May 12, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, May 12, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We can't escape nature: Tennessee judge grants lesbian rights of "husband" in same-sex divorce
Here’s one of those headlines that has only become possible in very recent history. It’s possible; it is still not sensical. USA Today ran a story with the headline,
“Lesbian granted rights of ‘husband’ in same-sex divorce.”Show Full Transcript
The article is by Jamie Satterfield, as I said in yesterday’s USA Today. This is one of the most current issues and, in this case, the story is datelined from Knoxville, Tennessee, but it could be from almost anywhere. The interesting thing in this story is not just the headline, it is rather what’s contained within the story itself and the language we encounter in the story. Actually these days on the other side of the Obergefell decision in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage, the issue of a couple of the same-sex being married or even divorced is no longer that surprising. What’s really interesting here however is the fact that the USA Today headline explicitly uses the word “lesbian” referring to a female same-sex married couple and then the word “husband.” There was a lesbian who was granted the rights of a husband in a divorce.
Now as you might expect, this is a complicated story. It’s complicated by the fact that custody rights have a great deal to do with what’s behind the story. Here you have a same-sex couple and, to use the modern language, they had a baby. But of course they didn’t have a baby just by normal means, rather, they had to bring in a third-party, in this case by artificial insemination. One of the partners in this lesbian relationship was the mother of the baby, the other had no biological tie to the baby. But because of prevailing law, what happened in terms of the marriage is that the non-biologically related partner ended up being classified as the father or the husband in this relationship. Thus, the big question came evidently for the first time in Tennessee history, what happens when such a couple divorces? In this case, thus we have the headline,
“Lesbian granted rights of husband in divorce.”
But what makes the story even more interesting is that even as this case was working its way through the courts, the Tennessee legislature was working towards legislation that would define these relationships and rights. In this case, the legislature was, according to USA Today, pushing through a bill designed to stop Judge Greg McMillan of the Fourth Circuit Court and any other judge in Tennessee from making the very decision of declaring a lesbian to be a husband in a divorce proceeding. USA Today says,
“In a reversal from his decision last year, McMillan penned approval of a divorce for same-sex couple Sabrina Witt and Erica Witt that includes designation of Erica Witt as the father of the couple’s daughter, conceived through artificial insemination.”
The paper continues,
“Days later, Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill inspired by the Witts’ case, the first in the state after a 2015 federal Supreme Court decision that conferred marital rights to same-sex couples.”
Here’s the key sentence,
“The state law ordered courts to give ‘natural meaning’ to words such as mother and father.”
The “natural meaning.” Now that’s not old legislation, that’s the legislation that was just pushed through the Tennessee legislature and just signed into law by Tennessee’s governor. That’s what makes it even more interesting. In no previous generation of human beings who have ever lived would it have been necessary to say in terms of the words husband and wife or mother and father that they are to be interpreted as having their natural meaning. There would have been no other meaning. Only in very recent times have we attempted by means of a revolution in morality and sexuality to imply that there could be any meaning to the words other than the natural meaning.
But what I want to point to here is a very profound truth, and that is this: there is a natural meaning to the words mother and father, husband and wife. It’s not just the legislators and the governor in the state of Tennessee who understood that there would be a natural meaning and that that natural meaning would be understood. It is also, and here’s what’s perhaps even more interesting, it was also the reporter and the editors of USA Today in the very context of this news story who also by their use of the word indicate that they too know there is a natural meaning to the terms husband and wife, mother and father.
So the two big insights in this article come down to these. Number one, here we have irrefutable evidence of the vast comprehensive scale of the revolution in morality, sexuality, and of course marriage that we are now experiencing, indeed many are celebrating in this society. But the second key insight is this: there is still a very clear witness coming from nature. And as Christians understand, that’s not by accident. We trace that directly to the intention and design of the Creator and we think of a text like Romans chapter 1 that tells us that the creation is still telling the story that the Creator intended to tell and that includes the story of his creation of human beings as male and female and his gift of marriage to his human creatures. I’m fairly certain that USA Today did not intend to tell that story, but whether they intended or not they did.
