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Laws of the Culture War

From time out of mind, the idea that marriage constitutes the union between one man and one woman has been the unquestioned standard in our civilization. Same-sex marriage has only been on the national radar since 1993 [1], when a Hawaii court ruled that the state had to demonstrate just cause for why marriage ought to be denied to same-sex couples. That was fewer than 20 years ago, and in that time, support for same-sex marriage has increased at a pace that is nothing short of revolutionary. According the the trajectory of polling [2], at some point in the next few years, what had been the settled view of the nature of marriage for millennia will have been rejected by a majority of the American people. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, all must agree that it is a revolutionary thing.

This stunning victory has been achieved by mounting an all-out assault on tradition. It wouldn’t have succeeded had the tradition not been hollowed out by the (hetero)sexual revolution, of course, but that’s an argument for another thread. The point is, the marriage innovators assaulted the settled tradition — and have just about won. But here’s the thing: they won in part by framing their own assault on tradition as self-defense. This is what it means when same-sex marriage advocates talk about attempts by marriage trads to attack their families and their rights. It’s brilliant propaganda, because it paints people who preferred the status quo into culture-war aggressors, rather than those who are actually aggressing against the settled tradition.

The point is not that the pro-SSM folks are wrong, or that they’re right. The point here is that they are by any rational measure the culture-war aggressors, but paint themselves as the victims of a right-wing assault. It’s brilliant propaganda.

Rich Lowry shows again how this thing works [3], in the case of Obama’s HHS rule. Excerpt:

Three Democratic women senators, Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Barbara Boxer (California) and Patty Murray (Washington), wrote in The Wall Street Journal that critics of the mandate “are trying to force their politics on women’s personal health-care decisions.”

How are they proposing to do that exactly? The Catholic bishops are merely fighting to keep institutions affiliated with their church from getting coerced into participating in what they consider a moral wrong. They are the agents of a status quo that the day before yesterday wasn’t considered objectionable, let alone an assault on women’s health. [Emphasis mine — RD]

… If the mandate were only about extending contraception coverage, exempting religious institutions would be obvious. But it’s more than that. It is about bringing institutions thought to be retrograde to heel, and discrediting their morality. It is kulturkampf disguised as public health.

Rich is absolutely right. Note well the principles that follow. It will help you make sense of events, especially media coverage of them:

The First Law of the Culture War: Conservatives are always and everywhere the aggressors. 

The Second Law of the Culture War: The existence of conservative values, traditions, and institutions constitute acts of aggression. 

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83 Comments To "Laws of the Culture War"

#1 Comment By M.Z. On February 22, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

There is of course the possibility that marriage was already dead, and gay marriage is just one marker of that. How many times have you heard, “Marriage is just a piece of paper?” Does anyone have a compelling argument to the contrary that amounts to anything more than their feelings on what marriage should be?

Of course gay rights activists have stood up for their interests. This is as shocking as the sun rising in the east. Conservatives would be on sounder ground in claiming victim status if their argument was that everyone else’s marriage had to change by virtue of the inclusion of same sex marriage. That isn’t the case though. Conservatives are stuck making a slippery slope argument about what might happen. It amounts to at some point in the future conservatives could be victims.

#2 Comment By Geoff G. On February 22, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

This stunning victory has been achieved by mounting an all-out assault on tradition. 

That’s a misrepresentation. It’s been achieved through the shift in understanding about the causes of homosexuality. If the conservative understanding that being gay represents a moral failing remained the majority view, then same-sex marriage never would have taken off.

Now that more people regard orientation as something that you are rather than something that you do (i.e. something akin to race or even religion rather than something like drinking or smoking), then the moral calculus shifts to an understanding that includes gay people inside traditional morality. Fundamentally, anti-SSM advocates object to this inclusion of gay people within society. That’s what the whole argument is all about.

Which is not to say that lots of people, both gay and straight, have done plenty to undermine the traditional understanding of marriage. But that’s a separate issue from the SSM debate.

