Thursday, August 25, 2011

Republican Myth Busters, Part 2... Social Conservatism!

Well, I said yesterday that I would be re-visiting this topic again and again and here I am!  I could literally go on and on debunking and refuting most of the flawed principles and ideologies that make up the current Republican social and fiscal platforms, but I get more bang for my buck when I space it out into multiple installments.  Yes, I am stretching this idea like the last pound of hamburger 3 days before payday, but don't think it's because I'm running out of stuff to talk about.  I could go take a dump right now and write about it for the next two days... and you know this... man.  But, I digress.  Today's post is a continuation of my vetting of Republican ideology to see whether or not is passes muster, only today I am focusing on their social conservative policies instead of the fiscal ones.  So, without further ado...

Myth 1 - Gay Marriage Destroys Families!

I chose this chart for 2 reasons.  First, because it's a fairly accurate and simple representation of data that I gathered from a few different sources and second, because it was posted on a website called "", from an article about sins that are destroying our country.  I felt that commenting on heterosexual divorce as a country-destroying sin was ironically appropriate for the purposes of this discussion.  Not to mention, how can the social conservatives argue with the numbers when they're produced by pro-marriage religious organizations?  The one thing that this chart is glaringly lacking, however, is an explanation of what the numbers on the left-hand side mean.  According to the complete data from the census bureau, those are the total divorces per 1000 married couples.  So, as of 2000, the divorce rate in America was about 22 people in 1000, or  2.2%.  I seem to remember hearing the phrase "Half of all marriages end in divorce" thrown around a lot in my lifetime, which is a rather dubious statement.  According to all the statistical data I've been able to find, marriage rates are anywhere between 8-10% of the total population, which seems rather small, but again this is based on census data and is reprinted in numerous forms on various charts and with all manner of different spin on it, yet the numbers are basically the same within 1-2% of each other.  So, if only 10% of the US population is married - and keep in mind the total US population includes children and teenagers who wouldn't  be old enough to marry yet, as well as the elderly and widowed adults who have lost their spouses, so that 10% would end up being a much larger percentage if compared to just the segment of the population between 18-50, for example - and roughly 2-3% of those marriages end in divorce, then you're looking at a divorce rate somewhere around 25% of the total married population.  So, ok, that's not a stellar figure, but not every relationship is going to live happily ever after.  The notion that unhappy or toxic relationships should be preserved out of some sense of religious duty frankly does more harm than good - not just to the people in the relationship, but to their children, family and friends as well.  Yes, I can find a chart that shows that too, but I'm getting too far off the point here.  So, let's get this back on track, shall we?

In keeping with the census graph above, here is the breakdown of divorce rates by state.  Which states had above average divorce rates, which states were below average and which were pretty much in line with the national average.

Here is a breakdown of where each state stands on same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships, civil unions and which states have no law at all or an outright ban on same-sex marriage.  When you compare this map to the one above, the first thing you can see is that about 80% of the states with the lowest divorce rates in the country are also states that allow either same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships.  In contrast, out of states that outright ban gay marriage altogether, less than 20% of those states have a divorce rate below the national average.  So, clearly, allowing same-sex marriage does not result in a "breakdown" of the institution of marriage.  In fact, as the data clearly shows, states that allow marital equality actually enjoy a lower rate of divorce, on average, than states that ban same-sex marriage.  So, does same-sex marriage destroy the institution of marriage?  Myth.

So, what does contribute to higher divorce rates?  Well, according to census data and independent research, the leading indicator as to whether or not a marriage will endure is the education level of the married couple and their economic security.  Statistically speaking, divorce rates are lowest among couples who have a college degree and who are living at, or above, the middle-class income average.  Looking again at the map that breaks down divorce rates by state, you can easily see that the states with the highest divorce rates are also the states with the lowest average household income and the lowest percentage of the population holding a college degree.  Is it a coincidence that these states also have some of the highest percentage of their population who identify themselves as "strongly" religious and who boast the highest number of "evangelical" Christians?  Not at all.  In fact, a direct correlation can also be drawn between lower income, less education and a higher rate of religious proclivity among the population.  Or, in blunt, "Bill Maher" terms - The poorer and dumber the average population is, the more likely they are to be devout Christians and get divorced a lot.

