Same-Sex Marriage: A Struggle Beyond Civil Rights
Kenneth E. Bauzon
This subject is among the most animating topics in my introductory course in political science. Some students come with their ready-made views on the subject, either for or against, while some have not made up their minds. In the spirit of academic freedom and plain fairness, I assure them that their grade in the course does not depend on their agreeing or not agreeing with my own personal view on the matter but, rather, on universal criteria that include logic, coherence, factuality, and clarity. But students have been curious about my stand on the matter which I have been much obliged to explain but not impose.
For instance, I noted that much has been made out of President Barack Obama’s recent announcement in support of same-sex marriage. (Please see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/obama-gay-marriage_n_1503245.html.) While many opposed to gay marriage have been bent out shape on the announcement, or that the timing of his announcement is questioned, I do not think that the world has come to an end or that it is such a big deal. It is a big deal, however, to those who adhere to the dogma defended by the institutional church and its followers who insist that marriage is, should, and could only be between a man and a woman, and never between two loving and consenting adults, and that everyone in society should abide by this dogma. In my view, this is where the inequality that many members of the gay community may have personally experienced at various stages in their lives. That is because the dogma has been – and remains -- a formula for treating the gay portion of humanity as less than human or, for that matter, less than full citizens in a political community. There are plenty of examples to illustrate this as, for instance, the discrimination towards them in housing, employment, military service, hospital spousal visitation rights, entitlement to retirement benefits from a gay partner, church service as clergy, among many others, not to mention the daily ostracism that they endure from society at large. Gays have also been denied the right to adopt children into same-sex households even though studies (such as this: http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights_hiv-aids/overview-lesbian-and-gay-parenting-adoption-and-foster-care) show that gay couples are no less capable of providing nurturing and loving environment for their adoptive children. Hostility comes from members of the broader community who still have not come around to recognizing this fact, much less conceding the same rights to gay couples – and their adoptive children – that one enjoys. If one recognizes that overwhelming cases of child abuse, spousal abuse, and divorces occur in heterosexual households – and not in same-sex households – perhaps one would be more humble and more accepting. History also teaches us to be wary of those who quote or mouth biblical verses on the subject of homosexuality; it is often from among their ranks that gay-bashers, hate-mongers, bullies, zealots, “harmless” pranksters, verbal abusers, and all-too-often murderers have come. What is worse, they take no personal responsibility for their deeds: they say god made them do it!
In a society with a growing tendency towards authoritarianism, with a strong emphasis on law and order, where conformity is the badge of acceptance, where intolerance is a mark of bravery, and where dissent or deviance is nowhere available as a right, then the categories of individuals enumerated above, united only by their common adherence to a homophobic ideology, become truly a ready-made constituency for a fascist-style call to bash heads much like what the Brown Shirts willingly and eagerly did on Kristallnacht in 1938! rers have come. And, what's worst, they take no personal responsibility for their deeds. They say god made them do it! With these, one doesn't have to wonder much as to who is (or who are) the greater threat to society.rers have come. And, what's worst, they take no personal responsibility for their deeds. They say god made them do it! With these, one doesn't have to wonder much as to who is (or who are) the greater threat to society.
I think much can be done to reverse these discriminatory practices, attitudes, and policies. For one thing, being sensible is a good start in place of a dogma which does not, and no longer, make sense for a great portion of humanity. And as a practical step, one can begin with the recognition that the word "marriage" as it is being defended by the mainstream religious institutions today, along with a multitude of their adherents (which include those reading this Note either by faith or by habit) is socially constructed and culturally conditioned and that there is nothing divinely ordained about it. When God presumably said that we all should love our neighbors as ourselves, she did not interpose any exception towards gay persons. Keep in mind too that to hold a contrary view to that of the institutional church does not necessarily make one ungodly or in denial of God.
One is simply recognizing that, as on the issue at hand, interpretations evolve over time, and that the paternalistic and patriarchal institutional church has historically and contemporarily been fallible. Just consider the papal complicity in assassination plots during the Renaissance; or the complicity with the Nazis during World War II; or the complicity with brutal landlord-led dictatorships in Latin America; or the opposition to liberation theology; or the obstructionism in the criminal investigation and prosecution of child-abusing priests of today, among many other examples. If interpretations do not change, then we are stuck with the old Judaic rule, contained in the Old Testament, to take "an eye for an eye." Luckily, the New Testament came around to emphasize love and forgiveness.
The whole point is that no one -- neither a person nor an organization -- has any monopoly to the definition of marriage, much less ownership of it. As alluded to above, it is way past time to liberate the anachronistic definition of this word from dogmatic religious stranglehold and allow for a definition whose time has come, and that it is also for loving and consenting adults who deserve to be respected for who they are -- as humans.
Now, much has been made out of Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao’s comment in a recent interview wherein he expressed disagreement with President Obama’s recently-announced position in support of same-sex marriage. One can have an honest discussion on the subject matter, and one can also have candid disagreements with either Pacquiao and/or Obama on various subjects including this one. But to misquote, take out of context, and to misuse Pacquiao’s faith on the part of the overzealous individuals who wrote an article based on the interview in order to push an agenda, in this case their opposition to same-sex marriage, even to the point of misleading an unsuspecting reading public, is another thing. Take, for instance, Pacquiao’s supposed invocation contained in the article -- which later turned out to be false -- of the Leviticus verse, from the Old Testament, which endorses the murder of couples engaged in homosexuality. (Please see: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/sports/05/16/12/scribe-owns-pacquiao%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98anti-gay-remark%E2%80%99).
