Thursday, April 30, 2015

Millennia of Marriage, Part I

For those who consider listening to Supreme Court oral arguments a good way to spend an afternoon, Tuesday was particularly good.

This was the day of oral arguments on Obergefell v. Hodges and the consolidated cases related to same-sex “marriage.” As we reviewed recently, [here and here] they covered two questions. The first is whether the 14th Amendment requires all states to license same-sex “marriages.” The second assumes that question 1 is answered no, and then asked whether all states are required to recognize same-sex “marriages” licensed in any other state.
As I understand it, the way the Supreme Court works is, each justice studies the case individually, reads the briefs associated with the case, and develops an opinion. Quite likely those opinions are fairly well settled by the time of oral arguments.
But that is not to say the arguments are irrelevant. The arguments are intended to give each side the opportunity to voice its strongest points, and also to respond to questions the justices have—which might be intended to either show weakness in the arguments, or bolster those points with added clarity. And court watchers look at the questions and comments from the justices to give some idea about the way they’re leaning.
Our current Court is relatively set on divisive issues—as this is. We have four justices who generally read the Constitution as written and judge based on the written law; and we have four who generally look at cases according to their own personal views and then look for ways to construe those opinions as if they adhered to the Constitution. And then we have one justice, Kennedy, who is unpredictable. That means the future of marriage in the United States rests on the counsels’ ability to persuade one unelected man.
Justice Kennedy during oral arguments April 28, 2015
photo found here
I and others who know the value of real marriage have been justifiably worried about the possible outcome. While there was nothing too definitive on Tuesday, there was an awful lot that gives hope. So it surprised me when I read Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle and they (Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote the story) seemed to have observed different oral arguments. Their news story ignored what I’m about to cover below, and opined, “On the evidence of his words, he seemed torn about what to do. But Kennedy’s tone was more emotional and emphatic when he made the case for same-sex marriage. That, coupled with his earlier judicial opinions, gave gay rights advocates reason for optimism.”
I’m doing this review to see if there’s something I missed. Buckle up. This will definitely take more than just today’s post.

Question 1
As soon as counsel for the plaintiffs, Mary Bonauto, began her introductory speech, Justice Ginsburg interrupted:
JUSTICE GINSBURG: What do you do with the Windsor case where the court stressed the Federal government's historic deference to States when it comes to matters of domestic relations?
Good question. Because, in Windsor, the Court declared that the federal government could not have a definition of marriage (despite the thousands of places in law where marriage relates to federal law and thus requires a definition) because it had to defer to states, who might have different definitions. OK, so the federal government cannot prescribe a definition because of federalism—separate sovereign states. Yet now they are being asked to force a definition on all states because of the 14th Amendment equal protection clause.
MS. BONAUTO: And here we have a whole class of people who are denied the equal right to be able to join in this very extensive government institution that provides protection for families.
Justice Roberts then pointed out that, according to longstanding definition, these people were not joining the institution, but changing it.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Every definition that I looked up, prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as unity between a man and a woman as husband and wife. Obviously, if you succeed, that core definition will no longer be operable.
Ms. Bonauto went on autopilot, repeating the claim that state laws are preventing a class of people from participating in the institution, rather than biology and choices. Justice Roberts made sure she understood:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: No. My question is you're not seeking to join the institution; you're seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship.
It wasn’t spelled out, but it was clear to me that there is a difference between preventing a person from marrying because of their belonging to a class (homosexuals) and preventing couples. There is nothing in the law related to sexual orientation (which counsel for the defense did say); homosexuals are not prevented from marrying. But that doesn’t mean they can “marry” someone who does not qualify as being a person of the opposite sex, not married to someone else, not too close a relative, or not of age to consent—the same law that applies to everyone else.
Ms. Bonauto tried to claim that the male-female relationship isn’t fundamental, and that ideas change. I get the feeling she’s not used to being challenged on her talking points. At this juncture, Justice Kennedy stepped in with what is likely to be a quoted point going forward:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: One of the problems is when you think about these cases you think about words or cases, and the word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia, plus time. First of all, there has not been really time, so the Respondents say, for the Federal system to engage in this debate, the separate States. But on a larger scale, it's been it was about the same time between Brown and Loving as between Lawrence and this case. It's about 10 years. And so there's time for the scholars and the commentators and the bar and the public to engage in it. But still, 10 years is I don't even know how to count the decimals when we talk about millennia. This definition has been with us for millennia. And it's very difficult for the Court to say, oh, well, we know better.
Indeed. If there is a theme for the day, that is it.

Justice Alito brings up the next point, about intent of traditional marriage laws.
JUSTICE ALITO: You argue in your brief that the primary purpose of the Michigan law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was to demean gay people; is that correct?
That is indeed the claim. Therefore, they must prove that the people of Michigan had no other purpose than to demean homosexuals when they enacted the law. That is a high bar, and unreachable.
MS. BONAUTO: The Michigan statute and amendment certainly went out of their way to say that gay people were in some sense antithetical to the good of society.
JUSTICE ALITO: And did you say in your brief that the primary purpose of that was to demean gay people?
MS. BONAUTO: I think it has that effect, Your Honor. I do. Now, at the same time
JUSTICE ALITO: Is that true just in Michigan or is that true of every other State that has a similar definition of marriage?
She had to admit that maybe not all had the precise intention, but…
MS. BONAUTO: But even if there's not a purpose to demean, I think the common commonality among all of the statutes, whether they were enacted long ago or more recently, is that they encompass moral judgments and stereotypes about gay people. Even if you think about something 100 years ago, gay people were not worthy of the concern of the government and the and and moral judgments about
JUSTICE ALITO: Well, how do you account for the fact that, as far as I'm aware, until the end of the 20th century, there never was a nation or a culture that recognized marriage between two people of the same sex? Now, can we infer from that that those nations and those cultures all thought that there was some rational, practical purpose for defining marriage in that way, or is it your argument that they were all operating independently based solely on irrational stereotypes and prejudice?
I like it when thinking people ask questions that get to the germ of an issue. He’s going to make her prove that, not only the current specific Michigan law exists only to express animus toward a class, but that the antecedents to such laws, the definition used over time and cultures, all were intended to demean homosexuals. She begins to look foolish. She stammers that, “Times can blind.” And, you know, discrimination against women, and blacks, and….
Justice Ginsburg tried to help by muddying the waters with the idea of dominant-subordinate relationships in ancient marriage. Justice Roberts halted that analogy as not useful here. Ms. Bonauto added in questions about mixed-race marriages. Justice Scalia squelched that:
JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, not all societies banned mixed-race marriages. In fact, not even all States in this country banned. But I don't know of any—do you know of any society, prior to the Netherlands in 2001, that permitted same-sex marriage?
He’s continuing his point about her insistence that all these cultures were bigoted:
JUSTICE SCALIA: For millennia, not a single other society until the Netherlands in 2001, and you're telling me they were all—I don't know what.
And then he tries to bring us back to the clarity of the question to be settled:
JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, the issue, of course, is not whether there should be same-sex marriage, but who should decide the point.
I’m pretty sure Justice Sotomayor is pro-same-sex “marriage,” but she's not done with the intent question, and introduces a question on historic discrimination that only strengthens Justice Scalia’s point:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Now, counselor, in terms of this millennium, what's been the status or the view of gay people in most of those countries? Have they been subject to the kinds of discrimination that they were subject to here? Were they welcomed into the worldwide community? Was it free of discrimination?
Ms. Bonauto says some irrelevant things about whether they had constitutional protections like ours. And then Justice Alito gives a little history lesson:
JUSTICE ALITO: But there have been cultures that did not frown on homosexuality. That is not a universal opinion throughout history and across all cultures. Ancient Greece is an example. It was well accepted within certain bounds. But did they have same-sex marriage in ancient Greece?
He summarizes: they had marriage; they had same-sex relationships that even received a fair amount of cultural approval. But they did not have same-sex marriage. So…
JUSTICE ALITO: So their limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex was not based on prejudice against gay people, was it?
She seems flustered. And then, surprisingly, it is Justice Breyer (another I would have assumed favored same-sex “marriage”) who nails the point:
JUSTICE BREYER: And to me, it takes the form, the opposite view has been the law everywhere for thousands of years among people who were not discriminating even against gay people, and suddenly you want nine people outside the ballot box to require States that don't want to do it to change what you've heard is, change what marriage is to include gay people. Why cannot those States at least wait and see whether in fact doing so in the other States is or is not harmful to marriage?
It must be a daunting thing to face the Supreme Court—especially when you’re in the wrong. And not very well prepared for the inevitable questions.
So far we’ve looked at the likelihood that real marriage requires a man and a woman for reasons other than bigotry. We’re still in the middle of question 1 arguments. So coming up next we’ll look at rationale for changing marriage to include same-sex couples, but not include any other changes in the definition.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Asking Questions

This past weekend we attended graduation ceremonies for our daughter, Social Sphere, and her husband. Both graduated from the College of Family, Home, and Social Science from Brigham Young University. At BYU, graduation consists of a commencement exercise, on Thursday, with all graduates—nearly 6,000 this April. And then, on Friday, a convocation ceremony, by college; this is where the students get their name announced and walk across the stage to be handed their diploma. 

Both of these events have speakers, and they tend to be memorable. I still remember mine. So I thought I’d pick a couple of the speakers and share some valuable thoughts from them. 

Robert P. George
This photo was used in the
BYU Commencement Program,
I found it here
At the commencement, an honorary degree—the degree of doctor of law and moral value, honoris causa—was conferred upon Robert P. George, a professor at Princeton, referred to by the New York Times as “the Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.” I thought I wasn’t aware of him before this speech, but I did a search of my files, and I have collected a number of pieces he’s written. Particularly, he co-wrote “What Is Marriage?”[i] along with then-grad student Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Gergis. Supreme Court justices have referred to this work already in their opinions, and are likely to turn to it again following tomorrow’s oral arguments concerning same-sex “marriage.” 

He didn’t speak about marriage; he spoke about the necessity of religion in finding truth. I expect eventually I could get a transcript, but for now, I’ll just share a few things from my written notes. 

Professor George starts with the question, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” quoting Tertullian. And he adds, “What do secular studies and religious studies have to do with each other?” He’s speaking at Brigham Young University, after all, one of the largest and oldest religious universities. And he wants us to know that the way BYU integrates spiritual and academic—or secular—studies is valuable, even necessary in our world. 

He quotes Pope John Paul II as well: “Faith and reason are like two wings of the human spirit by which it soars to the truth.”  

So there are two separate but equal paths to truth—faith and reason are both necessary for the intellectual and spiritual quest for truth, in harmony together. 

