What is marriage – and why is it a matter of public policy?


I’m not going to say anything about morality, anything about theology or anything about tradition. There are some people who talk about marriage and talk about the same-sex marriage debate in terms of a moral argument, a theological argument or a traditional argument. A Burkean conservative might say, ‘Because marriage has been this way, this is how it ought to be.’ None of those arguments will be ones that I’ll be making.

With these words, Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson began his presentation on the pressing topic “What is Marriage?” in remarks delivered at the “Communicating Values: Marriage, Family and the Media” conference hosted by the Stanford Anscombe Society at Stanford University in California.

Anderson continued,

I’ll be making a philosophical argument with some appeal to social science largely to get at a public-policy purpose of marriage. The question I want to ask and then answer is, ‘What is marriage from a policy perspective? What is the state’s interest in marriage? How does the state define marriage? How should the state define marriage and why?’

Now I would imagine that everyone in this room is in favor of marriage equality. The other side uses that slogan, and it’s a great slogan. It’s a wonderful piece of advertising. It fits on a bumper sticker. You can put an “equals” sign up as your Facebook icon and yet it’s completely vacuous. Everyone in this room is for marriage equality; we all want to treat all marriage equally. What we may disagree with each other about is “What sort of relationship is a marriage?” because that’s the question you have to answer before you can then get to considerations of equality. Because even those who want to redefine marriage to include a same-sex couple will draw certain lines between what sort of relationship is a marriage; what sort of relationship is not a marriage. And if we’re going to draw a line based on principle, if we’re going to draw lines that reflect the truth, we have to know what sort of relationship is a marriage and what sort of other consenting-adult relationships are non-marital.  …

I’ll place a challenge…when we get to the Q&A, I invite you to give an answer to these questions: If you want to redefine marriage to include the same-sex couple, why would marriage – how you understand it – require that that relationship be permanent, monogamous and exclusive, and be the type of relationship a government takes interest in? … Because on this account of marriage, where marriage is an intense emotional union of consenting adults, that’s something that can be formed by more than two people. There’s nothing about intense emotional union, just as such, that says it has to be between two and only two. Threesomes and foursomes can just as easily form an intense emotional and an intense romantic and intense care-giving relationship. There is nothing in principle that would require twos.

In his incisive prepared message and in the extended Q-and-A interaction with conference participants, Anderson presented cogent arguments. As importantly, he did so with an attitude of civility and respect that elevated the dialogue in this very challenging contemporary issue to levels essential for sound decision-making by citizens, policy leaders, elected officials and all public servants.

Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, N.J. He also co-authored What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (2012), with Princeton Professor Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis. Justice Samuel Alito cited the book two times in his dissenting opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case about the Defense of Marriage Act.

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U.N. Human Rights Commission defends the family unit

Flag_of_the_United_Nations.svgIn a post titled “No Good Document Goes Unpunished,” Laura Bunker of United Families International points out that even the United Nations recognizes the family as the fundamental unit of society. She writes,

In observance of the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family, the UN Human Rights Council recently adopted a resolution on the “Protection of the Family.”

This remarkable, family-affirming UN document recognizes:

•    “that the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children and that children, for the full and harmonious development of their personality, should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,”
•    “that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,”
•    “that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Perhaps even more significant than the language this resolution contains is what it does not contain. The Human Rights Council rejected an amendment that has been adopted in other past UN documents, endorsing “various forms of the family.”

Of course, there are those who object to this most natural, commonsense, human concept:

Opponents claim that the countries who voted for the resolution “betrayed their responsibilities as members of the Council,” and describe the document as “censorship,” “divisive,” “problematic,” “deeply flawed,” and “appalling.” …

For example, a Joint Statement opposing the resolution expresses concern that, “some states will seek to exploit it as a vehicle for promoting a narrow, exclusionary and patriarchal concept of ‘the family’” and “the family is also a setting in which human rights abuses sometimes take place.”

For our part, we’d like to applaud the U.N. Human Rights Council for getting this one right.

Click here to read “No Good Document Goes Unpunished” on the United Families International Blog.

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Is it to be civil debate or ‘stamp-’em-all-out’?

ArgueIn a revealing Twitter exchange, Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson and The New York Times’ Josh Barro debated whether human beings who support traditional marriage are “people unworthy of respect” and whose attitudes should be “stamp[ed] out, ruthlessly,” in Barro’s words.

The duo also sparred on what the marriage debate is really about: the “definition of marriage” (Anderson’s view) or “equal rights” (Barro’s view).

It is a fascinating exchange that offers useful insight into the thinking of many leftists who believe that the marriage debate is simply about “equality” – instead of a fundamental change to what marriage is and means for society – and that those who don’t support their cause are bigots unworthy of respect.

Anderson also delivered an incisive speech at Stanford, along with a compelling Q-and-A session. Both are worth your time.

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Will U.S. intervene in the Middle East? Mero Moment, 7/29/14

Missile_attack_on_Sderot_in_2014This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

As I speak these words the Gaza Strip in the Middle East is literally exploding. Even a cursory review of the news demonstrates how crazy this world has become. Amidst ongoing international turmoil, the United States has some important decisions to make – not the least of which is the answer to the question of our role in the world.

The state of Israel is capable of taking care of its own defense in limited ways. But what would the United States do if the entire Muslim world united in Israel’s destruction? Would we step back and watch the entire Middle East become engulfed in the chaos created by tactical nuclear war? Would we intervene on behalf of Israel? In other words, would we send American men and women to fight and die in Israel’s defense? We have sent Americans to fight and die for a lot less reason than Israel’s future.

Early America was distinctly non-interventionist. George Washington famously warned about foreign entanglements in Europe. James Monroe created a doctrine of foreign policy that limited U.S. interests to the Western Hemisphere. Only more progressive leaders began to intervene in world affairs – Woodrow Wilson in World War I and Franklin Roosevelt in World War II. And, even then, conservatives were hard to convince that America should step foot on European soil. Of course, few of us today would look back on those events and regret our involvement.

Evidently, the justness of the cause determines our involvement. Or not.

As an example, I remember counseling my congressional boss in 1991 to vote no on the resolution to support President Bush’s decision to engage the first Gulf War. I felt strongly that the war was simply about blood for oil. I thought it was immoral. By the time of the second Gulf War, I had changed my mind. The threat of weapons of mass destruction made all the difference in the world to me.

So what cause reaches the threshold for Americans to engage overseas? Is it the million-plus genocide in the Sudan? Is the current threat from North Korea any less than the threat posed formerly by Saddam Hussein? Continue reading

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How Silent Cal’s ‘normalcy’ led to prosperity

President Calvin Coolidge in the Oval Office, 1923.

President Calvin Coolidge in the Oval Office, 1923.

Calvin Coolidge is often noted for his penny-pinching ways and “Silent Cal” demeanor. His administration came on the heels of massive government expansion that occurred as the U.S. entered World War I. While some natural spending contraction is to be expected as the war ended, Coolidge took it a step further – a giant step further.

While today our federal government doesn’t pass budgets for half a decade, President Coolidge met with his budget director every week with the express purpose of finding places to reduce spending. This allowed him to lower federal expenditures every year of his presidency, despite a Congress flush with tax revenue from a booming economy.

That’s right – government spending decreased and the economy improved. This allowed Coolidge to lower taxes as well, but always with an eye to keeping the budget balanced and paying down debt. His was a fiscal record second to no other U.S. president.

As important as Coolidge’s record on spending and taxes was, it may be another aspect of his terms in the White House that had the most impact.

Click here to read the rest of this article at Utah Citizen Network.

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Hobby Lobby issues demystified

questionBloomberg View writer Megan McArdle calmly answers some of the wild questions zooming around the Internet in “Answers to All Your Hobby Lobby Questions.” For instance:

1) What can stop a company from arguing that it is against the owner’s sincere religious beliefs to pay workers a minimum wage?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a blank check to religious groups to do what they want. The law says that the religious belief must be sincerely held, and also that the government can burden the exercise of that belief if it has a compelling state interest that cannot easily be achieved in any other way. That’s why no one has successfully started the Church of Not Paying Any Taxes, though people have been trying that dodge for years.

Click here to read the rest of McArdle’s article.

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6 doctrines of freedom – Mero Moment, 7/22/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

382px-U.S._flags_-_Washington_Monument_baseThere is a truism in some religious circles: Teaching doctrine changes behavior better than teaching behavior changes behavior. My business at Sutherland Institute is to teach freedom and I’ve long believed that freedom has doctrines just like a religion.

