Putting things in context

I found the juxtaposition of this story and this story, both from today’s Chronicle, amusing.

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One plus one equals 32

There’s fact, and there’s speculation. From the fact that he found some documents indicating that medieval men would enter into a formal contract to share bed, board and income, a “scholar” has extrapolated this into supporting the conclusion that the medieval world supported gay relationships:

For example, he found legal contracts from late medieval France that referred to the term “affrèrement,” roughly translated as brotherment. Similar contracts existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe, Tulchin said.

In the contract, the “brothers” pledged to live together sharing “un pain, un vin, et une bourse,” (that’s French for one bread, one wine and one purse). The “one purse” referred to the idea that all of the couple’s goods became joint property. Like marriage contracts, the “brotherments” had to be sworn before a notary and witnesses, Tulchin explained.

The same type of legal contract of the time also could provide the foundation for a variety of non-nuclear households, including arrangements in which two or more biological brothers inherited the family home from their parents and would continue to live together, Tulchin said.

But non-relatives also used the contracts. In cases that involved single, unrelated men, Tulchin argues, these contracts provide “considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships.” (Emphasis mine.)

That last seems to me to be something of a leap, considering that, in the medieval world, sodomy, the physical manifestation of gay love, was a crime, punishable by death.

To me, this type of “scholarship,” falls into the same shabby, wishful thinking area as the recent argument that Abraham Lincoln was gay. He could have been, but the narrow facts on which the “historian” Larry Kramer drew are as likely to prove that Lincoln, rather than being gay, was simply a product of more innocent times.

As it is, there were definitely homosexuals in the medieval world, some more famous than others. I’m sure, too, that there were homosexual couples who took advantage of legal procedures to try to benefit themselves economically, but I’m willing to bet that nobody ever, ever acknowledged that this legal relationship supported a sexual or loving one. In any event, this historic line of argument is a ridiculous jumping off point for trying to promote gay marriage today by arguing that the Western family construction, which is premised on a man and a woman, is just a modern concept:

“Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize,” Tulchin writes in the September issue of the Journal of Modern History. “And Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures.”

People have always had varied living arrangements, but you can’t hide from the historic fact that, in the Western world, going back to the pre-Christian times of Greeks and Romans, and definitely including the Jews, the core family unit has been a man and a woman. If Tulchin wants to go all medieval, he’d better be careful, because that road is as likely to lead to death and castration for gays as it is to marriage. And if Tulchin doubts this, just have him look at a country that still subscribes to these medieval mores (say, Iran), and ask whether they benefit or hurt gays.

I’m all in favor of a debate about, as opposed to a rush into, gay marriage or gay civil unions. I am not in favor of a debate skewed by intellectual dishonesty — which is what this recent work of scholarship smells like.

Fissures in the Leftist ranks?

There’s been a lot of news lately about how the Left embraces radical Islam, on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend (or, at least, my useful tool). You can see this sordid embrace at work in Daniel Pipe’s debate with London Mayor Ken Livingston, and you can see it deconstructed in this Paul Weston article.

What I’m seeing lately, though, is special interest groups on the Left having a harder and harder time coming to terms with radical Islam. The first crack in the harmony between the Left and Islam is, I think, going to be amongst gays, because Islam reacts with such ferocity to homosexual displays. Periodically the SF Chronicle, which has a large and interested gay audience, runs stories about gay rights in the Middle East and these stories, of neccesity, always come down strongly on Israel’s side — as does this most recent report:

A 21-year-old university student with serious professional ambitions, Nawal wouldn’t dream of performing in his hometown, where homosexuality, as in the rest of the Palestinian territories, is strictly taboo, sometimes violently so. Last year, a group of gay Palestinians visiting East Jerusalem from the United States were threatened and one of them badly beaten after they announced plans to join an Israeli gay pride rally. The Web site of ASWAT, an organization of Palestinian gay women, says Palestinian society “has no mercy for sexual diversity and/or any expression of ‘otherness’ away from the societal norms and the assigned roles that were formed for women. … The Palestinian woman has no right to choose an identity other than the one enforced on her by the male figures in her family and surroundings.”

So for Nawal and his friends, the only place where they can pursue a full social life is across the border in Israel.

***

In Israel, the status of gays and lesbians is more comparable with Western Europe.

