Friday, June 16, 2006

Gay Rights: From Iraq to Virginia

(NOTE: Sorry cvilleblogs readers. I'm not sure why the italics are not showing up on there. To pervent confusion and headache with regards to my breakdown of Marshall's opinion piece, please read this directly from my blog. Thanks!)

* * *

"They sheathed their swords inside their bibles

And when they come, they come to beat him straight
But it’s the bible that takes a beating
When you preach a love of hate"

-Danny Schmidt, from God's Love of Man


Before the criticism rolls in, I'd like to make clear that my intent is not to present with the following a slippery slope argument, or any other manner that would conclude or imply that if the proposed constitutional amendment banning homosexual civil unions in Virginia passes, it would lead to such harrowing atrocities as those reported in Iraq. I believe the following portrays a classic example of the dangers that come when religion holds strong sway over government or is in fact the foundation of a government. Such a system becomes vulnerable to fundamentalism and fanaticism, which often lead to stripping of rights, violence, and inevitably deaths. Also, by using a religion in such ways as to sway masses, gain power, and justify atrocity, one perverts the image of that religion and does injustice to the humble people who follow it.

I must stress though that those are general beliefs and not analytical conclusions of the situation in Iraq. I'm extremely inexpert in Islamic scripture (having read only small quotations and summaries of belief, concept, and custom) to give any opinion of how well the happenings do or do not fit into Allah's teachings, or the relations between the Koran and Sharia, nor do I wish to venture far down this path, for it deviates too much from my intent with this article. These are merely reasons why a separation of church and state matter so much to me.

I've been out of commission a lot this past week for varying reasons as previous posts have suggested. In addition, problems with my ankle left me propped in bed with little to do but dabble online and read. I've also been weary of typing, since in addition to heavier than usual blogging, geography and circumstance had for a time made it my primary means of communicating with friends. The benefit of this combination is that it put me in a position to devote more time to catch up on reading other people's blogs.

So poking around on Charlottesville Blogs led me to Nanovirus, which had a charming little blip back in May that caught my attention. Before reading this I had not been aware of the existence of UK Gay News, which (if you can get beyond the advertisement for the Key West resort and its full Monty model) seems to be a pretty good source for international news on homosexual related stories. More so, I had not really paid attention to such happenings in Iraq nor been aware of the Iraqi LGBT.

When you read about a 14-year-old boy killed by a gunshot to the head because he committed homosexual acts, or of parents saying they'd kill their children without hesitation if they ever learned that they had... it's hard to evoke anything but an emotional reaction. Seeming completely powerless to do anything about it, the common reaction is to say an enraged comment at the screen, just to get that ball of frustration that tightens the strip of muscles between your naval and solar plexus out before the heat build up where your open eyelids curl back into your sockets becomes too much. It doesn't really accomplish anything. The comment usually lacks as much reason and rational as the documented act that provoked it.

The reality is that this isn't an uncommon thing. Events similar to these, at least when looked at individually, happen all over the world. What seems to make Iraq stand out is our occupation. This is happening in a country that we are claiming to bring democracy to. Not to undermine the atrocities present while Saddam Hussein was in power, but this is an atrocity (though it should be noted that homosexuality was punishable by death during his regime) that's escalated after his fall, supposedly from Iranian influence in the country.

So a feeling of responsibility does seem to resonate. Of course how best one could go about rectifying the problem (if we should) is beyond me. At some point we have to draw the line and let Iraqis run their county as they see fit. The complications involved are one of the reasons I never supported the war.

Whenever the issue of respecting the customs of another culture and their right to practice them on their soil, despite enormous disapproval through personal beliefs on our own, arises, I've always felt that the very least (if not best) we can do is oppose it in our lives. To be clear, what I mean is not to harass such on our own soil or anything that could be deemed malicious, but to show a strong and decent culture practicing an alternative. If you disagree with the subordination of women in a culture for example, than instead of going to that country and imposing your beliefs upon it, make an effort in your personal life and surrounding homeland to promote feminism and equal rights. Challenge chauvinism when it rears its head in your social circles. The same goes for racism or any other prejudice. For anything really!

Take religion for example: the people of devout faiths that I've come to respect most have not been the ones who have tried to "save" my soul, but the ones that have shown humility in their demeanor, and excelled as genuinely decent hardworking people. Never feeling the need to convince anyone of their faith by evoking it with every other desperate breath, they create an allure to it by way of their generally admirable character that seems to draw deeply from its discipline. By thriving in contradiction we can disapprove of practices afar without hypocrisy, and by doing so, cast an imposing shadow that could with time permeate inspirations of radical thought into the people of such lands.

Obviously American police are not dragging homosexuals into the street and legally shooting them, but we do discriminate. We hide behind our scriptures just the same. We do it on cultural and political levels. The national marriage amendment did not pass, thankfully, but in many respects the similar proposed for the Virginia constitution is even worse. Not so in the sense that it would (redundantly) impose a definition of marriage upon the fifty states, but, through obscurity, potentially grosser discrimination of fundamental rights. It prevents homosexuals from forming any legally recognized union that would bear similarity to marriage.

