I still don’t understand…

Four years ago, in Cites & Insights 4:7 (June 2004), Bibs & Blather included a section headed “It May Not Be My Fight, But…”

It went something like this (OK, it went exactly like this):

Boy, do I not want to write this section in some ways. I stand to lose readers as a result and I can’t imagine that I’ll gain any readers or friends (my few close friends already know where I stand). I could lose speaking opportunities. I should just let it be.

After all, it may not be my fight. I’m a middle-aged white man, straight, politically moderate, married to a wonderful woman for more than 26 years, with no intention of changing that status.

But here it is. And, come to think of it, maybe it is my fight.

I’m happily married. I’m heterosexual. We were married in a church.

And for the life of me, I cannot see any way to interpret the marriage of two adults who love one another as doing anything other than strengthening marriage, as long as the two adults are both competent to make that commitment. Those marriages do nothing to weaken my marriage in particular, and (I believe) a lot to strengthen marriage in general.

Before you blow your stack, note that I would have no problem with “marriage” being something that’s done entirely by religious organizations—as long as government replaces it with some other form of commitment that has the 1,100+ perquisites that currently exist for married couples, and only for married couples. Get government entirely out of marriage (that is, the rite and agreement with that particular name), and I have no problem. Of course, neither do same-sex couples: Any number of ministers in Metropolitan churches, Unitarian Universalist congregations, and other faiths will be only too happy to wed two men or two women who are committed to one another. Would my wife and I still have a church wedding? Hard to say.

“It’s for the children.” Hogwash.

I don’t remember any questionnaire when we went to get a marriage license, asking us whether we intended to have children. We don’t have them, and won’t. Should our marriage be annulled?

My father remarried at age 89 to a wonderful 91-year-old woman. I suspect there was never any possibility of those two having children—and that wasn’t a bar to their getting married.

“For the children” means that any person who’s infertile, either by choice or by chance, should be barred from marriage.

“The Bible says…” Well, for one thing, freedom of religion only works if there’s also freedom from religion, and the government currently provides all those perquisites to married couples. Thus, marriage has to be considered a secular union. Don’t push Biblical attitudes toward right and wrong too far. There’s at least one passage in the Bible that appears to praise drunken incest (Genesis 19:30-38), and certainly more than one case of polygamy without condemnation.

I also take into account that the case I’m most personally acquainted with: Two wholly-committed people were able to get married in San Francisco before the courts temporarily stopped a peaceful and loving process. That couple includes one woman who’s a military veteran and considerably more religious and conservative than I’ll ever be, and another woman who’s a minister and presumably understands the Bible fairly well.

Was Gavin Newsom legally right? I don’t know. (I know he surprised a lot of people, given that he’s a happily married businessman who’s relatively conservative by SF standards. But then, it took Richard Nixon to open U.S. relations with China.) Was he morally right? I believe so. I won’t comment on “Ax Handle Romney” or other players in this ongoing drama (if you don’t get the reference, you’re younger than I am). I was fascinated by an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, filed from South Boston, that suggests people there aren’t terribly concerned about Massachusetts’ legalization of gay marriage—and that some “family” groups are getting desperate because “two years might not be long enough to show that gay marriage undermines marriage.” For once, I agree with the “family” people: I suspect two centuries of gay marriage won’t be long enough to show that it undermines the institution of marriage!

Semi-reformed slutty “virgins” getting “married” for two days to have a good ol’ time with an old boyfriend may weaken the institution of marriage. People on their 6th and 7th marriage may weaken the institution. Fifty percent divorce rates may weaken the institution. Or, in all those cases, it may not. Everyone who cheats on their spouse weakens the institution, as does every man who believes his spouse is some sort of slave and lesser being.

Loving couples where both are men or both are women? Couples who have been together for decades (four of them, in the first San Francisco ceremony)? These couples strengthen marriage as an institution. They also strengthen society and help to undo a long-standing wrong.

