Criticize The Content Itself, Not The Hypocrite Who Spouts It

To call someone a “hypocrite” is usually a pretty bad thing. No one enjoys being called that and it seems to be a fairly stinging sort of insult. For instance, Senators Larry Craig and David Vitter are both “family values” Republicans who got elected to their high offices, in no small part, based on their aggressive appeals to social conservatives. I suggest here that although these men may be fairly called “hypocrites,” their poor position to make certain statements is not nearly as important as what they have to say.

hyp·o·crite (n) 1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion 2 : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.

Senator Craig, as you will recall, was rather publicly humiliated by being arrested for lewd conduct in a men’s room in the airport in Minneapolis. Specifically, he rubbed his foot on the foot of an undercover vice cop sitting in the next stall, which the cop said was a common way that gay men cruise for anonymous sex. The implication being, of course, that Senator Craig was cruising for a gay quickie in the men’s room while on the way back home from work in Washington. He pled guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, so he has formally and legally admitted he did something wrong after being accused of this. Craig denies being gay, but no one believes him. Senator Vitter, as you will recall, was rather publicly humiliated by being named as a client in the black book of the late “D.C. Madam” Jeane Palfrey. The firestorm surrounding the prosecution of Ms. Palfrey grew so intense that Ms. Palfrey apparently committed suicide rather than deal with it. His no-doubt humiliated wife stood by his side at the press conference when Senator Vitter admitted patronizing Ms. Palfrey’s services while serving in Congress.

So when Senators Craig and Vitter co-sponsor a resolution to adopt something called the “Marriage Protection Amendment,” which would render every same-sex marriage in the United States invalid, it is easy to call them hypocrites because they have treated their own marriages casually. But their attempt at lawmaking may well be a genuine expression of their ideals, even if their personal conduct falls short of realizing those ideals. They are only human, after all, despite the lofty atmosphere of power, privilege, and pretense in which they function. If we exclude from the category of people who can dispense moral guidance everyone who has fallen short of their moral ideals, there would be no one at all who could expound on issues of morality. So to some extent, we are all hypocrites, and yet we must nevertheless move forward as best we can with our moral lives.

These Senators may well be hypocrites for trying to “protect” your marriage and mine, after having trashed their own marriages. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that their own personal failings should be used to measure the merits of their proposal.

Consider a doctor who smokes. She will tell you not to smoke, that it causes cancer, that you’ll be healthier if you don’t smoke, and that the sooner you quit, the better it will be for you. She’s right. The fact of her own smoking habit does not make her advice about smoking in any way incorrect. Her behavior may render her advice a little less persuasive than it might otherwise be, but objectively, she’s right.

So I don’t think it’s right to attack the “Marriage Protection Amendment” because some of its legislative sponsors have less than perfect personal records for protecting their own marriages.

I think it’s right to attack the “Marriage Protection Amendment,” because it’s not gong to “Protect” anyone’s marriage at all. Remember – no one’s heterosexual marriage has been invalidated or diminished in any way by the adoption of same-sex marriage. Straight couples (like The Wife and me) are just as married now as we were before the Marriage Cases decision was announced. The only thing this proposed Constitutional amendment would do is take away someone else’s marriage.

That does not sound like “Protection” to me. No one has ever been able to explain to me how my marriage is in any way endangered by gay people marrying one another.

And think about the magnitude. We’re talking about a phenomenally small number of people who are actually taking advantage of this law. Since same-sex marriage licenses were made legal in Los Angeles County, it looks like about 2,000 licenses have been issued. Assuming proportionally similar numbers around California, that’s a total of about 7,000 same-sex marriages in the state. That’s 14,000 people in same-sex marriages out of 36.5 million – .038% (that’s thirty-eight out of every hundred thousand people).

