Recovered from the Wayback Machine.
When we were younger, our academic achievements weren’t measured from our growing conversational ability or how many facts we knew, but in how well we understood borders.
There was that important moment when we would color in the coloring book and actually manage to stay within the lines. (Not to be confused with that moment when we discovered that one could trace over the line with color.) More, our little girl’s hair was a natural blonde or brunette or black and the flower was red and the leaves were green–rather than intersting shades of purple with pink dots, a sort of orange/yellow striping, and blue (leaves were always blue in my pre-knowledge state).
Mother or father would proudly display our achievement on the refrigerator, or get together and compare ages when their children reached the point of ‘coloring within the lines’ (the previous important ages being first step, first word, and first time using the potty by oneself).
But then there was the stubborn ones, the ones who refused to limit their ad hoc artistry. Lines were not borders: they were platforms from which to spring new forms of creativity. That picture of a little girl isn’t a little girl, but an alien from Mars with green tentacles and a bright orange space gun. The flowers are space monsters, with sharp teeth. Bright yellow, sharp teeth.
Pity the poor Mom when faced with such at parent/teacher night
I can’t help thinking that Mayor Newsom of San Francisco was one of those stubborn kids who never did get the hang of coloring within the lines. I imagine if given a coloring book today, he’d probably move his crayon in a wild disarray about the page, seeing all that empty space outside the lines as an invitation instead of restriction.
If so, then Mayor Newsom joins a long and distinguished list of people who have refused to ’stay behind the lines’ when it comes to society and the rights of its people.
This list includes Susan B Anthony, leader of the movement to give women the right to vote and arrested for breaking the law by casting a ballot in 1872. She is joined in prison by hundreds of other women who practiced non-violent civil disobedience in the long drive for women to regain the right to vote (women had the right to vote initially when the United States was first born).
Newsom is also joined by Henry David Thoreu who was jailed for refusing to pay his taxes because he would not support a government that harrassed its neighbor (Mexico) and supported slavery. He penned the document that was later renamed to “Civil Disobedience”. In it, he wrote:
After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?-in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.
Thoreau’s words would later serve as inspiration for another man who moved his people, like his pen, outside of established boundaries–Martin Luther King Jr.
Non-violent civil disobedience has long been a cherished and respected tool for change in this country, particulary in the ongoing battle for civil rights. Yet I am surprised by the backlash directed against Mayor Newsom and those in San Francisco who give out marriage licenses to gay people.
Governor Schwarzenegger is a man who has no trouble coloring between lines. He recently stated:
“During my campaign, I talked about the importance of rule of law,” he said Friday. “We rely upon our courts to enforce our rule of law, but we’re seeing in San Francisco that the courts are dropping the ball.
“Today I have sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Lockyer asking him to move as quickly as possible on behalf of the state … to resolve the issues underlying San Francisco’s lawsuit against the state.
“While we wait for the courts to act, it’s time for the City of San Francisco to start respecting state law. It is time for the city to stop traveling down this dangerous path of ignoring the rule of law.”
(Read the interesting response back from the Attorney General — the Terminator just got shot down with his own rhetoric.)
No purple and pink dotted hair for California’s good Governor. He also stated that continuing this ‘disobedient’ act of issuing licenses would lead to civil disorder, and with this I do agree — the civil rights movement that started when our country was one day old does lead to civil disorder. It is not a complacent, law abiding movement.
Gays acheiving full rights in this country–including the right to marry–will happen based on acts such as those in San Francisco. They will never happen because the gay people come to the American public, hat in hand, begging, “Please sir, may I have some more?”
In comments to my previous post on gay marriage, and elsewhere, I have heard many people say that they are not against gay marriage but they are against these deliberate violations of the law. If a mayor can act proactively to issue marriage licenses in defiance of state law, what’s to stop his from issuing gun licenses without proper care? Or to decide that state taxation is illegal and to tell its citizens they no longer have to worry about paying state taxe?