So here is my attempt to share with you some doctrines of freedom.

First, freedom has context. While everyone may have an opinion, freedom cannot mean whatever anyone needs it to mean. Freedom has a broad context that transcends even important liberty interests. Freedom can be achieved even if your individual liberty is somehow proscribed. Freedom transcends utility. Freedom’s context is that delicate balance between order and liberty.

Second, freedom requires a conscious choice to place family at the center of society. In context, family is the fundamental unit of society. It cannot be the individual, church, corporation or state and still strike an appropriate balance between order and liberty. Only the family unit provides both social stability and personal autonomy necessary for maximum freedom.

Third, because of the second point, a culture of marriage is vital to freedom. And moreover today, we need to understand the meaning of marriage. If marriage can mean anything, it means nothing. And if marriage means nothing, so does family, and then freedom means nothing. Anybody who believes in the separation of marriage and state misses the context of freedom. Marriage is an irreplaceable factor in the freedom equation. For instance, it’s why Utah argues that marriage is child-centric, not adult-centric. Its context, just like freedom, is futurity.

Fourth, freedom requires citizens to elevate civil society. The intermediate layer of society that buffers the individual from the state – faith, family, community, neighborhood, voluntary associations, etc. – must be vibrant for freedom to thrive. Without this buffer of civil society, the state not only would run roughshod over individual liberty, it would, as history has proven, become the final moral arbiter for individuals and, thus, could lead to mass human suffering.

A fifth doctrine of freedom is the healthy integration of government in our lives. Freedom requires us to see the possibility of good government – government as an extension of the values of the people. We often hear the expression, “America is great because America is good.” That is the truth. If we see government as evil or even as a necessary evil, we fail to understand why we have government in a free society. If the proper role of government is simply to enforce market contracts, we miss the big picture – we miss the true proper role of American government, the role it plays in support of human happiness. If we deny that role, we will lose our freedom.

Likewise, if we pervert that role, we will lose our freedom as well. A sixth doctrine of freedom complements the fifth point: Freedom requires limited government. When government is massive and concentrated, freedom is strained. Self-government, local government, subsidiarity and a broad sharing of powers will keep us free.

Freedom is a sacred American icon open to easy rhetorical abuses. The “what” and “how” of freedom matter. But the “why” of freedom matters most.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

Receive the Mero Moment each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here.

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Utahns have 6 weeks to give Gov. Herbert feedback on Common Core

800px-School_bus_invasionGovernor Gary Herbert recently introduced a robust process by which state education policy, including the controversial Common Core State Standards, will be carefully reviewed. Of great importance, the process includes the means by which

…parents, teachers, community members and other concerned citizens and organizations across the state have the opportunity to provide feedback on these standards. To give us your feedback, we’ve created a webpage, www.utah.gov/governor/standards, where anyone with a concern can review the current standards and give us their opinion. This can be either positive or negative feedback, but it needs to be specific. If there is a standard or grade level benchmark that you disagree with, I want to hear about it. This input will be shared with Dr. Kendell’s work group and will be invaluable, as the group completes its evaluation. This site is now open for comments and it will be open through the end of August. (emphasis added)

As has become his pattern, Gov. Herbert outlined principles that will guide the review process. Specifically, the state must:

  1. Maintain high academic standards in all subjects, not just math and English, and for all students.
  2. Monitor and limit the federal government’s role in education.
  3. Preserve state and local school district control of our education system, including curriculum, materials, testing and instructional practices.

Last week’s introduction of Utah’s review process comes at a time when an increasing number of states are carefully evaluating the Common Core in the context of their public-education policy. Continue reading

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Curious about Piketty’s colossal ‘Capital’? Try Goldberg’s concise review

French economist Thomas Piketty at the reading for his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, on 18 April 2014 at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

French economist Thomas Piketty at a reading of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” in April 2014, at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.

Here’s my blog-sized review of Jonah Goldberg’s 14-page review of Thomas Piketty’s 600-page review of capitalism: Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

If you follow Goldberg, you know that he has a class clown’s delivery furtively driven by an enormous brain that’s packed tighter than a Whole Foods recycling bin. His talent is in making historically and philosophically intractable topics enjoyable.

