Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why We Should Protect Marriage

Looks like most of us are going to the polls in a few days. Thought I might share some thoughts on one of the things on which we (in Florida, anyway) will vote.

Amendment 2 is known as the Defense of Marriage Amendment. Specifically, it writes into the state Constitution a denial of the possibility of marriage between individuals of the same sex. There are already laws prohibiting same-sex marriages in Florida. But so long as these laws are not in the Constitution, it is possible that a judge, perhaps, can rule them unconstitutional and allow gay people to marry. As such, it is our decision as to whether we want the law to be written into the constitution. I've been thinking that maybe we shouldn't.

The first thought that I have about why this should not be the case is the immediate similarity between the notion of prohibiting gays to marry and the old school laws that prohibited intermarriage between people of different races. That is, the law just seems like a reflection of well-worn prejudice that comes down to us from history. I tend not to like racism. Racism is nothing other than the dislike and exclusion of a person on the grounds of race alone. So, it looks to me that the opposition to gay marriage is a result of the irrational dislike of gay people for no other reason than that they are gay. My grandma came up before there were laws based in equality between races. Which means that she was forced to live a life without certain possibilities that are open to me. I would hate to think of myself as a person that deprives others of possibilities that I have. It seems like that would make me a jerk. I would be the 21st century equivalent of the cat who screamed at my grandma to go around back in order to get some snacks from the diner. There are, however, responses to the problem that I raise. It comes from the F.A.Q. At Yes2Marriage.org. According to the site,

"Bans on interracial marriage were about keeping two races apart so that one race could oppress the other. Marriage is about bringing two sexes together, so that children get the unique love and nurture of both a mom and a dad. Having a parent of two different races is just not the same as being deprived of your mother—or your father. Race and ethnicity are not inherent properties of marriage. Gender on the other hand is an inherent property of marriage."

Other material on the site supplements this claim. It seems to indicate that, since there is something "natural" about the joining of two different sexes in marriage, and since nature is the ultimate guide to the moral order, we should not act against nature to allow the possibility of gay marriage.

This argument is perplexing on many levels. First, it is unclear to me that marriage is only about providing children love. I mean, I have been married. I don't really remember my wife and I talk about having kids. I don't even remember talk about having kids before we got married. But hey, maybe that is why we got divorced. Second, while it is the case that laws against interracial marriage had its basis in the oppression of a race in particular, it is far from clear that this is not the underlying function of laws against gay marriage. To oppress is to deprive one of options, especially when those options are freely enjoyed by others. I suppose that some are tempted to defend the view that it is not oppression because there is something natural about members of different sexes marrying. But this claim is also a bad one. To say that "man and woman" are "inherent" in marriage is to make a simple mistake in reasoning. Marriage is a social practice. That is, it is the kind of thing that we legitimate with our own actions. Sometimes those actions are traditional and sometimes we break with tradition and form new practices. Because of the whole civil rights status with my grandma and mother, I am by no means an unconditional defender of tradition. And I don't think any good person can be. I also know that if a thing was necessarily inherent in something, there would be nothing that we could do to change that. Three angles are necessarily inherent in a triangle. Gender is only inherent in marriage if we all agree that it is. So, at best, it is contingently inherent. Which is why we have to vote on this thing in the first place. And it is just the lack of inherence, it seems to me, that makes it possible for me to vote to oppress, some more, the people who want the kinds of things that I have already had. And which weren't even that great.

The Yes2Marriage site also seems to assume that every gay person who gets married will immediately go out and adopt some children. I guess this is possible. But I have met gay cats with children. And these kids are some of the best kids I know. Valedictorians. PhD students. All around cats who are smarter than me on any day of the week. In addition, I recently read a book by a gay guy who along with his boyfriend adopted a son. I am hard-pressed to say that his account of how he raises his child is any measure of bad. This is just my experience, but it only takes one counter-example to falsify a claim about impossibility of something.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that people are against gay marriage for traditional religious reasons. They just believe that God has somehow commanded them to not allow gay people to marry. Maybe marriage itself is a religious thing, after all. But if all of this is true, I don't see how marriage has anything to do with the State Constitution. I don't see how I could have been an atheist and still have been married. I also don't see why people would go to the trouble to produce such bad reasons why we should prohibit gay marriage. Just say "God told me so" and I won't have to look all through your site in search of a good argument.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that my commitment to equality entails that I want gay people to have the option of marrying. And in this lies the notion of protection. If marriages, that is, contractual monogamous relationships that are set to never end, are worth getting into, then every competent adult person should have the option. To deny people this option is to demean marriage, to make it a tool of oppression rather than a legitimate way to express love or get benefits or be miserable. If we want to "protect marriage," as the claim goes, we should probably strive to let everybody in on it, regardless of sexual preference.

So, homies, Vote no on 2.

Oh, the book is called The Commitment. It is written by Dan Savage.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Check out this video on prop 8 in cali. It features my friends Rinat and Lianna and their baby Levi.