Tuesday, July 05, 2005

1st draft thoughts on gay marriage -

I’d originally planned to go paddling tonight, but the weather’s looking pretty ominous, I’m going over to my friend Larry’s to watch my schooner on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (I don’t have a TV & he was nice enough to respond to my plea for a place to watch), and I’ve got a couple of month-end close reports to run and this post I wanted to do – so it seemed like a better use of time to stay at the office & work through those. So please bear with me as I try to get down some of my thoughts on why I’m in support of gay marriage. It’s really not that complicated, in fact. There are a couple of basic premises I accept & the rest just follows from those.

As I’d mentioned, when the mayor of San Francisco first started marrying gay couples, my initial reaction was more “how weird” than “how cool”. When I think of the word “marriage”, I do definitely picture a man and a woman. That has always been part of my definition of marriage, and I don’t think I ever would have rethought the issue in the way that I have had it not been dragged center-stage first by Mayor Newsome & other officials, then by Bush’s support of an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment that failed, followed the spate of state constitutional amendments that resulted from those actions. It’s not that I was ever specifically against it – just never thought about it much before.

I wonder how many other people have found themselves rethinking things the same way.

At any rate –

Point 1. I accept the premise that homosexuality is not a choice but an innate (God-given, if you will) tendency. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders 20 years ago and they would be in a position to know - a fact sheet outlining their views can be found here and I'd tend to trust them to know what they're talking about. I’ve read that the original study that keeps cropping up saying that gays are more this or more that than the general populace was actually based on interviews that used a pool of interviewees drawn entirely from people who were already in counseling & so was as skewed as a study of straight people using only people in counseling would be. When I consider my friends who are gay, all of these things make total sense – they’re just as varied a group as my friends who are straight, their lives aren’t all that different, we all want basically the same thing – work, shelter, food, fun, and companionship. I have straight friends who sleep around, I have gay friends who’ve been in committed relationships for years, and vice versa. New York allows that range, very few people of the people I know (and NONE of the people I consider to be friends) feel the need to shoehorn somebody into some preconceived role based on their gender or gender orientation – in fact that’s why I prefer the phrase “my friends who are gay” over “my gay friends” because I define them first as “friends” – “gay” is just a part of who they are.

Speaking of definitions brings me to

Point 2. Society defines marriage, not the other way around. When Bush says “"After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization,” he’s utterly ignoring the fact that that institution has undergone profound changes over and over and over again and somehow none of those changes has ever led to the downfall of marriage itself. There’s an excellent editorial (sorry, registration required & will only be free for a week) in today’s New York Times on that very subject.

Personally, I think that some of the changes that marriage has undergone are for the better. Yes, the divorce rate is up – but that means that the percentage of people trapped in unhappy marriages because of societal disapproval of divorce is down. And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that marriage is no longer the primary option for women – I have had the choice of being single & independent (and there are definitely some good points to that), rather than marrying someone because that was what society expected of me and that was the only option open to me – particularly had it been at the time when the wife essentially became the husband’s property rather than an equal partnership, as marriages are supposed to be today. Naturally I would have a very different view of matters but I suspect that upbringing aside, I would have had the same questioning spirit I have today, and I don’t think that I would have rested easily in such a situation.

Point 2 is the one that I really started thinking about when the first marriages were being performed in San Francisco. It seemed weird. Why? Because I think of marriage as applying to a man and a woman. Why? Because that’s how society has defined it so far. Can society change definitions if new developments warrant it? Absolutely – in fact I think that the ability to do so is the mark of a healthy society, even if the initial change is difficult. Women’s suffrage was difficult. The emancipation of slaves was difficult. The end of Jim Crow laws was difficult and we have yet to see the end of racism in this country.

The way society has changed its’ views of the roles of women & minorities in society is, I think, particularly relevant here – it brings me to

Point 3 – I strongly believe that our society should not deny rights to ANY group of citizens based on a characteristic that is not a matter of choice, but of birth. Accepting my first point as I do, I was absolutely aghast when Bush began pushing to amend the Constitution to specifically DENY a certain set of rights to a certain subset of people. That struck me as profoundly against the spirit of the Constitution, and I was extremely happy when it failed.

The fact is that the aspect of marriage over which the law has any say isn’t so much the aspect of marriage as a holy sacrament – spiritually, I don’t see how anyone could either stop a minister from or force a minister to perform a commitment ceremony, depending on the beliefs of the minister & the church in question – but the right for two people to enter into a legally recognized relationship involving a whole set of legal rights & responsibilities (the hospital-visitation one strikes a particular nerve as one of my oldest friends, the one who talked me into moving to New York in fact, ended up nursing his AIDS-stricken partner – with whom he’d been so happy – right until the end in the early 90’s – I’m still slightly awestruck that he had the courage & love to do this when he was barely out of college, we in our early 20’s – he was not denied access because this is New York, but the very thought that he could have been legally refused that privilege when they loved each other so much just makes me a little ill to think about it) - and as things stand now, in most states there whole groups of people who are essentially denied the right to enter into such a legal relationship simply because of something they are – and simply because that’s how it’s been up until now.

And that strikes me as wrong.

And it’s time for me to go so I’m just going to fling this up there as is – might come back to it in future & try to clean it up & clarify the if a, then b nature of my line of thought – but it’s a start.

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