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Archive for November, 2008

Things I heard on CNN…

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Now that I’ve gotten my typical treadmill run up to about 90+ minutes, I’ve been watching far more cable TV then I used to, given that I have either my iPod or the gym multi-screen TV system to keep me entertained/distracted.  All in all, this is probably net positive, since I do not read the newspapers regularly.

Anyway, Proposition 8 passed in California.  I’m a little surprised, since I figured that most voters would be well-educated on the issue given the amount of media coverage and campaigning that resulted, and to me the obvious choice for an educated voter would have been to vote “no”.  I suppose that would have been giving too much credit to the majority of Californian voters.

The other night I watched Joy Behar moderate a farily heated discussion on the Larry King show on the passing of Proposition 8.  There was the mayor of San Francisco and a New York writer on the “against” side, and two Christian religious leaders on the “for” side.  The whole programme quickly dissolved into repetitive and vaguely nonsensical quibbling.

First, why were there two Christian religious leaders on the “for” side?  Is there really no other reason to vote to ban same-sex marriage?  This is not a rhetorical question, and I honestly wonder what else could be said against legalising same-sex (civil) marriage without relying on a religious tradition argument.  If there could be some vaguely secular reason, that would give the Proposition much more legitimacy in my eyes.  Not because religion is not a source of legitimacy, but because the whole idea of a secular democratic state is to seek a balance among differing sources of legitimacy, to prevent (usually one narrowly defined) religion from tyrannising everyone else.

Second, the arguments given by the two religious leaders…  to me they seemed embarrassingly weak and self-defeating. 

Christian leader: “When we look at the state of marriage today, with 60% of black children being born out of wedlock, and 40% of black women never getting married… marriage is in trouble, and needs to be affirmed, and protected.  Legalising same-sex marriage will weaken this sacred institution and threaten our already unravelling social order.”

Joy Behar: “But can you explain how does legalising same-sex marriage weaken or threaten social order or heterosexual marriage?”

Religious leader: “Historically, everywhere that same-sex marriages have been legalised there has been a further weakening of the institution of marriage.  In Europe, Canada, even in the US.”

Where to even begin refuting this??  Joy (and the other two guests) rightfully pointed out the the (worsening?) problems with the institution of marriage in America are certainly not caused by same-sex marriage or anything even vaguely related to homosexuality or gay rights.  How could they?  Marriage was clearly in trouble well before even Canada or the Netherlands or Massachusetts legalised same-sex marriages.  Going further, there is absolutely zero reason to think that banning same-sex marriages will have any effect AT ALL on the state of the institution of marriage.  (“Honey, they’re banning gay marriage in California now, maybe that means we should not get divorced?” -“Agreed, and we should also start to encourage all our friends to marry before having children now that gays can’t marry!”)   It’s an obvious lack of logic: even if you can point to two broad events happening at about the same time (e.g. growing support for legalising same-sex marriage, a fall in popularity/longevity of heterosexual marriage) doesn’t mean there is a necessarily a casual relationship in either direction, or even a correlation.

And another thing, on the “sacred” institution of marriage – like it or not, the church (or mosque or temple or synagogue) does not have any monopoly on the term or the institution of “marriage”.  Yes, legalising same-sex marriage does somewhat “redefine” marriage – but this only necessarily redefines civil marriage, the legal, State-sanctioned version.  It does not in any way dictate religious marriage, just as much as a “not guilty” verdict from a secular judge has nothing to do with divine calculations of right and wrong, sin and guilt, karma and retribution (or lack thereof, say, if you’re an aetheist). 

It’s worth mentioning that while pretty much every religion has some concept of marriage, there are some wide variations on the theme, the most notable being monogamy versus polygamy.  More interesting, some of these variations occur within the context of the same religion across different sects or across time.  The Old Testament acceptance of polygamy is an obvious example.  So even the oft-cited “Biblical” view that marriage is “one man, one woman”, is a little less black and white than some modern Christian leaders might like, since for hundreds of years it was at least socially acceptable to be “one man, several women”.  That doesn’t mean same-sex marriage is Biblically endorsed, of course, but that’s not the point, since the Bible (or Torah, or Analects, or any other holy text) is not the source for the definition of modern civil marriage.  No priest or religious leader will ever be forced to perform a religious ceremony against their will or against their religious beliefs, and that’s the way it’s always been in a secular state.  You would Americans should be able to accept that – aren’t they the ones who practically invented the phrase “agree to disagree”?

PS:  I thought Cynthia Nixon was simply stunning on the show when she spoke up for same-sex marriage.

PPS:  Other things I heard on CNN – in 2000, California voted against same-sex marriage with a 22 point margin; in 2008, Proposition 8 passed by 4 points.  Across the US, over 30 states voted against legalising same-sex marriages with an average rate of over 70%; back in 1967 when the US Supreme Court outlawed state bans on interracial marriage, over 70% of the population opposed that decision.

PPPS:  Yes, I am Christian too.

Sometimes it seems like we’re all growing up to fast.  I remember a time when 1982 was not long ago, and people born that year were barely out of secondary school.