William Saletan Thinks About The Definition of Marriage…

 

shutterstock_124665844…for about five seconds. But you know, that’s something.

Over at Slate, Saletan kindly explains to us why Justice Alito and Charles Krauthammer (in an old column still making the rounds) are wrong to suppose that the arguments made in favor of same-sex marriage might also be used to justify polygamous marriage. What it boils down to is that there are basic, natural facts about human beings that make monogamy stable and salutary in a way that polygamy just isn’t. Basically, the problem is jealousy. When we give our lives to another person, we want that person to be equally devoted to us. If we invite threes and fours to the altar (or county clerk’s office, or whatever), that’s just not going to work out as happily for anyone.

Let me pause for a moment to bang my head against the wall a few times. Letting the ear-ringing die down now. OK, I’m back.

Is the state permitted to consider natural facts about human nature and relationship proclivities in deciding what to recognize as a marriage? Then there are some very powerful arguments for privileging male-female unions as the most stable, and the most suitable foundation for family. In particular, if you think that kind of evidence relevant, it is absurd to suppose that there could be a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. We can argue about whether or not same-sex relationships are similar enough to opposite-sex relationships to be appropriately regarded as “marriages.” But they aren’t obviously the same, and if that is indeed the sort of reasoning the Court should employ, then the matter should clearly be left to the states.

If, on the other hand, it’s not the state’s business who loves whom, or why, or for how long… then what’s jealousy got to do with it? If three men, or three women, or four men and five women, say that they care deeply about one another and wish to be married, then what difference does it make whether the odds are in their favor? That’s their business. It’s not the state’s job to tell us how to love.

I personally am very disappointed that Slate would publish someone with such an obvious grudge against polys.

There are 136 comments.

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  1. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Hi Rachel :)

    It’s normally a good technique to follow someone’s reasoning to the fullest extent to show the flaws in the basic premise.  The only problem here is that Progs have zero sense of irony and are extremely disingenuous about their actual intentions in the first place.  SSM for the activist (by no means every proponent of gay marriage) is a means to an end….so what is that end?

    • #1
  2. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Completely agree.  There is actually more justification to consider polygamy natural than to consider natural people with the same sex organs using them in ways that nature never intended.

    • #2
  3. liberal jim Inactive
    liberal jim
    @liberaljim

    I would suggest states start issuing Garriage Certificates.  The institution of Garriage would have all of the legal rights and responsibilities of Marriage, but would be for same sex couples.  I suspect many on both sides would object to this proposal because many on one see are not real concerned with equal protection, and on the other side many do not approve of the sexual choices being made and think sanctioning these choices by the state deplorable.

    • #3
  4. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Rachel Lu:Is the state permitted to consider natural facts about human nature and relationship proclivities in deciding what to recognize as a marriage? Then there are some very powerful arguments for privileging male-female unions as the most stable, and the most suitable foundation for family. In particular, if you think that kind of evidence relevant, it is absurd to suppose that there could be a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. We can argue about whether or not same-sex relationships are similar enough to opposite-sex relationships to be appropriately regarded as “marriages.” But they aren’t obviously the same, and if that is indeed the sort of reasoning the Court should employ, then the matter should clearly be left to the states.

    Despite our generally not agreeing on this subject, I think Rachel’s right about this one. If you’re going to argue that SSM is a legal imperative — which is the route the Left has taken on this — then you have to adopt some really torturous logic to explain why polygamy’s isn’t similarly mandated.

    This is, again, one of the many reasons why the judicial route is so foolish. When you craft law (or amend the constitution) you’re not required to have logically-builtproof reasoning behind your decision, which is really hard to do and often leads one to adopt some patently absurd arguments.

    Consider, for instance, how damaging it would have been had the Suffrage movement adopted these tactics, rather than seeking constitutional amendment. They could have argued — plausibly — that the sexes are equal and that it’s therefore imperative to extend voting rights to women. But doing so calls into question any legitimate, reasonable discrimination the government might make between men and women, and that quickly gets us into crazy land.

