Thulcandra is not a political blog, nor will it ever be. I have opinions, which I like to hope are well-formed, on most of the important issues presently under discussion in our society; at the same time, I tend to approach temporal power and its associated mandates and limits as a necessary evil rather than something to be gloried in for its own sake. All of this is a fancy way of saying that, although I care (deeply, in certain cases) about what happens in the political sphere, I take little pleasure in debating the subject: the task is more of a cross to bear than anything else.
So it’s only out of profound distress and a genuine sense of urgency that I venture to post something here on the subject of Proposition 8: distress on account of the confusion, on the part of both sides of the argument, surrounding the question of same-sex marriage; urgency because of the need for Christian unity on this particular matter, which is sorely lacking at present.
I voted Yes on Proposition 8. I have my doubts as to whether my reasons for doing so will be convincing to anyone, but hopefully I can at least help the folks who read this blog (all five of you) to understand why I voted as I did.
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First of all, I would like to point out that state-recognized same-sex marriage would have ramifications beyond a simple extension of certain legal benefits to homosexual couples. At stake here is also the right of individual citizens and private institutions to refuse, on philosophical or religious grounds, to recognize same-sex marriage as marriage in public discourse. Implicit in all the talk of rights and basic freedoms is a desire to equate this refusal with racism–and, furthermore, to equate vocalized moral objection to sodomy with hate speech.
The crucial difference between the two is that racial discrimination, no matter what our friends over at Bob Jones University may think, has no basis in Christianity or the other Abrahamic religions. The belief that homosexual behavior is sinful–which, I may add, is not necessarily equivalent to homophobia, though the two unfortunately coincide quite often–does have deep roots in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, extending beyond the realm of culture into each faith’s underlying theology; the only way to justify homosexual behavior in any of the these religions is to either not think too hard about the subject or perform an unacceptable number of philosophical and linguistic backflips along the way.
So the question, then, is this: what happens when an elementary school teacher doesn’t want to be forced to teach the legitimacy of same-sex marriage to his or her students? Public schools, at least in California, tend to employ standardized curricula. (I should here point out that, from what I can tell, the choice of which system to use in the district is generally made by a committee rather than by parents and educators.) I worked for a time in the Oakland Unified School District; there, lessons in reading and writing were taught through the Open Court system. In this curriculum, stories and their accompanying exercises are grouped into themed sections–friendship, city wildlife, etc. The contents of these curricula are more or less non-negotiable: teachers must assign certain stories to be read, with the students’ progress measured, to a significant degree, by related in-class activities, tests, and homework.
With the sort of pressure that LGBT rights groups exercise in the political sphere and the aforementioned role of committees, it’s not that hard to picture a situation in which a reading curriculum comes to include a story about a child with two daddies or two mommies. A teacher who doesn’t want to include this story in his or her lesson plan on for moral reasons could be threatened with a reprimand from the school board at the very least, legal prosecution for discrimination and hate speech at the most. This violates the fundamental rights both of individual teachers who don’t want to be made to teach something disagreeing with their religious beliefs and of parents who don’t wish to have their children indoctrinated in school.
(This would constitute indoctrination, by the way. It’s one thing to teach children that homosexuality exists; this is an indisputable fact. The moment one crosses the line into saying that homosexual activity is morally acceptable, one has arrived at a doctrine: this view is just as much the product of a particular philosophy as its converse. An analogy can be found in the teaching of evolution in public schools. Darwinian evolution is an empirical reality, while Darwinism, the belief that evolution is blind and the universe purposeless, is a doctrine. One should be taught as a matter of fact; the other, as a matter of personal belief, should not be.)
Also at risk are the rights of private institutions, religious institutions in particular, to both profess and act on their beliefs. When recognition of homosexual relationships in the legal sphere reaches a certain stage, priests and ministers could be taken to court for preaching the tenets of their faith; this has already happened in Canada. Furthermore, private institutions would have to comply with the state’s definition of marriage or risk lawsuits and the loss of their tax-exempt status. The roots of this trend can be seen in the case of Catholic Charities of Boston, which ended up closing down its adoption agency in 2006: in refusing to adopt out children to same-sex couples, the charity as a whole was putting itself at risk for legal action, not only from LGBT advocates but from the state itself.
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In the arguments against legalized gay marriage, then, the issue of Church and State is at the forefront, in the sense that the State should not be able to infringe upon the right to freedom of religion. At the same time, Prop 8’s success does not represent an infringement upon the State by the Church. The real question here is not to what extent Church and State are separate but, rather, of what the American democratic system is founded upon in the first place.
Recall what is probably the most famous sentence in our nation’s political literature: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Of course, in pondering this statement, one must remember that most of the founding fathers were not Christians but deists. America was founded, not on specifically Christian principles, but rather on a sort of Enlightenment-era humanism.
These were, however, men who undeniably believed in God, albeit a deistic one, and hence in a natural order. Look at the wording in the sentence quoted above: we have rights, not because the founding fathers took a vote and decided that we did, but by virtue of being human. Which is to say that our rights precede democracy and are its cause–not the other way around.
Along the same lines, the right of a man and woman to a legally recognized marriage can be said to be derived from the right of a man and woman to marry according to natural law. The law does not justify marriage; marriage justifies the law. This, and the aforementioned sentence from the Declaration, were involved, explicitly or otherwise, in the push to strike down miscegenation laws in the middle of the 20th century: Americans of different races should have the right to marry, not only because nonwhites should be treated as human beings “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” but because a man and a woman, regardless of racial differences, have a fundamental right to be married to one another (with the obvious exception of cases involving close degrees of kinship). Here, natural law precedes and supercedes civil law.
In light of this, the question is not so much whether California citizens had a right to take marriage away from homosexual couples but, instead, whether the state had a right to allow same-sex marriage in the first place. If the foundations of democracy lie in rights bestowed upon us, then it’s not in the State’s jurisdiction to take rights away from us; by the same token, though, it’s not within the power of the State to give us rights that we didn’t have in the first place. In this light Prop 8 is a restriction designed to keep the State from overstepping its boundaries–in this instance, in the matter of giving rights rather than taking rights away.
Of course, I don’t think that Proposition 8 solves the fundamental problems that allowed this situation to develop. Marriage has been understood for thousands of years as a covenant made between a man and a woman, with mutual self-surrender and the generation of offspring as complementary and inseparable ends. In modern society marriage is viewed as little more than a legal contract, or at best a public declaration of love. The notion of covenant has disappeared almost completely from our understanding of marriage. So has the notion that childbearing is a necessary intention behind this union. The former is a mainstay of human societies around the world; the latter, at least in the sense of sex being intrinsically connected with the creation of new life, is simply a fact of biology. (The need to maintain that connection is, by contrast, a religious and philosophical matter.) In short, our concept of marriage is highly distorted, and it’s only in this sort of situation that same-sex marriage could even be thought of as marriage in the first place.
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So that’s my take on Prop 8. If anyone has any thought to add or questions to raise on this subject, by all means, be my guest. The rules for combox discussions on this blog are to be found in my first post. In short: no profanity and ad hominum arguements, no conspiracy theories, and as few punctuation and spelling errors as humanly possible.