Pro-Life and Pro-Family

Inspired by an interview on a recent episode of Freethought Radio, I want to talk about a term that greatly annoys me: “values voters“. This term is used by American religious conservatives to describe themselves, and all too often, we see the media playing along and using it to describe this voting bloc as well.

“Values voters” is widely understood to refer to the heavily religious Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, who reliably vote Republican. This group generally supports the war in Iraq, opposes social welfare programs, advocates government support of religion and abstinence-only education in public schools, and favors outlawing abortion, gay adoption, and gay marriage. It’s a term invented by conservative religious strategists to frame the issue in a way favorable to their side, similar to the way Republican politicians speak of the “death tax” rather than the “estate tax” (the latter term is far more accurate, since this is not a tax levied on all people at death, but only on multimillion-dollar estates).

I find this term to be incredibly arrogant, insofar as it implies that the religious right is the only group that has values which guide its decisions in the voting booth. This is not just false, it’s absurd. Does the religious right have a monopoly on “values”? Of course not. Every political faction has a set of values which guide its decisions and policy stances. I value equality under the law for all people, sustainable use of the environment, showing compassion for the needy, defending science and reason, and keeping church and state separate. I choose candidates to vote for based on these values. Why am I not a “values voter”?

Even more common among religious conservatives, and even more arrogant and offensive, are the terms “pro-life” and “pro-family”. These terms signify opposition to legal abortion and opposition to gay marriage, respectively. But here, too, the religious right has taken positive terms of general applicability and tried to claim exclusive ownership of them by associating them solely with their political positions.

Of course, the progressive side does this too, such as with “pro-choice”. Arguably, however, in this case the term is more accurate, because it does delineate a clear difference between the two sides. When it comes to abortion, some people are pro-choice; they believe that whether to have an abortion or not should be the choice of the woman. Other people are not pro-choice; they believe that the woman should not be permitted to choose.

When it comes to “pro-life”, however, the distinction is less clear. Obviously, we who support abortion rights are not opposed to life. Life is a wonderful thing! When a child is wanted, and the parents are capable and prepared, a birth is a joyous event that brings love and hope into a household. No one is disagreeing with that point. The only point of difference is whether a woman who sought to avoid pregnancy, but became pregnant anyway through accident or rape, should be forced to carry that pregnancy to term against her will. It’s in that sad circumstance that we believe the bodily autonomy of the woman must be the overriding concern. Some countries, such as El Salvador, ban abortion even if the fetus has no chance of survival and the mother’s life is gravely endangered by continued pregnancy (such as in an ectopic pregnancy). In that horrible scenario, we might wonder, who is really “pro-life”?

An even worse term is “pro-family”. This term is a total inversion of the truth. When it comes to gay marriage and adoption, the people who usually style themselves “pro-family” are actually enemies of these families and are working their hardest to discriminate against them, outlaw them and tear them apart.

Consider the many U.S. states that have unconditionally banned gay people from acting as foster parents or adoptive parents, regardless of their qualifications or their ability to provide a stable, loving home environment. Evidently these anti-family crusaders would rather children have no home at all than that they have a home with a gay parent. Some religious conservatives, even more flagrant in their hateful prejudice, have proposed laws that would prevent gay people even from adopting children that were related to them. In one instance, the religious right proposed a law that would break up preexisting adoptions by gay parents that were performed legally in another state if the parents traveled through the state in question with their child.

The situation is the same with gay marriage. Members of the religious right want to deny gay people one of the most basic rights of all: the right of two people in love to have that relationship recognized and spend their lives together, with the same benefits we grant to heterosexual couples. The many state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage are bad enough, but this trend of bigotry goes beyond that. In many states, the religious right has worked to pass laws that forbid even private employers from offering domestic partner benefits to gay couples. It is truly evil for them to attempt to force all members of society to perpetuate their loathsome bigotry, even those who otherwise would not.

It’s a vile lie for people who support such policies as this to call themselves “pro-family”. The real pro-family groups are those who support all families, even those that do not fit the traditional model. People who try to wield the power of the state to break up and discriminate against certain kinds of families have no right to make such a claim.

As for me, I am both pro-life and pro-family. I think both life and families are good things that society should commit to supporting and encouraging. What I do not believe is that I have a license to force others to conform to my opinions or take away their autonomy so they don’t do anything I disapprove of. This dictatorial attitude, more than anything else, is what guides the religious right, and the terms we use to describe them should reflect that truth.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • velkyn

    I am always suprised that anyone can actually believe anything coming from a person who calls themselves a “Christian”. This religion seems built on lies and Orwellian attempts to change the meanings of words. They are “pro-life” until the baby clears the vaginal opening. They are “pro-family” only if it meets their narrow ignorant defintion. They are “good” only if a person thinks that intolerance, genocidal tendencies, and willful ignorance are good.

  • Robert

    What do you expect from a religion which calls its genocidal god “omni-benevolent”? Want to know where they really stand? Simply take the opposite of whatever term they’ve applied to themselves.

