Archive for the ‘same-sex marriage’ Category

If It Were Not Written…

December 6, 2010

The rabbis who put the Talmud together used to say, when they mentioned something especially weird or counterintuitive, “If it were not written, it would be impossible to believe it.” I guess that’s Aramaic for “Honest! No kidding!”

Every now and then, we run into a whole bunch of counterintuitive stuff at once. This has been one of those weeks. For instance, a psychologist, at /research/proposal-classify-happiness-psychiatric-disorder/, is proposing to designate happiness as a mental disorder. Presumably it should turn up in DSM-X or whatever as Inappropriate Euphoric Disorder. This is not totally out of step with what we know about happiness and its opposite. Depressed people, we have known for a long time, have a more accurate perception of reality than non-depressed people (See http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/ Depressive_realism) This suggests that happiness causes a distorted view of reality. Surely that should qualify it as a mental disorder.

And then there’s the influence of mercury poisoning on avian sexual orientation. See, for the original study. This one is interesting because it may provide an explanation for declining sperm counts in human males (see and perhaps also for the increasing visibility of human homosexual behavior. In which case, no, people aren’t born with it, but they don’t choose it either.

And then there’s what I just heard on our local public radio station, on “To the Best of Our Knowledge”, which this week is discussing the human soul (or lack thereof.) In the course of this discussion, one of the interlocutors, Parker Palmer (I think), said that a more scientific society is likely to be more authoritarian because it leads us to be more dependent on “experts.” Once again I had to restrain myself from leaping up and shouting “This is bullsh*t.” The only difference between “scientifically advanced” cultures and “primitive” ones is that our “experts” are somewhat more likely to know what they are talking about than their “experts.” But humans, at any level of scientific advancement, will rely on the available “experts” to resolve uncertainties. In fact, a case can be made that human culture creates “experts” in order to be able to rely on them. And we make our “experts” out of the currently available material, regardless of its fallibility. The fallibility may vary; the reliance does not.

And then there’s the Unintended Consequences problem. For instance, Israel encourages some Palestinians to emigrate. Like migrant populations from anyplace, they are most likely to want to immigrate to the United States. Some of them succeed. A lot of them end up moving to the Detroit area. This creates at least one and probably a couple of congressional districts that take some hardline anti-Israel positions, and perhaps move the US Congress as a whole a squinch more in that direction. And, more recently (speaking of public radio), as public radio budgets get cut (even though they have not yet lost all federal funding, which hasn’t been a large part of their budgets in the last decade or so anyway), they find that one of the cheapest ways to get programming their audiences will enjoy is to buy them from the Brits and the Canadians. Which may encourage our “cultural elite” to adopt a more European, or leftist, or blue-state point of view.


Rude Awakening

December 3, 2010

I slept a little late this morning. What woke me was the news on the radio. Specifically, what woke me was the news, in two closely adjacent pieces, that Congress (1) would not extend the unemployment compensation benefits for the long-term jobless, and (2) that God’s Own Party does want to extend the Bush tax cuts, not only for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, but for those making more than $250K per year. They don’t want to extend unemployment benefits ( which would put a $65B dent in the budget) unless they can be “paid for” by cuts in some other area. They are not the least bit interested in demonstrating how the tax cuts for billionaires (roughly a $700B addition to the deficit) can be “paid for.” With great difficulty I restrained myself from leaping out of bed shouting “this is bullsh*t,” which would have painfully startled Mr. Wired and the cat out of their sound sleep.

Let’s break this down a bit. Those losing their unemployment compensation benefits number roughly 800,000 human beings, most of them with families. The average weekly benefit for each member of this unfortunate group is $300.00. That’s a total annual income of $15,000.00 per person, or more likely, per family. Keeping the Bush tax rates for all taxpayers would mean that the something like 225,000 households in the highest tax bracket (up in the $300,000s per year, or 20 times the average annual unemployment benefit) would be taxed at a maximum marginal rate of 35% instead of 38.6%. Crunch the numbers for yourself.

