The American Sociological Association has a procedure for passing resolutions by the ASA Council, with or without the input from the members. A resolution can be forwarded as long as 3% of the total number of members signed it. The ASA Council can simply endorse it on behalf of the membership or forward it to the members for a vote.
See Proposed ASA Statement Against the War on Iraq, Footnotes, April 2003.
In the Spring of 2003, a resolution was initiated by members of the group, "Sociologists and Political Scientists Without Borders", now called, Sociologists Without Borders, including Judith Blau, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Walda Katz-Fishman, Tanya Golash-Boza, and Natalia Deeb-Sossa. The resolution specified that the American Sociological Association should call for "an immediate end to the war against Iraq".
The ASA Council then decided to forward the resolution to the members. Interestingly, the Council recognized that there was more at stake than only the immediate matter addressed in the resolution. In particular, the Council recognized the problem that the ASA might "restrict its official public statements to questions around which there exist unambiguous and consensual scientific evidence." Also, the question was asked, "To what extent should the ASA attempt to form and express a common moral stance about public issues?" and "To what extent should the ASA be concerned about possible adverse effects on the discipline of sociology when it takes public positions?"
But soon all questions were answered. A ballot was forwarded on the resolution as well as with an opinion question about the ASA member's personal position on the war. A majority of members voted for the resolution, so that it became the official position of the ASA that the war in Iraq should be ended. Not only did this resolution present the morality of the war in Iraq as a sociological issue, it also brought about that the politicization of the ASA was normalized and that further resolutions on similarly moral and political matters could be addressed. All questions thereabouts had been answered.
See Sociological Association Takes Position on Conflict in Iraq, ASA news, August 1, 2003.
A year later, on March 26, 2004, a resolution was submitted to the Council of the American Sociological Association regarding the U.S. President's proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. On April 7, the ASA Council held a conference call on this resolution, which the ASA referred to as 'member-initiated,' voicing support for it and deciding to hold an election of the matter among the members of the ASA. The resolution called for the ASA to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
See Marriage Amendment Opposed, ASA News, June 16, 2004.
Commentary: The Arrival of the ASA Police
It is our right and our responsibility to question power when power is questionable --and even when it isn't! The actions of the ASA Council and its current President have to be exposed for exactly what they are! Like the resolution of last year on the war in Iraq, the 2004 resolution on marriage and, more generally, the ethical-political drift in the ASA are extremely sad for the discipline and profession of sociology. The negative consequences can at best only be ironic. For not only does this drift towards politics entail a corruption of sociology to further a particularistic ethical agenda, it also involves an unfortunate approach to morality that purports to resolve important ethical and political questions by means of science, thereby eroding the pluralistic nature of contemporary morality. Sociology is not morality! Morality is not a science.
The problem here is not primarily whether we favor or disfavor certain rights or constitutional bans, but whether it is up to the ASA to pass a resolution on such matters when the ASA was founded to be committed to promote sociology as a science and a discipline and when, moreover, the ASA has a mission statement that precludes the ASA and its members from making statements (as ASA and as members) that are beyond the expertise of sociology. We are not only sociologists, but as ASA members we can be only that.
Sociology can legitimately inform public opinion only on the sociologically relevant information that is used to advocate a certain opinion, but not the opinion itself. E.g. when a person favors the death penalty because she assumes it is a deterrent, sociological evidence can (and should) be forwarded to support or reject the notion that the death penalty is a deterrent. But that cannot mean that the morality of the death penalty itself will be eroded. Morality cannot be reduced to science.
The ASA is in danger of becoming something it simply was not meant to be. The alternative to being irrelevant (a constant danger of science) is not being politically activist nor being an activist of a very particular kind. There is a plurality of alternative objectives. But the ASA leadership doesn't want you to know... The organization always comes first. Its members last. Just read how the resolution is introduced in the most patronizing manner possible.
The ASA police is already here. We can discuss our viewpoints on the ASA public forum, sure, but how relevant is any of this really after the Council has already told us it favors the resolution... whom are we kidding? A letter I sent to Footnotes some months ago was first accepted but then rejected by the executive officer... The ASA police is already here.
The 2004 Resolution History Revealed
Because the behind-the-scenes activities of power are rarely publicly known, I here make public the letter that ASA President Burawoy sent to a select number of ASA section Chairs (the chairs and chairs-elect of the Sex and Gender, Sexualities and Family Sections and as members of the LGBT Caucus). This letter was posted by the ASA Family section on March 13, so the ASA President and Council had decided long before its vote and "unanimous, strong support" by conference call in April! But on the ASA website the resolution is referred to as a "member-initiated resolution" that was "submitted to the American Sociological Association (ASA) Council"... In other words, the resolution was the President's idea, discussed with the Council, and then voted on by them! How democratic!
EMAIL FROM MICHAEL BURAWOY, ASA PRESIDENT
I'm writing to you as the chairs and chairs-elect of the Sex and Gender, Sexualities and Family Sections and as members of the LGBT Caucus. The issue is President Bush's proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw lesbian and gay marriages.
During the last 10 days I have been discussing the issue with Council over email. We have come up with three proposals:
(1) A Member Resolution
(2) A Task Force
(3) An Open Forum at the ASA
A member resolution has to receive the support of 3% of the voting membership, i.e. about 400 signatures (and it can be done over email as long as they are bona fide voting members of ASA). Once the requisite number of signatures have been reached the resolution goes to Council which can adopt it on behalf of the association or it is sent on to the membership for a vote. Should the resolution go to a vote of the members it would have to be sent out with the election ballots in the second half of April. In other words, we would need to move swiftly.
There is a body of research on lesbian and gay parenting, conducted by sociologists and psychologists. It has been summarized in various accounts that have been circulating on the web as well as in professional journals.
As I understand it the interpretation of the literature is not uncontroversial and many of the studies have methodological flaws. You know this literature better than I. The question is whether it would be worth constituting a Task Force to assess this literature on behalf of the ASA or whether the research is still too thin to warrant a Task Force. Of course, the effect of different family patterns on children is not the only issue at stake in the constitutional amendment but it is one that is amenable to research.
It is possible that a member resolution could be prefaced by (or incorporate) the major findings -- if a consensus could be achieved by those who craft any resolution.
An Open Forum at the ASA
Whatever we decide about the two items above we are hoping to make space for an Open Forum, perhaps with one or two panelists to lead and contextualise the discussion, at the ASA in San Francisco.
What I'm looking for now is your immediate input into these suggestions.
Note: A related letter on this matter has been published in the ASA newsletter Footnotes, along with a reponse. Check the Readings page.
Another Resolution Passes...
In June 2004, the ASA announced via its website that the resolution opposing a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was approved: 75% of the voting members voted in favor, 13% opposed, 8% abstained, and 4% did not mark any choice. On the accompaying opinion question, "Do you personally favor or oppose legislation that bans same sex marriage?", 2,394 voting members opposed such legislation (79%), 256 favored such legislation (9%), 260 abstained (8%), and 125 did not make a selection (4%).
Neither sociological research on nor public discussion about the constitutional regulation of same-sex marriages has been advanced in any way by the passing of the resolution. On the contrary, to the ASA the matter is now resolved.
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