Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Forests and Trees

Today's news that State Senator Allan Kittleman was resigning as majority leader in part due to his support of Civil Unions for gay couples is not really the way you want to conclude the first week of the General Assembly session.

On the surface, Senator Kittleman was not "removed" so to speak by a vote of the caucus, but it sounds pretty clear that the other eleven Senators were not particularly comfortable with their majority leader being outspoken on the issue of civil unions, even if his support of this was clear and separate from his duties as Minority Leader.

And all of this is quite the damn shame. This is an issue that we have written about at RM before, as Mark expanded upon the Kittleman bill a few days ago. And I expanded upon my position on gay marriage some time back, and I want to repost part of that now:

But you know something? The concept of two people of the same sex getting married doesn't give me heartburn. I couldn't possibly care less what two consenting adults do. What gives me heartburn is the concept of government caring who can marry whom. In the eyes of government, marriage is a contract; nothing more, nothing less. By spending so much worrying about it is advocating for big government conservatism to me. Sorry.
And that is why I have such consternation that Senator Kittleman felt forced out as Minority Leader. Senator Kittleman's position is a principled stance in favor of smaller government. A bill supporting civil unions (though certainly not as far the bill should go) is the first step towards making gay couples whole. Making sure that individuals have the same rights in a court of law regardless of they are in a gay or straight relationship. Some people may say that this is the "expansion of government", but it isn't; it's the removal of the power of government to deny rights to certain citizens.

In short, Kittleman's civil unions bill promotes individual liberty for all citizens.

Of course the problem here for the Republican Senate Caucus is the fact that this issue goes far beyond just an ideological problem. Sure, I can understand the religious objections of some Senators. And yes, I take great umbrage with the ideological issue of gay marriage somehow being against limited government principles. But this kind of things becomes a political problem in a hurry for two very important reasons:
  1. Young voters don't buy into it. In my position on the Executive Board of the Maryland Young Republicans I speak often with voters who are fiscally conservative, but do not buy into the idea of using the apparatus of the state to deny individual liberties to anybody, especially when two consenting adults who aren't hurting anybody else are involved.

  2. The Tea Party. Guess what? A lot of tea partiers are libertarian leaners who don't believe that the apparatus of the state should be used to punish individuals, either. Tea Partiers are folks who believe in less government and personal responsibility, and that is their ideological lodestar. Opposition to gay marriage oft-times runs opposite of that.
When you're talking about a state such as Maryland, those are two very powerful voting blocs that are being dismissed in a state where we frankly need every vote that we can get. Which is why we need to be a party focused on the issues that matter to Maryland's voters; lowering taxes, limiting government, and reducing spending. Those are the three things that we need to focus on and that we need to rally around because those are the things that bring folks to the Party and to our candidates.

When a principled conservative like Dick Cheney gets that, it should be time to reexamine where we as a party are at on this issue.

Senator Kittleman is to be commended here; not only is he taking a principled stand in supporting civil unions, but also a principled stand in stepping down as Minority Leader. It shows that he can balance doing what is right with the idea of being a supportive member of the Caucus. But it is a great loss for our party and a great loss for the caucus because it shows that the Senate Caucus still cannot always see the forest for the trees when it comes to issues such as gay marriage, and it has a chance to do harm to us both on principle but also at the ballot box...


Greg Kline said...

Ahhhh (exhale). The original Reagan formulation had three legs to the stool, limited government, strong national defense (anti-communism) and traditional values. As a Reagan conservative I value all three. Yes there are libertarians, values voters and neocons but to argue, as you and Mark do, that traditional values have no part in the standing conservative coalition is misguided.

And it just isn't true that only old people care about defending traditional marriage. When you see gay marriage referendums fail in 30+ states it just isn't a limited demographic divide. Again, taking out a commitment to traditional values of family and marriage from conservatism doesn't make it any stronger just as big-goverment "compassionate" conservatism has weakened it.

Finally, Sen. Kittleman's bill as I understood it undermined marriage across the board giving not just a civil alternative to marriage to homosexuals but gave heterosexuals "shacking up" the same rights as married individuals. And you wonder why significant parts of our base are up in arms?

I have known you guys for a number of years. You don't get moral conservatives, or whatever you want to call us, and God love you I don't think you ever will.

Your pro-gay marriage argument lacks any pursuasive power because, and it is obvious from what you wrote, you don't get the objections being raised.

My friend, you are out of your depth on this one which explains your surprise.

Brian Griffiths said...

Maybe. But there is one thing that nobody can seem to explain is how two gay people getting married undermines a marriage between a man and a woman.

I have yet to have it explained coherently to me how a traditional marriage is threatened by a gay one.

Greg Kline said...

I could explain it coherently and it has been explained though it would take more than a blog comment.

