Author archives: Peter Sprigg

Was Manning’s Sentence Too Long - Or Too Short?

by Peter Sprigg

January 20, 2017

One of the last acts of President Barack Obama’s presidency, on January 17, was to commute the sentence of “Chelsea” (formerly Bradley) Manning—the former Army intelligence analyst who was convicted of releasing over 700,000 confidential files to Wikileaks. Manning came out as transgender, requesting to be called “Chelsea” and treated as a female, the day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013. Mr. Obama reduced the sentence to seven years, meaning that Manning will be released in May.

President Obama’s action was widely panned—even his own Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, said publicly that he opposed it. But Mr. Obama defended the commutation in his final press conference the next day by insisting that “the sentence that she received was very disproportional—disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received.”

This is the argument that defenders of Manning—many of them LGBT activists—had made, depicting Manning merely as a “leaker” or (even more sympathetically) a “whistleblower,”  based on his reported motive of wanting to expose wrong-doing by the U.S. military in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conservatives have tended to use a harsher word for Manning—“traitor.” In a general sense, there can hardly be any doubt that Manning’s actions were a betrayal of his military responsibilities and his country. From a legal perspective, however, the crime of “treason” was not one with which Manning was formally charged.

Manning was charged with 22 different offenses. He pled guilty to ten, but went to trial on the remaining 12. He chose a bench trial in which the verdict would be issued by the judge, not a jury.

Manning was acquitted on the single most serious charge of “aiding the enemy,” which could have carried a sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole. He was convicted on virtually all the other charges. The convictions could have subjected him to up to 90-136 years in prison. Even the ten counts to which he pled guilty could have led to up to 20 years in prison. At trial, the prosecution asked for a sentence of 60 years. In the end, the judge sentenced Manning to 35 years.

While Manning’s defenders on the left call him a “whistle-blower” and critics on the right prefer “traitor,” perhaps a more neutral term based on Manning’s proven crimes would be “spy.” After all, several counts of espionage were among the crimes of which he was convicted.

So instead of comparing Manning’s sentence to that of other “leakers,” perhaps a more reasonable comparison would be to others convicted in prominent cases of espionage.

Aldrich Ames, for example, was a former CIA analyst convicted in 1994 of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. He is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Robert Hanssen was a former FBI agent, also convicted (in 2001) of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. He is serving fifteen consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

Manning’s defenders point out that he did not provide the information he stole to an enemy government. They seem to believe that releasing confidential documents to the public through Wikileaks—so that our enemies and everyone else in the world can see them—is somehow less serious than releasing them surreptitiously to an enemy government alone. I’m not sure I see the logic in that argument.

Jonathan Pollard was an intelligence specialist for the Navy who, according to Wikipedia, “is the only American who has received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally of the U.S.”—namely, Israel. He was convicted in 1987, and served 28 years in prison before being paroled in 2015.

Even under his 35-year sentence, it is reported that Manning could have been “eligible for parole after serving one-third of the sentence.” If granted parole, that would have meant Manning’s release after less than 12 years of confinement. It hardly seems like another five years of confinement after seven have already passed would have been the grave hardship Manning’s defenders claim.

Whether because of sympathy with his anti-war stance or sympathy with his transgender status, it seems like President Obama has left Manning with a punishment that is far too lenient—not too harsh.

Obama’s Farewell Praised “Democracy” — But His Support for Judicial Tyranny On Marriage Shows He Doesn’t Mean It

by Peter Sprigg

January 18, 2017

President Obama’s farewell address in Chicago on January 10—although overshadowed in the news cycle by President-elect Trump’s press conference in New York less than a day later—deserves some attention.

There were some interesting tidbits in the speech for those of us who seek to bring our faith to bear in the world of public policy. My former boss, Rob Schwarzwalder, quickly took the president to task for declaring that “the essential spirit of this country … that guided our Founders” was “born of the Enlightenment … a faith in reason …” In reality, the Founders were guided by faith in divine Providence, as well as a biblical worldview that included a realistic understanding of the depravity of human beings.

Perhaps we should at least be grateful that President Obama did not censor out the Creator when he quoted the Declaration of Independence, citing “the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.” And after eight years of promoting a cramped vision of “freedom of worship,” Mr. Obama actually cited the broader “freedom of religion” as one of the principles of the post-World War II democratic order.

The Obama address had one over-arching theme: “the state of our democracy.” He used the word “democracy” a grand total of twenty-two times. The outline of the speech identified four “threat[s] to our democracy”—lack of economic opportunity, racial division, increasing polarization, and apathy.

I welcome Mr. Obama’s primary emphasis (appropriate under the circumstances) on over-arching principles rather than specific policy goals.

And I give him credit for laying down challenges that can apply to those on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. For example, there was this passage:

For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste — all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.

Unfortunately, when President Obama did recite a list of policy accomplishments, it belied his professed love of democracy—at least with respect to one issue. In a long paragraph (actually, one long sentence) beginning, “If I had told you eight years ago …,” he included this:

[I]f I had told you that we would win marriage equality … you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. That’s what you did.”

Although the line drew cheers, it was historically inaccurate. “Marriage equality”—the left’s euphemism for changing the definition of civil marriage to include same-sex couples—was not something either “we” (President Obama and his administration) or “you” (the voters who supported him) achieved. Until the second to last year of his presidency, efforts by LGBT activists to achieve a redefinition of marriage in all fifty states were a notable failure in the vast majority of them.

No, nationwide marriage redefinition was not achieved by President Obama, his administration, or his supporters. It was certainly not achieved by the processes of democracy that the president extolled in his farewell address.

Instead, it was imposed upon the country by the smallest, most elite, and least democratic group imaginable—five justices on the Supreme Court, a bare one-vote majority.

Let’s look at some of the things President Obama said about democracy—and how the outcome of the marriage debate contradicts them.

