The Briefing, Monday, December 3, 2012

TODAY 1. The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage — A Decision Not to Decide is Still a Decision. 2. First Same-Sex Marriage in West Point’s Chapel — What it Means. 3. Sharia Law Combines with Autocracy in Egypt. 4. The Two-Edged Sword of Palestinian Statehood. 5. Does Justice Require that Stay-at-Home Moms Leave Home? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The U.S. Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage — A Decision Not to Decide is Still a Decision

The justices of the Supreme Court went behind closed doors last Friday to decide whether to take a list of cases, including crucial cases concerning same-sex marriage. It was expected that the Court might announce its decision in one or more of the same-sex marriages cases on Friday, but no announcement came. This morning at 9:30 the Court has scheduled another opportunity to announce cases, but the more traditional announcement on Mondays is the list of cases the Court will not take.

Many Americans, including millions of Americans concerned about the same-sex marriage cases, may not understand what such an announcement might mean. For example, if the Court announces that it will not grant a hearing to the case known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, same-sex marriage will almost immediately become fully legal in California.

The reason for this is quite simple. If the Supreme Court decides not to take the case, it will let stand the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court ruled that California’s voter-initiated Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, sustaining an earlier ruling to that effect in a San Francisco Federal District Court.

In other words, a decision not to take the case is still a decision — a decision to allow the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand.

It takes four justices to agree to take a case, and at least five justices to decide most cases. Observers of the Court often try to predict such decisions, but the decision making process of the justices is hidden from view.

In addition to the Proposition 8 appeal, there are cases dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA], passed into law in 1996. The Court will have a harder time declining to hear that case, given the fact that it represents a frontal challenge to a Federal law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President Bill Clinton.

In any event, a decision in any of these cases, if taken up by the Court, would likely come in late summer.

Some same-sex marriage advocates are already celebrating what they believe will be a major victory at the Court, one way or the other. “2012 has already been the watershed year in the history of this movement,” Chad Griffin told USA Today. Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also said: “It’s so clear where this country’s headed.”

Speaking of a DOMA case, Paul Clement, a former Solicitor General of the United States under President George W. Bush told the paper, “The Court will want to take this case and get it resolved.” Time will tell.

2. The First Same-Sex Marriage Ceremony in West Point’s Chapel — What it Means

This past Saturday, Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was the site of a same-sex marriage ceremony. It was a first for the stately chapel, and it came over a year after President Obama rescinded the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that prohibited openly-gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

As NBC News reported:

“Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, were exchanging vows in the regal church in an afternoon ceremony attended by around 250 guests and conducted by a senior Army chaplain.”


“Fulton said the only hassle involved in arranging her ceremony came when she was initially told that none of West Point’s chaplains were authorized by their denominations to perform same-sex weddings. Luckily, she said, they were able to call on a friend, Army Chaplain Col. J. Wesley Smith. He is the senior Army chaplain at Dover Air Force Base, where he presides over the solemn ceremonies held when the bodies of soldiers killed in action oversees return to U.S. soil. The couple planned on adding other military trappings to their wedding, including a tradition called the saber arch, where officers or cadets hold their swords aloft over the newlyweds as they emerge from the church.”

Though the wedding was the first held in the Gothic-styled Cadet Chapel, it was the second at West Point. The first was just a week earlier, held in a smaller chapel on the campus.

According to the Pentagon, the ceremony did not indicate the Army’s approval of same-sex marriage — a doubtful point made necessary by fact that the Federal government defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

What does all this mean? The celebration of a same-sex marriage ceremony in Cadet Chapel at West Point, complete with the saber arch and full military honors, represents a huge step toward the normalization of same-sex marriage, and of homosexuality itself, in the larger society. The event was a powerful symbol of the great revolution in sexual morality that marks our times.

3. Sharia Law Combines with Autocracy in Egypt

Last week, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi consolidated his grip on power, establishing himself as an autocrat with apparently unlimited political power. Morsi had previously handed down a set of decrees that established his rule as beyond any judicial constraint, leading to protests in the streets.

As last week came to an end, Morsi approved a rushed new draft of an Egyptian constitution. To no one’s surprise, the draft constitution supports Morsi’s new claims to power. Also to no one’s surprise, the new constitution bears all the marks of influence by Morsi’s colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The new constitution includes references to Sharia law, without specific language that would limit its application.

