Author: Zvi Triger


What’s Law Got to Do with It? Reflections on Martha Ertman’s “Love’s Promises”

Western political thought has viewed love as something that can exist only in the absence of law. Law is for the public sphere. In the private sphere the language of law should not be spoken, because it can only contaminate relationships, injecting terminology of rights and obligations where the language should be that of love, trust and caring. Accordingly, a nineteenth century common law doctrine deemed contracts between spouses as unenforceable. Not surprisingly, it benefitted those who were in control of the family’s assets, the men. Husbands who promised to pay their wives for their work at home could easily avoid enforcement of their promises arguing that a husband and a wife cannot, by definition, enter a legally binding promise with each other.

This doctrine lived well into the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1970s Feminist critique of this doctrine has called attention to its fallacies. Susan Moller Okin argued in “Justice, Gender, and the Family” that the notion of unenforceability of agreements between spouses magnifies the vulnerability of women within the family and servers the interests of men. Contracts and legal commitments not only will not poison marital relationships but will promote and ensure more justice and equality for women.

Similarly, Patricia Williams has powerfully demonstrated how important it is for one’s sense of personhood to be considered legally competent to become a party to an enforceable contract; her now classical 1987 article “Alchemical Notes” discussed the importance of contracts to African Americans, who had been, as slaves, subjects of contracts, but never parties to them. Now “Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families” joins this important lineage of scholarly paradigm-shifting works on the importance of contracts for minorities and disenfranchised individuals and communities, showing the inherent connection between family law, contact law, and the recognition in the full humanity of LGBTs and other individuals who want to create the families of their choice. Read More


Why “Accommodating Traditions” is Sometimes Wrong: The Case of Gender Segregation in Ultra-Orthodox Communities

Gender segregation on buses is becoming increasingly conspicuous in the Hassidic community in New York. Should society tolerate seating arrangements which mandate women to sit at the back of the bus? Is it analogous to racial segregation? Or are there valid considerations that make gender segregation legitimate? The ultra-Orthodox cite multiculturalism, and demand tolerance of their traditions. But what is tradition, and how old should a practice be in order to be recognized as a tradition?

All these questions have been asked in Israeli, where gender segregation in public transportation to and from ultra-Orthodox communities began in the late 1990’s. In a recently published article I argue that gender segregation is a self-defeating practice. Its motivation is to erase female sexuality from the public sphere, but by being so preoccupied with women’s “modesty” it in fact puts their sexuality at the center of attention. The paradoxical obsession with female sexuality is also, in a way, a form of sexual harassment. Gender segregation on buses is not part of Jewish tradition; not even the ultra-Orthodox tradition. It is a very new product of a rising Jewish religious fundamentalism, which I believe is a reaction to women’s demand for equal rights and their exposure to the outer world (thanks to technology). in Israel segregation on buses is sometimes enforced by passengers violently.

The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox communities, both in New York and in Israel, have been very astute in their enlistment of multicultural discourse and political correctness to promote their misogynist agenda. The majority should not be confused by this. There are plenty of strong voices from within the ultra-Orthodox community who object to this trend. In Israel, for example, a group of ultra-Orthodox women and men petitioned the Supreme Court against segregation on public transportation. These people are part of the ultra-Orthodox community as well, and have as strong a claim to their traditions as any of the Rabbis who have decided all of the sudden to send women to the back of the bus.


Putin Gays on the Agenda

When I hear about American supporters the new Russian homophobic legislation (or, for that matter, about President Putin and his aides who initiated such crazy legislation, which prohibits, among other things, even expressing tolerance towards LGBTs), I can’t help but recall a New York Time article from last year titled Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay, which claimed that there is “empirical evidence of a connection between homophobia and suppressed same-sex desire.”


Over-Parenting Goes International

The thought of hiring a private detective in this age of relatively accessible electronic surveillance seems a bit retro, like a black-and-white scene from a smoky film noire. But it has been enjoying a surprising comeback in recent years, with parents who hire private investigators to spy on their children.

