I was thinking about gay marriage a bit today. It seems to be the hot button issue of the last 4 years or so. When the Republicans needed to get George W. Bush reelected despite a low approval rating, their most powerful tactic (and the one that may ultimately have worked) was putting anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot to drive the religious right to the polls.
Gay marriage is clearly the new abortion, the topic separating the red half of the nation from the blue. It seems that the social conservatives are more or less admitting defeat on abortion, at least as far as ballots are concerned, and moving on. They know they can’t do much about it other than to hope they can keep electing Presidents until they’ve stacked the Supreme Court in their favor, but that’s too long-term a plan to make much difference at the polls. So they had to go digging for another hobgoblin, and lo and behold, Massachusetts and then California dropped it into their lap.
When you really think about it, you realize that something like 95% of the population doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome, so it’s clear that it isn’t the issue itself that’s bringing people to the voting booths. At least with abortion, there was a clear rationale for wanting it to be illegal. Many of us disagree with the premise (that life begins at some definable point, such as conception) and prefer to err on the side of civil liberties, but at least we can sort of understand where the opposing side is coming from. They believe, for whatever reason, that a fetus is still a human, and therefore abortion is murder, and that our government has a responsibility to protect unborn babies from murder just as they do born ones. Again, many of us may disagree, but we get the argument.
Not so with gay marriage really. The actual issue is a little esoteric, because it’s always being danced around. Separation of church and state forces those in favor of such amendments to come up with some justification beyond “The Bible says so” for outlawing it, but the ones they come up with are flimsy and weak, obviously a ruse to hide some deeper motivations.
The first of the big two justifications is that “marriage is between a man and a woman”, which is really nothing more than semantics. A lot of people say they’re ok with gay people having “civil unions”, which are just marriages but called something different, which essentially means they want the government to take over Merriam Webster’s job of defining words.
The second is that we need to “protect the institution of marriage.” That’s such bullshit that even most of the social conservatives I’ve talked to laugh at it. We have a 50% failure rate for first marriages, which climbs to 67% and 74% for the second and third, respectively. Any “institution” that fails more often than not doesn’t need protection, it needs life support. And nobody but Pat Buchanan could possibly blame gay people for the current state of affairs there.
So what it really comes down to, what really drives people to the polls to vote one way or the other, is epistemology. What we’re voting on isn’t whether or not gay people should be able to file a joint tax return. It’s whether we’re going to make our decisions based on science and reason or religion and fear of what we don’t understand.
As Bill Maher said in the first video from my recent post:
“It is two Americas. There’s like a progressive European nation that a lot of us live in, or would like to live in, and it’s being strangled by the Sarah Palins of the world. It can’t quite be born because this other stupid redneck nation won’t allow it.”
It’s pretty clear which nation I’d like to live in, of course. My heart lies with science. And scientists say that homosexuality isn’t a choice but rather a genetic disposition. And therefore, it cannot be wrong, any more than being tall or having brown hair can. (Science also says that there isn’t a black and white distinction between homo and heterosexuality as we tend to view it, but rather it’s a continuum and we’re all some shade of grey, but that’s beside the point I suppose.)
So that’s why I could never pull the lever for a candidate who was opposed to gay marriage. It isn’t because I care one way or the other about the outcome. It doesn’t really affect me either way. I only know a few gay people, and they don’t really seem to care. What does affect me is having leaders who base their decisions on 2,000 year old mistranslated folk stories, and irrational fears that if we let gay people be openly so, our moral fabric will somehow be ripped to shreds.
It’s a bad epistemology, and it’s one that’s threatening the very future of our country. It’s what’s allowing the redneck half to hold the progressive half back. And it’s why I find myself so often voting for a party that I consider the lesser, by far, of two evils, and lamenting that there hasn’t been a truly conservative candidate on the ballot since 1964. And don’t say Reagan or I’ll punch you in the teeth.
So the question is, where do we go from here? I really don’t know. I don’t see much of a way out of our current predicament beyond education, and that’s nearly non-existent in the red half of the nation. The differences in average wealth and education between the red and blue states are astounding, and it’s not a coincidence. It all goes back to the epistemology.
But the very policies of those kept in power by the religious right keep their base poor and uneducated. Our nation is already a statistical outlier in terms of religion, but it’s also very young, and it can’t stay that way forever. Nothing ever does. In the end, science and reason always have their way. It’s just a matter of time.
Perhaps if the progressive half of our nation wants the redneck half to allow it to be born, it should focus on educating them. Fear and religion are both predicated on ignorance. Maybe we should be donating to their schools and scholarship funds. Surely there are loads of intelligent people even in those states, give them the tools they need to stamp out fear and ignorance through education. It sounds a little counterintuitive to give money to the very people who are preventing you from fixing our nation, but it might build a progressive dynasty.
Or maybe not.