Archives: John Culhane

More Fun with Civil Unions (and other relationships)

John Culhane 03.14.2013 10:47 PM

Yesterday, I had the honor of presenting my work to the faculty at Akron Law. One of the benefits of such invitations is the compulsion to make sure one’s information is up-to-date. And in the course of working up a presentation on the state of civil unions, I was fascinated by a couple of recent developments.

First, Illinois may or may not be on the verge of extending full marriage equality to same-sex couples. This is indeed a warp-speed development, given that the state passed a civil union law only two years ago. But what’s attracted my attention is that the law, if enacted, would leave in place the civil union option. This is a unique development: in every other state that has moved from the civil union to full marriage equality, civil unions have gone by the boards. No further civil union licenses are issued, and in some cases existing civil unions have been forcibly morphed into marriage.

Why is Illinois retaining the civil union option? I’ll end the suspense — it’s because the civil union option in Illinois is available to both same- and opposite-sex couples. So unlike in most states, where the civil union was (in old game show parlance) the lovely parting gift offered to same-sex couples, in Illinois the civil union acquired a more complex meaning by being offered to everyone. And many of the straight couples who chose the civil union pointedly did not want to marry. So a law that would take away the civil union option isn’t appealing to them, and isn’t being considered — at least for now.

Meanwhile, Colorado is set to become the third of the civil union states (following Illinois and Hawaii) to extend the option to opposite-sex couples. But unlike other civil union laws, Colorado’s isn’t an exact mirror of marriage: it doesn’t allow for the filing of a joint state income tax return.

So we add yet another wrinkle to the options couples can choose for legal recognition of their relationships. And I think that, in a curious way, the marriage equality debate has revealed another aspect of a discussion we’re having about the lives people are actually living, and the choices that the law has made (and continues to make) in recognizing those lives and relationships. Civil unions, domestic partnerships, reciprocal beneficiaries, designated beneficiaries — the list gets longer, and more tongue-tying. And it makes me wonder, as I must, about the effort to resurrect and reaffirm the primacy of place to marriage over these other options. Yes, we know that married folks and their kids do better over a range of important measures than their unmarried cohabitants, and I have signed on to David Blankenhorn’s recent clarion call to refresh our commitment to marriage. Yet it’s important to continue to question whether that option is right for all people, and the extent to which the law and legal rules should continue to incentivize through privilege some choices over others.


Is there a connection between the pro-life movement and the rise in single motherhood?

John Culhane 01.24.2013 2:31 PM

In this typically thoughtful and provocative piece that Slate ran on Tuesday, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone explore  the possible connection between the success of the pro-life movement and the rise in single motherhood. They admit that they have no evidence of a causal connection, but wonder why this particular possibility hasn’t been considered while other less likely ones (such as same-sex marriages) has been.

Is there a plausible connection here? And if so, what (if anything) should be done to integrate this into the conversation about how to strengthen marriage?

Three Stories about Family Law

John Culhane 01.02.2013 4:47 PM

I.   Lame-Duck Sauce

The Illinois legislature might be on the verge of enacting a full marriage equality law. There’s apparently a rush to get this done in the lame-duck legislative session, which ends next week, but it’s hard to say why, exactly. It looks like the statehouse will have even more equality boosters in the upcoming session, so why give the opponents ammunition (“See how they pushed this through in a lame-duck session!”)?

The Land o’ Lincoln is the fifth-most populous state, so, in addition to underscoring the Zeitgeist-ian1 momentum of the movement, the law would be significant for the sheer number of folks potentially affected. (I’m not so optimistic about my home state of PA, as you can see here.2) But given my borderline-obsessive fixation on civil unions, I wonder what will happen to them. Recall that some of those civilly united in Illinois are opposite-sex couples who chose civil unions over marriage for reasons I detailed in this piece for Slate. They could have married, so presumably many of them — excepting those few who might have chosen the civil union purely out of solidarity with marriage-excluded same-sex couples — want to stay civilly united, and not marry. Well, according to the version of the legislation I read, they can stay civilly united, and that status will continue to be available, to both straight and gay couples hereafter. Fascinating, especially since one of my assumptions might not be correct.

II.  A Taxing Issue

Since there’s no such thing as a federal civil union, I wasn’t alone in thinking that opposite-sex couples in civil unions were really giving up something big: their right to receive federal benefits. Same-sex couples can’t get ‘em anyway, thanks (but no thanks!) to the Defense of Marriage Act, so it seemed clear that the demise of DOMA — as seems likely this year — would put the lie to the claim that civil unions were “really just like marriage.”

I didn’t reckon with an informal IRS letter, sent in 2011 from an IRS “Senior Technician Reviewer” to a tax advisor for H&R Block. The Service was asked whether an opposite-sex couple in an Illinois civil union could file a joint federal tax return. Answer: “In general, the status of individuals of the opposite sex living in a relationship that the state would treat as husband and wife is, for Federal income tax purposes, that of husband and wife….Accordingly, if Illinois treats the parties to an Illinois civil union who are of opposite sex and as husband and wife, they are [so considered under the Code], and are not precluded from filing jointly.

OK, it’s just one letter from one mid-level person. But it’s potentially powerful, and not just for opposite-sex couples. If DOMA goes, and if the state really intends civil unions to be the equivalent of marriage, then same-sex couples might be able to accede to at least this one federal perq. Maybe. This whole ganglion wrapped in a skein reminds us that predicting consequences of acts undertaken in reliance on what we think is settled law can be parlous. For example,

III.    “We’re Not in Kansas Any More” — Oh, Wait, We Are!

For those, like Elizabeth Marquardt, who want to do away with anonymous sperm donations on the (not unreasonable) premise that children have the right to know whom their parents are, this action by Kansas state officials should be chilling. I’m curious to know what people think about the state’s exploitation of a legal infirmity with a known sperm donor/lesbian couple’s agreement that the donor would have neither rights nor responsibilities for the daughter that was born of the artificial insemination.


What if Recent Success at the Ballot Box Makes it Harder for Marriage Equality Advocates to Win at the Supreme Court?

John Culhane 12.10.2012 10:53 PM

In this piece posted to Slate a few hours ago, I make the case that the unprecedented Election Day marriage equality sweep might have made it less likely that the Supreme Court will apply a higher standard of review to the equal protection analysis of both the DOMA and Prop 8 cases. But I also think the Court should (will? please?) strike these laws down anyway.

