Two of my recent posts at The American Conservative turned out to be about unintended consequences. The first, “Drop Those Wedding Rings in the Name of the Law,” covered the suit filed by the United Church of Christ in North Carolina to be allowed to perform private, unofficial, same-sex weddings.
Currently, it is illegal for anyone who can conduct legal weddings to conduct extra-legal ones. It’s a bizarre constraint on religious practice, but the original purpose of the law has nothing to do with gay marriage:
The statute is the legal equivalent of banning notaries public from witnessing and stamping invalid or unofficial contracts, even if they promise to use a unofficial stamp. As long as they’re going through the same motions and procedures as when they conduct official state business, there’s the possibility for confusion.
North Carolina is not alone in setting these restrictions. Alabama, Arizona,Connecticut, Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin, all forbid people permitted to officially solemnize marriage to supervise unauthorized ceremonies. Most states classify this as a misdemeanor, and Alabama sets the highest fine at a stiff $1000 per wedding. In Virginia, rogue ministers may be sentenced to up to one year in jail.
The original law in North Carolina was well-intentioned but had slightly silly knock-on effects, but the second story I covered is a matter of life and death. Prompted by the WHO’s declaration of an emergency (with associated travel restrictions), I returned to my epidemiology and ethics hobbyhorse in “Polio Breaks Out After the U.S. Breaks Trust,” discussing the consequences of the CIA using vaccinators as covert operatives in Pakistan to catch Bin Laden.
If doctors could be spies in disguise, how could nations welcome them in? In Syria, where polio is spreading amid the chaos of the civil war, how can vaccinators persuade Assad to let them move freely within the country, if they could be doubling as spies, assassins, or gun runners? In order to check these diseases, public health officials need to be enter any country to set up quarantines and dispense inoculations. The United States has shattered the trust placed in medical workers, and polio may not be the last of the threats we face as a result…
Combatting these diseases requires more than a team of elite commandos. Turning back a pandemic, whether of natural or human origins, requires international coordination and trust. America’s covert operations have broken that trust and put us all in danger.