Morality and Marriage Equality

A colleague just posted this on Facebook, from HuffPost.  Jessica Gerson writes:

The reason I call you a bigot, and the reason that we cannot politely agree to disagree, is that you are trying to make me, my life and my family subject to your opinion and/or religious belief….

If marriage equality becomes the law of the land, you still get to go home to your wife/husband and children, just the same way you could the previous day. Your life will not be negatively affected in any way. But if the reverse happens, I don’t get to go home to a legally protected family. The outcome of this battle affects me in a personal, immediate and lasting way. You have no real skin in this game. Marriage equality will not harm you. Marriage inequality does harm me. You fight against something that has no direct effect on your life and has considerable effect upon mine.

This is good.  But it also misses the crux of the religious right’s anti-homosexuality argument.

The argument, of course, is that some behavior is morally wrong.  I have read and heard folks who say that it is painful to see the country (state, municipality, neighborhood, neighbor, loved one) whom they deeply love and care for headed in a morally wrong direction.  And it makes sense that 1) if you believe that Evil is active in the world and trying to ensnare whomever it can, for its own nefarious reasons, and 2) you read certain behaviors as indicating that a person (neighborhood, municipality, state, country) has lost their moral bearings and that their soul (literal or metaphorical) is in danger of being ensnared, then 3) you certainly can’t allow those behaviors to have the imprimatur of legality.

But that’s a religious argument, and we don’t all share that belief.  I don’t believe that Evil is personified and out to get us.  Real, yes.  But evil and good are moral judgment calls that we humans have to make as well as we can.  We can look for guidance from many places, including our traditions and scriptures; but in case fundamentalists haven’t noticed, our religious traditions and scriptures strongly disagree on many points.  Including what constitutes immoral behavior.

I think most of us would agree that there’s some behavior that should be outlawed.  (I said “most.”  Don’t bring me Ayn Rand arguments; even that small minority is allowed for in my phrasing.)  But the reasons we can agree that, say, murder and theft should be outlawed is that they are things that most of us would find harmful to ourselves if they were done to us.

Side note:  One of the reasons that it’s so hard to legislate around mind-altering substances is that the initial harm is done to the person doing the action.  Think cigarettes and marijuana.  It gets easier to legislate when others are hurt (drunk driving).  We have pretty well agreed that under certain circumstances, people aren’t ready to give their consent to be involved in behavior that they may later understand as harmful to themselves (child prostitution).

None of that applies to gay relationships or families.  The only harm that is done is when it is illegal or considered shameful, and therefore driven into hiding.  Our existence harms no one, other than perhaps their sensibilities.  Protecting our families protects the next generation, just as it does with straight families.

If you want to say, “Well, if families can come in any size or shape, what’s to prevent polygamy?”

Two answers.  1: Nothing.  I don’t approve , and couldn’t possibly officiate at a polygamous wedding — but it’s going on right now without my approval, and it’s not harming me or my family.

2: Polygamy — the practice of one man taking many wives and having as many children as humanly possible with them — can result in horrendous living conditions for some of the women and children involved.  From what I have read, there’s a real likelihood of such a community being “essence of patriarchy” where Papa and Eldest Son(s) make the decisions for everybody, and there does seem to be a correlation between polygamy, child marriage, rape, and so on.  If so, then people involved in it are experiencing harm, and for children their involvement is without their consent; there’s reason to prevent it.

I know of no large-scale polyandry in this country; as I said above, I may not approve of a relationship between one woman and two men, and I certainly couldn’t officiate at a polyandrous wedding — but it’s going on right now without my approval, and it’s not harming me or my family.

Ditto bestiality or any of the other nonsense that folks drag up to say, “If we permit this, where will it end?!”  It’s already going on.  I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s healthy, and I won’t be a part of it — but for goodness sakes, I don’t have time to regulate your life, if it’s not affecting others negatively.  I can barely keep up with my own.  If there starts to be an agitation for the right to marry one’s cat, then we’ll have to figure out whether that relationship means anything when you hold it up next to a marriage license.  And it’ll be pretty easy to say “No.”  The cat cannot be my health care proxy.  The cat cannot jointly own property with me.  The cat is not a human being and, Douglas Adams to the contrary, we do reserve certain privileges for ourselves as being a particular kind of sentient species.

So Jessica Gerson’s blog post is good, and well-written, and I agree with her wholeheartedly.  But it won’t change minds because it’s not making the relevant argument.  The relevant argument is,

“I’m sorry, you don’t actually know precisely what God wants.  I know you think you do.  I know you’ve been told that you do, and you’ve been told that the people doing the telling also know precisely what God wants, maybe even better than you do.

“Well, I’m here to tell you that you do NOT know precisely what God wants.  It’s arrogant to say that you do, and even moreso to say that I do not.  I have my own ideas of what God wants, and it starts with ‘Love one another.  Be patient.  Be kind.’ (Recognize the paraphrase of I Corinthians 13?  Not even my scripture, but I agree with it in this context.)

“Here, let me quote it in its entirety:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

“You don’t have to agree that what I’m doing is in accordance with what God wants, as I believe it is.  You don’t have to agree that God rejoices in my marriage, my love, and my family, as much as in yours, as I do believe.  But since my beliefs are founded just as fundamentally as yours on my understanding of all that is true, right, and holy, you have no argument that will justify your imposing sanctions on my life because of your belief that how I live is inherently evil.

“No one is harmed by my life.  No one will be harmed by my marriage this weekend.  No one will be harmed if the Supreme Court, please God, decides that my spouse and I can file a joint tax return.”

That is the crux of the argument:  Is who I am and how I live inherently evil?  We cannot agree on that, therefore we cannot legislate on that basis.  Therefore we have to find a different way to decide whether it should be outlawed or not.  Since it harms no one — even the American Academy of Pediatrics finally agrees on that one — then there’s no basis on which to outlaw it.

And since denying me and my partner a marriage license harms us and our children, there’s an affirmative need to redress that inequality.

Our marriage ceremony this weekend will be our second.  Our first was 12 and a half years ago, in Vermont; we couldn’t celebrate with our community, unless they had rented a bus, which we highly discouraged!  So it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to celebrate with them.

But the main reason for this marriage ceremony is to correct an oversight on the part of New York State:  The fact that there was at that time no marriage license available for us.   It was THRILLING to go to our Town Clerk last week and pay the $40, sign the paperwork, and be wished “Congratulations” by the Town officials we’ve come to know for other legal and local matters.

God willing, we won’t need most of the rights afforded married couples, since most seem to be “in case of disaster.”  But next year, we will only have to file ONE set of New York taxes, and who knows?  Maybe we will even be able to file a joint 1040.