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rant

Prop. 8 and stuff like that

Like most of my friends-list, I'm deeply disappointed (although not entirely surprised) that California's Proposition 8 seems to have passed. Yes, there are absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted, but the current margin is half a million votes, a gap which is extremely unlikely to be made up.

As I see it, the Left has approached this whole thing wrong: "let's see if we can force morality and decency down the throats of the Religious Right." Which makes it your morality-and-decency against my morality-and-decency, with no room for compromise; whichever one is slightly more popular will win, and the other will lose. We shouldn't be surprised if "leave things as they have been all of our lives, and our parents' lives, and so on back a few thousand years" wins that contest; the remarkable thing is that it's only slightly more popular.

Apparent digression (but not really):
I've sometimes marveled at how the Corporate Republican Party apparently won't rest while any semblance of nature and wilderness, any non-renewable natural resource, remains un-developed: they feel compelled to destroy beautiful things as fast as possible before the Democrats get back into power and protect them again. They'll steal places that should be held in sacred trust for all people and all time, and despoil them for their own corporate profit, because they don't respect those places.

Now let's switch political backgrounds. I've sometimes marveled at how the Perverted Democratic Party apparently won't rest while any symbol of wholesomeness and morality remains un-polluted: they feel compelled to destroy beautiful things as fast as possible before the Republicans get back into power and protect them again. They'll steal words and institutions that should be held in sacred trust for all people and all time, and despoil them for their own perverted kicks, because they don't respect those words and institutions.

It's the exact same emotional response, and it explains why the Religious Right has been not only fighting this tooth and nail but getting a reasonable amount of support from the mainstream. (I can of course come up with all sorts of rational arguments that the two situations are not analogous, but rationality isn't relevant here.)

If we want to drive a wedge between the Religious Right and the "mainstream" on this issue, I think a much better answer is to separate church and state: let each religion apply its own definition of "marriage", and have government no longer perform or recognize marriages at all. If you want to be married in the eyes of God, have a marriage ceremony in the church of your choice. If you want your commitment to be recognized by the State, have a civil union according to the State's rules. If you want both, have both. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's.

(BTW, there's nothing wrong with the State authorizing a clergyperson to perform a civil union at the same time as a marriage, more or less as they do now: the words "By the power vested in me by the State of XYZ, I now pronounce you husband and wife" would simply become "By the power vested in me by the State of XYZ, I now pronounce you united.")

This way we're not "attacking" anybody's deeply-held notion of marriage, nor forcing anyone to "accept" marriages that they sincerely believe are immoral or at least unnatural. Whatever you believe marriage is, you're welcome to join a church that believes the same thing, and God bless you for it. Just don't expect the government to give any special recognition to your church's (or any other church's) notion of marriage. The State will develop and apply its own standards for "legally binding personal commitment between competent adults," according to the State's legitimate interests.

Of course, it would take a while to figure out what are the State's legitimate interests in recognizing personal commitments between competent adults. I don't see any obvious justification for a male/female criterion... or a "having sex" criterion... or an "only two" criterion....

Comments

Oh, those godless (insert party name here)...

I agree that some form of the seperation you suggest would probably create the greatest amount of freedom for the greatest amount of people. It would certainly make civil government more neutral toward/inclusive of all its citizens, which everyone agrees should be the goal -- until individual "squick buttons" get stepped on.

One blogger I read this morning listed compelling reasons for codifying the legal status of her partnership -- "I want to be able to take our children on a trip by myself without an affidavit from their mother and biological father certifying my permission to do so" and "I want to be able to enact my partner's stated wishes regarding end-of-life or quality of life without answering to relatives who cut my partner out of their lives". I read another entry that joked about "rebuilding Step Two of Teh Gay Agenda" ("Step One: Stop Getting Beaten Up").

I just don't expect any homophobically-minded churches to give up "power" without a long, ugly, stubborn fight. I fear that any alteration to the current legal definition of heterosexual marriage would be seen as the kind of "forced tolerance" you described.

From what my client has shared ("don't ask me how I know that"), in the Orthodox community, some degree of seperation already exists, from the community's side. A couple seeking divorce need both the civil papers and a Jewish divorce (from a Rabbinical court?).

I saw one of the "No on 8" ads from California, and it was really lame. ("PC vs. Mac" commercial parody, with "PC" trying to proposition the attractively-skirted Constitution) The character representing "Yes on 8" was portrayed as not merely wrong but stupid -- a huge tactical blunder IMHO. Whatever happened to "placing before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent"?