For example, he declared that “the beating heart of our American idea” includes the conviction “that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.” It seems, though, that Mr. Obama and the Court decided that “a more perfect union” required a different definition of our most basic social institution, and since “the instrument of our democracy” was not producing it, other means would have to be used.

President Obama also declared:

The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious … Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued. They quarreled. Eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. 

Note that this is precisely what had been happening for two decades on the marriage issue. Both politicians and ordinary citizens “argued” and “quarreled.” A few states actually redefined marriage using the democratic process. Many more formally defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In some cases, people “compromised” by giving some or all of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples through civil unions or domestic partnerships. States were fulfilling their role as the laboratory of democracy. This is what the founders “expected us to do”—but it wasn’t enough for President Obama, or for the Supreme Court. Instead, they decided to “require uniformity” by imposing marriage redefinition on all fifty states.

Continuing to extol the give-and-take of democratic debate, President Obama said:

[P]olitics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed.  In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. 

He then went on to caution:

But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter — then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible. 

In referring to a “baseline of facts,” and to “science and reason,” Mr. Obama probably had in mind the liberal consensus on an issue like “climate change.” But a “common baseline of facts” on the marriage issue would have included an acknowledgment that same-sex relationships are not identical to natural marriages, and that children do best when raised by their own, married biological mother and father; and “science and reason” would have dictated that society has a greater interest in unions that can result in natural procreation than in those that never can.

President Obama spoke about the international order when he warned against

the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that … the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

However, “the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently”—intended by Obama to refer to foreigners and immigrants—could just as easily be a warning to the left, who fear people who look like “rednecks,” speak with southern accents, or pray in faith to the God of the Bible. Advocates of marriage redefinition were outraged when Iowa voters used “the rule of law” to hold state Supreme Court justices who redefined marriage “accountable”—by removing them from office. And few social movements are as intolerant of “dissent and free thought,” or have built as effective a “propaganda machine,” as the LGBT movement, which seeks to discredit every dissenter from their agenda as being motivated by “hate.”

Finally, President Obama exhorted Americans to higher levels of citizen participation in our democracy. At the beginning of his speech, he said that Chicago was where “I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.” At the end, he warned:

Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote . . .

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours . . .

So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. 

It’s good advice. I worry, though, that historians will fail to note that one of the most effective examples of such citizen activism in recent decades was the movement to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman through state constitutional amendments. “Get a clipboard, get some signatures”? In virtually every state where a constitutional amendment can be placed on the ballot through citizen initiative (that is, a petition process without the involvement of those disappointing “elected officials”), marriage amendments were placed on the ballot and adopted.

Yet President Obama and his allies did everything they could to make it harder for citizens to vote on marriage, not easier. And they celebrated when the Supreme Court overturned the constitutions of thirty states, which had been amended through that admirable citizen activism.

President Obama declared that “our nation’s call to citizenship” was “what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny.” Yet when it came to marriage, Mr. Obama was happy to choose judicial tyranny over the product of our democratic republic.

And when it came to the activism of those who sought to defend marriage, his motto was not, “Yes, we can.”

It was, “No, you can’t.”

Truth Wins at Arkansas Supreme Court Regarding Parentage on Birth Certificates

by Peter Sprigg

December 9, 2016

In June of 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples could not be denied marriage licenses by states. However, on December 8, 2016, the Arkansas Supreme Court correctly ruled that the Obergefell decision should not be used to re-write all state laws relating to family, parenthood, and vital records, when they are unrelated to the issuance of marriage licenses.

The decision, in the case of Smith v. Pavan, overturned a lower court decision that had declared the Arkansas law governing birth registration unconstitutional. The statute in question says that in the absence of a court order or agreement by all parents and spouses involved,

If the mother was married at the time of either conception or birth or between conception and birth the name of the husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.”

The law had been challenged by three lesbian couples. In all three cases, one of the women had borne a child who was conceived through artificial insemination involving an anonymous sperm donor as the father. When the children were born, the couples sought to have the names of both women listed on the birth certificate as the child’s parents. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) refused.

The legal principle involved has long been known as the “presumption of paternity.” If a married woman gives birth to a child, her husband is presumed to be the father of that child. Something which is factually true in the vast majority of cases is simply presumed to be true under the law.

Advocates of same-sex marriage and homosexual parenting, however, seek to convert the “presumption of paternity” into a gender-neutral “presumption of parentage.” Under this view, the legal spouse—regardless of sex—of a woman who gives birth is presumed to be the child’s other parent.

In other words, they would have the law go from presuming something that is almost always factually true to presuming something that cannot possibly be factually true—namely, that two women are both the biological mother of a newborn child.

Fortunately, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected the absurd outcome of presuming the impossible.

In a model of judicial restraint, they interpreted the words of the statute by “giving the words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning in common language.” Noting that the dictionary definition of “husband” is “a married man,” and of “father” is “a man who has begotten a child,” they concluded that “the statute centers on the relationship of the biological mother and the biological father to the child, not on the marital relationship of husband and wife.”

The court’s opinion cited an affidavit by the ADH’s Vital Records State Registrar elaborating on the rationale for this approach:

The overarching purpose of the vital records system is to ensure that vital records, including birth certificates as well as death certificates and marriage certificates, are accurate regarding the vital events that they reflect…

Identification of biological parents through birth records is critical to ADH’s identification of public health trends, and it can be critical to an individual’s identification of personal health issues and genetic conditions.

To emphasize the significance of—and differences between—biological motherhood and biological fatherhood, the Arkansas Supreme Court also cited language from a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a question of citizenship for children born out of wedlock and outside the United States to one American parent. Ruling (in Nguyen v. INS) that Congress could treat children of American fathers differently from children of American mothers, the Court said,

[t]o fail to acknowledge even our most basic biological differences—such as the fact that a mother must be present at birth but the father need not be—risks making the guarantee of equal protection superficial, and so disserving it. Mechanistic classification of all our differences as stereotypes would operate to obscure those misconceptions and prejudices that are real… The difference between men and women in relation to the birth process is a real one, and the principle of equal protection does not forbid [legislative recognition of that fact].

