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Archive for May 2008

Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal in California: How Equal Marriage Rights Affect Me And You

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You’ve probably already heard, the California Supreme Court has overturned the same-sex marriage ban. This is a huge step towards achieving legal recognition towards universal civil rights.

This issue is much broader in scope than its effect on the gay community. Universal recognition of our rights, or the lack thereof, affects society as a whole, although the specific group whose rights are being ignored obviously suffers the most.

I feel close to this issue because of a couple of the specific arguments used to justify opposition to same-sex marriage. The idea of restricting marriage to its religious function is frightening to me. I am not religious, but I think my marriage is just as valid as anyone else’s. If same-sex marriages were reclassified as civil unions because certain religious groups do not wish to recognize their marriage, what’s to stop them from saying that my marriage, which did not take place in a church nor involved a religious figure or any kind of religious ceremony, is also a civil union?

Another problem for me is the question of choice. Proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage tend to disagree on the question of whether homosexuality is a choice. I find this disturbing, because choices, even less than popular ones, should not mean giving up your basic civil rights.

Marriage Equality USA awaits the verdict.

What follows is an article I wrote a while back before I started blogging. It seemed appropriate for the occasion. I grabbed my notebook, polished up the article a bit, and here it is.

 

I’m going to address the issue of same-sex marriage, and I have to analyze the attitude opponents have toward homosexuals. Some will openly say it and some will not, but any argument against equal rights for homosexuals is based purely upon the concept of homosexuality’s being inherently wrong and unacceptable.

Are you born gay or raised gay? What does the Bible say? Marriage is a time-honored tradition, should we change it? Is homosexuality simply a mental disorder? It’s OK to be gay, sure, but couldn’t they just keep it to themselves?

Each of these arguments is based on the idea that homosexuality is wrong, and from an equal rights perspective, this is not for you or anyone else to decide.

Nature or nurture, whether a gene influences sexual preference, social factors and conditioning, or a combination of the two, is completely irrelevant. Some call it a choice, and some call it a mental disorder, blaming upbringing or childhood trauma. Of course, lots of mental disorders are genetic too, but justifying referring to homosexuality as a problem, a mental disorder, something to be cured, requires the belief that it is an acquired flaw or unhealthy lifestyle choice.

The Bible’s opinion on the matter is irrelevant. Not only does the Bible also say that beating is an acceptable remedy for an insubordinate wife or child, but again, from a civil rights perspective, religion is not part of the issue.

Some religious people attribute their lack of tolerance toward homosexuality to a few passages in the Bible condemning the practice, and therefore their hands are tied. This is a very weak argument, when you take into account the long list of practices condoned by the Bible which are now condemned by society and Christians, as well as practices condemned by the Bible currently taken for granted as part of normal society.

The best response I’ve heard to this, in a Morgan Spurlock television documentary, if I’m not mistaken, was that one takes parts of their beliefs from the Bible which they feel apply to them, using it as a source of inspiration to guide their own personal spirituality and morals. This is an eloquent and rational argument, however, your hands are not tied on this issue. You can’t lean on the Bible to justify your opposition to homosexuality and the idea that homosexuals should receive equal rights. You have to take responsibility for which parts of your religion you take to heart and which parts you discard, and consider that the reason you make this choice in a certain way may be because of a hatred, prejudice or bigotry that you don’t want to admit you feel. This argument still relies on homosexuality being inherently wrong with no reasonable explanation.

Counter-protest, Seattle 2004

It’s a flawed argument to say that marriage should follow a very specific social norm, that we need to preserve the “tradition” of marriage. The fact is that marriage is constantly changing. Husband and wife living as equals is a very new concept. Polygamy and arranged marriages are long-lasting traditions which have yet to disappear; choosing our own spouses is a relatively new concept. If we were to follow “traditional”, long-standing marriage practices to preserve the integrity of this institution, our marriages would be arranged and dowry promised before we reached puberty, and nobody would ask us who we chose to be with.

It bothers me when people say that it’s OK to be gay, but that homosexuals don’t need equal marriage, they’re just fine without it, and they should keep to themselves and keep their relationships not just in private but basically in secret. This, again, and I think very obviously, stems from a belief that being homosexual is inherently wrong and disgusting. You can’t say it’s OK for a man and a woman to marry before their families and kiss and hold hands in public, then show intolerance toward same-sex couples who do the same, and still say that you see homosexuals as equals. It is intellectually dishonest.

