Same-sex marriage as trademark dilution?

I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now why so many people are against gay marriage but for civil union. I understand people who think homosexuality is a sin against God and I understand people who think it’s icky — I disagree with them, but at least they’re comprehensible. I also understand people who have no problem with homosexuality personally but are opposed to it because they want to win the next election (that, I suspect, covers both sides of the aisle). But there are a lot of people who seem to wish that gay couples could have the legal rights of marriage so long as it’s not called marriage.

My best theory is that somewhere in the nation’s subconscious, the phrase gay marriage is one giant trademark dilution. The fear is not that legalized same-sex marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, but rather that it legitimizes a different consensus meaning of the word itself. Let that take root and in a few years you’ll say your son just got married, only to be asked “Congratulations! Boy or girl?” (First they take the word queer, then they take the word marriage — next thing you know we’ll only be left with our prepositions!) That’s the only explanation I can think of for bringing charges against clergy for “solemnizing a marriage without a license“. It’s like Hormel trying to stop people from calling unsolicited email “spam,” because it destroys the sanctity of salted pork. (In fact, Hormel is pretty cool about the whole thing.)

If this feeling rings true in your heart, I have a suggestion. Quickly, while the language is still in flux, make a preemptive grab for the qualifier. The whole civil union vs. marriage argument is a dead-end, because the word marriage has been written into too many laws, regulations and court decisions. However, the race for the word civil marriage is just now being run, and could be just the compromise everyone is looking for. Definition-wise, civil marriage means a marriage in the eyes of the law, but it also specifically says nothing more. It’s like saying “my partner and I” when you don’t want to say the person’s gender or marital relationship. Get the phrase to be used for same-sex and otherwise new-fangled marriages and the current meaning of the word marriage won’t get diluted, same sex couples get their legal rights, and best of all it won’t affect anyone in the Bay Area one whit ’cause we’ve been using the word “partner” instead of spouse for years anyway. Everyone goes away happy, except the people I mentioned at the top that I don’t agree with anyway. What could be better?

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In defense of a traditional marriage

DocBug Exclusive: A message from Bug Anger

My fellow Americans,

In announcing his support for amending the US Constitution to ban gay marriage, President Bush declared that “The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution.”

His words may sound convincing, but do not be deceived by his half-truths. Yes, for almost two millennia marriage has been defined as one man and one woman. Or maybe it was a man and a couple of women if the first one is infertile. And there’s something about up to four wives but only if you can afford it… but I digress. Yes my friends, the important bit is the man/woman thing, and we can be confident on that point. But there is another aspect of marriage, equally founded in our traditions, that our president has conveniently left out. It shocks me that this fundamental part of our tradition, honed through millennia of human experience to promote the welfare of children and the stability of society, could warrant no mention from our Head of State.

As anyone born between 300 A.D. and 1960 could tell you, marriage is the union between one man and one woman of the same religious background and cultural values. The reason for this tradition is obvious and scientifically proven: children need the stability of one religious upbringing, one morality, and one set of holidays. Thousands of years of experience has shown that so-called “multicultural” households lead to confusion, experimentalism, and a Creole of ideas that rips at the basic fabric of our society. Is it any wonder that almost all modern religions have strong taboos against marrying outside of the faith?

Over the past two centuries, activist judges have chipped away at this ancient institution, leading to such modern vulgarities as Daddy’s Catholic Roommate, Guess Who’s Coming to Seder, and Heather Has Two Languages. Now the gates of opportunity have been opened by the magical words “Constitutional amendment,” but we must act quickly, while we still have a president who feels that America’s “commitment of freedom… does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions.” It is a rare president that would place our cause above the twin institutions of freedom and tolerance, and rarer still that such a president remains in office for long.

— Bug Anger

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Chicken Little vs. The Ostrich

The British newspaper The Observer yesterday published a story entitled “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us.” It’s the sort of sensationalism you’d expect from the title, full of conspiracies and secret reports and the end of the world by 2020. Unfortunately, their story seems to be getting more coverage than the more complete story that came out in Fortune Magazine after the Pentagon supplied them with a copy of the unclassified “secret report” that The Observer gushes about.

At least in the US, the Global Climate change debate is too often framed by Chicken Littles like The Observer and ostriches like our own president. The reality is that there is a growing consensus among scientists that global warming is real, is largely attributable to human activities, and will continue over the next century. However, there are also a lot of unknowns, and the “Abrupt Climate Change” scenario described in the cited report is one that has been highlighted in recent years by the US National Academy of Sciences and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

We don’t know how likely an abrupt climate change is, but the Pentagon report describes its own worst-case scenario as unlikely. Chicken Littles can come out of their fallout shelters and wipe off the 10,000 SPF sunscreen. However, our nation’s leaders need to stop sticking their heads in the sand about these potential dangers. A footlocker-sized nuke going off in New York is unlikely, but it’s a big concern in Washington and rightly so. A repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic in the next few years is also unlikely, but boy am I glad the CDC is on the case. Homeland security is all about evaluating threats and doing what’s necessary to limit our risk. That’s a lesson every large company knows, and a lesson the Pentagon has always taken to heart. Now if we could just get our president to wise up.


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Now it gets interesting…

There’s been lots of talk about Howard Dean’s use of the Internet, but honestly his campaign is just now entering the phase that interests me the most. As expected, Dean has stopped actively campaigning, though he still encourages supporters to vote for him and send delegates to the convention to help set the party’s platform. More importantly, he hopes to turn his loose-knit community of supporters into a grassroots movement:

[W]e will convert Dean for America into a new grassroots organization, and I hope you stay involved. We are determined to keep this entire organization vibrant. There are a lot of ways to make change. We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again.

