Friday, January 11, 2013

Cook County IL Starts Offering "Pocket Sized" Civil Union License. Yet Is This A Good Thing?

Interesting, news out of Illinois this evening. Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) Clerk David Orr has just made available "wallet sized marriage and civil union" certificates "tailor-made" for same-sex and opposite-sex couples with different last names, that they can carry in your pocket if there is ever a need for a couple to show legal proof of their relationship. 

Although Orr states that,“Couples are routinely asked to prove they are married or in a civil union, whether it’s at the bank, the gym, the hospital, or the car rental counter,” the Cook County Clerk's new policy again shows the uphill battle that same-sex couples have to fight - even in a more progressive city/state like Illinois. Though the county is offering both pocket sized marriage certificates and civil union certificates, it is often assumed that if a heterosexual individual claims that they are the husband or wife of someone, then they are. For example, if a woman is rushed to the hospital because of a medical emergency, the nurse does not stand in front of the husband and say "prove to me that you are married". Yet same sex couples often come across situations where their relationship is immediately questioned - where, for example, a nurse might not allow a same-sex spouse/partner visitation rights because she does not consider them family. 

Though David Orr means well (and these documents are probably an important thing for same-sex couples in Illinois to have), issuing pocket sized civil union licenses once again brings to the surface the reality that same-sex couples are treated differently in society based upon their sexual orientation. Hopefully in a few decades, we will not need such "pocket sized" certification, and instead it will not be questioned when one man says about another man, "He is my husband".  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Restaurant Owner Tells Lesbian Couple They Are Unnatural

A restaurant in New Bern, North Carolina is coming under fire because of a letter that the owner of the restaurant wrote to a lesbian couple who dined there. According to New Bern's NewsChannel12, Ed McGovern, the owner of "The Stingray Cafe", gave a lesbian couple a letter which said the following
"God said in the last days that man and wom[a]n would be lover of self, more [than] the lover of God.
That man and woman would have unnatural [affection] for one another. Then, the coming of the Son of Man, who is Jesus. So please, look at your life. See how it hurt everyone around you. And ask the Lord to open your eye[s] before it [is[ top late.
The Love of Christ
P.S. my daughter also was gay. It destroy[ed] her life and my grandson."
After receiving a large amount of backlash against his treatment of the couple, Mr. McGovern has taken to the restaurants Facebook page in an attempt to "explain himself". Yet it only serves to do more damage. 
 First off I would like to apologize for offending anybody, that was never my intention. And yes I do realize there is a thriving gay and lesbian community here in New Bern, many of whom have been patrons at my business.
However, with that being said I do try to run my business with Christian principles and values. That is a very large part of my belief system and is even blatantly evident by the brass bell inside our door. There is a sign over that bell that says ring if you love Jesus. I have many customers who ring that bell on their way out. Now with that being evident, I did find it offensive and disrespectful when this young lesbian couple proceeded to kiss each other in a deeply affectionate manner directly in front of my business. I then stated my beliefs, which is just as much my right as is theirs to show their affection and then handed them the letter. I wasn't trying to hurt anyone's feelings, but merely let them know what the bible has to say on their way of life. I do not condemn anybody for how they may live their life, but when it's so publicly displayed and in such a disrespectful manner, i felt something needed to be said. Again, I do apologize for offending anyone that may have taken this the wrong way, that was never my intention, merely to stand up for what I thought was right and protecting my customers who may have been offended by their actions as well as staying true to my Christian beliefs.
I am deeply sorry for any offense people may have taken because of those but it had been blown completely our of proportion.
Ed McGovern
No Mr. McGovern, your intention WAS to offend. By giving the couple that letter, your unequivocally had the intention of shaming the couple, letting them know that you think less of them and that there is something intrinsically wrong with their relationship. Thankfully, the good people of New Bern, North Carolina seem to be overwhelmingly disagreeing with your approach. 

Though Mr. McGovern may have the "freedom" to operate his business in the manner that he sees fit (since it is currently legal for restaurant owners to discriminate against LGBT people in North Carolina), the people of New Bern can choose to take their money to a restaurant which is open to everyone, without fear of judgement. 

A Response to Brandon Vogt: Part One - Marriage As A Changing Institution

Recently, the National Organization for Marriage posted an article from a young Catholic thinker named Brandon Vogt which supposed to analyze the ten reasons that same-sex marriage advocates give to bring LGBT people into the fold of civil marriage. As a marriage equality advocate (heck, as one who is in a marriage with another man), I found myself vehemently disagreeing with most, but not all, of what Mr. Vogt stated. Yet because I found the article – and the arguments that Mr. Vogt made – compelling, I have decided to analyze each point that he made, and instead show why we must extend marriage rights to same sex couples. Realize that Mr. Vogt has set up his inquiry as making a statement that many marriage equality advocates make, then supposedly refuting the statement.

Mr. Vogt first point in in reference to marriage equality advocates stating; “Marriage has evolved throughout history, so it can change again.”

Different cultures have treated marriage differently. Some promoted arranged marriages. Others tied marriage to dowries. Still others saw marriage as a political relationship through which they could forge family alliances. 

But all these variations still embraced the fundamental, unchanging essence of marriage. They still saw it, in general, as a public, lifelong partnership between one man and one woman for the sake of generating and raising children. 

This understanding predates any government or religion. It’s a pre-political, pre-religious institution evident even in cultures that had no law or faith to promote it. 

Yet, even supposing the essence of marriage could change, would that mean it should? We know from other areas of life such as medical research and nuclear physics that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you ought. After all, such action may not be ethical or serve the common good. Even if this argument had historical basis, it would not necessarily be a good reason to change the meaning of marriage.

There are two important things to recognize in Mr. Vogt’s response, things that will be important to remember as we analyze other arguments that Mr. Vogt makes. First, in this paragraph, he is acknowledging that marriage has had differing purposes in different historical contexts. For this I applaud him, for it would be intellectually specious to argue that marriage has always had one purpose, when history clearly teaches otherwise. Marriage was clearly used as a method of establishing political control or alliance as well as was an easy method of  transferring property or inheritance rights. Outside of a religious context, marriage can be seen as an economic or political union for the benefit of (historically) males. Additionally, Mr. Vogt is semi-correct in asserting that “in general” marriage was viewed as a method of “generating and raising children”. Yes, propagating your lineage has been an important aspect of marriage throughout the centuries (for property right transfers), but it has not been the only or even sole reason for marriage as a legally blessed covenant. To go on and assert, after listing the other reasons marriage has been legally bless, that one historical reason (procreation of children) is THE reason why society has recognized marriage overlooks the other fundamental reasons that has marriage existed in society. Based upon that logic, I could just as easily claim that the male ruling class viewed marriage solely as a way for them to dominate women, and thus they ensured that it was legally recognized. Though Mr. Vogt can argue that procreation was an important part of why society has historically recognized marriage, it is clearly not the only reason why we have recognized the institution.

Second, Mr. Vogt has acknowledged the societal aspect of marriage (as opposed to government) when he says that, “This understanding [procreation purposes of marriage] predates any government or religion. It’s a pre-political, pre-religious institution evident even in cultures that had no law or faith to promote it.” This admission by Mr. Vogt is important, especially as we get to the points that he makes in his article. Though Mr. Vogt may not have realized the argument that he was making, in essence, he has asserted that society has a conceptualization of marriage and its purposes, and the law reflects that understanding. This is a very democratic perspective on culture and cultural values, and one which I have argued for in the past. This argument of societal understanding of an institution, and how the law reflects that understanding, will be important in the near future.

Yet, the main purpose of Mr. Vogt’s argument is to assert that marriage has mostly existed between one man and one woman. A simple look at history, even his own scriptures, can dispel this notion. Throughout history, polygamy and polyandry have been widely practiced, and those relationships legally recognized. In the comments section of his article, Mr. Vogt acknowledges this, yet tries to distinguish it by asserting that such marriages could be still viewed as “one man, one woman”. Yet this makes no sense. In a polygamous marriage for example, though you may be able to have this perspective from the woman (she is, in fact, only married to one man), this 1-1 ratio does not exist from the perspective of the man. He is in fact, legally married to multiple women; it is not one man, one woman. It is one man, multiple women. Though those women are not legally married to each other, the man is still married to all of them. So historically, even if we acknowledge the supremacy of procreation as a reason for marriage, marriage has not been a static institution and has in fact changed drastically over the centuries.

Finally, Mr. Vogt says that even if marriage does not have historical meaning, and has changed throughout history, that does not mean that we should change it now. Agreed. Yet the flip-side can also be true, that just because marriage has not been historically extended to same-sex couples, that does not mean that it shouldn't be. Arguing for or against tradition, though helpful, is not an adequate or intellectually stimulating exercise. Instead, we must argue WHY tradition is good or bad to support, based upon the knowledge that we now have about history and the institution that we are discussing. 

I look forward to delving into the other nine marriage equality arguments, and Mr. Vogt's critique of them. I also look forward to your comments. Part two can be found here

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NOM Arguing Against Religious Freedom???

Now this is awkward. The National Organization for Marriage – an organization who claims to be all about “freedom of religion” – has decided to advocate against said freedom. In a post on the National Organizations for Marriage’s website, blogger Thomas Peters decided to throw a conniption fit about the decision by the Washington National Cathedral to host same-sex weddings, stating,

"Examples like this remind us that when you redefine "civil" marriage you create the new possibility of same-sex ceremonies in churches. Gay marriage advocates love to artificially split these two recognitions of marriage when they think it suits their purposes but the categories always re-collapse as soon as a liberal church like this one decides it wants to conduct ceremonies with same-sex partners. The simplest way to prevent same-sex ceremonies in churches is to fight for the recognition of marriage in civil law."

