Who Deserves Respect?

The week before last, Ryan Anderson (of the Witherspoon Institute and the Heritage Foundation) got into a revealing and troubling exchange with Josh Barro (of the New York Times).  Barro openly stated in this debate that some people do not deserve respect, based on the opinions they hold.

Rebecca Teti blogged about this last week for Catholic Vote.

And I have a piece about it at Public Discourse.


One part of my argument holds that there is no good principle by which someone like Barro could draw the line that separates those who deserve respect from those who do not:

This gets us to the deeper problem: it will turn out to be impossible for Barro to draw such a line convincingly. Any principle we can imagine him bringing forward would only beg the question. He might contend that anyone who denies equality should not be treated with respect, but this just raises a question about what are the just demands of equality. Or he might say that those who deny human rights don’t deserve civility. Again, this settles nothing when we are trying to figure out what is the proper conception of human rights. He might hold that anyone who stands in the way of progress does not deserve respect, but this would merely compel us to ask what changes in law and society actually constitute improvement and so deserve to be called progress.

No matter how long we tried, our effort to find a principle here would get us no further than this conclusion: people who disagree with Josh Barro and his friends don’t deserve to be treated with respect. This is obviously a non-starter.

The other part of my argument contends that, as a practical matter, respect is the best policy, even when you are dealing with people who’s opinions are way off base.  Those who have done the most to make our country better have usually treated others with respect in their debates:

Abraham Lincoln consistently denounced slavery as an institution without denouncing southerners for being slaveholders. On the contrary, he admonished his fellow northerners that they would be no better had they been raised in a slave-holding society. Lincoln reasoned with the South about the immorality of slavery. And when some southerners sought to dismember the Union, he reasoned with them about the illegality, injustice, and imprudence of secession, appealing to the “better angels” of their nature. Of course, his efforts at persuasion failed, and war came—a war that Lincoln was determined to wage with full force in pursuit of a just victory. Even in the midst of civil war, however, and even with the war won, he did not indulge a desire to denounce or vilify his opponents. The same was true, of course, of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the most effective leaders of the civil rights movement.



Categories:Culture Politics

  • morganB

    Over the past several years this website has constricted its’ discussion, almost exclusively to social “issues” of abortion, same sex unions, contraception and remarried Catholics. There never appears to be any mention of church dysfunctions or major events happening in the Vatican., such as Pope Francis stating he has only several years to live and that he would soon retire. And, his marring of 20 couples in Rome, and his statements about remarried Catholics.

  • Ray S. James

    Respect is for persons, not necessarily for relationships or even institutions-which may be defective. There is really no such thing as a “same sex marriage”, regardless of political or civil definition. Persons of the same sex do not have conjugal relations, but are practicing mutual masturbation. It does not help them to engage in their fiction. It does help them to treat them as one would want oneself to be treated.

    • Rich

      Ray S James, that is, of course, your personal opinion. The reality is that many gay couples are married in the United States. Your personal lack of respect for these marriages is really of no consequence to anyone but you. And we can all respect you for that. Those of us in marriage are hugely helped by the reality that our states, our federal government, our friends, family and even churches respect, support and encourage us. No fiction involved, not for us. And, yes, it helps everyone to be treated with respect whether one has different ideas of the value of another’s marriage commitment.

  • Rich

    This response is a continuation of an exchange I have had with Ms. Teti from her earlier blog post as mentioned above.

    Rebecca, we both agreed that our exchanges have been respectful and concerned primarily with the civil nature of marraige. It is, indeed, refreshing to discuss this topic absent the religious nature of marriage. So let us continue.
    Your most recent response to me begins with our agreement that, gay marriage is on a winning streak in the courts. You then counter that (yes), “gay marriage is ascendant in our courts but so was slavery, segregation and any number of things we consider evil or stupid.” I’m not sure I find that statement to be particularly respectful to me, a gay man married to my husband. It has never occurred to me that my marriage is comparable to slavery and segregation or even stupid but I’ll let that go.
    Now, in truth, your 2012 blog post you referenced, even though it’s just 2 years old, seems outdated and lacking in credibility, now. Since your post Maine, Maryland and Washington State voters approved marriage equality. Minnesota voters approved it through denying an anti-ME bill and then support of the legislature. And, in those two years we now have 15 other states that have ME. You argue that “old age” needs of individuals precludes ME and that this can be a benefit to gay couples due to the role of children as potential caregivers. Forgive me if I am awe-struck by this thought. My husband and I are fully committed to helping each other in old age and, as a bonus to us, we have three married sons and four grandchildren to pitch in if necessary. Many gay couples have the same thing.
    The fear that ME will diminish the importance (and even cause a decrease) in straight marriage is simply not true and a red herring. No court of law has found this to be a plausible argument and heavens knows, some anti-ME lawyers have tried to argue it. The flip side of this slippery slope argument is your contention that ME will cause straight couples to stop procreating. Again, simply not true and it has been argued in court and dismissed. Indeed, Massachusetts which has had ME for over ten years has seen an increase in population. The argument that kids always do better in a home with straight couples and that kids in gay parent homes suffer from any number of regressive results is the most widely debunked argument(s) to date. No reputable researcher has shown this to be true and when, again, the “research” (think Regnerus) is presented, the judges aren’t buying it. Continuing on…
    Gay married couples can be just as “soldierly” as straights and are usually more prepared to take on the physical, financial and emotional sacrifices of rearing children if only because we always have to plan to have children. You suggest I might think it’s “irrational to argue with a judge”. I guess I don’t know what you mean but, quite obviously, I welcome the arguments that have been presented in 22 courts considering the outcomes.
    In conclusion, I think you, and everyone who supports marriage should continue to “affirm marriage”. I truly believe gays want to do the same thing. We just differ as to whom is entitled to do this. We don’t see it as a refinement of the word. We see it as a celebration of the word with the addition of more couples to enjoy it.
    Again, thanks for the civil discussion and I look forward to continuing the conversation with anyone.