#3 Comment By SketchesbyBoze On February 22, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

I noticed the tactic you’re talking about being vociferously employed in just the last week by liberal pundits and bloggers, who are now claiming the state laws that require women to have ultrasounds during their pregnancies are the legal equivalent of rape. (See, for example, here – [4] – and here – [5]). I had never heard this argument articulated until just a few days ago. It’s like one person stood up and yelled, “Rape!” and suddenly everyone was yelling, “Rape!”

#4 Comment By Dave D. On February 22, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

It depends what the action is. Some of it is very much conservatives under assault-things like teaching kids the equality of SSM and straight marriage is often an end-run around parental beliefs to do just that. And there is an assaulting edge to it when it seeks not for marriage, but redefining it to include multiple partners based on some illusion that just because some gay men need to screw everything in sight, all gay men and even some straights should be allowed to in marriage.

But sometimes we assault back. I honestly think we need to be reminded that it can never be personal-that sometimes it’s better to just throw up your hands, say live and learn, and work on building walls to insulate from the fallout. Or work positively to rebuild marriage on our own.

#5 Comment By Mr. Patrick On February 22, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

Blake writes:
“Third Law of the Culture War: Everyone will always portray themselves as the victim.”
Yes. In fact, you can scrap all of the prior proposed laws and just adopt this one. The culture war is fought by all sides according to the principle of victimocracy. He who is most violated shall rule absolutely. It’s sort of a perverse interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.

#6 Comment By Another Matt On February 22, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

There is of course the possibility that marriage was already dead, and gay marriage is just one marker of that.

To be fair to the conservative side, I could see how this kind of argument is far too pessimistic from their point of view. For an analogy imagine the Russians had started fighting a hot war with the US and had already taken over all the states west of the Mississippi – it would still be worth fighting for Illinois and the rest of the country and even taking back the west.

I’m actually all for the fight if conservatives want to start marching back whatever “progress” has been made incrementally (the scare quotes is for them, not me). But all I ever hear is advocation for totally disbanding our current understanding of the institution and reverting to whatever it happened to be in some Golden Age.

So, if “marriage has already been ruined by heterosexuals and SSM is just the next step,” what is the first step in the opposite direction? What’s the first bit of “progress” that should be undone, which also has a plausible chance of being undone given the aggregate beliefs of the country?

#7 Comment By Mont D. Law On February 22, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

[but redefining it to include multiple partners based on some illusion that just because some gay men need to screw everything in sight, all gay men and even some straights should be allowed to in marriage.]

Please indicate where couples who refuse to promise they are going to be monogamous are denied a marriage license. Please indicate by what law straight men who screw everything in sight have their marriage dissolved. Monogamy & fidelity are not legal requirements for civil marriage now and I am not clear why gay people should be denied civil marriage because some people fear they will not be monogamous and faithful. We KNOW a good percentage of straight couples are not going be monogamous or faithful but society doesn’t stop them.

#8 Comment By Sean On February 22, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

I’ve been surprised at how quickly SSM has gained traction too, but within the logic and tradition of civil rights it makes perfect sense. Someone noted above that this wouldn’t have been possible if we still viewed homosexuality as a moral failing rather than a way you were born, which strikes me as inarguable. Once that’s the understanding, there is no rational justification why the laws can’t apply to them as well, and why that new application shouldn’t have started already.

So yes, it’s been a quick shift, but only because once it was clear that we’d been wrong about gays this whole time, change became necessary. (In this country, we’re very familiar with the difference between just saying people are equal and actually fitting the law and behavior to that understanding.) Now that we know better, it is barbaric and cruel to deny them full participation in our society. (Which would not be true in, say, Burma, where pluralism is less entrenched as a positive value. But that’s why I like America better than Burma.)

I keep waiting for a “defender of tradition” to admit that in the American context, changing the laws to better reflect our ideals and casting off the bounds of tradition are, themselves, traditional. All I see from “traditionalists” is attempts to cast aside these American traditions in favor of the stultifying traditions our forefathers came here to escape.

#9 Comment By John Haas On February 22, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

Rod, I’m sorry, but that just won’t work. Was Mike Huckabee waging a kulturkampf against traditional morality when he signed into law the exact same mandate with no broader exemption for religious institutions? Unless you can say yes, your thesis a problem.

#10 Comment By Dave D. On February 22, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

That has nothing to do with being denied marriage, Mont. It has all to do with the public perception of marriage being changed to include adultery or multiple partners, as something as valid as straight. That is an attack on tradition independent from SSM and it is harmful to everyone because it more than anything actually weakens the idea of marriage.

Notice I said “redefining it to multiple partners.” not “redefining it between a man and a man, etc.” It’s a trojan horse by some moral idiots to try and seize on the confusion we have to insert legitimately harmful ideas into the idea of marriage, and should be condemned by EVERYONE, left and right alike. I can understand saying monogamous SSM may not harm the insitution though I disagree. I cannot understand how non-monogamous can or will not.

#11 Comment By Howard Beale On February 22, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

[i]Also, let’s be clear. The West has not practiced polygamy for millennia.[/i]


The guy currently in the lead to be the nominee for president of the republican party is a mere two generations removed from polygamy. What on earth are you talking about?

#12 Comment By Roger II On February 22, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

A federal judge in California, appointed by President George W. Bush has found at least parts of DOMA to be unconstitutional. A legally married lesbian employed by the federal government sued in order to obtain benefits for her wife. The court found that a denial of benefits due to DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause.

#13 Comment By John M. On February 22, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

“The existence of conservative values, traditions, and institutions constitute acts of aggression.”

There are indeed places in the world where Christians are a victimized minority, but not in American culture. However, growing up same-sex oriented or gender-variant in this culture does mean you are going to be ostracized, punished, possibly banished from your family and community, or you are going to live your life with a big secret.

Maybe refusing to live a lie is an assault on tradition, but if tradition demands such a lie, it may not be as legitimate as you think.

#14 Comment By JonF On February 22, 2012 @ 8:48 pm


AIDS and gay liberation have nothing to do with one another– or rather, the causality may well be the opposite of what you posit. For one thing the main legal and cultural battles were not won until years after HIV had cut its wide swath through the gay world. It’s not as if gays weren’t having sex beforehand (the logic here reminds me of the logic of the drug warriors: we must keep up the drug war lest people start using illegal drugs, and never mind that they already are) And in some small part at least those battles were won because of the epidemic, due to the natural sympathy we humans have for our sick (“There but for the grace of God…”) and the sudden awareness how many gays there were around us, from the (in)famous closet cases like Roy Cohn and Rock Hudson, down to the guy at work, your cousin Jim and your erstwhile tenth grade history teacher.
Besides viruses are utterly mindless things. They don’t give a hoot about our politics, our morality or our culture.

#15 Comment By Christopher On February 22, 2012 @ 9:32 pm


What is it about homosexuality that causes your capacity for logic to go into deep dormancy. Settled cultural definitions about marriage that have remain unchanged for millennial?? Rod that has to be one of the most absurd statements imaginable. Marriage definitions have varied across time, across cultures and even within culture. Where is the historical, anthropological or sociological data to support your contention that marriage has been preserved as if in amber down through the ages until the forces of darkness marching under the banner of the rainbow flag unleash their weaponry. Your assertions about “full blown assaults” on the institution are either hysterical hyperbole at best or an illogical, poorly thought out position. How can extending the institution of legal marriage to 5% of the population translate into an all out assault on tradition?? Of course you fail to define tradition. I would posit that the revolutionary change in attitudes is based on the increasing tolerance for homosexuals by the greater society as prejudicial beliefs have eroded away. If same sex love is accepted as equivalent to heterosexual love and marriage in our culture is defined as signifying and strengthening those relational bonds, the opposition will inexorably melt away. Why? because there is no rational argument against it. Ultimately reason will triumph over prejudice.

#16 Comment By Leo Ladenson On February 22, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

The guy currently in the lead to be the nominee for president of the republican party is a mere two generations removed from polygamy. What on earth are you talking about?

You mean the Republican Party that in its 1856 founding platform called polygamy (along with slavery) the “twin relics of barbarism”? Just because some outlier criminals engaged in some practice does not legitimate it.

