Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Same-sex Marriage

I've been reading with interest the coverage of the California Supreme Court's review of Prop. 22 and the "right" of same sex couples to marry. First, I want to give Justice Moreno a huge round of applause for his simple question: "Are you saying that separate is equal here?"

Second, let's all agree that it is absolute balderdash to suggest that heterosexual marriage is somehow "threatened" by the possibility that people of the same sex might marry. People decide to marry or not for a very wide range of reasons, many of which are totally irrational, but the possibility that people of the same gender might be able to marry is just not on the table in that process. I mean, imagine the conversation: "Gee, Harry, I can't marry you, because your brother Joe just married his boyfriend Ed." Give me a break.

The real objection to same-sex marriage, which nobody wants to discuss, goes back to the fact that a lot of people still think that homosexuality is some kind of warped personal choice, which can't be accepted because "the things those people do" are so revolting. This is a personal opinion and has no business in public policy; it's just another facet of the fact that Americans as a group can't deal rationally with sex. As far as I can tell from the research, homosexuality is not a choice, it's a basic predisposition, like blue eyes or left-handedness or the inability to smell the chemical you make when you pee after eating asparagus.

Let me come down here on the side of the people (I've read several user comments to this effect on sfgate.com) who say that marriage should not be a consideration of the state. Marriage is a religious sacrament, and in the United States we have a legal separation of church and state. The state should only approve civil unions; any two people should be able to join in a civil union; and if a couple wants to go to the Catholic Church and argue that their same-sex union should be solemnized in the marriage ceremony, that's their private problem.

State approval of marriages goes back to English common law, under which the church is an arm of the state; but our Constitution forbids that. The real problem with civil unions is the fact that the federal government also has this confusion; no matter what the California court decides, unless something is done at the federal level, same-sex partners in civil unions still won't be able to have the privileges under Social Security that people who are "married" get. I've been married twice, both to men; neither function took place in a church or involved a minister of religion. In both my marriages, I had full rights to my husband's Social Security (which was moot the first time because I've made, over my lifetime, probably more money than he has...). But a same-sex couple who also has a civil ceremony not involving a minister doesn't have those rights; and they aren't necessarily recognized as "family" in the health system; and so on.

Justice Moreno is dead right: this is separate, but not equal.

And since neither of my marriages produced any children, let's also dismiss the absurd argument that marriage is "for the procreation of children." Marriage is and has been for centuries a legal arrangement for the disposal and transmission of property, generally but not exclusively through children, since until recently, no one could be sure that the children would survive. This whole romantic love business was invented in the 19th century by the Romantic movement.

12 comments:

  1. Well, that little can certainly has a terrifying variety of worms in it!

    Everyone's idea of Gay Marriage is complex, specific, and highly charged with emotion and/or layers of prejudice and opinion.

    I have known several Gay men well, but that experience and knowledge hasn't clarified or made easier the questions which arise from these pending civil law issues.

    Homosexuality is a complicated issue, and the question of same-sex unions, like so much else regarding "alternate life-style" and/or different behaviors, is loaded with ambiguity.

    As a child, I was abused by a female pedefile (my 6th grade teacher). As a teenager, like many an impressionable fellow, I sometimes worried about whether I could "be" Gay, or could somehow be seduced into becoming homosexual. My parents were divided on the subject, my Stepfather sternly warning against despicable perverts, and my Mother--I have come to believe, in retrospect--secretly harboring vicarious fantasies about my becoming one.

    Enshrining homosexuality in law and custom has the effect of encouraging tacit approval of behaviors and archetypes which most religions have traditionally believed are wrong. Aside from the moral dogmas which embody this prejudice, there may be good reasons not to address the subject to children or young adults in such a way as to seem to be authorizing deviance. Would you, for instance, feel comfortable having your child's fifth grade teacher suggesting, during sex education, that anal intercourse is really "okay" "as long as it feels right"? Because, in the end, that is really what society is moving towards.

