Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Treacherous Foundation (by Phila)

The Iowa Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage has upset Matthew J. Franck, because it shows that "feelings and desire" have replaced "moral the basis for judgment of lawful public morality."

What is this taut, elegant, alert "moral reasoning" that has purged itself of mere womanish sentiment? It's not entirely clear, but it seems to have something to do with gay people being a bunch of subhuman perverts who've forfeited any right to ordinary human consideration. Deny that bedrock empirical principle, and tyranny is practically a done deal, according to Franck:
[T]he court's weak argument for same-sex marriage...boils down to this: Because some persons are "sexually and romantically attracted to members of their own sex," and because some of those persons have entered into "committed and loving relationships" with each other, they are entitled to "the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage."

From this vantage point, the feelings individuals have for one another are the authoritative wellspring of moral principle. Emotion and desire are certainly important, but without more, they are a treacherous foundation for law and public policy.
I can think of worse ones. And as we'll soon see, Franck can too.
Marriage and family are a moral institution – the teacher of right conduct between the sexes, the school of morality for the young, the founding scene of our moral obligations, the refuge from a wider world where respect for those obligations is a much chancier proposition.
All of this is pietisic gibberish. And even if it weren't, we all know that heterosexual marriages often fail at most or all of these tasks. But that's OK, according to Franck; it's the thought that counts.
These may sound like lofty ideals often unrealized, but that is both the point and beside the point. Society has a profound interest in encouraging the successful formation of marriages and families that point by their nature toward the achievement of these ideals.
So even when heterosexual marriage is a disaster for all concerned, it's still "successful," in that it points towards the ideal of heterosexual marriage. Women may get beaten up or killed, children may be brutalized or neglected, and marriage vows may be broken right and left...but at least certain standards of decency were upheld, and society was spared the literally demoralizing spectacle of Adam and Steve pushing a stroller down the street.

Franck doesn't like civil unions, either, because they "amount to special provisions for a special class of people." For once, we agree: the idea that homosexuals constitute "a special class of people" under the law is absurd. Of course, the same can also be said of heterosexuals, which renders Franck's view of marriage problematic, to say the least.

Or it would, if Franck weren't well aware that The Man Upstairs has already done the hard work of reasoned judgment for us. This intellectual short circuit constitutes his idea of "moral reasoning," and that's exactly what the Iowa court has failed to uphold.
[T]he court is incapable of entertaining the most elementary distinction between matters of theology, faith, and worship, on the one hand, and matters of moral reasoning springing from religious conviction on the other.
After reading this sentence a couple dozen times, and trying to imagine what it could possibly mean, I can't say I blame them. But maybe this next bit will clarify things:
What the opinion calls "religious opposition to same-sex marriage" would more accurately be described as "moral opposition to same-sex marriage springing from religious sources."
A nice distinction. "Religious opposition" sounds downright bigoted. But moral opposition, springing from religious sources...well, that seems harmless enough, doesn't it? Surely there's no harm in denying our fellow citizens rights based on that?

The court, Franck complains, has treated religion as one sentiment among others; this means that "the justices wind up incoherently privileging one kind of feeling over another." And then look what happens:
Those who desire to marry win out over those who desire to "exclude" them from marrying, and that's that.
Well, yeah. That's because "one kind of feeling" is in harmony with the Constitution, and one isn't. Also, religion per se can't be the deciding factor here, because there are religions that take a neutral or affirmative stance on the question.

That said, I love the scare quotes around "exclude." Here we have someone who not only claims that there is a moral right to deny homosexuals rights, but also implies that there's no moral right not to deny them rights. And yet, he presents the logical legal implications of his own position as some ideological imposition forced on him by political correctness. He's not excluding them; they exclude themselves by being abnormal, just as blacks formerly "segregated" themselves by having the wrong skin color.

See, Franck doesn't come before us as a advocate of bigotry or religious persecution. He's simply taking a stand for reasoned judgment — the kind that comes to you as effortlessly as breathing, once you accept the correct political interpretation of the correct religious tradition:
Lost from view is the true ground of our common public morality: reasoned judgment about the natures of things and the good of human persons, families, and communities.
Or as Fred Phelps puts it, without any tedious pretense to intellectualism and rationality, God hates fags. Which apparently seemed to the Iowa court like a treacherous foundation for law and public policy.