Peters claims that by changing civil law, society will be “creating the new possibility of same-sex ceremonies in churches”, yet this is a hilarious, yet at the same time sad, assertion. Many religious organizations (Episcopal, Reformed Judaism, Unitarian etc.) have been performing same-sex commitment and/or marriage ceremonies for years, with or without the blessing of the State. So even if religious conservatives and those opposed to marriage equality fight against civil recognition for gay couples, civil prohibition of marriage equality does not automatically “prevent same-sex ceremonies” in churches.

Yet there are two interesting things to note about what NOM has done in this post. First, we can see them engaging in an argument which seeks to assert that because the Washington National Cathedral is allowing same-sex weddings to be performed under its roof, ALL churches and religious groups will be required to do so. Such an argument overlooks the basic protections for religious organizations contained in the First Amendment. No matter what NOM wants to claim, a Southern Baptist church will never be forced to perform a marriage ceremony against their will. In the end, such rhetoric is a useless scare tactic that Peters is using to whip social conservatives into a frenzy against the overbearing and anti-religious gays.

Second, it is interesting that Peters ties marriage equality for same-sex couples to the Washington National Cathedral’s decision to host same-sex weddings. By tying civil marriage equality to performance of same-sex marriages in churches, it seems that NOM is arguing against religious freedom. In this case, NOM is advocating against allowing the Episcopal Church – the National Cathedral is Episcopal – to decide whether they want to perform same-sex marriages. In NOM’s world, “good Christians” must not be allowed to bless same-sex unions, and in ensuring that civil marriage remains discriminatory, they force open and affirming religious groups to not bless same-sex unions. Though this doesn't make sense (as pointed out above, religious groups have been performing same-sex ceremonies for years), it is an interesting look into the NOM mind. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Learning About Gays - Tis Very Icky

A recent article on Focus On the Families CitizenLink blog told the story of a parent in California who is aghast that his children are now going to be taught about the positive impacts that LGBT individuals have made on American society. Considering that the article is titled, “Parent Questions California Law Promoting Gay Agenda”, you would think that Focus was shining a spotlight on some nefarious curriculum that was forcing heterosexual children to do scary “homosexual” things.  But no, instead the father – Stan Wasbin  – is complaining that schools are now being politicized because the FAIR Act mandates that the positive impacts on history by LGBT people are taught.

In his three page letter to his local school board, Wasbin tries to play down his individual homophobia, asserting that “If someone has made an important contribution — and that person happens to be classified as LGBT — then by all means let’s teach our children about that person, but not because of that person’s sexual-identity group.”. Yet other parts of Wasbin’s letter show his true intentions, as he asserts that the school should not, “further burden our teachers by forcing them to teach LGBT material, a subject that so readily lends itself to propaganda and which can engender sexual confusion.

The first argument that Wasbin gives is one which can be readily debated. This viewpoint may make sense, as many good people believe that, given the short amount of time dedicated to social science in K-12, the deeds of the individual should be why we study that person in history, rather than their race/sexual orientation/gender. Others, arguing in opposition to such a belief, will argue that not only should our educational system embrace diversity – and teach about the different communities that make up our American fabric – but that teaching about the accomplishments of LGBT individuals is important for LGBT students in those schools, as it gives them much needed role models.

Yet the other arguments that Wasbin gives us, shows that his “concern” about the time necessary to teach this subject is just a smokescreen for his homophobia. He believes that, by teaching about the contributions of LGBT people in society, we will be sliding down the slippery slope to “propaganda” and that such teaching will cause students to be “sexually confused”. He also believes that if we “politicize” education today, tomorrow students could be learning about “gun owners, death penalty proponents, and anti-abortion activists”. Wasbin is engaging in an argumentation style that many of us within the LGBT community are used too. In his arguments about sexual confusion and comparison to gun owners, Wasbin is underhandedly asserting that LGBT people are defined by their actions, rather than their orientation. In claiming that teaching about great historical figures who are LGBT could cause sexual confusion, Wasbin is falling into the fallacy that if someone is pressured enough, they can be “turned"  gay. In claiming that we are like gun owners or anti-abortion activists, he is whittling us down to our actions, rather than recognizing that we are real people who have a different sexual orientation than he does.

It is not surprising that Wasbin believes that we are LGBT because of our actions, for that is what people like him have been taught for years. Focus on the Family even, in their “analysis” of this situation, claims that “California has allowed classes to be politicized by adult identity politics like this”. The opponents of equality – like Focus on the Family – HAVE to define us by our actions to continue to engage in their pattern of stigma and hate. If they acknowledge that sexual orientation (whether homosexual or heterosexual) is immutable and inborn, they will have lost the culture war, because Americans are loath to use the law to discriminate against something which one has no control over. That is why bills like California’s FAIR Act are so important and we we need to advocate for similar laws across the country; because instead of treating us as a collection of our actions, such an educational strategy recognizes that we are instead defined by who we are inside. And it is through such education, that we will win our rights. 

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