Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Counting the Ways the Civil Unions and Marriage Ban is Ridiculous

Today the state Assembly votes on whether to pass on to the voters a constitutional amendment that bans the possibility of gay and lesbian marriages and civil unions in Wisconsin, along with legally jeopardizing the existence of domestic partner benefits enjoyed by many committed couples currently in the state.

Although I consider myself a progressive liberal, I feel it’s important to compromise on most issues when it comes to formulating public policy. In other words, while I think ideology can and should be pure, the legislative process, in most instances, needs to involve some negotiation in order to work. We live in a diverse society, which needs to be reflected in our public policymaking. This is why I would be willing to support some form of concealed carry and why I also support the school voucher agreement that’s currently moving through the state legislature.

There are some issues, however, that cannot be compromised because to do so would involve acquiescing to discrimination. Such was the case when dealing with Southern Dixiecrats during much of the last century. And it’s also the case with the discriminatory amendment going before the state Assembly today.

When trying to discuss the proposed amendment, I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit poking fun at the Trent Lott comment a few years ago that the country would’ve been better off if segregationist Strom Thurmond was elected president in 1948. In the “Hardball” sketch, Lott—played by Al Gore—made some comment about only meaning with his statement that the country would be better off if black people and white people were separated. Chris Matthews, played perfectly by Darrell Hammond, responded: “As soon as I stop counting all the ways that’s stupid, I’ll start yellin’ at ya.”

I can, however, muster up a few broad comments on the issue of barring gay and lesbian citizens from being in legally recognized relationships in the State of Wisconsin.

One, while many people may not think about it this way, we already have the institution of civil unions in Wisconsin—it’s called marriage. Marriage is a state institution, not a religious one. I don’t care where you physically get married, without a license from the State of Wisconsin (or some other state) that marriage is not legally recognized in this country. A religious ceremony is just that—purely ceremonial. So any hope of using the Bible or any other religious text to defend this ban misses the point (side-note: Carrie at What's Left has a great rundown of what life really would be like under the Bible).

Two, in response to the “Let the people decide!” argument, public opinion—which isn’t heavily anti-gay and lesbian marriage to start—should not be the determinant of our marriage policy. If that was the case, interracial marriages would not have been allowed in this country until the 1990s, which is when public opinion polls first started to consistently show a majority of the country in support of such legalized unions. And if we broke it down state-by-state, there may be some parts of the country that would still outlaw interracial marriages. Thankfully, a Supreme Court decision in 1967 trumped public opinion at the time and allowed for interracial marriages across the country.

Three, gay and lesbian marriages are not gateway unions. Meaning that just because we allow committed, consenting, adult gay and lesbian couples to have a legally-recognized relationship in Wisconsin does not mean that it will lead to allowing siblings to get hitched nor will it lead to allowing humans to start marrying farm animals. That (largely offensive) line of logic isn’t any more sound than asserting that concealed carry should never be allowed solely for the reason that it will surely open the door for submachine guns being added to the roof-tops of cars. It’s a ridiculous argument that misses the point of the issue completely.

Four, as an editorial in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel puts it: "Gay unions pose no threat to marriage. What threats there are generally come from heterosexuals."

These are just a few broad comments on the amendment topic. As I continue to count the ways the proposed marriage and civil unions ban is ridiculous, I’m sure I’ll have more to add in the coming days, weeks, and months.


Blogger Jason said...

What we really need is a bill barring adoptions by Republican voters:


The following is the key reasoning for such a ban:

``credible research'' shows that adopted children raised in Republican households are more at risk for developing ``emotional problems, social stigmas, inflated egos, and alarming lack of tolerance for others they deem different than themselves and an air of overconfidence to mask their insecurities.''

February 28, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I heard about that one. Great tongue-in-cheek way to make a serious point.

February 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious what you make of the following: http://www.janegalt.net/blog/archives/005244.html

March 04, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

It seems Galt’s basic argument is that the proposition of same-sex marriage should be considered with caution because civil reform inevitably changes civil institutions. She cites examples of some institutions that have, in her opinion, worsened with reform because of what she terms “marginal cases.” The inference is that allowing same-sex marriage could hurt the overall civil institution of marriage by including these “marginal cases” from the gay and lesbian community.

The big logical flaw with this argument is that every civil institution you can imagine would be less challenging (although not necessarily better for society, as I discuss below) if it was allowed to be selective. If we made marriage as it exists now more selective for heterosexual couples we could certainly come up with some way to make marriage more monolithic and probably even decrease the divorce rate.

