An email exchange about gay marriage

Sunday, May 3, 2009

With my good friend, Doug, a conversation wherein I introduce the concept of “public moralists,” distinguish them from “social conservatives,” and argue that they are nearly as likely to be liberal Democrats as they are to be conservative Republicans.
On 23-Apr-09, at 11:38 , Chris Nicholson wrote:

I’m not saying they’re right or wrong. I’m just saying they’re interesting. And so are the comments.

As you may or may not know, I am seriously undecided on the issue of gay marriage. My personal feelings, today, are that government has no place in marriage. It has a place in contract law and said contract law should treat everyone equally.

The marriage issue, on the other hand, falls under the auspices of the churches that perform the rites. It is my belief that these churches should not be forced to go against their long-standing doctrines. If the homos can find a church to “sanctify” their unions then it’s all good.

The socons are, I think, all riled up not so much because of the contract aspects, because, believe it or not, socons are all about equality under the law. That is the truth. They’ve got their nickers in a twist about the religious aspect. Especially the idea that their churches are being forced, by the government (most notably by unelected and therefore unaccountable judges), often in direct contradiction of the expressed will of the people (as expressed in propositions and plebiscites). Again, this is an issue of their institutions being forced by the government†. That is the truth, even though they are often unable to express it, especially the idea that marriage and the state should be separate.

†As we discussed the other day, the government is all about force: individuals in society cede to government the authority to use force against others via the “social contract” in exchange for the government to use said force to keep them safe from those that would seek to harm them, foreign and domestic.


On 23-Apr-09, at 4:51 PM, Douglas Hicton wrote:

This is my immutable position.

I think we got it right in Canada. Marriage has only civil, legal status officially in this country, not religious. What happens in a church, synagogue, mosque, etc, does not constitute marriage. A wedding, yes, but not marriage. People get married in civil ceremonies at City Hall all the time without having a wedding. If you are wed by a priest or rabbi or imam, you’re not yet married until you sign the required forms in a secular marriage office, at which point your union is legally recognized by society as a marriage with ALL the rights and responsibilities ascribed thereto.

In Canada, churches are not forced to carry out these weddings for people whose sexuality they disagree with. That’s fine, because any perceived religious aspect of marriage is legally irrelevant. Moreover, there are religions here that openly embrace gay weddings, for instance our largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Canada. Religious people, therefore, have nothing to complain about. The only people compelled to sanction gay marriages are civil officials charged with issuing licences. If they don’t carry out their duties because their religion forbids them to do so, they may be justifiably fired for cause.

Also, social conservatives are most definitely not “all about equality under the law”, nor have they ever been, unless by equality they mean everyone believing as they do. They’re all about societal orthodoxy and devotion to dogma. You must be thinking of libertarians. Give me a social libertarian any day of the week.

Unlike libertarians, social conservatives are hell-bent on imposing their own version of morality on the rest of the world. On the road to civil rights for blacks in the US, social conservatives were like a huge tree that had fallen over in a windstorm and blocked all traffic until the Civil Rights Act took chainsaws to that obstruction, cut it up, and removed the waste. This obstruction is the function socons also served a hundred years earlier when slavery was the Big Question. Social conservatives (who are petrified with fear of “otherness”) were also responsible for Jim Crow. Patriarchal, male-centred social conservatives managed to lay low the Equal Rights Amendment in the US as well, even after a majority of states had already ratified it; they stalled and stalled in the remaining State Houses until the time ran out. Admittedly well-intentioned social conservatives, bolstered by churches, managed to pass Prohibition, and we all know how peachily that turned out (Al Capone, anyone?); today their descendants are why you can’t toke legally. Social conservatives are still responsible for censorship of any art, literature, etc, that doesn’t fit their narrow world-view. Social liberals (and libertarians) don’t take part in book-burnings. And the only reason the Children of the Corn don’t want gays to be “married” is because they think we’re icky and somehow inferior, and they don’t want us to get butt-sex shit all over “their” word. That is the bottom line to all their arguments, the very core, after you peel away their religious surface claims about the “sanctity” of the institution.

