The NOW Legal Defense Fund (NOWLDF) is suing the feds over a Pennsylvania marriage promotion program. The program apparently provides “employment services” to fathers but not mothers.
The marriage movement is bound to run into further problems like this as they push their agenda. Not all marriage movement people are chauvinists and gay-bashers, but they’ve nonetheless aligned themselves firmly with chauvinists and gay-bashers, and that’s bound to lead to problems.
Tom Slyvester of Family Scholars Blog more-or-less admits that the NOWLDF folks are correct to object to this sexist program. He also points out that it’s unfair to judge the entire marriage movement by one sexist program in Pennsylvania. So far, so good – I agree with all of that. Then Tom writes:
NOWLDF, of course, lobbied hard for passage of VAWA and the various VAWA sequels.
However, despite its title, it’s not at all clear that VAWA discriminates based on sex. Most of VAWA is written in scrupulously sex-neutral language. Take this passage (from a part of VAWA later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, because the Court felt that Violence Against Women isn’t sufficiently related to interstate commerce):
(c) CAUSE OF ACTION- A person (including a person who acts under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State) who commits a crime of violence motivated by gender and thus deprives another of the right declared in subsection (b) shall be liable to the party injured, in an action for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and such other relief as a court may deem appropriate.
(d) DEFINITIONS- For purposes of this section–
(1) the term `crime of violence motivated by gender’ means a crime of violence committed because of gender or on the basis of gender, and due, at least in part, to an animus based on the victim’s gender…
I know the legalese is painful reading, but still – it’s clear that this is not a law that created one law for women and a different law for men. Before the Supreme Court overturned the federal crime aspects of VAWA, VAWA convictions included women arrested for violence against men (see, for instance, Rita Gluzman’s arrest and conviction, reported by AP on 3/22/1999).
Other parts of VAWA aren’t so clear-cut – for instance, I suppose someone could read the bits funding research, rape crisis lines, and the like as providing funding exclusively to helping women. In practice, however, VAWA hasn’t excluded male victims; rape crisis lines help anyone who calls them, and some VAWA-funded research has interviewed victims of both sexes (pdf file).
(Men’s rights advocates often claim that VAWA explicitly discriminates against men in its provisions, but I haven’t seen anyone quote an actual passage from VAWA to prove their case. To be fair, I haven’t read all of VAWA – but even if some obscure, discriminatory passage exists, that doesn’t alter the fact that the overwhelming majority of the legislation is sex-neutral).
To imply that VAWA is as discriminatory as providing employment training to men only is ridiculous.
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That said, I think Tom’s argument misses the boat in another way. Like opponents of Affirmative Action, Tom ignores the difference between attempts to combat discrimination and discrimination itself.
As I wrote in an earlier post (I’m recycling freely from that post in this post, incidentally), it’s tempting to respond to VAWA by asking “so where’s the Violence Against Men Act?” Taken out of context, VAWA does seem pretty unfair. Why should the government focus on what happens to women?
But VAWA wasn’t written outside of context. In reality, crime is not sex-neutral. The majority of criminal violence against men is “stranger violence”; men are assaulted in bars, attacked by muggers, raped in prison. For women, in contrast, the majority of violence is “intimate violence”; women are beat up by husbands, raped by acquaintances.
Here’s where context comes into play. Our courts and our cops have been designed mainly to prevent stranger violence – which is to say, the kind of violence that happens mostly to men. You want to know where the Violence Against Men Act is? Virtually our entire criminal-justice system – at least, the bits dealing with violent crime – has been a Violence Against Men Act, for most of its history. Violence that happens primarily to women – intimate violence, date rape, and so on – has been ignored until recently.
VAWA isn’t adding bias to a sex-neutral system; it’s an attempt to correct a system which has for centuries been overwhelmingly biased towards the needs of men.
UPDATE: David Blankenhorn, also of Family Scholars Blog – using the rather bitter tone that has, alas, become the norm for his postings – argues that the employment-for-dads program is an example of good intentions leading to a mistake. From what David writes, I think that’s probably true.
It’s rather ironic, however, that David simultaneously asks us to give his friends’ motives the benefit of the doubt, while writing that he has “no doubts” that the folks at NOW have evil intentions. Apparently giving people you disagree with the benefit of the doubt is something David thinks his opponents should do, but he himself should not.
Also, David strongly implies that NOWLDF’s lawyers are racists – without, needless to say, providing a speck of evidence to support his mean-spirited insinuations. (As far as I can make out, David thinks that NOWLDF should give a pass to sexist policies if some of the administrators running the policy are black. Oy.)