Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Marriage equality and the betterment of society

To preface this rather long collection, I suppose I should say where I've been posting all this stuff. Two online "communities" are foremost -- AlterNet and Dark Christianity -- though that's by volume rather than by catalyst, seeing as there's been a great deal of personal posting going on about Proposition 8+ and the possible solutions to the same-sex marriage issue, and my stance has been the same throughout and before this season of issue campaigning .

One opinion that I keep seeing around in progressive and secularist circles is that "government ought to get out of the 'marriage' business" -- either completely or partially (leaving "civil union" as the universal default in that case) -- and therefore the legal church vs. state issue will be solved.

AS IF that weren't capitulating to the religious right-to-centrist claim that "marriage" is primarily a "sacred" religious institution (as is only evidenced by traditional religious ceremonial texts, of course...) and that same-sex couples have no basis on which to approach its awesome dignity or claim its majestic automatically-revered social status.

Personally I am dismayed to see how many otherwise-rational people are, in this case, too-rational to see how such a withdrawal would be taken and used as justification for the cultural conservative position, whether in just letting the term "marriage" be reserved for heterosexual couples only or in abolishing the governmental recognition of "marriage" by name entirely.

Below are some of my comments on recent online entries/articles regarding the entire subject.

Regarding the suggestion of "civil unions" as the sole legal contract, leaving "marriage" to the province of religious/optional ceremony:

Date: November 17th, 2008 12:00 am (local)
I'm against all terminological capitulation -- marriage = marriage, whatever its composition

If they want "matrimony" to themselves they can have it, but "marriage" is too apt and comprehensive a word to be disbarred from describing all relationships of its type.

I have come across this argument time and time again as if it were the solution to the same-sex marriage issue, but it in no way redresses the persistent lack of legal or social equality between heterosexual and homosexual marriages -- by reserving the term "marriage" only to religiously-sanctioned unions, the social segregation of privilege is preserved with or without direct governmental interference.

We have had the secular institution of civil marriage for a long time now as an alternative to religiously-formal marriage (as they also have in Europe as you cite, though they treat it as the default there), and it is specifically civil marriage that should continue to be progressively enlarged (as it has been) under that name, rather than allow religions to define "marriage" by their terms only.

It must also be understood and vocally stated against all allegations (since this was an exploited point of paranoia), that even if same-sex marriage is legalized, the state will never force a religion to perform weddings that are in violation of its own code of morality.

The crux of the matter is, no religion or consortium of religions should have the power to keep civil marriage narrowed to their preferred requirements. They have always seen it as inferior to religiously-solemnized marriage anyhow, so they are in no position to be defending its allegedly-sacred status now just to keep it out of others' hands.

(A comment that there are churches that do perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, and that they are not all against an equal definition of marriage)

November 18th, 2008 01:14 am (local)

While that is always good to know, the fact is that the culturally-conservative sects will consider it a victory for them personally -- and a cultural mandate against further legitimization/"normalization" of homosexuality -- if the use of the word "marriage" falls into the category of religious usage. And I'm not in favour of letting them have any victory without an actual and accurate fight on the matter.

(.....even though at the same time, they will also see it as a threat by the government against societal respect/favour for religious tradition, if the government formally eliminates "marriages" in favour of universal "civil unions." Anti-equality apologists do want "marriage" to be respected as an institution within society overall -- but they also want to constrain it to their own definitions only. By the essence of church-state separation, they logically can't have their cake and eat it too -- but they are certainly filled with passionate intensity in the attempt.)

(A comment that the "civil unions only" idea is intended to "take the terminology out of the realm of public policy" and instead let people decide what "marriage" means to them personally.)

Date: November 17th, 2008 09:52 pm (local)

My point is that marriage as a social (not religious) concept is so deeply ingrained into peoples' awareness that it is precisely what they respect as the manifestation of a committed relationship -- and anything that is denoted as "other" or "less" than that simply does not get the basic civic respect and recognition. That's the way that most people think, when they're not the sort of people who think about these issues a lot.