But, the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln tells us, the upper bracket tax cuts are different from the pittance we give unemployed workers. If we give the unemployed their weekly $300.00, they’ll just use it to buy food and pay rent and put gas in their cars so they can keep looking for jobs. If we give the rich more money, they will use it to create jobs. (I love the word “create” in this context. It well-nigh apotheosizes Big Business. One can see Donald Trump leaning out over the heavens, his fingertip outstretched to a Walmart sales clerk… Moro, can you draw this? Anybody else?)

Just as they have created jobs over the 9 years during which the Bush tax cuts have already been in effect, right? The nine years in which corporations have repeatedly demonstrated that they will do almost anything rather than hire American workers to work in the United States at full-time permanent jobs with health insurance and retirement benefits. If the Bush tax cuts had created jobs, there wouldn’t be 800,000 people out of work now for more than a year. Why should we expect the tax cuts to do now what they didn’t do last year or the year before?

And why, pray tell, do we accept the Republican double standard on deficit reduction? That standard dictates that all government spending for ordinary people and their families must be “paid for,” and paid for not by tax increases on anybody else, but by spending cuts on other government services to the same ordinary people. But it also dictates that tax cuts on the richest Americans do not need to be “paid for” at all, because they will by some magical process pay for themselves in jobs to be “created” from the same inanimate matter that used to create organic life in the theories of Aristotle. In short, they would have us keep two sets of books, one for the rich and one for everybody else. Each set must balance within itself, but the two need have no interaction whatever with each other, except across the celestial spark gap (see above) in which the superrich “create” jobs. My father the CPA would be aghast at this maneuver.

But there seems to be a bipartisan push to extend jobless benefits in exchange for extending the Bush tax cuts for even the richest taxpayers, and to hell with the deficit for this week anyway. Republicans and Democrats, the pro-life corporate party and the pro-choice corporate party, shoulder to shoulder against financial sanity.

Well, I gotta go. The sovereign state of Illinois has just passed a bill legitimizing civil unions for same-sex couples. The Catholic Church says this is an assault on the sacred covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, and that means I probably ought to cook dinner for Mr. Wired before our marriage falls apart altogether.

Red Emma

President Obama and Visiting the Sick

April 16, 2010

…which is, in case you didn’t know, a mitzvah for Jews and a corporal work of mercy for Catholics. Dunno about the rest of you guys. Anyway, the President has issued an executive order requiring all health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid money to honor the express wishes of all patients with regard to visitation and surrogate decision-making, without discrimination by reason of, among other things, sexual orientation.

My experience and understanding is that hospitals have typically dealt with these issues on a fairly informal basis. For instance, they have exercised a lot of leeway in deciding who is “next of kin” for purposes of information and decision-making. If anybody in the patient’s family is a medical or legal professional, that person is likely to get a lot of deference from the hospital, as a way of neutralizing a possible source of litigation and legal hassle, regardless of genealogical or geographical closeness or the patient’s expressed wishes. Aside from that, any relative who turns up and asks a lot of questions is probably going to get answers, unless there is some other relative already on the scene with better credentials. I don’t know that hospitals make any written rules about this (docs please correct me if necessary.) And ordinarily, if the patient is really aggressive about introducing a person as “my medical power of attorney,” regardless of genealogy, the hospital goes along with this. Unless, that is, there are other more “official” relatives already on the scene who disagree with this arrangement.

But same-sex partners have on occasion been shut out of visitation and decision-making (sometimes even with a properly signed and witnessed health care power of attorney) by antagonistic family members. The news this week contains lots of instances of such gratuitous meanness. If this involves violation of a power of attorney, it was probably already illegal, but stuff like this usually happens when nobody has the time or the energy to go to court about it.

So the president’s order has solved what has sometimes been a heartbreaking problem for same-sex couples, and probably puts him in the Big Leagues of doers of mitzvot and corporal works of mercy. Good on him.


Bigotry and Low Expectations

November 6, 2009

No, this isn’t about the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” I just did that to catch the eye. There is no heat in my office, my hands are cold, and the only way to keep myself typing is to start with something eye-grabbing. This is actually about the state of Maine (with which I have family connections) and the results of their referendum on same-sex marriage.

