A Strange and New Idea

Rob Tisinai

January 31st, 2013

Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriageHe tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in  separate posts as a kind of back-t0-the-basics review of our opposition.

In this fourth rebuttal of “our” arguments, Vogt plays the victim:

4. Same-sex marriage won’t affect you, so what’s the big deal?

Since marriage is a relationship between two individuals, what effect would it have on the rest of us? At first glance, it sounds like a good question, but a deeper look reveals that since marriage is a public institution, redefining it would affect all of society.

Fair enough. But will it affect society in a good way or a bad way?

First, it would weaken marriage. After same-sex marriage was legislated in Spain in 2005, marriage rates plummeted. The same happened in the Netherlands.

Crap — this again? The Netherlands case has been thoroughly debunked: marriage rates were declining there long before same-sex marriage was legalized. And as for Spain, yes, marriage rates did drop in Spain, from 206,000 in 2005 to to 157,000 in 2011. Guess what else happened in that time? Unemployment skyrocketed, from 9% to 22%. And in the under-25 age group, it went from 19% to 47%. Are you surprised marriage rates dropped?

Vogt is guilt of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: the idea that just because A happened before B, A must have caused B. The world’s more complicated than that. Vogt’s argument requires a blinkered view and a predisposition to blame same-sex marriage for everything.

To his credit, though, he does offer a causal hypothesis:

Redefining marriage obscures its meaning and purpose, thereby discouraging people from taking it seriously.

Unfortunately, he offers this up as if it required no further explanation. He assumes, without evidence, that the “meaning and purpose” of marriage is entirely about biological parenting. But we let elderly people into marriage. Some states have laws that allow first cousins to marry only if they can prove they can’t procreate. If these don’t obscure the “meaning and purpose” of marriage, then why will letting same-sex couples marry cause marriage rates to plummet?

Vogt also fails to explain why a public and passionate fight for marriage rights would lead anyone to think less of the importance of marriage.

Also, when it comes to the impact of same-sex marriage on society, I can’t resist quoting District Court Judge James Ware on whether gay judges have some special stake in Prop 8 that should disqualify them from adjudicating it:

In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right.

Beautiful. But back to Vogt. He tries this:

Second, it would affect education and parenting. After same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada, the Toronto School Board —

Stop. Sorry. If Vogt’s talking about the consequences in the US, then he’s got to stick with the US. Other countries, with other legal systems and other constitutions, aren’t relevant here. He does, however, bring up one US consequence:

[R]edefining marriage would threaten moral and religious liberty. This is already evident in our own country. In Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., for instance, Catholic Charities can no longer provide charitable adoption services based on new definitions of marriage.

And he gets it wrong. Catholic Charities can still offer charitable adoption services. They’re simply not allowed to discriminate against same-sex married couples. Here’s how it works. Catholic Charities would sometimes turn down unmarried couples simply because they’re unmarried. There’s no law against that. Once same-sex couples could marry, though, Catholic Charities could no longer discriminate against them, because the only reason for disqualifying such couples is their sexual orientation, and there are laws about that.*

Catholic Charities had to choose between placing kids with same-sex couples — which it previously had done! — and not placing children at all. They chose to stop placing children at all, over the objections of their non-clerical board members.

At this point, our opponents claim: Making the Church recognized a legal marriage as valid, in violation of its doctrine, is a violation of its religious liberty. However…

This is a strange and new idea.

This is a strange and new idea.

This is a strange and new idea.

Yeah, I said it three times. Because it’s a strange and new idea. Charities, employers, and other legal entities simply do not have the right to decide which civil marriages they will honor. Religious employers just don’t have the right to say: I won’t offer you spousal benefits because you’re divorced and remarried; because you’re an interracial couple; because your wife isn’t sufficiently subservient to you.

Another example: The Catholic Church recognizes as valid a marriage between two Baptists performed by a Justice of the Peace. Not so between two Catholics; the Church requires Catholics to be married by priests. But as a matter of law, Catholic Charities cannot treat the two couples differently, because that would be religious discrimination.

So, as a matter of law, when it comes to this notion that religious organizations and employers should get to decide which legal marriages they will recognize, and that not having this right is a violation of their liberty…this is a strange and new idea.

