Okay, I know you don’t think that’s possible, but trust me. The reason I keep quiet about anything even vaguely related to politics is not because I have no opinions. Most of you have read my books. Do you think I could have passion if I had no opinions? The reason I keep quiet is because I have the sort of opinions that are guaranteed to offend ninety nine percent of people and make at least half of them go unhinged enough to attack my blog. This happens even when I’m NOT trying to saying anything political but merely expressing my opinion on school assignments, or culture, or inherited cultural characteristics, as I’m sure we all remember.
Thank heavens this time what I have to say has absolutely nothing to do with school assignments – or at least if it does my children haven’t told me about it, for which everyone should be grateful.
Ladies and gentlemen, aliens and dragons and those of you who are not quite sure what you are this evening, sit back – I’m afraid I have to address the topic of gay marriage. Yes, I do.
It started with the meme going around live journal where straight people were supposed to copy a phrase saying they didn’t feel threatened by gay marriage. I saw it and thought about it, and thought about writing about it before the election, but then I thought no, I’ll just offend both sides, and perhaps some sides no one knows exists.
You see, I despise the easy sloganeering conveyed by these memes. Like buttons and bumper stickers, they replace thought with sound bites. They are at once too easy and too ineffective. You copy and paste a sentence and you feel like you’ve done your duty, whatever that is. Reality is always far more complex, far more difficult and far more interesting.
And then proposition 8 passed in California. And since then there have been email hints, nudges and clearings of throats to the extent that one should, to be a decent person, say something.
So I’m saying something.
To begin with let me state my position on gay marriage. I’m very sorry if it offends anyone – it will almost certainly offend most of you – but it is my opinion and arrived at after considerable and sometimes painful reasoning and soul searching.
I am for gay marriage. Marriage, not civil union. What I mean by this is that I want the word marriage applied to it, even if it’s not a religious ceremony. Why? Well, we apply it to straight civil unions, even when there is no religion involved and I would like to continue that.
A blog I was reading recently – and I don’t remember which – said that it was stupid to quibble about the word marriage as opposed to civil unions. I don’t agree. People are creatures of words. We live and die by words. Marriage has a meaning civil union doesn’t have – much less domestic partnership which sounds like something that should be part of NAFTA. It has a weight of tradition, a strength of bond. To say someone’s marriage is in trouble is not the same as saying someone’s civil union is in trouble.
Right now I can see half of my readers scratching their heads – don’t quibble. It’s blogger-vision – and saying "But Sarah, gay marriage can’t be traditional, because marriage has always been between a man and a woman."
Well, first, not precisely. Marriage has not always been any such thing. It still isn’t in many places in the world. There it is between one man and multiple women. We’ll return to this later.
However, it’s not my intention to dismiss this point with an historical wave of the hand. In our culture and Western tradition, marriage has indeed been between one man and one woman at a time. It is not a point to be shrugged away as unimportant, since I just gave as my whole reasoning that the word marriage had important connotations.
It is my belief – and I could be completely wrong – that technology has changed enough and changed us enough in the last two hundred years that our marriage dynamic is not traditional anyway. By this I don’t mean just that women are no longer chattel. Oh, yes, that was part of it – for a given class and a given place in time – but not for all classes and all times. What I mean is that marriage used to be more of a business and family arrangement. I’m not going to go into details. I don’t have to. Watch Romeo and Juliet and then think why what they did shocked contemporary audiences. In the culture I came from people still belong to their family far more than here, but not as much as people did throughout history.
We’re now in a time where the individual – the individual’s wishes and the individual’s happiness – counts for a lot more than it did throughout most of history. We also have more leisure and longer lives. This is a change wrought by the industrial revolution and by Enlightenment and on the whole it is a good change. But it has changed us and our institutions at a deeper level than most of us realize.
One of the institutions changed is the institution of marriage. It is now a deal of equals, the joining of two people not merely for procreation but for happiness, for growth, for any number of intangibles that cannot otherwise be fulfilled. It is impossible to view the procreative function of marriage on a purely physical level, else post menopausal or sterile women couldn’t marry and impotent men would be barred from marriage. This did in fact happen at various times in our past, but not any longer.
So we’ve disposed of that quibble with my customary brevity, and now I see another hand go up and someone is asking if it’s not a sin. Possibly. Many if not most religions believe it is, and I don’t make it my job to second guess the Almighty. Then again, I don’t make it my job to do His condemning for Him, either. I know gay people who are decent and by all measures moral. About the same percentage as I know straight people who are decent and moral. I refuse to speculate on the after life destiny of anyone or even – as I think I mentioned before – on whether there is one. I believe what I believe, and I look after my own soul. I’m a lousy missionary, though. And though I realize it’s not holy writ, I try to live by the words of Hamlet: Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.
