Post-Election Commentary: Proposition 8 and My Views on LBGT Rights

Note: I’ll fix links and everything later.

JANUARY 20 2009 UPDATE: Everything’s fixed.

 

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         Liberals need to chill out about the passage of Proposition 8 – it was not that much of a surprise and it’s not irreversible.

·         Liberals have shown great energy in opposing Prop. 8 – after the election.  While the enthusiasm and pro-gay rights fervor is very promising, it would have been more helpful before the election.

·         Giving same-sex couples “civil unions” while keeping “marriage” for everyone else would be a form of segregation and is unjust and insufficient.

·         My support for gay rights is NOT dependent on whether homosexuality is a “choice” or not; I support gay rights either way.  Do you?

·         Individual rights should not be a matter up for popular vote.  “Activist judges” have the right to make decisions on such rights if they can be interpreted from existing law.

·         Conservatives are right about one thing: the arguments used to support same-sex marriage can also be used to support the legalization of polygamous and incestuous marriages.  And that’s okay with me, because I support the right to equality for polygamous and incestuous people for the same reasons I support the right to equality for same-sex couples.  Aside from offering a couple of feeble arguments against polygamy and incest that are easily rebutted, those who support marriage equality for same-sex couples but not for polygamous and incestuous people are operating on a double standard and are in many ways the same as the opponents of same-sex marriage that they regularly condemn.

·         My bottom line in all this is equality.  When it comes to marriages, everyone should get the same thing, or everyone should get nothing.  That said, the best solution is probably to have civil unions for everyone – same-sex, mixed-sex, polygamous and incestuous relationships alike.

 

I originally was going to write and post this much later, but I felt that because today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, that I should do it today as a symbolic gesture.  After all, MLK was the highest-profile leader of the civil rights movement that brought us equality (or at least de jure equality) between the races.  The movement for equality between the sexual orientations is today’s equivalent of the civil rights movement.

 

Many people have been chiming in on Proposition 8, the California initiative defining legal marriage as between a man and a woman that was successfully passed by voters on November 4 2008.  I suppose it’s my turn, and in doing this I want to present my substantive, systematic take on the common concerns and arguments on both sides of the issue and other issues in gay rights, and then present my opinions on all things relating to the cultural perceptions and politics of gay rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular.

 

Here we go.

 

Liberals: Ahhh, OMFG I can’t believe liberal liberal California passed this awful, AWFUL measure!!!!  AHHHH!!! <runs around tearing hair out>

 

CHILL THE FUCKING LAX.  Seriously, the moaning and hand-wringing over Prop. 8 has to be toned down, and everyone needs to take a deep breath and chill out with pot and maybe some Doritos.  First of all, it’s not the end of the world.  Yes, same-sex marriage has ended in California… for now.  But the same-sex couples that wisely wed before November 4 should still keep their marital status (until 50 percent of them divorce, anyway) and same-sex couples can still apply for the almost-as-good domestic partnerships.  Most importantly, the same process that giveth us Prop. 8 in 2008 can taketh it away… in 2010.  So guess what?  We’ll get a second chance at this (and likely a third, and fourth, and fifth, and so on, as conservatives will probably try to pass this every two years for the next twenty years).

 

Second, is anyone particularly surprised that it passed?  My pre-election bet was that it would fail, but narrowly, based on the poll results that showed the No side with a single-digit lead in the last few months before the election.  So while I was mildly surprised and disappointed by the results, I always knew it was going to be close.  But so many people have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off, screaming about how “liberal” California’s “supposed” to be and how it’s incredible that such a liberal liberal state passed something so disgusting as Prop. 8.

 

Ahem.

 

First of all, those supporting same-sex MARRIAGE (not civil unions or domestic partnerships, MARRIAGE) still constitute a decided minority in the United States as a whole – 36 percent in a July 2008 survey.  In California one poll shows a bare majority (51 percent) supporting it, but another shows a bare majority supporting a ban on it.  We’ve certainly come a long way since the days when to even be LBGT was considered unthinkable, and public opinion is trending in the right direction (most promisingly among young people who, just as always, are more socially liberal and tolerant than older generations), but we’re just not there yet.  Also, look at how many politicians out there support same-sex marriage.   Among currently-serving Senators, I can only find Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)The only prominent serving U.S. Representative I could find was Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-10), though I suspect there are more that are overlooked.  And among currently-serving Governors, only Deval Patrick (D-Mass.), David Paterson (D-N.Y.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.).  All of these men are among the most liberal politicians in the country.

