Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Exclusive Language of Marriage

So I was browsing around What's the Rumpus (recent recipient of the prestigious Debate Link Award for Excellence in Poetry) and I stumble across a post linking to this attack by Bradley Watson on the judicial "deconstructing" of the term "marriage." In a nutshell, Watson argues that stripping the historical meaning of marriage away (for legal purposes, anyway) makes marriage a meaningless term, and opens the door to Orwellian newspeak where words are infinitely malleable and can be used to whatever ends the state might desire.

The first problem with the article is it displays a profound misunderstanding of what "deconstruction" means. Conservatives seem to think it means "destruction," when we deconstruct the meaning of words we destroy them. That is not what it means at all. Rather, deconstruction stems from the axiom that words have multiple meanings, both existent and potential, and that language games involve the elevation of certain meanings and the suppression of others. When we "deconstruct" a word, phrase, or idea, then, we examine why it is that a particular meaning (or meanings) have become privileged, while others have been subordinated.

Conservatives might respond that with multiple meanings that are always situational and contingent, language becomes utterly incoherent, so it's as if we destroyed the meanings. However, this isn't true, and Watson himself demonstrates how:
For Christians, in particular, marriage has meant the union of a man and woman. This is because it refers, among other things, to the unique, God-given capacity of man and woman to enter a covenantal relationship parallel to that between Christ and His church. It is a point of encounter between God and man. The rites of marriage are performed in the hope-with full knowledge that the reality sometimes does not live up to the hope-that each and every example of the sacramental relationship realizes its potential and purpose and therefore reflects the divine intention. The divine mind has an idea of human nature, and therefore human relationships, that does not and cannot change. Marriage, in short, is a word that describes something particular in the divinely created natural order, something that simply cannot be replicated in a same-sex relationship.

I am not Christian. Hence, this "meaning" of marriage is, in a tangible sense, utterly foreign to me. I cannot reach it. "A covenantal relationship between Christ and his church" is beyond my philosophical horizon. I do have my own, Jewish conception of marriage, which has both similarities and differences with the Christian form, but still is in the end a different ritual. And yet, despite this, I can somehow recognize the relationship described as a "marriage." Something allows me to transcend the particularities of my experience to understand the experiences of the other, without--and this is the important part--either disparaging my own experience or denying its meaning. I can do the same thing for homosexual marriages, even though, as a heterosexual, it too is completely "distant" in a tangible sense. The deconstructed idea of marriage doesn't destroy meanings, it affirms multiple meanings as valid based on context.

What's interesting is that we accept the presence of "multiple meanings" all the time, generally without question. A Christian marriage might require the parties to recognize their bonds under Christ. A Jewish marriage obviously doesn't have that facet, yet most Christians would still accept it as a valid marriage, even if the same act would not be a valid marriage amongst Christians. The reverse is true too, Jews recognize Christian marriages without a Ketubah as legitimate, even if it is required for Jews and would make for an invalid marriage if the parties were Jewish. One might argue that acceptance of uncertainty and multiple life-paths is a precondition to a pluralist society--if I am utterly convinced that my way is the one true way, then democratic deliberation becomes an unnecessary barrier to utopia. As Chantal Mouffe puts it:
To believe that a final resolution of conflicts is eventually possible...far from providing the necessary horizon of the democratic project, is something that puts it at risk. Indeed, such an illusion implicitly carries the desire for a reconciled society where pluralism would be superseded. When pluralist democracy is conceived in such a way, it becomes a self-refuting ideal because the very moment of its realization coincides with its disintegration.["Democracy and Pluralism: A Critique of the Rationalist Approach," 16 Cardozo L. Rev. 1533, 1544 (1995)]

Hence, so long as acceptance of the right of some communities (IE, churches, families) to include gay marriage under the umbrella of marriage doesn't disparage the rights of other communities to reject it, pluralism is achieved.

