Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Proposition 8; or, Live and Let Live; or, What Would the Dude Do?

By now I reckon anyone who cares knows that Proposition 8 passed in California (my home state, although I haven't lived there in many a moon.) The effect of the proposition is to define marriage as something into which only a woman and a man enter. I'm not sure what the retro-active effect is on gay or lesbian couples who already married in California, but I'm assumming the retro-active effect will be nil.

I understand some of the correlatives related to homophobia, partly because I grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s, and because I grew up in a very small town in the High Sierra where heterosexuality was the norm (to say the least) and where there were definite ideas about marriage. Oddly (or not oddly) enough, however, two gay men operated an antique store in that town in the 80's, and before that, two gay men ran a resort near the river, although I have to say that the latter two men behaved in a way that I'd now describe as "pre-Stonewall." They weren't exactly closeted, but at the same time, their public personae was one of "business partners." Also, a very good friend of the family (she lived in the Bay Area) loved to visit the town to hunt and fish. She did not bring her lesbian partner with her, nor, as far as I know, did she ever come out of the closet, but everyone knew what the deal was. She was born circa 1920, however, so her generation just had a different attitude about what you disclose about your private life. I've lost count of those in my extended family who went fishing with her; she always brought much fishing gear, much food, and much booze. I think she'd grown up on a farm in Wisconsin. That she ended up out near Oakland was probably a good move for her.

All of which is by way of saying that I simply don't understand the impulse to guard marriage jealously on behalf of heterosexual couples or "conservative" faith-traditions. Let the alleged joy of marriage be universal, is what I say. As far as I can tell, the logic behind the assertion that "gay marriage threatens traditional marriage" doesn't obtain. Many gay and lesbian couples have married in recent years. I have felt no effect from these marriages on my marriage to a woman. I mean, nothing--not the slightest tremor.

I happen to be a Catholic (having converted rather late in life, in the year 2000), but I attend a parish that welcomes gay and lesbian parishioners. Nonetheless, the Vatican's official position is contra "gay marriage." However, the history of Catholicism is one of tension between Rome and "the church out there" in various lands, countries, and territories. Author Garry Wills is especially good on the subject of the loyal opposition, disagreements about dogma, and so on. Me, I stick to the Apostle's Creed (which is silent on the subject of marriage) and the Lord's Prayer (also silent on the subject), with the occasional Hail Mary. I go to mass, I read stuff by Dorothy Day, Chesteron, and Wills, and I give money and food to the "cause" of hunger. In other words, I try to keep it really simple.

Yes, I've read Paul and Leviticus on the subject, although what exactly "the subject" is is open to debate. Paul seems upset by men having sex with men in Rome. So be it. Leviticus says something about a man not lying with a man as he lies with a woman. But that just covers lying (being in a prone position, or not telling the truth), not even sex, really, and certainly not marriage. (That part about not telling the truth is a joke, by the way.) I know you can't get to that translation from here. And anyway, this paragraph begs the question of whether unions governed by a secular state like California or the U.S. (these are not religious entities) should have anything to do with faith-traditions. People may marry in any faith-tradition they wish, but they get a civil marriage-license from the state (or, literally, the city).

I think I have a solution, which of course is not original. If people want to get married in a faith tradition (or a sector thereof) that strongly opposes "gay marriage" or has problems with homosexuality, they should do so. If gay or lesbian couples want to get married, they should do, after obtaining a license from city hall. They should probably not try to get married in a church that is hostile to such a marriage, chiefly for logistical reasons. I think this is what we call a win/win situation. Adults who want to get married can and may do so. People who feel like believing in a Supreme Being (etc.) can and may do so. I just don't see any downside to this arrangement, and I hope Proposition 8 goes the way of the 8-track stereo--a clumsy idea, at best.

I suppose this point of view makes me one or more of the following: a) a progressive and therefore suspect Catholic, b) a liberal college professor, c) a secular humanist, and d) a bad person. I admit to being a basic, entry-level Catholic who likes the writings of Dorothy Day, so I guess that makes me progressive. I am a humanist by profession: I teach English. I admit to being a professor, but my politics don't fit either "liberal" or "conservative" all that well. They're just too eccentric and eclectic. I think my being a Catholic calls into question the purity of my being secular, even though I spend a lot of time doing secular things. I wouldn't say I'm a bad person, but I've made loads of mistakes, and to say I'm imperfect is an example of generous phraseology.

People, we need to move past this issue. Adults should be allowed to fall in love with and marry other adults of their choice, assuming they want to fall and love and/or marry at all (they may not, and they may be on to something: who knows?). Adults should be allowed to follow any faith tradition they want as long as it doesn't obviously break some serious laws (like the one against homicide), or to follow no faith tradition, if that's their choice. The cost of marriage-licenses, regardless of the sexuality of the applicants, should not be allowed to sky-rocket.

The paths (marriage/faith tradition) need to converge only if it works for both parties. If there is a church (for example) that's glad to have a gay or lesbian couple get married in it, and the couple wants to do that, fine. Otherwise, just keep the paths separate--like one of those California freeways, with all the oleanders in the middle. On one side, adults who want to get married. On the other side, faith traditions. The two don't need to concern each other at all. If they decide to have a happy convergence, they can take the same off-ramp. Otherwise, live and let live--in that most commonsensical Californian way: being laid-back. (Consider The Big Lebowski. The Dude would not have voted for Proposition 8.)

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