 

Now, there is a significant contingent of Americans out there who oppose same-sex marriage but don’t think constitutional amendments are the way to go, hence explaining the dismal support for anti-SSM in the U.S. Constitution.  I thought that would tip the balance to the No side.  But as the polls all indicated, even in “liberal liberal” California, it would be a close vote.

 

As for California being a liberal state and that status being related to same-sex marriage, while California is overall a very liberal state that gave 61 percent of its vote to Barack Obama, and consistently votes for Democrats for statewide office, same-sex marriage is very much farther to the left than Obama or Democrats in general.

 

Finally, let’s look at how California compares to other liberal states, and which ones have same-sex marriage.  For our purposes we’ll define “liberal” as the most pro-Obama in this past presidential election.  The margins of victory in each state can be found here.

 

Top states for Obama (60 percent plus):

States with same-sex marriage are in bold.

 

District of Columbia – 92-7

Hawaii – 72-27

Vermont – 67-30

Rhode Island – 63-35

New York – 63-36

Massachusetts – 62-36

Maryland – 62-36

Illinois – 62-37

Delaware – 62-37

California – 61-37

Connecticut – 61-38

 

Currently in the United States, only Connecticut and Massachusetts have same-sex marriage.

 

See!  Even among the nine states (including D.C.) that are “more liberal” than California, only ONE has same-sex marriage.  So it’s not that California should be liberal enough to have same-sex marriage; the simple truth is that, as of now, same-sex marriage is still too liberal for all but 2 states.

 

Liberals: Prop. H8 is awful!!  Let’s go out and hit the streets and protest! <Date: November 5 2008…>

 

So… where were you before the election on November 4???

 

It amazes me to see the relative amounts of energy before and after the election.  Before the election, everyone was RAW RAW Obama!  Forget about this silly little Prop. 8.  Makes me wonder if Prop. 8 had passed if it were a non-presidential year, when liberals wouldn’t have been distracted by the magical Obama.  Let’s face it, liberals – we were distracted.  It didn’t help that Obama is practically deified in many liberal quarters, where he’s basically the closest thing on this planet to Jesus.

 

Where was I?  Nowhere near Prop. 8.  But in my defense, I wasn’t particularly passionate about the proposition or its subject.

 

The considerable anti-Prop. 8 energy that has emerged after the fact is heartening in the sense that it’ll gear up the righteous effort to restore sanctity to the institution of marriage (i.e. make it available for same-sex partners again) in 2010.  But I just wish all that energy had been there before the people of California voted on November 4.  It might have made a difference.

 

Many liberals, most moderates and, surprisingly, some conservatives: Why does it have to be marriage?  Can’t LBGTs just be happy with civil unions and domestic partnerships?

 

By that same line of thinking, can’t straight people just be happy with civil unions and domestic partnerships? (I think they should be, and I’ll elaborate more on this below.)

 

This argument has gone back and forth in the public debate already but the bottom line is this: if mixed-sex couples get marriage but same-sex couples get civil unions, even if the substantive benefits and responsibilities are all the same, the difference in name still amounts to “separate but equal”, which is a form of segregation.  And that’s the quick and simple reason why we can’t have a system of civil unions for LBGTs and marriage for straights – it has to be the same for everybody.  And that’s the operating principle on which I base my opinion, as I’ll explain later.

 

Liberals (and some moderates): I support same-sex marriage and other rights for gays because it’s not like they CHOOSE to be gay, that’s just the way they are…

 

This argument always makes me uncomfortable because it leaves me asking, what if they DID choose?  Would you still favor gay rights?

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic makes the argument that if homosexuality was a choice not everyone would necessarily choose to be straight, even with institutionalized discrimination in place.  But my argument about gay rights comes from a different angle.  My support for gay rights would remain exactly the same if homosexuality was proven to be a choice, because for me “choice” is not a part of the equation.  I don’t support equal rights for everyone except those who choose to be different; I support equal rights for everyone, period, regardless of what choices they have or have not made. (Obviously, in making this statement I exclude those who have “chosen” to infringe on the rights of others, e.g. murderers, rapists, thieves, etc.)

 

So for those of you who support gay rights because “that’s the way they naturally are”, my question to you is this: What if that is NOT the way they “naturally” are, but rather an honest choice?  Would you still support their rights and causes then?

 

Many conservatives, but even many moderates and liberals – actually, this isn’t ideological at all, just a matter of intelligence… so, I guess I’ll just call them STUPID PEOPLE: It’s okay that same-sex marriage is outlawed or not, as long as THE PEOPLE vote on it! (also, I don’t mind same-sex marriage, but it’s awful and outrageous that activist judges (<cue scary music>) decided on it instead of THE PEOPLE!!)

 

Um, first of all, to people who use this argument, I’m sorry to say this but YOU’RE STUPID.

 

Okay but really, the unreasonableness of this argument is very complete, and I could go on all day about it, but one reason why that kind of thinking is so so bad is explained well (and with a little humor!) by Michael Seitzman.  A good excerpt:

If we left it up to The People, Liz, you wouldn’t be allowed to vote to begin with. You also wouldn’t get equal pay and you’d be sitting in front of Whoopi on the bus ride home.

How about free speech? You want to rail against our new president, Elisabeth? Put Free Speech to a vote on the day after a terrorist attack on American soil and see if The People would tolerate it. I think you’d find that The People aren’t exactly reasonable in a time of crisis.

Seitzman’s main argument is that “The People” are generally too ignorant, irrational and prone to overreaction to be entrusted with lawmaking, which, while I generally agree with, doesn’t explain the whole picture – after all, you can say the same about most of the people we have in Congress.

 

My main reason that things like individual rights should NOT generally be voted on is because the minority is entitled to their rights, and they would lose them if the majority were allowed to vote on them.  Which is why things like rights are often decided on by judges, because judges are supposed to look at the law and figure out if it can be reasonably interpreted to grant or deny people rights.  When a couple of “activist judges” decide something, it’s based on the law (including the Constitution), and essentially it’s “the law” deciding it through the chosen interpreters.  If rights were decided by The People, it’d be based on nothing but the whims of the people, which may or may not have anything to do with what’s fair, reasonable and/or compatible with the law.

 

Of course, it’s worth noting that many of our rights, like equality for blacks and suffrage for women, have been granted by changes in the U.S. Constitution rather than by judges.  That’s because those rights were not readily found in the existing constitutional framework and so an amendment to the Constitution was deemed necessary.  (It should be pointed out that U.S. Constitutional amendments are decided by Congress and state legislatures, not directly by The People.) But you know what?  If a panel of “activist judges” had provided for female suffrage instead of a Constitutional amendment, I would not be kicking and screaming about “activist judges” deciding on rights instead of The People, because things like rights under the law should be decided by the law, and judges are the closest things we have to a law that can speak, if you will.

 

To put it another way, would segregation have ended if it were up to The People?  Would The People have upheld the law (Fourteenth Amendment) that said that blacks had to have equal protection under the law?  Considering that Jim Crow segregation laws were enacted and supported by popularly-elected state governments for nearly a century, the answer is self-evidently no.  The majority was clearly content to trample over the rights of the minority.  And in my opinion that is terribly unjust and unacceptable.

 

Conservatives: If we legalize same-sex marriage, that’ll put us on a slippery slope that’ll lead to polygamy, incest, and bestiality!

Far too many liberals in response: Um, it wouldn’t lead to bestiality because animals cannot legally consent.  And it wouldn’t lead to polygamy and incest cuz we’re only talking about LBGTs here.  Besides, polygamy and incest are icky.

 

Icky?  Sadly, that is the first and only argument many liberals have against legalizing polygamy and incest along with same-sex marriage.  And I’m not surprised cuz that’s the only real argument I can see them making.

 

This may be the most controversial point I make in this entry so I’ve saved it for last.  Look, the main argument behind same-sex marriage is that if the legal benefits, rights and responsibilities that become available to married people are there to promote and foster healthy families, those things should be available to anyone and everyone who wants to get married, regardless of their gender or whether they’re mixed-sex or same-sex.  That same argument applies just as well for relationships involving more than two people (polygamy) or relationships involving close relatives (incest).  And it is for that reason that I believe that marriage equality should be extended to not only same-sex couples but ALL consensual relationships, including polygamous and incestuous ones.

 

To me, I find it ridiculous for people to reasonably support same-sex marriage but oppose polygamous and incestuous marriage, without admitting to using the plain old time-honored double standard.  But, to paraphrase Darth Vader just before his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi, they will try.


