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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.
Links to articles cited:
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As Solomon warned, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours are devoted to reading.