No Non-biological Parents Need Apply

Marriage is about procreation.

That’s what advocates of Proposition 8 said before the Supreme Court to support their case against gay marriage. And that’s what Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be saying in the questioning at the Supreme Court yesterday. As The New York Times reported: “Chief Justice Roberts said history was on the side of traditional marriage. ‘The institution developed,’ he said, ‘to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.'”

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan pointed out that sterile opposite-sex couples get married and couples beyond child-bearing years get married (the always-tasteful Justice Antonin Scalia joked about Strom Thurmond, who fathered a child in his 70s, but Scalia and Thurmond are exceptions in way too many ways). The questions and answers became quite tortured — not surprising on an issue so emotional and so reflective of people’s values and beliefs.

I have respect for people who feel earnestly on either side of this issue. My own thoughts have changed on gay issues in the past decades.

But two forces cry out here — history, and babies.

Dismissing history as a reason not to allow gay marriage is easy for me. History was on the side of slavery. History was on the side of denying equality to women — history is still there, as we see in the rapes in Egypt, where traditional religious leaders are blaming rapes on women becoming involved in the world outside their homes. History was on the side of Jim Crow and is still on the side of racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination.

History is a brute. We shouldn’t be ruled by it. Escaping history is a high calling of leaders and legislatures and courts.
Now, babies. Everybody loves babies. But making babies is not the only reason for committing to a relationship, and asserting that making babies is the only or the most-important reason for marrying is ludicrous and harmful, seems to me.

The presumption that women will create babies can eclipse women’s rights and aspirations and potential. Society has traditionally denied women equal standing in most of human endeavor — governing; running or even participating in the institutions of commercial, civic and social life; working outside the home; being taken seriously — so that women can bear and raise children.

Creating and raising children is holy and admirable. But it is not the only reason women exist.

And — seven billion isn’t enough?

Liberals often complain that conservatives are pro-life until the baby is born. Many of us liberals feel that conservative policies are harmful to children now, and harmful to the future, therefore harmful to our children’s children. (I know, conservatives believe this about our mounting debt, and they are right; we disagree on what to do about it.) But it does seem hypocritical to me to be so selectively concerned about children. Let’s stop debating marriage equality and address instead the devastating and growing income disparity in the U.S. and the world. That’s far more harmful to humanity old and young.

Seven billion isn’t enough? Do we need more kids? I don’t want to sound like Jonathan Swift here, but a modest proposal would say let’s not make growing the world’s population a central goal of our policies.

People get married for many reasons, not just for adding the seven-billion-and-first child to this groaning planet. They get married, mostly, to show love and commitment.

I’ve been married three times. That will disqualify what I say here in some people’s eyes. I get that. But here I go anyway. My first wife and I were too young to be ready for kids, and I wasn’t sure the marriage would last. Good thing we didn’t have kids. My second wife already had children, and I was privileged to be part of their raising. We didn’t need “our own.” My current and last wife, like me, has never felt that having biological children was central to her life. We’ve had the privilege to be involved in raising a niece — not the same as growing a kid from the ground up, but rewarding and challenging and wild.

I’ve entered into each of these marriages with joy and hope and commitment. The first two marriages eroded, and the commitment didn’t last. The divorces were sad and painful. In none of my marriages was the main purpose to create children and raise them to adults. Perhaps that’s why the first two didn’t last, one could argue. But that’s a narrow view of the purpose of marriage, which is my point. Marriage is about two people saying they want to live and grow together, and believing, even if wrongly, that they will do so forever. Marriage strengthens the couple, and strengthens society. And having parents who are in a strong marriage helps kids, no doubt about it. Gay or straight.

But marriage’s sole purpose, even its most important purpose, is not to grow children, seems to me.

And that’s just one of many reasons that gays should be allowed to marry. Period. End of story.

— Bruce Benidt

(Image from

Pre-existing Language Condition

Pre-existing condition.

Lifetime cap.

Jargon. Jargon that gets in the way of understanding.

The President yesterday used these terms again when explaining the benefits of the Affordable Care Act that was upheld by the Supreme court.

Most Americans, barraged by conservative advertising, don’t like the law. But when asked about the law’s features, they like those. Democrats, particularly the president, have done a terrible job explaining in plain English what the law does.

How many Americans can explain “pre-existing condition” accurately?

“So you’re sick. You have diabetes,” the president should say. “You want health insurance to help pay for the huge costs of treatment and medicine. The insurance company says they won’t pay for any of the costs of treating your diabetes — can’t cover you for the very thing you need help with. So you can’t afford to get well. The Republicans think that’s okay. I don’t.

