25 August 2005

to understand is to perceive patterns.... (Isaiah Berlin)

It may seem that I support same-sex marriage from the things I have written in previous posts. I do not.

I uphold the perogative for others who wish a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way in which other groups have the ability to join in a committed contract. Marriage to me is the union of two people who decide to live together with commitment or vow - a fairly traditional view of marriage that comes from my upbringing and background. If people wish to be able to have the entitlement of marriage, it is their responsibility. I would not stand in their way. I feel the same way whether they are straight or gay. It is their decision. In fact, many close friends/family are married and I support them whole-heartedly. It is their choice to make the commitment to each other.

On the other hand, by my personal and ethical study, experience and observation, I cannot support anyone if they choose not to keep their commitments or vows - unless they state up front that they do not intend to be monogamous in their commitment or vows or decide on other conditions of the union. This does not make them bad people. It is my view and I accept it as that. I will not put that on anyone else.

I am trying very hard not to use the word "right." I don't believe that marriage is a right for either straights or gays or anyone else. I believe that it is a choice and a privilege. It is a choice because there are many people through the ages who have chosen not to marry and up until the 20th century marriage was normally an economical or class duty that in most cases was arranged. If love or commitment came into play it was usually by accident or people grew it into the marriage. Marriage for love on a mass scale was a 20th century phenomenon. It is a privilege because it is given by law, whether civil or religious.

My favorite aunt's marriage was arranged by my grandparents when she was just two years old and they were still living in Italy. When she finally married my uncle, here in the US, they had to lie about her age. They said she was 13 but she was only 12! He was 22. I have no doubt that they did love each other. They were married for over 50 years and even though my uncle was 10 years older than she, he outlived her, continually mourning her until his death. My father's parents had been married for over 50 years and my parents almost made their 50th anniversay with my father dying just months before.

At the same time, my mother and her other sister chose their own husbands as was done in the mid-twentieth century. I remember my grandmother telling the story that she and my grandfather were ultimately responsible for my aunt's "arranged" marriage, but since my mother and other aunt chose their own husbands, it was their responsibility for any problems. [Of course, my grandmother never held to this. She was supportive and helpful in any way she could be.]

The argument that most fundamentalists make is that marriage and family, as it is, has been the norm for centuries. This is historically far from the truth. Even the bible has polygamist situations. The Scriptures are clear that polygamy was, and still is today, a valid form of marriage. God, nowhere condemns such godly men as Abraham (Gen. 16:3), Jacob (Gen. 29-30), Moses (Ex. 2:16-21, Num. 12:1), Caleb (1 Chron. 2:46, 48), Gideon (Judges 8:30), or David (1 Sam. 18:27, 2 Sam. 3:2-3) for having more than one wife. Polygamy is just not acceptable anymore.

If you really think about marriage today, divorce is a form of polygamy. It is having multiple spouses, the same as polygamy, but not at the same time. It's like "serial" polygamy. [Some call it "serial" monogamy.]

When you step out of the Judeo-Christian history and idea of marriage and look into ancient Rome, there really was no sense of family until the Stoics foisted their beliefs not only on the Roman populace but the early Christian church. Ancient Romans, and Greeks for that matter, interpreted family as a political, an economical or a class practice.

Ancient Roman pater familias could adopt anyone that they wanted, even if they were older than them, as heirs. To divorce their wives, they only had to say, "I divorce you," in front of seven witnesses and the woman and her dowery would have to leave. [It may have been the first instance of "no fault" divorce.] Women could also initiate divorce if they were independent or had the support of their father who would be the only one who could institute legal reclaim of her dowery because it legally still belonged to him.

From this small background of thought you may begin to see how my view on same-sex marriage may seem contorted. I uphold people marrying but I don't think that there is any real basis for marriage to be a "right." It's a construct devised for different purposes and ends.

As far as the religious-right's argument that marriage is for procreation, there are too many instances of people who chose not to procreate or were unable to procreate - the elderly as an example. Are they upholding the concept of marriage as the religious right would have it? Probably, but not with a procreative chance. So the argument against same-sex marriage not having procreative status could be held in the same vein.

