Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Walkin’ from New Orleans?

NLT readers who are members of the American Political Science Association may be aware that our professional association is entertaining a couple of proposals regarding the siting of meetings. In a nutshell, there are some--many?--in the profession who say they’re worried that "states with Constitutional restrictions on rights afforded recognized same-sex unions and partnerships may create an unwelcoming environment for our members in cities where we might meet."

If you’re interested in the proposals, you can go to this page, which provides a plethora of information. There’s even a comment box, in which I wrote the following:

Both proposals indicate a certain level of hostility to states in which there is exclusive public support for traditional marriage. I don’t think that the APSA should be in the business of taking sides in a political dispute, using its prestige and business clout to punish states and localities whose citizens don’t share the views held-rather intensely-by some portion of the APSA membership. If the Association goes down this path, I can foresee other efforts to take political stands. Will we refuse to convene in states whose citizens passed referenda prohibiting affirmative action? Will there be a move to stay out of states that use lotteries to prey on the gullibility of lower income citizens? Or should the Supreme Court at some point overrule ROE, will some of my colleagues press the APSA to refuse to convene in states that choose to restrict access to abortion?


At some point we cease being a professional association that welcomes and includes the variety of points of view that members hold and become a mere interest group. Both proposals represent an ill-advised step in that direction.

I fully expect the APSA to adopt one of the two proposals, which would make it difficult (albeit perhaps not impossible) to hold a meeting in the vast majority of states. But, unlike at least some of my colleagues, I won’t thereby be deterred from entering precincts that would constitute an "unwelcoming environment" for someone who holds my views.

For the moment, I’ll just enjoy considering what would happen if regional and state associations followed the lead of the national association. Imagine a Southern or Georgia Political Science Association Annual Meeting held in New York or Boston!

Discussions - 24 Comments

Thank you, Joe. Well put. One does not have to be a member of the APSA to do his work well. This measure passes, they get no dues from me--simple as that.

Just plain asinine. Does anyone *really* believe that this has to do with the "safety" of same-sex couples? Heck, if it's safety we're worried about, I'd think New Orleans might be off the table entirely, given its murder rate. It's just a political statement, pure and simple, and it confirms something I thought we'd be seeing soon enough: namely , that for some precincts in academia, a traditional view of sexual norms has now become equivalent to being a segregationist. This sort of effort is very much in the model of boycotts of states that have the confederate flag flying, and it seems clear to me that those in favor of the proposal think much the same of a defense of traditional marriage. I'd be interested in hearing why you think the association will approve one of the measures (though given the tenor of the materials they offer, it's not such a stretch, I suppose)?

Joseph: you're underestimating the effects of such laws and policies on the folks they're intended to target. If you are in the late stages of pregnancy, for example, and you go to Virginia, you can easily be subject to their laws on such things. I know of couples who won't go there, for that reason, until the baby is born.

Dr. K.,
What a depressing proposal. And you're probably right, I bet it passes.

I received an email last night reminding me that this proposal would, in effect, push the APSA in the direction of holding all its meeting in relatively high-cost cities, making it harder for faculty from smaller, less well-endowed institutions to attend.

Perhaps those who favor this proposal aren't concerned with other barriers to meeting attendance.

Well put, Joe, and thanks.

It's always in a big city. When is the last time the APSA meeting was held in Macon?

Seriously: If according to the laws of Massachusetts, your marriage was not valid because your last name started with K, you'd think twice about going to Massachusetts (regardless of whether you agreed with the policy in the abstract). It means that state authorities may not have to respect your wife's wishes if you die or if you're in the hospital there, for example. None of your other examples have the same force, since none of them implicate the same set of state powers as they can affect an individual in their most important relationships. It's pretty easy to see with a little imagination, I think. It's not a mere policy preference that affects all those who hold the preference equally.

I do have to think twice about my professional life, since, as a homeschooler, I have to be aware of state laws that are more or less friendly to the manner in which I am responsible for my family. Not only do I not wish to make it the business of my professional association to promote my sense of obligation, but I have at least a practical respect for federalism in these matters. I'm also on the record as preferring political solutions that respect the preferences of those most directly affected.

And yes, I'm aware that the APSA meets in big cities, but there are higher and lower cost big cities, and none of the cities that would pass muster under these proposals is convenient to those of us who live and work in the South.

If you care about the people directly affected, you should care about the people who are trying to decide whether it is legally risky for them to travel. They're more directly affected than you or me.

I'm trying to think of a way that being a homeschooler affects your decision whether or not to go to a convention in a particular city, in a practical way. I'm coming up blank.

Again, the purported reason - the "safety" - of gay couples and their families is a fig leaf for what is the effort's real purpose, which is to express a moral and political view on states' willingness (or not) to recognize and affirm same-sex relationships. Can anyone (Brett?) point me to other associations who have taken similar steps? Business groups that no longer have meetings in New Orleans or Atlanta? Will this policy be made obligatory for APSA's associated organizations (SPSA, WPSA, etc.)? Shouldn't APSA also require potential employers in those areas to include in their job announcements that the area is "unsafe" in some sense? (After all, if it's problematic to visit, how much worse will it be to live there).

Brett,

I make professional choices all the time based upon family considerations, which are obviously conditioned by law. Conference attendance isn't, thankfully, one of them.

But to the degree that the willingness of a state to accommodate my "lifestyle" is a matter with professional consequences, shouldn't I urge my professional association to support my professional development by using its prestige and economic clout to encourage states to be as open as possible to it? Perhaps I should call for the APSA not to meet in California until the state has a law on the books that makes it homeschool-friendly.

Yes, I'm making a slippery-slope argument, but it is a slippery slope: a national professional association devoted to the professional development of its membership might well promote nationally uniform accommodations that maximize the opportunities available to its membership. At that point, the APSA becomes an interest group promoting a particular side in a great moral dispute. And it uses the low means of finances as much as it uses the high means of argument and education.

Civil marriage, civil unions, I don't care what we call this, but I would like to stop traveling (for pleasure or for business) with a briefcase full of legal documents authorizing my partner and I the right make decisions on each other's behalf should something happen to one of us while we're on the road. Personally, all I want (I'd also argue, need) is the civil aspects of what married folks get.

You're missing something here, Joe. Imagine the horrors associated with what would be required when you saw APSA members walking around a convention hall in New Orleans with Mardi Gras beads around their necks . . . In most cases, hetero or homosexual, it's just one big "eeww!" So perhaps the APSA is performing a public and an aesthetic service?

Not quite sure how long this has been going on, but I remember that the late, great Bob Horwitz of Kenyon College had a dust-up with his fellow APSA members on some 'let's-make-a-statement' issue, and that must have been 25 years ago. A few years back, we ended up in Philadelphia instead of San Francisco, because there was a strike in SF and therefore it simply wasn't `safe' or `convenient'--or something--in SF. Last time we went to New Orleans we nearly got blown away in a hurricane, which veered off toward Florida almost literally at the last minute. Proving once again that God works in mysterious ways. That took New Orleans off the list for a long time. But a few years from now, some twenty years later, we're going back to New Orleans, still during hurricane season, because we must support the beleaguered survivors of--a hurricane. So I say, get used to it. It won't change, except maybe for the worse. If moderate-to-conservative scholars boycott, that would just be an added bonus to the organizers.

And I'd love not to have to pay my annual dues to the HSLDA so that I have ready access to a lawyer in case some social welfare bureaucrat looks askance our educational arrangements. But I'm not trying to draft the APSA to fight my battles for me. And I think the battles ought to be fought politically, in the court of public opinion, by means of arguing for and passing laws.

Joe, for the record, I'm not trying to draft any organization to do my bidding. In fact, I have no idea where my own professional organizations stand on these kinds of issues and my membership won't change regardless of their position.

I will add, however, that it seems a bit of a stretch to compare medical decisions in the case of an emergency with the potential of social workers looking askance at your educational arrangements.

As to the political arena in which you wish to have this debate, of course there's a strong economic component to the passage of laws, and state legislators respond to large cities which are impacted by the tourist trade. If enough organizations boycott certain cities, then, well, perhaps the politics will change. Perhaps the home schoolers could boycott California and other states that don't provide you suitable protection from social workers.

My point is that professional associations shouldn't take sides in "cultural" conflicts. Let the advocacy groups do that, and let those who wish to support them, do so, even by organizing or joining boycotts. But the boycott shouldn't be conducted by or imposed upon the professional association.

To go back to my homeschooling example: my wife and I have paid a professional price in order to have such an active role in the rearing of our children. We have forgone income and devoted time to family life that we could have devoted to our careers. Our choice--or rather, our response to a call--wasn't without consequences, but we haven't demanded that public policy be rearranged or that our professions' incentive structures be changed so that there was no professional or financial cost involved. Life is full of trade-offs.

Joseph: At times you seem to be saying (1) that there should be no recognition of civil unions or same-sex marriages, and at times (2) that professional organizations should just be neutral on the issue, even if the existing institutional arrangement burdens some of their members.

You've lost the debate on the first issue in many states. I can't see how it's right to complain that folks who lost in other states want to use group power to influence public policy. That's just a normal part of life in a federal, pluralistic society. It works to the benefits of home-schoolers as well, who will probably win in California because of complaints about an unenforced law still on the books.