One could also recast the question as a matter of "essences." What are the essential attributes of marriage? This is to some degree a peculiar question, since again, people somehow affirm that a Ketubah is essential to a Jewish marriage but not to marriage abstractly. Beyond that, though, the question of "essences" is infinitely reductive. Is marriage "a union between a man and a women under Christ," or "a union between a man and a women" or "a union between two loving persons"? All definitions include some and exclude others. So we have three choices: we can draw the line arbitrarily, simply in line with whatever social stereotypes and preconceived prejudices we've inherited from our ancestors; we can draw the line as far out as possible, including everything but meaning nothing; or we can reject the need for line-drawing at all and recognize that there are no abstract essences, just the individual traits of particular relationships. I'd assert that the last option is preferable, preserving meaning while including the hitherto excluded. It also allows for some forms of social control--bestiality is not prohibited because it violates some "essence" but because it violates the notion of consent which is required to enter into contractual relationships.

From a legal perspective, Watson's case grows weaker still. One might indeed believe that preserving marriage as a bond between a man and a women (or a Christian man and women) is worth defending. Nothing in any legal decision has cast otherwise--every Christian church in the land, if it so chooses, can continue to define marriage as such. However, from the perspective of the state, such inter-denominational spats (even if, in this case, the denominational breakdown is predominantly religious versus secular) are not to be waded into. The one true meaning, if it even exists, is of no concern to it (indeed, setting that meaning up as inviolable is inherently anti-democratic, see Mouffe above). The state is a pragmatic body, it tries to achieve pragmatic goals. Those goals have to be within the recognized authority of the state. Playing dictionary is not one of those goals, the state is (for obvious reasons) not vested with the authority to tell us, under pain of legal sanction, the final meaning of diction. The definition of marriage, preserving the ability of man "to express the union of a man and woman," as Watson so hyperbolically puts it (as if language can only exist within the context of state mandates. I should hope our social traditions are not so fragile!), is not valid material for the government to play with. States can, however, do many things that have a secondary relationship to marriage--for example, it can look out for the well-being of children, or encourage stable relationships. In pursuing these goals though, the state must act with as fine a scalpel as possible. If the goal is aiding children, then the state should assign whatever benefits it deems appropriate to any family unit with children. It is not enough to say that most married heterosexual couples either have or have the capacity to have children and most homosexual couples don't, because that is needlessly exclusive and their is a more precise mechanism available. The same thing applies to fostering safe and stable relations, whatever the state decides is necessary to achieve that goal, it must make available to any partnering that has the capacity of being safe and stable. The formulation may be laid down as such: When seeking to achieve a legitimate political end, the state cannot adopt a more exclusive policy in cases where it could just as easily adopt a more inclusive one without substantially changing the nature of the objective.

Watson's argument stems from a flawed premise of what deconstructionalism means, proceeds to defend arbitrary essences which do not exist, and then concludes by placing the duty to defend the whole enterprise at the foot of a state whom conservatives used to be wary of vesting so much power in. I would think that the prospect of Orwellian newspeak grows greater if we become dependent on government to define our meanings for us, rather than forming vibrant communities of our own in which we can pursue our version of nature, essence, and the meaning of life.

18 comments:

Sally said...

or we can reject the need for line-drawing at all and recognize that there are no abstract essences, just the individual traits of particular relationships. I'd assert that the last option is preferable, preserving meaning while including the hitherto excluded. It also allows for some forms of social control--bestiality is not prohibited because it violates some "essence" but because it violates the notion of consent which is required to enter into contractual relationships.

So "consent" is not part of the essence (i.e., the meaning) of "contractual relationships"? And what, after all, is it that makes "contractual relationships" so essential?

If the goal is aiding children, then the state should assign whatever benefits it deems appropriate to any family unit with children.

But what if not just any "family unit" is deemed appropriate? Why shouldn't the state be able to deem it appropriate that children have both a father and a mother (wherever possible)?

David Schraub said...