MoveOn.org started five years ago as an online petition against President Clinton’s impeachment and now has over two million members. Dean already boasts over a quarter of that number (no doubt with significant overlap), but Deaniacs are even more self-empowered and decentralized than MoveOn members. That makes it a harder ship to steer, and Dean now needs to shift from head of a campaign to first motivating voice in a community of equals. If he can manage that (starting, perhaps, by rejoining with his old campaign manager Joe Trippi) then the movement might yet demonstrate the Internet-age decentralized politics that we breathless techno-pundits continue to predict.

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Dogs and cats living together

From the SF Chronicle:

And no question became so clear, so obvious, as the one being asked by same-sex-marriage advocates around the world: What, really, is so wrong about this? What is the horrible threat about two adults who love each other so intensely, so purely, that they’re willing to commit to a lifetime of being together and sleeping together and arguing over who controls the remote? And what government body dares to claim a right to legislate against it?

In short, to the neocon Right, a nation that allows gays to marry is a nation with no boundaries and no condoms and where all sorts of illicit disgusting behaviors will soon be legal and be forced upon them, a horrific tribal wasteland full of leeches and flying bugs and scary sex acts they only read about in chat rooms and their beloved “Left Behind” series of cute apocalypse-porn books.

You know, just like how giving blacks the right to own their own land meant we had to give the same rights to house plants and power tools, or how granting women the right to vote meant it was a slippery slope until we gave suffrage to feral cats and sea slugs and rusty hubcaps.

Just as there are two kinds of marriage, religious and civil, there seem to be two kinds of fears out there. The societal fear is of moral decay — if we teach our children that homosexuality is OK then they’ll think rape, torture and masturbation is OK too. Leaving aside the lack of evidence for any such link, this kind of moral debate belongs in our churches and social centers, not our courts and congress. Then there’s the legal slippery slope fear — if the courts protect gay marriage then they might protect things like polygamy. I’m no constitutional lawyer, but that one strikes me as a poor reading what’s happening. The state cases that have been coming forward have not been ruling that homosexuality is OK, nor that homosexuals are a protected class. What they have been ruling is that if I, as a man, have the government-granted right to marry Jane in a civil marriage then so does Susan. That’s what equal protection means. This argument doesn’t apply to polygamy: I don’t have the right to marry two people, and neither does Susan. Ditto for bestiality and anything else that keeps you awake at night.

As for the SF Gate article, I have to admit I’m pretty proud to be living within the Greater San Francisco Liberal Bubble myself right now…

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Historian Offers New Insights

Docbug Exclusive — Noted military historian and strategist Ann “kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” Coulter will be following up on the success of her analysis of Silver Star recipient and triple-amputee Max Cleland with biographies of other war heros, unnamed sources revealed1.

Coulter, who last week presented her expert testimony that the decorated Vietnam veteran deserved no respect for his service because he lost his limbs “in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends,” will soon reveal her insights on other honored veterans, including The Cowardliness of Douglas MacArthur, Congressional Medal of Honor Winners: Traitors in Our Midst, and John Wayne: Pansy.

1 Hey, if Drudge can use them, why can’t I?

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Outside agitators (not) in MA

From a friend of mine living in Massachusetts:

I have gotten yet MORE calls today from out-of-state relatives who are members of conservative groups (seems to be mostly evangelical Christian groups) urging me to call and voice support for the constitutional ban on gay marriage later today/tomorrow.

ALL of them told me they had already called MA state house members to urge them to vote for the ban — before they called me!

BUT THE KICKER – at least one (and I suspect from context of our conversation, another as well) of my benighted relatives admitted that they had disengenously represented themselves as MASS RESIDENTS!


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Mental illness in politics

No, I’m not talking about the presidential election…

Last week the California State Assembly discussed a new law (AB 1424) that would prohibit the state from putting a child in foster care solely for refusing to administer medication for a psychiatric disorder, or for refusing to allow the child to be tested for a psychiatric condition. An analysis of the bill can be found here.

According to a press release by the bill’s author, Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, the bill would protect children from “forced medication with dangerous psychiatric drugs.” He quotes Dr. Fred Baughman, a “pediatric neurologist,” as claiming mental disorders don’t exist, and quotes Cassandra Auerbach of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights as warning that psychiatrists are on the payroll of big drug companies and are covering up suicide statistics and other dangers of these drugs. The release doesn’t quite come out and say that psychiatrists are stealing your babies and stewing them for dinner, but it comes close.

I doubt this bill will ever make it out of committee, and that’s probably a good thing. In general I give deference to the parents when it comes to raising their own children, but two things set off alarm bells for me in this bill. First, I don’t like the way it treats mental illnesses as fundamentally different than physical illnesses. If the state should intervene when a parent refuses to administer life-saving medicine to treat a virus, it should also intervene when a child is chronically suicidal or homicidal. Second, I’m extremely sceptical of the two “experts” cited in the propaganda for this bill. Dr. Baughman seems to be of the opinion that mental illnesses don’t exist because we don’t yet know the direct causal links between brain chemistry and most illnesses. Even ignoring the fact that this lack of knowledge is true of many physical illnesses as well, the idea that mental illness is not associated with brain and body chemistry is ludicrous on its face: if suicidal thoughts and other dangerous behavior were not related to chemistry then psychoactive drugs could not have the effects they have. While they are not unbiased in this debate, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) testified in a letter to Congress that Dr. Baughman “represent[s] fringe opinions” about psychiatry. As for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, this righteously-named group was founded by the Church of Scientology with a charter to attack psychiatrists and the psychiatric profession. For those who don’t know their history, Scientology is a cult that considers the field of medicine, and particularly psychiatry, as evil incarnate. I recommend Garry Armstrong’s site for a good explanation of why. I don’t whether CCHR is behind this bill or just supporting it, but their association with it in any form makes me worried.

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