You know what? I’m nobody’s inferior. Neither is the man I want to marry so we can be together here (yes, he would love to live in Canada once we can both afford it). And given that our supposed icky inferiority is the socon’s actual rationale against equal marriage, well, that makes me want it to be called “marriage” all that much more. Fuck socons and their bigotry, without lube if possible. If they’re going to be insulting like that, I want my pound of flesh as a gay man, and that means calling it “marriage” despite their objections, ESPECIALLY OVER their objections, BECAUSE of their objections. Besides, “equal but separate” equals apartheid, and that’s an incontrovertible fact. “Civil union” (even with all the attendant rights and responsibilities) for gays and “marriage” for straights is the same as “yes, you can ride on the same bus, and you’ll get where you’re going at the same rate as the rest of us, but you have to sit in the back — oh, and by the way, god help you if you try to drink from the same water fountains.” Gay is the new black.

As for judges being unelected and therefore unaccountable to the people, that is true, but they also have expertise in, and understanding of, matters of law that the rest of us don’t have, including our elected representatives. The constitutional opinion of a learned judge deserves to be given more weight than that of some doctor or pig-farmer or mechanic or plumber. And if I want some advice on spring tune-ups or bacon or surgery, or if my toilet backs up, I won’t be consulting with a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Sorry about the length of this reply, but you’ve poked at a very sensitive nerve.



On 24-Apr-09, at 12:19 , Chris Nicholson wrote:

Wow, Doug, that appears to be a very hate-filled response. Or it sounds that way to me, but that’s okay because we’re buddies and I do agree with you in some aspects. Maybe it’s vitriol as opposed to hate. I suspect you were able to pound out your response very quickly. And that’s all well and good and I respect it.

What follows has taken me all morning:

We appear to agree that the fundamental issue is one of rights under the law, and that all are due just treatment before the courts with respect to property and familial rights/obligations/responsibilities. You seem to agree with my central thesis that the government has no role in marriage, but that it does have a huge role in the contractual obligations arising between individuals as the consequence of marriage. As you say, “In Canada, churches are not forced to carry out these weddings for people whose sexuality they disagree with. That’s fine, because any perceived religious aspect of marriage is legally irrelevant.” This, I assert, is why the fervor is so diminished on the Canadian scene.

I think a distinction should be drawn between social conservatives who, despite your objections, are all about equality under the law and “public moralists” who, I agree, have been responsible for the evils you’re painting the socons as being guilty of perpetrating. Okay? (I think the difference is that socons are about ensuring their right to instill their notions of morality, however misguided, in their children while the public moralists are about forcing their morality on the society at large, the socons’ kids included). And, interestingly enough, these public moralists are almost as likely to be self-declared liberals who have zero compunction when it comes to using the state and its mechanisms to force their drifting ideas of “morality” on everyone. A good, recent, example would be California, the state everyone regards as the most liberal in the Union, failed via proposition to embrace gay marriage (Prop. 8, 52.3% to 47.7%) at the same time as they voted the liberal agendists into office (Obama 61% to McCain 37%, with the rest (2%) alloted to 3rd party candidates; Congress: 67% (35/53) Dems vs 33% (18/53); Senate: both Dems).

If by “conservative” we mean “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.” a standard dictionary definition, then the California results are indeed interesting because in Congressional races where incumbents ran, they were returned exactly 100% of the time. This, of course, is a topic for another discussion, but I think it serves to help focus our discussion about “social conservatives” and “public moralists”. It appears that California is conservative, given the incumbency bias, insofar as it is “cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics.” This, to me, points to a definitional problem where the words people commonly use are skewed, because in no way can California, a big-government liberal returning state, be construed as conservative as commonly understood! (These stats, by the way, are available here: — I did the summaries myself).

Let’s look at the public moralists from the Prop. 8 perspective. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that 100% of the Republicans voted “yes” on Prop. 8 (which is to say that all Republicans are public moralists {and , adopting current definitions, we’ll say there’s a 1:1 correlation between Republicans and “conservatives”}, a stance which flies in the face of all available information but it is a simplifying assumption). To be even more generous, we’ll use the Presidential vote because it rules out the 100% incumbency bias. The last assumption we’ll make is that all voters in the presidential election also cast a vote either for or against Prop. 8 (this assumption makes the number of votes to be equal making the percentage comparisons valid i.e. excluding the possibility that some voters came out to vote only in the Presidential race or on Prop. 8). What we’re looking at then is public moralists (defined by results of Prop 8 vote) vs party/ideological affiliation (defined by presidential vote) with the limiting assumptions noted above. The conclusion, inevitably, is that at least 15.3% of the vote cast in favour of Prop. 8 came from the liberal side of the aisle. (37% (Republican) + 15.3% (other) = 52.3%). Using the constrained numbers 70.7% of the public moralists are conservatives while 29.3% of public moralists are liberals. Releasing the assumptions makes the numbers even worse for the liberals vis à vis their proportion of the population of all public moralists.

