Over the last several weeks, I have found myself running across quite a few news stories and other items surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage and other issues that address human sexuality. I am also very interested in the issue, so I thought it was time to post something on the subject. The following is a small selection of some of the items I have come across recently, and a few of my thoughts on them. I invite open discourse on the subject. :-)
I assume everyone is aware by now that California’s Proposition 8 passed last May, amending California’s constitution to include the following: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” One might not be surprised that that such language has spawned legal challenges. Well, those legal challenges are starting to get interesting as the supporters of Proposition 8 are apparently having a hard time getting them thrown out without a trial. Indeed, a recent AP story indicates that the district court judge handling the case has refused to dismiss it and that it will go to trial.
I am rather looking forward to this trial because the judge has indicated that he will require exploration of the issues surrounding the very odd claim that by allowing same-sex marriage, opposite-sex marriage will somehow be damaged, undermined, or otherwise threatened – particularly as it relates to the state’s goal of fostering “naturally procreative relationships.” (A number of other concerns surrounding the dubious “dangers” of same-sex marriage have also been voiced, but rational animals as I hope judges are, I do not expect they will get much consideration at trial.) This is a claim that I have never once seen backed up with any sort of evidence, research, or even reason. Rather, it is most often presented with a reliance on the ignorance of the audience and a concurrent appeal to folk wisdom and so-called “common sense.” In my experience, the claim that same-sex marriage is somehow a danger to opposite-sex marriage is merely a spurious and unsupported claim that runs counter to reason, so I am very much looking forward to it being fleshed out rather than simply asserted and then re-asserted more loudly.
As one might have expected based on the general lack of evidence for the claim that same-sex marriage is bad for opposite-sex marriage, the recent hearing in California has given us something of a preview of the coverage of this issue we can expect at trial. The judge asked Charles Cooper, attorney for the defense (in this case the defense is the party in support of Proposition 8), “What is the harm to the procreation purpose…of allowing same-sex couples to get married?” Tellingly, Cooper responded, “My answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know.”
So, Cooper, who helped bring Proposition 8 to the ballot and who continues to support it based – apparently (doubtfully?) – primarily on his concern that allowing same-sex marriage will harm the procreative purpose of opposite-sex marriage, has no idea how or why that harm might occur, nor any idea of what that harm might be. Put another way, the attorney in support of Proposition 8 does not know why he should support discriminatory legislation that treats people unequally.
One might expect that in a case of this magnitude the supporters of such a law might have already taken the time to research their main reason for pursuing the legislation in the first place. One might further expect (hope?), that in a case such as this one, which involves the denial of access to certain things and the unequal treatment of certain people (i.e. discrimination), that those who support such legislation would want to be truly certain that their fears are legitimately warranted. Sadly, it appears this is not the case. Frankly, I find it shocking that the leadership of this movement was not prepared to answer the question of “what harm same-sex marriage would cause” with any competence whatsoever. I do not want to have to reach this conclusion, but these circumstances seem to indicate that the proponents of Proposition 8 are aware of the fact that there is no rational basis for this discriminatory law, yet are comfortable and happy with the discrimination anyway.
Now, the claim that same-sex marriage is somehow a danger to opposite-sex marriage is interesting in that it offers us an opportunity to experience one of the benefits of our federalist system. That is, with 50 states, we have the opportunity to have real life test cases. There are currently six states that treat their people equally in regard to marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. We have a test pool already set up for us. We get to see what happens, and how opposite-sex marriage is either destroyed, unaffected, or perhaps supported by same-sex marriage. An August column from the Chicago Tribune pointed this out, and the author put out a call to leading opponents of same-sex marriage to – now that they have the opportunity – actually indicate – in real terms – how it is that these new same-sex marriages will harm opposite-sex marriage(s).
Apparently there was some trouble getting a response, but eventually Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, did respond. Her response was – in my opinion – remarkably similar to the “I don’t know” response offered up in the recent Proposition 8 hearing. When asked to predict how same-sex marriage would harm opposite-sex marriage, Gallagher completely dodged. Not one of her five responses had anything to do with opposite-sex (or even same-sex) marriage itself. Nor did her responses contain any of the typical cries of how children will be perverted and other such speculation. Rather she merely indicated the painfully obvious reality that as support for same-sex marriage grows, those who oppose it will become increasingly marginalized. (To be fair, she does also speculate that there would be unprecedented intrusion by the state into the ecclesial community, though it is hard to see how such a thing would/could ever occur given the simple fact that a civil marriage and a sacred marriage are two completely and fundamentally different things.) Given the opportunity to have the main fear of – and argument against – same-sex marriage actually tested out in real life cases, one might expect its staunchest opponents to finally tell us what the harm will be. Like Charles Cooper, the pro-Proposition 8 attorney, Gallagher appears not to know.