Ironically, the author of the decision in Nguyen was Justice Anthony Kennedy—who also wrote the Obergefell decision on marriage.

LGBT activists, of course, will deplore the Arkansas decision. Perhaps, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, they and other liberals will even be tempted to lump it together with what they stereotype as other acts of “bigotry” committed by “angry white males.” Yet the Arkansas Supreme Court has a female majority—four women and three men. Three of the four women joined the majority opinion in the birth certificate case, while two of the three men dissented. And the opinion of the court was written by Associate Justice Josephine Linker Hart—a female pioneer in the legal profession in Arkansas, an Army veteran, and a woman with Cherokee ancestry.

The truth is that every child has both a mother and a father—even if the latter is only an anonymous sperm donor. The truth is that two women (or two men) alone can never conceive a new human life. The truth is that a birth certificate or registration is supposed to record the factual circumstances of a biological event—the birth of a child.

When the Obergefell decision was handed down, those celebrating it used a simple slogan: “Love Wins.” (The fallacy in that was the assumption that any and every relationship characterized by “love” is constitutionally entitled to be designated a “marriage.”)

Pro-family Americans can be grateful that, at least in the Arkansas Supreme Court, “Truth Wins.”

Therapists Addressing Same-Sex Attractions are Joining the SAFE-T Patrol

by Peter Sprigg

November 1, 2016

If you follow news about the LGBT movement, you may have heard that there are major efforts underway to ban “conversion therapy.”

There are a number of serious problems with this effort—one of which is that no one who engages in the process of helping people overcome unwanted same-sex attractions refers to it as “conversion therapy.” The use of such an outdated term is proof that critics of change therapy are completely out of touch with (or deliberately distorting) what it actually entails.

Other terms that are sometimes used by therapists or counselors involved in helping people with unwanted SSA are “sexual reorientation therapy,” “reparative therapy” (which is not a general term but a very specific approach), or “sexual orientation change efforts” (“SOCE”—a broader term that may include either professional therapy or religious support or counseling).

These terms, while more accurate than “conversion therapy,” have their own weaknesses, however—particularly in a climate of vicious and distorted attacks upon both the purposes and the methodologies of such counseling.

The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (formerly the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) is the leading scientific organization representing professional therapists committed to helping clients with unwanted SSA achieve their goals. The Alliance, which recently held its annual conference in Dallas, has coined a new term to overcome some of the weaknesses and distortions of older labels.

The new term is Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy—or “SAFE-T” for short. Christopher Rosik, Ph.D., issued a statement explaining some of the rationale (I have added the bullet points, and my own comments are in brackets):

  • [The term SAFE-T] does not imply that categorical change is the goal and in so doing create unrealistic expectations for many clients.
  • Nor does it imply that change which is less than categorical in nature cannot be meaningful and satisfying to clients.
  • It also makes clear that SAFE can occur in any number of therapeutic modalities. [In other words, this is not a distinctive type of therapy at all, but rather a goal or topic that can be pursued using a range of therapy types.]
  • Furthermore, by focusing on sexual attractions it avoids the implicit assertion that orientation changes or that orientation as an immutable reality even exists. [I have noted that “sexual orientation” is a vague term that, depending on the context, is sometimes used to refer to sexual attractions, behaviors, self-identification, or some combination of the three. It is more meaningful to address these elements separately.]
  • By stressing therapeutic exploration, the new term accurately conveys that the therapist is not being coercive but merely assisting individuals in a client-centered examination of their sexual attractions.
  • … [T]he acronym SAFE-T immediately challenges portrayals of the professional therapy utilized by Alliance clinicians as harmful.

Rosik further notes:

Scientifically, the fluidity of sexual orientation (and, for our purposes, especially same-sex attractions) for many men and women is now beyond question. The language of SAFE-T highlights this reality and points to human experience that cannot be denied…

Rosik cites, for example, a recent (May-June 2016) journal article by LGBT-affirming scholars Lisa Diamond and Clifford Rosky which declared that “arguments based on the immutability of sexual orientation are unscientific, given what we now know from longitudinal, population-based studies of naturally occurring changes in the same-sex attractions of some individuals over time.”

The “SAFE-T” term has already been attacked in the Huffington Post, but the writer (therapist Michael J. Salas) is still under the sway of serious misconceptions about it—such as the idea that “SAFE-T promotes shame.” Every SAFE therapist I have ever talked to said their clients come into therapy with “shame,” and one goal of therapy is to overcome that. Salas, on the other hand, describes the goal of pro-homosexual “affirming” therapy as “accepting grief, fear, and shame”! While Salas claims that “affirming therapy has no agenda” and merely “helps people work through incongruence,” it is clear that he views reducing homosexual attractions or behavior as an unacceptable goal and probably an undesirable outcome.

That limitation on client autonomy sounds like an “agenda” to me.

New York Times: All the Opinions (about North Carolina’s Bathroom Law) That Are Unfit, They Print

by Peter Sprigg

September 23, 2016

A Facebook friend recently posted a meme that displayed some text upside down. The message was that you have an amazing talent if you are able to read the text when it is upside down and backwards (i.e., right to left).

Actually, it was fairly easy to read. But a similar (modest) talent is needed to read the New York Times these days — especially an editorial about North Carolina’s “bathroom protection bill,” House Bill 2, known as HB2 (“North Carolina Pays a Price for Bigotry,” September 21). Simply take everything the New York Times says and invert it, and you will come close to understanding the truth about the HB2 controversy.

