Civil unions take a step forward in Delaware

From today’s paper: “Civil unions bill clears big hurdle“:

The Delaware Senate on Thursday approved the state’s first civil unions bill, voting by a 2-to-1 ratio to grant the same legal rights and protections to same-sex couples that married couples have. …

In the end, the bill — S.B. 30 — emerged from a chamber that has often been a cemetery for gay-rights bills passed first by the House of Representatives.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. David P. Sokola, D-Newark, with about two dozen co-sponsors, has been assigned to the House Administration Committee, where Chairman and House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, says it will be on the agenda for a hearing Wednesday. If the committee releases the bill, Schwartzkopf said he plans to bring it before the House for a vote next Thursday.

“The last five words of the pledge [of allegiance] are ‘liberty and justice for all,’ ” Sokola said. “By taking this step, we give those words real meaning to more people here in Delaware.”

Gov. Jack Markell has pledged to sign the bill.

The bill was drafted by Equality Delaware, a recently formed state chapter of the Human Rights Campaign that seems to have quite a bit of momentum on their side.

The civil unions bill now heads to Delaware’s state House of Representatives, where chances of passage seem promising. The House has a history of passing legislation protecting the legal rights of GLBT Delawareans, only to see those bills die in the Senate, squashed by committee chairmen (usually Democrats from conservative Sussex County) without ever seeing a vote. Senate passage has always been the biggest hurdle for such legislation, so this bill appears well on its way to becoming law.

One of those downstate Democats, Sen. Robert Venables, tried to stop the Senate bill with two hostile amendments, both of which failed:

“I’m not against homosexuality,” Venables said. “I don’t understand it, but I’m certainly not a bigot. I’m not a hater.”

But, he said, the bill discriminated against other relationships.

I would direct Venables to that lovely response from BioWare about complaints that Dragon Age 2 somehow “discriminated against” straightwhitemale gamers:

Privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, and everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.

That’s one main source of opposition to efforts like this one — a privileged majority upset that others can’t get used to not getting what they want. That is unlovely and unfair, but unsurprising.

The other main source of opposition is what might be called the religious objection. This is similarly unfair and unlovely, while also being deeply, deeply confused about the nature of law and government:

Sam Wilson of Georgetown, vice president of Sussex County Council, approached Sokola after the vote and handed him a paper with a chapter of the Bible printed on it. The chapter, the first in the Book of Romans, often is used to argue that God condemns homosexuality.

Wilson asked Sokola how he planned to get to heaven and asked if he had any straight friends, apparently unaware that Sokola is married.

“He thinks I’m going to go to hell,” Sokola said. “But I don’t think he’s the one who decides.”

Sokola said he has had calls from voters who say they will never vote for him again, “but better legislators than me have lost for supporting the civil rights of others.”

Sam Wilson of Georgetown can’t seem to separate his sneering personal bigotry from his purported religious beliefs, but let’s try to do that for him.

Mr. Wilson apparently believes that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin and that homosexuals are going to Hell. That’s not an unusual belief — many others believe this as well. But those many others are not, like Mr. Wilson, elected officials and they are not suggesting, as Mr. Wilson is, that the biblical books of Romans and Leviticus constitute legal authority in the United States of America.

That’s an astonishingly unconstitutional claim, but it’s one that’s heard again and again in the debates over civil union laws or marriage equality.

Wilson and others like him don’t even bother to make a nonsectarian legal argument. They don’t see any constitutional or legal or political reason to suggest one. They seem to believe they live in a sectarian country governed by the religious dictates of their sect and that any member of any other religious sect “should be used to not getting what they want.”

Wilson’s argument is based on the claim of hegemonic privilege for the majority sect. That is not an argument for “religious freedom.” It is the opposite of an argument for religious freedom. Wilson’s argument is that there is no such thing as religious liberty, no right to religious liberty — only a competition for dominance between sects to be settled by whichever has the greatest political muscle.

Delaware state Sen. Bruce Ennis said he voted against the civil unions bill because “he heard many concerns in his district that the bill ‘pitted religious liberty against sexual liberty’ and he voted the way he believed his constituents wanted him to vote.”

But this claim of a concern for religious liberty is a lie. “Liberty for me but not for thee” is not the position of an advocate of liberty. “Liberty for me but not for thee” says liberty is not a right, but only a prize won by the powerful and denied to the powerless.

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  • http://style92.livejournal.com/ style 92

    The reality is that nothing will convince the religious objection otherwise. What we have to do is just move on as a nation and do what’s right anyway. There’s already signs that absolutism on this issue is diminishing among religious youth. In a few decades, people who speak out against gay equality will be old and seem like quaint anachronisms, always quoting from that part of the Bible that all good Christians have been ignoring for centuries anyway.

  • Richard Hershberger

    Good luck with this. Maryland’s recent marriage equality bill was expected to pass, but it was defeated. It came down to the wire, but the final straw was opposition from influential African American churches, particularly in Prince Georges County. There is more to this than simply counting Democrats vs. Republicans.

  • http://anonymouslefty.wordpress.com Jeremysear

    And that’s just for “civil unions”, the jim crow equivalent for gay people.

    I don’t see the point for the equality crowd to bother with civil union legislation as a “step” to full equality – it’s fought just as hard as if they’d put up full marriage equality legislation, but it’s only a second-class win if they succeed.

    There’s no rational argument for accepting anything less than full equality, YESTERDAY.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t agree at all with those who would oppose marriage equality, and the notion that the issue has anything to do with religious liberty is laughable (on the one side – obviously if your religion encourages marriage and allows marriage with someone of the same sex there’s a religious liberty issue).

    That said, I don’t think it’s unconstitutional to try to bring civil law into line with religious law in most cases. It’s not a confusion about law and government; the establishment clause was never intended and has historically not been interpreted to mean that laws can’t be justified by religion. Many people, and probably most people at at least one point in US history, would have supported laws against murder and theft primarily on religious grounds. Many people sincerely believe that morals come from God and would tell you that their moral views just are a subset of their religious beliefs; these people can’t support any law on moral grounds without justifying themselves with religion and religion alone.

