Friday, June 28, 2013

Where I Stand: Marriage Equality

As I'm sure everyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 2 of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) this week.  Section 2 prevented same-sex couples whose marriages are legally recognized by the state in which they live from receiving the same federal protections and benefits as heterosexual married couples.  Unfortunately, Section 3--the section that allows state governments to make same-sex marriage illegal AND to not legally recognize such marriages performed in states that have legalized same-sex marriage--still stands.

Unfortunately? you may ask.  Yes, unfortunately.  I am completely, whole-heartedly, and enthusiastically in favor of gay marriage, or as I feel is the more accurate term, marriage equality.  After discussing this topic extensively with friends and family, I've compiled a list of the more common objections I have heard, along with my responses to those objections.  I'll start with what I deem the most common objections, give my response, and move on from there.

OBJECTION 1:  The Bible declares homosexuality to be a sin and immoral; therefore, homosexuals shouldn't be legally allowed to marry.

MY RESPONSE
Yes, Leviticus 20:13 condemns homosexuality.  That said, the Bible condemns a lot of things regarding marriage and sexual behavior that are legal and accepted today. To flesh out one example, Jesus condemns divorce--"that which God has joined together let noone put asunder" (MARK 10:8) and goes on to say that remarriage is the equivalent of adultery (MARK 10:11-12). The Old Testament condemns adultery and the punishment is death (LEVITICUS 20:10). Heck, even if you leave the New Testament definitions that Jesus himself gave out of it, regular old adultery is still punishable by death. So, going by Biblical definitions and principles, anyone who has had/participated in an affair, or who has divorced and remarried, should be executed.  However, in our society, adultery, divorce and remarriage are perfectly legal. Why? Because our legal system was not created to be a religious legal system. It's purpose is to maintain the functionality of our society, create equality between all of our citizens and protect our rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." You have every right to disagree with the lifestyles and choices of others based on your religious morality, and to live according to your religious beliefs; however, no one has the right to force others to live by their personal religious code. That's the problem I see with the current moral arguments against legalizing homosexual marriage--the arguments against it are ALL based on the religious belief that being gay is wrong. Laws should not uphold the religious beliefs of one group at the expense of the rights of another.

Another point that bothers me about this objection is that it is primarily Christians bringing up Leviticus to condemn homosexuality.  As far as the Bible goes, the verses that specifically condemn homosexuality are found in the Old Testament as part of the Levitical Law under the covenant between God and the people of Israel.  As I've mentioned, this same law condemned many practices that are legal today--divorce, adultery, men cutting their hair, eating pork, etc.  The problem with employing Old Testament law as a Christian is that the old covenant was theologically done away with by the establishment of the New Covenant, which was salvation through grace rather than adherence to the law.  Furthermore, the only commandments given by Jesus in the New Testament are to 1) Love your God with all your heart and soul, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.  If someone claims to be a Christian, then there is a fundamental theological and logical flaw in trying to deny their fellow man/woman the same rights that he or she expects to receive themselves.  

OBJECTION 2:  Across religions and cultures, the historical definition of marriage has always been between a man and a woman, and we should keep it that way.

MY RESPONSE:
Ummm....no.  Lol.  Our current definition of marriage is, historically and anthropologically, extremely new.  The definition in the U.S. is one man, one woman who both consent to enter into the union willingly.  It hasn't even been 200 years since polygamy was outlawed in the United States.  Also, it wasn't that long ago that a father could marry his daughter off to whomever he pleased...and this still goes on in other cultures, India for example. And the fact that polygamy is outlawed really only applies to western cultures! In many muslim countries, polygamy still legally exists today. Buddhism, Islam and Judaism are some current religions that allow polygamy. The only reason Judaism no long practices is because of the Western cultures in which most adherents live. Heck, even in Hong Kong...which is about as "western" as China gets...didn't ban polygamy until the 1970s. The general polygamy ban in most countries had nothing to do with religious or ethical definitions, and everything to do with 1) sucking up to western powers and, most importantly, 2) allowing the governments to not have to financially support families with multiple wives and the resulting kiddos.  The definition of marriage changes with the era and situation in society, and always has.

OBJECTION 3:  Homosexuality is either a 1) a choice or 2) a choice that is similar to profession--genetic tendencies brought out by environmental factors (i.e., upbringing), and because it's a choice, it shouldn't get legal recognition or protection.

MY RESPONSE:
  In response to the claim that homosexuality is a choice, I offer this:  if individuals choose to be homosexual, then being heterosexual must also be a choice.  In other words, Bob made the choice to be sexually attracted to his wife Sally, as opposed to his friend Bill.  If this is true, and Bob receives legal protection and rights for choosing to be attracted to Sally, why shouldn't those same protections and rights be applied had he chosen Bill?  This smacks of legal favoritism, not legal equality.

