White women and Trump.

Photo from “9 Women on Why They’re (Still) Voting for Trump,” New York Magazine

53% of white women voted for Trump.

In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.

My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.

But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.

So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?


Maybe it was bigotry.

Predictably, some of my leftist friends think the missing puzzle pieces are racism and (internalized) sexism. I’ve seen repostings of LV Anderson’s piece at Slate (“White Women Sold Out the Sisterhood and the World by Voting for Trump”), which is filled with explanations like this:

What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.

While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.[ref]I think it would be great if both sides would show more genuine curiosity in where the other is coming from, both for the sake of treating each other kindly and for the sake of a functional pluralistic society. But that’s already an uphill battle, and it’s made all the less likely by assigning people the worst motivations and then yelling at them.[/ref]

But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.


Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.

How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.[ref]Including, in all likelihood, the left-leaning women who had preferred Sanders to Clinton by wide margins. I expect the perception that the DNC unfairly backed Clinton over Sanders did not help Clinton get the vote out in the end.[/ref]

It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!

But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.

Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.

But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.


CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:

Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.

On average, for the last 5 presidential elections[ref]When I originally linked to the New York Times, it had a section for viewing election results going back decades. If you can’t see this section, word search “2008” and it should come up.[/ref], 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.

Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.

If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.


Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.

There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.

2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.

So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.

Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver
Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver

2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.

Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.

Yeah, okay.
Yeah, okay.

Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.


Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made up stories of hate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).[ref]This is also why many conservatives aren’t reacting the same way to the stories of hate crimes in the wake of the election. They’re not thinking “I’m fine with that happening.” They’re mostly thinking “I don’t believe that is actually happening.” I’ve seen several conservative friends repost this explanation instead.[/ref]

I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actual bigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:

[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.

Kirsten Powers explained the same idea in terms of misogyny:

After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.

I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.

Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage[ref]Scott Alexander (who describes Trump as “super terrible”) does a great job explaining the ways many of the most common examples of Trump’s bigotry could be viewed as misconstrued or overblown.[/ref], and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.

2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.

Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.

Keep lecturing people about what they don’t care about while showing no understanding of what they do care about. That’s been so effective so far.

Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.

Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people.[ref]Even most self-described pro-choicers think abortion should be illegal later in pregnancy. Meanwhile only 36% of voters believe Medicaid should cover abortions.[/ref] Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?

If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.


Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump.[ref]As well as the 29% of Latinos who voted for him.[/ref] LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.

I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.

Article after article about the parts of the nation that went wholeheartedly for Trump (including many counties that had previously voted for Obama twice[ref]FiveThirtyEight gives examples of where this applied to women: “In Iowa, a state Obama also won in 2008 and 2012, the class-tinged tale was much the same. White women without a college degree account for just over a quarter of voters in the state, and while Obama won them by 17 percentage points in 2012, Clinton and Trump split their support. Trump won the state by 10 percentage points.”[/ref]) describe recurring themes of economic and cultural despair, resentment at being derided by the rest of us, and the way economic and racial anxiety intertwine. (Here’s one or two more.)

Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.[ref]Many conservatives were not happy when the left seemed more interested in using the Pulse nightclub shooting to talk about gun control and the “hateful” culture of conservative Christians while ignoring that the shooting was conducted by a Muslim American who pledged his loyalty to ISIS.[/ref]


Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.

A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.

So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.

The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.

3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.

Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S.  Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.

It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)

While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.

Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.

A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.

3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.

But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.

And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.

If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.

3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie[ref]Bouie also recently authored a piece on how Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other Democrats are wrong to talk about the populism that pushed Trump to victory without focusing on how racism was an integral part of Trump’s campaign. It will be interesting to see whether the Democratic party ultimately views this election as a call for them to do better at reaching the people who voted for Trump, or a call for them to take a stronger stance against anyone who upheld racism.[/ref] argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.

But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”

Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?

And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:

Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!

And repeat.

In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.


Fatherless Child: “Everybody Deserves a Voice.”

782 - Millie Fontana

Millie Fontana is an atheist raised by lesbian parents who–with the support of her mothers and also her biological father–has been speaking out against same-sex marriage. She stands with Christians (as she puts it) because only Christians are advocating for children in contemporary debates surrounding sexual ethics and law. Here she is, speaking with Ryan T. Anderson, at a conference in Australia. I think the video is well worth watching. (As usual, folks on email will have to visit the site to see the embedded video. Sorry.)


She makes a number of very good points, but here is one that I think was the most interesting. When asked by one of her mothers whether or not she would have felt more stable and secure if her mothers had been allowed to get legally married, Fontana replied with a question of her own: “How would psychologists have treated me for my underlying issues of fatherlessness if to acknowledge fatherlessness was a form of discrimination?”


Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in the United States, there’s a sense in which you might say that this is a moot point. Legally you could be right, although I’m not certain. Some once-controversial issues become widely accepted, such as interracial marriage. Others, however, like abortion remain cultural sticking points for decades with no end in sight. It’s too early to tell which of these categories same-sex marriage will fall into, but there is certainly precedent for the possibility that Obergefell was not the last word any more than Roe has been. In any case, however, another point that Fontana made is certainly worth considering:

Until we as a society have a discussion that . . . includes everybody who has been raised fatherless or motherless, until this discussion stops shaming children in my position from coming forward, we should not be pushing marriage through. I am not going to stand here and be silenced by people telling me what was acceptable for me to feel, that I’m a bad person for wanting a father, that maybe I didn’t love my mothers enough because I wanted a father. It’s bull. And I won’t support it.

Everybody deserves a voice.

Where’s the General Christian Defense of Marriage?

835 - Christian US

Last week I pointed out that a lot of the liberal glee at Kim Davis’s apparent hypocrisy was disingenuous. One of our commenters who supports same-sex marriage countered that there is reasonable grounds for suspicion about conservative motivations for opposing same-sex marriage, however. He wrote:

There’s a slightly deeper issue at play, which none of the news or reporters that I’ve seen has addressed. That is the observation that for “Christians opposed to marriage” (my term), the reasons–including scriptures and arguments about what’s best for children or ‘family’–ought to sound as loudly with respect to divorce. And yet in many voices divorce seems to get a pass.

This is a legitimate point, and it’s worth more of a reply than I gave in the comments at the time. So, what explains the discrepancy between Christian opposition to same-sex marriage (which seems loud and absolute) and Christian opposition to divorce (which seems quiet and muddled)?

1. People are selfish hypocrites sometimes, and this includes Christians. Divorce is something that a lot of heterosexuals have participated in and/or may expect to participate in at some future time. So it effects them in a way that gay marriage simply doesn’t. Therefore opposition to divorce is seen as either limiting their future options or condemning their past actions, and so they are more likely to accept it than same-sex marriage which they can safely depend on never impacting them directly.

2. According to Christian sexual ethics, divorce (or something like it, e.g. separation, annulment) is morally acceptable and even beneficial and necessary in a small but regular and persistent set of cases (e.g. in cases of abuse). But, by the same code of ethics, same-sex behavior is not routinely acceptable, even in a minority of cases. So you can’t attribute all the discrepancy between opposition to divorce and opposition to gay-marriage to selfish-hypocrisy, because some of the difference is actually intrinsic to the underlying Christian philosophy. Of course, I don’t expect any same-sex marriage supporters to accept that this is correct, but at least it is consistent.

3. Christians have been more opposed to divorce than I think the general public is aware. This is simply because conflict draws attention. When Christians oppose divorce and try to strengthen marriage they are, for the most part, not really arguing with anyone. There is no broad, popular movement that celebrates divorce or infidelity or walking out on your family. As a result, Christian opposition to these things tends to fly under the radar and go unnoticed. But it is there. In fact, that’s what made me think of this post. Thrice, which is my favorite band, has not one but two tracks on their fairwell album Anthology that address this issue directly. Here’s one of them, “The Weight.”

The other is “Promises.” Both of them are full-throated condemnations of modern sexual morality, including not only infidelity but serial monogamy, which is generally accepted through most of American culture.

Or how about Fight the New Drug? The anti-pornography organization “presents itself as a non-religious and non-legislative organization”[ref]Wikipedia[/ref]. That’s not at all dishonest–the group has no religious or political dogma or goals, but it is a marketing tactic to have a broad-based appeal. The fact remains that all four founders of the group are Mormon.[ref]LDS Living[/ref]

Then, as I mentioned in the comments at the time, there’s also covenant marriage:

Covenant marriage is a legally distinct kind of marriage in three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana) of the United States, in which the marrying spouses agree to obtain pre-marital counseling and accept more limited grounds for later seeking divorce.[ref]Wikipedia[/ref]

This is a pretty direct attempt to mitigate the effects of no-fault divorce and, while it is not become at all common even in the states where it has been enacted, it illustrates a Christianity that is working to bolster traditional views of sexual morality in the public sphere.[ref]Whether or not you think that is a good idea is a separate issue, which I’m sure will be addressed many times at Difficult Run in the future.[/ref]

The reality is that the Christian fight to defend and bolster marriage is only visible when it conflicts with the mainstream of society, and it is visible in direct proportion to the extent of that conflict. When Christians sing about fidelity and marriage, basically no one notices. I’d wager that a lot of fans of Thrice don’t even know what Dustin Kensrue is singing about. When Christians campaign in ways that are indirectly opposed to social trends, such as fighting for abstinence-only or abstinence-first sex education–they are seen as obnoxious, backwards meddlers. But it’s not exactly headline news. And when Christians find themselves in a fight with an organized, dedicated, savvy coalition such as the gay-marriage campaign, then they are seen as bigots and it absolutely does become headline news.