    • #4
  5. user_381724 Inactive
    user_381724
    @FrankGillespie

    Polygamy and polyamory are up next; there’s no reason not to legitimize those as well with the current reasoning. Since we are defining marriages as who we love what is the justification for the state to deny any coupling of consenting persons? The answer is none.

    • #5
  6. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    The argument has never been one from reason based on equality before the law or any other such noble thing. It has always been about a particular preference.

    • #6
  7. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @GrannyDude

    This is, again, one of the many reasons why the judicial route is so foolish. 

    My understanding —admittedly imperfect—is that the justices are taking on SSM after a significant number of states with a significant percentage of the US population have already legalized it. In other words, they are considering whether to add another bumper sticker to the bandwagon.

    I propose something else entirely.

    Yes, we may now be entering into the Next Phase. Ahead of us are many decades of heated, painful debate and struggle. One American family after another will be faced with a beloved and sincerely polyamorous son or daughter whose love dare not speak its name lest he or she be attacked, slandered, humiliated and even murdered. One family after another comes to the conclusion that condemning him or her to a life of unfulfilled loneliness is wrong. They find ample proof in the Bible and in history that polyamory is a and possibly the natural state of human sexual relationships. Films and tv shows will start showing polyandrous people in a sympathetic light. Someone will hire a polyandrous talk show host who has cute sneakers and an adorable smile. A conservative vice president’s own daughter will come out as a polyandrist! And one after another, the state laws against polyandry will fall either by judicial reasoning or by referendum and public vote. Polls will show that the majority of Americans think polyandry is okay.

    And then we will have polyandry.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s likely. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that polygamous relationships cause unhappiness and they are also socially destabilizing, which is why most cultures (including our own) are far more likely in practice to go with serial monogamy. But it could happen. Anything could happen. Substitute “dog-marrier” or “toaster-wedder”  for “polyamorist” in the above paragraph. Still worried? Want to start an “SSM-Si! Pero Nada Mas” movement?

    • #7
  8. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator
    @Pelayo

    Concretevol:Hi Rachel :)

    It’s normally a good technique to follow someone’s reasoning to the fullest extent to show the flaws in the basic premise. The only problem here is that Progs have zero sense of irony and are extremely disingenuous about their actual intentions in the first place. SSM for the activist (by no means every proponent of gay marriage) is a means to an end….so what is that end?

    I am convinced that the end game is to use SSM as a way to topple the Freedom of Religion given to us by the First Amendment.

    • #8
  9. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator
    @Pelayo

    Kate Braestrup:

    My understanding —admittedly imperfect—is that the justices are taking on SSM after a significant number of states with a significant percentage of the US population have already legalized it. In other words, they are considering whether to add another bumper sticker to the bandwagon.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s likely. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that polygamous relationships cause unhappiness and they are also socially destabilizing, which is why most cultures (including our own) are far more likely in practice to go with serial monogamy. But it could happen. Anything could happen. Substitute “dog-marrier” or “toaster-wedder” for “polyamorist” in the above paragraph. Still worried? Want to start an “SSM-Si! Pero Nada Mas” movement?

    The reason the SSM crowd has taken the judicial route is because although some States have legalized it, many have not.  Liberals and the SSM warriors want full and docile cooperation on every issue and cannot allow some States to stick with their own laws defining marriage as the traditional relationship between a man and a woman.

    • #9
  10. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    liberal jim:I would suggest states start issuing Garriage Certificates. The institution of Garriage would have all of the legal rights and responsibilities of Marriage, but would be for same sex couples. I suspect many on both sides would object to this proposal because many on one see are not real concerned with equal protection, and on the other side many do not approve of the sexual choices being made and think sanctioning these choices by the state deplorable.

    Jim, I oppose SSM but I also oppose separate but equal, and not because I disapprove of someone else’s sexual choices.

