Thursday, June 11, 2009

Marriage, Government, and Privacy

It's another long one, folks.

Just so that we’re clear on one point: I’m a straight man. For me, the right thing is a man-woman relationship. But I also recognize the importance of the legal protections that marriage provides, and I’m against banning same-sex marriages on the grounds of one’s right to privacy. This isn’t to say that I’m pro-gay or anti-gay, but that I’m anti-interference on the part of the government. Government might be served with registering marriage in order to prevent harm, but sanctioning marriage on the part of the government encroaches on the civil liberty of privacy.

California passed Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriages after the Mormon Church pressured the population to vote in a given way (something I take personal issue with, as this activity was in direct violation of the laws which are intended to prevent churches, as powerful organizations which have an enormous amount of influence, from involvement in politics). Iowa and most of New England will have same-sex marriages within the year if they don’t have it already. With this specifically in mind, I’ve been giving thought to the issue.

While I was at first against the idea of controlling marriage, I didn’t know why. Over the course of many weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that allowing or disallowing marriage by the government is against the founding ideas of democracy—it’s an invasion of privacy for government to do anything which seeks to limit or promote marriages (though preventing harm is another matter, which I’ll get into later).

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 is ultimately to blame for the current controversy. In that act, marriage is defined as the legal union of one man and one woman, though it permits individual states to adopt their own stances. DOMA provides only the Federal Government’s stance. It ultimately circumvents the right for consenting adults to legally commit themselves to one another.

Many insurance companies already protect unmarried couples who live together under a family-style policy—not because they have to, but because it’s just good business. Interestingly enough, this point may show that the ability to commit on the part of these individuals is somewhat more limited and less stable. Conversely, they are also under a great deal more pressure.

The issue of same-gender marriages is also an issue where heterosexual couples are concerned. The sanctity of marriage hasn’t been an issue in decades, because heterosexual couples will get married at the drop of a hat without caring whether or not religious groups approve. Those who choose cohabitation without marriage are afforded some rights, but if opposite-gender couples who oppose government intrusion through marriage speak out, they are painted in a much different light: they aren’t simply disaffected couples in the same way that same-sex couples are, they’re “living in sin” or “bucking the system” because they oppose the very thing that same-sex couple want: government sanctioning of what constitutes a family unit.

Originally, there was no position on marriage within the government. The reason for this is unclear, but one thing is for certain: marriage was essentially unregulated until the middle of the 1800’s, when the Mormons began practicing polygamy. Because this was essentially a point of morality, no government position could be afforded. It was an invasion of privacy, because people didn’t like the idea that a commitment could be to more than one partner (a concept that a lot of people today might still agree with on a personal level). Coupled with the tendency for polygamy-practicing Mormons to tend to have tight controls over the people they are married to (and keeping in mind the not-too-distant past with sixteen-year-old girls being forced to marry their uncles), having laws in place to limit marriage seems like a good idea, if only to prevent harm.

But the real harm is in having controls which are in place to prevent harm which has never been demonstrated, and which does not clearly delineate to homosexual relationships. To this, I say: “prove the harm, and I might reconsider.” Stating that harm is done is not the same as being able to prove that harm is the result.

Let’s switch gears for a moment. With the Supreme Court’s ruling that sex between consenting adults behind closed doors isn’t the business of the state, the issue of marriage seems to fall neatly into the same category of the state interfering with the individual rights of people who generally want nothing more than to have a legally-protected union with all of the protections that a marriage affords. Calling marriage by a different name is basically redefining the color “pink” to “a shade of light red” and then making a separation. It’s also asking for a reduction or increase in status at a later time, as homosexuals are a minority population. The problem here is, many churches don’t want gay couples to raise a child, especially gay men. Women should be the ones raising babies, according to the traditions of most of these organizations. The problem is, so many people are simply unequipped for being a parent that children get put up for adoption all the time. Let’s now look at a real-life example of someone I consider an uncle.

In 1995, a friend of my father’s (they were friends in high school and worked together for a few years—and no, my dad’s not gay to either his or my knowledge) actually qualified for adoption of a three-year-old girl in California. Being a single man, he had a lot of proving to do, and was ultimately allowed the right to raise this child. In 2000, he married his partner, only to have that marriage nullified later. With the nullification of the marriage, he once again had to prove that the child was in no danger, and that he was perfectly qualified as a parent. There was literally no other reason for the state to do this. Yet he continued his qualification, and the girl’s residence was not changed. Imagine the damage to the little girl’s psyche because she would have been uprooted from everything she had ever known. Imagine being separated from the only parent she had known—not because of a lack of care or love, but because the state decided that his sexual proclivities weren’t appropriate to being a family, based on religious pressures.