In other words, a lot of the impression that Christians mysteriously decide to care about marriage just in time to oppose same-sex marriage is a function of the fact that no one notices what they are doing the rest of the time.

Now, a couple of closing caveats / clarifications. I’ve said “Christians” a lot, but traditional Muslim and Jewish traditions also oppose same-sex marriage. So do a small number of atheists and agnostics, including some homosexuals. But the focus here was on Christians, so that’s what I emphasized. There’s also some ambiguity around the term “Christian.” Is everyone who is born and raised as a Christian really a Christian? I don’t want to get into the business of being a gatekeeper and judging who is “good enough” to be Christian. That’s misguided, counterproductive, and distasteful. But it is worth noting that, when you see polls that show the extent to which individual Catholic opinion differs from Catholic teachings, a lot of that has to do with the interplay between religious conviction and sheer social-cultural inertia.

As long as religious belief is the default, and for the time being it still is in most of America, being an atheist is going to be a much more meaningful descriptor than being a Christian for the simple reason that–by and large–atheists are people who choose to be atheists. The same can’t be said of Christians, since the category embraces both people who consciously choose to be Christian but also people who haven’t really given it much thought and just happened to be born into a Christian family (to, quite possibly, parents who also haven’t given it much thought).

This is important, because it means that you should not be surprised when a minority of Christians actually get out there and support Christian beliefs. That’s not because Christians are more hypocritical than other groups. It’s because, as the dominant religious group in the US, the category includes a lot more “by default” members than other groups. That’s just something to keep in mind.

About that Oft-Married Clerk in Kentucky

838 - Kim Davis

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of Kim Davis. She’s the county clerk in Kentucky who is still refusing to give out marriage licenses to same sex couples, despite losing various court battles and having her case rejected by the Supreme Court. She is currently facing contempt charges, but what you really know about Kim Davis from the news media is that she’s been married four times. The hypocrisy is delicious, and reporters cannot get enough of it. Here are a variety of tweets from professional journalists about the story:

840 - Steven Nelson tweets

839 - More Tweets

Here’s the thing: it’s not unusual to have Christians guilty of hypocrisy. Christians are guilty of lots of things. They are, as a general rule, no better or worse than anybody else from any other faith tradition or none at all. And I don’t think it’s even necessarily out of bounds to comment on it. The glee with which the journalists are relishing in it is a little unseemly, but the fact itself is fair game, in my mind.[ref]And, while I’m at it, I don’t support Kim Davis’s position. I’ve seen someone make the analogy that you can cite religious pacifism as a reason to be exempt from the draft, but you can’t expect to join the military, become an officer, and then refuse to fight based on your religious beliefs. I’m not sure it’s quite as clear-cut in this case–giving out licenses to same-sex marriages wasn’t in the job description when Davis took her job–but all things considered I think the logic is that she isn’t actually marrying anyone, she is merely certifying that these people meet the legal requirements. Which, they do. So she should give out the licenses, even though I am also opposed to same-sex marriage.[/ref]

However, this is the one thing that these journalists aren’t telling you: Davis converted to Christianity about 4 years ago and all of the behavior they are ridiculing her for–all of the divorces and affairs–happened before that point. Since becoming a Christian, Davis has been married to one and only one person. Isn’t that fact also relevant? And yet it tends to get buried in these stories about her, if it is mentioned at all.

These screenshots and the information all from an article at The Federalist, by the way: Kentucky Clerk Didn’t Follow Christianity Before Converting To It.

The article also makes the point that, in general, journalists don’t really have a clue about religion. And they don’t. It’s just another aspect of life in 21st century America. All the folks making the movies, deciding what news to cover (and how), and writing the books we read tend to come from a small class of people who don’t know the first thing about religion and yet–at the same time–have a visceral antipathy towards it and especially towards any forms of religion that bear even a passing resemblance to historical traditions. Perspectives like this one, therefore, are all too rare:

837 - Last Tweet

There is plenty of Christian hypocrisy out there, folks. And I don’t have a problem with fouls being called when they occur, even if I know the refs like one team more than the other. All I ask–and I don’t think it’s too much to ask–is to actually wait for a foul to occur before dishing out the penalties.

