Friday, November 05, 2004

Hope this isn't too long...

...But this is a great discussion.

While you were right, Scott, that the gay issue is what got out the vote this time, I think you are wrong to view it as unconnected or unrelated to the abortion issue. Abortion has been the driving engine of cultural, and especially Evangelical, conservatism for twenty-four years, beginning with the election of Reagan. I was in Georgia during the Republican primaries this year, and abortion was THE issue used to distinguish and tarnish competing candidates. So this vote was a long time in the making. Moreover, if one looks at why these constitutional amendments are being proposed, and why the right has taken on the gay-bashing mentality, I think gay-marriage has become a kind of last-stand for the right in their antagonism toward activist judges. It has certainly been a staple of Colorado Springs-style conservatism for a while, but it was not until the Massachussetts Supreme Court decision and Lawrence v. Texas that the spectre of Supreme Court-imposed gay marriage became a real threat. This has strong resonance on the right, because that is the same way that abortion and church-state issues have been imposed upon them from on high. So to the cultural right, which has lived for over three decades under Roe, and seen the logic of Roe overturn Bowers v. Hardwick, it would go along way for Democrats to tolerate people who opposed Roe legally. It would go even further for them to tolerate people who oppose abortion politically.

The irony in the whole gay marriage discussion was that John Kerry was on record against them. I wonder if he is undeveloped socially and needs more gay friends. More probably, it was a cynical political position he didn't really believe, which made voters feel like he has no political core that can be trusted. To him should be posed Scott's question: if one cannot impose one's faith through the law (his position on abortion), how can one do so in the realm of marriage, where no one gets hurt and the ultimate values of the heart are promoted?

I was dying for someone to ask Kerry that in the debates, but in truth I think it is a false question. So long as the state has marriage laws, it will be in the practice of making moral choices. One cannot get around this, Scott. You and I agree, I at least for now, that it would be more moral to include gay marriage in this institution. I assume you would not agree, and I certainly wouldn't, that in the name of religious neutrality we should allow polygamous arrangements, though four wives are allowed in Islam. Nor, do I think, should we make it easy as to get divorced as it is to break a contract, although that is my own moral vision that marriages should be protected and nourished by the state at all costs. In short, by having civil marriages at all, the state is making a host of moral choices and line drawing. To win over Red America, we who support gay marriage should make the positive argument that this is the morally right thing to do for the millions of loving families who desire the recognition and protection of law, not the negative argument that the state cannot make moral choices, which would seem to license polygamous and other arrangements we truly believe to be harmful to the development of human personality and the rearing of children.

One last point. When I went to college, I had known one gay person, a guy in my high school. He was widely made fun of in my Georgia culture, and I tried to be his friend. On our senior trip, I was disgusted by the way my classmates refused to room with him, so I volunteered. I knew all the Bible verses against homosexuality, but had somehow absorbed a larger cultural ethic of non-discrimination or at least a Christian norm of loving one's neighbor. When I went to college, my roommate and now lifelong deepest friend, who was from rural Georgia, was struggling with his homosexuality in a dark closet of despair. I helped convince him that God did not make a mistake when he made him, and that perhaps the Biblical verses should not be understood as God's will. Throughout our friendship, and many others with conservative Christians who oppose homosexuality and campus activists who supported it, I always believed in the rightness of gay marriage and in the God that I saw in the love of committed gay relationships. This fit my general egalitarian view of all things gendered. While this is still my view, I would say that I have felt my instincts moving a bit toward the right. While gender identity and expression is a continuum, there are deep issues surrounding notions of masculinity and feminity for the majority of our bimodal distribution. While I will always be for the furthest expressions of tolerance, I am not as sure as I once was that gender should be banished in all its public forms. I am not at all sure that that such a view would be helpful for women, given the natural sexual differences that create innumerable ways for women to be exploited, from rape, to sexual hrassment, to prostitution, to strip clubs, to pornography. Most influential in this thinking has been my own journey in trying to be a man and a husband for Sarah.

In short, these are deep issues, especially when the question of children become involved. While undoubtedly many people's views would change if they had more exposure to gay individuals, particularly gay families, I am not sure it is right to consider the view that marriage should remain a public arrangment for male-female couples to be one based in ignorance or intolerance. It is conceivable to me that I may come to that position, despite my gay friends and family members whom I love very, very deeply.