Some people see homosexuality as a mental illness to be cured. Mental illness, however, causes suffering in those afflicted. Homosexuals would not suffer for their sexual preference were they not exposed to ridicule, hatred, and discrimination.

Imagine not having the right to marry who you choose, or having to hide your sexual preference in order to serve in the military. Imagine listening to peers using “gay” as a generic derogatory term, or hearing constant negative viewpoints expressed in school, at work, on TV, and by the nation’s and your community’s political and religious leaders, and perhaps even your own family members, or parents. You may hear them describing you and people who share your sexual preference as anything from sick to twisted, to sinners, to incapable of raising children and in desperate need of psychological help.

The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, the Clinton-era compromise which allows the military to ban homosexuals but restricts them from asking recruits their sexual preference, is another form of discrimination. Any soldier is allowed to discuss their personal family life, including their relationships and marriages, unless they are homosexual. If a soldier suggests that he or she may be homosexual, they can be discharged from the military.

If it were fair to ban homosexuals from the military in the first place, which it is not, then “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” would only be fair if all soldiers were equally banned from discussing their sexuality or relationships, but censoring everyone instead of only censoring a group is still wrong.

There is a stereotype that homosexuals are more sexually promiscuous than other people. This idea has no place in the argument about equal rights. If you think there is a problem with sexually irresponsible homosexuals, that would be an unrelated issue, and one which does not apply solely to homosexuals. It by no means could be said to apply to all of them. If 100% of homosexuals wanted to spend their lives constantly switching from partner to partner, as some people seem to think, then who among them would be asking for the right to marry?

Some people complain because they’re tired of seeing an active gay pride movement. They say homosexuals think they’re special and deserve “extra” rights. If you think a gay person’s sexuality is the most important thing to them, my response is, no, their sexuality is the most important thing to you. You are the one who can’t see their other interests and opinions. Gay pride movements exist as a natural response to the fact that they do not enjoy equal protection of their rights.

The argument that homosexuals cannot raise children and therefore should not marry also suffers the same fatal flaw of all arguments against equal rights for homosexuals, the basic assumption that homosexuality is wrong.

The argument is that children need a normal nuclear household to properly develop. Pretending that parents are the only people children ever see growing up, opponents claim that homosexuals cannot raise children because children need to be exposed to both males and females while growing up.

The argument that every child should have a mother and a father is ridiculous. Many children have neither, and having two fathers or two mothers is better than having nobody.

Following this argument to its conclusion, children should be taken by the state from single parents due to their inherent inability to raise children because of the lack of the crucial mother-father partnership and given to a man-woman married couple. At the very least, single people should not be allowed to adopt. Yet single people are allowed to adopt children and receive artificial insemination. Why is there no public outcry against this? Why do these children not need that mother-father environment? It’s simple, this argument is not for mother-father households but against same-sex parent households.

The real issue is that people think children need to be raised in a “traditional” family, which they have described as one mother, one father. Yet a single parent is still seen as preferable to a homosexual couple as parents, because the argument rests on homosexuality being inherently wrong and the idea that homosexuals cannot raise children.

Occasionally you do hear the argument that homosexual parents will raise children to become homosexuals. Again, for this to be bad, homosexuality has to be wrong. If statistics were to show, and I don’t know if such statistics exist, that a higher percentage of children raised by homosexual parents grew up to be homosexual than those raised by straight couples, unless the number was astronomical, it could be explained as little more than the effect of being raised with the mindset that being heterosexual or homosexual is equally acceptable. There are many cases where people discover or accept later in life that they are homosexuals, and this can break up families. Homosexuals aren’t going to raise their children to be homosexual; they are likely to raise their children to think that any sexual preference they choose is normal. If anything their children may grow up to be more tolerant of diversity. Is that what we’re afraid of?

Some critics of same-sex marriage have a “slippery slope” argument. They say it’s intellectually dishonest to allow same-sex marriage and not marriages among multiple people. The fact is, they’re right.

