Thursday, April 30, 2009

Beating a Dead Horse is Not a Hate Crime

I've harped about gay marriage before, and I only revisit it now for three reasons: first is an article (with embedded video) about Congresswoman Virginia Foxx referring to Matthew Shepard's brutal 1998 murder as a hoax (specifically, she denies that sexual orientation was a motivation in the murder, not that he was murdered or that he was gay). Second, with Iowa, Connecticut, and New York throwing their hats into the ring, the issues is obviously still relevant.

I'll get to the third reason shortly.

The opposition to gay marriage is--at least at face value--pretty easy to debunk. The reasons are largely rooted in religion, or at least questionable moralizing, and it may simply suffice to say something lofty like "why exactly should I be beholden to your god?" There's also the odd slippery-slope argument, saying that legalizing gay marriage would lead to adult-child marriage or inter-species marriage, and my refutations of those range from "no it doesn't" to "no it doesn't, moron." Moving a boundary is not the same thing as erasing a boundary. In other words, if Mexico wanted to join the U.S., that doesn't automatically mean that we have to admit Guatemala.

That said, legalizing gay marriage is an affront to the status quo rather than a defense, so a few supportive arguments are in order. A handful of them might be:
  • Marriage as an institution predates recorded history, thus it cannot be claimed as a religious institution (at least, not by any specific, modern religion), so it is not for any religion to define it.
  • Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, et al, are allowed to marry, and their non-Christian (or non-Buddhist or non-Muslim) marriages are legally recognized the world over.
  • Marriage is a legal arrangement, not a religious rite (although some weddings are religious ceremonies, but not all). In fact, the earliest marriages were probably inter-family business arrangements having no bearing on god or even love, for that matter.
  • Priests and preachers are granted extra legal powers to perform weddings. Justices of the Peace don't get extra religious powers to perform the same ceremony.
  • Tax laws treat married couples differently and by excluding gay couples, we are engaging in de facto tax discrimination.
  • Married or not, gay couples share property, finances, etc, and it is impractical to not give them legal claim to each others' estate and body in the event of a death or medical emergency.
  • Half of marriages end in divorce, so exactly what is sacred about it?
  • etc
  • etc
  • etc
Pretty solid. We've heard them all before. And, to be fair, most reasonably intelligent people who oppose gay marriage agree with the above reasons. They support civil unions, etc, that provide the legal protections of marriage, but, curiously, they still oppose gay marriage. I've heard this twice in the last month. There are people who are all for equal treatment under the law, but they don't want to share the word "marriage". And this, my friends, is the aforementioned third thing.

Part of me wants to concede. It's a good compromise. Gays get their legal stuff, conservatives get to keep the sanctity of their label. But something about it gnaws at the morally deterministic part of my brain says "nice try, fellas, but I don't buy it."

I mean, what if it wasn't gays? What if it was Jews? What if it was blacks? Better still, suppose we weren't talking about marriage but rather some other area in which religion and the law both dabble. Suppose the Calvinists took over Congress, declared the Pope to be the Antichrist (which--there's a historical precedence for that sort of thing) and said that the U.S. would no longer recognize Catholics as Christians. Oh, they'd still be allowed to have mass, and parishes could still operate tax-free and officiate funeral services or weddings (...pause for irony... end pause). However, because they aren't protestant, they aren't allowed to call themselves "Christians" anymore. Would that be right? Or even sensible? Of course not. Even if public opinion supported the Calvinists, it would still be wrong. So why is "civil union" suddenly a viable alternative to "marriage"?

Think about Brown v Topeka, in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of any kind was unconstitutional, and more importantly that there was no such thing as separate-but-equal. How about an appeal to fear? And by that I mean that compromising with homophobes over nomenclature has kind of a negotiating-with-terrorists air about it. Don't you think? Seriously, I could do this all day.

I digress. So, okay, here it is in a nutshell. This is why I'm convinced that gay marriage should be allowed without alternate labels, without deferring to anyone's religious views, without any of that nonsense. At the end of the day, it's just another way to make people different. The whole argument could be rephrased as: "I can't think of a rational justification to exclude them, but I still don't think they should be allowed in my club." And that is simply, unequivocally wrong.



Ben said...

hear hear!

Amy said...

The opposition to gay marriage is only "easy to debunk" if you're sharing your ideas with people who are as entrenched in postmodern American Unitarian culture as you are... in which case debunking is superfluous because you're preaching to the choir.
Arguments like, "why should I be beholden to your god" are ineffective because they are based on a premise that doesn't exist to a true believer: the possibility that there is such thing as "YOUR god" instead of THE GOD.

See the difference there? If I truly believe the statues of the Christian or Muslim or Jewish faith, then "my" God is THE Ultimate, All Powerful Creator and whether or not YOU believe that doesn't affect its truth. So while you have been granted the freedom to choose your beliefs, shamelessly ignoring God's laws on the basis of disbelief is inexcusable because he's the ultimate authority.

Make sense?

Also, the slippery slope argument kinda falls flat when you consider how many court cases come down to citing "if...then" precedents. Certain sects of Mormons are already using gay marriage to push for polygamy: "If little Sarah can have two mommies, then why can't she have two mommies AND a daddy?" Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? What exactly are you basing your assurance on that inter-species or adult-child marriages are not at issue?

The "50% of marriages end in divorce" thing...I've used that argument myself, but when it comes down to it, it's really just throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I think my comment has now exceeded the length of your post, but in closing, I'll say that I don't get the whole "civil union" thing either. It's either marriage or it isn't, and I don't get how you can support a civil union with marriage rights and not support calling it marriage. Baffles me.

The end.