I write with certain trepidation, not wishing to offend or set off any new divisive debate. To be quite clear, I 100% support the right of all Americans to civil unions and to protection from any discrimination based on their private lives. And few things would make me happier than to see this country move beyond discrimination of all kinds against the LGBT community.
My arguments are with the assumptions being drawn from the passage of Prop 8. I also see problems as an organizer with the fight to date for GLBT rights, both in the methods and message.
As someone not directly effected by the loss and half a continent away from the Prop 8 campaign, I toss out observations perhaps of limited value. More than anything, I hope to start a productive discussion and accept I may well be shown to be dead wrong.
1. Marriage versus civil union
In my mind, the state has no business “marrying” anyone and should ONLY be conducting civil unions that conjoin adults in CIVIL matters — rights of inheritance, co-mingling of assets and liabilities, legal custody of any offspring and the legal rights of “next of kin”.
“Marriage” should be left to churches and other non-governmental entities. Those seeking a marriage ceremony could acquire a civil union from the state (if they chose or required by their denomination) and their marriage from their church or another entity willing to perform it for them. Churches should be free to marry or not marry whomever they choose based on whatever criteria they determine.
Civil unions should be open to any two people, regardless of their gender, orientation or the very nature of their relationship. (one to a customer of course)
Why should I be denied a civil union with the “life partner” of my choice? Why must I engage in the pretense of an intimate relationship with someone in order to enjoy the benefits and security of a civil partnership with them? Is it any less tragic that I cannot chose as a legal life partner my dearest friend regardless of gender? Why is the state EVER in my bedroom? Why even have an intimate relationship implied in order to legally “partner” with anyone?
The LGBT rights movement would be better served in seeking legal clarity in what a state can and cannot sanction, attacking first the basic notion that the state should be “marrying” couples in the first place. Such an approach would meet the needs not only of the LGBT community, but find an ally in anyone seeking a non-sexual “partnership” inclusive of the rights and responsibilities currently reserved only for “married” heterosexual sexually intimate couples.
2. Leave “marriage” out of it
Please. The word, the practice, the ceremony is too loaded for most people to unpack or redefine overnight or in a half century. The legal fight should be for civil unions and all the legal rights reserved now for married couples — not over redefinition of a term and institution older than Moses. Seriously. Good luck with that.
There are any number of denominations and officials willing to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples. As such, gay couples are not being denied “marriage” they are being denied legal recognition of their partnership.
The movement to “redefine marriage,” however laudable and fair, is an attempt at social re-engineering against millennia of belief and tradition. And the LGBT community has been baited by the religious right into an argument they can’t possibly win any time soon. The true homophobes use the “gay marriage” debate to depict LGBT activism as threatening to core values and a sacred institution. Why go there?
Attachment to the notion of “traditional marriage” runs far deeper than any ideology or higher thought that could be brought to bear against it, even when wielded by Keith Olbermann. Challenging the traditional definition of marriage unlocks a Pandora’s Box of concerns and questions, many far removed from questions of sexual orientation. As such, resistance to such a “redefinition” will consistently bog down the fight for GLBT rights rather than effectively expand acceptance, fairness and understanding.
3. It’s not all about homophobia and hatred
As long as the argument remains centered on marriage rather than civil unions the waters are too muddy to discern clearly why people voted the way they did. I would argue that one could be all for “gay rights” and yet still uneasy about legally redefining marriage.
The current tidal wave of disparagement of all who voted for Prop 8 is reactionary, counter-productive and as small-minded as the worst of those it attacks. It does not leave room for those who felt painfully torn in the voting booth between their sense of fairness and their lifelong religious doctrines; it does not allow for those misinformed or threatened into their vote; it feigns ignorance of the potential misunderstandings, confusion, fears, traditions and attachments of otherwise good-hearted people stirred by a “redefinition” of their sacrament and their identity. I grieve, as I am sure do many others, for the intolerance recently shown for those who hold tightly to their long-standing institutions and fiercely resist ANY challenge to that they hold most sacred and most dear.
Carp all you want about divorce rates and sham marriages, for many decent tolerant folks the institution itself still defines them and much of what they know. Without an understanding of why people cling to their beliefs and their conventions, there is little hope of moving beyond them or finding a fair way to recognize both sides.
4. The LGBT community is not using sound organizing principles
The bedrock of sound organizing is in finding common ground and reaching out to one’s “enemies” through understanding not demonizing. Note how Obama was careful in attacking George Bush while leaving room to make peace with Republicans and the right.
Preaching to the choir has its place, but it doesn’t expand the desires of a minority into the practice of the majority. Without understanding and reaching across the divide any movement remains embroiled in conflict at the expense of movement towards fair resolution.
Rather than railing against religion as the root of all injustice, the LGBT community would be better served by seeking common ground where they can. And in this current cosmic game of bigoted hot potato, the LGBT community’s attacks upon all religion are as narrow and blind as the prejudice they fight against.
This is the most controversial observation I have to put out there. Again and again I’ve heard the call for the LGBT community to march and “have fun” with the moment, as if somehow “acting out” and shocking the pearls off the common folk is more affirming than actually gaining more widespread understanding or acceptance.
There is certainly enough guilt here for a media that focuses in one the sensational, but perhaps the time has come to stop feeding them (and the right wing hate mongers) some 250 pound hairy guy in a wedding dress and that many more images of gay stereotypes in Mardi Gras wear. Perhaps the time has come for the gay community to take itself more seriously, to stand together in demonstrations of determined power and stirring courage, absent the side show flare. Is the fight for acceptance and equal rights really best centered on the sensational and flaunting the differences? Or would the movement not be better served by focus on how gay men and women are really just like everyone else, except in what is really none of our business.
In my most humble outsider’s opinion, now is not the time to “have fun” with as serious a concept as one’s basic human rights. Nor is it the time to point fingers, make ugly assumptions or go to war with organized religion. It is time to well organize a movement focused on winning, not shocking, shaming or further alienating the opposition.