Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kinsley on Gay Marriage and Tolerance

This wlil show my age ... but Michael Kinsley was (paired with Robert Novak) the best host ever on Crossfire.  Not a high bar, true; but they were quite good.  He tends to be a contrarian liberal: the contrarian (increasingly so) position in this New Republic piece is "[B]eing against marriage equality doesn't make you a monster."  He touches a bit on the religious-liberty situations like the florist.  We've pretty well flogged these issues to death here, including how one can support same-sex marriage and strong religious liberty.  But c'mon ... this is Kinsley saying such things (dang, I showed my age again).

I'll open comments with trepidation, but since we have flogged this in other posts, I'll close the comments if they start veering to something beyond Kinsley's particular points.


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There are... many problems... with that piece by Kinsley. See, for example, this:


(I'll note that the comments on that site are generally not so great, and don't recommend reading them- mostly they are a waste of time. And, I have pretty mixed feelings about the site in general, but I think it's pretty spot-on on this piece by Kinsley.)

Posted by: Matt | May 17, 2013 2:52:14 PM

Michael Kinsley makes many good points, and I have always found him intelligent and amusing. Regarding Ben Carson, though, it wasn't merely that he opposed same-sex marriage. This is what he said:

CARSON: Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition. So he, it's not something that is against gays, it's against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications.

I don't think one has to be overly sensitive to feel that gay people, pedophiles (i.e., NAMBLA), and people who have sex with animals were all at least arguably being lumped into the same category, and it seems to me that Carson was being hailed not merely because he opposed same-sex marriage, but because of his implied association of homosexuality, pedophilia, and bestiality. Those of us who participate in online discussions see the homosexuality-pedophilia link being asserted explicitly all the time. And of course we also see the (absurd) argument that if same-sex marriage is accepted, it's not merely that we are on some kind of slippery slope to pedophilia, incest, bestiality, and polygamy. It's that (they claim) once you have accepted the arguments for same-sex marriage, you have already accepted pedophilia, incest, bestiality, and polygamy. The argument for same-sex marriage, it is claimed by many, doesn't simply open the possibility of all those other things. The argument for same-sex marriage *IS* the argument for all those other things. That is why Ben Carson's remarks (and all the adulation he got for them—after his criticisms of Obama at a prayer breakfast, of all places) were so inflammatory.

I admit the photographers, the florists, the caterers, and the rest are a problem. I don't think it is necessary to see them as bigots or to demonize them in order to be very wary of writing exemptions into the law for them to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. I think some fine distinctions need to be made as to what constitutes participating in or cooperating with same-sex marriage and doing ordinary, everyday business as a public accommodation.

Posted by: David | May 17, 2013 4:25:23 PM

I think Kinsley's article is a caution against what seems to be a common problem these days -- that one can tell everything one wants to know about a person by his position on a political issue, who he voted for, or what political party he belongs to.

Same sex marriage support seems to be a particular outlier in this regard. There seems to always be some signifier of support -- the AIDS ribbon, the flag lapel pin, the pink equal sign avatar -- that passes from a brave statement to a badge of conformity.

One interesting example from current fiction is the character of Pet Campbell in Mad Men. Over the seasons of Mad Men, Pete has been guilty of pretty much every professional and personal sin one can imagine -- cheating on his wife, getting into fights, throwing co-workers under the bus. His record rivals that of the anti-hero, Don Draper.

On the other hand, his politics and reaction to historical events are what every modern liberal imagines they would have done had they been alive at the time. He pushes the firm to market to African Americans, votes Democratic, mourns the assasinations of Kennedy and MLK, and chastises those who fail to do so. I'm quite sure that Pete Campbell would have dutifully made his avatar a pink equals sign during the Supreme Court case.

But he's still an asshole.

Yes, there are times when human decency ought to compel certain positions. I struggle with how anyone who understands what a fetus is could support legalized abortion. But reducing people to their position on a single issue -- either positve or negative -- is still wrong and dehumanizing.

Posted by: JohnMcG | May 17, 2013 4:35:17 PM

While it may be true that Dr.Carson does not believe that the essence of Marriage can be transformed, according to this article, Dr.Carson does support same-sex sexual unions. If it is true that Dr.Carson, does support same-sex sexual unions, and thus same-sex sexual acts, then Dr.Carson, like Pope Francis, believes that he, rather than God, can declare what is Good.

