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November 23, 2003: Michael Jackson, Gay Marriage?

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Michael Jackson, Gay Marriage?  No, these are not related - at least I don't think they are.  These are two columns.  Really.  Honest.

Michael Jackson and the insanity defense...
I don't know what to make of the arrest of Michael Jackson on allegations of child molestation, and I live smack in the middle of Hollywood, just off Sunset Boulevard.  You'd think I'd have a firm grasp of the issues and implications here.  I don't
I have been amused by the idea floating around that John Ashcroft worked with the district attorney up the coast in Santa Barbara to time the arrest so the massive press coverage would deflect coverage away from Bush in England and all the protesters there, and from the daily bombings in Iraq, and from trade issues getting awfully hot with the EU and WTO on steel tariffs, and with China concerning our new tariffs on cheap bras and lacy thongs and such things.  An amusing conspiracy theory, but unlikely.
But here we have it.  Michael Jackson is in trouble.
I find the fellow repulsive and never much liked his music.  When I saw his mug shot on a news show all I could think of was that he had been trying too hard, for too many years, to look like Nicole Kidman.  Why?  And how will this all come out?
Mark Lawson in the Guardian (UK) suggests one possible outcome that might make things better for Michael Jackson - a pre-trial plea bargain of insanity by virtue of celebrity might be legally unconventional, but it would be honest.
Now that is a curious idea.
Here's how Lawson begins his argument:
A really sensible middle-aged man would have refrained from ever holding pajama parties at his compound for 12-year-old boys. A moderately sensible man would have abandoned the practice after paying out millions of dollars to the parents of one of his little roommates. Only a very stupid or deluded 45-year-old male would have continued to let schoolboys near his duvet, as Jackson admitted was the case.
And how Lawson sees the lay of the land:
 Jackson will hire lawyers as good as a career-slide bank-balance can buy.  They are certain to deny the charges, but can also almost be guaranteed to argue that it will be impossible to find 12 Americans sufficiently ignorant of news and music to serve as jurors.  Outside observers will doubt whether - as in the Simpson case - it would be possible to find a dozen Angelenos willing, even if the evidence suggested guilt, to make a legend swap Neverland for cell.
The argument for insanity?
So warped by his fame as a child that the only adult companions with whom he feels at ease are Elizabeth Taylor and a chimpanzee, the singer constructed a fantasy world in which a theme park could be a home and 45-year-old men could have 12-year-old friends for sleepovers.
The conclusion?
If the allegations against Jackson prove true, there can be no excuse.  But his case would be very different from the classic parental nightmare of a seedy middle-aged man grooming children through the internet.  Permitted for four decades by money and fame to behave any way he wanted, Jackson has become a man so bizarre that there must be serious doubts about his fitness to stand trial.  A pre-trial plea bargain of insanity by virtue of celebrity might be legally unconventional, but it would be honest.
Read the whole thing here.  Amazing insights?  British humor? We report.  You decide.  Nightmare in Neverland  Mark Lawson, The Guardian (UK) 22 November 2003
As for me, I'd rather not know how this comes out.  Yes, there are issues here.  Can wealth, fame and celebrity free him in spite of what he has become and what he may have done?  Yeah, yeah.  Perhaps so.  They usually do, don't they?
But the whole business is not so much fascinating to some of us as it is... well... distasteful.  Something you turn away from, or at least politely ignore.  Like a guest at a formal party mistakenly making really off-color remark, or your host inadvertently breaking wind - best to be polite and ignore it. 
The law will run its course.  Polite, well-mannered people won't bother much with this business.  And some sort of justice will probably be done.  Decent people will trust that this will matter will be settled in court.