Let me begin, however, by stating that your view of marriage as an individual choice rather than as a societal institution is a major part of your misunderstanding. Marriage has value as an institution in society. Saying that is is just a set of contractural rights equally valuable between a pair of homosexuals and a man a woman undermines that purpose. Divorce, out of wedlock births, silly romantic notions of marriage also undermine the value of marriage as an institution. Thus, saying that heterosexuality is the moral equivalent of homosexuality and embodied as such in our legal code is harmful to the instition as it has existed.

The sun will come up but the world will be very different and not for the better. Look at the effects of the degradation of marriage over the last fifty years from all sources and explain to me coherently how we are better off as a culture and society.

Brian Griffiths said...

Yes, I get the point that marriage has a societal function for the procreation of children. Keeping gay marriage illegal doesn't suddenly mean that gay people are going to procreate.

I'm trying to figure out how not allowing gay couples to marry would weaken marriage. Frankly, I think it would strengthen the institution of marriage because it would allow committed partners to have the same rights as others.

We both know that we will never agree on this, as you know.

Mark Newgent said...


I think you're mischaracterizing my position. I think do understand the moral conservative position. And quite well, actually.

Let me reiterate what I wrote back in 2008

"I haven’t fully reconciled the tension between liberty and virtue (order) that this issue aggravates. Anyone who knows anything about conservatism knows that the tension between liberty and virtue is the animating intellectual argument within the conservative movement. One that proves that there is no settled conservative “dogma.”

I tend to fall on the side that says committed homosexual couples deserve the same legal rights as married heterosexuals—visitation, medical decisions, property rights etc… Brian, Greg and I discussed this question over at The Conservative Refuge earlier this year.

However, my conservative temperament leads me to be skeptical of changing an institution that has shown throughout human history to be a fundamental building block of civilized society. I admit that I don’t think that gay marriage will doom the republic, but I will concede that I may very well be mistaken."

Now that comes from a larger post on the value of subsidiarity in determining policy. However, I think for me at least, civil unions helps somewhat resolve the tensions between liberty and virtue.

I get your argument and I admit I may very well be wrong.

John J. Walters said...

You make a good point, Brian: young people do think the whole gay marriage issue is silly.

Speaking as an early twenty-something, I have to say I don't know a single person who opposes gay marriage.

Of course, I don't know everyone. And I certainly don't expect everyone my age to vote. But you can rest assured that they will someday and by then the issue will be soundly decided in favor of allowing _at least_ civil unions.

Whether or not you think it's a good idea, it will happen.

Kevin Waterman said...

A few points worth noting:

Ways our society has improved over the last 50 years:
-Women face less condemnation for working
-Gays aren't forced to live in the closet
-Anti-sodomy laws have been overturned by the Supreme Court
-Violent crime of all sorts has been dropping for the last 20 years
-Technological innovations have made it infinitely easier for us to learn new things and communicate with new people and all for a fraction of the costs in time and money it would have used to

That's just a few of the ways things are better than they were. If the cost of that is more divorces, I'd say it's a more than fair trade.

Speaking to your broader point, an argument for tradition isn't a sound argument either for freezing society at a given status quo (whether it's today's, the 1950's, or any other time's status quo) or for using force of law to preserve tradition.

In fact, I would argue that in promoting using force of law to preserve a particular form of the tradition of marriage you're falling into the very same trap that the utopians and planners derided by Burke and Hayek did - the fatal conceit that it anyone could have enough knowledge to plan society.

At their best, they are never an argument for enshrining all traditions in law as they are. Sound arguments for tradition are arguments for change that is slow and gradual so that the individuals who make up society can better evaluate the change and see if it is beneficial and decide how to react accordingly.

And that is exactly what gay marriage in general, and Kittleman's bill even more so, are. Redefining who can be a partner in a marriage isn't a substantive shift in what constitutes a marriage, it's a minor tweak at worst. A true redefinition would be something like what Robert Heinlein imagined in his various novels.

streiff said...

A bizarre argument. You're perfectly willing, indeed you brag about, using the force of law to reorder society... so long as it's being reordered in the way you like.

Outside the last two items on your list... which lead me to ask why didn't you mention the steam engine, inventing the wheel, and fire as critical inventions... all of those involved using the brute coercive power of the state to bring about.

Kevin Waterman said...

That's a pretty big stretch Streiff.

Women's emergence into the workforce was largely driven by economic forces and technologic innovation. Their necessity to fill vacant positions during the world wars began the process by disproving the idea that women working would have disastrous results. Late developments such as birth control made working more viable for women while increasing economic pressures helped make the secondary income from female spouses much more important to family budgets.

Gays were enabled to come out of the closet by increasing social acceptance, not by any substantive politically granted protection. Being gay still isn't a protected class under federal civil rights law and plenty of states hold to the same standard. The only noteworthy use of state force is in hate crime legislation, something I happen to oppose even though I think it is a positive development gay people can safely live openly.

