Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Political rant #1 - gay marriage

Ever since the heavy pre-election coverage this year, I've been drawn back into the medium that captures the essence of the hot news and presents it in an entertaining format - political satire, frequently well-represented by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, both on Comedy Central.

Tonight Jon Stewart had Mike Huckabee (former Republican presidential candidate) on, and engaged him in a mini-debate on gay marriage. As usual, the conservative and liberal viewpoints were framed in different perspectives and they had to agree to disagree. The arguments at their most basic seemed to be: (C) - "We must preserve the sanctity of marriage as defined between a man and a woman," and (L) - "Gay people should have the same rights and benefits granted to heterosexuals."

It was quite gratifying to listen to Stewart present a very cogent argument, and I won't hide my own support for gay marriage. I was quite disappointed with the referenda this November that shot down attempts at legalization of gay marriage in multiple states. Huckabee made reference on the show to the "fact" that 68% of the population is against passing such legislation. I won't take issue with numbers because I have no idea how that polling was conducted, the demographics, how recently it was done, or any of those details. Most of us have heard the expression "lies, damn lies, and statistics" - and that holds true more often than not; depending on how you ask the question, let alone grouping and analyzing data, you can twist numbers to support your argument either way.

To be honest, I really don't care about the numbers because THEY DON'T MATTER. I don't care if 80% of the population is against something. Just because a group of people want something - or want to prevent something - doesn't mean that it is appropriate. The reason we have government is to protect citizens and deliver services that would otherwise be unlikely to happen. If it wasn't mandated by the government, how many of us would contribute money to pay for police, infrastructure, and other social services? How many people would put money aside for their retirement? But we accept taxes and social security deductions because that is a part of our responsibility in supporting the government that protects us. And it protects us in ways we did not anticipate over 200 years ago - look at the relatively recent strides in equal rights for women & blacks, and new protections from discrimination based on handicaps and religion. Those anti-discrimination statements in many systems include "sexual orientation" - an obvious evolution of the concept to protect this portion of our population.

It was a laughable moment in the VP debate in October, when Joe Biden went on a mini soapbox talking about equal rights for partners including hospital visitation, workers benefits, etc. - that [gay] partners will have (paraphrasing) "the exact same rights and privileges as spouses" - but when asked point-blank by the moderator if the democratic ticket was supporting gay marriage, he said no. It is a sad statement that - in order to minimize alienation of a portion of the electorate - the Democratic ticket had to set aside pushing that component of the agenda.

But at its heart, the issue really is about equal rights. If people were interested in legislating about the sanctity of marriage, we'd talk about the divorce rate and banning same-day marriage (i.e., running off to Vegas), requiring "marriage classes" (like some religions do), and maybe even raising the minimum consenting age. If the issue is really about parenting and establishing a family unit for raising children, we would talk about mandated parenting classes or even more aggressive regulations about who is allowed to procreate (or adopt), and when. (Both of these arguments are exemplified with the "Brittany Spears" example used by Stewart) We know it could not possibly be about preserving a religious definition of marriage, thanks to the separation of church and state. So what is left? What possible reason is there to deny two men or two women from legally committing to each other, and being granted ALL the legal and social recognition that accompanies that?

It seems to me to be the downside of tradition, the part that is slow to change simply because "it hasn't been that way before" or "we've never done it that way." Just because religious-based organizations oppose it, or because stubborn people or not ready to accept homosexuality as a fact of our society, does not mean that our goverment can ignore this component of our population or choose not to protect their rights on this issue.

The last point I'll make is again something well-stated by Stewart - opposition to gay marriage is often based on the assumption that it is a choice to be gay. Just like choosing to convert between religions may mean changing what you eat, or how you interact with people - "choosing" to be gay means denying yourself legal recognition of a union. But religion is one of those cardinal protections, and society is barred from denying you rights based on something that is undeniably a choice. But is homosexuality a choice? Many say no - and if you are guaranteed equal rights whether you are born a man or woman in our enlightened age, the same should hold true whether you are born gay or straight.

But again - the answer to THAT question is really irrelevant. Equal rights are equal rights. How can you select out something the law should NOT apply to?

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