Anti-Culture, America, and the Other

by Jeremy Beer on September 11, 2009 · 88 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Philosophers & Saints

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A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece on Philip Rieff for the American Conservative. One of the themes of Rieff’s work on which I focused was his concept of anti-culture—the idea that in the twentieth-century West there had risen to social dominance not any particular culture but a suspicion of all cultures, which consisted in authoritative institutions and internalized psychological demands—you know, guilt. Nothing any longer regulated individual conduct except for the idea that nothing should regulate individual conduct.

I’ve been ruminating on this idea of anti-culture ever since I first encountered it. At first I found it to be one of those insights that is incredibly illuminating. I still think that it’s a useful conceptual tool, but I also think that Rieff had missed an important point, which is that in order to persist, even a therapeutic anti-culture needed to become, well, a culture. And that is what has happened.

The truth is that we have a culture that is growing in its psychological power, and increasing its sociological foothold, everyday. We have our thou-shalt-nots. We live within a web of mutually reinforcing nos, taboos, do-not-discusses, and impossible-to-think-otherwises. This web is the harder to see, sometimes, because it is rooted in an ideology that claims to be content-free, neutral, procedural—liberalism (in the deep philosophical sense, needless to say). This is the point of Jim Kalb in his The Tyranny of Liberalism, and I think that he is substantially right. Kalb sums up the ideology of liberalism as the enforcement of “equal freedom.” But it is important to understand, as Kalb does, that this ideology does not simply issue in a set of political or social doctrines, but in a culture in the profoundly anthropological, Rieffian/Freudian sense. And the culture of liberalism—like all cultures—is essentially subrational.

I think that we are seeing this play out concretely in the case of gay marriage. More and more, it has been noticed, proponents of gay marriage find it impossible to believe that they share the globe, much less the same nation, city, or (God forbid) neighborhood, with people who cannot see that gay marriage is an obvious right and cause of justice. Gay-marriage proponents appear to be irrationally angry, but think of it this way: they are disgusted by the fact of opposition to same-sex marriage much in the same way that, say, American pioneers on the prairie were disgusted by the culinary habits of the American Indian (eating dogs, digging in to a freshly killed buffalo and eating its raw organs, etc.). The ways in which the cultural Other thinks, the things he believes, if they are intelligible at all, are usually simply abominations, and that is that.

Alas, unlike with cowboys and Indians, it is not always easy, in the current situation, to tell at first who is Us and who is Them, who is Clean and who is Unwashed. Behavioral and verbal declarations of one’s cultural allegiances, therefore, become immensely important—especially on what is supposed to be one’s home turf. For instance, a friend of mine recently attended a secular wedding in Seattle. The ceremony began with the celebrant (a woman) welcoming the congregants and then saying that, while the bride and groom were ecstatic to be getting married that day, they at the same time mourned for their gay and lesbian brethren, unjustly barred from partaking in the same opportunity. In other words: We Are Us, and You Are Us. That’s an important fact to know.

In the same vein, a liberal relative of mine recently volunteered, knowing full well my own political opinions, that she now hated Mormons. Why? Because they had bankrolled Proposition 8 in California. Just a few years ago, before gay marriage had become embedded as a key doctrine of the liberalist cult, this would have been thought an impolite thought to verbalize in my presence. But not now. We are no longer dealing with differences of political opinion, you see, with matters of mere ratiocination on which intelligent persons of good will might disagree. We are dealing with the deep-down psyche-shaping forces of culture. With matters of Purity. With all that Rieff and the anthropologists have meant by culture. And about cultural matters, Rieff knew, there could be no arguing.

This truth is why so many gay-marriage supporters (as Rod Dreher, Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown, and many others can attest) feel free to engage in what is clearly “intolerant” and “uncivil” behavior. For one does not owe tolerance or civility to an alien, the radically Other. At least, not on the terms of that culture of liberalism which has so deeply shaped the minds of same-sex marriage supporters. Remember, throughout human history the members of a culture have typically not believed nonmembers even to be human, which is why, for example, the word used by almost every American Indian tribe to name itself means simply “the people.” The ancient Greeks were the first to recognize that they shared a human essence with the Other, and the Christian revelation qualitatively deepened and extended this belief in a universal humanity. We should not be surprised, then, that a post-Christian liberal culture seems incapable of sustaining this insight.

Now, not all of America yet lives within the culture of liberalism—not completely. Obviously, the terms of this culture permeate most completely the places where our more au courant, more sophisticated, more highly educated, progressive, and hip Americans are increasingly concentrated, and it is weakest in Middle America, understood in the cognitive more than simply the geographical sense. But Middle America is getting smaller, and it knows it.

Thus, another wedding anecdote. I recently attended an evangelical Christian wedding in Indiana. The celebrating pastor spent a good five minutes excoriating the concept of same-sex marriage. It seemed strange, and viewed in isolation it was clearly out of place. But in cultural terms, it was understandable. The resurgent populism that we see so much of lately, and that is proving to create pliant material for power-seeking right-wing demagogues, represents the desperate cry of a culture under siege. This populism is the inchoate yelp of people whose cultural terms are failing them and are no longer validated by their social and political institutions. Like cornered Indians pushed into mountain retreats, many of our Middle Americans are retrenching, engaging in ancient rituals now out of anger and dismay as much as piety, lashing out, and with all of this thereby confirming to the dominant coastal Other their basic inhumanity.

Eradication or education—these are the only two choices, bellowed the editors of pioneer newspapers, referring to the heathen wild Indians in their midst. How much more humane to educate than to eradicate? replied the good-hearted liberals who heard the question, and accepted its terms. And so they saved the Indians by ripping their babies out of their mothers’ arms at gunpoint and marching them off to schools to learn the ways of their culture, or How to Be Human.

Now we know how it feels. A powerful new culture is asserting itself. We are reprising a very old story, indeed.

{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bob Cheeks September 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

“The resurgent populism that we see so much of lately, and that is proving to create pliant material for power-seeking right-wing demagogues, represents the desperate cry of a culture under siege.”

Excellent essay, though I’m not certain what “power-seeking right-wing demagogues” you have in mind.
While many members of the ‘mob’ may indeed describe themselves as ‘conservative’ it should be understood that the conservatism expressed is rather a liberal-conservatism. What these people resist are the various programs of the radical American Marxists. The problem is that, generally speaking, they are middle aged or older, tax paying and responsible, and consequently more likely to be victimized by the police or some leftist radical than actually engage in a much needed republican revolution.
Sadly, it appears to be well past the time for elections, dialectic synthesis, and legislation to correct our derailed political order. And, we have forgotten or are unwilling to pay the price necessary for the maintenance of liberty.

avatar smijer September 11, 2009 at 8:59 am

Stay classy, my friend!

Seriously, though, how should I respond to one who does not see a difference between Indian culinary habits and the choice to deny equality to those who screw differently? I suppose it would be too much to ask how I should respond to one who does not see a similarity between differences in culinary practice and differences in screwing practice?

avatar Twill Hannah September 11, 2009 at 9:15 am

Mr. Beer – You have put words to my own inchoate suspicions”

“This populism is the inchoate yelp of people whose cultural terms are failing them and are no longer validated by their social and political institutions. Like cornered Indians pushed into mountain retreats, many of our Middle Americans are retrenching, engaging in ancient rituals now out of anger and dismay as much as piety, lashing out, and with all of this thereby confirming to the dominant coastal Other their basic inhumanity.”

A fair indictment of all actors in this drama.

Mr. Cheeks – a certain Mr. Beck comes to mind, right or wrong.

avatar Jeremy Beer September 11, 2009 at 9:29 am

Thank you, smijer.

avatar John Médaille September 11, 2009 at 9:51 am

Now, not all of America yet lives within the culture of liberalism—not completely.

Not completely, but mostly. Most of our political squabbles seem to be between contending branches of liberalism, as typified by the opposition to socialized medicine on the grounds that it would interfere with Medicare. Go figure.

This liberalism intrudes even in places you wouldn’t suspect. For example, even in the abortion debate, “life” is defended as a Lockean right rather than a part of a network of sacred obligations to the past and the future, obligations which society dismantles to its own ruin. The problem with Lockean rights is that there is no natural hierarchy; their relative merits are arbitrated in the political and commercial markets on a “one man, one vote” or “one dollar, one vote” basis. Is the “right” to life higher than the “right to privacy”? Only the markets can answer such a question, and even then only on a social basis and not at the individual level. It may be that the “Right to Life” movement made a tactical decision to place the question in terms of “rights”; if so, I think it was a bad decision.

The marriage debate may be the last holdout against liberalism. Of course, it is mixed up with a lot of homophobia, but it need not be. Any number of cultures have tolerated or even encouraged homosexuality, but none of them talked of “marriage” in such cases; they may have been immoral, but they were not insane. Alcibiades may have loved Socrates, but he had no thought of marrying him. Antiquity realized that words meant something, and that marriage applied to a specific set of relations aimed not just (or even primarily) at the convenience and pleasure of the adults, but to the needs of the future. But now marriage is a “right” and everybody gets it.

So many rights; so little time.

avatar James Matthew Wilson September 11, 2009 at 10:14 am

Smijer has a point; the culinary habits of the Indians were excellently adapted to the sustaining of a culture and a population and, under similar circumstances, the White man would do, has done, the same. But the claims for legal sexual “liberation” that drive the “gay marriage” movement reflect something other than fine adaptation to conditions and necessity; they represent the removal of, the destruction of, or — as liberalim’s logic likes to think — the liberation from those conditions that make marriage a needful institution with an inelastic and necessary form and function.

Floating freely as we do in a world whose “right thinking” technocrats and consumers believe society consists of nothing more than a series of market exchanges and state-mediated contracts, it may be nearly impossible for most of us to envision marriage as anything more than one more market exchange between sovereign individuals or consumers. Barbaric or simply gross as many a culinary practice may appear, we can readily see how it might be necessary. But the contemporary marriage debate is founded on — though not articulated in terms of — the presumption of “Why not?” or “Why shouldn’t I?” That is, for all the heat, it is a debate the presages the irrelevance and superannuation of marriage.

Hence, one of my students the other day responded to the Book of Wisdom’s passages on the illegitimate children of the wicked: “Our culture no longer thinks this. We now know that being a single parent is neither a good nor an evil, but a lifestyle choice.” Everything indeed can be a choice when choices no longer matter. But, let’s give it a few years; for, in the long run, there are no choices that don’t matter.

avatar smijer September 11, 2009 at 10:22 am

JMW, If I read you correctly, you see single parentage as an evil. So, am I right to infer you don’t favor restricting the family rights of gay people?

avatar James Matthew Wilson September 11, 2009 at 10:39 am

That wasn’t the main thrust of that closing passage; the intention was to capture the absence of moral gravity in an age where persons no longer understand human institutions and actions as having a relevance beyond personal “consumer-style” choice.

But, yes, single parentage is an evil. If one is robbed of a parent by death or incapacitation, it is a natural evil. If one is an unfit, negligent, or absentee parent, then we are faced with a moral evil for which the culpability may vary or be multiple (e.g. a neglectful mother might lose her children through the intervention of the state [protective services], in which case, depending on the circumstances both she and the responsible parties in the state would have performed an evil act; they would have sinned).

I’m trying for a new virtue in life — brevity — so I’ll just conclude by presuming you can extrapolate from there there an answer to your question — a question I’m not sure I understand.

avatar smijer September 11, 2009 at 10:45 am

One thing we can agree on is that there is an absence of sufficient moral gravity in the thinking of modern Americans. One thing we can disagree on is whether the state has “sinned” by protecting a child from an abusive or neglectful parent. And I won’t guess at your answer to the question of whether religious or cultural “purity” taboos are sufficient grounds for preventing a pair of loving and committed adults from creating a family and raising a child who needs one. I will give you my answer: they are no grounds at all.

avatar Empedocles September 11, 2009 at 10:51 am

The notion of an anti-culture is interesting. I recently came across the word “neikophilia”: the love of breaking the connections that bring people together. That summarizes the notion of an anti-culture nicely. But there can never be a permanent revolution, the neikophiliacs need to communicate and coordinate with one another and so form a new cultural homeostasis, and thus need to shun and ostracize those who are outside it. SSM supporters say that they are only asking for equality and not telling anyone else what to do, but that is the bait, the switch we are already seeing: ostracizing and villainizing anyone who attends one of “those” churches. First it will be to attack any public figures who attend one of “those” churches, then extend this to everyone.

avatar James Matthew Wilson September 11, 2009 at 10:57 am

Just to clarify, the language of prudence (e.g. “depending on the circumstances”) was intended to indicate that a state bureaucrat may sin in removing a child for poor reasons; that activity would by no means necessarily be wrong, but is, again, a question of prudence. Many of us have witnessed or heard of circumstances where social services inappropriately intervened, but that says nothing against the possibility of appropriate intervention.