Posted by: Nancy | May 17, 2013 4:52:40 PM

"[T]hen Dr.Carson, like Pope Francis, believes that he, rather than God, can declare what is Good."

Noted without comment—at least to the extent that saying "noted without comment" is not actually commenting.

Posted by: David | May 17, 2013 5:16:07 PM

Yes, Kinsley "contrarian," is saying these things. The first comment suggests why in this case, perhaps, not very helpful to advance the conversation much.

"There are those who would have you think that gays and liberals are conducting some sort of jihad against organized Christianity and that gay marriage is one of the battlefields. That is a tremendous exaggeration. But it’s not a complete fantasy."

And, then a suit against a florist is referenced. How is this any evidence of a "sort of jihad against organized Christianity"? Any range of civil regulations might be understood to violate Christian ethics according to someone's lights. If the rules are evenly applied, which is not what some want [special exemptions are desired, and not evenly -- so sex is treated differently than race or sex in certain respects], how is this a "jihad" against "Christianity"?!

"They might have chosen some other strategy, such as getting sexual preference under the protection of the civil rights laws, along with race, gender, and so on."

"Gay leaders" actually are sometimes wary about focusing on marriage too much, especially nation-wide. Many didn't support the federal Prop 8 lawsuit. Effort was made state by state. But, it wasn't the first thing sought and many focus more on other matters, including employment equality (ENDA), anti-bullying and other matters in schools (see, e.g., Emily Bazelon's new book) and AIDS funding. Also, the rank and file here often are most important, including family and friends of gays and lesbians.

"But the focus of gay rights on marriage is a historical accident, and to make support for marriage equality the test of right thinking on gay issues is absurd."

How so? It is a logical end point of sorts as seen in the racial context.

"the last people to want to destroy someone’s career because they disagree"

Criticizing Ben Carson will not "destroy" his career -- in fact, given his role, criticism from the left will probably help it.

"The dean calls Carson’s remarks “hurtful.” They weren’t hurtful to him, unless he’s hopelessly oversensitive."

Not sure what this means. Remarks can be "hurtful" without them being hurtful to the specific person saying they are hurtful. Calling a woman a bad name, e.g., is "hurtful," even if you say it to a man. And, how do we know it wasn't personally hurtful? Does the dean not know any gay people? The specific quote:

"Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality."

I think that's the problem. Anyway, it is hurtful to class gays with NAMBLA and those who believe in bestiality. Perhaps, Dr. Carson can work with John Corvino ("What's Wrong With Homsexuality" -- spoiler: nothing as such -- supportive blurb by Robert George) on how best to talk about these things. Kinsley can too, though his desire to be "contrarian" might lead him to beg off.

Posted by: Joe | May 18, 2013 8:42:23 AM

To be clear, if one is worshipping The True God, The God of our Salvation, Who desires that we overcome our disordered inclinations so that we are not led into temptation, but rather, sin no more, one cannot support same-sex sexual acts and Religious Liberty, simultaneously.

The denial of The Filioque, is the source of all heresies, for there can be only One Spirit of Love between The Father and His only Son, The Word of Love Made Flesh, our Savior, Jesus The Christ, in The Communion of Perfect Love that is The Blessed Trinity. From The Beginning, it Is God Who defines Love. God Is Love. Love exists in relationship. All that is Good is ordered to Love, thus all that is Good is oriented towards God.

Posted by: Nancy | May 18, 2013 11:27:26 AM

At the end of The Day, if you begin with The Truth, you will end with The Truth, unless you add a false assumption. Men and women are designed in such a way, that it is impossible to engage in same-sex sexual acts without demeaning the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the human person, thus same-sex sexual acts can never be acts of Love. The only way one can condone and affirm same-sex sexual acts as being ordered to the Good of those persons engaging in same-sex sexual acts, is to call that which is true, a lie. I Pray that all who struggle with a same sex sexual attraction may find Peace in Christ.

Posted by: Nancy | May 18, 2013 11:45:34 AM

"To be clear, if one is worshipping The True God, The God of our Salvation, Who desires that we overcome our disordered inclinations so that we are not led into temptation, but rather, sin no more, one cannot support same-sex sexual acts and Religious Liberty, simultaneously."

The second paragraph sounds like it was copied from a liturgy somewhere, and I'm not desiring to dispute its accuracy on that level, but this first part mixes a couple things.

