Wednesday, February 25, 2004

it's official

My choices have pretty much narrowed to John Edwards and Daffy Duck. Just a couple weeks ago, it used to be "Bush or Daffy" until (1) I found out more about Edwards, and (2) Bush went ahead and did this, which has pushed me over the edge. No, not into rage-- just into finding a new competitor for Daffy Duck.

By the way, Edwards doesn't seem too keen on gay marriage, but here's what he has to say:

"As I have long said, I believe gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to equal respect and dignity under our laws. While I personally do not support gay marriage, I recognize that different states will address this in different ways, and I will oppose any effort to pass an amendment to the United States Constitution in response to the Massachusetts decision.

"We are a nation comprised of men and women from all walks of life. It is in our national character to provide equal opportunity to all, and this is what unites our country, in laws and in shared purpose. That is why today, we must also reach out to those individuals who will try to exploit this decision to further divide our nation, and ask them to refrain from that effort."

Edwards takes a federalist-sounding position, which is no longer my position, but it's a damn sight better than the bullshit emanating from La Casablanca debajo Bush.

Turns out, though, that Ralph Nader is very pro-gay marriage, and Keith Burgess-Jackson, who spares no effort to marshal arguments against gay marriage, has been going on about voting for Nader this time around. I love it.

UPDATE: Check out some Smallholder posts over at the Maximum Leader's blog re: gay marriage.

And a comment about backlash: conservatives have been predicting this for a while, it's true. And it's quite possible that the country's mood will become much less accommodating if the shriller elements of the pro-gay marriage movement are given too much air time. I don't expect any simple resolutions to this question anytime soon, but as the ML himself pointed out long ago (and as Donald Sensing also pointed out recently), the overall tide is turning in favor of this form of marriage.

I highly recommend that you track down and read through the Tacitus thread on this subject. The thread brings up a lot of what's being discussed these days re: the separation of the civil and religious aspects of committed union. While I've become an advocate of adding a Constitutional amendment that makes civil marriage available to consenting adults no matter their gay/hetero sexual preference, another equally palatable option is the one advocated by Sensing and others: leave holy matrimony to the churches, and leave civil marriage, hetero and gay, to the state(s)-- the state doesn't get to define marriage as strictly "between a man and a woman," but the churches are free to handle this as they will, with neither tromping on the other's purview. Specifically, Sensing says: rough solution to the present controversy on both coasts has two parts:

1. Have states issue only "Civil Interpersonal Contract" registrations that may be used by any two adults of legal age. CICs (remember, I'm retired Army and I love acronyms) would accomplish the same thing as marriage licences do now regarding property rights from local to federal level, and other matters relegated now exclusively to spouses, such as the right to make certain medical decisions for the other in emergencies, etc. What they would not do is continue to involve the secular state in deciding what marriage is - apart from the legal aspect, this is a metaphysical question the state has no business even attempting to answer.

2. Certificates of marriage, having no additional legal effect, would be issued by churches, synagogues or mosques, not by the state. Holders of CICs who also wanted to be married - with all the social and religious implications thereof - would find their desire unencumbered by state burdens, and churches would be freed of the pressure to unite couples in matrimony for reasons often having little to do with religious nurture.

From my perspective as a pastor, separating the civil-legal aspects and the religious aspects would have some salutary effects.

*It would allow more time for me to work with couples who have a religious interest in their interpersonal relationship without the deadline pressure of the wedding date. Of the gazillion things on the mind of the bride and her family to get the wedding done well and on time, religious reflection and counseling usually rank about last. The couple usually perceives, correctly, that there is time for that after the wedding.

*It would permit me and the engaged couple to go forward with less sexual hypocrisy. Well more than half of men and women betting married today are already living together, living as husband and wife in every way except the legal certification. For a large number of the men - and most of the women - the spouse they will take is not the first they have cohabited with. The historical teaching of the Church, of course, is that sexual relations should follow, not precede, the wedding.

