Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another rare political post - on Prop 8

Because the main purpose of this blog is to serve as a record of my professional work, I don't always feel that it's appropriate to use it for my personal musings. However, I recently contributed to this Bostonist post on the large Prop 8 protest that took place in several cities today, including one in Boston, which I attended. So I believe this merits an additional comment from me that gives some context to my position on this issue, especially since I am in the unique and fortunate position of being able to consult both my GLBT friends and my Mormon friends directly on this issue, rather than relying on the press or blogs. I hope that both groups will take this as an opportunity to start a dialogue with the other side, as I am trying to do -- no matter how much anger or distrust they may feel right now.

Okay. Here goes.

I have not always been sure about what I believe when it comes to amendments dealing with marriage. I find much of the rhetoric on both sides to be problematic.

I don't entirely believe that marriage is a "human" or a "civil" right, and furthermore, I think this rhetoric is somewhat beside the point.

I don't think that defining something as a "human right" is in and of itself a necessary step in helping make something, whether it's water or food or a life free of violence or discrimination, more available to those who clearly deserve it.

I don't think marriage should be defined as a "civil right". While many religious people are offended by the idea that anyone should seek to define "marriage" as something other than the union of man and woman described in the Bible, I am bothered by the fact that the U.S. government should have any say in matters of the heart. I am bothered by the idea of allowing a majority of people to vote on a metaphysical aspect of reality such as the origins of life or the validity of certain kinds of love. I am bothered by the thought that our government, which once allowed slavery and allowed women to be treated as property and deprived of a vote, should now lay its heavy, hairy hand on the shoulders of my friends and tell them that they, too, must wait another generation for Democracy to determine their "rights".

However, the U.S. government has opted to extend civil protections to couples. And so I do not believe we can extend these to some couples but not all.

Unfortunately, rather than redefining what these civil protections are called -- defining what the government provides as a "civil union" and what a spiritual institution provides as a "marriage" or any other word, which I believe would greater sanctify the idea of "marriage" -- GLBT advocates have decided on a different tack. They seek to redefine the word "marriage" without reforming the way the government gets involved in the institution itself.

The reason why they've opted for this strategy, it seems, is because if marriage as it relates to the government's actions were defined as a bond between two persons, rather than a bond between a man and a woman, the 14th Amendment would protect it, and the 14th Amendment is a powerful ally. If this redefinition were achieved, it would then guarantee the equality which gay couples are currently, tragically lacking in most parts of the country. The relevant text here reads:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As this amendment is one of the most important in our nation's history, on which my own right to vote is partially dependent (the Constitution never mentioned women's rights, either, but they exist now), I do not take it lightly, and I'm sure that GLBT activists also recognize its resonance. I think that regardless of one's stance on Prop 8, every person should take this legislation's rise to prominence as an opportunity to meditate on what the 14th Amendment really means, and to decide for him or herself whether or not Prop 8 truly upholds the ideals inherent in this amendment.

The problematic part of using this tactic is that it has led people to believe that GLBT activists want to "force" them to recognize the emotional validity of their unions, to "force" churches to send priests to marry gay couples, to "force" teachers to teach about the existence (the mere existence) of gay unions. Not so fast, folks.

Setting aside the fact that there are still those who hold views about women and people of color that predate the civil rights and feminist movements, despite much legislation being passed in their favor, this is not the point. Most couldn't care less about what some random Utahn or Texan or Californian thinks. Remember, many GLBT folks do not even have the acceptance of their families, and no big gay wedding is going to change that. If a GLBT person has the courage to be out in the first place, he or she already has the courage to put up with those with differing beliefs about homosexuality.

The most attractive prizes at the bottom of this crappy little Cracker Jack box, as one lesbian friend of mine put it, are far more "boring". They want access to a partner's healthcare so one of them can stay at home with the new baby. They want to know that they'll be allowed in the ambulance and the ICU should the 911 call come one day. They want joint tax returns. And they want the incredible privilege of being able to take all that for granted one day, like straight folks do. That's what "equality" means in this circumstance.

And so, while I don't believe the government has a role in regulating what is for most a deeply spiritual and emotional bond, I don't believe that it's appropriate for those who are religious to be applying their definition of marriage to what is essentially a secular process, designed to provide protections and support to all citizens under the law.