Professor George reminded us that the very idea of a university is religious. According to John Henry Cardinal Newman, the idea of a university requires both kinds of learning, faith and reason. The earliest—and at one time nearly all—universities were created by churches to educate religious people more fully. And we continue to need universities that do not limit the universe. 

He said that universities have three main purposes:

1.      The creation of knowledge.
2.      The preservation of knowledge.
3.      The transmission of knowledge. 

He adds an additional purpose: The appropriation of knowledge.

He’s using the term appropriation in a particular way, which I tried to glean from context. I think he means something like putting knowledge in its appropriate context, in the larger picture. Or he could possibly mean making the knowledge one’s own. 

He says faith is necessary in the cause of learning. He said, “Our aim is not merely to acquire knowledge, but to explore its lasting significance.” Our aim is not necessarily to know truth, “but to grasp its meaning—its existential meaning.” 

This is where religious colleges can be valuable. He said, “Religious colleges must be more than secular universities with religious symbols in the classroom and prayers before some classes.” Faith must play a role in intellectual life, and inform curriculum. 

He urged that we “avoid the pitfalls of aspiration to be the Mormon Harvard or the Catholic Princeton—especially in humanities and social sciences.” He said the consequences of mimicry will be the loss of the appropriation of truth. “The secular will soon come to be regarded as the only valid intellectual pursuit,” the only type of thought considered rational.  

This is not just theoretical, he said. While many private and state universities were created with a religious purpose, many have lost the religious wing of thought. He suggested reading The Dying of the Light, by former Notre Dame provost James Tunstead Burtchaell, which follows seventeen religious colleges in which each school's religious identity eventually became first uncomfortable and then expendable. 

But, he says, “Secularization isn’t inevitable.” You can resist. And you can command respect. The world needs the connection between religious fidelity and academic excellence.  

Professor George said, the question of how to find truth keeps coming back. “Human nature will see to it. We long for the truth. We’re not satisfied with placing the deepest questions out of bounds, or off limits.” 

He said that some secular institutions are beginning to see this. “Institutions need to be a bit more like Brigham Young. This is no time to back off. It’s time to be superior.” 

I was reminded of a quote from my time working at BYU, when then-President Jeffrey R. Holland thought it wasn’t enough to be the Harvard of the West; President Holland wanted to see Harvard and Yale fighting “to see who can become the BYU of the East!” 

Professor George urged, “Always be faithful to your mission.[ii] Appropriate truth more and more deeply.”  

So far BYU has kept its mission to educate the whole person—mental, physical, and spiritual—in a world that doesn’t know how valuable that kind of education is. 

That idea of asking the deep question and searching for answers continued in Friday’s convocation. The main speaker for the College of Family, Home & Social Sciences was Sheri L. Dew, CEO of Deseret Book, and a former graduate of that college. 
Sheri Dew
image found here

She first became familiar to many of us when she was a counselor in the LDS Relief Society General Presidency, the world’s oldest, and possibly largest, women’s organization. She was the first single woman to hold such a position that I was aware of in my lifetime. And she was a great example. 

I’ve often seen parallels to her in my life. She’s just a few years older than I am; I think she must have still been at BYU when I was a freshman. She played basketball—better than I did. And played piano—also better than I. She’s a writer and editor (better…) She’s a terrific public speaker. My life changed directions from career to family when I got married, but I’ve wondered, if I hadn’t been blessed that way, would I have been a (much less visible or accomplished) mini-version of Sheri Dew? 

She talked about when she was assigned to be the CEO of Deseret Book. It was at a challenging time in the book industry. She didn’t know how to run a company. She had skills in identifying talent and working with authors. When she talked with then-President of the Church Gordon B. Hinckley about the position, and shared her doubts, and said she wished she was smarter, he laughed and said he wished so too. 

Her point was that there will come things in your life you’re not capable of handling if you rely on your own. So she suggests living your life “with the help of heaven.” You should “seek heaven every step of the way.” 

She told a story of an interview with a reporter some years ago. You never know what you’re going to get with an interview, but the woman seemed genuinely interested and curious—about a female CEO of a Church-owned corporation. It turned out they had a great conversation. 

Well into their chat, the reporter asked, “Do you have greater access to the power of heaven than I do?” That’s an interesting question and took some thought. Finally Sheri Dew answered, “Actually, yes.” And she added that she was “not saying God loves me more, or I’m more spiritual.” She was saying that we are committed, covenant members; we believe that when we promise to live a certain way, Heavenly Father makes promises to us, including greater access to His power. 

The Spirit came into the room. The reporter could feel it too. She said, “I wish I could say that about my church.” Sister Dew, ever willing to share her faith, said, “We can help you with that.” 

There are things we learn from the Spirit. She spent much of the rest of the time talking about learning to learn. That requires asking questions. Asking questions is good. 

Many people have asked her questions through the years. She has kept lists of them. Many are of the personal type: How will I know who/whether to marry? Should I take a job across the country? Some are deeper, more pressing, faith related. They’re all good questions for a person of faith. She asks them if they’re willing to put in the work to get answers, to engage in a spiritual wrestle. 

There’s a process for getting to truth. She has them bring every question, get their scriptures and study materials, read what the prophets have said, do the work. Study, search, ponder, pray. 

People of faith are required to exercise faith to have it grow. Our search, our wrestle for answers, leads to peace of mind, growth, and faith. Our Father will bless us with greater vision of what the world is like, what life is like. 