The Times says that Charlotte, N.C.’s sexual orientation and gender identity ordinance was “used as a reason” to pass HB2. Used? Charlotte’s passage of this ordinance in February was the only reason for the state law that was “hastily passed in March” — to prevent the Charlotte ordinance from taking effect on April 1. If Charlotte had left well enough alone — including allowing issues of transgender bathroom use to be settled on a case-by-case basis like they always had — there would have been no state intervention.

The Times says that HB2 serves to “bar transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity.” Yet they fail to mention that the bill’s guidelines for bathroom use apply only to “public agencies” — that is, to buildings that are owned by the government. House Bill 2 does not dictate any policy for private organizations or businesses. This is in contrast to the Charlotte ordinance, which would have barred private businesses from reserving women’s showers, locker rooms, and restrooms for biological females.

The Times also fails to mention that while facilities in government buildings are to be “used by persons based on their biological sex,” their “biological sex” is defined by the sex on their birth certificate — which actually can be changed in North Carolina if a person has had sex reassignment surgery. In other words, the only transgender people “barred” from the women’s room by HB2 would be those who still have male genitalia. Finally, they failed to mention that the HB2 restrictions apply only to “multiple occupancy” facilities, while the bill explicitly authorizes the provision of “single occupancy” facilities that may be used by anyone, regardless of sex or gender identity.

Expressing one of the most common misconceptions about HB2, the Times says the bill is “based on the specious notion that transgender people are sexual predators.” This charge is itself a “specious notion.” The safety concerns around “public accommodation” laws that include “gender identity” as a protected category (like Charlotte’s) do not involve people who consistently identify as transgender. They involve those who may be tempted to pose as transgender in order to gain access to the facilities of the opposite sex.

Such predators won’t be deterred by HB2,” some critics argue. The Times mocks HB2, saying it “was never enforceable, since police officers can’t reasonably be required to inspect people’s genitals outside bathroom stalls.” Under normal circumstances, however, the first line of prevention is not police officers, but ordinary citizens or employees saying, “What are you doing in here?” But under “gender identity” laws like the one in Charlotte (which was overturned by HB2), those ordinary citizens would be deterred from speaking out — by the threat that they could be charged with “discrimination” if they do. Remember, there is no visible difference that would allow such a citizen to distinguish a person who identifies as transgender and a cross-dressing predator. And to radical transgender activists, asking for proof of transgender status is itself a form of “discrimination.”

The Times claims that “no one has been made safer by preventing transgender people from using appropriate [sic] public restrooms.” This, of course, is utterly impossible to know, unless one can read the minds of sexual predators to know what they would see as deterrent or as license. If the Times is asserting that cross-dressing men have never committed crimes in public showers, locker rooms, or restrooms, however, they plainly have not been paying attention. Family Research Council has compiled a list of such incidents, as have others.

Even in the absence of criminal activity, however, women and girls (in particular) have a legitimate concern about privacy. In fact, courts have ruled that there is a fundamental right to “bodily privacy” — that is, not to be seen unclothed or partially clothed by someone of the opposite sex, or to be exposed to the partially clothed or unclothed body of someone of the opposite sex, against one’s will. This is the very reason why we have separate men’s rooms and women’s rooms to begin with (something which, at least so far, the New York Times has not questioned). It is not because men and women have different “gender identities,” but because they have different bodies.

The Times asserts, “The governor and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature are solely to blame for the hundreds of job and millions of dollars the state has lost as businesses and sports organizations have turned away from North Carolina.” In reality, national LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, who care nothing about destroying jobs in North Carolina, are primarily to blame. Having failed at the normal task of lobbying, they are now engaged in a form of racketeering, using specious charges of “bigotry” (echoed by the Times) in an effort to extort cooperation from businesses and sports leagues, and using the economic consequences in an (unsuccessful) effort to coerce a reversal from the legislature. If the NCAA and the ACC had kept their sports championships in North Carolina and simply monitored them, they would undoubtedly have found that their concerns about North Carolina “providing a safe and respectful environment at our events” were completely unfounded.

The Times baldly asserts, “The point of the law was to harm and humiliate L.G.B.T. citizens.” In reality, the point was to protect ordinary citizens, who could be “harmed and humiliated” by being forced to share showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms with those of the opposite biological sex.

It is the New York Times editorial board — not North Carolina’s courageous Gov. Pat McCrory — who need to “come to [their] senses.”

Expanding the Definition of “Parent” Expands the Power of the State

by Peter Sprigg

September 2, 2016

New York’s highest state court, the Court of Appeals, ruled August 30th that the former lesbian partner of a woman who gave birth (via artificial insemination) while the couple was cohabiting could qualify as a “parent” for the purpose of seeking custody and visitation rights (Matter of Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A. C.C.).

In light of the 2015 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to order a fifty-state redefinition of “marriage” to include same-sex couples (Obergefell v. Hodges), this may seem like something inevitable—merely a legal mopping-up operation. Actually, it is far more troubling, with implications that extend far beyond same-sex couples.

New York’s Domestic Relations Law says that “either parent” of a child living in the state may apply to a court requesting “the natural guardianship, charge and custody of such child.” In a case similar to the current one 25 years ago (Matter of Alison D. v. Virginia M.), the same court had ruled that “a biological stranger to a child who is properly in the custody of his biological mother” has no standing to seek visitation. Despite having upheld it as recently as 2010, the court explicitly overruled Alison D. this week.

In part, the decision was based on the fact that during the period the couple was together (2006-2010, with the baby boy being born in 2009), same-sex couples could not yet legally marry in New York. According to the opinion, the couple “lacked the resources to travel to another jurisdiction” to enter into a marriage or similar “legal arrangement.”