    We’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the law telling consenting adults what they’re not allowed to do to themselves, but this isn’t limited to religious intrusion. I doubt most people here would draw much of a distinction between someone who is against gay marriage because of a belief that God doesn’t like homosexuality and someone who is against gay marriage because s/he just thinks homosexuality is gross. Roe v Wade was something of a landmark case regarding the legislation of private morality, and it was decided on the basis of a right to privacy, not the establishment clause. We’ve simply become more libertarian.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    It is not unconstitutional to bring secular law into line with religious law if the law has a secular purpose other than simply to enshrine the particular religious doctrine into law, does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and does not create an excessive entanglement of the government with religion. See the Lemon Test which is, at present, still the precedent for constitutionality. What the conservative half of the supreme court might do next to eviscerate the bill of rights, of course, is anyone’s guess.

    Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

    –(then Senator) Barack Obama, 28-Jun-2006, Call To Renewal conference keynote speech.

    (Edit to correct attribution.)

  • Anonymous

    Many people, and probably most people at at least one point in US history, would have supported laws against murder and theft primarily on religious grounds.

    I’ll buy “many.” I’m not sure I’m buying “most.” The population of the U.S. was substantially less religious than we tend to think. In particularly, for a lot of what we now think of as extremely religious areas, the men tended to leave religion, which often as not meant going to church and reading the Bible, to the womenfolk.

    Many people sincerely believe that morals come from God and would tell you that their moral views just are a subset of their religious beliefs; these people can’t support any law on moral grounds without justifying themselves with religion and religion alone.

    Ah yes, the “if it weren’t for the Bible, we’d all be committing murder, theft and rape.” The people you don’t want to sit next to on the subway in case they have a crisis of faith.

  • Anonymous

    For those curious, the full text of the bill can be read here: http://legis.delaware.gov/LIS/lis146.nsf/vwLegislation/SB+30/$file/legis.html?open

    @Jeremysear: I don’t think the comparison to Jim Crow is valid, especially with regard to Section 212:

    § 212. Rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of parties to a civil union.

    (a) Parties to a civil union lawfully entered into or otherwise recognized pursuant to this chapter shall have all the same rights, protections and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations and duties under the laws of this State … as are granted to, enjoyed by or imposed upon married spouses.

  • Anonymous

    “Delaware state Sen. Bruce Ennis said he voted against the civil unions bill because “he heard many concerns in his district that the bill ‘pitted religious liberty against sexual liberty’ and he voted the way he believed his constituents wanted him to vote.””

    Of course, anyone who has seen 1776 (or read Edmund Burke) knows this justification is horseshit.

    “[a] representative owes the People not only his industry, but his judgment, and he betrays them if he sacrifices it to their opinion.”

    Wise man, that Edmund Burke, even if he is often egregiously misquoted.

  • Anonymous

    [many others] are not suggesting, as Mr. Wilson is, that the biblical books of Romans and Leviticus constitute legal authority in the United States of America.

    Considering how popular David Barton and his patently false propaganda are, I’m going to have to disagree with you there. This, as always, goes back to simple tribalism, where everything devolves to us vs. them arguments and “they” are horrible barbarians, so any sort of historical distortion in the name of maintaining “us” superiority is acceptable, up to and including ignoring the Constitution while claiming to defend it.

  • Jim Daniel

    In “Lest Darkness Fall” L. Sprague de Camp points out something that is still true. When you live in a country that promises ‘Religious Freedom’ you take away one of the most dear ‘Religious rights’ of people like David Barton. The right to make others follow the ‘one true’ religion. As Mr. de Camp points out ‘the right to persecute heretics’ is the greatest religious freedom there is.

    True ‘Religious Freedom’ requires ‘True Faith’ in ones own religion, and this is all to rare.

  • Anonymous

    I just skimmed the bill, but I saw no hint of discrimination against other relationships. Perhaps Robert Venables is one of those people who believe that liberty is a zero-sum game.

  • Amaryllis

    Wilson and others like him don’t even bother to make a nonsectarian legal argument. They don’t see any constitutional or legal or political reason to suggest one. They seem to believe they live in a sectarian country governed by the religious dictates of their sect and that any member of any other religious sect “should be used to not getting what they want.”

    No, they don’t bother. Case in point, speaking of Maryland’s recent experience: I present to you the egregious Don Dwyer (who, by the way, is white in a majority-white county), on You Can’t Separate God and Government.

    Warning: raging homophobia, religious intolerance, and gratuitous atheist-bashing.

    What is “legal” truly legal, is only what conforms to and is in accord with, God’s Law. Thus, what does not conform to God’s Law, that not in accord with God’s Law, is not legal. If, in Scripture, homosexuality is an abominable sin, a capital crime, and God says marriage is restricted to one man/one woman, it is obvious that there is no way homosexuals can be “legally married.”

    The Law of which God, you may ask?
    the God of the Bible, the only true God there is, of course!

    I suppose we should be grateful that Mr. Dwyer isn’t calling for public stonings. Although I don’t know why not, since civil government has one function — justice, to administer and apply His law.

    Somebody needs to give these people a remedial Civics course.

  • Lori

    What is “legal” truly legal, is only what conforms to and is in accord with, God’s Law. Thus, what does not conform to God’s Law, that not in accord with God’s Law, is not legal. If, in Scripture, homosexuality is an abominable sin, a capital crime, and God says marriage is restricted to one man/one woman, it is obvious that there is no way homosexuals can be “legally married.”

    The Law of which God, you may ask?
    the God of the Bible, the only true God there is, of course!

    There are plenty of people like this. In fact, Dwyer sounds a lot like my dad. The idea of my dad having any sort of legislative authority is enough to give me hives.

  • Rikalous

    I think I’ll let a Founding Father enumerate why Dwyer is being an asshat.

    “Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

    -Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

    “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

    Amusingly, the ad next to his asshattery offers “FREE SHIPPING* on LGBT tees and gear”.

  • Anonymous

    I did a Google image search of Don Dwyer and noticed that he’s been both rounding off the side-growth of his head and harming the edges of his beard (Leviticus 19:27). I assume he, like most other American protestants, enjoys cheeseburgers, shellfish, and wearing cotton/polyester blends, and should promptly shut his face until he learns to stop being such a hypocrite.

    I was having dinner with someone once when she asked me why gay people were fighting so hard to get married. I asked her to give me a reason – without using the Bible – why they shouldn’t be able to get married. The first words out of her mouth in response were “Because the Bible says…” If there is some way to communicate to these people why the Bible is not the foundation of American law, I can’t find it. I’ve certainly tried; I know a lot of people who feel this way and am related to most of them (the joys of being an adult means I could simply stop associating with the majority of my friends from high school who were intensely homophobic; family ties are a bit harder to cut).

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    This line from Mr. Dwyer’s screed is particularly… irksome… to me:

    “As God says, civil government has one function — justice, to administer and apply His law.”