Once there is a testimony of the gospel (the heartfelt certainty that Heavenly Father is real, the Savior is real, and you’re on the right path home to them), then questions aren’t about doubts of belief; they’re about growth. 

She ended with, “Our Father needs men and women of covenant who are willing to wrestle. Learn to receive answers. Humbly, carefully, constantly engage in a spiritual wrestle.” 

I love that. I keep a list of perplexing questions most of the time. And I can see the growth as I look back and realize when answers have come.  

Using study, asking questions, and allowing answers to come through the combination of spiritual and secular study—learning is unlimited.  

There’s a story someone I know told. He was studying law at BYU, and then ended up taking an additional class at the University of Utah. He had found that there was a wide range of opinions in discussions at BYU. Because of the trust people had in the safety of their belief, they were free to explore, to discuss and debate. But at the other school—even among a fair number of faithful people—without the same school mission of using spiritual resources for getting to the truth, the discussion of anything that went beyond the popular secular opinion was oppressed. It looked like the class of good minds was too neatly aligned. It was enlightening, because if you’ve known freedom of thought, you know when it’s missing. 

There are many places where a person can find truth. Many schools. But there is a huge advantage when the very mission of the school is to allow all resources, not just secular ones, for finding truth.
That can be done anywhere, but it takes faith, and questions, and study, and wrestling. And then comes growth. 

[i] Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson, “What is Marriage?” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, vol. 34, number 1, 2011: 245-287.
[ii] BYU’s mission statement and aims can be found here: .

Monday, April 20, 2015

I’m With →

I’m traveling. And holding a grandbaby. So my writing brain isn’t in focus. Still, I thought I’d post a couple of things that don’t require a lot of commentary.

That comes from a collection of clever logo altering, found here.

This video is from a couple of weeks ago, when H announced. Thank you SNL for adding humor to an otherwise humorless event.


And if you think this woman ought to be running, you may need to take a look at her acolytes, because you are one of them. This video is from last May, but I just came across it a week or so ago. College students are asked whether they support Hillary, and the general consensus is yes, they’re thrilled to have her run, because she’s a woman. Apparently any female would do. When asked what her greatest accomplishment was, most said they couldn’t think of anything. One, who was doing his thesis on her accomplishments as Secretary of State, said the way she handled Benghazi was her greatest accomplishment.


Not to get too serious today, but just for some clarity, you might check out this little history lesson from Ben Shapiro on whether Mrs. Clinton is actually the most transparent public figure, as she claims:



Thursday, April 16, 2015


Big Government. Big Business. Big Media. Big Law.