The end of the world...
I'm not sure it's the end of the world, but as soon as the Massachusetts Supreme Court this week declared that gay marriage is protected by the Constitution, folks sure said it seemed so, or that we were most of the way down the road to the end of the world.
The president, George Bush, speaking from London: "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. Today's decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court violates this important principle."  
But wait a minute here!   What's this?  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is supposed to be in the business of identifying "the sacred" - and once they determine just what it is, exactly, then their job is to defend it?  Damn, I thought we had a secular government.  You know, one that is neutral toward religion.  Oh well.  Our current government doesn't think so.
Sandy Rios, president of the Concerned Women for America:
The time is now.  If you don't do something about this, then you cannot in twenty years -  when you see the American public disintegrating and you see our enemies overtaking us because we have no moral will - you remember that you did nothing.
Let me see.  Does this mean unless we forbid gay marriage godless hoards of non-believing savages are going to come from somewhere or other and defeat us in some massive battle, in twenty years, and we'll lose because we've lost our "moral will" - and will just let these dusky, godless savages have their way with us?  Really?  Maybe Rios meant something else by "our enemies overtaking us."  Not war.  They'll make better widgets?  I dont know.  But the message is clear - if we don't stand up for what we believe now, then we never will.  I'm not sure the "if" and the "then" match up here.
A statement from Lou Dobson's Focus on the Family organization: "We must amend the Constitution if we are to stop a tyrannical judiciary from redefining marriage to the point of extinction."
Now that is curious, Lou.  This "tyrannical judiciary" will stop your church, whatever it is, from defining marriage the way your church wants to define it?  I don't think so.  The government probably has no business defining what you should believe about marriage, and God, or even about argyle socks.  You're free to believe what you want.  This court just said they kind of thought the state's constitution didn't allow for restrictions on the "marriage" of two people.  You say they shouldn't be the same sex.  Others say they shouldn't be the same race.  Should Orthodox marry Reformed"  Heck, there some others who say no to that. 
It seems to me the court said the state should stay out of all that.  Let each denomination or sect or temple or mosque proclaim what is right and wrong about two particular people joining together.  This court said they state should stay out of such theological discussions of what is moral. 
Lou, you just want them on your side, not the other side.  No fair.
Dahlia Lithwick, an attorney who writes a column on the law for non-lawyers, had some comments this week on the matter.  See Holy Matrimony  What's really undermining the sanctity of marriage? - Dahlia Lithwick  Slate Magazine - Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003
She says: "If you're going to be a crusader for the sanctity of marriage - if you really believe gay marriage will have some vast corrosive, viral impact on marriage as a whole - here's a brief list of other laws and policies far more dangerous to the institution.  Go after these first, then pass your constitutional amendment."
1. Divorce
Somewhere between 43 percent and 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.  If you believe gay marriage is single-handedly eroding a sacred and ancient institution, you cannot possibly be pro-divorce.  That means any legislation passed in recent decades making divorce more readily available - from no-fault statutes to the decline of adultery prosecutions - should also be subject to bans, popular referendum, and constitutional amendment.
2. Circus Circus
In general, if there is blood in your body and you are over 18, you can get married, so long as you're not in love with your cousin. (Although even that's OK in some states). You can be married to someone you met at the breakfast buffet. Knowing her last name is optional. And you can be married by someone who was McOrdained on the Internet. So before you lobby to ban gay marriage, you might want to work to enact laws limiting the sheer frivolousness of straight marriage. You should be lobbying for an increase in minimum-age requirements, for mandatory counseling pre-marriage, and for statutory waiting periods before marriages (and divorces) can be permitted.
3. Birth Control
The dissenters in the Massachusetts decision are of the opinion that the only purpose of marriage is procreation.  They urge that a sound reason for discriminating against gay couples is that there is a legitimate state purpose in ensuring, promoting, and supporting an "optimal social structure for the bearing and raising of children."  If you're going to take the position that marriage exists solely to encourage begetting, you need to oppose childlessness by choice, birth control, living together, and marriage for the post-menopausal.  In fact, if you're really looking for "optimal" social structures for childrearing, you need to legislate against single parents, poor parents, two-career parents, alcoholic or sick parents, and parents who (like myself) are afraid of the Baby Einstein videos.
4. Misc.
Here's what's really undermining the sacredness of modern marriage: soap operas, wedding planning, longer work days, cuter secretaries, fights over money, reality TV, low-rise pants, mothers-in-law, boredom, Victoria's Secret catalogs, going to bed mad, the billable hour, that stubborn 7 pounds, the Wiggles, Internet chat rooms, and selfishness. In fact we should start amending the Constitution to deal with the Wiggles immediately.
Her conclusions match mine:
The decision to make a marriage "sacred" does not belong to the state - if the state were in charge of mandating sacredness in matrimony, we'd have to pave over both Nevada and Jessica Simpson.  We make marriage sacred by choosing to treat it that way, one couple at a time.  We make marriage a joke by treating it like a two-week jungle safari.  There is no evidence that gay couples are any more inclined toward that latter course than supermodels, rock stars, or that poor spineless bald man on Who Wants to Marry My Dad?  There's good evidence that most of them will take the commitment very seriously, as do the rest of us.  There will be more "sanctity" in marriage when we recognize that people of all orientations can make sacred choices.  Good for Massachusetts for recognizing that truth.
Well, I can agree with that.  I've been married and divorced twice.  And I know gay couples that have been together for many decades, mutually supportive and happy.  And faithful.  And responsible.  Yep, they don't get some of the legal protections that married, heterosexual couples do, or some of the tax advantages.  Inheritance and insurance are always a problem.  They are willing to deal with that and make things work, and to stay together. 
This is moral evil?  Maybe so.  I just dont believe it is.