In his review of Piketty, Goldberg covers a century and a half of economic and social philosophy, provides handy data points and counter-arguments to progressivism’s latest income inequality meme, tosses in a smattering of current cultural references, adds a dose of cynicism, and presents a thorough takedown of the notion that punishing wealth will do anything to decrease income equality or, more importantly, to raise living standards or happiness across the board.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got since I can add nothing of value to the review except to say you should read it. You’ll be glad you did.

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Deseret News: Utah granted stay in same-sex-marriage case

800px-United_states_supreme_court_building(Deseret News) The U.S. Supreme Court put recognition of same-sex marriages performed in Utah on hold until the outcome of the state’s appeal of a lower court ruling.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the state’s petition Friday for a stay after referring it to the full court, according to a two-sentence order. It will remain in place pending a decision on the case in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The order marks the second time the justices have put on hold a federal court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert called the stay a correct decision and an important step toward resolution of the gay marriage issue.

Click here to read the full story by Dennis Romboy in the Deseret News.

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When the West is pushed, it turns right

Morgan_Farm_2Most people have heard by now that the locals out West are getting a little restless, as they have every other generation or so since the mid-19th century.

What’s less clear is whether this restlessness reflects a new conservative political tilt, or if it’s just the latest flare-up in a turf war over resources and real estate that’s been waged for over a century.

Are we looking at an ideological movement determined to turn this region to the right, or simply a periodic episode of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

Defining Western political forces has always been tricky because these forces so much depend on the current state of relations between the locals and their Washington, D.C., landlords. The federal government’s hand is especially heavy in a region where bureaucrats half a continent away control 50 percent of all lands and heavily regulate the state and private lands that remain.

Increasingly, though, Westerners’ political leanings can be pretty accurately guessed by how far their trade or their traditions lie from that heavy hand.

As in the blind men and the elephant parable, what an observer might “see” depends a lot on which part of the elephant he or she is sampling. A nurse in Seattle or a software engineer in Denver will perceive a much different Western political culture than will a rancher in Montana’s Missouri Breaks, or a roughneck in Utah’s Uinta Basin. They will also have significantly different public policy inclinations: not so much because their interests or goals vary so much they don’t. Their policy preferences diverge because of the angle and proximity of their viewpoint.

One perspective witnesses and experiences the rural production economy up close as a livelihood and a lifestyle, while the other has real memories or implanted images of an unspoiled and imperiled natural legacy.

This isn’t a left/right or Republican/Democrat divide, although that’s how it is manifested in the voting booth. It’s an urban/rural difference of perceptions more than of aims, and it is too often exacerbated by cooked-up controversies and outside agendas insisting that urban and rural values must be competing rather than complementary. But those perspectives are different, and they do make a difference. Continue reading

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Swallow, Shurtleff, and a culture of corruption – Mero Moment, 7/15/14

downtownsaltlakecityThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

When I received news that former Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow had been arrested for alleged illegalities associated with their office, I felt a little sick. Serious allegations against these two men have been in the news for over a year now. And, frankly, I’m not surprised at this turn of events. But I know these men, and it’s a bit discomforting to actually hear they’ve been arrested.

Many people seem to think that everyone in politics knows everyone else intimately. We don’t. Typically, we know each other through the work we do. While my first encounter with Mark Shurtleff nearly a decade ago didn’t leave a good impression for me, I was pleased to get to know him better over the immigration debate. I found him to be intelligent, passionate and convincing on the issue. I was impressed he had authored a book about Dred Scott. I grew to like him personally.

I knew John Swallow through a mutual friend who had enlisted us some years ago to support his charity. Despite current allegations making it seem like Shurtleff and Swallow are two peas in a pod, I found the two men to be nothing alike. Swallow always seemed too guarded and stiff for an elected official – like there was more to him than appeared. Continue reading

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Listing sage grouse as endangered would be ‘the worst thing for it’

Sage grouse in San Juan County.

Sage grouse in San Juan County.

By Carl Graham and Brian Seasholes

Add one more potential victim to the catalog of high-profile species likely to be harmed by the Endangered Species Act.

The sage grouse, a large ground-dwelling bird that inhabits 165 million acres in nine Western states, appears headed for listing under the Act, much to the detriment of both the grouse and those with the greatest stake in preserving it.

