Features

Failure to communicate

"Failure to communicate" Continued...

Issue: "Francis Schaeffer's legacy," March 26, 2005

Arkes: He should get the vapors-gasp for breath-because he has been criticized by The New York Times? As the first Mayor Daley once said, "I have been vilified, I have been crucified, I have been . . . criticized!" But the president could soften the criticism, and throw his adversaries off balance, by suggesting, first, that we back away from criminal and civil penalties, and take an approach even more moderate: that we may simply remove federal funding, or withdraw tax exemptions. After all, the institutions that house these surgeries would be in violation of federal law and not "in accord with public policy." Do they stand then to lose their tax exemptions? The mere posing of the question, on the part of the president, is likely to produce some striking effects.

And one further gesture: The president could bring out the Olasky proposal to have more ultrasound machines in offices (especially crisis pregnancy centers) that counsel women who are pregnant. Recent experience confirms that the sight of the child in the womb has the most pronounced effect in inducing people to change their minds about abortion. And yet the arrangement is still consistent with the notion of abortion as "a woman's choice."

[Editor's Note: H.R. 216, The Informed Choice Act, introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), would provide funding for the purchase of ultrasound equipment by nonprofit tax-exempt organizations.]

The Democrats would not have to give up any of the premises underlying a "right to abortion." But this move would put the Democrats into a train of steps that must undercut, with every step, the surety and conviction that sustains them as they seek to support a right of abortion, unqualified, unrestricted, at any time, for any reason.

WORLD: Could the president take some modest steps regarding same-sex marriage?

Arkes: Yes, as before: They involve the planting of questions, the dangling of premises, the public musing over an argument. The problem is that Mr. Bush prefers to sound sentiments or themes ("the culture of life"), but he rather shies away from framing an argument or making a case. That is, he tries to touch the chords of sentiment, but he doesn't seek to engage the reasoning of the public.

WORLD: If he were given to making comments that test premises, what kinds of questions could he raise?

Arkes: Here's one-the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts held that the law may not "privilege procreative heterosexual intercourse between married people above every other form of adult intimacy." Mr. Bush could then muse aloud: Does that mean that a man may marry his natural son, when the son is an adult? Or a man could marry his daughter if she is an adult-and sterile? Is it enough then for a marriage that we have two adults who are intimate? But then why only "two"?

If the Court in Massachusetts is right and marriage has nothing to do with begetting, then why should a marriage be confined to two people? We have now the "polyamorous," who claim that their love is woven into a larger ensemble of three and four. Why do we refuse them the right to marry the people they love?

WORLD: What would you do with the question of "civil unions"?

Arkes: The Supreme Court of Massachusetts showed that any move to incorporate civil unions in the law would give the judges all of the leverage they need to strike down the traditional laws on marriage. If a legislature grants all of the privileges of marriage in a form of civil union, but then merely withholds the name of "marriage," the judges find the presence of an invidious discrimination. The implication they find is that gays and lesbians as a class have been disparaged, that they are not regarded as worthy of marriage in the way that other couples are. In contrast, the laws that barred fathers from marrying daughters said nothing "invidious" about fathers or daughters. The president, in a gesture of tolerance and good nature, has held out the possibility of "civil unions." But he cannot do that without undermining his whole position in the defense of marriage.

He could pose this question: If the purpose of begetting children is no necessary part of the understanding of marriage, then why shouldn't the benefits of same-sex partnerships be extended to heterosexuals? Two widows, two brothers, might find an advantage in sharing Social Security benefits and having joint tax returns. Why not make the arrangements available without implying in any way that there is a sexual relation in the coupling? In that way too the law would not be pushed into the position of conferring a special standing or putting a stamp of legitimacy on homosexual sex.

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