As to the second: you seem to be saying that (a) professional groups shouldn't get involved in "cultural" issues, and (b) people who make choices that entail burdens on their professional lives should not use professional organizations to alleviate those burdens. The second, on its own, is odd; that's what professional organizations are there for, particularly if we're talking about activities of the organization itself.

Maybe you're saying that where a cultural dispute leads to laws that burden members of professional organizations, the organizations should remain neutral. I'm not sure why that would be so. Is it because you think professors lose some of their prestige when they take sides in such a dispute? Probably that depends on how they go about doing it, no? Remaining neutral is not inherently morally superior.

Brett and 15 Years Together, The rather simple point is that not every member of the APSA is for same-sex marriage. Moreover, the APSA is the American Political Science Association not a same-sex union advocacy group. Why shouldn't the APSA stop having meetings in Boston to accomodate those who object to the same-sex marriage laws there?

John: That's not quite it; the relevant question is the effect of differences in legal status, and whether an organization should consider those differences in internal deliberations about siting conferences. Doesn't seem that hard to me to see why it's a good idea to have that conversation. I don't buy Joseph's argument that it sullies the hands of APSA, particularly since it's not just a question of emoting on an issue but of actually setting policy and reacting to the legal effect of differences in status among dues-paying members.

States that have the bans could foresee that such discussions would be the natural consequences of their actions. In some cases, in fact, it's what the proponents of the bans wanted. In a national (and international) economy, them's the breaks, folks!

I think many of the APSA proposal's defenders miss some important points. First, I am married to a woman, but she chose not to take my last name when we were wed. As a result, we must take our marriage license with us when we travel in case of emergency situations. We are thus "burdened" in a similar fashion as gay couples. And while this is certainly an annoyance, it is, at the end of the day, just that...an annoyance. This is hardly a civil rights issue. Second, why has APSA chosen THIS particular issue to take a stand on? In an America that the Left reminds us daily is still filled with racism, sexism, poverty, hunger, etc., why has APSA settled on this rather insignificant (by comparison) issue to champion? APSA is making a value judgment that gay rights are more important than any of these other things. The only way to free itself of this charge is for the association to take affirmative stands on other issues of social justice, which takes it far down the "slippery slope" that Joe cogently warns about. I think there is a real possibility of APSA becoming the American Leftist Political Science Association. Unless of course everyone here will join me in calling for the boycott of states that have passed laws attempting to limit gun rights!

I understand that argument that having conferences in states that do not recognize gay unions may make homosexual members uncomfortable, though I think the degree is wildly overstated. Nevertheless, doesn't APSA taking a stand in favor of gay marriage make conservative members feel unwelcome? I know the response to this is that we are comparing the hurt feelings of conservatives with an issue of legal status for gays. But to see the debate this way is to already concede something in the argument that has not been conceded by advocates of traditional marriage. And I agree with Joe that APSA should not be taking sides in such a debate when the very things being contested have not been resolved. So let's sponsor panels to debate whether marriage is a civil right, let's have round tables about the extent to which gays are burdened by various state laws, but let's not allow our professional association to be co-opted by an ideological activism.

The point is that APSA is not designed to be an advocacy group of any kind. It's a professional development association. Its meetings center around paper presentations. That's it. A resolution to not meet in certain states because they don't accept gay marriage, or don't protect baby seals, or don't have a good NFL team is simply innapropriate. It's bad precedent. And I'm sorry, but it's hard to take seriously the view that homosexuals don't visit particular states because of their laws on this point. That certainly does not appear to be the case in my own Virginia.

If a group of Political Science professors really wants to protest legislation on homosexuality, they should form a new group of some sort - not try to manipulate what is essentially a "guild" to make a point in the culture war.

Lucas, you have my profound respect for your unequivocal stand, even though Will Morrisey is right.

But if the proposals do pass, something collective and organized and drastic should be done.

Caleb and Doug: I think I understand the position that states like Massachusetts are mistaken in recognizing same-sex couples. I don't understand the position that interstate travel poses no serious risks. Doug wrote after Caleb, but unless Caleb thinks Doug and his wife are off their rocker, the problem is easily generalized to couples traveling to states with an affirmative prohibition on recognizing the relationship. (Cleary more than an annoyance.) You may think that the ban is right, but especially if you do, you should want the policy to have exactly the effects that people affected by the policy are complaining of. Otherwise, what's the point of the ban, aside from winning votes for your party?

I think that's partly the root of the sense of "feeling unwelcome" that Doug mentions. Some want to pass laws (or support passing laws) that have the effect of making life more difficult for same sex couples, but then want to refrain from discussing the resulting burdens in situations where people who are actually burdened have some agenda-setting power.

If you are uncomfortable defending policies in dialogue with the people harmed by those same policies, then maybe you need different policies.

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