Prop 8 on Campus 2.0

This time, Dean Starr introduced Monte Stewart, of the Marriage Law Foundation (or MLF). I bet I can guess which way this one will go. There were questions but no rebuttal.

It was sponsored by the J. Reuben Clark Society, who described its mission as exploring how religious belief influences practice of the law. Proposition 8, the student representative told us, is just such an intersection of religion and the law. I don’t know about you but that freaks me the fuck out.

After appropriate ego stroking (student saying how honored he felt to host this forum, Starr how honored he was to introduce Stewart, and Stewart how honored he was to be introduced by Starr), he began argument. One of the things that concerned me the most about his tone and some of his arguments was that it sounded exactly like my father. Overly calm but with an undertone that these are vitally important issues and that life as we know it will cease to exist if we don’t do [whatever they tell us to].

He started with an argument that the “man-woman” definition of marriage is completely compatible with the constitutional requriements for equality. He did not, however, expand this point, he merely asserted it. He did refer us to some papers he had written, which are conveniently available online! I’m not in any emotional state right now to read through them, but I’m calming down.

He continued by stating that he was going to present an institutional, or “wholly secular” (which I thought was an interesting choice of phrase) argument, not because he believes that faith is illegitimate in the public square but because some people do believe that religious perspectives ought to be excluded from the public square and these people demand a wholly secular argument. He wishes to address these people in such a way as to influence them as well as to provide arguments that can transcend faith for supports to discuss with those against the proposition.

He began by defining his terms and discussing social institutions. The “big five” social institutions in all societies are: politics, including government, law, & elections; education; religion; economy, including markets & money; and, of course, marriage & family). They are constituted by a unique web of interrelated public meanings. They teach, form and transform individuals in the society in an unconscious manner. He gave the example of two pieces of paper: a $20 bill and a blank printer sheet; he then invited an audience member to the state in order to choose one or the other (of course, the $20 bill was taken). The point being, of course, that social institutions teach us what things society values over what other things—and people. Social institutions, however, can change or even end (with scary voice “end!”). For example sometimes money loses its social value (as expressed economically) or private property ceases to be an accepted social institution (like in Russia).

When he brought marriage into the equation, he said it with the same scary “end” voice and immediately linked it to scary Russia, who apparently made a conscious effort to delegitimize marriage as an institution but found that the social costs were too great. Social institutions, he reminded us, provide social goods (like money, like law, like marriage) and in “all societies” man-woman marriage is a “universal social institution”.

He then indicated that he was going to list some social goods provided by man-woman marriage (but presumably not by same-sex marriage). He only, however got to two and referred us to his articles for more.

The first was “the child’s bonding right”, an internationally recognized human right that “a child has a right to know and be raised by his or her own mother & father with exceptions made only in the best interests of the child (not in response to the interests or desires of any adult).” So now we hear a different child-centered argument against gay marriage. Rather than that only one man and one woman may raise a child, that a child has a right to be raised by both of them. Again, I would like to play the adoption card—given that same-sex couples cannot accidentally procreate, they must intentionally do so. If they choose to adopt a child who has already been denied his or her own parents, are they adequate parents? If not, why not? Given that the child has a chance now to have two parents who love him or her, what are the arguments against allowing a same-sex couple to be those parents?

The second social good provided by man-woman marriage were the words “husband” and “wife”. He did not expand what exactly is “good” about those words. But he seemed to think that it was extremely important that they would no longer be the parties to a marriage. I don’t know if the thinks that “husband and husband” or “wife and wife” are poor substitutes or if we will all start calling each other “spouse” (I can’t see anything bad about that).

In California, he said, we have the opportunity to decide whether the meaning of marriage will be “the union of a man and a woman” or “the union of any two persons”. He went on to say that it cannot be both at the same time: that one meaning necessarily displaces the other meaning. He claimed that “genderless marriage” is the correct term, as same-sex marriage is a misnomer—”marriage” is always defined as either of the above. “Genderless marriage” will be the same marriage entered into by opposite-sex couples as by same-sex couples. And again, I fail to see what’s bad about that…

There is another alternative, however, to the two definitions above: no normative marriage institution. He alleged that many proponents of genderless marriage hope that it will lead to “no normative marriage institution”. Once again, I’m part of that group & don’t see anything wrong with it. All that will be left for him and his hangers on to “traditional marriage” is “a motley crew of lifestyle options” which “are to marriage what a Monopoly bill is to a $1000 bill”. Of course, “genderless marriage is radically different from man-woman marriage. There is some overlap but the radical divergence is evidenced by a difference in social goods that each will provide.” For example, the child bonding right.

He stated that, on the day of his marriage, the law did not make him a husband, a social institution did. “Socially positive statutes and identities will be desiccated, turning a husband into any male party to a legal marriage” (although again he does not define what other meanings for “husband” might be might be “positive”). “Equality for homosexuals will not come about by allowing genderless marriage.” This is quite an entertaining assertion, especially, coming as it does with absolutely no evidence. Apparently, “there is a price tag for allowing genderless marriage” and harm will result to man-woman marriages if genderless marriage exists. Future children will no longer be able to understand what the difference between genderless marriage and man-woman marriages. And that’s…bad?

Since the law is powerful, the law will suppress the current meaning of marriage and “we will lose the social goods it uniquely provides.” We take the definitions given us by social institutions for granted. A genderless marriage regime will have three powerful messages:

  • men & women are interchangeable,
  • a child does not need both a mother and a father, and
  • those who believe otherwise are bigots.

    Enshrinement of genderless marriage will have “very negative consequences for religious liberties”. A fact that is not widely disputed by either side—but the pro-genderless marriage proponents think that it is a price that we should all be willing to pay. He ended by hoping that none of us is so blind to choose a genderless marriage regime because it will have no cost.

    He then opened the floor to questions. I didn’t really catch a lot of them, so I’m not going to get into that.

    UPDATE: the video is available online but only to students of Pepperdine through iTunesU. If there is interest, I’ll create & post a transcript. However, his arguments are just as well (or poorly) laid out in the articles available on his website.


    1. John

      Did they mention that J. Reuben Clark was a member of the LDS Church’s ruling first presidency for many years? In fact, he was probably one of the most powerful and influential administrative figures in 20th century Mormonism.

    2. xJane, do you think the audience was receptive to his arguments? No matter how he prefaced his remarks, that sounds like the kind of speech you’d make to supporters of your position, not to a hostile crowd. Which makes it even creepier.

    3. John: I don’t know if they mentioned that specifically. Starr did some LDS ego-stroking (“I am not now nor have I ever been…but I love these guys! They’re teh awesome!”) And there was some vague “J. Reuben Clark is a cool guy who is sort of associated with the LDS church” but no real “we’re Mormon! Represent!” that I could discern. I think the LDS present were quite conscious of the fact that they were in “foreign” territory.

      Sean: absolutely. The people I saw there were there to be assured that they were right, not to participate in a dialogue or be convinced. People in my class today were talking about it & they’re people I already know are in support of it—I did hear from a classmate who I know is against it tell me that he left early because he couldn’t stand it. And there was one person sitting in front of me who seemed disgusted. Some even brought their families, which kinda weirded me out. It was during our lunch/convocation hour—so sandwiched between classes, but lo, there were spouses and babies in the audience. Good thing those kiddos were exposed to it—who knows which way they might have voted otherwise!

      I’m reading his paper right now (for those with access to LexisNexis, WestLaw, or BYU’s Law Review, the citation is 2005 B.Y.U.L. Rev. 555)—I’m a good 15 pages in & still no definition of what other social goods “man-woman” marriage supposedly provides. He’s been repeating himself himself for a while now.

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