L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

28 November 2008 Blog Home : November 2008 : Permalink

The Gay Marriage Thing

I've been thinking about the whole gay marriage debate for a while now. In fact I've nearly posted something twice in the last month and not done so because I didn't think I'd got my own position straight,

Here's the most important bit. Gay Marriage is fine by me. Two men (or 2 ladies) wish to be married and I'm OK with them finding someone to tie the knot and pronounce them married. I'm going to be cheering them along. There are some corrollories to this position that may irritate readers which I'll get to in a bit.

But, and here is the next most important bit, I'm not at all OK with the tactics that the pro-Gay Marriage people seem to be pursuing as a result of the passing of Prop 8. My problem with the recent nastiness is that it is indicative of a state of mind which can only be called juvenile.

Let us review. Despite whatever claims may have been made no human culture in history (or at least no major one) has accepted marriage as any thing other than between heterosexuals and, for the most part, between one single male and one single female. Polygamy has generally been limted to the wealthy / powerful and polyandry to a few primitive tribes. This is a historical fact and it cannot be ignored. The reason for this is that, as stated in verious parts of the bible and almost certainly in other equivalent religious texts, the purpose of marriage is perceived to be procreation and the building of a family. There are a boatload of reasons why marriage has been linked to procreation, such as lack of contraceptives and the significant amount of time it takes for humans to mature, and not all of these reasons have magically disappeared in the last few decades. This is of course very different to the idea of permitting mixed race marriages because the banning of marriage between different sorts of people has been going on since time immemorial and has never lasted long because eventually the reason for the ban - typically to keep the wealth/power in one particular class - has never been sustainable. So to put it simply no one has taken away the right for gays to marry or denied them it recently, it isn't a right they have ever had.

Going on from this, the reason why many Christians, and other religious groups, are opposed to gay marriage is because of the link in their religions between marriage and procreation. You may say that this is stupid and point to the many childless married couples (e.g. my marriage) as evidence but this is a very slippery argument, and it must be noted that many religions and cultures allow divorce due to infertility but not for other reasons. Marriage has frequently been seen as a contract between families to produce offspring and if offspring are not produced then the marriage can/could be annulled in ways that sound similar to breach of contract civil lawsuits. Unlike a currently barren heterosexual couple, a gay couple flat out cannot reproduce without the addition of a third party (or parties) and hence ipso facto if marriage is tied to reproduction a gay couple cannot be married. You can say that this isn't fair and that the religious texts of 1000 plus years of antiquity should be revised, and indeed you can make a reasonable argument that they should be revised (or have this bit ignored) along with all sorts of other quaint practises that no longer make sense and which have, for the most part, been quietly jetisoned.

However you don't make that argument very well if you insult the religious and accuse them of being stupid primitive bigots. People are stubborn and generally object to being called stupid primitive bigots so their reaction when insulted is generally to push back. To put it bluntly you tend to win these sorts of arguments through honey not vinegar.

Then there is the fact that California is a democracy which allows direct participation by the electorate in the process. You can, entirely reasonably, be upset that more than 50% of those who voted felt that marriage is a heterosexual only thing but immediately doing lawyerly things to try and negate a clear vote is anti-democratic and a really really bad idea if it succeeds. Why? because California law is based on British common law and therefore precedents count. If the california courts can decree that propositions that pass may be ignored by the legislature and courts then the whole participatory democracy thing goes out of the window. You don't want to do that strategically because you open yourself up to having no recourse when the legislature does something that negatively affects the gay community and you can't get it changed. You don't want to do it tactically because it shows the same contempt that calling the religious bigots does and it uneccessarily makes enemies of entire classes of people who might have become your allies. It also may lead to other people thinking that all those stereotypes about homosexuals being hysterical drama queens might have something to them and therefore decide that said drama queens aren't suited to matrimony.

Finally of course bitching about all this shows a terrible lack of patience, which again reminds one of the temper tantrums of a little child rather than the behaviour of a mature adult. Why? because it should be blindingly obvious that the bare majority that opposed gay marriage this time is shrinking. Previous anti-gay marriage measures passed by 75%:25% ratios. This one passed by 55%:45%. The high likelihood is that in 10 years time a pro-gay marriage proposition will pass. So rather than try to flaunt the democratic will of the people today by various forms of rules lawyering why not just wait a few years and let the democratic will of the people reverse itself.