Carson Holloway

Justice Sotomayor and the path to polygamy

Carson Holloway
By Carson Holloway
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April 22, 2013 (PublicDiscourse) - Opponents of same-sex marriage resist it because it amounts to redefining marriage, but also because it will invite future redefinitions. If we embrace same-sex marriage, they argue, society will have surrendered any reasonable grounds on which to continue forbidding polygamy, for example.

In truth, proponents of same-sex marriage have never offered a very good response to this concern. This problem was highlighted at the Supreme Court last month in oral argument over California’s Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Surprisingly, the polygamy problem that same-sex marriage presents was raised by an Obama appointee, the liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor interrupted the presentation of anti-Prop 8 litigator Theodore Olson to pose the following question: If marriage is a fundamental right in the way proponents of same-sex marriage contend, “what state restrictions could ever exist,” for example, “with respect to the number of people . . . that could get married?”

In response, Olson tried to set up a clear distinction between same-sex marriage and polygamy, suggesting that the kinds of governmental interests that justify a prohibition of polygamy are irrelevant in the case of same-sex marriage.

The Court has said, he contended, that polygamy raises “questions about exploitation, abuse, patriarchy, issues with respect to taxes, inheritance, child custody” and therefore “is an entirely different thing” than same-sex marriage. Moreover, Olson argued, when a “state prohibits polygamy, it’s prohibiting conduct,” but if “it prohibits gay and lesbian citizens from getting married, it is prohibiting their exercise of a right based upon their status.”

Justice Sotomayor’s concerns about the possibility of a path from same-sex marriage to polygamy may arise from the fact that there is already a case in federal court challenging Utah’s anti-bigamy law as unconstitutional.  In any event, she should be just as concerned about this question after oral argument as she was before it, because none of Olson’s distinctions can reasonably justify a prohibition on polygamy if the Court finds a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. To see why, it’s first useful to note a crucial distinction that Olson overlooked, as well as the most famous Supreme Court case regarding polygamy, which he failed to mention.

Olson’s words to the Court suggest that the state somehow “forbids” same-sex marriage today just as it “forbids” polygamy. This is not true, as Adam MacLeod noted on Public Discourse earlier this week. Under current law and Supreme Court precedent, no state has constitutional authority to punish anyone for entering into a same-sex relationship. No state in fact “prohibits” same-sex marriage. If any persons wish to enter into such a relationship and call it a marriage, they are perfectly free to do so.

The real issue, the real complaint in the case that Olson represents, is that the state simply refuses to bestow on same-sex unions the same recognition that it gives to heterosexual marriages. In stark contrast, the law in many American jurisdictions not only refuses to recognize polygamous marriages; it actively punishes them. Enter into a same-sex marriage and the government will simply ignore you. Enter into a polygamous marriage and the law permits the government to prosecute you for a crime.

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Unlike the distinctions Olson raised, this one is real, and it positively undermines his assurance that we can have same-sex marriage while still banning polygamy. Common sense makes it hard to see how this could be done. In Olson’s view, the state may not officially prefer heterosexual marriage by a policy so mild that it does nothing other than to leave same-sex couples alone while declining to formally recognize their unions. By what reasoning, then, could it have a right to prefer some definition of marriage by actually punishing those who choose to disregard it?

Moreover, in his summary of what the Supreme Court has “said” about polygamy, Olson omitted to mention the single most famous case dealing with this question, Reynolds v. United States (1879). In that case the Court upheld the federal law forbidding polygamy in the territories of the United States, and declined to find that the free exercise clause immunizes those who practice it for religious reasons.

Most of the Court’s argument is dedicated to the original meaning of the Constitution’s religion clauses, but also noteworthy is its passing comment on the basis of the law in question, a basis that the Court at that time apparently found unquestionably legitimate: “Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe . . . and from the earliest history of England polygamy has been treated as an offense against society.”

Reynolds has never been overturned and indeed has been cited as an authority by the modern Supreme Court. In it the Court tells us straightforwardly the basis of laws prohibiting polygamy: moral disapproval of the practice. This raises a serious problem for the defenders of same-sex marriage.

A number of the Court’s precedents defending a “right of privacy” have already strongly undermined the idea that the majority’s moral convictions are a sufficient basis for law. If the Court finds a right to same-sex marriage, it will practically dismantle the whole concept of morals legislation. But if moral preference for heterosexual marriage cannot be a reasonable basis on which to afford it a formal recognition denied to other unions, then how can moral disapproval be a reasonable ground on which to forbid and punish polygamy?

