Monday, June 23, 2008

Life, Liberty, and Steve

What's it been now, a week since gay marriages were legalized in California?

So what?

No, really, so what? I mean, as far as I can tell the world hasn't ended. My life hasn't changed. My own heterosexual marriage seems to be intact. I've had no urge to smother my lovely wife with a pillow, move to Castro Street, get myself a bowl of chowder at Fisherman's Wharf and visit the bathhouses. As far as I can tell, there has been no widespread, or even localized, impact on traditional heterosexual marriages at all other than maybe some longer lines to get a marriage license in San Francisco.

So, what's the big deal? I mean, really, what's the issue here? Why the big hoopla?

What is marriage anyway? Ask a hundred people, get a hundred different answers. Let's take a look at the basic definitions, shall we?

The Traditional Church Definition (TCD): a bond between a man and woman in the eyes of God, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Gaia the Earthmother, or L. Ron Hubbard. "What [insert Divine Entity of your choice] has joined together let no man tear asunder." Some kind of priest, minister, rabbi, shaman, warlock, level nine auditor, or other such guy in a funny hat performs the officially sanctified ceremony, you and your officially opposite sexed partner recite the words, light the candles, hop over the broomstick, smash the glasses, drink the purple cool-Aid or other such officially divine ritual and viola! There you have it, till death do you part.

The Traditional State Sponsored Definition (TSSD): the institution whereby individuals are joined in a legal contract, with certain legal protections and benefits. $50USD gets you a license and a blood test (hey, some states still require them). Then you can either revert to the TCD, or get a bored justice of the peace, the captain of a ship at sea, or a Las Vegas Elvis impersonator to perform the ceremony. And again, there you have it, you're married and waiting to die.

The Traditional Non-Conformist Definition (Also known as the Common Law Marriage): You live together for a long enough time, and argue in public enough, that everybody just assumes you're married.

Now, here's the issue, all of these definitions and their various permutations, traditionally are between men and women. It can be demonstrated that the institution of marriage came about because up until very recently sex between men and women almost always resulted in children. And a long-term stable pair-bond was often a more successful strategy for ensuring survival of one's progeny long enough for them to breed and propagate the species. So, for the majority of our history the male/female pair bond was about protecting one's genes. Females couldn't hunt, couldn't gather food, couldn't protect themselves during the later stages of pregnancy. Once the baby was born, the woman was basically a milk machine for a year or longer. If she had a man around, he could supply food and protection, and he was a hell of a lot more likely to stick around if it was his kid he was protecting - and if he did a good job, there was the distinct possibility that the woman would let him father a few more without too much in the way of protest. Of course, intelligence complicates things and over time, and with the development of complex civilization, the basic pair bond evolved into formal marriage with legal protections and obligations and societal norms and religious aspects and lawyers and the state and etcetera and so on and so forth. Most of what we in America consider traditional marriage, i.e. a man, a woman, and a guy in a funny hat, to have and to hold, for better or worse, richer or poorer and etcetera comes from the Catholic Church and the Dark Ages. But it's been a long, long time and a long way getting to where we are now, and so at this point in our history, marriage is what it is because it has always been that way. This is an illusion, of course, but that's how most of us are wired to see the world.

Now, few things have changed our society - and our social norms including traditional sex roles - more than the advent of safe, cheap, and reliable birth control and the increase in survival rates of our children. Since the sixties, traditional marriage has become less and less about children, either making them or protecting them. Some people see this as an affront against God and history and tradition. It's not, no more so than the fact that most of us are no longer farmers, or hunter-gatherers, or die at the ripe of old age of thirty. The world changes, and so does society, and thus our roles within it. Those that are willing and able to use the facilities they have been given, either by nature or by the hand of God, control those changes and find their own destiny. Those that remain mired in the past and cannot accept change, will always fear the future and have their fate thrust upon them.

So, society has changed, and continues to change. And the traditional roles of marriage have changed. Some of us accept it, and welcome it, and control it. And some of us wish that it would just stay the way it was. And, that, my friends, is how it has always been. Change makes most of us uncomfortable, especially when that change affects something so fundamental to our society as sex, marriage, and our own sense of identity.

