Friday, December 6, 2013

What We Can Learn About Arguments Against Marriage Equality From Letters to the Editor

I know that I’ve beaten this horse to death (again and again, some might say), but as we get closer to the 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly, the issue of amending the Indiana Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage is becoming the focus of much attention. The frequency of articles in the newspapers about additional businesses, universities, organizations, and politicians expressing their opposition to the the proposed constitutional amendment demonstrates that it is an issue that people are taking seriously. And the frequency and vehemence of the letters to the editor in favor of the amendment (or, more generally, against marriage equality) shows just how passionately some people feel. But those letters to the editor also demonstrate just how weak the arguments for a constitutional amendment really are and how they are almost all based on a particular religious viewpoint.

So let’s take a look at a few recent letters to the editor of The Indianapolis Star, shall we?

First, there is this letter from Randy Yeiter of Carmel (November 30, 2013):

It is rather simple why HJR6 should be voted on by the people of Indiana.

Several years ago my wife and I married and had coital union, producing four children. After nurturing, training and providing for them, they married and had 12 children. These offspring are possible Indiana University students, Cummins employees and Eli Lilly costumers.

No same-sex marriage can produce these economic boosters for Indiana.

Then there is this letter from Kevin Green of Indianapolis (November 30, 2013):

Here are two reasons why defining marriage as between a man and a woman should be resolved by voters in constitutional referendum HJR-6. First, from a policy standpoint, it’s a truism that “hard cases make bad law.”. If there’s an issue for which we don’t want a future litigant and court to use an urgent set of facts to force an outcome, the exception trumping the rule, it’s gay marriage, which is relevant only to a statistical single-digit percentage.

Second, it’s impossible to predict the impact of redefining marriage, with its thousand tiny presumptions flowing from stark nature, undergirding society since the beginning. It would cut radically and obliquely across our legal code in family, estate and criminal areas. It would require Hoosier families to teach young ones contrarian values, needlessly complicating education, which, seeking to cultivate normal youth interest amidst our culture’s extremist expressions, is challenging enough already.

Indeed, the Indiana electorate’s infectious ethic of hard work inspired by traditional hearth — or the vague hope of it — greatly benefits employers and their top employees, and motivates parents sending kids to college, thus deserving the affirmation and applause of our businesses and academic institutions, not their implied criticism.

And this letter from Ronald Colquitt of Indianapolis (November 30, 2013):

The second table of Christ’s law says, “Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” I believe that to be the perfect law for any circumstance. I love homosexuals as my neighbor, and I believe the Bible, which condemns their lifestyle in graphic language.

Marriage is a sacrament, “a ceremony of particular importance,” for Christians. It is defined succinctly as between a man and a woman.

Operating under the same law, love your neighbor, the homosexual community would consider and appreciate my position.

Fairness under the law is the stated aim. Choose a name and make all the law as fair as any law governing the union of man and woman. It is not as if there aren’t any examples in existence today.

Who is being intolerant?

Earlier this week, The Indianapolis Star published this letter from Jim Riecker of Fishers (December 4, 2013):

In Sunday’s Indy Star, business columnist John Ketzenberger’s statement that Indiana’s passing of HJR 6 would make the state less economically competitive and that Indiana would become a “beacon for limiting rights” is as far from the truth as most of the other arguments that favor voting down the proposed amendment.

The fact is that the push to move this state to the secular left has nothing to do with economics or individual rights, but is another example of misdirection by a group and their supporters to engage in spiritual warfare through public opinion and deception against the laws of God that this nation was founded upon.

The only opportunity that Indiana has in this argument is whether to remain a beacon for the laws of God.

Well, that should offer a nice sample of some of the opinions recently expressed in The Indianapolis Star. So let’s look at the arguments, point by point (I’ve occasionally reformatted the text for easier reading). First, we have the following point made by Randy Yeiter:

Several years ago my wife and I married and had coital union, producing four children. After nurturing, training and providing for them, they married and had 12 children. These offspring are possible Indiana University students, Cummins employees and Eli Lilly costumers. No same-sex marriage can produce these economic boosters for Indiana.