So yes, same-sex married couples have a lower average divorce rate than heterosexual couples - and no, that's not just because there are fewer gay married couples, my comparisons are based on individual states and each group is compared against their own group, so I'm not comparing gay couples to all couples, I'm comparing gay couples as a percentage of the entire gay married community and hetero couples as a percentage of the entire hetero married community.  Extrapolate the numbers for the gay community to be equal to that of the hetero community and the percentage would still be the same, give or take 1-2%.  Ok, that's all well and good, gay couples have statistically more successful marriages than straight couples... but WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!?!?!

Remember, the myth isn't just that gay marriage ruins marriage, it's that it also hurts children too.  All those gay couples being allowed to adopt babies and raise them in an environment where being gay not only isn't reviled, it's actually accepted and condoned!?  I mean, that has to be moral cyanide, right?  I mean, you may as well start painting your son's fingernails and letting him wear dresses to school, am I right?

Well, based on extensive research conducted by a number of different universities and psychological research agencies, including The Canadian Psychological Association, the general consensus is that children raised by gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or trans-gendered parents are typically just as healthy, emotionally stable and well-adjusted as children raised in a traditional heterosexual-parent household.  This is in spite of the fact that gay parents typically face more intolerance and outright prejudice and acts of hatred and aggression directed towards them and their children than straight parents.  So, not only are the children of gay parents just as healthy and emotionally sound as the children of straight parents, they are that healthy and stable in spite of the above-average level of prejudice and negative behavior displayed towards them by strangers.

Furthermore, research indicates that a families financial, psychological and physical well-being is enhanced by marriage.  This isn't surprising news.  It has long been touted that married couples are generally healthier, happier and enjoy better financial security, but this benefit isn't confined simply to heterosexual marriage.  The research shows that children, in general, benefit from being raised in a stable two-parent household, regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents.

In 2010, the first large-scale study on the effects of same-sex parenting on the educational performance of children showed that the children of same-sex parents have no fundamental deficiencies in learning and making normal progress through school.

According to a 2009 research study conducted in the state of Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, children of gay parents were found to have no discernible difference in their likelihood of growing up to be either straight or gay than the children of heterosexual parents.  This finding has been challenged by religious groups and refuted with "data" from psychologists that were later found to have been influenced by a personal, religious-based bias or sponsored by anti-gay marriage organizations.  However, no independent research has yet come forward to refute the 2009 findings that the children of gay parents have no more discernible tendency towards homosexuality than the children of straight parents.

So, let's add it all up!

Gay marriages are more likely to end in divorce?  Myth
Children of gay parents have a harder time in school?  Myth
Children of gay parents have more psychological problems?  Myth
Children of gay parents are more likely to "become" gay?  Myth

Gay marriage destroys families?  Myth!

Myth 2 - Drug Testing Welfare Recipients is a Good Thing!

If you are on facebook, chances are you have seen one of your conservative friends re-post a status that says something along the lines of "People have to drug test for jobs, so why shouldn't they drug test to get a welfare check too?"  The concept of drug testing welfare recipients before they can receive their benefits has found significant popularity, primarily among middle-class conservatives.  The argument being "Well, everyone else who has to work for their money gets drug tested, so why should people who get paid to do nothing get away with not having to test also?"

It's deceptively sound logic.  I mean, everyone knows that all welfare recipients are just lazy, worthless druggies anyway, right?  I mean, if they weren't, they would be out working at a real job, instead of sitting at home leeching off the system, right?  The argument for drug testing welfare recipients plays right into that prejudice that everyone on welfare is a moocher and a drain on the system, that they're all lazy and content to sit on their fatted asses and collect that free money every month off the hard work of the middle-class.  So, the notion of making them "earn" their money by proving their not spending their welfare checks on drugs seems like a no-brainer to those with... well... no brains!  However, let's look at some facts, shall we?