Federalist: Was I Wrong To Support Gay Marriage?

868 - Gay Marriage

I haven’t written much about Obergefell v. Hodges. I still don’t have a lot to say on the matter. I will just point out that, within hours of the decision, articles were already calling for churches to be stripped of their tax-exempt status.

It’s difficult to see how the nationwide legalization of gay marriage could have any kind of significant negative repercussions for anybody who’s not gay. Difficult – but not impossible. Because now that the US government formally recognizes marriage equality as a fundamental right, it really shouldn’t skew the tax code so as to give millions of dollars in tax breaks to groups which remain steadfastly bigoted on the subject.

I’m talking, of course, about churches.

Gay marriage was legalized by the SCOTUS in no small part as a reflection of public will, as the majority of justices saw it. And that public will was based largely in the rhetoric of civil liberties and live-and-let-live. One of my concerns all along has been that it will not stop there, however.

It is too early to say the sky is falling. And, in any case, skies tend to fall slowly. But it’s worth thinking about.

Over at The Federalist, David Harsanyi is already having second thoughts about his support for gay marriage:

How many backers of theoretical gay marriage will regret the reality of gay marriage? As a matter of policy, it doesn’t matter much anymore. And I have no moral qualms about same-sex marriage itself. I don’t believe it destabilizes the institution or ruins the lives of children. Then again, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, either. If same-sex marriage isn’t just a pathway to happiness, freedom, and equality for gay citizens, but a way to pummel religious Americans into submission, it will be a disaster.

We’ll see how things go, but I have a hunch I already know. The same people who told me again and again that I was being silly to fear these kinds of repercussions will, one by one, begin to ask me, “Well, why shouldn’t this follow logically?” Which, as I’ve always known, is precisely the point.

Why Social Conservatives Fight the Culture Wars

875 - Family Portrait

I just read David Brooks’ most recent column: The Next Culture War. In a nutshell, he argues that Christians ought to abandon their decades-long, fighting retreat against the sexual revolution. “Consider putting aside,” he writes, “the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.” Channeling Disney’s Frozen, he argues that Christians should just let it go. After all, aren’t there enough other problems to tackle? “We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed,” he writes.

I have a lot of respect for David Brooks. He’s one the people I’d most love to have a lunch conversation with.[ref]Others, if you’re curious, include John McWhorter, Megan McArdle, and Jonathan Haidt.[/ref] But, he doesn’t seem to understand that his suggestion asks for Christians to bail the water out of a sinking boat while ignoring the hole in the hull.

You see, the sexual revolution is the reason that we live in a society that is “plagued by formlessness and radical flux.” In The Social Animal, Brooks argues against the atomization of society on both the left and on the right, with each side focusing myopically on divisible, separable, self-contained individualism. The left argues that human individuals can construct their own gender and sexual identities free from repercussions and it therefore sees free birth control and elective abortion as fundamental rights. The right views collectivism with a hostile gaze, channeling Ayn Rand at times, and argues for personal responsibility sometimes to the point of callousness. These are twin heads of the same coin, and Brooks is right to focus on it. It is one of the defining philosophical tragedies of our age.

But what he seems to fail to grasp is that this radically individualized view of human nature follows in part directly from the sexual revolution. To the extent that the sexual revolution has been about excising sex from the context of marriage and family, it has been an assault on the biological family unit. And this unit–including the bond of husband and wife to each other and also to their children–comprises the two most essential bonds in human society.

To put it simply, social conservatism is animated in no small part by the conviction that biological families are irreplaceable. And so, to the extent that Brooks’ invitation is for social conservatives to give up and try to replace them, he is asking something of us that we simply cannot provide.

As a brief caveat, it’s not entirely clear that that is what he’s asking. He writes that we ought to “help nurture stable families.” I’m just not sure how he imagines this should be accomplished in practice. At one point, he suggests that conservatives abandon the culture wars while at another point he says that “I don’t expect social conservatives to change their positions on sex.” Which is it? Because conservative positions on sex are their participation in the culture wars. It may be the he merely thinks we should keep those beliefs quiet, but again: how does one practically “help nurture stable families” while abandoning resistance to the sexual revolution? Subjective sexual morality, open relationships, sex before marriage, pornography: these are not incidental things that happen to exist alongside “formlessness and radical flux.” These are the acids in which the stable family–as a normative and aspirational social beacon–dissolves.