Let us turn now from the distinctions Olson overlooked to the ones he emphasized. In the first place, Olson contended that polygamy raises serious concerns about “exploitation,” “abuse,” and “patriarchy” that aren’t relevant to same-sex marriage. Presumably he was referring to the “abuse” and “exploitation” of the children and perhaps wives of plural marriages. Yet, under the constitutional theory of marriage Olson has tried to sell, none of these considerations would be sufficient to forbid polygamy. Olson insists that marriage is a fundamental right. Standard Supreme Court doctrine holds that fundamental rights can only be infringed to defend a “compelling state interest” and that the regulations made to protect that interest must be drawn as narrowly as possible.

Everyone would concede that prevention of abuse and exploitation of children and wives is a compelling state interest. On the other hand, nobody would contend that such abuse and exploitation is the very essence of polygamy. After all, abuse and exploitation can be found in monogamous marriages, too. The most one could say is that these problems are dangers to which polygamous unions are more or less prone. In any case, under the “fundamental rights” doctrine on which Olson relies, the least restrictive means to remedy such dangers would be to recur to already existing laws punishing such abuse and exploitation, rather than going so far as to ban polygamy altogether.

Olson may also have been hinting that the state could reasonably fear that abuse and exploitation of children is more likely to arise in families where the children are not related by blood to all of their parents. This is a reasonable concern, but it could be raised just as easily in relation to same-sex marriages, where at best, only one parent can be biologically related to each child.

Similar problems arise if we consider Olson’s invocation of “patriarchy” as a justification for forbidding polygamy. We might ask: What’s wrong with patriarchy?

The most straightforward answer to this question that Olson could muster is that patriarchy is morally offensive in a liberal, egalitarian society. But, as we have seen, the case for a right to same-sex marriage depends on the Court’s willingness to expel moral sentiments as a basis for law. Or is the Court to hold that the things that offend traditional moral sensibilities are impermissible as bases for law while the things that offend progressive moral sensibilities are fine? This would be to reduce constitutional jurisprudence to naked partisanship and ideology.

Be that as it may, there is no necessary connection between patriarchy and polygamy, at least under the constitutional and legal regime now prevailing. Under the modern interpretation of the equal protection clause, any “right” to enter plural marriages would be held equally by men and women. It would not be a patriarchal right of some men to have multiple wives, but a right of both men and women to have multiple spouses of their own choosing.

Moreover, given the ease of access to divorce, there would be no serious reason to fear that women who entered plural marriages would be unable to escape from them if they found them unsatisfactory. And again, if the creation of a “right” to polygamy opened a social space in which some patriarchal subordination of women could develop, this problem could be corrected by legal remedies falling far short of banning polygamy entirely.

Olson also suggested that a ban on polygamy is made reasonable by certain technical and legal challenges that it raises, challenges involving “taxes,” “inheritance,” and “child custody.” Again, the distinction here between same-sex marriage and polygamy is underwhelming. Because same-sex marriages are prone, like polygamous marriages, to have children who are not biologically related to all of their parents, they are also prone to complications involving inheritance and child custody.

Perhaps by referring to “taxes” Olson meant to suggest that polygamous unions have a potential to produce enormous families and thus to drain federal revenues by entitling single families to hitherto unheard of numbers of tax deductions and credits. This fear, however, assumes that the standard polygamous union will feature one husband with many wives. This may not turn out to be the case. At any rate, as noted before, if marriage is a fundamental right in the way Olson’s words suggest, such problems would have to be remedied by the least-restrictive means, and mere reform of the tax provisions is far less restrictive than an outright ban on such marriages. (For example, dividing spousal benefits by the number of spouses.)

Finally, Olson argues that laws forbidding polygamy target behavior, while laws refusing to recognize same-sex marriage prohibit the exercise of a right based on people’s status. This distinction is entirely spurious. If laws against polygamy can be understood as targeting behavior, the same can just as easily be said about laws defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Such laws refuse to bestow official recognition on a certain behavior—entering into a same-sex relationship—in which the state believes it has no vital interest. Conversely, if laws defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman can be viewed as singling out a specific class of people—gays—then anti-polygamy laws can equally be presented in the same sinister light: They refuse the right to marry to people of a certain status—polys—those who desire to marry multiple people.

As these reflections suggest, there is very good reason indeed to believe that the declaration of a “right” to same-sex marriage will set us on the path to polygamy. To allay these concerns, the proponents of same-sex marriage sometimes respond that they are only seeking what married heterosexuals already have: access to marriage understood as a union of two people. But this reassurance utterly misses the point: All the arguments by which they seek that end can easily be turned to the purposes of those who might next seek polygamy.

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press). This article reprinted with permission from The Public Discourse.

