Observations on the “Florida Marriage Protection” amendment

Political discourse should, in my opinion, principally involve issues that affect the health and well-being of citizens, and as such are the legitimate subject of legislation.  So, in order to determine where the issue of “Gay Marriage” belongs in the political debate, we need to examine how the “problem” we are trying to solve affects our health and well-being.

Marriage, from the standpoint of the State, is merely regulating two people entering into a contract.  The State gives some special privileges to people entering into, and provides certain legal provisions covering the creation and dissolution of this contract.  The fact that two people can enter into and dissolve a marriage without any religious involvement is proof of its secular nature.  It would not seem that there is any secular reason to place gender limitations on entering into this contract.  If a reason is proposed, it should be backed by verifiable research, not knee-jerk fear.

There is more to marriage, for many people, than just its secular purpose.  For them it carries significant religious purpose, involves sacred vows, and perhaps defines the nature of their relationship with God.  Those of us for whom it carries such significance have a legitimate interest in maintaining it as a viable practice, however it is not the American way to ask the State to do this for us. We criticize countries where religious beliefs have been legislated, and yet we are drawn in by politicians proposing to do the same thing in our country.

Although in the past there was some convergence of roles between religion and the State when it came to marriage, for many years the State has not attempted to enforce these religious vows. Where fidelity and mutual care have been legislated, there is no longer any attempt at enforcement. Nor is there any attempt to enforce the duration provisions, which are part of the religious vows.  As a matter of fact, most religions don’t try to enforce these provisions either.  Possessed with the moral right to do so, few offer more than mild rebuke for violating them.  And despite its being revered so greatly, the marriage failure rate is as high among the religious as among nonbelievers.

So we have a secular contract, which is entered into and terminated at will by the parties (one of the least successful contracts in existence, by the way, with a very high default rate), with no good reason not to open it to all adults.

I have one final observation.  It appears that, for many supporters of laws “protecting” marriage, the issue is little more than an attempt to perpetuate a hidden, irrational prejudice. They realize that they have lost the long-running battle to outlaw and criminalize forms of sexual activity to which they (publicly) object.  So they cloak their prejudice in a smoke screen of religious belief.  And then they attempt to force others to accept this belief by legislating it. 

Whichever way you turn it, this issue has no rational place in our governing priorities. And so we should insist that the political debate be about the many important issues affecting our health and well-being, and not about this “red herring” which seems merely designed to stir up our emotions and fears (and money).

2 Responses to “Observations on the “Florida Marriage Protection” amendment”

  1. andrewsherman Says:

    Very moderate argument. Reasonable and careful. However, I’m not sure it addresses the mindset of those who disagree as much as it pleases those who would already agree with you.

    Many people believe that politics undulates in subject areas in which they have no authority or knowledge. They may believe themselves, therefore, to be left out of history and progress by their own lack of understanding. Some people in the political arena capitalize on that sentiment, and tap into the indignation that such estranged people feel by finding a subject on which those people do believe they are qualified to speak to, and by claiming that those subjects are important, and should be posed to politicians as their responsibilities.

    Thus, just as many are now excusing vast numbers of Americans from their poor decisions by blaming banks for swindling them into thinking they could afford a home, it might be appropriate to consider excusing enthusiastic citizens for having swallowed a bill of goods about what is and isn’t appropriate for political discourse and government action.

    Whether or not we excuse them for their gall, however, we must now deal with their fervor on the same level on which it was first activated. Furthermore, to merely take the issue away from them carries a negative consequence they may not be willing to face–to once again feel themselves estranged from history and progress. Unless we can offer them a juicy alternative to their current stances, they may object to being convinced of an opposing view on principal, rather than based on reason.

    Everyone has feelings, but not everyone knows what to say to express themselves. The opposing political platform tends to tap into this need by providing ready-made, simple arguments and phrases that make the speaker feel good and seems to support their personal views and which they can imagine will eventually benefit them. We do them a disservice to take that away from them without a replacement.

