Gay Marriage

(For more on this subject in general, and the ongoing legal battles over prop8 in particular, I recommend the excellent Prop 8 Trial Tracker)

Last weekend New York passed a bill legalizing gay marriage. I haven’t talked about it here because I kind of felt that everything had been said already, but you know what? They haven’t been said by me, and that’s already bitten me in the ass once, so here’s my say.

If this looks too long to read and you just want to know in simple terms how I feel about it so you can categorize me or something, I’m saying “Marriage bans do nothing but prevent some people from marrying the person they choose. Way to go New York, hope the remaining 44 states follow you into the 21st century soon!” If that’s all you need to know, then there’s no point in reading past the cut. Those of you who want details? Onward!

Still with me? Good, let’s begin.

I’m going to take a moment to define terms here. I know the current terminology is LGBTQ (and possibly a few other letters). I’m not going to use this, I’ll be using “gay marriage” as a very inclusive generic term instead and after you’ve read my reasons if you still think I should have said something else feel free to tell me why in the comments. Here’s why I’m saying gay marriage instead of same-sex marriage or QTBGL equality: First, it’s really a mouthful. I know this is text but in my mind I’m always hearing it and it’s just too awkward. Second, it’s far too likely that I will (or already have) miss a letter and by implication exclude someone, and I’d rather deliberately misuse a term in a far broader meaning than usual than do that. Finally and by far most importantly, because this isn’t about any one group of humans or the rights of any one group of humans, this is about human rights. So when I say “gay marriage” what I am talking about is the right of any consenting adult to marry any other consenting adult. Any details about them not pertaining to their ability to give legal consent is completely and very seriously irrelevant. This means everybody.

In November 2008 I watched my home, the state of California, pass Proposition 8. A bill that was described on the ballot with the words “Eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry.” I voted against it, and when the subject came up I spoke against it, sometimes strongly, but I never really worked against it. It was just unthinkable to me that Californians would vote to eliminate a right. I didn’t understand then and still don’t understand now how people could be so motivated and work so hard to pass a law, an actual amendment to the California constitution, that hurts people and does absolutely nothing else. I will never hold my tongue again.

Something that I kinda noticed then but which never really struck me until later was that discussions about the subject were almost always framed as “allowing” gay marriage. Make no mistake, gay marriage was perfectly legal in California for the four months leading up to the election. There were, and still are, some 18,000 married same-sex couples in this state. I remember someone saying “Things will change” apparently without realizing that things already had. I think this shifting of the burden of proof probably did a lot to get prop8 passed.

For future reference, a free society should always ask “Why should we prevent people from doing this” rather than “Why should we allow it”.

I have never yet heard an argument for banning gay marriage that holds water. I don’t mean one that sounds at all convincing to me, I mean one that’s a solid argument in its own right. Religious arguments are perhaps stronger than most in a strange way as a direct appeal to authority, but also irrelevant to law thanks to the first amendment. Most of the others seem to be talking about something else entirely, often children or anal sex for some reason, or are patently dishonest, such as the claim that churches will be forced to conduct ceremonies.

I think perhaps the most honest, the most true claims are the ones along the lines of “If we allow gay marriage, then schools will tell little boys that they can grow up to marry another boy.” You don’t have to think about this too hard to see that strictly speaking it’s absolutely true, though I doubt many teachers will waste space on the lesson plan for it. Because I’m often not all that bright, for a while I actually wondered why anyone would complain that a school wasn’t going to lie to their children until I saw someone write, to paraphrase, “If we let them get married, people will think it’s normal.” That, I think, is the big cultural change that is really threatening here, people might start to think it’s normal.

It is normal. It always has been. Being gay is as normal and natural as being left-handed. So is being bi, or trans, or completely asexual, or probably a dozen other things I’m too ignorant to comment on. Just because someone is on the edge of a bell curve doesn’t make them any less human, especially a bell curve as trivial as their average romantic interests. I say “average” because whatever their usual dating pool is like, nobody marries a demographic, they marry a person.

Roughly one-tenth of your children are gay. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or what you try to do to stop it. That’s just how humanity is, it’s part of what humanity is. You can probably get them to pretend otherwise through some combination of fear or shame, but you can’t change it. If you are seriously opposed to the idea of gay marriage, and by extension gay people themselves, being normal, I want you to play along with a thought experiment.

Try to imagine for a moment two worlds, one where society thinks it’s normal and one where it’s so successfully suppressed that there isn’t even a word for it, which world would you rather have your gay children live in? How would their lives be different in these two worlds?

Better yet pretend it’s the other way around. Pretend most people are gay and you’re the different one, you’re the freak who, for whatever reason is attracted to people of the opposite sex. Imagine having to hide, lying to everyone you care about, afraid a glance might give you away. Think about marrying someone of your own sex to maintain the lie. Think of the life you would be condemned to. The life that millions of real people in the real world live right now because being gay isn’t seen as normal.

Yes, the more gay people get married, the more people will think it’s normal and I think that’s a great reason for it to happen. There’s enough human misery in this world naturally, we don’t need to keep making more.

At this point, I think equality is inevitable. Marriage equality in six U.S. states and countries such as South Africa and Argentina, and straight couples still love each other. The longer this goes on the more normal it will seem and the more places will adopt it. The only real question is how hard people will fight to hurt others at no benefit to themselves, and that can only delay it. If there isn’t equality in my lifetime, there will be in the next generation’s.

I’ve no doubt there’s at least one person reading this who’s poly and perhaps thinking that it’s not enough. I’m all about freedom of consenting adults, so I feel awful for saying this, but I really think that it’s gotta take a back-burner on practical grounds and should be a lower priority than equality on idealogical ones. Also, as a group voters apparently aren’t very bright, and can be swayed by people to whom the idea of “consent” is a difficult concept. I mean, I seriously read a major community leader in NY quoted as having said “The state should not be concerned about regulating affection.” while complaining about this law that removed state regulation of, if not affection, legal vows of it. I think we need to get those hard to understand principles like “rule of law” and “equal protection of law” and “you can’t change the rules for someone because something about them makes you feel icky” into the general consciousness first before anyone has a chance at a legal poly union. Honestly I might have to sit that fight out anyways, I get headaches trying to figure out how such a legal contract might work & I don’t know if I could handle the screams of the insurance companies.

The idea of “civil unions” is beneath contempt. We already have a form of civil union in this country, we call it “marriage”. This is the United States of America, where less than 50 years ago we learned through blood and hate and violence that separate-but-equal does not work and is nothing more than a tool of injustice which only serves to prolong injustice. If you’ve forgotten that lesson already, and I’m speaking to you here President Obama, then shame on you and those who should remind you.

Marriage is a totally human construct that varies widely from culture to culture. Throughout human history the most common marriage was one man and many women, and the idea of what a marriage is, and the roles of the people within one, have been fluid and constantly changing. In the United States we have drastically changed the meaning of marriage in the last half-century by recognizing men and women as equal partners rather than a man and his subordinate, which was itself a change from the days when it was a man and his property.

If you could travel through time the marriage customs of your homeland a thousand years ago would seem every bit as strange and alien as the ones a thousand years in the future. Things have always been and always will be changing, but right now it’s our time and we get to decide what marriage means. New York has decided the same way I have, the same way I’m sure history will remember us deciding. All people are equal and the law should recognize that.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on June 29, 2011, in Nonfiction, Personal and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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