Perry v. Schwarzenegger: Choosing Ethics Over Morality

Predictably, Judge Walker’s decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger striking down California’s voter approved Proposition 8 has infuriated foes of gay marriage, who have condemned his opinion as judicial activism, a rejection of democratic process, and an agenda-driven farce. Walker himself is being attacked for having a conflict of interest, because he is widely believed to be gay himself. (The belief that a gay judge cannot rule objectively on the issue of gay marriage while a straight judge can is itself an expression of bias.) This is not surprising. What is surprising, at least to me, is that the only substantial argument critics of the opinion can articulate is based on the exact proposition Walker rejected in his opinion: that laws should be able to prohibit conduct based on morality and tradition alone, without quantifiable and verifiable reasons relating to the best interests of society. By insisting that a California law that would withhold a fundamental right—marriage—from a class of Americans must justify itself with reason rather than tradition, Judge Walker ruled that it is ethics, not morality, that should govern American law and justice. Continue reading

The Slippery Slopes of Religious Freedom and Female Genital Mutilation

The American Academy of Pediatrics slipped on the slipperiest of ethical slopes when earlier this year it attempted to balance multi-culturalism with pragmatism and traditional medical ethics. The topic was the genital mutilation of young girls in a form of (so-called) “female circumcision” practiced by some Muslims, in which the clitoris is cut and mutilated in order to make future sexual activity less enjoyable, thus ensuring a female’s “virtue.” The AAP argued that its members could ethically agree to inflict a lesser “nick”—a ritual drawing of blood— to fulfill a patient’s parents’ request for the ritual cutting, because to do otherwise might lead to greater harm to a girl’s genitalia if the parents sought a full-fledged mutilation abroad or elsewhere.

This policy effectively repealed the ancient ethical standard of “First, do no harm” by employing the versatile rationalization, “If I don’t do it, someone else will.” Predictably, women’s rights advocates were horrified. Equality Now proclaimed in May… Continue reading

License Plate Ethics: Is a Hateful Message Unethical If Nobody Understands It?

Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles, following analysis worthy of the cracking of the ENIGMA code during World War II, concluded that a vanity plate reading “14CV88” was “racially offensive” and had to be pulled from the road. Prof. Eugene Volokh raises the issue of whether this violates the First Amendment (he suspects it does), but the more interesting question, at least for me, is whether there is anything unethical about displaying a message like this.

Oh! I forgot to explain to you why you too should be horribly offended at the “message!”  Continue reading

The Card-counting Conundrum

There is a terrific thread going on over at the Volohk Conspiracy, consistently one of the most erudite and thought-provoking blogs there is. Noting that a Indiana court has declared that the state’s casinos are prohibited from throwing blackjack players who count cards out of their establishment, Prof. Volokh, who has a libertarian streak, opined that casinos should be able to toss out the card counters, and that the case was wrong. Well, all hell broke out after that, and as usual for that blog (and, some golden day, for this one), there has been a flood of comments from every kind of authority from legal experts to card counters themselves.  They show what an odd and ethically topsy-turvy matter the controversy over card-counting is. Continue reading