Originally posted May 2004
Credits: Thanks to Bob, clear-sighted as always, as well as to George for kindness, and Ian for perspective.
- Also, if this subject interests you, I recommend my “Firestarter” titled Tolerance FAQ, take II.
I’ve been watching the joy and euphoria spreading through San Francisco and parts of the Bay Area as hundreds of loving, committed couples finally have their already-extant, long-standing relationships officially recognized. It’s rather wonderful to see love, kindness, and tolerance finally triumphing in our society, however temporarily.
Which leads quite naturally to the question: why are some people so horrified by what’s happening in San Francisco — and a tiny handful of other enclaves across the country? It’s not like it’s hurting them personally.
However, from what I’ve heard not only are many upset by the “incipient destruction of society,” but there’s also some truly sick vitriol being spewed against these marrying couples. And for what? Because they want to be recognized as married, productive members of society? I don’t get it.
Marriage is not my thing, but I don’t feel I have any right to say who may or may not engage in the institution. Why are there some people who apparently feel they are the Arbiters of Rightness? Where on Earth do they get this idea?
Putting it into perspective
Someone managed to put this attitude into perspective for me with the following example:
- Let’s say you have someone you respect and admire, who is your friend. You expect your friend to treat you differently than they treat others, because the relationship between you both is special — you are friends, you have a closer relationship than strangers passing on the street.
- Now let’s say you both know someone who is not a nice person. This person is a lying, deceitful, cheating, abusive, manipulative, vicious, unpleasant person, and you want absolutely nothing to do with them. They’re vile, and the absolute scum of the earth — and your friend treats this person exactly the same as she treats you: someone special, a true friend.
- Wouldn’t you feel that was just wrong?
I agreed — yes, I would find that deeply wrong, and I could now comprehend how someone who believed homosexuality was wrong might view the marriages in San Francisco. But, I added, at no point did I feel I had the right to legislate my friend’s choices in friends!
I might try to show my friend what a mistake it was to treat this vile person with such respect and kindness; I might let the friend know what nasty lies the bad person was telling about them behind their back, if that were actually happening. I might even choose not to associate with my friend any more — but I simply would not ever have the unmitigated arrogance to assume I had the right to decide for everyone just who might be treated with the respect due a real friend!
Ah, said my friend. That’s the difference between you and the folks who’re against gay marriage.
So I guess this is one of the messages I came away with after the strange events of the past few months. Try to understand how those who are against gay marriage might feel; it’ll help you in trying to explain to them why they have nothing to fear. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you get to make life decisions for anyone but yourself.
Alternatively, don’t think silence protects you, regardless of where you stand on this issue. As Elie Wiesel astutely noted:
“Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
So I’m going to try to do my bit; I’m going to address some of the objections I’ve heard to legitimizing same-sex marriages, and follow up with a personal conclusion. I guess you could call this a pro-tolerance FAQ, of sorts, since I personally think marriage, as it is now socially constituted, is an out-of-date cultural relic which desperately needs re-creating into a better, more egalitarian, and more socially useful format.
I should note I intend to refer to this entire issue as ‘marriage,’ not just as same-sex marriage. We don’t talk about the issue of straight marriage, or patriarchal marriage, after all. Why should the gender of the participants make any difference?