Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Big Day for Big Women

Doris Ozmun, 43, of Snyder, OK, posted pictures of her tattooed body on the web. Her nude, tattoed body. Her husband, the chief of police, felt obliged to resign in the ensuing uproar. He said "My wife is 6-foot-3 and weighs 300 pounds. If there is somebody that thinks they can control her, have at it. I have tried for 11 years and haven't been able to."

The adjacent story in our local paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, was entitled "Woman Kills Home Intruder."

Susan Kuhnhausen, 51, surprised a hammer-wielding burglar in her home and strangled him with her bare hands. The burglar, a brutal career criminal named Edward Haffey, 59, was 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds. Kuhnhausen is 5-foot-7 and 260 pounds. After killing the crook, Kuhnhausen walked to a neighbor's house, who called 911. Kuhnhausen was briefly treated at the hospital where she worked, then released. "Everyone I've talked to said 'Hurray for Susan," said neighbor Annie Warnock, who called 911. "You didn't need to calm her. She's an emergency room nurse. She's used to dealing with crisis."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Which Part of the Class Ladder is Harder to Climb – the Bottom Half, or the Top?

Some students in my Social Structure class made a claim that took me aback, and I have been chewing on it ever since. They contended that it is harder to climb from the bottom to the middle of the social structure, than it is to climb from the middle to the top.

When I brought this idea home, Mrs. Gruntled agreed with the students.

My first reaction, though, was the opposite. Sure, it is difficult to rise from poverty to the secure middle class. You are beset by obstacles and temptations to self-destruction on every side.

Yet the gap between the middle and the top of the social pyramid is dizzyingly gigantic. The difference in power between the average middle-class family head and the commander in chief of the world's only superpower is staggering. The status gap between respectable suburban college graduate and the oldest of Old Money cannot be bridged in a generation or two. And the view up the slopes from the average American family's net worth, $93 thousand, to Bill and Melinda Gates' net worth of about $25 billion (down from $100 billion at its peak) is truly Olympian.

And this seems to me to be the clincher: though it is difficult to rise from poverty to the solid middle class, millions do it all the time. On the other hand, though millions are striving mightily, and with many valuable assets at their disposal, to rise from the middle to the top, only the tiniest fraction will ever get anywhere near there.

I think most people can envision and even relate to the difficult climb from the bottom to the middle. On the other hand, I think they have no idea how high up the top really is.

I think climbing the top half of the ladder is much harder than climber the bottom half.

I would welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Why Don't Homosexuals Rush to Marry Where They Can?

Eskridge and Spedale, in Gay Marriage: For Better or Worse? provide the first hard numbers I have seen on how many gay and lesbian couples would get married if they could. In Denmark, though country that has had gay marriage the longest – 15 years – only 5000 people (2500 couples) out of 5.4 million people have taken advantage of the law. A tenth of one percent of the population has registered a same-sex partnership. The best scientific estimate says that about 3% of the population is exclusively homosexual. The authors found even smaller percentages of the population using registered partnerships in Sweden and Norway, which have had similar laws for about a decade.

Eskridge and Spedale then conducted a very interesting survey of Danish homosexuals about their attitudes toward marriage and the registered partnership law. They do not report numbers for all of their findings, but they do quantify two crucial findings. First, the great majority ("more than three quarters") of their respondents thought registered partnerships were the equivalent of marriage. In other words, they are not holding back from registering until the law gave homosexual unions the same name as heterosexual ones. Second, most Danish homosexuals would get married, but the great majority ("about three quarters" of the unmarried) have not found the right person to permanently commit to.

What does this mean for the American same-sex marriage debate? Scandinavia has a different culture from ours in many respects, especially with regard to marriage. Still, I think we can get a rough guess of what would happen here if homosexual marriage were legalized across the board. I think that there would be a rush of marriages at first, but it would quickly taper off. The overall same-sex marriage rate would not begin to approach the heterosexual marriage rate. I don't think that gap would ever be closed. This doesn't settle the question of whether it would be worth creating legal same-sex marriage for the benefit of that minority of homosexuals who want it. But, fear it or favor it, there is not likely to be a big wave of same-sex marriages no matter how welcoming and equal the law might be.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Who Thinks Gay Marriage and Polygamy Are Connected? Judges Do.

Many proponents of homosexual marriage are perplexed, even offended at the idea that gay marriage creates a precedent or slippery slope that will lead to the legalization of other prohibited unions, especially polygamy. They see no connection between the two. I expect that most proponents of polygamy feel the same way about gay marriage, especially the Mormon fundamentalists who are not, to say the least, pro-gay.

Yet from the legal point of view, it would be hard to legalize one without legalizing the other. Thus far, the legal definition of marriage has been one man married to one woman. The "one and one" formula was nailed down in the 19th century polygamy cases. The "man and woman" standard has always been implicit in the law. Lately a number of state constitutions have been amended to make the man and woman standard explicit, as does the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

If, though, there were a successful legal challenge to either part of the "one man and one woman" standard, it would be hard to explain why the other part would not fall, as well. Restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was ruled a violation of constitutional equal protection standards in Massachusetts. There is no reason, in principle, why restricting marriage to couples (as opposed to larger groups) would not also violate equal protection standards. That did not happen in the Massachusetts Goodridge case only because no one asked the court to. If a heterosexual standard of marriage is just "prejudice" or "mere tradition" or "imposing religious standards," all those same arguments could, and would, be made about a monogamous standard of marriage.

