Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Marriage And Civil Rights

Well, it may be time to upset some of my friends and loyal readers. I’ve started this post twice, and put it back on the shelf with such considerations as “I don’t need to get in the middle of a hot topic,” and “I don’t want to drive away readers who might find value in my other thoughts,” however, I’ve decided that these are the excuses of a certain moral cowardice and if I allow them to guide me, I begin to build fences around what I am free to mull over here. The usefulness of this tool as a place for me to explore my own thoughts would be diminished, and I would risk presenting myself as something other than who I am. That said I am now going to wade into my stand on the divisive issue of gay marriage. Readers are welcome to skip this post if they wish to avoid the topic and the frequent divisions that come with it; this will be a long post.

The first thing that always occurs to me is how much this issue has been divorced from a moral and spiritual argument, and co-opted into a political one. I feel that there are two issues here which should not be seen as one. That many of those who oppose gay marriage are ready and willing to ascribe their views, motives, and policy stands on a raft of other issues to anyone who also expresses opposition, and conversely how those in support of gay marriage are quick to assume a whole hearted embrace of a modern American Left political identity with it. Not to mention the loaded use of vocabulary… what a given speaker means by Marriage, Civil Union, and Rights is often obscured. These realities make the large number of people, myself included, with nuanced positions based on considerations other than sound bites feel nervous about speaking up for fear of being falsely placed into one camp or another. I beg you, my readers, to give me the benefit of the doubt that I do not fit into either of the two big boxes.

Let me step into a story about the US Census for a moment. Every 10 years since 1790, the United States has conducted a census of the population, at first by the Judicial, and then by the Legislative arm of government. The original purpose for this was set out in Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, to provide for the apportionment of seats in our House of Representatives, and by indirect cause from Article 2 Section 1, the number of votes in the Electoral College. Over time, the nature and methods of the Census questions have changed, but the key role has remained.

However, if one looks at a definition of what the census is for most anywhere, one will see a statement such as this one from the Census FactFinder website: “Other important uses of Census data include the distribution of funds for government programs such as Medicaid; planning the right locations for schools, roads, and other public facilities; helping real estate agents and potential residents learn about a neighborhood; and identifying trends over time that can help predict future needs.” (retreived 9/20/2011). That’s odd, these issues don’t seem connected to allocating state representation at a federal level, what’s going on here?

Well, the answer is simple enough, somewhere along the way (I am sure there are scholars who know exactly when, but I do not, and the information is not easy to find.), the Federal government was looking at the need to allocate funds at a finer grain than state level, and wanted a fair means of doing so. Looking over the toolbox they had, they saw the Census, and decided, why re-invent the wheel? We’ll just add on these economic and social program functions to the demographic tool we have, well done.

I’m sure they meant well, but look at some of the issues we have today: Deep debates over the counting of citizens versus residents, the counting of overseas citizens (presently rules vary for military/government vs. civilian), those away for education or training, long term care facilities, detention centers, and temporary homes for those displaced by disasters. The list goes on, but one thing which quickly comes to light is that in many (I do not claim all) cases, the core argument is driven by the purpose of the census. Those who are arguing from a stand of Political Apportionment generally favor that counts should place those away from “home” back in the community they are separated from, seeing that they most often draw their cultural and political identity from that home, and do not feel represented by the local community. Consider, for example, a large jail in a small rural town that results in the small town having a representative of its own based on the prison population, even though virtually none of the prisoners can vote. How likely is the Representative to represent the prisoners concerns when they oppose those of the local citizens? A Representative elected from the communities they came from may be more sympathetic. On the other side are those who look at the use of the Census to allocate Federal Funding for grants, highways, and other services. In these cases, people argue that the prisoners in the above example are having a greater impact in that small town. They drive traffic on roads, need for social services, opportunities for community social programs, and other issues which would not impact the small town otherwise, isn’t it fair that they be given some consideration for such in their share of federal dollars?

What seems clear to me is that society has evolved, become more complex, and developed tools and needs that are beyond any it had before. Where it once made perfect sense given the tools, manpower, and resources available to combine the existing Census with the need for an Economic tool, we have moved beyond that and while we cling to it because it is what we have, we may need to look at how well this tool is serving our society.

Given my love of allegory, many of you can no doubt see much of what I am going to say next in outline above. Long ago, much earlier than the 1790 of the Census, the institution of marriage was created. Feel free to argue over the exact nature and intent of the early practice, to give property rights over women, to enhance the confidence in paternity, to provide security and protection for women to raise their children; I don’t intend to, or need to, get into that arena. However you slice it, the institution of marriage was about the family unit, and the conditions needed to provide for the raising of children to inherit the culture and possessions of the parents.

Along the way, this institution became deeply woven into our spiritual and religious lives, marriages were seen as blessed or cursed by the gods of the peoples, and the requirements for marriage became religious tests of morality.

