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Friday, May 16, 2008


Gay marriage has been ruled legal in California!

Hooray for California!

In commenting on the blog Slacktivist, I found myself typing something so important to me that I'm reproducing it here:

Denying marriage to same-sex couples oppresses everybody, not just gay people. And as marriage is one of the most fundamental and pervasive institutions in our society, it is a dire and dreadful thing to have oppression so woven into it. If gay people can't marry, that curtails everyone's freedom.

Legally, I'm one of the lucky ones: I'm heterosexual and always have been. I don't want to marry a woman. So why do I feel liberated by same-sex marriage?

I feel liberated because if I can choose to marry a woman, it recognises the free choice I make in marrying a man. And I feel liberated because I hate being co-opted, by reason of my sexuality, into an institution that is being used to enforce second-class citizenship. I don't want to have to choose between never marrying and joining the let's-exclude-the-queers club, but as long as marriage is straight-people-only, those are my choices. And I don't like that.

I don't like my freedom to marry being dependent on my sexual preferences rather than my fundamental rights as an adult, a citizen and a human being. Such fragile rights oppress me as well as others. Either I have a right because I'm a citizen, or I have a right because the government temporarily approves of my lifestyle; such approval can be taken away. The denial of marriage to gay citizens is the inheritor of the woman's-role-man's-role theory, and I know I'm not going to come out of that deal well. People should be allowed to marry because they're people; nothing else protects us from repression and control by those who do not have our freedom at heart.

I don't like rights available to me being used as a stick to beat innocent people.

I don't like feeling that if I decide to marry, I'll be held up as an example to people in no way inferior to me.

I don't like a personal commitment to be twisted into an unavoidable act of pulling rank on my equals.

Keeping marriage illegal for gay people is using it as a means of excluding them from the mainstream of society, and I don't at all like feeling that marrying the man I love would be, through no wish of my own, accepting a place in a system that oppresses my dear fellow-citizens.

Because if you can only marry because you're heterosexual, how free are any of us?

I don't like any of it, and I'm delighted that the law seems to be moving in the right direction. If you're living in California and intend to take advantage of this new ruling to marry your beloved, many congratulations, and let's hope it carries on this way.

Beautifully put. And I hope to god it sticks.
The obvious counter-argument is that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman.
I was going to say something intelligent after that, but my vocabulary seems drained of all the words I need to use.
I'm sharing your excitement. I have a friend who might well be moving states in a few months time after hearing that news.
If it's defined as being between a man and a woman, it's time to redefine it. Definitions aren't natural laws; by their nature, they're susceptible to human interpretation. A definition literally is what we say it is. Let's re-interpret for everyone's benefit.
The trouble with arguing with a fanatic is their adherence to an absolute statement that you cannot break through. You can present the most perfect and eloquent argument imaginable and that is still going to be their counter-argument.
Fanatic is a harsh word I suppose. I know people who believe in that definition of marriage who are otherwise open-minded people. I hope you'll excuse the holes in my vocabulary.
You can present the most perfect and eloquent argument imaginable and that is still going to be their counter-argument.

Which is why it's so good when the law simply refuses to enshrine their counter-argument. I don't expect fanatics* to accept the new definition - not in this generation, anyway, though with time the ban on gay marriage will hopefully come to look as antiquated as the ban in inter-racial marriage - but as long as their definition is not the law's definition, I think we're definitely getting somewhere.

*Doesn't seem like an unfair word to me; you can be fanatical about some things and not others - but how about 'hardliners', if you prefer? :-)
It always amazes me to realize that until recently, within my lifetime, the age-old definition of 'between a man and a woman' actually was 'between a man and woman of the same race.'

As that definition has been thankfully retired (Bless you, Mrs Loving), and because the noble institution some 'hardliners' claim to be defending is actually something of a myth, I think the proper response to the comment 'marriage is between a man and a woman' is to quote Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther Strikes Again when a person declares "That was a priceless Steinway!"

"Not anymore."
I'm definitely going to use that argument in future. :-)
If anyone's interested, the California decision is publicly available. I recommend reading at least part of it, the majority opinion is quite clear and elegant.

