Sunday, May 27, 2012

No Fault Divorce, Marriage's True Enemy

It’s a common position of social conservatives, especially in the media, that gay marriage is a threat to marriage and will destroy the family and society as we know it vicariously. But no-fault divorce, established in America as early as the 70s and finalized in all states in 1985, has had more demonstrable and probably correlative and causative effects on marriage and divorce rates in the last few “generations” than gay marriage has in the last 10 years since it was first legalized in the Netherlands. The most obvious reason why it has infested and corrupted marriage and the family is because people don’t have the basic restrictions on divorce law that existed prior: where you had to find some fault with the partner in order to separate. When people don’t take marriage seriously and can legally marry someone and then separate in less than 24 hours for a mere caprice, it’s no surprise fewer people give the institution the respect it deserves and are basically lying through their teeth at their vows or don’t realize that marriage is more than just shared property and some tax breaks, it’s a commitment for a lifetime that should not be taken lightly. There are at least two perspectives from which divorce is criticized, though not always to the same extent. But no-fault divorce goes too far and I think both sides that could find fault with divorce to one extent or another would see this law as repugnant even to the mere secular purpose of marriage: maintaining kinship and intimacy between family and couple respectively and encouraging the values of fidelity and monogamy for all those in and planning for marriage.

Religiously, divorce is only permitted in a few circumstances, if we consider the Christian perspective, which is fairly common in America. If a spouse is unfaithful and caught in the act, dies, or willingly leaves the spouse because they do not believe in God anymore, then the divorce is considered valid and justified, roughly speaking. And the only time someone can remarry is if their spouse dies. There are issues in Jewish divorce law, since it appears traditionally a woman can’t initiate a divorce and a man can refuse to out of spite. In Islam, divorce is permitted by both men and women with waiting periods or court proceedings respectively, though it is considered the most hateful thing that is also lawful, for similar reasons that Jews would try to maintain civil harmony in their marriage, even if they don’t think they can maintain it for personal reasons of one form or another. There’s always the admonition from Jesus in the gospels, particularly Matthew 19:6, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." The Catholic Church takes it so seriously than even an annulment, which makes the man and woman not obligated to live together, does not separate them in the eyes of God. As mentioned before, the only way remarriage is acceptable by Catholic standards in particular is if one of the spouses dies. Infidelity does not break the bond of marriage, though it is grounds for separation. Many other Christian denominations will permit divorce, though they could consider it problematic to remarry. A lot of it depends on interpretations of both Jesus and Paul’s thoughts on marriage, since Paul is noted to have said that it is better not to be married unless you cannot resist temptations of the flesh and the like. Being bound to a woman is almost seen as a distraction from worshipping God. But the positions tend to range on a spectrum of condemnation of divorce in itself, condemnation not of divorce in the sense of annulment, but of divorce and remarriage and then permission of divorce and remarriage within limited constraints of infidelity or if an unbelieving spouse calls for separation and then permission of it under more general grounds and remarriage as well.

The more secular perspective on divorce is a bit limited, since the legal standards for it have changed. The original law in the U.S. appears to have been the form that required finding culpable fault in one of the partners, which was more than merely emotional distance or the like. Physical abuse, adultery, abandonment or other felonies fell under this standard. The legal opposition to this divorce law was on the grounds that there shouldn’t have to be such obfuscating or otherwise ad hoc justifications made to determine divorce proceedings. There is disagreement in that this just involves the government more in determining how marriages can end, but that’s not as pertinent to the topic at hand. There are alleged problems with no-fault divorce that come down to property and such. One partner can be left high and dry when the other leaves them because of prior arrangements, though a lot of this may be preventable by making more equitable contracts beforehand. The biggest issue that can be brought up for no-fault divorce being counterintuitive to marriage without invoking a bond made by God through a sacrament would be that this can create a habit of detachment that leads to separations that do not encourage communication between spouses. If one side decides to leave and doesn’t even have to prove fault, then the divorce leaves bad feelings behind because the other side may have wanted to go into marriage counseling. If you can’t resolve your feelings together, then the notion of commitment and loyalty to one another in the marital state seems to fall apart in society’s perspective at large. I would hope people deciding to get married have thought long and hard about it, gotten counseling or practice in some beforehand perhaps even cohabitated with limitations to see how they interact together. If that’s done, no fault divorce can be avoided from the start by encouraging good marriage habits.