Well, then. I guess that all marriages should have to produce economic boosters for Indiana, right? That’s what Mr. Yeiter’s point seems to be. We shouldn’t allow same-sex marriage because it doesn’t produce offspring that will be “economic boosters” for Indiana. Thus, a marriage between infertile people (or even one infertile person) should also be banned because it won’t produce economic boosters. Similarly, couples who don’t intend to produce offspring (er, sorry, “economic boosters”) should also be prohibited, I guess. Never mind that many gay couples do have children (either the biological children of one of the parents or adopted; I guess those sort of economic boosters don’t really count, right? And what about marriages that don’t do such a good job at “nurturing, training, and providing” for children? I’m happy that Mr. Yeiter and his wife were such good parents; I’d be willing to bet most of us would aspire to be equally good parents and would hope that others would do the same. But, truth be told, not all parents do a great job of “nurturing, training, and providing”. So what to do with their marriages, if their failure to nurture, train, and provide may result in the offspring not becoming economic boosters for Indiana? And what should we do to married couples who do manage to nurture, train, and provide, but whose offspring decide to leave Indiana? What if those offspring happen to be gay and choose to leave Indiana because Indiana doesn’t welcome gay families? Should we retroactively annul those marriages for failing to properly produce economic boosters? The economic point that Mr. Yeiter misses is that people may choose not to come to Indiana or that people may choose to leave Indiana. That is a very different discussion than whether he and his wife have lots of offspring who may (or may not) stay in Indiana. Just because he has kids and grandkids and those kids and grandkids decide to stay in Indiana doesn’t mean that we should enact laws that are seen as unwelcoming to others.

Next we have Kevin Green’s claim that:

[W]e don’t want a future litigant and court to use an urgent set of facts to force an outcome, the exception trumping the rule, it’s gay marriage, which is relevant only to a statistical single-digit percentage.

Let me get this straight: As long as its only a “statistical single-digit percentage” of the population being discriminated against, we shouldn’t allow litigants and courts to “force an outcome”? Well, then, I guess that we Jews shouldn’t be able to use the courts to fight discrimination. After all, we only make up about 1.73% of the population. Similarly, Muslims who apparently make up less than 1% of the population should also be banned from resorting to the courts to right wrongs in Mr. Green’s worldview. However, I’m not sure when we adopted the notion that only statistically significant populations should be entitled to have their rights protected by our court systems. That seems a bit backward to the more general concept that a role of the courts is to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

Moreover, note that Mr. Green is not arguing simply why we shouldn’t adopt marriage equality, but rather, why we should allow the population to vote on amending the Constitution. In other words, we should allow the “tyranny of the majority” the chance to prevail at the ballot box before a small, “insignificant” portion of the population can use the court system to right systemic injustice. So query whether Mr. Green would support the right of the people to vote on banning Islam or the inclusion of Kosher or Halal designations of food packaging. Would Mr. Green support the right of the people to vote on whether discrimination on the basis of skin color or religious affiliation should be permitted (so long as, I suppose, the target of that discrimination is only a “statistical single digit percentage” of the population)? Maybe we could vote on whether people who express viewpoints similar to those of Mr. Green should be able to avail themselves of the protections of the First Amendment.

So let’s then consider Mr. Green’s next point:

[I]t’s impossible to predict the impact of redefining marriage, with its thousand tiny presumptions flowing from stark nature, undergirding society since the beginning. It would cut radically and obliquely across our legal code in family, estate and criminal areas.

First, with regard to “redefining marriage” I guess you first need to look at how you define marriage now. Is it a union between two people who love one another? Or is it a union between a man and a woman who might actually hate one another, but either felt something once, felt pressured into their union (e.g., a shotgun wedding), or did it for the economic benefit. We allow arranged marriages, so long as the participants “consent”. As to “tiny presumptions”, it is worth noting that the laws of Indiana and the federal government provide all sorts of benefits to those who are married that are not similarly provided to those who want to be married, but aren’t permitted. As to the suggestion that marriage has been “undergirding society since the beginning” I would suggest that Mr. Green may think that he is familiar with the history of marriage but has forgotten that marriage, as we know it now in the West was a relatively recent innovation. Just look at the Bible for all sorts of relationships that we wouldn’t really recognize today as “marriage” (such as multiple wives) or European monarchies where marriage was essentially a contract binding two nations together. And “marriage” in much of the rest of the world was quite different (with polygamy being quite common).