By definition, removing a law that allows government to punish voluntary acts between consenting adults is taking away the power of the state to re-order society, not increasing it. I'm a bit mystified as to how you could possibly think otherwise.

And finally, when it comes to marriage, my personal policy preference is that the state not marry anyone, but that if it does offer marriages, that it not pick winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas.

So how exactly have I endorsed using state power to re-order society to my liking?

streiff said...

Kevin, I have to say I've never in nearly a decade of blogging read a post as patently dishonest. From your misrepresentation of women in the workforce to gay rights to what constitutes a reordering of society, you manage to make a string of assertions that are false in virtually every aspect.

If there is any cause for mystification it is your utterly Orwellian use of language.

Bill said...

While I do not normally weigh in on the blogs, I feel compelled to comment on a few things on this article. First let me say that the comment about violent crime is not statistically correct. Violent crime has decreased since the peak in 1991 where there were 758.2 violent crimes per 100,000 to 2009 which boasted only 429.4 violent crimes per 100,00. One can not look at this decrease without keeping the perspective that violent crime stood at 160.9 in 1960. So over 40 years, although decreasing slightly over the recent past, is still 267% higher than it was 40 years ago. Not insignificant and very statistically important. Using the last 10-20 years as an argument AS Kevin did would really lead one to the conclusion that we should revert all back to the 1950's. Facts are stubborn things.

Bill said...

10 civil reasons why we can not allow civil unions or marriages to be redefined.

1. School Indoctrination: Public dollars will be used, as they already are in several states, to indoctrinate students into complete acceptance of homosexuality. Schools will have Gay and Lesbian Pride days but not allow Christian pride days. Its Elementary, an elementary school program puts forth telling kids they must accept even if parents are against. The Gay bus in San Francisco is used for Kindergarten indoctrination. So our tax dollars will be used to indoctrinate our children if the state recognizes officially same sex unions or marriage.

2. Hate Speech definitions: All crimes should be punished but a crime from one to a homosexual should not receive a greater penalty than against a member of my family. Focus on the Family broadcasts are edited for play in Canada already due to their hate speech laws. Can not preach on Romans I in Canada or in Europe.

3. Employment discrimination: Churches and employment of like minded individuals will be, over time, not allowed. You will not be able to ask the candidates for church secretary about their lifestyle. Faith based groups would be precluded from having certain moral codes in hiring, membership and leadership. Many faith based groups serve the public and that can be used to withhold funding and availability without a sexual discrimination policy that meets the state's definition. This already occurs.

4. Small business and the public service: A wedding photographer may object to filming a same sex wedding and should not be forced to. Small catering hall should not be forced to accommodate any event that runs contrary to the owners religious beliefs. These two examples have already been challenged in court and many, many more are coming.

More coming...

Bill said...

5. Marriage discrimination: Faith based groups must be allowed to have rules about who they wed. Saying a law will exempt churches from marrying is like saying the seat belt law will not be a primary law and only can be a secondary ticket. Today you can be pulled over for not wearing your seat belt. Churches will be sued and attempted to be forced to perform same sex ceremonies.

Facility discrimination: Faith based groups that rent their facility to weddings and groups will be forced to stop, causing a revenue problem, or rent to same sex ceremonies and other accommodations contrary to their religious beliefs. There is already the case of an Atlantic City boardwalk case of a church sued. Faith based groups would lose their tax exempt status based upon discrimination.

7. IRS tax exempt status: Over time, faith based groups tax exempt status may be revoked due to discrimination against same sex couples. The Johnson amendment from 1954 was only the first of many attempts of the government to silence the churches.

8. Move to Gender Identity bills: Forced inclusion of public accommodations to individuals of opposite sex, including at less than 18yo, against wishes of individual or parents. These laws will move to private businesses and accommodations like faith based restrooms and locker room facilities against the moral code of the organizations. If you do not think this is true just look at Montgomery County and the bill introduced at the state level year after year.

9. Polygamy: Many of the same arguments for same sex unions will be successfully used against polygamy laws. Certainly, the basis of law and argument is the same. A 2005 Washing Times article reporter Cheryl Wetzstein said “Polygamy rights is the next big civil rights battle.” This is also brought by religious groups and not just the homosexual community.

10. Other types of marriages: Bestiality and other types of marriage will be argued in the courts under similar legal precedent. Already precedent of cases brought under the same arguments.

This is not exhaustive and does not make a religious argument but instead an argument around our rights and self-determination.

Marriage is already under attack and in serious trouble! Saying that a same sex union bill would not undermine marriage is not only wishful thinking but speculative. In Baltimore City today, only 8% of households have a married mother and father with the children. This is a sad commentary that must be reversed.