Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gay Marriage: All for It

If you're liberal or libertarian, this one's a no-brainer. What two consenting adults do is their own business, and as long as you're not hurting anybody else, the government has no business interfering or discriminating against anyone in the matter.

But the arguments against gay marriage are many and varied. By far the biggest one is a matter of religious belief, or of definition. We hear over and over that marriage has traditionally "always been between a man and a woman." But actually, that isn't so. There is no such thing as a "traditional" definition of marriage. Marriage has meant different things to different cultures for thousands of years. To illustrate, in some cultures, marriage between a man and several women has been the norm. Or arranged marriages, in which the bride and groom have hardly met, are highly valued. The ancient Greeks valued the love between men as being superior to that between a man and wife. Until fairly recently, historically speaking, women were viewed as chattel--the property of a husband. Even the Mormon church, until somewhat recently, viewed polygamy as acceptable. In some countries, what we would term incest (marrying cousins) is normal. And so on. Books have been written on the subject. Refer to, for instance, the research and writings of Stephanie Coontz.

What people really mean when they say that marriage between a man and a woman is "traditional" is that "this is the arrangement I'm comfortable with because it's what I know, and what my parents knew, and what their parents knew."

But let's not forget, when interracial marriage became legal in the United States, that, too, was considered untraditional and abnormal. When our own President was born, the marriage between his own parents was considered illegal in some states in our great country. The thinking was, "God created the races separately, so they ought not intermingle." Nowadays we laugh at that as backwards thinking. We've grown out of, evolved past, that biased way of thinking. We shake our heads in dismay upon hearing that the Cain and Abel story was routinely used by Christians to justify black slavery in this country, until we adjusted our Biblical interpretation.

Likewise, we can adjust our Biblical interpretation of those few passages in the Bible that call homosexuality a sin. Most are in the Old Testament law (and we've tossed out so many of those rules--we don't consider someone sinful if they wear clothing of mixed fabrics, or eat shellfish, or make love while a female is menstruating; we don't put to death children who curse their parents, nor do we cajole a brother to marry his brother's wife should his brother die). And those in the New Testament are from Paul, who was also a product of his time (let's not forget he advised not even bothering to marry since Jesus was coming right back--but, he relented, go ahead and marry if you would fornicate otherwise). He also thought women shouldn't sit with men in church and should cover their heads. The bottom line is, we change our adherence to Biblical passages all the time; our understanding of the Bible evolves as our own social consciousness evolves. Jesus taught that it's the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter of the law. Thus He would heal on the Sabbath.

Can you really see Jesus telling a committed gay couple that has been together in a monogamous, stable relationship for years and years that their love is something less than, say, a convicted killer's love for his wife? Where's the justice in that? A child rapist can get married in this country as long as he marries a woman. But a law-abiding, tax-paying, upstanding citizen of this country cannot marry the person he chooses if he happens to be homosexual.

We understand so much more about sexuality now than the writers of the Bible did. We're discovering that being gay isn't a choice (the only real choice resides in whether or not the person will be whom they really are or attempt to live a lie); that being gay is not a sexual perversion or a mental defect; that gay people are not all pedophiles (some are, but the majority of pedophiles are straight men); indeed, science is uncovering some evidence that homosexuality might even be gene-determined. It does appear naturally in the animal kingdom, so why not among human beings?

And one thing's for sure, a gay person can't "convert" a heterosexual person to gayness. Think about that. When did YOU ever make the conscious decision to be attracted to the sex you're attracted to? You just ARE. Think about it. My parents didn't raise me to be gay. I was out and out indoctrinated, just like everybody else, to be straight. I even tried to be straight. Sorry. Just didn't work out. I can't MAKE MYSELF be attracted to somebody, any more than I can make anybody else be attracted to somebody. Gay people don't try to convert others--because we can't.

Then people will say, well, why call it marriage? Marriage is a religious institution, performed in a church. If we legalize gay marriages, then churches will be forced to perform them or be sued, even though homosexuality flies in the face of their beliefs. Well, that's just not so. Because of our Constitutional separation of Church and State, the government cannot compel churches to marry gay people (although some are happy to do so). The Church already has the right to refuse to marry whomever they like. But actually, no one is saying the Church has to perform gay marriages. We are simply saying that the government has no right to discriminate against gay citizens in the matter of marriage. Just as some straight people choose to not get married in a church, gay people may or may not choose to marry in a church. But the government, or the State, may not legally deny us. Because in so doing, the State is offering rights, protections, and benefits to one class of citizens and not to another. It's that simple.

Okay, fine, some will say. But if we do that, what's to stop some lamebrain from demanding that he be able to marry his sister, or his horse, or some child? My easy answer to that is, no one is agitating for that. If that ever even came up, we can hash it out then. But of course, no one is satisfied with that answer. So we have to consider incest taboos and the danger inherent in marrying a child (who is not a consenting adult capable of making a marriage contract) or the absurdity of marrying a horse (who is also incapable of consent), etc., etc. Go ahead and draw a line if you must, I say, but draw it AFTER gay marriage, for I just don't see how gay marriage--between two unrelated, consenting adults--hurts anybody.

Another objection I hear has to do with the "sanctity" of heterosexual marriage and how gay marriage cheapens the idea of marriage further. I honestly don't see why MY gay marriage should have any impact on YOUR straight marriage--I would think you'd be more concerned by the fact that two drunk people who just met in Las Vegas can get married legally. I think about Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who were together for over 50 years and about as devoted to each other as two people can possibly be, who were finally able to legally marry shortly before Del passed away. Which couple cheapens the idea of marriage more? Del and Phyllis are examples of what marriage should be--true love, devotion, sticking together through thick and thin, life partners. If you really think gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, you'd do better to get rid of no-fault divorces. And as for not being able to procreate (isn't that a purpose of marriage?), don't be ridiculous. There are plenty of heterosexual couples who marry who don't have children, either by choice or because they're unable. We wouldn't think of telling them they have no right to marry.

The last reason I hear is children, the children, how will legitimizing gay marriage impact our children? Well, for all those kids out there who are gay and are afraid to come out or be themselves because of society's bigotry against them, I say gay marriage will help them look forward to a happier future, full of acceptance and free of homophobia and its attendant hate crimes. As for kids who are straight, so what? Parents are still free to teach their children whatever values they may hold. You can't shield them forever from the real world. In fact, kids amazingly have no problem with the idea of someone being gay until the world tells them they should. Just as society eventually came to realize that mixing the races wasn't going to be the end of the world, so will society realize that gay marriages won't be the end of society, either. There is no reason to believe that exposing children to homosexuality will make them more likely to be homosexual or bisexual (in fact, plenty of studies exist that show otherwise). There are plenty of kids now being raised by gay parents who are turning out just fine and whose only problem lies with dealing with the bigotry of others. This doesn't mean we're forcing on them a greater burden--instead, shoulder some responsibility yourself and stop making it harder for these kids by discriminating against their parents. There's room in the world for all of us.

In Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote that all animals are created equal; some animals are just more equal than others. It's high time gay Americans stopped being treated as "less than," or like the second-class animals. Our love is just as strong, just as precious, just as holy. Stop insulting us with the blithe claim that "domestic partnerships" and "civil unions" are the same as, or equal to, marriage. They're not. I'm married legally in California; but if I moved to, say, Indiana, that state would not see me as married. I still have to file an individual federal tax return. I still have my health insurance (I'm on my spouse's policy) taxed because it's considered income, for goodness' sake, because my marriage doesn't carry the same status as that of my straight brothers and sisters.

There is no good, decent, kind reason to be against gay marriage. Not if you open your heart and mind and educate yourself on the issue.

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