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Revisiting the Iowa case, for the benefit of G-A-Y

July 29th, 2010

Welcome readers from the Good As You site. I just wanted to clarify for all of you the fact that I have indeed read the Iowa decision, Varnum v Brien. I believe it was wrongly decided and poorly argued. I have written about it in two separate places, which are now posted on the Ruth Institute article archive. The Institution Formerly Known as Marriage argued that the Iowa court ignored the essential public purpose of marriage, namely to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another, and replaced that essential public purpose with inessential private purposes. I made that argument in my talk in Augusta ME on the bus tour.

In How Iowa Happened, I reviewed some of the behavior of the Court that undermine their own credibility.

The Court refused to admit five out of the 8 expert witnesses the advocates of natural marriage wanted to bring. These experts would have testified for the essential public purposes of marriage, the benefits to society from natural marriage, and the ethical implications of artificial reproductive technology.

The Supreme Court of Iowa said that the trial court erred in not hearing these witnesses, but that this error didn’t matter, since they planned to review the evidence themselves. Then, they didn’t review the excluded evidence. At least, they gave no evidence of having done so in their opinion.

The Supreme Court of Iowa described some facts as “undisputed” even though these were precisely the facts that the other side was trying valiantly to dispute. The list of these “undisputed” facts could have been lifted from the plaintiffs briefs.

But to my mind, the most significant blunder of the Court is this notorious footnote:

“The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.”

This statement is objectionable because it is far too broad. ” The traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults” is a straw man, if taken literally. Some kids without mothers and fathers do turn out ok. So, If you interpret the word “need” to mean that it is impossible for kids to be raised into healthy well-adjusted adults,” without their mothers and fathers, then that is too strong, because many children do turn out ok. But no one is making that claim. That is the straw man.

But the conclusion the court draws is the generalization is nothing but a stereotype, a harmful myth. Take that statement out of the context of the same sex marriage debate, and apply it anywhere else in society, and you will see that the statement is certainly false. It actually is generally true that children benefit from being raised by their mothers and fathers.

The issue is this: do we really want to become the kind of culture that says that it is a matter of indifference whether children have relationships with their mothers and their fathers? Is it really true that children of single parents don’t need and wouldn’t benefit from a relatiionship with both parents? Can you/we honestly tell fathers that their involvement and participation in their children’s lives is a matter of no consequence? Can anyone honestly deny that the African American community would be far better off today if the out of wedlock childbearing rate was at the 30% level of the 1960′s, instead of the 70% that it is today? This is what we’re talking about. This is what the Iowa Supreme Court refused to even consider.

Take their notorious footnote 26 and break it into two parts:
First: “The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples”
And second, “(the research) suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.”
It is possible that the first part is true, that is that kids of same sex couple turn out ok, without the second part being true, namely, that it is a stereotype that kids need a mother and a father. If you all could bring yourselves to refrain from insisting on the second point, it would be alot easier for people to cut you some slack on the first point. But you are the ones insisting that the law be revised to be completely gender neutral on the subjects of marriage and parenting. You are the ones claiming that mothers and fathers are perfectly interchangeable, from the child’s point of view. You are asking the government to make statements for your benefit, that are surely false when applied to other contexts.

The fact is that same sex couples can with use existing legal structures to solve their practical problems, without redefining the basic structure of marriage. We think it is positively harmful for the vast majority of society, when high-level public institutions make statements such as “it is a stereotype to believe children need mothers and fathers.”

If redefining marriage only affected same sex couples, it wouldn’t be so objectionable. But you can see from the judges’ felt-need to make statements like the notorious footnote 26, that redefining marriage will entail the government saying and doing things that are going to affect other people. That’s why we care.

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  1. Chairm
    July 30th, 2010 at 01:09 | #1

    Dr J, I agree with your high level summary of the conflict between the SSM idea as put forth in the Iowa opinion and the marriage idea as defended by yourself and as well-described by the experts in their work which was disregarded by the judges.

    In addition, the court used nifty rules of argumentation that presented a naive view of lawmaking and of social institutions. Worse, these rules would destroy the plaintiff’s complaint, if only the court would have used them to challenge the complaint and the SSM idea.

    For example, if something must be mandatory in order to be deemed essential to marriage, then, the court missed the sexual basis of marriage while it asserted the primacy of same-sex sexual attraction and same-sex romance (i.e. the court’s euphemisms for same-sex sexual behavior). And if something is deemed inessential because it can be done outside of marriage, then, the plaintiff’s complaint about the arbitrariness (re the man-woman criteria of eligiblity) simply falls apart. The argumentation is against the special status of marriage itself.

    I’ve discussed those rules of argumentation at the group blog, Opine Editorials, and my comments and blogposts are accessible via the archives and the search feature on that blogsite.

    http://opine-editorials.blogspot.com/search/label/Chairm's%20Other%20Posts

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