Tom Hanks movie Big,
which other than bigness, has nothing
to do with today's post
The bigness of it sounds ominous. Probably for good reason. Without the “big” adjective, they’re just things. Segments of society. Elements that carry out certain duties and practices, purportedly for the good of society. But the bigness means there’s an overabundance of power that they yield, whether real or simply perceived.
What happens when two bigs get together? Scary amounts of power. Making it much harder for smalls, like the rest of us, to get heard, to influence, to be free to pursue what we want to do. The collusion of the bigs, the elite powerful, is called cronyism.
When Big Government and Big Business collude, that’s crony capitalism—which is very different from free market economics. When Big Media colludes with Big Government, that’s propaganda and disinformation.
Of the various bigs, I hadn’t really thought about Big Law before. But earlier this week I read apiece by Ryan Anderson, the brilliant crusader for real marriage with the Heritage Foundation, in which he discussed the effects of Big Law on the current culture. He began by referring to a New York Times piece. This is quoting NYT reporter Adam Liptak: “In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism.”
Liptak says he found that no major law firms—that’s zero—offered amicus briefs defending marriage. As he puts it,
Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar.
There are equal stacks of briefs, as many pro-traditional-marriage as pro-same-sex-“marriage.” So there are good lawyers out there. But the elites—the ones in the big firms, commanding the big money, and wielding influence galore—have the mistaken and narrow belief, relatively new in culture and certainly without evidence—that to support traditional marriage is equivalent to hating a segment of society because of accident of birth. And, as  Michael W. McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge who teaches law at Stanford, said, “The level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented.”
Ryan Anderson’s piece conveniently links to yet another piece, “7 Reasons Why the Current Marriage Debate Is Nothing Like the Debate on Interracial Marriage,” which he wrote in August 2014. So, I’m interrupting the discussion of the elites for a moment to recount the list:
1.      Support for marriage as the union of man and woman has been a near human universal.
2.      Bans on interracial marriage and Jim Crow laws, by contrast, were historical anomalies.
3.      Great thinkers—including champions of human rights—knew that gender matters for marriage, and none thought that race does.
4.      Even cultures that embraced same-sex relationships did not treat them as marriages. [I think he may be referring to the Roman and Greek empires during their decaying years, when homoeroticism was acceptable, but calling it marriage would have been laughable.]
5.      Marriage must be color-blind, but it cannot be gender-blind.… Men and women regardless of their race can unite in marriage, and children regardless of their race deserve moms and dads. To acknowledge such facts requires an understanding of what marriage is.
6.      Jim Crow laws were meant to divide the races, but marriage law unites men to women and children to their parents. Marriage has everything to do with uniting the two halves of humanity—men and women, as husbands and wives and as fathers and mothers—so that any children born of their union will know and be loved by the man and woman who gave them life.
7.      The Supreme Court was correct in striking down bans on interracial marriage but it should not redefine marriage…. [Earlier in the summer of 2014, in regard to the Loving v. Virginia case] Judge Paul Niemeyer of the 4th Circuit Court explained that “Loving simply held that race, which is completely unrelated to the institution of marriage, could not be the basis of marital restrictions.” But this does not require redefining marriage.
Anderson didn’t include, but there are amicus briefs making the point,[i] that, while race is innate and immutable, sexual orientation is not. The homosexual lobby claims that sexual orientation is the way they’re born and unchangeable—which is why they ignore (or attack) significant and growing evidence that there is no significant genetic component, and many, even thousands, have left the lifestyle, and some have entered into heterosexual marriage and find it satisfying. Sexual orientation simply isn’t like race.
The point is, to anyone who knows the definition of marriage, it’s clear that a male and a female are required. Whatever same-sex couples have (even if they were to be loving, committed, exclusive, and permanent—which is almost without example), it cannot be marriage. Homosexuals are not banned from marrying a person of the opposite sex who is eligible according to law to marry. Nor is there a ban on homosexuals living with the person of their choice.
They aren’t asking for “fairness”; they are insisting loudly on throwing out the purpose of marriage, its relationship to procreation, the terms mother and father, the worldwide religious belief that real marriage is a moral good ordained of God. Throw out what family is, and you throw out civilization and bring on savagery. That’s not just speculation; it’s what we’re watching wherever same-sex marriage has been embraced.
But Big Law, the elites—not necessarily the first we’d turn to for morality lessons—are certain it is immoral to keep the longstanding definition of marriage. And they claim morality requires that we accept same-sex relationships as if they were marriage. Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, made the claim: “It’s so clear that there are no good arguments against marriage equality. Lawyers can see the truth.”
What do ordinary, non-elite Americans think? Probably a wide variety of things, in both directions on the marriage issue—thanks to confusing help from Big Media. But mainly the smalls don’t think that everyone must be forced to believe some specific thing passed down from the elites above. As Anderson describes it:
Ordinary Americans—whether they are in favor of same-sex marriage or opposed—agree that the government shouldn’t penalize their neighbors. Ordinary Americans—even those in favor of same-sex marriage—do not view their neighbors as bigots.
But our governing elites do. So people who believe the truth about marriage need to equip ourselves, because our opponents want to see the law treat all citizens who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife as if they are racists.
If Big Law, in collusion with Big Government and Big Media (and lately with support from Big Business[ii]), holds a particular belief, what is the likelihood they will defend the rights of those whose beliefs they consider on par with racial bigotry?
Anderson asks some important questions:
Will the right to dissent be protected? Will the right of Americans to speak and act in accord with what the United States had always believed about marriage—that it’s a union of husband and wife—be tolerated?
When people ask how same-sex “marriage” can harm me, they are apparently ignorant of the onslaught of religious freedom attacks, and the “gay mafia” tactics to put ordinary minding-their-own-business believers in marriage out of work, out of business, and silenced.
If you were uncertain about which side was right, or which was more moral, consider which is tolerant and which is coercive.
No matter the smallness of our non-elite voices, we need to speak. While we can.

[i] This is one example: Brief of Texas Values as Amicus Curiae in Support of Respondents,
[ii] Tim Cook, Apple CEO, stopped short of boycotting the state, but declaimed the law; other CEOs boycotted:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Economic Glossary

The other day I was listening to the radio in the car; it was a “best-of” program from a couple of years ago, so not related to specific things in the news today. But a caller was having a conversation with Michael Medved, making the assertion that when a person makes money—such as Steve Jobs at Apple—it is at the expense of others, who will be worse off. Michael Medved tried to point out that the products Steve Jobs had provided to society, for which he earned the money, actually made consumers better off, so it was an even exchange, or even an improvement for all. The caller refused to agree, and insisted that there was a set amount of wealth, and if someone got more, others got less. Which shows a glaring lack of understanding of economics.

Economics may be a challenging prognosticating social science. But there are some things that aren’t too arcane for basic understanding. It doesn’t take an expert. So, as a public service, I thought I’d share a few basic definitions—with the purpose of helping good citizens feel confident enough to assert their right to decide how they spend the money they earn. (These terms are all defined with a little more depth in the economic section of the Spherical Model website.)