    • Michele S

      Is this not a Catholic Blog?
      I demand to know!
      If we accept God as a being of ultimate perfection, we must accept that God could very well be certain to make each man attracted only to women and each woman only attracted to men! That isn’t the way He did it! Instead he made each of unique brilliant individuals!
      All else is ego that we don’t have the right to! Period!
      Why is everyone here questioning God’s decisions?
      That is up to Him! Do you really feel you have the right to question what God Himself has wrought? Well that’s ego too! People will try and placate this issue by saying that God may have made them this way but we have freedom of choice and they will bring in the subject of abstinence. To that I say it is a practice that doesn’t lead to a full and meaningful life, it leads to depression and isolation! Why would any of you wish that upon another human being?
      Rich I hope you have a most meaningful and profound relationship with the person you love and are married to!
      Do you feel blessed Rich?
      Do you have a profoundly meaningful relationship with your husband? I think you probably do! It sounds like you do!
      It is not for anyone here to judge or mock or nay say.
      Go forward and sow the seeds of love that stem from the Almighty throughout every facet of your life. If you see someone you can assist, stop and take your time to help them and care for them and pass it forward!
      My love and care and well wishes to you both!

      • Rich

        Thank you so much Michele S. Your words of kindness mean everything to me. Yours is the religious voice I wish we heard more of when respectfully discussing others and their civil marriages. Love to you as well.

    • Rebecca Teti

      Rich, this is what I get for posting hastily from a phone while on vacation! I don’t know if we should really hijack Carson’s post, but briefly:

      1) My point about courts and evil or stupid arguments is not a comparison between slave-holding or abortion and homosexuality nor a cheap shot at you. It’s one last-ditch effort to get you to acknowledge that Justice exists outside of Barro’s original formulation: “whatever the law says it is.” I keep trying to get you to engage that point, and you keep evading it, so I have to conclude that yes, that really is your position: whatever the law says is right, and the principal way “we” know same-sex marriage is right is that the courts are beginning to say so. I wonder if you would accept that definition if in ten years the courts start to reverse themselves? At any rate, your insistence that I’m wrong because the judges say so seems to me to make rather than refute my point.
      2) Yes, of course you are right that the practical politics and the actual status of marriage in the piece I wrote going into the 2012 elections are out of date. They were accurate at the time, but that was not the point of including the piece here. As I said, I was on vacation and the latter part of the article — the simple explanation of what the state’s interest in marriage– is the part I stand by.
      3. I am glad you have young people in your life who will care for you in your old age, and I don’t in any way disparage your love for them. I am sure you are both loving fathers. What I deny — and I think simple logic and our best social science also deny– is that either one of you can be a good mother. And I have to respectfully point out that those beautiful souls whom you love did not come into existence through the sexual union of your present relationship, but through some form of man-woman union — which makes my point about the state’s interest. The state doesn’t (and shouldn’t I would argue) give a fig who we love romantically. It’s interest is in where babies come from and trying to get more people to make babies and then rear them well.
      3. I dispute your claim that social science teaches us anything but that kids need a mom and a dad. There are some studies purporting to show otherwise, but they always make big headlines and then rely on statistically insignificant samples and self-reporting (see for example Nagai & Lerner’s “No Basis: What studies don’t tell us about same-sex parenting” for a critique of the way these studies are done).
      4. The evidence from European nations where same-sex marriage was adopted long ago is that there’s no new excitement for marriage. Rather, marriage rates among heterosexuals drop to nil. You can find all kinds of studies. Here’s just one popular report: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9908951/Gay-marriage-will-destabilise-family-life-sociologist-warns.html

      I “hear you” on what your intent is, but we don’t share a common definition of marriage. And this far we agree: If marriage is nothing more than sexual-romantic companionship, gays have as much claim as anyone else (and heterosexuals have done far more to redefine marriage in that way than gays are doing presently).

