Thursday, November 13, 2008

Prop 8: Living and Letting Live

The obvious issue for my first (serious) post seems to be prop 8 which recently passed in California. What a time to be mormon! Things are getting increasingly heated between those who support prop 8 and those who oppose it. I'll weigh in, and try to be fair to both sides.

The likelihood of proposition 8 passing were looking pretty slim to begin with; all but the most conservative seemed against the idea. So, what changed? Well, I'd say most of the voters were of the "live-and-let-live" variety and, at first, saw no harm in allowing homosexuals the right to marry. However, things seemed to change when reports came out of children being taken to gay weddings, books condoning gay marriage being read in schools, and religious charities closing because of pressure from gay rights groups. At this point, I think the live-and-let-live crowd started to think that the LGBT community wasn't going to live and let live, which made them feel threatened.

In fact, this may be what lead the Church to want to take action this time and not other times. Gay marriage has been an issue in other states and countries (Canada, for instance) and in those instances, the message coming from the First Presidency of the Church was to get involved if you wish, but not in the Church's name. This may suggest that they felt something else was at stake here, not just whether or not gay people could marry. Although, to be clear, the Church has not donated any money whatsoever, they simply sent a letter out encouraging people to get involved. Also, no one is obligated to get involved. Many LDS people have been opposed to proposition 8, and no action has been taken against them.

Since the proposition has passed, there has been a lot of talk of rights being taken away and people not accepting the love that two people have for one another. This kind of language seeks an emotional response, although it isn't accurate. I don't feel it's appropriate to talk in terms of "rights". Technically speaking, no rights were taken away, as a civil union carries with it exactly the same rights as a marriage. Also, prop 8 really had nothing to do with love. No one's ability to be in a loving, committed relationship has been compromised. I feel it is a strategy of prop 8 opponents to make it seem like more has been taken away than really has or that prop 8 supporters feel a certain way about homosexual couples when they really don't.

The argument has also been made that redefining marriage shouldn't be an issue since blacks used to not be allowed to marry whites and slaves used to not be allowed to marry at all. However, marriage has never been defined as between "a man and a woman, but not of different races and as long as they're not slaves". The definition of marriage has always been "a union between one man and one woman", that contract was simply being withheld from certain people. Also, it's important to note that marriage has been in practise for thousands of years and is not limited to American history. There have been various restrictions based on culture (caste system in India, to name one) but it has always been a contract between one man and one woman. Even when polygamy has been in practise throughout history, it has been a contract between one man and one woman, the men having multiple contracts with different people (this being the distinction between polygamy and polyamory). Even in Roman times when homosexuality was quite rampant and widely accepted, there were never marriages between two men. A man would have a wife in addition to male sexual partners; they were considered two seperate things. I'm not saying this to mean that the definition could never change, only that this argument shouldn't be used to support the legalisation of gay marriage.

And now, we come to the reality of the situation. (Most) prop 8 supporters aren't actually interested in taking people's rights away and (most) prop 8 opponents aren't actually upset about a lack of rights. Both sides are worried about something else and I think all this talk of "rights" is just beating around the bush. This is really a multi-million dollar argument over the word marriage. So why all the fuss over a word? Well, let's look at this from both sides.

First, we have the gay side. This is really a plea for acceptance. They have all the rights of straight people and can enter into de facto marriages, but they lack the connotation of being "married". I understand the desire, and don't find it to be all that unreasonable. When homosexuals first started "coming out", they adopted the term "gay" because it was a positive word. So, in this case, I feel the desire for marriage is a desire to use a word that gives the impression of a normal, healthy, loving relationship and apply it to themselves. It's really a way of saying, "hey, we're just like you guys, and we want to be treated the same."

On the religious right, I feel that there is a group of people who want to deny the word marriage to the LGBT community for this very reason. They don't want to grant official acceptance of homosexual relationships. The majority of those opposed to gay marriage, however, are probably just afraid of having their own rights taken away, at least this is most likely what swayed the vote in prop 8's favour. There's a pervading "give them an inch and they'll take a mile" mentality that says that if we allow gay marriage, religious leaders will start getting sued for not performing these gay marriages and children will be indoctrinated in the schools. I'm sure there are some gay people who want these things, but most of them probably don't care. As with most things, there are extremists and bigots on either side of the fence.

Really, we just have two sides who are both afraid of the same thing, and that is that their freedom to live as they choose will be taken away. The solution is probably an open dialogue between both sides. Both sides seem to feel that if they let live, they will no longer be able to live themselves. In Canada, when gay marriage was legalised, there were also measures taken to protect religious freedom, which I think is a good compromise. We just need to make sure that both sides are protected and no one has their rights taken away.

What we definitely don't need is more anger, hatred, and disrespect. Let's permanently throw out mudslinging language because it's not getting us anywhere. Besides, it just makes your opponent feel more resolve. When gay people start calling mormons bigots, vandalising churches, and threatening to have their tax-exempt status away, it just solidifies the fears of religious freedom being taken away. Some of the harassment that LDS people are receiving in the name of equal rights is completely ridiculous. If I were a member of the LGBT community, I would be distancing myself from these people as much as possible.

We're all in this together, living in the same world and breathing the same air. We need to co-exist peacefully with our fellow citizens. If we can't do that, we have a serious failure on our hands.

1 comment:

  1. There's a lot of rhetoric being thrown around lately--the gay-rights movement seems to have a knack for that. To say someone's opposition to same-sex marriage is akin to hatred and bigotry is an oversimplification at best, and complete dishonesty at the very worst. Perhaps if people took time to understand our doctrine, they would understand our concern as well.

    Truthfully, if homosexuals obtain the right to marry in California for once and for all, good for them, imho; I've never been able to muster much passion for the issue (I see it as more of a distraction from important issues, in fact), and I certainly wouldn't stand in the way of any two people getting married. But in reality, the Mormons who supported Prop 8 (and it wasn't all of us) were doing so to protect their own interests--the fear that we may one day be legally obligated to perform same-sex marriage in our sacred temples--a fear that appears increasingly likely given the lack of restraint that has been exercised on the part of certain gay-rights activists. Nevertheless, I believe same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married, but if I sound permissive, don't be fooled. I would do everything in my power to prevent even one same-sex marriage from being performed in any one of our temples--short of a change in policy from Church headquarters. Mormons, generally speaking, don't pick fights. But we're not pacifists (never have been), and I'm confident that we will fight to the bitter end to preserve and protect our identity as a people.