    If it’s equal in the eyes of the world then it should be equal, full stop. Anything else is an affront to “all men are created equal”.

    If it’s not the same, however, then there is little reason to grant the same rights or demand the same responsibilities as marriage. It’s a different thing that at best deserves a distinct institution tailored to its specific functions. This separate and different institution wouldn’t even be a gay institution, as I understand the topography of the issue, but would apply to all types of relationships that aren’t really marriage yet still would benefit the participants or would be of benefit to society in other ways.

    • #10
  11. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Pelayo:

    Kate Braestrup:

    My understanding —admittedly imperfect—is that the justices are taking on SSM after a significant number of states with a significant percentage of the US population have already legalized it. In other words, they are considering whether to add another bumper sticker to the bandwagon.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s likely. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that polygamous relationships cause unhappiness and they are also socially destabilizing, which is why most cultures (including our own) are far more likely in practice to go with serial monogamy. But it could happen. Anything could happen. Substitute “dog-marrier” or “toaster-wedder” for “polyamorist” in the above paragraph. Still worried? Want to start an “SSM-Si! Pero Nada Mas” movement?

    The reason the SSM crowd has taken the judicial route is because although some States have legalized it, many have not. Liberals and the SSM warriors want full and docile cooperation on every issue and cannot allow some States to stick with their own laws defining marriage as the traditional relationship between a man and a woman.

    It’s also inaccurate to say the “US population.” Almost everywhere the issue was put to popular vote SSM failed. Maybe it would come out differently now, but that’s the history.

    • #11
  12. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @GrannyDude

    It’s also inaccurate to say the “US population.” Almost everywhere the issue was put to popular vote SSM failed. Maybe it would come out differently now, but that’s the history.

    It would come out differently now. It will come out differently ten years from now, too.

    • #12
  13. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Kate Braestrup:

    …… One family after another comes to the conclusion that condemning him or her to a life of unfulfilled loneliness is wrong. …..

    You’re confusing different things here Kate. Anyone can avoid loneliness and find fulfillment with or without civil marriage. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn had exactly that for 30 years or more – without being married. Anyone can love, live with, have sex with, own property with, leave property to, anyone they want with or without civil marriage. Being against same sex civil marriage is no condemnation at all.

    • #13
  14. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    However, from a religious perspective I understand exactly what you’re saying, and it breaks my heart. What can I do, though? I believe in my Church’s teaching on sex: that each instance of intercourse not only take place within the sacrament of marriage, but that each also be unitive and procreative (to all who’ll balk at this one: look up the conversations we’ve had on Ricochet to get a feel for meaning behind this one, because 250 words aren’t enough).

    Same sex couples simply can’t fulfill that; it doesn’t make them bad people or automatically damned, but that option, religiously speaking, just isn’t possible for them. It breaks my heart that this strong drive for loving union has to compete with the drive to know and love God; it breaks my heart that God often loses. I suppose we all have these battles between our own desires and God, but I understand the particular difficulty faced with this particular battle and I have sympathy for the embattled.

    • #14
  15. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Kate Braestrup:

    My understanding —admittedly imperfect—is that the justices are taking on SSM after a significant number of states with a significant percentage of the US population have already legalized it. In other words, they are considering whether to add another bumper sticker to the bandwagon.

    I propose something else entirely.

    Yes, we may now be entering into the Next Phase. Ahead of us are many decades of heated, painful debate and struggle. One American family after another will be faced with a beloved and sincerely polyamorous son or daughter whose love dare not speak its name lest he or she be attacked, slandered, humiliated and even murdered. One family after another comes to the conclusion that condemning him or her to a life of unfulfilled loneliness is wrong. They find ample proof in the Bible and in history that polyamory is a and possibly the natural state of human sexual relationships. Films and tv shows will start showing polyandrous people in a sympathetic light. Someone will hire a polyandrous talk show host who has cute sneakers and an adorable smile. A conservative vice president’s own daughter will come out as a polyandrist! And one after another, the state laws against polyandry will fall either by judicial reasoning or by referendum and public vote. Polls will show that the majority of Americans think polyandry is okay.