Ultimately my strongest argument for gay marriage comes from the fact that I’m married, I’m happy, and I’m a mother.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, I believe human happiness is greatly enhanced by lifelong love and partnership. And I want my children and grandchildren to have a right to it, and frankly – because the course of greatest happiness is not always the easiest at the beginning – to feel it is expected of them. I don’t think either of my sons leans that way, but I can’t answer for grandchildren and great grandchildren as yet unborn. And I want them to be married if at all possible. (Dictatorial? Eh. Sure. I'm a mother.)
The reason I insist on marriage is that giving gays a separate but equal "civil union" system, without the traditional weight of marriage opens up a system that will eventually start being used by straight people who don’t feel their union is "serious" enough to merit marriage. This has the potential to truly dilute marriage by creating a "marriage lite" or an easy route that avoids the deeper bonds that are eventually more satisfying and durable.
[Here I’ll go out on a limb and say that due to evolutionary differences, the civilizing influence of tradition and customary bond of marriage is probably more needed for gay males, since women are traditionally the stabilizing influence and the "security-seekers" in a relationship. Absent women in a relationship the civilizing influence of societal expectations is more than ever needed. And those who disagree with the idea males and females are different at an evolutionary level can beat me up behind the bike sheds after school. Don’t care. Still my opinion.]
That, briefly is how and why I am for gay marriage.
This does not mean I am for all the means used to attain the right to gay marriage. And I do not wish to deride or make light of those who are against gay marriage.
The two most serious arguments about gay marriage I’ve ever had were with gay males. These were separate arguments; I don’t think the two ever knew each other. In both cases, though, I was for it and the gay male I was arguing with was against. Both of them were/are (one is very much still with us) among the brightest people it’s been my privilege to debate. One of them was the late Libertarian theorist Peter McWilliams.
Their main reason to be against gay marriage is that there are laws in most states specifying "common law marriage" after a certain number of months of cohabitation and of people perceiving you as married. They thought this would be much easier to muddy for gay couples than for straight couples. Have a houseguest for a few months, find yourself paying alimony for years. Of course, both these men were Libertarians and they also told me in no uncertain terms that they didn’t need the sanction of the government for their unions.
Well, good. I, personally, have issues with authority, so the least government does the best. I do believe that it would be by far best if there were some other mean to register marriages – private filing firms or something.
However, the world is what it is. For good or ill, government has its nose in the business of people’s unions, and there is not a hope of keeping it out. And because government apportions benefits according to your status, we can’t just wish it away. What benefits, you say? What benes could someone like me want from authority? Well, I am very conscious of the fact that I was allowed to come to the States and live here with my husband because we are opposite sexes and could marry. If in some alternate reality we were both male or both female and still in love, our choices would have been much fewer and various shades of unpleasant.
As for common law marriage, I have issues with that too. I know the intention was good, and we all know what good intentions pave. The fact is marriage is a contract, no more no less. It should be entered upon by consenting adults, and you shouldn’t be able to slip into it inadvertently.
However, because – again – the government is what it is and very hard to get to react to exceptions to its sway, this brings me to my next point, which is the use of courts to legislate gay marriage.
I understand those gay people who feel this is the way to go. It seems logical to them that if they just want to be like anyone else, it shouldn’t take a law. A law will highlight their difference. Okay, fine.
However, a law can dispose of various issues that scare people about gay marriage. Real reasons for real fear. One of them is the fear of common law marriage.
The other is the fear of religious people of having their priests or ministers forced to marry gay couples, against the tenets of their own religion. (This is not helped by litigation-happy gay activists going after innocuous wedding photographers, btw.)
A law can spell out that marriage is between two consenting, unrelated adults, and dispose of the fears of incestuous marriage or poliamory (though frankly, having run various writers’ groups through the years and knowing how difficult it is to keep more than two people in any sort of accord, I’d say poliamory is its own punishment and if people want to try it, it’s their problem) or pedophillia or – and yes, I’ve heard this – zoophillia. The law can specify two sound of mind, consenting adults, such as would be capable of entering into a contract and add the extra caveat of not blood relations. End of story.
