Sunday, July 3, 2011

16337--And the Pursuit of Happiness

     Recently, I weighed in on the Earth-shaking issue of marriage legislation (see my earlier post "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility", in which I opened this can of worms).  It drew a lot of views, though no comments as of this posting.  Well, just when I thought I'd gotten away without drawing any return fire, some of my friends felt compelled to add their input to mine and I felt it was only right to share our exchange with others who might still be interested.  They're all opinionated and at least one of them may be gay, but I'll leave that labeling for you to figure out.  It also gives the chance to shine a light on some views other than my own.  So, on with the show.

William: "With Great Power comes Great Responsibility" was one of the best blog posts I've read from my friend Phoenix since I started following his stuff.  My only criticism, Phoenix, is that it's sometimes hard to see the letters on your blog when they get caught in the flame, but the fire is oh so cool.

Phoenix: Thanks.  Glad you liked it.
Jill:  I think taking the government out of marriage entirely is a legitimate philosophical position, and the post is an even-handed defense of that. We disagree about the fundamental roles of government. I would only add that much of the celebration came from feeling that our relationships were finally seen as legitimate by a society that had formerly condemned and belittled them.
Phoenix: I don't seek the validation of anyone who would belittle me. Which is good, I suppose, because it keeps me from trying to speak at KKK rallies.
Bill: Sadly, in order for gay couples to enjoy marriage rights such as inheritance, sharing insurance, etc., it requires governmental recognition of their marriage. I don't doubt that most reasonable people recognize a married couple when they see one. But it's not the reasonable ones who are creating this debate.

William: Jill, I too am often at loggerheads with you on the role of govt but thanks for reading Phoenix's post. Because you actually work within the court system it helps to hear your opinion even if we often don't agree. I do share your sentiment that it is a nice feeling to have others legitimize one's own choices that had formerly been condemned or belittled; however, this "realization" is always sweeter when it's arrived at voluntarily rather than through the force of law. If Phoenix is correct about the origins of "marriage licenses" in that it allowed whites to marry non-whites (and vice-versa), then I would propose that there were people in this country who were not paying attention. Constitutionally speaking, this should have never happened. The restriction over free-association between Americans is not something one should have to seek a license for. Technically, a license is something that gives permission to do something that would otherwise be illegal. My question is how in the world could any state make it illegal to interracially marry in the first place?

Phoenix: They've been doing it since before they were states, back in the colonies in the 1690s.  Some specified blacks, some blacks and Asians, some blacks and Native Americans.  A few others just targeted non-whites.  People are generally on the lookout for differences in others and are most comfortable around others who are like us.  That probably goes back to pre-human history and watching out for members of rival tribes.  The different and unknown are dangerous.  Ooooh...

William: Which of course would lead one to the next subject. Why stop at interracial marriage, what about gays? And now to Mr. Cross...
     Bill, I've given the subject of gay marriage much thought and have it neatly divided in my mind between the "legal aspects" and the "personal ones". First, I would speak of the "personal aspects". For the longest time I thought it was silly that gays where fighting so hard "to be married" in the same sense that hetero couples are. To borrow Phoenix's statement above and combine that with what I said to Jill about the voluntary nature of "realization" my question is this: Why in the heck would anyone want to seek the validation of those who only belittle gay marriage? Is it that important? Because I can safely guess that passing laws that say gays can be together and it will now be recognized as marriage isn't going to change the minds of the radical right one bit, who will still condemn it. This brings up a second point. If marriage has always been defined as between a man and a woman ONLY, I find it odd and even a bit selfish to go to so much trouble to re-define a word that has already been established in meaning. It would be like me one day waking up and saying that the color red should now be called "otep". On one hand I feel that gay couples are on a personal mission to "validate" their lifestyle which has been condemned by most religions by "stealing" a word (marriage) that has been used since the beginning to define it as a relationship between a man and a woman. I can see how to some people it is the most "in your face" , "see!!---look at me my desires are normal" statement gays could make. By saying that gay couples can use the word "marriage" is not only the ultimate protest statement to hetero couples but it "legitimizes" an act that they want their opposition to see as normal. Again, it's a seeking of validation from those that are going to belittle gay relationships regardless. This is just silly to me. Which brings up your most excellent point and the "legal aspect" of my opinion. Are gay couples trying to legalize gay marriage because of a desire to show the world that they're "normal" and they have every right to use the word "marriage" just like straight couples despite established definitions of the word, OR are they seeking to use the word only because the legislation in place uses the word "marriage" in all of the various laws surrounding inheritance, insurance, power of attorney, OR is it a combination of both reasons? My personal opinion is that gays should be allowed to be in relationships, and have ALL the rights afforded to them that straight couples do. I'm personally against using the word marriage to accomplish this because I feel its definition has already been defined, unless it is truly the ONLY WAY to accomplish these most worthwhile goals that ALL Americans should have. Maybe I can get my friend Brad to chime in on this.