The first part is to some extent a damning indict. It is true that, taken to its extreme, post-modernism denotes radical undecideability, such that we can't know if consent is an essence of contract (indeed, it is somewhat easy to think of exceptions: parents looking after children, state wards for the mentally retarded, etc). To its application here, I would merely note my division between political and philosophical spheres. The contract is quintisentially a state concern, hence it has to be able in some form to define it (even if philosophically we might dispute the parameters). The definition of marriage, by contrast, is not in of itself political, so the state has no business in it.

The second point is far easier to answer: there is not a whit of scientific evidence to back up the claim that a mother and father represents a meaningfully better family unit for children. See Howard v. Arkansas, blogged on here. Furthermore, even if there was, it dodges the question: one might argue that it is precisely the family units which are NOT ideal that most need state assistance. Since the state can't practically bar in vitro fertilization and other ways in which gay couples can conceive children, it still represents willful ignorance. The reality is, there are gay couples with children, so if we want to help children, then we need to help those children too.

Sally said...

there is not a whit of scientific evidence to back up the claim that a mother and father represents a meaningfully better family unit for children.

Whitless contemporary social scientists notwithstanding, there are millenia of "evidence", contained in human literature and culture and based upon the common experience of humankind, that a "mother" plays an integral role in the formation of human character, and that a "father" does likewise, and that they are not simply interchangeable.

What's needed here is a bit of perspective: why is the state involved in the intimate relationships between two (or more) people in the first place? Not, please, because a bureaucrat's stamp on a licence is somehow able to make a relationship "safe and stable". Rather, it's because the state has an interest in it's own survival through human procreation, and because of that the state assumes the common-law burden of all human societies in creating a special structure in law for couples that have the potential to produce children. I suppose that one day we may wish, as in Brave New World, to finally sever procreation and human sexuality altogether, but I think a reasonable skepticism about the assurances of various agenda-driven social "scientists" would be in order before making that cut.

David Schraub said...

We've also had a "millenia of evidence, contained in human literature and culture and based upon the common experience of humankind" that is absolutely sure of the superiority and inferiority of different races of people, and the justification for complete political repression by the state, and the need for constant warfare and expansion, and of course utter legal subordination (if not genocide and destruction) of the other. The lessons of history, I'd venture, ought be taken with a grain of salt. And when what has been believed goes face to face with empirical evidence showing it's false, perhaps we might show some humility, rather than putting scare quotes around "scientists" and assuming they all have an agenda to push (read, by the way, the Howard opinion and see who it is whose actually pushing an agenda).

As to the state's interest in reproducing its population, I think it's you who needs some perspective. a) I don't think we're at imminent risk of dying out as a species due to underpopulation and b) I really don't think that humanity would stop procreating just because the state stops restricting a marriage to a man and a women. Hell, teens procreate all the time with the state actively trying to stop them, I hardly think state indifference will yield the death blow to humanity (short form of argument: sex is fun!). In terms of comparative risks, I think it is abundantly clear that the main threat to reproducing society is not encouraging procreation in the first place (we've gotten rather good at that), but rather that the results of procreation are raised in stable, secure homes so they can live successful lives.

There is this odd undercurrent to this whole argument, that if the state doesn't force people to act in a certain manner, they never will. Sometimes, of course, that makes sense, and it is the basis for a liberal, interventionist government. However, at the point where manner X is procreation, I think we cross over into the most absurd, paternalistic socialism imaginable.

It's amazing what conservativism has become...

Sally said...

Before even the need for perspective, there's a need to read. Nothing I said implied that the state does or should force people to procreate. I did say that the state has an interest in providing support for human procreation, which, being a cultural as well as a biological phenomenon, involves the raising of children as well as their simple generation.

As for your comparison of the ideal of children being raised by both a mother and a father to racism, state repression, warfare, and genocide, well, I'll let that speak for itself.

David Schraub said...

Reading cuts both ways.