Still though, the reality of the test cases that federalism provides us is there, and it has been for several years. So, what has been the effect of marriage equality in those non-discriminatory states? Well, as Rachel Maddow – certainly not my favorite talking head – puts it, same-sex marriage “is a defense of marriage act!” Indeed, CDC numbers indicate that Massachusetts – the state with the longest history of marriage equality – has the lowest divorce rate in the country. (Actually, the divorce rate in Massachusetts is so low that reports point out that it is down to pre-WWII levels, a fact that causes some problems for those who blame societies familial ills on the break down of the “traditional family” that supposedly began around the 60s.) As far as I can tell, most people agree that a family in which the parents stay together is particularly beneficial to the rearing of children, which I believe is precisely the interest of the state in its goal of fostering “naturally procreative relationships.” So, at this point it seems that same-sex marriage opponents have no idea how their bogeyman will harm opposite-sex marriage, derailing the state’s goal of fostering “naturally procreative relationships.” Yet at the same time, the initial (and we must, of course, remember that there may be other metrics to consider and that this is all rather preliminary) data seem to indicate that there has been no harm to the institution of opposite-sex marriage. Indeed, if a lower divorce rate furthers the goal of supporting “naturally procreative relationships,” marriage equality may very well be in the state’s best interest. Can we expect the trial in California to end with Cooper’s continuing to state that he has no idea what the harm is of allowing same-sex couples to marry? Will we possibly see the more deeply rooted reasons for opposing same-sex marriage start to bubble up to the surface? I am not sure, but I am looking forward to the presentation of actual evidential and rational support for marriage discrimination. It has been a long time coming, and the simpleminded re-assertion of unsupported statements and spurious hypotheses will no longer suffice.
Pleasantly, we will also get to see more evidence – or lack thereof – of the feared “dangers” of same-sex marriage as the government and Church of Sweden has recently decided to cease discrimination in relation to marriage. But still, there are those in the United States who remain convinced of the impending assault on marriage that is the LGBT community. A leading Christian has indicated publicly that he does not “believe that homosexuals want to get married,” despite their repeated calls for marriage equality. No, says Pat Robertson, LGBT people do not want to get married, what they want is “to destroy marriage.” Where does his ability to read minds come from? It seems to me that it finds its source in irrational fear. Ultimately, the voices of people such as Pat Robertson, Maggie Gallagher, et al, are voices of extremism, which, defined by Dr. Amy Gutmann, is single-minded and impervious to reason. Such extremism runs contrary to and is a destructive element in the deliberative democratic process that lies at the heart of the American experiment.
In addition to the recent California hearing, there are other indications of incoherence in the anti-gay world. Recently, Virginia-based Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) seem to have contradicted themselves by apparently lobbying against defending “ex-gays” with hate crime legislation and then asking Disney to include “ex-gays” in its discrimination policies. Do they want “ex-gays” defended or not? Most interesting is the fact that by asking for “ex-gays” to be a protected class, they are tacitly admitting that “ex-gay therapy” does not work. If it did work, then “ex-gays” would just be straight, right? And isn’t that the claim, that one does not have to be homosexual, but rather people can be “rehabilitated” back to heterosexuality? If PFOX really believed that was true, there would be no reason for them to seek protection for “ex-gays” because those people would simply be heterosexual, certainly not a disadvantaged class given the heterosexism of our society. Of course, in light of the studies and statements of reputable psychological and medical organizations, we should not be surprised that the folks at PFOX do not really believe that their “therapy” works. The American Psychological Association (APA), for instance, strongly disagrees and considers such “therapy” ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. Recently, the APA passed a resolution on the issue with a resounding 125-4 vote. I do not think we should be at all surprised by the internal contradictions and general incoherence of a group like PFOX, as they too seem to be quite impervious to reason.
Other problems that accompany the unequal treatment of particular groups of people have continued to become apparent. The case of Navy veteran Joshua Rocha has reminded us of one of the problems of our military’s “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” Policy. Not only is it plainly discriminatory and yet another signal to homosexual people that they are second class citizens in a heterosexist society, but it also supports abuse of certain members of the military without offering them any reasonable recourse or way out. Simply by reporting harassment, a gay man or woman serving in the military could be disciplined for violating “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” That is to say, the policy creates an environment in which our service men and women can be harassed for the very same reason that prevents them from going to their superiors for help in ending the harassment. Conveniently, U.S. Air Force Colonel Om Prakash has reviewed the efficacy of “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” The conclusion to be drawn from his work is that “Don’t ask. Don’t Tell.” don’t work.