And this cuts both ways, by the way. To the extent that social conservatives are unwilling to abandon their commitments, their opponents are equally unlikely to let the issue go. Thus, I have to express a deep skepticism of the upside of Brooks’ plan. His idea is that–if we assume for a moment that it is possible to meaningfully nurture families without participating in the culture wars–that suddenly religion will be well-thought of in the world. All of a sudden, we would be known as “the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.”

This is impossible, because the commitment social conservatives have to their values is mirrored by the commitment social liberals have to their mutually contradictory values. And as long as social liberals dominate the opinion-making sectors of our society their animosity will continue to be expressed in part by ongoing negative characterization of social conservatives as backwards bigots. And, make no mistake, social liberals do dominate the opinion making sectors of our society: academia, the press, the entertainment industry, and the Internet. Even if social conservatives did go quiet on their beliefs, I have very, very little confidence that our image would suddenly be rehabilitated.

Graph from Business Insider article about political makeup of American industries. Click image for link to article.
Graph from Business Insider article about political makeup of American industries. Click image for link to article.

Here is the reality: social conservatives are fighting the sexual revolution–despite it being a losing proposition thus far–because we believe that nothing does more good for children than being raised by their biological parents and that very little does more harm than for little children to be deprived of this natural right.[ref]The extreme cases where one or both of the parents is abusive or neglectful are those exceptional cases.[/ref] This belief necessitates viewing sex as more than merely a recreational activity or even a question of strictly intrapersonal, subjective meaning to be negotiated between the willing adult participants. The belief that immature human beings have a strong moral claim on their parents for protection logically requires a view of sex as a deeply significant act for which consenting adults–male and female together–ought to be morally, socially, and legally responsible.

There is certainly room for compromise and innovation within this conflict. The idea that social conservatives want to wholesale turn back the clock to an imaginary 1950s is an unfair stereotype. Much of the progress–both for women and for minorities–since the 1950s comes to us as precious treasure, dearly purchased and should be treated with humility, gratitude, and respect. Many of the contentious technologies that have fueled this debate–from the pill to IVF–are morally neutral technologies which can certainly coexist with a thoughtful, robust view of normative sexual ethics. There is room for these views to be better articulated within social conservatism, and for some social conservatives to take them more seriously and moderate their positions.

And so I do not want to meet Brooks’ call with a hardline refusal. It’s worth considering. What I wish to convey is that social conservatism is restricted in its freedom to adapt. That is not a design flaw. The point of having principles at all is that–while they may be interpreted or applied in innovative or flexible ways–there is a limit to that flexibility. There are some things that a person cannot do without abandoning principle. For social conservatives, the central principle is the care and protection of society’s most vulnerable, which means our children (before and after birth). An additional article of faith is that no institution can replace the biological family in filling that role. As a result, social conservatives not only will not abandon their opposition to the sexual revolution, they cannot do so and remain social conservatives. Can we do more without abandoning that opposition? I’m sure we can, and I hope we never stop being motivated by that question.

On the Supreme Court Ruling

Carlos McKnight of Washington waves a flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26. <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/26/politics/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-ruling/index.html">The Supreme Court ruled 5-4</a> Friday that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, handing gay rights advocates their biggest victory yet. See photos from states that approved same-sex marriage before the nationwide ruling:

The New York Times has an interactive article titled “How We Changed Our Thinking on Gay Marriage.” It features interviews with a Republican Congresswoman, a Baptist pastor, and even the president of the Institute for American Values and former Proposition 8 witness. Given the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday on same-sex marriage nationwide, I thought I’d post a piece from a couple years back that helped me formulate my own outlook on gay marriage. The essay is by William & Mary law professor Nate Oman.[ref]I’ve cited it before.[/ref] When it boils down to it, I ultimately share his view: “I am neither entirely joyful about gay marriage nor entirely pessimistic. Rather, I am worried. I think that gay marriage has the potential to be a positive social phenomena, as well as having the potential to be destructive. I don’t purport to know what its ultimate effects will be, and I suspect that they will be mixed.”