"As to the state's interest in reproducing its population, I think it's you who needs some perspective. a) I don't think we're at imminent risk of dying out as a species due to underpopulation and b) I really don't think that humanity would stop procreating just because the state stops restricting a marriage to a man and a women. Hell, teens procreate all the time with the state actively trying to stop them, I hardly think state indifference will yield the death blow to humanity (short form of argument: sex is fun!). In terms of comparative risks, I think it is abundantly clear that the main threat to reproducing society is not encouraging procreation in the first place (we've gotten rather good at that), but rather that the results of procreation are raised in stable, secure homes so they can live successful lives."

Past that, I noted it was ridiculous to force people to have sex. I think its equally ridiculous to need to encourage people to have sex. I think its abundantly clear that people will procreate, regardless of what the government says on the matter. That is one problem that does not need to be solved. Giving people a stable setting in which to procreate may indeed be trickery--but marriage for both homosexuals and heterosexuals is inclusive of said goal without excluding homosexuals (see my inclusivity axiom in the original post).

And since we are, at root, talking about the legalized subordination of a given class of people, the analogy to past oppression is not particularly inapt. Is subordinating gay citizens the equal of massive genocide? Of course not. Should we tolerate injustice now because of the presence of more extreme injustice elsewhere? Absolutely not. Should we be cautious about using the same justifications for our current injustices as were used for extreme injustices of years past. I think so. (Am I channelling Donald Rumsfeld? You bet!) At the very least, the point still holds: History is not an infallible teacher. I, for one, view it with considerable suspicion, remembering what it has "taught" us in the past.

Sally said...

I think its abundantly clear that people will procreate, regardless of what the government says on the matter. That is one problem that does not need to be solved.

Well done -- you're good at slaying straw men. It's unlikely the government needs to encourage people to eat either, just in case you imagine that's what I'm saying.

Giving people a stable setting in which to procreate may indeed be trickery --

Yes it may. And trying to ensure that children have the advantages of having parents/role models of both genders may in fact involve a social and legal discrimination that reinforces a biological one. This is presupposing, of course, that parental gender diversity (so to speak) actually IS an advantage for children, as I've been doing all along -- but that's really the crux of the issue. Imagining that it can all be wiped away with a reference to court case is just silly.

It's no doubt a good thing that you regard History with such suspicion -- Henry Ford, at least, would be impressed. Perhaps, though, you could bring just a portion of that skepticism to the social science studies that may do no more than "find" whatever the studier sets out to find.

Kate Marie said...

I'm commenting on the fly today, so I don't have anything really well thought out to offer here, but that's never stopped me before.

David,

I'm assuming you wouldn't object to state-sanctioned polygamous unions.

Do you have an objection to laws like Vermont's that recognize same-sex unions while reserving "marriage" for heterosexual unions?

Eugene Volokh, who "tentatively" supports same-sex marriage (to the extent that he says he would vote for it if it were a matter of popular referenda), makes an argument that discriminating on the basis of sex (which is what he assumes anti-same-sex-marriage advocates want to do -- in order to prvilige male-female unions) is NOT equivalent to discrimination based on race. I found his argument pretty convincing. He essentially takes the "federalist" stance -- that's it's better for same-sex marriage to be left to democratically-elected state legislatures and popular referenda.
I'll try to find a link and check back.

Both sides (yours and Sally's) are well-argued here. I hope I can dive in with my own two cents when I check back. Thanks.

David Schraub said...

Katie,

The question of what governmental body should decide what "marriage" means is a whole different animal, one which, for the purpose of keeping the discussion vaguely focused (although one might argue that is already a failed effort), we might save for another post, yes?

I'm open to being persuaded on polygamy. I read a very interested law review article on it [Elizabeth F. Emens, "Monogamy’s Law: Compulsory Monogamy and Polyamorous Existence." 29 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 277 (2004)], but I would consider my view not fully formed. I will say that I'd have to see evidence of harm before I indict a polyamorous relationship--but I haven't read enough on the subject to foist an opinion.