Now, with all of that said, let's get right down to the heart of the matter, shall we?

Is marriage the right of all the people, whether or not we approve of their choice of partners, or is it a bond only between those who meet the traditional definition? Opposition to same sex marriage falls into a couple of broad categories:

1) Constitutional: Some folks seem to think that if the Founding Fathers had thought about it, they would have defined marriage in the Constitution - and they would have defined it as between a man and a woman. Well, I don't know about that, and it's irrelevant. Woulda shoulda coulda. The Constitution guarantees equal protection and equal rights to all. Period. In the past we've gotten around that by pretending certain people weren't entirely human - but in every case that's turned out to be a mistake and one we're still paying for. It's also immoral, unethical, and dishonorable. There is no Constitutional reason to deny same sex couples the right to marry each other.

2) Religious, i.e. it's against God's will, God hates gays, God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, and blah blah ad nauseam. This is, of course the biggest 'argument' against same sex marriage. Christians define marriage as specified in the Bible, and only as specified in the bible. This raises, at least for me, an interesting question, which is this: If the God's Word regarding marriage is defined in the bible, was there such a thing as marriage before the bible? Now, history, both in the bible and in non-religious texts clearly indicates that there was such a thing as marriage prior to the creation of the bible in or around the 2nd or 3rd century, so again it can be demonstrated that God-approved marriages have existed outside of biblical guidelines for a majority of humanity's existence. Additionally, many folks here in the States at least, don't get married in the Christian church. So, there's a big precedent in and outside of Christianity for non-biblical marriages, just saying. Now I realize that fundamentalists are unlikely to buy that observation and I'm OK with that, I'm not OK with it when they try to force their definition on the rest of us. But the real question I have is this: if marriage is a bond in the eyes of God, and he's really the one doing the joining, wouldn't that mean everybody who is not God should shut up? I mean, seriously, if marriage is a bond in the eyes of God, who the hell are we to say who can and who can't get married? What exactly, do we have to do with it? If God doesn't approve, shouldn't he be the one to deal with the situation? Isn't judgement reserved for God, by God himself according to the infallible Bible? I'm just asking here, because well it seems to me that a number of religious folks are taking God's role for themselves - right up to and including posting giant billboards alongside the highways with quotes attributed to God ("We need to speak. - God." Seen those, have you?). The logic being, of course, that God should have said this, but since he seems to have gotten forgetful in his old age it's OK to speak in his stead and issue directives and such. Hubris and hypocrisy aside, God is a little vague on the whole marriage issue, for example where in the Bible does it discuss His will regarding distribution of property or child custody in the event that man actually does tear the whole sorry mess apart? Who gets the house, the car, the pet dog? Who keeps which friends? Nothing in there regarding a blood test or marriage license. God failed to mention the number of bridesmaids, or where the happy couple should spend their honeymoon. I looked, but I don't see any mention of having to get the approval of your Senator, neighbors or a TV evangelist. So, again, if God doesn't approve, well, why doesn't He do something about it? And while we're on the subject, why would He make Gay people in the first place, if he hates homosexuals and all I mean? Take your time, I'll wait while you bullshit up your next God quote.

Frankly, I don't care if religious people answer the above snark or not, because, see, it doesn't matter. At all. Period. In this country, you don't get to deny other people their rights based on your belief system. You can't make me pray to your God, love Jesus, or deny me the right to believe as I will. The entire religious argument against gay marriage is irrelevant. You can choose not to allow gay people into your private church, but you can't impose your church on gay people. Don't like it? Too fucking bad, you'll get over it.

3) Economic: Ah, at last something with a glimmer of legitimacy. Gay marriage will impose an economic hardship on us as a country. I've seen a number of arguments that make this claim. The first one goes something along the lines of if all the gays get married, it will impose a financial burden on companies and the state because then we'll have to extend traditional married benefits to same-sex spouses. Hmmm. OK, so here's the problem I have with this, what if every gay person gets the Jesus, turns straight (it's a lifestyle choice, folks, pay attention), and finds themselves an opposite sex partner. How many of them can marry before it's too many? What exactly is the maximum number of straight marriages we can allow before total number becomes an economic burden? Does the marriage license bureau have a quota, an upper limit on straight licenses, before they close the window and tell you to come back next month? Do we limit the number of married folks moving between states? Bah, I call bullshit. I'm going to need to see some real numbers and a call to limit the number of straight marriages before I'll even consider this argument.

The second argument goes something like: I've got nothing against gay people, but if we allow them to marry, the Muslims who have the oil won't sell it to us anymore because they hate teh gayness, that makes it a matter of national security. Yes, I've seen this exact argument. And you know what? I'm not even going to discuss it because it's just that fucking stupid.

4) Societal Norms: And here, finally, we come down to the real reasons. Gays make straight people uncomfortable. Hey, I admit to feeling a little squicky when I see two guys holding hands or kissing in public. I do. And you know what? That's my problem, I'll deal with it. I have to say that when I had that conversation with my ten year old son, I explained being gay as just another normal state of being, I admonished him to never judge others based on their orientation, and I hope he grows up without my squick factor (For the record, he just shrugged, and seemed to regard gayness as nothing out of the ordinary, which makes me proud of him, or more proud).

Anyway, the chief arguments here seem to be that gay marriage makes a mockery of traditional marriage. So? So what? Hey, I'm straight and married and I'll tell you what, I'll mock your marriage. I'll mock all the devout guys I knew in the Navy who kissed their wives good by and sailed off to Phuket and the whore houses of Westpac. I'll mock every Republican Senator's marriage who ends up in the sack with his intern, or coat check girl, or high class call girl. I'll mock every Evangelical who bends his secretary over the desk before the sermon on Sunday or gets caught snorting coke off a male prostitute's ass. Hah! I fart in the general direction of your marriage, what are you going to do about it? You're going to annul my marriage are you? Yeah, blow it out your ass.

And finally, well, a lot of people find the thought of gay marriage icky. Tough. Get over it.

Honestly folks, I can find no reason, no legitimate reason, why people shouldn't be allowed to marry who the hell they want to.

I'd like to hear your view points, but I'll be frank with you, if you have an argument against gay marriage that begins with, "Well, God says..." I'm very likely to stop listening right there.


  1. Some examples of straight marriages to mock:

    My cousin's grandmother that's been married 9 times and been divorced/annulled 9 times.
    My ex-boss Kate (whom I adored when I didn't want to scream at her) was married 6 times, and divorced 5. (She managed to die during marriage #6)
    My friend Pat and his ex-wife. They got married at 18 so they could have sex without guilt. Yeah, that didn't last long.

    That's right off the top of my head. I could probably think of more, but I think Jim made the point better.

  2. Damn it!

    Blogger at my comment:


    I own "Same Sex Unions on Premodern Europe" by John Boswell, but haven't gotten around to reading it.

    Anyone wants to borrow it, let me know.

  3. PS

    Jim, I take it you didn't like the hot boys kissing scene in Alexander?

    I thought it was the only scene worth watching in the whole movie.

  4. Acutally, I saw about thirty minutes of Alexander, don't remember that scene. I fell asleep. The movie bored me to tears.

    And as far as homosexual scenes in movies, well, sometimes they do make me uncomfortable. So do heterosexual scenes - not because I'm a prude in either case, but because so often they are simply gratuitous. I've got no issues with sex scenes of either bent per se, if they are important to the story, but it irks me if the director puts it in because he can't think of anything else to do. Hmmm, the story's dragging here, I know let's show some T and A! I understand the scenes in Alexander were there because the director wanted to emphasize Alexander's homosexuality, same as the battle scenes emphasized his military prowess. I'm good with this (without, you know actually seeing the scene in question). Same as with the Baron Harkonen's sexuality in Dune, it was integral to who he was. Leave it out, and it changes the story completely.

    And yes, two guys kissing does make me uncomfortable in a general sense, but again that's my problem, and I'll get over it as I get more used to seeing it in public. Because, really, how does it affect me really? Answer, not at all.

    Frankly, I think the world is a big harsh place, and if you can find happiness with somebody and with yourself, well, that's what matters. Fuck everybody else's opinion.

  5. I'll mock every Republican Senator's marriage who ends up in the sack with his intern, or coat check girl, or high class call girl.