On the topic of judges: not all are created equal. Some are public moralists; others are not. Some see the Constitution as a living document and others see it as meaning what it says, with the former reading rights into it that aren’t enumerated while the latter take the 10th Amendment at its word, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Some are “activists”; others “constructionists”. Some feel bound by precedent; others do not. Some feel their interpretation of the Constitution should be influenced by the judicial rulings of high courts from other nations; others do not. In short, the most important decisions any political leader makes is in the appointment of these judges for, unlike other governmental leaders, these judges have lifetime appointments (with there existing some very limited mechanisms for getting rid of them). These appointments influence the society for a long period beyond the accountability of those who appoint them. And this is dangerous.

I’m sorry to do this, because I hate when it’s done to me, but this assertion of yours, “[a]lso, social conservatives are most definitely not “all about equality under the law”, nor have they ever been, unless by equality they mean everyone believing as they do. They’re all about societal orthodoxy and devotion to dogma.” applies more to the modern-day liberals wherein the society orthodoxy is a multiculturalism the hallmark of which is political correctness and the dogma is a tightly held belief in nothing, really, based as it is on moral equivalency. Another way of stating this is that the modern-day liberal’s societal orthodoxy is a cultural marxism right out of the Frankfurt School.

At the time of the civil rights movement, it was the South which had for generations been controlled by Democrats (the so-called liberals), that pushed hard against living up to the words of the Constitution and it was the Republicans (the conservatives) who pushed for it, won, and have been in the majority ever since. About the “Equal Rights Amendment” I’m just going to say this: it was not about equal rights, it was about special rights, and I’m as glad as hell that it failed. The Constitution already granted equal rights under the law to everyone. (To be honest: I cannot remember the contents, but I do remember the conclusions I arrived at when I did remember the contents.)

The Republicans are currently undergoing a period of intense navel gazing after the defeat in the ’08 election. The big debate, as it turns out, revolves around the role of public moralists in the Party. This is being couched in the terms of “fiscal conservatives” versus “social conservatives” and RINOs versus “real” conservatives. It’s very interesting, really, because as yet no natural leaders have emerged, and to a large extent the sides appear to be mired in a memetic battle over “morality”. I’d like to thank you, at this point, Doug, for helping me firm-up my thinking on the issue: “public moralists” is the key to the whole thing, in my mind. I’m going to be planting this meme on the conservative boards as soon as possible (that is, as soon as it’s relevant to the discussion at hand–as opposed to shoe horning it into a discussion). Not that I have any say in the matter, but my feeling is that they should eject the public moralists from the party for they are causing a sort of ideologic schizophrenia where, on the one hand, the Republicans are about limiting the role of the state in peoples’ lives (the fiscal part, as defined by such concepts as limited government, low taxes, adherence to the Constitution—what can be referred to as a limiting of the use of governmental force against the polity) and on the other they’re about forcing their notion of morality (as you say and I agree) on others.

I really must strongly disagree with you on the definition of “apartheid”: it is not a stance of “separate but equal”. It is a system of racial separation, based on the idea of racial superiority/inferiority.

I agree with the “ickyness” argument. I’ve used it, myself, on conservative boards and been the target of much nastiness as a result. The irony, I think, revolves around the public moralists’ arguments about morality and sanctity, and how they can’t seem to think about marriage without thinking about sex! Maybe irony is the wrong word? Their prurience is intriguing when so much of the gay marriage issue is contractual. I know when I think about marriage, I’m not thinking about who’s putting his dick where! Maybe, in the straight world, it’s so obvious that the man [pardon my French] puts his dick in the cunt that these public moralists cannot get beyond it? I just don’t know.

Further, the public moralists are “all in” on the idea of heterosexual superiority. I agree 100% with your stance, here. They cannot, however, ever back up their heterosuperiority complex in argument. Further, they can never back up their moral “stances” in argument without perpetrating logical errors and always, instead of capitulating or declining to argue further, resort to ad hominen: I’ve been called “stupid”, “uneducated”, “a pervert”, “sick” on the boards by these, er, people.