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Newsbusters Staff

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Disney ABC embraces X-rated anti-Christian bigot Dan Savage in new prime time show

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March 30, 2015 (NewsBusters.org) -- Media Research Center (MRC) and Family Research Council (FRC) are launching a joint national campaign to educate the public about a Disney ABC sitcom pilot based on the life of bigoted activist Dan Savage. MRC and FRC contacted Ben Sherwood, president of Disney/ABC Television Group, more than two weeks ago urging him to put a stop to this atrocity but received no response. [Read the full letter]

A perusal of Dan Savage’s work reveals a career built on advocating violence — even murder — and spewing hatred against people of faith. Savage has spared no one with whom he disagrees from his vitriolic hate speech. Despite his extremism, vulgarity, and unabashed encouragement of dangerous sexual practices, Disney ABC is moving forward with this show, disgustingly titled “Family of the Year.”

Media Research Center President Brent Bozell reacts:

“Disney ABC’s decision to effectively advance Dan Savage’s calls for violence against conservatives and his extremist attacks against people of faith, particularly evangelicals and Catholics, is appalling and outrageous. If hate speech were a crime, this man would be charged with a felony. Disney ABC giving Dan Savage a platform for his anti-religious bigotry is mind-boggling and their silence is deafening.

“By creating a pilot based on the life of this hatemonger and bringing him on as a producer, Disney ABC is sending a signal that they endorse Dan Savage’s wish that a man be murdered. He has stated, ‘Carl Romanelli should be dragged behind a pickup truck until there’s nothing left but the rope.’ ABC knows this. We told them explicitly.

“If the production of ‘Family of the Year’ is allowed to continue, not just Christians but all people of goodwill can only surmise that the company Walt Disney created is endorsing violence.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins reacts:

“Does ABC really want to produce a pilot show based on a vile bully like Dan Savage?  Do Dan Savage’s over-the top-obscenity, intimidation of teenagers and even violent rhetoric reflect the values of Disney?  Partnering with Dan Savage and endorsing his x-rated message will be abandoning the wholesome values that have attracted millions of families to Walt Disney.”

Dan Savage has made numerous comments about conservatives, evangelicals, and Catholics that offend basic standards of decency. They include:

  • Proclaiming that he sometimes thinks about “f****ing the shit out of” Senator Rick Santorum

  • Calling for Christians at a high school conference to “ignore the bull**** in the Bible”

  • Saying that “the only thing that stands between my d*** and Brad Pitt’s mouth is a piece of paper” when expressing his feelings on Pope Benedict’s opposition to gay marriage

  • Promoting marital infidelity

  • Saying “Carl Romanelli should be dragged behind a pickup truck until there’s nothing left but the rope.”

  • Telling Bill Maher that he wished Republicans “were all f***ing dead”

  • Telling Dr. Ben Carson to “suck my d***. Name the time and place and I’ll bring my d*** and a camera crew and you can s*** me off and win the argument.”

Reprinted with permission from Newsbusters

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Jacqueline Harvey

Ending the end-of-life impasse: Texas is poised to ban doctor-imposed death by starvation

Jacqueline Harvey
By Jacqueline Harvey

AUSTIN, Texas, March 30, 2015 (TexasInsider.org)  After five consecutive sessions of bitter battles over end-of-life bills, the Texas Legislature is finally poised to pass the first reform to the Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA) in 12 years. An issue that created uncanny adversaries out of natural allies, and equally odd bedfellows, has finally found common ground in H.B. 3074 by State Rep. Drew Springer.  

H.B. 3074 simply prohibits doctor-imposed euthanasia by starvation and dehydration.

Since H.B. 3074 includes only those provisions and language that all major organizations are on record as having deemed acceptable in previous legislative sessions, there is finally hope of ending the end-of-life impasse in the Texas Capitol.

Many would be surprised to learn that Texas law allows physicians to forcibly remove a feeding tube against the will of the patient and their family. In fact, there is a greater legal penalty for failing to feed or water an animal than for a hospital to deny a human being food and water through a tube.

This is because there is no penalty whatsoever for a healthcare provider who wishes to deny artificially-administered nutrition and hydration (AANH). According to Texas Health and Safety Code, “every living dumb creature” is legally entitled access to suitable food and water.

Denying an animal food and water, like in this January case in San Antonio, is punishable by civil fines up to $10,000 and criminal penalties up to two years in jail per offense. Yet Texas law allows health care providers to forcibly deny food and water from human beings – what they would not be able to legally do to their housecat. And healthcare providers are immune from civil and criminal penalties for denial of food and water to human beings as long as they follow the current statutory process which is sorely lacking in safeguards.

Therefore, while it is surprising that Texas has the only state law that explicitly mentions food and water delivered artificially for the purpose of completely permitting its forced denial (the other six states mention AANH explicitly for the opposite purpose, to limit or prohibit its refusal), it is not at all surprising that the issue of protecting a patient’s right to food and water is perhaps the one point of consensus across all major stakeholders.