Nate Oman

Instead of virtually reposting Nate’s whole paper (which you really should take the time to read) by means of huge quotes, I’ve highlighted a few main points that really stand out to me:

  • Function vs. Equality: As much as I love the rhetoric of liberty and equality, such rhetoric may miss the point. “I do not think that marriage is primarily about equality,” writes Oman. “I do not think that it is a special status conferred on heterosexuals as a reward for being heterosexual, one from which homosexuals are excluded in order to convey a message of social inferiority. Rather, I think that is an institution that does certain things, serves certain functions.” Oman’s approach to the institution by means of processes and functions instead of abstract principles resonates with me.[ref]Reminds me of Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions.[/ref] Marriage’s functions as identified by Oman include
    • Bonding couples together via legal commitment and social pressures/norms, resulting, on average, in more productive and resilient people.
    • Legitimating sexual activity and cutting down on the emotional, physical, and social risks of illicit sex.
    • Providing a context for child rearing and shielding their vulnerability.
  • Ideals vs. Reality: My unease over same-sex marriage was largely due to my religious upbringing and later research on family structure. I think the social science (including economics) is very supportive of the notion that family structure matters for a child’s economic, emotional, and educational well-being, with biological parents in a low-conflict marriage being the ideal.[ref]There is far too much literature to cite in a blog post, but here are a few recent books on the subject of marriage and children: Mitch Pearlstein’s From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Consequences of Family Fragmentation, Kay Hymowitz’s Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, Isabel Sawhill’s Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage, Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, and the Columbia University-published Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives.[/ref] Yet, this same research suggests that stable, low-conflict same-sex marriages may be a healthy alternative to high-conflict heterosexual marriages, divorce, cohabitation, and single parent households. Even Mark Regnerus’ controversial research on child outcomes of same-sex parenting points to instability as the main culprit behind the negative results he found.[ref]However, he also argues that instability is an endemic characteristic of same-sex relationships according to the data.[/ref] If marriage became more of a norm and ideal in the gay community, it’s possible that this instability would decrease. Which leads to the next point.
  • Traditional Values vs. Hedonism: “Gay marriage,” Nate writes, “is potentially most powerful as a conservative retrenchment, an effort to impose a more traditional model on the unruly riot of family structures that already dominate the lives of many children.” Furthermore, he thinks “that one of the greatest potential benefits of gay marriage is that it makes possible gay chastity.” Swedish economist Andreas Bergh once described Sweden has heading in a more market-oriented direction, while the U.S. tends to move in a more socialist direction. I think of the two communities in similar ways. Broadly speaking, it seems that heterosexual relationships are becoming increasingly fragile and fragmented, while homosexual relationships are moving in a more stable, domestic direction.

Nate concludes,

To homosexuals who are now going to get married, I say congratulations. I hope that you have happy and fulfilling lives.[ref]I couldn’t help, but get a little emotional when I read about the first same-sex marriage in Dallas County: after 54 years together, Jack Evans (85) and George Harris (82) were married.[/ref] I hope that your marriages are strong, and I hope that they become an example that will discipline and orient the lives of others. To the advocates of gay marriage, I hope that you will stop talking so much about freedom and equality and will start talking about marriage, about how it should organize people’s sexual lives and give structure to their families. I hope that your new found enthusiasm for marriage translates into the revival of some of the informal social pressures and expectations that signal to everyone that marriage is not simply a choice or a right but a preferred way of life…I don’t expect the language of liberty and equality around gay marriage to recede from the public stage but having lost the political battle on gay marriage, social conservatives should embrace the rhetorical and social possibilities it provides for talking about the good of marriage as opposed to its alternatives. A focus on gay marriages as a superior structures for gay families rather than on gay marriage as a marker of social equality strikes me as the best road going forward. In the end, I don’t know what will happen. I think that marriage will be good for gay families. I am less sanguine about the effects of the gay marriage debate on our shared public understanding of marriage. I fear it has reinforced ideas that are destructive to marriage at the margins. The good news is that I may be wrong, which would make me happy.


Thoughts on the Speed with Which America Changes Her Mind

905 - Americans Change Their Minds

Bloomberg Business has an interesting post about the speed with which Americans change their minds on major social issues, complete with misleading graph above. I say misleading primarily because the graph stops at major milestones (Constitutional amendments or SCOTUS cases), and this gives an unjustified sense of finality to the change of mind, as though–having gone one direction–the transition is ultimately a complete switch.

Calling it misleading might be a little harsh. It does show exactly what it purports to show, and the authors even note that “the movement to legalize abortion is something of an outlier here. It ultimately may have followed the same pattern as other issues—but we’ll never know, because in 1973 the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade cleared the way for legal abortions.” That’s a reasonable characterization, but it s somewhat contradicted in the following paragraph: “By acting before a critical mass of states was in support, the Supreme Court pre-empted what had been a steady popular movement in the states toward abortion rights.”

Just how steady and popular has that movement been in the decades since? I considered that question over a year ago when I contrasted the fate of interracial marriage and abortion (two controversial-at-the-time social issues) up to the present date.