As a person raised by a pair of divorced parents and a pair of devoted grandparents, I have always known that families come in all shapes and sizes, and they don't have to be "traditional" to be effective and loving. As a person who has come to know many gay persons and couples, I see no difference between the way GLBT persons support their partners and parent their children and the way straight persons do, inasmuch as there can be similarities at all (since parenting itself has become an ideological minefield). As a person who has loved and lived with all sorts of people, I've never doubted for a moment that you can't always choose whom you love. And as far as I can tell, being a child of a "traditional marriage" between a mother and a father has not made me any less confused about love. So I believe that all families, in all their forms, deserve the same protections and support -- as do their children, who often have little say in the matter.

I also find it problematic that members of the religious community have employed statistics - often uncited ones - to support their claims that homosexual couples should not be granted the right to marry or raise natural or adopted children because they are somehow less likely to succeed at it. Homosexual people are more promiscuous, they say. Their children will be more likely to be "confused", they say. And furthermore, families with gay parents will even affect the success of other marriages and other children.

For example, in "The Divine Institution of Marriage", an often fascinating essay on church and state issues authored by the LDS church, one paragraph reads:
It is true that some same-sex couples will obtain guardianship over children –through prior heterosexual relationships, through adoption in the states where this is permitted, or by artificial insemination. Despite that, the all-important question of public policy must be: what environment is best for the child and for the rising generation? Traditional marriage provides a solid and well-established social identity to children. It increases the likelihood that they will be able to form a clear gender identity, with sexuality closely linked to both love and procreation. By contrast, the legalization of same-sex marriage likely will erode the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children. Is it really wise for society to pursue such a radical experiment without taking into account its long-term consequences for children?
I do not agree that a heterosexual marriage, based as it would likely be in dishonesty, would be a much better option for these gay parents than living their lives openly with partners of their choosing. Just ask Alison Bechdel, whose father remained closeted his entire life, until he was finally outed after it was discovered that he'd had affairs with several of his male students. The miserable guy then committed suicide, and his daughter still went on to become a lesbian. (And a talented writer and artist, and a heckuva nice person to boot.)

Here's the thing: outside of Utah's Mormon majority, there is no such thing as a "well-established social identity", whatever that means. We're all apt to belong to dozens of groups, clubs, communities, and churches and even sexual orientations over time, and that's a good thing. As for "gender identity"? Meh. It's a mistake to be nostalgic for the days when Men Were Men and Women Were Women. Women, if you'll recall, got the shit end of that deal. I'd love to have my feminist mom and my egalitarian dad weigh in on what it means to be a "real man" or a "real woman" in 2008. Or better yet, Hillary Clinton.

And what about our "social fabric"? It's more like a patchwork quilt these days, with some kids coming to school with Islam-mandated headscarves, some with yamukas, some with cornrows and some with pigtails -- and ain't that America, home of the free. Personally, I think that if my friends' marriages can survive the parenting examples of Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie, we can probably stand the sight of two loving, healthy, non-anorexic, non-umbrella-wielding moms taking their kids to soccer practice.

I also think that if "what's best for the children" is the all-important question, then we must also look at which lifestyles the LDS church promotes and which it decries, using these suddenly-very-important statistics. Many of my friends in Utah are encouraged to marry in their late teens or early 20s, and to begin their families as soon as possible, as as the custom in the LDS community. Many statistics show that young marriages such as these are far more likely to end in divorce than those which begin later (as they do in liberal, secular places like Massachusetts). Others studies (including one done at BYU) show that the academic performance and overall success of a child is strongly linked to the age of the mother at the time of birth. The older the mother, the more successful the child (as older mothers are more likely to be educated, financially stable and/or independent, and emotionally mature). So, based on these statistics, the LDS church might consider encouraging its members to marry and procreate later -- or even supporting legislation making it illegal for people under 25 to marry, as it would be "better" for society. But it's not likely to do so.

In the meantime, my dear friends in Utah are forming incredible marriages, raising beautiful children, and are as committed if not more committed to making their marriages work and their children successful as any 30something post-grad pair in Massachusetts (and so, for the record, I have often defended their life choices as vehemently as I now defend the life choices of my GLBT peers).

