The semiotics of SpongeBob

SpongebobMuch of the recent coverage and the commentary on James Dobson has been entirely predictable, focusing on the buffoonery of another evangelical seeing sinister forces behind another popular children’s show.

From Barney to the Smurfs to the Teletubbies, there’s no more certain way for a children’s favorite to attract adult loyalty — even to become a countercultural icon — than for an evangelical to go on the attack.

Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times takes Dobson seriously enough to see him as — well, if not an evil genius, then at least a crafty strategist:

Dobson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based ministry Focus on the Family, is a minister whose radio show draws 7 million listeners, a man who helped President Bush win the tough swing states of Florida and Ohio.

A leader this savvy knows the power of the media and likely doesn’t believe his attacks will bring down the Sponge-ster, Nickelodeon’s most popular cartoon.

But what he can do is mobilize his supporters by relying on three themes the religious right has beaten like a drum for decades: demonization of the media, demonization of liberals and demonization of gay people.

. . . Dobson’s message can be amazingly effective in generating fear, convincing conservative parents they can’t even place their children in front of kiddie channel Nickelodeon without exposing them to radical ideas. No one should forget how effectively fear sold the American public on war with Iraq and a president with a seriously low job approval rating.

These are seeds, once planted, that will pay off in future campaigns against media indecency and gay rights. And when Dobson’s faithful turn out again to press their issues at the ballot box, mainstream media outlets will cluck their tongues and wonder how they once more missed the message.

I do not share Deggans’ confidence about Dobson’s long-term goals, or the ease with which his listeners can be inspired to do his political bidding. Still, as Michael Crowley argued recently in Slate, Dobson is flexing more political muscle post-11/2, and he’s having some trouble adjusting to the world of politics, where compromise is an important skill:

He’s already leveraging his new power. When a thank-you call came from the White House, Dobson issued the staffer a blunt warning that Bush “needs to be more aggressive” about pressing the religious right’s pro-life, anti-gay rights agenda, or it would “pay a price in four years.” And when the pro-choice Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter made conciliatory noises about appointing moderates to the Supreme Court, Dobson launched a fevered campaign to prevent him from assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which until then he had been expected to inherit. Dobson is now a Republican kingmaker.

Surprisingly, though, this isn’t a role he’s traditionally sought or relished. An absolutist disgusted by the compromises of politics, he sneers at those who place “self-preservation and power ahead of moral principle.” He has always kept his distance from Washington. Unlike Reed, a canny strategist above all, Dobson has talked about bringing down the GOP if it fails him. Yet as the gay-marriage movement surged this year, Dobson’s moral outrage over the direction of American culture went supernova, asserting in his recent book Marriage Under Fire that Western civilization hangs in the balance. But now Dobson faces a difficult trial. He must decide which he hates more, Washington politics or cultural apocalypse.

Dobson will bear watching for the next few years. But if SpongeBob SquarePants represents Dobson’s politics of symbolism, I would say the cultural left has won this round.

Print Friendly

  • Stephen A.

    I guess since these are both obviously opinion pieces quoted here, I won’t tear to shreds their lack of objectivity, since that wasn’t the point.

    And since these are opinion pieces, I will respond to the opinions. My take? Don’t give this victory to the cultural Left quite yet, even if they may have revealed the motives of this particular Cultural Warrior.

    While I personally find some of the claims of the extremist religious Right a bit embarrassing (ALL Hollywood is evil, God is “calling me home” etc.) they are not always to be discounted.

    While the handholding SpongeBob characters here may be totally innocent, and Dobson may be seeing Satan in a Sponge (much like folks saw “backmasking” and Satanic messages in 1960s records) he may very well be making a valid point about hidden bias.

    While we can discount the more hysterial claims made by some media watchers, as consumers of messages we have to determine whether the warnings has any basis in fact. Artists such as Michael Moore wear their Liberal social agenda on their sleeve, proudly. Others do not advertise it, and sneak it into their art in movies and TV.

    Pointing out the religious and social messages of a film, as we did when we discussed the Polar Express film just before Christmas, is entirely appropriate. If religious people can’t be educated consumers without being labeled “bigots” or “those who hate,” then that’s a sad state of affairs.