But then they start talking about further degradation, and if you stop to think about it, you’ll see that Mr. Tree opposes bill allowing same-sex marriage, San Francisco Chronicle, 2004their argument is complete fantasy. The idea is that if we allow same-sex marriage, we’ll open the door to marriage between adults and children, men and their dogs, dolphins, or elephants, maybe a polygamist marriage among an accountant, a horse, and a bar of chocolate, for tax purposes.

This is completely ridiculous. Same-sex marriages and even polygamy are matters of basic rights, but legal marriage is for consenting adults who are legally authorized to sign contracts. That’s the limit. No children, no animals, no plants, and no inanimate objects.

The legal recognition of one marriage over another is a violation of basic human rights. If marriage is a religious affair, as many opponents of same-sex marriage insist, consenting adults of all religions have the same right to legal recognition of their marriages, or nobody does.

I actually disagree with the argument that marriage is a strictly religious matter; if it was, the government should stay out of it completely. Marriage is a social, cultural, religious, and legal institution. It does not rest on religion alone, it spans almost all cultures and religions in some form or another, throughout all recorded human history. If the role of marriage was purely religious, legal recognition of marriage would be unnecessary. It would be your own, and no law would be able to take it away.

One way of equally recognizing so-called “traditional” marriages and “alternative” marriages would be to simply refer to all legal marriages as civil unions. Referring to “alternative” or same-sex marriages as civil unions and other marriages as marriages is an act of discrimination.

But this solution would not reflect the role of marriage in our society and our legal system. Marriage is deeply ingrained in U.S. law. Government recognition of marriage is important in legal matters of inheritance, sharing of personal and medical information, taxes, childraising, and immigration. There are many non-religious people who see marriage as their right, myself included.

Religion is not a part of my life, for good or ill, and I see my own marriage as being just as valid as any religious person’s marriage. I demand that my marriage be recognized as a marriage in the name of the law despite the fact that my wife and I weren’t married in a church. You can call all legal marriages “civil unions”, which takes away the discrimination aspect by violating the rights of everyone equally, but the only reasonable solution is to legally recognize the marriage of any consenting adult. If you, because of your religion, choose to see my marriage as less than valid in any way because of this, that is your own opinion and you are welcome to it. It does not affect the legal and societal status of my marriage.

If the idea that marriage is a religious institution wins out, and that marriages which are not religiously ordained are second-class or at least “separate but equal” civil unions, my own marriage would fall under this category, so I really feel this issue affects me as well.

There’s one last, very weak argument I’ve heard against allowing same-sex or polygamist marriage, and that is tax fraud. If we allow same-sex or multi-party marriage, people are going to take advantage of it, straight men will claim to be gay and marry to lower their taxes, et cetera. Again, this is ridiculous, and even if it does happen, this situation would be fraud. If someone commits fraud, you do what you can to catch them, you prosecute them, and you put them in jail. You don’t just dismantle necessary public services because you’re afraid somebody might misuse them.

I think people are starting to get the idea that equal rights only apply in cases where people are discriminated against because of factors which are beyond their control, such as skin color, or factors which are well-defined as protected rights, such as religion. Homosexuality is seen, by those who oppose the legal protection of the rights of homosexuals, as a choice. Even people who promote equal rights for homosexuals seem to desperately try to prove that it is not a choice, or use their belief that it is not a choice as justification for petitioning the equal protection of their rights.

There’s nothing I would love more than to see this aspect of the argument disappear. This is not a question we have to answer or a point we have to prove. Choice, chance, nature, or conditioning, it does not matter. There is nothing wrong with being homosexual, and people who are homosexual have equal rights regardless of the cause, and we should demand that their rights, as much as ours, be equally protected under the law.

There are factors of social conditioning which accompany the discomfort many people feel around the subject of homosexuality. When I was in school, most of the other students referred to anything which was slightly annoying or that they didn’t like, from excessive homework to unfair test questions to people they didn’t like, as “totally gay”.

When people start trying to justify their opinions or sentiments against the observation of the equal rights of homosexuals to choose their spouse, serve in the military, or adopt and raise children, they rely on faulty logic to cover up the fact that, perhaps unbeknownst even to them, the real reason is their own discomfort and prejudice.

I think this should be addressed, because if the majority of people who aren’t willing to stand up for equal rights are unwilling to admit their prejudice or disgust (admittedly with more than a few very loud and notable exceptions), it’s because they don’t want to be bigoted or prejudiced, and the fact that they are is too ugly for them to even recognize it. This means that if we can eliminate the false justifications for this discrimination, people will realize that they do want to live in a world of tolerance.

 

Update

I may have spoken too soon when I said that people will never be able to legally marry animals. Apparently we’re knighting penguins now.

Sir Penguin

On a more serious note, I was transcribing a seminar by Nancy Polikoff, who has some interesting things to say about marriage-related topics.  I haven’t read her book and I’m not prepared to critique the concept of removing special rights granted to legally married people, she has a lot of very interesting things to say about how certain rights offered exclusively to married couples, including various family health care issues, should be equally offered to anyone whether married or not, and each individual should be able to decide who has the right to make medical decisions for them in the case of incapacitation and who has hospital visitation rights.

I don’t know if the legal significance of marriage can be completely removed, and of course any legal recognition of marriage must be equal for any kind of marriage, but regardless of how you see marriage in our society, she’s absolutely right that people should have a recognized right to choose how to deal with these family issues.

Written by Alex (Capitalocracy)

May 16, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Analysis of FLDS Debacle: Intolerance Plays Role In Development of Dangerous Cults

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I think there’s an angle of this big news story and tragic mess, the recent raid and ongoing processing of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints compound and its inhabitants, which hasn’t been addressed, at least not that I’ve seen. The stage for the events which took place in this compound was set by a legal and social system in the United States which does not demonstrate true religious freedom and tolerance.

This is the kind of shocking news story which induces a powerful reaction in the people who follow it. It can be difficult to analyze these events with a cool head because of the emotional reaction provoked. What is happening now and what has been happening in this isolated community is extremely disturbing. Texas social services are now attempting to untangle multiple generations of people cut off from society and robbed of an identity, trying to sort out who is psychologically capable of raising their children when it is unclear which parents gave birth to which children, who they are, how old they are, and lacking any documentation.

Given the fact that just under half of the teenaged women taken under state custody are either pregnant or have had children, it is obvious that there was a system of indoctrination and at least statutory raping of these children, in what almost resembles an organized breeding program. In this type of situation, separating the victims from the authors and accomplices of these crimes can be extremely difficult, because the crime involves the systematic indoctrination of the victims, until if the attempt at indoctrination is fully successful, they in turn breed, condition, and indoctrinate others.

People want to spread their ideals, their morals and their values to their children. The problem is that when a community is completely isolated from the rest of the world, their collective psychological development can become distorted compared to that of a community which is in touch with the rest of the world. This isn’t to say that the rest of the world can’t go crazy on its own, on the contrary I think society as a whole produces and nourishes its own massive collective psychological problems, but an isolated community can really diverge from society in negative and unhealthy ways. This can happen naturally without any interference, but it’s infinitely worse when a leader emerges who drives this closed community in a negative direction and accelerates its degredation or manipulates them to fulfill their own unhealthy psychological needs, or their worldly desires or hidden motives.

I don’t claim to know what motivation Warren Jeffs or his predecessors have for doing this, be they genuine believers or profiteers, but they depend on heavy-handed manipulation to meet their goals. In addition to this, various reports suggest that fundamentalist Mormon groups fund their armies of stay-at-home wives and multitudinous children through welfare fraud and shady construction projects, using their male children as child labor before selecting a small group to be groomed to carry on the faith and casting out the rest.

Warren Jeffs addresses FLDS children.

It would be far too easy to react in one of two ways on this matter. I would be inclined, as an agnostic, to take a militant atheist perspective and shun this as the inherent danger in any fundamentalist religion. Some atheist groups see all religions as the same kind of psychological child abuse that we take for granted in the situation of the FLDS Church, a system of indoctrination, telling children to believe in things that don’t exist under pain of hellfire and brimstone.