If you find that so disagreeable that you’ll never read Cites & Insights (or anything else I write) again—well, that’s your privilege. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.


So what’s happened over the past four years?

  • The 4,000 marriages that took place in San Francisco were eventually annulled by state courts–but those courts didn’t choose to rule on the constitutional issue at hand.
  • As anticipated, several years of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has failed to cause the moral or other downfall of that state or in any apparent way weaken the institution of marriage.
  • And now, California’s Supreme Court–which, incidentally, has six Republicans out of its total seven members–has concluded that the ban on same-sex marriage does, indeed, violate California’s constitution.
  • Carpetbaggers from Virginia and various other “liberty as long as you’re on our side”–“Family, but only the way we define Family” groups were already gathering petitions to try to write a ban on same-sex marriage into the California constitution. That only takes a majority vote. Could a majority vote to make it illegal for people over 65 to marry (after all, “It’s for the children”) or for left-handed people to vote? Presumably so…
  • Before we start talking about “will of the people,” it’s worth noting that the way the will of the people is typically expressed for legislative issues is through elected representatives–and that California’s state legislature has twice passed bills to legalize same-sex marriage. In both cases, the Governator vetoed the bills. (Yes, California uses the initiative process a lot–and, as in most other states, the initiative process frequently produces bad law and worse policy.)
  • Interestingly, the Governator has come out against the initiative to overturn the court decision and says he’ll campaign against it..

I still don’t understand how marriage involving two loving people can weaken the institution of marriage. (I don’t remember who commented that it would take a lot for gays to screw up American marriage more badly than straights have done, but it’s not a bad point.)

I’ve been married 30 years now, and look forward to many more years…and I suppose I’m only “middle aged” in my own mind, since I really don’t plan to live to anything like 124.

I did lose one long-time reader as a result of that 2004 commentary. That’s the breaks. I could lose more as a result of repeating and, if anything, strengthening my opinion–but I think it’s unlikely. Things are moving…and the Republican-dominated California Supreme Court made the right decision, in my opinion. (Worth noting: One of the three dissenters basically agreed that the ban was unconstitutional but wasn’t willing to overturn it. In some ways, it was a 5:2 majority more than a 4:3 majority.)

I’m hoping California’s voters will demonstrate the social liberalism that’s helped make California great. In a state with no majority, I’d like to see all “minority rights” treated well.

Update 6/21/08: Comments are closed for this post.

18 Responses to “I still don’t understand…”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Walt,

    Well, I think you are wrong, but you won’t lose me as a reader. I am thankful whenever I find a person who actually seems to have thought about this deeply to some degree… (and who is actually open to talking to persons with dissenting views)

    And I believe that most of the younger persons in this country share your view. Mine is on the way out, and of course I have concern about this (foremost in my mind is this: will I be allowed to tell persons that I think their way of life is ultimately not good and contrary to the design of creation?).

    You said:

    “It’s for the children.” Hogwash.

    I don’t remember any questionnaire when we went to get a marriage license, asking us whether we intended to have children. We don’t have them, and won’t. Should our marriage be annulled?

    My father remarried at age 89 to a wonderful 91-year-old woman. I suspect there was never any possibility of those two having children—and that wasn’t a bar to their getting married.

    “For the children” means that any person who’s infertile, either by choice or by chance, should be barred from marriage.”

    Well, I *do really think its all about the children*, and you can say that’s hogwash, but I assure you it is true (in the same way, the horrific scorurage of heterosexual divorce is all about the children too) – at least for me. :) The majority of marriages produce children, who are a blessing to society, period. I don’t think the exceptions to this change the general nature of the thing.

    For some more I hope thoughtful reflection that disagrees with you, see posts #1 and 23 here: http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/03/just-the-facts-maam-in-oklahoma/

    I wrote more here, in post #2:
    http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/03/same-sex-marriage/

    Blessings Walt. Thanks for what you do.

    ~Nathan

  2. Nathan Says:

    Walt,

    I forgot to say, I hope this helps you understand where I am coming from. Please know I am more than eager to continue the conversation and am interested in your feedback as well – either here or via email.