As you can see, support for interracial marriage rose on a more or less steady trajectory from only 4% in 1959 to 87% in 2013. Abortion, on the other hand, has been flatlined (more or less) for the past 40 years. So if the Bloomberg Business chart were really “tracking the pace of social change” they should have picked not state-level support (which is kind of meaningless) but rather polling data, and then they should have carried it forward as far as possible instead of just stopping at the point of legalization. If they had done so, the graph would show two different kinds of rapid social changes. One, like interracial marriage, would show a genuine change in America’s views over time. Others, like abortion, would show that this change has stalled and would instead show lasting controversy.

It seems increasingly likely that same-sex marriage will soon become the law of the land. It is much less clear which of these two categories it will fit into: eventual universal acceptance or long-lasting controversy.

On the Current Concerns of Social Conservatives

Photo by Loor101 on DeviantArt.
Photo by Loor101 on DeviantArt. (Click for original source.)

My friend Tom Stringham has an excellent post at his blog Virtuous Society in which he outlines a secular argument against same sex marriage. It’s the single best argument I’ve read, not because it’s new or innovative, but because it’s the most concise expression of all the key points that so many of the same-sex marriage opponents have been focusing on. It begins:

If marriage is a real thing, then before we can decide what the rules of eligibility are, we have to know what it is–what marriage is. We want our marriage law to deal with real marriage, in the same way that, say, our criminal law deals with “real” crime, and not just anything the government wants to call crime.

This is a deft analogy. We all recognize that, technically, whatever the government decides to make criminal is a crime. But we all generally recognize that this technical definition misses something deeper. To the extent that the criminal code is arbitrary, it loses it’s moral force and we stop seeing it as a “real” crime. And so the question becomes: what lurks behind marriage that makes it something worthy recognizing in the first place? This isn’t a historical question, because there’s no point in the history of the institution of marriage at which a bunch of scholars or lawyers or politicians sat down and decided to hash out marriage law from first principles. Marriage laws are a product of evolution, along with much of our legal code[ref]Common law[/ref], rather than intentional design. But that doesn’t mean that they are arbitrary.

Please read Tom’s post for the rest of his argument.

In the meantime, here are some more thoughts.

First, I think secular arguments tend to be the best kind of arguments because (1) they appeal to a broader audience and (2) by not relying on the claims of any particular religion, they are more compelling. I don’t have anything against specifically religious arguments, but I find that–even as a religious person myself–if it’s a matter of public policy it’s preferable to state the argument in the broadest terms possible. That’s what I’ve always done when it comes to the abortion issue, and it’s what makes sense with the issue of same-sex marriage as well.

Second, I just thought I’d note some other interesting articles I found on the topic recently.

How Same-Sex Marriage Makes Orphans of Us All – This is an article from The Federalist that digs a little deeper into some of the philosophical ramifications of same-sex marriage: “To obliterate the sexual-difference feature of marriage is a radical repudiation of its character and, ominously, of the character of the human person it acknowledges and protects.” Going on:

So not only does same-sex marriage ideology redefine parent, but also child. For on its account, a child comes into the world not naturally related to anyone, but only transactionally connected to the persons responsible for fetching him through various means. No child in a same-sex household derives from the relationship of the partners in that home; every such child has been torn from at least one parent. Rather than a child’s dissociation from parents being a tragedy, it is a necessity and design feature of the same-sex regime.

I realize this is not going to be a remotely well-received argument because of the conclusions it draws, but the logic is fairly straightforward: either biological relationships are intrinsically valuable, or they are not. I believe that they are. That the mere fact of biological relationship–parent to child and also to siblings, cousins, and other kin–means something. And if it does, then deliberately creating children in a way that deprives them of this connection is morally troubling in a way that, for example, adopting children in need is not.

Is having a loving family an unfair advantage? – We may as well expand outward from gay marriage to the family generally to questions of fairness and privilege. Thus, this article from The Philosopher’s Zone which argues that–along with economic and gender and other forms of systemic inequality–having a loving family is also a source of inequality that society should rectify. On the one hand, I appreciate that the philosophers who tackle the question are shooting for a moderate position, they contrast private school (which they believe cannot be justified because it is unfair) with reading to your children (which they say is unfair, but cannot reasonably be stopped.) OK, so they aren’t saying that you can’t read to your kids because of the unfair advantage it gives, but (1) they still think you should feel bad about what you’re doing[ref]”I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”[/ref] and (2) moreover the “right” to read your kids bedtime stories is in their conception contingent. The fact of the matter is that having a serious discussion about whether or not to ban bedtime stories is intrinsically alarming, even if the philosophers decide that (based on their particular criteria), reading to your kids is permissible for now. The implication is clear: the right of parents to provide the best environment they can for their own children within the walls of their own home is not absolute, but rather depends on a particular argument that happened to turn out this way today, but could–in the future, under different analysis–turn out in another way.