Canada has roughly the same population as California. Same-sex marriages were first recognized in Ontario on June 10, 2003 and nationally in 2005. A total of 12,438 licenses were used as of October 31, 2006 in the entire nation of Canada, which had a national population of 32,987,532 that year. That means that after more than a year of same-sex marriage being legal in Canada, .075% of its population is in a same-sex marriage; that is to say Canada’s rate of same-sex marriage is about double California’s — although California has had same-sex marriage for 11 days now, and Canada has had it for more than five years. So if California’s experience is anything like Canada’s, we can anticipate the number of same-sex marriages not quite doubling over the next five years, until something like 30,000 or so Californians are in same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, the national average is that very close to half of all Americans are currently married, and with a miniscule exception from Massachusetts, they are all in opposite-sex marriages.

If you were to expand this projected experience to the entire nation, that would work out to under 113,000 same-sex marriages, total, for the whole country. That would make the proportion of same-sex marriages to opposite-sex marriages 674 to 1. For this you want to amend the Constitution, Senator Vitter? This is a threat to “traditional” marriage in a nation that has 76 million opposite-sex marriages, Senator Craig? To foreclose upon even the possibility that less than a quarter million people might do something that does not affect their fellow citizens at all?

Senators, do you really hate gay people that much, that you would use the great power and dignity that has been given to you, to go to that much effort to hurt so few of them? Shame on you both!

This is treating the Constitution like a plaything. That this is motivated by bigotry makes even more offensive. So don’t be mad at Senators Vitter and Craig because they’re hypocrites. Be mad at them because they are poor custodians of our fundamental national law.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. You do realize of course that the California Court basically banned marriage in the entire state?It is legally, now, impossible for a man and a woman to be recognized as “man” and “wife” in California. Why? Because gay couples cannot marry. They cannot become husband and wife ever. Check it out: above link is the government’s latest “memo” on marriage.This isn’t about letting folks “do their thing.” The court’s idea of justice is that if one citizen is in a wheelchair, it is only fitting that all citizens be sentenced to one. Funny? — sort of, in its own morose way. Queer? — sort of, in its bizarre conception. Tyranny? Absolutely. People will of course marry and they will be husband and wife, but the state has set itself at odds with its people. Not only will this disaster be overturned, but, once the folks figure out what has happened, constitutions will be rewritten. The day of the profoundly, sick, corrupt, and arrogant judges ruling the world with a wooden sceptre are over.

  2. Nothing in the link you provided indicates that opposite-sex marriages are invalid or that no marriage licenses will be issued to opposite-sex couples.

  3. How many times during the course of a weekday would you say the word hypocrite is utter in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse?

  4. Your first commenter seems to have a single issue blog. If you can call it a blog. Note that the name of the blog is misspelled in the url.

  5. I hadn’t noticed the misspelled URL, but my first commenter has bigger problems than that.

  6. Ad hominem…It’s not what one learns in three years of law school, it is what one forgets… That’s why its three years.If the California Supremes had tried to set unequal things as equal in another way, they would have made a different mess. The greatest accusers of homosexuals are not heterosexuals… (No, I wouldn’t expect an atheist to blame God… Keep thinking…) There is (almost) nothing the human mind can conceive that it can not achieve. Abiding in what you dislike is not required.

  7. I suppose I can see why paulbenedict might think an ad hominem attack was being made, because my post was in retrospect somewhat oblique. No personal attack was intended; my reference was to paulbenedict‘s inability to see substance instead of semantics.Allow me to express myself more directly: paulbenedict’s real problem is that he thinks a great disaster has befallen California heterosexuals because marriage license applications here no longer use gender-specific language. No such disaster has taken place and he has manufactured a source of great anxiety and distress over nothing of any measurable significance. Since heterosexuals can still get marriage licenses, they have not lost any legal rights at all. The word for a married man is still “husband” and the word for a married woman is still “wife” so heterosexuals haven’t even lost the nomenclature of “husband and wife.” The use of gender-neutral words like “party” and “spouse” on an official document do not alter the legal substance of a marriage. Nor, might I add, does it alter whatever spiritual significance the newlyweds wish to attach to their marriage.That criticism does not go to paulbenedict personally but rather to his argument. So I submit that I’m not guilty of an ad hominem attack here. Rather, I’m guilty of being too subtle in making my point — a rhetorical offense that I think his last post is similarly guilty of. Perhaps he will clarify as I have attempted to do, and if he does I will cede to him the last word of this exchange.

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