As the British gay magazine Attitude approvingly reported in December: “Workplace discrimination against gay people is outlawed; the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) has many openly gay members; in schools, teenagers learn about the difficulties of being gay and the importance of treating all sexualities equally. The country’s army, the Israel Defense Force, has many dozens of openly gay high-ranking officers who, like all gay soldiers in its ranks, are treated equally by order of the government. The Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples are eligible for spousal and widower benefits.

“Nearly all mainstream television dramas in Israel regularly feature gay storylines. When transsexual Dana International won the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest as Israel’s representative, 80 percent of polled Israelis called her ‘an appropriate representative of Israel.’ ”

***

But compared to gay Palestinians who don’t make it to Israel, Freddy and Nawal are among the lucky ones, said Haneen Maikey, coordinator of the Palestinian Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual Project at a Jerusalem gay center.

“It’s actually becoming more difficult for gay Palestinians,” said Maikey, 28, whose center organizes a Pride rally every year. “It’s a collective and closed community in which some parts are very religious with a small village atmosphere. Every step toward coming out will get you another step back to the closet.”

Many gays and lesbians who happily appear at rallies draped in their PC kufiyahs, are going to have to do some serious self-examination as they decide whether they want the freedom loving West, capitalist warts and all, or if they are so hostile to the West that they’d rather embrace a culture that would happily and enthusiastically see them dead.

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More on gay marriage

I had a good conversation with Don Quixote yesterday about my recent gay marriage post. As he noted in a comment to that post, he has no problem with legalizing gay marriage. He noted (very kindly, because he’s very kind) that I do sound as if I’m advancing a conspiracy theory — “let gay marriage happen and, the next the you know, they’ll be issuing licenses to marry cows,” kind of stuff. I’ll clarify a few things. While they may not change your mind, they will give you a better understanding of my thinking on the subject.

First, I have no problem with gays per se. I actually believe that many people are born gay and that their attraction to the same sex is part of their biological make-up. For this reason, I don’t think homosexual behavior between consenting adults should be criminalized or the subject of discrimination.* I also believe, however, that there are people who are not born strongly homosexual and that, in a sexually free culture, they can cheerfully go either way. Because I believe that strong heterosexual relationships are the backbone of a strong society, I’m less sanguine about those who slip into homosexual relations because it’s a sexually available option. I believe that legalizing gay marriage will make sexual ambiguity even easier. That’s a belief, and you’re free to disagree.

Second, if Stanley Kurtz is to be believed, I’m not delusional in thinking that the intellectuals backing the gay marriage movement have more on their mind than just gay marriage. His article argues that the intellectual crowd — both those devoted to the movement and those academics sympathetic to the movement — sees gay marriage as a stepping stone to changing traditional marriage altogether. After describing an imaginary confession in which gay marriage advocates admit that their goals extend to polygamy and polyamory, he says the following:

For all practical purposes, this confession has already been offered. A good part of the substance of the above message was conveyed this past July, when hundreds of self-described lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers released a manifesto entitled, “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage.” Among other things, that statement called for recognition of “committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.”

That hundreds of gay-marriage supporters, including big names like Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Rabbi Michael Lerner (of Tikkun Magazine), and Barbara Ehrenreich have signed onto a statement openly demanding recognition for polyamorous families is important enough. But the really big news is what’s been happening in the months since the release of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement. The ongoing discussion of that manifesto on popular blogs, and particularly in the gay community’s own press, confirms that even many prominent mainstream advocates of same-sex marriage support a radical family agenda — and plan to push it when the time is right. In other words, a careful look at the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement — and especially at its public reception — indicates that the above “confession” does in fact represent the plans and convictions of the greater part of the movement for same-sex marriage.

So, I’m not a conspiracy theorist imagining an unspoken goal. Instead, I was pointing out that the same concern I express that gay marriage is a slippery slope appears as an actual goal articulated approvingly within the community seeking gay marriage. Now, one can argue that this is a small community of nutcases, but I think that’s a bad argument. In the first place, Kurtz points out that big names have been signing on to the manifesto. In the second place, the manifesto simply proves my point, which is that recognizing gay marriage is in fact opening the door to the destruction of traditional marriage as we know it — and this recognition about the end of marriage as we know it exists whether one views that result with glee or with concern.

Third, DQ questioned whether recognizing gay marriage, and other variations on marriage, will destroy traditional marriage. After all, gays and others are only a small subsection of society. I have a couple of points to make. To begin with, as I noted above, there are people who are happy going sexually in any direction. If polyamory is legal, that could be thrilling. In other words, legalizing it might create customers. But that’s just guesswork. Stanley Kurtz claims he has proof that legalizing gay marriage damages heterosexuals’ wishes to enter into traditional marriages.

The most recent article Kurtz has written about gay marriage’s toll on straight marriage is here. In it, he takes to task a study contending that those countries that have authorized gay unions are doing fine marriage-wise. The problem, as Kurtz sees it, is that the study assiduously ignored Holland’s statistics:

On multiple occasions, I’ve rebutted claims by William Eskridge and Darren Spedale that European marriage is flourishing under the impact of same-sex unions. (See especially “No Nordic Bliss.”)

Now Spedale and Eskridge have repeated their basic line in an October 27 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled, “The Hitch,” yet have done so with a telling omission. Remarkably, Spedale and Eskridge have nothing whatever to say about marriage in the Netherlands, the country that has had formal same-sex marriage longer than any other place in the world. Spedale and Eskridge treat Scandinavian registered partnerships as the only case worth talking about, supposedly because we’ve had full gay marriage in the Netherlands for only five years. Yet we’ve had registered partnerships in the Netherlands for nearly a decade, and full gay marriage for about half that time. It’s absurd to rule a decade’s worth of data from the Netherlands out of court, especially when much of that time includes the world’s first and longest experiment in formal same-sex marriage. This straining to completely omit data from the Netherlands is the surest sign that Spedale and Eskridge are on shaky ground.

Given the fact that marriage has deteriorated more rapidly in the Netherlands than in any West European country over the last decade, the reluctance of Spedale and Eskridge to talk about the Dutch case makes sense. Yet they do treat the issue in their book. I’ve discussed the Netherlands extensively (see, for example, “Standing Out”), arguing that all signs point to same-sex unions as a key factor in the decline of Dutch marriage. In “Smoking Gun,” I offered a detailed rebuttal of Eskridge and Spedale’s treatment of The Netherlands. And I’ve had a direct exchange with the authors on this issue. (See my Corner post, “Eskridge-Spedale.”) Given all that, I think it’s telling that Spedale and Eskridge have now decided to avoid talking about the Netherlands altogether.

If I accept Kurtz’s data and conclusions as correct, I would have to worry that legalizing gay marriage in America would damage traditional marriage. And as I noted in my earlier post, I think traditional marriage is a necessity for a healthy America.

I’ll end with an anecdote that lacks any statistical or factual relevancy. I just think it’s a good anecdote. Many years ago, my grandmother decided to while away spare time leading French conversation groups. She placed an ad touting her abilities and saying that the classes were free. No one showed up. After a few weeks, she amended the ad to charge $20 per discussion group. Within a few days, she had a full student roster. I think there’s a lesson here about marriage. If traditional marriage ceases to have any religious or social meaning, why bother? If it appears to have value, people will strive to participate.

___________

* [update] To forestall comment, let me say that I don’t view the traditional marriage laws as discriminatory, since each man may marry one woman, and each woman may marry one man.

On marriage

I think traditional marriage, which often includes children, is the glue that holds a stable society together. Married couples, especially those with or planning to have children, have an enormous incentive to hold jobs, save money, create safe communities, look to the future politically, and to crave non-revolutionary continuity when it comes to social and political issues. They’re the antidote to anarchy. That’s why I’ve been so opposed to gay marriage. It’s not because I think gays should be punished. I’ve long said that I support extending certain legal benefits (and concomitant burdens) to committed gay couples. My opposition comes about because I’ve seen gay marriage as a slippery slope, a wedge issue, aimed at doing away with traditional marriage entirely, with all that this radical change implies.

Stanley Kurtz now writes a lengthy article that essentially says my instincts are right. While many gays just want to “get married,” the intellectuals behind the gay marriage movement have much larger plans that really go to destroying marriage all together. And because I think traditional marriage is one of the single most important aspects of a healthy society, I’m baulking completely at heading down the gay marriage path. I’m not homophobic; I’m traditional marriage-philic!

