Monday, August 07, 2006

Joe Rebuts My Challenge and Clarifies His Position

The Great Gay Marriage Debate (4th Installment)
Note: This is aTypical Joe's response to my response to his original post in our discussion of "gay marriage." For a history of the "diablog" so far and links to each installment, visit this permalink. Please participate. Thoughtful comments and civil dialog are always welcome!

Guest Blogger aTypical Joe writes:

In his response to my argument in favor of gay marriage, Lyn says that marriage is not equalizing, that "there is an inherent advantage to being married" and "it is to be protected for the benefit of society." I whole-heartedly agree. I'm just not getting how that means marriage must be restricted to heterosexual couples.

In my post I pointed to at least two reasons gay marriage would benefit society:

1. Broader inclusion would strengthen support for the institution of marriage and could eliminate dilution of it through the establishment of alternative arrangements that fall under the umbrella of "domestic partnership"

2. Stable relationships, be they gay or straight, are good for society

Lyn apparently sees marriage as a narrow preserve for the privileged few. He supports his argument by citing the Greek word oikos, meaning household, to buttress his claim that "at the core of the household is a husband and wife." By referencing the Greeks he may have been goading me to point out that sex between adult men and adolescent boys was common in the Greek era he so fondly recalls. There was stigma then, but it was about who assumed the passive role, not that the sexual act involved two males.

I can be as originalist as the next guy but my problem is both in trusting our ability to actually glean the intent of our ancient (or colonial!) forebears and in the selectivity applied to those original recollections. Let's all recall together now that the Greek household Lyn holds in such high esteem included slaves and concubines, the wife was considered property, and the male owner was free to have sex with anyone in the household, including the children.

Lyn says he can meet me statistic for statistic, but then points to theologians, not scientific research. The difference in method is significant: scientific inquiry starts with a question and seeks an answer. Theologians all too often start with an answer (frequently found in the Bible) and seek to validate it. They tend towards advocacy. I was careful in those links I chose to not include advocacy organizations.

This is not to dismiss faith or theologians. I was raised Catholic and attended parochial schools. Faith apparently has a different meaning to me. Last year while grappling with Intelligent Design I wrote:
Catholics hold faith in high regard. There's plenty that the believer is not expected to understand or explain but rather to accept as a part of one's faith. How does that square with the fundamentalist adoption of Intelligent Design and the need to have their beliefs taught as fact in schools? Have they no faith?

With certainty in place of faith, it strikes me as reasonable for them to try in every way they can to get it taught. It's what they believe. If science is undermined, what does it matter to them? They don't believe it. I don't blame them.
I note our difference. I find certainty in science; Lyn finds it in faith. Our task as a culture is to peacefully reconcile the two. I hope Lyn and I might tackle that task in our last exchange. But back to the debate at hand and Lyn's specific arguments.

His first is circular; "marriage can not be used as an equalizing tool for same gender participants because it already excludes them by definition." Huh? Apparently Lyn is confusing objective reality (as in science, where the notions of hypothesis, experimentation and rejection of hypothesis if necessary, are used to find and explore evidence) with a social construct.

Marriage is a social construct that the human species has established and can freely change, as it did with the move towards equality for women and divorce. We are now having the discussion that will determine, for a time, whether or not we broaden that construct to include same gender couples.

As to the question of...
Why stop at two? Why not have 3, 5, or 25 people enter into a domestic-partnership so that everyone involved can benefit by our current laws?

Or what about the age restriction? Why 18? Or 16? Why not allow children to enter into a "marriage" with an adult? Who's to say that this would be inappropriate?
William Saletan argues, persuasively, that polygamy doesn't work. That marriage is about jealously keeping one person to ourself. Dahlia Lithwick argues, as persuasively, "the problem with the slippery slope argument [she calls it "slippery slop"] is that it depends on inexact, and sometimes hysterical, comparisons."

