I’m not a terrifically vocal person with respect to my politics. I am typically “live and let live” so long as someone isn’t trying to infringe upon my rights or push their agenda, religious or otherwise, on me. But, I also have the advantage of being a straight white male living in the generally liberal northwest. As a result and because I’m not knowingly trying to break any laws, my rights and my lifestyle are not under attack. Further, I recognize that no one really cares what I personally think on this subject and I certainly don’t expect to change anyone else’s mind on this or, really, any other subject. Having said that, this subject baffles me unlike almost any other.
The United States Supreme Court is hearing two cases related to Marriage Equality this week. You can read a nice article summarizing the two cases here (http://www.npr.org/2013/03/25/175252608/the-same-sex-marriage-cases-a-primer) on NPR’s site.
Basically the first is related to whether California’s Prop 8 violates the 14th amendment which prevents states from denying people equal protection under the law. The second challenges the constitutionality of DOMA (the incredibly poorly named Defense of Marriage Act) passed in 1996 which bars Federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The effect of DOMA, among others, is that gay couples cannot and do not get the same tax advantages and other benefits that straight married couples get.
I grew up in the 70s and that was also a pretty liberal time. By the time I was politically aware enough to pay attention, everyone was expected to have equal rights under the law regardless of skin color. Women had the same rights as men to vote or own property or any of the other things which have been constrained legislatively in the past.
But that was the point, to me it was all in the past. It was like Ye Olde Dark History and was just “how it used to be in the old days” before people started behaving more rationally.
As we all know, that wasn’t really the reality in the 70s or the 80s but there had been significant progress. It was the the exception, it seemed to me, and not the rule when issues came up around women’s rights or equal rights in our country.
I admit I wasn’t really aware of the issue of gay rights when I was a kid and it didn’t really enter my consciousness until I was an adult. I came from Spokane, Washington and didn’t even know that I knew anyone who was gay until after college. Yes, I was that sheltered. And clueless. Sue me.
But when I did have (and do have) people in my life who are gay, I’ve always been baffled that legislation would exist that would cheat them of rights.
First it was what seemed to me to be the small things: What do you mean that if a man is in the hospital and his partner wants to visit him, he can’t visit as any other family member would? That’s a thing? That’s a stupid distinction. Family is family. Later that same incredulity was applied to the notion of marriage equality. I simply didn’t and still don’t understand why this is a thing.
In the recent 2012 elections there was some back and forth in my circle on Facebook about the issue of marriage equality and it became clear that one of the things that muddy the water dramatically is the confluence of marriage between the secular and the religious worlds. That’s unfortunate and, it seems to me, unnecessary.
While I do know it is true that marriage is a very important thing from a religious perspective, it’s certainly not a universal notion. The words that are spoken, the expectations placed on the couple, the commitments they make to each other and to their community vary geographically, culturally and even generationally. In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, whose words are used in many weddings to this day included the following by the Wife, “to love, cherish, and to obey”, whereas the Husband simply promised to “to love, cherish”. I realize that some still believe that “to obey” is an important and useful clause based on the notion that *someone* has to be in charge, but I would assert that most in 21st century American society would find that part both quaint and antiquated. The point being, marriage is not a constant. It changes with the times to better reflect the society in which it takes place.
From a secular perspective, it’s clearly also an important issue. In the Oregon Revised Statues (http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/), marriage can be found 88 times in various places. It defines marriage and details the rights that come with marriage. And I believe this is a reasonable thing to be defined from a secular perspective because marriage impacts so many things from health care to property to taxes to children. But the state’s notion of marriage changes and shifts, as well, with time. It wasn’t that long ago that states specifically legislated against a black person and a white person marrying. This is a notion that seems like it’s out of some sort old time historical book or movie. But, it wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court got around to declaring those laws unconstitutional. Unsurprisingly, many states had already overturned their own miscegenation laws before this, but the Supreme Court still had to weigh in to make it official across the entire United States.
I suspect we’re nearing a similar juncture now with respect to marriage equality and for many of the same reasons that overturned those laws.
Simply put, they aren’t rational, they aren’t legal and the tide of history grows increasingly strong against them. Marriage Equality, I believe, will be a given whether it’s this year or in five or ten years. And twenty years from now I believe we’ll look back at this whole issue and shake our heads at the misguided attempts to “protect” something that doesn’t need protection.
I would love for someone to explain to me what it is about marriage equality that creates in some this desire to “protect” or “defend” marriage. Further, I would love to have them do it but try not to make it easy for me to point out the parallels between this and those who fought against equal rights for women or equal rights for all without regard to race.
I admit I live in a bit of a bubble. I, like most, tend to surround myself either actively or passively with folks who are pretty much like me, so I have to think for a few minutes about who I know who might feel differently than me on this issue but, even when I acknowledge that I do have folks in my life who feel differently than me on this issue, I know that while I would like to be able to talk about it with them, it really quickly would come down to a difference in religious background and beliefs. And in that, I suspect we’d be much like two people yelling to each other across an enormous gulf. We might hear some of what the other is saying, but we’re both not going to change our position on the subject and I guess I have to respect it, even while I actively and publicly disagree with how they feel. Sometimes, that’s just family.
This issue of Marriage Equality, though, is a much simpler one. It’s an issue of those same simple human rights that we all say we believe in and support, so I don’t understand how anyone can argue against it. I understand that someone may have a set of values that may preclude them supporting marriage equality, but if we’re going to be a society that actively lets disparate religious, political and philosophical groups co-exist in our society, that only happens when one group is not allowed to force their beliefs and values on everyone else.
There is no good reason for making a distinction between “gay marriage” and “straight marriage”. There just isn’t. You can’t say it has some role in protecting the children or producing children else you risk the next logical conclusion which is to hold back marriage from those straight couples who don’t choose to have children. That sounds absurd, I’m pretty sure everyone would agree. Restricting marriage from two consenting adults on the basis of their sexuality is similarly absurd. It really is that simple.
I believe in this tide that’s going to make this a non-issue hopefully sooner than later, but I do think it will be inevitable. And I believe that we, as a people, will be better for the decision, even if slightly less than half the folks polled in the US are dragged in to this new and slightly less divisive world. Just as I believe we were better for having extended equal rites to women and minorities. People fought that then and we look back at them (at least I do) with a slightly confused and embarrassed tilt to our heads. The same will be true of this issue. At least, I hope so.