Here’s my conclusion: [W]hile I would be breathing more freely if I thought it likely that the court would… apply a higher standard of review, …even the rational basis test has some bite.  I expect the court to take more than a chunk out of these laws. But, in a odd way, it would have been a better bet before the gay rights movement appeared to have the wind at its back.

I hope that some of you will find the piece interesting, provocative, garment-rending worthy — whether you have a legal background or not.

Today’s NY Times article: “Making Babies, Just to Make Ends Meet”

John Culhane 11.04.2012 8:38 AM

Buoyed by an extra hour of sleep — oh, how I love to “fall back”  — I sat down with the only real paper paper I still read: the Sunday Times. Almost immediately, I raced to the Sunday Review, masochistically craving yet more opinion on the looming election.1 But when I got to page 5, I found this piece, in which the friend of a woman who does serial surrogacy describes the surrogate’s life: not just the surrogacy part, but the whole of her life. Read it! There’s a lot to chew over here, so I thought I’d get the baby bouncing by setting up a comment thread here. A few of my own observations, which you can safely ignore in offering your take:

  • The piece made me think more broadly about the sense of entitlement to a baby that the piece seems to be criticizing through description. The most arresting example was a couple in their late 50s who, with four teenage boys, decided they wanted a girl. So three embryos were implanted into this surrogate. As I read, I found myself relieved to learn that two of them had been absorbed back into her body. You know there’s something screwed up with a procedure when you’re glad about something like this happening!
  • The woman’s life is complex, and rendered sympathetically. But it’s hard to ignore the economic divide between the haves (those ordering up the surrogacy) and the have-nots (the surrogates). Is there a broader discussion about income inequality lurking here? Or does that way lie madness?
  • While I don’t have any answers to the issue of what to do about surrogacy, can we at least start by limiting the number of embryos implanted? I’d favor one, but could live with two. Even twins create a greatly elevated risk to the viability of the fetuses and, of course, to the mother’s health.

Whatever you think, articles like this are vital to uncovering the real facts behind what we’re doing — or allowing to happen. Once a topic makes the Review section of the Times, it’s squarely part of the public discourse. But whither, now?

Between Commodities and Rights-Holders

John Culhane 10.24.2012 3:21 PM

I started writing a comment to Elizabeth’s post from earlier today, but by the time I’d finished and tried posting, the 30-comment limit had been reached.1

So here’s what I want to say:

Perhaps assisted reproductive technology (“ART”) only makes overt what’s otherwise often camouflaged. We might think of the selection of gamete donors and the objectification of the surrogate2 as evidence of the commodification of the children who result from these processes, but don’t people in stable relationship pick their sexual partners (and co-parents) with those same considerations at least informing those choices? Is this the person I want to have children with? And for men: Is my wife/female partner healthy enough, young enough, etc., to bear our children?

It won’t do to try avoiding the question by saying that children are just commodities in the first place, because they have no legal rights. Because that’s just not true. Kids do have some rights, just not the full panoply of them. To use an extreme example to make the point: Whatever one thinks of abortion, infanticide is illegal. Children have a right not to be killed. They also have rights to food, adult care and (in some countries) health care. If the law is working correctly, they should have that set of rights commensurate with their emerging selves. That their rights-set isn’t yet complete isn’t to say that they’re commodities, and in fact we might be saying quite the opposite: they need protection.Many of these rights are spelled out in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Children, ratified by almost all countries, with only Somalia, South Sudan and one other3 withholding approval…. Yet even in the U.S., children do have some rights.

I think some of the confusion here is understandable, though, because until quite recently kids WERE clearly property…   But now, of course, we think that’s, y’know, bad. So what, if anything, does the improved legal status of children have to say about their quasi-commodification?



John Culhane 10.22.2012 11:02 PM

In a searing, heart-felt post earlier today, Elizabeth Marquardt took the plunge, and announced her support for full marriage equality.1 Having gotten to know Elizabeth a bit over the past few months (and having even co-authored an article with her!), I’ve no doubt that her change of heart is the result of a long, complex personal struggle — agonizing, as she puts it. And I appreciate her honesty in anchoring her position in her own life circumstances so firmly.

I have to confess that I’m a little unclear about the reason for the change, which seems as much the child of resignation as of conviction, but it’s a welcome statement, nonetheless. Endorsements from unlikely sources lend to the logic of inevitability.

But I don’t completely understand Elizabeth’s call for marriage equality advocates to join her in opposing donor anonymity, perhaps as a way of reciprocating her show of good faith. To me, there are at least three separate debates here, and there’s danger in confusing them. Let’s see if I can unpack these. That’ll have to be enough for now — I’m just going to set out what I think are the issues, and just barely get into their merits. I’ll be curious to see what readers think of my rough taxonomy.

First, there’s the question about how families are created. This issue subsumes two important sub-questions: (1) Should we continue to permit anonymity in the donor pool? (2) Should we permit compensation for these donations?

Second, should we allow the creation of families where the children are not being raised by their biological parents? In some ways, this question has already been answered, in that we permit (and encourage, as appropriate) adoptions and the raising of children in blended families that include stepparents, grandparents, and so on. But those families don’t usually start that way, whereas in the case of assisted reproductive technologies (“ART”), they do. What is the proper public policy here?

Third, should we permit the recognition of same-sex couples? And, if so, what should we call that relationship?

When the questions are listed as I’ve done, the chasm between the first two and the third seems to me pretty broad.

Is that the end of it?

No. I do see some connection, because it’s natural for some to think that same-sex unions, once recognized as full-fledged marriages, will naturally lead to gay and lesbian couples’ demanding the same rights as our straight counterparts, including access to ART. But it is at least an open question whether the use of ART is a constitutional right for anyone, as an interpretation of the Supreme Court’s view about reproductive choice. If it’s not, then it seems that same-sex couples are no more entitled to the use of those technologies than any other couple. But if ART is a constitutional right, then we’d need a good reason for denying its benefits to same-sex couples, whether or not they’re legally married (unless we’re going to require marriage as a condition of eligibility for ART). And it seems to me the only reason left for such denial would be some argument that kids need not just two parents, but a mother and a father who are actually raising them. And that’s a separate issue from marriage, and one that seems to have already have been decided — by the law of adoption, which in turn is supported by social science research about how kids do when raised by same-sex parents.

