Bigot-Bigot Bigot Amendment

Delegate Robert Marshall co-sponsored the proposed amendment to the Virginia Bill of Rights that voters will likely pass next Tuesday. In his determination to show that he really isn’t a bigot, he included a nice bit in his latest newsletter. I’ve scanned the original for proof, but a few thoughts are warranted, so I’ve transcribed the text.

Marshall-Newman Marriage Amendment

This November citizens will be able to vote for Del. Marshall’s proposed Marriage Amendment to the Virginia Constitution defining marriage as the union of one-man and one-woman. In four states (MD, MA, VT, and HI) courts have, on their own and without legislative input or sanction, granted same sex couples the legal authority to “marry” or enter into “Marriage lite,” i.e., a civil union.

One-man and One-woman. [sic] and [sic]. Del. Marshall can’t grasp the English language, yet he’s qualified to propose a wordy amendment that goes beyond his stated goal of banning what’s already been banned twice by Virginia. This will go well. Of course, I’m sure he wishes he could have this newsletter back to amend New Jersey into his parenthetical proof that Virginia’s courts will catch The Gay. Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland. It’s spreading south, can’t we see?

But the ability to register to vote, enter a contract, have a joint bank account, write a will, buy a house with a friend, start a business, receive job benefits from an employer, designate a friend to carry out advance medical directives, or the right to be free from assault belong to any competent adult. These rights do not derive from marriage or a legal relationship approximating marriage, and are not altered by the Marriage Amendment.

So, if these rights – excuse me, “abilities” – are still in effect, in spite of the wording of the proposed amendment, why do we need this amendment? Again, two laws against same-sex marriage already exist in Virginia, as well as the indefensible-yet-still-accepted federal DOMA. Same-sex marriage isn’t coming to Virginia any time soon, amendment or not. That leaves one explanation, which is quite unbecoming of an elected official. But maybe Del. Marshall can save himself with an example.

When Massachusetts parents objected to a public school requiring their second graders to read a story with pictures about two princes who “marry,” the school said, “We couldn’t run a public school system if every parent who feels some topic is objectionable to them … decides their child should be removed. [This community] is committed to teaching children about the world they live in, and in Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal.”

Bonus libertarian points if you’ve already figured out what I’m going to say about this paragraph. Ready? Is this paragraph support for a bigoted marriage amendment, or would it be better support for eliminating the public provision of education? Without public provisioning, parents could send their children to whichever school sells their preferred bigotry, if that pleases them. Instead, Del. Marshall believes we should all be sold bigotry, in the Virginia Bill of Reduced-at-the-Whim-of-the-Majority Rights, no less. Del. Marshall seems to be on the wrong side of (at least) two issues. Let’s bump that to three, just for fun, since it’s clear he favors mob rule over republicanism.

The Amendment reads:

“That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”

Remember, Del. Marshall says no rights will be eliminated because they do not derive from marriage. So why do we need the second paragraph in the amendment, in as much as we (don’t) need any of it? I’m trying to draw a conclusion other than bigotry, but I can’t.

I like alien radio. Here’s why.

Witness the actions of a dinosaur:

The radio wars are escalating. In a one-two punch aimed at enlisting regulators to their cause, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and National Public Radio want the Federal Communications Commission to investigate alleged misdeeds by satellite radio companies XM (XMSR) and Sirius (SIRI).

In its second claim, the NAB contends that XM and Sirius shouldn’t be allowed to give away their products for free to new car buyers or online. Last week, Sirius streamed Howard Stern’s program for free on its Web site.

The NAB argues that such freebies ought to subject satellite radio to the same FCC regulations as those governing terrestrial radio. That likely would trigger restrictions, for example, on language and other racy content.

If you can’t beat them, force them to join you? I don’t recall learning that maxim in business school. Yet, that’s exactly the perversity unleashed by regulation. The NAB’s members roll over and play dead every time the FCC yells Bang!, so it expects satellite broadcasters to do the same. They’re imbeciles. People don’t have to consume satellite radio, even when it’s free. They don’t have to consume terrestrial radio, either, which is what the NAB seems to miss in bowing before legislators instead of customers.