In either case, no-fault divorce is either taking marriage to a level where commitment to the sacred nature of it is lost or even adhering to basic standards of marriage as something that binds people together for a lifetime is lacking. When you don’t have to even find fault with your spouse, but get tired of them, and the legal system supports you in that decision, society has gotten to a point where jokes about Britney Spears or Kim Kardashian being married for less than a week and getting divorced in at least one case within 24 hours aren’t funny anymore. Quite the contrary: in hindsight, they reflect badly on popular culture. Marriage isn’t even a commitment anymore to people; it’s an excuse to have sex in the eyes of one’s religious taboos against premarital relations. Beyond that, if you don’t want to be married anymore, if you just don’t feel it, you don’t need to communicate, you just have to get a divorce, no questions asked. I hate to sound like a ranting family values sort of right wing pundit, but this sort of thing is far more damaging in the ideas about marriage it establishes. Children aren’t even a concern here, families aren’t relevant. No one matters but whichever spouse decides they don’t want to be married anymore and goes through with the process. If that’s what love is perceived as by the next generation, I fear for society much more than if 5% of our population that happen to be attracted to the same sex are permitted to be called married and actually encourages monogamy or other values of marriage that can be discerned by observing couples in varying stages of wedded “bliss”. The real destruction to marriage comes not so much in changing the definition, but in making it obsolete. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Distinction Versus Discrimination

Last week I spoke on Dan Savage and his confrontational method for engaging opponents of GLBT rights overall, but this time the issue that’s becoming more contentious across the nation is defense of “traditional marriage” as various states continue to challenge rulings about gay marriage laws’ constitutionality or reinforce their own ideas of marriage in the form of discriminatory legislation, such as in North Carolina about two weeks ago. There are a few particulars I think are especially important to discuss when talking about this with anyone, such as whether the government should be involved in marriage at all, whether civil unions are the same as marriage by any stretch of definition, and defense of “traditional marriage” laws on the grounds that the government has leeway to discriminate even with the 14th amendment in place to limit such things as anti-miscegenation laws which were repealed in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. All of these can create large conflicts between otherwise reasonable people and it’s crucial to see why the issues aren’t so cut and dry as we make them, especially when there’s so much history and culture connected with a thing like marriage and sexuality.

On the more radical end of the political spectrum are conservatives and liberals alike that say the government shouldn’t be involved with marriage at all. The reasoning is that since marriage is a personal matter, there shouldn’t be federal arrangements surrounding it, but only state level at most; sometimes not even that. I wonder if the state should even be involved if marriage is so personal. If there are limits or regulations of the institution, then isn’t that excessive meddling by this very libertarian sort of position? Common law marriage may be a solution that gets the government out of more intrusive aspects of marriage law and the like and also allow gays to be considered married the same as straight people and get associated benefits by the same law. The problem is that this would have to be extended to a federally mandated, country-wide law instead of state by state, which many would oppose in saying that the government doesn’t have a compelling interest. But the fact that we register for marriages and the like, even if the primary source of the commitment is a religious ceremony, is a testament to how important it is to the government, if only to manage shared property, create structures of relation and kinship, and provide for children if the couple should unexpectedly die. The government has a responsibility to be involved in marriage, but there can be too much intervention, as well as giving the impression that married people are getting privileges beyond what they may deserve as a couple with shared property, taxes, etc. Striking a balance between the federal government’s intervention, as was done with state laws prohibiting interracial marriage, and states’ individual rights in terms of managing marriages in the more technical senses, without restricting rights based on irrelevant qualities, such as sexual orientation, will take cooperation that many people entrenched in their political parties may not be willing to do until marriage has become something unrecognizable even by traditional standards of male/female couplings. Would it kill marriage to expand it ever so slightly with the same regulations we have on straight marriage? Seems to me we can’t go much further with divorce laws beyond just allowing couples to annul their union without a lawyer at all, so marriage can only go up if it includes a group of people willing to conform to the basic values of marriage, even if they aren’t the majority.