“So you have insurance, and then you get sick with diabetes. The insurance company says they won’t cover you anymore because you’re sick. The very thing you have insurance for causes the insurance company to dump you. And now you can’t afford to get well. The Republicans think that’s okay. I don’t.

“So you’ve been sick for awhile. Diabetes, skin cancer, now some broken bones. The insurance company says you’ve reached the lifetime limit of how much they’ll spend to help you, and now they won’t cover the cost of treatment. And now you can’t afford to get well. The Republicans think that’s okay. I don’t.

“Do you?”

The Institute of Medicine found almost 10 years ago that “nearly half of American adults face higher health risks because of trouble understanding medical terms and directions….Comprehending medicine’s arcane jargon is difficult for even the most educated person but is almost impossible for the millions who can’t read well, aren’t fluent in English or have vision or cognitive problems caused by aging.”

Speak more clearly, Mr. President. No jargon.

We have a friend here, my age, who pays huge monthly health insurance premiums. She doesn’t make very much money, she’s raising several young family members — grandkids, nieces — and can’t afford to pay her share of the drugs she needs. Hasn’t taken needed medication for over a year.

It’s not right. We need the reform Obama is leading. And we need him to help us understand that reform, and understand who’s standing in the way.

— Bruce Benidt

Archbishops and Justices: Losing the Fight for Common Sense.

As an old altar boy (obscure “Exorcist” reference there) I am more than a little astonished at how badly the Catholic church has sold its soul to the false gods of culture warfare. In fact, if it weren’t for John McCain and the United States Supreme Court it would hard to come up with a more appalling example of a once venerable institution disgracing itself with craven pandering to the forces of anachronism.

On the other hand, of course, this is the same Holy Roman Catholic Church that has had some pretty overwhelming episodes of un-Christian behavior over the centuries — can you say “The Inquisition”, for starters? So these things have happened, and with the local Catholics spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to blunt the inevitability of gay marriage here in Minnesota, and nationally admonishing nuns for spending too much time assisting the poor (and not enough countering the forces of liberalism), it is happening again. But given this moment in time, when secular humanism is a widening, deepening meme and organized religion is more a hub of community than a font of genuine spirituality for most of its participants, a church that flaunts its intolerance is slathering itself in common sense repellent.

Moreover, and I speak as a kid who was regularly reminded by eerily asexual women in medieval black garb that “impure thoughts” (as common to most 12-year-old boys as breathing) were a near certain path to fiery damnation, the church’s fanatical absorption with sex — gay sex, pedophile sex, conception sex — is almost certain to alienate another subset of parishioners. (If anyone out there has been to mass in the past four years, has your priest delivered a sermon against or handed out a DVD on the horrors of predatory investment bankers?)

The Catholics likely to peel off next will be those who up until now were giving the Church the benefit of the doubt, accepting that, yes, it is a 2000 year-old institution dominated by a mysterious cult of aged, doughy men who actually believe in human infallibility … but is also one that occasionally feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless and teaches kids not to steal, murder and cuss in public. That crowd can funnel their charitable intentions through other organizations and take a Sunday morning stroll in the forest when they need a whiff of spirituality.

How someone like Archbishop John Nienstedt here in St. Paul thinks he cultivates the church’s “brand” by grossly overreacting to something — gay marriage — that most young Americans, (acculturated by the godless media), have long since stopped questioning, and others have examined without seeing any peril to their marriages or moral health, I don’t know. But — with the Vatican’s approval, and with an infusion of hundreds of thousands of dollars from unidentified, no doubt conservative donors, (I’m thinking the $400k that bought those anti-gay DVDs during the Tom Emmer campaign) — Nienstedt and his confederate clergy are walking a high wire in terms of losing the last of their credibility with modern, moderate, broadly informed, non-fanatical followers.

Plainly, the church I grew up in has taken a hard right turn, aligning itself with retrograde forces that have more in common with Bible Belt snake handlers and self-serving TV ministries than a religion interested or capable of being relevant to a highly diverse 21st century society.

And so it is with the U.S. Supreme Court, as we await the full release of this week’s decisions, most notably the Court’s ruling on “Obamacare”. Were I a betting man — and the nus said I could burn for that one too, especially if I was wagering on whether Peggy M.’s bikini top would fall off at the Montevideo pool — I’d take the bet that it strikes down the mandate in a 5-4 vote.

Despite a startling consensus of legal scholars saying publicly that the Court — the Scalia Court, as I think of it — will have to stand on its head and tie cherry stems in knots with its tongue to contrive a precedent for doing what it is going to do, it will do it, because as the Court is composed today it is an ideological force, as “activist” as it gets in terms of resisting action required by progressive legislation. (And calling Obamacare “progressive” is being extraordinarily generous on my part.)

A rapidly expanding base of global knowledge (via the internet and other technologies) and experience (via travel and facilitated human interactions) is wreaking havoc on institutions like the Catholic church and the Supreme Court. Both are in the business of guarding a form of not all that intuitive institutional thinking. Neither sees its role in terms of revising canon to better serve a rapidly evolving culture. (Scalia would argue that that is Congress’s job … and thwart it at every turn.) While they still have the ability to hold the respect of flocks eager to be led and directed, they will  (with a vote to gut health insurance reform) rapidly lose the respect of those — albeit still a minority — who know damned well that nothing any human has ever invented or decreed is infallible.

And as they say about good name and reputation, once its gone … good luck getting it back.

Antonin Scalia: “Well, Don’t Obligate Yourself to That.”

If there is any good news to come from the Supreme Court throwing out “Obamacare” (as even the President is now happy to describe it) it is that it will tear open one of the last great delusions of American life. No, not that “reality TV” isn’t real, but rather that the Supreme Court is the one branch of the government above and immune from politics. Only the naive have continued to embrace this ninth-grade civics mirage until now.

Despite the tone and hysteria of last week’s oral arguments, I hold out my own naive hope that this Roberts court will not throw out — on a micro-fiber fine re-interpretation of established law — the individual mandate and thus the economic heart of the Affordable Care Act. The justices have already voted, so we’re merely in the window prior to their formal decision in a couple of months. But I have a wisp of cockeyed optimism drifting through my alleged brain.

Having digested a bombardment of punditry over the past week my thinking is largely in step with those saying that Chief Justice Roberts may hold as much of the key to this — truly epochal — decision as Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s perennial “swinger”. The thinking being that unlike Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and the inexplicable Clarence Thomas, Roberts has his name on this era of the Court, and with one more shameless exercise in rank partisanship his historical fate will be forever sealed. He will be the guy who oversaw the Supreme Court as it debased itself to the level of … Congress itself.

I mention Justice Thomas as a fellow Holy Cross Crusader long since turned into a mute and sullen partisan … him, not me the ever cheerful. (We were on the Worcester campus together lo those many years ago. I don’t remember him, despite the fact that I was a member of the student senate when the black kids on campus “struck” the school — a generally liberal Jesuit place — over “de facto racism” and many showed up to vent at senate meetings.) Thomas has now broken his old record of Trappist silence from the bench. It’s been six years since the man asked a question in open court. You can make your own analyses of what that’s all about. But in my experience the intellectually insecure in positions far over their abilities occasionally have the wisdom not to open their mouths and remove all doubt.

I will be fascinated to read some day the history of Thomas’ years on the Supreme Court. (In two years Thomas will have “served” as long as Louis Brandeis … think about it.) My guess is that the same inert, chip-on-the-shoulder image we see in public is what we have been getting in the Court’s inner sanctums.

The point is that Thomas, Alito and Scalia are forever, perpetually and resolutely in step with the country’s hyper-partisan modern conservatism, where anything tainted with “liberalism” is a threat to be stopped dead in its tracks (Bush v. Gore), overwhelmed, (Citizens United) or reversed, (Obamacare). Those three men are settled questions. Kennedy, the swinger, may bat for either team.

But Roberts has to recognize that Obamacare will be for him a third strike. Its defeat will be conclusive proof of his court’s focused commitment to thwart all significant liberal activity in the governance of the United States, despite in this case, a monumental piece of legislation whose heart — the mandate — is a deeply conservative concept. It was designed, I dare say, to protect the profit interests of a private industry, was first proposed over 100 years ago by a conservative icon (Teddy Roosevelt), was brought to life in the modern vernacular by the man most likely to carry the conservative banner this fall (Mitt Romney), and was ferociously and exhaustively (and hysterically) debated coast to coast for over two years before passing into law on a vote of the duly elected legislative branch. To rule it down, on what will have to be a nigh-on-to-farcical parsing of a law full of countering precedents will have the effect of debasing this court in the view of the public, the world and history.

Also, as I slogged through all punditry and quotes from justices there was one that jumped out at me. It came up when Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was explaining the cost impact to tax payers of “free riders”, the crowd lacking insurance who simply show up at emergency rooms for treatment where — because Ronald Reagan signed the law — the government requires hospitals to provide treatment, which is then passed on to everyone else as higher overall costs. Verrilli noted that we are “obligated” to provide this basic humanitarian service.

And what was the response from Scalia, the Roberts court’s primary ventricle?

“Well, don’t obligate yourself to that.”

Think about that one. It’s breathtaking. Never mind the easy jokes about something like that coming from a guy on a lifelong government pension and full government medical coverage. It is also so utterly representative of the modern, hyper-partisan conservative attitude toward all enormous social problems … don’t do anything.

The Supreme Court’s role isn’t to create solutions to these profound social problems, like coverage and cost of health care, but if it votes down Obamacare it will leave little doubt that it is a petty, indifferent and nakedly partisan supporting character to a self-serving ideology, an ideology that not only offers no credible solutions of its own to these problems, but doesn’t even try.

Supreme Court Just Destroyed the Country, Liberals Say

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling giving corporations the right to advertise on political issues and candidates has liberals’ heads exploding.

It’s a tough issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy called this a free speech issue, and he’s right. And when there are challenges to free speech, as the axiom goes, the answer is never less free speech but more. Those who object to the decision — Keith Olbermann of MSNBC called it the worst decision since Dred Scott — are also right that it gives corporations too much power.

It’s amusing that Olbermann is going apoplectic tonight, but has to break for — wait for it, wait for it — advertisements from corporations that keep his program on the air.

There are other remedies to corporations having so much power. One is to drag it out in the light of day and let people see how it works. I’ve for years advocated that every media story about legislation should routinely report to the public what interested parties have given to each legislator. “Senator Leghorn, who leads the opposition to the bill outlawing electric dog food, has taken $2 million in the last five years from the electric dog food industry, which has also spent $7 million advertising on his behalf, and only $300,000 from organizations trying to outlaw electric dog food.” Show the public exactly where each legislators’ funding and advertising comes from. Let people know who’s bought and paid for by whom. Right now, all that funding stuff comes out quarterly at best and is buried in wonkish stories that nobody outside political boiler rooms understands.

Another remedy — take back the airwaves. Under Ronald Reagan we lost the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal Time Rule at the FCC. We could bring that back with a vengeance. The concept was that, because the airwaves radio and TV broadcast on were public, the public, through the government, could regulate what traveled on those airwaves. Let’s use the same rationale — which was creative, at best — to regulate cable and satellite TV, not just traditional broadcast. The internet is public, so we can if we want regulate that. We could require TV and internet broadcasts (and narrowcasts) to give free “air time” or cable time or satellite time or screen time to all bona fide candidates (5% of vote at last election, a certain number of signatures, whatever). So the advantage of rich companies and candidates buying advertising time could be blunted.

The republic might be able to survive giving more advertising power to corporations if we in turn give more power to opposing forces through even more freedom of speech.

That said, I think corporations already have way too much power and influence in our society. The court decision from the 19th century that gave corporations the rights of people was ludicrous and started us down the path where we are not a democracy or a republic but a corporate subsidiary. Corporations are not people and should not have the rights of people.

But Olbermann is saying tonight that within 10 years all politicians will be bought and sold openly. Mark Twain talked about purchasing congressman in the 19th century — this is nothing new. Today we don’t have legislators bought by their contributors? Come on.

This is a big deal, and probably a bad decision. Corporations don’t need more power. But we have power too, and we can survive this if we exercise that power. Reporters and bloggers and watchdogs will have to do a better job of informing the public who’s buying their legislators and their opinions, and opponents of corporations’ points of view will have to be more creative in getting the public’s attention.

It was amusing to see the authors of Game Change, the book about the 2008 campaign, talking about how little John Edwards read, how little attention he paid to legislation, on Chris Matthews’ show tonight. Where were these reports when Edwards was running? Mark Halperin, one of the authors, said most senators considered Edwards a fraud when he ran for president because he knew so little about issues and legislation. Halperin was shocked at how little Edwards knew about one of his own legislative proposals. But did these guys write this at the time? No!

Journalism needs to start covering not just he-said-she-said pissing matches in Congress, and not just parroting candidates’ message points, but actually reporting what these people are like, what they know, and who’s paying for them. Now, more than ever.

— Bruce Benidt
(AP photo of liberal spokeshumans denouncing today’s decision on steps of Supreme Court)brand marketing nice

Yes, But How Many Stanley Cup Winners Can Biden Name?

CBS’s most outrageous reality show of the season continues:

Couric: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

Palin: Well, let’s see. There’s, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …

Couric: Can you think of any?

Palin: Well, I would think of any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I’m so privileged to serve, wouldn’t be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.

– Loveland

sample invoice fine