To homosexuals, or polygamists, who want to get married, the two kinds of union are worlds apart. To judges and legal thinkers, on the other hand, they sure look like the same issue.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Does Dutch Gay Marriage Lead to Polygamy? Sort of.

One of William Eskridge and Darren Spedale's main points in Gay Marriage: For Better or Worse? is that when the northern European countries legalized same-sex marriage it did not open the door to legalizing every other kind of union. They specifically note that gay marriage has not led to legal polygamy. "Pandora's box was opened," they cheerfully assert, "and it was empty."

Last September, as Eskridge and Spedale were finishing their book, a married couple, Victor and Bianca de Bruijn, took advantage of the Netherlands' registered partnership law to add a second wife, Mirjam Geven. Geven met the de Bruijns through a chatroom, and soon left her husband to live with them. Registered partnerships were invented to allow homosexual couples to legalize their unions. As I noted yesterday, though, most of the people who have taken advantage of the law are heterosexual couples. The de Bruijn-de Bruijn-Geven union hit the trifecta – he is straight, and both women are bisexual.

Strictly speaking, the Netherlands has not legalized polygamy, because registered partnerships are not precisely marriages, but "marriage-lite." Still, as Eskridge and Spedale make clear, all the northern European countries have effectively legalized same-sex marriage. Most of them did not call it that for political reasons, but the intent was transparent.

Would legalizing same-sex marriage here lead to polygamy? Yes, I think, and even faster than in the Netherlands. Unlike the Dutch, we already have a sizable and militant underground polygamous movement. The ACLU is already on board to defend polygamy. The street demonstrations by polygamists have already begun.

Despite Eskridge and Spedale's happy talk, the Pandora's box that some fear gay marriage might open really does have some other scary items in it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"Marriage Lite" for Hets

This week I will be working through a new book, William Eskridge and Darren Spedale's Gay Marriage: For Better or Worse? They look at the Scandinavian experience with legalized marriage-like relationships for same-sex couples, starting with Denmark's new law in 1989. They also make sidelong glances at the experience of other countries and provinces that are experimenting with new marriage laws aimed primarily at gays and lesbians.

One of the northern European experiments in marriage alternatives has been the Dutch "registered partnership" law. Registered partners share many of the financial benefits of married life, but there is no legal expectation of sexual fidelity, and it is much easier to get out of than is a full marriage. This was created to allow a version of gay marriage without calling it that.

To everyone's surprise, though, most of the couples who have taken advantage of the registered partner law are heterosexuals. They are attracted to "marriage-lite" precisely because it is not as demanding or permanent as marriage. In fact, I think registered partnership is not so much "marriage-lite" as "cohabitation-heavy."

I know of no research on exactly what these mixed-sex registered partnerships are thinking. I have a guess, though. For many of them, I expect that she thinks it is a step on the way to real marriage, whereas he is content to have the benefits of marriage with few of the responsibilities. When they do the breakup studies of registered partnerships, I expect that all the partnerships involving men, gay and straight, will have a dissolution rate even higher than the high divorce rate.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Walk-away Church Divorce

The Kirk of the Hills, a large conservative Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, has decided to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) for another denomination that it finds more attractive, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. After years of complaining that the PC(USA) was doing everything wrong, wasn't listening, just wasn't making the relationship work, Kirk found someone new. Kirk is willing to walk away – it just wants to keep the church building. Kirk's lawyers have already filed suit.

In family studies we talk about "walk-away wives." Most divorces are initiated by the wife, after years of complaints that he isn't acting the way she wants, that he isn't listening, that he just isn't making the relationship work. One day, she just walks away. Her lawyers contact his lawyers. Very often he is surprised by this. He knew she was complaining, but had no idea that she was ready to leave. And she just wants to keep the kids and the house.

Presbyterian church law, unlike civil law, makes it absolutely clear that the denomination owns the property.

"All property held by or for a particular church … is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)" (G 8.0200 of the Book of Order).

"Whenever property of … a particular church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ceases to be used by that church … in accordance with this Constitution, such property shall be held, used, applied, transferred, or sold as provided by the presbytery." (G 8.0300)

"If there is a schism within the membership of a particular church and the presbytery is unable to effect a reconciliation … , the presbytery shall determine if one of the factions is entitled to the property because it is identified by the presbytery as the true church within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This determination does not depend upon which faction received the majority vote within the particular church at the time of the schism." (G 8.0600)

If most of the leaders and members of Kirk of the Hills want to leave, they can. It's a free country, and a voluntary church. I wish they would stay, but they didn't ask me. But they don't get to keep the church. And they won't win by claiming that they are the true Presbyterian Church, so they should get everything. The Presbyterian Church is connectional, not congregational, and we all benefit from the connection.

That said, I think the presbytery should considering selling the building to the departing individuals at a reasonable price – a price big enough for the remaining members to build a new, more modest church, and start again. That would be generous on the part of the presbytery, and sensible on the part of the exiting folks. The property settlement is not really a matter of how literally to read the Bible (the official reason for the departure). It is just church property law.

If you must go, just walk away, or pay up, and go in peace.