As The Wall Street Journal reported:

“The draft constitution was finished early Friday by Egypt’s 100-member Constituent Assembly, a body that had been conceived as representing Egyptians broadly. The group became dominated by Islamist politicians, however, after it was boycotted by Christian and secular members who had made up more than one-quarter of it.”


“Many legal experts said they saw major ambiguities and contradictions in several articles dealing with the role of Shariah, or Islamic law; the powers of the president and the legislature; the nature of the judicial and electoral systems; and the establishment of regulatory and oversight bodies and agencies.”

This is a sad development for Egypt. As one observer noted, the new constitution combines the autocracy of Anwar Sadat with the Islamist agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead of an Arab Spring, the signs in Egypt point to a new dark and dangerous epoch.

4. The Two-Edged Sword of Palestinian Statehood

The decision of the United Nations to grant “observer state” status to the Palestinians last week is still reverberating throughout the world. The U.N. took this action despite the fact that the Palestinians have utterly failed to meet the most minimal criteria for statehood. The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934) represents the international standard for defining the marks of statehood. According to that agreement: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

The Palestinians have met none of these requirements. To the credit of the Obama Administration, Susan Rice, the U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, set her argument clearly: “This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

Nevertheless, the granting of “observer state” status does mean that the Palestinians can now claim to be a state, and to appeal for membership on U.N. bodies and international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court.

This may set up an interesting two-edged sword for the Palestinians, as Christine Hauser of The New York Times reports:

“In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has tried to have its accusations of Israeli war crimes investigated by the International Criminal Court, only to see its request go nowhere because the Palestinian territories were not recognized as a state. But now the court says it will take a fresh look at the issue after the United Nations General Assembly voted to enhance the standing of the Palestinians, conferring on them the word “state” as part of their new status as nonmember observers. On Friday, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors office said it ‘will consider the implications of this resolution.'”

That represents a threat to Israel, which could now find itself tied up in international criminal courts for decades. But the double-edged nature of the threat was also made clear by the Times.

Hauser reported:

“Some analysts said that by accepting the jurisdiction of the court, the Palestinians could also open themselves up to prosecution for war crimes, including Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians.”

The action of the U.N granting observer state status to the Palestinians is likely to breed more division, rather than to enhance the cause of peace.

5. Does Justice Require that Stay-at-Home Moms Leave Home?

Jill Filipovic of The Guardian [London] begins her article by pointing to a recent statement by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bade Ginsburg that has drawn a good bit of controversy. Justice Ginsburg said last month that there will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine female justices.

In her words:

“So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But ther’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Filipovic  then argued that “It’s not unreasonable to think that, at some point, nine of the finest legal minds in the country would belong to women.

Interestingly, that is where the article actually gets interesting. Filipovic turns to argue why more women are not reaching the highest ranks of the law. Her answer is that the desire to “have it all” takes many women out of the routes to power in the law and other professions. As women decide to marry and have children they take on responsibilities that limit their progress in their chosen profession.

In an extended argument, Filipovic argues that many men actually do “have it all” because they have stay-at-home wives. As she explains,

“Consider, for example, the fact that only 44% of married male lawyers have a spouse who is employed full-time. That means that more than half of male lawyers have a person at home who can dedicate significant amounts of time to taking care of every aspect of the couples’ out-of-work life: housekeeping, childcare, home finances, vacation-planning, social calendaring. Female lawyers, by contrast, are overwhelmingly married to partners who have full-time jobs. It’s a whole lot easier to be the kind of employee who works 16-hour days and dedicates your life to your job when that’s the only thing you actually have to worry about – because you have a spouse who takes care of all the rest.”

Her answer to this inequity?

“Justice Ginsburg is right: there will be enough women on the supreme court when we see it filled by nine female justices. But that won’t happen until women have real access to power and when, crucially, men start to change by actually pulling their own weight, not relying on stay-at-home wives, being aware of just how deep unconscious gender bias goes, making efforts to promote and mentor women, and recognizing that, for all of their individual hard work, they were also given a heck of a lot for free.”

