Thursday, February 16, 2006

Maybe Whittington Made a Pass at Cheney

Public Radio yesterday covered the story of the conservative fight in New Jersey to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. I've taken my swipe at this subject before, but like a cat that won't stay run over the topic keeps getting up again, and my irritation and contempt follow accordingly.

I fail to understand how opposition to homosexuality comes to lodge itself in a person's mind, especially as an activist cause. An opposition to, say, socialism is a stance I can at least grasp: one might argue that it removes incentives for productivity and creativity, promotes sloth, etc. Opposition to abortion I can see in concept, if not the insistence that no one else see the issue differently.

But being gay? I just don't get the motivation for such foaming-at-the-mouth opposition. What are they afraid of exactly? That our acceptance will cause more people to become gay? That's an absurd idea to anyone with even minimal science education about sexual behavior; but even if we grant it, what then? Will it deplete our population? Is it a fear that decriminalized propositions might cause straight folks to falter and... sample the dark side? Is it just that one or another bible prohibits it (presumably from a five-thousand-years-ago perspective where procreation was needed to keep the church's coffers full in perpetuity) and to allow it now is to invoke this or that god's wrath? Or are the church elders agitating so that their whole house of cards does not come down in the mighty wind?

Well, what rationale is given? Here, from NPR's story, is Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation of Virginia: "This is about so much more than two individuals who might love each other but don't happen to be a man and a woman. This is about redefining an institution that has been a bedrock of society for all of history." As though there were no families until her church invented church marriage! As though civilization is teetering on the edge of dissolution without her efforts. What does "redefining an institution" even mean? Sorry, but that's just appallingly ignorant.

Cobb claims her real goal is (you knew it was coming)... protecting children. "We know from social research that traditional family structure is the best place that children can possibly be raised." Social research! I'd love to hear her definition of research. I'm suspicious she hasn't even the dimmest grasp of the scientific method or, for that matter, of what is or isn't the "bedrock of society for all of history." What other child-rearing structures did she look into? How thoroughly has she combed the data about children raised with two loving same-sex parents? Did she look at single-parent households and weed out other factors like economics? Did she look at children raised in poor heterosexual households where there is little education? Her citation of "research" smacks of the kind of pseudo-science these groups always apply, in pursuit of promoting, in the nauseating and meaningless cotton-candy phrase, "family values."

But back to the larger question. How does allowing gays to marry alter in any way our own heterosexual marriages? What is the nature of the degradation feared? What will be different for us? How is a kiss from my wife changed because two married men are kissing next to me? Why devote untold hours to ban others from being able to do what you yourself do not want to do? Where is the honor in preventing others from making their decisions?

I will venture this opinion again: there is nothing in the world less in need of protection than male / female pair bonding. To believe there is a threat here requires throwing out billions of years of animal procreation (but hey, the earth after all is only 6,000 years old). Capital-M Marriage is a religious institution. And if one's particular Jesus tells one thru the Secret Mind Meld that the church ought not sanction same sex marriage, well and good: make sure the church doesn't perform the ceremony. But what began as church marriage has evolved into a legal institution that has nothing to do with religion--why else are we fighting it as a legal battle?--and as such we must ensure that no governmental entity is pushing any religious agenda (not that gay marriage opponents sympathize with this tenet of the Constitution). Homosexuality is a fact of life, in our species and all other sexual species; it was not invented in recent times, and it will not go away with a big enough hammer.

We seem much more likely to do damage by allowing people with no functional education to vote.

I know a lot of gay people. I know a lot of Christians who are not trying to hurt gay people. I even know a few gay Christians (which strikes me as laying with the lions). Anyway, I have seen absolutely no grounding for thinking that gay people are any less functional or less moral or less decent or less steadfast in relationships or less sexually normal than any of the heterosexuals I know. Sexual orientation just doesn't seem to be a marker for any meaningful thing if we're not already armed with a bunch of preconceptions. How many gay people does Victoria Cobb know? How many are her close friends? Would she refuse to befriend someone who was gay? Because they were gay? Why would we tolerate this or listen to such a person?


Bill Garnett said...

Enjoyed reading your post - you made some excellent points. Victoria Cobb mentions in her PBS interview that she is expecting - would be poetic justice that her new child end up gay - and because of her is stripped of many of the basic rights a heterosexual child would enjoy.

Seems she would do more for "family values" by promoting love and inclusion.

wunelle said...

"Seems she would do more for "family values" by promoting love and inclusion."

Amen, brother.

I did read about her being preggers, and felt a little pity for the poor kid. Who knows, maybe she'll make a great mom. But it's like the crazy people who bring their children to fringe political rallies and make them hold the "ABORTION IS MURDER" placards.

Ah, I don't mean to roast her for the sins she hasn't committed when she seems plenty odious without speculating!

Anonymous said...