Sally,

Now your shifting grounds:
"why is the state involved in the intimate relationships between two (or more) people in the first place? Not, please, because a bureaucrat's stamp on a licence is somehow able to make a relationship "safe and stable". Rather, it's because the state has an interest in it's own survival through human procreation, and because of that the state assumes the common-law burden of all human societies in creating a special structure in law for couples that have the potential to produce children."

You explicitly tied in your defense to the act of procreation. Now your changing it to a stable environment in which to raise children. That's fine, that's the frame in which I want to debate too, but to say you've been doing it all along is facile. But that's neither here nor there. Let's actually take a look at what the experts have to say on the subject.

I'm not sure if you read the case I cited or not. The reason I cited it wasn't because I think a state judge in Arkansas is the world's foremost expert in the psychology and sociology of children raised by gay couples (I don't). Rather, I cited it because this judge had the humility to actually listen to the expert witnesses provided to him. Hence, we can read that case and get a reasonable idea of whether the evidence supports your claim that parental gender diversity yields advantages to children.

The case overviewed the analysis of 8 expert witnesses which appeared in the case (it also referred to the testimony of the plaintiffs and respondents): Dr. Cheralyn Powers (Past President of the Arkansas Psychological Association), Dr.Rebecca Martin (Clincian at U. Arkansas Medical School), Judith Faust (Faculty at the UA-LR School of Social Work), Dr. Michael Lamb (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), Dr. Fredrick Berlin (Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins and advisor to the ad hoc committee on sexual abuse for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops), George Rekers (Professor of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Science at USC), Dr. Susan Cochran (Professor of Epidemeology at the UCLA School of Public Health), and Dr. Pepper Schwartz (Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington).

Every single one who reflected on teh subject except for Dr. Rekers concluded that there was no evidence whatsoever to show that children in gay households suffered any disadvantage at all compared to those raised by heterosexual couples. Dr. Powers testified that "the sexual orientation of the parents did not negatively affect the development of the child...the differences in child development were not related to the gender identity of the parents." Dr. Martin testified only to the extent of the AIDS crisis, she concluded it posed no threat to the children and that if it was considered a threat, the state could test for it within its pre-existing statutory scheme. Ms. Faust testified that it was her opinion as well as the opinion of the overarching organization of social workers that child placement decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, and any categorical exclusion outside of a history of abuse or violent crime will take away some "ideal" matches.

Dr. Lamb testified that emprically, being raised by gay parents: "(i) does not increase the risk of problems of adjustment for children; (ii) does not increase the risk of psychological problems for children; (iii) does not increase the risk of behavioral problems; (iv) does not prevent children from forming healthy relationships with their peers and others; (v) does not cause academic problems; (vi) does not cause gender identity problems; and (vii) does not cause any adjustment problems at all," among other things. If you are going to read one persons testimony in the case, read his (pgs 18-20 in the PDF). The court explicitly praised his lack of bias and his clear and professional relaying of the facts and results of empirical studies. Unless State Court Judges in Arkansas is the latest place to be infected by the gay agenda, I think that should get some weight.

Dr. Berlin noted that homosexuality is not a choice, that there is no reason to believe someones sexual orientation is affected by their parents, and that there is no evidence to support the notion that homosexuals are more likely to abuse their children than heterosexuals. Dr. Berlin also said it was the position of APA that it was unethical to try and "cure" homosexuality. Dr. Rekers, by contrast, testified that homosexuality is an inferior family unit. He also said that in private practice, he had attempted to "cure" homosexuals. Dr. Cochran said that for the most part, there was no additional substance abuse amongst homosexuals versus heterosexuals. Finally, Dr. Schwartz testified that while in certain parameters, homosexuals couples actually scored BETTER than heterosexuals in terms of quality of relationships, it was generally impossible to predict on the basis of orientation alone.

As I said before, Dr. Rekers was the only one who believed that homosexual families had negative affects on the children. So what did the court say about Dr. Rekers?