    And then we will have polyandry.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s likely. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that polygamous relationships cause unhappiness and they are also socially destabilizing, which is why most cultures (including our own) are far more likely in practice to go with serial monogamy. But it could happen. Anything could happen. Substitute “dog-marrier” or “toaster-wedder” for “polyamorist” in the above paragraph. Still worried? Want to start an “SSM-Si! Pero Nada Mas” movement?

    Kate, there are already many people who practice polygamy clandestinely or sometimes for all the world to see (Sister Wives). Why would they not bring their cases to the courts after the ridiculous path that politicized judges have followed in redefining marriage against the will of the people?  They really have nothing to lose.  The courts have so diluted marriage that it is meaningless. Why not give the polygamists what they want? After all, marriage is just about love and consenting adults, right?

    • #15
  16. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Kate Braestrup:My understanding —admittedly imperfect—is that the justices are taking on SSM after a significant number of states with a significant percentage of the US population have already legalized it. In other words, they are considering whether to add another bumper sticker to the bandwagon.

    I wouldn’t quite put it that way. The basic question is whether the traditional definition — i.e., one-man-one-woman — is prohibited under the equal protection clause of the constitution.

    Kate Braestrup:Want to start an “SSM-Si! Pero Nada Mas” movement?

    I do and I tried; few takers.

    Again, I think such a position not only is defensible, but should be defended. But it’s hard to do so using the legal logic the SSM lobby is pushing.

    • #16
  17. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Kate Braestrup:

    My understanding —admittedly imperfect—is that the justices are taking on SSM after a significant number of states with a significant percentage of the US population have already legalized it. In other words, they are considering whether to add another bumper sticker to the bandwagon.

    It’s not just another bumper sticker if the Court declares it to be a Constitutional right. The message there is that no, this isn’t the sort of thing people can debate and then decide democratically on a state level; to refuse to recognize SSM in law is such a basic affront to our core Constitutional principles that it can’t be permitted. Now, I think recognizing SSM is a bad idea. But calling it a Constitutional right, and then differentiating on the grounds Saletan puts forward here, is just incoherent. Saletan is arguing that poly relationships just aren’t very good for people, and thus we shouldn’t legally recognize them. But if we’re allowed to differentiate in our marriage law based on what’s actually good for people (and society), there are some strong arguments against sanctioning SSM (which conservatives have been making for a long time, btw). They’re surely powerful enough, at any rate, to get us over the low bar of decreeing that SSM isn’t a Constitutional right, and should be left to the states and the normal democratic process.

    The only remotely plausible case for SSM as a Constitutional right would have to depend on a more formalistic claim that the government simply has no grounds to decide what romantic relationships people can bind themselves into. But then the polys seem to have a very, very strong case.

    Will we actually go down that road? No idea. SCOTUS does inconsistent things sometimes. But the reasoning Saletan employs here is awful.

    • #17
  18. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Kate Braestrup:

    It would come out differently now. It will come out differently ten years from now, too.

    I suspect it’s going to go the opposite direction from what redefiners expect.  We who support marriage are being relegated to the counter-culture, which is what young people tend to flock to.  They’re being given a chaotic world–genders proliferate, no one knows what marriage is, parenthood is being turned into “parent a and parent b”.  Yeah–that’s going to go well.  Meanwhile, religious communities who retain marriage as marriage will more and more show why that makes sense.  I strongly suspect the pendulum will swing back because much as redefiners want to change the facts of life, they can’t.

    • #18
  19. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I’m coming to believe that all these arguments rather miss the point. If it becomes “common knowledge” that same-sex couples are just like opposite sex couples in significant ways that make them eligible for marriage, it explodes the idea that there’s something socially crucial to life producing man/woman coupling.

