Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Legal Implications of Marriage

In my response to Doug's post contemplating the pros and cons of ministers being agents of the state in performing marriage, I mentioned how nice it would be to have a list of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage in the US.

I also mentioned that I'd never seen such a list which, as it turns out, was shamefully due to my own lack of looking.

In many respects, the list could be seen as the marriage contract itself, which makes me wonder how many people become aware of these before they marry.

"According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 1,138 statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges." In addition, there seems to be several hundred provisions in each state.

What may not be readily apparent is the core reasons why society allocates these various rights and responsibilities, and to what extent the government must be involved. There are a lot to go through and categorize, but I'm curious if any items stand out to you.

(1) Which items (should) discriminate by (differences in) gender? Is the act of sex or procreation relevant to any items?

(2) Which items (should) discriminate by count of spouses?

(3) Should individuals have the right to define membership in their union and family, with the government's rules merely respecting their definition?

(4) Should individuals and businesses have the right to discriminate based upon another's definition of "spouse" or "marriage" or "family" even if the government does not discriminate? e.g. based upon gender differences or sex or count?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Abortion: Coming to an OB-GYN Office Near You?

The NYT writes about their future dream world, where abortionists are mainstream and their numbers are robust. They want this procedure to be done by OB-GYN's all over the country in the course of their regular practice. But how many pregnant women want to go to a doctor as comfortable with killing their offspring as delivering them live? Sure, some are comfortable with it, but not enough that this dream world will ever materialize. It just doesn't make good business sense to do both, especially in smaller communities that both trend conservative and also can't support a doctor who has been rejected by well over half his potential clients. Money drives decisions on how to arrange a medical practice, and this idea has lost profit written all over it. Of course, the abortion promoters at the NYT would never ask whether something like this makes actual business sense. Advocacy journalism doesn't ask the hard questions and has no qualms falsely accusing peaceful abortion protest groups of promoting violence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Agent of the State, God or Both? -or- Why Gay Marriage is Potentially a Positive Development

Who should officiate at weddings? Should civil and sacramental marriage be kept separate, or should they be synonymous? Currently, while a pastor can officiate, one still has to obtain the marriage license from the state. Is this a good thing? Stuart Koehl has an excellent essay briefly delving into these issues, especially as regards gay marriage.

This conflation of roles strikes me as one of the key problems that the Church has had in maintaining a Christian view of marriage. If the Church acts as an agent of the State, then it is far too easy to cheapen marriage to conform to the broader cultural view of marriage, instead of that taught by Jesus. Coming up with juridical structures that can adjudicate a lawful "divorce" is terribly time and resource intensive. Much easier to simply let the state handle that messy business and officiate when one has a decent hunch that the marriage would be Christian... and that's when people bother to bring any form of Christian doctrine to bear at all on remarriage.

Are there risks in this separation of powers/duties? Absolutely. Currently, by combining State and Church, the State encourages married couples, albeit in a rather indirect way, to settle down and take their religion seriously. The formation of a family and presence of children is one of the best statistical indicators of religious attendance. If the Church is seen as less relevant to family formation, couples sitting on the fence regarding religious attendance will be less likely to give it a whirl and discover for themselves what life in Christ is all about. However, by conflating the roles of Church and State, Christians have also diluted the meaning and doctrine of marriage for the faithful. Is this trade worth it? Most often, people don't even consciously think about these decisions. It is just accepted as a byproduct of the culture we live in and given as much consideration as the air we breathe.

It would probably be useful to look at the example of the Orthodox churches in communist countries, as Church and State marriage were distinctly separate during that time and (I think) remain separate to this day. It isn't like this would be the first time such a separation has been maintained between State and Church recognition of marriage. Catholics have also maintained separate juridical structures and offered a distinctly different concept of heterosexual marriage from the state (think Henry VIII), and so the adjustment for them would in some ways be minimal. If this separation of powers were to be implemented, the biggest adjustment would be among Protestants, most of whom (in my limited experience) haven't thought deeply about what constitutes valid Christian marriage and the difficult, controversial and practical aspects of blessing Christian remarriage, for instance. The only thing a Protestant needs to do to get married after divorce is to change churches/states. Almost never is a denominational change required, because the structures/doctrines simply aren't in place to determine if one is "free" to marry, in the Christian sense. Shaking this complacency in letting the state make those determinations is no small feat, and it offers tremendous opportunity for Protestants to re-examine what Jesus really taught on marriage. Who knows, state recognition of gay marriage could end up being one of the best things that ever happened to Christians in this country.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bran Scans of Men Viewing Bikini Clad Women

Shocking News... Images of women in bikinis turn off the empathy section of men's brains and turn on the section associated with using power tools, especially if the head/face has been digitally removed from the body. They associate bikini clad women with first person phrases like "I push" or "I handle", while they associated fully clothed women with third person phrases like "she pushes" or "she handles". This study is particularly puzzling. It goes against everything we know from personal and societal experience.