    But yes, this is not endemic to the religious right. “Progressive” is another term that falls in the same category.

  • Ric

    You’re dead on, as usual.

  • James Bradbury

    It’s sad, but that’s marketing and politics. They were never going to call themselves “Pro-Hate” or “Pro-3rd-Party-Womb-Control”.

    Pro-choice is a good response to this. Pro-Inclusion?

    The use of the term “Family” is an example of High Redefinition.

  • James Bradbury

    …or simply Pro-Human?

    I am reminded of the story of a severely disabled man (with MS?) who had stated publicly that he hoped to benefit from research being carried out on animals. After receiving numerous hate-filled letters and death threats from “Animal-lovers” he felt “Human-haters” was a more fitting collective title for them.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    The political right has monopolized our public language over the past several decades. They’ve tainted the word “liberal” so badly that liberals now refer to themselves as progressives. In essence, the liberals (okay, progressives – sheesh!) have surrendered even the right of naming themselves to the conservatives. Are you kidding me?!? Who surrenders the right to name and define themselves to their opponents?

    We who are in the center and on the left need to reclaim our political and social language and stop allowing the right to define and monopolize the terminology. The rightist extremists are winning the war of words, which is pathetic because – as you pointed out so eloquently with the examples in your post – they have corrupted perfectly good terms, stripped them bare and distorted their meanings into something ugly. I am both pro-life and pro-choice and I resent the suggestion that one must be one or the other. I support families and I support gay rights and I resent the insinuation that I cannot do both. I don’t believe that all conservatives are as narrow-minded and vicious as their most outspoken mouthpieces. I hope that the right fractures soon and the sensible conservatives release themselves from the stranglehold that the extremists have on them. Maybe, in the process, we can all reclaim our language too.

  • Alan

    I deconverted from Xianity about a year ago and have become a “Progressive” on many topics, but the one thing that I just can’t come around on is the abortion issue. First I should clarify that I do not think any person has a right to tell a woman what to do with her body.

    I grew up in a Catholic family, and I gained the impression that the evil “Liberals” had no respect for life, and those that had abortions thought that it was no big deal, like it was something trivial. As an atheist, I value my life and my time here on Earth even more than I did when I was a Catholic, so the manner in which some defend abortion rights still bothers me.

    I understand why abortion must be defended, and why it cannot get into the hands of the religious. But it often seems as those who defend it can be so cold and uncaring about the life of that one fetus, and this is what the Conservatives feed off of.

    I think we need a different kind of dialog. I think pro-choicers need to do a better job in relaying the message that, of course nobody wants to have an abortion, nobody wants to get pregnant just for the thrill of having an abortion, but we must preserve the right to do so for those who need them.

    In addition, we need to have better safe-sex education for our teens. Obviously this is a whole different discussion, but I think that if these 2 concepts become commonplace, we can significantly reduce the number of abortions in this country.

  • hb531

    The religious right proclaims to be pro-love, just look at the emphasis on love in their marketing efforts. Yet they invalidate love between individuals based on mere physical properties. One must love “a certain way” and no other way.

    I know a couple in New Jersey that has adopted 3 boys who would otherwise be wards of the state. They live in a nice house and have food on the table and loving parents. Both parents happen to be male. Is it moral to remove the children from this environment? Is the children’s love of their adopted parents invalid too?

    We are fortunate that the various religious factions can’t agree on many things, otherwise they would be an overwhelming majority which would impose their mystical rules on society.

  • Dave

    Let’s not forget that many (most) Protestant “pro-lifers” are also pro-capital-punishment. Culture of life my hindquarters.

  • stillwaters

    the chaplain:

    “We who are in the center and on the left need to reclaim our political and social language and stop allowing the right to define and monopolize the terminology.”

    Perhaps we should stop calling them ‘conservatives’ and name them what they truly are: AUTHORITARIANS. When we speak of conservatives, it should equate to speaking of authoritarians.

    Interestingly, when I look up the word, authoritarian, on an online thesaurus, the antonym is LIBERAL.

  • Alex Weaver

    Alan:

    I think your position is more or less the majority among the pro-choice. In fact, I’m not aware of anyone who thinks abortion is trivial; this is a lie fabricated out of whole cloth by the wingnuts.

  • http://www.anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    My position on abortion is this, that for women or teenage girls who are pregnant and are not in a position to raise a child or carry a pregnancy to term, it is the best of a limited choice of bad options. It’s terrible that something that should be a private matter between a woman and her physician is a political football.

  • Simeon Kee

    “Consider the many U.S. states that have unconditionally banned gay people from acting as foster parents or adoptive parents, regardless of their qualifications or their ability to provide a stable, loving home environment. Evidently these anti-family crusaders would rather children have no home at all than that they have a home with a gay parent.”