1) Why a referendum at all? Since when do we put constitutional rights to a popular vote? The fact that we have done it, in California and Maine, begs the question. Holding a referendum (regardless of its outcome) presumes that we don’t consider marriage a constitutional right, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the marvelously-named Loving vs. Virginia case 40 years ago. Foo.

2) Does that mean that those who voted to repeal same-sex marriage in those states were bigoted?

3) Or does it mean that the supporters of same-sex marriage in those states were bigoted when they called their opponents bigots? Or that they were interfering with their opponents’ First Amendment rights by advocating boycotts and other non-violent demonstrations of opposition to the repealers? Conservatives seem to consider being labeled as bigots to be a fate worse than, say, Matthew Shepard’s death. Whatever happened to “sticks and stones”?

The word “bigot,” BTW, is believed to come from some Germanic sort of root meaning “by God.” There is a literal equivalent in Spanish, referring to little old ladies in black crepe who spend most of their time in churches: pordiosera. For more etymological information, see the Wikipedia entry.

Now that we’ve explicated the word as well as one can these days, let’s scrap it. It’s not useful for this discussion. Let’s, instead, use “prejudice” and “discrimination.” Mr. Wired draws a very useful distinction between them. “Prejudice” is what everybody has a bunch of, just by virtue of having been born and raised in a particular context. Most of them we don’t even notice most of the time. They’re as close to original sin as I can allow myself to believe in. But as a practical matter they’re morally neutral. It is useful to be aware of one’s own prejudices, because that enables us to avoid discrimination.

Discrimination is not morally neutral. It involves acting on one’s prejudices, to the detriment of the well-being of others. It’s a real sin. Not serving people in restaurants. Not letting them hold certain jobs. Beating them up. Hate crimes.

Very often, the way we become aware of our prejudices is by somehow associating their object with our children. Desegregating schools unveiled a lot of parental bigotry after the promulgation of Brown vs. Board of Education. White people who were willing to work with, or even for, African-Americans, or to vote for them, or to recognize the legal authority of people who had been elected mainly by the Black vote, found themselves drawing the line at the schoolhouse door.

The campaign against same-sex marriage in Maine apparently owes its success to the claim that schoolchildren would have to be taught that same-sex marriage was no different from the usual kind. So far as anybody can tell, that claim was utter hogwash, but, as other bloggers have already pointed out, it served as a proxy for the Bigotry That Dares Not Speak Its Name, opposition to allowing our children to be aware of otherwise normal people being gay. How we want to raise our children (as opposed to how we live our own lives) is often an expression of both our highest values and our lowest prejudices.

Many otherwise very decent opponents of same-sex marriage are perfectly okay with civil unions. As a practical matter, that keeps them mostly on the right side of the prejudice-discrimination line. Most same-sex couples will not suffer unduly from having civil unions rather than marriages, given proper legal drafting. Until we think about why these decent anti-same-sex-marriage opponents want to take that position. It’s really the same reason that classical and medieval authorities required prostitutes, and Jews, to wear distinctive dress. Not because Those People were so utterly different from The Rest of Us, but precisely because they weren’t. Without the yellow hat or the blond wig or the six-pointed star, they could easily be mistaken for, and treated like, Real People. We wouldn’t know whom to discriminate against.

When one of my colleagues tells me he frequents gay bars because he is “husband-hunting” (and I respond, as gently as possible, by telling him that bars are not usually great places to meet spouses), the very normality of this exchange puts any eavesdropping adolescent at the risk of concluding that gay people are just like the rest of us. For that matter, what happens when your kid’s high school class does a field trip to the local court and hears the judge, in the course of jury selection, ask a member of the panel, “Are you married or do you have a domestic partner?” (Yes, here in Cook County, they do that.) We can’t have that, can we?

Many sincere and religious people believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. Most of them also believe that adultery is a sin (one which is usually condemned in the same biblical paragraphs as homosexuality, and sentenced to the same punishment, by the way.) Many of them even believe that remarriage after divorce is a sin. But they somehow survive their children interacting with, or at least becoming very aware of, the public adulterers and remarried divorcés around them. So apparently their religiously-based discomfort with those classes of sinners does not get translated into discrimination, maybe not even into prejudice. One has to conclude that homosexuality is different for reasons that have nothing to do with biblical morality. The yuck factor, as some religious bloggers have termed it.