One is tempted to say that they must have been quite destitute—since the first state to grant civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples (in 2004), Massachusetts, borders on New York state. By the time the child was born, in June 2009, Massachusetts had repealed a 1913 law that had initially prevented many out-of-state couples from marrying there; and New York’s Gov. David Paterson had ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex unions from other states.

In fairness, though, the couple apparently did live in Chautauqua County—at the far western end of the state, about 400 miles from Massachusetts. However, it is only a little over 100 miles from Niagara Falls, Ontario—which was also giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples from the U.S. Meanwhile, New York’s high court had already recognized a right of “second-parent” adoption even for unmarried partners of a biological parent in a case decided in 1995.

All this is to say that, even for a same-sex couple, it may not have been so difficult to establish a legal family relationship by a more traditional means—either a civil marriage or legal adoption.

Family Research Council (FRC) promotes the ideal of the “natural family.” In the natural family, a man and a woman commit to one another in marriage, and their sexual union bears its natural fruit in the birth of children who are biologically related to both parents. Support for the natural family is not just based on abstract principle—there is abundant social science research showing that it tends to result in the best outcomes for children (see this recent blog post reviewing the evidence).

However, we realize that the natural family is not universal, and recognize that parental relationships are sometimes formed without marriage (as in out-of-wedlock births) or without a biological relationship between parent and child (as in adoption). These parents should have their rights respected by the state just as much as those in the more traditional natural family.

However, these have historically been the limits of how legally-recognized “parental” relationships may be established. The court’s decision in Brooke B. smashes through those limits.

Only one of the New York judges, Eugene Pigott, fully acknowledged this. Although he concurred with the outcome of the case, based on its “extraordinary circumstances,” he disagreed with the decision to overrule Alison D. “I would retain the rule that parental status under New York law derives from marriage, biology or adoption,” Pigott wrote. Until now, he said, “Our Court … rejected the impulse to judicially enlarge the term ‘parent’ beyond marriage, biology, or adoption.” Instead, they had “consistently interpreted it in the most obvious and colloquial sense to mean a child’s natural parents or parents by adoption.”

The argument for expanding the definition of “parent” to include “de facto parents” who have lived with, cared for, and formed a close personal relationship with a child is simple—namely that it may be “in the best interests of the child” to preserve that relationship even if the adult couple breaks up. This sounds emotionally appealing—but the problem is what it means for parental rights. While parental rights are not absolute—in the case of serious abuse, for example, a parent may be declared “unfit” and have those rights severed—they are normally entitled to great deference.

The court did quote from its 1991 decision in Alison D., which said that “[t]raditionally … it is the child’s mother and father who, assuming fitness, have the right to the care and custody of their child,” and granting visitation to a “de facto” parent “would necessarily impair the parents’ right.” Without a biological or adoptive connection to the child, the former partner has no right “to displace the choice made by this fit parent in deciding what is in the child’s best interests.”

The New York court claimed it was still protecting this “substantial and fundamental right” (which it acknowledged as “perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests”). It did so by saying that it was only recognizing the “parental status” of a non-biological, non-adoptive partner where the person “proves … that he or she has agreed with the biological parent of the child to conceive and raise the child as co-parents.”

This limitation is small comfort. Libertarians inclined to see this as another step toward “freedom” or “equality” for all sexual preferences, or conservatives inclined to shrug it off as the inevitable consequence of Obergefell, are missing the larger point—which is a massive expansion of the power of the state in general, and of judges in particular.

Judge Pigott addressed the latter point, noting that “other states had legislatively expanded the class of individuals who may seek custody and/or visitation of a child.” In fact, New York had done the same, explicitly extending it by statute to siblings or grandparents—but not to those in the position of the petitioner. If the result seems unfair, “such criticism is properly directed at the Legislature;” but judges had, until now, “refused to undertake the kind of policy analysis reserved for the elected representatives of this State.”

In my view, however, the Legislature should not further expand the definition of “parent,” either. The existence of the natural institution of the family is an inherent check upon the power of the artificial institution of the state. Even when the state does create a parental relationship through a legal act (adoption), it does so only when the natural parents are absent, or there has been a convincing showing, with a strong burden of proof, that they are unfit.

Moving away from the limited definition of families as being formed by marriage, biology, or adoption is a move in the direction of the further deconstruction of the family as an institution. Granting greater power to the government to define or even create “family” or “parental” relationships, meanwhile, is a move toward concentrating greater societal power in the hands of the state across the board.

Both trends should alarm not just social conservatives, but anyone who is concerned about excessive concentrations of power in the hands of the government.

Ending the Secular Witch Hunt

by Peter Sprigg

August 26, 2016

Review of:

It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, by Mary Eberstadt (New York: Harper, 2016).

Mary Eberstadt offers a concise diagnosis of the growing problem of hostility to religious freedom in the Western world, in her new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies.

Her historical analysis notes that, contrary to progressivist myths about Christians exercising “theocratic” power, the influence of religion has been generally in decline ever since the French Revolution. However, she cites two recent historical events as triggering a more virulent hostility to religion—the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which raised concern about the dangers of religious fanaticism; and the Catholic priest sex abuse scandals revealed in 2002, which solidified cynicism about institutional religion.

Eberstadt also cites two key legal battles in which the secular left discounted the importance of protecting religious liberty—the HHS contraceptive mandate in Obamacare; and the Supreme Court’s 2015 redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The Obama administration’s insistence on forcing an order of Catholic nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, to pay for abortifacient contraceptives is cited as an example of how the poor—supposedly the subjects of progressive concern—are subordinated to other ideological goals. She points out the abundances of charitable works and social services provided by religious believers, and notes that these agencies simply cannot be replaced by their secular or government-run counterparts. Yet secular progressives prefer to shut such agencies down (like they have Catholic adoption agencies that dare give preference to mother-father households) rather than allow dissent from the progressive worldview. Another chapter highlights how Christian education—whether in the form of student groups, distinctively Christian institutions, or homeschooling—has also been in the crosshairs of the Left.