One thing that Mr. Green gets right is that amending our Constitution to prevent things that are “substantially similar to that of marriage”* would, indeed, “cut radically and obliquely across our legal code in family, estate and criminal areas”. For example, certain domestic battery statutes might not apply because of the unmarried status of the people. Or think about hospital visitation, adoption, estate planning, and taxes. Married couples can own property as “tenants by the entireties” and thus bypass probate, but that right is only available to married couples. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Mr. Green intended that point to be made in favor of marriage equality.

Then Mr. Green moves on to what, I think, motivates his view (and that of many others): Fear of gays, fear of a world that might no longer look like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, and fear of a world that tolerates people and views that are different.

It would require Hoosier families to teach young ones contrarian values, needlessly complicating education, which, seeking to cultivate normal youth interest amidst our culture’s extremist expressions, is challenging enough already.

I can’t tell you many times I’ve heard a rabbi bemoan mixed marriages because of concern that Jewish identity may be on the decline. Maybe you agree with that concern, maybe you don’t. But the point is that nobody is requiring rabbis to teach congregants that mixed marriages are good; the rabbis can say whatever they want and congregants to choose whether to agree or disagree. Similarly, since the Supreme Court ruled that outlawing the marriage of whites and blacks was unconstitutional, we haven’t seen laws popping up “requir[ing] Hoosier families to teach young ones contrarian values”. If you don’t believe in the “mixing of the races” (I think that’s how white supremacists phrase it), you don’t have to tell your kids that interracial marriages are acceptable. You may be a bigot, but our laws permit you to be as hateful and bigoted as you want. If Indiana permits gay couples to marry, it won’t require Mr. Green to tell his kids anything. If he wants to say that he thinks it’s wrong, he will certainly be allowed to do so.

But I do have sympathy for his concern that teaching tolerance to children will be problematic. Oh, the evils of a society that chooses not to teach its kids to hate or fear those who are different. Yep, trying to keep some of our kids from becoming tolerant or respectful of diversity will be challenging.

In point of fact, we don’t require our schools to teach that mixed marriages are “good”; nor would we require our schools to teach that same sex marriages are “good”. However, we do expect schools to teach that mixed marriages are permitted by law (and would expect them to do the same with regard to same sex marriages) and, more importantly, to help our children be tolerant of those other children who come from families that don’t look like their family.

Mr. Green finishes with this:

Indeed, the Indiana electorate’s infectious ethic of hard work inspired by traditional hearth — or the vague hope of it — greatly benefits employers and their top employees, and motivates parents sending kids to college, thus deserving the affirmation and applause of our businesses and academic institutions, not their implied criticism.

Um … what does that even mean? Is anybody criticizing Hoosiers for an “infectious ethic of hard work inspired by traditional hearth”? No. The criticism is for not allowing marriage equality and for seeking to use the Constitution to put your religious values into the document that governs everyone, not just those who share those values. I have to wonder whether Mr. Green’s “traditional hearth” includes Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and, most importantly, atheists. For a long time that “traditional hearth” didn’t include mixed race families. Unfortunately for those like Mr. Green, families are not all made up of two parents (both white) with two bright and shiny children who sit each evening listening to The Lone Ranger on their radio or watching “Leave it to Beaver” on their television. Today’s families come in all shapes and sizes, in all sorts of color combinations, and with all sorts of different worldviews and goals for their children. Mr. Green and those like him can continue to fantasize about a past that most likely never was, but they shouldn’t use their “traditional hearth” as a cudgel against those whose lives are different or whose families may have just as much love but be packaged differently. Let’s be clear: Allowing a gay couple to marry will not, in any way, change the family life of Mr. Green.