The military’s “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” Policy is certainly a sign of our society’s heterosexism. But there are other signs too, and they result in different – yet in some ways quite related – injustices. An article in Slate covers the issue of a law targeted at gay men that was ruled unconstitutional 26 years ago. Normally, such a ruling would only have been news at the time it was made. But, in this case, the law is still being used to target gay men. Literally thousands of unconstitutional arrests, prosecutions, and convictions have been made. And tens of thousands of dollars in fines and fees have been paid. This is a serious injustice. But how does it happen? Well, in addition to being plainly heterosexist, those who enforce the unconstitutional law – whether they realize it or not – are relying on the general heterosexism of society to do so. This injustice can be carried out simply by virtue of the fact that some men would rather simply pay an unjust, unwarranted fine than risk the consequences that might come as a result of being “outed.” So, gay men are forced to choose between two evils because our society treats them as second-class citizens. (Notice the similarity with “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.”) If there were no fear for the LGBT community to be honest about who they are, there would be little reason for these unconstitutional arrests, prosecutions, convictions, fines, and fees to go unchallenged. But our institutionalized heterosexism creates such fear and, as a result, our heterosexism fosters the perversion of our legal system, promoting injustice. It is rather sickening that our society’s view and treatment of the honest LGBT community is so profoundly negative that people would choose to be victims of legal injustice – to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars – just to avoid the harm and negativity that can come at the hands of our deeply heterosexist culture.
In other parts of the world, the issue of homosexuality has taken a much darker turn. For example, legislation has been introduced in Uganda that would criminalize homosexuality. To put it succinctly, people (as I recall, estimates are somewhere around 10% of the population) would be breaking the law simply by virtue of living their lives fully as themselves. Penalties for homosexuals would include life imprisonment and, in some cases, the death penalty. The bill also contains penalties for those heterosexuals who fail to report the names of those they know to be homosexuals and those they know who are heterosexuals who support homosexuals. For those, the penalty appears to be a three-year prison term. It is interesting to note a couple of things in regard to this proposed legislation. First, there have recently been some people who have elected to leave the Episcopal Church in America (TEC) over what they consider to be the church’s wrong-headedness on issues of human sexuality. Those who have separated from TEC who wished to remain Anglicans – and maintain their claim to apostolic succession – have had to look outside of the United States for support. And guess where they had to go to find it. That’s right, Uganda. Second, there may be a connection to this new proposed legislation in Uganda with its leadership’s relationships with American evangelical and fundamentalist Christian groups.
Clearly, our society and culture is heterosexist. And our heterosexism is deeply rooted. Some elements of society are working to move beyond this sad state of affairs, but others are doing their best to further entrench and institutionalize the inequality. But what do we know about the anti-gay movement? What do we learn about them from the stories and situations cited here?
Well, it seems that the anti-gay movement represents the following characteristics. First, it can be simply irrational (bordering on lunacy?), as Pat Robertson so nicely demonstrates in the links above. Second, the arguments against things like marriage equality often rely on logical fallacy, as Bill O’Reilly demonstrates in the link above above. Third, the movement does not appear to support its key claims with real evidence or reason as Charles Cooper and Maggie Gallagher demonstrate in the links above. Fourth, some anti-gay positions are not truly believed by those who profess them and the anti-gay is movement is often internally inconsistent, as the folks at PFOX demonstrate in the links above. Fifth, the plans, ideas, and apparent solutions that are anti-gay (e.g. “Don’t Ask. Don’t tell.”) tend to be ineffective and potentially damaging, as demonstrated by the case of Joshua Rocha and the research of Col. Om Prakash. Sixth, the anti-gay movement can be dangerous, as demonstrated by the proposed Ugandan legislation that criminalizes and homosexuality and threatens people with the death penalty. Seventh, the anti-gay movement’s exclusionary, discriminatory positions relative to the LGBT community seem to match those of the third-world, as demonstrated by the relationship of the Anglican Church in North America and the Church of Uganda.
So to recap, much of the anti-gay movement appears to be ineffective, third-world-like, not based on evidence, internally inconsistent, potentially dangerous, fallacious, and irrational. On top of that, the movement is plainly discriminatory. And there is no getting around that fact. Whether we are talking about marriage equality, “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell,” or any of the other issues that revolve around human sexuality, we are dealing with issues of discrimination. Equality is not an equivocal term; it is one of the few things in life that actually is an either/or proposition. As long as things are not 100% equal, we are experiencing inequality – it is just a matter of degree.
I, for one, believe in the absolute equality of all humankind. As a result, any affront to equality among humans is offensive to me, whether it affects me directly or not. Inequality – particularly when it is institutionalized – cuts to the core of my belief that we are all created, dependent existence. So, where do you fall? Are you for equality, or inequality? You can’t have both. Are all people created equal? Are all people deserving of equal rights? Or are some different, unequal, and unworthy? We must decide. But when we do, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore the realities of our decisions and choices. No matter how it is justified, any choice against full equality is a choice for inequality. Is inequality among humans a value of yours?