    —-

    Justice. You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Laws serve the cause of justice, not the other way around. When you have law without justice, you have tyranny.

    Justice is right and wrong, but right and wrong are not simply “what is lawful and what is unlawful”. Justice is, in largest part, the measure of the fairness with which we treat each other, from the richest and most powerful to the poorest and most downtrodden. True Justice is blind, it does not see the color of our skin nor our sexual preferences, religious preferences, or our bank accounts. Justice does not check to determine if we are socially acceptable enough to warrant its application, or if we are ‘the right kind of people’. Justice is.

  • Erl

    Justice is right and wrong, but right and wrong are not simply “what is lawful and what is unlawful”.

    Isaac Asimov, noted atheist and religious scholar, has a wonderful parable about this in The Caves of Steel.

    The story is embedded in a larger novel, but I’ll summarize it here. It might be best described as “The Robot Pharisee and the Detective.”* (WARNING: SPOLIERS)

    R. Daneel Olivaw, a humaniform robot, is assigned as a partner to Elijah Bailey as the latter investigates a murder case. R. Daneel was originally designed as a tool of sociology, but later transformed into a detective through, as he says, “the addition of a desire for justice.”

    At a later point in the story, Baily accuses R. Daneel of being a human impersonating a robot. He alleges that no robot could possible have a “desire for justice.” R. Daneel’s programmer turns to him and asks, “Daneel, what is justice?”

    Daneel replies confidently: “Justice is the situation that exists when all applicable laws have been enforced.”

    Later in the story, Elijah discusses morality with R. Daneel and relates to him the story of the not-stoning of the adulteress. At the story’s climax, Daneel and Elijah confront the murderer.

    Daneel turns to the murder and says ” ‘I have been trying, friend Julius, to understand some remarks Elijah made to me earlier. Perhaps I am beginning to, for it suddenly seems to me that the destruction of what should not be, that is, the destruction of what you people call evil, is less just and desirable than the conversion of this evil into what you call good.’

    He hesitated, then, almost as though he were surprised at his own words, he said, ‘Go, and sin no more!’ ”

    The reversal of his previous views on justice is clear, and, I think, moving. For lack of more involved commentary, I thought I’d quote someone who wrote rather more thoughtfully on the subject than I have.

    *I’m using “Pharisee” in terms of the New Testament critique of the religious authorities contemporary with Jesus, not as a criticism of actually Jewish practices, in either the ancient or modern worlds.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4B35JU4NRPV47L67HXDU4BWRB4 Christopher

    Sam Wilson’s attitude toward religion and government is part of a larger problem in our American culture, which has probably been discussed here multiple times.

    The anti-intellectualism of modern Christianity (primarily within the fundamentalist and evangelical branches) has finally come home to roost. We’re well into at least two generations that have been raised in an isolated religious bubble, where logic, scientific inquiry and a basic understanding of objectivity (what constitutes a “fact”) simply don’t exist. Well… they exist alright, but only within an alternate reality, built upon its own facts and presuppositions. Artistic and intellectual curiosity are simply absent, because everything is explained, everything is black and white, and everything has an answer. Rather than a book of inspiration and moral teaching, the Bible has been transformed into a weapon of magic incantations that one can use against perceived enemies: “speak the Word of faith,” etc. it’s a Medieval way of looking at the world, but it works for millions of Americans. Who vote.

    The reason people like Michelle Bachmann and David Barton come off as complete nutjobs is because they so passionately believe and claim things that simply aren’t true, and can often be easily disproved. But if you present such objective proof to Christians like them, or Sam Wilson–who likely came from a similar religious bubble–they completely dismiss your objections out of hand. Not just because they don’t like hearing an alternate point of view, but because they simply don’t know how to process an alternate point of view and to argue intelligently for their position. All they can do is parrot bumper sticker philosophy, use circular reasoning and talk over you, as if more decibels = more legitimacy.

    As a side note, while Frank Schaeffer is often overheated in his rhetoric, he has done a good job over at HuffPo speaking to this deep cultural divide in our culture. We come from similar backgrounds, so I totally get where he’s coming from.

  • rm

    I lived in Laurel for a while, near Georgetown, and lemme tellya, Georgetown is a sectarian country governed by religious dictates. That’s the place where a Jewish family was hounded out of town by relentless pressure from local bigots . . . in the twenty-first century.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    In my country the atheist Prime Minister from a self-described progressive party is against gay marriage because…um…it’s just supposed to be that way, you know?

    I think for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a man and a woman has a special status.

    I disagree with many of my coreligionists on this, but I almost respect their argument more* because at least it comes from some basis. But to oppose equality, not from a religious or philosophical basis, but just because that’s the way things ‘should be’–what the hell is that?

    The obvious answer is that her position has a political basis, in that she doesn’t want to get social conservatives offside. Definitely can’t respect that position.

    ——————————————–

    *which, to be clear, is still not very much

  • Caravelle

    I almost respect their argument more* because at least it comes from some basis.

    I don’t think I do, because as I see it most of the opposition to gay marriage comes from cultural biases – I’ve always perceived marriage as being between a man and a woman, a whole lot is built around it, two people of the same gender getting married is just strange and wrong. Which one wears the dress ?*

    People who don’t follow a gay-hating religion have to fall back on this position (or a rhetorically prettied up version of it) to justify being against gay marriage. And this position is extremely vulnerable to things like being exposed to actual gay people who want to get married, familiarisation with the whole concept of gay marriage, changing culture, or just trying to be fair-minded.

    People whose religion opposes homosexuality however can put it all on their religion and thus avoid taking responsibility for their own biases.

    *Actually there’s another excellent reason to be against gay marriage : if one strongly believes in gender roles in romantic relationships. But the argument works the same way with that reason AFAICT.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    In my experience, many people whose religions oppose homosexuality also find themselves vulnerable to increased exposure to actual queers, familiarization, changing culture, etc. And many people whose opposition to homosexuality is entirely secular still manage to avoid taking responsibility for their biases.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    People who don’t follow a gay-hating religion have to fall back on this position (or a rhetorically prettied up version of it) to justify being against gay marriage. And this position is extremely vulnerable to things like being exposed to actual gay people who want to get married, familiarisation with the whole concept of gay marriage, changing culture, or just trying to be fair-minded.