More soon…


Rauch and Religious Accommodations

John Culhane 10.21.2012 11:04 PM

I finally got around to listening to the recent conversation1 between Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn. As many readers of this site know, the discussion was part of the radio show “On Being,” hosted by Krista Tippett. Many of the key points have been pretty well digested by the commenters to the original post (so much so that an additional thread was opened up), but here I want to focus on one point where I sharply disagree with Rauch.

Reiterating a point he’s been working out for at least the past couple of years, Rauch stated that the LGBT community needs to extend the same recognition to religious communities that we expect society to extend to us. In response, David said (and I think this is an exact quote): “I can only imagine the criticism that comes your way.”

Well, imagine no more! Here is the text of a piece I wrote almost two years ago2 in response to Rauch’s essay in The Advocate making the case for a “live-and-let-live” approach to those who would discriminate against the LGBT community.3 (It links back to the original piece, for those who don’t trust my summary of what he said. It might help to know that he was responding to a case involving a bakery that didn’t want to sell “theme” cupcakes for a Gay Pride event.)

Jonathan Rauch makes the clearest, most consistent conservative case for equality – especially marriage equality – that I’ve yet read. Even his opponents, on both the left and the right, accord him respect. (Andrew Sullivan recently referred to him as “Mr. Nice Gay.”) He deserves his reputation.

At times, though, Rauch’s conservatism causes him to call for compromises that are seriously flawed. Earlier this year, he took Judge Walker to task for his opinion stating that Prop 8’s denial of marriage equality was unconstitutional; for Rauch, the civil unions (domestic partnerships, actually) available in California should have been enough. He overlooked the fact that no reason was adduced at trial for conferring all of the benefits of marriage without the label – in other words, to engage in discrimination simpliciter.

Worse is his piece in this month’s Advocate. In an effort to achieve an elusive compromise between anti-discrimination laws and accommodating religious belief, he clatters far off the track. Please read the entire piece. It’s beguiling in its apparently reasonable call for LGBT advocates to tolerate some (unspecified) level of discrimination, but his seemingly commonsensical call for civility falls apart under a closer reading.

At the risk of oversimplifying his exhaustively developed argument, here are his main points: (1) Mainstream opinion has shifted in our favor, with a majority of Americans polled now declaring that they don’t think homosexuality is immoral; (2) It’s therefore time to start acting like a majority instead of like a beleaguered minority, and to show charity and compassion for those who object to our full equality on religious grounds; and, relatedly, (3) It’s not wise to insist on rigorous, unyielding enforcement of existing laws in our favor. Where we can accommodate religious objections, we should.

He’s wrong on every count. First, the entire article depends critically on believing that polling data indicating (bare) majority approval of homosexuality means that we’ve won (or at least that we’re winning).

Not so fast. A simple, binary “yes/no” on the morality of homosexuality, while a promising development, doesn’t necessarily translate into success on any specific issue. It might be, for example, that a substantial percentage of those who think homosexuality isn’t immoral object to same-sex marriages anyway, or that others don’t see protecting the LGBT community from job discrimination (note that the “T” doesn’t appear in Rauch’s piece) as terribly important.

And it seems to me that the national data, and Rauch, miss the local effect. It’s precisely those places where homosexuality is least accepted that are likeliest to create the greatest number of practical problems for the LGBT community. I’d expect many more instances of religious objections to equality in, say, Oklahoma, than I would in Philadelphia. But red states are exactly where it’s most important to place the force of law behind the anti-discrimination imperative.

I understand that Rauch is making a more general point here, about a movement toward acceptance that might have reached a tipping point. But given all the work this poll is being called upon to do, the use of the data seems a bit facile, to me. The first year in which homosexuality has lurched across the 50% approval line seems insufficient occasion to declare imminent victory, and Rauch’s recognition that there are still victories to be won comes across as grudging, in context.

Now to the second and third points, which are intertwined. Rauch tries to bolster his argument by opening his piece with a carefully chosen example: A “mom and pop” bakery – not a large corporation, of course – refuses to bake rainbow cupcakes for a college Gay Pride event. The students accept the decision and vow to continue dialogue on LGBT issues, but the city launches an investigation into the event, with the eviction of the business from city-owned property a possible outcome.

Rauch deplores the second of these outcome, referring to it as “positively dangerous”. He wants you to ask: Are they really going to kick out these long-term, family tenants over something like cupcakes? I mean, who cares?

His argument depends critically on diverting the reader’s attention from what’s really at stake here. I’d guess that the same religious views that prevented the baking of rainbow cupcakes (for the gays, but not for the second-grade Rainbow Pageant) would also make that same “mom and pop” unlikely to hire a gay employee, or to fire him if he came out – say, by getting married to another man. Would that be OK?

What about a teacher who refused to teach a unit on family inclusion that mentioned gay and lesbian-parented households? (The private/public distinction isn’t available to Rauch because he thinks that the discriminatory bakery should be able to retain its place on city property.)

What if “mom and pop” decided to open a bed and breakfast and didn’t want to accommodate same-sex couples? Let’s use a pointed example: You and your same-sex spouse see the “Vacancy” sign, and walk to the front desk. You’re tired and sleepy after a long day on the road. You’re turned away, and not nicely. (By the way, the same could happen to an unmarried opposite-sex couple under the “religious (sometimes) trumps civil rights” view of Rauch. Should that be OK, too? Or is it only the gays who need suffer the withering reprovals of the ”tsk-tsk” brigade?)

Are these costs “we” can – or, more to the point, must – live with? Rauch doesn’t say, nor does he provide any standard by which to begin to answer the question.

Even the facially silly cupcake example can be reworked, with little imagination, to up the cost: Imagine that the student asking for the dazzling treat was mercilessly bullied as a kid, and is just now developing a healthy sense of self. To him, the refusal will have a very different meaning than it would for Rauch, or for me.

It’s precisely this difficulty in drawing the line that dooms Rauch’s fuzzy call to…non-action. Any statutory religious exemption beyond activities clearly at the core of the entity’s ecclesiastical mission – celebrating weddings, training clergy – quickly runs into all kinds of line-drawing impossibilities.

Some, like Robin Fretwell Wilson, try to limit the problems by restricting proposed religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws to actions that are closely tied to recognition of same-sex weddings. To his credit, Rauch understands that there’s just no principled reason for roping off that category; if we want to recognize religious accommodations, it’s hard to see any good reason for limiting them in that way.