On a slightly more serious note: I wonder if the group of men studied distorted these results. It appears they were all undergraduates at Princeton, suggesting to me that they weren't married and were living in a particularly promiscuous environment. I doubt that college age guys are particularly representative of the male population at large, though they are likely representative of the male population at certain destination beaches.

And in the mildly humorous column: Most news articles reporting this have sample images, just so you know what they are talking about. They would hate for there to be any confusion on this. Their copy editors I'm sure will assure us that they actually take the Princeton researcher quite seriously when not trying to attract greater readership. wink, wink.

PS: Yeah, I know this is year and a half old news. Things tend to get by you when you live most of your life under a rock.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Phrase of the Day

"American style, spill-your-guts-to-Oprah, emotional incontinence"
-Gerald Warner describing the new BBC series "Men's Hour"

"emotional incontinence" I can't wait to use that phrase.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Expectations and Their Implications

I typically shy away from touchy-feely articles because they tend to be extremely floofy, and not terribly interesting to boot, but this one caught my eye, especially the following paragraph/sentence regarding a woman’s discussion with her husband about having another kid.

“During the evening’s conversation, I outlined all of my reasons and desires for having a third... He listened and expressed genuine feeling for my position. He said he would think about it. The following week he said ‘no.’ He hadn’t slept well all week, explaining he was terrified of what his answer would do to us - the resentment that would persist because of his choice. But he said he didn’t want another and he could never bring another being into this world that he didn’t want.

Wow. That last phrase is pregnant with profound implications. It basically assumes complete control over fertility, as if one can have unlimited sex at will without consequences. In the “perfect world” promoted by Planned Parenthood, it’s possible. Of course, they are also the world’s largest abortion provider, and that’s the rub. In practice, contraception fails at pretty high rates. User effectiveness for the pill is about 80%, and that is by far the most common method of contraception. If people have emblazoned in their mind the idea that they should be able to maintain complete control over fertility, then abortion will always be legal and will never be rare. Reproductive systems are extremely complex, especially for females. Pumping humans full of pharmaceuticals until perfectly healthy biological systems malfunction in a “healthy” manner is an extremely complicated process. It is a process prone to failure on many fronts. Too much medication (especially for years on end) and one risks health complications (e.g., stroke, embolism, infertility, etc.) Too little and one risks pregnancy. For many, side effects like weight gain and loss of libido are inevitable. The drugs do mimic pregnancy for crying out loud. Like one couldn’t see those side effects coming from a mile away. Anyway, I digress. The point is that these drugs fail. All of them. Even with perfect use, and quite often the use is imperfect or not at all.

The expectation that contraceptives give us control guarantees that abortion will always be legal, because that expectation is false. When people plan their lives around false assumptions, they always demand that the government make available a backup plan, and they often don’t give a damn regarding how that backup plan affects other people.

Kind of reminds me of the social security/medicare crisis, but I’m getting off track again.

I really wonder where this is headed in 50 years. 90% of humans diagnosed with Downs’ Syndrome are currently aborted. Doctors now require a person who refuses the intra-uterine testing for D.S. to sign a waiver, because the doctor can be sued if they don’t diagnose the baby, giving the parents an opportunity to abort. How long will it be before infanticide is allowed for handicapped babies. There is no in-utero test for autism, and rates keep going up. If a child is born and doesn’t interact normally, why shouldn’t the parents be allowed to kill it? There is nothing magical about the trip down the birth canal, and many ivy league profs think that infanticide should be perfectly legal and normal for handicapped kids in the first few months of life. After all, newborns are just as dependent on adults after birth as they were in-utero. They just aren’t as dependent on one specific individual. Is the right to abortion solely dependent on the potential cost to one individual. Shouldn’t the costs to both parents and even society at large be taken into consideration? Why should an elderly person with dementia have a right-to-life, no matter the cost to family and society when the fetus does not? Caring for someone with dementia can takes years, if not decades off their caregiver's life. Does being born in to a family mean one is obligated to provide for another persons every need after they "lose their mind" and can't take care of themselves. If their own family members have no obligation to provide for their needs, can one say that it is society's responsibility with a straight face? How does mere biological existence impose unreciprocated obligations on other members of the same species?