Thursday, May 7, 2009

Right and Wrong

Now that Maine has become the fifth state to allow same-sex marriage and the second to do it via legislation (and New Hampshire may become the sixth and third, respectively), the anti-gay lobby and the GOP are in a tough spot. Their argument that same-sex marriage was being foisted on a resistant population by “activist judges” has now been swept away, and so all they have left is fulmination and hand-wringing.

Our party platform articulates our opposition to gay marriage and civil unions, positions shared by many Americans. I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman and strongly disagree with Maine’s decision to legalize gay marriage.

That’s from Michael Steele, the chairman — for the moment — of the RNC, in a statement he released late last night after he initially said he wouldn’t be making a statement. It’s apparent that he was prodded into saying something, so he recycled the old cant about marriage being between one man and one woman.

It still is; it’s just more now. Nowhere in any of the laws passed in Maine, Massachusetts or Vermont or in the rulings from the courts in New Jersey Connecticut or Iowa is the right of one man and one woman to get married challenged or redefined. All these laws do is expand the right of two people of the same gender to be entitled to make a commitment to each other and avail themselves of the same rights and responsibilities that heretofore were extended only to heterosexual couples. And it does not impose upon a church or a religious group the burden of having to recognize or perform a ceremony for a same-sex couple. Roman Catholic churches can still refuse to marry same-sex couples the same way they already refuse to marry non-Catholic straight couples.

The larger point, though, is that the conservatives are of the mindset that expanding a right dilutes that right; that allowing same-sex unions diminishes the marriages of straight couples or makes a “mockery” of “traditional” marriage. In the first place, “traditional” marriage as envisioned by these proponents is, historically, very recent and in some places in the world, not yet even the norm. People getting married purely for love is a revolutionary concept in the history of human relations; so much so that it was a dramatic enough idea that Shakespeare was considered outside the box, so to speak, for writing plays about couples who wanted to get married because they were in love. Marriage, as the bible defined it, was purely a business proposition.

Second, given the current state of matrimony in Western culture and a divorce rate of 50% or more — especially in the Bible Belt — “traditional marriage” could use a boost by people so in love and willing to make a commitment to each other that they are going to court to force the states to recognize their relationship, even at the risk of employment and security, and certainly at the risk of demonization by those who allegedly preach the gospel of “love one another.” The irony is that same-sex couples are doing a better job of showing their true commitment to the rest of the world, whereas some straight couples denigrate it by taking it for granted or treat it as a lark (see Spears, Britney).

Finally, it’s more than a little bigoted to say that somehow same-sex couples make a mockery of marriage. That’s assuming that those people entering into this covenant are somehow less worthy of equal rights than everyone else. Why is the assumption that by including non-heterosexuals in the same cultural and legal rights makes those rights something less than what they are now? What is it about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or otherwise, that makes someone less human?

Conservatives have, by and large, been on the wrong side of history when it comes to cultural evolution. They were wrong on slavery, women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, desegregation, reproductive choice, and now the rights of two people to make the personal choice to be recognized by the state and federal government as entitled to the same rights as everyone else. Ironically, the cornerstone of conservatism has been the advocacy for individual freedom, self-determination, and keeping the state out of the micromanagement of the lives of citizens. Same-sex marriage would seem to be a perfect example of those rock-ribbed conservative values.

(Edited; thanks to Shaker Lizzie.)