As an aside, I’ve realized that this issue, too, fits into my handy-dandy Leftist morality matrix. On the feelings side of the morality discussion, Leftists let us know that, even though some in our culture have embraced a non-traditional lifestyle, it hurts their feelings that we exclude them from the marriage tradition. It’s just soooo not fair. I agree that it may be hurtful, but I don’t agree that these feelings justify a radical change to a social, moral and religious institution. There may be other reasons to change the institution, but hurt feelings don’t qualify in the argument.

On the hierarchy side, of course, gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc., are downtrodden — they’re small in number, they’re the victim of more crimes, they have higher levels of partner abuse and substance abuse, and they may have a higher suicide rate. Therefore, Leftist morality ordains them on the side of “right,” and they deserve to prevail. I, however, say that while these statistics are grim, and I’d like to see them change, but (a) I doubt free-for-all-marriage will force the change and (b) this underdog status is still not a valid argument for changing traditional marriage as we know it.

UPDATE:  Perhaps in response to this post, a friend sent me a link to an adulatory LA Times story about two men and their journey to have a baby:

It was their fifth attempt in 15 months to create a pregnancy through a gestational surrogacy arrangement. To get to this point, they had gone through two egg retrievals, 58 eggs, 43 embryos, two embryo freezes, three frozen embryo thaws, four failed embryo transfers, two surrogates and more than $100,000.

My friend was less enchanted than the LA Times writer.  His comment?  “One word for it: SELFISH!  Though other words come to mind…”

I’m all for having babies, and Chad and David sound like fiscally sound people who desperately want a child.  In many ways, they’re ideal.  Nevertheless, this whole brave new world, with scientists drifting in and out of women’s bodies to create a baby for two men is unnerving, to say the least.

Everything I wanted to say about Dems, Foley & Studds

Here’s today’s Opinion Journal on Gerry Studds’ death, and it says everything I want about Democrats, Foley, Studds, PC reporting — you name it:

Links and Studds
“Former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay person elected to Congress, died early Saturday at Boston Medical Center, several days after he collapsed while walking his dog, his husband said,” the Associated Press reports. We suppose this is something of a journalistic milestone, one of the first ever uses of the phrase “his husband.”

Studds fell Oct. 3, four days after Mark Foley resigned from Congress. He was later diagnosed as having suffered a blood clot in his lung. We mention Foley, of course, because Studds had his own page scandal:

In 1983, Studds acknowledged his homosexuality after a former Congressional page revealed he’d had a relationship with Studds a decade earlier Studds was censured by the House for having sexual relations with the page. He acknowledged having sex with a 17-year-old male page in 1973 and making sexual advances to two others and admitted an error in judgment, but did not apologize.

The Boston Globe quotes a fellow Massachusetts Democrat paying tribute:

“Gerry’s leadership changed Massachusetts forever and we’ll never forget him,” US Senator Edward M. Kennedy said in a statement. “His work on behalf of our fishing industry and the protection of our waters has guided the fishing industry into the future and ensured that generations to come will have the opportunity to love and learn from the sea.”

Ah, Ted Kennedy–always a bridge over troubled waters.

Just yesterday, I got an email from an astute friend who had also caught that “his husband” bit. Although my friend sent me another email pointing out that, because Studds’ got “married” in Massachusetts, he probably did have a “husband.” Nevertheless, I’m printing her original email here because I think her point is a good one. While gay marriage may be legal for the time being in Mass., it isn’t anywhere else, something that doesn’t stop the media:

And they say the Christian Right pushes its agenda down our throats. As far as I know, gay marriage is still not legal in the US, yet in article after article I see gay couples referred to as “married”, including Elton John and other celebrities. In today’s paper alone, these 2 references.

From the NY Times article “Studds, 1st openly gay congressman” by Damien Cave, the announcement of his death is made by his “husband”. In USA Weekend, the insert magazine to Sunday papers in the Who’s News section is a question about a pop singer, Lance Bass, who recently announced he is gay, and is seeing another celebrity, The question; “Will they get married?” Answer; “We asked….”