In a series of posts last year, I argued for a different kind of accommodation: Businesses that are anti-gay should be able to make their religious views known, but not otherwise able to act on them in any way. For many, a choice between a gay-friendly and a homo-hating business will be clear, and they’ll go somewhere else. But laws of general application should apply…generally. Or else it’s hard to see why exemptions should be limited to disapprovals of homosexuality, generally. Plenty of religious doctrine opposes the equality of women, even today. Should businesses be able to act on that?

One last point: Rauch doesn’t want to give the religionists a rhetorical weapon by allowing them to claim the label of oppression, saying that they’re being treated as “bigots.”

But they’ve already made this move, even where we don’t have laws protecting us. When we do get those laws, there won’t be any need to name-call: The law will speak clearly enough.

Rauch responded, briefly, over on my site, wordinedgewise:

Thanks for this thoughtful, and thought-provoking, response. This is just the sort of discussion that the gay rights movement needs to have.

I responded by asking him whether he thought any of what I’d written was persuasive. Alas! Silence greeted my invitation.

I’ve done quite a bit of writing on this topic, and am interested in what readers of this site think. (If you want more, check out the four-part series of posts I did for another site, linked above.)




Don’t Say Gay (and They Didn’t)

John Culhane 10.18.2012 12:44 PM

“’Don’t say gay!’  That command isn’t just for homophobes anymore.”

I never thought I’d be paraphrasing the orange-juice-pushing,1 gay-bashing2  Anita Bryant, but election season has been known to create strange behavior. And after Tuesday night’s second Presidential debate – the last to consider domestic issues – I can perhaps be forgiven for becoming a bit unhinged. While the candidates did get pushed off message occasionally (especially on gun control, which they seemed, oddly, not to expect to have to deal with), in general the entire affair had a scripted quality. And that script pointedly did not include any mention of marriage equality, which remains a hot-button, polarizing issue. The Supreme Court will almost certainly take up one of the cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act this term, and might even resolve the issue once and for all (by taking and deciding the Prop 8 case, which I think is less likely).

What gives?

Alison Hope offers one explanation, over at HuffPo:

The lack of any mention of LGBT issues in this election cycle’s debates may indicate that the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage may no longer create a balanced division (that is, a worthy talking point to distinguish one party from the other). In fact, the only demographic where the majority of folks still believe that marriage is only permissible between a man and a woman is the 65-and-over crowd. Romney’s camp knows that they need to move toward the center on the issue if they’re to have a fighting chance with anyone who doesn’t have an AARP membership….

Republicans, who have only injected social issues into their platforms since the Reagan years, are slowly realizing the need to shift with the changing ideologies. It’s no longer as cool as it once was to hate gays.

Of course, we’re still light years away from achieving equal rights, and it’s true that the present silence on the issue may even prove detrimental; we wouldn’t want to breed an if-we-don’t-talk-about-it-then-maybe-this-has-been-resolved mentality. Nevertheless, the lack of any mention of LGBT issues in the debates may be a positive step in the right direction.

With all due respect…huh? Hope’s offered one explanation as to why one of the candidates (Romney) might have wanted to avoid the issue; after all, he’s on record not only for opposing marriage equality but also for opposing civil unions and for supporting a constitutional amendment that would cement his view into place, likely for generations. (Nowadays, this is a position so extreme that I doubt even Maggie Gallagher really thinks it’s a likely outcome. It’s not.) But Hope doesn’t explain why Obama didn’t raise the issue nor, more critically, why the moderators or other questioners didn’t raise it, and why it’s been relatively ignored by the vast blogosphere. Remember, only six states and D.C. recognize full equality, and more than half the states still prohibit same-sex unions in their own constitutions. The issue is hardly resolved, even though the equality movement is now being hurried along by a brisk tailwind.

And I’m not as hopeful as Hope. Romney still inhabits a world that should concern not only the gays/lesbians (to say nothing of the wholly invisible transgendered population), but also women who fill any role besides “helpmeet.” Listening to him go on (and on…) about the best family structure leaves many of today’s actual families out in the cold:

We need moms and dads raising kids, wherever possible. The benefit of having two parents in the home — it’s not always possible. There are a lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies they ought to think about getting married to someone. That’s a great idea.

Romney made this comment in response to the earlier-mentioned question about gun control! So it seemed to me that he was “dog-whistling”a reminder to  the base that he supports “traditional marriage.” Smart. He didn’t have to go on record so close to the election with a statement that he opposes all legal recognition of same-sex relationships and would in fact support enshrining this soon-to-be-obsolete position in the U.S. Constitution.

But what about Obama? My guess here is that he thinks he’s gotten all the bang he’s going to get for this buck and doesn’t want to remind wavering voters of his very homophilic position. Well, he’s done a lot (especially at the all-important but cosmically boring level of administration) for the LGBT community — so I forgive him.

Finally, what about the moderators or bloggers? Why so little? Scanning the ‘net for stories discussing the omission, I found a puzzling void. Even the voluble Andrew Sullivan, who yawed violently between despondency and elation from Debate 1 (bad for Obama) to Debate 2 (He is Risen!), neglected this omission during his extensive live-blogs of these enervating quadrennial exercises, and, as I write this a day and a half  later, he still hasn’t even mentioned the silence.3 Remember, this is the guy whose first book, Virtually Normal, set the terms of the mainstream debate on marriage equality back in 1995. He’s been writing about it ever since.

Again, what up? Readers?



Surrogacy Discussion, Continued

John Culhane 10.09.2012 4:01 PM

Well, we pushed up to the maximum thirty comments pretty quickly. Here’s the original post,  where I questioned whether surrogacy was so different from other forms of human exploitation. Lots of meaty stuff for readers to weigh in on; comments quickly evolved far beyond what I’d put out there. But that’s the idea, right?

So let’s continue the discussion here.

Of Factories and Fetuses

John Culhane 10.08.2012 1:36 PM

Perhaps you heard about the fire in a garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan last month. Faulty wiring, dangerous chemicals, even locked doors: a chilling example of what happens when workers have no power and the responsibility for safety is deeded over to a group that is paid by the factories themselves.

It seems that Pakistan today is where the U.S. was about 100 years ago, when (in 1911) the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire claimed about 150 lives (of about 500 total employees) and led to the ascendance of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (“ILGWU”) and to the emergence of somewhat better safety regulations. (I know a bit about this. My grandmother was a member of the ILGWU, and did “piece work” for decades. The conditions remained horrible by modern standards but were a huge improvement over the previous status quo.)

What does this have to do with fetuses (feti?), you may be wondering….