    This is just another instance of how ignorant of science the “moral crusaders” are. The whole reasoning behind this is they don’t want children to “turn out gay” because they were “raised that way.” That is the defunct “blank slate” view of human nature and quite false.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    I am anti-abortion, while at the same time, I’m pro-choice. In the optimal world, one where major corporations don’t sell their products by titillating our youth, where mass media doesn’t emphasize the sexuality of girls, while de-emphasizing their humanity, where religion doesn’t resist the flow of information concerning contraception and sex, and where unwanted children are given good homes, regardless of their health, race or other non-desirable qualities, then, and only then, there will be few if any unwanted pregnancies, and the ones that do happen won’t end in despair. When that happens, it won’t matter what I think, or what my position is. Right now, I find abortions distasteful, but a necessary evil in the world I described above, so I am pro-choice.

    As for the labeling, we should simply call them the “misplaced values voters”.

  • Tomas S

    Alan,

    I’m with you. I’m not comfortable with the idea that pro-choice should be connected with atheistic beliefs, or (the less strongly implied notion) that atheists should support gay marriage.

    I also don’t know why we’re letting self-serving terms like pro-life, pro-value, or pro-family get to us. How many atheists would gladly identify as “brights” (as opposed to what, dims?)?

    For fun, tell a mixed bunch of people (like your co-workers) that you believe that Gays should be allowed to adopt, but discouraged from intentionally conceiving, since gay parents are better than no parents, but straight parents are better still. You’ll get attacked by both sides.

  • Entomologista

    I’m not comfortable with the idea that pro-choice should be connected with atheistic beliefs, or (the less strongly implied notion) that atheists should support gay marriage.

    Huh? What reason could atheists possibly have to deny homosexuals the right to marry? Unless you mean that because these positions are linked to atheism/secularism that the liberal theists get scared off.

    Instead of “values voters” we should refer to them as the bigot vote.

  • OMGF

    Technically speaking, atheism has nothing to do with gay rights. Most atheists support gay rights because they are moral people that not only can empathize with being a minority position, but recognize an equal rights issue when it happens and don’t have a god telling them to be bigoted. This is, sadly, not the case for all atheists, as a thread from a couple of months ago right here evidences.

  • Tomas S

    Entomologista,

    I personally find it unfortunate that all Atheists don’t want to speak Esperanto. What we personally find unfortunate is not the point. My concern is not for “liberal theists”, but rather that the only thing you can say for sure about atheists is that they don’t believe in God. Whatever my thoughts on abortion, gay marriage, the war in Iraq, and the benefits of Rainex may be, as an atheist, I do not assume that they are necessarily shared by other atheists.

  • Alex Weaver

    The only arguments that are ever cited in support of opposition to gay relationships and legal abortions are, regardless of how much window-dressing is applied, either religious or pharyngeal in nature.

    Since atheists by definition do not believe in divine prohibitions, due to not believing in a divinity, and (as adherents of a socially unpopular position) are unlikely to find personal distaste a convincing argument against something, an atheist who is not in favor of both positions is a bizarre anomaly.

  • talamini714

    I see this:

    What I do not believe is that I have a license to force others to conform to my opinions or take away their autonomy so they don’t do anything I disapprove of.

    Which I find to be extremely unlikely. Only the most hard-line anarchists take that position. I’m sure you believe that you have a license to take away the autonomy of others so that they don’t commit, for instance, rape, which I’m sure you disapprove of.

    I believe that I have such a license, and I believe that you believe that you have such a license. We disagree about abortion – I think it’s murder, you think it’s not – But I’m sure we agree that the autonomy of a murderer or a rapist or a pedophile should be taken away so they don’t do anything we disaprove of.

    And I think this makes both of us Authoritarians – You just want to exercise governmental authority in a different way than I do. Right?

  • James Bradbury

    Consider the many U.S. states that have unconditionally banned gay people from acting as foster parents or adoptive parents, regardless of their qualifications or their ability to provide a stable, loving home environment.

    Intuitively (meaning I’m guessing), I suspect that gay parents might on average be better than straight parents. Gay people can’t accidentally have children, whereas straight people can become parents without intending to. Actually wanting children enough to go to the effort of adopting or even making a concious decision to have them would seem to be a good to be a good indication that they were going to be loving parents.

    I know gay people who consider not having children or being expected to get married as a positive advantage of their sexuality.

  • Tomas S

    Alex: an atheist who is not in favor of both positions is a bizarre anomaly.

    You are welcome to believe this. I do not.

    Before I get into any my own stand on any particular issue, I think we need to establish whether it’s okay for atheists to disagree on specific issues and still be atheists.

    Before discussing the pros or cons of gay marriage, I think we need to establish the pros and cons of hetero marriage. Why do athists want their government to support this traditionally religious institution? Perhaps that’s a topic for another day in another thread.

  • konrad_arflane

    Before discussing the pros or cons of gay marriage, I think we need to establish the pros and cons of hetero marriage. Why do athists want their government to support this traditionally religious institution? Perhaps that’s a topic for another day in another thread.

    Marriage may be a “traditionally religious institution”, but that’s only because religion generally isn’t going to let something as central to people’s lives as partnership arrangement fall outside its sphere of influence. It doesn’t follow that marriage is an intrinsically religious institution (and IMHO, it isn’t).