Believe it or not, with all the mistakes Vogt has made, there’s deeper error underlying his argument. He’s acting as if these consequences are a result of same-sex marriage. They’re not. They’re a result of anti-discrimination law. The laws in Massachusetts and DC say you can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Take those laws away and all these “problems” disappear. Leave those laws in place, though, and many of the same issues will still come up, because the law forbids service providers from saying, “You’re gay [black/ Jewish/ Armenian/ straight/ Christian/ female, etc.] and I won’t serve your kind.”

So, Brandon Vogt, if you have worries about religious freedom, then go before the public and make the case that any religious person, employer, or institution should be allowed to use their beliefs to discriminate — not just against gays — but against anyone at all. And then I’ll believe you’re sincere.

Though I’ll understand if you think that’s a harder sell.

Tomorrow: In what may be a game-changer for the marriage debate, Vogt tries to show same-sex marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy — only to reveal that his beliefs are the ones that could lead us there!

* Some folks on our side say Catholic Charities of Boston could have continued its discriminatory policies if it had stopped taking government funds. This is incorrect. These discriminatory policies violate Massachusetts law regardless of whether the organization is taking taxpayer money.
UPDATE: This may have changed. See comments.

Priya Lynn

January 31st, 2013

“* Some folks on our side say Catholic Charities of Boston could have continued its discriminatory policies if it had stopped taking government funds. This is incorrect. These discriminatory policies violate Massachusetts law regardless of whether the organization is taking taxpayer money.”.

You’re the one that has it wrong. The mormons operate an adoption agency in Massachusetts and refuse to adopt to same sex couples. They are allowed to do so because they don’t take state funding. Here it is from the Mormons themselves:


“LDS Family Services still operates in Massachusetts, as it does in California. There are several differences between LDSFS and Catholic Charities. LDSFS does not take federal or state funds; Catholic Charities does. LDSFS facilitates only voluntary adoptions and permits the birth mother to approve the adoptive parents. Catholic Charities handled non-voluntary adoptions (where the state seizes the children) and normally did not accommodate birth mother approval. Catholic Charities had contracts with the state and was, in effect, acting as an agent of the state. LDSFS does not. To date, LDS Family Services has never been forced to place any children with a gay couple, and has never been sued for not doing so.”

Ben in Oakland

January 31st, 2013

Rob, I’m not 100% certain about this, but I am pretty sure.

The issue for catholic adoption services in MA was not that the services HAD to let same sex couples adopt– which, as you note, they had allowed before marriage equality, and over the stopping of which several of their board members resigned– but because they wanted state money to do it.

I believe there is Mormon agency in Boston which does not accept state money, and which is free to discriminate as they wish.

Also important to note, Cathloic Social services is not the church, just asthe ocean grove pavilion in New Jersey was not the Methodist church, just as Elaine photography is not a church. And this is why anti discrimination laws come into effect.

Ben in Oakland

January 31st, 2013

Thanks for providing the substance, priya. I suspect you are far better organized than I am.

Rob Tisinai

January 31st, 2013

Hey Pryia and Ben. In 2010 (after the date in the link provided), I spent hours on the phone with officials in Massachussets and was told LDS had been forced to suspend operations there pending an investigation into violations of anti-discrimination law.

Based on you comments, I called the LDS adoption agency and Nashua and they told me that they do in fact offer adoption services in the state. I asked, “And you don’t place kids with same-sex couples.” She cryptically answered, “That depends.”

This is an important question and I’d like to crowd-source (whoo hoo! first time I’ve ever used that term). Here’s a mess of questions I won’t have time to get to this week (or next) but maybe the BoxTurtle community can split them up and report back.

1. Does LDS currently offer adoption services in Massachusetts (I’ve garnered the answer to that one: yes, based on their Nashua office response)
2. Does LDS currently place children with non-LDS couples in MA?
3. Does LDS currently place children with same-sex married couples in MA?
4. Do official LDS adoption agencies currently receive any state or federal funds, or have a contract with the state of MA?
5. What does current MA discrimination law say about religious adoption agencies?

If anyone has this info, please let us know and specify your source.

Thanks to Pryia and Ben for bringing this up.

Rob Tisinai

January 31st, 2013

Meanwhile, of course, please don’t take this research request as a sign not to comment on other aspects of the post.

Priya Lynn

January 31st, 2013

I sent an email to the LDS adoption agency but I suspect based on the response you got I won’t get any clarification from them either.

Ben In Oakland

January 31st, 2013

You’re welcome, rob. Thanks for all you do.

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