Furthermore, the vast majority of the latest research and studies show that homosexuality (and sexuality in general) is indeed genetically influenced.  That said, the genetic argument is a dangerous one to employ, mostly because we know so very, very little about genetic predisposition and it's interaction with nurture. For example, I was genetically predisposed to RA. We have no idea why it manifested in me, only that it did.  So, should my employer or insurance carrier be able to deny me benefits because something in my environment that was beyond my control triggered my genetic predisposition? That's basically what the second argument states--that something happened in the lives of homosexuals that they had no control over, and because this something triggered their genetic predisposition, we should deny them the same rights and privileges under the law as a heterosexual person, who, by the way, had just as little control over their orientation.  Again, this is playing legal favoritism, not pursing legal equality. 
 (Disclaimer: I'm not equating homosexuality to a disease, merely extending the genetic predisposition-trigger argument).

On a side note, the comparison between having genetic predisposition to a talent and then choosing a career based on that talent, and the genetic predisposition towards sexuality is categorically flawed.  Having a predisposition to a talent does not, in fact, mean you'll be at all good at it. That relies on nurturing that talent. For example, my mom is great at math and I suck lol. Am I genetically predisposed? Absolutely. But I didn't nurture the talent. And no one knows where my language abilities came from, but because I nurtured that talent, I pick up languages fairly easily with time and studying. Speaking of time and studying, to enter a profession, you have to be systematically educated and develop specific skills over a period of years to become an engineer. Or a musician. Or a teacher. All things left equal, you would not enter any profession at all, but sexual desire and attraction is not a voluntary response that is the product of years of study and education--it is an complex, mostly unconscious response when the change of puberty starts.

OBJECTION 4:  We already have legal definitions for marriage and changing them for "special interest" groups is a slippery slope.  We have to draw a line somewhere--if we legalize gay marriage, what's next?  Animals? Machines?

MY RESPONSE: 
We've already changed the definition of marriage to include groups that were previously excluded, specifically interracial couples. And while there are some civic protections that come along with marriage, the majority of the legality surrounding marriage actually deals with legal benefits and advantages that the government allows married people. Also, we've already changed laws to apply to special interest groups--like disabled individuals--and adapted laws for others--the opt out of the birth control mandate for religious organizations--so why is this different? Not to mention all of the legal changes made in favor of civil rights!  If we didn't allow the law to change when we find it lacking, we would stagnate and rot as a society, and I would still be unable to vote, drive, or get a college education.

The second part of this objection always makes me chuckle in disbelief. "If we allow the gays to marry what next? People marrying their pets?"  I guess people are just oblivious to the fact that they are comparing an consensual relationship between two committed, rational human beings to a man/woman screwing a non-rational critter, right? Marrying animals and inanimate objects is illegal for the same reason as child brides in this country. There has to be a level of rational and informed consent when entering into the legal state of marriage. Animals and toasters are neither rational nor capable of being informed, nor capable of giving consent, so this argument is just a silly attempt at fear-mongering.

OBJECTION 5:  Legalizing same-sex marriage opens us up to all sorts of fraud, and will bankrupt the country.

MY RESPONSE:
The risk for fraud already exists in our current system. This objection assumes that a male and female who are friends/coworkers/etc. wouldn't get married just for the benefits. Or, heck, that there aren't homosexual men marrying homosexual women strictly for the legal benefits now. Any governmental institution is going to be at risk for fraud. Allowing homosexual marriage allows for an honest union between two committed adults of the same sex, and allows them access to the legal protections and benefits that such a committed union deserves. And I don't for a minute buy that homosexuals receiving marriage benefits would bankrupt the country--they pay into pensions, healthcare, social security, medicare, insurance, and everything else just like heterosexuals do. At this point, they are paying in but then being denied access to the very institutions their money funds. It's one thing for people who choose to remain single to not reap the legal benefits of marriage; it's another thing entirely to deny people who want to get married the benefits that their money supports that come along with marriage.

So, that's pretty much where I stand on marriage equality and a good bit of why.  The rest of the why involves my friends from high school and college who are homosexual.  They want the same thing I wanted from a relationship--to find the person they want to spend the rest of their life with, get married, and possibly start a family.  Because I am heterosexual, I was able to fulfill that desire and marry the love of my life with whom I am raising a wonderful little girl.  My friends deserve no less than the legal opportunity to do the same.  I have high hopes that the day is quickly approaching that we recognize that we cannot continue to claim to be a country based on principles of justice and equality while denying legal rights to a portion of our population.  It's way past time for equality under the law.

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