I won’t be surprised if the FCC takes action, though XM and Sirius will clearly fight back if it does since they’re businesses are on the line. But the NAB’s complaint leads to an obvious, and chilling, conclusion. If we’re going to take its claim as valid, that would open every podcaster to FCC regulation if he allows his customers to download his podcast for free. I’ll take my liberty in maximum strength tablets, not children’s chewables. Liberty for all, including customers.

News flash: Politicians abuse the Constitution when left alone

I’ll believe this when I see it:

If Democrats gain the 15 seats they need to win control of the House — and most analysts think they will — one of the first things the new House will do is restrict or end outright a slew of lobbying practices.

In a little-publicized statement, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House Democratic leader, has promised to change the chamber’s rules to reflect the provisions of her not-so-modestly-named Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006. The months-old measure would, among other things, prohibit House members from accepting gifts and travel from lobbyists or from organizations that employ lobbyists.

Such a reform will be admirable, and an obvious path, given the propensity our current representatives have to whore out the American people for a few extra dollars. But politicians are still politicians, whether they’re riding the bigot wave of the last few years or the reform wave many now believe will occur next Tuesday. I’m still not sold, because too many voters don’t think. Even limited success by Sen. George Allen on the absurd accusation he’s directed at Jim Webb provide enough proof that voters simply look for excuses to vote in a pre-determined manner.

However, this explanation is the meat of this story:

Congress has come close to reining in lobbyists before, and it wound up doing nothing of the kind. Several of the proposals in Pelosi’s bill (H.R. 4682, for you wonks out there) were wending their way through the system but died after lawmakers concluded — incorrectly, it turned out — that voters didn’t care much about congressional “corruption.” Pelosi’s bill, with small modifications, was tested in the House and lost by just three votes.

The problem here is that Congress seems to think that corruption is okay as long as the voters don’t care about it. That’s the same logic that allows legislators to target gays, stirring up animosity and fear to win votes. All around in politics, we’re willing to only inhabit a ridiculous low. We shouldn’t need a scandal to do what’s right. That we wait until there is such a scandal further demonstrates why limited government is the best strategy.

Guilty until proven innocent, unless married

She doesn’t mention same-sex marriage, but the timing of this editorial by Leah Ward Sears, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, is interesting enough to make it a reasonable consideration here. I won’t address it directly, because she doesn’t, but assume when I mention marriage I intend that to include same-sex marriage. I hope the reason will be clear.

For the first time in history, less than half of U.S. households are headed by married couples. And on Sept. 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that almost 36 percent of all births are the result of unmarried childbearing, the highest percentage ever recorded.

In family law, as in the rest of American society, there is an intensifying debate about how we should respond to this kind of news. Should law and society actively seek new ways to support marriage? Or should family law strive to be marriage-neutral by providing more rights and benefits to its alternatives, such as cohabitation and single parenthood?

We know where this is going, right? Marriage is good, for the children. Right, I’m not disagreeing, as a general assumption. But given that “the children” is the basis of the rest of this editorial, it would make more sense to ask if the goal of family law should be to best protect children. That doesn’t require the derision the Chief Justice seems to assign to her open-ended interpretation of what family law should address.

I am not a law professor. But from where I sit as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, a family law that fails to encourage marriage ignores the fact that marriage has long been associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike. Experts who contend that we need to move “beyond marriage” say they are only responding to the facts. But here is one major fact: High rates of family fragmentation hurt children.

That needs some support, right? Okay.

For example, studies have consistently shown that children raised outside marriage suffer disproportionately from physical and mental illness; are more likely to drop out of school, abuse drugs or alcohol, and engage in violence or suffer it in their homes; and are less likely to attend college. Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization summed up the evidence in 2002: “Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in step-families or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes.”

Does that have anything to do with marriage, specifically, or is it a function of the maturity and character of the parents? If it’s the latter, marriage won’t fix that. And it’s especially useful to note the part about step-families. The Chief Justice does indicate that family law should “find ways to reduce unnecessary divorce and unmarried childbearing.” Who gets to decide what qualifies as “unnecessary divorce”? Are we really ready to equate unmarried and married to a non-biological parent? Strengthening marriage sure is strict.

I changed my mind, I will address the question of same-sex marriage directly. Her step-family analogy implies that children raised by a parent married to a same-gender spouse will face higher risks of poor outcomes. I want proof.

