Should Ryan Anderson Be Allowed to Vote?

Anderson_RyanRyan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation just had a bracing Twitter debate about marriage and civility with Josh Barro, a reporter for the New York Times.  You can read the entire exchange for yourself here, but I call attention to it as a particularly naked example of the phenomenon I posted about a few weeks ago in which increasing numbers of Americans simply reject the premise on which our nation is grounded: that all human persons have dignity and rights which are intrinsic to them, not created by government.

Barro says flatly that people who disagree with him have no rights he’s bound to respect:

“some policy views render people unworthy of respect”

It’s not that some ideas aren’t worthy of respect, notice. It’s people themselves who lose their dignity. Unstated but implicit is the assumption that Barrow is a worthy judge of which policy views cause someone to surrender his status as a full-fledged member of the human race.

I wish Barro were alone in this, but it’s an increasingly prevalent attitude: some are more equal than others and I know which is which.

We should be clear however that Barroism –subjecting people to ideological testing before acknowledging their humanity– is directly opposed to the inherent dignity of all persons. If you are not willing to respect the unalienable rights of those with whom you disagree then you do not believe in those freedoms at all.  You have replaced the equality of all with the creed of “might makes right” –tyranny.

Indeed, Barro openly takes just this step when he tweets:

“a marriage is whatever the government says it is.”

If that’s true, it’s hard to see what Barro’s objection to man-woman marriage can be, or indeed how he could justify protest against any law ever, since justice is whatever the law says it is. As Anderson neatly points out in a post-debate reflection, this is precisely the question at stake in the debate over the meaning of marriage: is the law made for man or man for the law?  Can those in power simply “construct” reality, or must government, in order to serve the public good, recognize and uphold that which exists by the nature of things, which is prior to and outside of government?

As Anderson puts it, here’s what we agree on:

All our fellow citizens, including those identifying as LGBT, should enjoy the full panoply of civil rights—the free exercise of religion, freedoms of speech and press, the right to own property and enter into contracts, the right to vote and have a fair trial, and every other freedom to live as they choose, consistent with the common good.

We also all want marriage equality. The question is what is marriage? Is it merely an emotional bond or is it something else? Which understanding of marriage is correct and which better serves the common good? Those are the questions we aren’t being allowed to ponder – much less openly discuss—when people like Josh Barro bowl everyone over with crude with cries of “bigot!”

At a certain moment in the discussion Barro tells Anderson he doesn’t have to be nice to someone who’s working against all he believes in.  That’s understandable. Nothing says you have to like your opponents personally, and it’s natural when people debate things they feel strongly about for passions to rise.

Civility isn’t about liking your adversaries, however, it’s about recognizing them as persons. When Anderson insists on being treated with respect, he’s not being prissy. He’s defending rational debate – the thrashing out of ideas—as the only way to come to sound conclusions for the common good. When we fail to extend to one another a certain presumption of good will, when we demonize opponents rather than considering their ideas dispassionately, we not only dehumanize our fellows, but run the risk of being blinded by our own passions, ignoring information we ought to consider, and making hasty, ill-considered decisions.

Rash judgment coupled with unwarranted enthusiasm makes for bad policy. It’s the formula for New Coke, the Edsel, Prohibition, thalidomide, let’s set a speed record cutting through this ice because we’re the unsinkable Titanic, dammit.

Full-throated debate is the only way to win people lastingly to your cause. You can intimidate folks into sullen silence or polite conformity in the short term, but the result won’t endure unless they arrive at your conclusion for themselves after due consideration. When we think the truth is on our side – or when we simply wish to know the truth– we should welcome that kind of debate.  The “shout your opponent down” tactic implies existential doubt about the rightness of the cause. Might makes right when your argument doesn’t.

In a follow-up post, Anderson issues a sort of challenge to Barro that ought to buck up despondent culture warriors as well:

“In all of recorded history, ours is the first time where we can have open and honest conversations about same-sex attraction and marriage. This discussion is just beginning. It is nowhere near being over.”



Categories:Family Marriage

  • James

    Ryan Anderson is clearly a despicable bigot. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: The Heritage Foundation is a bastion of radical fundamentalism, of which bigotry is a cornerstone. But he and other members of this cult are nevertheless American citizens and should therefore be allowed to vote – no question. There is, however, absolutely no reason to invite these people to be part of the public debate or discourse on anything in any venue, any more than we would feel compelled to seek the opinion of a Klansman or a Nazi.