Florida is currently the first state to pass a law that requires all welfare recipients to take drugs tests - at their own expense - in order to qualify for benefits.  If the individual passes their drug test, the cost of the test ($30) is refunded to them afterwards. 

First of all, if you want a glaring difference between drug testing for a job and drug testing for welfare, there's a big one right there.  Drug testing for a job is paid for by the employer.  However, drug testing for welfare is paid for by the welfare recipient.  Would the average American be in favor of drug testing at their workplace if they had to pay for it up front?  I'm guessing no.  However, asking people who are statistically among the poorest in the country to pony up what is anywhere from a 10-20% surcharge tax on their welfare check, just to prove FL Gov. Rick Scott's misguided theory that people on welfare are more likely to abuse drugs, that's perfectly fine?

But never mind that, let's look at what the first round of statistical results from those drug tests have shown.

First of all, we have to look at the three primary arguments upon which the decision to begin drug testing welfare recipients is based.  The number one reason is Gov. Rick Scott's assertion that drug use is "far higher among welfare recipients" than anyone else in the state.  The second reason is also Gov. Scott's assertion that drug testing these welfare recipients would thus save the state of Florida a substantial amount of money because it would no longer be "subsidizing" the drug habits of Florida welfare recipients.  The third reason is the argument that "everyone who works at a real job has to drug test, so why not welfare cases too?"

So, what do the numbers say?

According to a report released this week, the total number of welfare recipients who failed their state-mandated drug tests is 2%.

That means that 96% of the people who submitted to drug testing - at their own expense - passed their tests and had to be reimbursed the $30 testing fee.  An additional 2% refused to take the tests.  So, even if you make the assumption that the 2% who refused to test only did so because they were guilty of using drugs, that still means only 4% of the entire population of Florida state welfare recipients are regular drug users.

Argument 1:  "Drug use is far higher among welfare recipients" - Myth.

Now, with the incredibly low rate of failure among FL welfare recipients who had to pay for their drug tests, that means much of the cost of testing had to be reimbursed to those individuals.  According to FL state welfare department statistics, approximately 1,500 people are drug tested each month.  If a person fails their drug test, they are refused benefits for one full year.  Let's do some math!

The drug tests cost $30 per person, and between 1,000-1,500 people are tested each month.  That generates $30,000-45,000 per month, which is used to cover the cost of administering the tests, so it produces no net revenue gain for the state.  Now, 96% of the people who take the test pass it, and are subsequently reimbursed their $30 fee.  96% of 1,000 is 960, 96% of 1,500 is 1440.  So, that means the state of Florida is refunding between $28,800 and $43,200 every month.  This money is in addition to the money the state is already spending on welfare benefits.  Using the median amount of $36,000 in reimbursed testing expenses per month for 12 months, the annual net cost of Rick Scott's welfare drug testing policy is $432,000.

Now, if a person fails their drug test, they lose their benefits for a full year.  On average, a FL state welfare recipient costs the state $134 a month in benefits.  2% of 1,000-1,500 people is 20-30 people.  Again, taking the median of 25 people, multiplied by $134 per person, that gives us $3,350 per month in total payouts that will be stopped due to those people failing their drug tests.  They lose those benefits for a full year, so take that $3,350 and multiply it by 12 months and you have a total savings of $40,200.

Now, subtract the amount of money saved by eliminating that 2% of drug users from the welfare rolls, vs. the $30 per person cost of testing and you have a total net loss of $391,800.  This cost is added to the state welfare program that already costs Florida an estimated $178 million per year.

Argument 2:  "Drug testing welfare recipients will save the state money" - Myth.

Lastly, let's look at that statement about "everyone else" having to drug test for jobs.

Until Rick Scott changed the law this year, pre-hiring and continuous drug testing in the workplace was entirely voluntary in the state of Florida.  Since changing the law, drug testing is now a prerequisite for most state positions and random drugs testing for many of those positions is now mandatory as well.  However, private sector employers are still only encouraged to drug test their employees if they want to take advantage of a 5% insurance credit by being a "certified drug-free workplace".  Earning that insurance discount requires not only implementing a drug testing policy, but also taking the necessary steps to become officially certified by the state.  As a result, many of the private businesses in Florida do not drug test their employees, either pre-hire or after they begin working.

Florida's state employee drug testing laws are also an exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to state employee drug testing from state to state.  In California, for example, compliance with a "drug-free workplace" standard is only required for employers who are awarded contracts or grants from the state.  Even then, they only have to "certify" that they will provide a drug-free workplace and have a written policy in their employee handbooks.  There is no specific requirement to furnish drug testing results.  State employees themselves are generally not drug tested in CA, except when they are hired for a position that entails a certain level of risk or responsibility, such as prison guards, public transit workers, security and the like.  Likewise, many of the private employers in CA do not drug test, either pre-hire or post-employment, except in similar cases to state testing - transportation and security jobs, or other high-risk/liability positions.

So, does "everyone else" who has to work for a living have to drug test?  No.  However, because Rick Scott changed Florida's state employee drug testing laws, most of the state employees in Florida do have to submit to random drug testing to keep their jobs.

Argument 3:  "Everyone else who works for a living has to drug test, so welfare recipients should to" - Mostly Myth

Myth 3 - Abortion!

Gay rights, vice laws and abortion pretty much make up the "holy trinity" of the socially conservative platform.  I only briefly touched on the "vice laws" section by covering drug testing for welfare recipients, although that subject includes everything from censorship laws and decency standards to legalizing drugs, gambling and prostitution, all of which I will address with greater detail in a future post.  Likewise, I'm probably not going to be able to fully cover all the arguments against abortion rights by social conservatives either, but I hope to at least address some of the common mis-truths about abortion that are thrown around by the far-right to justify their continued fight to deny a woman's right to choose, nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade.

First off, not that I feel I need to qualify myself, but I am not pro-abortion.  I believe in a woman's right to choose, however.  I can, and will, choose to keep my child if I get my wife pregnant and she would choose to keep it as well.  However, I will never tell another woman what she can and can't do with her own body.  I may not agree with the choice she makes, but that is her choice to make, not mine and I will never try to take that choice away.

That being said, there are some arguments made about abortion that are used to incite the pro-life crowd, to justify their agenda and fuel their anti-abortion vitriol that, in many cases, results in violence, destruction of property and even the murder of doctors and patients.

Argument 1:  "Life begins at conception" - Myth

This is an opinion, not a fact.  The facts are that a fetus doesn't even develop a heartbeat until typically about the 5th week of pregnancy, or just over a month after conception.  However, the "fetal" stage of gestation doesn't begin until somewhere between the 8th and 10th week of pregnancy, or just over 2 months.  Medically speaking, a fetus typically cannot survive outside the womb until it has undergone at least 6 months of in-utero development, so it could be argued that life doesn't technically begin until the 6th month of pregnancy, since a fetus would be highly unlikely to survive or properly finish developing if removed from the womb prior to that.  For the sake of argument, though, I will recognize the 8-10 week mark at which the embryo enters the fetal stage and begins to "breathe" and develop other basic bodily functions as the point at which life "begins".

Argument 2:  "Abortion is murder" - Myth

Again, this is an opinion, not a fact.  This is a slippery slope, too.  What I mean is, if abortion is legally considered murder, then any termination of fetal life should be treated as if that fetus were a fully-recognized human being.  This means that miscarriages and still births would be considered involuntary manslaughter.  If not, then it would be easy for a woman to take drugs or other chemicals that would induce a spontaneous abortion and simply say she had a miscarriage.  So, in order to stick to the legality of abortion being murder, any death of the fetus prior to birth must be treated exactly the same way as a post-natal death.  A full criminal investigation must be launched to determine whether or not a miscarriage or still birth was accidental or due to negligence by the mother.  In any case where a miscarriage or still birth was found to be due to negligent behavior, the mother must be arrested and tried for manslaughter.  Now, according to scientific data, the rate of miscarriage is anywhere from 25-50%.  This means, basically, that 25-50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage prior to the 6th week of pregnancy.  The reason for such a variance is that many miscarriages happen so early on that the woman isn't even aware that she was pregnant.  Many women who miscarry mistake it for an unusually heavy menstrual flow.  At any rate, that's a lot of unsolved deaths to investigate.  There's a reason why social security numbers aren't issued until the child's first birthday.