There is such a poverty of the understanding of tradition represented in these comments–it’s really breathtaking. And, good God, the nit-picking about Rod’s use of the phrase “from time out of mind.” It’s a classic phrase that means ancient. The culture war is also about being connected to one’s culture–or disconnecting therefrom. If you don’t know who dragged whom around the walls of what, or that the parable of the sower is not an agricultural treatise (let alone a tailoring one), then you might just pause a moment before you tear down your society’s fundamental institution.

Tradition is something more definite than all the weird customs and wacky diversions adduced against the nature of marriage. There really is a constant, millennial Western legal tradition–common law, Roman law, canon law–under which it is absolutely, positively, crystal clear that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for the procreation and raising of children.

If marriage really is so malleable and meaningless, though, then why the rush for SSM? Of course, for many, it’s about the goodies. For others, it’s political: removing all legal stigma attached to homosexuality. That’s been a long-term political goal of the homosexualist movement.

There is no doubt marriage has been weakened through the sexual revolution–but you won’t find many opponents of SSM who aren’t also critics of sexual license, no-fault divorce, and the like.

I see no-fault divorce as the coffin and SSM as the nails. Occasionally a deceased wakes up in his coffin and revives. But there’s no reviving him if the box is nailed shut.

#17 Comment By Rod Dreher On February 22, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

Christopher, you don’t understand. You should understand.

I said that the “nature” of marriage — one man and one woman — has been settled for millennia in our civilization. The legal definition of marriage has obviously shifted, and the social expectations from it have too. But unless you have some information I don’t have, the tradition in the West from at least the Romans until now has been that the marital union is one man and one woman, and no other. Not one man and more than one woman (which is why the Mormons got into so much trouble). Not two men or two women. One man and one woman.

Now we are ending that. Even if this is a just and necessary move, please do me the courtesy of recognizing that it is a tectonic cultural shift. How is this even arguable? To extend marriage rights to same-sex couples requires a radical redefinition of what marriage is, a redefinition that has, for all intents and purposes, no precedent in our society — and for that matter, no precedent anywhere, ever. Even polygamous civilizations, such as traditional Islamic civilization, do not recognize same-sex marriage. Yet you’re acting as if it’s the most natural and reasonable thing in the world.

#18 Comment By Ax On February 22, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

Expanding marriage to include same-sex couples is a big change all right, but not primarily to the definition of marriage. For a long time, marriage was viewed as the institution whereby two people who love each other bind themselves to each other and start a family. That hasn’t really changed. What’s changed is that people now realize that that sort of romantic love isn’t just restricted to couples of opposite sexes. Once people understood that gay and lesbian couples aren’t, by definition, twisted perverts; and they basically feel and want the same things that straight couples do for the same reasons, then it became clear that they too belonged within the institution of marriage.

In other words, the “tectonic cultural shift” isn’t in the definition of marriage, but in the perception of LGBT persons as, you know, full human beings.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 22, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

Culture wars are boring. It is just a bunch of self-righteous jerks bashing each other over the head. Since I don’t consider Dreher a self-righteous jerk, I can’t help wondering why he gives this stuff the time of day. If the loudest voices were somehow suddenly silenced, most of us wouldn’t be worrying a great deal about this stuff in the first place.

#20 Comment By Erin Manning On February 22, 2012 @ 11:05 pm

Nobody ever seems to appreciate this point, but I’ll throw it in here again anyway: the reason that marriage has been about one man and one woman for quite a long time was because there was this idea that marriage, whatever else it might involve in regard to property rights etc., *always* involved the right of the couple to engage in sexual intercourse with each other. Making this a part of the contract was not a mere frivolous thing, but a protection primarily for the woman and for her eventual future children who would, due to the contract, be assumed to be her husband’s. No, civil law has never required married couples actually to have children, as that is a matter beyond the law’s ability to compel; but quite a number of societies have assumed in law that the marriage has been consummated through an act of sexual intercourse. In fact, even today in America a majority of states still have laws permitting the annulment of a marriage–not a divorce, mind, and not a church annulment, but a state one–if the parties insist that the marriage was not, in fact, consummated. Again, the state doesn’t consider it the state’s job to prove that marriages have been consummated, but will dissolve one that has not been.

Gay marriage advocates brush all of this aside as unimportant–so what if two men or two women can’t engage in the act that is called sexual intercourse? They can engage in other sex acts with each other, even though those sex acts have never been known to produce a child, while sexual intercourse not infrequently does. So the fact that the gender complementarity necessary for sexual intercourse to occur was always an assumption of marriage before the present day in our culture does not seem important to them now.

What’s really amazing to me is that heterosexual people, having bought into the idea that marriage is not really a contract at all but just a public and civil recognition that two people are in love and want to be together, have a big party followed by a lavish honeymoon, and pay lawyers when they split up are equally dismissive of this look at prior marriage law, saying things like “You’re making it sound like marriage is about sex!” Fundamentally, of course, marriage always has been. But now that sexual virtue apparently means screwing around before, during, and after marriage, and children are assumed to be the woman’s problem, it’s understandable that people would find the notion of a legal contract that centered around the bestowing of exclusive, mutual, and–once upon a time–permanent (till death, anyway) rights to sexual intercourse to one other person of the opposite gender to be utterly incomprehensible.

#21 Comment By Sean On February 22, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

Ax makes a good point. The shift happened in the acceptance of homosexuals as fully-fledged human beings. THAT’s the horse; marriage is the cart.

Marriage is one of the things that is important in our culture. If our culture (or more specifically, our laws: SSM is a legal challenge, so that’s the terrain) is to claim that, contrary to historical precedent, gays are equal to the rest of us, then we are bound to follow that up by removing the discriminatory policies from existing laws. The historical precedent with marriage is inarguably related to the historical treatment of homosexuals as criminals and worse. SSM is an attempt to fit the letter of the law to the spirit of the law.

Erin, I think you’re describing marriage in some other time and/or place than here and now. “The right of the couple to engage in sexual intercourse with each other” hasn’t been something the state had any say in for quite some time. Yes, this is one of the historical roots of marriage (and a big, terribly flawed reason why so many young, earnest Christians get married so young) but it hardly has any relevance to America in the 21st Century.

#22 Comment By Steve Gibson On February 23, 2012 @ 2:40 am

In my congregation, a very liberal one, we strongly support same sex marriage, in both the civil and the religious sense. This does not feel like an attack on traditional morality. Recognizing marriage and faithfulness as available to gay men and women also is a great challenge the outcast subculture in gay enclaves like our neighborhood. We have very few gay couples who have actually married. What marriage adds to their lives seems to be more a focus on commitment and parenthood than on sex.

In a society where gay people exist and can be visible without intimidation, treating them as normal and asking them to be faithful for life is a powerful challenge. I believe that it makes life better for the children who they raise.

In the culture across America, it seems that gay marriage is becoming accepted at a rate that would have shocked me ten years ago, especially with younger people. Some pundits credit (or blame) how gays are presented in TV and other mass media. My gut feeling is that the driving changes are (1) face-to-face relationships with gay people and (2) heterosexuals increasingly accepting manual and oral contact as part of their own married sexual behavior, reducing the subjective ick factor of gay women and somewhat that of gay men. These changes do not need to threaten straight marriages; gays leaving behind the outcast culture and emphasizing the emotional desires for stability they share with straights can be seen to affirm the value of marriage.

#23 Comment By JonF On February 23, 2012 @ 8:09 am

Re: “You’re making it sound like marriage is about sex!” Fundamentally, of course, marriage always has been.

Yes, Erin, marriage is about sex. Which is why I can see a conservative case for SSM. It’s always been an ideal, albeit much dishonored in all times and places, that sex should only take place within marriage, but it is an ideal well worth upholding. But then you cannot have some class of people to whom that ideal does not apply and who are, in effect, relegated to the status of complete sexual libertinism. Far better to uphold that ideal for everyone, even knowing it will not be 100% realized.

#24 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 23, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

So, setting aside the hyper-emotional angst of the so-called “culture wars,” the most rational of the opposing arguments seem to be:

1) If people are engaged with intense mutual affections, sealed by physical passions of a more or less sexual nature, then the community as a whole should encourage that this occur in a monogamous, stable, life-long union, by making available formalities to enter into a convenant of marriage.