  • OMGF

    I should add to konrad’s comment that “marriage” brings with it many secular benefits for the couple involved. I’m fine with the state instituting civil unions for all, with churches making “marriages”, but until the state recognizes that distinction, then I will advocate that gays have the right to marry just as much as atheists and hetero Xians do.

    talamini,
    The distinction that should be made is that in the case of rape, the perpetrator is denying the rights and doing harm to the victim. Knowing the Ebon is a secular humanist from previous posts, I think it’s pretty safe to say that he does not view this as taking away one’s autonomy (translated as “rights”) since people don’t have the right to commit rape. Allowing others to have their rights safe from violation does not make one an authoritarian.

  • E-A-D-G

    “…the Church’s position on abortion takes no more notice of the details of biology than it does the reality of human suffering. It has been estimated that 50 percent of all human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion, usually without the woman even realizing she was pregnant. In fact, 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all”

    Sam Harris

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    And I think this makes both of us Authoritarians – You just want to exercise governmental authority in a different way than I do. Right?

    You’ve profoundly misread my position, talamini. Of course I believe that the state has a license to prevent people from causing harm to each other; I’ve said so many times. What religious conservatives support, and what I was disclaiming in that sentence, was a different position: the position that, even if a person’s action causes no harm to anyone, we still have the right to ban it if we find it disgusting or distasteful or if it does not fit our private opinions of how life should best be led. Opposition to gay marriage generally falls into this category, as do many other religious right-supported policies I could name.

    As an analogy, I’m an atheist; I think that Christianity is a false belief system and that no one should be a Christian. That’s my opinion which I will advocate. But I don’t have any desire to write that opinion into the laws of the land and try to force everyone to conform to it. That would be a horrific violation of basic human rights. I think people should be left alone to make their own private choices, even if I disagree with those choices. Evidently, not all religious people share that view.

    Tomas: I think it’s a defensible position that the state should withdraw entirely from the business of defining what is or is not “marriage”, and leave that decision up to private parties who wish to enter into a domestic partnership. What I hope we can agree on is that the state has no business whatsoever making discriminatory decisions about what constitutes marriage and selectively granting benefits to some consenting couples while denying them to others.

  • Pi Guy

    “It doesn’t follow that marriage is an intrinsically religious institution…”

    You’re right. It’s not. I think I’ve shared this story here before…

    I was the best man in a wedding in PA about 10 years ago. The groom’s parents were a former priest and nun and the family wanted an old family friend, Fr. Tom, to perform the ceremony. However, Fr. Tom’s parish was in NY and, as such, he didn’t have legal standing to legally marry Mike and Jackie in PA.

    We got around this by having Fr. Tom preside at the ceremony and then going into the dining room (the wedding was held outside at his mom’s house) where the local Justice of the Peace, another family friend, had signed the paperwork. Only then were they married. As far as the state of PA was concerned, there was no need for any third party (the church) in order that two people be married. In other words, marriage is not religious at all but, rather, it is a legal construct. Period.

    We disagree about abortion – I think it’s murder, you think it’s not…

    While I doubt anyone is really pro-abortion, I ask you to consider this, talamini714: Is an egg a chicken? Is an acorn an oak? It’s not at all clear when a little lump of cells actually becomes a human. You can hold an opinion on this but you must also see why it’s easily argued against as well. And not lightly, mind you.

    You’re arguing that abortion is murder and, therefore, we already have laws against such behavior, as Ebon notes above. You might want to consider, using such an extrapolation to make your point, whether a parent spanking their child should be illegal. After all – there are already laws protecting people from be struck by another person. So, I ask you, is spanking the same as assault and battery?

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    the way Republican politicians speak of the “death tax” rather than the “estate tax” (the latter term is far more accurate, since this is not a tax levied on all people at death, but only on multimillion-dollar estates).

    Of all the taxes, the estate tax is the most onerous. First, the money being taxed has already had taxes paid on it! A person spends a lifetime working hard and sacrificing to accumulate wealth, paying taxes all the while. Then when it comes time to pass it on to their kids, the government has its hand out again. This is shameful. I don’t care what the rationale is. It would be better to raise overall tax rates than to have this heinous thievery at a person’s death.

    You are incorrect about it only affecting the wealthy. The estate tax kicks in at $600,000. These days, that amount hits almost everyone–from the homeowner to the small-business owner. Without estate planning, almost no one would be able to pass along their business to their kids. When a business-owning parent dies without an estate plan, the kids are almost always forced to sell the business to pay the taxes. If it’s not a saleable business, they can be forced into a Hobson’s choice to either take out huge loans to pay the estate tax or close the business.

    Ebonmuse, I’m with you on almost everything except this blasted tax issue. How do you justify such injustice in the name of equality?