A more appropriate response, we’ve been told, would be for the city and the gays to wait until marriage is legally sanctioned. Yet history doesn’t demonstrate a pattern of rights given freely and without a struggle. The civil rights movement is not a calm flow of rights from the majority to the minority; it is an erosion of control resulting from the constant battering of those who refuse to wait until a populace is reminded of what the words true equality means.
What’s to stop this action from leading to others? Not a thing. Mayor Newsom could have made a move to issue gun licenses to any who asked instead of granting marriage licenses to gays, and if he could make an argument that this right was granted within the State or Federal Constitution, then it is only a matter of him convincing others. If enough feel as he does then maybe the laws will be changed and children and felons and your scary next door neighbor, Bob, will be allowed to carry weapons.
(I am imagining the scenario, of people shaking their heads and warning that what’s to stop Newsom or others like him from issuing marriage licenses to gays if we allow this type of unlawful action to proceed.)
Each challenge to majority-held beliefs, should be, must be, weighed on its own merit–a fight for one is not the same as the fight for all of them. There is no universal act that will define all rights for all people for all time that we can pass and then sit back not having to worry about ‘that kind of thing’ again. Civil rights will be and always has been, a constantly redefined target. We have a responsibility to meet each challenge individually, without worry that the support for a popular right now may, just may, lead to additional struggles for ‘less popular’ rights later on.
As Ampersand stated at Alas, a Blog:
let’s assume that the mayor of San Franscico believes that California’s laws against concealed guns violate California’s equivilent of the second amendment. To make the point, he begins issuing concealed gun licenses in a responsible-but-still-against-California-law manner (i.e., he’s not issuing CGLs to children or convicted murderers, etc).
In that case, it would be no different from what the mayor of San Francisco is doing right now. And I’d be cool with that. Obviously, civil disobedience – if done in a peaceful, non-violent way – is a tool available to everyone to use, including pro-gun folks, and including folks whose politics I don’t share.
Not all people agree.
DFMoore writes :
There are well-worn methods to challenging the constitutionality of the state constitution (it isn’t just a state law, it’s in the California constitution, put there by referendum). And none of them involve having a public official blatantly disregard and disobey them. We simply cannot have public officials overstepping their bounds and disregarding the constitution whenever they so choose. The entire purpose of a constitution is so that public officials do not act (in their official capacity) in such a wreckless manner.
Daniel Weintraub expanded on this in an op-ed piece in the Sacramento Bee, writing:
Supporters have hailed Newsom as a hero, and described his rebellion as an act of civil disobedience. But those who embrace his action as courageous should consider what the state would be like if every other public official followed his example, interpreting the laws for themselves whenever they felt the urge to do so.
Maybe the mayor of Bakersfield believes that background checks for gun purchases violate the Second Amendment. Perhaps the school superintendent in San Diego thinks prayer in the classroom is a First Amendment right. Might the district attorney in Shasta County decide that abortion is murder, and should be outlawed in his jurisdiction?
Every Californian is free to defy state law in protest, as a way of provoking the courts and society into righting past wrongs. But such defiance usually carries with it the risk of prosecution and jail time. As a public official, Newsom apparently faces no such consequences.
A very valid point, especially when you consider the ‘less popular’ rights in question, such as school prayer. What Weintraub forgets, though, is that challenging an act that violates the civil rights of another is the responsibility of every citizen, but most especially, it should be the responsibility of our public officials. They should feel most responsible for acts by the state that impact on the citizens of the state, fairly or not.
Besides, risk of prison or other severe punishment shouldn’t be a requirement to validate the challenge.
As for the cases that Weintraub mentions, decisions have been made in Supreme Court as to how these are to handled as civil rights issues. In all those mentioned, civil rights would be denied if the official acted according to his scenarios. Still, there is another argument used as example against Mayor Newsom that hasn’t been specifically addressed in the Supreme Court: the Ten Commandments statue that was placed in the public corridor of the State Courthouse in Alabama by Chief Justice Moore.
When Chief Justice Moore had a statue put into the court house he was exercising his rights for free speech, our most cherished right. He wasn’t forcing his viewpoint on others (people could avert their eyes and not look at the statue, other justices could put in their own statues, might get crowded, but fair’s fair).
However, by Chief Justice Moore putting his symbol of religion on land owned by the public , he practiced his civil rights at the expense of the public. He did so as an authority of the people, the Chief Justice, therefore putting undue religious pressure on those seeking redress in the courts. Regardless of people ignoring the statue or not, he was imposing his religious views on others.
As far as I know, gays who marry will practice their marriage in private. Unless one happens to be a Chief Justice of some Supreme Court, and ends up screwing his or her spouse in the court room, they are not imposing their beliefs on others, or at the expense of others.
Still I think that we’ve all been mislabeling Mayor Newsom’s act. We’ve seen it as an act of civil disobedience, but he considers it a case of choosing between two conflicting laws — a law that doesn’t allow him to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and a law that discriminates based on sexual orientation.
He isn’t committing an act of civil obedience; he’s making a judgement call as a responsible public servant.
Throughout this long writing, I’ve been using the term ‘civil rights’ to reference the gays fight for full equalty. I know that this hasn’t pleased some who believe that the civil rights movement is really about the fight for rights for blacks. None other than Jesse Jackson told an audience at Harvard yesterday to not equate the two:
In Massachusetts, the state that’s served as one of the main battlegrounds over same-sex marriage, the Rev. Jesse Jackson declared Monday that the fight of gays and lesbians wanting to marry should not be compared to the fight African Americans faced for civil rights.
“The comparison with slavery is a stretch in that some slave masters were gay, in that gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution and in that they did not require the Voting Rights Act to have the right to vote,” Jackson remarked in an address at Harvard Law School.
In an AlterNet story:
The gay rights vs. civil rights comparison has long been a sore spot for many blacks. The debate drew national attention last year when a group of black clergy in Miami circulated a flier with the picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. to hundreds of black churches in Miami-Dade County. The fliers denounced gay rights. The group claimed that gays were expropriating the civil rights cause to push their agenda.
I could not believe that a man like Martin Luther King would condone such actions, and this was supported by the actions of his wife, Coretta Scott King. Following this incident, she angrily denounced the fliers and demanded they be recalled.
In a speech given at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force annual meeting in 1992, just after the mid-term elections, Mrs. King said:
I think we all need a few days to recuperate from the stress-filled election we have just experienced, but not much more, because we have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination.
I say ‘common struggle’ because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination.
My husband, Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny ‘an inescapable network of mutuality.’ I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be. Therefore, I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.
I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be. That is one classy lady.
In an irreverant (and hugely funny and beautifully pointed) op-ed piece, Banji Realness wrote:
There’s never been a doubt in her mind that gay and lesbian relationships deserve the same legal protection as heterosexual ones. Probably even more, since so many people seem to think that the status of those relationships is worth destroying. In Ohio they’re trying to stop the state from recognizing gay marriages and keep state employees from getting spousal benefits; in Nebraska they already have. (She didn’t need another reason not to live in Ohio or Nebraska, but thanks.) However, black civil rights leaders from Julian Bond to Coretta Scott King have recently pegged marriage equality as a civil rights issue and supported it accordingly. Even Reverend Al Sharpton figured this one out from the get-go, and had the guts to say so unequivocally. Who wants to be on the dumb side of a brother who hasn’t changed his hairstyle since Barry White’s last number one single? Let’s see if Snoop Dogg, with bad taste in coiffure to rival them both, follows suit.
