Monday, October 17, 2011

The Befuddling Contradictions of Ron Paul on Marriage Equality

The Washington Post has a blog entry by Rachel Weiner on "Ron Paul the religious." It notes how Paul left the moderate Episcopal Church for an ultra-fundamentalist Baptist Church which promotes anti-gay views. One of the groups that Paul's church loves so much is the Family Research Council, which is one of the few Religious Rights groups that is so extreme in its bigotry that the Southern Poverty Law Center has put them on the list of "hate groups." FRC has advocated "deporting" gay people and has said that being gay should be a criminal offense. This is rather extreme.  

Update: It has been pointed out that Paul's "Deputy Campaign Manager," Dimitri Kesari, was "director of state and local affairs for the Family Research Council, deputy executive directer of the anti-gay American Renewal and, special assistant to the president of the FRC. Kesari has said that allowing gay couples the right to enter into marriage contracts "will destroy marriage as we know it today." In particular, Kesari opposed California choosing to change their marriage laws (so much for state's rights) because what happens there "will happen around the country in 20 years."

Paul said he left the Episcopal Church because it wasn't anti-abortion enough to suit him. This does indicate he takes the political views of churches into account. But, he leaves one for not being statist enough, and then goes to another that is extreme in its fundamentalism. The church is a Southern Baptist Church. Just yesterday we reported on how Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, advocated that military chaplains be stripped of the right to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies—in the name of religious freedom. Land argued that the Defense of Marriage Act, which established a federal definition of marriage—in violation of the Constitution—means that chaplains have no right to participate in these ceremonies. Remember that these chaplains are not required to participate, the Pentagon merely said they are free to participate if they wish and it corresponds with their own religious beliefs. So, the denomination Paul fled to, wants to strips non-fundamentalist chaplains of their religious freedom in the name of religious freedom.

If Paul left one denomination over its political stands, and started attending a Southern Baptist Church instead, one can assume that he did so because their political stands are more in keeping with his own. The more cynical might point out that there are more Southern Baptists in Paul's district than Episcopalians and that his election chances improved by the shift as well.

Paul's record on gay issues is actually quite bad. He voted to overturn the reform of sodomy laws in Washington, DC, when the Moral Majority made a big things about that issue. The DC city council removed sodomy as a crime and a Republican congress used federal oversight as an excuse to reimpose those laws. Individuals were persecuted under those laws, contrary to the claims of some Paul apologists.

Nor should we forget that he published a newsletter, which listed himself as editor, and as the author of an article saying: "I miss the closet. Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities." In another attack on a gay writer the newsletter said he "certainly has an axe to grind, and that's not easy with a limp wrist." Using his "medical" credentials—he's a gynecologist—he told his readers that they are "virtually assured of not getting AIDS unless they are deliberately infected by a malicious gay." After initially standing by these remarks and claiming authorship, Paul later said they were taken out of context, then changed his story again to claim he never wrote them, didn't remember who did, and wasn't interested in finding out who did this in his name. (His newsletter had four employees, making it easy to find out, and two "employees" were his wife and daughter.)

Paul's views on marriage seem befuddled and confused. They seem contradictory—because they are. It is his attempt to pander to social conservatives without totally alienating libertarians, whose wallets he eyes with enthusiasm.

Paul said the state shouldn't be involved in marriage, but that state governments should "preserve the traditional definition of marriage." Paul holds the view that the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to the states and that states can infringe on individual liberty, almost with impunity. He defended the Kelo decision on eminent domain as properly decided because the State of Connecticut doesn't have to respect property rights. Similarly, he has argued that religious freedom need not be respected by the states and that separation of church and state is a myth. Oddly, while he has repeatedly mentioned that states need not respect the First Amendment, he takes the opposite view when it comes to the Second Amendment, promising that "he will continue protecting your Second Amendment rights as President." You would be hard-pressed to find Paul defending any state's "right" to infringe on Second Amendment rights.

