Saturday, May 18, 2013

let them marry

Gay marriage


With the Supreme Court taking on the issue of gay marriage, there has been much discussion about the issue in the media in recent months and there will be more, once the court issues its ruling. I have listened to the discussion with interest, but have yet to hear anyone raise what I consider to be the central question: what business does the government have being involved in marriage in the first place.

Marriage is a religious matter, and its parameters should be set by the various religious groups who want to practice it for their own members. When I was a Baptist pastor and also chairman of the Alaska Libertarian Party, I was asked at times if I would perform a ceremony for a couple that did not have a marriage license. Of course I would, as long as they understood I was performing a religious service and they were Christians. Otherwise, I was just acting as an agent of the state and they would need a license. As far as I am concerned, the wedding ceremony is a religious service in which the participants want to make a vow before God, with their friends as witnesses.

If they obtained a legal document from the government and wanted me to sign it for legal reasons, that was fine, but as far as I was concerned, it was a religious issue. I have been married to my wife for 50 years, not because of some legal action I took June 7, 1963, but because I made a promise to her, with God and many friends as witnesses, that I would stay with her through good times and bad, until death took one or the other of us.

So how did the government get involved in this issue?  I’m no historian, especially on the issue of marriage, but I will make some logical guesses. In Western cultures, it probably started when the church and the state were one and the same, as was the case in many of the European countries from which our dominate culture springs.   So we also codified it as we developed our own laws here, largely from our religious impulses and a perceived need to protect marriage as an institution.

Well-meaning politicians codified it further with laws relating to tax benefits and laws of inheritance. They granted favors on the basis of marriage, which only made those who didn’t qualify for them, want the same benefits. Getting the government involved in marriage through laws and favors hasn’t done much to preserve it, so we now have half of all marriages ending in divorce and people rightfully pushing for an expansion of the definition of marriage.

The government wrongly forced the Mormons to abandon their practice of polygamy, wrongly denies gays the right to marry, and wrongly codifies something that is primarily a religious concern. Whether homosexual, heterosexual, polygamous or monogamous, all the legal issues now protecting marriage can be dealt with contractually by those who want legal protection over one issue or another. As to any favors granted to the married by law, do away with them because they obviously have not done much to protect the institution anyway.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

One life saved


I heard the President say recently, as he has at times in the past, “if it saves one life, it is worth it.” In this case, he was talking about some form of gun control.

I’m not going to join the argument about gun control at this point. It has been well argued in public discourse, and I have nothing to add that has not already been said many times.

I want to argue instead about the statement, if it saves one life, it is worth it. Aside from gun control, that statement gets made about things mandated for our safety in many areas: traffic, automobile construction, home construction, school construction, job safety, etc.

The statement sounds so compassionate and so logical.  How can anyone put a value on human life? What is a life worth? Of course, that would depend on whether we are talking about my life or yours, my money or yours.

To begin with, you don’t know whether your efforts have saved a life until you have saved one. All we can really know is how many lives were lost. We can’t really know whether our effort was what made a difference for those who did not die.

The real question is how much money should we spend on a bet that it will save a life? Obviously, we are willing to bet some. I wouldn’t buy a new car that didn’t have seatbelts and airbags. I will spend the money on the bet that I may need them and hence, they might just save my life. But how far will I go on the grounds that it just might save any life? There was a fellow I used to see driving around Anchorage who had welded an entire roll cage around the outside of his car. I won’t go that far.

You can spend too much money, and the government can spend too much, or mandate that you spend too much, on the basis that it might just save one life.


The second fallacy is that no matter what action you take, you will not save a life. No life is saved. Even those Jesus is reported to have raised people from the dead, are no longer with us. What you saved was a few days, weeks, months or years. Life is a terminal illness, not to be saved.


So the question is not what is a life worth, but what is it worth to save a few additional days, weeks, months or years? If it is your money, I guess the answer is it is your business. But when it is public money it becomes my business.


During the election, the Republicans were making a fuss over the fact that with government health care, there would be panels deciding whether grandpa (that would be me) would get a particular medical procedure or not. Since public money is being used, I would hope some responsible person was there to determine if the cost of the procedure was worth the days, weeks, months or years it would add to a life.


The bottom line is this, don’t give into a politician whose best argument is that “if it saves one life, it will have been worth it.” There is no limit to the number of ideas people can come up with when they get to spend other people’s money.