In an article titled Over-Parenting, my co-author Gaia Bernstein and I identified a trend of legal adoption of intensive parenting norms. We cautioned against society legally sanctioning a single parenting style – namely, intensive parenting – while deeming potentially neglectful other parenting styles which could be perfectly legitimate. We also pointed out that involved parenting is class-biased, since it is costly, and not all parents can afford the technology that would enable them to be intensive parents, such as purchasing GPS enabled smartphones for their kids. We argued that when intensive parenting is used for children who do not need it, it becomes over-parenting. Not all children need the same level of involvement in their lives; one of the most important roles of parents is to prepare their children for independent life, and over-parenting might thwart that role. Finally, we speculated that the cultural model for intensive parenting originates in media depictions of upper-middle class families, and that how these families are portrayed in movies and TV shows influences real-life parents.

Well, I’m sad to report that over-parenting is not a unique American phenomenon. Last year, for example, a Chinese newspaper reported that parents in china are increasingly becoming more involved in their children’s lives by hiring private investigators to check whether the children use drugs, drink alcohol or have sex. In Israel some parents are doing the same, especially during the long summer break, during which bored teenagers, many parent fear, are prone to engage in such activities (if you read Hebrew, you can read the story here). I am sure that some American parents do the same.

Leaving aside the class question (are parents who cannot afford a private eye neglectful?), what does this say about parents’ role as educators? Or about the level of trust (or distrust) between those parents and their children? It used to be that a spouse would hire a private investigator because they thought that their partner was having an affair. Nowadays, a growing chunk of a private investigator’s work involved parents spying on their children. Can’t we say that the fact that parents feel that they need to spy on their children already testifies to their limited parental skills?


The Decline of Homophobia and the Rise of Heterophilia in the Aftermath of United States v. Windsor (Part II)

In my article Discriminating Speech: On the Heterophilia of Freedom of Speech Doctrine Heterophilia I introduced the concept of law’s inherent heterophilia. One can see it as a new generation of homophobia, more politically correct perhaps, in which the goal of eradication has been substituted by the goal of assimilation.  The need to cover, which almost every LGBT individual has experienced and which has been so shrewdly identified by Kenji Yoshino in his book “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights,” is a typical product of social and legal heterophilia that seeks to encourage such assimilation.  Because of its benign nature, legal heterophilia, as opposed to legal homophobia, is much harder to detect, and therefore it is much harder to fight.

How can we distinguish law’s homophobia from law’s heterophilia?  To be sure, it is not easy to draw the line between homophobia and heterophilia, and many heterophile actions can be interpreted as unconsciously homophobic.  However, generally speaking, laws that privilege predominantly heterosexual institutions, such as marriage, are heterophile in nature, while laws that restrict LGBT individuals, discriminate against them, or punish them as such, would be labeled as homophobic.  Thus, laws privileging married couples and awarding them forms of protection that unmarried couples cannot receive are heterophilic as long as LGBT individuals cannot get married, and probably as long as they do not extend those privileges to all couples, married and unmarried, gay or straight. The Mayo Clinic’s policy demanding same-sex couples to marry or else the employees’ spouses will lose their health benefits, instead of extending the benefits to all partner regardless their marital status and their sexual orientation is a product of socio-legal heterophilia.

Indeed, the very demand to marry, which is a consequence of the Windsor case, is heterophilic even when it does not involve the carrot of benefits or the stick of their denial. As a recent New York Times article demonstrates, such social requirement is becoming more and more conspicuous in the wake of the Windsor ruling. And what is fascinating, is that heterosexuals are the ones who nudge same-sex partners to marry most.

While not using the term “heterophilia” or its derivatives, Janet Halley has exposed some of the most heterophilic strands of the institution of marriage in her 2010 article Behind the Law of Marriage (I): From Status/Contract to the Marriage System.  Marriage law, however, is not only heterophilic; it also has homophobic qualities, as many scholars have rightly observed. It remains to be seen if society and the courts will be able to release themselves of all forms of prejudice and discrimination concerning marriage and marital status. Getting rid of the homophobic Section 3 of DOMA was only the first step in this direction.