Wealth: the accumulation of the results of labor. It is created with additional labor and innovation, so there is no maximum amount that can be created. Wealth includes both money and material goods and real estate—anything that could be exchanged for value.
money image found here
Money: a representative, or symbol, of wealth, to make it easier to exchange. The purpose is to preserve surplus that has been produced. The materials used may have some intrinsic value, but mainly money is of value because people who exchange it agree that it symbolizes units of the results of work. There is an estimated total amount of money in the world, called, M3, which includes currency, bank accounts, certificates representing value (stocks, bonds, etc.), or anything quickly liquidated. It goes up as word wealth goes up. If there is inflation in the type of money used to measure (dollars, for example), then the number could appear to go up even though the actual value (representation of units of labor) has not gone up. I wrote about it in 2011.
Price: the point at which buyer and seller of goods and services agree that both are better off by making an exchange. Price conveys a lot of information, allowing buyers and sellers to decide if an exchange is worthwhile to them. If a seller prices something too high, it will have fewer willing buyers. If a seller prices something too low, there will be more buyers than supply.
Supply and Demand: Supply is the amount of goods available or the availability of a service; demand is the willingness of buyers to exchange money for a good or service. Willingness to make the exchange is determined in large part by price—just as price is determined by an accurate assessment of supply and demand. If there is no interference (government regulation, taxes, tariffs, price setting, etc.), then the interrelationship of supply, demand, and price are clear to the experts—the people involved in making an exchange.
Profit: the amount of money that exceeds the costs the seller put into a good or service; it allows the seller to then count that additional money as pay for labor—or as income.
Capital: represents work above and beyond what is essential, followed by careful use of the surplus toward a good idea, for the purpose of creating even more surplus. Capital itself is always moral—surplus work is an economic and social good.
Free Enterprise (or Free Market): an economy in a society in which choices of what work to do , how to make exchanges, and what to do with earnings are decisions made by the individuals involved in the exchange. The term capitalism is sometimes used. Capitalism is actually a subset—a way of investing and making use of capital, leveraging the power of wealth to put a good idea into action in an attempt to make more wealth. Free enterprise generally means government doesn’t interfere, but only assures that contracts are kept, and wealth is safeguarded from theft. It is a system that leads to prosperity wherever it is tried. But for reasons of power being a greater priority than prosperity, it is seldom tried. The alternative to free enterprise is a controlled economy—with central planners deciding basic economic decisions, like who works in what jobs, how much people get paid, what prices are set, and how money will be spent. Central planning is a form of tyranny that always leads toward poverty rather than prosperity. 

If there is nothing else you know about economics, you should at least understand that the person who knows best how you should spend the money you earn—is you.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Family Proclaiming

This past weekend was the twice-a-year worldwide General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is broadcast in multiple ways, and is available online live, plus for reviewing, re-listening, or reading within a day or two. It’s something we enjoy and talk about over and over among ourselves.

Speakers come from the general (worldwide) leadership of the Church. They’re assigned to speak some weeks or months ahead of time, but they are not given topics. They are expected to prayerfully ask for guidance on what to say. So there are a variety of topics every time. But sometimes there seems to arise a common theme.
Last year I noted that the speakers were concerned with freedom of religion and told us to have courage.
The Church has always (all my life, in my memory, but also the Church’s entire history) valued strong families. This conference marriage and family seemed to me the overriding theme.
Conference is comprised of four main sessions of two hours each: two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Plus there is a session Saturday evening for men, age twelve and up. And Conference also includes a session for women the Saturday previous. So I’m about to share a few of the family theme highlights from the whole conference, starting with the women’s session.
Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson
Bonnie Oscarson is the Young Women General President (for youth ages 12-18). She spoke of defending the Family Proclamation. It’s a 600-word document, written twenty years ago, laying out the Church’s beliefs relating to marriage and family. It’s prophetic. I may spend a full post sometime sharing that. But, this is just to let you know what Sister Oscarson is referring to.
She begins with a story from 1850 Italy, where a young woman stood up bravely against an angry mob. That is the picture of courage she is hoping we can see in ourselves. She says,
Sisters, few of us will ever have to face an angry mob, but there is a war going on in this world in which our most cherished and basic doctrines are under attack. I am speaking specifically of the doctrine of the family. The sanctity of the home and the essential purposes of the family are being questioned, criticized, and assaulted on every front….
