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leeway to discriminate even with the 14th amendment in place to limit such things as anti-miscegenation laws which were repealed in Loving v. Virginia in 1967.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.

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