  • Rich

    But Rebecca, it is working. We have ME in 19 states and more, quickly, to come. There is no such thing as “natural marriage”. The history of the institution of marriage is hardly a finite definition as you and everyone knows. Civil marriage in the United States has a government set of credentials for credibility and there is nothing natural about it. We now have 30 judicial findings of fact that the very U.S. civil marriage licensure requirements I am addressing must be available to gay couples who meet the requirements as my husband and I have done. The logical, legal and philosophical arguments have been presented 30 times to the courts and 30 times they have determined that logically, legally and philosophically my husband and I are fully entitled to marriage. Anderson, George and Gergis have their arguments but, sadly for them, the courts do not share their arguments. In various formats lawyers opposed to ME have presented their points but to no avail. So, I go back to my original contention. If one wishes to sanctify their marriage beyond civil requirements, then by all means do so in your church of choice. Many choose not to do this but at least it is a choice for you.

    • Rebecca Teti

      Rich, thanks for your polite engagement on this, it’s refreshing. From your comment, you seem to assert that because the understanding of marriage has varied over time, marriage doesn’t exist except as a construct. Would you assert the same about personhood? Because slavery and serfdom and sex-trafficking existed or exist, therefore there’s no such reality as a person except as a construct? Would you say that no cultures, institutions or persons ever get the concept of person or marriage or anything else wrong? Are courts incapable of getting anything wrong? Should we abide by Dred Scott still, then? You seem to me to be asserting only what Barro did in his exchange with Anderson: that whoever’s in power gets to impose whatever he likes, with no responsibility to try to respond to what IS. That is the point of argument between us, and simply asserting that there’s no reality to try to correspond to is to beg the question rather than confront it.

      • Rich

        Rebecca, thank you for your observation of this discussion. I believe that it is not possible to get one definition of marriage wrong because there has never been one definition. Whether any of us thinks that the current civil definition of marriage is wrong is to ignore that, in fact, this definition does include marriage equality for gay couples who meet the civil construct. The good people of Maine voted to approve marriage equality. Tom P. refers to “the heart of marriage”. My husband and I are married and the very heart of this marriage is affirmed because it meets all the criteria as established by civil law. Zeke says I am appealing to current judicial rulings and not reason. Well, aside from the fact that Maine citizens voted to support my marriage and that numerous courts have determined the constitutional validity of my marriage and that I am of sound mind to choose to marry, I don’t see how reason is not the overarching parameter by which was possible. The term marriage has a civil definition and the law naturally applies to gay and straight couples who meet he requirements. So, in hopes of continuing the conversation, I will state the following: I don’t believe that civil marriage is natural law. I believe that civil marriage must have a definition that is civilly constructed with no one religious caveat. I do believe that gay couples deserve access to marriage as it is understood by civil law and that this is morally correct. I don’t believe the courts are wrong when they consider the constitutional requirements of equality and due process. I do appreciate that we are debating the secular nature of marriage. I look forward to your rebuttal(s) but, please, let’s stick to established law that all courts and citizens must consider in addressing the right to marriage equality. Thank you.

        • Rebecca Teti

          Rich, I’m not denying that gay marriage is ascendant in our courts at present, but so once were slavery, segregation and any number of things we now consider evil or stupid. You don’t seriously mean to argue that it’s irrational to argue with a judge? As I said, that’s question-begging: assuming the conclusion before the argument begins. As it happens I’m on vacation and not able to do the back and forth necessary for a proper argument, but if you’ll forgive my being gauche, here’s an old piece of mine that more or less lays out my version of the argument, which is that man-woman marriage is a public good that benefits homosexual persons as well. It doesn’t exclude anyone; it helps us all.

          • Rich

            Thanks Rebecca. You will find my rebuttal in a newer post that addresses the topic of respect.

    • Tom P

      Rich, you’re essentially making the same argument as Barro, that “marriage is whatever the government says it is”. Relying on court decisions does not negate the philosophical argument, nor does it answer the heart of the question about what marriage is. There is a natural law which remains true regardless of man-made laws or court opinions. Conformity to the natural law is the very foundational principle for determining whether a law or decision is just. Let’s not forget that various governments (including our own) have at times ruled by statute or through the courts that African Americans, Jews, even gays were not entitled to full human rights. If all you can appeal to is government fiat or popular opinion, then how can you declare those past actions as anything but correct and just? It was their opposition to the natural moral law that judged those laws as unjust. The point that Anderson makes is that this issue is much deeper and much more fundamental that the way it is treated by the media or popular culture.

    • Zeke

      Rich, that you are ultimately appealing to current judicial rulings – and not to reason – puts you in the same camp as Barro: If the government says it, it’s good. Amongst the 30 findings you cite, all that weren’t rammed through without precedent by a single judge were split decisions! If even the courts have been so dissenting, does that really give you the confidence to say that the popular support for the comprehensive union is “to no avail”? And it’s simply false to imply that the definition of marriage has been amorphous throughout history. The government cannot define marriage any more than it can define humanity. George III may have said our entire project was illicit, but that didn’t make it so. Every Army private understands that it is unlawful to obey an unlawful order. I wish everyone else did!



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