Photo of the day

Gotta love the post major Supreme Court decision intern dash:

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: News interns run out with the ruling regarding same-sex marriage from the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 26: News interns run out with the ruling regarding same-sex marriage from the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)Alex Wong Getty Images

 

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Gay marriage scrooge

I’m pleased the Supreme Court ruled as it did.  I think the decision will result in a huge amount of benefit for gay couples (and their families) with very little cost to society (people being really upset about other people’s marriages strikes me as a pretty minimal cost.  All the arguments about the “harms” of same-sex marriage pretty much come down to “but the bible says its wrong” which is no basis for policy in this country.

Obviously, I’ve read a lot on the matter in the past 24 hours, but my favorite is Richard Posner’s clear argument in a Slate discussion:

John Stuart Mill in On Liberty drew an important distinction between what he called “self-regarding acts” and “other-regarding acts.” The former involves doing things to yourself that don’t harm other people, though they may be self-destructive. The latter involves doing things that do harm other people. He thought that government had no business with the former (and hence—his example—the English had no business concerning themselves with polygamy in Utah, though they hated it). Unless it can be shown that same-sex marriage harms people who are not gay (or who are gay but don’t want to marry), there is no compelling reason for state intervention, and specifically for banning same-sex marriage. The dissenters in Obergefell missed this rather obvious point.

I go further than Mill. I say that gratuitous interference in other people’s lives is bigotry. The fact that it is often religiously motivated does not make it less so. The United States is not a theocracy, and religious disapproval of harmless practices is not a proper basis for prohibiting such practices, especially if the practices are highly valued by their practitioners. Gay couples and the children (mostly straight) that they adopt (or that one of them may have given birth to and the other adopts) derive substantial benefits, both economic and psychological, from marriage. Efforts to deny them those benefits by forbidding same-sex marriage confer no offsetting social benefits—in fact no offsetting benefits at all beyond gratifying feelings of hostility toward gays and lesbians, feelings that feed such assertions as that heterosexual marriage is “degraded” by allowing same-sex couples to “annex” the word marriageto their cohabitation.

The best part, though, is where he takes on the dissents:

The chief justice criticizes the majority for “order[ing] the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?” We’re pretty sure we’re not any of the above. And most of us are not convinced that what’s good enough for the Bushmen, the Carthaginians, and the Aztecs should be good enough for us. Ah, the millennia! Ah, the wisdom of ages! How arrogant it would be to think we knew more than the Aztecs—we who don’t even know how to cut a person’s heart out of his chest while’s he still alive, a maneuver they were experts at…

Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent, to which I turn briefly, ascribes to the states that want to forbid same-sex marriage the desire “to encourage potentially procreative conduct to take place within a lasting unit that has long been thought to provide the best atmosphere for raising children. They thus argue that there are reasonable secular grounds for restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.” That can’t be right. States that forbid same-sex marriage do not do so in an effort to encourage gays and lesbians to marry people of the opposite sex and thereby procreate. The nation is not suffering from a shortage of children. Sterile people are not forbidden to marry, though by definition they do not procreate. There is no greater reason to forbid gay marriage, which is actually good for children by making the children adopted by gay couples (and there are a great many such children), better off emotionally and fiscally.

Alito says that states that want to prohibit same-sex marriage “worry that by officially abandoning the older understanding, they may contribute to marriage’s further decay.” This doesn’t make sense. Why would straight people marry less and procreate less just because gay people also marry and raise adopted children, who, but for adoption, would languish in foster homes?

That said, somehow I don’t think the dissents (mostly Roberts’) are entirely unreasonable given that this decision would have been truly unthinkable a mere 20 years ago.  And you know it would have been.  Emily Bazelon— a big supporter of this decision, for sure– nonetheless has a thoughtful piece on whether we really do want major policy changes happening in this fashion:

The dissenters are clear and thorough about the downsides of this. Chief Justice John Roberts asks sarcastically of his colleagues, “Just who do we think we are?” He also makes this sensible pitch for judicial restraint: “When decisions are reached through democratic means, some people will inevitably be disappointed with the results. But those whose views do not prevail at least know that they have had their say, and accordingly are — in the tradition of our political culture — reconciled to the result of a fair and honest debate.”

Roberts warns that “stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”

I’m persuaded by the counter-arguments that rights are rights (and liberty is liberty, damnit) regardless of whether the country is ready for it and whether it has to be imposed by the courts.  I think it is a fair argument, though, that it is better for society when these policy changes happen through ordinary democratic processes.