Taboos always have their origins in social forms and conditions. The conditions in which marriage and the family flourish as necessary institutions within a flourishing society are conditions that would exclude, and make obvious the need to exclude, the kinds of couplings “gay marriage” advocates try to advance. But, the fact remains, our society is one in which the dominant impulse is to remove those “secondary institutions” that bind members of a society together and order their lives in favor of a managerial welfare state looming over isolated individuals (who are, of course, free to consume all they like). Under such circumstances, I would think that the necessity of the family would be less than obvious; and the vitality of “gay marriage” proponents testifies to that obscurity.

avatar smijer September 11, 2009 at 11:02 am

From my perspective, the vitality of gay marriage opponents testifies to that obscurity. Marriage is, after all, a “secondary institution” that binds members of a society together and orders their lives… no less so when the participants are gay.

avatar polistra September 11, 2009 at 11:08 am

Nothing fancy or accidental about any of this. It’s just good old Lenin, as Orwell taught us in 1984 and accompanying essays. Use the media, the schools and the culture to create contradictions and confusions at every stage, until the people are utterly incapable of logic and discrimination, until nobody has confidence in his own ability to observe facts and draw conclusions. After the mind is totally softened, it’s ready to receive the authoritative answer to every question.

avatar Michael DeMoor September 11, 2009 at 11:25 am

Can gay marriage be defended on grounds that do not fall afoul of the above considerations? Can it be something more than the expression of the “liberation of the autonomous sexual consumer from archaic moral shackles” and of the “right” to call what you do whatever you want and to have the state recognize and affirm that? Are there morally serious grounds (i.e., not ones that derive from the “culture of liberalism” whatever that might be precisely) upon which gay marriage can be defended?

My lived experience in friendships with people in gay marriages suggests that there must be.

I’m concerned that attacking the rhetoric of the gay marriage movement makes us deaf to the possibility that there might be a serious claim that is made despite that rhetoric.

Anyone?

avatar John Médaille September 11, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Michael, at the risk of stirring up the hornet’s nest, let me suggest that you do not have any friends in a “gay marriage” save in a legal sense. While they may indeed have “committed relationships” or whatever you would prefer to call them, they are not marriages, an institution ordered towards children and the future. Of course, not all couples are capable of producing children, and they benefit from the legal status of marriage. And homosexual couples may adopt children, but in the main these relationships are a convenience for the adults. Nothing wrong with that, so long as you don’t confuse it with marriage.

But if you want an argument for gay marriage, it is this: marriage is already such a corrupted institution that gay marriage hardly matters. On-demand, “no-fault” divorce (which makes of marriage a unilateral contract), lack of social expectations for children, the migration of women into the exchange economy as primary breadwinners, the farming out of children to day care and public schools and a host of other evils means that defenders of the institution against homosexual marriage are manning one rampart while the rest of the fort has already fallen.

avatar Michael DeMoor September 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm

John,

Thanks for the reply. I’ll play neither the hornet nor the nest-stirrer and simply say that, since I live in Canada, I have friends in gay marriages in the legal sense and in “committed, exclusive, publicly and religiously solemnized, conjugal relationships” in the extra-legal sense. However, your argument is not particularly inspiring and was clearly not meant to be. At best it’s an argument against the deployment of too much political and social capital in combating the push for gay marriage. Not the same thing, as you are clearly aware.

I’m interested in hearing potential arguments (even if they are offered hypothetically by those not committed to their conclusions) to the effect that committed, exclusive, publicly and religiously solemnized conjugal relationships might merit public recognition as marriages (or something not only legally but “morally” similar) on the strength of other considerations, ones that can be taken seriously by Front Porch Republicans.

As a philosophy teacher, I encourage my students not to attempt to defeat a view only on the merits of its proffered grounds, but on the strongest possible grounds that it can offer. In other words, make your opponent sound as convincing as you can before you reject her conclusions. Anything less is discursive cherry-picking and not really serious. That’s what I’m encouraging here.

avatar smijer September 11, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Michael – glad to see you are taking the question seriously. I hate to see equality minimized as mere prejudice as the post’s author seems to be doing, and I think that you would do well to ask yourself why the goal of equal freedoms is an inadequate defense of gay marriage. But you might also consider the social case for it separately. I suggest you look at James Matthew Wilson’s remarks in defense of preserving marriage and see how well they apply to the question of removing artificial restrictions on it.

avatar John Médaille September 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Michael, you are quite correct in your characterization of my argument. But it is placed that way because that is the only place a civic defense can me made. You cannot defend gay marriage without redefining marriage out of existence. But if you are going to do that, why not just redefine it into anything that suits the tastes of the parties involved? Gays hate this argument, but in truth if the definition is “love and consent” or some such, then limits like “two persons only” are purely arbitrary. Why not group marriages, why not with your sister, or all of your sisters?

The problem here is that marriage is a public act (otherwise, why demand legal and social recognition?) But how can you compel others to recognize some given arrangements as acceptable? And what precisely is the social utility that ought to be encoded in law? There is, perhaps, a good argument for being “left alone to your thing,” which used to be the argument for gay relationships. These arguments have a certain validity. But marriage forces public recognition and approval, and that should never come unless the public does indeed recognize and approve, which is not the case.

I applaud your teaching method. I try to do the same. I tell my students that they should never critique an idea unless they first understand it, and the sign of that understanding is the ability to state an argument in terms that a person who holds that position would recognize as their own. I hold up for them the practice of the Summas, in which the objections come before the respondeo.

avatar Albert September 11, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Remember, throughout human history the members of a culture have typically not believed nonmembers even to be human, which is why, for example, the word used by almost every American Indian tribe to name itself means simply “the people.” The ancient Greeks were the first to recognize that they shared a human essence with the Other, and the Christian revelation qualitatively deepened and extended this belief in a universal humanity. We should not be surprised, then, that a post-Christian liberal culture seems incapable of sustaining this insight.

This is an especially cogent observation. Liberals believe in equality, liberty and fraternity for all people, but unfortunately they have false and reductive anthropologies that lead them to simply exclude unfavored groups from the category of humans who have a right to that equality, liberty and fraternity they love to champion. Hence, for them it is simply logical to assent to the legality of abortion-on-demand, since their anthropology of humans as essentially Wills excludes unborn children from the real human beings they call “persons.” Liberals are all for equality and freedom, except for those they exclude from humanity based on their particular anthropologies.

This is also why the argument favoring same-sex “marriage” because of equal rights and freedoms is so tiresomely irrelevant. It is entirely a category mistake. Gay individuals already equally have the same right to marriage as anyone else does, namely, not the right to marry whoever or whatever they happen to desire, but the right to marry a human of the opposite sex. Heterosexual people likewise are prohibited from marrying someone of the same sex. Once we understand this, we realize that this argument is not about “equal rights” but about what marriage is–just like the main questions surrounding abortion is not about “rights” but about anthropology: what a human being is.

Once we understand that the argument is about what marriage is, then it is quite clear that the reason gay people, straight people, bisexual people, or polyamoral people ought not have their same-sex “marriages” recognized by law is because same-sex marriages are literally impossible in the same way it is impossible that a chair is a human being. We are, of course, able to accord my chair with some of the same privileges accorded to my father, but that would be nonsensical and lead to all sorts of disorders and problems.

Is marriage a two-in-one-flesh union of a man and a woman who are able to consummate their marriages by forming a single reproductive principle in the marital act, or is marriage a *really important* relationship between any two gnostic Wills that desire each other and so choose to be really close friends and want public recognition for it? Important question.

I think my comment is on-topic as my thoughts are related to an idea Mr. Beer described, but I won’t respond to any comments directed at me with respect to same-sex “marriage” since I don’t want this to become a thread just about it. Let the takeaway be the importance of what a thing actually is rather than irrelevant abstractions of equality and freedom, which means we’ll have to stop thinking of life together in terms of procedures.

avatar Patrick Ford September 11, 2009 at 2:54 pm

God save the Porch from another gay marriage debate!

We’ve already had one, and I doubt it could be covered much more exhaustively than it already was here: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=2272.

Let us acknowledge that our disagreements about these things stem from fundamental differences in our philosophical and/or theological anthropologies, and leave it at that.

The main topic of Mr. Beer’s article, of course, was how these parties perceive and deal with one another. He notes with some irony the often violent (usually emotional/rhetorical, sometimes physical) reactions of “liberalists” to Other with whom they disagree on some issues, and whom they perceive as essentially bigoted and backward.

Liberalism (of the philosophical and progressive sort) preaches tolerance, but it has always been known that it will not tolerate certain kinds of intolerance. I’m not sure there is any irony here. It makes perfect sense to me that liberals in past decades were unwilling to tolerate slavery or unequal civil rights (not that only “liberals” opposed these situations), that, indeed, they had a violent opposition to these things. They have an equally strong intolerance for what they now perceive to be injustices (i.e., inequalities), which indeed are injustices in their system. In other words, I don’t think we can really fault them for some gross inconsistency.

The more interesting question is how this confrontation of fundamentally opposed worldviews will eventually be resolved. Historically, these situations have more often than not been resolved through the use of weapons and prisons, though occasionally things are resolved relatively peacefully (civil rights movement). And though “smijer” makes light of Jeremy’s comparison to white treatment of the native American Other, it hardly stretches the imagination to posit an America where those who suffer from a particular kind of cultural backwardness (e.g., conservative Christians) will be dealt with–marginalized, silenced perhaps–through various coercive measures, legal or otherwise, until they come to their senses.

I would think someone with “progressive” views would find this no more objectionable than we would find the coercion-to-change of someone who felt compelled to eat babies or enslave people of different hues.

(Aside:

Albert, you place your emphasis on the “human or not” aspect of the abortion debate, but it seems like that portion of the debate is (rightly) running out of steam. How do you respond to those who, in increasing numbers, admit that an unborn human being is indeed a human being, but that his or her rights are trumped by a mother’s rights–i.e., that abortion is justifiable homicide?)

avatar John Willson September 11, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Aside from the “Aside” Mr. Ford has put this discussion back on message. The silly rationalist arguments of several respondents about marriage miss both Jeremy’s point and the point of his example. Russell Kirk said a long time ago that liberals would want all of us to “submit to a regime of life in death, a colorless mediocrity and monotony in society, an emptiness of heart, a poverty of imagination.” That on a site oriented to much of what Kirk held to be permanent things such exchanges could take place is sad, indeed. An example: smijer calls marriage a “secondary institution.” What pray tell, is primary?

avatar James Matthew Wilson September 11, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Agreed, Mr. Ford, with relief. Agreed, Albert, with heart. Agreed — mostly –, John, save that it is unfair to attack smijer for calling marriage a secondary institution but rather one must — if one wishes to attack at all — attack Tocqueville. All he means is that, in political terms, family and myriad other associations mediate between state bureaucratic power and the individual. Understandably, you mistake this uncontroversial observation’s phrasing for a deprecation of marriage’s importance.

Since I used the term in this thread, let me assure you that I also believe that the family is in every sense prior to the state as it is in nearly every sense prior to the individual; it is primary absolutely, and “secondary” relatively within a certain analysis of political relationships. I’ve been doggedly forthright on all this elsewhere; so much so that, through the intercessory prayers of Mr. Ford, I hope I may be relieved of having ever to write on these matters again at least until that day when someone can honestly claim to have read and considered those arguments.

avatar smijer September 11, 2009 at 9:30 pm

example: smijer calls marriage a “secondary institution.”

That was actually James Matthew Wilson. I just repeated the term back to him. It’s a sociological term for institutionalized relationships among smaller groups than culture-inclusive institutions like church & state.

Russell Kirk said a long time ago that liberals would…

Polemic. You’ve bought into a narrative… to see the issues clearly, you’ll need to set the narrative aside and try to get at what’s real.

avatar John Médaille September 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Polemic. You’ve bought into a narrative… to see the issues clearly, you’ll need to set the narrative aside and try to get at what’s real.