She asserts that men must pull their own weight and stop “relying on stay-at-home wives.” In her worldview, justice requires that stay-at-home wives and moms must leave home and go into the workforce simply because their existence in the home is harming their professional sisters.

Filipovic is not alone in making this kind of argument, but it is still worth taking a clear-headed look at it when it appears in public. Brace yourselves for similar arguments to come. The feminist movement is supposed to be all about choice, but leading feminists show little respect for women who decide to stay at home as wives and mothers.

I discuss all these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.

Links to articles cited:

The Briefing, Friday, November 30, 2012

TODAY: Another Decision Day at the Supreme Court — Marriage on the Line / Does the Fiscal Cliff Really Matter? / The Gender Police Hit a Toy Store / The United Nations Grants Palestinians Observer State Status, But Where is the State? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Another Day of Decision at the U.S. Supreme Court — Marriage on the Line

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will meet behind closed doors today to decide whether to take a case that will require the Court to rule on the question of same-sex marriage. The case in question today is an appeal by defenders of California’s Proposition 8, the measure passed by the voters of that state in 2008. That voter initiative defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, overturning a decision by the California Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.

Advocates for same-sex marriage went to the Federal courts, demanding a repeal of Proposition 8. They won at both a Federal District Court in San Francisco and at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Defenders of Proposition 8 now hope for the U.S. Supreme Court to take the appeal. Otherwise, the decision of the Ninth Circuit will stand and Proposition 8 will be stricken down.

As Bill Mears, Supreme Court reporter for CNN explains:

“The justices will meet privately Friday for a closed-door conference to decide if they will accept any of 10 pending appeals, essentially over whether a fundamental constitutional right for gays and lesbians to marry exists. If they agree to hear the issue, oral arguments would be likely be held in March with a ruling by late June.”

In other words, the Court could also decide to take another case on the same issue, particularly one that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] that defines marriage for the Federal government as the union of a man and a woman.

Political considerations are always at work, as Mears acknowledges:

“As more states legalize same-sex marriage, one of the key questions the justices may be forced to address is whether a national consensus now exists supporting the idea of expanding an “equal protection” right of marriage to homosexuals. Three separate issues confront the justices, who are likely to only accept only one for review in coming months. These include federal benefits, state benefits and state referendums.”

One way or another, the Supreme Court will have to rule on some question related to same-sex marriage. If it decides to take one of these cases now, it could hand down a decision that is limited in effect to California, or it could also take either the Proposition 8 case or the DOMA case and hand down a ruling with nationwide effect. Even if a decision has direct implications only for California, the impact will be national. The direction set by the Supreme Court in any one of these cases will tell us a very great deal about the direction the Court intends to go on the larger question of same-sex marriage and the law.

2. Does the Fiscal Cliff Really Matter?

Should Christians in the United States give much attention to the fight in Washington over the so-called “Fiscal Cliff?” The short answer to that question is yes. The Fiscal Cliff is not the largest financial, economic, or political crisis facing the United States — but it is the most urgent.

Just what is the Fiscal Cliff? The Wall Street Journal explains it succinctly:

“The fiscal cliff is the combination of large spending cuts and tax increases that are scheduled to be automatically enacted at the start of 2013. Bush-era income-tax cuts will expire for tens of millions of Americans, and billions of dollars of spending cuts will take effect because Congress couldn’t reach a deal last year to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Democrats want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases for upper-income households. Republicans want to cut spending but don’t want to raise tax rates, though they have signaled they would consider raising revenue through other measures, such as limiting deductions. Both want to avoid the fiscal cliff, because it forces severe cuts, particularly in military spending.”

This represents a true and urgent crisis — partly because the issues directly involved are so critical, but even more because the impact of “going over” the Fiscal Cliff would almost surely lead to another economic recession.

The prospects for avoiding that catastrophe are not clear, given the divide that separates Democrats and Republicans. Nevertheless, neither party can afford to allow the nation to “go over” the Fiscal Cliff — nor to be seen as responsible for making that happen.

In the end, however, avoiding the Fiscal Cliff is not the greatest challenge our political leaders face. The greater challenge is dealing with the fact that we are borrowing ourselves into national peril, robbing future generations as we do. If the long-term economic facts are not faced with courage, the Fiscal Cliff of 2013 will be hardly worth remembering.