DOMA establishes a federal definition of marriage, and Paul has consistently supported DOMA. Yet, at the same time, he claims that it preserves a state's right to define marriage as it wishes. But, DOMA restricts the federal government and doesn't really preserve a state's right at all. Whether the state's have the right to ignore marriage licenses issued by other states is a matter of the Constitution and congressional law doesn't trump the Constitution. Ron Paul, the supposed constitutionalist, should know that. Congress can't override the Constitution merely by passing legislation. If it could, there would be no need for a constitution. The purpose of a constitution, as the founding fathers noted, is to bind down the government from violating rights. Paul's view, on the marriage issue, is in direct contradiction to his own purported constitutionalism.

Paul is also quoted as saying, "I don't think government should give us a license to get married. It should be in the church." Marriage is a legal agreement. Why is a legal agreement subject to a church's approval? Should we allow trade unions to issue labor contracts? As a legal matter, marriage is not religious. Historically the Christian Church didn't concern itself with marriage laws for the first few hundred years of its existence. Marriage was a civil matter then, a matter of law and custom (which changed regularly), not religion.

Only when the Vatican started seeking political power did it seek control over marriage. It did so for two reasons. First, it restricted marriages in new ways, making it almost impossible for any member of the aristocracy to marry without violating restrictions by the church. This meant that the political elite had to seek Vatican approval for marriages, as well as annulments. This gave the church a great deal of influence and the aristocracy wanted to suck up to the Pope in order to get the waivers that were issued to political favorites. In addition, as Jack Goody notes, in his book, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1983) the regulations that the Vatican imposed reduced the ability of land-holders to have legal heirs. This resulted in massive transfers of property from the private sector to the Church itself as heirless individuals left their estates to the Vatican. Church control over marriage meant increased political power and wealth for the Vatican.

Prof. Nancy Cott has noted that marriage, in the United States has always been a matter of law, not of religion. "State laws allowed religious authorities to perform marriage ceremonies... but not to determine which marriages would be considered valid by the public. For example, California's state Constitution stipulated, 'No contract of marriage, if otherwise duly made, shall be invalidated by want of conformity to the requirements of any religious sect,' a provision now retained in the state's Family Code."

Paul, on one hand, says the states should decide marriage laws for themselves. But they have. And every state, for the entire history of the country, had marriage as a legal contract, not a religious one. On one hand he wants the state's to have the power to decide, but then, on the other, says their decisions should be repealed and religion be given control over marriage contracts instead.

Protestants, Baptists included, wanted marriage to be a legal contract, as a means of reducing the Vatican's control over the lives of people. One of the great ironies is that "licenses" for marriage increased the freedom of couples to marry. Impediments to marriage, when under church control, were pervasive. And wedding bann's were publicly announced so that individuals could intervene and prevent marriages. A license removed that requirement. The actual history of marriage, for several hundred years now, has been to increase individual choice and freedom to enter marriage contracts, without third party intervention. As a civil contract marriage most certainly does not belong to the church, any more than any other contract. Legal contracts belong in the legal system and, as issues of law, individual liberty should be maximized. While marriage laws have sometimes become more restrictive it doesn't change the long-term trend in marriage law, which is to increase individual choice and freedom.

I would argue that it is precisely this trend that has religious conservatives upset. They simply don't believe in moral freedom and believe that by transferring the control of marriage contracts from the legal system to churches, the result would be a reduction in individual choice and freedom. Clearly the churches have opposed the right for married couples to use birth control and Ron Paul wants restrictions on a woman's right to choose, regarding abortion. The churches were in the forefront of laws banning  interracial marriage. Religious conservatives are loud about their desire to make divorce far more difficult. At every turn churches have pushed to reduce the freedom to enter marriage contracts, and to restrict the freedom to end such contracts. Conservatives want church control of marriage in order to lessen freedom, not increase it.

While state control usually means less freedom of choice, that has not been the case with marriage as a legal contract. The long-term trend has been for greater individual freedom in entering and exiting marriage contracts and it is precisely that freedom which organized religion has opposed.

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