    On the other hand, anyone who cries wolf as often as some high-profile Christians do deserve to have their motives questioned and that’s legitimate, too.

  • E C Jacobson

    One might have thought the recent dust-up over the PBS series “Postcards with Buster” would have tempered this post a little. In light of recent revelations from the Education Secretary, Dobson suddenly looks a little less like a crafty, fear-inciting manipulator.

    You just get to thinking that Dobson is some crank playing episodes of Spongbob backwards in order to hear secret messages about homosexuality. But then along comes PBS to make his case for him. And PBS didn’t even try to be sibliminal; they just put that Lesbian couple right in front for all the world to see – on a show which according to its own website is targeted at 6-8 year old children. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to hear about it until after the fact. But sometimes the best plans go arwy. So tell me again? Why exactly should I not take seriously the idea that media outlets are consciously trying to normalize homosexuality in the minds of my children?

    It is my responsibility and my priviledge to socialize my children. That responsibility includes teaching them that homosexuality is an immoral and degrading lifestyle. And I don’t want “help” from self-important media nabobs who desire to innoculate my children from what they consider “reactionary” ideas. That is the issue at stake. And it is not just the concern of a marginalized religious community. Whatever opinion a man might hold on homosexuality in the abstract, he will never desire his son to come home with a wife named Bill. What he may find acceptable in San Francisco, he will reject emphatically in his own home.

    So the particulars of Jim Dobson and Spongebob are really beside the point – although what he said is quite different from what he was reported as saying. He was drawing attention to the reality of covert social engineering by the media. It is incontrovertable that there are media outlets seeking to reach my children over my head on this subject. And when these outlets are caught, they react by heaping ridicule and scorn on the offending witness. So the one hand denies what the other hand does. Is it really any wonder why the media is despised?


    My 9-year-old daughter loves Spongbob, and makes me watch him. Sometimes the show is even funny.

  • James Freeman

    Dobson’s zeal has consumed his good sense.

    Unfortunately, whenever “Christian leaders” go about doing staggeringly stupid things, that just encourages certain elements of the rank-and-file to prove that, though they may have Jesus in their hearts, they’ve precious little between their ears.

  • Mike Arndt

    Am I missing something here? I can’t recall what rumbling I first heard with Dobson and Spongebob in the same sentence, but my first reaction was to check the official response of The position that Dr. Dobson takes on the site says that his issue is not with Spongebob, but with a video that included Spongebob along with many other cartoon characters. Is he lying about his statements, or is there more to his passionate hate for Spongebob that is not disclosed in this article ( )?

  • Mark

    For another delightful example of subtle mainstreaming, check out Disney’s Lilo & Stitch TV program and films. The character Agent Pleakley clearly functions as a friendly, loveable example of a “normal” transvestite. He’s introduced as male, but through a contrived plot frequently appears in scenes dressed stereotypically as a woman. Lovable, friendly, everybody’s pal … all while showing thousands of young viewers that it’s OK for a boy/man to pretend to be a woman. You have to see it to believe how subtle it is, simply in that this plot angle is so completely unnecessary. I’m surprised this character hasn’t been a topic of cultural collapse. (The title character Stitch — a genetically engineered death machine who is “changed to good” by the love of a confused little girl — himself presents different cultural difficulties, but that’s worthy of a separate post.)

  • Jill

    Did anyone bother to go to the Focus on the Family website and read Dobson’s take on the whole thing? Personally I’m glad my children were home-schooled and are grown. There are very questionable world views masquerading as “pro-family” and the politically correct themes of cultural awareness, and tolerance being tossed around. I’m sorry, but I think Dr. Dobson is “spot on.”

  • Kathy B.

    Thank you for the link, Mike. In days since this story broke, I only once heard anything quoted from the speech that started this whole firestorm, and that was Dr. Dobson first asking those in his audience only if they knew who Spongebob was; from there he explained what he does in the letter you linked to, about the organization and its tolerance pledge. I heard the quote on my local (conservative) talk radio station; the other media outlets that I saw/read managed to “discuss” the speech without quoting any of it, so we viewers/readers had to assume that Dr. Dobson actually said Spongebob was gay. You would think that after the Dan Rather debacle that others in media would be more conscientious.

