Why Marco Rubio Needs Philosophy

Photo by Scott Olson

Photo by Scott Olson

At the Detroit Free Press, I give a brief lesson on the pursuit of wisdom. From the op-ed:

By mocking philosophy, and the humanities more generally, Rubio devalues the pursuit of wisdom: the critical scrutiny of our fundamental beliefs and convictions; the quest to understand the world and our place in it, the exploration of great ideas about reality, knowledge, and value. Judging from our current political scene, we need more of that pursuit, not less.

Read the full article here.

What’s Wrong with Religious Arbitration?

At CU-Boulder’s What’s Wrong? blog, my colleague Katherine Kim and I consider some of the pros and cons of religious arbitration. From the essay:

An important feature of liberal (i.e. free) states is to protect citizens’ moral agency, allowing them to align their actions with their moral convictions. Many citizens base their moral convictions on their religious beliefs. For these citizens, religious arbitration may provide an important opportunity to resolve disputes in accordance with shared values.

Read the full essay here.

“Bake Me a Cake”: Three Paths for Balancing Liberty and Equality


At the CU-Boulder “What’s Wrong?” blog, I respond to religious conservatives who claim that anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation strip them of their liberty. From the essay:

It’s worth emphasizing, however, that this concern is not unique to same-sex marriage. Oregon prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age . . .” If Ron and Nancy want a wedding cake, the Kleins may not refuse them on the grounds that one of them is previously divorced. If Rebecca and Mohammed want a wedding cake, the Kleins may not refuse them on the grounds that they have an interfaith relationship. If Richard and Mildred want a wedding cake, the Kleins may not refuse them on the grounds that they’re of different races—and so on.

Notice that virtually no one would frame these cases as “forcing” the Kleins to be “complicit” in the resulting marriages. That’s partly because there’s greater moral consensus on these other issues. But it’s also because people recognize that baking a wedding cake is not tantamount to participating in a marriage: If it were, there would be a lot of polygamous bakers in the world.

Read the full essay here.

Rejoinder to Dan Johnson

In response to Dan Johnson, who critiques my New York Times piece “Gay Rights and the Race Analogy,” I offer a rejoinder at The Partially Examined Life. An excerpt:

I actually support antidiscrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity. But I think we need a better argument for them than “because … segregated lunch counters.” In the original post I make a plea for nuance and fine distinctions; that plea is lost on Johnson.

Read the full rejoinder here.

Davis Defenders No Better at Interpreting Bible than Interpreting Constitution


Yesterday at the Detroit Free Press I argued that supporting Kim Davis’s religious liberty doesn’t mean tolerating her refusal to do her job as county clerk. “Religious liberty does not entitle the bearer to line-item vetoes for essential job functions,” I wrote.

In passing I mentioned that she has been divorced multiple times, which shows how inconsistent she is in enforcing Biblical law. Others have made the point more sharply, noting that she became pregnant with twins from husband number three while married to husband number one, in Maury-Povich-worthy twists. Husband number two, who adopted the twins, is also her current, fourth husband.

In response to revelations about her marital history, her Liberty Counsel attorneys have rushed to her defense. According to U.S. News and World Report:

[Attorney Mat] Staver says “it’s not really relevant, it’s something that happened in her past” and that her conversion to Christianity about four years ago wiped her slate clean. “It’s something that’s not relevant to the issue at hand,” he says. “She was 180 degrees changed.”

Her colleague Casey Davis makes a similar point:

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who is not related to Kim Davis, tells U.S. News he believes there’s a difference between getting a divorce and then repenting and living in a same-sex relationship.

“I don’t have any problem with that whatever, how she was before. If the Lord can forgive her, surely I can,” he says. “That’s something that’s forgivable just like any other sin, but if you continue in it and live in it, there’s a grave danger in that.”

Apparently these people are no better at interpreting the Bible than they are at interpreting the Constitution. For Jesus himself says quite clearly:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10: 11-12).

Notice that, in Jesus’ words, divorced and remarried people are not people who did sin (past tense) and then had their slate wiped clean. They are people who are sinning, as persistent and unrepenent adulterers. Why isn’t there “grave danger in that”?

I recognize of course that divorce is sometimes the best option for those in a bad marriage. On the other hand, unlike these folks, I don’t go around trying to substitute “God’s law”–or my own self-serving interpretation of it–for the laws of the state.

Read my full Freep piece here.

Gay Rights and the Race Analogy

Tucker Nichols for The New York Times

Tucker Nichols for The New York Times

At The New York Times, I urge caution on use of the race analogy and argue that the issues are more complex than they’re typically treated:

The present debate is too often dominated by hasty generalizations and false inferences, on both sides. The left slides too easily from “similar” to “the same.” The right correctly counters “No, not the same,” but then jumps to the false conclusion “Not at all similar.” Where both sides go wrong is in treating analogies as if they were identities. If we want to apply the lessons of history to the current controversy — as we should — we need to take seriously both the similarities and the differences.

Read the full article here.

Fall Speaking Engagements

John New Student Convo

John is currently working on the details of his fall speaking calendar, with talks planned at the University of Colorado, Boulder, on October 22 and 23 and at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, on November 6. Details to follow soon at the calendar page.

If Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?

In his Obergefell dissent, Chief Justice Roberts trots out a familiar slippery-slope argument:

[F]rom the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.

Actually, it’s not that hard at all. For a detailed analysis of the constitutional problems with this argument, I recommend Stephen Macedo’s latest post at Slate. In terms of logic and public policy, however, we can answer Roberts with a short video, from my 2012 marriage series:

Victory at SCOTUS


I’m still digesting Obergefell, both the decision itself and its personal and social implications. Had you told me 25 years ago, when I first started speaking and writing about LGBT rights, that the White House would be lit up rainbow to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s granting the right to marry to same-sex couples in all 50 states, I might have answered “Not in my lifetime.” Even three years ago, when I published Debating Same-Sex Marriage with Maggie Gallagher, only a handful of states allowed same-sex couples to marry, and the federal government recognized none of those marriages. Never has an author been happier than I to see his book destined for the remainder bin.

I’ll post more soon. For now, savoring the moment.

Can People With Dementia Have a Sex Life?

Jeff Heinz/The Globe Gazette

Jeff Heinz/The Globe Gazette

Let’s ask John Corvino! (Ahem.) At The New York Times’ “Room for Debate,” I team up with my buddy Ron Belgau to defend, among other things, the sanctity of marriage. From the exchange:

[T]he argument in the present case is not that Mr. Rayhons physically or emotionally harmed his wife, but rather that he violated her consent merely by having sex. I don’t see how that argument wouldn’t apply equally to his brushing her hair — which would indeed be wrong, and a violation of consent, if he did it to some random dementia patient who was not his wife. The marriage matters, as do other intentions the patient expressed prior to her dementia.

Read the full exchange here.

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