Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gay Marriage: The Crux of the Debate

[Note from Lowell: The following is a post from a brand-new blog, True North, where I'll be posting about subjects outside the scope of this blog. This particular post, however, seems like a cross-over to typical Hedgehog subjects.]

The crux of the debate, huh? I know, that's a fairly grandiose title for this post; the gay marriage debate is about many things. For one thing, gays want acceptance, and that basic human desire looms large in the discussion. So does the desire of traditional marriage proponents to uphold the ideal of a family that includes both a father and a mother.


All those important elements aside, I think the crux of the public debate in the coming years will be this question: In the context of marriage, is sexual preference the same as race? In other words, is opposition to gay marriage the same as opposition to interracial marriage?

Understanding the two principal competing answers to that question is crucial to understanding the nature of the national conversation that is under way right now.

Yes: Gay marriage proponents think the answer is clearly and unequivocally yes, and that anyone opposing same-sex marriage occupies the same moral ground as those who opposed interracial marriage decades ago. In this view, reserving marriage for a man and a woman, on the one hand; and civil unions for gay couples, on the other, is no different from the "separate but equal" doctrine that once applied to public education.

As much as I disagree with it, this position is a principled one. I am not attacking it; I am trying to describe it.

No: Traditional marriage supporters like me think the answer to the question is no, because we are talking about the definition of an institution - marriage - as between a man and a woman. Interracial marriages are still between a man and a woman. Such marriages do not test the fundamental definition of the institution. In this view, reserving traditional marriage for male-female unions, and domestic partnerships for same-sex unions is not a "separate but equal" arrangement, it is "different but equal."

The two views can collide in ugly ways, depending on who is making the argument. Those in the "separate but equal" camp too often want to cast their opponents as little better than Ku Klux Klan members, circa 1950. That is not an exaggeration. Consider Sean Penn's comments on receiving the Academy Award as Best Actor for his portrayal of gay activist Harvey Milk:

I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage [Proposition 8] to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support.

In other words, those who voted for Prop 8 will, in time, be seen much like those who opposed civil rights for African- Americans: their grandchildren will be ashamed of them.

That is pretty strong stuff. It also grossly distorts the debate by seeking to marginalize those who take the "no" position on the "separate but equal" question. Suddenly their position is not principled, but simply bigoted and shameful.

What will happen over the next 5-10 years? I think we as a society (through our political-legal system) will eventually decide which view is correct. Make no mistake: That will be the battle, and the entire country the battleground.

This is an emotional and heart-breaking issue. Anyone who knows and cares about any gay people knows this. That's why I really have no patience for the people on either side who can only see their opponents as moral poison. Maybe amid all the usual messy screaming and yelling that occurs when Americans tackle an issue like this, we can actually have a national conversation about what marriage means, and whether we should adhere to the traditional definition or change it.

Then maybe we can start talking about what it might actually mean to make such a change in definition, and whether it is really a good idea. More about that in future posts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need some clarification about the harm that you believe will result from allowing our civil system to recognize same-sex marriages.

When I wake in the morning and go to bed in the evening with my wife, the last thing I am concerned with is whether two men, in love, are living together in marriage. Their relationship has no impact on my life or my ability to guide and instruct my daughter on what it means to be a member of this family, a citizen, and a good person.

I suspect there are other acts or practices condoned under our laws that you may find inappropriate in your own life or that of your children. What is it about same-sex marriage that compels you to interfere, on a Constitutional level, with the relationships of complete strangers?

Friday, May 29, 2009 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Lowell Brown said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. For reasons that are beyond me, you didn't respond to the point in the post and instead demand a broad discussion of the entire issue of gay marriage, and a defense of my position on the issue. Rather than engage in that here, I'll simply invite you to go to the top left of this blog and type "Proposition 8" in the search window. You'll find quite a lot of material there about my views.

Saturday, May 30, 2009 7:41:00 AM  
Blogger RtPt said...

The Crux of the Debate: Either homophobic or not.

The dislike/hatred/fear of homosexuals is cultural and religiously bigotry. Call it "traditional" values if you prefer.

It is pushing religious values on the state. What is so wrong with two homosexuals marrying? It doesn't diminish a traditional marriage in the eyes of the traditional couple, or their God. A religious person doesn't need to like it, they can condemn it and do not have to allow it in their place of worship or in their religion. A religious individual can be happy to know that their God will send the homosexuals, people and the secular state straight to hell that supported their constitutional rights.

The Crux of the Debate is homophobia, the rest is philosophical blather to justify a illogical position.

Monday, June 01, 2009 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Lowell Brown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Monday, June 01, 2009 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Lowell Brown said...

RpTp: Your comment exemplifies what is wrong with this debate, and shows that you did not read the post very carefully. You are saying that anyone who opposes redefining marriage is a homophobe, plain and simple. You've got to do better than offer such simplistic nonsense.

Monday, June 01, 2009 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Abendroth said...

Mr. Brown--

Thank you for taking the time to write on same-sex marriage, from a slightly different--but important--perspective. After California's election, National Public Radio broadcast several interviews from members of California's African American community, who were offended at the "No on 8" campaign's easy linking of race and gender identity. those commentators raised the same argument you describe.

But I still am going to disagree with you.

I do not believe that "debate" you describe will be resolved, especially given the underground (but still present) discomfort many people still feel about inter-racial marriage.

Nevertheless, I believe the question of whether "race" and "gender identity" are "equal" will have little to do with the eventual legal acceptance of same-sex marriage. Universal recognition of same-sex marriage is inevitable, despite the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

My bottom line is threefold. First, I think same-sex marriage bans run afoul of the equal protection guarantees of the fourteenth amendment (given the states public statement of low interest in preserving marriages, following the "no fault" divorce revolution.
Second, even if "gender identity" does not rise to the level of race (a "suspect class"), gender identity will be seen as strong enough of a fundamental right--especially after Lawrence v. Texas. Justice Scalia's parade of horribles in his dissent may yet prove true.
Finally, the growth of "civil unions" providing everything a marriage does--except the title "marriage"--arguably run afoul the establishment clause.

But what do I know? Almost everything I think and say is abusive, vulgar, and obscene.

Bill Abendroth
Samsara Samizdat

Thursday, June 04, 2009 11:54:00 PM  

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