Saturday, November 15, 2008

Proposition 8: The Wrong Battle?

Okay. Central Illinois is in many respects a different world than was the San Fernando Valley in which I came of age. But the debate over California's Proposition 8, where voters used the initiative process to reverse the state's Supreme Court's legal creation ex nihilo of same-sex marriage, has projected the perspective that gay men and lesbians would be content if only they could get married.

Now, setting aside for the moment that homosexuals have been marrying and raising families for as long as there has been homosexuality and marriage -- it's just that they did it the old-fashioned man-woman "thee I shall wed" way, and either setting aside their homosexual desires and performing spousal/parental duties or finding, uh, quiet ways of satisfying such desires, even with the full knowledge of the spouse -- so the debate isn't about the right to marriage at all, but the redefinition of marriage (on which I've posted earlier)...

...the "gay community" with which I was acquainted, whether it be the more "mainstream" perspective that one could catch reading The Advocate or various community/school lesbigay advocacy groups or "faith based" groups such as Lutherans Concerned was generally hostile to the institution of marriage. Sure, every once in a while someone would propose same-sex "marriage," but that was guaranteed to get a huge negative reaction from within the GLBTQ community. Now the passage of Proposition 8 (reversing a "right" created only 6 months ago) was turning into the new Stonewall or Christopher Street. Has the lesbigay mind on marriage completely and suddenly changed?

That's when Google News came to the rescue and the headline "Prop 8 – Did We Fight The Wrong Battle?" appeared on my screen. It's an op-ed published Monday by the poet Marc Olmsted in the cyber newspaper, "West Hollywood's ONLY newspaper - ONLY ONLINE!" And by the sixth sentence, traditional lesbigay thought had made its re-appearance.
Prop 8 – Did We Fight The Wrong Battle?
Monday, November 10, 2008 – Op-Ed By Marc Olmsted, West Hollywood

First of all, let me make it clear that I was against Prop 8.

I contributed money toward its defeat, volunteered in campaign offices in Silverlake, and attended a pre-election rally in West Hollywood Park where I watched two close friends tie the knot.

I believe that it is wrong and unfair that we are not granted marriage equality. I wanted us to win.

So it may seem utterly bizarre that I’m questioning the cause entirely. (To be fair, I’ve had these doubts all along but decided to put them aside for the sake of unity.)

I don’t think we’re looking for the protection of the law.

We have most of what we need with domestic partnership or civil unions, and with a fraction of the money spent on No on 8, we could certainly have pushed for any changes required to make sure we were according the same de facto rights under those agreements as under marriage, at least on the state level.

What we’re looking for, in my opinion, is validation.

We want the state to affirm that our relationships are equal to heterosexual unions, but we reject the state’s response as inadequate, because it is lacks the societal imprimatur of marriage.

In fact, what is lacking is the psychosocial approval inherent with the association of the religious bodies that have traditional overseen this realm.

I could have sworn that my coming out as a gay man, my inner self-affirmation, came about precisely as a result of the rejection of the principle whereby what I thought of myself was a function of what society or the church said was right and good.

Aren’t we barking up that same tree now? If we claim to know our relationships are equal to theirs and as sacred, why are we insisting on their benediction?

Other questions: Does any of us truly believe that of the 18,000 gay couples who have been married in California so far, the same proportion of them won’t be seeking divorce in 5 or 10 years as the straight couples wed at the same time?

Have you spent some time with someone going through a divorce lately? Is this what we want?

And what of our capacity, as the most gifted of tribes, to be on the cutting edge of developing entirely new paradigms for modern relationships?

Why are we seeking to imitate them instead of setting an example that they can imitate?

What I propose we pioneer is the contractual and renewable civil union, which would work like this. A couple would choose a time period with which they were comfortable—3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 years, or life, for the absolutely certain.

For that period, they would have all of the benefits of marriage. At the end of the term, they would be required to renew their contract at City Hall—hardly a burden for any couple who wants to remain together, in fact, a great way to reaffirm and strengthen their bond.

If either or both chose not to continue in the relationship, the union would lapse. Any parental obligations would remain whatever the spousal status, but sparing the children and the partners from the burden and stigma of divorce.

Of course parents that break up will always be difficult emotionally for children, but parents lapsing into unpartnered status would certainly be more likely to encourage a transition into friendship than the present adversarial atmosphere of divorce, in which the rupture must be sought out.

I contend that there is a significant proportion of the heterosexual population that would find a renewable contract a highly preferable alternative to the one-size-fits-all option they are faced with now if they want the legal and social benefits of marriage.

Anyone who has lived through divorce, whether as a child or as a spouse, wants nothing more than to avoid it again.

I can easily see a state of affairs where the civil union alternative eventually becomes the norm, as society finally recognizes legally that two human beings well suited to a partnership for life are far more the exception than the rule.

The passage of Prop 8 is a disappointment, but for us, it is also an opportunity. Marriage as it is presently constituted is a pre-21 century institution that lacks the flexibility and realism required of the modern age.

I say we stop approaching the powers that be demanding a place at the table. It’s time to build our own table and let them come to us.
No, Marc, it's not bizarre at all -- to anyone who is familiar with the discussion of marriage in GLBTQ circles from more than 3-4 years ago. Alas, as in so much that passes for debate on all sorts of issues in our culture, (political, religious, etc.) key, relevant history is forgotten or suppressed.

Or ignored. To be continued in a later post.

No comments: