Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Red Maryland: Thoughts on Prop 8

Proposition 8 in California and other similar measures in other states, have garnered a fair amount of attention to the issue of same sex marriage. Whilst the debate continues over the rights of gays in the context of marriage various efforts to demonstrate the role gays play in our society are taking place today. I can't say that I have any objection to these protests and really, I don't think anyone in America is doubting the fact that gays make a significant contribution to our society and the "calling in gay" protest is fair, if likely to be ineffectual. But other reactions to the victory of Prop 8 supporters has been, well interesting. It is that reaction, with ludicrous videos, threats of not paying state taxes and other dumb reactions that goes to highlight a group that is more wont to throw a temper tantrum rather than knuckling down and trying to overcome the loss by educating people as to their viewpoint.

But that is not to say that the Prop 8 supporters were right. I have been spending a fair amount thinking about this issue. In a conversation with my father, a very smart and thoughtful man, he stated that gay marriage is contrary to natural law. He rightfully noted that if you put 100 gay men on an island and come back in 100 years, they would all be dead. Ditto for 100 lesbians. I don't know about natural law, but I will readily admit that gay men in particular are incapable of procreating the species. Gay women can procreate, but not with other gay women, they need the intervention of a man to provide the second half of genetic material for a child. So in terms of the natural procreation of the species, yes, gay marriage would counteract natural law.

But let's think about the implications of that a little further. Is marriage a natural law, a supernatural (i.e. God driven law) or simply a man-made law? Marriage has traditionally been viewed as a religious ceremony, with the union blessed and santified by God through a minister of some church or another. There is little doubt that marriage has traditionally had a very faith based foundation. However, is that still the case, particularly in America? Do we as a nation still view marriage as a matter of faith before a matter of civil law?

I am not sure that a very large segment of American society (even outside the gay community) still view marriage as anything more than a civil contract, to be cast aside when it is not convenient to one or more of the parties. There is sufficient evidence for this notion, if viewed through the viewpoint of the ease of no-fault divorce, even in those marriages that are performed by a church. There is also the growing prevelance of single parenthood, i.e. women having children without being married--by choice. Additionally, there is a decline in the "religiousosity" of America as evidence by the constant crusade to rid our public sphere of anything with the taint of religious faith. Finally, there is the question of the role of churches in America shifting, losing influence, which, according to one writer, is the reason why there is such a church based opposition to gay marriage. I don't mean to say that each of this issues is, in and of itself, a necessarily negative thing to be condemned outright. Nor are any of these factors to be considered the sole cause of the decline of marriage as a religious institution. Rather they simply highlight that in America, I think we have come to see marriage not necessarily as a religious institution of an enduring nature, but a civil contract that can be easily dispensed with upon a whim.

But if we as a society no longer consider marriage as a religious rite and view it simply as a civil contract with allows for a certain amount of legal, societal and ownership "shortcuts" then it seems to me that not allow gay "marriage" is somewhat hypocritical. After all, gay marriage opponents routinely cite that gay couples can achieve through contract what heterosexual couples achieve through marriage. But if society looks at marriage as a civil contract only, then why disallow a segment of the population the ability to enter into that civil contract that serves as a shortcut for so many other "marital" related rights.

However, if marriage is supposed to mean something more, that it is supposed to retain its religious foundation, then we must look at the opposite side of the issue and wonder what has happened to the religious foundation. This may be a situation where we have to ask about the impact of easy, no fault divorces, the declining stigma associated with single-parenthood and bastardy, and the fight to rid our public square of any hint of religion. Have we become so intolerant of the highs and lows of a marriage, the work and sacrifice that a marrige requires that many people simply lack the fortitude to stick it out? I am not suggesting that every marriage consecrated in a church should not be dissolved upon good reason, but I think their needs to be a reason, not simply a matter of convenience. For many couples, when it becomes "too hard" there is simply a desire to give up rather than fight for the marriage. But a large part of the opposition to gay marriage is being made by churches and religious groups, in part because they believe that gay marriage will desecrate the institution of marriage, thus eroding the fabric of civilized society.

Which leads us back to the gay marriage advocates. Are they being treated a second class citizens? They certainly have a strong case when it comes to the issue of marriage. But are they really looking to upset the foundation of civilized society? Given that heterosexual America has been doing a pretty fine job of undermining marriage, I think it unfair in the extreme to blame gay America for such a notion. But does the idea of gay marriage itself constitute an attack on civilized society. On one hand gays looking to get marries are looking to redefine the traditional definition of marriage, which has been between a man and a woman (but not always a one to one relationship). On the other hand, gays are looking to participate in a foundational institution of society. It begs the question, if they are looking to participate, aren't they further contributing to the foundation of a civilized society?

If one considers the multitude of ways in which people of marriage age live, you would be hard pressed to say that a gay marriage undermines civilized society. If you leave aside extended families and college dormitory living, there are multiple living arrangements that undermine the notion of marriage as a foundation for American society.

Both sides of this debate are guilty of not managing their position in a logical fashion. The hyperventilating by gays looking to marry and being denied the right through the Democratic process end up looking like whiners when some of the community react as we have seen, with bigoted attacks, silly and pointless protestations about taxes (why not simply move, Melissa Etheridge certainly has the means to) or musicals designed to inflame passions on the opposing side, rather sitting down and trying to explain their case in a civilized manner. On the gay marriage opponents side, claiming that marriage is a sacred rite and gay marriage is an abomination before God is both undermined by the facts of a crumbling belief in marriage in America and by silly notion that a gay person (who by your own definition is created by God) is somehow an abomination before that God. Like many debates involving values, there will have to be an evolution, but that evolution is not without possibility and both sides need to take a breather and examine their actions and cases.

1 comment:

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