  • Doug Indeap

    “Dogma voters” is the more fitting label. “Values voters” is a label invented by people who like to think of themselves as championing good human values. What many of them are pushing actually is dogma.”Values” are “the principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations.” Cambridge Dictionary of American English. “Dogma” is “a fixed, esp. religious, belief or set of beliefs that people are expected to accept without any doubts.” Id. The two, we can only hope, overlap to some extent, but they are hardly the same. Some of what religious fundamentalists hold up as values others find plainly wrongheaded and even immoral.Labels count. Those pushing the “values voters” label hope it will help them pass off their dogma as values. If they want to push their dogma, that’s their right. But “dogma voters” they are, and that’s what I’ll call them.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I don’t know where you got the $600,000 figure from, BlackSun. It’s my understanding that the estate tax currently only applies to estates of $2 million or more, and that amount is set to increase to $3.5 million in 2009. Also, that lower limit doubles if you’re married. According to an article from the Christian Science Monitor, as of 2006 only 0.27% of American estates face this tax. I don’t think our small businesses need to worry too much.

    As to why I support it, I’ll let Warren Buffett speak for me:

    Mr. Buffett said repealing the estate tax “would be a terrible mistake,” the equivalent of “choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics.” …

    “You have mobility so people with talents can be put to the best use. Without the estate tax, you in effect will have an aristocracy of wealth, which means you pass down the ability to command the resources of the nation based on heredity rather than merit.” (source)

  • KShep

    Of all the taxes, the estate tax is the most onerous. First, the money being taxed has already had taxes paid on it! A person spends a lifetime working hard and sacrificing to accumulate wealth, paying taxes all the while. Then when it comes time to pass it on to their kids, the government has its hand out again. This is shameful.

    This is a favorite Republican argument—The estate tax equals DOUBLE taxing. Wrong. When someone inherits an estate, from anyone, that is income. The estate tax is a tax on the INHERITOR, not the deceased. Should we really allow such large chunks of wealth to be handed over to someone who hasn’t earned a dime of it, tax free? And yes, it’s only applicable on estates valued greater than $2 million as of now. There hasn’t been a single documented case of a family farm being lost to the estate tax, despite the rhetoric of some in Washington.

    A similar argument could be made that income taxes are double taxes, since that money paid to employees has already been taxed. But you won’t hear any Republicans trying to end that, will you?

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Ebonmuse,

    The rate was $675,000 in 2001, and has been jacked up since then to $2 or $3 million, but that sunsets in 2011 back to $1 million. Which, adjusted for inflation is not much different than it was in 2001. All this messing around with the rates further confuses the estate planning issue. It’s a nightmare.

    Two counter arguments that I have:

    1) The number of people affected by a tax is immaterial. It has to be morally defensible on its own. The original income tax established in the early 20th century only applied to the rich. Now it applies to everyone. The AMT was enacted in the ’70s to close business loopholes for the wealthy–now it affects more than a third of taxpayers, and will require tricky legislation to repeal. So an immoral estate tax is still immoral even if it only affects a small number of people. I would personally pay an increased tax to offset this onerous and immoral coda to our financial existence. It’s the principle of the thing.

    2) It is easy for Warren Buffet to wax philosophical about other people’s money. But the small number of households affected by the estate tax underscores the fact that there is NOT an “aristocracy” in this country remotely like it used to be. Quite simply, an inheritance is a legacy passed down from one generation to another, much like favorable genes. It is the right of every parent to make this decision on their own. Or you can be like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates and give the money to charity. But the government should not make that decision for you.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    KShep,

    A similar argument could be made that income taxes are double taxes, since that money paid to employees has already been taxed.

    That is simply wrong. Employees salaries are deductible against corporate taxes. So that is not double taxation. The estate tax is.

    Even though it is on the INHERITOR, as you say, it is still money that has already been taxed. No way around it. It is putting the government between parent and child.

  • KShep

    Alan:

    I understand why abortion must be defended, and why it cannot get into the hands of the religious. But it often seems as those who defend it can be so cold and uncaring about the life of that one fetus, and this is what the Conservatives feed off of.

    Make no mistake, the decision to have an abortion is an enormous one and is rarely, if ever, taken lightly. In my life I’ve known four women who have had abortions. I can say with absolute certainty that in each case, the decision was long, hard, and painful, and that the “cold and uncaring” depiction is a fantasy created by opponents of abortion to appeal to the emotions of others and get them to join their crusade.

    It is effective, too. I’ve witnessed in person a blockade at a Planned Parenthood clinic—lots of people worked into an emotional frenzy, praying loudly, chanting slogans, trying to keep people out of the clinic without knowing that the leaders of their operation had phoned the clinic months in advance to “warn” them of the event. There wasn’t any abortions scheduled that day; the clinic only did them 2 days a week and this wasn’t one of them. The whole thing was nothing more than a publicity stunt carefully constructed for maximum airtime on the local news. Something for the conservatives to feed off, as you said.

    I came away from that experience with a more acute sense of irony than I had before. Here was a group of religious nuts trying to stop abortion by attempting to close a clinic that prevents many more abortions than it performs, by providing low or no-cost contraceptives to those who need them, thereby preventing the unwanted pregnancy and possible abortion in the first place.

    But the religious nuts don’t want people using contraceptives, either.

  • KShep

    Black sun:

    Even though it is on the INHERITOR, as you say, it is still money that has already been taxed. No way around it. It is putting the government between parent and child.

    Sorry, but that is hardly convincing. Putting the government between parent and child? Come on now—the inheritor didn’t earn that money. It’s still income, just like any other income and in the case of large estates, there’s nothing wrong with taxing it.

    I’m not a socialist by any means, but I have no problem with obscenely wealthy people having to pay a larger share of taxes than the lower classes. Especially the ones that didn’t earn some of their wealth.

  • KShep

    Okay—I looked it up:

    http://www.cbpp.org/estatetaxmyths.pdf

    Of particular interest: myth #7.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    But the small number of households affected by the estate tax underscores the fact that there is NOT an “aristocracy” in this country remotely like it used to be.

    I don’t see how this follows at all. The fundamental injustice which Buffett and others have referred to, and which the estate tax is meant to mitigate, is that a very small percentage of the population commands an enormous percentage of the nation’s wealth. The fact that it’s a small number of people who hold so much wealth doesn’t mitigate the problem. If anything, in my mind, it exacerbates it.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    KShep,

    If there are unrealized gains, then I have no problem with taxing them. Especially if the inheritance is going to a non-family member.

    But here’s the counterargument: A family has a business that it is not planning on selling, but passing from one generation to another. The parent suddenly dies, which according to that logic is equivalent to a “sale.” But in reality, it’s not a sale, because it’s being kept in the family. Nevertheless, estate taxes effectively trigger the capital gains tax.

    Now the $3.5 million exemption helps, I grant you. But when it drops back down to $1 million, it will snare a lot of families in the net.

    I don’t consider money transferred from parent to child to be “income.” After all, it costs about $250,000-$500,000 to raise a child to age 18. That “income” is not taxable to the child. Why should this not continue to be treated as a family matter during probate?

    Ebonmuse,

    If it can be shown that the wealth of the richest 1% is “ill-gotten-gains” then I’m all for taking it away. To me it matters more how the wealth was made. If it was made sustainably, then I don’t see how society has the right to take it away just because the rich are richer than others. However, if they are involved in unsustainable industries that have allowed them to pillage the commons, then they should be taxed out the ying yang.

    This is where I think we should be focusing our energies: not so much toward achieving an equal society, but toward achieving a just society through the control of negative externalities. We will never have equality, but we can have higher living standards and a cleaner planet for everyone.

    You despise inequality, I despise unsustainability. I guess it’s really two ways of looking at the same problem: people not paying their fair share.

  • Tomas S

    konrad_arflane:

    Marriage may be a “traditionally religious institution”, but that’s only because religion generally isn’t going to let something as central to people’s lives as partnership arrangement fall outside its sphere of influence. It doesn’t follow that marriage is an intrinsically religious institution (and IMHO, it isn’t).

    When I called it a “traditionally religious institution”, I was trying to bait. I actually agree with you that it is not intrinsically religious. I’ll point out that my original question remains unanswered: Why do athists want their government to support this institution? Why does anybody want their government to support it?

    I don’t mean necessarily to suggest that I don’t want government to do this, but this is a key question, and one rarely asked when discussing gay marriage. To say that marriage has “secular benefits” or to point out that the secular authorities in some areas don’t recognize the authority of clergy not registered in that area doesn’t answer the question.

    Put another way, if the goal is equality, why not just do away with marriage alltogether? Again, I’m not suggesting necessarily that I want to see that, but this question needs to be answered before there can be an intellegent discussion on whether same-sex marriage should be supported.

    And like I said before, perhaps that’s a topic for another day in another thread.

    (I’m tempted to reply to some of the cliche’s about abortion, but I see the thread is already about to spiral out of control.)

  • Tomas S

    Oops, I missed a reply to my original question. Ebonmuse wrote:

    I think it’s a defensible position that the state should withdraw entirely from the business of defining what is or is not “marriage”, and leave that decision up to private parties who wish to enter into a domestic partnership. What I hope we can agree on is that the state has no business whatsoever making discriminatory decisions about what constitutes marriage and selectively granting benefits to some consenting couples while denying them to others.

    This comes close to addressing the “original question” I referenced in my last post — at least it acknowledges that the question exists. It looks like you’re simply chucking one term and replacing it with another. If we agree at this first step, we’re still left with the question of why we want the government to be in the domestic partner business.

    I do not agree with you here, on at least two points. First, I do not agree that a person’s position on gay marriage does not necessarily follow from religious belief (although they are often correlated.) I also do not take it as self-evident that current main-stream marriage policies are discriminatory in terms of sexual preference, since a gay man could marry if he wanted to. The problem is that he probably doens’t want to. If it’s discriminatory, it’s gender discrimination, since I, as a hetero man couldn’t marry another man even if I wanted to.