    Psychology, not yet a science in the precise sense of that word, is in its relative infancy. We don't sufficiently understand how inherited tendencies and conditioning interact, that we can with confidence refer to behavioral variation as "genetic" predisposition. The evidence tends, however, to suggest strong correlations between early life experiences in the "family"; and that a missing parent tends to complicate, even to confuse, the sexual archetype, by failing to furnish a model of the norm. The control of dominant images and alternatives in a culture--what pictures, heroes, heavens and hells, visions of the ideal, shall prevail--has inspired history's greatest contests, arguments, and institutions.

    Deciding whether or not to "allow" civil unions among same-sex partners--quite apart from the implications for all other effects and ramifications in law, conduct and tradition--is not simply about "fairness" or an acknowledgement of "reality" or about "recognizing difference". It is about granting full status--honor, pride, beauty, dignity--to a behavior which a majority of society, by all accounts, does not prefer.

    American society is on a trajectory of liberalization, has been more or less continuously since the turn of the last century. It remains to be seen whether "Gayness" constitutes a class of minority exclusion on a similar footing with, for instance, equality of the sexes (women's rights), or racial equality. To frame homosexuality as the conceptual equivalent of inherited difference (such as race) is to assert its de facto entitlement.

    Tolerance is not the same thing as entitlement. Gay unions have happened throughout history, albeit under a cloud. These will undoubtedly continue, whether or not society moves to legitimate their existence, just as Gay communities will flourish.

    On balance, I'm probably against civil unions for same-sex, but it has nothing to do with religion. If people want to meet in private and conduct spurious rituals, and squirm around in bed, it's all fine with me--as long as it doesn't become a big medical problem. But that's another question....

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  2. Anonymous10:57 PM

    There is an ongoing shift in public attitudes toward gay unions. I saw it in particular among my community college students. There was backlash, of course, but that was the trajectory throughout my teaching career, which began in the latter 60s. Gays were a distinct minority among my mixed rural/suburban students, but the acceptance of homosexuality was clearly moving toward the norm.

    Area religious institutions were mostly anti-gay, except for the progressive churches. But students were generally the reverse. The future is tolerance and acceptance on this issue. I suspect the traditional opposition will become a curiosity, as have denial of the vote to women and segregated public schools (and football teams). These might seem of a different nature than opposition to gay marriage, but the denial of full humanity is a quite comparable dynamic based on a comparable refusal to accept fully some aspect of civilized human existence.

    Anonymous David

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  3. Curtis, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this.

    I'm very sorry to hear about your childhood experience, and also about your parents', um, interesting ideas on the subject of homosexuality; but I wasn't talking about pedophilia at all, and I don't see how it applies, since the situation was heterosexual. I was talking about long-term, stable relationships between consenting adults - note both the noun ("adults") and the adjective ("consenting").

    I'm a little surprised, coming from you, to hear the statement, "which most religions have traditionally believed are wrong." I don't normally think of you, based on your comments, as especially religious; if I've misjudged you, I apologize. My own somewhat cynical opinion on the subject is that "most religions" don't "encourage" homosexual behavior because it doesn't produce offspring, and without lots of breeding believers, how can the religion expand and out-compete all the other religions? I've always felt that's what was behind the Old Testament injunctions to "go forth and multiply," etc.

    I can't really comment on the sex education issues because I have no children; if I had, I think I would have expected myself to have made sure that anything they were taught in school about sex merely confirmed the hard facts I had already personally taught them. Half of our social problem with teenage sexuality is that parents, as a group, generally can't bring themselves to "discuss that stuff" with their kids. But once again, what does that have to do with the legality of long-term stable unions between consenting adults?

    I think Anonymous David is right that society is gradually but steadily moving toward acceptance of homosexuality as one of humanity's possible norms, and not some kind of sin or debased morality. Remember, a little over 100 years ago Oscar Wilde went to jail for homosexual behavior; and sex between men was completely illegal in Britain until 1967. (There don't seem to be any laws in Britain against sex between women. Interesting.) And here we are, 40 years after that, arguing over whether the legal, civil unions that already exist in California should be called "marriage." I think it's only a matter of time before they are.