While they do have a point, and there are people who suffer psychologically when they lose their faith, I think this is a counterproductive approach. I strongly believe that people should be able to worship or not as they choose under basic guidelines, specifically, respecting the rights of others to worship or not as they choose. This is where I part with the Christopher Hitchens type of atheist. Religion is only a problem and a psychologically damaging practice if it is a prerequisite to being accepted into society or a community. And if we had to vote between a society where everyone had to be religious or atheist, atheists would be in trouble. I think they of all people should promote religious tolerance and plurality rather than a single, impossible, overriding solution.

On the other side of the coin, we as a society are generally tolerant of a few fairly similar styles of worship. Christianity has always been the first accepted religion in the U.S., although there has been conflict in the past as to which particular brand of Christianity was acceptable. Judaism is more accepted now than ever. Even Islam, despite setbacks stemming from widespread fear of the partially true association between extreme fundamentalist Islam and terrorism, is generally respected, as is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because these religions, in the United States, have tended to conform to the local cultural values associated with monogamy, be it strict monogamy or the seeing of any side relationships as secondary, lesser, or dirty, using terms such as “cheating” and “mistress”.

An uncomfortable conversation between a group of Mormons and an Evangelist.

The fact is that our religious tolerance, both in our culture and in legal terms, does not fully include alternative cultures and religions. Polygamy is illegal in many states, to such a point where not only can polygamists not request that their marriages be legally recognized, but that an unofficial spiritual polygamist marriage can be a prosecutable offense. This is far out of the realm of law and steps undeniably on the basic freedoms of religion, no matter what popular opinion may be of these practices. As long as they are consenting adults, they can do as they choose.

This lack of religious tolerance is a direct cause for the schism in the Mormon church which led to the formation of the FLDS Church. When Utah was requesting statehood, the Mormon church was still practicing polygamy (specifically polygyny) and this being frowned upon, they were forced to change the official standpoint of their religion to “suspend” the practice of polygamy indefinitely. After a period in which many church members were excommunicated for continuing this practice, the Mormon church was divided into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Because their religion and the practice of polygamy were not tolerated, the FLDS became completely isolated from society, and thus degraded into the problem it has become today, falling pray to leaders who, for their own religious fanaticism or lust for power, or some combination thereof, I’ll let the psychologists speculate on this one, have shaped their followers into an isolated, uncontrolled, massively psychologically impaired community spreading an inarguably abusive indoctrination of arranged marriages between underaged women and adults, statutory rape, negligence in education and development, and the abandonment of young boys.

This could not have happened were it not for the religious intolerance leading to the marginalization of these people. Being marginalized and isolated with no outside contact or supervision is a recipe for abuse within a community. Every once in a while, stories of incest and sexual abuse also appear within Amish communities, though their isolation is more of their own choosing, and this happens because of permissive and isolationist community leadership rather than systematically as part of the structure of the community.

The fact that our society does and for a long time has respected the religious freedom of only a few religions, rather than protecting universal religious freedom when it really counts, played a significant part in allowing these events to happen, and can serve as a lesson to us. If the Mormon church hadn’t been pressured to its breaking point in the 1890s, and their right to practice polygamy under certain legal guidelines had been respected, they would have continued to evolve and adapt along with the rest of society and as polygamist practices adapted to normal society, normal society would also learn to accept and respect the rights of polygamists without forcing them to isolate themselves in fortified compounds and live under strict, oppressive mini-regimes of so-called “prophets”.

This is a time in which we need to examine some very difficult and underaddressed themes. Are we really allowing freedom of religion, or freedom of a choice among a few specific religions? Are we doing all we can to protect people from the negative effects of a religion gone awry, without imposing the marginalization of smaller religious groups and thereby causing them harm and making them vulnerable to manipulative leaders?

Trailer for the documentary “Banking On Heaven”.

The children of this community are not only suffering terrifying indoctrination and physical abuse, but because they were born into a community which is so isolated and secretive, they are undocumented and may therefore suffer further marginalization if the situation is not corrected. The right to an identity is a basic human right which is not talked about much in the United States, as it’s generally not an issue, but in this case, many of these children don’t know who their parents are or understand their origins and do not have the proper documentation they will need their entire lives. With their exact ages uncertain, it is currently unclear in some cases if some of the young mothers are of legal age of consent or not. Texas social services have an unenviable task in sorting out this mess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Alex (Capitalocracy)

May 14, 2008 at 6:47 am