When I heard about the Karachi fire, I found myself thinking about another exploited class of women: gestational surrogates in India. By referring to the practice as “biological colonialism,” some have tried to silence all debate about this practice, which involves rich Westerners renting poor women’s wombs at relatively bargain-basement prices. (For example, $12,000 instead of the $70,000 it might cost in the U.S.)

In both cases, the problem is simple to diagnose, and easy to rail against — but way harder to address seriously. Factory workers in Pakistan are willing to put up with the conditions because their economic choices are terrible. And Indian women are willing to become surrogates for complex reasons, but mostly because the money they can earn (less than 1/2 of the $12,000 the Western couple pays) is enough to provide a good start toward better life for their kids. Read these stories and then report back:

Vohra has no job but helps her husband in his scrap-metal business, for which they earn 50 to 60 rupees ($1.20 to $1.45) a day. If her pregnancy is successful, the $5,500 she receives will, as she puts it, “give my children a future.”

Growing up, Vohra worked in the wheat fields; she had little education. After her parents married her off at 16, she moved with her husband into a one-room mud house that erodes every year during the monsoon season. She plans to divide her surrogacy windfall three ways: buying a brick house, investing in her husband’s business, and paying for her children’s education. “My daughter wants to be a teacher,” she says. “I’ll do anything to give her that opportunity.


[Another surrogate] has five children of her own, a husband who’s a lazy drunk, and a job crushing glass that’s used in making (of all things) fortified kite string, for which she earns $25 a month.

“I’ll be glad when this is over,” she says, as [the doctor] places a stethoscope on her ballooning brown stomach. “It’s exhausting being pregnant again.” Then, in case her complaints are misunderstood, she quickly adds, “This is not exploitation. Crushing glass for 15 hours a day is exploitation.” (emphasis added)

What should we say about this?

We can take the absolutist view: All surrogacies are wrong. In the U.S., the law regulating the practice of one woman carrying the child destined to be parented by another is a ridiculous patchwork that ranges from the permissive, to the qualified (no paying the surrogate, for example) to the outright illegal. We can and should continue to debate which of these approaches is best.

But I’m not sure surrogacy is any worse just because Indian women are willing to provide the service at a lower cost. The article quoted above was originally from Marie Claire magazine, and the clinic featured in the story is run by a middle-aged, female doctor who seems to have the best interest and safety of all parties in mind. (But, sigh!,  no same-sex couples are permitted…I don’t feel like getting into that right now.  Focus, man!) Whatever the situation in that clinic, though, the practice is unregulated and there are surely enough horror stories of women who have been killed in the process.  Here’s one such story.

The Indian government likes the financial lift the country gets from medical tourism, and this is — in one sense, at least — just one more example of that phenomenon. For now, it’s easy to criticize the practice because of the safety issues — just as we can and should call for better safety regulation of garment factories in neighboring Pakistan.

But what should we say to these women if there were better regulation protecting their safety? That they’re better off crushing glass for 12 hours a day, with no prospect of bequeathing a better life to their kids? That the world will — any day now — make a commitment to global health that will lift all ships?

Are we concerned about women’s health? Their autonomy? And what are the best ways of expressing that concern?

Conversion Question

John Culhane 09.13.2012 3:57 PM

After my Family Law class finished our discussion of civil unions yesterday, a student asked me this puzzler:

In Illinois, what happens if an opposite-sex couple in a civil union wants to convert their legal status to marriage? How do they do that?

OK, I don’t know. They could for sure dissolve their union just as a married couple would — that is, by divorcing, complete with all required legal procedures — but is there an easier way? I don’t know. Should there be? Probably, since the change in legal status isn’t that great (unlike the change in social meaning, which is vast).

Another tricky issue that Illinois created when it allowed opposite-sex couples to civilly unite. The hits keep coming.

The New Normal?

John Culhane 09.13.2012 12:14 PM

“That is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and I must have it!”

Since the person speaking that line has already established his cliché-gay bona fides by telling a clothing salesman that he wants to look like Mary Tyler Moore (circa 1972, it seems), we’re expecting the camera to pan to a glittering woolen sweater. No, silly – he’s looking at a baby. Even cuter than couture! The character, Bryan (Andrew Rannells), waves sappily at the cooing bon-bon, and then runs home to interrupt his football-watching partner, David (Justin Bartha), to tell him that they simply must have a baby – after all, they have skin that’s “flawless.”

Welcome to The New Normal, a show that begins with a pilot so…stupid that it’s surprising there’s an Episode 2. NBC is clearly banking on hoodwinking the audience into mistaking the show for a variant of the wildly (and understandably) successful Modern Family on ABC. Gay guys with kids! One is straight in real life, the other’s gay! (Zero points for guessing who’s who. Did I mention that one of them likes football?) Heaps of inside gay jokes! (OK, the one about Green Lantern did make me laugh.)

And to seal the deal, airlift in NeNe Leakes, who plays the one-note Roz Washington on the shark-jumping Glee. Here, she’s “Rocky,” Bryan’s assistant – although I had to listen to a “Fresh Air” interview to find out what Bryan does that even requires an assistant. He’s a TV writer/producer; according to Rannells, an accomplished Broadway actor, his character is loosely based on Ryan Murphy – who created The New Normal and also created the smart Nip/Tuck and the once-clever Glee.

But this show clatters off the tracks. It strip mines the worst kind of bigotry for guilty laughs (sometimes successfully, I’ll confess), (mis)using Ellen Barkin as Jane (“Nana”), an Archie Bunker-era spewer of hateful stereotypes. She’s much cleverer than Archie, and her “I’ll-say-what-everyone-else-is-thinking” turn seems intended to disarm the homo-skeptics watching the show by holding a mirror up to intolerance. But both her statements and her persona are too cartoonish for this strategy to work, and an early attempt to humanize her – she walked in on her father having sex with another man! that’s why she’s a bigot! – was just embarrassing.

And the show doesn’t do surrogacy any favors, either. The “new normal” refers to the family Bryan and David plan to have through gestational surrogacy. Here’s how it works for the rich: First, find an egg donor. If you have enough money, you’re in the Platinum Club and get your eugenic choice of A-list donors (“no fatties,” we’re reminded, as if we need a gratuitous insult to remind us of who’s hot and who’s not). Then, implant said egg into another woman, lovingly described as “an EZ Bake Oven except with no legal rights to the cupcake.”1 (That’s how the bowtied representative of “Expanding Families” tenderly describes the process.)