I can't help but to think that the effort to legislate homosexuality is yet another case where politicians are whipping up a furor where there really is no problem. As you say, who does it hurt if a couple of any sort wants to be treated like every other couple? It seems to work well, though, for politicians to raise these polarizing issues and then use them to ensure that they have the religous right in their camp. What better way win that sizable percentage of the vote than to pander to their ridiculous beliefs?

The thing I hate most about it all is how we end up living under a legal system that is designed around the tenets of Christianity rather than fairness and rationality. And then we have problems with countries that adhere to Islamic law. On top of that the supposedly 'Christian' values that are promoted in these 'crusades' aren't even true to the core values of Christianity. All the folks with the WWJD wrist bands ought to consider how Jesus would have treated homosexuals - he would have afforded them the same care and respect as he did every other person.

wunelle said...

I agree.

But why would a politician WANT to have the religious right on their side? Their numbers are not that great, and they are seen as odious to so many people, or at least it seems this way to me. Maybe it's a kind of shield effect of nominal Christians--a large portion of the population in this country--being unable to come down too harshly against the fanatics who use their common religion as a club to beat up on the less rigorous.

And I think trying to reign in fundamentalist religious fanaticism by approaching it from one's OWN fundamentalist religious fanaticism gets us, well, the Middle East and Northern Ireland and every other religious blood bath that populates history books. This is the absence of functional liberal education at work, in my opinion.

I also agree that so much of this seems hugely contrary to the supposed behavior and teachings of the Jesus figure (who, it must be admitted, was shaped by 400 years of oral transmission before being immortalized in print; so there is surely little resemblance between the man, if he existed, and the legend that grew after his death. It is a much-evolved story and a not very realistic example).

woolf said...

I took an oral history class last year, and one of the books we read was "The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories." The main premis of the book is about how a young man died during a union strike back in the 20s. The author went around and recorded people's accounts of that time in history. What came out of this project was the fact that there were so many versions, from how he died to even when in history it happened. Were these people lying, the author wondered, or has this story after so many years become grounded in other actions of that time and place in their lives that they truly believed that was how it happened? One fact remained "true": Luigi Trastulli died. But how he died and who he was is up for grabs in people's memory.

The day I was diagnosed with Ollier's disease, my mom says that day was the day Anwar Sadat was asassinated. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. But that was a major global event that equaled a major event in my family's life.

I think this sort of thing is what happened in the Gospels. Years after the fact, times and places and saying became intermingled with what happened in those days and years before the temple was destroyed. Perhaps what the disciples wrote was true to their memory.

Or, maybe they were just good storytellers. I read a quote a long time ago that said, roughly, A writer tells the biggest lies, but a writer tells the truth. When I write a story I'm telling a whole pack of lies, but there is a grain of truth in every line, be it an action, a thought or an idea. What I'm looking for is not hard facts, but a way to tell my audience the things I want them to hear. Maybe the deeds of Christ were doctored or even invented, but it was written at a time when people needed to have something to grab onto. Maybe the writers knew their audience and created the Gospel accordingly.

People cling to certain beliefs for too many reasons to count: fear, for one. Fear of the idea that God isn't what God is supposed to be or that maybe there never was a God to begin with and people seem naturally afraid anything that is different, like homosexuality, sexuality in general, different cultures, different beliefs...

Not that I like these ideas people have of differences. I've just begun (slowly) to understand the why they think that way.

wunelle said...

A lovely comment. You're in the right line of work =)

You toss a wee bit of water on my irascibility, which, I can admit, is a valuable public service!

I don't mean to say that the failings of transmitting information orally over long periods of time deprive such messages of any wisdom or value, only that it makes those messages reliably not factual. I think stories like this one are bound to become embellished and "improved" by the talents of those who carry and transmit them down the line; once a supernatural element has been fancifully introduced, the sky's the limit. (I'm reminded that many elements of the Jesus story--death and resurrection, disciples, the trinity, etc.--were not original to whoever introduced them to the story, these elements being traceable back to mythologies much more ancient.)

But I can (and do) overemphasize the point: you're absolutely right that the value of a message does not need to rely on its absolute factual correctness, at least for some kinds of messages. But it puts those who pursue a literal, fundamentalist approach to those messages in an unflattering light, especially when the control of people is involved.

I think that's what I love about the Unitarian church. They attempt to separate the wheat of wisdom from the chaff of baggage in all the world's great religions. This seems wise and well-intended and beneficial.

Thanks for slugging thru all this to leave a great comment.

Mandy said...

As a Christian, I get really hacked at people who claim to speak for all Christians, like Victoria Cobb. Because not all Christians think that homosexuality is evil - I think that people are born the way they're born, meaning God created them that way. It's not the norm, necessarily, but it's not an abomination to be true to who you are. Living your life in a caring and compassionate manner is not the sole domain of straight people - in fact, I would say that a lot of us fail spectacularly on a daily basis. And whoever said that Jesus would be the last person to condemn gay people is right, in my opinion. The people he was the hardest on were the self-righteous religious leaders of the time who felt that they were above everyone else.