Ah, welcome to the desert of the real, as Slavoj Žižek would say. Or was that Morpheus? In any case, I don’t think that for humans, there is a “real” outside the narrative. Although some narratives are more real than others. We’re given the “real”; but we must choose a narrative by which to understand it.

avatar John Willson September 11, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I’m sorry to have attributed the “secondary institution” to smijer, but the point is still the same. Believe it or not, I do know Toqueville, Nisbet, et. al. They never use the term “secondary”–Nisbet called them “intermediate” institutions, and he of course was referring to Burke’s “little platoons” metaphor. Nisbet (for that matter Tocqueville also) was not a Christian and indeed was using a “sociological” term, but it was not for “institutionalized relationships among smaller groups than culture-inclusive institutions like church & state,” but for institutions that mediate between the isolated individual and the state. As insightful as Nisbet was, and as brilliant as Tocqueville was, they were merely sociologists, or (a step up) anthropologists. If family (and marriage) is indeed merely sociological, then of course it can be anything we define it to be; anything functional, or anything you observe your friends to live with reasonably well. And defined that way, everything Jeremy says about the culture of “other” can reasonably follow.
As for the last sentence, smijer, “Polemic…” I have no idea what you mean.

avatar Jonathan September 11, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Interesting rhetoric, but wrong. Marriage is a conservative institution and same-sex couples represent the most conservative elements of the GLBT rights movement. A better analogy than “ripping their babies out of their mothers’ arms at gunpoint” would be the native American entering the white man’s church and asking to be educated and accepted. The presence of the native American pagan doesn’t destroy the church. The presence of the “other” in the dominant culture doesn’t destroy the culture. It demonstrates that the culture is resilient or weak, depending on the reception.

This piece assumes that one-man-one-woman marriage does not represent the dominant culture. That’s a false assumption. The real question is whether the one-man-one-woman dominant culture will assimilate conservative same-sex couples or exclude them.

avatar Benjamin Reese September 12, 2009 at 7:50 am

Jonathan,

But the Indian choosing to join the white man’s church would be choosing to convert from paganism to Christianity, not demanding that Christianity be redefined such that both paganism and the older, narrower sort of Christianity count equally as “Christianity” under the new definition. In the marriage debate, revisionists are not asking for a chance to convert to an acceptance of what marriage is, always has been, and always will be. Rather, they are demanding that marriage be redefined to such that both various things that marriage is not, never has been, and never will be and the older, narrower sense of marriage count equally as “marriage” under the new definition.

avatar James Matthew Wilson September 12, 2009 at 8:18 am

John,

Not to pursue such a small point amidst such grave matter, but you are correct: Tocqueville uses “intermediate institutions” to describe families, associations, local government, aristocratic privilege, etc. He also uses the phrase “secondary powers” and “secondary affairs” to refer to these things in the context of political power. I don’t feel I have taken license to conflate these various terms in reference to Tocqueville.

But, again, the larger context is that of the various senses of Ordo: order of temporal priority, order of importance, and order of power or authority. As I argued in my “Sarah Palin . . . and the Death of the Family” essays, the family is prior (therefore primary) in order of importance and authority to the state, and it is more ambiguously primary to the state temporally. It is in every human affair primary; more primary than its members. And this is why the long list of devastating attributes about the family in our society John Medaille listed above indicates that the state and society has usurped the rightful priority of the family in its efforts to redefine marriage and family authority in any number of ways (as, for instance, limited and breakable, and in trying to fiddle with the necessary internal components of these things).

But, following Mr. Ford’s comments, I have dipped my toe in the wrong pond here. There’s something more pained and painful in Jeremy’s essay than any principled argument; he’s narrating the slow death of a culture.

avatar John Willson September 12, 2009 at 10:36 am

Yes, JMW, you have hit my understanding of Jeremy’s narrative on the head. The late Carl F.H. Henry used to describe the real marriage culture in America as “serial polygamy.” I have also known many women who tenaciously defend abortion on the grounds that they have had one, although they seldom recognize (or admit) their position. How to change the story? Your description above is so right on the mark (and was my point from the beginning), but how to react? I’ve been very tempted lately to say to the Church, and to the churches, maybe we should just get out of the public square on the marriage issue. Maybe we should hunker down as the early Church did and change the world by example.The culture of death is political–maybe we should be apolitical.

avatar D.W. Sabin September 12, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I was resisting engaging in this debate for precisely the reason Mr. Ford gave but now that both Zizek and Kirk have been thrown into the fray, I caint resist no mo.

Smijer asserts Kirk’s rather apt description of the general trend afoot is but a “Polemic”. Perhaps he is right , particularly as the era’s most popular cable newscasts farm the “anger centers of the brain”. Maybe this storied nation is now little more than a Giant Performance Art Polemic, listing left and right as it sinks under the weight of accumulated anger, emptiness and fear…..all under the general regime of striving.

One does have to admit a kind of quixotic and notable quality of traditionally characterized transgressors attempting to then engage conservative principles through the solemn act of marriage and being rebuffed by the conservatives in a manner perhaps more violent than if they would have embarked upon a relativist and uber-modern campaign AGAINST marriage instead.

Still though, the Willson/ Wilson thread of noting Mr. Beers essential premise…that of the slow death of a culture remains the summary object and I would come down on the side of Willsons suggestion of apolitical life by example. Organized Religion has made a Faustian Bargain with Empire for as long as it has been in existence. Like Faust, it has survived and been given a pass for its striving. This general trend has now risen to the feverish state of the current and preceding Presidential Administrations. Gay Marriage is one of the least of our problems as the organized cult of heedless impoverishment, exploitation and death proceeds apace. Astride a now decadent and crumbling empire, the President proclaims “God Bless America” at the close of every speech as if it were an entitlement of sorts, something as easy as printing more money at the FED. Give us this day our daily polemic because within every polemic is the clarifying element of anger that attends all love when it finds Good so cheapened by calculating sentiments.

avatar Bob Cheeks September 12, 2009 at 1:40 pm

In one of his essays Dr. Voegelin made the point that we are not required to join in “the climate of opinion” that defines our collapsing culture.
Many, if not all, examples in the history of our specie point to a remnant that survives and carries on. Perhaps it is that once the culture becomes infected with the various pneumopathological disorders its headed, irretrievably, down the slope of existence. And, its apparent that we have not only lost the ability to interpret the symbols as existential movement, as experience, we have lost the symbols themselves

avatar Pete Peterson September 12, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Jonathan,

To your point: “The real question is whether the one-man-one-woman dominant culture will assimilate conservative same-sex couples or exclude them.”

I wonder if another way to look at this from a policy perspective is to address the subject qualitatively. It has not been theological or philosophical arguments that have most disturbed me about the issue, but one of logic. Specifically, if gay marriage is to be recognized by society as qualitatively equal to heterosexual marriage then, in effect, we are saying that there is no important difference between husbands and wives, and, more centrally for societal continuance, mothers and fathers.

We are saying that – despite all biological and psychological evidence to the contrary – that two parents of the same sex are equal to parents of different sexes. The society that can say this has once again placed its future generations on the sacrificial altar of sociological experimentation. Few have written better on this subject than David Blankenhorn – a self-proclaimed, “liberal Democrat”: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-blankenhorn19-2008sep19,0,6057126.story

As a matter of public policy, where this subject moves from a narrow “[assimilation]” of a minority is in the “public” classroom. Here in California, it was this case that passed Proposition 8. Even with its passage, we are still seeing public school districts adopt LGBT “lesson plans” as in the Alameda Unified School District (http://www.eqforall.com/proposed-lgbt-curriculum.html). Through the use of vocabulary lessons (words like “heterosexist” and “homophobe”), children are being disarmed from having a language, which might help construct a nuanced qualitative view of marriage.

This is not to say that there isn’t such a thing as “homophobia”, but teaching children such words and concepts is often done in such a Manichean way that prevents the maturing thought process that understands homosexuality as a reality, and not something to be persecuted, but, at the same time can resolve that, normatively, it is in the best interest of children (and therefore society) to recognize heterosexual marriage as the normative best.

In this, to finally return to Mr. Beer’s essay, we are institutionalizing immaturity.

avatar James Matthew Wilson September 12, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Well, it is hard to respond to John’s query about apolitical Christianity except in our particular context. One great malady of our age is that human beings — self-described conservatives and liberals alike — filter all their ideas and ambitions through the state; legal codification in positive law is the sole standard of morality and legal action in protest, politics, and court are the only places where the great contest of competing accounts of the Good take place (such contests certainly do not take place in, say, a college classroom, where students iterate the bromides of our age to either the fascetious and manipulative approval or the despaire of their professors). But, of course, in these places what is at stake is not the Good but power articulated in the language of juridical technology.

In such an age, being apolitical in the institutional sense *could* be a good thing if only as witness and summons of human beings to act as human beings again and to recognize that truth and law reside in the person and in personal action as much or, really, more than they can in the formalized systems of the State.

But this cannot be a wholly satisfactory answer for two reasons. First — at least for we poor Catholics –, we have a responsibility to the transcendental goodness of creation and cannot rightly turn our back on the goods that are found everywhere and in everything. The state and political society are no less creations of God than is the soil we abuse or the foreign countries we invade. Because these things are fundamentally good, we have an obligation to steward them well in hopes of guiding them to their good end. If we live in the world divided against a part of ourselves, as such an apoliticism would be, we will inevitably commit sins of omission.

Second, and here’s the more dire diagnosis prompted in part by the murder of my fellow Pro-Life Michigander yesterday. Either the State will slowly bleed the good culture of Middle America to death until it resembles the dessicate vegetable hedonists who already live happily individualistic shadow-existences (how’s that for a Saturday afternoon’s polemical flourish?!), or human nature and its inextricable desire for the Good will at last grow exasperated — and we shall have a war. Quite frankly, I think we shall have one.

However, if Sabin thinks we won’t, I’ll reconsider my premises. For, I have long since concluded that Sabin is the most truly American visitor to FPR.

avatar smijer September 12, 2009 at 2:19 pm

thought process that understands homosexuality as a reality, and not something to be persecuted, but, at the same time can resolve that, normatively, it is in the best interest of children (and therefore society) to recognize heterosexual marriage as the normative best.

It sounds to me that you are still operating under the illusion that sexuality and sexual partnerships are primarily “chosen” according to “norms”. As though a heterosexual student will come of age and say to herself, “since heterosexuals and homosexuals are treated equally under marriage law, I think I’ll marry a chick”.

The question isn’t whether heterosexual marriage is the normative best for heterosexuals. It is whether same-sex marriage is the normative best for homosexuals. I contend that it is.

avatar Pete Peterson September 12, 2009 at 2:50 pm

“The question isn’t whether heterosexual marriage is the normative best for heterosexuals. It is whether same-sex marriage is the normative best for homosexuals. I contend that it is”

I am not at all weighing in on the “nature/nurture/chosen” question. I am looking at this from a public policy/societal perspective and saying that, once we move beyond civil unions to understand homosexual and heterosexual to be on the same level, we are at the same time saying that there is no qualitative difference between promoting “mother/father” relationship and a “mother/mother” , “father/father” relationship. In doing so, we are essentially saying that in the raising of children there is no important difference in the presence of a mother or father. If we do understand this important difference we must support it through policy.

How does a society – governed by its public policy – understand this difference if it extends all the benefits of marriage and calls it the same thing? Again, without this qualification by the state, this understanding will naturally “trickle down” to not only allowance, but promotion in public school systems.

So, I agree: “The question isn’t whether heterosexual marriage is the normative best for heterosexual”, but the question is whether heterosexual marriage is the normative best for children, and, consequently, society.

avatar smijer September 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm

once we move beyond civil unions to understand homosexual and heterosexual to be on the same level, we are at the same time saying that there is no qualitative difference between promoting “mother/father” relationship and a “mother/mother” , “father/father” relationship.

You are making an unsupported leap here. We understand, qualitatively, that a there is a difference between a “drunk father/drunk mother” relationship and a “father/mother” relationship. Yet both are treated the same under the law. Not every distinction that is made (especially the most obvious ones) need be institutionalized through law.

While we may speculate that a heterosexual pair of parents may be “best” (normative has nothing to do with it unless people are pairing according to norms rather than according to sexual orientation), even doing so very explicitly does not necessarily answer the most important questions attendant on same-sex marriage. Even if we speculate that all else being equal a hetero-sex family is “better” than a homo-sex family – all else will never be equal.

Dwarfing such speculative considerations are matters of whether a child is wanted, loved, and nurtured, and the matters of individual parental quality. Same-sex parents may disadvantage a child compared to equally situated opposite-sex parents, but good same-sex parents are unquestionably better for a child than bad opposite-sex parents.

Further complicating the question is the matter of whether sex is the most important factor when we hope or guess that hetero-sex marriage is “better”. Perhaps it is gender-role instead of sex. Would a child be better situated with two opposite-sex parents who are each in the same gender-roles? Or with two same-sex parents who are each in complementary gender-roles? Why wouldn’t it be the latter rather than the former? Roles, attitudes, modes of communication, modes of nurturing, after all do have a lot more to do with parenting than what organs one possess, no?

So, it is difficult to see how anyone benefits from institutionalizing norms that play only marginal roles in establishing human sexual and parenting behavior, and do so in a manner which dis-empowers people from providing the best nurturing environment they might otherwise be capable of.

avatar smijer September 12, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Let me add, since I only tangentially covered your main thrust: whatever someone might read into public policy because of eagerness or fixation on an idea is not as important as the policy itself. That applies whether it is an answer that does not really exist there on whether drunkenness is a normative best for family or an answer that does not really exist there on whether heterosexuality is a normative best for family.

One further note: presumably it would be better to qualitatively answer the question of whether one style of family is “better” before we decide to fit public policy to the procrustean bed of how it will be interpreted by philosophers. I don’t think that this has been done.

avatar D.W. Sabin September 12, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Smijer is correct, if I interpret him accurately , in his catcall toward those who deem that self-selection as a homosexual is some form of political-identity act. Too much anguish, too many destroyed lives and far too much sadness within flat-busted families has attended the life of the homosexual within our modern culture before this current period of gay pride parades. Still, the current campaign is a political act, a declaration of equal status over a taboo that, while eroding, still remains. Herein lies the rub, sexual identities run the gamut from robust to elastic and in this relativistic age, precisely at the time when young people are feeling most dynamic, most transgressive against the prevailing custom, they are surrounded by a considerable amount of popular culture that portrays the choice as really quite simple and elastic, and relative…. and low-grade transgressive and , in that tired old word :”cool”. This is playing craps with the profound. Choices are made, lives are put in motion and it is quite possible that either confusion will become the mode of choice or worse yet, a choice will be made and fallen into and in the process, a person might be therefor blocked from the single most life-affirming, immensely altering, rewarding and challenging thing they will ever do: Parent a biological offspring and directly touch the abiding wonder of creation. I cannot explain it but standing in that delivery room, the pungent odors all around, blood smeared and wife exhausted, as I cut the cord, my life found both culmination and meaning and I felt the pull of both humility and thrilled energy all around. I would wish it for anyone. This is not about malign gays haunting restrooms and shanghaiing the young, or gays being less loving or enjoying parents, its about social relativism supporting ill-considered actions that are not in a person’s best interests. In fact, by making this move toward lifestyle equality, a kind of implicit agreement that homosexuality is indeed a “choice” or a “right” is made. Perhaps not directly but at least implied and I do have to wonder what this might mean…in other words, be careful what you wish for. Life is complicated enough not to have relativism corrupt a choice when one is least armored to withstand a momentary revery. To be trite, one ponders if an Oscar Wilde would have given us what he gave had he Ozzie and Harrieted into connubial bliss or one wonders at the glee with which the American Bar Association is rubbing its hands over the prospect of all those nasty divorces between DINKH (double income, no kids, homosexual couples). But this is a distraction and I do not have an answer. I do however, bridle at the sight of any homosexual friend or even simply a fellow human who, for whatever reason, is abused by a culture, deprived of certain civil rights and , in general, persecuted and made the brunt of base meanness by a modern relativist society that has pretensions for holiness while immersed in a level of clueless tawdryness that would make the Marque de Sade blanche. That said, I also blanche at the sex-obsessed quality surrounding so much of the current popular representations of gay culture….such as public sex shows from trendy hotel windows over the High Line Park…….. which is a caricature and half-truth at best. In short, I hate it when I can see both sides of a debate but it seems to me we should be working at finding an equitable solution to a case of civil rights that neither diminishes the importance of the institution of marriage for anyone nor fails to insure that lifelong, conservatively loyal and loving companions receive the protections our laws can afford. In the current carnival of relativism, this seems a dim hope at best which leads me to the next thoughts:
Wilson and his assertion about building cultural-morality wars.

Given 10 seconds, I would say yes, we are staggering head on into one because it is in my nature but upon reflection and pondering my day to day interactions with legal and illegal Americans of all types and pursuasions, I would say no…..for a very simple reason. There is, despite the media and our entertainments, a mass of diverse humanity in this land that wishes nothing more than to live peacefully, gainfully, hopefully and happily within a system of government that just might snap out of it and show the cynical age that what the Founders proposed is still alive and quite well, their revolution vouchsafed by a worthy heir, that liberty does not demand a State of Permanent War and that their astonishment at what has been wrought will only grow as we the people do the same. Turn off the television and one needs not look far at all for an abiding goodness in this land. In his classic road trip book “Blue Highways”, the Missourian William Least Heat Moon discusses his time on Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay with a marvelous old woman named Alice Venable Middleton. She, an American of the old stripe was a real history buff and as WLHM entertained a variety of reveries about the beauty of the landscape, Ms. Middleton recalled the story of Captain John Smith’s voyage from Jamestown to Smith Island in search of stores and how he wondered at the abundance and reduced it to writing in his journal by simply saying : “The Land Is Kind”. This, the wise and worldly woman of an island said, should be cast in big letters and elevated to national motto :” The Land, My Friends, Is Kind”. What we need to begin doing again is creating a society as kind as is our land.

As to my murikaness James , thank you but I do eat brie, have never had a problem while navigating Paris and am too big a prolix braggart to be a proper American. I am not yet consistently kind enough but God willing, I will someday be.

avatar Pete Peterson September 12, 2009 at 4:29 pm

You’re still not answering my central question: how does society, through its public policy understand the difference between mothers and fathers?

To say, “We understand, qualitatively, that a there is a difference between a “drunk father/drunk mother” relationship and a “father/mother” relationship. Yet both are treated the same under the law”, is not true. Try adoption. Foster care and private adoption agencies can legally determine whether to award custody to a gay couple over a “drunk father/drunk mother”. Let’s not be so obvious: I know of a heterosexual couple who was turned down for adoption on the grounds that the wife had had cancer as a child. The feeling was that the type of cancer had a high recurrence rate, and the agency wanted to the child to have two parents. This is perfectly legal.

Also, I don’t see schools promoting drunk mom/dad relationships.

To your point: “Even if we speculate that all else being equal a hetero-sex family is “better” than a homo-sex family – all else will never be equal”…speculate? You’re making my point here. Public policy in this area says that all else, including the parent relationship, IS EQUAL. And in so doing, we are saying as a society that there is no difference between fathers and mothers.

Let’s take a look at an actual policy implication of failing to recognize this distinction: Just three years ago the UK Nat’l Health Service (NHS) revised its regulations on financially supporting in-vitro fertilization (IVF) for homosexual couples. The original policy was set in 1990 under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which mandated that only heterosexual couples could access this state support. On the repeal of this policy, and NHS official stated, “We are less convinced of the case for retaining the reference in law to the need for a father.”

This is the UK, of course, where the State and the health service are intertwined, but a similar thing occurred in Massachussetts in 2006, and the Catholic adoption agencies under Catholic Charities closed their operations because they were prevented under state law from connecting only hetersosexual couples to children.

Of course, whether a couple (no matter the orientation) is loving or not is an important factor, but law -even at the state level is usually a hammer not a scalpel. How do we maintain the distinction that is logically, historically, and biologically supported.

If we don’t, we will continue to see more decisions like those made by Catholic Charities and more education like the kind we’re seeing in Alameda.

avatar Bob Cheeks September 12, 2009 at 4:29 pm

The idea that homosexual conduct is abnormal is not allowed in contemporary dialectical exchange, which indicates that there is yet to be a revolt against this particular restrictive deformation, not to say the beginning of a recovery of the consciousness necessary for such a revolt. The academy, society, and our culture has collapsed or perhaps rotted would be a better expression.
JMW argues for war and D.W. says no. But abnormal behavior does not start wars, though hunger may.

avatar smijer September 12, 2009 at 4:42 pm

You’re still not answering my central question: how does society, through its public policy understand the difference between mothers and fathers?

I don’t think it does, can, or should see the difference between mothers and fathers through its public policy. At least, if it does so there should be a compelling reason other than using public policy to highlight said difference – any more than public policy should be engineered to highlight the difference between right-handers & left-handers, or people of different ethnic backgrounds. If there is a compelling reason that public policy needs to be crafted to accommodate a difference – then and only then should it do so.

If the difference is not clear enough for us to see with our own eyes, then we don’t help ourselves by arranging our laws around such a murky difference. If it is clear enough, then we don’t need the assistance.

avatar D.W. Sabin September 12, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Cheeks,
Damn ye, I was trying to construct a little perspective and amity here. So what….there is alot of sanctimonious High Holy Shibboleth over stupidity in the current Culture-fer-ijits that aint allowed. If abnormality were a crime, the planet would be a jail and the inmates running the asylum…..which, if we keep up rubbing the knife of our begrudgements against the whetstone of our hate, the global jail may just come to pass. Victory in a war of brute strength goes to the Brutish. This concerns me because, as a being more than a tad odd,and loud-mouthed…. I would be one of the first frog-walked to the bars. Are you suggesting that abnormality be purged and if so then…what is left of the definition of “normal”. Perfection has a way of denting the fenders.

To clarify, I do not argue against war, I argue for kindness…..something that for me, does not come automatically and so it remains, a treasure. But, my fine scrappy friend, If war must come, my heart aint just in it, it wears lizard skin boots, wears a Straw Stetson, gambles in Elko and carries a right swarthy pizzle stick to do the required thumping. You once asserted I doth complain too much about collapse and you were right but , so do you my fine dixie warrior, so do you. What do I have to do, light a cigar and drive down there in my Buick and beat some gad danged kindness into you?

avatar John Médaille September 12, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Wow, Smijer. The difference between man and woman is analogous to the difference between left-handed and right-handed? This is that odd sort of feminism that denies any value to the purely feminine.

But, vive la difference.

Or not.

avatar Pete Peterson September 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Smijer…now you’re just being silly…

“I don’t think it does, can, or should see the difference between mothers and fathers through its public policy.”

To try to keep this in the realm of policy rather than rhetoric, what you’re saying is that the NHS made a completely legitimate decision in saying that there was no difference for the child (and by extension, society) to support the birth of children to homosexual couples.

In the Mass. example, you are saying that the State was correct to demand that no adoption agencies serving in its state make a qualitative difference between homosexual and heterosexual couples.

In the Alameda School District, you believe it is fair for a school district to promote the equality of homosexual relationships without qualifications regarding the differences. In the event that a child understands that a mother/father relationship is superior to a pair of mothers or fathers, this would be an example of heterosexism.

Policy matters – it affects how children are raised and taught. Maybe you could call these my “compelling reasons”.

You see

avatar D.W. Sabin September 12, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Per Medaille…if Smijer really asserted the difference between Man and Woman is nothing more than that of the Right and Left hand….well, this makes about as much sense as a fart in a hailstorm. Championing policy by demolishing distinctions…and reality …..is exactly what is traipsing the lapsed republic down a sweet trip into perdition where the smile will be wiped off quick.

Much as they might drive me bat shit nuts, consternate me to no end, attempt to impugn me for just being different from them….. to assert they are simply the left hand to the mans right hand is to show no respect whatsoever to the divine font of life and mystery that is wimmin. Medailles right, it is a form of reductive feminism ..or recreational sexism at its worst. Anybody want to try and suggest to my wife that shes just the left hand to my right hand, expect to get a left round house punch and I will be in her corner, covering my giggling mouth with my right. But if I laugh too hard, she’ll turn around and ask me if I want a piece of her too. I will, but just not right then.