You can’t have polygamy cuz the women are forced into that kind of relationship!

 

Uh, what?  No one is talking about forced marriages.  They have to be consensual.  If they are forced then that’s a problem and it needs to be dealt with accordingly, but not by taking away rights for those who are not forced.  This is like saying that half of all marriages end in divorce/unhappiness, so we shouldn’t have marriage at all.

 

You can’t have incestuous marriages cuz that will lead to fucked up babies!

 

So are people with Alzheimer’s, sickle cell anemia, etc. not allowed to marry and have children either?  How bout people with diseases that run in the family, like cancer?  People are already allowed to have children in substandard conditions and subject them to a life of misery.  Ugly people are allowed to breed.  So are people living in poverty.  Should we have a eugenics program where only the healthiest and wealthiest are allowed to have children?

 

People should have the right to get married and have children if they so choose.  Even criminals and the mentally ill are allowed to have children.  Children born to incestuous couples may have to suffer with awful genetic diseases, but everyone is dealt with a different hand in life, and there are many people who have to suffer because they were born into it.  I am by no means trying to be heartless or uncompassionate here – incestuous parents should know what they’re getting into when they have children and take full responsibility and care for them, and if we had excellent universal healthcare we could address the full range of diseases and medical disorders and make life as healthy and comfortable for the afflicted (whether their parents are incestuous or not) as possible.

 

Incestuous parents will “teach” their children incest, and by doing that take advantage of them!

 

Just like homosexual parents will “teach” their children homosexuality, right?

 

Parents “teach” their kids whatever they want, and it’s up to the kids as to whether or not and how much they actually “learn”.  Can we ban conservative parents so they don’t “teach” their kids to be conservative?  My parents “taught” me to be heterosexual and I guess it worked – too bad it doesn’t for all the homosexuals with heterosexual parents out there.

 

I do think that in an incestuous household what will be taught is that incest is not necessarily a bad thing and it’s okay to fall in love and be married to a relative.  And I hold that view myself despite not being incestuous, and if I ever have kids I will probably teach that to them- uh oh, I better not say any more lest the Eugenics Police come and lock me up.

 

Will parents take advantage of their kids by lulling them into thinking incest is okay and then fucking around with them?  Maybe, though I hasten to note that plenty of that already happens with supposedly non-incestuous parents.  Let me be clear: just because incestuous marriage is legalized doesn’t mean child abuse is too.  If there is child rape going on, it’s bad and illegal regardless of what the people involved think about incest.  If it’s consensual sex with a child, then the appropriate laws apply (though personally, I’m keeping an open mind as to whether consensual sex involving minors should be legal or not).  People peddling this argument are acting as if child abuse will somehow be “okay” because incest is okay, without realizing that consensual incest does NOT involve abuse.

 

Face it, those who support same-sex marriage but not polygamous or incestuous marriage cannot reasonably defend their position, because the same arguments apply for all of them.  The same spirit of equality that drives the push for same-sex marriage cannot suddenly be rationally curtailed when it comes to polygamous and incestuous marriage.  What makes polygamous and incestuous marriage different from same-sex?  That you find it “icky” and gross?  Well, who says same-sex marriage isn’t gross?  Certainly the whole world used to, and I’m sure a majority still do.  Saying that same-sex marriage is okay but polygamous and incestuous aren’t is a double standard, no more and no less.

 

What I find very disturbing about this double standard is that the liberals who promote it are essentially recycling the same right-wing talking points that they regularly condemn when applied to same-sex marriage.  That crap about “teaching” your kids a deviant lifestyle, or that it’s “icky”.  By opposing polygamy and incest but supporting mixed-sex marriage you’re only somewhat better than the conservatives who oppose it all.  Actually, in some respects you’re worse than those conservatives.  At least those conservatives are consistent in opposing everything, and they can rationalize it cuz they all got Bibles shoved up their asses.  What part of the Bible says that gays are okay but incest isn’t?  You can’t even use the Bible or religion as an excuse anymore.

 

Liberals who take this position are essentially inheriting the anti-freedom, anti-equality tradition that their conservative counterparts are currently trumpeting.  In several decades there will be a new proposition that will ban polygamous and incestuous marriages, and at that point I bet a lot of the same people who opposed Prop. 8 will be supporting that ban, just as I’m sure a lot of the people who supported Prop. 8 supported interracial marriage back in the day.

