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May 29, 2004

Comments

Joy Paul

Hugo, I agree that many of the conservative Christians who are vehemently opposed to gays are not all evil. In my own personal experience, I fault no one at the church that "excommunicated" me for giving up on trying to be straight. In fact the amount of love and concern that most individual Christians demonstrated to me was far beyond what I would have expected.

Although I have come to understand that God loves me and any other gay persons as we are--a stand that most Christian churches find anathem--I don't hold animosity against individual Christians, many of whom have been very gracious towards me.

With that being said, it is still incombent on society to try to dispell any outward actions of hatred meted out against other persons of society.

While none of us want a Christian totalitarian state or another religious totalitarian state, it is wise for the leaders of the country to promote tolerance amongst divergent groups. The absence of that tolerance leads to atrocities such as Hitler, Bosnia, Rhuwanda, and even Iraq.

Maybe the reasoning of Kennedy and O'Conner is not that far off, if it is viewed as a call against "collective hatred" and not "individual hatred."

Jonathan Dresner

I wonder. The reasonableness of the conclusion against homosexuality depends a great deal on the premises from which one starts: As my father says, "he who defines the terms wins the argument."

Given the critical attention that all of the premises from which one could reject the humanity of homosexuality have recieved, one could argue that maintaining that belief is a choice for which the individual should be held responsible. The origins of those premises need to be examined for their causes: what seem like perfectly reasonable premises from which conclusions may be drawn may in fact be based in hatred, so that reasonable conclusions drawn from them are rooted in hatred. If they are simply rooted in misunderstanding or error, then that could be excused, but one who holds a view without questioning its premises is courting sin.

Xrlq

I oppose the decisions for a different reason: constitutional law. Like Justice Thomas, I think anti-sodomy laws are "uncommonly silly," but I can't find the part of the Constitution that prohibits them.

Col Steve

I'm not sure I want the Supreme Court delving into to the subjective world of the premises behind individual beliefs - "origins of those premises need to be examined for their causes."
How about they stick to the Constitution?

It's a great post Hugo because I'm also bothered by the manner in which some of the justices across the ideological spectrum appear to decide cases. Romer was a clash between the 14th amendment equal protection clause and the 1st amendment right to freedom to exercise religion. Romer should properly have been decided through constitutional analysis of two conflicting rights; the First Amendment rights of the majority of the citizens of Colorado who favored Amendment 2 and the 14th amendment rights of gays (equal protection under the law).

But the Supreme Court majority ignored the First Amendment, and made its final conclusion based on a pure 14th Amendment analysis. Homosexuals, as a group, have the right to be included on that state's list of suspect classes (although the decision in Romer never declared homosexuals as having protected class status - just that the amendment made them unequal without a legitimate state interest). The majority decision never even mentions the First Amendment, and any possible religious implications are dismissed in a mere two sentences - and even adding a "religious organization exemption" gets into the open question of individual business owners with long-held religious beliefs not rooted in hatred but deep theological history.

As you note, reasonable people can look at science and religion and come to differing views on homosexual orientation and homosexual conduct -and those views play an important role on how you decide whether homosexuality belongs in the same class as race and gender.

So, I'm opposed to the decision because I'd at least like the Court to explain to me which constitutional right is greater instead of a lecture based upon their view that Congress, the majority of voters in Colorado, the referendum process, and the 1st amendment are tainted with bigotry.

If they can't do that, then default to the X amendment and let individual states and communities decide as opposed to creating a reason through the 14th amendment (which I guess doesn't apply to unborn babies - they must not be a "person")

DJW

I'll grant, hatred is really the wrong term for a great deal opposition to gay rights. That said, I think you elide some important issues.

I'd strongly encourage you, first of all, to read a letter to the editor from a Vermont newspaper several years ago by a mother of a tortured gay son. The kind of abuse children recieve at the hands of other children cannot be separated from the views of their parents (and, of course, the culture as a whole), even if those conclusions are reached with no intended hatred and through serious moral contemplation. The notion that gay people are outside of the circle of God and Nature can't be entirely delinked from the toxic treatment they then receive, regardless of the intentions of the thoughtful, well intentioned paents. When some people are defined as fundamentally lesser (dressed up in theological and philosophical garments of various sorts), and that view is widely held, it's almost certainly going to have these kind of social consequences.