    It’s not that SSM affects my traditional marriage. It’s future man/woman marriages I’m worried about. NFD damaged marriage’s feature of permanence. SSM will (and has already in some progressive academic circles) damaged the features of sexual exclusivity and comprehensiveness.

    • #19
  20. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Merina Smith:

    We who support marriage are being relegated to the counter-culture, which is what young people tend to flock to.

    Merina, I think that’s a poor choice of words, much in the same way it’s a poor choice when SSM proponents write things like “We who support equality and liberty…”

    • #20
  21. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Rachel,

    In short Saletan at Slate admits that monogamy is an a priori component of marriage. You have him all right. What could be more an a priori component of marriage than heterosexuality?!

    Marriage is monogamous heterosexuality by a priori definition. No more need be said.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #21
  22. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @GrannyDude

    Merina Smith:

    Kate Braestrup:

    It would come out differently now. It will come out differently ten years from now, too.

    I suspect it’s going to go the opposite direction from what redefiners expect. We who support marriage are being relegated to the counter-culture, which is what young people tend to flock to. They’re being given a chaotic world–genders proliferate, no one knows what marriage is, parenthood is being turned into “parent a and parent b”. Yeah–that’s going to go well. Meanwhile, religious communities who retain marriage as marriage will more and more show why that makes sense. I strongly suspect the pendulum will swing back because much as redefiners want to change the facts of life, they can’t.

    I agree—that’s a possibility. That’s why I didn’t specify what the difference would be in ten years. Just that it might be different.

    I also agree that the reasoning is bad. But I have enough reasoned, evidence-based belief in the basic attractions of heterosexuality and human pair-bonding to  be sanguine about the dangers of any huge, seismic shifts in how human families are formed.

    I do and I tried; few takers.

    Is that because everybody is secretly in favor of marriage becoming “meh…whatever” or is it because no one is seriously worried (other than rhetorically) that Sister-Wives are the wave of the future?

    • #22
  23. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Merina Smith:

    We who support marriage are being relegated to the counter-culture, which is what young people tend to flock to.

    Merina, I think that’s a poor choice of words, much in the same way it’s a poor choice when SSM proponents write things like “We who support equality and liberty…”

    Yeah, but it gets at something. No matter how SCOTUS rules, many, many people will continue to believe “marriage” means something. It’s real, like an apple is not an orange, or margarine isn’t butter (h/t the Dime). It’s a complementary, comprehensive, permanent, and sexually exclusive coupling.

    As soon as you concede there’s something like “social” justice, you lose sight of the thing that is justice. Marriage is.

    • #23
  24. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Merina Smith:

    We who support marriage are being relegated to the counter-culture, which is what young people tend to flock to.

    Merina, I think that’s a poor choice of words, much in the same way it’s a poor choice when SSM proponents write things like “We who support equality and liberty…”

    Nevertheless, that’s how I and many others see it.

    • #24
  25. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Kate Braestrup:

    Is that because everybody is secretly in favor of marriage becoming “meh…whatever” or is it because no one is seriously worried (other than rhetorically) that Sister-Wives are the wave of the future?

    The more generous responses were more like “Nice try, but we’re doomed.”

    • #25
  26. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Western Chauvinist:

    Yeah, but it gets at something. No matter how SCOTUS rules, many, many people will continue to believe “marriage” means something. It’s real, like an apple is not an orange, or margarine isn’t butter (h/t the Dime). It’s a complementary, comprehensive, permanent, and sexually exclusive coupling.

    So conceptions of marriage that allow polygamy aren’t marriage?

    • #26
  27. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @GrannyDude

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Kate Braestrup:

    Is that because everybody is secretly in favor of marriage becoming “meh…whatever” or is it because no one is seriously worried (other than rhetorically) that Sister-Wives are the wave of the future?

    The more generous responses were more like “Nice try, but we’re doomed.”