It's a lot easier for homophobes (and some homophobia is culturally entrenched) to rant about "those people being so unnatural" than it is to admit "I support beating people up when they're adolescents and systematically disenfranchising them after they grow up." Portraying people who disagree with one as inferior is unneccessarily disrespectful, and immediately provokes further exchanges of personal attacks. (Dave Barry wrote something nice in this vein.)
While I agree with you, I find it odd that these amendments keep appearing whenever the Republicans need to drive higher turnout from their base.
Absolutely: like clockwork, every two years for the past twelve or so, there are proposals to combat the scourges of homosexuality and abortion. As soon as the election is over, the Republican party usually drops the issues -- or at least puts much less energy into them -- until shortly before the next election. Which tells me it isn't the Religious Right playing the Republican Party like a puppet, but the other way around: the country-club wing of the Republican Party brings out the homosexuality and abortion issues whenever they need some Religious Right votes to keep their guys in power.
In discussions of Prop. 8, and same sex unions in general, I had/have the advantage of being a faithful, practicing member of a church (Roman Catholic) that has never recognized millions of heterosexual civil marriages (because we don't believe in divorce and remarriage). So I can present an argument in favor of Prop. 8/same sex civil marriage that makes me sound like a religious ultra-conservative (as opposed to the religious liberal, albeit with certain reactionary traditionalist tendencies, that I am). Similarly for separation of church and state. I don't want the state defining marriage --or anything else-- for my church any more than I want somebody's else's church defining marriage for my state.

Unfortunately, too many people suffer from "a word can have one and only one meaning" syndrome and just can't get their heads around "marriage" having quite different meanings in different contexts (e.g., civil vs. religious, etc.). So I agree that having everyone have "civil unions" for the civil institution would make it so much easier for all. People would be less inclined to insist the civil institution must have the same definition as their church's, or even just themselves personally, if it were not called "marriage".

Even more unfortunately, I don't see this happening (except by judicial ruling) because the hard core "defenders of marriage" would regard any attempt to change civil "marriage" to "civil union" for everyone as an attack against marriage. And, of course, the really hard core do actually want religion --that is, _their_ religion-- to dictate civil law (and, perhaps because they feel they are the majority, don't seem too worried about the danger of some other religion's rules being imposed on them through the state).

Ideally, I would like the the state to get out of the "marriage" business entirely, and the churches to get out of the civil marriage/union business. So I don't want clerics to be able to perform civil unions simultaneously with religious marriages, as they do now. I think there needs to be a very, very clear line distinguishing the state from the church on this, never the twain shall meet, etc., because otherwise we still have that church as agent of the state business that tempts people into thinking state should enforce their religious beliefs in the law. And there are countries where this is the case, that is, where civil marriage is purely civil (done at city hall or the registrar's office -- not sure exactly where) and religious marriage ceremonies do not count as making you civilly married. (So those who want religious marriages get married twice, once by the state and once by the church.)
the hard core "defenders of marriage" would regard any attempt to change civil "marriage" to "civil union" for everyone as an attack against marriage.

Quite likely, on the reasoning that by ceasing to legally recognize marriage, we're removing one of the reasons for people to get married, hence reducing the number of people who do it, which only somebody who hates marriage would do. But that's a risky argument, since it begs the question "if the main/only reason somebody is getting married is for legal recognition, why should they pretend it's a religious ritual? And if not, then they'll still want to do it even without the State getting involved."

We would need to sell it, from the beginning, as a move towards freedom of religion: no longer will the State tell you who can and can't get married, nor whom else you should recognize as married; that will now be a matter of your personal conscience and faith.

I don't want clerics to be able to perform civil unions simultaneously with religious marriages, as they do now.

That was my initial impulse too, but I don't see what harm would arise if the person officiating at a marriage happened to be the same person officiating at a civil union, and those things happened to take place at the same venue and time. I guess your argument is that having even the slightest confusion between the two will lead people back down the slippery slope towards religions trying to influence the State.

for further reading...

BTW, take a look at the related discussion here.

Further thoughts and clarifications

I wrote
let each religion apply its own definition of "marriage", and have government no longer perform or recognize marriages at all.

Thanks to the informative and lively discussion
here, I'd like to clarify that this does not mean that only religious people can be "married". A better wording would be
let the people getting married apply their own definition of 'marriage', and have government no longer perform or recognize marriages at all.

To some extent this is already true: I'm sure there are religious people who don't consider you married if you had only a civil ceremony, but you don't really care about their opinions on the matter, do you?

If you and your partner agree that you will consider yourselves married when you've had a Catholic wedding mass presided over by the Bishop, that's up to you. If you agree that you will consider yourselves married when you've said certain words and jumped over a broomstick together, that's also up to you. It shouldn't matter to the State, if the State doesn't recognize marriages.

So how would this change things?

For couples who are already legally married, they would presumably be "grandfathered" and get a free civil union in addition to their marriage, so they would continue to have the same legal rights they have now.

For couples who are not yet legally married, for whatever reason (including because they have same-shaped sex organs), they could get married if they wish, in whatever religion or tradition they choose that will approve their marriage, or they could just declare themselves married, and none can say them nay. They could also (independently) apply for a civil union, and if there's no compelling State interest in not giving them one, they would get the same legal rights as married couples have now.

This plan doesn't take anything away from any individual or couple; it merely takes the word "marriage" away from the government and gives it to the people directly involved. The only thing anyone would lose is the right to use government to enforce their own standards on the legitimacy of their neighbors' marriages.

another link to a similar discussion