Sunday, August 15, 2010

No Prop 8 Protests in the Streets in New York? Let's Be Fair.

My sweetheart, known on this blog as FF, and I are actually getting married in exactly two weeks and a few hours.  I plan, once we are married, to separate ever further from New York City and soon, to leave it completely. Lately, I have been disappointed in New York's failure to make any public gestures in regard to Proposition 8.

But let's talk about me. I am oddly over-stimulated by the upcoming wedding and it's affecting my dreams which, lately, have been wicked. Many mornings I wake up with kind of shocked, weary feeling, and often the sheets are in a twist. The other night I was awakened by a particularly powerful one: I stumbled to the bathroom, and on my way back to bed, I stubbed my toe badly on the canister vacuum cleaner that FF had left in the bedroom with the full intention of using it at some point to harvest the crop of dust balls under the bed. I gave a loud, pained grunt at which point, startled,  he woke up (probably also from a weird dream), waving his arms wildly and shouting, "wha wha wha!" This is what it's been like around Casa Exile.

The reasons for this disturbance are not hard to locate. FF and I aren't inclined to Entertain, an activity for which we are almost certainly hampered, according to HGTV, by the lack of an Open Floor Plan. Also, we have never experienced both of our families and close friends being in the same place at the same time in such numbers. This wedding will be a massive dose of both Entertaining and Family. Furthermore, for FF the threat of being the center of attention is absolutely contrary to his native survival instinct. He is going through this whole shindig basically for me, and also so that our families may meet each other at least once in this lifetime, bless him. What chaos have I brought down upon his dear reclusive head?  And on mine?

In addition to this stress, I am fighting off a bit of pointless guilt about the ban on same sex marriage. I am  changing everything about my life, including my last name, and I have a case of social guilties too.  What, me worry?

I see the lines of excited gay people hunkered down in front of the LA County Courthouse waiting for U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to fire the starting pistol so that they can jump the broomstick.  I also hear the talking heads on Fox proclaiming that same sex marriage would wreck the American family. They sound righteous and angry, rigid with unshakeable opinion. I am frankly critical of New York City, with whom I am having a public break up, for having been so silent regarding Prop. 8, and so comparatively non-activist about fighting for same sex marriage. What's that about? Where did the rage of Stonewall go? Where's the flamboyant pride? Apparently it's all gone across the country to California where the weather's better.

I have been thinking lately about my sister, SUE (Sister of Urban Exile). She's been with her beloved partner for over 20 years. They are both going to be at our wedding, and they are even hosting our no-rehearsal dinner.  A wave of sadness passes over me, knowing that they cannot have a wedding if they want one and that there are people in the world who think that America needs to defend itself from their love. The most vitriolic opponents of same sex marriage charge that SUE and her partner would be bad parents and would bring up rotten children. They say the reason for marriage is to create a legal framework for the proper care of children. They say that God and the founding fathers (who are only one level apart in the conservative pantheon) want marriage to be only for male/female pairs and no one else. They say it's necessary and proper to relegate SUE and her mate to a sub-class, and deny them the rights and benefits of of legal partnership simply because they are not heterosexual. They state that excluding several million people from the rights they themselves enjoy is both right and necessary in order to maintain what they so hazily refer to as "our way of life".

Well I'll tell you right now, I don't want any stinking way of life where SUE can't play too. Because it's just not fair.

People get married for many reasons that may or may not have anything to do with children, including but not limited to:
  • getting a green card
  • getting drunk in Las Vegas
  • having sworn not to have sex until getting married (and being too horny to wait any longer)
  • getting pregnant
  • wanting to get pregnant
  • because Mom got married at 16 and why not me
  • wanting to marry the boss
  • wanting to get oneself some arm candy
  • wanting to be understood
  • not wanting to be alone
  • wanting to be taken care of
  • wanting to get someone else's stuff
  • needing to get away from one's own stuff
  • escaping from the parents / life / oneself / other psychoses and situations
  • the kids needing a father / mother
  • the person himself needing a father / mother
...and the list goes on.

None of these reasons are inherently wrong, I judge none of them, and I applaud anyone who has the wisdom to go out there and get what he or she needs in this short life.

FF and I are getting married because we are really, really in love. We want to dedicate ourselves to each other in public and become a family, a family of two. We are likely not going to have any children at this point, and still we want to get married. I accept that there are other reasons for getting married, and that's OK with me because I don't need your reasons to be the same as my reasons.

Society offers heterosexuals like FF and me rewards, door prizes if you will, for getting married. FF and I talked about these things a year ago when the topic of marriage came up. Rational creature and divorcee that he is, FF asked me to delineate some good reasons for getting married. Rapidly I suggested that if one of us has an accident, the other will have the right to make decisions; I can get on your (Cadillac) health insurance policy instead of continuing to go to the clinics I currently frequent with my stinky, poor person's policy; and it shows the world that we are a family, albeit a family of only two. He nodded sagely and said nothing, which is a very FF response.

Is it fair that SUE is excluded from these benefits? 