    ~Nathan

  3. Angel Says:

    I don’t get it either. But you have said a lot of what I have been thinking in and out, just so much better.

    And if you were to lose readers, I am sure you will gain a lot more to more than make up.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  4. walt Says:

    A quick response:

    1. Nathan’s first comment was trapped for moderation because it had more than one link, and Nathan had never commented here before. On examination, I approved the comment–which does not imply that I agree with Nathan.

    2. No, I don’t see any need to discuss this further with Nathan. The linked discussions include his repeated explanations of where he’s coming from. The Britannica discussion is ongoing; I see no reason to continue that particular debate here. There have been several articulate responses to Nathan–and he’s made some articulate statements of his own. Why repeat that here?

    As for younger persons…well, I’m delighted to think that most younger people believe in diversity and equal rights, but I’m not what you’d call a terribly young person, at age 62. There are a lot of us old geezers, too, who don’t believe the government should be allowing X categories of marriage-that-won’t-result-in-children and barring Y categories of marriage-that-won’t-result-in-children, as long as government provides vastly more benefits to married couples than to unmarried couples.

  5. Nathan Says:

    Walt,

    First of all, I understand that its not only young persons who share the views you are talking about – I was just talking about momentum, and the likley way things will go.

    You said:

    “The Britannica discussion is ongoing… Why repeat that here?”

    I thought there might have been something I said that you would think was worth addressing, and continuing a nice discussion on (for example, since you bring up benefits, I ask some, I think rather good, questions about why gov’t benefits ought not be given to those who are living in committed, non-sexual relationships [why discriminate here?]). That’s why I bothered posting what I did here. It seems to me that you really do try to treat persons with respect and really be concerned to listen to all voices…

    Of course, this isn’t always the case with persons who call themselves moderate.

    Often times, persons talk about how they have “deep respect” for persons whose convictions clash with their own, but their “respect” *does not even go so far as to acknowledge what these convictions are… to represent them as fairly as possible so others can be aware of them* Case in point:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/may/18/stemcells.medicalresearch

    For persons with more traditional views, I perceive this as occuring more and more, and it disturbs me, as I am sure those opposed to my views can understand.

    Still, I also know that your not wanting to discuss this issue further does not mean that you are becoming “this kind” of moderate. I should put the best construction on things, which means not assuming too much about your reasons.

    I trust you will return the courtesy. Please know, again, that for me, it really is about the children.

    Thanks again Walt,

    Nathan

  6. walt Says:

    Nathan,

    You’ll note that I’m not attacking you or assuming hidden motives. I’m saying that the discussion at Britannica probably doesn’t need to be repeated here.

    Thus, I rescued your original comment from the spam bucket and I’ve left the links intact. I think that offers a fair representation.

    Note that I haven’t said that I’ll censor, censure, attack or delete further comments. (I won’t, except when they violate my comment policies.) I’ve just said that I don’t choose to keep the discussion going here by writing my own exegesis, beyond what I said in the original post. Maybe that’s a matter of personal priorities or time.

  7. Nathan Says:

    Walt,

    No, I agree with what you say. You didn’t accuse *me, specifically* of hidden motives. You allowed my comment – and links – to stand. Of course, you have not threatened me in any way. And finally, I figured this did have to do with other priorities (which might very well be more important than answering some blog post from a guy you never heard from until this morning! : ) ). No Walt – I know all of this is true.

    I also know what you’ve written is: “’It’s for the children.’ Hogwash.”

    And by my last comment, I’m just trying to re-iterate for emphasis: *that* kind of sentiment kind of hurts, and I hope that those who continue to insist that this is universally true for all who persons who take a principaled stand against concepts like same-sex marriage will reconsider such ironclad convictions.

    But, when I see so little evidence from quarters to discuss this, I also know I just can’t hold my breath. And I think: my time to have a voice here is limited. Maybe that’s wrong. But I doubt it.