I detect here a bit of the California Disease where initiative counteracts initiative on the basis of the latest whim and in the fullness of time, we get a former body builder running the place from his smoking teepee and signing counterfeit scrip to maintain the illusion of a sound government. Not that its all bad, a proper smoking tent is never imprudent.

avatar smijer September 12, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I see I hit a nerve. Must have some southpaws on this board. Sorry guys!

Pete – where a difference in male and female produces a known negative impact on the quality of life of a child reared by a same-sex couple (again, sex – not gender) it certainly is appropriate to make the distinction. Whether the evidence supports the contention that it does is kind of a separate question. If you have a position on that matter backed up by scientific evidence, I would like to see what you are talking about.

You asserted that it was important for optics – to establish a public policy that appreciates the differences that exist so as not to confuse people about what is “normatively better”. I say that makes no more difference than a policy that seeks to magnify the differences in handedness. And there are such. Check out the arts if you don’t want to look at the obvious baseball examples.

avatar Bob Cheeks September 12, 2009 at 8:18 pm

D.W.,
If we are concerned with truth,order, and reality here on the FPR I gotta say I have never read such a silly and bs thread as this one.
Everyone here, all of whom I admire as rather brilliant and creative people, are giving credence to the “climate of opinion” re: homosexuality and marriage as if it’s involved in any way with human order or truth. The conflict, philosophically, is between an open and a restrictively deformed existence that has “hardened into the great stasis.” And, this is exemplified by the fear and dread of critiquing or even acknowledging the perversions and deformations associated with homosexual conduct, where the support of such conduct is in fact a ‘mass movement.’
I am interested in the truth, reality, and order of human consciousness and the process in reality in which we, as being, participate in that conscious existence.
And, here, my friend, even you engage in a distortion of language, a confusion of the symbols, and a failure to see the order that emerges in history from the experience of reality has been badly deformed by philodoxers and sophists!
It ain’t about singing ‘kumbaya’ on the six-string, it’s about truth, freedom, order and nothing can stand in the way or we are really, really done for!
…and, dude, we’re way too old to fight, but I’ll let you blow cigar smoke in my face!

avatar Pete Peterson September 12, 2009 at 8:58 pm

My, my Smijer you are a slippery one aren’t you?

Ideas have consequences, you know. And on this question the consequences are laws and lesson plans.

But at least you’ll listen to science? How very un-FroPoCon. Of course “show me the science” is just French for, “I don’t care how many studies you show me, I’ll just say they’re from some right-wing think-tank anyway…”

I did include a link to a LATimes piece by researcher, David Blankenhorn, in my first response. You can read it now if you like, but, to quote one section: “In 2002 — just moments before it became highly unfashionable to say so — a team of researchers from Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center, reported that ‘family structure clearly matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.’”

He concludes: “Legalized same-sex marriage almost certainly benefits those same-sex couples who choose to marry, as well as the children being raised in those homes. But changing the meaning of marriage to accommodate homosexual orientation further and perhaps definitively undermines for all of us the very thing — the gift, the birthright — that is marriage’s most distinctive contribution to human society. That’s a change that, in the final analysis, I cannot support. ”

Of course the phenomenon of homosexual marriage is so recent that further scientific research into the impacts on children raised in same-sex homes are just beginning. But here’s your bet: you’re saying that mothers and fathers have are no distinctively important roles in the raising of children, and you’re willing to risk this next generation on that bet. You should be a gentleman and say that this is your wager instead of asking for more “science”.

You know they said the same thing about the impacts of divorce on child-raising back in the 60′s and 70′s…children were “resilient” they said. Do we have enough “science” now to show how bankrupt that thinking was?

And optics? This is about wondering what it says of a society that cannot distinguish the vital difference between mothers and fathers, and what the implications may be to children taught this ideology, and the children raised by it.

avatar smijer September 12, 2009 at 10:02 pm

This discussion began about optics. Your words: “Public policy in this area says that all else, including the parent relationship, IS EQUAL. And in so doing, we are saying as a society that there is no difference between fathers and mothers.”

If you wish to move it to actual impacts of policy, then that’s great. Because the information we do have is that, as you point out, “‘family structure clearly matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.’” … And since that isn’t possible, it pays to know what other arrangements are better and which are worse.

If your point is that society should prevent homosexual people from bearing children – through artificial insemination or through surrogates – then we have strayed far afield from the question of marriage. But, if draconian controls aren’t introduced to prevent this, then I doubt that you would assert that the children borne this way would be better off with a single parent. I doubt that you would assert that a child in a foster home is better off than one with two loving parents.

There is some science there, and I was suggesting that you might know something I don’t – but what I do know is that science suggests that same-sex parentage is a net benefit for children over most alternatives. And it’s not nearly as new in the world as it is in the United States. Certainly we welcome more and more information – you can’t have too much science – but I think you would be as surprised as I am if we learned something that would argue against same-sex marriage in terms of the impact on the child.

So, I hope we agree that impact on children is more important than the optics… and I see no reason to think we can’t agree that children are better served by fostering marriage for same-sex couples. I think it would be trickier if children were harmed by same-sex marriage. Then natural rights would be in conflict with the well-being of the young’uns. And though it is relatively rare that I am willing to sacrifice natural rights for anything, I believe this is a case where I would be if that was the situation.

avatar Pete Peterson September 12, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Smijer, not sure how you see that quotation you pulled as a support for “optics”. My entire argument has been about policy. The examples I’ve mentioned in the UK, Massachussetts, and various school districts are the intersection of your ideas and their natural policy outcomes. You still haven’t addressed whether you support these policy results, but I’m not waiting…

You agree with the ChildTrends’ quotation, but implicit in the phrase “biological parents” is that these are male/female. There is no such thing as “homosexual biological parents”. So, to your point, “it pays to know what other arrangements are better and which are worse”, the point of the quotation is to say that everything else is worse. Your saying, “science suggests that same-sex parentage is a net benefit for children over most alternatives”…I agree with “most”, and this again is my point, will we prioritize, will we make a qualitative appraisal between the “alternatives”?

Now, to your point, “I doubt that you would assert that a child in a foster home is better off than one with two loving parents”, I can agree with this. But, as I have been saying, the policy implication should be that we prioritize emotionally healthy heterosexual couples over homosexual couples, and we should allow agencies that actually do this stuff, like Catholic Charities to do their work and choose to connect foster kids with heterosexual couples without government interference. So the “alternatives” should play a role in policy – again on a priority-based qualitative basis.

On the subject of IVF, those “draconian controls” you fear were present in the UK until a couple years ago, and many fertility agencies – especially those connected with Catholic hospitals – make this choice. I don’t think the government should force these agencies to change their policies, nor pay for this coverage through any government plan – now or in the future.

A cursory look at the “science” on this issue shows how poor the information we have despite what you say. From what I’ve seen, most homosexual parents were once heterosexual parents who divorced, and coupled with a same sex partner. Most all the research is based on small sample sizes, and most of that focuses on lesbian couples. We have little idea what qualitative difference there is between homosexual male and female couples on child rearing. For your point to maintain consistency, you must believe that there is no difference there either.

But again, your central premise is a wager, one you’re willing to make for children. And also one you’re willing to make for my children who will attend schools in an environment that equates and promotes both homosexual and heterosexual marriage. Evidence from places like Mass, VT, and even in states that don’t have same sex marriage (the aforementioned Alameda Unified here in California) shows that what passes as law becomes what is instructed in schools.

avatar Albert September 13, 2009 at 1:30 am

Mr. Ford, I think I would be happy if the sort of liberals you describe as not being grossly inconsistent in their intolerance of the intolerant refrained from hiding behind a pretense of neutrality, rather than owning up to their particular religious or philosophically-based anthropology. But they, in my perhaps limited experience, tend not to even realize they are making a particular truth claim that rests upon prior assumptions and so they operate off a double-standard in claiming the beliefs of the Other are invalid while theirs are somehow valid, though both are premised on the same kinds of assumptions.

Even without considering the double-standard, I would contend that intolerance for intolerance is in fact grossly inconsistent in the same way that denying someone the freedom to choose slavery is inconsistent. On what coherent basis are either of these done? If I am only tolerant of those who fundamentally agree with me (with respect to tolerance), this means my “tolerance” is worthless since the only ones for whom toleration might apply are… not tolerated. No one “tolerates” those who agree with one or who are the same. You can only tolerate those who disagree or who are different. The intolerant of the intolerant are incoherent because in the end they are never really tolerant at all. They fully accept those who agree with their notion of tolerance (i.e. other liberals), and are intolerant of everyone else.

It is as if a man were to deny his sexism because he respect for many different sorts of men while disparaging all women. That doesn’t make much sense. Neither does a liberal preaching tolerance for all those with a view of tolerance just like him. This incoherence is precisely why the Other for the liberal must always be either re-educated or exterminated.

As for those who would admit the personhood of the child and call the abortion homicide, I would need to hear on what particular basis they would believe the homicide is justifiable. There are many of these sorts of arguments ranging from decades ago, one of the more famous of which is Judith Jarvis Thompson’s analogy with a world-class violinist. They each can be handled by use of analogies that put an adult human in the same situation as the unborn child. Generally, that suffices to show that it generally boils down to whether it is permissible to kill an innocent who is inconveniencing you. I would hope the answer is no.

avatar smijer September 13, 2009 at 9:39 am

Pete, when you say that legislation “says something” about us rather than “does something”, you are talking about its optics.

For the rest, to get away from the host of tangential questions, there are a number of ways in which homosexuals end up with children, just as there are a number of ways that heterosexuals do. I didn’t even mention opposite-sex divorce or IVF, but yes – those are ways, too. Unless you want an authoritarian regime to prevent all of these ways – to override the parental instincts of homosexuals, then there are going to be children in need of families whose only or best hope for one will be through same-sex marriage… I don’t think you have dealt with that central point. I honestly don’t want to chase the rabbit trails.

avatar D.W. Sabin September 13, 2009 at 11:07 am

Ahhhh yes, scientific assessment, polls, “the latest studies”, declarations of “normative behavior”, “optics” as something separate and distinct from observable reality…….such are the things that have created the $11,807,027, 600,000 debt…and counting. This is the modern science of popular culture, invent something and then hound the airwaves with it enough to make it an article of secular faith.

You are likely correct Cheeks, this debate, though important is lost down a rathole but , mind you, language is built on the back of distortion and my distortions are perhaps more nuanced than yours. About the time somebody pulls rank on the “Truth” with me, I begin to wonder what I’m in for. I’ve actually found this debate somewhat interesting but I have a bad attitude. I would hope that you would see in my mad ramblings not some kind of clear-cut opposition to or outright dismissal of your views but instead, a deep ambivalence about this discussion , one that is more complex than the rather clear-cut abortion issue in my mind. Perhaps I am desensitized in my locale and experiences but I simply cannot get as exercised about this issue as I do the myriad other far more problematic issues facing the lapsed-republic. In fact, it is the stridency of the politically correct agency pushing the issue that generally backs me into faint opposition, me being a reflexively anti-Kumbayah sort. In fact, I readily tire of the irony and arch nonchalance of the metro-sexual and gay “literati” that run many aspects of popular culture and the media like it was some kind of Extravagantly Limp-wristed Cosa Nostra. The design professions are a case in point. Not to mention the assertion I think I’ve been perceiving here that , all things being equal and based upon scientific assessment, a homosexual set of loving parents will be as fundamentally sound as a heterosexual set of loving parents. Anyone who might assert this is using science in its current popular manifestation: Identifying a result and using data to back-up that result in a saturation marketing campaign pioneered for the selling of soda pop.

Still though, at the very least , we could pull off a good cattail missile fight from opposing ditches flanking some remote backroad down along the Mason Dixon Line. These things are always great fun, except perhaps when you can’t maintain a good fix on the line of fire and a cessation of launches is not called in time for you to keep from hitting the side window of the local Weber County Sheriff while he’s looking right at you….then it gets a little problematic. It wouldn’t do for two such fusty codgers as us to be hauled in and mug shotted for assault with a ripe tule. No matter how much fun jail can be for short periods.

avatar Bob Cheeks September 13, 2009 at 1:13 pm

D.W. old palsy, you are definitely more nuanced than I.
Re: truth, ect I believe Brother Voegelin once implied that it wasn’t all that hard to get to once you’ve shoveled all the crap outta the way, and I believe he was right. I think he referred to the idea of being attracted to the idea of a ‘larger horizon’ and repelled, ‘if not nauseated, by restrictive deformations,’ which sorta reminds me of the stuff you’ve been preaching all these months!
I really do like to call aces, aces, and avoid all the pc silliness that permeates the academy, media, and culture. There’s absolutely no reason for the bs here; nobody’s job’s on the line, we don’t have to tolerate the idiocy of those unfortunates that must rely on a public education and have little or no interest in pursuing knowledge, wisdom, ect., nor those who are proudly ignorant.
BTW, should you care to pursue a discussion on the question of homosexuality, have at it. The question probably needs openly aired in a frank and open manner.

avatar Pete Peterson September 13, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Smijer…

“Pete, when you say that legislation “says something” about us rather than “does something”, you are talking about its optics.”

