Thursday, April 09, 2009

To love and to cherish

I’m not a fan of conservative commentator Cal Thomas, but found resonating words at the end of his opinion piece on the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling Friday that will allow same-sex marriages in Iowa:

“Most of those who are disturbed about same-sex marriage are not as exercised about preserving heterosexual marriage. That's because it doesn't raise money and won't get them on TV. Some preachers would rather demonize gays than oppose heterosexuals who violate their vows by divorcing, often causing harm to their children. That's because so many in their congregations have been divorced and preaching against divorce might cause some to leave and take their contributions with them.

“The battle over same-sex marriage is on the way to being lost. For conservatives who still have faith in the political system to reverse the momentum, you are -- to recall Harold Hill -- "closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge."

The piece was entitled “Trouble in River City,” a reference to Mason City native Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” where trouble was equated with billiard balls rather than ground-shifting perceptions of marriage.

There’s little in the piece to please proponents of gay marriage. Thomas certainly is not in favor of it. But it is an interesting poke in the eyes for those Thomas perceives as being unable to detect the logs in their own (Luke 6: 41-42) while focusing on specks in the eyes of others.


I would have forgotten about the fact Friday’s ruling was due had the guy who stopped in to help lift and carry not asked what I thought the ruling would be. I guessed wrong, but that was age and a pessimistic view of the human condition speaking.

The justices ruled fairly I think, invoking the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution, which because it does not mention marriage does not define it or specify who may participate.

The framers, of course, could not have conceived of marriage for same-sex couples, of same-sex couples or for that matter of those of us who define ourselves in part as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. It’s pointless to speculate about what they might have done were they up and walking around now --- because they’re not.

Opponents of gay marriage now hope to amend the Constitution to define marriage in the traditional sense, which is their right, although successful constitutional amendments at all levels have tended to extend rather than restrict rights of people.

A majority of framers of the U.S. Constitution thought it was OK to enslave black people, for example, or impolitic to put up too much fuss if they didn‘t. Once slaves were freed (13th Amendment, 1865) it became necessary to amend the Constitution a couple of times to ensure that black people could vote since many were determined that they wouldn’t (Fifteenth and Twenty-fourth Amendments, 1870 and 1964). Finally, an amendment was needed to guarantee women the right to vote (Nineteenth Amendment, 1920) --- a concept as foreign to the framers as gay marriage.

Like the U.S. Constitution, it is not easy to amend the Iowa Constitution. The framers intentionally made it challenging in order to give the dust time to settle and everyone involved the opportunities to make their cases and clarify their views. It takes affirmative action by the Iowa Legislature on an amendment during two consecutive two-year sessions before the public may vote.

Iowa Republicans are accusing the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate of being obstructionist for declining to bring the matter up this year, and of course they are right. That‘s politics. Were the shoe on the other foot and Republicans in control, similar roadblocks would be used to stall measures favored by Democrats.

So we will see what we will see. I hope Iowans and residents of other states allow same-sex couples to marry in the civil sense, enjoying all the rights and privileges enjoyed under the law by heterosexual couples. What churches do is up to churches --- as it should be.

But it’s useful for all of us to remember that for some (including me) ground is being gained and for others with other perspectives, ground is being lost. Civility is useful in situations like this.


If I’m not out there cheering in the streets about the Supreme Court decision, and Tuesday’s override of the Vermont governor’s veto that allowed the Green Mountain State to become the first to establish gay marriage legislatively, it’s not because I’m not pleased.

But truth be told, I’m a little sad and have an odd feeling that much good already has gone out of marriage and that more could follow unless everyone, straight and gay, starts tending to their own knitting instead of looking to someone else to blame for their own dropped stitches.

If current statistics are accurate, roughly half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce today and roughly 40 percent of children born in the United States are born to unmarried parents. Same-sex couples can hardly be blamed for that.

The flip side of the right to marry is the obligation to work hard to bring sanctity to those unions and I hope same-sex couples are up to the challenge. The flip side of already owning the right to marry is the obligation ensure that marriage continues to mean something, an area of apparent heterosexual failure, and I hope they‘re up to the challenge of turning that around.

This does not mean, by the way, that we should return to the days when men and women felt compelled to remain in marriages stained by emotional or physical violence or that I am in any way qualified to judge people who divorce or unwed parents.

It's just that I wish that every child could have parents like mine --- of opposite sexes (although there‘s every indication same-sex couples parent effectively, too, often embracing children thrown away by the people who produce them), committed to each other despite occasional conflicts, never violent to each other or to me, always available (never absent, remote or aloof) and affirming. Golly, I’d like every kid to have the opportunity to grow up in the country, too.

With hope, hard work and more than a few prayers much of this is possible (although probably not the rural childhood for all bit). But it’s work that’s required and not yelling.


Ed Abbey said...

Although I fall on the other side of this coin, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter and how well you wrote them. I am going to try to gather some thoughts and put them in a post tomorrow.

Frank D. Myers said...

There are solid arguments for traditional marriage just as there are compelling arguments for extending to committed same-sex couples the same legal rights (and obligations) the state traditionally has made avilable only through marriage.

The strongest argument for traditional marriage, in my opinion, is that the best place to raise children under ordinary circumstances is in a stable family headed by a mother and a father committed only to each other who make those children their top priority.

That does not preclude same-sex couples effectively parenting biological, adopted or fostered children; it is an ideal.

The weakest link in the case for traditional marriage is the shocking decline in the number of traditional families where children can feel secure and be nurtured by two parents, something that cannot be blamed on same-sex couples seeking affirmation.

Whatever the outcome, neither side here is going to really win by demonizing the other.

Ed Abbey said...

You make an excellent point about traditional marriages not really being traditional anymore. Even I have experienced a divorce of parents and for a time was just one of two kids with a single mother.

I think in the end, I am not upset about the ruling more than I am upset that we Iowans have allowed one party to so completely take over the state that there isn't a balance of powers anymore. It just makes me cringe whenever a government singles out a small segment of the population with legislation, good or bad.

Cheeky Church Lady in Training said...

As a liberal Christian divorced Mom, I'm tired of hearing heterosexual married men debate this issue. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. I agree with you; demonizing is merely destructive, not instructive.

There was a great discussion on Minnesota Public Radio's mid-morning program today featuring Dale Carpenter and David Blankenhorn. One of the best I've heard on the topic.

Frank D. Myers said...

After rereading this post I'm a little surprised to discover that I'm now a self-appointed expert on heterosexual marriage, divorce and parenting. The compulsion to pontificate on matters where our experience is limited must be a man thing, regardless of sexual orientation.

There are two aspects of the LGBT experience that are so surreal you just get dizzy and have to go lay down for a while if too much time is spent worrying about them.

The first is the "don't-we-get-to-vote-on-this?" approach to human rights. That's a lesser issue since at least in the U.S. every identifiable group of humans other than white heterosexual males have had to endure it.

The other is the inability of many (if not most) to understand that the good Lord made us this way, most likely for a purpose and that we're not heterosexuals behaving differently who can wake up one morning and decide to shape up and fly straight.

I'm still working on the "why," ever hopeful that the Guy/Gal with a cosmic sense of humor doesn't keep churning us out just to aggravate the aforementioned white heterosexual males.