    The thing is, though, with the particular leader I used in my example, she is far from living in a conservative homogenous community. Apart from having plenty of openly gay friends and colleagues, and being in a government that changed over 100 (I think; forget the number) civil laws to remove discrimination against same sex couples, she is clearly OK with culture change. Culture change has allowed her to have a career in which she has power over men; to be an atheist in public office; and to be a public figure in a de facto relationship.

    I just can’t see any defendable or consistent philosophical position in someone who has no religious belief and is not culturally conservative *in any of the aspects of society that affect themselves* then saying that this one thing must not change because.

  • Guest-again

    Well, this is interesting – civil marriage takes a step forward, at least considering that a leading opponent has given up his opposition – http://louisjmarinelli.com/politics/i-now-support-full-marriage-equality

    However, I’m not entirely sure that his whole ‘apology’ actually meets the previous criteria for apologies as demand at the previous iteration of Slacktivist – possibly, because it isn’t actually an apology, it is simply an explanation of why he now supports civil marriage equality, and who he intends to improve the situation which he contributed to in the past.

  • Guest-again

    ‘how he intends’ – not ‘who’

  • Michael Cule

    Don’t know if any of you have seen this but it appears to be… Well, an actual heartening example of someone changing their mind because they took the time to notice that they were hurting real human beings by their stance. An activist (a major activist by the look of things) in the anti-gay marriage movement admitting he was wrong and publically announcing his change of stance. Dammit, I’ll start feeling optimistic about my fellow human beings soon if I’m not careful….

    http://louisjmarinelli.com/politics/i-now-support-full-marriage-equality

  • Anonymous

    Count me among the radicals who don’t see the need for a state to sanction a religious ritual. Better for the state to register the designated spouse and decide what legal rights that person has over all others. If a church wants to bless this with a ceremony of some sort it’s all right with me — especially of the ritual involves sheep, goats, and chickens. 42 years ago, my brother went to Delaware because it was the closest place where he could marry at the age of 19 without a parent’s consent or a waiting period. A justice of the peace performed the ceremony. They’re still married. 42 years and a few months more ago, my other brother got married in a wonderful ceremony and even received a blessing from the pope. They got divorced about 4 years later. I’m at 30 years and counting thanks to a county judge.

  • Reverend Ref

    @PurpleAardvaark: Better for the state to register the designated spouse and decide what legal rights that person has over all others. If a church wants to bless this with a ceremony of some sort it’s all right with me —

    As an Episcopal priest, I would certainly welcome this. Not much annoys me more than a couple who want “the whole church wedding thing because it’s soooo beautiful,” but then have no intention of a) remaining part of the congregation, or b) not being involved in any congregation at all (and, yes, I did happily marry a Baptist couple in the absolutely gorgeous building where I used to serve, but they were also active members of a Baptist congregation in their home town).

    I actually did try once to tell a couple to go get married at the courthouse and come back for the religious ceremony and blessing . . . that didn’t go over as well as it did in my mind’s eye. On the plus side, they did become members of the congregation.

    So, let the state do its thing, let the churches do their thing. And if a church wants to allow same sex blessings, great. If a church wants to remain opposed to it, well, they can on religious grounds.

  • Reverend Ref

    @PurpleAardvaark: Better for the state to register the designated spouse and decide what legal rights that person has over all others. If a church wants to bless this with a ceremony of some sort it’s all right with me —

    As an Episcopal priest, I would certainly welcome this. Not much annoys me more than a couple who want “the whole church wedding thing because it’s soooo beautiful,” but then have no intention of a) remaining part of the congregation, or b) not being involved in any congregation at all (and, yes, I did happily marry a Baptist couple in the absolutely gorgeous building where I used to serve, but they were also active members of a Baptist congregation in their home town).

    I actually did try once to tell a couple to go get married at the courthouse and come back for the religious ceremony and blessing . . . that didn’t go over as well as it did in my mind’s eye. On the plus side, they did become members of the congregation.

    So, let the state do its thing, let the churches do their thing. And if a church wants to allow same sex blessings, great. If a church wants to remain opposed to it, well, they can on religious grounds.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I guess I agree with y’all, but am confused. When my husband and I got married, we had a justice of the peace officiate, and there was no religious element to the ceremony at all… isn’t this exactly what PurpleAardvaark is proposing?

    That is: isn’t that the way it already is? The state does it’s thing (marries people), the churches do their thing (marry people), and if a church wants to refuse that service to people for whatever reason (not being part of the congregation, or being of the same sex, or being of different sexes, or whatever that church’s conscience decrees is relevant) they can do so.

    I mean, I certainly don’t have a problem with religious leaders also having the legal privilege of officiating at weddings… although I wouldn’t object, I guess, if they had to formally register as Justices of the Peace to do so. (Actually, perhaps they do? I don’t know.)

    I can see where it’s legitimately annoying to have people use you as a generic wedding service when you are trying to be a congregation, but it’s not clear to me that it’s necessary to revoke your right to officiate weddings in order to prevent that.

  • Lori

    I can see where it’s legitimately annoying to have people use you as a generic wedding service when you are trying to be a congregation, but it’s not clear to me that it’s necessary to revoke your right to officiate weddings in order to prevent that.

    I can’t speak for PurpleAardvaark, but IME this isn’t the idea behind revoking the right of religious officials to solemnize civil marriages. If a religious official doesn’t want to marry people who aren’t members of his/her congregation that’s a personal decision or covered by the rules of the religious group.

    The goal is to make civil & religious marriage truly separate. The situation we have now gives religious officiants preferential treatment by automatically making them essentially representatives of the state for purposes of performing marriages, while anyone else who wants to officiate at a wedding has to jump through hoops or may not be able to do it at all.

    What many people, including me, would like to see ifs for the US to do what many other countries do and make civil marriage a completely separate issue from any religious observance. Any couple who wanted to be legally married would have a civil service or registration at the courthouse. Any couple who wanted to have a religious ceremony could do so, but it would be completely separate and would have no legal effect.

    It’s not that complicated and it really wouldn’t change much. AFAICT the objection to it is simply inertia combined with a desire to maintain religious privilege

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    This “at the courthouse” clause puzzles me.

    My husband and I were married by a justice of the peace, who happens to be a friend of ours. There was no courthouse involved. We met with her at a lovely little park near her house, and she married us. She took some pictures.

    Some friends of mine were married by a justice of the peace, who happened to be a friend of theirs. This did actually take place in a church, which they rented, because it was a lovely building. It was not officiated by any religious figure associated with that church, though… they rented it the same way I’m renting church space to rehearse my production of Equus, as a pretty building with an organ. They made a whole production out of it, including a little toy remote-controlled R2-D2 as a ringbearer.

    Two housemates of mine were married by a justice of the peace, who I hired via the yellow pages. He came to our house and performed the ceremony in my living room. I served food.

    I understand that you want to draw a distinction between “a ceremony performed by a justice of the peace” and “a religious ceremony,” and I see why you want such a thing, but it’s not at all clear to me that a policy of requiring marriages to be performed by justices of the peace will get you what you want.

    What I would expect, if that policy were implemented, is that the majority of ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. would simply fill out the appropriate paperwork to be registered as justices of the peace. It’s not particularly difficult, or expensive.

    They would then go on doing exactly what they were doing before, only instead of being representatives of the state for purposes of performing weddings in their capacity as ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. they would be representatives of the state for purposes of performing weddings in their capacity as justices of the peace.

    Nothing would change that anyone would notice, except for a few extra licenses being issued.

    The only way I can see anything substantively changing the way you seem to be envisioning is if we really did enforce that “at the courthouse” clause… that is, if it was no longer OK for me to be civilly married in the park, no longer OK for my housemates to be civilly married in my living room, and no longer OK for my friends to be civilly married in a rented church… we would all instead go to Town Hall to do it. (And then have as many ceremonies as we wanted, wherever we wanted.)

    Which is fine, I guess… it’s a minor nuisance at best, and if it will somehow improve matters I guess I’m OK with it. As you say, it’s mostly inertia in opposition.

  • Lori

    This “at the courthouse” clause puzzles me.

    “At the courthouse” is merely shorthand for “dealing only with the state & having nothing to do with any religious officiant or location”. Some people do as you did and get a JP to come to a location of their choosing. Others are married by a judge in the judge’s chambers. Others are married by the official at the marriage license bureau, which in most cases is located in the courthouse or city hall.

  • Reverend Ref

    Dave,

    Yes, this is exactly what PurpleAardvaark is proposing, and what I support. But the problem is that people tend to think of traditional weddings (“traditional” here as in, “We’ve always done it that way”) happening in a church with all the obligatory attachments (white dress, tux, maid of honor and best man, attendants, flower girls, etc.) So regardless of denominational affiliation, if any, I think the majority of people still see weddings as taking place in a church. As it stands now, a wedding in a church CAN ALSO function as a wedding for the state.

    It would make my life a whole lot easier if the tradition of our country had been to send people to the county courthouse to get married and then, if they wanted, off to the religious institution of their choice to have it blessed. I’m not saying that I need to revoke my right to officiate weddings — I’m saying that I wish my signature as a clergy person would be invalid on a state-issued marriage license.

    Because there’s that whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. It doesn’t seem right that on this one issue, marriage, I act as an agent of the state.

    As far as I know, we (clergy) don’t register as JP’s. Depending on where you are, you simply notify the appropriate county agent, usually the clerk, that you are a priest/pastor/rabbi and ask if there’s anything you need to do to be authorized to perform weddings. But that’s a local issue that clergy people need to inquire about when arriving in a new state.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    So, say we implement this policy, and two of your congregants come to you and say “Reverend, we’ve been members of your congregation for twenty years and we’d really like you to marry us. The state will issue one-time licenses to allow friends or family members to officiate weddings… would you mind doing that? It would mean a lot to us.”

    Do you actually turn them down, on the grounds of separation of church and state?

    I dunno. Maybe I’m just overly cynical, but (as I said to Lori) it seems to me all that happens is that lots of reverends, ministers, rabbis, etc. eventually register as JPs in order to offer a “one-stop” service.

    Again, I don’t object to any of that… if folks want that policy, that’s OK with me… but I’m not convinced it will actually accomplish in practice what is being attributed to it in principle.

  • Reverend Ref

    I’m not seeing a lot of mainline clergy registering to be a JP. MY cynical self tells me that a lot of independent, fundamentalist, evangelical-type clergy probably would because of their desire to create a theocracy in the U.S. But personally, I’d be happy to not have to worry about filling out state marriage licenses.

    In your scenario of the couple who have been in the congregation for 20 years, I think what would happen is that that couple would go get the appropriate paperwork from the courthouse to become civilly married and then they’d come to me to become religiously married. Which, in effect, is what I would like every couple to do.

    However, if they really, Really, REALLY wanted my signature on the state issued one-time license, what would probably happen is that we’d go somewhere — a park, their house, underneath the local Caveman statue (yes, we have one of those in my town) — and I would wear a shirt and tie and we’d marry them according to the state. Then, later, we’d have a wedding service in the church to formally bless that marriage under the rubrics of our religious organization (The Episcopal Church in my case).

    I also think you’re getting too hung up on the “at the courthouse” clause thing. A civil marriage (like yours, or like anyone in Vegas) doesn’t have to be performed at the courthouse, that just happens to be where the paperwork originates and is filed. AFAIK, no county mandates civil marriages actually be performed at the courthouse. Pick up your license there, return it there, but the in-between is entirely up to you.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > I also think you’re getting too hung up on the “at the courthouse” clause thing.

    The only reason I bring it up is that, without that clause, nothing prevents clergy from going on as they did before.

    But if you’re telling me that mainline clergy simply won’t choose to do so, given the choice… well, you know more about clergy than I do, and I’m willing to defer to that greater knowledge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as it’s equally possible for people who have no connection to a church to get married without any problem, as it is now. I don’t think you can argue that a religious leader doesn’t play a secular role in the community as well, and should be able to apply for a license to solemnize marriages, but shouldn’t get one automatically just because ze’s been ordained by some outfit calling itself a church.

  • Caravelle

    Off topic, and sorry if it’s been brought up but I just saw this and thought it was hilarious :
    http://www.clarkecountydemocrat.com/news/2009-10-29/Editorial/Texas_beer_joint_sues_church.html

    Do you believe in the power of prayer ?

  • Anonymous

    Clergy having to register as justices of the peace to perform weddings would pose a problem in places such as Canada, where justices of the peace are legally required to honour human rights laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. In effect you would have a situation where clergy could not perform marriages unless they were willing to marry gay people. That’s something I have mixed feelings about–I agree with the requirement that justices of the peace not discriminate, but I’m not sure clergy who oppose gay marriage should necessarily be banned from performing any marriages because of that opposition.