    Being doomed hasn’t stopped people from kicking up a ruckus before. My guess, Tom, is that people aren’t actually all that worried about it.  As Western Chauvinist said:  No matter how SCOTUS rules, many, many people will continue to believe “marriage” means something. It’s real, like an apple is not an orange, or margarine isn’t butter (h/t the Dime). It’s a complementary, comprehensive, permanent, and sexually exclusive coupling. People who approve of SSM understand marriage this way—except that “complementary” can refer to the souls  rather than genitals. 

     

    • #27
  28. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Kate Braestrup:

    Merina Smith:

    Kate Braestrup:

    It would come out differently now. It will come out differently ten years from now, too.

    I suspect it’s going to go the opposite direction from what redefiners expect. We who support marriage are being relegated to the counter-culture, which is what young people tend to flock to. They’re being given a chaotic world–genders proliferate, no one knows what marriage is, parenthood is being turned into “parent a and parent b”. Yeah–that’s going to go well. Meanwhile, religious communities who retain marriage as marriage will more and more show why that makes sense. I strongly suspect the pendulum will swing back because much as redefiners want to change the facts of life, they can’t.

    I agree—that’s a possibility. That’s why I didn’t specify what the difference would be in ten years. Just that it might be different.

    I also agree that the reasoning is bad. But I have enough reasoned, evidence-based belief in the basic attractions of heterosexuality and human pair-bonding to be sanguine about the dangers of any huge, seismic shifts in how human families are formed.

    Is that because everybody is secretly in favor of marriage becoming “meh…whatever” or is it because no one is seriously worried (other than rhetorically) that Sister-Wives are the wave of the future?

    The problem is that the more we water down the meaning of marriage the more unmoored we become.  I can easily, easily  imagine polygamy becoming legal and a fad.  I must tell you that I know of numerous incidents of men suggesting this to their wives.  It is just not a stretch of the imagination to think that men, or women for that matter, might meet someone attractive and think to themselves–hmmm–don’t want to abandon the spouse I have, but this person is really appealing.  I can have both.  The spouse probably doesn’t want that, but like no-fault divorce, they are between a rock and a hard place.  Polygamy is my academic subject, and I have to tell you that in many ways polygamy and human nature are completely compatible, particularly for men.  If the spouse decides on some tit for tat, you’ve got polyamory, and there isn’t a lot to stand in the way currently.  How strong an argument is “someone might be jealous”?

    • #28
  29. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Merina Smith:

    Is that because everybody is secretly in favor of marriage becoming “meh…whatever” or is it because no one is seriously worried (other than rhetorically) that Sister-Wives are the wave of the future?

    The problem is that the more we water down the meaning of marriage the more unmoored we become. I can easily, easily imagine polygamy becoming legal and a fad. I must tell you that I know of numerous incidents of men suggesting this to their wives. It is just not a stretch of the imagination to think that men, or women for that matter, might meet someone attractive and think to themselves–hmmm–don’t want to abandon the spouse I have, but this person is really appealing. I can have both. The spouse probably doesn’t want that, but like no-fault divorce, they are between a rock and a hard place. Polygamy is my academic subject, and I have to tell you that in many ways polygamy and human nature are completely compatible, particularly for men. If the spouse decides on some tit for tat, you’ve got polyamory, and there isn’t a lot to stand in the way currently. How strong an argument is “someone might be jealous”?

    That’s what’s so hilarious about the Saletan piece. We won’t sanction polygamy, because, well, jealousy, obviously.

    And even better, the response in the Court proceedings when Alito asked about it! Along the lines of, “Four people marrying each other? Well, that’s just not what marriage has ever been understood to be.” Seriously, can you even parody this?

    • #29
  30. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Rachel Lu: Is the state permitted to consider natural facts about human nature and relationship proclivities in deciding what to recognize as a marriage?

    Yeah, that article suffers from rather terrible reasoning.  I suspect the supreme court decision will as well.

    • #30

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