Over its 40-year history, the Endangered Species Act has often caused significant harm to the very species it is supposed to protect by unnecessarily creating adversaries of landowners harboring these species and pre-empting state conservation efforts.

The Endangered Species Act’s massive penalties — $100,000 and/or one year in jail for harming a bird, egg, or even habitat — turns species into economic liabilities. Understandably, landowners often respond by ridding their land of potentially regulated species and their habitats; but the tragedy is that most do so very reluctantly. They cherish their land and take pride in being good conservationists.

States, meanwhile, realize what is at stake. Listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act “would be the worst thing for it,” said Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “It would all but do away with any of the conservation that is in place.” States have taken the lead in conserving the grouse but are concerned their efforts will be snuffed out by Endangered Species Act mandates if listing occurs. “We can probably do a better job with our local programs and partnerships than Fish and Wildlife can trying to regulate from afar,” according to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Continue reading

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The war on (unborn) women

A girl named Swarna (Sanskrit for "golden").

A baby girl named Swarna (Sanskrit for “golden”).

We’re constantly told by liberal politicians and media claiming to be “progressive” that conservative thinkers and policymakers are waging a “war on women.” As the argument is spun, the right’s “war on women” oppresses women’s quality of life by opposing proposed liberal policies regarding things like abortion and employee pay.

Well, whatever you may think about conservative ideas and women’s quality of life, you must admit the conservative perspective gives all women a chance at life – which newly published research suggests is not true for the “progressive” perspective.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at India’s male-to-female sex ratio, which has become more male-heavy in recent decades. The researcher – an economist at Northwestern University – reports that “fertility decline can explain roughly half of the increase in the sex ratio that occurred in India over the past thirty years.” The connection between fertility decline and having a larger portion of men in society is that as people desire and have fewer children, many continue to desire to have at least one son.

But simple math points to the fact that having fewer children decreases the likelihood of having a boy, and so this situation leads people to “manipulate the sex composition of their children.” That is a nice way of saying that people use “sex-selective abortion [aborting only girls], infanticide, or neglect” toward girls so they can have a son while having fewer children at the same time.

As a follow up to that finding, she also reports that “more progressive attitudes could counterintuitively cause a more male-skewed sex ratio.” Why? Because such views “reduce desired family size.” In other words, driven by “progressive” ideas and attitudes, more people kill or discard girl babies as a means to their goal of having fewer children.

How is it that the philosophy that claims to protect women on the basis of “equality” could lead people to kill or discard a child for no other reason than she’s a girl?

Which worldview is truly perpetuating a “war on women”: the one that is accused of standing in the way of equal pay for some women, or the system that is actually leading people to kill female babies before they have a chance to live?

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Ignoring old truths to create a new reality

GavelIt’s easy to win an argument when you invent a new reality. In the case of same-sex marriage, plaintiffs simply argue that a definition of marriage that has existed, culturally and legally, for millennia is an old reality.

Proponents of marriage (i.e., the defendants) have a tough argument to make. We have to demonstrate a higher purpose for marriage. We have to show why it’s culturally sacred, why it serves the common good, why it elevates the lives of men, women and children and why law in a free society should lay out a clear definition of it. We have to explain what marriage is.

Plaintiffs have no such burden to demonstrate. They simply argue equality. How difficult is that? There is no sense of the sacred in marriage for plaintiffs. Only equality is sacred. There is no sense of the common good in marriage for plaintiffs. Equality is the only common good. Only equality elevates men, women and children. And law in a free society has one purpose: Equality.

Carrying such a light intellectual load explains why federal judges, anxious to be on the so-called right side of history, can so casually accept this new reality of same-sex marriage. This new reality explains why a federal judge accepts that “the right to marry” applies to everyone – despite the fact that every legal precedent prior to the invention of this new reality viewed marriage as between a man and woman. Pick the marriage precedent cited by plaintiffs, and every precedent, until now, referenced marriage between a man and woman. The Loving case? A man and woman. Prisoners? A man and woman. Sterile couples? A man and woman.

This new reality describes “marriage equality” as anything that consenting adults agree to – and for any arbitrary reason (e.g., psychological or emotional). What an easy argument! For heaven’s sake, the entire campaign of plaintiffs fits neatly on a small bumper sticker – that is how unsubstantive their 14th Amendment argument really is. Continue reading

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