 

Of course, if there’s a rational reason as to why we should legalize same-sex marriage but not polygamous and incestuous marriage that I haven’t already addressed, I’m all ears.  I’d be interested to see how much ideological contortion and backbending is required to justify such a position.

 

 

For me, when it comes to marriage or any other rights, I support this principle: Equality and personal freedom to the full extent possible and safe.  There are times when I can reasonably see a reason for denying certain people rights.  For example, I’m okay with criminals being denied their right to own a gun. (By criminals I mean like murderers, not someone who ran a stop sign.) But in general we should limit the cases where rights are denied unequally, because I’m very against lack of freedom and lack of equality.  For example, even with that guns-for-criminals situation, I’d see the reason in allowing a criminal who had demonstrably reformed access to a gun, e.g. for self-defense from former associates who are out to get them.  Not that I’m endorsing that right wholesale, but I’d give that side a fair hearing.

 

In terms of gay rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular, the same principle holds.  There is little to no reason to deny same-sex (or polygamous, or incestuous!) couples equality in marriage.  No, the sun will not fall out of the sky if that happens, as conservatives say.

 

There is however the concern many people have about the word “marriage”, and they get hung up over it because of all the cultural and societal… institutions (I prefer the term “bullshit”) that have been built up around marriage.  All the hoopla and traditions and other crap that get in the way of what can and should be a rather simple affair.  And people always envision a man in a tux and a woman in a white dress at the altar, not two of each.  So when they think about “same-sex marriage” they think about that weird picture of two of each and they freak out and vote Yes on Prop. 8.

 

Okay.  But for me, that’s not a dealbreaker.  See, I’m not 100 percent pro-marriage.  What I am, is 100 percent pro-equality.  Equality means that everyone gets the same thing – or everyone gets nothing.  What’s important is that everyone is treated the same.  So if you don’t like marriage for same-sex couples, fine.  But that means mixed-sex couples (I’m assuming that includes or involves you) don’t get marriage either.  Everyone gets nothing.

 

Don’t like that either?  Fine, how about a compromise – civil unions.  But NOT, for reasons I explained earlier, civil unions for one side and marriage for another.  I want civil unions for everyone.  Here’s my official endorsed position:

 

1.      The United States federal government and all constituent state governments should provide the system of benefits, rights and responsibilities currently provided in a civil “marriage”, but should do so under the term “civil union” (or another similarly secular term that doesn’t involve the word “marriage”) instead of “marriage”, and this civil union should be offered equally to all individuals consensually seeking such a union.

2.      The term “civil union” will refer to the same set of benefits, rights and responsibilities currently placed under “marriage”, but the term “civil union” will be used exclusively in place of the term “marriage”.  In other words, the term “civil union” will effectively replace the term “marriage” in all places.  No government will ever grant a “marriage” again, to ANYONE; they can only grant “civil unions”, to EVERYONE.

3.      All state governments should apply full faith and credit in recognizing unions enacted in other states.

 

Or, in other words, civil unions for everyone, and marriage (by the government) for no one.  Or, in still other words, keep civil marriage but change the name to civil unions*.

 

This way, same-sex couples are happy because they get their rights on an equal basis, religious people (or at least most of them) will be happy because they don’t have to think about that gruesome image of two guys getting “married” anymore, and I’m happy because equality and justice are upheld**.

 

Let’s go to work fighting for equality and justice for all: civil unions for everyone.

 

 

 

* Just to be clear: Do I myself have a preference for one term over another?  In my mind, the most important thing is that everyone is equal and gets the same thing.  Which term is used is not terribly important to me – only the equal application is – but it is for many, which is why I’d be fine with either.  However, there is something attractive about the idea of getting government culturally out of “marriage”.  Government has always and should be just about the dry legal aspects of marriage, and culture should handle the fun cultural parts, but having the word “marriage” in government’s part of the job keeps part of government’s foot unhelpfully in the cultural side.  Wiping out “marriage” and replacing it with the more sterilized “civil union” on government contracts may help get that government foot out of the cultural side.  So I guess I have a preference for “civil union” over “marriage”.  Ultimately, though, equal application under the law is what’s most important.

 

** Who will be unhappy?  Religious fanatics who don’t think gays should get any rights, and straights who nurse an unhealthy superiority complex over being straight.  Or in other words, the friendly, wholesome, all-American people that symbolize the greatness of our country.

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