I confess in my past writings there is some confusion in my comparisons of the two amendments, both in description and through my focus on the notion of homosexual marriage. The former is in part because of some difficulty finding a copy of the amendment's full text. You would think an article of such import would be a Google search away, but in actuality it took me a few hours and a couple e-mail requests before a site bearing it was linked to me. It seems you really have to know where to look if want to read actual documents and not just descriptions of them from news articles. Perhaps I am still simply unskilled at finding things online, but in a way that's my point. I'm very concerned many of the average voters are not going to take the trouble I did, and thus not know what they're voting for.

So let me make clear that this is not an amendment to protect the proclaimed sanctity of marriage. The definition of one man and one woman is already recognized nationally as the only legal form of Marriage. The failure of Bush's marriage amendment did not lose this. The Clinton administration already set the traditional definition as the only legal definition. If this amendment does not pass, marriage will not suddenly become open to homosexuals. Regardless of how much I've argued about the issue of gay marriage, that is not the issue here. It is simply an issue I feel strongly about.

The real issue (and please pardon my repetition) is whether or not homosexuals should have any of the rights that are associated with marriage. As the amendment says, "Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage." This is about the existence of alternative civil unions other than marriage.

I recall criticism of Brady Earnhart's protest song Thank God Virginia's On Our Side when it circulated through the blogsphere. One listener interpreted it: "people who support the amendment are lumped in with homophobic criminals." Though Brady and others have already addressed that specific comment, I think the song is spot on with its bridge in cautioning of the discriminatory ramifications of this amendment.

Spirit of the law's in the courthouse
Spirit of the law's in the churchyard
Spirit of the law's on the sidewalk
Spirit of the law's in the hiring line
Spirit of the law's in the bedroom
Spirit of the law's in the barracks
Spirit of the law's in the pool hall
Spirit of the law's in the punch line
Spirit of the law's in the tire iron
Spirit of the law's on the playground

When you infect the spirit of the law with prejudice, then you infuse prejudice with the spirit of the law. As Brady cautions: "The encouragement a bigot takes from us-versus-them, hot-button legal maneuvers like this one is constrained not a whit by the lofty rhetoric that's used to sell them to the voting public. Any decent folk who are now in favor of the amendment ought to be aware of the toxicity that will seep out of it down the road."

For any who still question the presence of prejudice, look no further than the words of one of sponsors of the amendment: Delegate Robert G. Marshall himself. Observe his tone of repulsion and mockery. His arrogance and use of abstraction and generalization throughout his comments:

After two generations of the divorce-producing, disease-laden sex revolt, with some folks working hard to separate the marriage part from love, now we have others who want to separate the mom and dad part from marriage. These separatists are quite serious. In fact, they usually are very stern. Some are federal judges. Others are state judges. They claim that a man can marry a man, or a woman a woman. They do this without cracking a smile. (My own acting talent falls far short of this ability.)

Note his avoidance of specific groups or ideologies, balling the whole of two generations into "disease-laden sex revolt." This, his following paragraph to the lyrics of Love and Marriage, evokes a strong desire to return to the Leave it to Beaver ideology of the 1950s. (I mean not to lose focus, degrading criticism into pure character assassination, but I can't help but wonder if he is displeased with all sexual change throughout this period, including the cultural and legislative leaps in women's rights. What "gentry" would he have us look to?) Also, his use of "disease-laden" suggests AIDS, a common tool in the demonizing of homosexuals. I can think of few general titles that have shown to be historically more appealing to rally against, more signifying of a sense of "us-against-them" than the label of separatist.

His following quote from Paula Ettelbrick, under the context that he uses it, seems to suggest some horrifyingly debased moral agenda when she says, "Being queer means pushing the parameters of sex, sexuality and family, and in the process transforming the very fabric of society." In fairness though, sodomy (and thus all forms of homosexual sex) is illegal (regardless of enforcement) in the state of Virginia. The existence of homosexual parents with the same basic rights of heterosexual parents, by nature, pushes the parameters of family. These are pretty much meat and potatoes gay rights aspirations.

Heterosexual marriage requires sexual exclusivity. Advocates of same-sex unions merely "prefer" sexual exclusivity, but do not require it.

Indeed, a prominent same-sex "marriage" advocate speaks of "an openness of the contract" for marriage between homosexuals and claims that such a legal union would be more durable than heterosexual marriage because the contract contains an "understanding of the need for extramarital outlets." No such "understanding" exists in law for married heterosexuals.

Again, Marshall gives no specific example of his "prominent same-sex "marriage" advocate" thus generalizing the whole of advocates into an image he presumes unsavory to the public. He tries to blur the line between marriage and civil union, and in that obscurity, impose the moral ideals of marriage on concepts of open civil union, thus reciprocally implying a desired demoralization of marriage through the putting aside of its defined monogamy. This is also a generalization of all forms of civil union, relating them to marriage as if they were all purely alternatives to marriage... as if they were all merely marriage by another name. Obviously all civil unions are not such, and that is what is at stake with this amendment. If the prospect of open unions is too liberal or otherwise unappealing, than it should be addressed individually, and if found unappealing, should be thrown out as a specific form of civil union, like bathwater without the baby.

