an extent where there’s no argument that can be made to exclude same-sex couples.

— Dan Savage (December 9, 2012)

These last few weeks everybody was talking about same-sex marriage

which was argued before the Supreme Court. (Full transcript and audio at NPR.) More specifically, the Court is considering the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (which tells the federal government not to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in the states that allow them) and California’s Proposition 8 (which made same-sex marriage illegal in California by constitutional amendment).

There’s been an element of triumphalism in the liberal coverage of the hearings, as it became clear in the verbal arguments that the pro-DOMA, anti-marriage-equality side is really straining to find any legal-sounding fig leaf to justify its position.*

This lack of a leg to stand on vindicates Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall’s ground-breaking opinion in 2003 (the first case I ever blogged about). Marshall wrote that a same-sex marriage ban had “no rational relationship” to any legitimate goal of the state. At the time, conservatives were greatly offended by the implication that they were irrational, but now that they have to spell out that rational relationship, all they can do is huff and puff.

The other reason to feel triumphant is the parade of Democratic politicians flipping to support marriage equality. Arguably, the recent trend started with Joe Biden, who seemed to be pushing President Obama last May. (Obama got on board a few days later.) In the last month, Bill Clinton renounced DOMA, which he signed, and Hillary Clinton has also endorsed marriage equality. Every day or two, a new Democratic senator joined the chorus, until last Monday there were just eight Democratic senators who have not. Wait, make that seven. No, six. Sorry, four: Manchin of West Virginia, Pryor of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana, and Johnson of South Dakota. All are from states Obama lost handily in 2012, and all but Manchin are up for re-election in 2014.

Even the occasional Republican has flipped, like Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Illinois Senator Mark KirkBill O’Reilly now says “The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals”, and Rush Limbaugh admits that the issue is “lost”.

This is all in line with my post “Everybody will support same-sex marriage by 2030” last May. The trends are clear and politicians of both parties can read them. So Biden jumped before Obama because Obama focused only on the 2012 general election, while Biden was also looking at the 2016 Democratic primaries. Claire McCaskill flipped because she doesn’t run again until 2018, by which time the issue will work in her favor, even in Missouri.

It will be a few elections before that logic takes hold on the Republican side, but by 2030, even Republican candidates for local offices in Alabama won’t take an openly anti-gay position and expect to win on it, just as they don’t take openly racist positions now.

The religious right is not folding, though, and this sets up a libertarian vs. theocrat battle that will probably divide the Republican party for years to come. Libertarians and corporatist Republicans will want to play the issue down to win elections, while theocrats will be looking for an Alamo they can defend to the last man.

*All of which raises the question: What really does motivate opponents of marriage equality?

Well, there’s the obvious “Gay sex is yucky”, which wouldn’t be very compelling in court. Also, “My religion requires me to be a bigot”, which likewise has no legal heft. And there are people who just dislike change in general. But none of that really explains the opponents’ sky-is-falling urgency.

Tiffany Wayne suggests something deeper that I find more likely: Defense of “traditional marriage” is really about defending traditional gender roles. Same-sex marriage is threatening because it frames marriage as a negotiated relationship between equals, not as the divinely mandated submission of a wife/mother to the authority of a husband/father, each of whom has a well defined, divinely mandated role in the household.

I am struck in listening to the opposition to same-sex marriage by the persistent denial that gender is a socially constructed role. This is a “traditional” view of marriage in the sense that it is grounded in “biology is destiny,” or specific roles assigned based on sex. It is an extremely narrow view of “marriage” based on specific roles assigned by sex, rather than marriage as an emotional and physical and social partnership between two individuals.  Most telling, it is a view that denies that heterosexual people can be in egalitarian marriages, or should be. It is a belief in “traditional” marriage as hierarchical. Not as a true partnership of equals, but as a microcosm of society with a power structure that flows from husband to wife to children.

I’m reminded of this exchange between Chris Hayes and Dan Savage last December:

SAVAGE: We only hear that monogamy or children or religion are defining characteristics of marriage when same-sex couples want to marry.

Straight couples write their own ticket. That’s why they can’t craft an argument to justify excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. It’s not because we want to redefine it. It’s because straight people redefined it to an extent where there’s no argument that can be made to exclude same-sex couples.

It is the legal, romantic, hopefully sexual union of two legally autonomous individuals, period, the end. They get to write their own ticket, they get to write their own vows. They can, you know, assume all in their relationship and their marriage, all the typical things people might expect a marriage to be.

HAYES: Or not.

SAVAGE: Or they can write — they can be something very different. Marriage is very subjective and interesting and new. And redefined by straight people.

That is a more compelling reason to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples: opposition to the equality-within-marriage that is becoming the new norm for straights and gays alike. It also explains why the religious right can’t make its case openly: That argument was already lost years ago.

and Mike Rice

I don’t usually do sports stories here, but the firing of the Rutgers basketball coach turned into something larger when conservative pundits framed Rice’s abusive behavior as “old-fashioned discipline”. What I find weird in the conservative focus on “discipline” is that they always think the people on the bottom need more discipline, never the people at the top. I elaborate in Mike Rice, Sean Hannity, and the Real American Discipline Problem. If you’re talking about bankers, billionaires, and CEOs, then I totally agree: America needs more discipline.

If this article reminds any of you of One Word Turns the Tea Party Around, where I made sense out of Tea Party rhetoric by changing the word government to corporations — yeah, me too.

and North Korea

All kinds of saber-rattling has been coming out of North Korea lately, and there’s a big debate on about whether this is business-as-usual, the new ruler trying to build respect inside his country, a predictable test for the new South Korean president, or something to worry about.

I have never pretended to understand North Korea, so I went looking for people who think they do. Foreign Policy has a worry-but-don’t-panic article. I also found this video dialog between Economist editors to be instructive.

and guns

This Dan Wasserman cartoon pretty well covers it: The Senate looks like it might not even pass the universal background check provision that 90% of the country supports. But substantial new gun laws have gotten through in Connecticut (Sandy Hook) and Colorado (Aurora, Columbine), as well as New York and Maryland.

One thing I think all the NRA-cowed politicians are forgetting: Yes, the wave set off by any particular massacre eventually dissipates, but what about the next one?

That’s why it’s important to bring anti-gun-violence measures to a vote, even if it’s obvious they won’t pass. If Sandy Hook turns out to be the last massacre, great. But if it’s not, and if the next one could have been prevented by the measures being debated now (as Sandy Hook could have been prevented by renewing the assault-weapon ban in 2004), we want a clear record of who was responsible for defeating those measures.

and you also might be interested in …

A serious polling group just polled a bunch of conspiracy theories the mainstream doesn’t usually take seriously. PPP finds that 37% of the public (and a majority of Republicans) think global warming is a hoax. 28% (and 36% of Romney voters) still think Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11, which 11% of the public believes the government knew about in advance, but allowed to happen. And is Obama the Anti-Christ? 22% of Romney voters say yes.

A lot of people got excited Monday about a bill introduced in the North Carolina legislature to let the state establish a state religion. (See the 19,000 comments on this HuffPost article.) I don’t think it was an April Fool’s joke, but it didn’t matter: By Thursday the NC Speaker of the House said the bill will never come to a vote — so never mind.

Clearly, not enough people have read’s 5 Ways to Spot a Bullshit Political Story in Under 10 Seconds, which I linked to shortly after it came out last year. Way #2 is: “The headline is about a ‘lawmaker’ saying something stupid.” Cracked editor David Wong points out: There are 7,382 state legislators in the U.S.; any group that size is bound to have some whackjobs in it; and any one of them can introduce a bill.

So it would really be newsworthy if some week no crazy-assed bills were proposed.

Rule of thumb: Don’t waste your outrage. Unless your representative is the one embarrassing himself, pay no attention to a crazy-sounding bill in your own state legislature until it has gotten out of committee. Pay no attention to a crazy bill in some other state until it has passed one house.

Homework: The next crazy NC bill, to put a two-year waiting period on divorces. Is it time to get upset or not?

National Review and I have different visions of Wonderland.

The Kentucky legislature just passed a “religious freedom” bill over its governor’s veto. The bill is short, and the key sentence is:

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.

Religious conservatives have been moving in this direction for several years, with bills that allow medical service providers to refuse to provide services that violate their conscience (i.e., druggists can refuse to fill prescriptions for an abortion-inducing drug like RU-486), and with the court case challenging whether health insurance provided by private employers has to provide the contraception coverage mandated by ObamaCare. (As far as I know, no EMT has become a Jehovah’s Witness and refused to give blood transfusions, but I believe he would have that right in Mississippi.)

As much as I dislike this bill, part of me is glad it passed, because I can stop making slippery-slope arguments now that Kentucky has slid all the way to the bottom. Now, if you don’t want to hire women, you can invoke this law and your sincerely held religious belief that a woman’s place is in the home. If you don’t want to serve blacks, invoke this law and your sincere belief that God doesn’t want the races to mix.

Of course, I don’t recommend you try to invoke this law if your sincere beliefs are Muslim or atheist. As we’ve seen in neighboring Tennessee, religious freedom is for Christians — you knew that, right?

But anyway, run free, religious Christian Kentuckians!

This message from “your high-speed internet and cable provider” isn’t safe for work, but it’s funny and true.

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  • Dave Lance  On April 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    There is one perfectly valid argument against same sex marriage and I am frankly astonished no one has trumpeted it loudly. Speaking as an advocate for children, i have to ask: What gives us the right to manufacture a child, separate the child from the mother, and give it to two men to raise? Is that really doing the right thing for that child?

    • SM  On April 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      So adopting a baby is wrong? Or only to same-sex parents?
      I think you’ll find that children are happy as long as they have someone who loves and cares for them. One parent, two parents, a whole extended family, any gender will do.

  • Dangerous Meredith  On April 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I look forward to your posts every week. As an Aussie I was chuffed that you included Leunig’s cartoon in your beautifully argued piece on same sex marriage.

  • Kimc  On April 15, 2013 at 1:29 am

    Has any druggist ever refused to sell Viagra on the grounds that God knows what he’s doing when he keeps someone from getting it up?

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