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  4. Hedera, I agree with you that legalization is right around the corner. The way I put it to my Gay friends is: "The door has been pried open, the light is visible through the crack, and we have leverage."

    This text is one taken from another discussion I participated in on the net. It’s over-long, but I think it says useful things, as an amplification to what I posted earlier. Like a lot of people, I suspect, I have two opinions about certain issues, a public, politically correct position, and a more private one. It may be useful, in this case, to show both masks, not to reconcile them, but to show that it is possible to be conflicted without being confused. A lot of problems in the world are NOT solvable—they remain as outstanding dilemmas.

    _____

    Society is always concerned about what modes and models of behavior are "privileged" or "foregrounded" (to use two new hip post-Modern terms) for emulation and/or adaptation. Classical psychology is grounded in the concept of "normality", asserting statistical and structural differences among groups to make broad categorical distinctions between what is "most likely" (normal) and "different" (abnormal). Using this standard, traditional psychology has placed homosexuality among the list of "deviations"--though a clear reading of that is by no means a moral injunction, something which critics of Freud and his followers almost always miss. Sexual difference exists, in the scientific sense, for the procreation of offspring. It has no other purpose, genetically, or otherwise. Our nervous systems are designed to inspire curiosity and dalliance, and sexual union. Departures from that function are deviations from nature. If we see two male dogs licking each other obsessively and moaning oddly, we laugh and make jokes: They're only animals, after all.

    But humans have an extraordinarily developed sense of language, of symbolic objectification. As one famous theorizer put it: We're the only species which has managed to differentiate the idea of sex from the actual act. It is partly this--and much more, of course--that permits us to treat our bodies as playthings, our sex organs as objects of pleasure--completely devoid of procreation--and to engage in all the rehearsals and casual indulgences of sexuality which culture has invented. Seen from this perspective, homosexuality is a form of impotent play, without potential consequence to the existence of the species. Psychologists are largely divided on what makes someone choose the same sex to fantasize upon, but they almost universally agree about the rebellion of the self to the given (received--born) archetype, which makes of the body and its function an accidental bad joke played upon the innocent ego.

    The real nitty-gritty is that what we choose to legitimate through law and custom amounts to much more than simple "toleration." Society has throughout history largely restricted the monosexual to an "underground" status, which formally denied its existence, while acknowledging its existence "privately." If we are on the verge of a public acknowledgment, indeed a celebration of this difference, we must be therefore willing to accept the consequences of doing so.

    What would/will the result be if we formally acknowledge, and celebrate, homosexuality as a valid alternative to "the norm"? If, as the psychologists tell us, the human personality is the interaction between nature and nurture, and if sexuality is regarded as nothing more than a panoply of possibilities (or "alternatives"), what basis do (would) we have for making the claim of exclusivity and sacredness which society has assigned to heterosexuality and all its trappings?

    Cultural anthroopoligists now believe that mankind lived in a tribal and nomadic state for millions of years, prior to the establishment of settled, agricultural communities. Life expectancy was less than 30 years. Sexual maturity marked the beginning of sexual experience, usually through the rigid hierarchical male pyramid: Teenaged girls could expect to be impregnated by the tribal chief as early as age 12. Customs and folkways which we now take for granted have only existed in human society for a mere blip in time. Our “nature” insofar as we are given to understand it, more closely resembles that of Humbert Humbert and Lolita than that of a 19th Century upper-middle class prolonged courtship. The church has had its say with respect to all these matters for a long time; much of its dogma is mumbo-jumbo; central to most of it is the control of sexuality and the indoctrination of children. In the West, contract law governing marriage, inheritance, adoption and so forth, has been designed around a hybrid makeshift of religious and “profane” precepts, but it’s unlikely that anyone would try to argue that sexual deviance has ever been an institutionalized tenet in any religion or civil jurisdiction before in history. From the perspective of “civilized” history, Its formal legitimation is a quite novel and revolutionary concept.

    Put simply, are we willing to have homosexuality become an openly advocated and celebrated role model in our culture? Are we willing to accept the consequences of exposing “young minds” (anyone between the ages of 2 and 25) to favorable and persuasive portrayals of monosexuality in the courts, the schools, the media, in art and literature, in public?