Drag queen extraordinaire Realness also discusses the ‘tradition’ of marriage, that causes many who support gay rights to break with gay marriage, saying:
… the term “marriage” is loaded with religious connotations that don’t necessarily apply. Gays have been getting married for a long time now without legal protection, in part to publicly honor their relationships in a secular way. From that fact you might determine that when gay people talk about getting married, the goal is not to convince conservative churches to change their policies. Gay people who used to belong to various churches remember that most aren’t known for their progressive attitudes, so ain’t nobody expecting no miracles. When did the Catholic Church pardon 16th century astronomer Galileo for saying the earth revolved around the sun? That’s right, 1992, baby. On that schedule, homosexuality should be A-okay with John Paul round about the year 2768. Don’t get out your stopwatches, y’all.
The point is, gays don’t want an exact replica of heterosexual church marriages —well, the ones with any creativity don’t. Homos can sew some fierce wedding gowns and bake tres leches wedding cakes on our own and been doing it for straight people forever, sweetie pie, and now you can see them do it on national TV. Most gays couldn’t care less about whether the Pope approves-unless he’s RSVP’d for the reception. But you got some tax breaks, sugar? Could she be on that lease? How about getting on her husband’s dental plan? Lord knows she need to fix these teephus.
Marriage. Rather than altering the definition of ‘marriage’ some support the concept of ‘civil unions’, but the two are not the same; separate but equal didn’t work for segregation, and it isn’t going to work for gay unions. We’ve had hundreds of years to work out the legalities of marriage; we don’t want to spend another two hundred years or so working out the same for civil unions.
(Appropriately timed, there is a complex Lesbian custody case that just started in San Francisco that would have been a simple matter to adjudicate if the two women in question were married.)
Rush Limbaugh, whose home town is Gape Girardeu, the location of the photos shown with this story, believes that gay marriage will damage the institution of marriage. He discussed this on his radio show:
You know, this is where this gets I think really important. We’re not talking semantics. There is an institution, hear me out on this, and you can respond here in just a second, there’s an institution called marriage, and it has evolved over the course of thousands and thousands and thousands of years, it has a specific definition. Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, it’s like two plus two equals four. Two plus two does not equal five just because somebody wants it to. Two plus two doesn’t equal three just because somebody wants it to. Two plus two equals four. Marriage is a man and a woman.
If we’re going to come along and say that marriage can be anything that two people who want to get together say it’s going to be, then marriage can be between people of the same sex, could be between three people, could be between four people, where does this stuff stop? And because of this effort that is being made to redefine or I would say it’s not even a matter of redefining it, I think the effort is to destroy it, since the effort is being made to destroy it, there are people who believe in the institution and who accept the definition, we’re not talking about a right, and we’re not talking about – at most we’re talking about a privilege, but we’re not talking about a right.
What we’re talking about is the definition, a specific legal definition of an institution. And in order for people who do not qualify based on the definition to seek entry or admittance to this institution the institution must be weakened, and this is what people oppose. And the proof here is what’s happening in San Francisco where the people who are applying are having to change the forms.
Yes, gay marriage will require us to change the forms.
(Side story: The collectible and antique shop shown in a couple of the photographs is located in the same building where the man who gave Rush Limbaugh his start in radio lived. His widow still lives there, today.)
Friday, a California judge, Quidachay, refused to stop gay marriages in San Francisco because groups failed to prove that irreparable harm was being done. These same groups state that marriage is a sacred institution, specifically for men and women only. Yet today’s marriage, as we know it in the United States, is not that old, and not that sacred.
Early ‘weddings’ consisted of a man dragging off a woman as his property, and until the 1500’s most marriages were private agreements with no witnesses, and most marriage contracts were specifically to do with property.
In fact, it was because of the dissolution of these marriages that led to the formalization of the marriage act — it became very messy trying to figure out how to stop being a couple, and who retained ownership of either property of children.
As for the ‘tradition’ of marriage being only among a man and woman in history, this also isn’t true. I found a very interesting and eloguent open letter from the historian Gary Leupp to Governor Romney of Massachusetts on this issue; being greedy, I have copied much of it here because I could not bare to leave much of it behind (and also not to lose the many references he cites).