"In counterpoint to the quality of Dr. Lamb's testimony [who was "the most outstanding of the expert witnesses" and "the best example of what an expert witness is supposed to do at trial, simply provide date to the trier of fact so the trier of fact can make an informed decision"] was the testimony provided by Dr. George Rekers. It was apparent from both Dr. Rekers testimony and his attitude on the stand that he was there primarily to promote his own personal ideology. If the furtherance of such an ideology meant providing the court with only partial information or selectively analyzing study results, that was acceptable to Dr. Rekers."

Now, I suppose it is possible that your typical Arkansas state judge is enamored with the homosexual agenda and would thus be so brash as to take the opinions of 7 expert witnesses over one indicted one. But I doubt it.

Sally said...

I don't mean to undermine your confidence in the notion of the "expert witness", David. They have their uses, especially when it comes to simple matters of fact (does the DNA match? etc.) But when you're dealing with large social/cultural issues with aspects that may take generations to become manifest, then placing all your faith in the testimony of such "experts" seems to me to be naive and credulous -- particularly when there's good reason to believe that such people approach the issue with a pre-established bias. This is not to say that either they or the judge are necessarily "enamored with the homosexual agenda" -- simply to say that, among liberal elites, acceptance of gay marriage, at least, has become a symbol of one's "advanced" social conscience, a kind of litmus test of "progressive" views (can't resist the scare quotes). But it's not necessarily the case that all opposition to gay marriage is based upon bigotry, and by making this issue such a showcase for one's tolerance we risk losing sight of other important concerns -- such as the long-term cultural value placed upon both motherhood and fatherhood. It also risks subverting science to the ends of yet another variety of political correctness.

PS: my apologies about the confusion re: "procreation". By labelling it human procreation I had meant to include the raising as well as simply the bearing of children -- I really was never under the impression that the state needed to support the simple generating of children, but should have made that clear.

David Schraub said...

I'll admit to confusion. Where are the liberals? How do we know that Drs. Power, Martin, Lamb, Berlin, Cochran, and Schwartz, as well as Ms. Faust, are part of this mysterious "liberal elite?" Where is our "good reason to believe" they come at this with an agenda? Does the National Conference of Catholic Bishops routinely ask for advice from this liberal elite (Dr. Berlin)? Is the Arkansas Psychological Association a hotbed of liberalism (Dr. Powers)? Is the NICHHD just a front for elitist liberals to push their agenda on the rest of humanity (Dr. Lamb)? The trial court certainly didn't think so (indeed, the only agenda pushing he saw was by Dr. Rekers). I mean, if you have information that indicts their credibility ("Powers is a card-carrying socialist and supports torturing puppies in her research!"), I'm perfectly willing to hear it, but I think it's a bit insulting to these characters to just assume the bias exists (especially when we don't even know that they are either "elite" or "liberals"!). Again, I suppose it's possible that Judge Fox is part of this "liberal elite" too. But somehow, University of Arkansas J.D.'s with 21 years practicing experience (specializing in domestic relations, oddly enough) sitting on lower level courts in Arkansas simply don't strike me as likely candidates for the profile.

You imply that the research of the experts is suspect because it isn't a "hard" science (like DNA matches, for example). But unless you're willing to indict the entire field of behavioral science and psychology, I don't know where we are. It is possible to measure quantifiable data about children and run modeling to isolate variables which affect their development. We can see which children have good grades and which have bad, which have behavioral problems and which don't, which have gender identity issues and which don't etc etc. From there, we can look at variables and try and pin down sources. That is not radical in the least, and frankly, I don't think the entire scientific community could pull off a hoax for that long.

Until I see research that indicts what appears to be the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, that's where I will throw my chips down. You're absolutely right that science shouldn't be hijacked to pursue a political agenda. But that doesn't mean we should blithely throw out scientific findings because they happen to prove one side right and one side wrong. Virtually everybody who studies these things conclude that a) there is no justification for excluding homosexuals as a class and b) for adoptions and the like, decisions are best made on case-by-case basis rather than having overarching exclusions. Both positions seem quite reasonable.

alex said...

