It is unfortunate that in today’s political climate, discourse often focusses solely on consequences, or supposed consequences, to evaluate the merit of any given political position. This is not to say that weighing and considering the outcomes of social policy is not vitally important. It is. However, it seems political bickering wherein both sides quote pet studies and throw out statistics in favor of their favored position, often masks the shared moral values that underpin these disagreements.
Such is the case with contemporary debates surrounding guns and gay marriage. Broadly speaking these issues draw clear ideological lines with urban liberals supporting tight gun control and suburban and rural conservatives opposing gay marriage. In truth, support for both guns and gay marriage is rooted in the same moral and political principle: In a free and pluralistic society, individuals should be at liberty to pursue their own conception of the “best life” without paternalistic governmental intrusion by beauracratic moralists, be they religious or secular.
Gay marriage is about liberty. The US constitution offers equal protection under the law for the simple reason that unequal treatment is inherently unjust. Equal protection is not sacrosanct because of of the outcomes it produces. Rather, equal protection is a moral principle; something that if violated, represents an affront to justice itself. We do not argue about equality under the law in terms of consequences — although they are often part of a the wider discussion.
Private firearm ownership is also about liberty — both individual and collective. Before continuing, allow me to say that no rational person believes that the United States is on the brink of a tyrannical oppression. However, Ronald Reagan was correct when he said:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Those who, during the Bush administration, raised concerns about portions of the Patriot Act were doing their part to ensure that the United States remain true to its founding principles of liberty — even in the face of new and emerging outside threats to national security. Similarly, and broadly speaking, advocates of the 2nd amendment are doing the same thing. Reasonable people can, and do, disagree as to the original intent of the 2nd amendment — whether it applies to a private right or a collective right of the people to band together to form state militias. Even the framers of the Bill of Rights debated this point. Regardless, the Supreme Court has consistently affirmed the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms completely separate from the formation of state militias.
There must be an open and civil dialogue regarding both gay marriage and private gun ownership. Gay marriage represents a new paradigm in the modern era that will result in unforeseen and perhaps unintended consequences. Yet, we cannot let a fear of the unknown or the potential for negative social outcomes (whatever they may be) prevent us from removing the existing chains of oppressions from gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans.
The social costs of ubiquitous gun ownership are well known and must be addressed holistically. Countries like Switzerland, with similar levels of private gun ownership, do not experience gun violence as seen in the US. What is is about the US that leads to such violence? I don’t know. But it is an issue that must be thoroughly studied and we must act. The 2nd amendment, as interpreted by the courts, does not mean firearms are to be unregulated. The must be regulated to ensure that those who have forfeited their right (felons) and others incapable of owning firearms responsibly cannot — through legal means — obtain firearms.
Again, I support both guns and gay marriage. At their root, both issues are about liberty and individual rights; American values that must never be abandoned.
Tomorrow I will be presenting a paper at the American Academy of Religion’s Mid-Atlantic regional meeting. The topic is Mormonism’s unique theology of gender. In my paper, I offer up a perspective on Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding exaltation and sexuality which may seem foreign to some “modern” Latter-day Saints.
Essentially, I argue that Joseph Smith’s teachings — both public and private — as well as his own practice of plural marriage show no indication of celestial procreation. In my view, Smith’s teachings and practices make much more sense when viewed within the context of individuals becoming part of the larger Abrahamic covenant. My argument’s strengths are that it relies on contemporary sources and gives them primacy over later recollections of Smith’s teaching.
The biggest challenge to my line of reasoning is the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. Pratt claims that in 1840, Smith explained that celestial offspring was the purpose of plural marriage. I am skeptical of Pratt’s account for reasons given in the endnotes of my paper.
In any case, if you would like to read the paper in its entirety, you can find it here:
I am a social liberal. I support gay marriage, am an advocate of a more sensible drug policy, and, as a general rule, believe that abortion should be remain safe and legal for those who seek to obtain them. I hold these views because I am driven by a conviction that human beings are entitled to seek out and define their own conception of “the good” within the reasonable constraints of a functioning body politic.
Unfortunately, some of my fellow social liberals have turned the pursuit of social justice and equality into a form of fascism which seeks, for lack of a better word, to force society in a particular direction. Take for example, the case of Catholic charities in Massachusetts. Up until 2006, these charities had provided adoption services for over 100 years. Yet, when told by the state that they would be required to allow gay couples to adopt using their services, the charitable group decided to abandon its core mission rather than be compelled to compromise their religious conviction.
Paradoxically, such liberal activism has actually proven to be a hindrance, rather than a help to the cause of social justice. The case of Catholic charities in Boston has been held up as an example of what can/will happen if gay marriage is legalized. I don’t blame my more conservative friends for being concerned.
Liberalism is about freedom. This includes the freedom to believe that homosexuality is a sin and that homosexual relations are wrong. Certainly, I don’t agree with this position and, through constructive dialogue, would work to convince others of my particular point of view. However, seeking to compel others to believe or act in a particular way — and thus violate their freedom to believe and act as they prefer — is fascism. Fascism and liberal thought should not, and do not mix.
Consider also the actions of some activists in California who posted the home addresses of Prop 8 supporters in a punitive effort to intimidate these citizens after-the-fact. These actions may be perfectly legal but they are unquestionably immoral. They are also incredibly counter-productive as they (inaccurately, in my view) paint supporters of gay marriage as vicious fascists, willing to intimidate our opponents by frightening them to either support our cause, or shut up.
Freedom is a two-way street. As liberals, we should seek to maximize freedom for all — including those with whom we disagree. To do anything less makes us more akin to Mussolini than to MLK.
NOTE:It has been brought to my attention that Catholic Charities is still operating in Mass. I need to make it very clear that the State withdrew funding from Catholic Charities based on their anti-homosexual adoption position. By accepting state funding, Catholic Charities became a pseudo-agent of the state and as such, became subject to anti-discrimination laws in Mass. LDS Social Services, for example, has never accepted state funding and is, therefore, completely private. As such, they are free to to deny adoption services to anyone they wish.