Monday, September 25, 2006

In Defense of Same-Sex Marriage: An Open Letter To MN State Senator, Michele Bachmann

I have a number of points to make in opposition to your proposed constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman.

  • The first point is that your claim that marriage has been limited to one man and one woman throughout human history ignores the fact that same sex marriages have been honored in many cultures. George Devereux reports in "Institutionalized Homosexuality of the Mohave Indians," printed in Human Biology, 1937, as well as in his "Mohave Ethnopsychiatry and Suicide," put out by the Government Printing Office in 1961, that the Mohave performed Gay marriages as late as the 1890's. E. Evans-Pritchard says in Kinship and Marriage Among the Neur (pp. 108-9) that it was not uncommon for the Neur to perform marriages between two women. According to R. Spencer and J. Jennings in The Native Americans (p. 373), many of the berdaches among the Teton Indians of the Dakotas became the second wives of prominent men. (The berdache among the American Indians and many other indigenous cultures around the world were men who dressed in women's clothing and who often served as the medicine men and religious figures in the societies.) E.A. Hoebel says on page 77 of The Cheyennes that the Cheyennes had a similar institution. Ruth Benedict reports in Patterns of Culture, published in 1934, that the Berdache took husbands among the Zuni Indians. C.S. Ford and F.A. Beach report in Patterns of Sexual Behavior, published in 1952, that the Shamans of the Siberian Chukchee often lived as wives also.Before the European colonization, the American Indians living in what later became Minnesota had a place in their society of honor and prestige for Gays and Lesbians and also, as we shall see from the autobiography of John Tanner, the institution of same sex marriage. Thomas A. MacKenney in his sketches of a Tour to The Lakes, of the Character and Customs of the Chippewa Indians and of Incidents Connected with the Treaty of Fond du Lac mentions in a letter dated August 4, 1826 the man-woman, men who dress as women and perform all the tasks allotted to women among the Chippewa. MacKenney's letter is cited on pages 214-25 of Jonathan Katz's Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. Both the fact of the acceptance of same sex marriage among the Chippewa and European disapproval of the same institution comes through in the autobiography of John Tanner, who was kidnapped while still in his teens from Kentucky by the Indians and who lived among the Chippewa for thirty years before returning to live among the whites. In A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner, (U.S. Interpreter of the Sault de Saint Marie, ) During Thirty Years Residence among the Indians, Tanner tells of being "almost driven from the lodge" where he was staying when the son of a chief who lived at Leech Lake who was an agokwa took up residence and made it clear that she had "come a long distance to see me and with the hope of living with me. She often offered herself to me, but not being discouraged with one refusal, she repeated her disgusting advances until I was almost driven from the lodge."John Boswell in his Same Sex Unions In Pre-modern Europe has even documented the performance of same sex marriages in the Christian Church in classical and in medieval times, and in some parts of Europe, as late as the 19th century.
  • Secondly, you have argued that allowing same sex marriage would undermine "the fabric of the family on which society depends." All the people who are inclined to enter this "fabric of the family and society" by entering a heterosexual marriage will not have their inclination to marry heterosexually altered or diminished in the slightest degree when same sex marriages win legal recognition. But even more crucial is the fact that heterosexual marriage is not helped - in fact it is even harmed - by forcing people who are not suited for heterosexual marriage because they are Gay or Lesbian to enter heterosexual marriage anyway because of social pressure, society's disapproval of same sex relations still causes many Gays and Lesbians to enter heterosexual marriages in a misguided attempt to "straighten themselves out." M. Saghir and E. Robins in the first part of their article "Homosexuality" in the February, 1969 Archives of General Psychiatry found that 19% of Lesbians had been married and subsequently divorced, in the--second part of their article in the August, 1969 Archives of General Psychiatry, Saghir and Robins along with B. Walbran found that 14% of Gay men had been married and subsequently divorced. These divorces are not only emotionally painful for the adults involved but they must be especially traumatic for any children involved who see the two adults on whom they are dependent for love and security breaking apart. This societal bigotry, part of which is the unequal restriction of the right to marry to only the heterosexual part of the population, which impels Gays and Lesbians to enter heterosexual marriages in a futile attempt to "straighten themselves out" leaves traumatized adults and children behind and harms, not helps, the institution of heterosexual marriage.