  • Fr Joseph Huneycutt

    If you visit the We Are Family site [ and read what they stand for, the case could be made that their goals are at odds with Christian values. In this instance I agree with Dr Dobson: This stuff should not be introduced to children in the public schools using beloved cartoon characters.

    That being said, Sponge Bob is gay. I would even go so far as to say that all children’s cartoon characters are gay. This is not to say that they are sodomites. Please forgive the self-plug, but my point is partially made here:

  • cathyfc

    Sorry but the We are Family Foundation is not anti Christian it IS anti violence and it IS Pro tolerance. It these are not Christian Family Values let me out now…

  • Fr Joseph Huneycutt


    Here’s a quote from the We Are Family Foundation (which, to me, seems contrary to Christian ideals):

    “The institutionalization of heterosexuality in all aspects of society includes the idealization of heterosexual orientation, romance, and marriage,” the guide states. “Compulsory heterosexuality leads to the notion of women as inherently ‘weak,’ and the institutionalized inequality of power: power of men to control women’s sexuality, labor, childbirth and childrearing, physical movement, safety, creativity, and access to knowledge. It can also include legal and social discrimination against homosexuals and the invisibility or intolerance of lesbian and gay existence.”

  • Cathy

    Dear Fr. John,

    The Lord in his infamous wisdom gave us free will and didn’t tell us to take our free will and impose our will or our thoughts or our beliefs on others. Tolerance is the only way to bring people over to Christ, forcing them is not the way of Jesus. I hope to stand up for all people that where made by our beloved God whether they believe as I do or not that is what Jesus has asked of us (love thy neighbor – you might have heard of it). There is an Off switch on the boob tube and it is the best way to vote for what you want to watch, making an issue out of a caracter like sponge bob just does a disservice to the work we and other Christians should be doing to help others.

    God Bless,

  • Everett Volk

    My question is, would Fr. Huneycutt and Mr. Dobson and their ilk prefer to see Spongebob in a video labelled “Don’t Tolerate Fags: A Guide to Kicking Homo Butt”? I would assume not.

    The paranoia displayed on this site by folks like Mark and Jill and in mainline evangelicism by folks like Mr. Dobson is just astounding. What, in God’s name, is so terrifying about tolerating homosexuals? And, even more importantly, what is so terrifying about teaching your children to tolerate others? Homosexuals are people first and homosexuals second, and deserved to be respected like all other people. We Are Family should be commended for reminding us of that fact.


    Everett Volk

  • Cathy

    Here Here Everett

    A Very good point missing in todays Extreme Fundamentalist USA (HUMM Extreme Fundametalist…. where else have I heard that term….HUMM)

  • Stephen A.

    Thank God we don’t live under a fundamentalist regime, Cathy. But we should also thank God we don’t live in a totally secular regime, either.

    Everett raises a straw man here, since NO ONE engaging in public discourse is advocating the physical persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the manner he so grotesquely suggests.

    Secularists tend to have a rather extremist position on “tolerance,” making it mean “forced acceptance of all behaviors, all attitudes and all lifestyles.” Most people naively (but correctly) assume it actually means a live-and-let-live attitude towards those among us who are different, but not some kind of forced acceptance of their behavior.

    Another point: There are no churches that have NO opinion on sexual behavior, and that is their right to hold such opinions.

    Leaving aside any genetic pre-dispositions or “leanings” in people in terms of sexuality, behavior is in a separate realm, and people are allowed to have views on issues arising from it – even strongly held and strongly expressed views.

    What the Left needs to understand is that strongly held views are NOT “hate” unless they are expressed as such. I don’t hear Dobson or anyone else using the langauge suggested by Everett.

    Let’s hope speech about controversial subjects such as homosexuality isn’t outlawed, as it has been in Canada. For now, the first amendment is still in effect here.

  • Tom R

    I don’t know who seems more ridiculous — fundamentalists who can spot homosexuality hidden in cartoons, or secularists who can spot hidden theocracy in Christmas songs or city seals.

  • Cathy

    Freedom of Speech is for everyone, and we are family foundation is more tolerant of your Ideas then you are of theirs….

  • Stephen A.

    I, for one, am very tolerant of that group’s right to speak out on the issues they care about, just as fundamentalists have that right. And I have the right to disagree with both extremes.