Likewise, the argument that same-sex marriage will be the cause of the destruction of the traditional family is a stretch also. First, what is a "traditional family?" That depends on the mores of the society of the moment. As I mentioned above, in Ancient Rome it was purely for economic and status reasons. In Victorian times, the major goal of the parents was to make certain that a son did not marry below his station and for a daughter to "marry-up" so she wouldn't have to live at home and be a monetary burden to the family.

What has proven to be main cause for the downfall of the traditional family is divorce. There are permutations of the family from divorce that sociologists have probably catalogued of which people are unaware. Step brothers/sisters, half brothers/sisters, step step brothers/sisters... because people repeatedly marry. There are many children's books in the library about "alternative" families with step-parents and extended family due to divorce to help children cope with all the confusion.

Extended family used to be a large family with a patriarch and/or matriarch where each member of the family had the responsibility of making certain that all members were safe and taken care of and kept together as a unit, even if not living in the same house.

When my uncle retired and moved to California, no one in my family would speak with him except his daughter and me. In an extended Italian-American family it was unheard of for any member of the family to move away from the "ancestral homestead." Unmarried children were not expected to leave their parent's house until the day of marriage - even if they were 30, 40 or 50 years old! This still happens not only in Italy but in parts of the US. Strange? No, custom.

One can cite other areas and arguments for/against same-sex marriage, but it has been done innumerable times by all sides. Going back to my beginning statement - "It may seem that I support same-sex marriage from the things I have written. I do not" - all of the things I have mentioned lead me to believe not only that same-sex marriage is not a viable option for gays but, maybe, it's no longer a viable option for anyone. That's a completely different dialogue, however.

My main reason for not supporting same-sex marriage, personally, has to do with the LGBT community. It is a community that thrives and stands for true diversity. It runs the gamut from professional sports figures to professors to businessmen/women to transvestites to blacks to latinos/latinas to committed partners to.... I could go on and on.

Rather than being the downfall of the traditional family, marriage may be the possible demise of the diversity that is so strongly held in the LGBT community. In no other segment of society has diversity been so freely embraced. True, just as in other segments of the population, this diversity is frowned upon and put down by some members of the LGBT community, but I have not found the numbers as in other segments of the population who do not support diversity.

The LGBT community has struggled for years for its own identity. Stonewall was the visible beginning of the struggle. Pride events do not, in my mind, celebrate LGBT as much as the diversity for which it stands. I fear that in the pursuit of acceptance by the mainstream population [ie straights] the LGBT community may swing too far away from its encompassing diversity. Marriage in the "traditional" sense for gays could be viewed as a wish to be the same as everyone else. This is a false argument not only for the LGBT community but for all of mankind.

We are the same in our differences.

Again, I support the perogative for others who wish a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way in which other groups have the ability to join in a committed contract - be it a civil or religious committed marriage or union.

There was a time I wanted to be in a committed relationship with someone but it didn't work out for many reasons. However, I never really imagined myself in a "legal" or "quasi-legal" marriage or union. First, at that time it wasn't even a glimmer of hope and no one contemplated the movement that is happening today. Second, I never thought that as a species it is in humans to be in the type of "traditional" marriage that evolved in the 20th century or as fundamentalists insist upon.

As I tried to show above, at different times in history "marriage" had different reasons behind it but only one purpose: the continuation of the species. Yet, there were groups and individuals who did not and do not wish to procreate, for example the Essenes, Vestal Virgins, Roman Catholic priests, many modern couples today, etc. Societies have always acknowledged and accepted them as non-procreators by choice. It is not a giant leap to accept same-sex individuals into this group, nor should it be difficult to see individuals and couples of any orientation wanting to ensure the species' continuation by adoption or IVF if they themselves cannot procreate for whatever reason.

At this point in my life I don't see myself in a marriage or civil union, especially at my age. However, as Katherine Hepburn playing Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter said...

"In a world where carpenters get resurrected, anything is possible..."

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