Thursday, June 27, 2013
"My dear, I don't care what they do, so long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses."
Mrs. Patrick Campbell, British actress
"Who do you love?"
Yesterday 55.5% of the Supreme Court justices revealed their decision that same-sex marriage is a civil right, and by the way, if you disagree you're a nasty homophobic Kluxer. Further legal wrangling notwithstanding, homosexual couples can now enjoy formal marriage, with all rights, privileges and responsibilities thereunto appertaining.
Except for the all too familiar liberal bigotry contained in the DOMA opinion, for which somebody should be slapped, I can't get excited one way or the other. My preference would have been for civil unions (marriages in all but name) to take care of legalities such as benefits and inheritance, and religious ceremonies by sympathetic clergy for their personal, symbolic benefit. I think that would have satisfied most people on both sides of the issue, and let the country get on to more important things. But it is what it is, and that's done.
Well, except for the social conservatives, once again insisting that one-man, one-woman marriage has been the norm in all societies for thousands of years. They were repeating that all over the radio and TV Wednesday, and will be for the foreseeable future. Because I generally like these people and stand with them on a lot of nonreligious issues it's a little painful to say this, but...they're wrong. Utterly, completely, totally wrong.
Please note I'm not contesting their religious or moral arguments, which are matters of faith. Their right to hold and express those moral principles is absolute. I'll defend their rights as I would my own, by any means necessary. But their historical arguments are matters of fact, and they've got the facts wrong.
Even the most casual reading of the Old Testament reveals that polygamy was the norm in Biblical times. Likewise, even casual reading of ancient history and archaeology shows us a huge variety of marital arrangements. Consider the Pharaohs, for whom incest wasn't a sin but a commandment. In modern times history, anthropology and sociology show us still more. Mormons happily practiced polygyny (multiple wives) until it became a political liability, and some still do. There are places where polyandry (one woman, 2 or more men) is common as well. One-woman, one-man marriage is hardly universal.
If you want to be traditional about marriage let's go back just a few hundred years, when they were arranged based on politics and economics. Marriage is a set of contractual rights and obligations. Dowries, bride-prices and the like have always been important, as have political and business alliances. Our modern idea of "romantic love" comes from the songs of medieval troubadours, who sang about mythical nobility and their soap-opera romances. Those, you should know, always ended tragically. Marriage was considered too important to be left to the emotions. If we were really conservative we'd leave the kids out of it and let the families and their lawyers negotiate.
I won't let the homosexual community off the hook, though. Now, or shortly, they'll have marriage. Shortly after that they'll have divorce, custody hearings, property disputes, legal fees, and all the rest. It happens. Marriage may be a blessing, or a sacrament, or whatever, but it's also a difficult job. There's a lot of good in it, but that good has to be earned, every day. I wonder how many people, caught up in romance and righteous political fervor, will wake up to realize that the days, weeks and years after the honeymoon are what matter?
That the candle-lit dinner doesn't count for much if you can't agree on who cleans the toilets?
Then there are the other alternative lifestyle groups waiting in the wings, ready for their time on stage. They're less public, not as well-funded, but they have just as much right to a hearing as the "conventional" homosexual community. There are the polygamists, of course, as the social conservatives remind us. Why should fundamentalist Mormons (or, for that matter, Muslims) be denied the right to marry as their desires and consciences dictate? And if one man can have multiple wives, why shouldn't one woman have multiple husbands? Wouldn't it be sexist in the extreme to deny them the right to an emotionally (or otherwise) satisfying relationship?
Let's not forget the polyamorists. Many of these folks are more or less pan-sexual, but in any case have multiple sexual and emotional relationships. Familiar terms like "bisexual" don't fit them; they find love in many different kinds of arrangements including two, three, four or more people, men and women alike. I've known some of these people, and outside of their unconventional forms of sexual and emotional expression they seem perfectly normal, conventional and as nice as anyone else. Maybe nicer, since they have to pay more attention to their relationships. It seems like way too much work to me, but I wouldn't stand in the way of someone who wanted to try, say, a quintuple marriage. Besides, I can't wait to see a children's book titled "Bobby Has Two Daddies---And Three Mommies."
What I really wonder, though, is how much support the homosexual community and their allies will offer all these people in their struggle for the same rights the court has just recognized. We'll see how much principles count.