Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Definition of Marriage

I have been thinking long and hard about Obama's selection of Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. It's hard not to take it as a slap in the face to the LGBT community, and those who've fought for their equal rights in general. But it's also hard not to see it as a purely political maneuver. Warren is, after all, one of the more palatable of the evangelical super-pastors, what with his heavier focus on poverty and environmental issues. And Obama is, after all, a politician hoping to draw in a larger coalition of supporters. If you're going to appeal to the conservative, evangelical base without completely alienating your more liberal supporters, Warren may seem like the smart choice.

I can see all of that, and I'll be the first to point it out when people start raving about how ridiculous they think Warrengate is - and yet, I also agree with them.

We're talking about the fundamental rights and equality of our fellow citizens here. It is not something that should be left to the whims of political tactics or fickle majorities. At the same time, though, we don't want to completely ostracize those who disagree with our beliefs. We want them to come over to our side. It is difficult, however, to balance a no-bull approach to attaining equal rights with the patient, educational, compassionate approach needed to bring more people into the fold.

After all, it is quite difficult to understand how and why some folks continue to wish to deny basic rights to their fellow man.

Warren is an interesting case, and somewhat illustrative of the larger anti-gay marriage movement these days. He has stated, on record, that he thinks of gay marriage as being synonymous with pedophilia and bestiality, which is about as ridiculous and insulting as it gets.*

Worse, in responding to an interview with Beliefnet wherein he equated gay relationships with pedophilia and bestiality, he went semantic and claimed that:
...he didn't mean to say that gay relationships are like incest and pedophilia, just that gay marriage is. "I was not saying those relationships are the same thing", he says, adding that "I'm opposed to any redefinition of the definition of marriage."
And there's the buzz phrase: "redefinition of marriage." What folks who keep trotting this defense out fail to grasp, no matter how many times it's pointed out to them, is that marriage has been redefined hundreds of times throughout history and across cultures. Marriage today is not even the same thing that it was 50-100 years ago, when women were still predominantly expected to take their husband's name, get handed off by their fathers, have few rights over their children in the case of divorce (if even allowed to divorce in the first place), etc. Heck, a woman wasn't even allowed to say "no" to sex with her husband and have it be considered rape if he forced her into it anyway.

Things change. And they should change. I, for one, have no desire to live in a society where women are treated as property, with no say in how a marriage progresses, no control over her own body, and even no control over just how many wives her husband might decide to take. That's traditional marriage, so you'll excuse me if I have to laugh when people still make that argument.

Unless that's what they secretly want back. In which case, we have even less common ground than I thought, and this is a much larger problem.

Ultimately, I believe that religious marriage should be left entirely up to the individuals and churches involved. You can marry (or not) whoever you like, but it's not going to be recognized on a federal or state level. For all of the actual rights and regulations, we should really stick to a federal civil unions type agreement for all couples, gay and straight. Keep church and state separate, you know?

Thing is, I suspect at least some of the people crowing about "traditional marriage" wouldn't like that solution, either, because deep down, they're just plum uncomfortable with gay folks in general. That's why their surface arguments don't make any sense. They're not being honest, and instead grasping at slightly less inflammatory straws. Frankly, I wish they'd just come out and say what they mean, because at least that way, we'd be able to more effectively deal with the real issues: homophobia and fear.

I'm not happy that Obama chose Warren to give the invocation, and I suspect there were better choices out there, but it's not a deal-breaker, either. I have to hope that, in addition to the political maneuvering involved, Obama did this as a way to extend compassion even to those who disagree with us--which is an important part of the march toward true equality. We must remember, though, that while we shouldn't hate or cause violence toward those with different viewpoints, we should also refuse to compromise on that equality. We can maintain a sense of civility and a loud, strong, proud voice for change, all at the same time. It may not be easy, but it is possible--and, I would argue, necessary.

*Equating things like pedophilia, bestiality, and polygamy with same-sex marriage is not only insulting, but also extremely fallacious. The former arrangements cannot be consensual, being that they involve minors or animals (who we define as being unable to give consent) - or in the case of polygamy, are unequal and sexist situations wherein a man basically owns several women. Same-sex marriage, on the other hand, is a consensual agreement between two adults who are not immediately related (by blood) to one another. So you can argue until you're blue in the face about how "unnatural" you think it is, but you cannot argue that gay marriage is anything at all like pedophilia, etc.


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Cam said...

Shortly after the election I had thought about going out to the inauguration, but decided I didn't have the time or money, now I'll not even be watching the inauguration.

MaryRW said...

Great post. Thank you for articulating many of my thoughts on this.

"Unless that's what they secretly want back. In which case, we have even less common ground than I thought, and this is a much larger problem."

I suspect that you're hitting the nail right on the head here and that many of the people harping about not wanting to redefine marriage are equally invested in maintaining patriarchy in all its myriad hegemonies.

M Big Mistake said...

Did you see that Warren went on a shopping spree in a west Hollywood thift store and took promo pics with an HIV positive man? He insisted that it wasn't a publicity stunt. So weird.

apc said...

I'm at my parents' house in Amarillo for Christmas, and had a discussion with my mother this morning about gay marriage.

First off, my parents are religious, evangelical Baptists; not Dobson-Falwell crazy, but very religious nonetheless. My mom was deeply shaken several years back when one of her dearest friends, the organist at their church (she was head of children's choirs) came out. It was the first time anyone she was close to had come out, and I think the first time she realized that gay people weren't some undefined, scary, "other." It opened her eyes in a lot of ways, I think.

Now, she had never been a "God hates gays" type--far from it, in fact, but I'm not sure she saw them as completely "creatures of God" either, if that makes sense. When Rick, another devout Christian, came out, it brought that home to her.

Anyway, we were talking about gay marriage this morning, and I gently chided her a little about the use of the term lifestyle. I told her it's no more a lifestyle than a "straight lifestyle," telling her I never decided to be straight, I just was, and that it was no different for gay people.

I don't think she'll ever change her mind about gay marriage; her religious beliefs are too ingrained, and she is, after all, 75 years old. But I think she's like a lot of people that have been raised in that tradition--given more time, they can be moved by their innate sense of fairness and decency. For example, I can think of few people who were more shocked and angry about Matthew Sheppard than my mom. It's just that thing about marriage. I can't begin to explain it, but it's there.

Nataraj Hauser said...

Great post, Emily. Today I received (yet) another email from David Plouffe asking for money for the Obama, er, campaign. I immediately wrote back and said,

"I will donate if you dump Rick Warren. He is a vile man."

Yes I understand that he is less vile than Dobson, Robertson, etc., but the lesser of two villains can still be a villain. (Think classic western fare: The villain brings the railroad in and saves the town, predicated by stealing the widows land.)

Obama wants to have Warren at the table? Fine with me. Build bridges! But to give him a place of honor? *ptooie!*

The Lost Albatross