Civil marriage is under no obligation to be in compliance with specifically religious laws. Religious institutions are under no obligation to celebrate weddings according to any/all civil marriage statutes. So my stance is and will continue to be that cultural conservatives seeking to disallow civil marriage to same-sex couples have no excuse, since they are under no threat whatsoever of having their marriages affected. But if all marriages are converted into default civil unions, than that is a direct threat to the concept of marriage, and one that will be reacted to with far more substantiation than the current paranoia that allowing civil marriages to gays will force recognition of any/all possible sexual unions onto religious institutions that resist them on moral grounds.

There's no need to turn the language into pretzels to remove/avoid the "M-word" in civil law -- the most important thing is to publically debunk and fight the outright lies that have been spread by the anti-equality front.

(A comment that people will tend to refer to themselves as "married" regardless of the legal terminology of their mutually-committed status)

Date: November 18th, 2008 03:26 am (local)

I think that committed same-sex couples should refer to themselves as married in every social venue and situation, regardless of their legal status, until the word itself ceases to shock as an item of contention. If there is such thing as "common-law marriage" for heterosexual couples, just imagine how broad that application ought to be, even without any benefit of ceremony.

Of course it will shock some people for a while because they haven't had any real exposure to the concept being demonstrated casually, but that, imo, is as much of a growing pain as with learning to ride a bicycle or swim (or deal civilly with strangers, for that matter). All things that can be learned once the process is initiated...the obstacle in a lot of places is that they've never had even that first shock of "damn, gays are human beings minding their own business, and they ain't out to get us after all!"

The terms "marriage" and "husband"/"wife" have been kept tactfully off the table for a long time in favour of "domestic partnership," "civil union" and "partner" -- and I think that that kind of legalistic forbearance and self-restraint on the part of gays and lesbians has been ill-repaid by society at large: people have been allowed to live largely in ignorance of the reality of (essentially) marriages and families that are just as intrinsically valid as their own -- the only difference being that they haven't been legally recognized as such. Society hasn't been challenged enough, in short, and it does need to be challenged and pushed off from the pool-edge of its own assumptions, before it will ever be reasonably "comfortable" with the idea of civil marriage equality.

We've all had shocks and reluctancies in our lives that we've had to get over. People will survive having their social assumptions dismantled...but it has to be done articulately, logically and casually, not tiptoed around as if gay couples deserved to be pushed back into the conspicuous linguistic closet.


Regarding "Why the Prop 8 Gay Marriage Ban Won" (The Nation, via AlterNet):

(Another comment -- as if it were a new idea -- suggesting universal "civil union" as avoidance of the "marriage" controversy in secular law....actually, this is the first comment I responded to out of this whole slew, with a reply slightly elaborated from one I'd made on a friend's LJ when he brought up the suggestion.....which sums up my position in general fairly comprehensively.)

It's not that new, and it capitulates too much...
Posted on Nov 12, 2008 11:59 PM

I've heard that argument many times before from the progressive side of things -- but how do you explain it to the rest of the world to whom "marriage" is considered an all-round concept entitlement that cannot be taken away from them?

We have had had the concept of civil marriage for decades now, in which time it has constantly been looked down upon as inadequate and unsanctified compared to a "church marriage" (that is, a proper wedding ceremony in any established tradition). And now all of a sudden it's civil marriage that has to be protected and set on a pedestal?

No (I say) -- traditional religions have had their way already and will continue to have it insofar as judging who can or cannot have a 'church wedding' according to their own rules, but that does not mean that they get to claim exclusive common right to the word "marriage" itself -- nor should they be capitulated to by avoiding the word in civil and legal usage. "Civil union" is a sterile and bloodless term, that I can't imagine satisfying anyone who enters into a relationship for the sake of human intimacy and emotional connection.

For those of us who aren't hung up on their religions as perfect and absolute, it is understood relatively well that marriage is not a religious institution atall but a social concept, and that there is a cachet to it, a status that "civil union," "domestic partnership," etc. simply cannot achieve because they so scrupulously omit the central notion that it is a romantic union, an intimate and personal (not a business) partnership -- i.e., what can only be best described as marriage.

That's why (apart from the 1000+ federal rights still being withheld to any same-sex marriages in the United States...) this is a situation fully warranting the debunking of all "separate but equal" claims: nothing but marriage receives the social status or even basic civil courtesy as marriage...therefore, regardless of the self-satisfaction some legislators may feel in balancing tolerance with tradition, refusing use of the legal term "marriage" to committed same-sex couples is a tacit permission for society to continue discrimination against them -- to consider them and their real & existing families to be in a state of comparative illegitimacy despite the legal tightrope created for them to exist on.

The law cannot mandate full acceptance of same-sex marriages in peoples' hearts and minds, but it has a constitutionally-implicit responsibility to prevent categorical injustice and discrimination from being perpetuated. And that's what this basically is about, seeing as "gay marriage" can in no way be counted as a "threat" to the stability or "sanctity" of anyone's heterosexual marriage. Sanctity of marriage (or the lack thereof) is a matter of each marriage in its own right, and depends entirely upon the sincerity and merit of the partners involved.

So.......no, I am not in favour of conceding the word "marriage" to the cultural-conservative religions who have the narrowest view of it. People with heterosexual marriages to "protect" should just take care of what they have, instead of trying to keep it away from others. They don't deserve to get a veto over others' personal lives -- even just in the use of language, let alone to be enshrined in law.


(A comment that the author does not want his children to be taught that homosexuality is normal and morally equivalent to heterosexuality, nor for traditional (heterosexual) marriage to cease being normative.)

So you're worried about not being "normal"...?
Posted by on Nov 13, 2008 12:59 AM

Okay, that right there in itself bespeaks some serious insecurity.

People who know already that they're not normative don't waste their time and energy trying to define others as the deviant ones.

If your main concern is that your children might learn that heterosexual marriage is not the only one true way, then I say you're obsessed with holding onto the privilege that you enjoy by virtue (okay, there's actually no "virtue" required in this...) of being born as a member of the majority sexual orientation. You are not going to cease being the majority in that, and you are in no personal danger whatsoever from the existence of same-sex marriages in the same world as yours, but nonetheless you feel compelled to defend your majority privilege by the paranoid method of trying to deny other people the same rights that you enjoy -- the pursuit of this happiness: to have a marriage and raise a family (or not) with a person with whom you are emotionally and sexually compatible and share mutual affection. Anything else would be either false pretense or coercion (thus grounds for invalidating the marriage contract) -- which is why saying that gays already have all the marriage rights they need or deserve is a total crock.

Life may not be fair, but those who refuse to try to make it more fair are on the side of unfairness -- never as blameless and neutral as they like to believe.

(Comment: I support civil unions but not marriage
"I believe gays should be treated like human beings and with full rights. I do have a problem calling it marriage. Call me old fashion but I and many others who are not bigots just old fashion. I and many others would support gays having rights and obligations of a marriage contract if they would give up the marriage word.")

Okay, I'm calling you old-fashioned and enabling /of/ bigots, then...
Posted on Nov 13, 2008 12:38 AM

I myself (and many others) have a problem with people calling it "Please-anything-but-marriage." Marriage is a contract that has far more to do with social definition (i.e., two people having made a lasting romantic commitment to each other, with or without raising children) than it does with any form of religious affiliation.

To say that gay people are permitted to have their private lives but not an accurate way to describe their most sacred personal commitments is a hollow tolerance, because it scrupulously avoids the emotional reality of their relationships and families.

The vast majority of people do not instinctively understand "partner" or "civil union" as having the same weight or emotional content as "husband," "wife, "spouse" or "marriage." They are bloodless and sexuality-drained terms, made to appease and tiptoe around people like you who are, so to speak, 'moderately prejudiced.'

And that deliberate avoidance of traditional terminology means that there's a mental loophole where people can say, "Well, these two gays may be having some sort of longterm relationship-thing, but since it isn't really marriage, I don't have to treat it with any real civility or seriousness" -- and some employers have already said, "Well, since 'civil union' isn't federally recognized, I don't even have to give these people any marriage-&-family-type employment benefits if I can weasel out of it legally myself."

My point is, you may think that you're being fair and equitable in tolerating gays their humanity but demanding a distinction of language -- but language makes a real difference in how people are treated in everyday society, and even a 'separate but equal' attitude like yours still enables discrimination and prejudice against gay couples, retaining the assumption of illegitimacy over both them and any children they may have or be raising from previous marriage. It lets people keep their prejudices intact, even though they may grudgingly accept the letter of the law when required to.

For a certain kind of interpersonal relationship that is emotionally intense, intimate and intended to last through storms and strife as best it can, the only right and fitting term is marriage. And it belongs, in my view, to anyone of sound mind, free will and legal majority who has the guts to vow their love and commitment and honour it truthfully. "Calling it marriage" doesn't grant it some dignity or reality that it lacked before, but rather recognizes what is already there. To categorically deny that recognition of reality is inherently unjust...and it does nothing to preserve the dignity or assumed sanctity of "traditional" marriage either.


And yes, I am of course aware that the man whom I voted for, and who is now thankfully our President-Elect, happens to make that very same distinction of supporting marriage equality in everything but name. While I know that he spoke out against Proposition 8, and that he is definitely not a person who will as President stand against the legislative progression of GLBT rights, I would still prefer to have him fully and completely on the bright side of history, rather than condoning discrimination of any degree or denotation under the guise of tradition.

If he seriously does believe that there is something inherently sacred in heterosexual marriage to which nothing else can compare and therefore cannot deserve the same name, then he's wrong -- simple as that, though for many reasons -- and I think that every civil and respectful effort should be made to communicate to him how important it is that he not continue to sit on that particular fence once in office -- that, despite the understood need for him not to be pushing for social legislation from above like his predecessor (and grassroots are essential to social legitimacy, I know), he not equivocate on the need for marriage equality itself, without any linguistic compromise or moral assumption that he would not accept for himself over his own marriage and family.

And so should any legislator, judge and public official carefully consider whether they themselves could live under the same restrictions that they would enact or even passively allow over others' lives -- in the absence of any wrongdoing, harm or actual crime, for which we have laws and statutes enough.

I understand that the struggle for equality belongs to those who want the victory to have and to hold and to live by -- but all allies are valuable and should not be categorically alienated (or alienate themselves) on account of not being directly in the line of fire. A progressive social consensus must be built that broadens people's minds instead of merely berating them for their ignorance -- and "faith-based initiatives" can and should be a great part of this, to reclaim the moral language for the moral high ground instead of chaining it to the forces of social repression. In this struggle, the "Religious Left" cannot be neutral and equivocational, much less consider marriage equality and GLBT human rights to be a relative non-issue. These are issues that are intimately tied to the problems of poverty, addiction, crime, despair and abuse. The ways that one is criticized and pressured and abused and held down and rulebound specifically on account of one's sexual orientation and/or gender identity can make all the difference between a productive and fulfilling life and a frustrated and wasted existence. And that, overall, should be a matter of national concern on the secular level as well, as much so as any localized regional or industrial affliction of economic deprivation and blocked opportunity.

If there is one thing that this new administration promises, it is the opportunity for Americans to get past their differences and work together -- and never before so openly -- for the common good and the general welfare of this nation. I believe that marriage equality is a greater good than marriage restriction, and even without any personal stake in the matter at all, I would argue that it is good because it gives people more ways to participate fully in society, more hope to better their lives and live productively, and more positive motivation to see themselves as connected to the rest of the communities in which they live. It is good because the happiness and self-respect that it gives far outweighs any imaginable harm or even emotional injury that it does to anyone else. And it is right because it redresses centuries of insult and injury (whipping, imprisonment, mutilation, execution...) that have been done to people who but for their intrinsic sexual differences could have been fully-respected members of their societies.

I think that most of this country understands by now that "gays" cannot be simply 'treated' or 'mainstreamed' or 'assimilated' out of visibility anymore (much as some might still devoutly wish it...). Differences between persons are not going to just disappear to make some people less uncomfortable with them. The next step forward, though, is recognizing there is no "straight vs,. gay" difference between people's emotional needs and capabilities -- to love, to marry, to be faithful and devoted, to have and/or raise children with the same affection and responsibility and attention to the examples that they set. We already have the reality being lived out every day -- all it needs is the social and legal realization.


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