The Chief Justice acknowledges that single parents can and do raise children well. Great. But that is not proof that we need to “build a healthy marriage culture,” as she next states. If we get back to the assumption that family law should be designed to protect children, we’ll likely arrive at a better solution. Such an assumption would also treat parents, married or unmarried, as competent until they prove otherwise. Personal biases exist, but the law should not be designed to impose them without sufficient factual support.

In the end the Chief Justice makes a mistake that doctors often make:

As a judge I am often frustrated that I must work within a system designed only to pick up the pieces after families have already fallen apart or failed to come together. We must work to prevent family fragmentation, because the consequences for children and society are severe.

Choose to be a doctor and you’ll see mostly sick people. That doesn’t mean everyone is sick. Similarly, many children show up in the court system due to unfortunate circumstances. That doesn’t mean every child with unmarried parents will end up in court. Working to reduce that case load is reasonable, but the approach should aim for what will improve their lives, not how a predetermined solution can best fix the problem. Perhaps the conclusion from the two will be the same. But there is a chance they might not be the same. The law must recognize that possibility.

Legislating in broad, populist strokes

This quote from two years ago is floating around The Internets again now that New Jersey accepts same-sex marriage. It’s from President Bush:

“I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as between, a union between a man and a woman,” Bush said. “Now, having said that, states ought to be able to have the right to pass … laws that enable people to you know, be able to have rights, like others.”

I blogged the President’s quote at the time. I’m not going to harp on how his stated view essentially coincides with New Jersey’s ruling. He’s a politician using this issue as an election year wedge when he really is fine with gays having equal rights? Old news. Instead, the bits I’ve placed in bold are more significant.

As strange as it may seem to the President and his base, we already have a legal arrangement that enables people to have rights. It’s called the United States Constitution. It’s an interesting document that everyone should read. But, again, it’s worth remembering that it doesn’t enable as much as it guarantees. There’s an important distinction between those two words.

Moving on, his last sentence is stunning. I can’t believe I ignored it, but I know more now, so I have a better response. The notion of majoritarianism in that sentence is clear. States have the right to pass laws to force itself to treat one group of people with the same respect it treats another group? If you want to be nice to everyone, you can, but you don’t have to do so if the majority doesn’t want to do it? Wow, so wrong. I certainly hope the President’s learned how ridiculous this is, although I doubt he has. (I’ve been reading the news.) He really should think about how history is going to judge him, because it isn’t going to be kind.

It’s nice that people realize that President Bush stated this, as it shows a bit of his character. But I fail to see how it’s complimentary to the President, since he still contradicts it with his political push, reducing my opinion of his character. It was at one point in the past, but it’s not useful to the discussion any more. I’d never think to quote it approvingly, as some are, in relation to New Jersey. If anything, it contradicts how stupid the “separate but equal” solution will be.

New meaning to unionization

I mostly skipped the “marriage in everything but name” option when I posted my thoughts on the New Jersey ruling this morning, but Kip stated it well in the comments:

Does anybody honestly think that New Jersey gay couples are going to run around saying, “We got civil unioned!”? Of course not; they’re going to say, “We got married!”

After a few years and a few thousand incidents of this, the politicians, or the judges, will give up and say, “This is silly — just call it marriage and be done with it.”

That’s pretty much the way I see it happening. I’d like to believe that the New Jersey legislature will accept the obvious and designate same-sex marriage within New Jersey as marriage. That’s what it is, so that would be the efficient way to do it. The purpose of civil marriage is the economic efficiency associated with not having to replicate a bundle of benefits wrapped into one contract. Why build inefficiency in for no other reason than the bigotry of a few. Call it marriage, and let the bigots pretend otherwise for as long as it takes them to realize they’ve lost.

Giving in to the inevitable avoidance of the word marriage, though, I suggest a public naming contest, similar to what a new sports team would run in the local media when it moves to a new city. This way, the populist ideals of anti-marriage marriage defenders can still play into this debate. If they stuff the ballot box, they’ll get their name that isn’t marriage. Maybe Joined in Sin or some other such stupidity. It could be a good laugh to hold us over until the masses come to their senses.

Of course, this will just end with an overwhelming vote for “marriage”, with the quotation marks, so I’m not sure how much fun it would be. At least New Jersey could use the same forms it already has, with two quick keystrokes for gay couples. Let me just get it out of the way now: Hacks, every one of them.