Will the US military ever be able to write transgender policy that satisfies gender revolutionaries?
Next we shift to yet another story from the front page of yesterday’s edition of USA Today. This one,
“Cadets allowed to graduate in chosen gender.”
“But Air Force and Army academies will not let them serve in ranks.”
The article is by Tom Vanden Brook and it has to do with the fact that both the Air Force and the U.S. Army Academy, that is to say in Colorado Springs and West Point, they both are going to have a graduate this year who will be a transgender graduate, and implicit upon graduation from one of the U.S. military academies is generally the commissioning as an officer. But the first is going to happen, that is their graduation is going to happen according to their declared gender, but they are not going to be commissioned as officers either in the Air Force or in the Army.
Now how, you could ask, could this be so? After all, this is a government that has been doing its dead-level best especially under President Barack Obama to join and to accelerate the transgender revolution. It was just about a year ago that then U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced to the public that the transgender revolution would be joined by the military. But at that very time he had to indicate that even then they didn’t have a set of policies that could be put into place.
Now as I mentioned at that time, the reason why they do not have a set of policies in place is because it’s going to be virtually impossible for them to come up with a set of policies. That’s because in the military just about everything has to be specified, everything has to be defined, and when it comes to defining gender and individual identity, well, let’s just say that armed forces are not the most flexible in deciding who you are and who you are not. And furthermore, it is impossible for the United States military actually to join this revolution in the way it might plausibly be argued it could take place elsewhere. Because it might make some kind of sense to some people under some circumstances that one should ask high school students their preferred daily personal pronoun, but that doesn’t work in the United States military. And what we see here is evidence of the fact that it doesn’t work for a very good reason and even now, months after it was announced that the transgender revolution would be joined, you have the officials in both the Air Force and the Army indicating that these two individuals who will be allowed to graduate with their newly declared gender identity are not going to be commissioned as officers.
But another interesting aspect of this story is that the Department of Defense is indeed working on a set of policies they at least hope will be workable, but included in those policies are specifics about when and under what circumstances a member of the Armed Forces might be recognized as actually being transgender. Here you see another head on collision with the ideology of the LGBTQ movements. That movement increasingly says that an individual has the right at any time to declare his or her gender identity and as for the rest of the world, the world has to deal with it. But what you see here is the fact that the military, in having to come up with some kind of actual policy, is going to come up with a policy that will not meet the muster, will not meet the ideological expectations of the LGBTQ movement.
The USA Today article concludes with these sentences,
“Senior military officers expressed misgivings last year about repealing the ban on transgender troops.”
“There are as many as 6,600 transgender troops in the active-duty military force of about 1.3 million, according to RAND Corp. estimates. The annual price tag for the troops’ treatment, ranging from counseling, hormone treatment and surgery, was put at between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, according to RAND.
“By late last year, about 100 active duty transgender troops had sought medical treatment under the policy.”
Now I think the reason USA Today included that data is because they are very revealing, not in terms of the largeness of these numbers, but the very small nature of these figures. This too tells us something about that revolution and morality we are experiencing. It turns everything on its head—not only in terms of the meaning of gender and sexuality and morality, but also just how something like the United States military in this example is to come up with policies. We are told, according to this news article that we’re talking about a maximum of about 6,600 people out of 1.3 million in the United States military. I’ll do the math for you. That is just about one-half of 1%. But what makes that really interesting is that this is what drives the headline news. In the current sexual and gender obsession of our society, this is what at least many, including those who edit these newspapers, consider to be of greatest importance.
Historically, LGBT activists were against the US Census collecting LGBT data. Why are they for it now?
Next we turn to yet another related story, this one from yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, an article by Praveen Fernandes,
“Don’t send us back to the closet.”
It raises some really interesting questions. He says this,
“In my roughly 20 years working in the federal policy arena, few things have become clearer to me than the importance of data. If something is not counted, it is neither seen nor understood. For all intents and purposes, it does not exist.”