So, why then, the title of this post?  I guess I’m frustrated that this has come to symbolize so much of the contemporary liberal project.  Sure, this is really good for gays and their families, but I didn’t see a tenth as much passion (of changed FB profile photos) when millions of Americans received literally (potentially) life-saving access to health insurance and protection against personal financial catastrophe that can come from health problems.  You would think that this decision had magically eliminated poverty and human suffering.  Alright, then, I guess I’m just a same-sex marriage scrooge.

Why can’t I just be happy for this decision and gays and their families?  Because political agendas, activism, and attention are– at least to a degree– zero sum.  Attention focused on gay rights is not focused on poverty, structural inequality, structural racism, the catastrophe of our criminal justice system (and the much-related War on Drugs), etc., which I would argue creates way more harm to way more people.  Actually, then, maybe I should be happy as the gay rights thing is pretty much won now.  Maybe this will mean more liberal energy translated into other areas where we really need to make a difference.  I doubt it, but I can hope.

Quick hits (part I)

1) It’s hard out there for a pollster.  Nice piece on why it is getting harder and harder to do accurate polling these days.

2) It’s going to be harder than ever for NC to have enough good teachers given how the Republicans in charge feel about education.

3) Wonkblog with a great series of maps on America’s ethnic/racial demographics.

4) Europe’s biggest problem (one we fortunately do not share) is it’s low birth rate.

5) The destruction of defendant’s rights.

6) How working mothers are good for kis:

The researchers find statistically significant differences in outcomes for both boys and girls, though the outcomes are different.

  • Daughters of working moms grow up to earn more money, in part because daughters of working moms are more likely to be employed and more likely to be employed in a supervisory role.
  • Sons of working moms don’t have significantly different economic outcomes, but dogrow up to be more likely to spend time taking care of family members or doing household chores.

In other words, the adult children of mothers who held jobs when they were little kids are likely to grow up as adults who are somewhat less gender-conforming. Their daughters “lean in” more in the labor market, and their sons “lean in” more at home.

7) With all the other big Supreme Court news (yeah, I’ll get to Obergefell), hardly anybody noticed part of the new deal getting rolled back with a ruling on raisins.  Yes, raisins.

8) Another little noticed, but important, Supreme Court case on race and criminal justice.

9) The NC legislature wants to eliminate Driver’s Ed (my oldest just finished the classroom portion a week ago).  There may or not be good reasons to do this, but their justification is embarrassing.

Their argument for no longer requiring 120,000 teenagers to take drivers ed is that it is too expensive for families. The reason that it is too expensive for families is the Senate Republicans ended the state’s $26m appropriation to teach it, putting cost on families. Gotta admire their audacity if not their logic.

10) With Seinfeld coming to Hulu, loved Todd VanDerWerf with a piece on how Seinfeld changed television.  And Matt Zoller Seitz writes about how Seinfeld paved the way for the TV anti-hero we are so familiar with now.

 

11) Fascinating story of a a DC area man recorded the horrible things an anesthesiologist said about him while he was under.  He won a bunch in a lawsuit.

 

12) Tom Edsall with a really good piece on why don’t the poor rise up:

People today, Ray continues, “are not only able to make choices in an ever-expanding range of situations, but they are also compelled to do so.”

In effect, individualization is a double-edged sword. In exchange for new personal freedoms and rights, beneficiaries are agreeing to, if not being forced to, assume new risks and responsibilities.

In addition to opening the door to self-fulfillment, “the rise of individual rights and freedoms has its price,” writes Nikolai Genov, a sociologist at the Berlin Free University in “Challenges of Individualization,” published earlier this year.

Placing an exclusive stress on the expansion of rights and freedoms of individuals by disregarding or underrating the concomitant rise of individual responsibilities brings about social pathologies. They undermine solidarity as the glue of social life.

As a result, individualization can come “at the expense of various forms of common good in general, and of various forms of solidarity in particular,” Genov observes…

All of which brings us back to the question of why there is so little rebellion against entrenched social and economic injustice.

The answer is that those bearing the most severe costs of inequality are irrelevant to the agenda-setters in both parties. They are political orphans in the new order. They may have a voice in urban politics, but on the national scene they no longer fit into the schema of the left or the right. They are pushed to the periphery except for a brief moment on Election Day when one party wants their votes counted, and the other doesn’t.

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