Civil unions might have the same legal rights in most cases compared to marriages, but this is usually only on a state level. There is already inequality in that there are government benefits given to straight and married couples that gay and “civil unioned” couples don’t get. But even if this were not the case, there is still inequality in the same sense that existed with blacks getting their own drinking fountains, but being separate from the whites in that practice. Civil union does not give the same sentiment or implication as marriage and therefore it serves only as legal jargon to overcomplicate what could be a simple matter of marriage equality for both straight and gay couples. One could distinguish in a nuanced sense between categories of marriage, but not so simply between marriage and civil unions. Secular/civil marriage is that officiated and legalized by the state, while religious marriage is established and made sacred by religious doctrine and communities, but does not automatically hold sway in secular society. Civil unions might have a purpose for other partnerships, but not for something that has cultural significance for reasons that go back thousands of years. Family is one part of it, but so are fidelity, monogamy, commitment and many others. Gay people can have families, they can be faithful to one another and they can represent love in its many forms to a country that should not judge them because they love differently, but only accept their sincere love as deserving of the same title of opposite sex couples that love in the same way.

Preventing gays from getting married isn’t justified for the reasons we prevent adults from marrying children or biological siblings from marrying each other. The government has a vested interest in protecting children either from being violated by sexual predators or being born with preventable congenital birth defects, but not in denying the rights and title of marriage to people that fit the standard of marriage as a whole: two committed adults in a relationship willing to pledge their lives to each other in front of a community and remain so through their lives. The equality of marriage should exist with regard to gays and straights, because at its core, marriage is the same for both of them. It makes little sense for states to refuse a gay marriage performed in another state merely because they think there is protection in the constitution for discrimination, which isn’t always the case. You can’t just deny people equal protection for a fundamental right like marriage without having a fair minded reason. And being in love and willing to commit to the relationship through the bonds of marriage is enough by any legal precedent. Gays not being able to naturally have children of their own is not reason enough either, even if marriage is laterally connected to family as a method to generate it. Opposite sex couples that are infertile or elderly couples recently married for various reasons, such as one of them previously losing their spouse, cannot naturally have children, and barring scientific intervention or unexpected biological occurrences, cannot. They are still considered married by any “traditional” definition, yet if we consider the raising of children as integral to marriage, then even these male/female couplings are insufficient and worth only as much as a male/male or female/female coupling, since they cannot have shared biological children. While family and childrearing are both important to marriage, they should not be considered so essential as to disqualify or otherwise make couples feel like they are not worthy to be called married. And strict gender roles are not absolutely important in raising a child either. If a child understands that there is variation within male and females in terms of behavior that is considered masculine or feminine, then that should be enough. Children raised without fathers or mothers respectively or without either are not more prone to negative behavior solely or primarily because of the lack of those parents, but likely because of other contributing factors, such as societal concern for them to begin with. How often do people talk about single parent households or orphaned children? Not enough to reflect a genuine concern for them alongside children who have “normal” families. Far as I’m concerned, there is no “normal” family. Every relationship, every group of people sharing kinship has their own issues to work out, even if they have a mother and father. Having two mothers or two fathers doesn’t dispose you to be less important to society, and anyone suggesting it is missing the point of what family is at its core: love and compassion, regardless of blood relation.

One can be straight and fully support the right of gay people to get married, even if you’re not married yourself or don’t even want to get married at all. Your friend and their partner don’t make you and your significant other/wife or husband love each other less. If they do, you’re taking marriage way too much at face value instead of the lifetime it takes to make it work together. And arguing that the children need a mother and father is bollocks on its face, since there’s little causative evidence to suggest that a child without a mother or father respectively performs worse in society at large, let alone a child who isn’t raised by any sort of normal binary parental structure. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc: these are all family and they can raise a child just as well if they are willing to commit to nurturing and encouraging them in their pursuits. Gender roles aren’t absolutely required to come from parents, though they are one of the most common ways. One can see a grandparent, an uncle, an older brother or others as good male role models and vice versa for female family members, etc. If it’s proper support of a child’s growth, then you don’t need to focus on gender so much as more instinctive factors, such as love and support from people that care about you not because they’re obligated to, but because they regard you as someone close to them that deserves your love because of innate compassion for one reason or another. That’s what family is, and when you reduce that to a pairing of two people, you get marriage at its core, history or otherwise. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It Gets Better With Both Time and Action