However, I would imagine most Americans are thankful that the US doesn’t have selective processes for our civil institutions. As a country we don’t believe in discriminating based upon race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation in affording the rights and benefits of a civil institution on our citizens. Our diversity and openness are big parts of what makes us a great country.

That said, I don't think it would even be desirable for us as a society to make marriage more monolithic. Part of the beauty of recent renovations in marriage is that couples have been granted greater social authority in defining their relationship as they think is best. More wives are in the workforce and more husbands are staying at home—and that’s, for the most part, considered a good thing.

More to the point, claiming that same-sex marriage would negatively impact the civil institution of marriage is a highly dubious assertion.

Marriage is both public and private. The state granting civil marriage to a couple and thereby affording them the rights and benefits of marriage is a public act. A couple’s decision to get married in the first place is private, as is the way they define their personal relationship to each other once married.

What same-sex marriage would change is the criteria the state uses to determine who should be allowed to marry and who should not. What would not change at all is a couple’s private decision to get married nor would the manner in which they personally define their relationship once married change in any way.

Allowing for same-sex marriage wouldn’t make the heterosexual marriage rate go up or down. It wouldn’t make the divorce rate go up or down. What granting same-sex couples the ability to marry would do is further the goal of equality in the US.

But the fact is this amendment is not about allowing for same-sex marriage or civil unions. It’s about whether we want to be able to continue to have a public discussion on the topic in the future in Wisconsin. Once something is written into the state constitution, it becomes very difficult to undo.

Even if the amendment is defeated on November 7, same-sex couples will still not have the right to marry in Wisconsin nor will they be able to join in a legal relationship that resembles marriage such as civil unions.

March 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are falling into the set of people she refers to as those who say, 'Why on earth would it make any difference to me whether homosexuals can marry?'. What I think you are missing is that she isn't just saying that civil "reform" inevitably changes civil institutions, but that the changes are likely to occur on the edges (of the heterosexual community). Those changes could potentially result in consequences that those of us in the "middle" never would have anticipated since we can't imagine why allowing homosexuals to marry would ever make a difference to us.

While I agree that amending the state constitution is the wrong approach, her article gives me pause. We certainly don't want to see our birthrates plunge as is currently happening across Europe.

March 07, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

It may seem like I'm falling into that set of people who argue that "Why on earth would it make any difference to me whether homosexuals can marry?" But that's exactly what Galt intended.

Galt purposely set-up her argument to include a straw-person that she can fit everyone who challenges her into and subsequently debase those challenges. But my argument is not only that same sex marriage won't have any impact on heterosexual marriage, but that it doesn't matter even if it would.

There could be beyond a reasonable doubt proof that same sex marriage would BETTER heterosexual marriage (which is just as plausible as the argument that same sex marriage "might" hurt the fringes of the heterosexual community) and it wouldn't make me any more adamant that same sex marriage is a necessary reform because this is about equality and ending discrimination--two things the United States is typically at the forefront of enacting in the world.

Same sex couples already exist, they already live together, they already raise kids, they already participate in society just like heterosexual couples--what we're talking about here is allowing them to join in a legalized civil union and reap the benefits that come from the legalization of their relationship just like heterosexual couples currently enjoy.

There is absolutely no evidence that allowing same sex couples the right to marry will have an impact on anything--except perhaps the marriage rate, which would likely go up because the millions of gay and lesbian people will finally be given the opportunity to legally join in a state-sanctioned union.

Lastly, I don’t see how birthrates have anything to do with this argument. It doesn't take marriage to have a baby--it takes unprotected sex, something that would continue inside and outside of marriage regardless of same sex marriage.

Shouldn't we be more concerned that the babies people in this country are currently having grow up in a caring household? Loving, committed same sex couples are often at the front of the line at adoption agencies to take unwanted babies from heterosexual relationships. (And many more same sex couples are using the advancing science of reproduction to create their own children, just like many heterosexual couples do when they have complications with fertility.) If we’re interested in strengthening families in this country, we should be granting those same sex families the option to partake in the benefits and privileges of marriage that we currently afford to heterosexual families.

There is absolutely no reason why we should not grant same sex couples the right to marry. The fact that Galt had to make a “might” argument just to defend against it (and many other advocates for banning same sex marriage in the constitution need to reference religious texts that have no bearing on civil institutions in this country to make their argument) shows how justified same sex legalized unions are in this country.

March 08, 2006  

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