    I highly doubt, however, that this secular group is “tolerant” (i.e. “accepting/embracing”) of Christian fundamentalism. And that’s the big difference between the standard definition of tolerance and the LOADED, *new* definition liberals tend to use.

  • Everett Volk

    There is obviously a difference between tolerance and persecution. I understand that. My question remains, why is Mr. Dobson opposed to tolerating homosexuals? According to my Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary tolerance means the following:

    2 a: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own b: the act of allowing something.

    This is emphatically not “forced acceptance”. This, for all intents and purposes, means “live and let live”.

    But let me ask you, Stephen A., a question. Are you “forced” to accept homosexuality when you see two gay men holding hands while walking down the street? What about when two lesbians exchange vows of love and seek to have each other included in their wills? In effect, where on your continuum of social acceptance is a reasonable line between coercion and tolerance? The same question could be posed of any evangelical, homosexual or, in my case, progressive person. This, ultimately, is the question that needs to be answered for any reasonable debate to occur.

    I, for one, would argue that tolerating homosexuals includes letting them live their lives as they please and giving homosexual couples the same legal protections (e.g. probate, medical care, adoption, etc.) as heterosexual couples. I would NOT argue that tolerance includes requiring states or churches to provide homosexual couples with a religious sacrament. Likewise, I would NOT argue that tolerance requires providing homosexuals any additional treatment or benefit beyond that which a homosexual would receive. Is that clear? Tolerance is not forced acceptance. Tolerance is definitely a prohibition against the codification or creation of government-funded stigma or burdens on homosexuals.


    Everett Volk

    P.S. I’ll leave with you a couple of quotes which I think highlight the need for greater tolerance for homosexuals. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support people’s right to say these things. I merely think that something is dreadfully wrong when they actually choose to.

    “Not only is homosexuality a sin, but anyone who supports fags is just as guilty as they are. You are both worthy of death”

    Fred Phelps, 1998

    “Gays want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers.”

    Pat Robertson, 1995

    “You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it.”

    Michael Savage, 2003

  • Stephen A.

    Everett, you’ve sure picked some extreme quotes to highlight the “other” side of the debate, haven’t you? ;-)

    I don’t now Fred Phelps, and I know Savage is an ‘entertainer’ on the radio on a par with Howard Stern, so I won’t touch those.

    As for Robertson’s quote, I was able to find it online only on Left-leaning Websites (but not on Robertson’s CBN site, or on pro-Robertson sites) which makes me think it’s not accurate.

    However, “ACT UP” and radical groups like them have engaged in just such activities, and maybe, if the quote is true, he was commenting on them.

    Your dictionary definition is correct, and to answer your question, no, I’m not forced into acceptance when gays walk down the street holding hands.

    Gay marriage, though, is a topic requiring a national discussion about what “marriage” means. Legal precedent, set in Massachusetts last year, says a state has no right to define what marriage is, and that to me is very dangerous.

    But from a religious point of view (and to stay on topic) I’m glad you and I agree, apparently, that churches shouldn’t be forced to accept Gays into membership or recieve sacraments. That’s up to the churches – for now at least.

    I would ask that you consider the hateful language some on the Left use against conservatives who don’t give absolute acceptance to the Gay lifestyle when you talk about coersion and persecution.

    Some Christian conservatives feel they are living in a very hostile society that is against their strongly held beliefs, while Leftist secularists (and the Religious Left) appear to be on a jihad to shut down religious expression if it differs from their idea of “social justice.” That’s a dangerous trend, too.

  • cathy


    I have know Idea what world you live in but the one I walk around in everyday the religious right is anything but feeling like they are in a “very hostile society”. The ones I see/know/and work with are self righteous and fanatical. They assume that they are right and everyone else is wrong unless they agree with them on every point they want to evangelize but they do not actually want to get out there and get involved, that might just mean having to deal with someone who doesn’t believe what they believe and having to tolerate them–

  • Cathy

    PS. Jesus made deciples by getting involve not by being self righteous….

  • Stephen A.

    Cathy, please don’t tell me that Jesus was simply “non-judgemental” and just “got involved” with his disciples.