But wait! This “abnormal” “is the new normal,” Bryan tells David after the two spend a few minutes a local park. There, we’re treated to a fifty-something mother of triplets who describes herself as “a whore for too long,” who with the “help of a lot of drugs” created the three adorable tow-heads who bob about nearby. Then dwarfism gets short shrift, as a mother barely taller than her eightish-year-old daughter defends having a child despite the risk that the kid would also be a dwarf. And then drives off in a tiny pink car. David’s convinced! Who wouldn’t be, by this quick, “check off the freak boxes” display?

Let’s go back to the money. The “new normal” apparently includes affluence, because surrogacy is expensive. To its credit, the show doesn’t avoid the issue, even if it low-balls the amount required to create a child in this way. “$35,000 is a huge chunk of money,” says Goldie (Georgia King), when asked why she wants to gestate Bryan and David’s baby. (Of course, that’s not all: “A family is a family and love is love,” she adds. Let no bromide go unsaid.) According to Jonathan Kipp, the Marketing Director of Oregon Reproductive Medicine (a fertility clinic with lots of gay clients), the actual cost can run as high as $120,000 per attempt.

Finally, there’s the pink elephant in the room. Kipp and I discussed the curious omission of any discussion on The New Normal about adoption – the obvious alternative to surrogacy, and something that any gay couple could be expected to at least consider. The unfortunate suggestion is that surrogacy is the no-brainer choice for those who have the money, while adoption should be considered by, well, everyone else. Himself an adoptive parent, Kipp has an expansive view of how to help people create families in any way that works for them, and emphasized the importance of counseling and support for ORM’s potential clients – not all of them choose the surrogacy route.  But none of that nuance is in evidence on The New Normal.

Well, almost none. There’s one touching scene in the pilot, where David and Bryan are in bed discussing who’s to be the bio dad. At first, there was to be a spirited spermatozoic competition, but Bryan now says that David should win in a walkover. “Not being the baby’s bio dad doesn’t make me any less of a dad,” he says. It’s a gracious gift that suggests a depth of character otherwise missing from this, um, misbegotten show.



“Baby Veronica” Is No Longer a Baby

John Culhane 08.28.2012 11:18 AM

You might have missed it, but there’s been a huge controversy over whether a little girl who’s been with her adoptive parents for about two-and-a-half years should have been returned to her biological father on the sole ground that he’s a member of the Cherokee tribe (and thereby qualifies to rescind his consent to the adoption under a piece of federal legislation called the Indian Child Welfare Act). She’s been dubbed “Baby Veronica” (perhaps by media eager to sentimentalize this important story), but that term is hardly accurate any more. She’s a toddler with emotional ties to her adoptive parents.

Last week, Marcia Zug wrote a good piece for Slate in favor of the result. Zug is a professor at South Carolina Law School and an expert in Indian Law. She makes the provocative argument that the law in this case “operated exactly as it was intended to.” Read the whole piece.

Well, I was provoked, and wrote a response that was posted to Slate this morning. It’s greatly informed by my own experience as a parent who got staggered by the Philadelphia dependency system in the effort my partner and I undertook to adopt our twin daughters. There, as here, it seems that arguments about the welfare of the actual child are too often drowned out by the din of other interests.


Now What?

John Culhane 08.14.2012 11:01 PM

Sorry I’ve been failing to deliver on my promise to blog about civil unions. I got caught up in a book deadline,1 and then, close to exhausation,2 decamped from civilization for a three-week vacation that concluded with a blissful week in the Adirondacks — lots of long-distance lake swimming; splashing and canoeing with the kids; reading “Superman” (a history of the guy); and consuming exactly one gin and tonic per day.

And what little other time I’ve had has been spent working with Elizabeth Marquardt on piece about California’s proposed law that would allow courts to recognize up to 75 legal parents per child (well, actually, no maximum number is specified, but it’s clearly written so that there can more than even three). We’ll let you know when our piece hits the cyber-streets.

So, back to it.

One of the things about these new, straight civil unions now available in both Illinois and Hawaii (which I blogged about here) is that they throw the whole future of the civil union compromise into disarray. For opponents, they were the line in the sand. But as King Canute and others have learned, nothing can withstand the tide of history. The very existence of civil unions proves the point of their inadequacy, in a way more strongly than does the complete denial of equality.3  At least those who oppose marriage equality can argue — unpersuasively, to me — that same-sex couples are differently situated from opposite-sex couples, so that marriage isn’t the appropriate legal or societal response to our needs. But once you create a simulacrum called the civil union, that argument dries up. It can’t be that the name is the crucial demarcation between what’s necessary for straight v. gay couples.

So it’s hardly surprising that some of the states that have enacted these laws have already replaced them with full marriage equality: Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. So far, there have been two ways of effecting this civil union-to-marriage progression: Convert existing civil unions into marriages, or leave existing civil unions alone but recognize no new ones. In either case, the civil union exist, if at all, as a vestigial institution. A reminder of a species, like the Denisovans, who didn’t adapt well and died out.

But what happens in Illinois and Hawaii when the march to full marriage equality reaches its destination? The pioneering opposite-sex couples who have chosen civil unions over marriage don’t want to be married. Will these states allow them to hang onto their civil union status? Will they recognize new civil unions? It seems they should, as a straight civil union means something quite different from a gay or lesbian one. But then it’s hard to see how a legislature could do one thing for straight couples, another for gays. That would just plunge us right back into the inequality that a full marriage equality law would be exploding. And if civil unions are allowed to exist side-by-side with marriage for every couple, the dismantling of marriage through the proliferation of palatable alternatives would accelerate. Nancy Polikoff would surely approve. (I’m, um, still evolving on this one….)

This should get interesting.




John Culhane 07.18.2012 9:24 AM

Today’s NY Times crossword puzzle1 has some fun with the marriage equality debate. Saying anything more would make me a spoiler, man.

I’ll be back within a day or two with something a bit more substantial; but this, I couldn’t resist.


John Culhane 06.29.2012 11:50 AM

[Writing today just in case you're looking for something to read besides the endless bloviation about yesterday's SCOTUS decision on the Affordable Care Act... In case you didn't know, the individual mandate survives as a tax! If you have trouble remembering that, just take the famous line from that great B-film, Soylent Green ("It's people! Soylent Green is people!") and substitute: "A tax! The individual mandate is a tax!"]