Another sentence I wish I’d written

My only take on Sen. Barack Obama’s announcement that he’s thinking of running for president in 2008 is that I won’t trust a politician who breaks a promise he made on national television barely ten months later. However, I do wish I’d written Charles Krauthammer’s opening sentence about Sen. Obama.

When, just a week ago, Barack Obama showed a bit of ankle and declared the mere possibility of his running for the presidency, the chattering classes swooned.

That’s a spot on assessment, and a well-written sentence.

Marriage is a fundamental right for individuals

I haven’t bothered catching up on what same-sex marriage amendment supporters have said about the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in everything but name because I don’t care what they think. Those in Virginia who are worked up because of it, like Sen. Allen, were already going to vote for the amendment here. Why should I care, beyond pointing out their obvious stupidity? They’ll drive 5 miles per hour faster to the polls on November 7th because they can’t wait to stick it to the gays protect marriage. Big deal. Instead, I’m focused on what intelligent people are saying.

I’ve noticed two dominant themes regarding the decision: declaring victory and cautious agreement. I agree with the first viewpoint, as it’s clear that state-sponsored bigotry will eventually be set aside. I think it should occur faster. Rights are rights, regardless of who exercises them. We shouldn’t need a silly period of adjustment so that the majority can catch up. If they don’t like it, they’re capable of remaining in their own marriage anyway. But it is what it is.

The second viewpoint, while I’m happy that it exists, as opposed to opposition until the majority catches up, lacks what I think is fundamental about our Constitution and courts. Our rights are not provided by legislatures, at the will and whim of whatever majority exists at the moment. That’s a recipe for oppression, not liberty.

Instead, we must always remember that the Constitution guarantees rights we possess through the simple process of being alive. Courts exist to protect that fact, and enforce it on the other branches of government. It’s fine to believe that legislative action is a superior way to have rights protected, but legislatures are full of politicians. Rights, or the denial of rights, can and will be sold. That leaves the courts as a viable option that should not be dismissed as too challenging to the values and beliefs of Americans. If Americans can’t grasp that, our civics education has failed, not our political process.

I like what Jason Kuznicki wrote Wednesday at Positive Liberty:

Ultimately, I don’t care so much about process. I care about equality before the law, and I think that there are multiple legitimate ways to attain it. If equality happens one way, great. If it happens another way, that’s great too.

That’s the heart of it, I believe. The fight for marriage equality has been misrepresented by those more invested in maintaining some illusory sense of control over values. Marriage, as I understand it, is not a dual right, existing only for pairs. Every individual has the right to marriage, or whatever civil contract structure the government offers to promote efficiency in bundling certain incentives and benefits. The concept of individual rights requires this governmental offering be made to individuals who are interested in pairing, not to pairs who meet a notion of acceptability pre-conceived outside of the civil framework. Who a person chooses to marry is solely his or her business.

Our government’s role is merely to provide that benefit to everyone. Or no one, if it can’t play fair. Follow that common sense approach, and same-sex marriage opponents might finally understand the proper role of government. The rights of the individual trump the will of the majority.

He fought the claw, and the claw won

It’s been almost three years since I posted about a kid getting stuck inside the claw, the game that gives cheap stuffed animals if you drop its mechanical claw at the correct angle. Happily, I can now report that the claw claimed another victim [click through to the story for the most awesome picture]:

Three-year-old Robert Moore tried to scoop out a stuffed replica of SpongeBob SquarePants with the vending machine’s plastic crane on Saturday, but had no luck on his first attempt.

While his grandmother, Fredricka Bierdemann, turned her back to get another dollar for a second try, Robert took off his coat and squeezed through an opening in the machine. He landed in the stuffed animal cube.

First, to call this a vending machine is a travesty. A vending machine is supposed to vend. The claw never gives. It only takes. And as these stories show, it takes more than quarters, it takes small children.

But what’s scary about this story is that it happened in Wisconsin. That’s where the claw snatched the kid in 2004, when I last wrote about this. Wisconsin is worried about same-sex marriage while the claw is snatching children. Seriously, this is finally a case where thinking of the children would be an appropriate rallying cry, and legislators are worried about the sex lives of adults. How many children must we sacrifice to the claw while we contemplate the supposed evils of a couple seeking to marry?

Hat tip: Boing Boing, where there are more claw goodness links.