    What society defines as “the age of reason” or “the age of consent” has undergone various transformations over time, though this has consistently been conceived in terms of heterosexual settings. Is one an “adult” under the law at age 17? Age 18? Age 21? We still prosecute adults for engaging in sexual acts with partners under the age of 17. Imagine, if you will, how society will judge a monosexual teacher who encourages a minor, or teenager, to pursue a monosexual life-style. I was surprised to see, recently, two young girls outside a middle school in Albany, California, in full view of their peers, at mid-day, engage in kissing and petting as they lingered at a bus stop. They couldn’t have been more than 14, and seemed utterly at ease, though obviously determined to make a public display.

    If we move to legitimate monosexuality as a perfectly normal alternative for our youth, and even to facilitate it with legalization of marriage, inheritance rights, domestic benefits, etc., we can expect their numbers to increase, their habits and celebrations of acknowledgment to become more open, and their “life-style” to become woven into the fabric of our official culture.

    I am not religious, and have no patience with those who wish to base public policy upon religious dogma. Nevertheless, large segments of the population are religious, and the moral principles they live under, and follow, dictate to a large degree what they regard as tolerable or acceptable. For them, and for those who may believe that monosexuality is a perverse behavior, such public acknowledgment and legitimation is a profound mistake (i.e., a “sin”).

    Cultural difference (“multi-cultural diversity”), ethnic and racial difference, are now celebrated in our society, as if to compensate for centuries of prejudice, persecution, neglect, and deprivation. They are regarded as self-evident conditions worthy of respect, even reward, in their own right, as if being born “black” or “Latino” or even, now, “Gay”—rather than being a social stigma—should be regarded as a gift, a badge of honor and pride, and a proof of entitlement. In America, we have gone far beyond the original vision(s) of the “founding fathers” in applying notions of equality to startlingly diverse classes of citizens.

    Addressing oppression and prejudice by outlawing persecution and discrimination, is a very worthy enterprise. Sexual “deviants” have suffered unjustly throughout civilized history, through gratuitous violence, institutionalized prejudice and condemnation.

    But tolerance has limits. Will we tolerate Muslim culture, for instance, with its subjugation of women and children, its austere control of the daily life and habits of its members? Islamic culture specifically forbids monosexual activity. Catholics do also. Is it possible to fine-tune our “tolerance” by applying it simultaneously to religion and sexual difference? Not very likely, in my view.

    From my personal perspective, I have questions about the jeopardy in which we place children in a society in which Gays would be pressing their agenda, and defending their right to an alternative youth culture of sexual activism and bizarre ritual. I am also concerned about the expansion of entitlements of various kinds under law. At Social Security, we used to joke about “in-laws” and “neighbors’ benefits”—but are we ready to entitle sexual partners of the same sex to spousal benefits? I am also uncomfortable with same-sex parentage, which I think carries various risks as well. With the improved efficiency of artificial insemination, Lesbian subculture now touts the “superfluity” of the male to domestic arrangements.

    We may dismiss all religious dogma regarding sexuality as nonsense; but our culture in the West has been designed around certain traditions: The family. Monogamy. Patri-lineal descent. Parental responsibility and control. As these institutions come under increasing pressure, we see a proliferation of problems of other kinds, each of which presents more distress. In America, the steep increases in youth violence, delinquency, the “gang” phenomenon, high divorce rates, unwanted pregnancies, de facto orphanation—all are consequences, to one degree or another, of the breakdown of the family as a stable unit. Do we wish, in the name of increasing tolerance, to add a monosexual “life-style” atlernative to the list?

    On behalf of my Gay friends, the answer is obvious. But privately, my conscience is still troubled. I see more clouds on the horizon.

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  5. Anonymous6:08 PM

    Curtis,
    Yes to expressing conflicting views one might hold,and most definitely yes to your honest and thoughtful comments.

