Thursday, September 13, 2007

Set Like a Watch

In hindsight, I should have seen this coming:
In the Equality Minnesota poll, 61 percent agreed with the statement: "Minnesota already has a law banning same-sex marriage; we don't need a constitutional amendment." A year before, a poll conducted for Minnesota for Marriage found that 61 percent of Minnesota residents would vote for the amendment.

Thousands of Iowans can now tell you that a law is not enough.

This is a big subject for Ms. Kersten. A quick google search shows several of her columns on the subject and her blog page has a link list called On Marriage and the Family. At the very least she should have her facts down.

Yes and no.

First the nos. Since she is a lawyer, this transition is kind of disingenuous (at best):
In Hanson's view, Iowans had no rational basis for supporting such a law.

Hanson based his decision on the Iowa Constitution, ruling that the state's marriage law violated its equal protection and due process provisions.
I guess if she had written, "Iowans supported a law that was ruled to have violated their own Constitution," it would have diminished the majesty of her remaining work. She then goes on to tell her audience that if the judicial system works in the way that it is supposed to work, Iowa's marriage law could be a thing of the past. This is truly frightening stuff.

My only other factual quibble with Ms. Kersten is what she has to say about Dean Johnson. Mr. Johnson wasn't done in for gay marriage reasons alone. His unwillingness to keep the outdoors amendment alive did not play well in Willmar and it should play into any consideration of the reasons why he lost his election.

I suppose there may be some other things in there that I am unaware of. I'm not a lawyer and I don't really follow this issue so I'll have to pass judgment to someone like MNO to talk about Ms. Kersten's claims about 1/2 the country's marriage laws being attacked by a small group of activists, and that these activists are seeking out activist judges to agree with them (sort of like the activist creationists who clog up our court system, I suppose.)

The rest of the column actually works. She makes an argument and it flows logically from proposition to conclusion: Judges are overturning laws that you thought were "safe" and it is likely that if you don't do anything to change (enshrine in the Constitution) a law that you like, it will get changed (stricken down) for you.

Let's cut to the chase. While her reasoning, for once, may be sound, her argument's fatal flaw (aside from the might makes right crap) is displayed late in the game (italics are mine):
Some politicos claim that the marriage amendment is unnecessary because the Minnesota Supreme Court has already ruled on, and rejected, same-sex marriage. But that case, Baker vs. Nelson, was decided 36 years ago -- long before judges dreamed that elite opinion-makers would one day denounce male-female marriage as mean-spirited bigotry.
Ms. Kersten plays a neat trick here. She begins by talking about majority opinion being in support of Minnesota's current marriage law; however, by the end of her column she is using words like bigotry and assault to describe the minority opinion and its action against the majority.

You can't just make the leap from "a lot of people believe in X" to "Y's action against X is bigoted." There has to be something in between and that something has to be a valid indicator of bigotry. If we were to run around demanding that each and every majority opinion be protected against bigotry...well, here are some popular things that Americans believe:
- Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life's basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels and most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.
- In a 2004 study of Bible literacy among high school students, most evangelical participants were not able to identify "Blessed are the poor in spirit" as a quote from the Sermon on the Mount.
- Only one-third know that Jesus (not Billy Graham) delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
- A majority of Americans wrongly believe that the Bible says that Jesus was born in Jerusalem.
- When asked whether the New Testament book of Acts is in the Old Testament, one quarter of Americans say yes. More than a third say they don't know.
- Most Americans don't know that Jonah is a book in the Bible.
- Ten percent of Americans believed that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.
You can find these troubling statistics (and many more), in the first chapter of Stephen Prothero's excellent book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't.

As you can probably guess by my selection of statistics, the pink elephant in Ms. Kersten's column is religious faith. I won't claim to know the reasons why it was left out of her column, but I know, you know, the editors know, and her readers know that religious faith is the bridge between majority opinion and claims of bigotry. There is no other option. Sure you can claim that single parent families do not fare as well as ones with a mom and a dad, or that married parents can help reduce crime, but these are observations and arguments up for debate, not innate qualities like race or gender.

Ms. Kersten needs religion to square this circle and she knows that she doesn't need to explicitly write it down in her column for people to understand what she is talking about. (This, it could be argued, is the most justifiable faith present in this entire debate.)

I have a theory about why conservative Christians are more likely than their more liberal countrymen to fear what is commonly called "Islamofacism". By explaining it I will also explain what is wrong with Ms. Kersten's column. (Hint: It has to do with the seriousness they place in their own holy book and their current lofty social status here in America.)

The reason why Ms. Kersten is opposed to homosexual marriage is because her holy book tells her that being gay is wrong. Her opposition to homosexuality is part of her faith. I don't care whether or not you agree with this statement on the grounds that the Bible doesn't really say that homosexuality is bad; the fact remains that the Bible is widely interpreted as being hostile to homosexuality and its adherents act accordingly in honest fidelity to their God. To assume that they would do otherwise for the enjoyment of non-believers is absurd.

The question now becomes: Where do religious adherents go with their beliefs? How do you act upon the declaration that homosexuality is a sin?

The underlying assumption in Ms. Kersten's column is that her truthful belief in the sin of homosexuality is part of her religious faith; and that this faith is protected by the first amendment; and her identity is incomplete without her Christianity, so therefore any shot across the bow of this belief can be interpreted as anti-Christian bigotry or anti-Christian racism. This is a horrible notion that must not be allowed to continue, if only for the simple fact that Christianity is not the only faith with a shovel that can dig deep in this hole.

What are you going to do about the problem of belief and action? To the majority of religiously illiterate Americans, it doesn't seem quite so bad when we're talking about gay marriage, but what about a bunch of jokers jumping around with Molotov Cocktails and machetes because someone had the nerve to draw up some cartoons about an illiterate businessman who was visited by three angels in the desert? At what set of ideas is this ignorance and bigotry pointed? By what set of principles can a reasonable person come to these sorts of conclusions?

The most important thing that can be said about my comparison of Islam and Christianity is that there is no slippery slope between the two. Action upon faith is an equal opportunity proposition whose factions are segregated not by any qualitative difference in method, but only by the grotesque boundaries set by this, that, or the other True Lord. (That and the secular thought that "moderates" them wherever they happen to catch hold.) According to the teachings of the illiterate businessman mentioned above, the fact that I do not believe he heard what he says he heard, and that there is an equal amount of proof for the belief that he is capable of receiving divine revelation as there is for my pet fish, means that I can (and should) be treated like an animal. Am I bigoted for being truthful? Am I bigoted for being unable to believe? Am I bigoted for not wanting to be an infidel? Am I bigoted for saying that those who violently act upon this very clear religious directive are insane? I don't accept Mohammed as a prophet. I'm not bigoted for doing so. Even more importantly, I can back up my case without an appeal to the unknown.

I guess it's all about whose ox is being gored.

I think Ms. Kersten knows that she can't explicitly bring religion into the debate because I think she is smart enough to follow this argument through. I think that one of the reasons why the hard religious right fears Islam is because, unlike Christianity, Islam's believers believe their holy book to be the inerrant word of God. Now that's some bigotry! Ms. Kersten's reasoning digs a big hole. There are other things out there that would be all too happy to continue her work at a much swifter pace and to a much deeper level.

Enjoy the dig.

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