Part I of this post.


The Decline of Homophobia and the Rise of Heterophilia in the Aftermath of United States v. Windsor (Part I)

Hello everyone, and thanks Solangel and the other regulars for hosting me here. I thought I would begin with some thoughts on the aftermath of United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). June 26, 2013, the day in which the case was decided, will no doubt be one of those days that many will reminiscent about, ask and will be asked “where were you when the decision was published?” As someone who studied is Constitutional Law class when the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick was still the law, the day Windsor was decided was a truly wonderful day for me. Indeed, this day marked a significant decline in legal homophobia, and we should all celebrate that. But is it the end of marriage-based discrimination?
I’m afraid that the answer to this question is “not yet.” It seems that the campaign for same-sex marriage has been almost too successful, and that the right to marry is rapidly becoming a requirement to do so. reports that the Minnesota Mayo Clinic is requiring its LGBT employees to marry their same-sex partners in order to continue their eligibility for health benefits. The previous policy was introduced in order to remedy the discrimination against LGBT employees who could not marry their partners. Now when they can do so, they must, if they wish to continue to be eligible for the benefits. There will even be a deadline for these couples to get married. What a charged idea, a deadline to get married, and one that is created by one of the partners’ employee!
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this change: Under this policy, unmarried heterosexual partners of employees are ineligible for health benefits. The update is necessary in order not to create a new form of discrimination, this time against unmarried heterosexual couples. But this is only one way of looking at this policy.
The updated policy which requires same-sex couples to marry in order to keep their health benefits exposes what I call law’s heterophilia, a concept which I have introduced in a recent article. Much has been written about law’s homophobia, past and present. Various forms of discrimination against LGBT individuals have been labeled “homophobic” and in most cases, justly so. But law sports an additional, more insidious prejudice—namely, heterophilia.
Homophobia works “against” LGBTs. Criminalization of sex between men or between women is homophobic. But what are we to make of legal norms that do not work directly “against” gays, but “for” heterosexuals? Such norms do not consciously discriminate against LGBT individuals, but privilege heterosexuals (not all of them, as I explain below). The underlying result is discrimination. These norms are not homophobic in the sense that unlike sodomy laws, they were not designed with the specific aim of persecuting sexual minorities.
I borrow the term “heterophilia” from psychoanalyst David Schwartz, who argued in the early 1990s that in addition to homophobia—a well-explored prejudice which is rooted in devaluation—there can be another form of prejudice against LGBT individuals which is rooted in “philia,” namely in the idealization of heterosexuality. Heterophilia, argued Schwartz, is an “unarticulated belief in a particular sexual ideology,” rather than an objection to an alternative sexual ideology. By the absence of phobia, and in many cases by actual acceptance of LGBT individuals in several respects, heterophiles “immunize their ideological commitments against articulation and scrutiny.”
Now, let’s return to the Mayo Clinic’s revised spousal health benefit policy. Heterophilia idealizes not merely heterosexuality, but heterosexual monogamous relationships in which the spouses are married to each other. Marriage is the quintessential heterophile institution. This is why heterophilia can discriminate not just against LGBTs, but also against heterosexuals who refuse to get married. They too are ineligible for health benefits for their partners, if they are employed by a company who has a similar policy in place.
While the Windsor Court’s ruling is just and humane, it exists within a context, and is subject to interpretation (or misinterpretation and even abuse) within that context. One such misinterpretation is the quick evolution of an equal right to marry for LGBTs into a requirement. Critics of the campaign for same-sex marriage have warned against this consequence. But I believe that the critique was misdirected. The problem is not with the proponents of same-sex marriage, but rather with the general socio-legal culture, which still discriminates on the basis of marital status and, now, happily, does so regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

Part II of this post.