Therefore, while the church and its members have gone out of their way to declare their love for the sinner and not the sin, and while many of the young LDS members I have seen commenting on blogs and Facebook take care qualify their arguments with, "I'm not bigoted", it is in fact a kind of bigotry to highlight scientific research when it supports your point of view, and to ignore it when it does not. It is bigotry to rely on these statistics rather than reaching out to the people behind them and actually observing the relationships and parenting habits of GLBT persons. It is bigotry to draw conclusions about people and lifestyles with which you have no direct experience, even if they are conclusions based in Scripture. It is my belief that if there is a God, He or She would prefer that you do your own research.

The truth is that GLBT people were hurt by the religious community's involvement in the issue, despite individual members' best intentions. They do feel less safe in the world thanks to Prop 8's passing, and for good reason. They certainly do not feel loved by the proponents of the Yes on 8 campaign.

And while some church members feel that GLBT persons should not now or ever gain the ability to marry, they will not now or ever be able to silence, erase or permanently marginalize the people, gay and straight, whom they have just engaged over this issue. The same process of democracy that approved this amendment could someday overturn it. We went from Jim Crow laws to President-elect Obama in less than a lifetime. The trend of democracy points toward greater acceptance of GLBT persons and gay marriage with every new generation. Elton John, Ellen and their peers are not ever going back in the closet. Best to start accepting this now.

I would also think that if you are someone who feels you must claim that you are "not bigoted" before you declare your views, then you must already realize that you have as your political bedfellows large swaths of people who are, in fact, deeply bigoted. And that's worth a thought, because I doubt that anyone I saw at the peaceful Prop 8 protest in Boston today would have been ashamed to be seen or associated with any of their fellow protesters, despite their philosophical differences (which do exist, even in the land of kumbaya secular liberalism). In fact, it was quite the opposite. Everyone was proud as hell to be there, standing by their neighbors, holding their children, and waving their flags in the rain.

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Blogger AJ said...

Wow...just, wow.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Joe, Amber and Ken Bowden said...

I say give them 'civil union' rights along with every other couple who wants to live together and share benefits such as health care, call it a day, and then we can all hold hands and sing koombaya. What would be the big deal with that?

7:16 AM  
Blogger Joe, Amber and Ken Bowden said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Joe, Amber and Ken Bowden said...

Okay, so I decided that last comment was inappropriate. I'm sure you got to read it in your e-mail and you can laugh about it to yourself.

I just have one more thing to say on the issue and then I'm outta here. I don't know why everyone singles out the mormon church. Over half of California had to vote for the proposition, and I guarantee they weren't all LDS. Even those who are didn't all necessarily vote with the church's stance. With that being said, many other churches backed prop 8 without the same retaliation.

"The Catholic Bishops of California issued a public statement in support of Proposition 8 with the affirmation that the initiative was entirely consistent with Catholic teaching about the nature and purpose of marriage.

"Archbishop Niederauer, who has had a good relationship with LDS leaders based on his 11 years as bishop of Salt Lake City, informed them of the position of the California Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Niederauer also brought the statement to the attention of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan here in California. Many Christian denominations, including the Orthodox churches and evangelicals, support the passage of Proposition 8."

Can you explain that to me? I really am curious.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Ryan Rose said...

Hey Amber,

While I agree with you that the Yes votes for Prop 8 were not all likely to come from Mormons, I think the church has made headlines due to the amount of money the church and its members donated to the campaign, which then helped organize the votes which helped the measure to pass.

However, there is a kind of reverse bigotry going on here that I think you are referring to. While many people are familiar with Catholicism and perhaps used to its often contradictory behavior, and equally familiar with some Protestant religions which also gave their support to Yes on 8, the Mormon church is an easier target because not as many people know Mormon folks personally, which is one of the reasons I felt moved to post. It's easier to persecute a group with which you are not familiar, and Mormons have become a sort of Other in this conversation. I think I actually set out to establish this in my post but ended up getting more caught up in the perspective of the GLBT community - which has been treated in a similar manner (by religious people who do not know many gay people personally). I think that almost any person is bound to chafe when people make assumptions about their values based solely on the groups to which they belong, whether you're a Mormon, a feminist, a vegetarian, a gay person, a Jewish person, etc. So you have every right to be irritated, and I have frequently been irritated on behalf of my Mormon friends, especially when ignorant comments are made about their beliefs (i.e. "don't they have multiple wives? Aren't they the ones who don't use electricity? what's with the special underwear?") I hope this comment helps to re-establish a bit of balance.

12:56 PM  

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