As Robert Pear of The New York Times explains, President Obama and the Democrats now face the greater responsibility — facing the crisis of entitlement spending.

As he reports:

“President Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. As Congress returned Monday, the debate over those programs, which many Democrats see as the core of the party’s identity, was shaping up as the Democratic version of the higher-profile struggle among Republicans over taxes.”

Pear offers an insightful report, including the fact that some argue that if Social Security and Medicare are transformed by Democrats into welfare programs, rather than earned benefits, the programs themselves will quickly lose public support.

Any agreement will likely require an increase in Federal revenue by tax income. But no tax increase can come close to closing the gap on entitlement spending. That represents a moral crisis larger than any Fiscal Cliff.

3. The Gender Police Hit a Toy Store

Back on November 15 I reported on a preschool in Sweden that had disallowed the use of masculine and feminine pronouns among the children. The pronouns for “he’ and “she” are now replaced with “hen,” a newly created word that is supposedly free from gender.

As reporter John Tagliabue of The New York Times told the story:

“At an ocher-color preschool along a lane in Stockholm’s Old Town, the teachers avoid the pronouns ‘him’ and ‘her,’ instead calling their 115 toddlers simply ‘friends.’ Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun ‘hen,’ an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.”

The article also included this:

“Peter Rudberg, 36, an anesthesiologist whose 3-year-old son, Hjalmar, attends the kindergarten, called its gender-neutral approach ‘a boon,’ though, like many Swedes, he believes the country has moved beyond the problem. ‘In modern Sweden, gender equality is a nonissue,’ he said. Yet he cautioned against extremes, like ‘boys prohibited from playing boys’ games.'”

Well, Mr. Rudberg, you had better watch what is happening at Top Toy, a major toy store chain in Sweden. As The Herald Sun [Australia] reports, the Swedish affiliate of Toys-R-Us has had to go gender-neutral in advertising, after being sanctioned by the national advertising authority for the crime of portraying boys with toy machine guns and girls with dolls.

From the report:

“The country’s advertising watchdog reprimanded the company for gender discrimination three years ago following complaints over outdated gender roles in the 2008 Christmas catalogue, which featured boys dressed as superheroes and girls playing princess. A comparison between this year’s Toys R Us catalogs in Sweden and Denmark, where Top Toy is also the franchisee, showed that a boy wielding a toy machine gun in the Danish edition had been replaced by a girl in Sweden. Elsewhere, a girl was Photoshopped out of the ‘Hello Kitty’ page, a girl holding a baby doll was replaced by a boy, and, in sister chain BR’s catalogue, a young girl’s pink T-shirt was turned light blue. Top Toy, Sweden’s largest toy retailer by number of stores, said it had received ‘training and guidance’ from the Swedish advertising watchdog, which is a self-regulatory agency.”

Reflecting the “training and guidance” the company had received from the advertising police, the Director of Sales told the paper: “With the new gender thinking, there is nothing that is right or wrong. It’s not a boy or girl thing, it’s a toy for children.”

Does he actually believe that? Note that the “gender-neutral” approach required “photoshopping” the photographs. Actual children allowed to choose for themselves are unlikely to get with this program, regardless of the advertising. Gender still matters. Give a six-year-old boy a doll this Christmas and you will probably see that truth in living color.

4. The United Nations Grants the Palestinians Observer State Status — But Where is the State?

Voting 138-9, the United Nations General Assembly granted the Palestinians observer state status, handing Palestinian leaders a great gift. The new status will allow the Palestinians to participate in debates at the U.N. and to request seating on U.N. agencies and the International Criminal Court.

The move was strongly opposed by both Israel and the United States. Very few media reports even mentioned the fact that the Palestinians had utterly failed to meet the leading criteria for state status, but they were granted observer state status anyway.

The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934) represents the gold standard for defining the marks of statehood. According to that international agreement:

“The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

The Palestinians have met none of these criteria. Most importantly, the failure of the Palestinians to form a stable government is made clear by the fact that the Palestinian Authority is not even in functional control of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.

This was a political decision that was as much about marginalizing Israel as about rewarding the Palestinians.

I discuss all these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview LISTEN HERE