Where is he going with that? Well, he is complaining that the U.S. Census Bureau has indicated that it is not in the next census going to collect data on the sexual orientation and behavior of American citizens. Now at this point we should simply halt and remind ourselves that civil libertarians have generally in this country insisted that it would be absolutely wrong for the federal government or any other government to collect data on the sexual orientation identity and behavior of its citizens. But here you have the editorial page of the New York Times in an opinion piece written by Praveen Fernandes—he’s identified as a lawyer and principal at the Raben Group, we’re also told he served as senior counsel and adviser to the general counsel at the Office of Personnel Management under the Obama administration—here you have him complaining not that the Census Bureau might collect this data, but that it might not, indeed that the Bureau does not intend to do so in the upcoming new American census.
Going back just a few weeks Fernandes writes,
“In March, when it published a list of planned subjects for data collection that included a proposed question on these topics, many of us were optimistic. After years of advocating this very change, there was a possibility that we might be more fully counted. But that cheer was to be short lived. The Census Bureau quickly clarified that it had ‘inadvertently listed sexual orientation and gender identity as a proposed topic’ and made changes to the online document within hours.”
Well, we can simply summarize the rest of the article by Fernandes. It includes a clarion call to include the questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the census, and it claims that any decision not to collect this data in the upcoming census will be a way of trying to deny the very existence of gay and transgendered persons in the United States.
But at this point, not only do we need to remind ourselves that it has been the left, including civil libertarians, who have historically insisted that governments should never collect this kind of data, we also need to remind ourselves of what it would actually mean for the government to collect this kind of information from its citizens. Remember that in terms of the census—by the way in the United States the census is a legal obligation among citizens—you will have data collection that is household by household. That means that someone will be asked questions about every individual household counted in the census in which, according to this article, we would be better served if the government asked direct questions, by the way not only about the adults living in that household, but everyone living in that household, right down to questions of sexual orientation and gender identity.
So here we have yet another piece of evidence, irrefutable evidence, of the fact that the sexual revolution turns everything upside down, including even many of the arguments that would have been used by the very same people just a matter of a few decades ago. And what you see here also is political pressure now being brought upon the Trump administration to require the Census Bureau to collect the very information that is the subject of this article concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.
At this point, you simply have to wonder what has happened to a society, especially to America, with cherished American understandings of personal liberty and freedom that there would now be a newspaper like the New York Times allowing the argument to be made and clearly advocating the argument in its own way that the government should be collecting information on the sexual practices, orientation and gender identities of its citizens.
But in addition in the subject of the census, we also have to understand that though participation in the census is not voluntary, answers to the census come from the individuals who are asked. And that means that there is no guarantee whatsoever even if this kind of question or this series of questions were to be asked, that there would be any honest response. That is to say, the responses would only be as good as the honesty or, for that matter, the knowledge of the person who would be answering the questions that would be asked by the Census Bureau. Some on both sides of the question as to whether or not the Census Bureau should even ask these questions recognize that asking the questions does not mean the same thing as finding out the real answer.
How the American Civil Liberties Union is standing against the civil liberties of Americans
But next we turn to further evidence in terms of civil liberties of this world turned upside down by the sexual revolution and also by the ideological revolutions taking place, especially on America’s college and university campuses. This time the article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the opinion piece is by two of the most famous civil libertarians alive in America today, Wendy Kaminer and Alan Dershowitz. Their article has the headline,
“Where’s the ACLU When You Need It?”
Now what’s most important to understand here is that Kaminer and Dershowitz are both former board members of the ACLU, that is the American Civil Liberties Union. What’s going on here? Here you have two former members of the ACLU saying that what that organization now represents is in many ways the opposite of what it represented for years, the arguments it presents now are the opposite of the arguments that presented just a matter of years ago, and they’re talking about their own experience as board members of one of the most famous, or infamous, as you would have it, organizations in America for the last century or so. Kaminer and Dershowitz begin their article writing,
“‘Health care access is a civil rights issue,’ declared a recent email blast. ‘Tell your representative to vote NO on repealing the ACA [that’s Obamacare].’”