    He PREACHED to them. Preaching to others is about the most self-righteous thing anyone can do. Some believe that Jesus pulled it off, though, just because of who he said he was.

    But I’ll grant you that some of his more fanatical followers today can be quite annoying and uncompromising.

    As for cultural conservatives feeling under seige, you just need to ask one. It’s a fact that many do feel that way. That’s why they are very sensitive to the cultural messages that are being sent out in cartoons, movies and on TV.

  • Cathy

    I am sure Dobson feel under seige….

  • Everett Volk

    Stephen A., thanks for the calm and thoughtful response! I did provide some inflammatory quotes. I don’t mean to suggest that all evangelicals feel the same way, merely that requests for tolerance might not be such a bad thing.

    Now, I must disagree with your suggestion that we need a national discussion on the topic of gay marriage. I am basically a federalist of the relaxed variety. I pretty much think that states should be allowed to do what they’ve traditionally done. This includes setting the terms of marriage, family law, etc. If Massachusetts wants to allow (or prohibit) gay marriage so be it. There are no national ramifications from that act.

    Last Spring, the Massachusetts Supreme Court merely determined that the Massachusetts State Constitution does not permit the state legislature to differentiate between heterosexual and homosexual marriage. Now, regardless of how one feels about homosexual marriage, the ensuing drama was nothing but a public relations spectacle machinated by the right wing. At the time, there were great histrionics about how all states would now be forced to accept gay marriages made in Massachusetts. Two bits of law, prove this assertion to be false.

    U.S. Constitution, Art. IV, Sect. 1

    “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe…the Effect thereof.”

    The first sentence would seem to support the assertion that all states would have to recognize MA’s gay marriages. There are legal scholars who would argue that even that is false. That question is moot, however, as the second sentence authorizes the Congress to write the following:

    Defense of Marriage Act, Section 2

    “No State…shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State…respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State…”

    This clearly “protects” states from having to recognize gay marriages. In my opinion, this is sufficient to ensure that each state sets its own marriage laws without fear of effects on other states. Any national dialogue beyond this point seems pointless to me. Call me a cynic, but I would go so far as to assert that most efforts to begin such a dialogue are intended more to inflame righteous passions than to engender useful discussion on these points.

    In any case, I would agree that some folks on the Left are as militant as folks on the right. BUT, I would draw one distinction that seems meaningful to me. Namely, this: Much of the rhetoric and many of the policy proposals on the right focus on codifying personal animus or religious doctrines against homosexuals. Much of the rhetoric and policy proposals on the left focuses on giving homosexual equal treatment under the law or equal access to government-funded programs or benefits. From my perspective, the latter is less harmful than the former.

    Of course, my position is in itself quite controversial. It entails a value judgment that, in effect, governments must give equal imprimatur to homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Many religious folk find this untenable. Nonetheless, as I believe American governments should be basically secular, and because I believe homosexual relationships are essentially the same as heterosexual relationships, I see no reason to for the government to treat them differently.


    Everett Volk

    P.S. My apologies for the long post. I suspect we’re all basically beating a dead horse here (or maybe two dead horses). The fundamental question that we all seem to disagree on is: “Should the American government and American law make overtly moral judgments that result in discrmination between different people?”

  • Christopher

    Above, Cathy says:

    “Tolerance is the only way to bring people over to Christ”

    This, to say it as succinctly as possible, is ridiculous. Even a cursory reading of Holy Scripture and Church history reveals nothing of the sort. The modern term “Tolerance”, in all it’s accepted connotations, has no relation to Christian meekness, humility, gentleness, etc. Secularists, Christians, anti-Christians, etc. all agree on this. The terms “Tolerance” and the Christian virtues are not commensurate.

    I just wanted to say this for those that might have otherwise been mislead by the profoundly ignorant assertion:

    “Tolerance is the only way to bring people over to Christ”

  • Christopher

    Everett asks:

    “Should the American government and American law make overtly moral judgments that result in discrimination between different people?”