    Problem with your argument, as I see it, is that homosexuality is antithetical to procreation but is not antithetical to essential human makeup. The evidence continues to mount that a homosexual is essentially compelled by his/her biological/psychological makeup
    to that particular sexuality. The majority of human beings are biologically heterosexual, a portion are bi-sexual, and a portion are homosexual. Those are essential biological facts. I assume that in tribal existence, the species tended to select against other than heterosexuality, and that members of the tribe behaved heterosexually regardless. It is, by the way, also true that other members of the ape family are not exclusively heterosexual. Most interesting to me is that we are perfectly equipped anatomically for homo-, hetero-, or bi-sexuality, but something else compels us to a particular orientation, and it does not appear to me to have much of anything to do with conscious adult choices.

    As it happens, I am utterly heterosexual, and have never felt any sexual urges toward members of my own sex, but have heterosexual friends who have found some males sexually attractive. I do like what I was once told regarding the question, since I did have college acquaintances who hit on me for whatever reason. Go to the beach and see whether it is good-looking men or women in swimsuits that generate responses way down inside you.

    And from what I've read and what homosexual friends have told me, their homosexual urges pre-dated the issues of life-style choices.

    The most interesting instance of an adult homosexual in my family's circle of friends was the general practitioner in our small community. He was a homosexual with a wife and three children who was not effete, was a damned good physician, and who raised a loving family with a generous spirit of a wife. The community was essentially conservative, knew he and his partner in the medical practice were gay (the partner was a transvestite), and accepted both of them because they were damned good physicians and responsible members of the community (this was in the late 50s through the late
    70s, when one retired and their practice closed).

    The married gay had a large black clientele from the poor community of Jamestown, who paid what they could if they could. He treated the real medical needs of those who couldn't and let the rich hypocondriacs help offset the lost revenue. He didn't get rich, but he didn't care. He took care of his family, had a comfortable middle-class home, he was able to send his children to college, and he had real and abiding friends.

    I think my essential point is that you are trapped in outmoded norms, Curtis, a trap which the conservative community of Goldenrod managed to set aside for good doctors and good members of the community. That, I submit, is the evolving norm for a more advanced version of civilization.

    Anonymous David

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  6. Boggart7:51 PM

    Hmmm, I don't have hard facts on this one, but I have "heard" that a number of women that go into prison as heterosexual, come out homosexual as a result of their experiences inside. I also knew a man who barely survived a horrendous divorce. He ended up with the kids. Small town, spread out in the papers, acrimonious encounters in the local little mall...regular grade B movie. H swore he'd never date or marry again ever. After the kids were away from home, in college, he developed a relationship with another man, and eventually announced he was gay.

    Now, my personal theory, opinion if you will, is humans are very sexual animals. Some of us are indeed born or develop an early interest in the same sex, while most of us develop an early interest in the opposite sex. That being said, I think that there are situations/experiences where we are repelled by or denied access to those with whom we would otherwise be sexually interested. Our sexual nature propels us to what is available, as denying our innate sexual urges is almost impossible. Well, wasn't Cole Porter asexual? There are always exceptions.

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  7. David and Boggart: This is all good and you are quite right. It has been demonstrated that a certain percentage of humankind has--may always have had--monosexual tendencies, whether or not you believe those feelings are innate, or "learned" through habit or necessity (prison, for instance).

    My argument, however, isn't structured to preclude this "inevitability" (and, please note, this not a closed issue, by any means, even (and relevantly) in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and brain research). In fact, I assume it as a given.

    If Gays, therefore, have always been with us, then the argument can't be about whether to deny their existence, which society has tried to do without success in the past, but to determine what the best course of action is, to address their status as a persecuted or excluded minority, within the contexts of law, custom, and public intercourse.

    Persecuted minorities may gain their protection and solace through law and charity--but this is the same privilege, at least in Western Society, at least in principle, afforded to every citizen through the democratic ideal.

    We may, for instance, promote to district manager, approve a loan to, admit a student to, rent an apartment to, cash a check for, hold a door open for-- anyone, "without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin" in the spirit of our nation. It is, of course, quite another matter to discriminate according to such distinctions (i.e., preferences and set-asides). But to elevate "behavior" (or "life-style") to the status of a recognized minority class, through law and custom, perhaps even to celebrate that recognition as an "emancipatory" watershed, is quite another matter.

    It is almost as if the proliferation of "entitlements" has no limit. Is an "immigrant" a condition or identity worthy of entitlement, as such? Is a disabled person a condition to celebrate?

    If marriage is not a compact between one man and one woman, why not three (as Julie Christie's character in the movie Darling suggests)? Why not six wives and a new wing of the castle to house the king's concubines?

    Seriously, though, the issue isn't whether to permit private behaviors, or to prevent persecution and discrimination, privileges and protections which are already embodied in our Constitution, but whether we should move to formally legalize (and specifically single out) a version of sexual behavior (or "difference") by facilitating its valuation and status to a level synonymous with the traditional nuclear family.

    An argument could be made that all consensual sexual events are in fact private, and not subject to lawful intervention. It is just as righteous to insist on the freedom to commit adultery, or to hire a prostitute, or to "swing", as it is to advocate the legalization of monosexual acts and identities. In other words, if all such "private" events remain "in the closet" where common sense may tell us they belong, rather than as celebrated behaviors entitling their participants to compensation, rights of claim, relationship, and other privileges, we may, with equal justice, deny the petition by same-sex union advocates as constituting a case of special pleading. Is it any less absurd to want to celebrate an adulterous affair, a furtive fling, the "seven year itch", or a "love child" than it is to designate a Gay couple's co-habitation as a relationship deserving of praise and reward? In other words, if all sexual activity is either on an equal footing with unprotected heterosexual intercourse, or one's identity can be defined as merely a variation of all sexual stereotypes, we have arrived at a point where sexual activity is irrelevant. If anything goes, then there can be no inherently "good" valuation, no hierarchy of value, and no basis for creating a class defined as simply another sexual variation among many.

    People have made various domestic arrangements throughout history. It used to be that families were frequently trans-generational, with grandparents, aunts, cousins, unofficially "adopted" children, employees, servants, and so forth, all sharing a "family" status under one roof. If Gay marriage is so devoutly to be obtained, how should we deny all of the arrangements, all of the "genders" and possibilities of identity and "life-style"?

    I have heard Gays say they'd rather be in the closet than out, since much of the mystique and freedom they enjoy is based on secrecy, concealment and a general ignorance in society. Like most people, the majority of Gays don't crave publicity, don't seek to be famous, especially for something as private, and personal, as sexual preference. So it may all come down to what privileges apply to civil recognition. In which case, I'm against extending marital rights and "benefits" to Gays just on the principle that they deserve no separately defined minority privileges. If I decide to live with a man--whatever we may do in privacy--I can't with a good conscience claim that society owes me anything in addition to the rights I already have under law. If my sexual preference is irrelevant, and private, and inviolable, then I have no argument to make.

    Society should be looking for ways to REDUCE its obligations under entitlements, not for ways to expand them. Society should be looking for ways to enhance the value and use of the nuclear family as an essential unit of continuity and health, not looking for ways to break it up. We should be seeking ways to induce faithfulness, discourage divorce and unwanted pregnancy, and vicarious flagrant indulgence. Rather than simply moaning apathetically as the family, and society, comes apart at the seams, we should be thinking about how to preserve it as the priceless, irreplaceable institution that it is.

    If all that sounds reactionary and retrograde, so be it. We've been trying the alternative, and it hasn't shown much promise so far.

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  8. Boggart7:59 PM

    One thing I have noticed about “love children” is that illegitimate as a term of social definition appears to be a thing of the past. Not only do young ladies happily come to class with their T-shirts stretched over their pregnancy, young men will explain they are missing class next week to be with their girlfriend at their baby’s christening. The young ladies are thrilled to become Mothers, and the lack of a marriage certificate appears inconsequential. The young men show off picture of the baby, explaining they do or don’t live with their girlfriend.

    In Guam, I actually knew families where one of the children was the result of Mommy’s affair with someone in the community. Child knew who Daddy was even while living with half-siblings, Mommy, and her husband. Perhaps it is a brave new world.