Dan Savage is fairly well known in the popular GLBT culture and community. He’s a very controversial figure to boot, going so far as to coin a term related to anal sex with the surname of former Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum. He’s also put together more condonable advocacy for gay teens in the form of the “It Gets Better” project and writes a column syndicated in many newspapers for sex advice called “Savage Love”. His advocacy on gay rights stems in part from being raised traditional Catholic, which has an especially strong opposition to homosexuality in practice. Allegedly, Savage is a bit skeptical about monogamy, which has brought some issues from other gay rights activists, likely because it reinforces the stereotype of gay people being promiscuous. He’s also been noted for supporting the use of offensive words in a positive light through his column, such as faggot, in a similar way that queer and gay have been in the last 50 years or so. Nonetheless some activists find this objectionable, which seems a bit backwards to me in that he’s not taking it offensively if it’s already recognized that he’s gay and it’s used as an identifier.  Recently at a high school speech he made, many Christian students walked out as he called for people to ignore the “bullsh*t” in the bible regarding gay people. He also made a statement about those that left, calling them “pansy-assed” for not being able to take criticism when they could easily be called bullies themselves for calling homosexuality a sin and being insulting to their fellow classmates that might be gay. This isn’t the first time Savage has made verbal attacks at people, but this one cuts closer to home in that he’s directly involving himself with anti-gay proponents and engaging them on a level that many, myself included, might consider a bit immature. Fundamentally, the man seems fairly civil, but he does have a temper that flares up from time to time, which he has a problem with controlling. But his general intent is still reasonable in that it directly brings Christians, one of the main advocates of anti gay bigotry and discrimination, to the forefront, and makes them recognize that they are being hypocrites if they can’t take even a bit of abuse and direct criticism from the minority they persecute in one form or another. 

Not all Christians bully GLBT people, but when they stand by and do nothing about it, they are making themselves partly as guilty and responsible for not trying to change how GLBT individuals and groups are treated by believers in Jesus. Gay Straight Alliances in high schools are discriminated against and gay students are verbally and physically bullied and little seems to be done about it, to the point some of them commit suicide, which is what Dan Savage is trying to avoid with his project. Christians aren’t expected to necessarily agree with homosexual marriage or homosexual acts, but treating even homosexual attraction as a disease or dysfunction is not helping gay teens and young adults understand what love is. If you have a child or a family member who thinks they might be gay, listen to them. Don’t dismiss their confusion as a phase or rebellion, but take it seriously and try to figure out why they feel this way. Is it recent or has it been a pattern for a while? Perhaps the child isn’t gay, but bisexual, but perhaps they are gay. If this is the case, you have to be prepared to accept it in one way or another. But don’t ever push them away to try to save yourself the insecurity of coming to terms with someone you love happening to be attracted to people of the same sex. Raising a child is never easy and coping with your own problems is a good step to do before you start considering children. Otherwise, you risk putting more stress and problems upon your offspring as you raise them with your own warped sense of right and wrong. It’s far better to accept your child for what they are if there is no evidence they can change that quality. Behavior that can be molded and shaped in some form or fashion is different. Being male/female, gay/straight/bisexual, transgender, etc are not things you should fault your child for or make them feel distressed about. If it’s a problem to you, then it is not something to take out on your child, but work it out yourself.

While supporters of GLBT rights and equality shouldn’t insult people, beliefs and traditions are not subject to the same limitations. If people cannot take criticism of their belief systems for the heinous things they bring forth or try to do something about it, then they shouldn’t engage in debates with people about something that is still fairly polarizing politically and religiously. There is a fine line to walk between insulting individuals or groups in terms of their personal identity that are immutable qualities and insulting things that are quite mutable, such as political or religious beliefs, especially if those convictions defame a person based on immutable characteristics, such as sexual orientation, skin color, sex, etc. It’s one thing to insult beliefs and bigotry as horrible and reprehensible things, but to call those who hold them such a thing goes too far in not treating those whom you want to be equitable and compassionate to others with that same equity and compassion. If you’re insulted by such people that oppose gay marriage, kill them with kindness, I say. Even a bit of humor can make things less tense than they’d be if you try to talk reasonably with people that don’t think reasonably in a situation where their social norms are being threatened by an imagined enemy of progress. 