The Wild Ideas of Social Conservatives – I’ll wrap up with a pre-emptive response to the points I’ve enumerated thus far. One of the common rejoinders to conservative concerns about marriage, the family, and privilege arguments is that conservatives are hysterical. When have their fears ever, ever turned out to be justified? Well, in this post Douthat tackles that contention head on and points out that, well, conservative fears have been born out many times in the past.

It’s not that social conservatives are always right about where American society is going…

But there’s still a broad track record that’s worth considering. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the pro-choice side of the abortion debate frequently predicted that legal abortion would reduce single parenthood and make marriages more stable, while the pro-life side made the allegedly-counterintuitive claim that it would have roughly the opposite effect; overall, it’s fair to say that post-Roe trends were considerably kinder to Roe’s critics than to the “every child a wanted child” conceit. Conservatives (and not only conservatives) also made various “dystopian” predictions about eugenics and the commodification of human life as reproductive science advanced in the ’70s, while many liberals argued that these fears were overblown; today, from “selective reduction” to the culling of Down’s Syndrome fetuses to worldwide trends in sex-selective abortion, from our fertility industry’s “embryo glut” to the global market in paid surrogacy, the dystopian predictions are basically just the status quo. No-fault divorce was pitched as an escape hatch for the miserable and desperate that wouldn’t affect the average marriage, but of course divorce turned out to havesocial-contagion effects as well. Religious fears that population control would turn coercive and tyrannical were scoffed at and then vindicated. Dan Quayle was laughed at until the data suggested that basically he had it right. The fairly-ancient conservative premise that social permissiveness is better for the rich than for the poor persistently bemuses the left; it also persistently describes reality. And if you dropped some of the documentation from today’s college rape crisis through a wormhole into the 1960s-era debates over shifting to coed living arrangements on campuses, I’m pretty sure that even many of the conservatives in that era would assume that someone was pranking them, that even in their worst fears it couldn’t possibly end up like this.

More broadly, over the last few decades social conservatives have frequently offered “both/and” cultural analyses that liberals have found strange or incredible — arguing (as noted above) that a sexually-permissive society can easily end up with a high abortion rate and a high out-of-wedlock birthrate; or that permissive societies can end up with more births to single parents and fewer births (not only fewer than replacement, but fewer than women actually desire) overall; or that expressive individualism could lead to fewer marriages and greater unhappiness for people who do get hitched. Social liberals, on the other hand, have tended to take a view of human nature that’s a little more positivist and consumerist, in which the assumption is that some kind of “perfectly-liberated decision making” is possible and that such liberation leads to optimal outcomes overall. Hence that 1970s-era assumption that unrestricted abortion would be good for children’s family situations, hence the persistent assumption that marriages must be happier when there’s more sexual experimentation beforehand, etc.

I’m not going to tell you that either side has a monopoly on the truth; human nature is much too complicated for that. But I will say, again, that if you look at the post-1960s trend data — whether it’s on family structure and social capital, fertility and marriage rates, patterns of sexual behavior and their links to flourishing relationships, or just trends in marital contentment and personal happiness more generally — the basic social conservative analysis has turned out to have more predictive power than my rigorously empirical liberal friends are inclined to admit.

Not surprisingly, I agree with Douthat. Social liberals tend to see opposition to gay marriage as merely an expression of bigotry. In some cases, it certainly has been. But, even if this list of social conservative fears proves nothing else, the history of widespread paranoia[ref]As liberals will see it[/ref] of social conservatives going back to the 1960s and the ensuing data should underscore the fact that concerns about gay marriage and sexual mores are not isolated outbreaks that can only be explained by appeals to fear or animosity. On the contrary, this kind of opposition is part of a consistent concern for social well-being that has, in at least some important and recent cases, proved to be well-founded.

The Paradox of Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom

910 - AntiDiscrimination Religious Freedom

In which law professor (and my good friend) Nate Oman boils down the most depressing aspect of the current culture war. Both religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws are  necessary contingent on the prevailing local culture, but states where there is the greatest need for religious protections are the least likely to enact them, and states where there is the greatest need for antidiscrimination laws are the least likely to enact them. As a result:

I think that in blue states conservative religious objectors will likely be dealt with harshly and punitively. In red states, I think that there is a real danger that in some places homosexuals will lack the ability to fully and meaningfully participate in the market.

Depressing stuff, but Nate has hope. Read the article to see what it is.