Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which changed the California constitution to prohibit gay marriage. The people of that state passed the initiative in 2008 with 52% of the voters agreeing that the historical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman should not be changed. The verdict was immediately challenged and overturned by the 9th circuit court and was then appealed to the Supreme Court for review.
If I had any brains I would simply let this go without comment. The issue is a minefield of accusation. Words like “bigot” and “fag” are being thrown around like hand grenades at anyone stupid enough to go public with an opinion. Well, there has never been any doubt as to whether I am stupid enough, the evidence showing that I am stupid enough for practically anything, so here goes.
Facebook yesterday got lit up with these small red squares which I later learned were indications of support for gay marriage. The back and forth was quite awful, as I have come to expect on that medium. I know and understand the basic arguments on both sides and many, though not all, of the tangential ones. I am left confused and torn.
On the one hand, if a society decides to change the 4000 year old understanding of what marriage is, it better have a damn good reason for doing so. Marriage is a foundational relationship of human interaction, serving as it does as the primary organizational unit of civilization,( notice the links I am willing to go to avoid the ghastly term “building block”!!). But I also know that slavery was a foundational relationship of human interaction for something close to 4000 years too, and still is in many areas of the world. The fact that we grew to value the dignity of human life enough to stigmatize and outlaw human bondage was a high water mark in our development. The question then arises, does prohibiting gay marriage equate logically with abolishing slavery? Proponents have very eagerly picked up the civil rights banner, cloaking their cause as the natural next step in personal freedoms and claiming the rhetorical high ground that that association brings. As a side benefit, this strategy also allows those on the other side of the debate to be breezily accused of being bigots, the natural descendants of Bull Conner.
For most of my younger friends the issue seems to be a simple one summarized by a simple question, “Why shouldn’t people be allowed to love whoever they choose?” It’s all about love. Why can’t we all just get along? Of course this binds the issue of “love” to marriage in ways that are not consistent with history. The close relationship with romantic love and the institution of marriage is a very new one historically speaking, a relatively modern construct. For centuries before ours marriage was much more often of financial, political, or even self preservation origins. Marriages were entered into to strengthen tribes, alliances and other forms of human organizations, but most importantly to provide the safest vehicle for the formation of families, the propagation of the species, child rearing, for lack of a better term. Now, I admit, this understanding doesn’t do well on a Hallmark Card, but nonetheless it is a fact of history sometimes lost in our modern obsession with romantic love. So, getting back to my young friends and their argument for gay marriage…if love is the issue, then why prohibit any two people who “love each other” from getting married? Why shouldn’t a 35 year old man be able to marry a 15 year old girl, or a 15 year old boy, or a 15 year old dog? It’s all about love, right? Or how about that strange place where love truly abounds, our 35 year old man and his 6, 35 year old girlfriends? Love conquers all, or so I’m told on Facebook.
The burden of proof should be on those who propose a redefinition of marriage. What will be the results down the line of this redefinition? Will the legal precedent be set for future redefinitions like I describe, and if so, how do these changes benefit society, and are those benefits without risk?
I have not here introduced religious convictions into the debate. I have some on this issue, but they are not germane to the legal argument. However, religious issues still abound. If gay marriage is made the law of the land, what is to become of churches who teach the traditional view( Catholics, Baptists, etc.)? If they refuse to conduct such marriages, will they be held in contempt, stripped of their tax free status? Will their priests and ministers be sent to jail? And what is to become of the millions of people who still hold to a 4000 year definition of the institution of marriage? Are they to be magically transformed into bigots and shamed from polite society?
There is much more to discuss here, but I must go to work. I have many sympathies with the pro gay marriage argument which I will detail in tomorrow’s blogpost.
TO BE CONTINUED