Just what "The True God" demands is a matter of deep dispute, including among believers themselves. Thus, the Presbyterian Church, e.g., is divided on homosexuality in various ways, while other Christian sects support same sex couples, including offering marriage ceremonies. Others take a position akin to Nancy. Such is their right.

"Religious liberty" entails letting various people have their own beliefs and practices. Thus, many Catholics send their children to public schools, having CCD classes and the like to educate them in Catholic doctrine. Their children go to school with the children of other faiths, including those who do things like divorce, not follow the sacraments, do not worship Jesus as their savior and so forth. Some might be children of same sex married couples. Some children are in same sex relationships themselves. This all is part of religious liberty.

The conflict is that as the people "worship" in various ways, they might have to in some fashion "support" others they strongly disagree with, in fact, who they think are doing evil things. For instance, pay taxes to fight unjust wars. Required to associate or even serve people they deem immoral (e.g., women not 'properly' dressed or who 'sinfully' wish to associate with men). Pay salaries to people (including such women) that will be used for 'sinful' purposes. Be required to treat spouses equally though they might not even be "spouses," such as those who never really "divorced" (per the rules of the gospels) correctly.

Can they truly do such things and truly worship the True God? Such questions are serious. The Amish and other sects separate from society to keep pure on such questions. The Catholic Church as a whole, however, has realized "support" need not be interpreted totally literally. Such is the reality of society vs. the purity of a monastery. This includes "supporting" religious freedom, even if the result is that people will choose acts that you might deem sinful. People, e.g., will be allowed to use contraceptives, even though some think that immoral. You also will be required to let people buy them, even with salary you personally pay for. Or, insurance. Well, that is a bit more controversial.

Posted by: Joe | May 18, 2013 12:12:25 PM

Joe, without a final authority, there can be no cohesiveness of belief, without a cohesiveness of belief, there can be no cohesiveness of Faith, and thus every man becomes a religion unto himself. Christ Has Founded His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church so that The Word of Salvational Love would remain consistent.

Posted by: Nancy | May 18, 2013 12:38:33 PM

There is no cohesiveness of belief -- there is a great division on just what the "final authority" truly demands. There is limited agreement, but even among Christians, there are great divisions on what is demanded of each one of us.

There hasn't even been a consistency among "Catholic, and Apostolic Church," the Catholic doctrine on a myriad of issues changing over the years. For instance, take the determination on what "The Word" truly is. That is, specifically, the so-called New Testament canon. This was not in place for centuries. The final choice was left to imperfect humans, hopefully guided by the "final authority," but humans were behind the, I'll put it in quotes given the forum, "Protestant Reformation," so we know how imperfect that is.

Thus, religious liberty, including among individuals, is so important. You can quote your own personal understanding of religious doctrine as you wish, but my concern here is that "religious liberty," especially in the wilderness of the world, entails allowance of others who do things you and I might deem immoral. At some point, that is not immoral "support." I do also recommend the book cited, again, endorsed by MOJ's own Robert George!

Posted by: Joe | May 18, 2013 1:27:01 PM

Joe, you are mistaken. You can know The Truth of Love through Faith and Reason. Only The True God can endow us with our inherent Right to Religious Liberty, the purpose of which is not to worship false idols, but rather so that we can come to know, Love, and serve The True God in this Life, and help each other get to Heaven, so that we, through God's Grace and Mercy, may be with God forever. Everything that rises will converge, through The Unity of God's Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, it is still a Great Mystery, but Faith is believing even when we may not fully understand.

Posted by: Nancy | May 18, 2013 1:48:09 PM

Folks, I asked you to please keep your comments to the Kinsley piece. As to those comments that are dealing with the Kinsley piece...

David (and Joe)--I agree with you about Ben Carson's comments and the ridiculous analogy to NAMBLA. I think Kinsley makes fun of Carson's analogies (including his second try at an analogy about different fruits, e.g.), as much as he defends Carson's overall person.

John McG. makes an excellent point--which I would say runs against both sides in the culture wars--about not dismissing a person in total because of one belief that you think is deeply wrong or bigoted. It's hard to make legal distinctions directly based on that insight ("A's not 'a monster overall' but has one unacceptable belief or practice"). But one reason why we have constitutional protections and civil rights laws--which protect both religious conservatives and gay couples--is to limit the human tendency to take one personal feature/belief that we dislike and subject that person to wide-ranging disabilities because of it. Law professor Alan Brownstein has made this argument; and Doug Laycock and I touch on it in one part of our amicus brief for the American Jewish Committee in the current SCT marriage cases.

