Saturday, November 22, 2008

Homosexuality and the Age of Obama

I haven’t pissed anybody off in a while, so let’s get to it. The title should be ignored. People in the media just like to say - "The Age of Obama," so I thought I'd give this post that title. Rather, we discuss here same sex marriage.

One of the positions taken by politicians on the left and right that just baffles me in this supposedly enlightened age is the whole same sex marriage thing. You can figure where I sand by that first sentence. I’m going to address those of you who almost instinctively say “no way” in a bit. First, a little pretext.

All of the candidates (Obama/Biden, McCain/Palin) were for same sex rights, but, against same sex marriage. Out of the 18 even marginally serious candidates who campaigned, I don’t remember any of them being for same sex marriage, although I may be wrong about that on the Democratic side (not sure how Kucinich stands). It is almost certainly right to say that none of the Republican candidates favor it, as, holding such a position would be absolute political death in that party. As for the Democratic candidates, it probably would not be death; it might even be applauded by some of their constituency, but, in a general election it would be perceived as working against them.

As a rule, Americans seem to be somewhat more against the idea than for it. Just using an ABC/Washington Post poll from January, 2008, as example:

55 percent were against legalizing same sex marriage, with only 41 percent to make it legal. 51 percent were for civil unions, though, with 46 percent for it. Only 38 percent were for amending the constitution to outlaw same sex marriage; with 58 percent in favor of allowing states to decide.

Of course, there was a split between different groups. For example, percentage-wise, a fair amount of women were in favor of legalizing same sex marriage than men -45 to 38 percent; Republicans were for more against it 72/24 than were Democrats 46/50. While conservatives were only a little differentiated than Republican, liberals were far more in favor of it, 69 (spare me the joke) percent favoring it. However, self described political moderates were 52/44 against. While unmarried people were virtually split for/against, almost two thirds of married people were against it. Not surprisingly, self described evangelists were even more against it – 81 percent and those without religion for it, but not as fervently – 66 percent.

As we all know, in several states the judiciary, or, at least some judges, have determined that it is legal as a consequence of the equal protection clause in their constitution. However, in California, known for its liberal judges, the same electorate that went 61 percent for Obama, went somewhat above 50 percent (exact number is unclear as of yet) in favor of basically making the popular statute defining marriage as between a man and a woman, into a constitutional amendment, thus superseding the case law which overturned the earlier statute.

A few weeks ago I was driving home and thinking about the same sex debate. For me, it is simple. My thought at that time was that this is what happens when the government continues to entangle itself in religious matters. A few days later I was conversing with the husband of a relative who suggested that the best way to handle it – although unlikely to ever happen – was to make civil unions the legal institution for everyone , and have marriages be a religious or otherwise philosophic commitment. His thought was a more developed version of mine and I adopt it despite its improbability. I call it the Littlefield solution after its originator (with apologies to all other of those who have thought of it).

The first thing I want to deal with is the idea that it is impossible for a man and a man or a woman and another woman to marry. My friend from Montana, who has been so nice to me in commentary lately, will hopefully bashe me over this issue. But, here I stand. "Marriage," "marry," "married," etc. are words. Words have meanings assigned by people. Their meaning changes all the time. I won’t bore you with many examples, but, everyone with a tad of knowledge about language understands that words are endlessly mutable. That’s not only how we get one language descended from another, but dialects and even different ages of a language (Old English, Middle English, Modern English). My favorite is the word “nice,” which used to mean what we would call “not nice”.

Those few of you who read this blog regularly or periodically know (I mean, I hope), whatever my own biases, I at least try and understand the opposing positions, even when I prefer one over the other. But, the argument that I can only see as “it’s our word and you [gays] can’t use it” is just meaningless to me, and not worthy of the many bright people I’ve heard rely on it. They see a familiar world passing and are uncomfortable with it. They want Thanksgiving to be with Uncle Frank and Aunt Geraldine, not Uncle Frank and Uncle Morris.