From a practical point of view, though, if the issue is about the legal rights attached to the “concept of marriage”, then why does it matter what it’s called? This part I truly do not understand. Why try to force the issue when the outcome has been achieved? Just because? I want? Seriously. Over time, given the legal equality of heterosexual “marriage” and homosexual “civil union,” the word “marriage” itself will come to encompass both as the language naturally evolves.

And one last word: if these public moralists are so worried about the degrading effect on marriage as a whole of gay people joining in union, why doesn’t the fact that more than half of straight marriages end in divorce have the effect of degrading marriage?


With respect to you and Terry: why don’t you just get married? Wouldn’t that give Terry the right to move to Canada and the right to work here? (I’m asking because I don’t know.)

To sum it all up: I think we agree that, at base, the issue is one of civil rights and that in Canada the civil rights issue has been put to rest. I’m hoping that you’ll accept my distinction between socons and public moralists and further accept that public moralists are not strictly denizens of the so-called political right but are, rather, inhabitants of the “it’s proper to force our ideology” netherworld of the polity.

Anyhow. Enough of that.



On 24-Apr-09, at 5:11 PM, Douglas Hicton wrote:

Not hate, so much as anger. Vitriol is a good word to describe it.

One reason there is less fervour about the subject in Canada is because we’re naturally less fervid to begin with. That, and we’re more left-wing on average.

Your distinction between socons and public moralists is a fine one, but I think a valid one. Maybe we can make the continuum Libertarian —> Socon –> Public Moralist, in order from least to most telling people how to behave. Maybe that could be an X axis if we’re placing people on a grid. I wonder what the Y axis would look like.

The major urban areas of California, that is, San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose and Los Angeles/Long Beach/San Diego tended to vote against Prop 8, whereas the more conservative suburbs in Orange County, as well as rural California, tended to vote for it. There is a pretty even population split between the urban areas and everywhere else. What put the proposition over the top was a disproportionate number of very churchy Hispanic and AA people who apparently felt no cognitive dissonance in voting for Obama “for change” while also voting to TAKE AWAY rights already enjoyed by their fellow Californians — something that has never before been done in the history of the United States, something that sets a very dangerous precedent; if a majority of voters can constitutionally abrogate the rights of one minority group, where does it stop? Blacks? Natives? Women? Straight white males? No one is safe. The reason why the AA and Hispanic votes were so important this time was, ironically, Obama. He got them out to the polls in larger numbers than ever before. So they voted for him, and while in the voting booth, they decided to fuck gay people over as well. I’m very pissed off at how Obama has thrown gay people under the bus yet again — not that one could expect better treatment from the alternative.

I think Massachusetts might be a little more actively liberal-minded than California, despite the fact that the Puritans lived there. California just has more weed, so they’re passively liberal.

Yes, lifetime appointments for judges are very dangerous. I suggest ten years and then get the hell off the bench, and that includes the Supreme Court. By the way, I think judicial elections are an execrable idea and I’m glad we don’t have Conservative, Liberal, and NDP candidates for popular election to judgeship, mucking everything up with partisanship. I’d much rather that the Prime Minister be required to appoint judges exclusively from a list compiled by the various Bar Associations, law societies, and university law schools across the country. As for whether a constitution is a living document or something carved in stone, I tend toward the former for reasons of practicality; times change, and new circumstances dictate fresh approaches and interpretations. Things that never bend almost invariably break from brittleness and stress.

The two major political parties in the US are not now as they were when they started. During the US Civil War, the Republicans, descended from Whigs, were the party of the left, while the Democrats were the rich, white conservatives. This was the case through much of Reconstruction after the war — Grant was actually kind of leftish in many ways. The Sherman Antitrust Act was signed into law by Republican Benjamin Harrison, who also brought in the first billion-dollar budget, and was applied most forcibly by Teddy Roosevelt, though much less so by Taft, who began the rightward Republican drift. The Democrats were the downright reactionary then, and even Woodrow Wilson was something of a white supremacist. In the ’20s, both parties were more or less right-wing, and then FDR came along and started to push the Democrats to the left, while the Republicans continued their rightward slant. And when LBJ brought in the Civil Rights Act, the former Confederacy that had so hated Lincoln rushed to embrace the Republicans while ignoring the irony. And that’s pretty much where they are now. Here in Canada, the parties have become reversed, too. The Macdonald Liberal-Conservatives (later just the plain ol’ Conservatives) were the communitarian nation-builders, while George Brown’s Grits were free-trading, laissez-faire capitalists. Borden defeated Laurier on the issue of reciprocity (“No truck nor trade with the Yankees” was the Conservative slogan), only to have the party positions reversed courtesy of Brian Mulroney and the FTA. Macdonald gave us the transcontinental railway, a massive infrastructure program, while RB Bennett started the CBC, and Diefenbaker’s government finally gave Indians and Metis the right to vote, had the first female cabinet minister, and brought in our first national Bill of Rights. Mind you, he was a Progressive Conservative and from Saskatchewan (in fact, he was a big admirer of Tommy Douglas, of all people).