2) Contra, but these acts of a more or less sexual nature, if between two men or two women, are unnatural, harmful, an offense against God, and the community as a whole should not be encouraging these acts by lending them the respectability of marriage.

Either argument, if based on accurate premises, could offer a sound public policy.

However, we are unlikely to agree on the premises. Eventually, majority rule will settle matters of sound public policy.

However, the public policy question is not one of denying any person the equal protection of the laws. No man has ever been denied a license to marry a woman on the ground that “you are a homosexual, you can’t marry her.” (Vice versa regarding brides being refused a license because they are lesbian.

The public policy question is a matter of which of the many possible human relations the community as a whole wishes to honor and regulate. There is no constitutional question.

#25 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 23, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

Erin, literature and validated documentation clearly show that marriage was first and foremost about property* and remains so only somewhat in less proportion in recent history. Romantic love (and the desire for sexual intimacy) still remains secondary in many cultures and in sub-cultures of America… or did you think “you should marry a doctor!” is some apocryphal myth created out of thin air?

That history also shows that men have never had much difficulty in bedding the women they wanted. Certainly, social class and standing caused variations in that difficulty. The difference has been simple: Women only recently (last century or less) have had the societal support to say “no” and make it stick, and in there somewhere it took on new and lasting strength when women broke the glass ceiling and could become financially independent (if not wealthy) all by themselves.

Only religion maintains the fiction of sanctioned sexual contact. It has been relegated to the level of custom, and at some point will be expunged from secular law. It will be replaced, ironically, with a newly-strengthened property motivation but with women (at least in theory) as equal partners with equal access to and protection of those laws.

* …protection primarily for the woman and for her eventual future children who would, due to the contract, be assumed to be her husband’s. Erin, that protection by definition is based on the husband’s legal right to the children (and his wife) as heirs to or with legal rights to his property. I refer you to that same literature, where widows and their children end up on the street (metaphorically) because there is no male heir to the deceased husband’s wealth who has any interest in “protecting” them.

#26 Comment By JonF On February 23, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

Re: That history also shows that men have never had much difficulty in bedding the women they wanted.

Franklin, read literally the above is nonsense. Only a small handful of well-favored men get to sleep with their ideal women. Most must settle for considerably less. At the extreme there are men who can only obtain sex by paying for it.

#27 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 23, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

Jon, I believe I covered that with “social class and standing caused variations in that difficulty”. If you have a point beyond that, I’m interested in seeing it. I also respectfully point out that at no point did I qualify “women” with “ideal”. 😉

#28 Comment By JonF On February 23, 2012 @ 6:16 pm


Maybe I am exaggerating “wanted” into “ideal”, however even if we keep “wanted” I hardly think it would be difficult to find men who had been unable to sleep with women they wanted. It might be better to make this more general “Men have never had too much trouble getting sex (even if sometimes they had to pay for it)”.

#29 Comment By TDB On February 24, 2012 @ 1:11 am

I fail to see why not allowing you to control the personal lives of others is a denial of your rights.

It’s called freedom, pal.

#30 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 24, 2012 @ 9:34 am

Jon, you make an excellent point. I agree with your re-phrasing of the original… and, in my own defense, I’ve always been at the more-difficulty end of the spectrum, so there was no doubt some sour grapes behind it. 😀

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 24, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

Freedom is allowing you to control the personal lives of others?

(I removed two negatives, and that is what remained.)

Well, that fits the medieval definition of “liberties.” It also fits the rhetoric of Mississippi slaveowners who, in 1835, described an attempted slave revolt as “an attempt to overthrow our liberties.”

#32 Pingback By A Report on a Religious Freedom Rally – Mere Comments On March 30, 2012 @ 10:51 am

[…] at the Katyn Forest. The pelvic left commits aggression and then plays the victim, à la Rod Dreher’s two rules of the culture war: The First Law of the Culture War: Conservatives are always and everywhere the […]

#33 Comment By Delirium On April 22, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

“Freedom is allowing you to control the personal lives of others?”

Freedom is unilaterally declaring what the world obliged to see as your “personal life”?