Monday, September 15, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
Friday, September 5, 2014
... Judge Posner’s Gay Marriage Opinion Is a Witty, Deeply Moral Masterpiece
Last May, after the proudly independent U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III struck down Pennsylvania’s gay marriage ban, I wrote that the many judges slaying such bans seemed to be in subtle competition to write the one marriage equality opinion that history will remember. Since then, that competition has only grown fiercer, as an expanding roster of judges reaches new heights of eloquence and reason in their pro-equality opinions.
But Thursday’s ruling by 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner, which struck down Indiana’s and Wisconsin’s gay marriage bans, is a different beast altogether. In his opinion, Posner does not sound like a man aiming to have his words etched in the history books or praised by future generations. Rather, he sounds like a man who has listened to all the arguments against gay marriage, analyzed them cautiously and thoroughly, and found himself absolutely disgusted by their sophistry and rank bigotry. The opinion is a masterpiece of wit and logic that doesn’t call attention to—indeed, doesn’t seem to care about—its own brilliance. Posner is not writing for Justice Anthony Kennedy, or for judges of the future, or even for gay people of the present. He is writing, very clearly, for himself.
Ironically, by writing an opinion so fixated on the facts at hand, Posner may have actually written the one gay marriage ruling that the Supreme Court takes to heart. Other, more legacy-minded judges have attempted to sketch out a revised framework for constitutional marriage equality, granting gay people heightened judicial scrutiny and declaring marriage a fundamental right. But Posner isn’t interested in making new law: The statutes before him are so irrational, so senseless and unreasonable, that they’re noxious to the U.S. Constitution under almost any interpretation of the equal protection clause.
Posner’s opinion largely follows the points he made during his forceful, trenchant, deeply empathetic questioning at oral arguments. To his mind, there’s no question that gays constitute a “suspect class”—that is, a group of people with an immutable characteristic who have historically faced discrimination. Refreshingly, Posner performs a review of “the leading scientific theories” about homosexuality to illustrate that being gay isn’t a choice. (Compare this with Justice Antonin Scalia’s gay rights dissents, in which he suggests that there’s no such thing as a gay orientation at all and that “gay” people are just disturbed individuals performing debauched sex acts.)
This review is actually unnecessary, since both Indiana and Wisconsin conceded that gay people are born that way. But it serves to reinforce Posner’s analytical framework—basically, that a state can’t disadvantage a suspect class of people without a rational basis. Note that low bar: Not a compelling interest, or even a substantial one. If the states could only prove a rational interest in excluding gay people from marriage, their laws would pass constitutional muster.
And what are the states’ allegedly rational bases? At oral argument, the states repeatedly pressed the “responsible procreation” argument. Here’s Posner’s (quite accurate) summary of that defense:
[The] government thinks that straight couples tend to be sexually irresponsible, producing unwanted children by the carload, and so must be pressured (in the form of government encouragement of marriage through a combination of sticks and carrots) to marry, but that gay couples, unable as they are to produce children wanted or unwanted, are model parents—model citizens really—so have no need for marriage.
And here’s his own take on the argument:
Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.
This is all very amusing. But Posner has a serious moral and legal point to make. The states’ arguments against gay marriage aren’t just irrational: They’re insulting, degrading, and downright cruel to the adopted children of gay couples. Posner describes this case as being, “at a deeper level,” about “the welfare of American children.” Two hundred thousand children are being raised by gay couples in America, including several thousand in Indiana and Wisconsin. Both states admit that children benefit psychologically and economically from having married parents. These facts would seem to suggest a compelling interest in support of gay marriage, since banning it actively, demonstrably harms children.
At oral argument, Posner pressed this point—one Justice Kennedy has made as well—and the state was unable to muster an intelligible retort.
He also asked whether the states cared at all that their laws harmed children. Their answer: Not really.
Posner acknowledges that a law that harms a suspect class (and their children) might still be rational if it has “offsetting benefits.” But who could gay marriage bans possibly benefit? Once again, Posner asked this question at oral argument and received an evasive response.