    If one party or one platform wants to take a stance, and prefer one type of people to another, that’s their prerogative. But there’s always a consequence to exclusion of people: a rising resentment. We pay the piper when those resentful people find a cause that includes them, and we chose to pay that price by excluding them in the first place. We can’t reneg on our debt to these people by continuing to refuse to include them in our esteem, and their needs in our platform.

    I think the supporters of marriage laws who aren’t pols trying to maniuplate issues so that real discussion doesn’t reveal thier inadequacies, are people who have worred for quite some time now that the world they live in isn’t the world they were raised to live in. They feel this world is worse in many ways, and it scares them. It scares them because they don’t know where danger will come from, and because they don’t know what they’re supposed to do about it. With massive changes in which aggression against that which you don’t understand or don’t like has been successfully curbed, more and more people have been facing, for the first times in their lives, their own lack of sociable, moderate response to people and situations they don’t like. African-americans, homosexuals, divorces, poor people, outsiders, activists; there are many types that were not part of the social upbringing and for which many people have no preset response. They don’t like it, or them, but they don’t know what to do about it or them.

    I think that more than a few of them even recognize that something is wrong with themselves. Such self-doubt isn’t programmed into their behavior either, except as lashing out violently, so once again they don’t know how to face up to or deal responsibly with how they feel. Many people experience this when they react to something and then feel embarrassed at their own reaction but keep going because they’re not ready to admit that they overreacted in the first place. Very common. That dynamic writ large explains a lot of people, I think. They’re uncomfortable, and embarrassed that they’re not more comfortable. And they’re scared.

    One of the most insidious mental paradigms of our time, I think, is the idea that “things would be fine if people would just live me/us alone.” Al Qaeda is an extreme example of this principle. They’d love to put up a fence around themselves and forget the rest of the world. But, first of all, they weren’t left alone; all the countries surrounding their home lands kept medling in their politics for their own selfish reasons. And secondly, because Al Qaeda didn’t know how to fucntion in total isolation; they could never keep an economy running without outside interaction.

    The complex truth is that the breakfast garbage that gets thrown into the bay is served for lunch in San Jose (Tom Lehrer lyric). Nature doesn’t honor our borders, and what we do affects everyone else. If we allow a fence to be honored, we submit ourselves as victims to whatever foolhardy decisions people on the other side of that fence make.

    I believe that what needs to be addressed directly is the massive appeal of gated communities, and the American dream of disappearing into a vast home where you never see anyone you don’t invite. At the same time, we have to address the issue that arises from the only options available to people who tentatively may be considering opening their minds or hearts being run by hippies. God love them, but the extremes of the love-in communities are not appropriate to first-timers. A moderate, scaled down, first step should be cultivated that’s geared toward making newbies welcome and feel safe enough to face their discomforts without ridicule or shame. Like Cesar Millan’s puppy school, but for people. The ideal shouldn’t be set as a completely permissive, tolerant person who goes with the flow and loves everybody. Even Jesus wasn’t like that, and George Bernard Shaw was quoted to have wisely argued that “all progress is made by the unreasonable man.”

    We don’t need to spay people or make everyone inot dead-heads. Hippies can’t be our ultimate human. What we could do is give the masses a respectable example of behavior that is inclusive of different people, but preserving of personal space and dignity. I think your strongest comments on this point are therefore your mention of how the vows that pertain to entering into the marriage state are broken easily and without public backlash of any kind. We should discuss what type of public backlash to broken vows of any kind is appropriate.

  2. stevenspruill Says:

    This is a very reasoned and thoughtful presentation of what marriage is and is not. I agree with the thrust of this blog that attempts to ban marriage between gays using religion as the fig leaf are, in nearly every case, about bigotry and homophobia. I would even go so far as to say that, to the extent that the Bible does disapprove of homosexual behavior, the Bible is wrong. It is, after all, an arbitrary collection of writings from the iron age with sanctity having been conferred and retracted on several of its parts by fallible men at several different points in its history. I find it especially troubling that African Americans, with whom I feel a good deal of common cause, politically, should be so reactionary on this point because of the teachings of their churches that credit scripture with calling homosexuality an abomination. It’s a shame, in my view, when anyone lets any book tell them how to think; it’s a damned shame when the book is from an age of appalling violence and tribalism and ignorance.

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