Phoenix: Hey, all comers are welcome into this free-for-all as far as I'm concerned.

William: You do realize, Phoenix, that in an ultimately free society not only should interracial marriage and gay marriage be allowed, but as a business owner I should also be allowed to discriminate and not serve gay or interracial couples at my restaurant if I should choose. This is not my personal belief as I'm no homophobe or racist. Just saying...

Phoenix: Well, of course. And that part still stands in our society. Business owners weigh their personal feelings vs the economic impact their policies would have from turning away select customers and anyone who might choose to join them in finding some other restaurant to patronize.  Why?  Did you think the right to shout, "Hey! Your droids! We don't serve their kind here!" was gone?  It's just not popular anymore to openly treat folks that way.  I feel a lot of people's attitudes really are that friendly. That is, I don't think that most people are harboring segregationist desires behind their smiles.  Likewise, businesses had covered a lot of the legal issues through Domestic Partnership policies and last I heard inheritances could be left to any heirs one chose. What's missing there is the automatic blanket of privileges and acceptance that come from the status of "Married". It's the sort of stuff that the Catholic church sought to thwart when it banned its clergy from marrying because surviving families of deceased holy men were starting to press the church for a piece of the parish. While the church might find poverty spiritually uplifting for its employees, for the church itself it's a definite downer. A church with no clout is just another cult and they sure didn't want to slide back into that status. Homosexuals probably don't want to have to go back into their closets and I don't feel that any of us should be living with a government that tells us what to do instead of doing what we tell it to do. One of the ways to avoid that is for us not to be tricked into asking them to pass legislation that they have no business passing.

Bill: There is no such thing as unlimited freedom in a stable society. If we want civility amongst our citizens, we must enforce laws that are often unpopular at the time of enactment. The freeing of the slaves and later the Civil Rights act are prime examples. The majority of the south would have liked to continue to keep slaves, but as an evolved society, we could no longer allow it. 

Phoenix: Weird as it may seem to us, despite abolitionist sentiments, freeing American slaves had less to do with a righteous crusade to end oppression than it did with complex political and economic issues.  I think the Civil War accelerated the whole thing and slavery would've gone on much longer otherwise.  It was a much different issue from that of the Civil Rights Act.  Like the marriage issue, the civil rights people were petitioning government to grant belong to the people naturally with the government's role being to protect those rights.  You don't ask your employee (government) to give you something that already belongs to you.  Doing that makes it seem to me that you're conceding that you don't have ownership of those rights and you're begging government to grant them to you like asking your parents for permission to do something.  That's just wrong.

Bill: In a completely free society, business owners could indeed decide who they do or do not serve, but what about businesses in isolated areas with small even insignificant minority populations? How would that be handled? If the only grocery store in town was owned by a racist, would the minority just starve? It would not be costly enough for him to be forced to serve that minority if it were small enought. Or would the citizens organize a system whereby purchases would be made for minorities and then transferred to them? Or would your solution be that they should just move to another town? That seems to be the conservative attitude towards gays. Not in our town. Move to New York if you want marriage rights. Or better yet move to France or Germany. Well, that's not realistic or fair. They contribute to our society and they should have all the rights attached to any contributing group. And societies and their institutions evolve. Marriage as a formal institiution has been around at least since Rome. And marriages were allowed for females as young as twelve. Luckily western society has evolved and 12 year olds are no longer considered marriageable. And if that is the origin of formal marriage, then it is not a Religious institution, unless you still worship Zeus. It is a societal one. And society must accomodate. Like it or not.

Phoenix: Point-by-point, marriage is older than Rome and I think I stated clearly that it wasn't a religious institution it has merely become associated with religions. It didn't start there and it still isn't exclusive to any religion. 
     Next, twelve-year-olds being ineligible for marriage only occurred in recent times with the general extension of life expectancy. 
     As to your other point, people leaving town wasn't my solution. It was your scenario. In it, you only painted the store owner as racist, so if the rest of the community pressured him, maybe he would cave and allow the sole minority resident to shop there. Maybe the others would shop for him. Or maybe he would move. Yes, these things are all possible. The fact remains, though, whatever community the store is in, management retains the right to refuse service to anyone. That means anyone he doesn't like or anyone who pisses him off or anyone he chooses on "No Soup for you Tuesday".  This isn't to imply absolute Freedom, but he does have some. Every person's rights end at the point that they infringe on someone else's. The families I mentioned who had their houses burned down did move away from those communities even though their persecution presumably came from a small, non-representative faction of the community. They made their choices. When I was a child, my own family received some racist attention when we moved into a new house in New York. We stayed put, faced down our persecutors, made friends and enjoyed our home for another dozen years until we chose to move to another state. Yes, someone else obviously preferred that we move.   No, that wouldn't have been fair. No, it isn't fair for anyone to try to pressure others to live or not live in certain places because they disagree with their ways or basic existence.   People don't usually try to impose their will upon others out of fairness. 
     We all have the right to be left alone to live our ways. The childhood cry of "I'm not touching you!" prevails, though.   As long as we're not infringing on each other, we can say what we like and fair isn't really a factor.   Freedom of speech isn't based on fairness.   We have rights to live and work and speak and defend ourselves and to be left alone, even when the ways we choose to exercise those rights may be unpopular.

