The California Proposition 8 Question
The legal battle over Proposition 8 is being argued on two different grounds. Proposition 8 has defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Those who support gay marriage and oppose Proposition 8 argue that the measure approved by a 52-48 vote denies equal protection of the laws to homosexuals. Those who oppose gay marriage and support Proposition 8 argue mostly on religious grounds that gay marriage is non-traditional and immoral. They don’t really make any constitutional arguments. Making religious and “non-traditional” arguments about a case where the issue is constitutionality may not be wise but it may be the only ammunition that the supporters of Proposition 8 have. Let us examine the strength of these religious and traditional arguments.
The religious arguments all essentially come from a fundamentalist Christian perspective. The authority for these arguments is the Bible and how it is interpreted. It is clear that the Bible supports polygamy because it describes Jacob’s polygamous marriage and liaisons with female servants (Leah, Rachel, and their two handmaidens) as the source of the brothers who founded the original twelve tribes of Israel. I know of nowhere in the Bible where polygamy is specifically prohibited although it is certainly non-traditional now. Interestingly, the Mormon Church was an important backer of Proposition 8, while it still tacitly tolerates polygamous marriage in some of its more remote communities. The institution of polygamy is still common enough to have spawned the TV show, “Big Love,” about a Mormon family composed of a husband, three wives, and their children.
What we know as traditional marriage seems to have developed in the early Middle Ages in Europe mostly as a method to assure legitimacy of inheritance and property division in families. Morals didn’t seem to have too much to do with it because liaisons with mistresses and production of children outside of marriage were still common. Perhaps one of the best examples of this was William the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard, the illegitimate son of the king of France who invaded Britain in 1066 largely because he wasn’t going to inherit the throne of his father. So England was founded by a French bastard and the relationship of the two countries still remains occasionally troubled.
Wives of traditional marriages, particularly among the upper classes, were clearly second class citizens. Their duty was to produce heirs and maybe run the house. Those who failed in this task, such as the wives of Henry VIII of England, could be and were summarily dispatched. This led to the founding of the Church of England because the Pope would not sanction divorce. Monarchs in Italy and other Catholic countries just stayed with the original wife but spent a lot of time, money, and affection on courtesans. Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, is a modern example. His (ex)wife, according to him, is a “fine Christian woman.” He called his Argentine mistress his “soulmate.”
Those who practice traditional marriage exhibit so many deviations from the morals touted by those who oppose gay marriage that the argument for traditional and against non-traditional unions or marriages simply falls apart from its internal inconsistencies. It’s hard to see how adding gay marriage to the list of living arrangements in and out of wedlock in our current society would affect what we call traditional marriage at all. It would clearly disturb those in the society who just don’t like the principle of homosexuality, but it would not affect their own marriage. Homophobia looks like the most reasonable explanation for opposition to gay marriage.
So let’s consider what we know about homosexuality. All the evidence that I know of, both psychological and genetic, indicates that homosexuality is not a perverse decision made by sociopaths but is an inborn, genetically determined variant in sexual orientation that is seen rather frequently in humans. It is also seen in other animals. Perhaps the best analogy is being left-handed. People have been suspicious of left-handers for thousands of years. You can see it in the language. “Sinister” derives from the Latin word, “sinister,” meaning “left.” A left handed compliment means that the compliment is not entirely sincere. “Dextrous” and “dexterity” both come from the Latin, “dexter,”meaning, “right,” and both indicate something good. But today left-handers fare better in society than gays. They’re not beaten up, murdered, or denied equal protection of the laws with regard to marriage because of their “orientation.” So we’re making progress against irrational prejudice.
There are also some positive reasons to support gay marriage. The world is currently suffering from human overpopulation. This statement seems pretty provocative but it is conceded by most scientists who study the problem and is opposed by folks who have strong opinions but little knowledge in the area. Although gays can and do have children, I’ll bet that they have fewer children on the average than heterosexuals do. This in itself would benefit the population problem. Additionally, I know of no evidence that children raised by two gay parents grow up any worse off than those raised by straight parents. Gays, married or not also may provide homes in which to adopt the unwanted children of various unfortunate heterosexual unions, a problem that continues. Finding someone whom you love and want to spend your life with is a true blessing, gay or straight. Why would a society composed of intelligent, compassionate citizens deny that blessing to anyone?