Society has evolved, and we have kept adding cruft to that core. I am sure it made great sense, especially in states that did not seek to separate themselves from the spiritual lives of the citizens to use the marriage as a tool for collecting taxes, tracking population, conferring legal rights and placing obligations to a lord. It was a tool in place they already understood, and could adapt to their needs. But society kept evolving, and we have now reached a point where the needs for the many legal, social, and societal functions of marriage are no longer tightly bound with the need to provide a safe and secure environment for the raising of children in an understood and nurturing framework. Perhaps it is time to consider if we have the right tool for the job.

Now that I have all that build up in place, let me begin to try and express my exact position. I feel that in our society, we have reached a level of acceptance and cultural comfort that we have no excuse to deny to our gay citizens the same civil rights that we extend to any other group of citizens. I applaud and support the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I would have no problem voting for a gay politician, and I do not feel upset at joining my gay friends and neighbors to receive the communion. That said; I do not support Gay Marriage, as I feel that the moral and religious underpinings of faith which come with marriage are not subject to State judgment.. I do support a civil recognition of Gay Partnerships, such as the popular term “Civil Union.” What I further support is a long hard look at how we can get from here to there. How we can redefine our practices and forms to retain the culturally significant identity of marriage as a union of man and woman to support a family in keeping with their morals. I support the removal of marriage as a conditional test for any government (or other public) benefit, and its replacement with the state of Civil Union. I do not oppose the inclusion of sexual orientation as a class to prohibit discrimination in all areas where such laws apply. I support the idea that having a religious Marriage should not, without proper legal hoops, produce a Civil Union. If you get married by your priest, pastor, or rabbi but don’t pay Caesar his due, you may not live in sin but you also should not get a tax benefit. I do not oppose allowing the Marriage ceremony, so long as it contains all elements called for in local law, to double as the necessary proceeding for a Civil Union, but I feel I should end up with two papers, one of which is the same paper my gay friends should be free to get at City Hall.

I have heard asked before if you don’t innately oppose gay couples, why quibble over a word? Simply, my answer is tradition. Tradition is of importance to me, and Marriage has deep roots which are not owned by our state or our culture. It is important to me to maintain the fact that the state does not have the authority with the stroke of a pen to alter our heritage and history, even when that history may be a mixed bag. Marriage transcends borders and reminds us that not all authority is from the state, nor should it be. The traditions of marriage are traditions of faith, and of a moral world view which recognizes God, unlike the civil law which recognizes The People. This is the subtle reason I do not oppose the allowance of a Marriage to produce a Civil Union, it is a nod that the state is aware that many accept other authorities, even if it limits that authority within its laws.

Others argue about the infringement of rights. On this front I get my hackles up. I feel strongly that we are losing our minds when it comes to the idea of rights. I do not accept that power descends to the people as a gift of the state, and as such I do not accept that the state has the ability to grant or rescind rights, only to acknowledge or seek to repress them. I do not accept the claim of a right to marriage, only a claim of a right to equal protection under the law. The law can grant equal protection without allowing for equal outcome. You can apply to any school you want; the law won’t force them to accept you. You can go to any National Park you want; the law won’t force other visitors to stay off trails your asthma keeps you from hiking. You can present yourself at the doors (or whatever public entryway they have) of any place of worship; the law won’t force the Jews to bar mitzvah me, or the Scientologists to declare me clear. Likewise you can present yourself for marriage, but if you fail to present yourself in accordance with the requirements of one man, one woman, the law should not compel any entity to marry you.

If I’m in for a penny, I may as well be in for a pound. I’ll go beyond the strictures of the law and present a few of my opinions. I do feel on a personal level that a family with a father and a mother is a better environment to raise children than a same sex household. I also feel that a family with a loving, supportive, and strong relationship between the parents is far better than one without. Further, and likely most controversial, I feel that a household with two parents is better than one with only a single parent. This leads to my personal belief that the order of good environments for children, from best to worst is: Loving Mother and Father, Loving Gay Couple, Loving Single Parent, Troubled Mother and Father, Troubled Gay Couple, Troubled Single Parent, No Parents (Ward of State), Abusive/Neglectful Parents of any variety. I also feel that due to the crusaders of self righteous morality that use this issue to advance a raft of social ideology as a single package, the opposition to Gay Marriage is unfairly treated as automatically being a hateful and mean spirited position to hold.

So there it is, my angry hated filled right wing ranting about the evil gays destroying our perfect Christian nation. I suspect that some may walk away with that view, and it saddens me, but I hope more can understand where I stand, and that wherever you are in relation to me, right or left, progressive or conservative, that we can continue to associate with mutual respect and a willingness to abide when we don’t see eye-to-eye. I certainly hope that most of you can see my efforts to take a stand based upon reason and principle, and will not dismiss my nuances as a Chamberlainesque effort at appeasement. I recognize all too well that I am likely to have upset anyone who feels this issue has but two sides.

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