    As for gays, I almost wonder who cares? (rhetorical question) In my part of California there are benefits for domestic partners, who are not necessarily gay. In fact, I believe most of them are traditional male – female couples, who share a home, sometimes children, but no marriage certificate. So, gays come under this umbrella if they are domestic partners. There are no special provisions needed. Should domestic partners be entitled to benefits? That is a different discussion.

    Gay neighbors don’t affect my living arrangements any more than any other neighbors. They certainly don’t affect my personal sexual preferences. It is rather none of my business. Do I need to know if my neighbors share a bed, regardless of my neighbors’ gender? No, I don’t. If they plan to make mad, passionate love in their backyard hot tub, it would be courteous if they either kept the sound effects down or utilized covering music. That is regardless of the sex of the couple. I don’t have to explain their ohhing and ahhhing and moaning, but there are folks in the immediate area with elementary aged, sharp eared small beings who climb block walls with aplomb.

    If someone, of the same sex, made come hither advances towards me, all I really have to do is say, “Thanks for the compliment (of thinking I’m alluring), but no thanks. I’m not interested.” Period. It is the same thing I’d say to someone of the opposite sex making unwanted advances. It is too much to think that if we accepted people as they are and moved on to other things, life might be a tad simpler? Can we accept people as they are? Is that the real question?

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  9. Boggart: Yeah, you're certainly right here, again.

    For me, the question raised here was about same-sex civil unions.

    Our feelings about sexual activity are complex and ambiguous. But that isn't the issue.

    Gays have always been. Not the issue.

    Gays are entitled to the protections of law--not to be harassed, persecuted, or discriminated against. Again, not the issue.

    Straight couples may not marry, may have children "out of wedlock"--may support them. The children may be "illegitimate." Not the issue.

    The issue is: Do we grant Gays the status of civil union, with all the privileges and legal obligations this entails? Secondarily, do we consider same sex couples as "families" worthy of "conceiving" (with artificial insemination) or adopting and raising children?

    Are some children raised in single parent households? Of course. Are some children raised in households with two women (such as mother and grandmother), or two men (father and uncle)? Yes. Are these children at risk or somehow disadvantaged? Possibly. Does society have a duty or obligation to facilitate same sex parentage by explicitly entitling Gay parentage? Deeper question.

    If I have neighbors who are Gay, that isn't an issue, unless they 1) try to force their lifestyle upon me, or more specifically, 2) upon my children. There certainly is a culture "clash" if a lesbian couple raises a child in a straight neighborhood. Children (and teenagers) are famously adaptable, and will much more quickly accept difference, than their parents. Again, to groups or individuals who may regard difference of this kind to be an "abomination" how do we reconcile this conflict?

    In the community in which I was raised, it would have been unthinkable to have had openly Gay couples living in the neighborhood. It would have been entirely shocking to have openly Gay teachers, scoutmasters, policemen, daycare workers, etc. Teen pregnancy was grimly condemned, and the girl who became pregnant was suspended until she had the child (if she decided to keep it). If a teacher had been caught (straight or Gay) having relations with a minor, he/she would probably have been lynched! In that community, things may have changed, but I am confident that there are many, many communities in America, today, where that kind of feeling still exists. In the "worldly" settings of urban and suburban California where we live, things have changed, but few would argue they've changed for the better.

    Legitimation of same sex civil unions is but one step in a continuing campaign to certify full acceptance of monosexual life and identity in all spheres of society. We've started down this road, and it shows no signs of changing course. Liberalization of behavior and difference may have positive benefits for society, especially for minorities who achieve freedom and recognition previously denied to them. As we extend entitlement to more and more classes of groups and individuals, we need to ask what the ultimate impact of such entitlements leads to. I don't think society has thought about these things, or not seriously enough. Tolerance has limits, or it should.

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  10. Anonymous5:59 PM

    Curtis, I don't think societal evolution of this sort can be thought through in the sense you are suggesting. Injustice must be alleviated whenever, wherever, and in whatever form it rears its ugly head. In the process, civilization can evolve in a more just direction. To some extent, we then discover what justice really means.