We need to boldly defend the Lord’s revealed doctrines describing marriage, families, the divine roles of men and women, and the importance of homes as sacred places—even when the world is shouting in our ears that these principles are outdated, limiting, or no longer relevant.
The entire women’s session was dedicated to proclaiming the importance of marriage and family.
During the Saturday morning session, the final speaker was Elder L. Tom Perry, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church (and the oldest; he’s 92). He was one of those who attended the Vatican Colloquium on Marriage last November (which I wrote about here). Leaders from many religions and groups came together in agreement on the importance of marriage and family. He quoted Pope Francis from that colloquium:
Elder L. Tom Perry
We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. … It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.[i]
Elder Perry was pleased that a Muslim speaker quoted verbatim two paragraphs from our Church’s Proclamation on the Family. He said, “It was marvelous to be in meetings with worldwide presenters as they universally addressed their feelings of the importance of marriage between a man and a woman.” And he went on to emphasize that the Church’s teachings on family include an eternal perspective. More is at stake than the best life here on earth; family bonds continue beyond death:
We also believe that strong traditional families are not only the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy, and a stable culture of values—but that they are also the basic units of eternity and of the kingdom and government of God.
We believe that the organization and government of heaven will be built around families and extended families.
It is because of our belief that marriages and families are eternal that we, as a church, want to be a leader and a participant in worldwide movements to strengthen them.
Elder D. Todd Christopherson
During the Saturday afternoon session, Elder D. Todd Christopherson (also one of the Twelve) spoke on “Why Marriage, Why Family.” He shared a quote from a favorite piece from the martyred Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a letter sent from prison to his niece who was getting married:
Marriage is more than your love for each other. … In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God.[ii]
For people who believe in God, marriage is what God says it is. It can’t be anything else. I often write of social science support for marriage[iii], which is true. But I’m open to those truths because I am aware of God’s plan. Elder Christopherson brings that into perspective:
The social science case for marriage and for families headed by a married man and woman is compelling.[iv] And so “we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”[v] But our claims for the role of marriage and family rest not on social science but on the truth that they are God’s creation. It is He who in the beginning created Adam and Eve in His image, male and female, and joined them as husband and wife to become “one flesh” and to multiply and replenish the earth. Each individual carries the divine image, but it is in the matrimonial union of male and female as one that we attain perhaps the most complete meaning of our having been made in the image of God—male and female. Neither we nor any other mortal can alter this divine order of matrimony. It is not a human invention. Such marriage is indeed “from above, from God” and is as much a part of the plan of happiness as the Fall and the Atonement.
Elder Joseph W. Sitati
In the Sunday afternoon session, one of the speakers was Elder Joseph W. Sitati, of the Seventy (the quorums of 70are traveling ministers from around the world, as was Stephen in the New Testament; Elder Sitati is from Kenya). He spoke on the continued relevance of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. With that commandment in mind, he said, “Marriage between a man and a woman is the institution that God ordained for the fulfillment of the charge to multiply. A same-gender relationship does not multiply.”
Please note that this is coming from a well-educated but meek and loving man. He is not saying we must hate homosexuals; he is simply saying that God’s plan of happiness applies to us all. The commandments are for our happiness.
In the Sunday afternoon session, Elder Robert D. Hales, of the Twelve, spoke on protecting religious freedom. He said,
As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom. We already know that Satan does not want this freedom to be ours. He attempted to destroy moral agency in heaven, and now on earth he is fiercely undermining, opposing, and spreading confusion about religious freedom.
Elder Robert D. Hales
He listed four religious freedoms we should be concerned with: 1) freedom to believe; 2) freedom to share our beliefs with others; 3) freedom to form a religious organization; and 4) freedom to live our faith. And he added, “As disciples of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility to work together with like-minded believers, to raise our voices for what is right.”
A couple of weeks before General Conference, Utah passed a religious freedom and anti-discrimination law—with the support of the Church[vi]. Both religious freedom and anti-discrimination in employment and housing are the law; but they both needed reasserting. This might be an example for other states to follow. Working together, the Church was able to assert the need for respect for our beliefs, while calmly reassuring that we respect the rights of all others.
We need to stand strong. We need to have courage. Regardless of what courts rule, or media informs us is the majority opinion. We must stand with God, for the sake of civilization, and our posterity, and our souls. But that includes loving, calm, understanding discourse. Getting that from the other side is the miracle—a testament to the Church’s dedication to God and loving all His children.