    What religious conservatives support, and what I was disclaiming in that sentence, was a different position: the position that, even if a person’s action causes no harm to anyone, we still have the right to ban it if we find it disgusting or distasteful or if it does not fit our private opinions of how life should best be led. Opposition to gay marriage generally falls into this category,

    I’m glad you said “generally.” I find nothing distasteful about a dad and his bachelor daughtor or son living together and taking care of each other through her youth and his old age, yet I would oppose any attempt to have their relationship recognized as “asexual marriage” with the same benefits as traditional marriage.

    Would you be willing to start an open thread on this topic?

  • Tomas S

    Double whoops: I tried to rephrase but edited only half the sentence and wound up with too many “nots”.

    I do not agree that a person’s position on gay marriage does not necessarily follow from religious belief.

    was supposed to be something like

    I do not accept that a person’s position on gay marriage necessarily follows from religious belief.)

    or

    a person’s position on gay marriage does not necessarily follow from religious belief

  • OMGF

    I also do not take it as self-evident that current main-stream marriage policies are discriminatory in terms of sexual preference, since a gay man could marry if he wanted to. The problem is that he probably doens’t want to. If it’s discriminatory, it’s gender discrimination, since I, as a hetero man couldn’t marry another man even if I wanted to.

    Ah, the old gay people can be straight if they want to argument. How distasteful. You wish to argue that gay men have the same right to marry women as straight men, yet you don’t find the banning of gay men with other gay men to be discriminatory? You are defining a certain subset of sexual actions to be acceptable and saying that all others are not and wish the state to support you. That is discriminatory, since you have yet to present a cogent argument as to why the state has a compelling reason to make this distinction.

  • Tomas S

    Ah, the old gay people can be straight if they want to argument

    I would like to clearly and plainly disavow that I said anything remotely like that. I think you and I are going to have to agree to disagree, since it seems that you routinely misunderstand what I am trying to say. If you insist on misrepresenting my words, why didn’t you take them to mean that I am saying that straight people can be gay if they want to?

    Again, however, I will point out that my purpose in this thread is not to convice anybody that my views are “tasteful”, but that it is possible for atheists to disagree about what tastefulness even is.

    You are defining a certain subset of sexual actions to be acceptable and saying that all others are not and wish the state to support you.

    I am not. I have said nothing in support of any kind of “blue laws” restricting sexual activity. What I have done is to ask people to think about (and answer) why we want our govenrment involved with marriage at all. One once this has been established does it make any sense to spend time discussing whether these reasons apply to any particular type of domestic partnership.

  • OMGF

    I would like to clearly and plainly disavow that I said anything remotely like that.

    Except that you said that gays do have the right to marry, so long as it’s in a hetero arrangement.

    I am not. I have said nothing in support of any kind of “blue laws” restricting sexual activity. What I have done is to ask people to think about (and answer) why we want our govenrment involved with marriage at all.

    Actually, you are, if you think that marriage should be supported for heteros but not for gays, although my comment doesn’t necessarily say anything about restricting the legality of sexual actions. Before you wish to condemn others of misrepresenting, you might want to realize that I could call you on the same thing right here, but I realize that even someone who has shown himself to be dishonest on another thread, might not be doing so here, so I’m not going to jump to that conclusion. It’s so much easier to just cry “unfair” instead of defending your position, isn’t it?

    Oh, and BTW, I did answer this question above, even though you claim that no one did in an earlier comment. To expand on that answer, we want the government involved because the government seems to have a compelling interest in stable households, and those making up the household are entering a contract. Again, if the government wanted to call them “civil unions” no problem, so long as it gives civil unions to all and lets churches give out meaningless marriages (that the state doesn’t recognize).

    Now, want to answer my question: do you have a cogent argument as to why the state has a compelling reason to make the distinction between hetero and gay marriages?

  • Tomas S

    OMGF,

    I will remain agnostic as to whether you’re a nice person in person. Heck, I’ll even give you the benefit of the doubt. However, since you seem especially prone to misrepresent me in this medium, I think I’ll cut my losses, and continue to let you carry on the impression that I’m not willing to back up what I say (or what I don’t say.)

    Now, want to answer my question: do you have a cogent argument as to why the state has a compelling reason to make the distinction between hetero and gay marriages?

    To answer your question: no, I don’t want to answer your question. I’ll even go so far as to say that I don’t believe that I’ve said that the state does have a compelling reason to deny marriage rights to straight or gay men wanting to marry another man. What I am saying is that it is wrong to make personal political positions on issues like abortion and gay marriage part of the “Athiest platform.”

  • OMGF

    I am a nice person in person, unless you continually make accusations against my character, which you continually do, and you’ve continued instead of swallowing hard and simply withdrawing your comment. You show a genuine lack of class, even though you hide it quite well with your, “I’m so above the fray” BS. I think most people here can see through your game however. Now, the question remains. Should I go back and show the documented instances where you’ve been dishonest, or should I let it go? Which will it be rook?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Let’s take it easy, please.

  • OMGF

    Sorry Ebon, I simply object to others making accusations against my character. I’m willing to play nice so long as Tomas stops his personal attacks on my integrity…unless he can actually back them up, in which case I would be in the wrong and would say so.

