The Coming Polygamy Showdown

Critics of legalized same-sex marriage have often made the point that many, and perhaps all, of the arguments in favor of what the Supreme Court in Obergefell can also be applied to the legalization of polygamy marriage and plural marriage. Proponents of marriage redefinition have often responded by dismissing this claim as slippery slope scaremongering; Andrew Sullivan’s “conservative case” for gay marriage explicitly repudiated such “open” marriage contracts. For years leading up to the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the idea that redefining the relationship between marriage and gender would precede a similar redefinition between marriage and persons was scorned out of court.

But I don’t think all the scorn in the world can ignore what’s going on in this essay in Chronicle of Higher Education. Moira Weigel (yes, the Moira Weigel who recently entered The Atlantic‘s “We Regret the Error” hall of fame) has written a profile of Carrie Jenkins, a philosopher at the University of British Columbia who lives in an “open” marriage. In case you’re wondering what that means, the article helpfully includes a photograph of Jenkins, her husband Jonathan–and her boyfriend, Ray. Jenkins and her husband identify as polyamorous, meaning their marriage is not exclusive and that both husband and wife may be and are sexually active outside it.

Before you dismiss this as just another, relatively insignificant example of absurdity in the lives of professional philosophers, consider also reading this Atlantic piece from 2014 on the “trend” of polyamory and open relationships. Even if this practice is now more or less at the margins of American social life, these two pieces in tandem clearly indicate a mainstream fascination with “nonmonogamy.” It’s real, and it’s happening now.

What makes, I think, the profile of Jenkins more interesting than The Atlantic’s piece is that, whereas the latter essay is framed more or less as an on the ground examination of a lifestyle still surrounded by social stigmas, the former clearly aspires to something more like normalization. Jenkins is, after all, a prestigious academic, and as Weigel notes, she and her partner(s) carefully weighed potential blowback to their careers before, to use the term Weigel does, “coming out.” In this essay, Jenkins (and Weigel) makes a clear and positive case for polyamory, with unmistakeable reference to the recent legal battle over same-sex marriage.

Listen to how carefully Jenkins articulates the moral reasoning of her menage a trois:

Take, for instance, the claim that it’s unhealthy to have multiple sexual partners. Jenkins and (husband Jonathan) Ichikawa pointed out that this was simply untrue. It is perfectly possible to maintain sexual health with multiple partners; indeed, a person who has openly discussed the pros and cons of opening a relationship with a partner is more likely to practice safe sex than is the frustrated partner who resorts to “drunken flings, clandestine affairs, or other ill-considered hookups.”

What about the assumption that nonmonogamy is psychologically damaging? “Different people are different,” Jenkins and Ichikawa wrote. Many nonmonogamous people report that they come to feel less jealousy over time; conversely, many monogamous people complain of experiencing sexual jealousy. In response to the charge that nonmonogamy is “unnatural,” Jenkins and Ichikawa pointed out that virtually no species are sexually monogamous, even if they are socially monogamous or pair-bond for life. (“Not even swans.”)

For a moment, let’s just brush aside the content of the moral claims being made here (the argument about nonmonogamy and jealousy reminded me of a line from True Detective: “People incapable of guilt usually do have a good time”).  The immediate takeaway is that Jenkins believes in a philosophically positive case for the inherent goodness of polyamory and open marriage. This isn’t mere personal narrative. It’s an objective claim about the nature of love, the purpose of marriage, and the good life. It is, in other words, a fundamentally political idea.

Jenkins goes on to acknowledge that her case for polyamory intersects with the political trajectory of same-sex marriage. She says: “We are creating space in our ongoing cultural conversations to question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.” Jenkins believes the case for polyamory is historically significant, clearly implying that she hopes to see its legal and political ramifications:

“Let’s not forget that it took many years of serious scientific research to convince (most) people that there is no biologically superior race or gender,” writes Jenkins. “Getting a proper grip on the biology of love may help us unravel the idea that there is one biologically superior way to love.”

Doesn’t this sound exactly like the rhetoric of same-sex marriage? This connection isn’t incidental; it’s foundational. Jenkins isn’t merely some hedonist, thumbing her nose at the culture and its oppressive strictures. She is instead making an intellectually serious case in the public square, a case that she knows is politically potent in a post-gay marriage era. Her arguments are going to be reckoned with.

And the question is, of course, what could a culture that no longer believes in the inherent value of male and female possibly say to this kind of reasoning? Are there any people left who endorse the legalization of same-sex marriage but would oppose the legalization of plural marriage? If there are, on what grounds? I’m afraid there aren’t any. After all, you love who you love. If it doesn’t matter whether that’s a man or a woman, why would it matter if it were 2 men, or 4 women? A fundamental right to human self-determination, at any and all costs to transcendent moral reasoning, does not simply end at #SameLove. The “right side of history” is much longer than the eye can see.