Much of humanity throughout history has suffered due to persons presuming to have talked to God, presuming to know God's word, presuming to interpret His will, and presuming to act in His behalf. Invocation of this presumed Christian view justified the Christian Crusades against the presumed infidels, including the gruesome manner of killing by the crusaders described in the epic poem, the Song of Roland, composed in the wake of the first crusade. This presumed Christian view has also provided a basis for European and North American colonialism of the so-called non-Western world and the treatment of the peoples therein. See, for instance, this brief account by Father Bartoleme de las Casas about the devastation wrought by Columbus and his soldiers upon their supposed discovery of the Caribbean and the Caribbean coast of Central America. (Please see: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/02-las.html).
Based too on this presumed Christian view, slavery was sanctified, anti- miscegenation laws were passed, a spate of sodomy laws have been passed in presumably Christian (or Christianized) countries. In the American South, these were common until very recently. The Taliban also enforced their own version of sodomy laws in Afghanistan when they were in power, while many conservative Muslim states (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the rest of the Arab emirates, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia) have also enforced, or continue to enforce, their own respective versions of these laws. Note that many of these are close allies of – and are tolerated by – the US while proclaiming the liberation of women as one of the justifications for invading Afghanistan.
But in the West at least, there is a reason -- and a good one too – as to why these types of laws have been abrogated, no matter how slow the abrogation has been in coming, in recent years. Australia (Tasmania in particular) abrogated its last law of this sort in the late 1990s, an overwhelming majority if the Western European countries have either legalized and recognized same-sex marriage or civil unions as of this year (2012), and the US abrogated its own state-based sodomy laws in 2003 by the Supreme Court decision in the Lawrence v. Texas case. The reason simply is that there is a growing worldwide recognition reflected in evolving public opinion, and in light of the advances in human rights particularly for the vulnerable sectors of society, that the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTs), who are a part of this vulnerable group in society, are human beings too and, as members of a political community, they are entitled no less to the same rights and obligations conferred upon the rest. To continue their persecution and discrimination, and to condone the same, in today's day and time, would not only be medieval but also primitive.
Some final thoughts. While the struggle for same-sex marriage and its resolution has so far been assumed to be within the framework of human rights and civil rights law within the context of Western-oriented liberal jurisprudence, little has been said in the advocacy media, and much less in the mainstream media, about the link between the struggle for LGBT rights, on one hand, and the broader anti-neoliberal struggle sweeping across the globe, on the other. Given the history and the forces behind the mainstream interpretation of this jurisprudence, which has largely been a conservative one, I believe there is a need to transcend and defy existing notions, e.g., that the struggle is an isolated one, confined only to the rights of two consenting adults. I think it would be insightful if one were to also look at other struggles, say, in behalf of indigenous groups, the environment, of workers, and see if the root cause of their struggle – and their oppression – demonstrably the same thing. There is plenty of evidence that modern-day version of imperialism on the part of the traditional colonial powers of Western Europe and North America, is this cause. Driven by the parasitic capitalist exploitation of the weak and the vulnerable both within their respective societies and abroad, imperialism has morphed and concealed itself under the guise of contemporary neoliberal rules and policies which have assaulted – and continue to assault, principally through its principle of privatization -- the global commons and destroy the very essence of community. Thus, challenging the self-serving delimitations imposed by the existing religio-political system would be a sine qua non for any meaningful change the goal of which should be to delegitimize the dogmatic definition of marriage and redefine community into a more inclusive and egalitarian – neither patriarchal nor paternalistic – association of self-determining human beings. Along with this should come the militant challenge to the growing restrictiveness of corporate-backed legal requirements to political activity, particularly in the exercise of the right to public dissent, the repressiveness of the police, the resort to authoritarianism on the part of a patriarchal religious institution, and the alliance among the arms manufacturers, and the corporate media, and their allies in public places, the among others. Integrating the struggle for same-sex marriage and, more broadly, for LGBT rights with the women’s liberation movement, workers’ rights, indigenous rights, and the struggle for self-determination and independence on the part of the colonized peoples everywhere would truly go a long way towards the formulation of comprehensive ideological framework with an emancipatory character. To me, at least, it is evident that the so-called gay rights movement could no longer be regarded as a solitary movement. It is, in fact, part of a broader struggle for the rights of very human being – and linked to the preservation of the global commons -- which could no longer be postponed. To discern its connection, therefore, with the on-going struggle against the depredation of a parasitic system that preys on the weak but gives preferential treatment to the rich and the powerful – the global Top 1% -- would just be the first step. ***
Note: Kenneth E. Bauzon, Ph.D., is Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s College – New York ( http://www.sjcny.edu/FacultyExperts/150). He is Editor of development and Democratization in the Third World: Myths, Hopes, and Realities (New York/Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis/Crane Russak, 1992). He also published recently an essay, “Situating Communities of Color in the United States: Critical Reflections on the Paradigms of Multiculturalism and Diversity,” in: http://www.usariseup.com/race-relations/conversation-week-iv-fall-2011-2012-situating-communities-color-united-states-critica. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer. He may be reached at KBauzon@sjcny.edu.