If marriage right now means between a man and a woman in the majority of people's minds, we all know that in other countries, and in groups within our own country in past times, it has also meant between a man and one or more wives, and, even in some few cultures, a woman and one or more man.

I’m not arguing that words have no meaning at all. That is the default argument I sometimes hear in response to my own. Of course they have meanings. Usually, more than one and a range of meanings. But, they are hardly immutable. They can mean one thing in one place and a different thing in another. They can change from year to year. You know, I remember playing football as a kid and being pleased that someone said to me after I ran for a touchdown, "Who do you think you are, OJ?" That was a compliment then. Today, it would not be a compliment (unless they were praising me for getting away with murder).

Words have the meaning assigned to it by a group of people at any given time. If today it means between a man and a woman by a majority of Americans, and it still does, just think 30 years ago how many fewer Americans would have accepted the idea of marriage between people of the same sex. Possibly a small minority.

The same can be said for what now, almost no one would exclude -- interracial marriage. It is only since 1968 that marriage came to include, in some states, marriage between people of different races.

In fact, just look at California and Massachusetts, two states which recently allowed same-sex marriage. In 2000, when California passed the proposition that marriage was only between a man and a woman, it did so by 61 percent of the vote -- a significant majority. This year, when the constitutional amendment was voted on, it was only a little over 50 percent, not much of a majority. In Massachusetts, when same sex marriage was allowed as a result of judicial decision,
a poll showed that 53 percent opposed it and only 35 percent approved it. That was in 2004. The very next year, polling showed 56 percent approved it -- a 62 percent increase - and only 37 percent disapproved. People get used to most changes in word meanings very quickly in the age of media, never mind Obama.

Many opposers of gay marriage argue that it will degrade marriage. One gay man (and when I use the term in this article I am including bi-sexual - so, sue me) I know loves to say to people who argue so that he is sorry about their marriage. However, when I relayed that to a second man, as conservative as the first was liberal, he said that it was a ridiculous argument -- that it was in general that marriage would be degraded. But, I would argue, for that to be true -- doesn't at least one actual individual marriage have to be degraded? And, if at least one, then many of them to call it a general condition. Where are these marriages? Are we going to start blaming Mary and Tom's divorce on Kerry and Sheila's marriage?

The so-called "great compromisor," Henry Clay once said in a popular 1839 speech: "[T]he liberty of the descendants of Africans in the United States is incompatible with the safety and liberty of the European descendants." I hope and believe that most of those opposed to gay marriage because they believe it will degrade heterosexual marriages, would see the fallacy of the Clay opinion, and its analogy to gay marriage. Then again, I have long ago given up the idea that any analogy will be accepted by someone of an opposing opinion if they can come up with a hair's breadth of difference factually (although that difference is precisely what makes it an analogy). Such is life.

I disagree with Mike Huckabee, who recently said that the unlawfullness of gay marriage is not a civil rights issue. If there is a substantial right available to others deprived to someone because of their inherent status, then there must be a good reason to deprive them of it for the sake of society, or, it is a violation of the idea of equal protection. I say idea of equal protection, rather than the constitutional provision, because, we have yet to have a determination legally as to equal protection at the U.S. Supreme Court level, although, obviously, some high state courts have spoken to the issue.

However, I agree with Governor Huckabee that gay rights cannot not be said to be on the same level as that which blacks went through to gain their civil rights, although I believe there was a time it was. While there may be occasional violence against gays because of that status, it is relatively rare.

I live in a very conservative town in rural America, and, the idea of gay marriage is fairly unpopular here, or, so I have been told by gays. But, there is some prejudice of this sort all through America. It is installed in us when we are young. Yet, I know gays who walk through town here hand and hand. Some may not like them, but they have not attacked them and I have not heard any suggestions that they should. Of course, there are instances of violence directed against gays because of who they are as there are with other "minorities" (a word so splintered now it has almost no meaning except not a white male), but I do not think it is equivalent, or, even close to the black civil rights struggle. Still wrong, but many things are wrong. And, of course, I think a beating or murder of a heterosexual man is as horrible as that of a gay one.

A young gay man I know snarled at me the other day for saying as much as I say here because of a recent killing of a man in Syracuse, New York for the "crime" of being a gay (although actually, it turns out, it was a transgendering woman). I was told I was very insensitive. I disagree. Of course, that is horrible and the monster who did it should get life. But, there's a difference between a moron occasionally killing someone because of prejudice, and the police hosing blacks, or, blacks being refused access to public transportation, hotels, bathrooms, etc. That young man can walk into almost any hotel in the country hand and hand with another man and get a room.

However, it is not fun feeling persecuted and some people take it worse than others. I am a member of at least two minority groups, but have never felt particularly threatened, even on the one or two occasions when I was actually threatened. But, the two gay men I spoke to recently both think that Huckabee is "almost" calling for a Kristalnacht against gays. That is absurd, if you listen to what he says (he even believes in civil unions), but they seem to believe it and to be genuinely angry or afraid. On the other hand, it is true that there are many people who think little of them just because of their sexual predilictions and I don't intend to minimize that.

If you aren't pissed off at me yet, and would like to be, keep reading.

It is interesting to me though, in speaking with one of the above referenced gay men via email I suggested that men or women who sleep with grown pubescent teenagers who are technically under the legal age of consent, have a greater violation of their civil rights because they actually prosecuted and can go to jail for having consensual sex with someone completely capable of having it; they are even put on a sexual predator list. He said that was not the same thing because they are sleeping with someone under the age of consent. I don't see the difference. Until a few years ago, what gay men did was a crime too. Just because something is illegal doesn't make it wrong. The age of consent is an artificial boundary. For crying out loud - my mother was 16 when she married my adult father -- was he a pederast? Of course not.

For those of you ferociously angry with me, I'm not suggesting its okay for adults to sleep with young children and I am disgusted by any kind of non-consensual assault, but, I do not believe that late teenagers are innocents preyed upon by adults all the time. Sometimes it is the opposite. Fine them if you must do something, but no jail. And, I am talking about a criminal standard. I personally don't think it is a good idea for young girls to sleep with anyone. I just don't believe it should be a crime. Where the age cut off should be, I haven't totally figured out, but it is definitely not 17 or even 16. I know that if there is a God who created men and women, he (or she) already determined that it is puberty.

And those who think it is worse for, say, a 65 year old man to sleep with a 16 year old girl, than it is for a 19 year old man to do the same; you are exhibiting agism, no differently than you would be if you felt that older people should be refused work they are just as capable of doing as younger people just because of their age.

And now, dear reader, as the Emperor in Star Wars, Episode VI said: "Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!"


  1. Anonymous5:02 PM

    Sorry, you don't get to cahnge the meanings of words just because an arbitraru percentage of the polulus thinks it would be "nice". Fou can never mean five unless we are entering that Alice in Wonderland Scenario where words mean just what I mean them to mean, nothing more nothing less. If I walk around saying I'm Vietnamese I am not...and even if I have a court order saying I am vietnamese I am not. You are eplying the same moral relativism in words that many people want to use in other areas...that nothing reallly means anything. For alittle more concrete example if we get a cort decision that says Rosie odonnel is and henceforth shall be feferred to as "gorgeous" then that word has no meaning (and yes I chose a word that is purposely more subjective)
    You are also trying to limit your perspective to just today without viewing the historical concept of marriage (this short sightedness is not really like you so I'm not sure if it's being done to be provacative). Marriage (whether civil or clerical) has been the underpinning of the nuclear (PROCREATIVE) family and therfore has had a defining role in the creation of civilized society...and in every society for all of history marriage has required one man one woman. You often rail against political correctness but you are advocating it here. And the canard that it is a civil rights issue is bogus. Sexual activity is a matter of choice..unfortunately for them (and to their social detriment i believe) gays have made the sexual acts in which they engage the defining core of their existence. And I'm sure people will now say thatthey were born that way so we shouldn't hold that against them. Iam also of the opinion that it is (in the vast majority of esp male cases) but that is no reason to in and of itself to confer any status on it much les change clearly defined words to shoehorn it in. I am also of the opinion that pedophilia and sociopathy are inborn conditions but I don't hear too many people saying they should be given staus based upon that.
    This SSM movement IMAO isn't even about what they is an attempt to force socirty at large to view their condition as equally preferable to heterosexual monogomous marriage. Thiey want it to be taught to children and to have detractors charged with hate crimes. Check out the coments of the prop 8 protesters if you think otherwise.
    To the homosexual community...the word marriage is are free to partake..just "marry" a person of the opposite sex. I'm quite happy to have you com up with a new word of your choosing. If I concoct a new soft drink tomorrow I don't get to call it Coca cola...those words mean something and it is important that our words have consistent and predictable meaning.
    PS I always knew you were gay