And Matt--agreed, Kinsley is wrong about Sullivan's piece being the first; indeed that piece was titled "A Conservative Case for Gay Marriage." Nevertheless, I think that's a minor point and Kinsley's main point holds: gay marriage was not put forth as a significant issue until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Evan Wolfson received a lot of pushback, as well as a lot of apathy, from some others in the gay community with his focus on marriage. There has been quite a rapid change on this issue, including among many gays and lesbians. We have had arguments about whether that should count as a reason to accommodate objectors. But to me it's hard to deny the relative rapidity of the change: a 25-year-shift away from a feature of marriage (its opposite-sex nature) that had been virtually uniform across societies for centuries

Posted by: Tom Berg | May 18, 2013 2:33:36 PM

Professor Berg, God did not create Human Beings according to sexual orientation to live in relationship as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transexual, polysexual..., in violation of His Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery, thus the error that begets all errors in regards to the same-sex marriage debate, is the personification of sexual desire and sexual inclination. We can know through Faith and Reason, that we are and have always been husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters..., which is why to claim that all sexual desire and inclination is equal, is to deny the truth about the inherent personal and relational essence of Human Persons, who, from the moment of conception, have been created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as male and female.

Posted by: Nancy | May 18, 2013 4:17:28 PM

Tom Berg,

You say: "But to me it's hard to deny the relative rapidity of the change: a 25-year-shift away from a feature of marriage (its opposite-sex nature) that had been virtually uniform across societies for centuries."

That's close to being undeniable. But we have seen other very rapid shifts, too. I think the shift in the status of women has been quite dramatic. (And of course I think that in turn has had an effect on the thinking about marriage.) And women constitute half (or more) of the population, where as gay people are a relatively tiny minority. If you weight the changes in the status of women by multiplying them by the number of women in the population, they are far more dramatic than the changes for gay people weighted by multiplying those changes by the number of gays.

I think to a great many people, same-sex marriage does not amount to a huge change. Yes, it can be argued that it is a change in something that has existed since the dawn of recorded history (marriage being between a man and a woman), but I think a great many people (including myself) believe that nevertheless, the difference in people's lives it will make will be minimal. Surely the rise in the out-of-wedlock birth rate haas had a much more dramatic impact on society than will the marriages of a fraction of perhaps 4% of the population.

Regarding Kinsley and Carson, yes Kinsley does poke fun at Carson for mentioning NAMBLA and bestiality, and that is where I think Kinsley doesn't "get it." To many of us, those remarks were deeply offensive. I would never have agreed that Carson should be disqualified as a commencement speaker merely for expressing a religious belief that marriage was between a man and a woman. But by seeming to associate homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality, Carson went far beyond standing up for traditional marriage.

Posted by: David | May 18, 2013 5:39:44 PM

David, to state that all sexual desires or inclinations are equal, is to state that every type of sexual act is permissible.

Posted by: Nancy | May 18, 2013 6:00:30 PM


I agree with you that Carson's comparison of same-sex relationships to NAMBLA and bestiality is ludicrous and horribly dismissive of gay people. If people who made such analogies were the only ones facing trouble going forward, Kinsley's (my, others') worries about liberal intolerance on this would be unjustified. But I'm pretty certain that we're headed toward an era of broader exclusion: that is, in which it's quite plausible that a distinguished person will (in your words) "be disqualified as a commencement speaker merely for expressing a religious belief that marriage was between a man and a woman." So I think the basic thrust of Kinsley's column is still correct.

I also agree with you that gay marriage is likely to have less practical effect on most people's lives than the other changes you mention. The big exception is those with conscientious objections who are in marriage-promoting occupations and organizations: their lives will be deeply affected, which is why I think gay marriage could be essentially a pareto-optimal move if the dissenters were accommodated significantly.

Posted by: Tom Berg | May 18, 2013 10:01:32 PM

Professor Berg, with all due respect, those who value God's intention for Marriage and The Family, understand that when one denies the essence of a Holy Marriage, we all suffer.

