Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

While We're at It

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

While We're at It

Article excerpt

It's amazing what's left out of obituaries. On August 8, 2010, actress Patricia Neal died, at age eighty-four. The next day her obituary appeared in the New York Times, where reporter Aljean Harmetz discussed Neal's life and career in detail. Neal won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film, Hud (1963). She later made a remarkable recovery from a series of strokes that she had in 1965.

In 1949 the twenty-three-year-old Neal appeared in The Fountainhead, an adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel, with Gary Cooper. During the filming, Neal fell in love with the older (and married) Cooper, and the two began a three-year affair. Neal eventually became pregnant. Under pressure from Cooper and in fear that having a child out of wedlock would destroy her career, Patricia Neal had an abortion.

In her book, As I Am: An Autobiography (1983), Neal recalled the guilt she experienced. "But for over thirty years, alone, in the night, I cried," she wrote. "For years and years I cried over that baby. And whenever I had too much to drink, I would remember that I had not allowed him to exist. I admired Ingrid Bergman for having her [illegitimate] son. She had guts. I did not. And I regret it with all my heart. If I had only one thing to do over in my life, I would have that baby."

Harmetz mentions Neal's abortion and briefly quotes her regrets from her autobiography. But here is what Harmetz doesn't mention. Neal eventually converted to Catholicism (as did Cooper). She also became a prolife activist. In 2007 Neal served as the honorary co-chair for the twenty-second Annual Charity Ball for Life. According to Msgr. James Lisante, who celebrated Neal's funeral Mass, Neal often told women who were thinking about having an abortion: "Don't make my mistake. Let your baby live."

An often-heard argument against same-sex marriage revolves around the rhetorical question, "If same-sex marriage is allowed, on what grounds can polygamy and polyamory be banned?" It's a pretty solid reducto ad absurdam: From your premise follows a conclusion we can all agree is absurd; your premise, therefore, cannot be true.

The argument assumes, however, that we can all agree on the absurdity of the absurd. In Canada - where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2005 - the marriage debate has moved on to this very question. The British Columbia Supreme Court will consider the legality of the province's laws after two members of a Mormon community in Bountiful, British Columbia, were charged with polygamy. The case will center primarily on religious freedom, but it may provide an opportunity to rethink the justification for banning polygamy.

"The problem," says Queen's University law professor Beverley Barnes, "is that Canadian culture has changed significantly and there are many people living secretly in polygamous relationships. There is an assumption that polygamy is bad for women and children - but as long as it's a crime, no one is going to belly up and say they're living in the relationship. Until they decriminalize it we can't know if it's harmful in Canada."

The case has raised the hackles of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which is seeking a court decision that makes a distinction between patriarchal polygamous relations and "loving consensual relationships" that just happen to involve three or more people. "We wish to testify," proclaims one polyamorist, "that multiple conjugal relationships are a viable option in a free society, specifically when the power of decision-making and freedom of sexual expression are evenly distributed among the individuals involved."

You've heard of Prop 8? Think of this as Prop 9.

In 2006 Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures, and Gary Ginsberg, currently an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., began compiling a list of the fifty most influential rabbis in the United States. Since 2007 the list has been published yearly in Newsweek. According to the 2010 list, the three most influential rabbis in America are, from first to third, Yehuda Krinsky, leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement; Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, which represents more than nine hundred synagogues, with 1. …

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