church and the state of gay marriage

The beautiful, beautiful thing about this great country of ours is that everyone is allowed to believe whatever they want to believe without worry of persecution or legal prejudice. I am allowed to believe that lightning bolts are still created by the Greek god Zeus, just as someone else is allowed to believe that God hates fags. I don’t condone that belief, as I consider it to be ignorant and intolerant (not one of my favorite words, though useful nonetheless), but I would never sit here and say, because you believe God hates fags, then your rights should be limited. I just hope you open your heart – and maybe a book other than the Bible or Koran – to find a greater level of compassion and understanding.

I say this because I hope people will not be taking their own personal, religious-based morality into the California voting booths when we here in the Golden State vote on Proposition 8, which moves for an amendment to the state constitution to make illegal gay marriage. See, to me, the gay marriage issue is not only about civil liberties – though, should this proposition pass, it would be the first time we as a people elect to limit civil rights in the past 40-odd years – but it is also a church and state issue. In fact, I believe it is fundamentally a church and state issue, considering that any argument against gay marriage can be adequately dismantled until all that is left is, “well, being gay just isn’t right.” Which we all (hopefully) know is a) silly, and b) founded in religious attitudes toward procreation and romantic relationships. Again, I’m not, nor would I ever, tell anyone out there that they can’t believe that “being gay just ain’t right.” It is your constitutional right to believe whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. But when you start trying to legislate religious-based morality, then you start limiting the rights of all those who don’t share those same views.

I say religious-based morality because there are some laws based in morals that are not only universal but also supersede the notion of religion in order to support and benefit the foundations of civilization. For example, yes, thou shalt not kill is part of the Judeo-Cristian Ten Commandments. But to not have such a law in a secular society denigrates that same society and threatens the safety of its citizens. Same goes for theft, rape, hell, even speeding. These are all rules we agree to uphold and live by not necessarily for the health of our souls but for the safety of our civilization.

But there’s a reason why adultery isn’t considered illegal. Sure, it can be sighted as a breach of the marriage contract, but you can’t go to jail for screwing someone who isn’t your legal spouse. That’s because the  damage is not only contained within the relationship, but also because the distasteful notion of adultery is fundamentally ethical, not civic. Some societies have (seemingly) no ostensible problem with the idea of cheating; some couples even consider it natural or healthy to their relationship. So if anyone were to suddenly say that adultery should be illegal, it would not be tolerated on the grounds that consenting adults should be allowed to deal with their own relationship problems without the involvement of the government.

While admittedly this is a little bit of an apples/oranges argument, I believe the fundamental notion of morality versus civility is applicable to the gay marriage argument. So all that said, let’s look at the “secular” arguments against gay marriage:

1) “It’s a slippery slope.” This is perhaps the biggest argument against gay marriage: that if you change the definition of marriage to include homosexuals, then what’s to stop you from including bestiality, or polygamy, or underage marriage? Well, a few things – a) Marriage requires consent, and the last time I checked, a horse can’t exactly say “I do”. b) Polygamy is fundamentally an unequal relationship, in that it involves several women at the service of one man. Sure, like any form of relationship, there are ways to interact with polygamy in a healthy way. However, this is in spite of the fundamentals of polygamy, both historically and practically, and the state should never support an institution that by its very nature is unequal and imbalanced. More so, the amount and kind of legislation required to make polygamy an equitable partnership would be massive and controversial: does each person’s share of communal property diminish with each new spouse (wife)? Should the first wife have a higher percentage than the 4th? What if the husband wants to divorce wife #2 against the wishes of wife #3 and #5? Does this decision have to be made by committee? And are wives #s 3 and 5 obligated to pay an equal amount of alimony despite not wanting to end the marital partnership? And these are just a handful of questions that would need to be addressed when outlining the necessary laws and legislation to make this work. And, finally, c) children are not fully capable of making sound, life-long decisions, and so should not be allowed legally to fall victim to adults who prey upon this lack of development.

(Gay marriage, in contrast to all these forms of marriage, does operate with the fundamental notion of equality, same as a heterosexual marriage. Granted, one doesn’t always find equality in any marriage, but that is not the fault of the institution itself, but rather the morals and ethics brought in by the participating spouses and the society at large. All these other forms of marriage would change the very foundations of the institution of marriage, while gay marriage is merely changing the definition – two very different arguments.)