If these people are as moral, well-intentioned, contemplative as you'd have us believe, they really ought to start contemplating the ways in which their view might contribute to this sort of problem.

You say:

If I stand for nothing else in the blogosphere, it is the essential truth that good men and women, motivated by the highest of human and spiritual impulses, can in good faith come to radically different conclusions about human identity, behavior, and morality.

I can't really stress how strongly I agree with this statement; it defines one of the great political challenges we face.

You follow up with this:

And even as we disagree vehemently with each other, we must find a way to honor the basic decency and character of our opponents.

Yes, exactly, but this cuts both ways. Automatically calling all who oppose gay rights "haters" may well fall outside of this rule. However, so do views no matter how serious, honestly felt and well intentioned that define a group of people out of the basic community of social institutions and rules (non-discrimination, marriage, etc.).

In other words, I think you're soft-pedalling just how serious of a challenge moral pluralism can be. It's not just about figuring out how to respect those who disagree with us, it's about figuring out what to do with good, well intentioned people who advocate political positions that undermine the egalitarian basis for that respect in the first place.

I'll refrain from reflexively calling them hateful, you've convinced me on that front. But I'm not going to stop carefully and patiently explaining to them that they're behaving as bigots, even though they don't feel such a label would define them. Plenty or racists and sexists self-understanding have been based on concern, even love, for the object of their sexism and racism. Overcoming racism and sexism often means not overly concerning ourselves with these people's feelings. The same applies here, I'm afraid.

Sorry about the length, here. I need to get my own blog. Or a life. Or back to work.

Col Steve

It's not just about figuring out how to respect those who disagree with us, it's about figuring out what to do with good, well intentioned people who advocate political positions that undermine the egalitarian basis for that respect in the first place.

And just who is the "those?" It's easy to pick the extreme examples of the people behind the killings of Matthew Shepard and Richard Byrd - much harder when you are considering the Christian bookstore owner who doesn't want to hire a homosexual, or the Christian landlord who doesn't want to rent to either homosexuals or unmarried opposite sex heterosexuals, or even the "feminist", pro-choice abortion clinic operator who doesn't want to hire a pro-life worker?

"But I'm not going to stop carefully and patiently explaining to them that they're behaving as bigots, even though they don't feel such a label would define them."

Bigot has a fairly broad definition - One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. You could apply that definition in a lot of circumstances depending on your own views - which gets a Hugo's comment - "And even as we disagree vehemently with each other, we must find a way to honor the basic decency and character of our opponents."

However, you seem to want to elevate sexual orientation to the same category as racism and sexism - and thus anyone with an opposing view of your version of egalitarianism must be a bigot. I applaud your desire to patiently and carefully attempt to convince those opposed to your view to see your side, but I'm a little afraid about the inference I make from your last sentences that if that tactic doesn't prevail, we can start skipping the careful aspect because our view of egalitarianism is superior.

Now, it may be that constitutionally, sexual orientation trumps to some degree the free exercise of religion. That is my point in wishing the Supreme Court would at least decide cases like Romer on those grounds - as opposed to deciding that the law is bad because the majority is filled with hatred. That doesn't promote understanding as the author notes - it leads to knee jerk reactions such as defining marriage through a constitutional amendment.

Given the multitude of ways other than race and sex that people can categorize themselves, it seems folly to ask the federal government to solve ALL the issues of "moral pluralism", especially by the Supreme Court where accountability of the justices is difficult for the citizenry. The X amendment allows states and the people respectively to have divergent positions and form communities sometimes based on those differences...as is the case in many instances with ethnicity, religion, and even sexual orientation.

The federal government should "promote tolerance amongst divergent groups," but we should be careful of what we ask of a centralized power.

Hugo

DJW, you write:

"In other words, I think you're soft-pedalling just how serious of a challenge moral pluralism can be."

Perhaps you're right that I'm soft-pedalling it. But the call to civility is all the more important as a result. The wider the culture gap, the more bridge-builders we need.

DJW

Hugo, I agree and I try to practice exactly that. Still, I wonder...I'm awfully good at remaining calm and respectful, no matter how awful and immoral I find the opinion of others to be. But I often suspect that part of the reason for my demeanor is white straight male privilege. It's a lot easier, perhaps, to keep your calm when it's not your basic rights and basic dignity that's being defined away.

