Why Do Conservatives Fear Gay Marriage?


Since President Obama’s recent endorsement of gay marriage, and the ensuing backlash from the Right, a question has been bugging me…

Just why do many people – particularly religious conservatives – fear gay marriage, especially when they seem willing to at least tolerate the legality of gay behavior? I realize that looking for reasons in a case like this is often bound to produce only frustration, but it might be interesting to catalog at least the sorts of explanations those who fear same-sex marriage usually set forth.

A common explanation cites the biblical condemnation of gay behavior as an “abomination”. A problem with this explanation is that, presumably, gay people in our society will engage in gay sex whether they are married or not; there is no reason to think that preventing them from marrying results in less gay sex, and at least some reason to think that it actually results in more gay sex, and hence in more “abomination”. Surely adopting policies that keep gay sex more promiscuous than it might otherwise be isn’t a very effective way of pleasing God!

There are, of course, many other arguments against gay marriage, including an obvious instance of the slippery slope fallacy and various economic concerns, all of which are easy to debunk, as this article by Tom Head rather effortlessly demonstrates: “10 Really Bad Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage…“.

As you can see from that article, theological arguments against same-sex marriage apparently all have countervailing theological arguments, and the empirical arguments – alleging deleterious effects on society, children, or straight marriage – have no evidential support that stands up to even the most cursory scrutiny. This fact, of course, provided the basis of Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s famous decision that California’s Proposition 8 violated the Equal Protection clause. If you’ve never read Judge Walker’s decision, you can read it here. Here’s the conclusion, after 135 pages of careful legal reasoning-

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Now, putting aside the technical legal arguments, perhaps the most common argument against legally recognizing same-sex unions is that “normalizing” such unions would result in their becoming more common, and that this would devalue or diminish heterosexual marriage. Such arguments often use analogical reasoning, and the sorts of analogies that come to mind in this context might include devaluation of the dollar (via inflation) by printing more dollars, or diminishing the quality of a wine by diluting it with water. Such analogies are obviously weak: the value of a particular marriage has nothing to do with the overall number of marriages, and producing more wine, even a new category of wine, does not dilute other bottles of wine. This is true even if those new bottles of wine are diluted relative to the others (as conservatives argue gay marriages are less valuable than straight marriages). Of course, if the new category of wine were diluted, then the average quality of all of the wine in the world would be diminished. But surely the value of marriage, in the only sense that has practical consequences, depends on the value of each marriage, and on the additive effects of those marriages on society – not on any merely theoretical average number. So… just how could expanding the category of marriage to include a new “vintage” devalue the other, pre-existing vintage? Well, only if the new vintage were perceived to be better

Could this be the correct explanation of the fear? Could it be that conservatives (subconsciously?) believe that if same-sex marriage were to become more accepted and hence more common, heterosexuals would actually begin converting their sexual orientation? Could conservatives really (subconsciously?) believe that gay sex is so much better than straight sex, or that switching one’s sexual preference is, at least for most people, as easy as switching brands? It sounds silly, but you do often hear conservatives fantasizing about gay folks – especially teachers – “recruiting” children who would otherwise be straight, as if changing or determining someone’s sexual orientation – even a child’s – were as easy as giving them the right sales pitch!

I’m sure that there are plenty considerations I’ve missed, including some that might buck up the conservative case against gay marriage. It is true, for instance, that legally recognizing gay marriage would be a social experiment whose long term consequences are not entirely predictable. What is disappointing is that in the very next breath, conservatives are likely to deny the much more predictable and clearly dire consequences of that other “social experiment” in which we’ve been engaged for a hundred years: dumping millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Since changing marriage law would be a lot easier than repairing the atmosphere, I’d much rather experiment with same-sex marriage than with global warming.

Anyway, I’m just asking the question; I haven’t settled on any answer. So if you feel like venturing an opinion, I’d love to hear it. The comments are open.

Governor Walker’s “Divide And Conquer” Strategy


Governor Walker has claimed since the beginning of his term that he’s not interested in reducing the power of private unions in Wisconsin; his only concern, he said, was with the budgetary impact that collective bargaining agreements with public unions had. Now there’s a video – raw footage from Brad Lichtenstein’s documentary to be entitled “As Goes Janesville” – that seems to prove that his true intention has always been to just start with public-sector unions as a first step towards weakening private-sector unions as well. As reported by JSOnline, where you can view the video for yourself

In the video, [Beloit billionaire Diane] Hendricks told Walker she wanted to discuss “controversial” subjects away from reporters, asking him:

“Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions -”

“Oh, yeah,” Walker broke in.