So, okay, I’m willing not to call same-sex-marriage opponents bigots if they’re willing to allow civil unions (or, for that matter, religious marriages) with all of the privileges that go with civil marriage in this society—so long as they don’t treat people in civil unions, and gay people in general, any differently than they treat public adulterers and remarried divorcés. Which means allowing their kids to interact with and be aware of and be taught in school by all, or none, of these public sinners.


Things the Bible Would Have Said if the Author Had a Better Quote Book

September 8, 2009

Warning: this is yet another rant from Jane Grey on people who cite the Bible without bothering to read it.  If you’re not in the mood, go buy some popcorn.

That Other Blog Over There just attributed “hate the sin but love the sinner” to Jesus.  The Other Blogger Over There is usually much more biblically literate than that.  A swift resort to Google tells us that nobody knows who really said it first, but everyone who bothered to check it out reports that it is not to be found anywhere in the Bible.  Which is consistent with my own research.

“God helps those who help themselves,” OTOH, is definitely Ben Franklin.  “To thine own self be true” is definitely Shakespeare.  “With malice toward none, with charity to all” is definitely Lincoln. All of them have, at one time or another, been attributed to the Bible.

The Bible, similarly, says absolutely nothing about abortion, and nothing directly about same-sex marriage.  And everything it says about homosexuality, it says in paragraphs adjacent to pronouncements about adultery, for which it recommends essentially the same punishments (except for the Sodom and Gomorrah story, which can be read several different ways, and which Jews and Christians in fact do read very differently.  The traditional Jewish reading of the story sees the Sin of Sodom as powerful people doing it to powerless people, rather than men doing it with men.)

The finer points of modern textual criticism enable us to determine that, even if all that stuff about wives submitting to their husbands is in the Bible, it wasn’t really Saint Paul who said it, but some cheap knockoff, which is kind of nice.  And, while ignoring Revelation may be easy for us Jews, we don’t get off that easily from looking at Daniel, which was in fact one of the sources of Revelation.  (Arguably, Revelation is a cheap knockoff of Daniel, in fact.)

But then, one of my dearest friends, of blessed memory, once talked a Jehovah’s Witness missionary off his doorstep by quoting scripture at him in English and Hebrew until the poor guy gave up.  Let’s hear it for a little learning (not, BTW, a little knowledge.  See Pope’s “Essay on Man.”  Not the Bible.)

Jane Grey

The Sexual Revolution Keeps Going Around

May 15, 2009

That Other Blog keeps harping on the evils of the Sexual Revolution and why Our Culture will wither up and die if we don’t reverse it. I guess it’s time for a review of the facts, at least from the point of view of a history major-turned-lawyer who has spent a lot of time in divorce court and juvenile court:

v The Sexual Revolution didn’t start in the 1960s. In fact, it wasn’t a one-time only event at all, except to the extent that technology played a role. The Romans had one, which Augustus Caesar deplored big-time, while of course, like almost every other opponent of his era’s sexual revolution, playing a major role in it. The French had several, one in the Middle Ages, one during the Second Empire, and one in the late 19th century. The Brits had at least one per century beginning in the late 1500s. And the good old USA had one in the early 1800s and one that began in the 1920s and is arguably still going on.

v As is obvious from the previous paragraph, no Sexual Revolution is irreversible.

v The current Sexual Revolution may be different from its predecessors because of the contribution of contraceptive technology. But even that doesn’t make it irreversible, since even in societies where contraception is readily available, not every sexually active person chooses to use it, or even considers it a matter of choice at all.

v The Good Old 1950s weren’t all that good. There was at least as much teenage sex as there is today, and somewhat more teenage pregnancies per capita. That phenomenon was cloaked by frequent resort to Shotgun Marriage.

v These days, even our most upstanding citizens (Bristol Palin, for instance) consider that an undesirable compromise. In fact, the Catholic Church ordinarily will not perform a marriage while the prospective bride is pregnant. Obviously they consider unwed motherhood preferable. Some personal anecdotal stats: in the year before I was due to start high school, half the girls in the graduating class of the public high school I would ordinarily have attended were pregnant. Including my cousin. Which undoubtedly had something to do with my spending the next four years at a convent boarding school. So far as I know, all of the young women in question got married well before their due date.