    The answer is “of course”. It does so when it “discriminates” between the murder and the victim. Between the patent holder and the patent violator. Between those who pay a higher percentage of their incomes in taxes and those who pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes. So, unless Everett is a philosophical anarchist, the question is a bit misleading. Perhaps what he really means to ask is “should homosexual acts/relationships be considered equal to heterosexual acts and recognized by the law”. The law is a profoundly moral enterprise, and inherently “discriminatory”, even at it’s most trivial level…

  • JohnH

    Everett, as soon as health care, etc are provided to homosexual partners under the same terms as they are for heterosexual partners, acceptance is being forced upon all – to pick one example, the medical costs for homosexuals are much higher than for heterosexuals largely in part because of their lifestyles. If I share the same HMO they do, I am being forced to subsidize their lifestyle via my health care deductions from my paycheck, and the cost of the plan will go up.

    Similarly, taxpayers in California (Proposition 71 last Nov) are now forced to subsidize embryonic stem cell research no matter what their views are on the sanctity of life.

  • Everett Volk

    First, with regards to Christopher’s critique of Cathy. I would suggest that he reads too much into her post. She is not suggesting that tolerance is a Christian virtue, clearly it is not. Rather, I think she is suggesting that in the “marketplace of ideas” tolerance is a means by which to attract people to Christianity. More specifically, I think she may be saying that many people will be turned off by evangelicals’ virulent anti-homosexuality (especially in light of its weak bibical basis), and thus miss out on the many wonderful ideas and doctrines that Christianity and the Bible have to offer.

    Secondly, I agree with Christopher that my query was poorly worded. Let me restate. I understand that the law can be moral undertaking (i.e. murder is wrong). The basis for most of those moral judgments, however, is to protect the public health, welfare and safety. Thus, for example, the prohibition against murder protects life, the prohibition against burglary protects property, and the prohibition against prostitution protects health. These laws, however, do NOT intrude into people’s personal lives and do not, in any way, discriminate against individuals because of WHO they are. In fact, archaic laws involving what were previously considered important moral distinctions such as those prohibiting or limiting divorce or banning miscegenation, have been taken off the books. I am not arguing for philosophical anarchy, merely that our laws should not codify religious animus against consenting relationships between adults.

    Finally, I’d like to respond to JohnH about his assertion that providing health care benefits to homosexuals “forces” their lifestyle upon him by making him subsidize their behavior. I apologize for my bluntness, but this is unmitigated crap. By that measure, am I subsidizing a Republican lifestyle by belonging to an HMO that serves Republicans? Of course not! Even though studies consistently show that Republicans are less likely to be vegetarians AND that vegetarians are generally healthier than non-vegetarians, the suggestion is just plain foolish.

    First of all, it’s virtually impossible to show that any particular individual or individual’s lifestyle is significantly driving up your cost of healthcare (even smokers don’t cost YOU personally that much money). Secondly, IF it were possible to show that a person were engaging in unreasonably risky behavior, it would be perfectly okay to incorporate a risk premium into their payment. Mind you, this sort of risk analysis would have to be undertaken for ALL recipients and would have to identify ALL high-risk behaviors.

    Finally, JohnH, nobody is forcing you to belong to the HMO that you belong to or, for that matter, to have insurance. If you really are terribly concerned about the cost of homosexuals’ healthcare, it would be perfectly legal to set up a Heterosexual Health Care Purchasing Co-op in which you use your mass buying power to get gay-free healthcare. No government action involved, no legal impediments to anti-gay discrmination. But, since you don’t do this, I find your complaint in this regard untenable.


    Everett Volk

  • Stephen A.

    Everett, responding to your 2/2 10:24 post above -

    I actually agree that this is a state issue, and didn’t meant to imply otherwise. I simply meant that we as a nation, all of us, are going to have to deal with this issue.

    If Massachusetts wants to have gay marriage, that is their right. If another state doesn’t, that’s their right, too. Just like states allow for different ages of consent, they can recognize different marriages. I suppose at some point, however, it becomes a patchwork quilt of conflicting policies requiring some unanimanity.

    Federalism’s great, if DOMA holds. Many scholars say that it is doomed to be overturned very soon, making all of these Federalist arguments moot.

  • Everett Volk

    Stephen A.,

    DOMA is likely to get overturned? I didn’t know that, though I suppose it’s in the realm of possibility. Do you know whether there are any cases in the federal docket challenging it?