  • Tomas S

    Earlier this morning, I was searching for a coherent discussion on why marriage exists. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first hit was in about.com’s atheism pages:

    http://atheism.about.com/b/2004/11/22/why-does-marriage-exist.htm

    It doesn’t quite have the depth I was looking for, but it’s nice to see an argument which doesn’t boil down to the sinner vs the biggot, which is not an argument at all.

  • Tomas S

    OMGF, To be clear, I do not have anything against your integrity. What I said is that you tend to misunderstand my intended meaning. I think this is another case in point. I wish this weren’t the case. I’m sure you’re a fine person and would love the opportunity to get to know you in a different context.

  • Valhar2000

    OMGF: You did mis-represent Tomas’ position, quite a bit. He did not say that gay men can marry women, therefore they can marry and all is good.

    He presented the issue of gay marriage in terms of gender discrimination, rather than discrimination againast gays, which is what is usually done. It isn’t of any particular use to do it that way, but I found it interesting.

    In other words: say that Jane and Jill want to get married, but they are not allowed to. That would be discriminating against them for being gay.

    However, you can look at it this way: John is allowed to marry Jane, but Jill is not. So, Jill is not allowed to do something that John is allowed to do because she is a woman and John is a man. Thus, you could say that Jill is being discriminated against for her gender.

    As you can see, it is far from “the old gay people can be straight if they want to argument”.

    I wonder if gay marriage could get more traction if it were presented this way? It seems to me that people who woudl be convicned by this are already convinced by the “discrimination against gays” argument, so I don’t think it woudl make much of a difference.

  • OMGF

    I did no such thing Valhar. First of all, misrepresentation is something that one does intentionally and is dishonest. If you want to contend that I did so, then I’d like for you to provide some evidence. If I’m guilty of anything, it would be misunderstanding his argument, not misrepresenting.

    Further, your explanation actually agrees with me in part, in that you accept that telling Jane and Jill that they can’t marry is “discriminat[ory] against them for being gay”, i.e. their sexual preference. So, I’m at a loss as to how you can tell me that I’m being dishonest yet that you agree with what I said, that it is discrimination based on sexual preference.

  • Tomas S

    He presented the issue of gay marriage in terms of gender discrimination, rather than discrimination againast gays, which is what is usually done. It isn’t of any particular use to do it that way, but I found it interesting.

    Perhaps I should attempt to explain the specific “use” I intended when I brought this up. This was in reaction to Ebonmuse’s implicit question to me whether I agree that the state has “no business whatsoever making discriminatory decisions about what constitutes marriage”. This is kind of like the old “have you stopped beating your wife” question. I cannot answer Ebon’s question because I don’t accept the framing of the question in terms of discrimination.

    If we could reword the question slightly – whether the state has business in making decisions about what constitutes marriage – in that case, I can answer, and I’ll answer that yes, I do think this is the state’s business. If the state cannot define marriage, it has no business recognizing them for anybody.

    From the OP:

    Members of the religious right want to deny gay people one of the most basic rights of all: the right of two people in love to have that relationship recognized and spend their lives together, with the same benefits we grant to heterosexual couples.

    At this point, I see that before Ebon and I can think about discussing specific pros and cons for redefining marriage, we need to think about what marriage even is, since personally, the words “most basic right of all” would never have come to mind to describe marriage. I also do not accept that the purpose of marriage is to “recognize a love relationship.” Until there is some agreement on what marriage is, there can be no intelligent discussion about who should be allowed to get married.

    For the record, I don’t think that up to this point I’ve given any specific answers (and certainly no convincing ones) about what marriage is, or about whether gays should be married, nor do I intend to do so in this thread, since my purpose here is twofold. First, I want to encourage people to think about what marriage is. Second, I want to make the point that there is room for disagreement here within the atheist camp.

    On this second point, at least one person above, perhaps a few, seems to be saying that any argument against redefining marriage is bigotry – almost by definition. This is not unlike the Christian saying that any argument for is the deception of the Devil. I reject both forms of dogmatism.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    If it’s truly about a woman’s choice to control her own body in terms of ending a pregnancy, then the number of pro-choice supporters are less than sometimes claimed. This is because some people who claim to be pro-choice, at a point during pregnancy come out against choice, and would instead force a woman to carry and deliver a child. The woman in effect has no choice. This was left out in the attempt by Ebonmuse to make the label pro-choice somehow seem superior to pro-life.

    I think the objective person is able to see both pro-choice and pro-life naming conventions for what they are. The names were chosen in part to make use of the pre-fix “pro” in order to have a positive rather than negative spin. And the key words “choice” and “life” were also chosen because they sound like things people would support in a general context. The names each have good and bad aspects in terms of descriptive value. Trying at this date to change only one of the names is a transparent attempt to influence through name association. I would advise to argue on the merits and forget about the name change hi-jinks.

  • http://feralboy12.com feralboy12

    I’m pro-puppy.

  • Polly

    I’m pro-phylactic.