2)  “Marriage is entered with the purpose of starting a family.” While this may largely be true, what is then said about heterosexual couples who have made the decision to not have children? Should my aunt and uncle’s marriage be considered null and void because they did not bear offspring? Or adopt? Obviously, the notion of reproduction in a marriage is an important one, but is by no means fundamental. Furthermore, in dealing with the definitions of “family”: let’s first, for the sake of argument, take at face value that the best situation for a child is to be raised by a mother and father. Alright, fine. But what happens when a child is raised in a single parent household? Does that make the family any less legitimate? The bottom line to this argument is that, even if we agree that the best way to raise a child is with a mother and a father, it is by no means the only way. In America we pride the nuclear family above all else, but there are several cultures around the world that not only incorporate what we consider extended relatives (aunts, uncles, etc) into the immediate family – and truthfully some of those cultures are found in many of our low income neighborhoods, born less of immigrant culture than poverty – but also consider everyone in the village to be a participant in the raising of a child. I’m not arguing the “it takes a village” stance here, just pointing out that we can look outside the mother/father/offspring model of family to incorporate two caring individuals who have enough love in them to actually raise a child that may not have found a home otherwise. And even if you feel homosexuality is a sin or disease or whatever, there is an overwhelming amount of studies that disprove the transference of these “negative” characteristics on children. So you can still disagree with the morality of gay marriage without feeling like you are “endangering the children”. And certainly a loving, committed relationship is a better model than the various foster homes used more like way stations on the road to the golden age of 18.

3) “The definition says man and woman”. Well, yeah, it does. But ultimately, if we consider the fundamentals of marriage to be simply a loving, equal relationship, then the man/woman argument is merely semantic. More than that, definitions change as society does – consider how we interact with the word “liberty” and “freedom” now versus when the founding brothers began fighting for this country: at the time, those words intoned a certain sense of responsibility and upkeep. Now they’ve been used as a substitute for the “F” word (French). So to argue that Webster Collegiate Dictionary clearly states that marriage is defined as only a union between man and woman is to cling to the words, or, semiotically speaking, the icons, themselves and not the spirit behind them. (And keeping with our theme of church and state, it’s interesting that this is typically summed up as the “Adam and Steve” argument.)

4) “Schools will have to teach that gay marriage is the same as hetero-marriage.” First of all, this is straight up wrong. Not only does any law allowing gay marriage stay silent on the notion of education, but schools aren’t required to say anything about hetero-marriage now. And why should they? That kind of thing should be taught in the living room, not the classroom. More than that, parents are allowed to pull their children from any moral or family teachings they believe will interfere with their own home education. So this is really a non-issue that, I believe, is part of a larger argument considering the transfer of moral teachings from the home to the school, but that’s for a different rant.

5) “Churches will lose their tax exemption should they refuse to marry same-sex couples.” Again, another false allegation and non-issue. The state isn’t mandating any church to operate outside of its own teachings, considering this would be, ahem, unconstitutional. All the law dictates is that the state will recognize any legal marriage union. Since this can be done by a justice of the peace, no one has to be forced to compromise their values. End of story.

6) “Look at the statistics in Spain, Belgium, and any other place that has legalized gay marriage – they’re abysmal!” This one is a little trickier, because, truthfully, as soon as gay marriage went into effect, the divorce rate spiked up. This is undeniable. However, my argument against this is, well, let’s see what happens in the next 20 years, as people get used to the idea of gay marriage becoming legal. While these stats are true, they may be knee-jerk reactions that could (or could not) temper over time.

Alright so all that said, the only argument left that I can see is, “well, being gay just ain’t right,” or, to be fair, the more intelligent argument, “homosexuality just isn’t right.” The “secular” argument here is that, because it involves reproductive acts that cannot possibly result in reproduction, homosexuality isn’t natural. Two points to be made against this: 1) humans do not have sex simply for reproduction, and not even just for pleasure, but as a physical expression of love and devotion. Endorphins are released during the sex act that bring about a sense of closeness; how one reacts to these feelings is another story, but it happens nonetheless. So bottom line: fuckin’ ain’t just about makin’ babies. And 2) last time I checked, homosexuals are part of nature. I mean, it’s not like my friend Jhana is a robot or something. So isn’t she living, breathing proof that homosexuality is nothing if not natural?

Really, unless there’s something that I’m missing (and please feel free to use the comments section to point out anything I’ve not addressed), at this point, all that’s left is, “I just don’t like homosexuality”. Again, it’s totally your right not to. But ask yourself why you don’t. Is it just because the Bible tells you so?  Or, is it at least rooted in a religious upbringing or morality? Or is it even just distasteful to you? Because if it is any of these things, and you still vote to ban gay marriage, then you are violating one of the basic ideals that this country not only prides itself in but also uses to distinguish itself from the rest of the world: keeping the fundamental teachings of God, or Gods, or Allah, or Buddha, or any deity out of our government.

As a coda: There is something of a counter-argument to the gay marriage issue that argues for the abolishment of all mention of the word “marriage” in the state constitution in favor of the more universal “civil unions”, similar to the way the EU recognizes marriages on the state level. The argument here is that marriage is a social instituion and should have no interaction with the government other than to be recognized as a union between two people. While I find this argument appealing, I think it’s far too early in America’s history to tackle this: right now, America continues to be inextricably linked as both a physical place and an idea, so to threaten the government recognition of a social institution is to psychologically threaten the status of the country. Europe has hundreds of years of history upon which to psychologically fall back on. I think we’ve got another century at best until we as a nation feel comfortable enough with our longevity to start tinkering with some of the outlying social institutions without fear of dismantling our way of life. Though I could be wrong.

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Published in: on October 8, 2008 at 9:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As a comment on my own posting, I wanted to add this link to a brief article about a priest in Fresno, CA, who came out against Prop 8: http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/local&id=6431105. Interesting viewpoints, especially from the various parishioners. Check it out.

  2. Very well put. It’s amazing how many people haven’t got the memo that this isn’t a theocracy. You can’t legislate your religious views. Nobody’s telling anyone not to say “that’s icky.” Hell, sometimes I have to sit down and take a tums after I see a couple dudes kiss on the street. But that’s America. I’m sure someone gets grossed out when I publicly kiss my bald, one legged, albino girlfriend, but that’s my right. “WE’RE HERE, GET USED TO IT!”

  3. I know you like comments so here you go 🙂

    (continued from previous conversation…of which I was reminded after reading this essay) The reason not to use a word like fag, even if it is understood to mean “gay person” and nothing more, is the consolidation of that identity as real and other and the legitimization of all the connotations that go along with that word. Reading fag in your essay jolted me and I disagree it is not useful, even if you are trying to get across the way ignorant people view “homosexuals”. There is no taking back the word, because I believe gay people should not fight for that kind of recognition as an “other” – really I don’t believe they should label their preference as anything but that – something akin to a favorite sex position, it just happens to involve the gender of their partner rather than where to place their legs. Of course this is just nitpicky, and is a symptom of my larger problem with the way everyone in general including people who identify as gay view their sexuality as an identity defining aspect of their personality (and admittedly the labels likely exist out of necessity (unless you want to go back to the old colored handkerchief in the back pocket system) and thus it is a moot point).

    I agree with your essay though, clearly, and hope that the good people of California can see through the facade of this fear-driven unconstitutional proposition. You’re coda is the most interesting point to me, which leaves me wondering how fragile our collective cultural unconscious really is. Perhaps seeing the world without the boundaries that these discriminatory people might simply need, could in fact be a huge mistake, at least for them. Or like you said, it could not. I’d like to have a little faith in the human race, that when pushed a little bit, when their beliefs and opinions are not always directly reflected back to them through television or media, and when their world is opened to new and interesting perspectives, then everyone, even closed minded authoritarian bitches can embrace societal change with an open heart. Of course that requires us all to focus on making a difference in the world and living life not as the norm because it is easy, but being truthful about what makes us happy and not being ashamed to be who we want to be.

    End cheesy PSA. But very nice essay Ryan 🙂 I think you’re awesome.


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