That young girl, now 17 (she turns 18 next year), has an active high-school life which includes a boyfriend, going to social activities, and she has really good grades: she’s qualified for a scholarship at Princeton University (a member of the Ivy League) in the field of mechanical engineering—and her grades are good enough that she won’t have to complete the last year of high school to get her diploma. She’s also sexually abstinent, because she doesn’t want to ruin her chances of completing college with an unplanned pregnancy. She’s also tolerant of all kinds of things, but she likewise believes that the government shouldn’t interfere in personal relationships. All of this, because of the values her two fathers taught her.

I’d say the issue of upbringing is one which should be handled on a case-by-case basis, and isn’t something that can be covered with a blanket statement. One can’t simply claim that all homosexuals are evil, deviant perverts who have the sole aim of converting the population to their collective wills. The truth of the matter is that my “uncle” has raised a beautiful and intelligent young lady, one who believes in the potential of humanity, and one who understands personal responsibility. She plans to be active in voting, because she’s seen how voter turnout can change the outcome of an election. Nothing could be more plain to someone who sees the pain that living an alternative lifestyle has wrought on her parents—one that they believe that they don’t have much choice in. They believe it to be a matter of biology, whereas most religious organizations seem to view it more as a matter of choice.

Family is therefore a nonissue, where upbringing is concerned. Perfectly healthy individuals can result from same-sex couples—and really, most of the same-sex relationships that do wind up long-term that I have personally witnessed seem to be far more healthy than their heterosexual counterparts. This isn’t to say that one is healthier than the other; rather, that one person’s experience (mine) is that the impact on the overall health of society where same-gender couples are concerned seems to be positive. I’m sure that empirical study could bear this out.

Tolerance, and not repression or oppression, are the key to making this into a “win”. By creating laws which make a sector of the population unable to take advantage of the privileges that others have, we inadvertently create a minority which can qualify for privileges based on that minority status. Affording the protections and equal status of a marriage to these people creates stability in our society, and reduces disaffectation—the key ingredient in most revolts. And keeping the government’s nose out of our private lives is always good when there’s nothing harmful occurring. Homosexuality isn’t harmful: it’s merely a genetic aberration: a mutation which causes people to be attracted to those who are physically alike to themselves. And if we allow it, we ultimately create the conditions for it to dwindle in the long-run, since forcing people into situations where they have children furthers the genetics (the Darwin factor). People who are against homosexuality might consider that aspect.

“Living in sin” isn’t as much of a fear as it was in times past. With the demand for police to take care of the violent side of society, the threat of eternal damnation just doesn’t hold much in the way of fear to those who believe that God creates everything in nature (and “the devil made me do it” isn’t a valid claim any more). And for those who don’t believe in God, it means not having to worry about some religious nuts determining what you’re allowed to do or not, based on concepts which may be hundreds, if not thousands, of years out of date.

It’s a democracy, not a theocracy. Human beings control the fates of human beings in this system. And if human beings aren’t willing to exercise a little tolerance and extend the rule of law to protect all people regardless of political status, they will discover that they are someday a minority, and so ultimately their own protections may be removed (and be justified in doing so, even if that justification is unfounded).

It ultimately boils down to the right to privacy: the right of individuals to exercise their beliefs, so long as that exercise doesn’t harm others. It’s why the Supreme Court had to invalidate “sexual position” laws and resultingly made homosexuality legal in the United States between consenting adults. It’s also why we don’t have public security cameras in our public bathrooms, or in our homes (or even pointed into our living rooms, for that matter). Privacy is so fundamental to democracy that any encroachment should be viewed as an attack on democracy as a whole. The Mormon Church stuck its neck out and influenced a political decision (counter to the laws of a religious nonprofit, and therefore against the interests of law and order—flatly illegal activity, in other words), and in doing so eroded the right to individual privacy. When a religious group in Utah can influence the outcome in a vote in California, someone has to put a stop to it. And it erodes the religious group’s own rights, as well. In stopping them, we protect their rights as well as those of other religious groups.

The issue of a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages is really kind of necessary in order to overrule the Defense of Marriage Act, because getting Congress to repeal something like that will require not only… well, an Act of Congress, but also a load of support, and an overwhelming majority of people to accomplish enough comfort on the part of the elected officials, who won’t be re-elected if they continue to sell out the rights of individuals. They are in a tough spot, those elected blokes, because they’re not really allowed to vote their conscience, if their conscience is counter to the will of their constituents.

Politically, this hot-button issue seems to be focused only on same-sex marriage. I recommend that the issue be removed entirely, and that government encroachment on individual belief and therefore liberty be put to an end. This is at the core of the right to privacy, and therefore core to democracy.