In April, I traveled to Chicago to lead a discussion about the new, “improved” civil union law that Illinois passed last year. In case you missed it, the Land of Lincoln became the first place to allow opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

But why on Earth would they want to? After all, civil unions are — by design — a crafty compromise that attempts to pull off an impossible sleight-of-hand: conferring equality by giving couples the rights, benefits and obligations of marriage, but not the name “marriage.” So I thought I’d get the lowdown on the legislative legerdemain by talking to a pair of “civilly united” couples (oh, how that phrase just rolls off the tongue…) — one straight, one gay. And what do you think the audience and I learned?

Well, let’s pause here for the needed caveat — I was talking to two couples, not two thousand (it was a smallish room), so whatever these folks said can hardly be called representative of anything. But their comments were illuminating, anyway.

The gay couple are friends of mine (translation: I was too lazy to find anyone else) who live in Oak Park, that beautifully appointed, Frank Lloyd Wright-inflected, suburb that’s a haven for “alternative families.” They have beautiful, smart and athletic 13-year-old twin girls, and their lives are a gay simulacrum of an upper-middle class, straight one. (So is mine — including the twin daughters1 — in case you’re reading a veiled criticism into that description.]

The straight couple, Jennifer Tweeton and Alex Rifman, I met through my research into civil unions law, a topic I’m writing a book about. The Cook County Clerk’s office helped me identify straight couples that were willing to talk to me. And my big question was: “Who are these people? Setting aside some older couples whose federal benefits might be at risk if they remarried (but not if they civilly united!), what reason would anyone have for choosing the Legal Brand X over a leading national brand? It’s a bit like those generic “Beer” cans in Repo Man, compared to, say, The King of Beers.

But Tweeton and Rifman don’t want the King of Beers. Could it be because the contents of the container are different? Maybe, if we want to extend this ridiculous metaphorical even further ( hmm….maybe the “Beer” cans contain civil unions, which aren’t as good as what’s in the other cans…..) But it’s also about the label. Not everyone wants what they’re expected to want,2 and perhaps some straight folks look at the “Beer” (label) and see an appealing “no-ad” kind of product — “marriage” without the hefty historical baggage. For them, the institution’s encouragement of gender roles, and its continued connection to religion3 is off-putting. Civil unions come with none of this, and many of the straight couples surveyed even cited a “plus” for this shiny new thing: solidarity with the LGBT community, whose members can’t marry anyone we’re interested in. (Yes, yes, we can marry people of the opposite sex. Big deal.) Since everyone can civilly unite, they say, we’ll do that. Fair’s fair.

For us, of course, it’s quite a different thing. Civil unions are seen, accurately I think, as conferring a second-class citizenship — and not just because few states recognize them and they carry no federal rights, but also because they purposely signal an “otherness” that’s anathema to the very folks (assimilationists!) for whom that’s a problem. And that’s why Greg Johnson’s argument has had so little traction. Writing shortly after Vermont invented the civil union, Johnson saw “the newness of civil unions as one of its [sic] strengths. The lesbian and gay community is free to write the story of civil unions on its own without having to borrow every term and tradition from heterosexuals.”4

But many gays and lesbians — at least those inclined to seek equality for themselves and their families — don’t want to “borrow” the term marriage, they want to own it on equal terms as every other (opposite-sex) couple. They want normalcy, not innovation: As one of my Oak Park friends  said, he was in favor of civil unions for straights because giving them that right “normalized” the civil union. To carry that through logically: If civil unions are to be fully accepted, maybe everyone who wants to synchro-swim has to be made to jump into that same pool –but that would be to the exclusion, probably, of marriage. (It’s too powerfully normative to leave standing!) But that’s not going to happen in the near future5

So for now, “civil unions” really are two things, at least in Illinois and in Hawaii (which recently became the second state to allow opposite-sex couples to civilly unite): Something radical for straights, but something infuriating for gays.


The “Civil Unions Guy”? Really?

John Culhane 06.12.2012 10:03 AM

As a young boy, I little dreamed that one day I’d become known — even in small circles — as the “civil unions” guy. On the face of it, could anything more dreary be imagined?

Apparently, not to some people. When Elizabeth Marquardt introduced me on this site a few days ago with that label (which I give her both credit and blame for creating), one commentator pithily asked:

“Welcome, but what does it mean to be the ‘civil unions’ guy? Civil unions are a “separate but equal” attempt at denying gay and lesbian Americans the same legal rights as straight Americans. Is there a lot more to know on the subject?”

Is there more to know? I thought you’d never ask. Yes, there is so much more to know. (Reader to CU Guy: “You fascinate me. Tell me more.”)

The commentator’s view of civil unions is wide-spread, but it misses some really interesting questions that the whole discussion of civil unions raises. (That’s why I’m writing a whole book on the subject….) In fact, in many ways thinking about civil unions can open us up to a much broader discussion than can the whole marriage equality debate. That movement has mostly sidestepped deep questions about the meaning and fairness of marriage in its relentless (and understandable) push for legal recognition of our unions.

During the next few months (or until I bore everyone to death, whichever comes first), I will be exploring civil unions from a variety of different angles, and trying to shed light on how this “separate but equal” concept might yet have a longer shelf life than anyone might have thought back in 2000, when the Vermont legislature invented the term. (Well, OK, the French already had the “pacte civile”, but it’s quite a different animal — much more limited in the rights and responsibilities it confers and imposes.)

Today, a quick bit of history on the civil union for the uninitiated. It’s time to dispel the misconception — one I once shared — that civil unions are necessarily an “attempt at denying gay and lesbian Americans the same legal rights as straight Americans.” With the benefit of a bit of historical distance, I think civil unions have been brilliant.

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court startled both sides of the marriage equality debate with its ruling, in Baker v. State, that same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights as opposite-sex couples, but that the state didn’t have to call these unions “marriages.” After several months of white-hot politicking in the state that Jon Stewart once said was made “entirely from hemp fibers,” the legislature grasped the life raft that the court had thrown it — and thus was created the civil union, which attempted the high-wire feat of making same-sex couples equal without giving them marriage. (For a great account of the political battles that threatened to scorch the Green Mountain State, read David Moats’s excellent “Civil Wars.”)