  2. Folks, this from a man who actually lives on Psych Path. But, you know, that whole 19th century rant was worth it for the last sentence.

  3. Anonymous6:27 PM

    Psycho Path..touche

    And you need to be more optimistic; don't say 'dear reader"keep it plural.
    And, the 65 16 comparison..I assume that was a collective csae of wishful thinking!

  4. Stepped on my own line. Psych Path was a typo. Meant psycho. Can't edit a comment though.

    And as to the other, 25-35 has always been my weakness. Was when I was a teenager, still is. Didn't help then. Don't help now.

  5. Anonymous6:57 PM

    I figured it was a typo but i read it as Psycho and thought the line was funny.

    As to the 25-35 thing...hit the lottery- it's amazing how sexy that makes one.

  6. Equal protection under the law means EQUAL protection under the law, and equal rights means EQUAL rights. Case closed. Anything else, no matter what language it is dressed up in, is just another way of saying, to quote the great George Orwell,"all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

  7. I think Bear and I are in agreement about this topic, or, at least in that we both support gay marriage. However, as an ever lovin' attorney who has spent a little time reading con law cases,I have to tell you that what you reasonably think equal protection means has never, and I mean never, been what our Supreme Court thinks it means, and that includes conservative and liberal judges. The cases tell us that except in cases calling for heightened or suspect scrutiny, and is unlikely that a "gay marriage" case would be included as such, all the government needs to do to discriminate is show a "rational basis" for the law. It is not necessary the court agree with the law or think it is a good idea. Rational means, some logical basis. So, if the state says that its law banning gay marriage is based on a belief that it actually debases (whether you agree or not) marriage between a man and a woman, it might survive a challenge.

    Thanks for commenting all.

  8. David,
    Mom was 17 and 1/2 when she married Dad, not 16. He was 21. I believe that marriage was legal at 17 (and mind you, she had already finished a year and a half of college), and if not, it was if you had parental permission -- and the marriage was a plot between our two grandmothers.
    PS What's the second minority? I can only figure out the first; is the second being an attorney?

  9. Mom always told me she was 16. If you have a marriage certificate, you can end that debate. However, you are wrong about the legal age to get married; you could always do it earlier if your parents approve, which they did.

    Besides, its really irrelevant. Many people got married before than way back when. The culture changed. I just don't think it should have changed so much that people are going to jail for consensual sex with other biologically grown people. As our society has grown more complex, we've extended the time legally when we believe people are "adults," but these are arbitrary choices. Look at it this way - the age for drinking went from 18-21; If a state changed the legal age for consent to 21, on the theory that people could make better choices, should we be throwing those sleeping with 20 year olds in jail (or even threaten them with it).

    Keep in mind, it is very few years since same sex marriage, or, even non-missionary position sex was illegal. Would you be ok with that going back to the way it was? Doubt it? Let's move forward and skip ahead of this fairly recent arbitrary imprisonment of adults having consensual sex with other biological adults. And spare me the studies showing that people are always changing in their brains, etc. Obviously, they are sexually able (and many sexually active).


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .