Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Parsing the Rhetoric of Hot-Button Issues

Do you think there's a middle ground in the gay rights debate? It seems to me much like the issue of abortion in that there are only really extreme positions. The rhetoric goes like this: if you support gay marriage, you support a sinful act against God, and a perversion of nature. Or conversely, if you don't support gay marriage, you are against gay rights and prejudiced to the level of hating a group of people simply for existing.

I'm not in the habit of buying into rhetoric, but it's an interesting thought. I can't really take a person seriously who says equal rights for everyone . . . but gay people can't get married. Equally though, it's difficult for me to look at a person who says, "I don't hate them. I don't dislike them. It's just a sin." and buy that this is tantamount to hatred.

Not that the majority makes it right, but asking people to give up an important tenet of their religion for what amounts to a legal issue doesn't quite suit me either. For example, if someone is interviewing for a job, would you (regardless of the fact that it's illegal, just pretend it is legal) not hire someone because it became known that it was a religious person who believed that being gay is a sin?

I'm not saying you would. But I do know people who would. So at what point does an insistence on tolerance get to the level of being intolerant? Or is that really what just needs to be done to get society to evolve to the next level? Is there room in this debate for both sides to get along, or does one or the other group have to acquiesce?

My solution goes like this: let's really and honestly separate Church from State, and remove marriage from the legal domain. No one gets legally married. Marriages only happen in churches or temples or synagogues, or in whatever spiritual context is meaningful to the couple involved. If people want, they can go get a civil union that provides all the benefits of legal marriage, the tax penalties, access to documents and health care, etc.

In this way, any religious entity can marry whomever it wants to. Or whatever spiritual ceremony fits someone less-than-religious. People of other religions and denominations are free to think whatever they want about it, pretend it's not a marriage or whatever . . . doesn't matter. And everyone is equal under the eyes of the law. Religious people can have their convictions and keep them largely to themselves because now it's a moot point. And gay couples get exactly the same set of legal rights, responsibilities, privileges, and headaches as everyone else.

Perhaps it's not a moot point, but it moves from the realm of what's legal to what's Biblically acceptable. Since no one is ever going to agree on that, it's fine with me to just get it out of the public and into the private workings of churches where it doesn't bother me.

Here's what's interesting. When I float this idea past the right-wing ├╝berchist people I know, they hate it. They say that would completely invalidate their marriage, and they won't stand for having the gays take that away from them. Marriage is about a man and a woman, that's the only thing that's morally right, and the law should reflect that.

My response is, well, what about that holy union blessed by God that no man can alter? Does it really matter what the government calls it, so long as you have your religious union sanctified in the eyes of God? The reply: if gays get exactly the same thing we have then marriage is a worthless institution. (I'm paraphrasing a bit, but you get the idea)

So it's not really about a holy union blessed by God. It's really an issue of you want the government to protect your special religious status. Fine. If you want your religion that tied up in our legal system, don't be surprised when the government starts telling you what to believe. Quit your bitching.

But when I run this by gay people and couples I know, they also hate it. They say that it's not really fair. They want to get married just like the straight Christian people. My response: so even though this would make gay and straight couples equal under the law and essentially make the legal system "sexuality-blind," you would not support it? No. they would not. And I say fine. If you want to get into a fight with a bunch of people about how to interpret morality, especially as presented in the Bible, good luck. People have been fighting about that for a long time, and you're probably not going to win with most of them. So stop bitching.

Oddly enough, the popular rhetoric seems to be spot on here.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Laramie Project

I just saw this performed last weekend.

I'm not sure what to think about it. Of course, it pulls your heart-strings. And it's a powerful story of a guy who got beaten to death. Bringing that play to Big Fork, MN must have been a huge undertaking. Actually, getting the cast and crew together to put on a performance that good must also have been an incredible challenge.

Enormous kudos to the Edge Center for The Arts, the performers who were able to, well, act. Really well.

The script and the performance ask a few things of me. They ask what I can do to stop this. The first thing that went through my tactless (see posts below) mind was that I really wanted to go out and beat up some haters.

Another thing, though well addressed both in the show and the after-discussion, is this: people die every day. And not just people starving who can't afford to eat well enough to live half a world away. But people for many reasons that are shocking to anyone who hasn't spent time with them . . . die horrible, brutal, deaths every single day. In fact, many people so.

So why this intense focus on one community where one murder happened? Why the focus on one kid?

Why is Laramie such a big deal? More people are murdered in a brutal way in Dallas, TX every day than Laramie sees brutally murdered every 10 years.

Well, I have two answers.

1. Either we accept a society of violence and brutality


2. We accept a society of violence and brutality.

We have accepted and agreed to participate in a society in which X number of people will die for x, y, and z, reasons.

It doesn't matter what those reasons are. In fact, we have, agreed that certain losses are both acceptable and necessary for our society to function. Those losses are measured in cadavers sent to medical schools.

I disagree.

I emphatically do NOT accept those losses as normal in a civilized society.

One of the biggest and most painful things to attack human rights is post-9/11 legislation. And it's not even the legislation that is the worst.

The fundamental idea behind the Patriot Act is that it's okay to hunt and kill anyone who you don't like. Cause? Screw it. Evidence? Screw it. Habeas? Screw it.

We don't need that kind of legal BS to justify what we are going to do: kill a bunch of innocent people to obtain an end.

Hating and hurting and beating gay people is where an unconstitutional war against other countries starts. Not where it ends.

We justified war against a nation that had nothing to do with us. Is it any surprise that we can't get any motion in favor of gay marriage?

We are both legally and religiously incompetent to deal with our issues. Our religion hates just as much as their's does. Our governments convene just like it's a girlscout meeting.

I hate to sound nuts . . . and I probably do sound nuts, but we have have a bit of tidying up of our own we need to deal with before we go around telling the rest of the world what to do.

Especially since we've created a mess out of everything we've ever been involved with. Possible examples include Japan, South Korea, South Africa (oh, I dare someone to be proud of that), and Western Europe.

What is the guideline that defines success?

So so far no one knows. This is the problem the Supreme Court faced in the 60s, and it's the same problem we all have deal with now.

When we look at the problems in the world, there's no real process or goal, or anything meaningful.

It's just a mess of posturing.

But the Laramie project is a start. In my opinion it's more important than anything the UN or the US or anyone is doing. I don't think I made my point entirely clear when
I pointed out how hard it is for people to change a habit of hate.

How can we change an entire country's habit of hate?

For the first time in my life, I was able to say something in the company of homosexuals that I hope benefited homosexuals, and I didn't really feel like I needed to point out that I was straight.

When I said, "We need to talk about something besides tolerance. We need a new word. You tolerate an itch or a leaky faucet. You tolerate someone who irritates you. We need a new word for this. Or rather, we need to simply stop being irritated by people who are different from us." I wasn't saying that as a gay man or a straight man. I was saying that ALL PEOPLE need to make careful use of their words.

Tolerance is the wrong word.