Why do such a cray thing? Why not just call them marriages, and get it over with? That’s what Justice Johnson suggested in her dissent, and, at the time, I agreed. But (and this will come as a surprise to no one), the Vermont Supremes were smarter than I, or at least more practical. The justices said that Justice Johnson’s suggestion that her mandate would avoid “the political cauldron” of public debate was “significantly insulated from reality.” In case there were any doubt about what the court feared might happen were it simply to require marriage equality, the statement I’ve just quoted was followed by references to state constitutional amendments in Alaska and Hawaii banning same-sex marriages — amendments that had followed lower court decisions requiring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Message: The court isn’t the final arbiter here. The voters can amend the constitution if they feel strongly enough, and then same-sex couples would lose everything.

So, far from denying same-sex couples equality, civil unions turn out to be an important step toward its achievement. The proof is in Vermont itself, where in 2009 the legislature overwhelmingly passed a marriage equality bill. And that same legislature had sown the seeds of the civil union’s destruction back in 2000, with legislative findings that equated the relationships of same-sex couples with those of opposite-sex couples, and that saw the civil union as a way to respect both sides while “permitting adjustment” as “unmet needs” were identified. And the legislature also established a Civil Union Commission, which later found that the only way to meet those “unmet needs” was through marriage itself.

But civil unions continue in force today in several states: New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. A number of former civil union states (including Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire) now have full marriage equality. And several other states allow full rights to same-sex couples under a different name — usually “domestic partnerships” (all three West Coast states, although Washington may soon have full marriage equality, depending on the results of a voter referendum in November). In a subsequent post, I’ll look into these developments in a bit more depth. But that’s enough for now.

A Civil Discussion About Civil Marriage? (Yes, mostly.)

John Culhane 06.08.2012 11:54 AM

I had the privilege of sitting in on the conversation between Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino last night (ably facilitated by David Blankenhorn) at the Center for Public Conversation. (There was wine! Perhaps that helps explain why the conversation was so civil?) I just want to toss a few thoughts at you — after I briefly introduce myself. (Here’s a slightly more self-aggrandizing bio.)

I’m a law professor who teaches Family Law, a writer (for law journals, but also for publications that people actually read, like Slate, and for a couple of blogs). I’m especially interested in civil unions, and am working on a book about what they might mean in the long-term. Meanwhile, I’m under contract (with co-author Carrie Stone) to write “Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies” (under the lash; the complete manuscript is due next month). I met Elizabeth Marquardt in April in Chicago when I was speaking about the effect of opposite-sex civil unions (they exist in Illinois!), and that led to this stint. I’m excited to be here, and await your comments over the next couple months. I will be mostly be writing about civil unions. Not today, though!

Back to the event: Corvino and I used to be site-mates (is that a word? it is now…) at the late, lamented We’d even briefly discussed teaming up to do a column together just before the site shut down last year. We’ve kept in touch, so when he invited me to this event, I was excited to attend. It was nice to actually meet him in person, and it was also good to meet…Maggie Gallagher.

Gallagher and I had exchanged emails several years ago (in what I’d describe as a mostly collegial way), and we’d engaged each other across the blogosphere on her position on civil unions (you can follow the back-and-forth here, if you have too much time today), but we’d never officially met (even though we were both panelists at a marriage symposium last year). So we did. And we had a nice conversation. Really. This wasn’t the side of her that I’ve often seen on cable news shows, where I’ve often given consideration to whether I can afford the new television I’d need after hurling any handy object at the screen.

We talked a bit about the book (“Debating Same-Sex Marriage”), but quite a bit more about our families — well, OK,  mostly about mine, because her story (and, I’d venture, a not-small part of her decades-long marriage crusade) is by now well-known. (Single mother who learned, the hard way, about the fact that sex and procreation can’t be separated and about the need to provide social and legal support for marriages, so that fathers stay.)

My situation poses perhaps the hardest case for her traditionalist position. One strategy she uses in the book to defend against the argument that allowing same-sex marriages would be good for the children of those marriages is to minimize the number of children being raised in what she thinks are “qualifying” situations (not the children of remarried parents, for example). But I’m one of the “qualifiers”: my partner and I adopted twin girls from the Philadelphia dependency system, but only after fostering them from infancy until they were two years old. It’s hard to see a good argument for denying us the kind of legal and social stability that would support our children, and, really, Gallagher doesn’t try to deny that our kids might be better off were marriage available to us. But she thinks the costs (to society) greatly outweigh the benefits.

I have a couple of responses to this.

First, for someone who claims that her principal argument against marriage equality is non-consequentialist (same-sex marriages are intrinsically “a lie” and are “unjust”), her willingness to go hammer-and-tongs into this kind of utilitarian argument is striking. And hers is a peculiar kind of utilitarianism, because it weighs actual harm to existing families (like mine and many thousands of others) against the speculative, long-term harm she fears (and explains, quite well, in the book) to the institution of marriage if same-sex couples are given the keys to that kingdom.

Second, I must say, in fairness, that one of the three core arguments she makes against marriage equality is the best one I’ve seen. Not successful from my point of view, but at least coherent and worthy of serious discussion. I’m going to do a fuller book review soon, so this is just a taste of that review. Here, as I see them, are her three central points:

  • Marriage “means” the union of a man and a woman, in much the same way that “mother” means “the person who bears the child with her body.” So when we try to change these kinds of definitions, we’re paltering with language. There’s so much wrong with this argument that my brain is frozen, paralyzed by too many devastating rejoinders. Stay tuned for the book review to read in amazement as they unfold.
  • If marriage equality comes to town, then opponents will have to get out by sundown, or be shot (throught) by the accusation of bigotry. For about sixty-eight reasons, I find this argument both offensive and weak. It should never again appear in print, be spoken, or be the subject of interpretative dance (although the issue of how to accommodate religious and other conscience beliefs is a real one, as I discussed in a series of posts you can find here).
  • By restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman, society sends a number of mutually reinforcing messages — all of which are important to the maintenance of civil society: Sex makes babies; sex and procreation can’t be reliably separated; mothers and fathers matter. She fears that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have a long-term, slow-drip effect on these messages, and that the cost is just too high to bear.

This last argument is the only one that has any traction with me, even if I ultimately found it unpersuasive . You’ll have to read the upcoming review to find out why, but for now let me say that I think society is capable of more complex messaging than Gallagher allows, that people understand that different factual situations call for different solutions, and that expanding the definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples is in fact more consonant with our contemporary understanding of the institution anyway (and that the broader understanding is an advance).

Am I usually this wordy? Unfortunately, yes. But typically I do a better job of reining myself in. Let’s see how well I manage myself here!