Bill: I'm not saying you said anything that I stated specifically.   Just assessing where it leads in my view.   I didn't say marriage was invented in Rome, I said as a FORMAL institution it was likely one of the originators. And I was simply restating that it is not a religious institution more to firm up my point and due to William's comments.   And you're right, twelve-year-olds not marrying is fairly recent.   Still, a good example of the evolution of mores and behavior affecting the evolution of laws and institutions.  
     Greek Democracy was created by a slave-holding patriarchal society (that also thought sex with between a man and a boy was the height of love).   We have evolved, and so has our mode of governance.   Everyone gets the same rights.   Sadly, due to ignorance and prejudice, we have to pass laws to ensure that they do.   Laws aren't for what's easy, they're for what's hard.

Phoenix: The formal institution of marriage actually predates reliable recorded history.

Bill: So, religion has little to do with it. It's a social form, not a religious one. Which should remove the main objection to gay marriage.

Phoenix: Somehow I think it's going to take a little more than that.

Jill: States made inter-racial marriage illegal for the same reason that bestiality is illegal. The argument was that you might as well have white people marrying monkeys as marrying non-whites. Of course, that is exactly the same argument that people make against gay marriage today: Rick Santorum rather infamously wrote that if we allowed gay marriage then people would marry box turtles. I've had people make the argument to me, personally, saying that if I were allowed to marry Tamara it would be like me marrying my dog.
     Also, the stance that government should not be in the marriage licence business at all is not helpful to the millions of us who are not getting the rights that go with those marriage licences. These rights are particularly important when we are raising children and inheritance and custody are in play. I have no custody rights to my daughter, for instance, and Tamara's will stating that she wants our daughter in my custody if Tamara dies is useless in Oklahoma.
     One more thing and then I'll stop: Will, your reluctance to call it "marriage" is just avoiding the argument. Our opponents say, "A marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman." We respond, "We would like to broaden the definition." Our opponents reply, "A marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman" over and over and over again. That's not an argument, it's a tautology. What I believe you are saying is, a "real" marriage is between a man and a woman, and the you gays are just playing house. It's demeaning, and would be only insulting if it didn't have so many legal and practical consequences.

Phoenix: So much for states respecting each other's laws.  That really shouldn't hold up.  That is to say that your custody rights should hold up, just like when the courts decreed that Dred Scott didn't stop being a slave just because his master transported him into a free state.  Of course, I guess we shouldn't expect too much rationality from people who think that people are going to rush out to marry box turtles unless prohibited by law.  That sounds like someone with some odd brain wiring.  Whether he was right or not, though, it still sounds like the issue of people in government making lame excuses to infantilize the public as a pretext to usurp our rights.  Those people probably argued for your rights when you were in the womb and then turned on you when you got old enough to not use them "right".  I disagree with that, Jill, and I disagree with you or Tamara or anyone else having to go through any other source to declare that we are deserving of rights.  I was born with them and I have no intention of surrendering them to anyone without the best fight I can offer.

Jill:  Phoenix, I appreciate your response.  I don't believe that my rights originate from the majority of people agreeing on what my rights are. The majority of Oklahomans are just fine with me not being able to have rights to our daughter. But, my rights are federal, and i believe I should be able to have those rights even over the kicks and screams of the majority of my neighbors. In my experience, and my reading of history, "state's rights" are just another way of keeping a minority of people in their place, and that place is never of one of equality .

Phoenix: The governments are bankrupt, financially and morally. Without them, you still remain. Your rights are yours because you're a person. Government's job is to protect those rights, not to define them.  State or federal I don't trust either that's not respecting our rights and doing what we tell it.

William: Jill, I'm all for broadening the "definition" of marriage in the legal if that's the only recourse for gay couples to enjoy all of the rights that they should have just like anyone else. Please don't think that I'm against "gay marriage", cause I'm not. I'm not offended by the proposition at all. You know me: Mr. Legalize everything as long as it doesn't directly violate someone's Person, Property, or Liberty.
     Phoenix, good point.  Individuals are born with all the rights (unalienable) once they arrive here from the womb. Govt does NOT give us any rights and the Constitution is supposed to be a contract to define the boundaries of govt and is a reminder of rights we are BORN with. I know many people who MISTAKENLY think the Constitution GIVES them their rights......uh, uh. That's incorrect.

As you can see: not a group that will ever be accused of walking away from the negotiating table.  By all means, if anyone else has an opinion to add to this, do leave a comment.  Your voice is welcome.

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