Sunday, November 23, 2008

A thought on Prop 8

I'm sure someone much smarter than I am has already made this point regarding California's Prop 8, and hopefully someone can point me in that direction, but just in case, I have to get this out there:

For years, one of the chief arguments against granting gays the right to marry has been the notion that this would somehow threaten the existing marriages of heterosexual couples. I've personally always found this bizarre and disturbing. If Steve and Scott get hitched, I'm somehow less married? I can't even wrap my mind around that. I suppose this view is predicated on the erroneous belief that marriage is some timeless and unchanging tradition, and any change to it invalidates it all. That's patently false: "traditional marriage", even "biblical marriage", involved a man gaining family connections, a vessel for childbearing, and sexual gratification by acquiring multiple thirteen- or fourteen-year-old brides who were his legal property. Seen in that light, it's the defense of traditional marriage which is the obviously taboo position within our modern culture. If any threat to traditional marriage invalidates the entire institution, then there's nothing left, folks, because a marriage between two equal partners of opposite genders who might even be (gasp) of different racial backgrounds and different religious persuasions... that modern cultural construction is so far from "traditional marriage" that the institution has either taken on new meaning over time, or has none at all.

But if we are concerned with protecting the modern version of marriage, a legal and religious commitment between two adult partners joining their lives for personal reasons, then the passage of California's Prop 8 poses the greatest threat to that institution of any action I can imagine. In fact, the other bogey-men hypotheticals of legally sanctioned plural marriage and bestiality don't hold a candle to the danger of Prop 8. Because even the most extreme broadening of the definition of marriage does not create a circumstance where legally recognized marriages might be invalidated in the eyes of the law. Prop 8 has done just that.

Currently, it looks like the 36,000 people joined in marriage before the passage of Prop 8 will still be legally recognized after the court challenges pass through the system, but that's not a settled legal question. And that's just the point. To the best of my knowledge, no legally recognized marriages have ever been retroactively invalidated. Can someone find an exception? Were some Mormon plural marriages recognized at some point in some state and then later invalidated? Did any state temporarily recognize interracial marriages and then change its mind? If not, we've created a unique legal precedent already, regardless of the outcome of the impending court rulings. Scott and Steve already got married. That didn't threaten anybody's marriage. But now a state government has to decide whether or not to take away Steve and Scott's marriage. And if they can do it to Steve and Scott, if they can even consider doing that, they could do it to Paige and I, too, should they see fit to do so.

Gay marriage is no threat to hetero marriage. But invalidating gay marriages undermines the sanctity of the commitment at a fundamental level. When I entered into this contract, I did so fully conscious of the religious commitment I was making with a third party; my promise wasn't just to Paige, but to God as well. I was tangentially aware of the fourth party's involvement, but I took the legal recognition for granted. I knew I acquired new legal rights and privileges, but I had no idea the state could change its mind. If Paige agreed to stay married to me, and God agreed to keep us alive, then our contract would remain binding. But Prop 8 adds a new layer of insecurity to an institution that is already tenuous in our culture. All marriages fail, eventually, because of the frailty of the stakeholders. One party decides to dissolve the contract, or one dies. God may maintain the contract in the afterlife (one can only hope), but the two human stakeholders cannot maintain it in perpetuity. Now, thanks to Prop 8, those of us who are married must realize that the fourth stakeholder is also too frail to guarantee its continued recognition of the institution.

Is it likely that any state will invalidate any heterosexual marriage? Of course not. It's a silly fear for a silly, sci-fi world. But the future is designed by people, and some of those people are nonsensical enough to believe that two adults making a choice to commit to love one another for as long as they can somehow threaten the same commitment of the couple next door, who happen to have different and differing genitals. These paranoid, irrational zealots have their sights set on gay couples right now, so, by all means, heterosexuals need not fear, and we don't need to speak up.

Of course they won't come for us next.

That's never happened before.


@bdul muHib said...

No, if Jane and Mary get married, it's a threat to my getting the chance to get married, since there's that much fewer women around ;-)

Seriously, good thoughts. I want to go back to Biblical Dating too. Forget that silly I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I mean real Biblical Dating- you know, like on a threshing floor, when a woman sneaks in and strips off her clothing and mine while I'm in a drunken stupor?

But I personally care little (a little, not much) for the state's recognition of my future marriage. What matters is the covenant between me and my wife, our God, and the community of believers. If the four parties are in agreement, it doesn't matter a fig what the government thinks. And this was the clear practice of the early church.

Gay Mom said...

Straight people are hurt in even more ways than being the next potential target for political initiatives. How did we end up with bad leaders like Bush and Cheney? Wedge issues. In spite of the terrible damage Bush has done to our country, almost half of the electorate voted for the Republican losers, McCain and Palin. Those people are still out there, and they’re mad. Their version of reality wasn’t validated this election, except for the passage of anti-gay measures. They’re reveling in success on that front, and they have the motivation, time and money to plan their next move in 2010. They have a taste of success in California with Prop 8, and they’re going to use this momentum to rile up their supporters across the country.

If straight America doesn’t take a stand for marriage equality, the right wing will continue to bash us over the head with this wedge issue. Progressives and the Democratic Party have to quit “tolerating” gays and start taking an ethical stand for civil rights for gay and lesbian citizens. Just as it took federal intervention in the black civil rights movement (Civil Rights Act of 1964), it’s going to take the federal government to stop these anti-gay, anti-American state level initiatives. We can sit back and do nothing more than “accept” gays, or progressives can be proactive and stand up and demand constitutional equality for all Americans. If we don’t, the right wing will continue to use anti-gay sentiment for fundraising and to get out the vote.

This is a historical time for change, and might be the only time in the next fifty years to forward a progressive agenda. Gays will eventually win equal rights, because this is America and we have a glorious Constitution that has already brought us past slavery to women’s suffrage, black suffrage and the civil rights strife of the 1900s. President Elect Barack Obama will have the chance to be on the right side of history on this issue. I hope he is strong enough and wise enough to do so. But it’s going to take a concerted effort from those of us who elected him to create and promote marriage equality as one of the mandates of our historic election for change.

Here’s a plan for how the Democrats and Barack Obama can solve the gay marriage issue:

Benjamin Gorman said...

A very good point! We've all suffered, in that it's been used to elect people who've hurt us all in myriad ways. Conservative Doug Kmiec, a lawyer for Nixon and Ford and now a law professor, has begun to argue that the state should get out of the marriage business all together and only offer civil unions, so that marriage can be a strictly religious designation certified by religious organizations, and government can get out of it all together. The idea was previously floated by Elton John, among others, so I'd call that bipartisan support. I think it's also a great idea. This would put the anti-gay rights crowd in the position of having to argue that they need the government to acknowledge their marriages, and not just the civil rights that accompany them. For folks who are ostensibly in favor of small government, that might be tricky (though, let's face it, this obvious hypocrisy hasn't kept many of the same "small government" conservatives from interfering in women's reproductive health choices). I understand it's convenient for the government to use marriage as a mechanism to dole out government benefits, but we've clearly crossed the threshold where their use of it means they have to meddle too much in the institution itself. We should work, swiftly, to get the government out of the marriage business, to prevent all the collateral damage that accompanies their persistent attempts to use marriage to cause great suffering among a portion of the population. Not only does hurting some of us hurt all of us in a larger, moral sense, but hurting some of us empowers the people who want to hurt all of us in other ways.

Rob Anderson said...

This is one of the most intelligent meditations on the implications of the passage of Proposition 8 that I have yet read. You are to be commended.

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