Hi, all

Just wanted to wade into here and point out that the most comprehensive study on children raised by homosexual couples,

Judith Stacey & Timothy Biblarz, (How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?, 66 Am. Society Rev. 159, 172, 176-79 (2001)

found that they "display no differences from heterosexual counterparts in psychological well-being or cognitive functioning." The change from heterosexual parents to homosexual "has no measurable effect on the quality of parent-child relationships or on children's mental health or social adjustment."

Sally said...

Ah, that mysterious, elusive liberal elite! To its own members or member-wannabes it's seemingly practically invisible, and certainly always elsewhere; to everyone else, it dominates major media outlets (talk radio excepted), and pervades academia. No, you don’t think so? Well, let’s just take a product of that very same academy:
Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty, where it’s reported that, by their own identification, college faculty overall are 72% liberal vs. 15% conservative, and that the self-identified liberals rise to 75% in the social sciences as a whole, 77% in sociology, and, wow, 84% in psychology. Says this study:

It appears that, over the course of 15 years, self-described liberals grew from a slight plurality to a 5 to 1 majority on college faculties. By comparison, among the general population in 1999, 18% viewed themselves as liberal and 37% conservative. In 2004 the figures were almost unchanged -- 18% liberal and 33% conservative. Thus, according to these self-descriptions, college faculty are about four times as liberal as the general public.

Now, of course, this study might be biased, or simply wrong, too. But it should make reasonable people -- as distinct from ideological partisans -- pause before throwing their chips down with what may well be a pre-ordained and politically biased “consensus”. Want a concrete instance of such bias? Take a look at the paper Alex cites above, where it’s apparent from the start that the authors see themselves as activists engaged in a project to oppose what they see as “hetero-normative” and “heterosexist” repression. (Which may well be a fine political project, but it conflicts with the role of the true scientist or scholar willing to follow the evidence wherever it takes her.)

None of which should be taken to imply that we should simply dismiss any research that conflicts with our current world view. Skepticism is not head-in-the-sand-ism. It does mean, however, that we should also be cautious and skeptical of research that flatters our current world view -- in particular, reasonable liberals should be critical of studies supporting gay parenting in the same way (if not to the same degree) as they would be of, say, studies purporting to show a genetic basis for racial IQ differences, or to show inherent differences between male and female abilities in math and science, or -- to move into so-called "hard" but no less ideologically fraught science – to show that global warming isn’t happening, or is not humanly-induced.

alex said...

"Take a look at the paper Alex cites above, where it’s apparent from the start that the authors see themselves as activists engaged in a project to oppose what they see as “hetero-normative” and “heterosexist” repression. (Which may well be a fine political project, but it conflicts with the role of the true scientist or scholar willing to follow the evidence wherever it takes her.)"

Its not clear to me. Which specific passages in the paper lead you to this conclusion?

David Schraub said...

I'm aware of the study you cite, and I agree it's findings are distressing (in fact, I blogged on it here and here, and I am also composing an article that seeks to address the problem). To be fair, the study isn't inassailable, as I noted here: "The real question is: Are there significant numbers of Republicans who wish to enter Academia but either a) face institutional obstacles to doing so (such as biased administrators) or b) feel academia is a "hostile environment" to persons with their views?" In order to evaluate the study, we'd need to know the amount of conservative Ph'd's vis a vis liberals, and the amount of conservative Ph'd's who wished to enter academia but were denied. But on face, I agree it is quite troubling to see such a partisan disparity.

In of itself, though, I don't think that indicts the credibility of any individual expert--there are plenty of intellectually honest liberals out there! However, there is a critical problem with its applicability here. Both the evaluator (the judge) and the key person evaluated (Dr. Lamb) aren't in academia. The judge is, well, a judge (and prior to that, a practicioner, not a professor), and the Doctor works for the NIH, a government agency. I don't have any figures for the partisan distribution of NIH doctors and state judges. But you have to think, if liberals control the media, academia, judiciary, and governmental agencies (during hegemonic Republican rule, no less!), where are all the Republicans with advanced degrees hiding? They can't all be at the Heritage Foundation. The past 40 years of government have had the executive controlled by the GOP 24 years to 16--so the government agencies should at least be balanced conservative/liberal, if not slanted to the right. I've never seen a credible study showing a "liberal media bias" (I've seen one that tried, but it's methodology was simply atrocious and easily refuted). I've noticed with media bias is that it's a game everybody plays: Liberals think it has a conservative slant, conservatives are sure it is liberal. I think Jonathan Chait's "storyline" hypothesis explains the issue far better than claims of bias. But anyway, this "liberal elite" has to end somewhere, and I'd suspect again that government health employees in the Bush administration and state court judges in Arkansas lie around the edges.

In any event, it might be prudent of me to be skeptical of evidence that supports my view--but that cuts both ways: You have a corresponding obligation to take seriously evidence that challenges your worldview (rather than assuming it is all a product of the liberal elite: the conservative equivilent of me assuming all evidence against me is a product of rampant homophobia and heterosexism). I'd say both of us kind of abdicated our responsibility in this regard, but I for one will hereby try and rectify my error:
I am currently reading Lynn D. Wardle, THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF HOMOSEXUAL PARENTING ON CHILDREN, 1997 U. Ill. L. Rev. 833, which offers a critique of the social science research I've been basing my argument. Once I finish, (and I'll probably read some of the responses to Wardle's arguments as well), I'll author a new post (since comments are getting a bit crowded here) offering my thoughts on it. Hopefully in exchange, you might track down some of the primary source studies supporting my side and offer thoughts on them, either in comments or on your own blog (do you have your own blog?)

Kate Marie said...

"Watson's argument stems from a flawed premise of what deconstructionalism means, proceeds to defend arbitrary essences which do not exist, and then concludes by placing the duty to defend the whole enterprise at the foot of a state whom conservatives used to be wary of vesting so much power in. I would think that the prospect of Orwellian newspeak grows greater if we become dependent on government to define our meanings for us, rather than forming vibrant communities of our own in which we can pursue our version of nature, essence, and the meaning of life. "

-- But I see no evidence of the "flawed premise" that you describe. I read through the article yet again, and I see no evidence that Watson characterizes deconstruction in any way that clashes with your notion of "multiple meanings." Watson's point about "deconstruction," as I take it, is more along the lines of the old quote (commonly attributed to Chesterton)that the danger of relativism is not that men will thereby believe in nothing, but that they will believe in ANYTHING."

As for whether essences exist, you're right that that's not a matter for a court to decide, but there is a legitimate debate to be had about whether the courts should privilege a particular essentialist concept of marriage that reflects social customs and norms. Aren't the essences of liberty and equality and personhood arbitrary, as well? And if so, should we advocate a legal process that takes into account all the "multiple meanings" of these terms?

Sally said...

I'm going to leave it there, David. You've been a worthy opponent, and I'll read the results of your new research with interest. (For what it's worth, if you haven't already read the paper Alex cited I think you'll find a short critique of Wardle there.) I may have to start a blog myself at some point.

As one further bit of unsolicited advice, though, I'll caution against over-reliance on such studies in general. By it's very nature, social "science" is infused with ideology (the reason for the scare quotes) -- something that the more honest of its radical practitioners will readily admit. It's a nice irony that the pomo critique of objective scientific knowledge has its most pertinent application to just those kinds of pseudo-sciences that attempted to wield the critique. Still, as I've said, these studies have their uses, and as more than just fodder for polemics. I would say we should be informed by them at their best, but not guided by them. In the end, we won't be able to do without an independent judgment that is informed by history and even common sense, as well.

N.S.T said...

"I'm going to leave it there, David. You've been a worthy opponent, and I'll read the results of your new research with interest."

Word to the wise-- it always ends this way with Schraub. Having had far too many of these conversations with him, I can honestly say that he has not once conceded defeat in an argument. Anyway, both of you were worthy debaters. Keep up the good work.