  • Anonymous

    Clergy having to register as justices of the peace to perform weddings would pose a problem in places such as Canada, where justices of the peace are legally required to honour human rights laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. In effect you would have a situation where clergy could not perform marriages unless they were willing to marry gay people. That’s something I have mixed feelings about–I agree with the requirement that justices of the peace not discriminate, but I’m not sure clergy who oppose gay marriage should necessarily be banned from performing any marriages because of that opposition.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Well, under the policy being discussed, that would be an odd way to phrase it: clergy would not perform marriages in exactly the same sense that they would not notarize documents, unless they happened to also be notary publics.

    That’s not the same as being banned from performing marriages.

    But, sure, if becoming a JP requires agreeing to not discriminate based on orientation, then someone who insists on discriminating — even if their reasons for discrimination are religious — can’t become a JP, and therefore can’t sign anyone’s marriage contracts.

    Would you prefer a special exception to anti-discrimination requirements for people claiming religious obligations to discriminate in general?

    Or just a specific one for this particular form of discrimination?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Clergy having to register as justices of the peace to perform weddings would pose a problem in places such as Canada, where justices of the peace are legally required to honour human rights laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. In effect you would have a situation where clergy could not perform marriages unless they were willing to marry gay people. That’s something I have mixed feelings about–I agree with the requirement that justices of the peace not discriminate, but I’m not sure clergy who oppose gay marriage should necessarily be banned from performing any marriages because of that opposition.

    One solution would be to have public and private justices of the peace — public ones being employed by the local government. Public ones would be required to not discriminate. Private ones could decline to marry any couple for any reason. I might have to work through the consequences of that, but as long as there were provisions to make it such that every municipality had at least one public justice of the peace available, then it would be workable, I think.

  • http://jdm314.livejournal.com/ Mad Latinist

    Wilson asked Sokola how he planned to get to heaven and asked if he had any straight friends, apparently unaware that Sokola is married.

    A little sad, isn’t it, that even in an article on gay marriage one can casually drop being married as equivalent to being straight?

  • Thalia

    I actually had to go back and reread it to get the point. I didn’t know what was wrong with it, but I stumbled over it. That’s interesting, once you point it out.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think there should generally, either with respect to sexual orientation, or otherwise, be an exception for anti-discrimination requirements for people claiming religious obligations to discriminate. I’m fine with the fact that justices of the peace in Canada aren’t allowed to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. I am entirely pro-same-sex-marriage.

    I’m just unsure of whether clergy should be completely barred from performing civil marriages if they refuse to perform gay marriages. That would effectively make it so that clergy from some types of religious backgrounds could perform civil marriages and clergy from other religious backgrounds couldn’t, which I’m not sure I’m comfortable with.

    In Canada, clergy are allowed to refuse to perform gay marriages–I believe because clergy are not government employees, while justices of the peace are and therefore cannot discriminate. I believe that generally, clergy have discretion as to whom they marry (e.g. my parents’ pastor refuses to marry Christians to non-Christians), while justices of the peace do not. I think the Canadian state of affairs is reasonable.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Thanks for clarifying.

  • Anonymous

    I think there’s at least some middle ground there. Suppose clergy could only (civil) marry people if they were JPs, and suppose that JPs can’t discriminate. That just means that clergy who are approached by a gay couple have to handle their paperwork or whatever. It doesn’t require the provision of religious ceremonies. A pastor is free to put the civil marriage in the middle of a religious ceremony, but he’s not required to do so in all cases by nondiscrimination rules.

    That seems to me to really hammer home the point that civil and religious marriage are distinct without unduly inconveniencing certain religious people. The only reason someone would have a problem with having to abide by nondiscrimination requirements when performing civil marriages would be a confusion between religious and civil marriage. Well, or just a general objection to civil marriage for certain people, but setting that aside as not a legitimate concern…

  • Anonymous

    You’re welcome. I absolutely don’t want to give anyone the impression that I don’t support marriage equality.

  • Anonymous

    I am always so frustrated by the false dichotomy between the “religious view” and the “legal/civil/whatever” view on same-sex marriage, because it ignores the fact that many religions practice same-sex marriage. I mean, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, Episcopalians, Unitarians, Wiccans, United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Canada, some Quakers, some Lutherans– these are all real religions, and they all practice holy, sanctified, religious same-sex marriage. It’s very much what Fred and Amaryllis and others were saying– people consider religious freedom to mean “freedom from having to be aware of other religions.” Feh.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche
  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    This bit by Lewis Black, I feel, illustrates that point pretty well too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ANrvQC4wIk

    (Note, that bit is from the darkest days of the Bush administration; so some parts are a little out of date. Still largely relevant.)

  • Donalbain

    What would be wrong with something similar the situation they used in Friends? Joey wanted to officiate, so he filled in a form on the internet that made him a “clergyman” and so he was able to perform the marriage.
    Instead of having to become a pretendy clergyman, just have an online (or paper) form that you would fill in that said your friends want you to be the one to perform that ceremony. A few people could have that form permanently filled in and would act as freelance friends, and there would also be some people who are employed directly by the government to do the job.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    At least in Massachusetts, this is already doable without becoming a “pretend clergyman.”

    You fill out a form at town hall that says you want so-and-so to officiate at your wedding, and they do. No reference to religion required; an entirely civil operation.

    And some people do in fact have that form “permanently filled in” and act as “freelance friends.” They’re called justices of the peace.

  • Donalbain

    The justices of the peace are gov officials though, arent they? They are the third category in my suggestion. The freelance friends was a reference to private individuals who might well be, for instance clergy, or Elvis impersonators..

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I’m not sure.

    I have a few friends who are JPs; they work day jobs in the private sector just like I do, so I think of them as “private individuals” and don’t think of them as “government officials.”

    But I suppose they might be the latter. The same might be true of notary publics, substitute teachers in public schools, and volunteer school-crossing guards… I don’t know.

    Actually, as I think about it, I’m not even sure I know what we mean by “government official.” Do teachers in public high-schools count? They at least have salaries paid for out of taxes, which the JPs of my acquaintance don’t.

  • Dan Audy

    A government official is someone who is someone who is acting as a representative for the civil authority of a particular political entity. Your JP friends would be considered as ‘government officials’ during the time they were engaging in their work as a JP but as private individuals the rest of the time. While working in an official capacity they are bound to follow any rules the government requires of them (non-discrimination, dress code, language requirements, etc) and expose the government to legal action for their activities (lawsuits, FOIP requests, etc).

    The difference between a JP and a crossing guard has more to do with the scope of their duties. A crossing guard isn’t engaging in the activity of the state but is more of a employee. A JP on the other hand is taking care of the primary responisbilities of the state.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I don’t think it’s unconstitutional to try to bring civil law into line with religious law in most cases. […] Many people, and probably most people at at least one point in US history, would have supported laws against murder and theft primarily on religious grounds.

    The point is, there are good reasons aside from religion to legislate against murder and theft. Both cause harm to people.

    Same sex marriage causes harm to no one and benefits gay, bi and trans people. There’s no non-religious reason against it.

    If those people supported laws that were of civic benefit for religious reasons, and this was because they personally saw a lot of things in religious terms, no harm done, but they were still missing the point of ‘separation of church and state’. But if someone supports a law that’s civically harmful for religious reasons, they need a remedial course in civics.

    You can’t turn separation of church and state on and off. There’s no ‘most cases’ about it: church and state either are separate or they’re not.

  • Guest-again

    ‘Same sex marriage causes harm to no one and benefits gay, bi and trans people. There’s no non-religious reason against it.’

    Money, though you don’t hear that reason much anymore. Extending the various benefits of marriage to people who couldn’t marry before shows up in various budgets – such as survivor’s benefits or health insurance.

    This is not a particularly good reason (and in terms of health insurance, quite U.S. centric – think AIDS and how expensive it is to treat, an argument from more than a decade ago), but it can be quantitifed to a certain extent, and was considered reasonable (again in a U.S. context), at least in some quarters that were not exactly the religious right.

    I don’t agree with it particularly – in a society which spends so much on weaponry, it seems a truly trivial concern – but it is probably fueling at least a part of the opposition still, even if the argument is no longer so publicly made.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    I am very dubious about that. If that were the case, we would expect health insurance companies to line up behind anti-gay-marriage organizations. As far as I can tell, they appear to be neutral.

  • PJ Evans

    If that was a valid reason to not have same-sex marriage, then shouldn’t it also be one for ending marriage completely?

  • Dan Audy

    While certainly more founded than most of the ‘but gays are icky’ arguments, I don’t think that the fact it has financial implications would reach the level of being described as harm. Moreover the lack of consistency in how these benefits are extended does create genuine harm. Denying people the benefits they paid for simply because they have the wrong type of marriage for financial reasons is just as morally wrong as Ford not recalling the Pinto because it was cheaper to payout for the deaths than replace the $100 part to avoid those deaths in the first place.

    Also the same argument could be extended to anti-miscegenation laws (or nearly any discrimination) because we then wouldn’t have to pay pensions or health insurance for those horrible people whose race-mixing ways are already surely a sign of profound mental illness.

  • Kiba
  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    … this guy does realize that the Western Empire lasted over 500 years right? And that’s ignoring the Republican phase of Rome, which is another 500. A thousand years wherein teh gayness was mostly OK.

    And homosexuality in the Roman period is a LOT more complicated than “They allowed it.”

    Course it’s easy to counter the “Gays killed Rome” argument with another one that usually hits the accuser close to home: “No, Christianity killed Rome…”

    Note: I don’t actually believe that – Rome’s fall was very complicated; but it’s fun to put someone back on their heels with that one. After all, after Christianity came to Rome, the Western Empire died inside 150 years. Course the Eastern Empire, which was rather Christian, lasted until 1453; though then again the practical end of the empire was in 1204 after the Fourth Crusade. So in a very real sense you could say Christians were involved in the end of Byzantium. (To be fair, the Pope wasn’t exactly thrilled with the situation.)

    *shake my head* I can’t believe a history professor has such a terrible lack of historical knowledge.

  • PJ Evans

    Yeah, I remember in my medieval history class we spent the first couple of weeks looking at the later Roman empire. A whole lot of things were involved, including wealthy people who didn’t want to pay taxes for the services they were using.

  • http://mistharm.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Indeed. You’ve got a combination of governmental corruption, a military that was more loyal to it’s generals than it’s empire; coups weren’t terribly uncommon either – you can thank the Praetorian Guard for that*… then there’s the taxation issue**, not to mention slavery, which was a constant in Rome, which brings its share of problems.

    Oh and the military’s other big failure,*** being that the legions became much more reliant on the local populations recruited on site – which as you can imagine wouldn’t be entirely different from the US recruiting soldiers from Iraq. (Where do you think their loyalty is going to lie, after all?) Poorer training was also an issue.

    Then on top of that the social upheaval from religious change, the fact that Rome was stretched across a pretty huge area (part of why they relied on local recruits and auxiliaries); which given the slow speed of communication could make for even more difficulties… all of which would have been bad enough on it’s own; the internal power struggles could have toppled the whole thing; but then you’ve got the barbarian invasions and… well yeah.

    The Goth sacking of Rome, hilariously enough, was easily preventable too – it’s just that the Romans treated their Goth mercenaries like crap, and denied them the things they’d promised when they hired them.

    Really you can’t label any singular factor as “The reason Rome fell.”

    Homosexuality of course does not even make the list at all. It’s a non-factor; just as it was a non-factor for the Greeks.

    Oh that reminds me… I’m sure we’ve all heard this same line in reference to the Greeks right? I mean it’s not just Rome that gets picked on for this.

    So next time someone brings up the Greeks homosexuality as a reason why they fell, mention precisely who it was who conquered them. Hint: It was those Romans, way back in their pre-Empire phase. Because nothing says “Homosexuality has doomed you” than for your homosexual-tolerant society to be conquered by another homosexuality tolerant society; which will then go on to last another 600ish years.

    Not that anyone here doesn’t know a lot of this already ><

    *Look at the incredibly short reign some Emperors had.

    **Which is manifold. There really wasn't such a thing as progressive taxation, so you've got situations where the people at the very top often pay nothing if they're in favor; but are killed off and their stuff taken if they're out of favor.

    ***Rome, as with any Empire, was very reliant on it's military. When your strength as THE world power is based entirely on your ability to kick everyone's asses; you have to maintain that edge or you're going to go down in flames.

  • PJ Evans

    *Look at the incredibly short reign some Emperors had.

    The year with three Emperors comes to mind. (It was more complicated than it sounds, of course.)

  • Rowen

    Wasn’t that one of Sulla’s points in his total government take over?*

    *Completely and horribly simplifying here. However, my main point is that it seems that often time the rich like to take, and not give, and for some strange reason, this hasn’t seemed to last for too long. . . .

  • Rowen

    Edit: that last part should read, “for some strange reason, this seems to not be able to last very long.”

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Money, though you don’t hear that reason much anymore. Extending the various benefits of marriage to people who couldn’t marry before shows up in various budgets – such as survivor’s benefits or health insurance.