[i] Pope Francis, address at Humanum: An International Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman, Nov. 17, 2014,; see also
[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (1953), 42–43.
[iv] Elder Perry’s transcript offers this footnote: People may be loyal to one another in nonmarital relationships, and children can be born and raised, sometimes quite successfully, in other than a married two-parent family environment. But on average and in the majority of cases, evidence of the social benefits of marriage and of the comparatively superior outcomes for children in families headed by a married man and woman is extensive. On the other hand, the social and economic costs of what one commentator calls “the global flight from the family,” weigh increasingly on society. Nicholas Eberstadt catalogs the worldwide declines in marriage and childbearing and the trends regarding fatherless homes and divorce and observes: “The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young. That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old.” (See “The Global Flight from the Family,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2015,
[v]The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” next to last paragraph.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Refusing Service

I’ve mentioned here a couple of times that all our kids (plus a daughter-in-law) spent their teenage years and beyond working at Chick-fil-A restaurants. They worked for the owner of two of the top five Chick-fil-As. They worked hard, and fast. But were expected always to be courteous, respectful, and service oriented. During rush hours, that could be challenging, but that was just the way those places were run.

When daughter Social Sphere worked there, they had a regular customer whom workers, in privacy, referred to as the Dragon Lady. She was kind of scary—long fingernails that looked like talons. Very short masculine haircut. Sometimes dressed in business suits. Always intimidating.
Not the Dragon Lady's real hand,
just for illustration, found here.
She always had the same special order:
  • Chicken strip salad
  • No tomatoes
  • Extra cheese
  • Two packets of sunflower seeds
  • Two dressings: one Italian, one ranch
  • Put the fork in the bag, so she didn't have to get her own
  • Tortilla strips
  • And don’t you dare put in croutons!
She would spiel off the list very fast. If the worker asked for anything to be repeated, she refused. “You should have gotten it the first time.” Plus condescending roll of the eyes. Then she’d say, “And I’m in a hurry, so you’ve got three minutes.”
The way a fast food place works is, standard salads are made an hour or two ahead of rush hour. A custom salad has to be made fresh, so it takes more time—while everything is moving at top speed behind the counter. So a normal person would expect their custom order to take a little extra time. But they’re done cheerfully—I know, because I always ask for custom salads. But it’s kind of presumptuous to ask—for free—a lot of extras. The extra sunflower seeds, the extra dressing, the tortilla strips, were all extras. But this order happened day after day, without any extra charge, and without argument.
If the order didn’t meet the Dragon Lady’s criteria, she didn’t just ask for it to be made right; she publicly berated the employee and told them how stupid and incompetent they were.
Workers braced for her. The experienced ones knew the order—and got it right! She wouldn’t go to that worker again. Social Sphere watched her purposely leave her line to go to a different worker, to avoid her because Social Sphere knew how to do it flawlessly. The Dragon Lady aimed for new, inexperienced workers. Apparently so she could have an excuse to loudly berate the worker and let everyone know how unhappy she was.
Who knows why it should be the highlight of someone’s day to buy lunch with a heaping helping of bitterness. But that was the Dragon Lady.
One day she did this routine, maybe more severely than usual, with a nervous newer worker. She yelled. She fumed. She put the worker through more than anyone should go through for just a couple dollars over minimum wage.
The owner was there. He stepped in. The confrontation went something like this: “You come here every day. We’ve given you good service. We’ve been nothing but respectful and kind. But you berate my people. You’re loud and abusive. This has been going on for more than a year, and we’re done. You’re no longer welcome in my store.”
In our household, we talked about how affirming it was for employees to have a boss who would stand up for them, to let them know they were worth protecting, even from a paying customer. What a good man!
So, I’m asking the question, did the owner have the right to refuse service to that woman?
Under what circumstances does a proprietor have the right to refuse service to a customer?
Because the courts (and the court of public opinion) have been saying lately that, if someone comes in to your place of business, asking for a product or service that you typically do, you must do it for them. Governor Pence of Indiana has gone out of his way to say that the recent legislation he signed—pretty much the same as the federal version and twenty or so other states—means people have religious protection, but not when it comes to refusing service to anyone.
RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) legislation was highly praised in the 1990s when Bill Clinton signed it. It has a long history or working relatively well. In that time, it has never been used to protect a person’s bigotry. (A good explanation and graphic about how RFRA works is available here.) But suddenly people, even in states that have RFRA laws, feel the need to vocally boycott Indiana because of its “anti-gay” legislation. Which means that the agitprop is working.
The Soup-Nazi, from Seinfeld
Here’s what I think: a businessperson should have the right to refuse service to anyone. Like the soup-nazi in Seinfeld.  By virtue of owning his own business, the proprietor gets to decide what legal exchanges of his services for money he is willing to make.
I’m not in favor of bigotry. And I understand there were times, particularly in the South, where places refused service to significant segments of the population because of their race. But it hasn’t been acceptable in civilized society in decades. (Technically, a civilized society treats all people according to their character.) If business owners are stupid enough to cut off entire segments of the population over something so insignificance as melanin content in the skin, they should suffer the loss of business from those people—and the loss of other customers who don’t want to support a business owner who won’t et their friends come with them.
Without any government intervention, at least in today’s world, business owners should make their own decisions about what they’ll do and whom they’ll serve.
But government has interfered. Instead of everyone being treated equally before the law and society, some people are granted “protected class” status.
Did I mention that the Dragon Lady was black? That detail wasn’t relevant to how she was served and why she was refused future service. Her behavior was the defining factor. But what if she had decided to sue, claiming she was refused service because she was black?
Then it becomes an expensive and painful process for the restaurant owner. Even though he would probably have prevailed, because she had been served, as are all races in that store in our very demographically mixed part of the country, and there were many witnesses to her behavior. But the owner would be in danger simply because the Dragon Lady belongs to a special protected class.
Making protected classes in the first place was probably a mistake. Philosophically, it’s against the equal protection provided by the Constitution. But it was a more particular mistake to make people with same-sex attraction a protected class. Their differences are not inherent. They are not genetic. They are not readily visible. They are differences in behavior. And people can have reasonable differences of opinion about what behaviors are acceptable—with some few areas of general agreement, like “thou shalt not murder” and “thou shalt not steal.”
In many religions, including mine, sex outside of marriage is always a sin. And marriage is as it has been since Adam and Eve, between a man and a woman, a connection intended for eternity. While people with same-sex attraction are God’s children as well, they have the same expectations: complete abstinence outside of marriage, and complete fidelity within marriage (to a marriageable person of the opposite sex).  We believe this is the best arrangement for bringing children into the world and raising them in righteousness. We believe God encourages families for our success and happiness. And social science bears out that truth: family of a married mother and father who raise their children are the basic unit of civilization.
That doesn’t mean we demean or avoid anyone who believes differently, or behaves differently. But it should mean that we cannot be forced to engage in activities that we, in our hearts, perceive as celebrating and supporting a sin.
No one should be expected to give up their right to freely choose what they will do simply because they enter into business to make a living. Nor should there be a lot of debate about whether the thing being asked is too much of an imposition. For instance, is baking a cake designed to celebrate homosexuality really an imposition? But taking photography at the ceremony--that would be participating. Our perception shouldn’t matter; the businessperson’s perception is what should matter.
There’s a growing list of impositions on peoples’ religious freedom (pretty good list here, starting a couple of pages in). And there’s particular prejudice against Christians, with laws being enforced arbitrarily and intrusively. Overly zealous news/agitpropists have even sought out people with religious beliefs so they could target them and put them out of business just for having beliefs, not even for having refused any service to anyone.
Muslim bakers in Dearborn, Michigan, are not required to bake cakes for same-sex “weddings.” (Steve Crowder illustrates this, with humor, here.) Non-Christian bakers aren’t required to bake cakes that express beliefs against their beliefs—a court just ruled in Colorado. I’m assuming this case was done as a test, not because someone actually had an event where those messages would be essential. But it’s clear the court judges the messages being requested: some are protected, along with their protected classes, and some messages are unpopular and therefor unprotected by the courts.
What happens when a person planning a same-sex “wedding” gets respectfully denied? They take a few extra minutes to go elsewhere and get what they want. What happens when a business owner is required to use their arts and skills to celebrate an event that goes against their religious beliefs? They go out of business rather than offend God.
That is not justice.