religion

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.

Against Obsessive Celibacy

Celibacy

John replies to Michael Hannon’s startling response to “Thinking Straight” at Commonweal:

You don’t have to be a “libertine” to recognize that what the young boy is experiencing is not just a really, really, really strong desire for friendship. More important, you don’t have to be a libertine to acknowledge that willful blindness to what the boy is actually experiencing can do serious, lasting damage.

Read full article here.

“Thinking Straight?” at Commonweal

QueerTheory

At Commonweal, John explains how a little queer theory (misunderstood and misapplied) can be a dangerous thing:

What social conservatives want is nothing less than to dismantle the very vocabulary by which we express and realize our inchoate longings for intimacy. They want to push us back to a time when homosexuality was not merely the “love that dare not speak its name,” but the love that could not speak it. They want to restore a regime where the boy with the funny feeling might—if he’s lucky—grow up to have a good-enough heterosexual marriage, but he might just as easily grow up to have a lonely life of furtive, dangerous same-sex encounters.

Read the full article here. Also check out Hannon’s reply and John’s rejoinder.

Bible Thumpers

It’s certainly true that many people claim that they find all they need to know within the Bible: God said it, I believe it, that settles it! There are at least two major problems with this approach. First, most people don’t know what the Bible actually says. And second, when one examines what it actually says, the results can be rather embarrassing for the “God said it” crowd.

Read the full column at HuffPost.

Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the gay Catholic group New Ways Ministry, called [Cardinal] Dolan’s remarks “nothing short of an Easter miracle.”

Really? Rising from the dead is an Easter miracle. Marshmallow Peeps are an Easter miracle. (You can put them in your pantry for a decade, and they won’t decay. It’s true.) But a Christian leader saying “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t attack gay people”? That’s just common decency, not to mention good strategy — especially in a world where a majority of American Catholics support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Read the full column at HuffPost.

John on Lent for Atheists

At the New York Times “Room for Debate”:

The point is not so much sacrifice as recalibration: not giving something up, so much as embracing something in its stead. You don’t need to believe in God in order to believe in the need for self-improvement — although it certainly helps to have a community, religious or otherwise, to back you up in your efforts.

Full article here.

Anti-Marriage Advocates Have no Case

First published at 365gay.com on June 17, 2011

New York may be on the brink of extending marriage to same-sex couples. As of this writing, the state’s marriage-equality bill appears to be one vote shy of passage. Several state legislators are still undecided. It’s a nail-biter.

Which means that our enemies are out in full force, giving the usual non-arguments.

I say “non-argument” deliberately. A striking fact about the public debate over marriage is that it has ceased to be much of a debate at all.

Consider the California Prop. 8 trial, where our opponents only called a single—and somewhat equivocal—witness.

Or consider Minnesota’s legislative hearings on a ballot proposal to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. In five hours of House testimony, not a single member other than the amendment’s author argued in favor of the measure. (It passed anyway, 70-62.) Even that author didn’t address the amendment’s merits: instead, he focused on the importance of letting voters decide.

Pay attention: we have reached a point where our opponents have a really hard time publicly presenting arguments against us. This is a clear sign that they are losing.

Our opponents see things differently, of course, claiming that their reluctance stems from the “unrelenting pressure”—as NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan puts it—to conform to the liberal homosexual agenda.

But the real pressure on them isn’t political. It isn’t social. It’s logical. It’s the pressure that one feels in the face of truth.

As evidence mounts that marriage equality is good for gays, for their families, and for society at large, our opponents have increasingly abandoned evidence. Instead they rest their case on bald assertion, claiming that marriage simply IS between a man and a woman, period, end of discussion.

Like a child who sticks his fingers in his ears and sings “la la la,” they offer no real engagement.

For a stunning example of this kind of non-argument, witness Archbishop Dolan’s embarrassing rant against the NY marriage-equality bill. [http://blog.archny.org/?p=1247] In it, he decries our tampering with a “definition as old as human reason,” compares marriage-equality advocates to communist dictators, and displays a willful blindness to history. (For example, he claims that marriage has always and everywhere been “one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity.” But the Archbishop’s bible—where multiple wives and concubines make frequent appearances—would beg to differ.)

Yet the core of his rant is a definitional objection, which is really a non-argument:

“[Marriage] is the union of a man and a woman in a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children. Please don’t vote to change that. If you do, you are claiming the power to change what is not into what is, simply because you say so. This is false, it is wrong, and it defies logic and common sense.”

In other words, marriage is what *I* say it is. La la la!

The definitional objection states that same-sex “marriages” can no more exist than married bachelors or square circles. They’re not just bad policy, they’re impossible by definition.

Notice, though, that legislators and ordinary citizens don’t normally worry about things that are impossible by definition. After all, they’re impossible. So what’s the problem?

Presumably, in the Archbishop’s mind, the problem is this: There is something distinctively valuable about heterosexual unions that would be threatened if legal marriage were extended beyond them. But Dolan offers absolutely no evidence for this dubious claim. Instead, he just keeps spinning circles about “this perilous presumption of the state to re-invent the very definition of an undeniable truth.”

By analogy, suppose we were debating whether a particular object should be recognized as “art.” Following Dolan, one might assert that the nature of art is an “undeniable truth,” that we must resist the “stampede” to “redefine” it, and that we must fear government attempts to “dictate” what the “very definition” of art is.

But such posturing would be mostly a distraction. When everyday people argue about whether an object is art, they’re generally not worried about what words mean. They’re worried about whether the work in question should be displayed in galleries and museums, supported by cultural grants, and so on.

In a similar way, when people argue about whether marriage should be extended to same-sex couples, they’re generally not worried about what words mean. They’re worried about whether such couples should be afforded equal recognition, rights and responsibilities.

In other words, it’s a moral and legal debate, not a semantic one.

By repeating the definitional objection without offering any argument for an exclusively heterosexual notion of marriage, Dolan refuses to engage that debate. In doing so, he unwittingly exposes his side’s moral bankruptcy. Let’s hope that New York doesn’t fall for the ruse.

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