Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why Christians Should Support Legal Gay Marriage

This post will ignore the question of the moral status of homosexuality, whether there is a "right to marriage", etc. Maybe I'll look at those things in another post, but they aren't necessary for the specific thought I'm writing about here...

Just looking at marriage as a religious institution, why is the government involved at all? Baptism is another religious institution that has some controversies around its definition/restrictions. A Catholic believes that sprinkling water on an infant is baptism. A Baptist believes it's only valid if performed by immersion on a believing adult. Should the government get involved in declaring which baptism is valid? I know of no American that believes it should do so. Similarly, even within Christianity, there are differing opinions on marriage. The Presbyterian church down the street may have a heterosexual marriage ceremony, while the Episcopal church right next to it performs a homosexual marriage ceremony on the same day. Why should the government be involved in that religious debate? Why should this be different from baptism?

Well, the government is involved in the recognition of marriage simply because it has practical legal implications. It helps with how taxes are filed/collected. If you have an accident and go into a coma, it has implications on who is allowed to visit you since you are unable to approve people at the time. If you adopt a child, it has implications on what happens to that child if you die. It has practical implications on sharing a health insurance plan. The DOMA case the Supreme Court will hear tomorrow started with the issue of the estate tax and marriage: two women were married in Canada, moved to America, then when one of them died the other was taxed on "the inheritance" since we didn't recognize their marriage and therefore their joint finances. Here's a list of some more legal implications of marriage.

Notice that all the above legal implications of marriage are useful (and important for the well-being of those involved), and that they are just as useful when applied to a life-long committed gay couple as to a life-long committed straight couple. And this usefulness is the reason the government recognizes marriage but not other religious institutions like baptism. If you think marriage is recognized by the government so that it can enforce the will of God, why not also have it declare which type of baptism is valid? The government should recognize a gay marriage performed at an Episcopal church for the same reason it recognizes a straight marriage from a Presbyterian church. Not because it's declaring which one is right in a religious sense, but because it has practical legal implications.

Consider some other ways the traditional Christian understanding of marriage differs from how the government treats it today:
  • Not requiring a religious ceremony. A couple can get married (in the eyes of the law) by just signing a document at a courthouse. Many Christians believe, particularly if that couple is also Christian, that they must have their religious wedding ceremony before they are really married. But I don't know of anyone that believes the government should add that restriction... because the religious ceremony is not necessary for the practical legal uses of marriage recognition.
  • Divorce. The Bible clearly states that divorce (with a few exceptions) is wrong. For that reason, there actually used to be (maybe still are in some places?) laws to try to enforce that. Not allowing "no-fault divorces" was used to have the government prohibit a couple from divorcing unless they could prove there were circumstances that would make it morally acceptable. Nowadays, I don't know any Christians that believe we should use the government to try to force people to not get divorced.
  • Re-marriage. Some churches have restrictions on what remarriages they will accept. In the Catholic Church, their previous marriage must first get an official "declaration of invalidity". In the Orthodox Church, a person can only have up to 3 marriages - any more after that will not be recognized. But I don't know of any Catholics or Orthodox Christians who believe the government should also use those restrictions.
  • Inter-faith marriage. The Bible says Christians should not marry non-Christians. Therefore, many churches will not perform or recognize inter-faith marriages. But I don't know of anyone who thinks that restriction should be part of how the government chooses which marriages to recognize.

So no matter your personal/religious views on homosexuality, I still know of no reason to oppose legal recognition of gay marriage. The question of which marriages the government should recognize and which marriages your personal church should recognize are two different issues that exist for different reasons.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Top Income Tax Rates Over Time

Interesting graph (source); it's shocking to remember how high the top rates used to be.

That is all.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Best (Free) Way To Be Politically Informed

Most agree that, as citizens with the right and privilege to vote, we have an obligation to do so. But if we're going to vote, we also have an obligation to make an educated decision - who gets elected and what laws are passed really does have a big impact on the world. For most important decisions, it's clear that we should have an open mind and try to learn something from a variety of people who know a lot about the relevant subject. But unfortunately, when that important decision is "politics", way too many people just operate purely from early instincts to pledge emotional loyalty to one "tribe". Voting for a candidate or law should be less like following your favorite football team and more like buying a house or car.

But it's no secret that most news sucks. You have the cable news and talk radio pundits who are really just performing pep rallies to make their tribe feel superior to rival tribes - details, accuracy, and logic are just obstacles to that goal. And then you have the non-opinion news that is often just focusing on sensationalism (gaffes! celebrities! anything-gate/anything-geddon!), or they just provide equal helpings of BS from political operatives on both sides of the aisle. That doesn't help; the ramblings of someone whose job is to convince people to vote for their political party is not going to help gain a real understanding of an issue. However, I actually think opinion news can be great. It can give you facts plus a look at how to interpret them, but we need opinion that is honest, rational, and well informed. And we need variety so we don't live in an information bubble.

IMO, the best source of fact/evidence/expertise-based viewpoints on politics is the blogs of economists. Many leading economists have blogs, and since most political issues deal with economics, this is a really great educational resource. As Matt Yglesias said: "Of all the academic disciplines (economics is) the one that's online at the greatest volume and in the most accessible way". Blogs are free, and you can scan through entries very quickly to find the pieces that interest you - this is a much quicker way to get the kinds of information you're looking for than sitting through a whole TV show.

So seriously, if you want a free and much better way to be politically informed, get an RSS reader and subscribe to economics blogs run by people who know what they are talking about. RSS readers (or news aggregators) let you subscribe to different blogs and collect them all in one place. I use Google Reader, which I usually read on my phone.

The following are the most popular (AFAIK) economics blogs and are a good starting place with a range of views:
  • Marginal Revolution: This is run by 2 moderate-libertarian economics professors from GMU. It covers a wide range of things that I think anyone can find interesting, not just the political or technical side of economics. They have also started free online economics courses at Marginal Revolution University.
  • The Conscience Of A Liberal: This is Paul Krugman's blog and is really the main economics blog for understanding the liberal and Keynesian perspective. He also writes for the NYTimes, is an economics professor at Princeton, and won an economics Nobel prize. I think, of the economists who blog, he does the best job of taking complex ideas and writing them in a simple way for ignorant people like me to understand. But he can also be pretty harsh toward people who disagree with him and paint them with broad strokes.
  • Greg Mankiw's Blog: Greg Mankiw is a Republican who is the chairman of economics at Harvard and was an economic adviser for Bush and Romney. In a previous survey of other economists' favorite blogs, his ranked #1.

Those blogs will also sometimes debate and reference each other, as well as other books and blogs to consider. You can check out the other blogs they reference over time to add to your RSS subscription list. Every now and then I try adding a new blog and/or removing an old one. Some other blogs I would recommend on the more liberal side are: Wonkblog, Matt Yglesias, and Brad DeLong. And on the more conservative side: Scott Sumner, Steve Landsburg, and John Taylor.

A lot of posts you'll read will be confusing, especially at first. But you can skip those, and over time you'll understand more of them. And it won't be long until you look back at cable news and wonder why you ever spent time on that crap.