Eberstadt argues, however, that the secular progressivism is not merely anti-faith, but actually represents a competing faith, explaining that “the sexual revolution has given rise to a new secularist faith of its own whose founding principles are the primacy of pleasure and self-will.” This faith actually mirrors Christianity in some ways, with its own “secular saints” (Sanger, Kinsey), “foreign missionaries,” “quasi-demonology,” and “canon of texts and doctrine.”

They believe they are in possession of a higher truth,” Eberstadt explains, “and they fight to universalize it.” This helps explain the ferocity of their attacks upon those who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian morality—“the only remaining minority that can be mocked and denigrated … [n]ot to mention fired, fined, or otherwise punished for their beliefs.”

Eberstadt does not hesitate to describe the attacks on believers as a “witch hunt”—and to compare them directly and in detail with similar “moral panics” in the past, including the day-care sexual abuse hysteria of the 1980’s, the McCarthyism of the 1950’s, and the granddaddy of them all, the Salem witch trials of 1692. “‘Bigot’ and ‘hater’ are the new ‘wizard’ and ‘witch,’” she explains; “epithets that intentionally demean and dehumanize.” Yet even serious consequences—like the armed assault upon the Family Research Council offices in Washington in 2012—has not deterred activists like those at the Southern Poverty Law Center from employing such inflammatory language.

Progressives claim that conservative Christians are on “the wrong side of history”—but Eberstadt flips that argument on its head, declaring that “today’s ideological stalking and punishing of Christians is going to look contemptible in history’s rearview mirror.”

This leads to the most distinctive aspect of Eberstadt’s argument. Unlike others who have written on similar topics, Eberstadt does not say the solution is for Christians to mobilize and defend themselves. Other witch hunts were not ended by their victims, and she warns that this one will not be, either. Instead, she calls on liberals themselves to return to liberal values—such as tolerance, freedom of speech and association, and respect for true diversity. We must, she says, “agree to disagree”—affirming “the right to be wrong,” as author Seamus Hasson has put it.

American history already gives us the model for this resolution of the culture war, Eberstadt argues—Thomas Jefferson, whose misunderstood “wall of separation between Church & State” was intended to protect religious liberty, not to stifle it.

Empirical and philosophical critiques of the sexual revolution are legitimate subjects for debate,” Eberstadt asserts, and those who disagree with them should nonetheless “do the right thing by listening to what [critics] have to say, and acknowledging their American right to say it.”

People on both sides of the culture wars would gain by reading and heeding Eberstadt’s thoughtful analysis.

(Note: Chris Gacek and I interviewed Mary Eberstadt about her book on the FRC daily radio program, “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” on August 18. That interview can be heard here.)

Five Things to Know About “Gender Dysphoria” in Children

by Peter Sprigg

August 19, 2016

Gender dysphoria” (GD) is a condition in which a person may feel unhappy with his or her biological sex, express a desire to be the opposite sex, or even insist that he or she is of the opposite sex from what his or her genes and anatomy indicate. People who choose to adopt a “gender identity” different from their biological sex are known as “transgender.”

This condition is increasingly being identified not merely in adults, but even in very young, pre-pubescent children. The American College of Pediatricians (an organization formed as an alternative to the larger and more liberal American Academy of Pediatrics), has now released an important paper on “Gender Dysphoria in Children.” It provides a significant medical and scientific counterweight to the growing ideology that demands affirmation of “transgender” identities—even in children.

I encourage those interested to read the College’s press release and the full study. For those wanting a brief summary, however, here are five key points I took away from the paper.

1)      There is no scientific evidence that people with gender dysphoria are “born in the wrong body.”

Those who identify as transgender often claim that they are “women born in men’s bodies” or “men born in women’s bodies.” Yet the scientific evidence put forward in support of this theory is weak. In fact, studies of twins have shown that when one twin identifies as transgender, only 20% of the time does the other twin also identify as transgender. This finding alone disproves the idea that gender dysphoria results primarily from prenatal genetic or hormonal influences. (Note: “gender dysphoria” is not the same as biological “disorders of sexual development”—DSD—or “intersex” conditions. The vast majority of people who identify as transgender are entirely normal males or females genetically and biologically.)

2)      Most children who experience gender dysphoria do not grow up to identify as transgender adults.

Research has shown that, left to themselves—that is, if they are not given special hormone treatments and not permitted to “transition” into living socially as a person of the opposite sex—most children who exhibit symptoms of “gender dysphoria” will resolve those issues before adulthood and will live as normal males or females with a “gender identity” that corresponds to (rather than conflicts with) their biological sex at birth. Historically, this has been true of between 80% and 95% of gender dysphoric children.

3)      Despite #2, many children with gender dysphoria are now being funneled into a treatment protocol that involves both early and ongoing hormone treatments.

It is one thing (and radical enough) for someone born a boy to be allowed to start living as a girl, or vice versa (that is, to “socially transition”). However, some children (as young as 11) are actually being given hormones to block the natural effects of puberty before it begins. The physical differences between male and female children (when clothed) are relatively small and fairly easy to conceal with clothing. Those differences become greater after puberty, which in turn makes it more difficult for a teenager who identifies as transgender to “pass” as a member of the opposite biological sex. Puberty blockers are intended to forestall that “problem.”

Then when they are older (although sometimes as young as 16), they may begin to receive “cross-sex hormones” (e.g., estrogen for males who identify as female, or testosterone for females who identify as male). These continue the suppression of characteristics of their biological sex, while triggering some of the characteristics of the intended gender (such as breast growth or development of facial hair).

4)      Such hormone treatments may have serious negative health consequences—both known and unknown.

