Wednesday, September 16, 2015

You Can't Get Here From There.

Dear Larry,

I read your New Yorker piece, the one where you use Kim Davis, the Kentucky law-breaking County Clerk who has been jailed for defying court orders to follow the law and issue marriage licenses to women who marry women and men who marry men.  I've got to say you begin by making a big mistake in failing to identify the logical disconnect those championing her as a figure in religious liberty are making.  You say:

Davis’s supporters, including the Kentucky senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul, are protesting what they believe to be an affront to her religious freedom. It is “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberties,” Paul said, on CNN.

No.  There's a big problem with identifying what she's doing as a "religious liberty," it is no such thing.  Religious liberty is a personal right,  there is no personal right to be the county clerk or to hold any political office.  Holding a public office, through being elected to it or accepting appointment to it is an assumed responsibility, not a right.  That assumed responsibility, in every case I'm aware of, included the agreement to abide by the law as defined by statute and, overall, by the state and federal Constitutions.  So the refusal of someone holding that office to fulfill their obligations is not the exercise of a right, it is the refusal to do a job that they agreed to do.  If her moral convictions make that impossible for her, her right resides in her right to resign the office not in refusing to do her job.   Here's a clue, if a line of thought is being promoted by Rand Paul, you should be suspicious that there is some logical disconnect that invalidates it and those should be investigated before allowing their thinking to govern the course of any argument you are going to make.

It should be surprising that someone trained in scientific method, especially one who has used that rather specialized application of logic as successfully as you have,  should make such a blunder.  But the failure of science education, even at the highest levels, to train its students in a broader ranger of application of logic seems to result in scientists having a hard time applying logic outside of their narrow specialty in far too many cases, now a days.

Instead of doing that you immediately make an appeal to religious stereotyping by coming up with a hypothetical of a Muslim county clerk applying Middle Eastern mores and notions of moral requirements on women who apply for a marriage, clearly making a far-fetched appeal to prejudice as an illustration of the point you borrow from Rand Paul.   Your imaginary Muslim county clerk who refused to issue a license to a couple if the woman was unveiled wouldn't be exercising their religious liberty in doing so, they, like Kim Davis would be violating their official duties, agreed to by them, in violation of their oath of office, most likely, and by court order, almost certainly.  They wouldn't be exercising a personal liberty, as religious liberty is.

Any religious liberty opposing legal same-sex marriage consists of someone choosing not to enter into a same sex marriage and even, in their personal life, disapproving of it, it isn't in using a position in the government which doesn't belong to them to impede the rights of those who choose to exercise their legal rights to be married.

I know why you didn't point any of this out, it's because I don't really believe you are really interested in my right to marry another man, at least not in your article.  you're interested in using Kim Davis's last stand to serve your real purpose, to bash religion and to get yourself in the media, the New Yorker, servicing your religion-bashing fans, now that you've given up doing science and have opted for the golden-parachute that Richard Dawkins and so many other unofficially retired scientists have taken into celebrity atheism.

As a gay man who is far, far more interested in my personal rights to equality, to marry, to live a peaceful life without the burdens of discrimination than in your retirement career, I have had to point out to so, so many atheists like you that my rights to do that depend on the far more numerous religious folk who support equality and oppose legal and, now, illegal discrimination against LGBT folk.  Many of those religious folk are LGBT.   Our rights don't depend on the votes of atheists who comprise a tiny faction of the overall population and your faction of bigoted atheists is, I hope, a smaller fraction among atheists.   You guys couldn't muster enough votes to protect your own freedoms, which, in the United States, were secured by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, adopted by a Congress and signed into law by a president who were almost all either professed Christians or Jews.

You seem to think that all atheists are in favor of marriage and other aspects of equality for lesbians and gay men when a quick google search would reveal that there are atheist or, as they like to put it, misusing the word, "secular" opponents of equality.   If you look at their arguments against marriage equality, they are some mish-mosh of Darwinist assertion around reproduction which is not that far removed from right-wing Republican arguments against marriage equality.   There have been other supposedly science-based arguments against equality for gay folk, you should be almost old enough to recall that what was taken as science, psychology, psychiatry, it was the official position of the profession that being "homosexual" was a disorder and a disease, not a right which deserved equal protection of the law.  I don't recall physics or chemistry or biology or any other branch of science jumping in to defend us against the folk in those branches of what is taken to be science back then.

Your mistake in misidentifying a county clerks refusal to do her job with "imposing morality" is compounded by several other lapses in applied logic and an implication that science is the answer.  While it isn't the case, as I pointed out above, that "imposing morality" is the issue in this case, you seem to fail to notice that standing for equality before the law IS A MORAL POSITION, the arguments against discrimination ARE MORAL ARGUMENTS, even as wielded by you who don't seem to get that, we who are insisting on full equality for ourselves and for everyone ARE INSISTING ON IMPOSING "OUR MORALITY" ON OTHER PEOPLE.  It is done by using their agreement that equality before the law is right and just, it is the assertion that there is no compelling state interest or any legitimate social reason to impede the exercise of rights and it is an insistence that justice demands that even in private commerce there is no legal right to discriminate against those who do exercise their freedoms and who just want to live their lives as they see fit.

You can't do any of that with science, you can't do any of that with math, the entire effort to assert rights, to assert equality, to assert the demand of justice is, like it or not, based historically on science and in almost all cases was done through and by those religions which include those rights, equality and justice in their faith holdings.  They entered into the common habits of societies through religion, they are maintained and extended by the consent of those who hold themselves as being required to follow that understanding of morality, even when they don't choose that for themselves, even when they really, really don't like it and would rather discriminate against people and to do injustice.   That is simply the history of the assertion of equal rights and the literature asserting rights and equality under the law.  Those arguments were not scientific, they were not "secular" they were made, even by those God-phobic, slave holding aristocrats who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as endowments by God, there was no other basis in articulating them and there is no effective one today.

We now stand near full, legal equality for lesbians and gay men on the basis of the assertions of morality, not science.  We didn't get here from the amorality of science or a secularism divorced from the moral demand for equal justice founded in the Hebrew scriptures.  That's a fact of history.

If liberals had not widely given up that articulation of rights in the late 1960s, things would have been a lot different, now.  I fully believe that.  The major movement towards equality happened before that abandonment of the religious arguments for those things, we are still living off of that legacy in extending the legal protection of rights, the LGBT movement would never have happened without such individuals and groups as The Reverened Martin Luther King jr.,  Diane Nash,  the Black churches involved in the freedom struggle of the 1950s and 60s and for far longer than that.  It would not have happened without the struggles against slavery.   We are the beneficiaries of that legacy and we should never forget that it took religious assertions of justice to get us anywhere, even as other religious people opposed our efforts.  Atheists had little to do with it, "secular" arguments didn't get it done.  The opponents of legal equality use of the secular, dereligionized Constitution to argue against equality just as if not more effectively than they use a few passages of scriptures.

I, as a gay man, have to say that I'm not especially impressed by the straight folks' articulation of my right to my rights.  If you guys can't do better than to try to turn my rights into a tool of your ideological war against religion, you are doing pretty much the same thing that the Republican right has done with them, use our lives for your ends,  I would invite you to cut it out, now.

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