Whew.

And now we can return to Ronald Colquitt’s letter

The second table of Christ’s law says, “Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” I believe that to be the perfect law for any circumstance. I love homosexuals as my neighbor, and I believe the Bible, which condemns their lifestyle in graphic language.

Marriage is a sacrament, “a ceremony of particular importance,” for Christians. It is defined succinctly as between a man and a woman.

Operating under the same law, love your neighbor, the homosexual community would consider and appreciate my position.

Fairness under the law is the stated aim. Choose a name and make all the law as fair as any law governing the union of man and woman. It is not as if there aren’t any examples in existence today.

Who is being intolerant?

I’m not really sure where to begin with this one. First, I don’t really give a fuck what the “second table of Christ’s law” says. Christ didn’t write the laws of the State of Indiana and doesn’t get to write those laws. Though Mr. Colquitt may not be happy about it, Indiana has some people who don’t subscribe to the teachings of Jesus. You know, people like me (Jews), Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Native Americans, and literally dozens of other faith traditions, not to mention those with no faith tradition at all. Now, that being said, I think that most of us would agree with the “law” that Mr. Colquitt cites: “Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” Yet somehow, Mr. Colquitt allows his love for his neighbor to be blunted by his belief that the Bible “condemns their lifestyle in graphic language”. Um, really? It does? I guess I missed that. Sure, there are a few places in the Bible where homosexuality is deemed a sin, though I think “graphic language” is a bit much. But here we’re back to the sort of “pick & choose” theology that so many opponents of marriage equality are fond of. The Bible does say bad things about homosexuality (well, male homosexuality, really). But it also says that Mr. Colquitt should be stoned for eating a cheeseburger, playing football, wearing a cotton-polyester blend, or getting a haircut. For that matter, it says that gay male sex is punishable by death. I’m not quite sure how Mr. Colquitt reconciles loving his neighbor with the belief that the neighbor should be put to death for doing something that a three thousand year old iron age book says was “bad”. Nor do I understand how Mr. Colquitt can defend want to use the law to prohibit a particular type of conduct that the Bible condemns without also wanting to impose the punishment prescribed for such conduct in the very same sentence of the Bible.

Which brings me back to the point made previously and which is so often missed by Christians like Mr. Colquitt: Neither Indiana nor the United States operates under Christian or Biblical laws. Marriage may have a definition in Christianity. Fine. Mr. Colquitt won’t be forced to divorce his wife and marry a drag queen from Lockerbie (though he should be allowed to if he wants…). Nor will Mr. Colquitt’s church be required to recognize the sacrament of marriage between two women, no matter how strong their faith in G-d or their love for one another and Jesus. But the fact that Mr. Colquitt’s religion has a definition for that sacrament doesn’t mean that all of the rest of us must live according to those views. Just as our law doesn’t require everyone to kneel and pay to Jesus, our laws shouldn’t discriminate because Jesus said so (if he did…). I mean, Jesus apparently wanted people to pray privately, yet we permit people to stand on the street corner and pray, don’t we?

But it is Mr. Colquitt’s conclusion that is … well … remarkable. “Who is being intolerant?” He’s right. Damn those presumptuous faggots and dykes who think that they should be treated equally instead of recognizing that they’re gonna burn in Hell for … um … for … loving someone that Mr. Colquitt and iron-aged authors don’t approve of? [My use of the terms “faggot” and “dyke” was for effect; I obviously don’t condone the use of such derogatory terms.]

Or, perhaps, Mr. Colquitt is simply saying that same sex couples should be entitled to something like civil unions; something just like marriage but with a different word. You know, separate but equal. That worked well. And besides, the whole point of the second sentence of the proposed amendment* is to prevent the Indiana General Assembly from permitting civil unions or anything similar to marriage (let alone the same).