I’ve never said “rather than”, but I would say “both and” – our laws do and say both. But my main concern her is policy – a subject you have yet to address directly. Specifically, as we agree that, “family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage” how can this best be supported by policy?

I have suggested that priorities need to be set in adoption, and that IVF should be limited, and that adoption agencies – especially religiously based ones – should be allowed to conduct their work without the government interference. I think the best way to formally recognize this distinction and to promote “biological parents” is to maintain the difference between “marriage” and “unions”.

You say I advocate an “authoritarian regime to prevent all of these ways”. I specifically said, that I would support adoption by homosexual couples – at least in FosterAdopt situations – as long as there is prioritization. You read my post, yes?

You have been carefully silent on the policy implications of gay marriage, and I don’t blame you.

In fact, though you have implied a qualitative difference between single parents and homosexual parenting, you’ve suggested no policy solution to this.

You say that, “there are going to be children in need of families whose only or best hope for one will be through same-sex marriage”. This can only be true in adoption. There are obviously “no children in need of families” in the process of IVF.

Here you are unwittingly begging the question of central importance to society: “what is the best hope for children?” – specially those not yet born? While you appear to be supporting this growing “right to parentage” perspective, shouldn’t the more important question be, “does a child have a right to a mother and father?” You can only support policies that allow IVF for homosexual couples if you believe that a child does not have that “right”. (Back to the UK example, I would also support legislation preventing IVF for single men/women.)

Of course this can’t always be the case, and, I have allowed policy solutions in those events. But, while you have implied it in places, you have made no distinctions in ANY kind of parent relationship – heterosexual/homosexual (two “mothers or two “fathers”)/single, otherwise. Consequently, you have suggested no policy ideas that will support and promote what we both agree is the optimal relationship – a mother and father.

These are not “rabbit holes”, smijer, these are the actual implications, which we have witnessed from the UK to Alameda, CA to your belief (based on the sketchiest of “science”) that there is no important difference to a child in whether she is raised by a father or mother, two mothers, two fathers or a father and mother.

I have dealt with your “central point” several times. You have not dealt with the consequences of it.

avatar smijer September 13, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I have suggested that priorities need to be set in adoption,

They already are, based on quality of adopting home. It seems you want to weight the system in favor of heterosexual parents, but doing so seems to serve no other purpose than to artificially privilege heterosexual parents – meaning that a better quality homosexual home would be skipped over in favor of a heterosexual home that isn’t as good.

You say I advocate an “authoritarian regime to prevent all of these ways”

I said “Unless you advocate…” Did you read what I wrote?

and that IVF should be limited

This is problematic. We can expand on it if you wish… but it is a rabbit trail (not rabbit hole). In a world where IVF is not limited, it exists and progeny brought into the world this way must be dealt with. In a world where it is limited, it is only one method by which homosexuals who have natural reproductive instincts will fulfill them. You can’t ban turkey basters or surrogacy.

You have been carefully silent on the policy implications of gay marriage, and I don’t blame you.

When you say implications do you mean optics or impact? I believe I have endorsed a policy that will provide stable families for children, be they same-sex or opposite-sex. We’ve also discussed the role of science and experience in gauging whether a special policy is needed for homosexuals, and I’ve broached the question of whether sex or gender is the more important factor. I’ve pointed out that gender is the more reasonable issue to focus on, since sex is merely one biological component of gender, and gender is what influences behavior and parenting roles.

these are the actual implications … that there is no important difference to a child in whether she is raised by a father or mother, two mothers, two fathers or a father and mother.

Rephrase this two ways to approach my position:

1) Replace “implications” with a word that cannot be confused with optics.

2) change the last to “…that there is no important difference that can be successfully addressed through marriage restrictions”.

and add in

3) … in a world where the government does not decide who can reproduce.

avatar Pete Peterson September 13, 2009 at 3:32 pm

slip sliding away…

Maybe it would be easier if I just asked you 5 questions:

1. Pertaining to IVF and adoption prioritization does a child have a right to a mother and father?

2. Generally, is two parents – whether hetero or homo – a better home environment for raising children than a single parent?

3. Is there a qualitative difference whether a child is raise by two mothers or two fathers?

4. Is the UK NHS correct to offer publicly funded IVF services to homosexuals and singles?

5. Was the State Gov’t of Mass right to force adoption agencies to offer services to homosexuals, thus directly equating the quality of a homosexual and heterosexual couple in raising children?

avatar Pete Peterson September 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm

slip sliding away…

Maybe it would be easier if I just asked you 5 questions:

1. Pertaining to IVF and adoption prioritization does a child have a right to a mother and father?

2. Generally, are two parents – whether hetero or homo – a better home environment for raising children than a single parent?

3. Is there a qualitative difference whether a child is raise by two mothers or two fathers?

4. Is the UK NHS correct to offer publicly funded IVF services to homosexuals and singles?

5. Was the State Gov’t of Mass right to force adoption agencies to offer services to homosexuals, thus directly equating the quality of a homosexual and heterosexual couple in raising children?

avatar Pete Peterson September 13, 2009 at 3:44 pm

oh, and one more if you’d be so kind, from Karl Popper:

6. What would be an example of a scientific research result that would prove to your approval that heterosexual parentage is superior to homosexual?

avatar smijer September 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm

1. Pertaining to IVF and adoption prioritization Does a child have a right to a mother and father?

You can make my answer “pertain” to whatever you like. A child has the right to be cared for by those who have taken responsible for it, be it biological parent(s), adoptive parents, foster parents or otherwise. One way to ensure that is to avoid restricting the rights of his or her parents to marry.

Generally, IVF is prioritized by the individuals that seek it. I see you have framed another question for cases where there exists government funding for it.

Generally, are two parents – whether hetero or homo – a better home environment for raising children than a single parent?

Yes, as discussed above.

Is there a qualitative quality difference whether a child is raise by two mothers or two fathers?

I’m going to substitute “quality” for “qualitative” – since it goes without saying that there is a qualitative difference. This is as yet not known with certainty. Research indicates that there is not. If there is a quality difference of any magnitude, then it should be addressed, whether on a case-by-case basis (if the magnitude is small and other factors weigh more heavily).

Is the UK NHS correct to offer publicly funded IVF services to homosexuals and singles?

We’re continuing to stray far from the marriage debate… My feeling is that the UK is wrong to offer public assistance to single people – both gay and straight – for IVF. Certainly if they *do* offer it to single people, 1) gay single people will take advantage of it any way, and 2) they should make no effort to avoid that.

Was the State Gov’t of Mass right to force adoption agencies to offer services to homosexuals?

(Notice I left out the optics side of that question)… With the caveat that I don’t know much about MA. policy: generally speaking adoption services should be provided without prejudice in terms of sexual orientation.

What would be an example of a scientific research result that would prove to your approval that heterosexual parentage is superior to homosexual?

Surveys, with good methodology which yield data that, controlling for other factors, showed that children raised by homosexual parents had significant deficits in mental health, professional ability, economic status, or were more likely to commit crime or to carry sexual dysfunction, at any stage of life, compared to children raised by similarly situated heterosexual parents.

Better yet, as I’ve harped on before, such studies that also control for gender polarization among parents and thereby isolate sex rather than gender as the important factor causing the disparity.

avatar Jonathan September 13, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Reading backwards through this thread, I believe there is consensus that one-man-one-woman marriage is the dominant cultural motif. It may be more controversial to claim that that the inherent “good” of marriage; love, fidelity, honesty, monogamy, sharing, sacrifice, … is equally embraced by same-sex couples and other-sex couples, but let’s assume that it is. Then, contrary to Jeremy Beer’s claim that:

“Nothing any longer regulated individual conduct except for the idea that nothing should regulate individual conduct.”

All of the obligations and responsibilities that regulate other-sex couple’s marriages also regulate same-sex couple’s marriages. What typically happens on FPR when the author is proven to be flagrantly wrong in premise? Does the author respond or does he leave his demagoguery unchecked? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Some of the other claims made in this thread deserve a response. Blankenhorn’s argument is that same-sex marriage harms the “idea” of marriage because it separates marriage from parenthood. It’s a good argument for a sociologist but it is not a good legal argument. There is a “leak in the roof” so to speak because infertile other-sex couples and other-sex couples who choose not to have children may legally marry. If they may marry, then same-sex couples who are denied a marriage license are denied equal protection under the law

As this is a conservative forum, I hope that readers can appreciate that the role of government is not to protect ideas. If that were the case, the government would prosecute “thought crimes” and we can all agree that that would be bad. The government does protect fundamental rights; free speech, religious practice, property ownership, etc, but these are abstract principles, not particular ideas and definitely not particular religious ideas which favor one religion over others. If we look at this as a question of government protection of an orthodox idea of marriage versus individual liberty and equal protection under the law, I would hope that we side with liberty and equal protection.

Mr. Cheeks appears to be hung up on discussions of “homosexual conduct”. Homosexual conduct was once thought to be abnormal. The APA reversed that finding. Mr. Cheeks may continue to carry out that discussion, but shouldn’t be surprised if he is ignored as somebody would be ignored for questioning the validity of evolution or gravity.

Pete Peterson, I’m afraid that your argument is a straw man.

“Specifically, if gay marriage is to be recognized by society as qualitatively equal to heterosexual marriage then, in effect, we are saying that there is no important difference between husbands and wives, and, more centrally for societal continuance, mothers and fathers.”

I don’t know of any marriage equality advocate (Jonathan Rauch, Dale Carpenter, Andrew Sullivan, William Eskridge,…) who would claim that same-sex marriage is qualitatively equal to traditional marriage. The argument is that same-sex marriage should be treated equally under the law and that same-sex couples should be afforded the 1000+ rights and privileges outlined in the Congressional Budget Office study. I’m a bit taken aback when I hear that there is no need for “societal continuance, mothers and fathers”. Frankly, that’s a ridiculous statement. The existence of same-sex couples, equally protected under the law will have no impact an other-sex couple’s desire to produce offspring, on the bonds between parents and their biological children, or on the needs of those children for their biological parents.

With respect to Catholic Charities, please see A Manufactured Train Wreck. For a brief discussion of adoptive and biological parenting see Go Figure and be sure to click on the “misuse of this research” link.

avatar Pete Peterson September 13, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Jonathan, when you put links in your piece you should make sure that they say what you want them to say – even if they do come from the LGBT site:

1. The first link about Catholic Charities doesn’t differ from my point. Yes, the Catholic Church made the decision – even contrary to some of those hallowed “boots on the ground” that they would restrict adoption services to heterosexuals. After that decision was made the State Government made it illegal for this agency to work in this manner. It was government interference that forced this result, not the Catholic Church.
2. The study you site in the second link is about adoptive parents IN GENERAL not homosexual parents.

The fact remains that we’re making policies that affect children without a solid understanding of their implications on children. We did the same thing with “no fault” divorce legislation in the 1960s (signed by Reagan, btw, in California). Adults making decisions for kids…adults always win.

Your argument about the Blankenhorn essay has been used many times. Of course, as a society, we support infertile couples as they marry, but the main purpose is to support an environment (in general and particular) where children will have a mother and father. In a re-marriage where no children will be conceived, there will be an in-tact mother/father household in which to raise the child.

We are not going to “test” pre-marital couples whether they are going to have/raise kids. Not only would this be invasive, it would be stupid. I know several married couples who, either, through “accident” or later change of heart, have children. These children benefit from the presence of a married mother and father.

Where you and smijer get a little squirrelly is when an understanding of what is best for children demands a policy undergirding. I don’t know where you are on the subject, Jonathan, but at least smijer and I agree two parents are better than one. While I say that this should have a policy results in things like contravening the UK IVF legislation, “your side” is silent. I have also said there should be prioritization in adoption to “healthy” heterosexual parents over “healthy” homosexual parents. This would also allow agencies like Catholic Charities to exist in their homophobic efforts to connect children to heterosexual parents.