Argument 3:  "Abortion is used as birth control" - Myth

Fact:  Half of all women who receive abortions every year report using some sort of birth control method during the time they became pregnant.  No birth control method is 100% effective, and often times failure of contraception due to chemical interaction (pills, patches, etc. with other medication), improper use or outright failure (condom breaking, etc.) leads to an unexpected pregnancy.  Incidentally, the majority of women who "accidentally" got pregnant while using contraception opt to keep their babies.  However, if the claim that "women use abortion as birth control" were really accurate, those women would receive 2 to 3 abortions per year - or anywhere from 60 to 90 abortions during the 30-year average fertility cycle of an adult woman.  The statistical facts about abortion are that most women who get an abortion only ever have 1 or 2 abortions in their entire lives.  The number of women who have had more than 3 abortions during the entire length of their fertility is exceedingly small.  76% of all women who get abortions only have 1 abortion (50%) or 2 abortions (26%) total in their lives.

Argument 4:  "Most women have abortions for selfish or vain reasons" - Myth

The primary reasons given by women when they choose to get an abortion are financial inability to properly raise a child, or lack of emotional readiness to care for the child.  66% of all women who get abortions in their youth report a desire to have children later, when they are more financially secure an in a stable relationship.  Many women who choose to get an abortion do so due to health-related issues with carrying the fetus to term.  Approximately 13,000 women every year abort their baby due to it being a product of rape or incest.  At any rate, concerns about not being able to properly care for a child financially or emotionally are definitely not "selfish or vain" reasons.  It's not about women not wanting to "get fat" or "ruin their bodies" by becoming pregnant, it's about them not wanting to have a child that they can't provide a decent quality of life for.  That's about as far from selfish as you can get.

Argument 5:  "Most women who get abortions regret them afterwards" - Myth

Research into this subject has shown that relief is the most common emotional response following an abortion.  Also, the psychological distress is greatest before the abortion, rather than afterwards.

In the long-term, the majority of women who voluntarily terminated their pregnancies report no significant feelings of guilt or remorse.  Rather, they report a stronger feeling of satisfaction with their decision as time goes on.  This is due to the fact that most women who voluntarily terminate their pregnancy because they felt it was the responsible thing to do find those feelings are reinforced as they go through life and realize how hard things would have been for their child, had they decided to keep it instead.

For women who were forced to terminate their pregnancy due to health issues, for example, the post-termination reaction is obviously less positive.  Women who wanted pregnancy but had no choice but to abort out of health concerns often express feelings of remorse and sadness, which is to be expected, as these emotional responses are the same for women who miscarried a wanted pregnancy as well.

Overall, though, the majority of women who voluntarily terminate their pregnancy report no significant feelings of guilt or remorse, and in fact often report feelings quite to the contrary.  They feel justified in their decision and typically express a desire to one day have children when they are able to provide a decent quality of life for them.  The largest rate of post-termination remorse and depression is among women who wanted to keep their babies but were forced to abort, either for health reasons or due to pressure from family or loved ones.  Of the group of women who voluntarily terminated their pregnancy and did report feelings of guilt and remorse afterwards, the overwhelming majority of those women typically received little to no post-abortion support and, in almost every case, were actually chastised and shamed into those feelings by their families and/or loved ones.

Three more conservative myths busted!  I kind of like alternating between the fiscal and the social aspects of Republican myth-mongering.  It kind of paints the broader picture of just how out of touch, misguided and outright deceptive Republican ideology is.  Many conservative pundits make the claim that America is a "center-right" nation.  I personally feel that America is a "center-left" nation.  I believe that most Americans, regardless of race, background or education, hold views that are centrist in terms of economic policy and slightly left-leaning in terms of equality and protecting individual freedoms and liberties.  I believe most Americans aren't quite as left-leaning as I am, but I also believe most are a lot more left-leaning than Fox News would have you believe.  As always, thanks for reading and there will be more to come!

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