So you “agree with history,” you say, on this question of gay marriage. As an historian, I don’t agree or disagree with “history,” which is not a person with an opinion, but merely the record of countless people pursuing their own ends, interacting with one another and their environments through time. (Occasionally they make breakthroughs, producing new things; there’s no reason for sentient beings to be stuck on precedent.) “I agree with history” is really a meaningless statement, rather like saying “I agree with time,” or “I agree with reality,” or “I agree with the way my father and grandfather and my ancestors before them thought about things.” What I suppose you’re really saying is that you agree with the proposition that heterosexual marriage (of some sort) should be recognized by law, to the specific exclusion of homosexual unions. You deploy in support of that proposition the assertion that this is the way it’s always been. Gay marriage, you thus contend, will be a radical departure from our civilized past.
But this is just not true, Governor. You invoke “History” as though it’s some source of authority, but you really don’t know much about it, do you? “No investigation, no right to speak,” I always say, and if you want to talk about homosexual unions in recorded history you should do some study first. First I recommend you read John Boswell’s fine book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (University of Chicago Press, 1980), in which he documents legally recognized homosexual marriage in ancient Rome extending into the Christian period, and his Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Villard Books, 1994), in which he discusses Church-blessed same-sex unions and even an ancient Christian same-sex nuptial liturgy. Then check out my Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan (University of California Press, 1995) in which I describe the “brotherhood-bonds” between samurai males, involving written contracts and sometimes severe punishments for infidelity, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Check out the literature on the Azande of the southern Sudan, where for centuries warriors bonded, in all legitimacy, with “boy-wives.” Or read Marjorie Topley’s study of lesbian marriages in Guangdong, China into the early twentieth century. Check out Yale law professor William Eskridge’s The Case for Same-Sex Marriage (1996), and other of this scholar’s works, replete with many historical examples.
What the study of world history will really tell you, Governor, is that pretty much any kind of sexual behavior can become institutionalized somewhere, sometime. You know that polygamy remains normal and legal in many nations, as it was among your Mormon forebears in Utah. In Tibet, polyandry has a long history, and modern Chinese law seems powerless to prevent marriages between one women and two or three men. Getting back to same-sex issues, the Sambia of New Guinea have traditionally believed that for an adolescent boy to grow into a man, he absolutely must fellate an adult male and chug the semen down. I’m not making this up; see Gilbert H. Herdt, Guardians of the Flutes (Columbia University Press, 1981). Now you and I would see that as a kind of child abuse, but to the Sambians, it’s just common sense. It’s been that way for well over 3,000 years of their history. (You might want to ask yourself: does that 3,000 year record make it right?) Some ancient Greek tribes had a similar notion of the necessary reception of semen to make a boy a man, only with them it was an anal-routed process. (See works by Jan Bremmer, for starters, on this practice as an “initiation rite” among various Indo-European peoples.)
Some suggest that there have been two basic traditions of male homosexual behavior on this planet, prior to the evolution of the contemporary egalitarian model: these inter-generational role-specific ones, in both pre-class and more sophisticated societies; and those that involve males who assume a female or transgender identity, who often also have shamanistic roles, such as the berdache of Native American peoples, or the hijra in Hindu society. These are generally available for “straight” men to bed with if they want to. A variation of this tradition is the ancient Mesopotamian male temple-prostitute (the cult of which spread to Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament; see 1 Kings14:24, 22:47, etc.). The idea was, you’d bugger one of these holy prostitutes, mystically unite with the deity thereby, and by your fee for this pleasure opportunity, assist in the maintenance of the temple. I’m not trying to gross you out or anything, Governor, just help you recognize that there may be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your (somewhat too confident) philosophy of sexual history.
