Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Perverted Time

Il che yu shim jo, we chant in Korean. Our world is created by our minds. In practical terms, our experience of this world is processed by our notions and definitions. We don't understand this and regard ourselves as possessing a better understanding of matters than our neighbors.

Which is how the Mormon Church committed so much money, not to education or the eradication of starvation in California, but to making sure Bruce and Joe can't get married. Focus on the Family spent so much money supporting the same proposition, that it has just announced job cuts. This matter is not just about marriage. It is a bid for establishing religious dogma and social prejudice into the law of the land, binding on everyone. There is not much sympathy here for the notion that law should be a neutral zone with respect to religious teachings, for the dignity and equality of diverse citizens.

This summer, I heard a local pastor say, "You know it's a perverted time when we are debating the definition of marriage." His meaning was, it's a perverted time because Massachusetts and Connecticut now permit couples of the same sex to marry one another, and a number of people think that's okay.

On election day, Proposition 8 narrowly passed in California, amending that state's constitution to define marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman. I did not expect it to pass, and was deeply disappointed by the outcome. I agree with pastor's statement that there is something perverted about the debate, although I'm not sitting in the same pew.

The newly-elected President of the United States is the child of a union that was until fairly recently illegal. Up to 1967, several of our United States banned marriage between couples of different races (calling it "miscegenation"). It was in '67 that the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, that "marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man'... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications...so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.... Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

Damn these activist courts! Damn them for redefining marriage!

But wait - we have always defined marriage and re-defined it as we please. Marriage is a human institution, and it has often been redefined. We have, for that matter, re-defined a lot of concepts as we have traditionally come around to expanding equality and dignity to minority groups. For me, an interesting aspect of this drama is that people are regarding human concepts as immutable laws of the universe. Just as it was once conventional opinion that black people were an inferior race who were best off working on our farms with no liberty or legal recourse, we have also held that a homosexual person is necessarily ill, deranged, wrong. Homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder even after it was formally dropped from the diagnostic scale. There are churches purporting to "cure" homosexuality.

What people fail to understand is that this is all made up. We make marriage, we make sin, we make rights, it's all stuff that humans have dreamed up and treat as conventional reality. For that matter, the God that really exists is not likely to resemble the God that dwells in the human imagination. I sincerely respect human religion, but all religions are human. The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.

When Bill Richardson was a candidate for President, he was asked at a political forum whether he regarded homosexuality was a choice or not. He botched it and chose a side. A better answer would have been, "I don't know. It doesn't matter. Gay people are citizens and in America, they are entitled to dignity, respect, and legal rights."

Dignity, respect, and equality are all notions as well. In light of qualities such as compassion and humility, we can choose the notions that guide us in light of how we wish to treat other human beings. If we desire to rule over human beings and subjugate them, we find reasons for doing so. If we desire something else, we can do it. I participated in a human-made ceremony in which I swore human-made vows about something called "the Bodhisattva way," which is a human concept about how we would like to treat other human beings and other life forms on our planet. I take these concepts seriously, but not literally. Il che yu shim jo.

The perverted thing about this debate with respect to marriage is that we defend prejudice and unnecessary human suffering, pretending that the concepts keeping it in place don't come from us. The fact is, Californians wrote Proposition 8 and defended it. Californians then voted to deny homosexual people the right to form full legal unions recognized by the State and human society as "marriage." And they use vapid dogma to pretend it wasn't their choice to make. How sad, when we blame our petty bigotry on God or discredited science.

My friends Brian and Stephen have been together longer than most heterosexual, "normal" marriages. Their relationship has been tested, and they have prevailed. They own property and have contributed much to their community, just as respected middle-class "married" people do. They could go to Massachusetts and get married, but they have been together this long, DOING what we talk about when we discuss marriage, and for the moment are content to wait until their home state comes to its senses and grants them the dignity and respect that is their due.

A perverted time, indeed, but it has always been this way with humans, and we live for those days when a new crack appears in the door to our tomb, and a ray of sunshine (credit God for that!) comes in and dispells another bit of ignorance for a while.

1 comment:

quid said...

A splendid personal rant about the newest twist to our big bag of predjudice and discomfit with true freedoms.