Friday, April 11, 2008

What Did We Do?

Kenneth Quinnell has a good piece up at the Florida Progressive Coalition explaining why the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage in Florida is a bad idea. His reasons are cogent, well-thought-out, and persuasive, and for that I say thanks for speaking up for those of us in the gay community who have yet to articulate our own thoughts as to why adding what Kenneth calls the Hate Amendment to the Florida constitution is not the right thing to do.

As for me, I’d like to ask the proponents of this amendment a rather simple question: Why? What has the gay community ever done to deserve such a drastic and far-reaching measure as to merit the wholesale denigration to the status of second-class citizenship? How is it that we are such outlaws? What is it about our lives, our work ethic, our role in the community as taxpaying citizens or as individuals who occupy every segment of society — rich and poor, old and young, man and woman, black, white, native, Hispanic, left-handed, right-handed, tall, short, thin, fat — that sets us apart, other than the fact that we have been programmed by nature to be attracted to people of our own gender? Is that the only reason?

Or is there something more? Is it because being gay is not “normal” to some straight people who have been carefully taught that normality fits within a very narrow grid of what they define as normal? But then, to me, being straight isn’t “normal” because it doesn’t fit into what comes naturally to me. So who’s to say that the straight normal is better than the gay normal? Surely it can’t be because there are more straight people than gays and lesbians. Sheer numbers are meaningless — after all, there are more people of Asian descent in the world than there are of Northern European, which we commonly think of as white. Does that make the Asians more “normal” and should we all conform to their racial or social norms? Of course not. No, I think there’s something more going on here than just defining what’s normal…and what’s right.

The arguments that come up most frequently against giving equal rights to gay people are usually based on fear and ignorance, and they cite fables and superstition as support for their claim. The arguments run something like this: same-sex marriage will destroy the traditional form of marriage, it is a bad way to raise children, it condones a behavior that is contrary to the bible, and it will cost the taxpayers more money because same-sex couples will now be entitled to the deductions and entitlements that they wouldn’t get if they weren’t married. Okay, that said, “traditional” marriage as it exists today is nothing like the marriages that have been around since time out of mind, and that includes the fact that the radical concept of marriage as an equal partnership between a man and woman who are in love and committed to each other for reasons other than financial, procreative, or political reasons has been around for about two hundred years or so, and in some cultures arranged marriages are still the norm. Marriage between a man and a woman of different races has only been legal in all fifty states for a little more than fifty years, and it took a ruling by the Supreme Court to make it so. As for being bad for children, there is no reliable evidence, either empirical any other kind, that proves that point. Children have been raised by single parents, step-parents and extended families throughout history and our civilization has survived and even thrived. (After all, Jesus Christ was raised in a home with an absentee father.)

The religious zealots have always fought changes in social norms, and they invariably cite the teachings of their faith as the reason for their opposition. This is a convenient out for them, cloaking their human bigotry in the mantle of the supernatural and warning of dire consequences defying a higher power. It’s a way of blaming God for their own infirmity, which, whether or not you believe in God, is a lousy way to treat the creator of the universe.

One of the objections to the concept of same-sex marriage is the word “marriage” itself. It is, after all, a religious rite, but it has been blended into civil law over the centuries and acquired a legal standing that no other sacrament has obtained. That is undeniably one of the sticking points, and no faith should be forced by civil or secular law to perform a rite that runs counter to their teachings, no matter how odious or medieval they are. So the compromise has been to call them “civil unions” or something else equally as dry. I frankly don’t have a problem calling it something else as long as all the rights and responsibilities come with it. As the immortal Bard noted, “what’s in a name?” and it’s a distraction to get wrapped up in the nomenclature when there are more important things at stake. Besides, there are plenty of religious denominations who recognize same-sex marriages and will happily perform them. If gay couples want a religious ceremony and their church or temple won’t do it, they should check out out the local Quaker meeting or UU church, or write their own service and call it whatever they want. Arguing over the ceremony and the name is truly the tail wagging the dog.

As for the biblical admonitions against same-sex sex, there are the thundering citations of the Book of Leviticus which we all know so well to the point that we can, by rote, list the other prohibitions listed in the book, including wearing cotton and polyester blends and eating shellfish. Yet the part about sex stays in while a night at Red Lobster is now permissible. Besides, not everyone believes that the Old Testament is anything more than just a collection of myths and fables. Certainly there are inspirational tales and lessons for life in the bible, but to grant them any more weight than any of the other hundreds of histories and parables that each civilization produces turns them into a grotesque idol.

No, what I really think lies at the bottom of this anti-gay amendment has nothing to do with tradition, children, or religion. It is about sex. The proponents of the amendment have a revulsion to the idea of people of the same sex having some form of intimate contact, which they have conjured up as something, for lack of a better word, that is icky, and they can’t get beyond this adolescent fixation with it. It truly is a sign of arrested development on their part; they cannot comprehend the idea that people can make a connection with someone else and choose to live with them in a union that doesn’t include their own fixation on sex. Oh, they clean it up by saying that same-sex unions can’t produce children, but this ignores the fact that a lot of straight marriages, by choice or by nature, are childless, and this assumes that the only reason anyone gets married is to have children…by having sex. They really need to get over it and realize that people can have a happy, healthy, and loving relationship without wondering what it is they do in the bedroom.

So what we in the gay community did to raise this alarm and bring about this attempt to change the foundation of the law in Florida — where gay marriage is already illegal (as is gay adoption) — is have the nerve to say to the rest of the people in the state that we too are entitled to every right they have and nothing more. We do not want “special rights” and no one I know is demanding them. But we must also recognize the fact that rights are binary: you either have them or you don’t, and when you deny someone one right for no valid reason or without due process of law, you might as well deny them all. And in doing so, you endanger the rights of us all.