An interesting but less-discussed portion of the decision is that it applies the strictest standard of discrimination ("strict scrutiny") to sexual orientation. Even if California amends its state constitution to un-define same-sex-marriage, this strict scrutiny standard will remain. The upshot is that any policy that discriminates on the grounds of sexual orientation must serve a compelling governmental interest, and this discrimination must be necessary to accomplish that. Sexual orientation is now as protected as gender, race, and religion in the state of California.

This decision is an immense victory for homosexual rights in the state of California, and I for one hope it has influential effect on the rest of the United States.
Addendum: the "harm" that some groups think will come out of same-sex-marriage is a classic "intolerance of my intolerance" argument. In Focus on the Family's words:

# Every public school in the nation would be forced to teach that same-sex “marriage” and homosexuality are perfectly normal –- Heather has Two Mommies in K-12. Pictures in text books will be changed to show same-sex couples as normal.

This argument was soundly rejected in the California decision. Indeed, the idea that California must call heterosexual and homosexual marriages by the same name came out of this argument. To quote (p. 118):

Furthermore, because of the historic disparagement of gay persons, the retention of a distinction in nomenclature by which the term “marriage” is withheld only from the family relationship of same-sex couples is all the more likely to cause the new parallel institution that has been established for same-sex couples to be considered a mark of second-class citizenship.

Again, bravo California.
HA! HA HA! And also HA!

Pictures in text books will be changed to show same-sex couples as normal.


What next! Negroes in Coca-Cola commercials! Wimmens in college!

Even if California amends its state constitution to un-define same-sex-marriage, this strict scrutiny standard will remain. The upshot is that any policy that discriminates on the grounds of sexual orientation must serve a compelling governmental interest, and this discrimination must be necessary to accomplish that. Sexual orientation is now as protected as gender, race, and religion in the state of California.

This is brilliant.

(I see you there, Corvus. ~__^)
Thanks for the links, Christopher! Those objectors are all wrong. Here are their points:

1. Same-sex families always deny children either their mother or father.
2. Same-sex family is a vast, untested social experiment with children.
3. Where does it stop? How do we say "no" to group marriage?
4. Schools will be forced to teach that the homosexual family is normal. Churches will be legally pressured to perform same-sex ceremonies.

Let's look at them, shall we?

1 and 2 are basically the same point: same-sex couples are not like opposite couples when it comes to raising children. Well, duh. There are several things wrong with that:

a. Though it's an article of faith among many that single-parent families are to blame for, well, everything, pretty much everybody knows a single-parent family that's doing fine. If you're talking about a young woman unable to find full-time work because she can't afford a sitter, raising a kid unaided, then yes, that family's going to face difficulties that may rub off on the child, but that's a poverty issue rather than a gender issue, and two parents around, same sex or not, can do far more than one alone.

b. While nobody disputes that the absence of fathers is a bad thing, has anyone actually proved which is worse: the absence of a male parent, or the absence of a parent? 'One of my parents doesn't love me' is a painful thought no matter what the genders involved; it just tends to be mothers who get custody. The missing father's gender may matter less than his absconding.

c. The fact that both parents are the same sex does not mean the child will be deprived close relationships with adults of the other sex. The parents can make an active effort to befriend a godmother/father or uncle/aunt figure, or indeed several, to give the child loving relationships with adults of both gender. This is probably a good idea, and perfectly feasible. Many places involve thriving gay subcultures where, for instance, a lesbian couple can easily find a gay man who's happy to get some fathering experience. (Of course, then all the parental figures would be gay, but as there's nothing wrong with being gay, that can't do the kid any harm.)

d. The implication is that every child should be raised by a man and a woman, but this view is not consistently held. Unless Focus on the Family is seriously arguing that children orphaned by an accident should never be raised by an unmarried aunt or a widowed grandfather, or even by their remaining, widowed parent unless that parent remarries at once - and they're not - one can only conclude that their argument only applies when it comes to homosexuals, which is plain bigotry.