    I read this sentence and immediately thought, but the Democrats seem to end up with the high-priced call girls...

    Thanks for the great post; I'd been waiting with bated breath, you know. I have long felt that I really don't have any interest in defining other people's marriages or deciding who can or can't get married. Goodness knows, I have tons of other stuff to worry and think about.

    As it happens, my brother is gay, and I absolutely ADORE his partner. I'd love it if they got married so I could have a legal brother-in-law. I have done my best to raise my 5 year-old to not think twice about her uncles and their relationship. It helps that she loves my brother more than anyone else (including her parents...).


  6. I am of the "lived together so long, the state has decided we're married" type. I'm happy with that. It means that soon after rejoining the DGA, GF will also qualify for my health benefits.

    We've been together for 15 years...12 under the same roof. I'm sure we'll stand in front of a bunch of people some day and promise to keep doing what we're doing.

    I happen to think that displays of public affection are equally squikky for me in both hetero and homo couples. A little peck on the cheek, some lip contact, even a little tongue...doesn't bother me. When they look like they need a room, I don't care what combination of genders we're talking about...I don't need to see this.

    In movies? I pretty much cover my eyes until the mushy part is over. I let my inner 8-year-old rule.

  7. I let my inner 8-year-old rule.

    Yes! That's it exactly.

  8. God says he's given Pat Buchanan the straight scoop on all of this, and if you don't do as he advises, you hate America.


  9. Jim,

    The hot boys kissing was the *only* interesting scene in Alexander.

    Otherwise, I was bored by it.

    And interestingly Jim, you clarified something I've had an issue with for awhile, both in TV/movies and in books.

    Sometimes a kissing scene is important--a couple finally gets together and it's the Big Kiss. And that can be awesome of there is good chemistry. But more often than not it's just gratuitous boinking.

    And I just totally don't want to watch that.

    I think the only show that has broken that rule for me is "Six Feet Under". It's full of lots of boinking of all kinds. But although it seems gratuitous, there's usually something important going on (besides the boinking).

    (Don't watch it Jim. You'd be very uncomfortable.)

  10. As a Christian and an amateur biblical scholar, I think most arguments made against gay marriages from a Biblical standpoint simply don't stand up under scrutiny. If I ever manage to actually get my blog going, I'll probably have something to say about that.

    But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that I thought gay marriage was a sin against God. I still wouldn't want the government to make it illegal. I believe in freedom of religion. I don't think the government has any business either promoting or hindering any religion, unless it can be demonstrated that something espoused by that religion has serious negative societal consequences (no, you can't sleep with children; yes, you must vaccinate your children; no, you can't blow up people who disagree with your beliefs; etc.)

    For those reading this who think that's an odd position for a Christian to take, let me remind you that governments change. Today they may support your religious view and suppress others, but tomorrow, it may be YOU who's getting suppressed. Freedom of religion benefits ALL of us, allowing us to worship as we please (or not worship as we please) without worrying that the government will stick its pointy little head in and force us to do it their way - perhaps painfully force us.

    And Tania, concerning getting married a lot of times - if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. But don't be ridiculous about it :-).

  11. Michelle, I'm not a fan of Six Feet Under - nothing to do with the boinking, I just don't care for the show. Dead Like Me, now there was a great show. :)

    Vince, very well said. Exceptionally well said. I wish to hell that more Christians understood this, and in exactly those terms.

  12. I keep doing my Lewis Black imitation lately, Son of a Bitch! I read that whole entry and there wasn't a damn thing about me! Sure, put me in the title, and then go off on some other damn thing that most adult countries have been able to put behind them, and nothing about the Steve. Sigh. It's always about the Steve. :)

  13. Steve, I believe I addressed this before.

    "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Anybody named Steve is gay. Gay people hate America and are in league with Satan."

    There is nothing left to say - other than the fact that your comment made me choke on my coffee. Thanks, I needed a laugh this morning. It's cold, wet, raining, and more than a little gray around here today.


  14. I have a new platonic crush on Vince.

    Just sayin'.

  15. Me too, Janiece, me too - in a strictly non-gay, "how about those Red Sox" sort of way. ;)


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