v But I suspect that the Sexual Revolution is responsible for the decrease in math skills of our younger generations. My classmates and I, all the way through high school and college, got to exercise those skills quite regularly calculating just how premarital our friends’ sexual activity was, by subtracting 9 months from the birth of the baby, and then subtracting that date from the wedding date. Probably none of the current younger generation could work that out even with a calculator.

v Not to mention, of course, the fact that today’s youth are a seriously lost generation, at least in terms of geography, since most of them can’t even find their own state on a map. Before Playboy, young men had no place to look at nekkid wimmen except National Geographic. Yes, we can blame that on the Sexual Revolution too.


v Back in the Good Old Days, when a young woman was found dead of non-natural causes, the first thing the coroner checked for was pregnancy. Because pregnancy was an equally plausible motive for either suicide or homicide.

v Those shotgun marriages ended in divorce far more often than marriages contracted under less precipitous circumstances.

v Even current data tells us that such marriages are more likely to involve abuse.

v That doesn’t even begin to deal with the issue of homosexuality as a cause of blackmail, homicide, and suicide (and divorce and infidelity.) Yes, that still happens today, but not nearly as much as back in the Good Old Days.

Yes, there are things I don’t like about post-1960 attitudes toward sex:

v The fact that young girls get pressured into it to please other people (boyfriends or girlfriends or occasionally even parents) and often get absolutely no pleasure or reward from it.

v The fact that most of those young girls cannot imagine using contraception, and in fact consider pregnancy a highly desirable outcome, at least in comparison to ordinary high school life.

v The dangerous intersect between drugs and sex (although not much different from the link between alcohol and sex in the Good Old Days.)

v The fact that the major cause of death among pregnant women these days is homicide (probably an unintended consequence of our more stringent enforcement of child support laws.)

v The child support laws themselves, which seem to expect happy young couples to include in their repertoire of pillow talk an inquiry into the male’s date of birth and Social Security Number.

v The declining prestige of marriage, except among lesbians and gay men. (It enjoyed a brief boom among Catholic priests and nuns, but that population has now aged beyond marriageability and dwindled almost beyond recovery.)

So the Sexual Revolution was neither an unmixed blessing nor a universal curse. Like many other social phenomena, it is both cause and effect of our culture as a whole. It has affected some people much more than others. And we still haven’t figured out all of those effects, or how to modulate them. We certainly haven’t figured out how to repeal it. I don’t dream of trying.

Red Emma

“EEUUWW” is Not an Argument

April 13, 2009

That Other Blog Over There seems to be getting a lot of posts from a guy who thinks “Ick” is an argument against certain sexual acts, and thinks he can best make his point by referring to those acts as graphically as possible, so as to provoke the “ick” response in as many readers as possible.

I’ve already read Henry Miller, thank you very much.  And Norman Mailer, and the rest of those boys.  More to the point, I’ve spent a great deal of time with college-age females talking about why they don’t eat liver, and sashimi, and brains, and giblets, and okra (“EEEEUUWW, slimy”), etc.  It’s the same response.  Little kids do it even more vociferously, about anything they’ve never experienced before that isn’t on the Disney Channel.

Nonetheless, traditionalists, going back at least as far as C.S. Lewis, consider the disgust response to be a valid moral guide.  Many of my relatives consider seafood and pork products disgusting, and probably also consider this a valid moral guide.  (BTW, Maimonides says that isn’t a valid approach to keeping kosher.  We are supposed to recognize that bacon and lobster may well be delicious, and give them up joyfully in spite of that, because we are so commanded.  What merit is there in giving up something inherently disgusting?)

Well, never mind lobster and escargots and spinach and broccoli and the various other morally neutral foods that many people find disgusting.  Autopsies are disgusting, but may be medically and forensically valuable.  Surgery is disgusting, unless you do it for a living.  A cesarean delivery is disgusting, to lay people.  And perhaps more to the point, a normal vaginal birth is likely to be perceived as disgusting, even by the father of the child n question.  Normal, loving, marital sex is disgusting to children.  You get the idea.

