Sunday, February 07, 2010

A few recent thoughts

Since my blog has devolved into nothing more than an occasional rant whenever something inflames my sensibilities to the point of needing verbal expression, I figure I’ll economize and get a few topics out of the way at once.

The recent attention to “don’t ask don’t tell” is long overdue. The policy never particularly concerned me because I don’t see it as a horrible imposition to keep your personal life private when so many other accommodations and personal sacrifices are also required of our military. However, the policy was much broader than that and was outrageous because of it. That a person can’t discuss their sexuality with their physician out of fear is just reprehensible. Add to that the fact that physicians must ask direct sexual questions to appropriately care for patients, and it’s easy to see the injustice of requiring a soldier to either answer a direct important question honestly and risk losing his/her livelihood and dreams, or lie and receive inadequate or frankly inappropriate medical care. It’s just wrong and it’s long past due for correction.

Meanwhile hypocrisy is alive and well as self-righteous defenders of gay and lesbian interests go far past what is reasonable and try to one-up the hatred they believe is generalized among those with whom they disagree by out-hating and out-hurting with re-doubled efforts. I read an example recently:
Now that explicit anti-gay animus is an albatross, those who oppose gay civil rights are driven to invent ever loopier rationales for denying those rights, whether in the military or in marriage. Hatch, for instance, limply suggested to Mitchell that a repeal of “don’t ask” would lead to gay demands for “special rights.” Such arguments, both preposterous and disingenuous, are mere fig leaves to disguise the phobia that can no longer dare speak its name. If gay Americans are to be granted full equality, the flimsy rhetorical camouflage must be stripped away to expose the prejudice that lies beneath.
Let me set up for you, Mr Rich, a series of ideas, and then you explain to me how you can be so categorical in maligning those with whom you disagree.
  • Marriage as a religious institution is irrelevant to marriage as a secular institution.
  • Therefore, marriage as a secular institution is necessarily what society determines it to be.
  • The United States of America has specifically defined marriage in federal law as a union of one man and one woman.
  • Civil rights are those rights which expressly enumerated by the U.S. Constitution and are considered to be unquestionable; deserved by all people under all circumstances, especially without regard to race, creed, color, gender, and disabilities. (wiktionary)
  • Marriage, as a civil right, is still regulated and withheld in particular circumstances; that is, it is not available to anyone at any time and in any form merely because it is considered to be a civil right. This is not questioned in many cases (as in minors, for example).
  • Marriage, as defined by federal law, is currently available without regard to sexual orientation. My own situation as a gay man married to a woman exemplifies this fact. I have exercised my civil right to marry, and believing the federal definition of marriage to be accurate and appropriate in no way takes civil rights away from anyone.
  • Therefore, one referring to changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions as extending a “special right” is a logical and consistent position. Lobbing insults at people in place of addressing their argument makes the disingenuousness seem a lot closer to the source.
  • Society treats people unequally in many respects and this is often a good thing.
  • People pay different taxes depending on their income. It would be considered ridiculous for the wealthy to refuse to pay taxes by appealing to equality under their civil rights; marriage as a social institution is much more concerned with money and legalities than it is with love and companionship, and may be comparable with tax rebates given to only a subset of citizens based on arbitrary criteria.
  • People are treated differently because of their race and background in the academic and business world. This is often to deliberately favor non-white people, but this inequality is appropriate and well-considered.
  • Those who oppose affirmative action often have legitimate points. They are not automatically racist.
  • Therefore, defining marriage as society has defined it, including excluding certain couples from marrying, is neither violating civil rights nor necessarily inappropriate.
  • What is fair and good is debatable. Unfortunately, an increasing number who come to the discussion refuse to discuss the issues occupying themselves instead with dogmatic assertions that echo the close-minded inflexibility they so criticize in their religious counterparts.

Now, Mr. Rich, you may disagree with many of the issues I’ve presented here, but can you really so confidently dismiss them as “preposterous and disingenuous”? Can you really continue to generalize that all those opposing same-sex marriage are merely masking their bigotry when they discuss these issues? Can you possibly fail to see the bigotry and hatred in yourself, then?

A while back my wife and I invited some friends over for a little book club. We discussed The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. One of my friends is an evolutionary biologist and another is a psychologist. Both vehemently support gay marriage while perfectly active members of the church. During our discussion of The God Delusion the conversation steered, almost unavoidably it seems, to gay marriage as a possible example of where religion harms people. I defended the religious view as internally consistent and not necessarily motivated by hatred or discrimination. The ensuing question was: if not hatred or discrimination, then what possible secular reason could a person site for opposing gay marriage when it has been shown to improve the quality of life of the gay couple and their children, decrease health disparities, etc. etc.?

My answer was that marriage can be seen as necessarily tied to heterosexual coupling because of the necessary tie of procreation to heterosexual coupling. This, not surprisingly, was unsatisfactory. We don’t need heterosexual coupling for procreation anymore. We’re way past that. And all the science shows that children of homosexual parent households have no psychological deficiencies.

I pointed out that there is a world of difference between showing that those children have no psychological deficiencies and failing to show that they do. Science can’t measure everything. The measures I often see in the literature that have been “validated” are laughably crude. Have I no right to watch my wife breastfeed our children and conclude that a mother is necessary for the best family situation? Is that such an unscientific assertion based on non-psychological criteria then? Does the mountain of medical literature that supports breast-feeding as best for babies have nothing to do with the discussion of gay marriage? Why ever not? The rules seem to be made up as we go along.

At this point in the conversation my friends were nearly apoplectic, bewildered that I could hold out by playing such a non-scientific card. It was a lively discussion, to be sure. Ultimately, they never did directly concede that a person could hold a non-bigoted, non-discriminatory, non-hateful position of secular opposition to gay marriage. I suspect this was because it is human nature to require some explanation as to why someone would disagree with one’s views when it seemingly couldn’t possibly be a misunderstanding on the part of one’s self.

I’ve settled into a pro-gay marriage stance over the last several months. I feel that I stayed agnostic for a period that was wholly appropriate as I continued to ponder the topic, despite that I’ve been called out more than once for doing so. I hasten to add that my opinion is subject to revision as it suits me. I believe, ultimately, that the question of whether or not society should recognize gay marriage has no right answer, and I’ve come down on the side of favoring it. The question of how the church views marriage does have a right answer, and I subscribe fully to it as well. There are lots of folks within the church who equivocate between secular and God-recognized marriage, and I think knowing that fact goes a long way to reaching peace on the topic.

Yep, that’s right, I’ve come down on the side of gay marriage, where I’ve pretty much been hovering for years. I do not believe that gay marriage is appropriate because it’s a civil right. I do not believe that society is obligated to recognize such marriages out of fairness any more than it is obligated to a flat tax. It may be a good idea, it may be fair, and it may really help a lot of people live happier and better lives. However, that doesn’t mean that those who oppose it are irrational, deserve to be vilified, or are any less entitled to an alternate opinion as well as vocal advocacy in the political process.