Over the last 3,000 years to which you specifically allude (someone else was telling National Public Radio that the Supreme Justice Court ruling defied 5,000 years, which would make departure from precedent even more serious), there has in fact been no global marriage norm. In some societies, a man and woman, of their own free will, formed a relationship, decided to forge a life-long commitment, got the necessary permissions and ceremonial legitimacy, started having sex after that, and maintained a monogamous union thereafter until one died. That’s been very unusual, though. Arranged marriages involving varying degrees of input by the couple (usually less by the female) have been more the norm. (Do you realize, Governor, how radically sections of humankind departed from the prior “history” you so validate, when we started insisting on the freedom of young couples to marry without their parent’s consent, and to do so based on “love”—which is another complex and evolving historical category? You might perhaps read Friedrich Engels’ still relevant book The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, and learn something about how capitalism and the whole notion of the free market played a positive role here.)
For demographic and economic reasons (rather than articulated moral ones), monogamy has generally been far more widespread than polygamy. But in more societies than not, wealthy, powerful men have enjoyed the polygamous option. That of course goes for the ancient Hebrews, whose example inclined the founders of your church, that of the Latter-Day Saints, to enthusiastically endorse the practice from the church’s founding in 1830 up to Wilford Woodruff and his Manifesto in 1890. Then, whether due to a divine revelation, or to a desire to get Utah admitted to the Union (it’s not for me to judge) LDS up and banned polygamy. Although, of course, some rogue elements continue the practice which mainstream Mormons now consider illicit.
But to agree with three, or five, or twelve thousand years of random past practice would require you, Governor Romney, to oppose the ban that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has from its inception placed on polygamy. I tell you, though: if you refused to do that, I’d be right there behind you. I’m a tolerant person and I realize that lots of Thai and Nigerian and Saudi guys have multiple wives, and maybe I even sort of lust, Carter-like, in my heart to emulate them. But I’m not a total moral relativist, and as public policy, I think monogamy’s the right road, and you should stand firm in its support, never mind the Mormon past, which isn’t your fault in any case.
Another thing. Not to get personal, but I’ve been married to a Japanese woman for 20 years. I’m aware some people have problems with this sort of arrangement; for a long time (from 1905) in California “miscegenation” between whites and “Mongolians” of all types was banned by law. But such laws seem so stupid now, don’t they? At the time, such intimacies were depicted as “unnatural” mixes of racial superiors with inferiors bound to mess up the pure white gene pool. Of course the Mormon Church was committed to the view that African-Africans were inferior (and certainly unfit as partners to Mormon whites) way up until 1978, when Spencer Kimball, the 12th Prophet, got his word from the Lord and the policy was revised. Before that, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that Virginia state law banning black-white intermarriage could not be enforced; very recently (1998), South Carolina chucked its constitutional clause, dating to 1895, forbidding “marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto or a person who should have one-eighth or more Negro blood.” Things change if people want them to.
When I got married, the Japanese had a law that the children of Japanese men and foreign women would automatically have Japanese citizenship, but those of foreign men and Japanese women would be denied that status. (The idea was: only Japanese semen makes Japanese kids.) This discriminatory treatment reflected the longstanding patriarchal prejudices of the Japanese legal code. By chance my daughter was born in the year that the law was changed (following protests by Japanese wives of foreigners), to confer Japanese citizenship on all children of Japanese nationals. So by random chance my kids are dual-nationals. That just seems reasonable, right? But there was a time in which those in power in Tokyo recoiled at the idea that a hairy-faced foreign barbarian’s offspring would mix equally with the progeny of the Sun Goddess in the Land of the Gods. My point, again, is just that views on these issues aren’t historically static, and good decent people can work to change them.
I imagine that Mr. Leupp is also a man who didn’t color between the lines.
Rather than using civil unions to redefine a marriage for gays, we should consider creating a ‘fundamentalist marriage’ for those who want to restrict the state to those of same color and race but of opposite sex; without divorce and abrogating the rights of the female to be subordinate to the male; to eschew birth control and abortion; to follow a fundamental religion; and be all those things that people want when they passionately cry out in defense of ‘traditional marriage’.
I’m not gay, nor a city official, so there is no act of civil disobedience that I can commit specifically to support full rights for gays. However, I did just exercise something I can control: I’ve reframed the issue from being about gay marriage, to being about gay rights.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they support gay rights, but can’t support gay marriage. Though I don’t fully understand this viewpoint, I do believe it is the result of a strongly entrenched view of what marriage is. Culturally, many people aren’t ready to take that full step to supporting gay marriage, though they are willing to support a ’separate but equal’ alternative — civil unions.
However, as Leupp discussed, most people weren’t ready to accept mixed race marriages, but over time they have gradually started working their way into the culture of our country. The same will happen with gay marriages — as long as we continue to reframe the question appropriately.
George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics wrote:
Language is important. The radical right uses “gay marriage.” Polls show most Americans overwhelmingly against anti-gay discrimination, but equally against “gay marriage.” One reason, I believe, is that “marriage” evokes the idea of sex and most Americans do not favor gay sex. Another is that the stereotype of marriage is heterosexual. “Gay” for the right connotes a wild, deviant, sexually irresponsible lifestyle. That’s why the right prefers “gay marriage” to “same-sex marriage.”
But “gay marriage” is a double-edged sword. President Bush chose not to use the words “gay marriage” in his State of the Union Address. I suspect that the omission occurred for a good reason. His position is that “marriage” is defined as between a man and a woman, and so the term “gay marriage” should be an oxymoron, as meaningless as “gay apple” or “gay telephone.” The more “gay marriage” is used, the more normal the idea of same-sex marriage becomes, and the clearer it becomes that “marriage” is not defined to exclude the very possibility. This is exactly why some gay activists want to use “same-sex marriage” or even “gay marriage.
The rest of us have to put our ideas out there so that candidates can readily refer to them. For example, when there is a discussion in your office, church, or other group, there is a simple response to someone who says, “I don’t think gays should be able to marry, do you?” The response is, “I believe in equal rights, period. I don’t think the state should be in the business of telling people who they can or can’t marry.” The media does not have to accept the right wing’s frames. What can a reporter ask besides “Do you support gay marriage?” Try this: “In San Francisco, there has been a lot discussion of the freedom to marry, as a matter of equal rights under the law. How do you feel about this?”
Reframing is everybody’s job.
(Found thanks to Wood s lot.)
Regardless of those who do not approve, there is something about what’s happening in San Francisco that is contagious. It’s east to get caught up in the hope and the happiness of this particular revolution, as demonstrated by Flowers in the Heartland — flowers sent from those in the midwest to gay couples waiting in line to get licenses. (This effort was aided by a Live Journal entry. I hope they don’t mind that the Chronicle called them a ‘web-log’.)
Richard Daley has said he would support the decision of the County Clerk in Chicago for gay marriage. The Clerk, Orr also supports gay marriage stating:
“I’m fed up with people being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. We can’t even pass a law that eliminates discrimination against gay couples. [But] whatever you do when it comes to challenging laws, you want it to be effective and not knee-jerk,” Orr said.
The clerk noted the protest that has gay couples from around the nation lining up for hours outside San Francisco’s City Hall was meticulously planned.
It wasn’t just “the clerk waking up one day and deciding to marry someone,” Orr said. It had the support of the entire “city apparatus” in San Francisco — from the mayor, City Council and advocacy groups on down. That’s the model that would have to be followed here, Orr said.
However, other officials have either failed in their attempts, or won’t support the means, such as Salt Lake City’s Rocky Anderson:
But even if he could — and Anderson does support gay marriage — Salt Lake City’s mayor said he wouldn’t take Newsom’s “anarchic” tactic. “The principle of the rule of law needs to be taken more seriously,” said Anderson, who noted that if he questioned the constitutionality of a law, he would go to court first. But, “I like the result.”
Jesse Jackson has said that gay marriage won’t have an impact on the upcoming presidential election. I agree with him, to a point.
The Head Lemur, in an essay titled Gay Marriage is Good for America pledged:
To use my favorite metaphor from Texas No Limit Hold-Em, It is time to go ALL IN.
My vote which is the strongest weapon that I possess, is going to the candidate who will amend the Constitution extending Equal Rights to all citizens. Nothing less will do. This is my deal breaker.
I won’t quite go that far, because I will be voting Democrat, and there is no doubt that the Democratic candidate is unlikely to endorse gay marriage — no matter who it is. (For indepth understanding of this, see Mark Fiore, thanks to Doug.) I definitely won’t vote for Ralph Nader if he runs again
However, I do refuse to vote for anyone that favors a so-called Marriage Amendment — an amendment to either a State or the Federal Constitution defining marriage as being between men and women, only. And I will take this promise to the polls, regardless of the consequences in the upcoming presidential elections. (Hopefully no Democrat would be so foolish.)
We don’t need the President to take a stand on this issue. As the Fiore cartoon states, politicians need to leave the gays, and the rights issue, alone. As with all civil rights movements in the past, this one, too, will follow from the acts of the people.
Lincoln supposedly freed the slaves, but it was the actions of people that made this freedom ‘real’. Wilson reluctantly supported the right of women to vote, but only after the movement had achieved momentum in enough states to ensure passage of a constitutional amendement without federal support.
Even John F. Kennedy, famous for his association with the Civil Rights movement, actually sought to slow it down at one time, concerned that it was moving too fast for the nation to handle. However, it, as with the gay rights movement, will follow the lead of the people, not the Presidents. As Leonard Pitts Jr wrote:
It’s a little-known fact that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t really lead the March on Washington.
What actually happened is that the marchers, a quarter million strong, grew impatient waiting for the event to begin and stepped off the curb ahead of schedule. When they found out what had happened, King and other march ‘’leaders’’ had to scramble to catch up. Freedom was in the air and the marchers saw no need to wait for permission to move.
Critics say the mayor has acted in defiance of state law, but Newsom calls same-sex marriage “inevitable.’’
Whatever causes a man to be gay or a woman lesbian is obviously powerful enough that they have no real choice in the matter. The people who have been flocking to Mayor Newsom’s city did not decide to be gay. Anyone who is watching them with that thought in mind is missing — probably on purpose — the point.
What they have decided is that they are human beings worthy of human dignity.
What they have decided is that they are tired of waiting for people to get that.
What they have decided is that it’s time to step off the curb.
Legal implications aside, there are those who support full gay rights, including the gays themselves, who are concerned about the ramifications of San Francisco. One concern is that this sudden change could lead to a backlash, which, in turn, can lead to the Marriage Amendment. And once part of the Constitution, the Amendment will be forever.
(I beg to differ — anyone who takes a drink in this country knows that nothing is forever.)
A valid concern, and one I followed for a long time. Best to be cautious, I would say. Work from within the system. Give people time to adjust. They’ll soon come around if they have time to adjust to the idea.
But there will never be enough time, and people will never adjust. Rather than becoming more tolerant the country is becoming less. People don’t seek change, you have to bring change to them. And sometimes, you have to sit on them — just a little — to get them to accept the change.
What made things different for me was seeing the photos of the gay couples standing on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall. Their huge smiles and teary faces, and, most of all, the obvious love the couples had for each other. I actually envied them, these couples that have a committment so strong as to defy “65 % of the country who disapproves”.
Yes, we risk much by taking this fight to the streets of the US now; but we risk more by not fighting because we’re worried about what will happen if we do. Seems to me that fear’s been allowed to control too many decisions in this country lately.
If the Marriage Amendment is past, it will result in generating a conflict within the Constitution that will eventually result in shattering it. You can’t have a Constitution that protects against discrimination, and then add an amendment that introduces discrimination.
As we’ve seen with Mayor Newsom and the conflicting laws in California, rather than shutting down the issue, it will result in the type of chaos that allows civil rights movements to thrive. And I’ll be there to throw rose petals on the ground for the gay couples taking their marriage march straight to the steps of the White House.