Supporters of puberty-blocking hormones contend that their effects are reversible, giving a child the opportunity to change his or her mind about gender “transition” upon reaching adulthood. Case studies show, however, that in reality such an intervention puts the child on a nearly inevitable path to a transgender identity—in sharp contrast to most gender dysphoric children who are not so treated. Completion of the entire protocol of both puberty-blocking and cross-sex hormones (especially when followed by sex reassignment surgery) results in permanent sterility—the inability to ever have biological children, even using artificial reproductive technology. The American College of Pediatricians argues, “The treatment of GD in childhood with hormones effectively amounts to mass experimentation on, and sterilization of, youth who are cognitively incapable of providing informed consent.”

As for cross-sex hormones, a comprehensive review of the scientific literature found, “There are potentially long-term safety risks associated with hormone therapy, but none have been proven or conclusively ruled out.” For example, giving estrogen to biological males may place them at risk for cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, gall bladder disease, and breast cancer; while giving testosterone to biological females may be associated with elevated triglycerides, sleep apnea, and insulin resistance—in addition to the risks associated with obtaining a double mastectomy, which some may do when only 16 years old.

5)      Research shows that “severe psychopathology and developmental difficulties” often precede the development of gender dysphoria.

A more compassionate approach to caring for children with gender dysphoria would involve what was once the “standard approach”—either “watchful waiting” or psychotherapy “to address familial pathology if it was present, treat any psychosocial morbidities in the child, and aid the child in aligning gender identity with biological sex.” Children are in no position to given meaningful “informed consent” for more serious and potentially hazardous procedures such as hormone therapy.

Who’s Waging a War on Science? (Hint: It’s Not Conservatives)

by Peter Sprigg

August 5, 2016

Liberals often accuse conservatives of being hostile to science, and insist that they will rely only on “evidence-based” policies. The questioning of scientific claims that we face catastrophic human-induced global warming, and efforts to teach critiques of evolutionary theory in school biology classes, are two of the most frequently-cited example of conservatives’ supposed “war on science.”

Professor Gerard Bradley of Notre Dame Law School, however, points out in Public Discourse that this supposed liberal reverence for science is itself a myth and a deception. When it comes to some areas of policy—those involving any aspect of the sexual revolution and the demand for a “right” to sex of any kind without consequences—the Left abandons science in favor of ideology every time.

Whether it is the humanity of the unborn, the harms of abortion, the benefits of contraception, the advantages of abstinence, the origins of homosexuality, or the reality of biological sex, the Left has no patience for science incompatible with their worldview.

I am especially grateful that he mentions sexual orientation change efforts, or SOCE (what its enemies—and none of its practitioners—call “conversion therapy”). Even some Republicans have been influenced by the LGBT’s constant drumbeat on this issue (yes, I’m looking at you, Chris Christie), and several states have actually outlawed such treatment for minors. One has to be very familiar with the scientific research to know that there is no scientific research regarding the impact of SOCE on minors—only unscientific anecdotes.

This is an important and valuable article. Check out President Obama’s Sex-Driven War on Science.

PolitiFact Falsifies Family Findings

by Peter Sprigg

August 4, 2016

In an interview on July 17, Chuck Todd of NBC challenged Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus regarding a passage in the Republican platform dealing with family structure, which includes the statements:

Children raised in a two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime, or become pregnant outside of marriage.

and:

The data and the facts lead to an inescapable conclusion: Every child deserves a married mom and dad.

Priebus defended the platform plank, affirming that “the best scenario for kids is a loving mom and dad.”

That same day, PolitiFact released an article that rated Priebus’ statement “False.”

A rating along the lines of “Requires clarification” might have been defensible. However, in light of the available evidence, rating the statement “False” is nothing short of bizarre. It destroys not Priebus’ credibility, but PolitiFact’s as a neutral arbiter.

In October 2014, PolitiFact offered a similar critique of a similar statement by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. A detailed response was posted on the Family Research Council blog, all of which is still valid. Following is a summary with information on some more recent research.

What the research on family structure shows

Here are some other professional organizations which have made statements similar to that in the platform:

The non-partisan, non-profit research group Child Trends has reported, “An extensive body of research tells us that children do best when they grow up with both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.”

The anti-poverty group the Center for Law and Social Policy reported, “Research indicates that, on average, children who grow up in families with both their biological parents in a low-conflict marriage are better off in a number of ways than children who grow up in single-, step- or cohabiting-parent households. Compared to children who are raised by their married parents, children in other family types are more likely to achieve lower levels of education, to become teen parents, and to experience health, behavior, and mental health problems.”

The Institute for American Values declared (as one of its “fundamental conclusions” about “what current social science evidence reveals about marriage in our social system”), “The intact, biological, married family remains the gold standard for family life in the United States, insofar as children are most likely to thrive—economically, socially, and psychologically—in this family form.”

One example of the type of research being summarized in those statements is the federal survey data published in 2014 which showed that “children living with two biological parents” (which by definition includes a “mom and dad”) are fifteen times less likely “to have had four or more adverse experiences” than children in any other living situation.

These statements alone should be sufficient to designate Priebus’ innocuous statement as “true.”

Not just about parents who identify as homosexual

The clarification that might be justified is that these broad and entirely accurate summaries of the research on family structure are based primarily on studies that did not focus specifically on a comparison with children raised by parents who identify as homosexual or by same-sex couples. However, the platform passage did not limit its conclusion to such comparisons, either. Omitted from mention in Todd’s questioning of Priebus were the following references in the platform to cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, and single-parent households:

We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation. Moreover, marriage remains the greatest antidote to child poverty. The 40 percent of children who now are born outside of marriage are five times more likely to live in poverty than youngsters born and raised by a mother and father in the home. Nearly three-quarters of the $450 billion government annually spends on welfare goes to single-parent households.