A law might be able to institute a system like the one in Portugal – and please, those of you who know me, engrave this in stone, because it’s the one time in my life where I’ll say something is better in Portugal – where you have to get a "legal" marriage before the religious one. The legal one is a right, (though I don’t think they have gay marriage, before anyone jumps on me) the religious one isn’t. In fact, the religious one isn’t needed. It is between you and your G-d. The legal is usually done quietly and not celebrated by those people who intend to have a religious ceremony later. (In Dan’s and my case we had our civil ceremony in South Carolina in July, then went to Portugal for the religious wedding in December after I got my green card. It gives us two anniversaries.) At any rate a law could spell out that no religion will be forced to perform unions that offend its tenets or beliefs.
I know at this point my gay friends – or their sympathizers – reading this are groaning and saying that the law will never come because look at all the defense of marriage stuff going on. Well... a properly written law might have a better chance. It might calm a lot of the fears.
However and in any case if it won’t pass today, it will eventually pass. I look at my sons’ generation and being gay is much of a non event among them. Even my generation doesn’t care half as much as people ten years older. Yes, I know for some of us this might mean that our life will be almost over by the time gay marriage is legal. Maybe. On the other hand, that kind of seismic shift in alignment of society should be done properly and that sometimes means going slow.
What I know is that by forcing it and attempting to use the power of government – the courts are government – to impose it half-baked on other people will generate a backlash and make the future when it will be accepted yet more distant.
As will any attempts to scare, intimidate or attack religious people who are afraid to have it forced on their churches. People get very testy when they think they have to fight the invading hordes off their spiritual citadels. And we won’t go into how many shades of stupid it is to attack whole groups on presumption of guilt, either.
Let’s see... I’m at least technically and on odd days and every other month a Catholic. Granted a very suis generis Catholic but nonetheless one who tries to do her best and at least attempts to have faith. Do I sound like a fanatic who needs to be attacked and convinced? Given my issues with being pushed in any direction at all, how do you think I’d feel if my church got attacked? And two of the people I know who are as pro-gay-marriage as I am are practicing Mormon housewives. One of them once stood by my side while we argued with a virtual room full of people, with us defending gay marriage and everyone else against.
A gay friend today told me that gay activists sucked. (I deserve a medal because I refrained from telling him that then at least they were good for something.) He is of course right, grosso modo, for most of them. Let’s not forget that gay activists, like all minority activists, get their power from the group they purport to serve. If you stop being angry outsiders, well... what are they needed for? I’m not saying most of them do this on purpose, and I’m sure many of them are just acting out on their anger at feeling left out. (People in SF/F should know this feeling. We are nothing if not outsiders.) However their tactics are not always the best. Anger and hot impatience is not always best. Striking back when hit is not always the easiest way to get what you want. When our kids were young and acted up we used to ask them "What do you expect to accomplish with this action?" Adults need to remember this too. Yes, yes, you’re angry. You have a right to be angry. Now what do you expect to accomplish by attacking the innocent with the guilty? Is this the way to win friends and influence people?
Which brings me to the real people who hate gays. Not just on the marriage-denying level, but on the true hate level. I don’t know about you guys, but ever since I saw the pictures of those two kids hanged in Iran for being gay, the images have haunted me. I’m sure you’ve seen them – very young, trying not to look scared. http://www.ncr-iran.org/content/view/222/69/ I’m a mother and the mother of boys. I couldn’t sleep for a few nights. Those pictures still make me cry.
And this ultimately is the thing to remember: It doesn’t matter how divided we are or how divided we think we should be. It doesn’t matter if you think sodomy is a sin. It doesn’t matter if you think that this sin will threaten your marriage or society at large -- I don’t think there is anyone (not outside institutions or people who should be medicated) who thinks gay people should be hanged. That’s not us. In fact most of us would die defending our gay compatriots from such a fate. Such hot hatred, such injustice, like the marriage of one man and many women where women ARE chattel is something of other cultures. Not ours. We can agree on that much.
In that spirit, and because there might be some of you who are not offended yet, I say as you continue to fight for gay marriage, if you need a slogan, if you need a button, if you need a bumper sticker, if you need a short-hand for your cause, if you need something we can all rally behind, try this: "Focus on the real enemies! Piss Off A Mullah! Legalize gay marriage!"
Update: My blog friend, Sean over at http://whiteperil.com/, has posted a link to this entry (When you're seen anywhere with your hat off...) and he raises a point I hadn't thought about:"She may be right about that, though one of the problems is that so many of the most voluble proponents of gay marriage are too wrapped up in using it to get approval from all quarters. I'm not so sure they could be trusted to lay off the churches in exchange for marriage performed by a justice of the peace." I hope he's wrong in this. I'm not willing to say he is, mind you, because over the years I've read his blog he's impressed me with his logic, even when I disagree with him. But I'd like to think he's wrong.