The disgust reflex tells us absolutely nothing about the moral value of its object. It is utterly useless as a moral guide.  Can we turn our attention to how people treat each other?

Jane Grey

Marriage–A Mother & Father for Every Child

March 26, 2009

Last Monday, 200 same-sex marriage opponents showed up on the law of the Vermont State House with buttons proclaiming, “Marriage—A Mother and Father for Every Child.” This perturbs me a bit. The main cause of children not having both a mother and a father in the home isn’t gay marriage, it’s runaway men. Occasionally it’s runaway women. But what is the Religious Right doing, or even saying, about the all-too-frequently exercised right of fathers to walk away from their children? Not a whole lot. In most states, the statutes criminalizing desertion and nonsupport of home and family are either unenforced or have long since been repealed. I don’t know of anybody trying to get them back on the books.

And so far, medical science has not devised a way to prove a particular man is the father of a particular child without a DNA sample from both. I would support a Nobel Prize in medicine for any solution to this problem, or perhaps even a Peace Prize, given the social significance involved. Actually, in the interests of gender equity, what I’d really like to see is something that would cause every man who impregnates a woman to develop a facial rash and some other highly visible, bothersome but not dangerous symptoms that would last at least 9 months.

But obviously, if we can’t find runaway fathers, we can’t persecute them. As long as homosexuals were closeted, they had the same protection. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a basic moral principle in our culture. Which suggests very strongly that what most anti-same-sex-marriage advocates really object to isn’t what gay people do in the bedroom, but the fact that they have the nerve to talk about it in the public forum. Marriage is only the most public way to make homosexuality public. If they’d stop holding parades, and publishing books and periodicals and blogs, and forming organizations and support groups, they could **** and *********** to their hearts’ content.

Which is a constitutional issue. We don’t object to gay sex. We object to gay speech. Speech is protected by the First Amendment. Maybe that’s because the Framers knew how much people want to limit public speech, given half a chance. Sex—well, it depends which Supreme Court opinion you read and when and by whom it was written. A lot of the folks on the Warren Court seemed to consider sex protected by the First Amendment, but these days that argument doesn’t fly, even with the current court “liberals.” But it wouldn’t really have to fly, if people would just shut up about it. Even the most restrictive of conservative judges has never advocated setting up an entire corps of jackbooted thugs to randomly police bedrooms, because we would really rather not know what goes on in them.

Which, I suspect, is only a special case of a much larger issue. We Americans don’t want to hear about people who are different from ourselves. We particularly don’t want to hear about how oppressed they are, or how badly we behave toward them. We will allow each oppressed group, as part of the “liberal bargain,” a few days a year to air their grievances all over the mainstream media, coast to coast, in glorious Technicolor and stereophonic sound, while we tune out, turn off, and watch football. Our willingness to grant them that much proves what nice people we are. After the few properly licensed days of exposure, the issue, whatever it may be and regardless of what, if anything, has actually been done about it, becomes “dead,”. As in dead horse, comma, beating.

Indeed, the Religious Right seems to value most the right of its members not to be thought of as bigots for being mean to various oppressed minorities. Being called a bigot is apparently an existential threat to many conservatives. It is often the reason given for opposing not only same-sex marriage, but even public advocacy of same-sex marriage. “If we let you talk about it, you’ll call us bigots for not letting you do it.”

Enough already. I favor same-sex marriage because, as a divorce lawyer, I see so little of fidelity and mutuality and sharing in this world that I refuse to be picky about who practices them. I also favor it because any excuse for a good party is a significant contribution to the quality of life. Also, it’s good for the economy. Caterers, wedding planners, dressmakers and haberdashers, and the manufacturers of small appliances all need all the help they can get. If you don’t like same-sex weddings, don’t have one.