FF and I met as grownups in middle life. We both had substantial lives built up and neither one needed the other around for any compelling material or social reason. Furthermore, we both rather like being alone, which was one of the first things we talked about when we met. "Urban Exile is a natural leader," remarked my kindergarten teacher in my first report card ever, "But she needs to to play with the other children sometimes." FF himself spent a boyhood coming home from school and then heading directly out to the backboard to spend hours smacking a tennis ball around -- alone.Yes, FF and I still like playing our own games by ourselves, he on the second floor and I on the fourth, and then around 10:30 or 11:00 we meet up on the third floor, have a chat and go to bed. That said, we are very different in some other ways. But we trust each other, we believe in each other's goodness, and we have a lot of fun together. 

The constitutional arguments for same sex marriage put forward by its proponents are based largely on the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, and I presume also on that other part of the Amendment which prohibits states from interfering with constitutionally guaranteed privileges.  But then there's that sticky Title 1, Chapter 1, paragraph 7 of the US code which defines that "...the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." This paragraph has that knotty "one man and one woman" phrase that we've heard pronounced so emphatically so many times by right-sided commentators. 

I'm not a constitutional scholar: I look up what I need to know about it on Google, something I am not proud to admit. Most people, including the good citizens of California who voted down same sex marriage, are not constitutional scholars either. Let's face it, few of us can recite what's in the Constitution and certainly have only a passing knowledge of what the various Amendments are about. But the folks on the right-hand side of the aisle who claim to stand on every word of that foundational document don't figure to apply the contents of its 14th amendment to gay people. Homosexuals (and "Othersexuals" of all types) should, in their opinion, be squarely denied equal access to the responsibilities and privileges (both social and economic) of the institution of marriage. Just like once black and white couples were. Just like black people in general once were.

But we fixed things for black people and mixed-race couples. Why? Because we realized that the way things were just wasn't fair.

It is hard to square our current legal definition of marriage with the protections of the 14th amendment. We might say that there's a bug in the works, a roaring inconsistency between the two documents. So what shall we do? We are in a country of laws, laws written with words, and our legal words seem to contradict each other.

We could take a step back and acknowledge that our man-made documents are flawed: Certainly the Constitution is flawed or it wouldn't have needed occasional amending, which is a fancy word for "fixing". Documents are static, but life is not, and we Americans have been fortunate to have our consciousness raised up ever so slightly since the Constitution was first penned. We decided it wasn't fair for some people to be slaves, so we fixed that one. And we decided that it wasn't fair that women and people of color couldn't vote, so we fixed that one too. We fixed lots of things, because we got Wiser as a society and realized that being unfair to some people was bad for all of us.

FF comments that if we start changing around our definitions of things, where does it all end? If any pair of people are allowed to get married, then what happens a few years down the line when a threesome shows up and says "We want to get married too!" Legalization of plural marriage, he suggests, is just a definition away. 

I have to give him that point. I suppose that someone might show up at some point wanting to marry their cow, too.  But I also emphasize to FF, as gently as my progressive heart will allow, that allowing everyone to make up his own rules for the game is not at all the same as excluding some people from the game completely just for being who they are.  

It seems to me that when we are faced with inconsistencies in our social "givens", when our x's and y's that seem to cancel each other out, then, the best and wisest thing to do is to make the decision which will bring the greatest good. Considering all the sadness and suffering that there is in the world which we are powerless to address  (i.e., hurricanes, droughts, mudslides, heartbreak, dread diseases, and so on), I would be hard-pressed to say that the greatest good can be achieved by denying SUE and her partner the right to stand in front of their friends and families and say "I do". In fact, great good in many forms, both economic and spiritual, might actually be born of it. 

My SUE, with whom I played whiffle ball and trolls as a child, was blessed with a hyper-active dorsal striatum. That is the tiny administrative office in the human brain that goes ballistic when  business comes up pertaining to altruism, rewards,  cooperation , fairness and, yes, punishment too. She has always been almost painfully focused on fairness, ever since she was a little person, and I often saw her child's face screw up with actual suffering when she thought that an unfairness had been committed.  That old dorsal striatum can be a tough task master.

"In order for a society to function cooperatively," writes Stephen Hall in his fascinating book Wisdom, "...its members or leaders must sanction those who break the rules. Fairness is the crucial litmus test." So what is fair? I am tempted to state simply as did Justice Potter Stewart (whose dorsal striatum was clearly rather robust), "I know it when I see it." But certainly, fair is making sure not only that the rules are applied equally to everyone playing the game, but also that everyone be allowed to play the game in the first place. 

Is New York City, the home of Stonewall, ever going to get off its behind and start publicly participating in this discussion that California seems to be having all by itself? Or is New York too worried about what it's going to wear tomorrow? And is America going to pass the fairness test in the case of same sex marriage? 

Urban Exile is a little nervous about getting married in a couple of weeks. But she's more nervous about how America answer that important question. 

Photo credits: Josef Samuel, cake by Rascia's Creative Cakes; Lesbian cake-topper by Lily Tsai; Cell Science

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