“- and become a right-to-work?” Hendricks continued. “What can we do to help you?”

“Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill,” Walker said. “The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

The entire conversation was not released Thursday with a video trailer of the documentary, but Journal Sentinel reporters were allowed to view the raw footage.

“So for us,” the governor continues, “the base we get for that is the fact that we’ve got – budgetarily we can’t afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there’s no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out. . . . That opens the door once we do that. That’s your bigger problem right there.”

Walker co-sponsored right-to-work legislation in 1993 as a freshman in the state Assembly, but as governor has consistently downplayed seeking any restrictions on private unions in public statements.

“This is another colossal bait and switch that goes directly to his honesty,” [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Barrett said. “What he claims he is not in favor of publicly, to the person who has made the largest contribution in state history, he says exactly the opposite. You can’t trust him.”

Barrett has been hammering Walker on right-to-work legislation for weeks, frequently using the phrase “divide and conquer.” Barrett said he used that term because he believed that was Walker’s strategy, but did not know until Thursday that Walker himself had used it.

In the 2010 campaign, Walker won the support of Operating Engineers Local 139, a union that represents about 9,000 heavy equipment operators in Wisconsin. The union is not endorsing anyone in this year’s recall election.

Terry McGowan, the union’s business manager, said the union gave its 2010 endorsement only after getting assurances Walker would not pursue right-to-work legislation. The union backed Walker because of his support for road building done by the group’s members, McGowan said.

He said Thursday he was troubled by the footage of Walker with Hendricks, but that he was continuing to take Walker at his word given his public statements and conversations he has had with him. “You don’t hear him say, ‘Yes, I’m going to go after right-to-work legislation,’ ” McGowan said of the video. But he added that divide and conquer is a phrase that is anathema to those in the labor movement. “It means turning worker against worker,” he said.

Because Walker faces a recall, a quirk in state law allowed supporters such as Hendricks for a time to donate unlimited sums to the governor’s campaign for certain expenses. Last month, Hendricks contributed $500,000 to Walker, bringing her total donations to him to $519,100 and the donations by her and [her husband] Ken to all candidates to more than $1 million.

Of course, it’s really no surprise that Walker, like the rest of the GOP, is ultimately after all of organized labor. But it’s nice to catch a politician telling the truth, even if only to a billionaire donor.

By the way, I’m not dogmatic about the benefits of unionization. It’s an empirical question whether workers are economically better off with or without unions, and I’ve seen apparently strong, statistical arguments on both sides. At the very least, it seems that if unions are to be economically relevant in the future, they need to focus on training and re-training, partnering with new technology rather than hedging against it.

Quite apart from the economic question, there is the dignity issue: the right of workers to organize for the purpose of negotiating with their managers seems as important to a free society as the right of citizens to peaceably assemble or petition their government for redress of grievances. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur or a professional. Especially in jobs where workers are easily replaced, it seems that only well-run unions can insure that workers have a meaningful voice in the enterprises to which they devote their lives.

Wisconsin Primary Results Indicate GOP Mischief


Machiavelli – at least as he might popularly be misconceived – must be grinning in his grave…

The Wisconsin Republican Party backed six “fake democrat” candidates in yesterday’s primary election: Gladys Huber, Isaac Weix, Gary Ellerman, Tamra Lyn Varebrook, James Engel and James Buckley. None won, but, with the exception of Gladys Huber in the governor’s race, they each received a significant number of votes: their percentages ranged from 26-36%. Perhaps most disturbingly, Isaac Weix received 26% of the vote for Lieutenant Governor – that’s 197,052 apparently Republican votes in a statewide Democratic primary! Almost as notable was Jim Buckley’s taking 36% of the vote against Donna Seidel in State Senate District 29; Buckley is the guy from outside the district who seriously insisted that he was running to prevent Donna Seidel and George Soros from forming a Nazi-Communist world government (really, I’m not exaggerating).

You can find all of the election results here.