The idea that same-sex marriage is a 'vast, untested social experiment' is wrong as well. For one thing, it's pretty disingenuous to use words like 'experiment' when hardline American Christians are so notoriously anti-science, but for another, the word 'untested' is silly. Same-sex couples have been around for a long time, they've been having children whether they're married or not, and if there had been a huge crime-wave by the traumatised children of gay couples, I think Fox News would have been publicising it well before now. The 'experiment' - a word which implies that the main motivation for legalising gay marriage is curiosity rather than egalitarianism, a falsehood in itself - has been carrying on informally for some time, and the sky hasn't fallen yet.

And the word 'untested', again, is unimpressive. So it hasn't happened before? Does that mean it should never happen? By that logic, no progress could ever take place. 'It's unprecedented' doesn't mean 'it's wrong', unless you're profoundly frightened of the unfamiliar.

3 is the classic slippery-slope argument that conservatives use to oppose every progressive move in history. But every circumstance is different. Multiple marriage involves entirely different arguments from gay marriage. If there's nothing wrong with gay marriage in itself, but something wrong with multiple marriage, then blocking the former to prevent the latter is asking gay couples to sacrifice their legitimate rights to prevent a future evil that may never occur. This is not the act of a democracy. If you don't want multiple marriage, deal with it then: this is not that moment.

4 is two separate points. Let's view them individually:

Schools will be forced to teach that the homosexual family is normal.

And about time too. Teaching discrimination against minorities should never be part of a school curriculum. Besides that, teaching that homosexuality is normal (the basic implication of the worry) is simply teaching a fact. Homosexuality is normal, and schools should teach the truth, whether Focus on the Family likes it or not.

Churches will be legally pressured to perform same-sex ceremonies.

Will they bollocks. They'll be unable to declare that same-sex marriages are forbidden by law, but that doesn't mean they can't preach whatever they want about them. Nobody can force a rabbi to marry two Catholics: he's free to suggest they take themselves elsewhere, and same-sex marriage will be the same.

Besides that, what same-sex couple will actually want to be married by a church that preaches homosexuality is a sin? If the pastor is very clear that you and your love are damned, chances are you go and find another church. By their nature, anti-gay churches self-select for congregations that are either heterosexual or deeply closeted, and such people will not be likely to ask for a same-sex marriage to be performed.

A notable feature about this whole set of objections is that they're using the 'won't somebody think of the children' gambit. Are they saying that they wouldn't object to gay marriage if the couple promised never to have children? Because if it's solely children they're concerned about, they should be focusing on preventing gay adoption and IVF for gay couples; it's not as if gay couples magically become able to procreate together just because they've got a certificate. Plenty of gay couples don't intend to have children; they just want rights to bequeath each other property and see each others' medical records. Those gay couples who do want children are every bit as capable of having them if they're unmarried.

Children are really a side-issue in this whole debate. Whatever Focus on the Family may be telling their own kids, children don't arrive in families because God drops them down the chimney nine months after your marriage day. They're a separate issue, particularly with couples who face no chance of an accidental pregnancy. All of this child-related stuff is simply a smokescreen, and frankly, I'd have more respect for Focus on the Family if they'd just come out and say they don't like gay marriage because they think society ought to condemn gay people. They'd be wrong, but at least they'd be more honest than they're being right now.

12:44 PM
Your post eloquently states thoughts that I have been unable to articulate. I say bravo to California for taking such a necessary step. Opening up basic rights is good for all people. I'm in Canada and I'm proud to say we also allow gay marriage here.

Besides, those gays have had it easy for too long – now they'll get to endure the constant questions of "when are you getting married?" just like the rest of us! Ahh, sweet revenge! ;)
Yay for Canada, too. We only have civil unions here, which is not so good - better than nothing, perhaps, but also something anti-gay-marriage activists can point to and say 'what are they complaining about?' Marriage laws would be much better. If it scares the homophobes, they'll get over it; they got over the legalisation of actual gay sex, after all. Or at least, they've realised they lost the fight, which is all to the good.
I glanced at some newspaper article where Focus on the Family described themselves as "pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family."

And my first thought was that you can be all those things and be firmly against their agenda simply because you have different definitions of the words "life", "marriage" and "family".
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