Your point about what guys like Sullivan, et al, say or believe is irrelevant. Once law treats them both on the same exact level then that is how they will be treated in policy, whether that be adoption, fertility services, or teaching my kids. As I mentioned several posts back, law is a “hammer” not a “scalpel”. After homosexual marriage passes, it doesn’t matter what Andrew Sullivan says. Catholic Charities, and other religiously based adoption service agencies (of which there are thousands) will be forced out of business. Schools will be forced into “Heather has two mommies” lesson plans, and children – both born and unborn will remain defenseless in their right to be raised by a mother and father.

avatar Rob G September 14, 2009 at 8:05 am

“Homosexual conduct was once thought to be abnormal. The APA reversed that finding.”

Which means that, down the line, it’s entirely possible that they may reverse their “findings” on any number of behaviors currently deemed abnormal: coprophilia, bestiality, pedophilia, sado-masochism, etc. This does not give one much comfort regarding their reversal on homosexuality.

My prediction is that once homosexuality is granted cultural normalcy by the legal and cultural acceptance of homosexual “marriage,” the next sexual cause celebre will in fact be pedophilia. “Who are we to say that two men or two women can’t have a loving sexual relationship?” will become “Who are we to say that a man can’t have a loving sexual relationship with a 14 y.o. girl or boy?” I can’t say for sure, but my guess would be that there will be efforts not to make sex with minors legal, but to lower the age of consent. As it was with the normalization of homosexuality, these efforts will be slow, gradual, and incremental, and cultural, initially, rather than legal or political.

When the then-remaining traditionalists/conservatives oppose those efforts, they will be attacked in the same manner as we “homophobes” are today, as manifestations of the Other which Mr. Beer writes about.

Please be aware that I don’t see this as an instance of the slippery slope argument. Rather, it is of the nature of liberalism to liberalize continually, as it has no brake or governor that enables it to say “enough.” Any liberals that may find themselves at a point where they want to say “Whoa, wait a minute” on these issues today will find themselves branded as conservatives (the Other) tomorrow.

avatar James Matthew Wilson September 14, 2009 at 8:28 am

So rarely does anyone mention that the APA “reversed its findings” that I have never had occasion to mention that the APA did not reverse its “findings.” It reversed its agenda. No new physical or psychological data has emerged in recent decades that would prompt one to revise the long standing conclusion that homosexual acts are “abnormal,” by which I mean perverse. Furthermore, no one except the most crude sort of idolater were think that such data by itself sufficed in and of itself to provide an ethical and interpretive framework on sexuality.

The APA did not “find” anything new — save that a great number of its members did not believe in good and evil, much less normal and abnormal. They learned something about themselves, not about the nature or consequences of homosexuality; having no trust in the reality of of ethical language or a sense of the inherently moral implications of sexual behavior, they tossesd language and common sense out the window.

Let us be clear that this debate is a cultural one and certainly is not one in which the parties of “science” and “reason” stand in opposition to those of “subrational” culture. If Jeremy’s essay is right that cultural forms are “subrational,” he is correct only in the sense that in culture we see practical wisdom embedded beyond argument. Practical wisdom confirms that homosexual behavior disrupts and undermines the family unit, and that it also disrupts the society that exists only to serve the common good of families.

avatar Bob Cheeks September 14, 2009 at 8:54 am

I’d like to express my appreciation to Professor Wilson for his frank, straight forward, and truthful observations. I am aware of the courage needed these days to plow the fields of academia and maintain a Christian belief system and it is refreshing to know that there are those professors who not only demand the truth but teach it as well.

avatar Carl Scott September 14, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Largely ignoring the Smijer-driven debate above, although it seems better-conducted than average from what I’ve skimmed. Rather, I just want to say great piece, Jeremy. I take the tea-party people and sundry a bit more seriously on the merits of their arguments and their ACTUALLY VOICED concerns to go with your “putty in the hands power-seeking right wing damagogues” idea. It sort of is the social conservative’s version of Obama’s San Fran remarks on the economically oppressed turning to “God and guns”–i.e., says you to the tea-partiers: “your concerns are REALLY about the culture but they come out libertarian-esque b/c you watch too much Beck.” And YET, there really is something to what you’re saying. Not that the church and various Christian sects, as a Catholic like yourself might say, are completely above “exploiting” cultural uneasiness to win converts and such. A good deal of the 70s and 80s evangelical boom was due to this, I think.

And you capture the uncomprehending attitude expressed by those firmly in the culture of liberalism towards those of us who DARE to oppose the march of gay marriage quite well. Have to think more if this culture v. anti-culture paradigm is a good one, but so far, it captures much of the feel of the topography.

P.S. Do you have anything hopeful to say?

avatar Hudson September 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Picking up on the “leaky roof” idea expressed above–yes, that’s the problem with the gay vs. straight marriage debate. One could say that the rise in gay marriage and claims for same, coincide with the failure of man-woman marriages, in that the latter have produced so many abandoned, damaged and confused children from divorce. Gays have stepped in, somewhat like social scavangers, and scooped up many of these kids to raise in a “loving home.” I don’t know the stats of child-parent problems in gay families, but I doubt that they are higher than in man-wife marriages.

Once gays gain the legal authority to act as parents, then they need equal protection under the law to carry out that role. What disburbs heterosexuals as much as anything is the flaming arguments gays make in public and the kind of hard ball intolerance for opposing views they exhibit, as expressed in Mr. Beer’s original post eons ago. “We are just like you,” grates on many a sensibility, including mine. We could all do with less “transparency” in all of this. I probably don’t want to peek into your bedroom. Anyone who has been acquainted with long term gay marriages realizes their emotional depth. Though I may disapprove of such acts, I find it difficult to judge harshly gay couples in human terms.

avatar Kevin J Jones September 14, 2009 at 5:53 pm

“The ways in which the cultural Other thinks, the things he believes, if they are intelligible at all, are usually simply abominations, and that is that,” Beer writes.

For those who think talk of Indians and reservations is overheated, here is a report from the debate over the Alamedia curriculum:

According to the Capitol Resource Institute, the few speakers who favored the curriculum repeatedly stated that the LGBT curriculum was “just a start” and “the first step” in teaching equality in classrooms. Some reportedly told the board that no parental opt-out should be allowed because the children of curriculum opponents were those who most needed the instruction.

The restricted nature of the debate is evident, but it still becomes ridiculous sometimes. Last year, a poll trumpeted how great it was that the number of Americans who supported anti-s_domy laws had dropped to an all-time low of…. 37%. Compared to those folks, most Approved Conservative Commentators are moderates.

How is it that that 37% has no voice?

I believe anti-discrimination laws have deprived these conservatives of institutional power. Barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation destroyed the remainder of any morally conservative sentiment within news businesses, colleges and entertainment studios, as well as other corporations. The free marketplace of ideas is thus stacked.

Continuing the Indian Reservation image, this has boosted the idea that churches are the only appropriate place for the free expression of opposition to SSM. Proponents of marriage redefinition affect magnanimity in allowing these Reservations to continue, trusting in their allied institutions to co-opt the kids.

avatar Joseph G September 14, 2009 at 6:10 pm

What is it about the concept of gay marriage that makes it a lightning rod for indictment of all other forms of liberalism? In the long run homosexuals are already raising kids, always have, and will continue to do so. Many homosexuals adopt. Many homosexuals have children themselves. I don’t understand how the sexual orientation of the parent makes the conceived child less valuable to the future of society.

There’s a pervasive notion in the anti-gay marriage camp that legally recognizing gay marriage is a slippery slope that will lead to all sorts of horrid sounding things becoming the norm. Usually we must then sigh wistfully over the good old days when the institution of marriage, and words, as one person put it, meant something. I’m not sure when these good old days were, but they sure sound nice.

I can’t really understand why the Greeks are a good example. The Greeks were notorious for their sexual adventures, whatever you think about their institutions. A fanatical adherence to the meaning of words and doctrine seems hardly to have stopped centuries of abuses in the Church.

Really, the fight for marriage has had an inevitably domesticating effect on the gay community. Arguably if we’re looking to create a more moral society we can only do this by providing everyone with the same rights and therefore the same responsibilities–towards society and towards children.

Perhaps I’m in a minority, but to be frank, I don’t really care what your beliefs are. I would just prefer to be allowed mine. The slippery slope goes both ways. When we start imposing certain Christian values on the rest, when do we move on to the others? First it’s gay marriage, then it’s abortion, then it’s divorce, then it’s the rights of women to work and vote, etc… this is where you tell me I’m living in a world of paranoia, but frankly, that’s how the Maggie Gallagher crew sounds to me when they start talking about bestiality in such. As if they are living in a world of paranoia.

Gay marriage aside, there’s a whole other debate to be had about the tolerance of liberals vs. the tolerance of conservatives. I think either group is as likely as the other to cast their views as matters of right vs. wrong, but at least most liberals don’t claim superior morals based on the gut feeling that they have been born into the right religion at the right time in the right country. It seems to me comparing liberal support for gay marriage to destroying Indian culture for the sake of civilizing them is about as hyperbolic as you can get with an analogy while still managing to load it with as much subtext as you can manage.

We can also talk about the history of conservative tolerance in comparison to the history of liberal tolerance, which is shorter and distinctly less bloody. Indignation is merely indignation; the grievances of conservatives often seem petty and small to me in comparison to the very real suffering so many must endure in the world. If the Amish community can survive and thrive in the new millennium, why is it so hard to teach your children the evils of homosexuality in an era where Hollywood accepts it?

As I said before, most liberals probably don’t care what you believe. You’re free to believe it. We might look down at you for it, but it’s not like you aren’t already looking down at us for our beliefs and choices. That ol’ black pot is calling again, isn’t he?

avatar Joseph G September 14, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Kevin J Jones says

I believe anti-discrimination laws have deprived these conservatives of institutional power. Barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation destroyed the remainder of any morally conservative sentiment within news businesses, colleges and entertainment studios, as well as other corporations. The free marketplace of ideas is thus stacked.

So what you’re essentially saying is that once the LGBT community and supporters of it were allowed to involve themselves in the “free marketplace of ideas”, they were able to win the hearts and minds of the people who run or work in these organizations and thus the deck became stacked in favor of promoting LGBT folk in a positive light to America, and swaying opinions. The right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation would have helped conservatives prevent this from happening.

This is demonstrably untrue if one remembers the existence of Fox News, an extremely popular and right leaning journalistic entity. I think most LGBT folk would tell you they would rather be in an environment that is supportive than not (just as I have a hard time seeing many LGBT folk want to get married in a church that doesn’t support their rights).

Also in a way you’re arguing that equality for the LGBT community succeeds on its own merits because it’s an idea that people are likely to accept once exposed to it.

The essential danger of a free market place is that in the end, the best ideas will probably win out and the impoverished ones will fall to the wayside. Wal-Mart does better than Mom and Pop. This is true, also, of a market place of ideas. Is an anti-discrimination law at the cost of the right to personally discriminate? Or is the right to discriminate at the cost of the right to compete in the job market on the basis of gender/race/etc. (your argument could be made replacing sexual orientation with any of these ideas).

Besides, everyone knows there are ways to discriminate in this world and get around the laws on the books without going around calling people “n*ggers*” and “fags”.

avatar Mike September 14, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Progressive thinking (whether “good or bad”) is always one or two generations in the future. By the third or 4th generation the conservatives usually die out. Literally.

avatar Jonathan September 14, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Alas, this thread has gone on too long. I’m feeling a whiff of “will to power” rather than an honest desire to seek truth. Although it is probably a waste of perfectly good time, allow me to make a few observations.

Rob G wonders if the APA will reverse it’s reversal. Perhaps he should go back to the stacks and drag professor Wilson with him. Like the arrow of time, science advances in one direction, forward, not backwards. Conjecture is refined into theorem which is tested over and over before conclusion is published. Like the church in the time of Galileo, the orthodox may wish that the conclusions were false and they may impose their brutal authority to protect wrong-headed ideas, but they can’t create their own reality. Truth wins out in the end. Like it or not, there are millions of GLBT people who live perfectly normal lives. Homosexuality is not a disorder.

Mr. G, if you don’t understand the difference between consensual relations and non-consensual, between relations that express a power imbalance and equal relations I suggest that you confess your confusion to your wife or mistress or boyfriend or whatever.