Col Steve says:
And just who is the "those?" It's easy to pick the extreme examples of the people behind the killings of Matthew Shepard and Richard Byrd - much harder when you are considering the Christian bookstore owner who doesn't want to hire a homosexual, or the Christian landlord who doesn't want to rent to either homosexuals or unmarried opposite sex heterosexuals, or even the "feminist", pro-choice abortion clinic operator who doesn't want to hire a pro-life worker?

These are harder cases. Here we bump up against the boundaries of public and private, a difficult and murky terrain. But a retreat into the rights of the private, without an interrogation of the ways in which that simply validates the dismissive and inegalitarian attitudes (and quite possibly lessens the life choices of certain groups of people to no small degree) strikes me as a serious cost, and not one to be dismissed. I'm particularly troubled by the housing choice--what moral argument could be made for this landlord preference that couldn't be made for allowing landlords to discriminate against interracial couples?

I'm not engaging you on constitutional questions, by the way, becuase I'm not really knowledgable in that area. I'm just considering moral implications here. Just to be clear.

Col Steve

I'm particularly troubled by the housing choice--what moral argument could be made for this landlord preference that couldn't be made for allowing landlords to discriminate against interracial couples?

The moral versus the legal argument is important.

From a legal standpoint, if the landlord is using race as the factor, then that's more than likely illegal based on established case law since race has been considered a "suspect class" and thus afforded strict scrutiny under the 14th amendment. So, the government must prove a very strong compelling interest to pass a law discriminating based on race (although this is often used as a rationale against diversity goals in college admissions for example). The elevation of race to this class also means it probably trumps any "religious/moral" practice(hypothetically if someone claims their religion forbids interracial marraige for example).

You also write:
without an interrogation of the ways in which that simply validates the dismissive and inegalitarian attitudes (and quite possibly lessens the life choices of certain groups of people to no small degree) strikes me as a serious cost

Ah, but that is precisely one of the points (I think) the author Hugo cites is making. Some of on the court are willing to dismiss the religous views without an "interrogation" (or I might say reasoned consideration) of the genesis and rationale for those points - instead, they just assume those views are derived from hate. Similarly, I would be concerned if the court simply said Amendment 2 is a great law because there is something morally wrong with people who support homosexual behaviors.

Morally, it is a little harder because one might reasonably argue that everyone should be treated equally based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, religion, politics,(add a number of classifications). But, in practice, we know that behaviors associated with the customs, beliefs, and other features in some of those classes will conflict with those same things for those in other classes.

In a field with lots of grey areas, it is still important to have some defined red zones. In some cases, that is the Supreme court or government prioritizing which classifications receive higher preference across the board. In others, it might be deferring to individual states and communities to have different standards. In others, it may result from individuals who come together to form agreeable compromise.

However we mark the playing field, I agree with Hugo that we must find a way to honor the basic decency and character of our opponents (or those with whom we have opposing views).

DJW

Col Steve,

I don't really disagree much with your conceptual mapping of the terrain here; I suspect I'd like to see the zones defined rather differently than you, but the general 'playing field' scheme you describe makes sense.

I remain convinced, though, that it is entirely possible for people (and not just religious people) to have views about people of other races, sexes, or sexual orientations that are not derived from hate, but have practical consequences, both political and social, to similar and related views that ARE derived from hate. Principled, strongly held beliefs are important, but they don't all deserve respect (even if the people holding them do). If people are manifestly unwilling to consider the consequences of their strongly held principles, that's a serious problem and they don't deserve a rhetorical pass simply because the source of those views is not hate.

I'd suspect the vast majority of sexism the world has seen didn't come from a starting point of hate, but it had many (although not all) of the same illiberal, inegalitarian, undemocratic consequences as some hateful attitudes toward women. People are often going to be offended and hurt when you point this out to them--if they're not hateful, they'll hate to think of their worldview as having some of the same effects as those that are--but to my this straightforward approach is part of what respecting them as a person requires.

Again, I agree on respect, but I sympathize a great deal, and am not willing to blanketly condemn, with those who have a a hard time maintaining this demeanor with respect to those who would (whether out of hate, ignorance, or deeply felt religious principle) deny them full membership in society because of race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

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