Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arizona's Prop. 102 puts bigotry on the ballot

My wife and I were married in Jerome, Arizona. It was a festive, seat-of-the-pants affair. One of the two officiants -- ordained on the Internet -- arrived only in the nick of time, delayed because a tree fell through the roof of her house. The assembled celebrants cleaned out all the top-shelf bourbon from the bar, then danced the tarantella and the hora amidst cowboy hats and western paraphernalia. And the best man and man of honor were good sports and danced together.

Man of honor?

Yep. Wendy chose her good friend, Travis, to help her through preparations and the ceremony. We look forward to reciprocating and attending Travis's wedding. But when we do, it's unlikely that it will be in Arizona. Travis is gay, and Arizona is poised to enshrine bigotry into law by banning same-sex marriages with Proposition 102.

The recent Cronkite-Eight poll put support for Prop 102, which would write into the state constitution the language, "only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state," at 49%, with 42% opposed. This is a little surprising, since just two years ago, Arizonans rejected a similar measure by 51.4 % to 48.6%.

Proposition 102

Be it resolved by the Senate of the State of Arizona, the House of Representatives concurring:

1. Article XXX, Constitution of Arizona, is proposed to be added as follows if approved by the voters and on proclamation of the Governor:


1. Marriage


2. The Secretary of State shall submit this proposition to the voters at the next general election as provided by article XXI, Constitution of Arizona.

But the earlier measure may have reached too far, since it would have effectively banned civil unions too. That would have reserved not just marriage for straight couples, but any sort of legal protection at all. Prop. 102 sets its sights lower, putting just formal marriage and the full respect it implies out of reach of same-sex couples. The state actually already has a statutory ban, but social conservatives fear that the courts will set the law aside, as they have in Connecticut, Massachusetts and California.

The advertising campaign for Prop. 102 has been a bit ... odd. It consists of TV spots, flyers and posters boasting that the proposition is "simple" and "clear" in its definition of marriage -- as if the wisdom of that definition is a given.

But why is it so necessary to restrict marriage?

The official arguments for and against shed a little more light. State Senator Sylvia Allen insists, "Since the beginning of recorded history the foundation and continuation of all societies has been the family; father, mother, and children." If tradition isn't enough for you, she adds that the welfare state and employer-provided perks would be strained if "demands are then placed upon government and businesses for benefits. Our already overburdened Social Security system could not survive."

Again and again, authors of arguments appeal to history, with vague references to the shared traditions of the world's religions in defining marriage.

Peter Gentala, of Arizona for Marriage, argues, "When judges redefine marriage, it affects everyone. Marriage is the cornerstone of society. It's good for men, women, and children. Preserving the meaning of marriage means passing it on to our children."

But again, how is one exclusive form of marriage "good for men, women, and children"? And why shouldn't a tradition be changed to match increased modern acceptance of gays and lesbians?

Several arguments claim that gay marriage is being foisted on the public by activist judges and a small minority. I've had commenters argue that recognition of gay marriage somehow violates religious rights.

Religious rights?

I suppose it's possible that, somewhere in Arizona, there are two drag queens who really want to get married in a fundamentalist church and are eager to have a sheriff's deputy hold the preacher at gunpoint while he performs the ceremony.

But simply recognizing same-sex marriages wouldn't allow the fulfillment of that fever dream. It would just allow gay and lesbian couples to get a marriage license. Nobody who objected would have to perform a ceremony or show up at the reception.

And simply allowing formal recognition of relationships of which you disapprove doesn't violate anybody's rights. There is no "right" to make the laws of an entire society in the image of one religion -- or of a few sects of one religion -- no matter how far back those religious traditions go.

But traditions and religious prejudices really are thoroughly ingrained. That's why Prop. 102 proponents can make their appeals with few practical arguments whatsoever.

In the end, the best approach might be to take marriage out of the state sphere entirely. That actually would be more traditional than allowing government to define marriage. Writing in the New York Times last November, Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College, said:

WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.

Marriage as a private institution, defined at the grassroots level by the folks getting married, their families, their friends and whatever religious institutions they may or may not belong to, would take the contentious debate off the table entirely. Conservative churches could recognize traditional arrangements, other people could make marriages that suit their own needs, and everybody could pick up boilerplate forms at OfficeMax to gain the legal protections that the institution is supposed to convey.

Until then, though, at least Travis can get married in Connecticut, if he wishes. Massachusetts, too, as well as California -- at least until that state passes a ban of its own. We'll just have to make sure there's enough top-shelf bourbon to go around.



Blogger Divemedic said...

I find it odd that the same arguments against interracial marriage are now being used against gay marriage.


October 15, 2008 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seperation of Church and State? Not on this proposition! In fact, several churches have spent a lot of money for advertisments on both radio and TV in favor of 102. They not only give their definition of a marraige but go on to define their idea of what constitutes a family as well. This totally negates the millions of people who currently live outside of this definition, gay or not. Shouldn't everyone have the freedom to live within thier own definition of what constitutes commitment and family and not someone else's? I can think of many, many ways that the amount of time and money spent promoting the passing of 102 could have been better spent to make a valuable difference in many people's lives.

October 18, 2008 11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AS the Conneticut Judge said, this is about Biology not bigotry.

October 19, 2008 9:00 AM  
Blogger rpc said...

In the long run, may this lead to the outcome Stephanie Coontz describes, "taking marriage private." Separate the state's interest from those of the churches, and people who choose to live together would be generally better off. Even in my Deep South city, I know personally of half a dozen congregations that will sanctify gay unions and call them "marriages." All that's left is to get the state to recognize all kinds of households as civil unions, or whatever term will serve to fulfill the bureaucratic functions formerly served by "marriage."

October 21, 2008 10:55 AM  
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March 19, 2009 2:09 AM  

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