  • Another argument brought up by opponents of same sex marriage is that it will teach children that "homosexuality" is "an acceptable lifestyle." Of course, this argument could be brought up in opposition to any attempt to allow liberty. In the days when there were religious wars and the followers of the dominant religion in any particular state attempted to outlaw all competing religions, many parents would have protested that they did not want their children exposed to other people openly practicing those "false religions." As a woman from Prior Lake testified before the legislature in the early 1980's in opposition to a proposed Gay rights law, "when you pass laws like this, you are telling my children it is alright." Actually the state was not saying anything about whether any lifestyles were "alright" or "not alright" when a Gay rights bill was finally passed in 1993, just as it had not been saying what particular religions were "alright" or "not alright" when it had earlier passed laws against religious or racial discrimination. The state was merely saying that if you are in a position to employ or rent to people, there will be legal sanctions against you if you arbitrarily refuse to hire or rent to people on the basis or their religion, or race, and now, sexual orientation. If you are in a position to control access to public or private accommodations by, for instance, being the driver of a publicly owned bus or the manager of a private restaurant, you may not deny access to people of certain religions, races, sexual orientations, etc without being liable to legal sanctions. Just as society is justified in not allowing people to exercise their private property rights by maintaining a store of hazardous or explosive chemicals on their property if that property is in the midst of a crowded urban neighborhood, society has found that when there is widespread bigotry against particular groups, the toxic social effects of many individual, bigoted, personal decisions is to create groups that are ill housed and under or unemployed. There are also the toxic social effects of the justified anger of the individual members of the discriminated-against-groups against the larger society and against members of the dominant community.Actually, in a pluralistic society with many differing values and moral codes, the only grounds for outlawing any behavior has to be limited to whether the behavior does demonstrable, concrete harm to other people. Else, the only alternative the differing religious and ideological groups will have is to come to blows in an attempt to seize control of the state so they can impose their views by force. In order to avoid such religious warfare, the standard of demonstrable and concrete harms to others must be strictly adhered to and the views of any particular religious group towards Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgenders should never be allowed to determine how we are treated by the law, whether it be the criminal law, anti-discrimination law or the legal status society gives our intimate relations through the institution of marriage.
  • Fourthly, opponents of same sex marriage have raised the bugaboo of people in other countries suffering legal sanctions because of negative opinions they have expressed about Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgenders. However our country is unique among the democracies in guaranteeing freedom of speech and opinion so those who express bigoted, anti-GLBT attitudes need not worry about being legally prosecuted. In Canada and Western Europe, one can be legally prosecuted for expressing racist, Nazi or anti-GLBT views but the written Constitution of this country expressly forbids such political correctness run amok. Of course, the words of a constitution cannot simply leap off the page and enforce themselves, this is a reason why anti-GLBT bigots might find it in their interests to ensure that all the provisions of the Constitution, including the provisions against enshrining the doctrines of any particular religion into law, are strictly adhered to. If the doctrines of a particular religion are enacted into law, the violation of one provision of the constitution may tomorrow may be used by the promoters of political correctness as a precedent to violate the free speech rights of anti-GLBT bigots.
  • Fifth, opponents of same sex marriage also raise the argument that only a heterosexual marriage can produce new life so this is a factual reason for giving heterosexual marriage a special status. But as long as two people in their nineties are allowed all the benefits of heterosexual marriage, this argument must be dismissed as nothing more than a desperate searching around for reasons to justify the present discriminatory laws limiting marriage to heterosexuals.
  • Sixth, opponents of same sex marriage argue that it threatens the sanctity of marriage. The same number of heterosexuals who think now that their marriage has some sort of religious "sanctity" will think the same after the day when same sex marriage becomes legal. You will not on that day have legions of heterosexuals saying to one another; "Oh honey, our marriage has lost its sanctity! It has been desecrated! We're going to have to get a divorce!"
  • Seventh, the argument is also made that if we let the barriers down, people will argue for polygamy, or letting people marry their children, or even marrying animals, etc. If these proposals ever come before legislative bodies, legislatures will not automatically adopt them. Most of the people who support same sex marriage will have a host of reasons not to support these extensions. These and other arguments will be raised if such proposals come before legislatures, and if the majority of the legislators consider these objections to these extensions of the right to marry valid, the legislators will be under no compulsion to pass than.
  • And eighth, I almost forgot the argument that a small group of "activist judges" are not allowing the people to vote on same sex marriage. But the U.S. Constitution has provisions requiring super majorities to amend it and which permit judges to override legislative enactments precisely to prevent 51 % of the population from getting together and outlawing the other 49%. While the above possibility might seem rather theoretical, unpopular minorities would never have got the first civil rights laws passed without "activist judges." If it were not for the much maligned "activists judges," the first desegregation laws would never have been enacted!


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