By the way, in my last post I quoted from Adam Rodewald’s investigative story in Monday’s Oshkosh Northwestern, and promised a link to it. Here it is. In a strange twist of policy for such a front-page headline story, the powers that be at the Northwestern immediately buried the story in the newspaper’s archive, rather than follow the paper’s usual practice of electronically re-publishing it on the paper’s main web site. I emailed Rodewald about not finding the story in the usual online location, and he seemed surprised; in his reply, he wrote-

“I’m not sure what happened to that story. I can’t find it either. I am looking into it and will let you know if and when the link is restored.”

I haven’t heard anything more from him, but if I do, I’ll update this post. As it stands, it’s hard to resist inferring that the paper’s departure from its usual practice was the result of political influence. But… resist… I… must…!

Would Machiavelli Have Loved Open Primaries?


This question might not be as interesting as the last one I asked of the same form – Would Plato Have Loved The Bossa Nova? – but the answer to this one is more obvious and certainly affirmative. As reported by Adam Rodewald in today’s Oshkosh Northwestern

Republican Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald and State Rep. Robin Vos have both publicly stated they hope Republicans cross over and vote for Democrat Kathleen Falk in the governor’s race, according to the Associated Press. That’s because recent polls suggest Walker has a better chance of defeating Falk, a former Dane County Executive, than Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the general recall election.

However, the Winnebago County Republican Party said Walker supporters could leave the governor vulnerable in his own primary if too many cross over to the other side. Walker also faces competition in Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a 23-year old from Madison, in a primary election Tuesday. Joe Malecki, communications director for the county Republican Party, said he suspects some Democrats might be voting for Kohl-Riggs to make it appear Walker is losing support within his own party.

The Winnebago County Republican Party is explicitly recommending Republicans vote in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. The party wants its members to vote for Republican protest candidate Issac Weix in an attempt to eliminate the actual Democratic challenger, Mitchell Mahlon.

Machiavelli reputedly advocated the morally problematic view that “the end justifies the means”. Even if this view were true for objectively good ends (and I doubt that it is), surely more evil has at least inadvertently been done in the name of good than in the name of evil. So anyone who thinks that this Machiavellian gaming of the political process is anything but a horrible idea should first have their conscience – and then other parts of their mind – examined. On the (controversial but widely believed) assumption that in any political debate one side would bring about a good while the other would (at least inadvertently) bring about an evil, it is obviously unwise – not to mention self-defeating – for either side to endorse or encourage the use of a deceptive tactic that could just as easily be used against it!

Since it seems clear that we shouldn’t have government or even party bosses deciding who can run in a given primary, all sides should agree: there should be no “open primaries”.

The Story of Coco and Igor


Actually, there’s not much of a story in Jan Kounen’s (2009) hypnotic romance/drama, but you hardly care as Stravinsky’s lush music and the unapologetically sumptuous images wash over you like a tidal wave of Chanel No. 5. Oh… and don’t miss the kaleidoscopic opening credit sequence, which sets the film’s impressively consistent tone and pacing from the get-go. Warning: not for those allergic to self-consciously “high art”.

Is Mitt Romney A Probability Wave?


From David Javerbaum’s amusing opinion piece in last Sunday’s New York Times, entitled “A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney“-

Before Mitt Romney, those seeking the presidency operated under the laws of so-called classical politics, laws still followed by traditional campaigners like Newt Gingrich. Under these Newtonian principles, a candidate’s position on an issue tends to stay at rest until an outside force — the Tea Party, say, or a six-figure credit line at Tiffany — compels him to alter his stance, at a speed commensurate with the size of the force (usually large) and in inverse proportion to the depth of his beliefs (invariably negligible). This alteration, framed as a positive by the candidate, then provokes an equal but opposite reaction among his rivals.

But the Romney candidacy represents literally a quantum leap forward. It is governed by rules that are bizarre and appear to go against everyday experience and common sense. To be honest, even people like Mr. Fehrnstrom who are experts in Mitt Romney’s reality, or “Romneality,” seem bewildered by its implications; and any person who tells you he or she truly “understands” Mitt Romney is either lying or a corporation.

Javerbaum goes on to argue (in an admirably concise and facile way) that Romneality illustrates all of the major concepts of quantum theory: complementarity, probability, uncertainty, entanglement, noncausality, and duality. Read it for yourself, and marvel at Mitt Romney’s phenomenal awesomeness!

(Thanks Nathan).