I wish the Republican Party well if it should decide to purge the public moralists. That would be very positive. And to be frank, they’re not to get anywhere until they do. I don’t dislike all Republicans, just the current crop, and I intensely dislike them, partly because they’re crooked. For example, I thought Gerald Ford was a good man, an honest man, a man of integrity. And I liked Ike for the same reasons.

Yes, Apartheid in its original form was purely a South African racial policy, but “equal but separate” is similarly based on the notion of institutionalized superiority/inferiority, so I believe my metaphorical use of the word is accurate. And those who argue for heterosupremacy generally don’t feel they need to back up their arguments with facts, because they have the big imaginary sky- spook on their side. It’s like getting them to prove the existence of god before they may use god as a given condition in an argument. They won’t, and they’ll expect you to accept the word of god as relevant, no matter how often you beat your head against that brick wall and say you won’t accept their premise. It’s almost pointless to argue with them. I’d rather just turn their volume down or wrest the bullhorn from their hands, since by now they’ve all surely said their piece, they’ve nothing new to offer, and it’s time to give other voices a chance to be heard.

The more the yahoos scream that “marriage” should be exclusively heterosexual, the more I want to stick it to them. It’s vindictive of me, I know, but I take umbrage at their umbrage, because they are taking umbrage for hateful, prejudicial reasons. They must be smacked hard for their prejudice, and I can think of no more delicious way than to require them to share the very thing they are most adamant about not wanting to share, just as letting black people ride up front with the white folk was a perfectly just punishment for those bigots whose flesh crawled at the thought of mixing with them “uppity niggers”.

The reason Terry and I aren’t married by now is that if he moved here, he would have to live here for a year before he could get a work visa, and I can’t really support us both at this stage. Maybe I could have if I’d won $250K in the ToC instead of just $100K, but the point is moot. I want him to be with me always, but not if we have to live hand to mouth, because that would be unpleasant for both of us, and I want him to be happy.



April 25, 2009 12:40:00 PM GMT-04:00, Chris Nicholson wrote:

Re: Canada and fervor—Canadians really don’t like to argue.

Re: public moralists—thanks for agreeing. On this grid of yours, the Y axis, of course, would be dishwashers.

Re: arguing with public moralists—so true. What I’ve found is that with a lot of perseverance you can get them to acknowledge that they are arguing from faith and not from logic, and that’s victory. Sometimes you can get them to say something absolutely ridiculous like, “there’s more than one kind of logic,” and when you do, that’s victory. I believe arguing in comments sections is as much about swaying your fellow comments section readers and the many lurkers as it is about changing the minds of those with whom you are arguing.

Re: apartheid—i don’t think you used the word metaphorically, but literally.

Re: you & Terry—thanks for clearing that up; I didn’t realize that even when married the foreign-born spouse doesn’t have the right to work in Canada. There’s something wrong with that, don’t you think?

Re: your thoughts about the prop 8 vote breakdown—I don’t think you’ve got it right. I’ve spent some time analyzing the results (pdf and spreadsheet attached) and I don’t think the results quite bear out what you say, especially with respect to L.A. where the vote actually went slightly in favour of prop 8. I was, unfortunately, unable to find a resource that linked district number to the district names used in the official results. I could compile this from available resources, but it seems to be a bit too much work (correlating district winners by name on one web reference to congressional candidates on another). Although, I just may do it for the exercise, but I don’t have it right now.

And, just as a side note, it’s my position that vindictiveness has no place in policy debates for it leads to such atrocities as criminalizing the thoughts of your opposition, the foundations of which we’re seeing laid in the USA by Napolitano’s DHS.



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