    Thanks again Walt,
    Nathan

  8. Fitz Says:

    Walt (writes)

    “I still don’t understand how marriage involving two loving people can weaken the institution of marriage.”

    Perhaps the most concise & well articulated response to this question is as follows…

    “Marriage is neither a conservative nor a liberal issue; it is a universal human institution, guaranteeing children fathers, and pointing men and women toward a special kind of socially as well as personally fruitful sexual relationship. Gay marriage is the final step down a long road America has already traveled toward deinstitutionalizing, denuding and privatizing marriage. It would set in legal stone some of the most destructive ideas of the sexual revolution: There are no differences between men and women that matter, marriage has nothing to do with procreation, children do not really need mothers and fathers, the diverse family forms adults choose are all equally good for children. What happens in my heart is that I know the difference. Don’t confuse my people, who have been the victims of deliberate family destruction, by giving them another definition of marriage.”

    Walter Fauntroy – Former DC Delegate to Congress, Founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Coordinator for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march on DC

  9. Nathan Says:

    Fitz,

    Exactly right – that is more breif, informative, direct, and persuasive (?) than I could ever hope to be. I remember a day long past when it was considered a tragedy that a child was deprived of a mother or a father.

    ~Nathan

  10. walt Says:

    Just to clarify a couple of things:

    1. The fact that comments appear, with or without responses, doesn’t mean I agree with them or endorse them, even when they’re high-fiving another comment.

    2. I noted a post in another blog linking to this post and saying I was “confused.” That’s not the case. I wasn’t confused four years ago and I’m not confused now. Nor, for that matter, have I heard any new logic or information. If people are coming from that link hoping to “inform” or convince me, they’re failing.

    I haven’t been responding mostly because I don’t see anything new here.

    Some of you may find this treatment of the issues–written by someone who’s about my age, similarly long-time-married, and in fact attended the same alma mater at the same time, but who DOES have children (and also writes much better than I could ever hope to) worthwhile. Some of you may not:
    Jon Carroll’s column for May 19, 2008

  11. John Dupuis Says:

    An interesting response north of the border, where attracting American gays to come here for their weddings is a pretty big business: Wedding cake bittersweet: Gay community applauds California’s embrace of same-sex marriage but fears economic effect.

    Gay marriage is pretty much a non-issue here. It’s been legal for a while and the sky has not fallen, the earth has not opened up to swallow us nor do I feel any less married to my wife. Even the Conservative government realizes that there’s no advantage to be had from opposing it, even within a lot of elements in their own party.

  12. joshua m. neff Says:

    Walt, thank you for posting this. I’m with you: I don’t understand how same-sex marriage could possible weaken marriage as an institution, especially when we see evidence from Canada and Europe that it doesn’t. In fact, I feel my own heterosexual marriage means less if another loving couple who just happen to be the same gender can’t get married like I did. But I don’t see any point in arguing about it. If someone disagrees with me and feels this is an important point to argue against, I can’t imagine anything I’d say would change their mind, and they’re not going to change mine.

  13. Nathan Says:

    Hey all,

    Walt, thanks for the link to the Carrol column. Interesting take.

    I’m following others’ views here with interest. Really. At the same time, I too think more and more every day there is little point in debating this, I guess, since persons seem quite entrenched on the issue.

    With that in mind, I don’t think it hurts to try to seriously undertand other person’s positions as well as possible (I am not sure if this will create empathy or make things worse, but it seems like the right thing to do at least).

    So, I am genuinely curious. Regarding Mr. Fautroy’s comments where he says [gay marriage] would “set in legal stone” the following:

    *There are no differences between men and women that matter
    *marriage has nothing to do with procreation
    *children do not really need mothers and fathers
    *the diverse family forms adults choose are all equally good for children

    …do you think this is true or not? And if you do think it is true, would this be a good thing? And if it would not be a good thing, why so much confidence that it is not something to really be concerned about? Finally, if you think opposition to same sex marriage is wrong it this just a bigoted thing (Christian? Religious in general?) promoting hate and alienation, or can this be a practical philosphical kind of thing?