    I know of no just prohibition against homosexuality, but I do see injustice sustained and encouraged by the anti-gay marriage initiatives. Thus, for me, the larger considerations of a just society encompasses full acceptance, including officially, by our society.

    I do agree that the state's interest lies only in civil unions and the church's interest lies only in the holy sacrament of matrimony, and that the state correctly recognizes the the church's holy matrimony as having complete and total acceptance by the state. I don't care whether or not a particular church does or does not accept holy matrimony for gay couples, although I am saddened by reactionary backlash against those congregations who do accept the concept of gay marriage. Congregations who accept gays as part of the Creation, without any pejorative connotations, are to me the most advanced, most evolved, most civilized.

    Anonymous David

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  11. I can see legitimate arguments against gay marriage, but I never did get the argument that gay marriage somehow threatens marriage as an institution. Marriage as an institution is declining for a number of reasons. It isn't as necessary to people - people have far more options now to live, prosper and be happy outside of marraige. Because people have these options they are less willing to stay in an unhappy marriage when it no longer suits them.

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  12. Dear Sweat: You are quite right in that there are many causes of the decline of marriage as a viable institution. Does that mean we don't care whether or not marriage thrives? Does that mean divorce is preferable? Do we no longer care about the difficulties visited upon the children of divorce? The begetting and raising of children in the nuclear family may not be "perfect" under any circumstances. But are we ready to certify alternatives? Should we, as the neo-Cons advocate, have more unwanted children and more orphanages, in order to honor religious injunctions against abortion and contraception?

    We can criticize the traditional nuclear family, but that institution has done more for the world than all governments and religions in history combined. Whether you regard it as outmoded in modern society is irrelevant, given the longer view of human history since man settled down and stopped "migrating" (nomadically) 40,000 years ago.

    I would say that we aren't in a position to "abandon" marriage just yet.

    I have frequently tried to convince my Gay friends to have settled, permanent relationships, in preference to the relentlessly promiscuous habits they seem to fall into. But this isn't the same thing as defining these relationships as "marriages" on an equal footing with the nuclear family. I think attempting to extend the definition of marriage and family to monosexual "unions" is irresponsible and largely unnecessary. It may have symbolic value to those who seek a parallel sense of security and dignity as traditional family units.

    Traditional roles are breaking down: Women are working, and children are being raised by "nannies" and daycare workers. Whatever justification we may give to "universal" suffrage and entitlement, there is no gainsaying that children thrive under traditional family units, much much more than they do under these new hybrid arrangements. My Mother worked at home all her adult life, doing photographic retouching and manuscript typing, for decent money. On the other hand, had she worked away from home, there is no question that my childhood would have been seriously compromised. This is lesson increasingly lost on contemporary adults.

    Gay "marriage" (which doesn't in fact exist) isn't a "threat to [straight] marriage." However, insisting on alternative definitions of traditional marriage does have consequences. It dilutes and diminishes its centrality as an institution by making it just another "variation" (defined by sexual "preference"). Second, it offers monosexuality as a viable "option" to children. If a child "decides" to sample monosexuality as one would choose a pair of tennis-shoes, in adolescence, the consequences are potentially long-lasting, and devastating. If, perhaps, 5% of the population has monosexual "tendencies" (a figure which has been bandied about over the last century), how can we justify the enshrinement of monosexuality as a completely "normal" adaptation choice, like growing a beard, or getting one's ears pierced? Adolescents are notoriously impressionable and vague about things like sexual preference. It isn't difficult to see how problematic sexual adaptation becomes in an atmosphere of "anything goes." And with that ambiguity comes confusion about marriage and child-rearing.

    The defensiveness which makes religionists bristle about monosexuality isn't hard to understand, either. Religion has traditionally sanctified the family. And why wouldn't it? Even if you don't believe in any faith (as I don't), you can see the value of certain traditions and wish to see them thrive and continue.

    Monosexuality isn't a threat to marriage. But trying to make monosexuality an institution with civil covenants and privileges is.

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