Dan Savage’s methods aren’t perfect, but they aren’t absolutely useless in being confrontational to people that think every supporter of gay rights is going to roll over and take abuse like a saint. Some people will get angry, some people will be emotional, but those feelings should be tempered with peace and self control. I can be incensed at the hatred and ignorance people spew towards those they either claim to love or don’t know from the person sitting next to them on the train, but I shouldn’t stoop to the level of those I oppose unless I can back it up with a sincere intent to help people. Sometimes people should be left to their own devices, but direct action can make change if the situation is ripe for it, if someone is willing to consider that they might be wrong or that their position can be softened a bit. Treat people with a mixture of yin and yang, mind and heart, deliberation and intuition. Gay people do not deserve to be treated like sub humans, but they don’t need attention brought to their differences all the time either. If they are regarded as equals, then people’s positions on them may change from what they perceive as those who feel entitled. It’s a give and take method, but you can’t keep taking without giving something back. Hatred should be returned with not only passive love, but active love, tough love. And that’s what Dan Savage does. Until next time, Namaste and aloha. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ingenuity and Iniquity

Of the things one could connect to dishonesty, the characteristic of being creative is probably the last we’d even consider.  A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that people who require more creativity in their jobs are more likely to engage in underhanded behavior at work. It’s commonly harmless or at least mitigated compared to tax fraud or such things, but the idea is that those with a tendency to be inventive also can find ways to justify their behavior. This is, however, highly correlation based. There are plenty of creative people who most likely don’t behave like this and many who aren’t creative that do. The inverse may be the case: doing immoral things may lead to more creative thinking in the future by virtue of going outside expected norms and laws. This could be a good thing, but the potential abuse still remains. If being creative is a quality of any person, the more they have, there is a higher chance they may have a habit of being unethical, even if it’s simple things like skimping on a tip.  These two relations pose a question of how our ethical behavior is related to creativity and vice versa. Are we ethical because we lack creativity or do we become more creative by breaking ethical norms?

Ethics could conceivably emerge from our ignoring creativity and seeing what is predictable and what is practical, benefitting the whole instead of the parts. This is not to say we can’t appreciate innovation, but it still has to be within boundaries of some sorts. Art schools won’t let a student just go anywhere with their ventures, especially when religion or politics are concerned. If you go too far with them, you’re threatening stability and offending people. While the former might be grounds for genuine ethical concerns, the latter is guaranteed with any endeavor in the arts or just in conversations. Someone will find your opinions unbelievable and strive to change your ways. So ethics, in this theory, serve as a safeguard against people breaking out of the limitations society implicitly places upon the arts, so as not to disrupt order. Of course there is the possibility that this isn’t ethics so much as tradition, norms and mores, all of which are prone to be shattered in one way or another and a common perspective is that these don’t really hurt the common good, since they aren’t automatically galvanizing people to action, but bringing things to the surface that were once hidden. In that sense, creativity and ethics can coexist in this model, which is hopefully what can be accomplished with the other.

Creativity may emerge from ignoring the mundane and seeing things in a new light, breaking down boundaries and limits we put on ourselves. In this context, creativity is more beneficial than ethics, at least in the sense that new things can aid us with time and experimentation. Of course with any such novelty, especially scientific discoveries, one should be careful, which is applying a sort of ethics to the process. But to prohibit new ideas because they threaten a status quo or the like under the guise of ethics or morals is where such things as censorship arise from. This is where creativity is good, but like ethics before, there is the potential for abuse in creativity for its own sake instead of benefitting society with discoveries in medicine, or even mere aesthetic appreciation in the arts. But to have some kind of message behind our creations is important as well even if it is simply observing something already presented by others. To put a new spin on it is where imagination can bring new vigor and awe to life that we became accustomed to. Those that are abnormal can many times have a view on things that is not damaging, but actually edifying and building us up more by bringing together so many myriad vantages and resulting impressions. This is not to say there isn’t a point where we cut off the genius from the insane, of course. But the potential for creativity’s abuse should not make us stifle it entirely for the sake of security either.

Creativity and ethics can coexist, but it remains difficult to focus entirely on one or the other without recognizing a need for both depending on context and circumstance. Being creative might be a way people justify their otherwise unethical actions or it might simply be a consequence of the imagination going wild and people motivated by their ingenuity to go outside the norm, which doesn’t always equal being immoral, but heterodox at best. Creativity has potential for corruption, but is not evil in itself. Ethics benefit us, as well as possessing potential for excess or deficit as with any good thing. And immorality is sometimes only judged as such, but is not necessarily evil at all, but merely pushing boundaries beyond stiff and resistant traditions and normalcy. Fundamentally, equity and moderation are necessary to maintaining a cohesive and dynamic whole person, which includes both being civil to other human beings, but also realizing that you can’t please everyone and someone at sometime is going to be offended by you and there’s nothing that can be done except move forward. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.