It’s clear from his opinion that Posner has rifled through the states’ extensive briefs to find an answer to this question—and come up short. There is simply no harm, Posner writes, “tangible, secular, material—physical or financial, or … focused and direct” done to anybody by permitting gay marriage. Conservative Christians may be offended, but “there is no way they are going to be hurt by it in a way that the law would take cognizance of.” A lot of people, after all, objected to interracial marriage in 1967—but that didn’t stop the court from invalidating anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia.
In his opinion, Posner makes these points with trenchant humor. But beneath his droll wit lies a moral seriousness that gay marriage opponents, even those on the high court, will be unable to shrug off. The modern arguments against gay marriage may be breathtakingly silly—but by mocking them, we ignore the profound harms that marriage bans inflict on gay people and their families. By placing these families at the center of his analysis, Posner restores the equal protection clause to its rightful place as the safeguard for all whom the state seeks to harm unjustly. His message for those who hope to demean gay people and their children is clear: Not on my watch.
Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
...it will be Friday night
and you will be shooting on location in downtown L.A.
and you will be feeling very sorry for yourself because your Friday is now closing in on becoming Fraturday and you are woozy from your 13th hour of inhaling a poisonous mixture of diesel fumes and bum urine and you will receive a photo and text that says, 'We made one for you, come over!'. Sadly you will answer, 'Sorry, can't. Shooting till after midnight.'
Then you will receive another text that says, 'Don't worry, we're hanging out by the pool and we'll be awake when you get home. Come over! And then they will text you another picture...
...which you share with your fellow crew members who all respond with, 'mmmmm's' and 'yum's!'
And you will drive home at o'dark thirty exhausted, park your car, walk next door and feel human again as you draw closer to the bell-like sound of relaxed, tipsy laughter.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Friday, July 11, 2014
No Sex Needed: All-Female Lizard Species Cross Their Chromosomes to Make Babies
These southwestern lizards' asexual reproduction is no longer a secret
Feb 21, 2010 |By Katherine Harmon
But how do they—and the other 70 species of vertebrates that propagate this way—do it without the genetic monotony and disease vulnerability that often results from asexual reproduction? "It has remained unclear" and "has been the topic of much speculation," report a team of researchers who aimed to answer just that question. Their results were published online February 21 in the journal Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)
These lizards and other "parthenogenetic species are genetically isolated," explains Peter Baumann, an associate investigator at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., and co-author of the study. Species as diverse as Komodo dragons and hammerhead sharks do it asexually if necessary, but some species, like these little lizards, don't have a choice. "They can't exchange genetic material, and this loss of genetic exchange is a major disadvantage to them in a changing environment," he says. Unless an animal can recombine the DNA they already have, they will produce an offspring with an identical set of chromosomes, in which any genetic weakness, such as disease susceptibility or physical mutation, would have no chance to be overridden by outside genetic material from a mate.
The new research by Baumann and his team reveal that these lizards maintain genetic richness by starting the reproductive process with twice the number of chromosomes as their sexually reproducing cousins. These celibate species resulted from the hybridization of different sexual species, a process that instills the parthenogenetic lizards with a great amount of genetic diversity at the outset. And the researchers found that these species could maintain the diversity by never pairing their homologous chromosomes (as sexual species do by taking one set of chromosomes from each parent) but rather by combining their sister chromosomes instead. "Recombination between pairs of sister chromosomes maintains heterozygosity" throughout the chromosome, noted the authors of the study, which was led by Aracely Lutes, a postdoctoral researcher in Baumann's lab.
This discovery, which had until now been unconfirmed in the reptile world, means that "these lizards have a way of distinguishing sister from homologous chromosomes," Baumann says. How do they do it? That's something the group is now investigating.
Another big unknown is precisely how the lizards end up with double the amount of chromosomes in the first place. Baumann suspects that it could happen over two rounds of replication or if two sex cells combine forces before the division process starts.
Although asexual reproduction might seem like a bore—and one that can have questionable genetic outcomes unless done right—it has its benefits, too, Baumann notes. "You're greatly increasing the chances of populating a new habitat if it only takes one individual," he says, citing the example of the brahminy blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), another parthenogenetic species. "If she has a way of reproducing without the help of a male, that's an extreme advantage." Indeed it is—the brahminy has already colonized six continents.