Dershowitz and Kaminer said it could’ve come from any progressive advocacy group, but what made it remarkable was its source, the American Civil Liberties Union. They went on to say,
“The ACLU was once a nonpartisan organization focused on liberty and equality before the law. In recent years it has chosen its battles with an increasingly left-wing sensibility. In doing so, it has become considerably more equivocal and sometimes even hostile toward core civil liberties concerns of free speech and due process.”
Kaminer and Dershowitz point to many of the controversies taking place in terms of the shutdowns of free speech on American college and university campuses and they say that,
“On balance, the [ACLU] has been a quiet friend more than an active opponent of campus censorship [that now marks the American college campus].”
They then ask these interesting questions,
“How often have you heard the ACLU speak out against progressive censors? How often have you seen it quoted defending speech in coverage of censorship news, like the violent protests of Charles Murray’s talk at Middlebury College? Did you hear it criticize the wrongful removal of several Jewish students from a pro-Palestinian lecture at Brooklyn College? Did you hear the ACLU condemn the vilification of former Yale instructor Erika Christakis for urging students to ‘think critically’ about rather than demand bans on ‘offensive’ Halloween costumes? We didn’t.
Instead, the ACLU responded to the Yale incident by chastising free-speech advocates for their ‘refusal to confront . . . discrimination and inequality on campus.’”
This is a rather comprehensive indictment of the ACLU by two of its former national board members, Wendy Kaminer and Alan Dershowitz, but rather than to go through the entirety of the article, the important thing to recognize here is that what these two former board members now recognize is that the ACLU is in the present making arguments the opposite of which it made in the past. The sexual revolution and the ideological revolution taking place on the American college campus has left the ACLU reversing its identity and its arguments. Rather than being the ultimate advocates of free speech and civil liberties as they claimed to be in their beginning, the ACLU has now become simply a voice for censorship on these college campuses rather than against. What makes this even more interesting is their generational analysis. They write this,
“How did the ACLU end up on the wrong side—or no side—of urgent debates about free speech and due process?”
“In part the organization’s transformation is a result of generational shifts: The old liberal guard of the ACLU leaders is aging. The new guard reflects the left’s turn away from traditional liberal values toward a ‘progressive’ politics with expansive definitions of discrimination and restrictive approaches to speech.”
That’s really insightful, and it’s something we have noted before. What is disappearing in America is classic political liberalism. That had been traditionally the worldview that had been representative of the Democratic Party and many in terms of the cultural leadership of this country. But increasingly, it’s the old generation of true classic liberals, politically speaking, who are now disappearing. They’re being replaced with not younger liberals, but rather younger people who identify with the left. Just as conservative and the right are not synonymous, so also liberal and the left are not synonymous. The left is now the left wing moving progressively in more radical positions and both the Democratic Party and the American academic college and university campus seem to be headed very much towards the left and away from liberalism.
This is a really important article, the most important aspect might well be the identity of the authors of this piece. But what’s most important from a worldview perspective is the recognition that what’s happened in the sexual revolution is once again the world is turned upside down. The ACLU that had once been one of the most predictably liberal organizations in America is now merely predictably leftist, radical, and even hostile to liberalism. It is also increasingly hostile to civil liberties, which simply raises the question, how long will it continue to call itself the American Civil Liberties Union?
The scouting story continues: Mormon Church severs ties with Boy Scouts of America
We’re just about out of time for this week, but before leaving I simply have to draw attention to the continuation unexpectedly of a story we discussed yesterday on The Briefing. This having to do with the sexual revolution and both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts here in the U.S. The news came yesterday that the Mormons had decided that they will officially break their relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. What makes that very significant is that the LDS church, as it calls itself, had been one of the major sponsors of the Boy Scouts and they had stayed with the Boy Scouts even after their previous policy changes. But now the Mormons have reached the point where they are saying they can go no longer with the Boy Scouts of America. There’s more to the story, and we’ll talk about it next week. In the meantime, it’s interesting to see how fast these stories unfold. In this case we’re talking about less than 24 hours.