Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol XXV: New York Times doubters, gay-marrying your brother, and somebody’s watching you

Matt Labash Columnist
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The New York Times appears to have decided that the war in Afghanistan isn’t going well. Should I be worried? — Kim Dorr

Wherever would they get that idea? We’ve only been there for a decade, which, if you choose to see the glass half full, is still a good 90 years short of The Hundred Years’ War. Patience, New York Times. The Russians didn’t win Afghanistan in a day. Or at all. But maybe that’s because they were negative, and communists, sort of like The New York Times.

With the most recent court ruling {on gay marriage}, it would appear marriage to family members is now acceptable. If this ruling is allowed to prevail, could it result in brothers marrying brothers and sisters marrying sisters? It would also seem possible for all types of family relationships to be deemed acceptable as a new form of marriage. What am I missing in this ruling? — Tom Thoens

Though I grew up watching The People’s Court, I’m no legal scholar (for a brief time, however, I did want to be Rusty the Bailiff. I admired his small-claims cool, knowing full well that while he stood there impassively, if any irate defendant took a run at Judge Wapner or Doug Llewelyn’s hair, Rusty would drop them like a bowl of hot soup.) But you are, of course, referring to a federal judge overturning Proposition 8, which stipulated that only marriage between a man and a woman was valid or recognized in the state of California.

Cards on the table: As someone who generally hates change and fights to preserve the sanctity of the status quo, I’ve tried to get wound up against gay marriage, but just can’t manage. I’m all for fiercely protecting and celebrating the traditional family, though I don’t really see how gay marriage threatens mine. Unless I leave my wife and run off to Vegas to get hitched to some dude. I mean, I wouldn’t march in the streets with Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Barrymore demanding it or anything (that would be gay). But as someone who had a strict evangelical upbringing, I can see the religious case for gay marriage. For one, it cuts down on all the gay premarital sex. Also, I kind of take the cowboy-philosopher Kinky Friedman’s point: “I support gay marriage. I believe they have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.”

But I’m missing how this ruling opens the door for brothers marrying brothers and sisters marrying sisters. I mean if you feel compelled to explore alternative lifestyles — if you sit down for a heart-to-heart with your brother, and the two of you feel you’re ready to take your relationship to the next level — far be it from me to stand in your way. Personally, I find it morally suspect. Though the pragmatist in me does see the benefits of marrying your bro:

1.  You come from similar backgrounds.

2.  You have a much higher likelihood of getting along with your in-laws.

3.  Over a lifetime, you would, as a couple, save a fortune on Mother’s Day cards, and you’d never have to argue about whose folks to visit at Christmas.

Still, I doubt the law will ever permit it. While being gay is socially acceptable, incest is still not something to be celebrated publicly. To wit: there are plenty of gay bars, but to my knowledge, not a single incest bar. Though if say, Penelope Cruz and her hot sister, Monica, ever open one, I’ll stop by for happy hour.
With the exception of right-leaning Libertarians, the right — Fox News anchors, Sarah Palin, for instance — doesn’t seem concerned by the surveillance state. Why? — Bonnie Calcagno

Because they’re watching you right now. In fact, Sarah Palin just filed a surveillance report. I have it right here. Are you really going to wear that top with those shoes?

I’m actually with you, though. Too often, people like you are dismissed as cranks for complaining about liberties that seem like polite abstractions. At least until those liberties are so gradually eroded, that we don’t realize they’re gone. Because we are such a (relatively) free society, not too many people get exorcised about it, and are even willing to put up with it for two reasons:

1. Most people are sheep, and gladly do what they’re told.

2. There’s always the specter of Jihad Johnny lurking around the corner.

Such fears being used as justification for insidious and invasive technologies are useful reminders that if the terrorists haven’t in fact won, they’ve had a pretty good day at the office. (If I were a terrorist, I’d ask for a raise.) But I am always leery of giving increased police powers to cameras and faceless snoops, as much as I am of paranoid ranters who suggest we’re heading toward revolution. No we’re not. Not as long as there’s a general good-faith compact between the citizens and the government that represents them. (Also, have you looked at us as a people lately? Even if our government needed overthrowing, we’re way too fat and lazy to do it.) But the problem with a surveillance state is it undermines the good faith between a people and a government founded upon the principles of protecting rights, rather than trampling them under the ever-expansive guise of security. The very term “surveillance state” sounds like militia-bunker hyperbole when used in a free society. But mention those same words to the billions of people who’ve seen what it looks like when it all goes wrong under totalitarian regimes, and see if they snicker. Which is not to suggest we’re headed toward totalitarianism because you’re getting body-scanned at the airport. But all governments tend to overreach, so why encourage them?

We are, after all, America, a country that opened for business because of a revolution. Which means theoretically, we at least like to keep our revolution option open, even if it’ll never happen. And in a surveillance state, what am I supposed to do if one breaks out? Molotov the nearest red-light camera? That kind of takes all the fun out of it.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” was published this spring by Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.