Returning to the native American in the pews, do readers and commenters see the gender idolatry in the above comments? Please remember that the native American violates traditional gender roles. He wears his hair long, like a woman, has scant body hair, shows off his bare legs and dons jewelry, feathers and ornamentation. He can’t just sit in the pews and be the male that God made, at least not compared to the “regular males” in the congregation.

If the congregants were to throw him out for violating their strict gender roles, or if they were to throw out the same-sex couple for violating their code of imaginary sexual conduct – they don’t really know do they – then the congregation would demonstrate through their claim to know good from evil, that they know nothing of the sort. Beers is right.

We have our thou-shalt-nots. We live within a web of mutually reinforcing nos, taboos, do-not-discusses, and impossible-to-think-otherwises.

Only he forgot that he was looking into the mirror.

avatar Rob G September 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm

“Mr. G, if you don’t understand the difference between consensual relations and non-consensual, between relations that express a power imbalance and equal relations I suggest that you confess your confusion to your wife or mistress or boyfriend or whatever.”

Actually, I understand the difference perfectly, which is why I predict that the eventual move to legitimize pedophilia will be by attempting legally to lower the age of consent. And I have a sneaking feeling that homosexuals won’t be in the vanguard of the opposition to such a move.

avatar Pete Peterson September 15, 2009 at 12:45 am

A little search through my EBSCO search filter on research on homosexual parents revealed an amazing dearth of studies in “scientific” journals. This from the Apr 2004, Psychology Reports:

“In particular, it is observed that Fitzgerald in 1999 shifted from very tentative arguments in her review of literature to rather conclusive statements in her abstract about outcomes for children of gay parents. Furthermore, an often quoted 1995 article by Tasker and Golombok, upon closer examination, appears to indicate that being raised in a lesbian family increases the odds of a child later adopting a homosexual lifestyle even in the absence of homosexual attractions. For such reasons, scholars and policymakers all should be very cautious in accepting, at face value, at least some of the research being reported on gays and family life.”

This from the Scottish Government’s April 2009 policy review on gay parents (where it is legal): “Finally, a word of caution. It should be borne in mind that this paper is based on a review of only eight papers and does not claim to have captured all existing relevant research. As the papers focus on different themes and/or settings the conclusions drawn tend to be based only on one or two of the papers. Therefore, the findings of this review should be read tentatively keeping in mind the limitations that we highlighted.”

It remains surprising that there is so little research in this area, yet, at the same time, pro-gay marriage supporters are willing to “bet” the future of adopted/IVF children. It’s going to be fine, they say. Well, easy for you to say! Such hubris.

Some, like Smijer seem willing to see a qualitative difference between one and two parents, but is incapable of suggesting any actual policy solutions (like prioritizing adoption, restricting IVF) for this. They hear the research from Child Trends that “biological parents” (implicitly hetero) is the best environment in which to raise children, yet they are unwilling to qualify this in legislation.

One can’t help but remember some of these same debates in the policy decisions made concerning divorce and kids back in the 60s and 70s. A great new piece in the new National Affairs (“The Evolution of Divorce”) magazine about this history. The writer quotes a “prominent scholar” in a 1979 issue of the Journal of Divorce. Divorce offered – in this researcher’s opinion: “increased personal autonomy, a new sense of competence and control, [and the] development of BETTER relationships with [their] children.”

Here we go again…

avatar Jonathan September 15, 2009 at 9:25 am

Pete Peterson,

The APA just released a new book. You may want to check it out:

Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle by
Abbie E. Goldberg, PhD

avatar D.W. Sabin September 15, 2009 at 9:54 am

Well, as long as this thread is up to nearing 80 comments, I’m pleased to throw this tid bit into the fray and wonder what the LDS Church might do with the marriage laws deformed and expanded. Who in their right mind would be able to say a plural marriage is any less sound than a gay marriage? How could we bar an immigrant Ugandan Muslim the right to have his second wife under the Protection of Religious Freedom doctrine? After all, lifetime hetero mating is a rather infrequent phenomena in nature, Crows do it as I understand but they seem to be in the minority. Corvus is, of course, a very smart bird indeed.

Perhaps the Mormon church’s opposition to the measure in California is to preempt the plurals in their midst from drawing too much attention to the doctrine. Far-fetched perhaps but when watching Ozzie and Harriet on the black and white telly, the idea of a Gary and David family drama was a little far-fetched too. But that was before the writing stables of Hollywood became so dominated by the so called pro-”LGBT” sentiments of the day. Not that this is an entirely bad thing…..some of the best humor is never far from the torments that drive humor when people are instructed by the power center of their culture that they are mad or evil or an abomination and should be eliminated to the last man….or at least, keep their wide stance as discreet as possible.

avatar Pete Peterson September 15, 2009 at 10:27 am

I’ll say this again, Jonathan. Before you send me links, please check them yourself, before you help me make my point.

A quick click on the “About the Author” link reveals that, “She has received funding from the American Psychological Association, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Williams Institute, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.” A quick search on the “Williams Institute” shows that, based at UCLA’s School of Law, it “advances sexual orientation law and public policy”.

Only deriving this from the summary, it appears, like most of the research I’ve seen, to focus on the parents’ experiences, and not a larger study of the impact of homosexual parenting on children. The summary does say, “she has studied the experiences of adults raised by lesbian, gay, and bisexual parents”, but this accords with several of the other pieces I’ve looked at which focus on anecdotal/interview based “studies” on children – things like, “so how does it feel to have two dads?”. This silliness hardly qualifies for the larger research that would need to happen.

But again, unless we’re talking about parents adopting foster kids, it’s not really about the kids. It’s about the right to parentage, and a society’s inability to support children – through codification in law, policy, and education – that the best homes have mothers and fathers. I wasn’t raised this way, but I have little problem ascending to this fact.

avatar Carl Scott September 15, 2009 at 10:44 am

Again, I’ve skimmed the above, but two key points to consider in this debate:

1) Unless the Democratic party as-it-is radically changes course on the subject of what sort of judges it finds acceptable to appoint, the way gay marriage will come about in 80-90% of the states where it does come about will be by judicial rulings; and, there could surely be a national ruling. Therefore, all this pro-and-con debate about gay marraige, while obviously fundamental and necessary, IGNORES the political ABCs of the case, IGNORES the hugely salient fact that given those ABCs, this is not only about whether gay marriage is good or bad, but also about our Constitution. The Dems-as-they-are largely endorse Justice Kennedy’s assertion in Lawrence v. Texas that the 14th amendments’s protection of liberty, now protects, given “our” evolved idea of liberty, the gay idenity from any perceived unequal treatment. As Scalia suggested then, and as the Massachusetts court agreed later, this necessary means the mandating of gay marriage. REGARDLESS of what anyone in the above thread thinks. REGARDLESS of votes. REGARDLESS of state amendments to Constitutions. Our opinions on this DO NOT MATTER. Debate away, but the judge-rulers will decide. And the Dems-as-they-are are totally cool with that. Probably smijer is cool with that. Despite the absurd precedent that would set with respect to interpreting the Constitution, really so radical that it might wind up destroying it(if the word “liberty” can be so redefined, almost anything in the document can).

2. But beyond the damage such rulings will do to our constitutions, (and one is very like to happen to the national Constitution, esp. if Obama wins in 2012) notice that such rulings WILL HAVE A NEGATIVE LONG TERM IMPACT ON HETEROSEXUAL BEHAVIOR. And despite the help good gay couples might provide at the margins, it is HETEROSEXUALS who will raise future generations. Will they be more likely or less likely to do so as married persons? Less likely if everyone obtains a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to define the marriage contract on one’s own autonomous terms. And when you read the key gay marriage cases, that is clearly where the logic leads. Now if we VOTE in gay marriage, we can just say, “look marriage is these sorts of benefits, these sorts of penalties for breaking the contract, etc., and homosexual couples can marry.” “Our democratic will makes it so.” (To be clear, I’m a social conservative, and oppose that–I’m just saying that voting on it is way healthier for us.) But if we let judge-rulers MANDATE gay marriage, they will also necessarily mandate an orientation-blind RIGHT to “define one’s own concept of [sexual] existence” and to have that concept respected by the community. Social conservatives have screamed “that means Polyamory! Polygamy! Man-marries-chimp!” (and the Polygamy issue is quite serious even if our judge-rulers will do their best to finesse their way around it for several generations), but the real problem is what HETEROSEXUALS will do with such a Constitutional right. What will they do? Their lawyers will make it so they will be able to choose from a full menu of cohabitation and marriage-esque contract options. And the less-demanding contracts will grow in popularity.

I.e., what all of the above amounts to is that a judicial imposition of gay marriage is also a judicial enshrinement of the sexual revolution into the heart of our Constitution. And that will be good for no-one. Gays included. Because the social science about what happens in the aggregate to children raised without fathers is air-tight.

avatar Rob G September 15, 2009 at 11:53 am

“a judicial imposition of gay marriage is also a judicial enshrinement of the sexual revolution into the heart of our Constitution. And that will be good for no-one.”

That’s not entirely true. It will prove to be good for the one type of person who’s benefitted from it the most so far — the sexually predatory male.

avatar Jeremy Beer September 15, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Looks like this thread has about played out, happily. I’m pleasantly surprised by the generally high quality of the conversation, for which I am grateful. And that gratitude extends to the same-sex marriage proponents who’ve chimed in above.

I do think it bears repeating that the original piece wasn’t, of course, intended to be *about* same-sex marriage, per se, but rather about the incomprehension and disgust that proponents now frequently openly voice when faced with opponents, as well as the feeling of having come in contact with uncleanliness and subhumanness that seems to animate a sizable minority of such proponents. This seemed to me (1) a new phenomenon, with regard to same-sex marriage specifically, having only begun to appear in the last couple of years; and (2) simultaneously a very old phenomenon, with regard to contests between cultures (or would it be better to say “cultural frameworks”?) generally.

That was pretty much all I meant to say, and the American Indian metaphor was meant to illustrate what such a contest between cultural frameworks looks like. Other commentators, I must confess, have extended that metaphor further than I had intended. They may or may not have a point.

I think an interesting contrast can be drawn with the abortion debate. Everyone with any kind of manners seems to agree, on both sides of this issue, that it’s not the kind of thing you talk about with folks whose views are unknown to you, and that it is possible for fully human and otherwise good people to disagree about it. Increasingly, at least from my point of view, this kind of tolerance is fading from same-sex marriage discussions.

So why the difference? I’m not sure why, but I suspect that it is in part because opposition to abortion can be understood even on the terms of liberalism. Such is probably not the case with opposition to same-sex marriage.

avatar Kevin J Jones September 16, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I hesitate to add to a nearly closed thread, but I want to clarify for Joseph G, who writes: “So what you’re essentially saying is that once the LGBT community and supporters of it were allowed to involve themselves in the “free marketplace of ideas”, they were able to win the hearts and minds of the people who run or work in these organizations and thus the deck became stacked in favor of promoting LGBT folk in a positive light to America, and swaying opinions.”

No, what I’m saying is that they won over city councilmen to pass anti-discrimination laws. This restricted the “free market” by remaking discriminatory businesses, newspapers and schools in influential college towns and large cities. These laws also created a large network of lawyers and sensitivity trainers dedicated to enforcing the law, giving them an economic stake in the new regime.

“This is demonstrably untrue if one remembers the existence of Fox News, an extremely popular and right leaning journalistic entity.”

I don’t watch much Fox News, but as far as I can tell it is not strongly socially conservative and tends towards libertarianism. In 2006, Fox News donated $10,000 to the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). Would they do that if they were as disdainful of homosexuals as you think they are?

“Also in a way you’re arguing that equality for the LGBT community succeeds on its own merits because it’s an idea that people are likely to accept once exposed to it.”

No, I’m arguing that people are more likely to accept it if alternative views are suppressed and if their jobs depend on it. (Look up what happened to Crystal Dixon)

Internet pornography has done the most for the LGBT cause. Porn is, in Jacques Barzun’s phrase, a form of utopian literature. It breaks down chastity and publicizes unnatural and shameless acts.

avatar Rob G September 17, 2009 at 6:06 am

“Internet pornography has done the most for the LGBT cause.”

And the reverse is also true. Both are outgrowths of the sexual revolution, and they feed and live off each other.

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