Instead, Todd focused only on same-sex parents, saying, “It’s implying that somehow children of same-sex couples are more likely to be addicts? To engage in crime?” Chuck Todd’s single-minded focus on same-sex parents was deceptive regarding the context of the platform language—and PolitiFact should have noted that and called him out on it.

What about the research on parents who identify as homosexual?

Nevertheless, it is also true that the platform says that “the cornerstone of the family is natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman,” and it declares, “Our laws and our government’s regulations should recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” as well as saying, “Every child deserves a married mom and dad.” Since same-sex couples do not meet this definition of marriage and do not provide both a mom and a dad, a clarification of what the research on parents who identify as homosexual shows is also in order.

PolitiFact refers to only two sources for its conclusion: a one-page summary of the findings of “78 scholarly studies” on “the wellbeing of children with gay or lesbian parents” published by Columbia Law School (which concludes that “children of gay or lesbian parents fare no worse than other children”); and a longer research summary on “LGB-Parent Families” published by a pro-homosexual think tank, The Williams Institute (which concludes that “LGB parents and their children are functioning quite well”).

Apples to Apples? Some studies omit the “intact biological family”

In evaluating any particular study that relates to “gay or lesbian parents,” it is crucial to be aware of what is being compared to what, and what conclusions can legitimately be drawn (or evaluated) from the findings.

For example, it is true that there have been a large number of studies which purport to show that children raised by “gay or lesbian” parents “do just as well” as, or show “no differences” from, children raised by “straight” or “heterosexual” parents. However, when you dig down you discover that many of these studies do not feature a comparison between children raised by “gay or lesbian parents” and children raised by the intact biological family—that is, children raised from birth by their married, biological mother and biological father. Instead, the comparison is with children who have heterosexual parents, but from single-parent, divorced, or step-parent households, for example.

Studies which look at children of “gay parents,” but which do not include the intact biological family as a comparison group, can tell us exactly nothing about whether “the best scenario for kids is a loving mom and dad.”

Furthermore, these studies, although numerous, suffer from serious methodological limitations, such as the use of very small, non-random “convenience” samples (gathered by advertising in “gay” publications, for example). Referring to a defense of parents who identify as homosexual by the American Psychological Association (APA), researcher Loren Marks reported in 2012, “[N]ot one of the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 APA Brief compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children.”

The Columbia publication cited by PolitiFact downplays this, arguing that “convenience sampling is not considered a methodological flaw, but simply a limitation to generalizability.” Yet “generalizing” from such studies, without apparent “limitation,” is exactly what defenders of “gay parents”—and PolitiFact—have done.

Apples to Apples? Some studies omit same-sex couples

On the other hand, some other studies have included comparisons between the intact biological family and other family structures, including ones in which a child’s mother or father had a same-sex relationship while the child was growing up. The most widely-reported such study in recent years was the New Family Structures Study published in 2012 by sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas. It showed that children raised in the intact biological family have considerable advantages over those raised in other family structures—including children with a mother or father who had a homosexual relationship. (FRC published a summary of the Regnerus study on our website, then later added a more detailed list of its findings.)

One of the criticisms that some observers made regarding the Regnerus research was that it (like most of the studies favorable to “gay parents,” it might be noted) was not based on a direct, “couples-to-couples” comparison. Many of the “fathers who had a gay relationship” and “mothers who had a lesbian relationship” never lived in the same household with the child and a same-sex partner, and almost none lived in such a household throughout the child’s growing up. (Regnerus made these facts perfectly clear in both his initial article and a later, more detailed one.) The deficits identified in the children of “gay parents,” according to these critics, were the result of household instability (e.g., one parent divorcing the other parent to “come out” as gay or lesbian), not of sexual orientation per se.

Demanding that comparisons be made only with children of “stable” same-sex couples, however, is both unreasonable and unrealistic—given that such households are extraordinarily rare. Of the 248 children in the Regnerus study whose parents had had a homosexual relationship, only two had been raised by a same-sex couple (a female couple in both cases) from birth. Even the Williams Institute survey cited by PolitiFact acknowledges at the outset, “In the majority of contemporary LGB-parent families, the children were conceived in the context of different-sex relationships,” adding that “research is needed on LGB stepfamily formation post-heterosexual divorce.”

Recent research

More recent studies have overcome some of the methodological limitations of earlier research, allowing couples-to-couples comparisons using much larger sample sizes drawn from government surveys. Canadian economist Douglas W. Allen and co-authors analyzed data from the 2000 U.S. census and reported, “Compared with traditional married households, we find that children being raised by same-sex couples are 35% less likely to make normal progress through school.” Another study by Allen using the 2006 Canada census found, “Children living with gay and lesbian families [a “same-sex married or common law couple”] in 2006 were about 65% as likely to graduate compared to children living in opposite sex marriage families.”

Sociologist D. Paul Sullins studied data from the National Health Interview Survey that included 512 children living with same-sex couples, and found that children in households with same-sex couples “are at least twice as likely to experience serious emotional problems compared to their counterparts” in other types of households generally, and more specifically “they are at almost four (3.6) times the risk of emotional problems when compared to children residing with married biological parents.”

Other Resources

Several other organizations and publications have produced summaries within the last two years of the existing research on family structure and child outcomes, including:

The American College of Pediatricians, et al. (amicus brief, U.S. Supreme Court)

The Heritage Foundation

MercatorNet

Public Discourse

Conclusion

The Republican platform, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, did not say, “Straight parents are better than gay parents.” The primary issue addressed by summary statements on family structure like those in the platform is not “sexual orientation”—it is the benefits to children of a two-parent home, marriage, gender complementarity, and a biological relationship with both parents. Evidence suggests that children denied the first two suffer, even if their parents are “straight”; while children with openly “gay” parents are always denied the latter two, no matter how “stable” their household.

This evidence is more than sufficient to rate Priebus’ statement that “the best scenario for kids is a loving mom and dad” as “True.”

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