I also don't see what on earth should be so threatening about gay marriage. The protecting the children argument is the one that pisses me off the most. Children need a stable and loving home. God knows that STRAIGHT people do not exactly have a corner on the market for being able to provide that.

Gay people are not a threat to the institution of marriage. People who view marriage as disposable and don't give a crap about the vows they take are a threat to the institution of marriage - they are the ones cheapening it. Not the people who want to be together so much that they're willing to fight for their right to be recognized as a committed couple in every sense, both legal and spiritual.

Bill Garnett said...

Great comment guys - wonderful conversation going on here - wish it could get spread out into the blog void a bit more.

Here is an argument that may sound odd at first, but the more I ponder it, the more intuitive it becomes.

Years ago with some time on my hands, working in Riyadh, I began a genealogical hobby and was proud of the approximately 500 individuals, back to Jamestown and before, that I had discovered. I had seen how, not just arithmetically, or geometrically, but exponentially do the cousins and grandparents and branches and twigs grow into a tree, that were it to be taken back twenty or so generations would have encompassed most of the then population of the then Europe. This may be the core unconscious draw to genealogy.

It is this realization of the connectedness we constantly deny. We stop at a traffic light and are indifferent to the “relatives” in the car next to us. Or we haven’t a clue as to our relative who lives a few inches away in the next-door apartment. Or the very distant cousin who is the annoying salesperson we dealt with recently. It is this realization on which I’d like to weave this rather odd but encompassing argument – the argument that, to have the civil right of civil marriage forever denied to homosexuals, is abhorrent to the reality that all gays are from families and that almost everyone has a homosexual in their family (in fact with the new UK government survey that showed six percent in their population, we can assume that there are tens of millions of homosexuals in our American population). And it is consistent, rather than inconsistent, with not just family values but with “Tradition American Family Values”, that we do not undervalue any American and certainly not any member of our family. As we are all family in the truest sense.

Our founders used no word or phase more forcibly, more courageously, more passionately – then they did the word “we” and the phrase “we the people”. We are one large family – or should be. And a family would not act to deny the civil right of a relative they loved. They would want that person to have as full a citizenship as they have. And they would want the protections and rights and responsibilities to be equally assessable.

Ergo, in the most fundamental of fundamental arguments, traditional family values should rule the day. Certainly it would not be family values that would lobby to amend a constitution in this land, the primary aim of which was to prevent two heterosexual lovers who wanted to get married from getting married- and to thus effectively promote sex outside of marriage.

A note to the religious right. You have yet to provide one reasonable argument to describe in any believability how amending our constitutions will bring about a favorable change in your lives. And you have yet to acknowledge any damage this action may bring upon tens of millions of your blood relatives – if not in blood, certainly in the blood of Christ.

wunelle said...

Sorry for the silence, but I spent yesterday on the road.

Many thanks for all of you for your thoughtful comments.

Mandy--I know, as an atheist, that my comments are often Christian-bashing and I apologize for not being more discriminating. I know what I believe, but I also know that I'm one human being on the planet trying to make sense of things we cannot hope to really grasp. It's wrong of me to assume that my solutions are better than others' or that my grasp of things is stronger. I feel I am within my rights to attack an issue, but my enthusiasm can run away from me. I know a lot of Christians who are very, very good people and who see their faith as a way of doing good in the world and of being caring, responsible citizens. I cannot claim to do better than any of these people.

But these issues can bring out an ugly side of us, an ugly side of humanity and, in some cases, an ugly side of faith. And it irks me to no end (as it appears it does you) for people to use the same faith which they wear as a banner of morality and goodness to do harm and cause pain.

I apologize for any offense, though I must own up to what I think and feel.

And I heartily agree that the biggest threat to marriage is those who do not take their commitment seriously. Hear, hear!

Bill Garnett--A wonderful, most thoughtful comment. (I'd love to see it as a post in its own right and not buried in the comments section of a blog few people read.) This is a fascinating take on things, and I agree. There's almost nothing that separates any of us, and the fact is even the most homophobic of us is only an arm's length away from a gay member of our own family tree.

But even then I think this fact is like a prybar we're using to try and get someone to treat someone else humanely. But if this approach helps us to realize there is no "us" versus "them" then maybe it will have a positive influence.

Thanks to both of you for your thoughtful comments.

Mandy said...

Oh goodness - you didn't offend me, people like Jerry Falwell offend me, because they give an image of Christians that is so distorted and offensive. If I thought, for one second, that the hate and bile so often spewed by the religious right was what Christianity was all about, I'd be out of there like a shot. And we *should* speak up when something offensive and wrong is happening - and denying people a basic tenet of human dignity is just plain wrong.

There have been a lot of really ugly things done, all wrapped up in the banner of faith, and all major faiths have fallen victim to it. It is absolutely right to criticize it, in fact I would argue that it's a moral imperitive.

So please do continue to voice your opinions!