My personal policy in this is "don't ask, don't tell." I have not asked couples whether they live together, but when they both report the same mailing address it sort of gives the game away. By far the majority of couples I marry these days are already cohabiting. That means that the contractual nature of the wedding is more prominent than ever; they are certainly not looking for the Church's sanction of their relationship. They really seek legal, not religious, recognition of their troth and all the legal benefits it entails. For them, the signature on the license is far more important than the words of the litany. The ceremony changes essentially nothing about their lives, except often to make the in-laws on both sides more accepting of the state of affairs. Reconciliation is certainly a role for clergy, but frankly, I sometimes feel like I'm being used for essentially selfish concerns on their part.

If a couple wants a marriage, not merely a partnership, then I'd rather it be because they have genuine impulses toward spiritual union with one another and God, under God's grace and the care of the Church, not because it simplifies other parts of their lives.

Homosexual partners who want to share the same legal rights as traditional married couples would be able to do so under this arrangement. It would not entail the state defining them as married, nor require anyone else to recognize them as married. There are denominations that would issue them marriage certificates, though, the Metropolitan Community Church being one (they already do, but the state doesn't recognize them as contractual documents). But Catholics, Baptists and Methodists, et. al. would be able to maintain their orthodoxy of what marriage is and devote their attentions away from the legal-political arena to where it belongs: the care and nurture of souls.

If Sensing means what I think he means, then this might actually work for me. Sensing's basic view of gay marriage, unlike mine, is negative: the moment humanity was able to separate marriage from certain previously-ironclad biological realities, Pandora's box opened up. But like me, Sensing simply acknowledges this to be the fact of the matter. This throws arguments from history/tradition and biology into jeopardy, because the idea that "humanity has always been this way," while a factual claim, is now faced with the equally empirical fact that "humanity doesn't have to continue this way." (And on a possibly-related note, Kensho Godchaser also urges people to realize that the engineering of humanity is an inevitability. Yep, I agree.)

If we adopt Sensing's solution, we avoid a lot of the messiness that my own position would entail re: the legislation of love and marriage. Just so you know, I'm hinging my own view on the idea that marriage in American society is (or should be!) a basic civil right-- something about which Andrew Sullivan did perhaps too good a job of persuading me. This being the case, if it's going to be leglislated at all, it shouldn't be done piecemeal, state by state. It should instead be enshrined in the Constitution in the same manner that voting is: i.e., by making factors X, Y, and, Z nonissues.

I'm willing to grant that my perspective (1) isn't popular even among gays, and (2) probably isn't where we want to go if, as Sullivan also argues, the Constitution should be viewed as a "sacred document" (don't get me started on the whole "sacred" business), something to be tweaked only rarely and for very, very good reason. So after I read more about Sensing's position (which is also appealing for how it continues the spirit of "separation of church and state"), I'll get back to you about whether I've actually found a stance better than my own.

Sensing does a roundup of his own gay marriage posts here.

Final note: You can see the difference between Sensing's and Keith Burgess-Jackson's positions. Both see the marriage issue in terms of dichotomy, but whereas Sensing's categorical split is spiritual/legal, KBJ's is moral/legal-- a split I reject because I believe all legislation has, at its base, a moral impetus: the promotion and sustenance of a maximally stable, harmonious, and flourishing society (with the acknowledgement that stability, harmony, and flourishing are usually but not always complementary). Only a lawyer would think to separate the legal from the moral. Sensing's dichotomy, that of a soldier-turned-clergyman, is pragmatic and has the virtue of being better-rooted in reality, I think.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: The Maximum Leader ignores pretty much my entire blog opus and professes amusement at what he perceives to be single-issue thinking. Let's make this clear: Bush just made an important speech, and this post's focus was primarily on the issues in that speech (ah, yes-- a link to the text of that speech here). Focus on a single issue in a single blog post doesn't constitute single-issue thinking. The ML knows me better than that.


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