And finally we come to the thoughts of Jim Riecker:

The fact is that the push to move this state to the secular left has nothing to do with economics or individual rights, but is another example of misdirection by a group and their supporters to engage in spiritual warfare through public opinion and deception against the laws of God that this nation was founded upon. The only opportunity that Indiana has in this argument is whether to remain a beacon for the laws of God.

Apparently, Mr. Riecker is unaware that Indiana is a secular state. He may find that upsetting, shocking even, but it is true The Hoosier state is not a theocracy. You see, according to Mr. Riecker, in a theocracy like Indiana, the issues that face some Hoosiers aren’t about individual rights but rather are a form of “spiritual warfare” against the laws of G-d. In other words, the rights of — and respect toward — minority communities aren’t important and need not be given consideration if they are against the laws of G-d (as properly interpreted by Mr. Riecker). Which of course brings me back to that question that I keep asking about why we Hoosiers permit the operation of Red Lobster restaurants, allow our children to play football (and on the Sabbath!), allow barbershops, beauty salons, and tattoo parlors, or permit those abominable cotton-polyester blends.

I mean think about it: Mr. Riecker believes that failure to amend the Indiana Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage will mean that Indiana is no longer “a beacon for the laws of God”. First, I didn’t know that Indiana was such a beacon. Second, why should it be? Doesn’t that seem to imply that those who don’t necessarily follow the “laws of God” (again, as properly interpreted by Mr. Riecker), aren’t really welcome here in Indiana (Jews are probably OK, but those Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and so forth might want to start packing, I guess)? And even if we want Indiana to be such a beacon, why is the issue of homosexuality the issue upon which beacon-ness is defined? (And no, don’t ask me to define “beacon-ness”.) I would think that a state would better qualify as a beacon for Biblical laws if its people were charitable, took care of those least able to care for themselves, expressed love for one another, and so forth. Or maybe, the only qualifications to be a Biblical beacon are stoning people for a whole host of iron age offenses. Maybe if we make our justice system look a bit more like that used in Saudi Arabia and Iran we’ll be able to retain our role as a beacon. Just a suggestion.

We need to go back and carefully read those provisions of the Constitution that tell us that our system of government is founded upon Biblical laws. What? The Constitution doesn’t say that? Hmm.

Before finalizing this post, I came across another letter than I missed from earlier in November. Think about some of the arguments that I’ve set forth above and then read this letter from Richard Burridge of Forth Wayne (November 17, 2013):

God has not changed the definition of marriage; God has established his law in the Bible, and when you go against the definition he has established you go against God himself, whom we will stand in judgment before upon our death.

I decided to include Mr. Burridge’s letter because it seems to neatly sum up the views of the proponents of the constitutional amendment (as well as opponents of marriage equality): G-d said homosexuality was bad; if you engage in homosexual acts, you’ll rot in Hell; and Indiana should make sure our laws strictly follow those of the Bible … except for all of the ones that people want to ignore, you know, like most of them.

Like I said at the outset, it seems that most of the arguments being voiced against same sex marriage and in support of the marriage discrimination amendment are based on theology (and perhaps flawed theology at that). But we are a nation and state of secular laws, not religious laws. And we are a nation and state that is supposed to respect and protect our minority communities, not discriminate against them because you think G-d told you to. Now, go have a shrimp cocktail and think about that.


*The text of the marriage discrimination amendment:

Only marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman will be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.

Pay particular attention to the second sentence.

Or, if you want to be snarky, read the first sentence and then ask yourself which one man and one woman will have their marriage recognized?

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1 Comments:

At Saturday, December 07, 2013 9:00:00 AM , Blogger Greg Purvis said...

Possibly the most terrible aspect of HJR-6 is its second sentence, which would prohibit any legal arrangement substantially similar to that of legal heterosexual marriage. As a practicing attorney of 36 years, that indeed could affect a vast number of presently-legal situations, gay or straight. Want to put your "significant other" in your will, on a power of attorney, or in the deed to your home? All of that, and much more, could become open to legal challenges by a disaffected person, if HJR-6 passes. Putting questions of fairness and equality aside for one second, this ill-advised monstrosity could have vast unforeseen consequences.

 

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