An Odd Twist in the Gay Marriage Debate

This March 26th the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases on the issue of gay marriage: Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor. The two cases bring different issues to the Court but both deal with the issue of gay marriage.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear these cases; lower courts in both cases ruled in favor of gay marriage and if the court had not taken the cases it would have cleared the way for gay marriage.

Opponents of gay marriage have consistently argued that marriage has been, is, and always should be between one man and one woman. A group called Protect Marriage outlines these views.

A few days ago they appeared to change tactics; I say “appeared” because I’m still scratching my head over this. You can read the article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, and a follow up article in today’s paper.

As far as I can tell, this is what happened: Both cases put government in the role of defendant (the state of California in Hollingsworth v. Perry and the federal government in United States v. Windsor) and in both cases the governments refused to defend the laws. Several groups have taken that role, including a group of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. This group hired a former Solicitor General under President Bush, Paul D. Clement, to argue on their behalf.

He filed an argument that said this (my interpretation): Heterosexual unmarried couples live with the possibility of an unexpected pregnancy. Children do better when raised in a home with two parents, and societal pressure for the couple to get married (known colloquially as a “shotgun marriage”) benefits everyone. Homosexual marriage has no possibility of an unexpected pregnancy. Therefore, if we allow gays to marry, we turn marriage from “have to” to “want to.” This will remove the pressure on a heterosexual pregnant couple to get married, and they won’t. This will harm society as children raised by one parent don’t do as well as children raised by two parents.

I can only hope I’m reading it wrong.

President Obama's Second Term: Grateful We Made It

Once again Nancy and I were on the road to Yosemite during the inauguration. It meant we heard most of it on the radio and missed the visuals. That’s OK: the oratory was more than enough. Even the president’s strongest opponents must admit he’s a brilliant and articulate speaker.

Some of the highlights for me:

  • The fact that he was reelected. The Republican Party and several incredibly wealthy people spent obscene amounts of money to defeat him, and yet our votes could not be bought or intimidated.
  • While the crowds were not nearly as large as they were four years ago it speaks volumes that nearly a million people showed up.
  • And now for some quotes: “[W]e, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”
  • “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
  • “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”
  • The elegant symmetry that we celebrated this on the day we celebrate Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The part of his speech that I found the most moving and surprising was his words on our gay brothers and sisters. He and I have both been prodded in our support of gay marriage by brave gay men and women who cared about us enough to challenge our prejudices. Now we both support for them what we have been blessed to take for granted for us.

Though not quoted directly in this speech, President Obama has often quoted Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now.” Dr. King used it initially in his opposition to the war in Vietnam but it’s a quote for the ages. It counters the argument that while what you want may be valid, we’re not ready for it. If it’s right, it’s right now. It is that time for full gay equality.

The Republican response was as expected as it was tiresome. They claim that he did not reach out to those who did not vote for the president. This after their candidate claimed it was not his job to care about people who don’t support him. This after his predecessor George W. Bush famously said on his reelection: “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.”

My advice to the president is this: Take off the gloves. The Republicans took the gloves off the day you announced you were running for president and all your attempts to negotiate with them were fruitless because they never intended to negotiate with you. The debt ceiling, gun control, the promises we’ve made to our veterans and the elderly: they never had any intention of working for a solution. All they ever wanted was your defeat and they failed at that. In the last 20 years there have been 6 presidential elections and they received the majority of the votes in one of them.

The Trouble With Satire? We've Become Too Dumb to Recognize It

On December 28, 2012 Daniel Akst wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times entitled: Hey Kids, Don’t Forget Your Guns. He began the article by talking about the NRA’s proposal that we make our schools safe by posting an armed law enforcement officer in every school. Daniel suggested that the best way to make schools safe is to give the students guns and train them in how to shoot.

My thanks to Mrs. Farris, my 12th grade English teacher who had us read A Modest Proposal by Jonathon Swift. Swift suggested in 1729 (in response to large numbers of his fellow Irish in poverty) that their 1 year old children be sold to the rich to be eaten. We learned in reading this about satire.

Daniel was doing the same thing. Several of us caught the meaning, but I’m amazed at how many didn’t. The responses of shock and outrage caused the Times to publish a postscript on January 5th that you can read here. In the article Sue Horton wrote: “Should we have made it more obvious that Akst was writing tongue-in-cheek if clearly intelligent readers didn’t get the joke?” At the end of the article she wrote: “We do like to run the occasional piece of satire on the Op-Ed pages, and we intend to continue to publish it. But we will also continue to look for ways — through headlines, say, or visual presentation — to better tip the readers to the joke. If we fail occasionally, as we almost certainly will, we apologize.”

We apologize? WE APOLOGIZE? C’mon man. I don’t expect that everyone who reads this article will make the connection to Jonathon Swift, but it scares me to think that we’ve gotten to the point where we can’t recognize satire. Last May I wrote an article about a column that claimed President Lincoln filed the first patent in 1845 for what would become Facebook. It was picked up by several news organizations who assumed it was true.

How does this happen? I have a few theories:

  • We are bombarded by too much information. We hear so much each day about so many things that we simply can’t keep up. No longer do we have the time to step back and ask: “Does this make any sense?” The media used to filter out the crazy stuff, but now they amplify it. Our 24 hour news organizations are so hungry for new content that they no longer filter but put everything out and tell us we decide. We’re not good at it.
  • Organizations that we think should be mature or reasonable are neither. My best evidence of this is the NRA itself. Their answer to gun violence is the need for more guns. Is is so much of a stretch to think that if 1 gun in a school is reasonable, 600 isn’t?
  • Finally, we’ve never been good at identifying satire. Indeed, in 1729 Swift’s essay was met by outrage in some circles by people who thought he was serious. On October 30, 1938 Orson Wells produced a radio show called War of the Worlds. Even with disclaimers before, during, and after the show, people thought that Earth was being invaded. Within days of the attacks of 9/11/2001 we began hearing that this was caused by the US government. Really. You can read about it here.

So where do we go from here? Me, I’m praying for the people who fall for these stories, and still vote.