Friday, July 7, 2006

Boulder in the Road

A big defeat today in the fight for recognition in America of same-sex marriages. The New York Court of Appeals ruled 4 to 2 that the New York State Legislature had a “rational, nondiscriminatory basis” for limiting marriage to a man and a woman. That reason is that marriages are for the benefit of children.

Nobody is trying to take the marriage benefit from children, for the love of God! People who want to marry in order to have children should be encouraged to do so, as they are now. But pretending marriage has no meaning without children is the height of absurdity in America today. Almost half of the households in America are made up of people who are not married -- 51.52%, to be precise, in 2000, a drop from 55.22% ten years earlier. Of the one and a half million married couples, 24% have children and 27% do not!

Do we prohibit marriage for men and women over 50? Prevent convicted child molesters from marrying? Remove kids from single parents? Do we prohibit divorce?

And if this gap in logic of those pushing to keep gays out of the institution doesn't push you over into the absurd, consider the number of gay people who have or want to have children! These folk with their fingers on a line of scripture and their heads in the sand couldn't reveal a better example if they tried of a legislature out of touch with the people they govern.

OK. Still not had enough absurdity? How about this? Consider the reasoning of the New York Court. It’s OK to discriminate (because “it’s not discrimination”) against gays because they don’t need marriage to bring up children in.

Were these guys in the same room with the gay couples with children making the appeal?

From a certain distance, of course, things are proceeding as expected in a democracy. Courts in one region of the country (New York) are saying it ought to be up to the Legislature while courts in another region (California) challenge a legislative move to ban same-sex marriage, and the issue works its way like a muddy river to the sea. Seen from afar, this is the way we are supposed to work out our democratic rights and responsibilities.

You don’t have to be smart, or kind, to have a say in a democracy. You don’t have to read the papers or know your neighbors. You don’t have to do a damn thing before voting except put one foot in front of the other and learn how to poke holes with a sharp object. Because we know no way to get around our inability to separate the smart voter from the dumb one, we give them all the same voice and approach democracy with faith.

Unfortunately, there is no protection against ourselves. Despite what the New York court says about this, the parallels to racism, anti-semitism and sexism are plain as day. Dear Abby this morning has a letter from a girl asking what to do about her grandmother who is insulted because she is marrying a black man. She comes from a different generation, Abby answers. Get on with your life and ignore her.

If you have this kind of historical perspective and take “racism is not eliminated overnight but requires patience” as an answer, you can apply this to homophobia too. But don’t forget it’s easier for white people to urge patience with racism than for black people, because they aren’t doing the hard part of the waiting. And it’s a lot easier if you’re not gay, I should imagine, to think all this homophobia will come out in the wash eventually. Which it will.

But damn, it’s tough being patient about this. Tough to watch ignorant people – and make no mistake – homophobia is an ignorant response to fear of difference and poll after poll, research study after research study shows anti-gay feelings diminish and even disappear as familiarity with gay people increases. Just as they do when whites get to know blacks in numbers and observe that parallels in intelligence and kindness (and parallels in the lack thereof) exposes racism as a tragically ugly foolishness.

Anti-gay folk think there’s something wrong with gay people, some reason why their lives and loves should be a question of tolerance, not support, and in this religion-sodden democracy of ours, these people still call the shots much of the time.

When you can’t have support you plead for tolerance. Tolerance is the port in the storm for the underdog. Tolerance sucks. It’s easier, if you’re not emotionally involved, to make the observation that this is a decision working its way through the democratic process. From within the gay community, though, you tend to get one long agonizing question, “Why don’t they get it???”

But there you have it. You don’t have to be informed to have a view of how the world should be run. It’s because people can so easily vote their own interests at a cost to others that we have a republican government and not rule by the majority. We assume our institutions can protect us from our baser instincts.

When those institutions fail, as the New York Court of Appeals did today, you realize you’ve got to pace yourself for the longer distance run. There will be boulders in the road for some time yet.

But we'll get there.

July 7, 2006

statistics cited from:

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