    I’d call that ‘economic exploitation’ rather than just ‘money’. As is often said in reverse, why should queer people have to fund straight people’s lifestyles? If the benefits are available to everyone then it’s a reasonable use of public funds; if they’re only available to straight people then queer people are paying taxes to support their own exclusion, which is grotesque.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    The thing is, it only feels grotesque if you start from the assumption that we (that is, queer people) merit the same social and moral consideration as straight people.

    By contrast, consider laws to seize criminal assets. Most people don’t object to these, even though that means criminals are paying to fund law enforcement and thereby to support their own imprisonment (or death).

    That may be economic exploitation… but most of us are basically OK with it for criminals, because most of us consider it right and just to treat criminals differently from the rest of the community; most of us don’t consider criminals to merit the same social and moral consideration as non-criminals.

    Some of my fellow citizens feel the same way about me and my husband, and act accordingly. This pisses me the fuck off, of course, and not infrequently frightens me, but I take solace in the fact that they are losing, and we are winning.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    The thing is, it only feels grotesque if you start from the assumption that we (that is, queer people) merit the same social and moral consideration as straight people.

    By contrast, consider laws to seize criminal assets. Most people don’t object to these, even though that means criminals are paying to fund law enforcement and thereby to support their own imprisonment (or death).

    That may be economic exploitation… but most of us are basically OK with it for criminals, because most of us consider it right and just to treat criminals differently from the rest of the community; most of us don’t consider criminals to merit the same social and moral consideration as non-criminals.

    Some of my fellow citizens feel the same way about me and my husband, and act accordingly. This pisses me the fuck off, of course, and not infrequently frightens me, but I take solace in the fact that they are losing, and we are winning.

  • Anonymous

    most of us consider it right and just to treat criminals differently from the rest of the community; most of us don’t consider criminals to merit the same social and moral consideration as non-criminals.

    Not most of us here, I’m fairly sure. Not I, certainly. If I’m correctly understanding ‘laws to seize criminal assets’, I think such laws are unobjectionable, because criminals shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of their ill-gotten gains and if the original owner of the property can’t be determined then there’s nothing wrong with law enforcement getting it, but that doesn’t mean I think criminals deserve less social and moral consideration than the law-abiding.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If George claims that it’s unobjectionable to seize my assets* because I’m queer and queer folk shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of our queer lifestyles, I’d conclude that George was, simply by virtue of that claim, granting me less social and moral consideration than a straight person.

    I’d expect approximately everyone on this site, and a plurality of the U.S. population, and perhaps a majority of the world population, to agree with that conclusion. I’d expect a substantial minority of the U.S. population and perhaps a majority of the world population to disagree with that conclusion.

    If George instead claims that it’s unobjectionable to seize Bill’s assets because Bill is a criminal and criminals shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of their criminal lifestyles, I’d conclude that George was, simply by virtue of that claim, granting Bill less social and moral consideration than a law-abiding person. (Mind you, I would agree with George… Bill shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy those benefits. I would similarly agree that it’s unobjectionable to restrict Bill’s movements and autonomy, and to perform various other acts on Bill that I would consider objectionable to perform on a law-abiding person.)

    I’d expect an overwhelming majority of people pretty much everywhere to disagree with that conclusion.

    * And don’t think I don’t hear y’all chortling in the back row!

  • Semperfiona

    I, for one, take issue with the criminal asset seizure laws as well. In my state, there is no actual requirement that the assets seized have anything to do with a crime, only that law enforcement officers ‘suspect’ it was used in a crime–which need not have anything to do with the owner, either. If a vehicle is rented or borrowed, it can be seized for something the renter/borrower did or was suspected of doing while in possession of it.

    After that, the person whose assets were seized –nor even the person using the asset–need not even be charged with anything, but the assets will not be returned failing a trial in which the burden of proof lies on the original owner to prove that the assets are innocent and that zie actually owns them, not with the state to prove anyone’s guilt.

    Often this translates into the original owner paying the police nearly the replacement value of the asset in order to regain it, or the police just keeping whatever it was.

    As with most such laws, it tends to be used against underprivileged people.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Just to be clear: I also object to this and similarly “guilty until proven innocent” aspects of criminal law.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    I disagree with asset forfeiture not only on those grounds, but on the grounds that a punishment that also serves to benefit the agency charged with carrying out said punishment will in all cases turn that agency corrupt.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I agree with this as far as it goes, but I disagree with the implication that this can be avoided by changing the financial routing.

    If group A makes the decision of whether to seize assets, and group B benefits from that seizure, all you’ve done is create incentives for groups A and B to collude.

    Leaving the decision of guilt or innocence to juries drawn randomly from civilians, rather than to dedicated government officials, has significant weaknesses associated with it, but one advantage it has is a certain resistance to regulatory capture.

  • Dan Audy

    This is part of the reason that jury selection and exclusions concern me so much. If you aren’t willing to apply the death penalty under any circumstance you are not eligable to serve on a jury in for a crime that could carry that penalty in many states. Understanding the law and having preformed opinions regarding the morality or efficacy of laws allows the most knowledgeable and interested members of society to be dismissed from the jury pool ‘with cause’. That combined with the economic incentives for jury avoidance results in biasing the jury to the least thoughtful, least successful, and loneliest members of society.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly I’m due for a privilege check.

  • Hawker40

    Indeed, the U.S. Federal Laws on drug asset seizure work exactly like this. Half of the siezed assets then go to the Feds, half to the arresting agency. Which lead to the interesting situation where the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) refused to turn over half the assets to the Feds.
    Who do you call to arrest the LAPD? County Sheriff? FBI? Beverly Hills PD?

  • http://profiles.google.com/scyllacat Priscilla Parkman

    Indeed, after I lived in New Orleans, a place which is as corrupt as it is beautiful, I began to translate “criminal” as equal to “underprivileged” and “underprivileged” as “if the authorities mess with you, you have no real power to resist them.”

    In short, If you’re not rich and/or powerful, and the cops (or any authority) want something you have, they can surely find something you’ve done wrong and thus reason to confiscate your stuff.

    I can no longer “other” criminals. I and everyone I know are just criminals who haven’t been charged. So saying they shouldn’t have the rights of other people kind of ills me now.

  • Lori

    Re: the OP—Congratulations to Delaware on the passage of the civil unions bill. It passed in the House yesterday after passing in the Senate last week and the governor is expected to sign it. That being the case, the law will go into effect January 1st of next year.


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