Thursday, July 15, 2004

Further Thoughts on Choices

This is more or less a follow-up on the previous posting. I got to thinking about the doomed Federal Marriage Amendment and what it would do not only for gays and lesbians but for the rest of our society. Unlike the dire predictions of the social conservatives, I doubt that fire and brimestone will come cascading down upon this country like some plague out of the Old Testament if two men who love each other wish to share their lives and fortune in a manner that is recognized by the state. It isn’t social engineering; it’s evolution – or rather, a recognition of the obvious. (And lest you think that the so-called “gay society” is something new, read Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb.) And it comes down to the simple factor that the ultimate test of this or any society is putting the rights and responsibilities of that society into the hands of the people that live in it with the confidence that they will make the right choices.

There have always been challenges to free choices. Some are cultural, some are religious, some are just plain traditional. We’ve codified them in social, religious and secular ways, and we’ve changed them over time to fit with the evolution of our civilization. These changes have always been met with strenuous opposition, usually with dire predictions of death knells and so forth. It didn’t happen when women were allowed to perform on stage in 17th century English theatre, it didn’t happen when Lincoln freed the slaves, it didn’t happen when women were granted the right to vote, nor when Truman desegregated the troops, Brown v. Board of Education was handed down, or the ban against interracial marriage was lifted in 1967. I seriously doubt that the world will stop spinning on its axis, shrivel like a cinder, and crash into the sun if gay men and lesbians are allowed to make the same choice as their straight brothers and sisters – or their parents.

That brings up another point. The social conservatives who are so dead set against gay marriage predict that it will destroy “traditional marriage,” which I assume is that between a man and a woman. Well, it’s been pointed out many times that “traditional marriage” has been on the verge of destruction for generations – divorce, adultery and adandonment rates are high, and domestic violence is one of the most often-reported crimes in the country. And yet every year more and more people get married, and while there are a lot of stresses on married couples these days, they keep trying to make their lives work. The fact that their optimism is tempered with experience and the realities of human failings and that shit happens doesn’t seem to dissuade others from trying. So as long as there are people who love each other and care enough to want to make a commitment beyond their immediate gratification, marriage – traditional or otherwise – will go on. And it may flourish as long as people are given the choice.