Red Emma

Marriage From the Other Side

January 1, 2009

I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the analysis we’re seeing here.  Back in the days when marriage was about children, it was mainly about insuring that the children born to a man’s wife would be his children and not some other guy’s.  And, back before DNA was invented, the cheapest and most effective way to do that was to control the wife in question.  No doubt that was good for the family and good for the community.  But it wasn’t good for women.  It led to purdah, honor killings, and a lot of other bad stuff. As well as a bonanza for the textile industry, given how much more fabric it takes to veil a woman than to blindfold a man.


If, OTOH, marriage is just about sex, well, shoot, all that matters is that your partner has sex with you more or less when you’re in the mood. What s/he does the rest of the time is no big deal. 


Which is not how Mr. Wired and I live our lives, of course.  For 44 years, we have done the monogamy thing.  Which has been good for our families and our community, no doubt.  We have maintained a household which has provided care for a child and help for several other children, as well as for each other in illness and injury. 


But we made the choice to do so. It was about each of us as an individual. 


I’m of two minds (at least) about this.  Or maybe each of the Wired Sisters should speak in turn:


Red Emma—The communitarian nostalgiacs tell us that the family does, efficiently and at no cost, things for its members that the market economy and the state do only badly and at huge expense.  The family maximizes the range of choices for its members in ways that the market and the state cannot possibly do.  But, in the process, it discounts completely the value of female labor and loss of choices.  Yes, the result may well be a better society than what we have now, for men and male children.  Similarly, classical Athens was a wonderful place to live, if you were free and male.  Probably the ante-bellum Southern US was pretty good too, if you happened to own a plantation and the people who kept it running.  But any society which can maintain its advantages for some of its members only at the cost of some other members’ freedom does not deserve to survive. Whether we like it or not, if we cannot devise a good society, based on good families, without returning women to servitude, all we have a right to do is muddle along until we figure out how to.  Remember those family comedies in the ‘50s, in which Mama was called out of town for some emergency and the family suddenly had to survive without her and discover just how crucial her work really was, now that they didn’t have it?  Well, folks, that’s where we are right now. And just demanding that Mama come home won’t cut it any more.  She may not want to, and she may not even be able to.


Jane Grey—The family maximizes choices for its members in ways the market economy and the state cannot possibly match.  Barbara Ehrenreich refers to the family as a “socialism of two” (or, presumably, three or four or more.)  Within and because of the family, individuals can choose to take part in the market economy or not; to work for a corporation or run a small business or be an independent artisan.  The family can choose to support one or more of its members in the arts, countercultural politics, or community service.  Nobody else is going to pay people to do that.  If we allow the family to shrink and disappear, we will have nothing left to support individual choices except the market and the state, which have both, over the millennia, done a really poor job of it.


CynThesis—We may not even be able to make this discussion fruitful any more.  Whether we like it or not, the market has already come pretty close to destroying the family.  An increasing number of our families are formed when young people go away to college or the military, marry other young people they meet there, and then settle down in the first place they find jobs afterwards.  In the meantime, their respective parents move someplace else for their jobs, and then, ultimately, some other place for their respective retirements, until the families in question have one end in Florida, one end in Boston, and one end in Chicago, and, if they’re lucky, can make enough money between them all to see each other once a year at most.  If we can’t find a way to create families where people actually live, there just plain won’t be any.  It doesn’t matter whether a couple moves for her job or his job (or, for that matter, for her job or her job.)  The market will determine where and for how long they will sink roots, and who their neighbors will be.  If they cannot form a community with those neighbors, there will be no communities.


Sorry to be so gloomy. Happy New Year, and peace and light to you all.


The Wired Sisters



The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage

December 11, 2008

What does it say about this week’s news from my home state that I would rather write about same-sex marriage than Illinois politics? Okay, here we go, on this week’s favorite topic other than the soon-to-be-former Governor of Illinois: the Newsweek article on biblical endorsement of gay marriage. As a divorce lawyer, I figure there is little enough love and commitment in this world that we should enthusiastically welcome it wherever it turns up. And I say this even though same-sex marriage would probably be bad for my practice, which currently includes all kinds of devices for making nonstandard same-sex families look like standard-issue straight families, including cohabitation agreements, custody agreements, and separation agreements.