But the point I'd most like to make to Lyn is most forcefully made by Andrew Sullivan:
The precise challenge for morally serious people is to make rational distinctions between what is arbitrary and what is essential in important social institutions. ... If you want to argue that a lifetime of loving, faithful commitment between two women is equivalent to incest or child abuse, then please argue it. It would make for fascinating reading. But spare us this bizarre point that no new line can be drawn in access to marriage—or else everything is up for grabs and, before we know where we are, men will be marrying their dogs.
Lyn's second argument is that we gay couples already have all the rights we need because we already enjoy "most of the benefits" of marriage if we'll only go out and seek and arrange the wills, living wills, trusts, living trusts, powers of attorney, check writing privileges, domestic partnership benefits, and so on and so forth.

Leaving aside the fact that "substantially the same" is not the same (where I work I pay more for health insurance and am not eligible for Family Medical Leave), you get a one-stop shop and I don't? Not only do I have to go from place to place to find out which agreement I need for what, I also have to pay a lawyer to set up and review all of these agreements. Even then they are much more easily challenged in court than is the marriage agreement. And what if I forgot to get the one I need? Out of luck I guess.

To some extent I think all of this is just so much obfuscation of the real problem, a problem I alluded to in my first post: What opponents of gay marriage are really upset about is the gay part!

I was at the beach this week with my life-partner [a clumsy locution but the best available at the moment]. We were not at my usual gay haunts in Provincetown or Fire Island, we were in a lovely quiet family beach resort. In conversation at breakfast I accidentally, out of habit, called him "dear." He shot back, "don't call me dear here!" And, of course, I knew I couldn't. And why not? Because it would make people uncomfortable!

Years ago I interviewed the father of a man who died of AIDS. That father was then very active in Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). He told me of his struggle coming to terms with his son being gay; and in that discussion with the camera rolling he very frankly told me, "I just couldn't get past thinking about what they do in bed." I didn't use that clip but I have always remembered his words.

I have to tell you that I don't like thinking about what you do in bed either. And you probably don't like thinking about what your neighbors do. Or what your boss does or what your friends do or your family or... So we don't think about it because we don't have to. When a heterosexual couple goes too far at the beach or at the movies or in any public place, we are scornful and disapprove because, as it should be and as is natural, we don't want to see them doing that.

The trouble is that with gay people the threshold is lowered so low as to include my calling my partner "dear" at breakfast. Heaven forbid I should walk down that beach holding his hand with our dogs scampering around at our feet. Because we didn't do that we had all kinds of people approaching us with warmth and friendly camaraderie. Why is it that all of that should go away if I dare hold his hand or call him dear?

Now I think gay people feed into this syndrome too. What too many of us do is assume that it's true that the only thing that we gay people have in common is our sexual orientation; we deny and debate if there is any such thing as a distinctive gay culture. I've argued again and again over many years that there is a distinction between homosexual acts and a gay identity.

I believe being gay - coming out, accepting and openly embracing that orientation - is a choice, the healthy choice. It's a choice that forms the basis of the shared history and experience at the root of our gay culture. And that experience - as with women or African Americans or any ethnic identity - has little or nothing to do with any sexual act. I've certainly known people who have come out as gay before ever having had any homosexual relations.

One impact of all of this is that as a rule, gay people tend to wind up in gay ghettos, unusual ghettos to be sure in that the fact of gays living there tends to increase property values and those areas prosper economically (whereas I live in the less tolerant and economically depressed heart of the Bible Belt right next to one of the poorest counties in the state.)

So we drive gay people into ghettos and deprive gay relationships of the family, community and religious support that marriage provides, then we scold them for acting like they belong there.

I'm left still wondering, what is Lyn's public policy goal? Given that he's fine with hospital visitation and domestic partner benefits I can only intuit that he's drawn the line at marriage and is fine with the status quo. I'm reminded how I felt as a young boy when my mother told me that babies who died before baptism could not go to Heaven but were not sent to Hell. They went to Limbo. I had a hard time accepting that then and I have an even harder time accepting that as my legal adult status now.
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