H.B. 3074 is the first TADA reform bill to include only this provision that is agreed upon across all major players in previous legislative sessions.

There are irreconcilable ideological differences between two major right-to-life organizations that should supposedly be like-minded: Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life. Each faction (along with their respective allies) have previously sponsored broad and ambitious bills to either preserve but reform the current law (Texas Alliance for Life’s position) or overturn it altogether as Texas Right to Life aims to do.

Prior to H.B. 3074, bills filed by major advocacy organizations have often included AANH, but also a host of other provisions that were so contentious and unacceptable to other organizations that each bill ultimately died, and this mutually-agreed-upon and vital reform always died along with it.

2011 & 2013 Legislative Sessions present prime example

This 2011 media report shows the clear consensus on need for legislation to simply address the need to protect patients’ rights to food and water:

“Hughes [bill sponsor for Texas Right to Life] has widespread support for one of his bill’s goals: making food and water a necessary part of treatment and not something that can be discontinued, unless providing it would harm the patient.”

Nonetheless, in 2013, both organizations and their allies filed complicated, contentious opposing bills, both of which would have protected a patient’s right to food and water but each bill also included provisions the rival group saw as contrary to their goals. Both bills were ultimately defeated and neither group was able to achieve protections for patients at risk of forced starvation and dehydration – a mutual goal that could have been met through a third, narrow bill like H.B. 3074.

H.B. 3074 finally focuses on what unites the organizations involved rather than what divides them, since these differences have resulted in a 12 year standoff with no progress whatsoever.

H.B. 3074 is progress that is pre-negotiated and pre-approved.

It is not a fertile springboard for negotiations on an area of mutual agreement. Rather it is the culmination of years of previous negotiations on bills that all came too late, either due to the complexnature of rival bills, the controversy involved, or even both.

On the contrary, H.B. 3074 is not just simply an area of agreement; moreover, it is has already been negotiated. It should not be stymied by disagreements on language, since Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Right to Life (along with their allies) were able to agree on language in 2007 with C.S.S.B. 439. C.S.S.B. 439 reads that, unlike the status quo that places no legal conditions on when food and water may be withdrawn, it would be permitted for those in a terminal condition if,

“reasonable medical evidence indicates the provision of artificial nutrition and hydration may hasten the patient’s death or seriously exacerbate other major medical problems and the risk of serious medical pain or discomfort that cannot be alleviated based on reasonable medical judgment outweighs the benefit of continued artificial nutrition and hydration.”

This language is strikingly similar to H.B. 3074 which states, “except that artificially administered nutrition and hydration must be provided unless, based on reasonable medical judgment, providingartificially administered nutrition and hydration would:

  1. Hasten the patient’s death;
  2. Seriously exacerbate other major medical problems not outweighed by the benefit of the provision of the treatment;
  3. Result in substantial irremediable physical pain, suffering, or discomfort not outweighed by the benefit of the provision of the treatment;
  4. Be medically ineffective; or
  5. Be contrary to the patient’s clearly stated desire not to receive artificially administered nutrition or hydration.”

With minimal exceptions (the explicit mention of the word terminal, the issue of medical effectiveness and the patient’s right to refuse), the language is virtually identical, and in 2007 Texas Right to Life affirmed this language as clarifying that “ANH can only be withdrawn if the risk of providing ANH is greater than the benefit of continuing it.”

Texas Right to Life would support the language in H.B. 3074 that already has Texas Alliance for Life’s endorsement. Any reconciliation on the minor differences in language would therefore be minimal and could be made by either side, but ultimately, both sides and their allies would gain a huge victory – the first victory in 12 years on this vital issue.

It seems that the Texas Advance Directive Act, even among its sympathizers, has something for everyone to oppose.

The passage of H.B. 3074 and the legal restoration of rights to feeding tubes for Texas patients will not begin to satisfy critics of the Texas Advance Directives Act who desire much greater changes to the law and will assuredly continue to pursue them. H.B. 3074 in no way marks the end for healthcare reform, but perhaps a shift from the belief that anything short of sweeping changes is an endorsement of the status quo.

Rather, we can look at H.B. 3074 as breaking a barrier and indicating larger changes are possible.

And if nothing else, by passing H.B. 3074 introduced by State Rep. Drew Springer, we afford human beings in Texas the same legal access to food and water that we give to our horses. What is cruel to do to an animal remains legal to do to humans in Texas if organizations continue to insist on the whole of their agenda rather than agreeing to smaller bills like H.B. 3074.

The question is, can twelve years of bad blood and bickering be set aside for even this most noble of causes?

Reprinted from TexasInsider.org with the author's permission. 

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