      What I’m saying — and what Ryan Anderson was saying better– is that marriage is not that. It’s, to quote Robbie George, “a conjugal union (i.e., a comprehensive sharing of life, procreative in type, if not always in effect, in which the spousal unity of hearts and minds is extended into the bodily plane in the generative act made possible by sexual complementarity), and that the state has an interest from the point of view of self-perpetuation and stability in ensuring that definition and the institution it protects succeeds.

      • Rich

        Once again, thank you Rebecca for your kind response. Clearly, we have differences of opinion as to the nature and definition of marriage. It is for this reason that I refer to the courts because, as arbiters, it is their responsibility to apply the constitution to these questions. And they have done so. Your point that “justice exists outside of, ‘whatever the law says it is’ “is precisely the reason why our movement went after the unconstitutional bans that were voted in place in 32 states. We firmly believe that it is appropriate justice when gay couples can marry. So, in short, the law said gays could not marry in 32 states. Justice existed outside of those laws in the form of the 14th amendment and due process clause.
        Yes, we have children as do many, many gay couples. There is no law in the land that says gays cannot have children or, as is more frequently done, adopt unwanted children. The state has a very real interest in protecting those families and not to the exclusion of any other family. As Justice Kennedy suggested, it is wrong to deny gay parents, and their children, of the safety, security and respect that comes from marriage.
        I accessed The Telegraph article you suggested I read. In truth, I found the author lacking in her attempt to find a causal relationship between gay marriage and other marriages. She offers no peer-reviewed studyies. She gives numbers (decrease in straight marriage) in foreign countries and then just blightly announces this is because of the introduction of gay marriage. There is no peer-reviewed study that I am aware of that finds a direct correlation between a decrease in straight marriage due to the introduction of gay marriage. I was struck by the animus in some of her comments that seemed unprofessional because they were mere opinions and rather demeaning of the sincerity of gay marriage. She throws out the “fact” that gay marriages are not genuine and therefore much more inclined to fall apart. that’s one of those ideas that drive people crazy, especially thise of us who have waited dozens of years to marry the person we love. The Telegraph is a conservative paper so the inclusion of a religious issue with gay marriage was not unexpected and, frankly, diminished the argument, IMHO.
        Robbie George’s definition is his. You won’t find it anywhere either on a civil marriage certificate or in marriage law.
        My husband and I just celebrated our first year anniversary as a married couple (after 18 years together). Maine is a pleasant place to live for any number if reasons. One of them is because now that we have had ME for two years, there just doesn’t seem to be any dissension, angst or division. All is quiet now and we move on. Or, as the Bristishe say, “Keep calm and carry on.” I think this will be the case for our country as well. Fear of the unknown is always a factor. But as Scott Rose says below, if people would only take the opportunity to get to know gay couples (married or not) and their families, true respect would blossom, I think. Thanks again Rebecca for your engagement with me. It’s just nice to explore differing beliefs without rancor.

  • Scott Rose

    If you genuinely respected gas and lesbians, then you would make a sustained effort to forge long-term friendships with long-term gay and lesbian couples, and yes that would include same-sex married couples.

    Your whole anti-gay bigot schtick depends on your not getting to know any same-sex couples as living, breathing human beings.

    You attach yourself to a very small sampling of gay people with internalized anti-gay prejudice, and then you use them for your purposes of political gay bashing.

    That is not the same as getting to know long-term same-sex couples.

    If you did get to know them, then you would understand why your current hate-mongering against them is not respectful of them, and does not earn you any respect.

  • Harry Smith

    Carson, you’ve offered many examples of how we show respect but you haven’t clarified your definition of “respect?” Would you mind doing so? Thanks

  • crehman

    Additionally, trying to define a principle by with you can separate those to be be respected from those who do not, as the flip side of the begging the question, is the self-referential incoherence:
    If one holds that ‘anti-equality’ people are not deserving of respect, then one holds that not all people are equal. This makes one an ‘anti-equality’ person and thus not deserving of respect. This can be applied to many other potential lines and is a more direct manner of showing the irrationality as it does not require the deeper thought of the nature of the principle. Not that such reflection is wrong, indeed it is necessary, but in our 15 second soundbite culture can be problematic.
    Also, the best way to respect anyone is to empathize with the emotive and psychological state of the other but also to hold them to the standards of logic, reality, and rationality in their beliefs and actions – this includes revealing the weaknesses of bigotry despite its legitimate psychological genesis (us-them defensive mechanisms for example) and the weaknesses of conceptiualizations and their logical outcomes if terms are ‘redefined’ and to treat them as fully rational and competent individuals, not childish ‘others’ who need to be infantilized and/or ignored as this actually does not help the ‘other’ ‘come to their senses’ or ‘grasp the truth’. In other words, it does not respect the human dignity of the other and, as a result, fails to respect the self.



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