    Reading back over the FFC and DOMA, I guess I do see how DOMA could be read to abrogate the FFC. The FFC pretty much only says that Congress may define how state actions can be proved in another state. That power does not seem to encompass the power to declare a state action invalid in other states (per DOMA). I guess we’ll have to wait and see about that… :)


    Everett Volk

  • Stephen A.

    As for JohnH’s assertion about homosexuals and HMOs – excellent point, with some caveats.

    I can choose to quit my job if my employer decides to cover gay people’s partners. Such coverage may be a *bad* thing, since it extends benefits and theoretically could raise rates for everyone in the plan (one would hope that only those covered would pay extra, but sometimes that’s not always the case with insurance companies. They distribute costs.)

    Someone who had no problem with cohabitation might ask their employer if they could extend their health insurance coverage to an uninsured buddy, or a straight roommate. If he says no, but offers it up to gay partners, why not straights, too? Isn’t that discriminatory? What’s the difference – sexual involvement? Tough questions.

    Extending insurance benefits to gay partners is a NEW benefit, since it extends them into new situations with uncharted rules. That’s fine if it’s a private business, of course. That’s their right to offer whatever brings in employees.

    But what if a state considers FORCING employers to extend benefits to gay partners, as a way to literally “force tolerance” and shape the social debate? Then, everyone is entitled to be in on this discussion, especially those with religious views that are incompatable with cohabitation, (let alone the issues of gay partnerships or marriages). This would affect every employee and every small business who would be forced to accept gay partner benefits. This isn’t theoretical, actually. Many states now require landlords to accept gay couple renters, even if the landlords are opposed religiously to homosexuality.

    I’ll go one further – what about social security death benefits? Will gay partners be entitled to extend the death benefits of their spouses? (Widows continue to get their spouses’ benefits, or keep their own, if theirs are larger.)

    This is a HUGE public policy issue, and has ramifications on the Soc. Sec. solvency debate… even if that topic may seem to be getting far afield from religion (sorry!)

  • Stephen A.

    Everett: Maybe I’m being taken in by all the talking heads, but it seems as if anytime the discussion comes up on TV, a constitutional lawyer will say it’s only a matter to time before DOMA’s overturned because it conflicts with the FF&C clause.

    A Google search on “DOMA overturned” will find several cases where it has already been tried in the lower courts, and it has failed thus far. Of course appeals of these failed cases are how cases wind up in the Supreme Court! ;-)

    Seeking to overturn DOMA would appear to be a very bad move for Gay activist groups, because a Federal Marriage Amendment has very little support as long as DOMA keeps states from being forced to accept gay marraiges of other states. Not true if states can no longer write their own laws on the matter.

  • Christopher


    You might be right, I may be reading to much into what she said. However, I am not sure how adding something from the outside, an ugly and alien concept like tolerance, would help Christianity in the “market place of ideas”. Christianity, as any truth, will stand on its own or not – it is only hurt by adding untruth to it in an attempt to appeal to what is anthetical too it.

    Also, I have a hard time believing that you believe that “anti-homosexuality”, by which I assume you mean the Christian condemnation of certain vices like sodomy, etc. “has a weak biblical basis”. Now, if you mean that a vicious, unforgiving, hate filled condemnation of the person in sin (whether it is sodomy or some other vice) has a weak basis, I would go further and say it has no basis. However, if you mean to say that the vice of sodomy, etc. are not really vices based on a supposedly “weak biblical basis”, then I would say that you might as well argue that Jesus was a pagan, because his being a Jew has a weak biblical basis…;)

    As far as your view of the law, and it’s moral basis, I would say that it is one view. Obviously, I would disagree with most of it, as would our legal tradition until quite recently. I think your view of “consenting adults”, what “discrimination” means, etc. is quite ruinous and unnecessary, even on a secular level. Of course, Christianly, I reject it’s implications and it’s current direction.

    I think the core of the disagreement is anthropological. Christianly (as well as many other world views obviously including Judaism, Islam, etc.) we don’t accept the falsehood that homosexuality is “Who” someone is, as you put it. The question is, are we as a country going to force a militant/secular/epicurean anthropology through the point of the sword (the law)? We already have in large part, with the holocaust of abortion raging around us. To the extant that we continue down this road, is to the degree that we are unfree…