    Thanks in advance to any takers!

    Thanks,
    Nathan

  14. walt Says:

    Huh-uh. Nope. I’m not opening this up for a series of

    “Here’s something somebody said on this topic. We want point-by-point refutations.”

    Today it’s Fauntroy. Tomorrow it will be someone else.

    Just not gonna happen. You’re not trying to “seriously understand” my position, and Fauntroy isn’t directly involved in this discussion. (Neither did Fauntroy in any way address my original discussion–note the total absence of “love” anywhere in his statement.)

    You’re now in the “put out third-party statements and ask lots and lots of questions” mode–which, as I’ve seen in other similar discussions, eventually leads to “but you didn’t answer THIS question” or “I don’t think your answer to THIS question is acceptable.”

    There are plenty of places for extended “debate” of this sort. This isn’t one of them.

    Let it go, or take it elsewhere. You’ve already pretty much admitted that you’re not interested in changing your mind (and I’m not asking you to).

    I’m not cutting off comments…yet.

  15. Nathan Says:

    Walt,

    Thank you very much for not cutting off the comments.

    Please understand, I am all about love and respect here, and where you don’t want to go, or think its appropriate to go, I promise not to go. So anyone who was thinking about answering those questions – please respect Walt’s wishes and don’t do so. : )

    Walt, in my mind at least, I do seriously want to understand your position… perhaps I am deceiving myself, but I don’t think so: the heading of this post “I still don’t understand… [why anyone would...]” is mine as well. I, for one, really *struggle to understand* how a person could think that concern that children would receive everything they are supposed to be able to count on does not have anything to do with love (of course I want to treat my gay friends and acquantences with as much compassion and sensitivity as I can muster as we deal with these very hard issues – I want them to have more rights than you might suspect I do)

    Love is indeed key as you say. This man, writing in the secular “laddie mag” “Details” has much of interest to say:
    http://men.style.com/details/blogs/details/2008/03/would-you-reall.html#comments).
    (in the article, we learn that many young people find coming out to Christian parents to be easier in that that these parents know God expects them to love their children, no matter what life brings – the artilce contends its actually the progressive parents who often can’t cope)

    Again, when you write “I still don’t understand…”, I understand you when you say this does not mean you are confused, but I hope that you will forgive me for thinking that perhaps you wanted to talk with someone who seems to know something about the topic and has thought about it at a deep level (all the while I would totally understand if you thought that you had determined I was not such a person).

    All the best Walt. I promise I am through here if that is what you wish. Thank you again for you hospitality.

    And thank you again for all you do (this blog, free journal, etc.),

    Nathan

  16. Nathan Says:

    Walt,

    In case you are interested (not looking for a debate!):

    I just saw this, and highly recommend it.

    http://www.vtmarriage.org/html/__david_blankenhorn.htm

    (part 3 is especially good)

    Best,
    Nathan

  17. Jaroslaw Says:

    I have read what Walt & Nathan have to say three times and I’m not even sure where they disagree except that Nathan is apparently very much against SSM.

    The one thing I want to say to Nathan that is nowhere to be found on this post – life is not black & white. We can only study what is and draw conclusions but that does not preclude what we know nothing about.

    (a great example of this is many primitive societies have all kinds of sex initiation rituals around puberty which we find abhorrent. BUT they do not seem to cause harm to their children/adolescents. Neither way is “right” or “wrong, just different)

    For sure, life and its institutions are not static – to pretend otherwise as most Blogs on this top do is dishonest. But most important, you cannot assume all straight people are good parents or even cut out to be parents and that all Gay people are bad parents. One must always look at the individual.

    Hell, if you REALLY are concerned about children, everyone should have a license to have children. You can’t practice medicine, drive a car or anything else without a license…. :)

  18. Jaroslaw Says:

    of course, I meant to say “topic” not “top”


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