Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Current Argument: Gay Marriage, Part 1

[Note from me: This is the first post in a series of arguments (Definition 2) alternatively posited by aTypical Joe and yours truly, Bloggin' Outloud. The purpose of this "diablog" is to understand each other's positions, exact one's own thinking on this topic, and generate further points to consider. Thoughtful comments and civil dialog are always welcome. Joe and I will cross-post our entries at each other's blogs so that more people can participate in the discussion. Plus I want to drive traffic to a 1,000 daily hits or more and I figured writing on controversial issues draws a crowd. You didn't hear that. lgp]

I have to say I was complimented when Lyn contacted me and said he'd like to start an argument. He found me in Basil's blogroll, which started us off on the right foot. Basil and I don't agree on much politically but he has always heard me out, then disagreed with vigor and respect. The same kind of respect any of us would ask for. As a consequence I have read Basil's arguments and have been able to better understand why and how he disagrees with me. I'm not sure it changes my position, but it softens and informs it.

I hope I might achieve that with Lyn - and you, dear reader - in this gay marriage debate.

Let's begin with what to call it. I use the term "gay marriage" as colloquial shorthand for what I'd prefer we call "marriage equality." Gay people are always accused of wanting special rights. Speaking for myself, all I really want is those same rights and responsibilities, benefits and obligations, trials and tribulations that everyone else has. The issues that are key to me - marriage equality, acceptance in the military and in organized religion - are all about inclusion. Or, more precisely, they are about normalizing gay.

I want to normalize gay in every way. And that's where I believe the political opposition comes from. I suspect that most people who oppose gay marriage find gay people (or, more specifically, homosexual activity) morally repugnant and wrong. Russell Shorto wrote last year in a major NYTimes Magazine piece titled What's Their Real Problem with Gay Marriage (It's the Gay Part):
[A]s I learned spending time among the cultural conservatives who are leading the anti-gay-marriage charge, they have their own reasons for doing so, which are based on their reading of the Bible, their views about both homosexuality and the institution of marriage and the political force behind the issue... [F]or the anti-gay-marriage activists, homosexuality is something to be fought, not tolerated or respected. I found no one among the people on the ground who are leading the anti-gay-marriage cause who said in essence: ''I have nothing against homosexuality. I just don't believe gays should be allowed to marry.'' Rather, their passion comes from their conviction that homosexuality is a sin, is immoral, harms children and spreads disease. Not only that, but they see homosexuality itself as a kind of disease, one that afflicts not only individuals but also society at large and that shares one of the prominent features of a disease: it seeks to spread itself.
I was raised with those beliefs. Some in my family hold on to them to this day. And I believed them myself all those years ago when I sought a cure for what I believed then to be my homosexual affliction. It took a great deal of work and some time before I could accept my sexual orientation for myself. I understand that they are deeply held beliefs and that they won't change easily. But those beliefs are not rooted in objective fact.

Homosexual and gay are not synonymous; all homosexuals are not gay. Homosexual acts may be circumstantial - a man in prison, a drunken evening - or experimental and do not mean an individual is homosexual by nature. But experimentation can lead to the discovery of a homosexual inclination.

Once that inclination is realized, how it is addressed matters to all of us. Because then there is a choice to be made: to accept homosexuality or to resist and fight it. To embrace it is to become gay. To resist it leads to all kinds of trouble.

So what is the public policy proscription of cultural conservatives as regards to homosexual behavior? Upset (or here) by Lawrence v Texas which found sodomy laws to be unconstitutional, do they want it criminalized? All of us should be put in jail? Should we be cured? I suspect if pressed you would have to agree that neither is likely to succeed.

But let's parse that. Cure first: cultural conservatives like to believe in ex-gay ministries but even they don't claim to cure homosexuality or end same-sex attraction. For more I recommend this sensitively written article by Tanya Erzen, author of Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement. For those among you who will not be persuaded I ask you, would you want your daughter to marry one?

On locking us all up: as it happens, the policy we have in place denyng gay relationships societal sanction and support is a backdoor means of pretty effectively accomplishing just that. Furtive assignations are easier for conservatives to accept than long-term monogamous relationships because then they can believe there is no homosexual activity and criminalize and punish that which is found.

Of course those same furtive assignations have erupted in all kinds of harmful scandals of late. Out proud gay people in settled stable relationships are not in parks, public rest rooms or inappropriate relationships with teens! (Or at least not in any higher numbers than is found among heterosexauls.)

I assume it's obvious how gay marriage is in my interest, but I honestly believe that gay marriage is in society's interest. Not just that, I think it is consistent with the goals of cultural conservatives. Jonathan Rauch writing in The New Republic:
Getting people to marry is hard. Just having sex is more fun. Just shacking up, as it was once called, is easier. Marriage is under threat, all right. The threat, however, comes not from gay couples who want to get married but from straight couples who either do not get married or do not stay married. A third of American children are born to unmarried parents. The divorce rate has doubled since 1960, and the marriage rate fell 40 percent from 1970 to 2000. Cohabitation rose 72 percent in the 1990s. Twenty-eight percent of young couples aged 18-29 are unmarried. "The future of marriage may depend," as an analysis of that last figure by the Gallup Organization remarks, "on whether young people simply delay marriage or sidestep it altogether." Society generally and children especially have an interest in encouraging these couples to get and stay married.

One way to do that is to signal, legally and culturally, that marriage is not just one of many interchangeable "lifestyles," but the gold standard for committed relationships. For generations, both law and culture signaled that marriage is the ultimate commitment, uniquely binding and uniquely honored; that everyone could and should aspire to marry; and that marriage is especially important for couples with children. Same-sex marriage may be the first opportunity the country has had in decades to climb back up the slippery slope and say, quite dramatically, that marriage--not co-habitation, not partnership, not civil union, but marriage--is society's first choice. An American gay couple in their eighties got married in Canada in 2003 after 58 years together. Asked why they bothered, one of them replied, "The maximum is getting married." That is a good pro-marriage signal to send.
A few other arguments that are bound to come up: the "marriage is for children" argument. If marriage is to be reserved solely for procreation, why do we allow the infertile and elderly to marry? It's about more.

As to lesbian and gay parenting skills, a review of studies found that "the vast consensus...shows that children of same-sex parents do as well as children whose parents are heterosexual in every way."

More recently, an NYU sociologist denounced Focus on the Family for their misuse of her research on the development of children of Same-Sex Couples. Dr. Judith Stacey says, "The bottom line is there is no research-based reason to deny rights to same-sex couples and their children. We should be passing laws and making policies that make life easier for all families -- not harder."

Oh, and though I expect that right after gay marriage is legalized there will be a batch of stories pointing to a higher than average divorce rate, studies have shown not just that gay relationships work, but that heterosexuals can learn from them.

Then there's the "gay is not natural" argument that we can go round and round with. I'll just point to the homosexuality that's been documented in over 450 different vertebrate species.

Now, the 500 pound gorilla that's been left in the room is the Bible. I figure this blog post has gone on way too long already, so let's save that one for a future post.

Related Posts:
Another One of Those Lines by We The People
Let's Get Out of the Marriage Business by Lyn
The Daily Brew: The State of Marriage by Lyn

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