In other words, get used to seeing gay couples referred to as married to get society used to the idea. If you challenge the NY Times by pointing out that legally, though these men may have a loving and committed relationship, their relationship is not yet defined as marriage, so the term to use is “partner” or “long term partner” rtaher than “husband”, you would be attacked as a homophobe.

For what it’s worth, in my small sample of journalist acquaintances, 2 are lesbian, one a gay man, one a bisexual woman, and 1 a straight, married (but Communist) man.

Once gay marriage is legalized, our children will be taught in school that men marrying men and women marrying women is as normative as men and women marrying. Like the story I heard on the radio of some kindergartners playing house. One little girl picked another little girl to marry. Another child said, “You can’t marry a girl.” She said, “Yes I can. I’m a lesbian.”

While I have great empathy for loving gay couples, I resent this sneaky change in language appearing in our papers well before any legal or societal shift has occurred. That’s because if we all use the term “husband” or “wife” for years, legalized gay marriage will seem the natural and only logical next step. (Emphasis mine.)

I’ll say what I always say in this point about gay marriage. Gay marriage may prove to be a logical or appropriate change to societal norms. I simply don’t like being rushed into a change that will affect thousands of years of human history, especially when I think an ill-considered change will open the door to polygamy, pedo-gamy (my word for child marriages) and even, for the more creative and twisted, besti-gamy (yup, I mean marriage to animals). I’m therefore entirely with my friend, who rejects a stealth agenda to normalize something that requires more thought than an hour-long talk on Oprah or the View.

Honest debate about marriage and gay marriage

Whenever I do a gay marriage post, I feel like prefacing it by saying “some of my best friends are gay.”  In fact, that statement is no longer true.  I didn’t turn on my friends, but I did settle down to marriage with children in the suburbs.  In this community there are no gays, not because they would be discriminated against (Heaven forfend, in my liberal enclave), but because this is not the life gay couples seek.  Those gay couples I know live to the south of me, in urban environments, sans children, with both parties to the relationship working at high paying yuppy jobs.

These on the ground realities — and I know there are exceptions, with gay couples devotedly raising families and childless straight couples partying in the big city — need to be recognized before there can be honest debate about gay marriage.  And Thomas Sowell does just that:

Analogies with bans against interracial marriage are bogus. Race is not part of the definition of marriage. A ban on interracial marriage is a ban on the same actions otherwise permitted because of the race of the particular people involved. It is a discrimination against people, not actions.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the life of the law has not been logic but experience. Vast numbers of laws have accumulated and evolved over the centuries, based on experience with male-female unions.

There is no reason why all those laws should be transferred willy-nilly to a different union, one with no inherent tendency to produce children nor the inherent asymmetries of relationships between people of different sexes.

Despite attempts to evade these asymmetries with such fashionable phrases as “a pregnant couple” or references to “spouses” rather than husbands and wives, these asymmetries take many forms and have many repercussions, which laws attempt to deal with on the basis of experience, rather than theories or rhetoric.

Wives, for example, typically invest in the family by restricting their own workforce participation, if only long enough to take care of small children. Studies show such differences still persisting in this liberated age, and even among women and men with postgraduate degrees from Harvard and Yale.

In the absence of marriage laws, a husband could dump his wife at will and she could lose decades of investment in their relationship. Marriage laws seek to recoup some of that investment for her through alimony when divorce occurs.

Those who think of women and men in the abstract consider it right that ex-husbands should be as entitled to alimony as ex-wives. But what are these ex-husbands being compensated for?

And why should any of this experience apply to same-sex unions, where there are not the same inherent asymmetries nor the same tendency to produce children?

I believe that there is room for the law to expand to protect gay civil unions.  Gays should not be banned from participating in their partner’s significant life moments, such as illness or death.  If they’ve melded their finances over the years and then split. they should be entitled to protections at law.  Those gay couples who have children need special protection, not for their sake, but for the children’s sake, since they will see the same economic asymmetries as married couples with children.  And so on.

I do not believe, however, that we should just overthrow an institution that has defined human-kind since the dawn of time.  It may ultimately be the right thing to do, but it certainly shouldn’t be done by our judges, nor should it be done based on a couple of decades of political agitation aimed at the judicial system.  And certainly, to the extent that there is a national debate on this subject, it should be a debate that addresses the issue honestly, rather than one that parades around under the guise of remedying discrimination.