"Each man's Life touches so many others", which is why we should never underestimate the value of a Holy Marriage, or a Loving friendship, which is respectful of the personal and relational inherent Dignity of the human person in private, as well as in public, and thus desires that which is Good for the other.

Posted by: Nancy | May 19, 2013 9:11:23 AM


You say: "Professor Berg, with all due respect . . . "

The appropriate way to show respect is by noting that Professor Berg said he would "close the comments if they start veering to something beyond Kinsley's particular points." It seems clear to me you would like provoke comments about what you have to say (repeatedly, over and over again, in much the same words, at every opportunity) rather than about what Tom Berg said or what Michael Kinsley said. It is very rare in Internet discourse that anyone intends to actually show respect in a statement that begins "with all due respect." I will not link to the Wikipedia essay on the use of "with all due respect," since some would find the language offensive. But if I might attempt to render the meaning they assign to it in G-rated language, I'd give it as, "Go fly a kite" or "Go jump in a lake."

Posted by: David | May 19, 2013 2:44:48 PM

As noted, I do not want to debate matters not involved in the piece (e.g., questions of doctrine), but I replied to mix in something about religious liberty & diversity of faiths that need to be accommodated/taken into consideration that seems to (perhaps it is a stretch) touch upon the themes.

Kinsley's op-ed is not really the one that I would point to, in part for the reasons provided. Sure, we should not let one thing dominate our feelings about someone (most of us can point to personal examples where that would not work), but specifically what he said was a problem. And, Kinsley in effect ridiculed the dean for saying it was "hurtful." It is VERY hurtful. It is a demeaning trope that classifies homosexuals with NAMBLA. That's not polite conversation, akin to calling a woman a "b." See, I don't want to write it. But, things like that are still said. It's wrong. That's one reason the op-ed was wrong.

John Corvino gave another example in his latest book & it is as David said not a matter of simply disagreeing with SSM or the like. Those with conservative views, especially role models of the sort here (as he is given his general background), surely should be among speakers at colleges. Just as liberals and other sorts of 'isms should. But, there is a matter of respect and taste here. I see signs of people crossing the line on all sides, such as those who don't just disagree but demean believers of various faiths.

Posted by: Joe | May 19, 2013 9:11:36 PM

I was away over the weekend and did not see this post until this morning. The Kinsley piece is interesting, and many of his comments relevant. However, I recall similar comments about “going too far” in the past regarding the Civil Rights movement and feminism. Over-reaching and over-reading is a human trait.

Like Matt, I have to push back against the absurd notion that the idea of gay marriage was invented by Kinsley or Andrew Sullivan in 1989. I recall heated debates on campus about this in the mid-1980’s before I was married (in 1987).

Otherwise, I don’t see much I can add to the conversation.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | May 20, 2013 10:21:42 AM

"Being against marriage equality doesn't make you a monster". The reason that there was no history of opposition against same-sex marriage is because reasonable people recognized the self-evident truth, that Marriage, by its very essence, is restrictive to begin with, as not every couple can exist in relationship as husband and wife.

Posted by: Nancy | May 20, 2013 10:56:47 AM

"The reason that there was no history of opposition against same-sex marriage"

There is such a history.

Posted by: Joe | May 20, 2013 11:55:44 AM

I’m not sure how long the history of opposition to same-sex marriage is; but the history of OPPRESSION of gay and lesbian persons is thousands of years long.

There is this: “One law in the C. Th. [Codex Theodisious] refers to same-sex marriage. It was issued in 342 [A.D.] by the emperors Constantius II and Constans, and imposed the death penalty in cases “when a man marries in the manner of a woman [in feminam]” (C. Th. 9.7.3).” Mathew Kuefler, Journal of Family History 2007 32: 343

So I guess opposition to same-sex marriage goes back at least 17 centuries. Seems pretty long to me.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | May 20, 2013 12:50:36 PM

Sean, it is scientifically impossible for a man to marry in the manner of a woman.

Posted by: Nancy | May 20, 2013 9:20:02 PM

Nancy, marriage is not a scientific concept. Science takes no position on the question.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | May 21, 2013 10:13:13 AM

"Sean, it is scientifically impossible for a man to marry in the manner of a woman."

I have explained in the past how it is quite possible.

John Corvino in his latest book, again supportive blurb from MOR own Robert George!, helps explain why. Check it out!

[What's Wrong with Homosexuality?]

Posted by: Joe | May 21, 2013 12:17:14 PM