The first thing any serious student of the Bible should notice, upon reading what it says about homosexuality, is that, in almost any paragraph where homosexuality is mentioned, adultery is also mentioned, and subjected to precisely the same penalties. So any biblical literalist who is not willing to see adulterers stoned to death should probably rethink the whole thing.

`The next, admittedly more subtle, thing for a Bible-reader to notice, is that almost everything the Jewish Scriptures (that’s the Old Testament, to you gentiles) says in the abstract about sex has to do with proper relationships of power and property. All of the “forbidden relationships” enumerated in Leviticus 18 and 20, for instance. Almost all of these strictures are addressed only to men (grammatically this is unmistakable in the Hebrew), except for intercourse with animals. No, that’s not the result of any sexist presumption. It’s the result of the political reality of biblical times, that only men could take the sexual initiative.

Sex with women “belonging” to other men was an infringement of property rights. Sex with women “belonging” to one’s father were an infringement of his dominance in the family. Sex with women “belonging” to one’s sons or brothers—that is, lower-ranking males–was an abuse of dominance. In this context, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” suggests strongly that power is an issue here, too, and that what the Author is really talking about is male-on-male rape, of the sort that happens in prisons. Which I think is an abomination, too. (Although I do like the interpretation of a rabbinical friend of mine, that lying with a man as one lies with a woman means grabbing all the covers and snoring.)

The fact is, most of the abstract things the Jewish scriptures says about sex have absolutely nothing to do with love and companionship (as opposed to several narratives about particular people falling in love and getting married.) The only exception is directed at polygynists—if a man has two wives, and loves one and hates the other, he is not allowed to let that disparity influence his treatment of their children. Which, as a divorce lawyer, I still think is a good rule, but these days, of course, we apply it only to serial polygamy.

What about the New Testament and sex? Well, Jesus had absolutely nothing to say about homosexuality, not a single word. On the other hand, he objected pretty strongly to divorce, either forbidding it altogether or permitting it only where adultery was involved. This was consistent with one of the major schools of rabbinical thought of that era, the School of Shammai. Which is interesting, given that Jesus mostly followed the teachings of the other school, the School of Hillel. But I digress.

Paul wasn’t keen on sex of any kind, gay, straight, married or unmarried. But, as with his Jewish predecessors, where he talks about homosexuality at all, it is almost always in the same paragraph and under the same strictures as adultery.

I’m not willing to go as far as Lisa Miller in her Newsweek analysis; I don’t believe the Bible necessarily endorses same-sex marriage. But I do believe that it provides for regulating it, as it regulates heterosexual marriage, along with eating, drinking, earning and spending money, and all of the other activities of daily life. Thus, another rabbinical friend of mine who will bless same-sex marriages the same as straight marriages, but will not do interfaith marriages of either kind, is, I think, being perfectly consistent by her own lights and the Jewish Tradition. Similarly, I believe that the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, which forbids assault and battery between husband and wife, cohabitating man and woman, and domestic partners (along with a whole bunch of other people in current and former relationships), is on the right track.

I also strongly endorse the distinction, utterly unknown to the Bible, between civil and religious marriage. Some of my clients have entered into religious marriages and never registered them with the state, either because state recognition violated their anarchist principles, or because it penalizes them in receiving Social Security or other benefits. A lot of my clients have married civilly but not religiously, because they just didn’t want to do the church thing, or felt they couldn’t afford it. When the religiously-but-not-civilly-married bunch shuffle off this mortal coil, they will undoubtedly make work for some lawyer, possibly me, regardless of their gender mix. The civilly-but-not-religiously-married bunch may make work for some Roman Catholic canon lawyer, or some rabbi, but thank heaven, that’s not my problem. I figure Jefferson’s sublime insight that the state and religion should stay out of each other business is especially sensible where marriage is concerned, and there is no reason not to apply it to same-sex unions too.

The Proposition 8 gang should read up on what happened (early in Gandhi’s career) when the British colonial government decided to stop recognizing all non-Christian marriages in South Africa. The results were a major setback for the colonial administration by people who, as Gandhi eloquently expressed, saw their wives branded as whores and their children as bastards. This hits people, quite literally, where they live.

Okay, enough for now. The heat has gone off in my office and I’m going home. Peace, light, and warmth to you all.