Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Proposition Hate. (part 1)

With most of my movie reviews from the November "experiment" now posted, I'd like to switch gears just a bit and return to the issue of gay marriage and its defeat in California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative. As many who know me can attest to, there is no issue for which I am unable to appreciate an opposing viewpoint. While being a self-professed liberal, I'm unusually sympathetic to pro-life advocates, death penalty proponents, and almost every other hot-button issue that seems to define the seemingly vast ideological differences within our country. The reason for this is simple: I'm a rational person and, even on issues for which I hold a strong opinion, if there's a valid argument to be made against my beliefs, I am willing to, sincerely, admit that I might be wrong. It's not the difference of opinions which divide our people, it's the absolute certainty with which those people hold such opinions.

All of that is just my way of saying that I'm about the furthest thing from a reactionary you might find. I'm the annoying devil's advocate who can take the air out of other people's passionate love, anger or lust for any person, place or idea. My friends hate me for this. I believe the contemporary term for a person with my skill set is "killjoy". While I take no pleasure in drawing this comparison, I suppose you could say I'm like Dr. Spock, but with a big nose instead of big ears.

I'm taking these elaborate pains to paint myself as this model of balance and reason because, ultimately, there is only one issue for which I do not recognize any alternative viewpoints as being even remotely justified. While I am willing to admit my opinions on abortion, the death penalty, immigration, taxes, social welfare, and every other social and legislative issue might be wrong, I am 100% convinced that the opinion I hold on gay marriage and all associated rights is beyond a shadow of the doubt the only correct view to be held. And that view, of course, is that gays should be afforded the same rights and privileges held by heterosexuals. Much has already been written or said about the result of Proposition 8 and, thankfully, the national dissatisfaction (outrage) over the result has not abated. I hardly expect my input on this issue will be revelatory, but that's never stopped anyone from sharing their opinion before, and nor will it stop me.

The most glaring problem for gay rights is that it's somehow framed as something which can be voted either for or against. This is, on its face, an incorrect and patently absurd notion. The simple act of allowing people the opportunity to express an opinion on whether or not to blatantly discriminate against an entire class of people gives false credibility to the issue though it is, in fact, something which people get to decide for themselves in a "majority rules" manner. It is not.

While some may find the analogy to slavery and racial discrimination to be obnoxious, those feelings do little to diminish the startling comparisons. In today's world, of course, the idea of equal rights for blacks is not even a remote issue. Sure, newer, controversial issues of reparations, racial quotas and affirmative action exist as a result of our nation's slavery legacy, as do some harsh feelings, but the basic idea of equal rights for black Americans is no longer questioned. Equal rights for black Americans are absolute and not subject to a vote, and I suspect even people who don't like blacks would acknowledge this as an unquestioned truth. Imagine if a state attempted to hold a vote which would deny blacks from marrying whites. Actually, you don't have to imagine all that hard. It wasn't until 1967 when, thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in the aptly-named Loving v. Virginia, race-based restrictions on marriage were finally eliminated. The facts of this case are rather astonishing.

From Wikipedia:

The plaintiffs, Mildred Loving (nee Mildred Delores Jeter, a woman of African and Rappahannock Native American descent, 1939 – May 2, 2008)[2][3] and Richard Perry Lovingwhite man, October 29, 1933 – June 1975), were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia, having left Virginia to evade the Racial Integrity Act, a state law banning marriages between any white person and any non-white person.

Upon their return to Caroline County, Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban. They were caught sleeping in their bed by a group of police officers who had invaded their home in the hopes of finding them in the act of sex (another crime). In their defense, Ms. Loving had pointed to a marriage certificate on the wall in their bedroom. That, instead of defending them, became the evidence the police needed for a criminal charge since it showed they had been married in another state.

Specifically, they were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified "miscegenation" as a felony punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.

Fortunately, when most people look back at something as racist and disturbing as this state law, we look back with mouths agape and wonder how and why it could ever have been so. I believe Americans will, too, look back at this period of history and marvel at how odd the dichotomy was of being progressive enough to elect a black man president, but discriminatory enough to deny certain Americans the freedom to marry another. Eventually, this will all be something we could hardly believe had ever been a part of the American landscape.
The intervention of the Supreme Court in helping to overturn Virginia's Racial Integrity Act is significant in many ways, not the least of which is that the federal government is where the issue of gay rights and gay marriage should rest. We wouldn't allow states to hold individual referendums on whether to re-legalize slavery, and that's because it's now understood to be a universal evil. And while the road to racial equality has been a bumpy one, and while the destination has still not yet been arrived at, the course has been self evident from our nation's earliest years because of the inherent contradiction of racial inequality with the founding principles of "liberty and justice for all."
So, too, is discrimination against gays at fundamental odds with this nation's founding principles. And, like the slow march toward racial equality, so, too, has the march for gay rights progressed---albeit maddeningly slow for those of us who might fancy ourselves the "abolitionists" of our day. And that's the good news...that in spite of the setback of Proposition 8...that in spite of the recent spate of anti-marriage votes in some of the more conservative states...the overall march marches on, perhaps even at a quickened pace, and perhaps with a few more boots on the ground as well.
Abraham Lincoln, contrary to what many people believe, was not exactly anti-slavery. He was, in truth, anti-slavery extension. He believed that slavery was wrong, but rather than move to abolish it, he simply wanted to contain its growth, believing that slavery was already on the road to eventual extinction. He thought, correctly, that any gesture to end slavery would be perceived as overtly hostile to those holding differing opinions...opinions he believed would eventually become irrelevant as more and more people recognized slavery as being a moral wrong.
While it won't take a civil war to get it done, I believe that the subjugation of gays is also on the road to eventual extinction.

In the 1860's, while many people were able to recognize slavery as wrong, almost as many of those people were unable to recognize blacks as their equals. Baby steps. The very fact that there was a Proposition 8 is evidence of the forward progress of gay rights. Take heart. People don't have to like the idea of gay marriage, they just need to not oppose it. You don't have to like blacks, you just need to not discriminate against them. You can have your opinions, but there's a fundamental difference between an opinion and a law...and, in this case, you may have the former but not the latter.

More to come.


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