“Scare-quoting” Religious Liberty

Mississippi passes controversial ‘religious freedom’ bill.

Mississippi Governor Signs ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Into Law.

Mississippi Senate Passes Sweeping ‘Religious Liberty’ Bill.

All three of those headlines have two things in common. First, they all put scare quotes around the phrase ‘religious liberty,’ the ostensible purpose of which is to introduce doubt or skepticism that the law in question is really about religious freedom. Second, all of these headlines are from news dispatches, and not op-eds. In other words, what you’re looking at is reporting rather than editorializing.

Now, it could be that these publications feel they are sidestepping the debate over the legislation, and merely reporting the words used by one side and the accusations of the other. Those in favor of preventing the state from suing bakers and florists whose religion prohibits them from participating in a same-sex wedding say it’s all about religious freedom; those who want such coercion say “religious freedom” is code for discrimination. So why not just report what everyone thinks by using words in quotes?

The problem here, in my view, is a conflation between a point of order and a point of debate.

In parliamentary procedure, a member can raise a “point of order” at any time. Often a member seeking to do so will be recognized by the Speaker in the middle of a debate or other discussion. The point of order is by definition intrusive. A member raising it is telling the Speaker and the House that something needs to be fixed, not about what is being said but about the process itself.

The easiest way to get a scowl from a Speaker is to claim you have a point of order, but then, once recognized, to talk about a point of debate. For example: Imagine a governmental group you are part of is debating the merits of the income tax. A person next to you, not recognized heretofore by the Speaker, raises his hand and says “Point of Order!” The Speaker then turns to your neighbor and recognizes them to raise a point of order, an issue with the way the debate or the session is proceeding.

But then, after being recognized for a point of order, your neighbor says: “Yes, Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order. Mr. Jones is simply incorrect about the amount of revenue that can gained by the state through a progressive income tax. He’s not using the best numbers and the members of this House should be aware of that.” At this point, a Speaker who knows Parliamentary procedure would stop your neighbor and (gently, hopefully) rebuke him for raising a point of order when what he really had to say was a point of debate. It’s inappropriate–and more than a tad dishonest–to claim to have a point of order, and then raise a point of debate.

The scare-quoting of religious liberty is like this. For a newsroom to put religious liberty in scare-quotes in reporting is to raise a point of order when what really is being said is a point of debate. Regardless of whether you think the supporters of HB 1523 are honest people, the bill is written as a religious liberty bill; it calls itself a religious liberty bill; and it was signed by a governor who has said that a religious liberty bill is what he was signing. It is a religious liberty bill, as a matter of record. No argument as to the deceitfulness of its advocates can change that.

Now I do find interesting some of the arguments being raised to the contrary. It seems that many of the same people who have argued that same-sex marriage, by virtue of Obergefell, is now unfixable legal reality, are now saying that not even the passing of law by a legislature can do the same for HB 1523. In other words, the argument seems to only cut one way. It’s wrong, we are told, to say same-sex “marriage” in a post-Obergefell world, because, well, same-sex marriage became real and that’s that. For supporters of same-sex marriage, the force of law scrubs the quotation marks off of “marriage,” but not off of “religious liberty.”

That’s why I don’t think we should passively accept the scare-quoting of religious liberty. Whether or not you think that HB 1523 is about discrimination is a point of debate. But the law says religious liberty, the legislature that passed it says religious liberty, and the voters who elected the legislature say religious liberty. You might say they’re wrong, but that’s a point of debate, not a point of order. The public record is what it is, and the debates should be clearly demarcated from that. Putting quotes in the headlines obscures record from rhetoric, and that’s precisely the opposite of what we need from our journalists.

On Religious Liberty, the NFL Fumbles In Their Own Endzone

As a lifelong fan of the NFL in general and the St. Louis Los Angeles Rams in particular, the months of March through July are not my favorite sports cycle. There are still, however, things I look forward to from my favorite sport in its offseason–the drama of the draft, the excitement of free agency, and the revealing of the upcoming season schedule. When it comes to giving its fans fun and entertainment off the field, few organizations do it quite like the National Football League.

But yesterday, Roger Goodell and the league made me wish football had been a bit quieter this spring.

News broke on Sunday that the league has threatened the city of Atlanta with losing its potential bid to host a Super Bowl, if Georgia passes House Bill 757. HB 757 is a religious freedom bill which stipulates that pastors and other religious clergy cannot be sued for refusing to perform services (such as a same-sex wedding) that violate their religious beliefs. The bill also extends this protection to “faith-based organizations,” closely held, IRS-designated religious institutions that would likewise possibly be pressured to lend services to events or products contrary to a confession of faith.

This law is, of course, a response to recent court cases that have found bakers, florists, and other professionals liable in discrimination suits because they would not create for or participate in a same-sex wedding. Similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, HB 757 is designed not to empower discrimination against particular groups but to preemptively protect religious organizations and individuals. There is absolutely nothing in HB 757 that enables public services to deny access for LGBT citizens. Rather, the law would force the government to demonstrate a compelling interest when seeking to punish conscientious Georgians.

The NFL, however, disagrees. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the league publicly implied that passage of HB 757 would disqualify Atlanta from hosting football’s biggest night:

The statement from league spokesman Brian McCarthy reads, “NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

As a pundit on Twitter paraphrased it: “Lovely representative democracy you have there, Georgia. Shame if someone manhandled it.”

To be fair to the league, their statement doesn’t explicitly deny that there’d be a Super Bowl in a state where religious liberty is taken seriously. But the NFL’s statement was in fact a reply to a question posed by the Journal-Constitution, and it’s difficult to read it as anything but a veiled threat against the state. It would have been quite easy (and very NFL-like) to not comment publicly on ongoing legislation, or to simply observe that the league doesn’t itself dictate political beliefs to its 32 teams and owners.

And it would have been much better for the NFL to have done that. The league’s moral grandstanding here borders on the ridiculous.

First, it should be noted that the NFL’s appeal to its own policies is hypocritical at best. Current NFL policy, for example, prohibits the use of recreational marijuana. Yet the NFL continues to field teams and host events in states where recreational marijuana is legal, like Colorado (which hosts the newest NFL champion Denver Broncos) and Washington (home to the recent Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks). The NFL has shown no urgency to make sure its internal policies align with state law up until now. I highly doubt this is an earnest change of heart.

Secondly, by implicitly threatening religious liberty, the NFL is turning on many of its most legendary and important people. Pro football has benefited enormously from the platforms of religious athletes, whether old-timers like Reggie White, Herschel Walker and Tony Dungy, or younger players like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. Indeed, the NFL, far more than major league baseball or the NBA, depends on the employment and performance of religious players and coaches throughout its organization. The Atlanta Falcons, like other teams, have featured their chaplains in their organizational literature and PR. There’s no question that the NFL and its member companies have marketed themselves as friendly to the people they now imply may be bigots.

Third, the league is really not in a position to lecture taxpayers about their ethics. Pro football owners are notorious for passing along the costs of exorbitant new stadiums onto cities, while the NFL, which makes sure to get its cut of everything licensed by the “shield,” files with the IRS as a “non-profit” coalition of 32 individual businesses. In other words, the NFL reaps the financial harvest that comes when taxpayers–the same taxpayers who elect representatives, who then sponsor and pass legislation like HB 757–are asked to subsidize pro football, and don’t see any of the enormous profits come back to them via taxes.

If the NFL wants to criticize Georgia’s politics, it should first profusely thank Georgia and several other states for essentially sponsoring pro-football at taxpayers’ expense and the owners’ (and commissioner’s) profit. As it stands, if the NFL wants such a one-sided relationship with cities, it should probably abstain from farcical moral grandstanding on representative politics.

Lastly, pro football is not really in any position to wax ethical about…well, anything. This is the league, after all, that is facing a tumultuous legal and cultural battle over concussions, and recently settled with former players over accusations that the league withheld information about the effects of concussions on mental health. This is the league, after all, that until 2 years ago repeatedly turned a blind and apathetic eye towards domestic abuse, changing their tune only when media pressure was applied in the Ray Rice case. The NFL is good at entertaining and competitive sports, but it’s lousy at giving lectures on morality and decency.

As a football fan, I enjoy the league, even while I have criticized its flaws and hypocrisy. If the NFL wants to learn from its past failures, I am happy to hear it. What I am not happy to hear are lectures from an organization that profits from people with a conscience and taxpayers who let it skate. If the league wants to make leftist culture warring its newest offseason activity, count me out.

Jennifer Lawrence Should Read the Books That Made Her Rich

Hollywood A-lister and my fellow Louisville, Kentuckian Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t think much of Rowan County clerk Kim Davis. Actually, that might be overstatement. J-Law has, according to her cover-story interview with Vogue, zero tolerance for Mrs. Davis’ name:

The day I am at Lawrence’s house also happens to be the day after the infamous county clerk Kim Davis gets out of jail, where she had been sent for defying a court order requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Lawrence brings it up, calling her that “lady who makes me embarrassed to be from Kentucky.” Kim Davis? “Don’t even say her name in this house,” she shoots back, and then goes into a rant about “all those people holding their crucifixes, which may as well be pitchforks, thinking they’re fighting the good fight. I grew up in Kentucky. I know how they are.”

I’m sorry that Lawrence is embarrassed to be from Kentucky, but I’m afraid her tremblingly angry commentary here will do little to win Kentuckians to her side. Her screed reeks of classism and ideological bigotry, not to mention a fair amount of unintentionally hilarious self-righteousness (“Don’t even say her name” is right up there with Starbucks red cup hysteria on the FacePalm scale).

And I’m not sure why J-Law is so particularly embarrassed by Kim Davis. After all, it was her entire home state that voted to pass its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was also her whole home state that just overwhelmingly elected a pro-religious liberty governor. It sounds to me like Ms. Lawrence’s beef is really not with a Kentucky clerk but with Kentucky.

Of course, it’s Lawrence’s right to be embarrassed by Kentucky and hateful towards those who disagree with her. That’s what liberty is about. J-Law should actually be more familiar with those themes than most actresses right now, seeing as she just wrapped up her fourth and final adaptation of The Hunger Games series. The Hunger Games is, of course, a fictional series about a dystopian future in which a totalitarian central government (the Capitol) exercises absolute authority over its citizens, keeping them in subjection through starvation and gladiatorial rituals. It’s nowhere close to the sublime power of Orwell, but for young adult literature, The Hunger Games actually portrays a fairly compelling–and nightmarish–vision of a future without liberty.

Perhaps Lawrence thinks that liberty should be conditioned so as never to transgress cultural consensus. Perhaps she thinks  Kentuckians who believe in traditional marriage should enjoy freedom of conscience only so long as that freedom does not offend the cultural consensus or disturb the quiet conformity of the public square. But if that’s what Lawerence really does believe, she should take some time out of her career to re-read carefully the books that have made her a millionaire.

The Hunger Games is a frightening narrative of people held in captivity to the elite brokers of power in culture (specifically, I might add, power over the media). Interestingly, the Capitol’s dictator, President Snow, forbids any mention of the rebel protagonist Katniss Everdeen in his empire. The world of the Capitol is a tightly controlled world of uniformity and unquestionable government authority.

There are many Americans at this moment who are facing tremendous cultural and legal pressure to jettison their religious beliefs, pressure that, in some cases, has driven businesses and families out of the public square. Meanwhile publications like the New York Times openly refer to them as “bigots” and modern-day segregationists. Is there any question who, in this scenario, are the truly powerful elites, demanding conformity, and who are the separatists insisting on liberty?

Of course, our current situation is nothing like the post-apocalyptic nightmare depicted in The Hunger Games, just as the West was not actually learning to love Big Brother in 1984. But that’s not the point. The point is that sometimes we need shocking images and warnings to remind us how precious freedoms like freedom of religion are. When they are taken away, even fictitiously, the world that results is nothing but horror.

I’m not sure what it is about exercising one’s sincerely held beliefs that is so offensive and embarrassing to Lawrence. But it sure sounds like the Katniss Everdeen we see on the screen bears little resemblance to the conformity-craving actress who wears her costumes and says her lines.

How a Christian college unravels

Photo: Richard Arthur Norton, CC License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/deed.en
Photo: Richard Arthur Norton, CC License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/deed.en

I want to double back to the comments from the US Solicitor General that I highlighted a couple days ago. I think it was a rare but not shocking moment of clarity from the legal forces behind same-sex marriage legalization about what the endgames of a Court ruling in their favor would really be.  Continue reading “How a Christian college unravels”

“It’s going to be an issue.”

A straightforward admission by the Obama administration that life will get complicated quickly for any school that doesn’t immediately amend its charter to reflect a pro-gay policy.

From The Washington Post:

 During oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito compared the case to that of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian university in South Carolina. The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 the school was not entitled to a tax-exempt status if it barred interracial marriage.

Here is an exchange between Alito and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., arguing for the same-sex couples on behalf of the Obama administration.

Justice Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating.  So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?

General Verrilli:  You know, ­­I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito.  It is­­ it is going to be an issue.

It’s important to note here that for the purposes of Justice Alito’s line of questioning, the Solicitor General’s answer amounts to a “Yes.”

So there is more than fair reason to believe that, if same-sex marriage laws are struck down by this Court, the federal government will pursue revocation of tax-exempt status for any school that 1) prohibits homosexual activity in its student code and/or 2) did not extend to married homosexual couples the same residential and housing benefits that it extended to heterosexual couples.

This isn’t fearmongering. It’s a straightforward admission by the Obama administration that life will get complicated quickly for any school that doesn’t immediately amend its charter to reflect a pro-gay policy.

This further justifies the concerns of many religious conservatives about incongruity between same-sex marriage and religious liberty. Of course, it’s not theoretically impossible that future administrations would take a different approach than this one would. In my mind, though, such hope is a pipe dream. The line of logical progression couldn’t be clearer. It’s a game of, “If you can’t stand the worldview, get out of the public square.”