What do you think public school sex education will become with same-sex marriage?

As I said: note the repulsion in his tone. I'm not sure how much public school sex education has improved since the kids I was exposed to growing up, but considering the ignorance in the early '00s, I don't think conservatives should worry too much about an increase in explicitness. The majority of high school and college students I've conversed with on such matters did not in fact know how to properly put on a condom. If instructing someone to pinch the tip of the condom while unrolling it onto the penis so as to provide a reservoir for ejaculation and thus reducing the risk of the condom breaking is too squeamish a subject matter to bestow on the ignorant and sexually active, than I'm sure no teacher is going to talk about the risk of STD transfer by using saliva as an anal lubricant regardless of condom presence. Really Mr. Marshall, god forbid with the predominant percentages of AIDS in homosexual men we dare talk about sodomy!

By adopting our marriage amendment, Virginia will not have to recognize out-of-state, same-sex unions of any stripe that seek to grant the rights and status of marriage to same-sex "unions.

In other words: if you're driving through Virginia with your partner... try to avoid getting in a car accident that would result in one of your deaths. The paperwork could be real nasty. We don't take kindly to your sort 'round har!

This has nothing to do with the ability to contract, to leave your estate to a friend, to provide that a friend may direct your medical care if you are incapacitated, to open a joint bank account, to start a business and other such activities.

Really? Because the amendment completely fails to note that, and it is the amendment that will be interpreted legally, not Marshall's description of it. In fact, in an apparent effort not to be too obvious in the amendments prejudice, it was written so broadly and obscurely that heterosexuals should also be very concerned about it's implications in regards to our own rights. No distinction is made to get heterosexuals in civil unions off the hook.

To say that homosexuals may not enter a same-sex "marriage," but they can have civil unions or domestic partnerships is to invite a legal challenge to Virginia's public policy for denying to homosexuals "equal protection of the laws." That is why the marriage amendment is written the way it is.

That is also exactly why it should not be passed! Homosexuals should have equal protection of the laws. They should have equal rights. They should not be segregated by the prejudices of squeamish politicians. If you want to protect the sanctity of marriage, then fine, it's safe, but to not permit homosexuals or others the basic rights embodied in that institution is absurdly wrong.

The current complaints that it will do something other than protect marriage are a little curious. For example Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has now come out against the amendment, although he told the two Catholic bishops of Virginia before last year's election that he supported that exact wording. Why doesn't the governor point to public statements of his from last year sounding the alarm about unintended consequences? Is it because there aren't any?

Instead of addressing the accusations brought forth, here Marshall uses Gov. Kaine as a distraction from the issue, completely dodging it. Merely attacking the credibility of Kaine or anyone else who raises question about the repercussions of this amendment is not answering them. It does however add justification to such concerns. He asks, "Is it because there aren't any?" As one of the key people behind the amendment, he ought to know, and we asked first.

Equality Virginia says it represents gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people who are opposed to the marriage amendment. So, how are the bisexuals to gain their "rights" without having one marriage partner of each sex? What do they really want?

In addition shifting the focus from homosexual rights to bisexual rights, Marshall confuses bisexuality with polygamy and sexual promiscuity. In reality, a bisexual may practice both, like some hetero and homosexuals do, but it is not the case of all bisexuals. Bisexuality merely means one can be attracted to either gender. Many share the same aspirations of settling down with a single partner that many hetero and homosexuals proclaim. Again Marshall tries to attack the image of his opposition with misleading generalization and ignorant demonizing. He also continues to evoke the word marriage when the issue is civil unions.

His final comment seems almost amusing:

There is a lot that cannot even be mentioned in this "debate," or even discussed in newspapers. I say vote for real marriage on Nov. 7.

Again he evokes repulsion towards the subject matter and mockery. What of relevance cannot be mentioned? I'm seriously asking. Would Marshall be willing to expound on these dirty matters elsewhere? I genuinely fail to see how the detailed sexual habits of homosexuals, if that is what he's referring to, would be of relevance. Indeed, I'm left with few conclusions but that what cannot even be motioned is the facts regarding the poor composition of this amendment and how their obscurity may lead to interpretations that restrict the rights of heterosexuals.

This is the tone of a primary supporter of the amendment. This is the rhetoric being used. Through out he subtly attacks the image of homosexuals and their supporters misleadingly so as to induce a repulsive reaction from readers. This amendment is only an attempt to protect the idea of marriage in the most perverse sense of bigotry.

The timing of his opinion's publishing seems all the more embarrassing when compared to the reports of the 14-year-old killed in Iraq twenty four days prior. I mean not to use such events to overshadow reason with emotion, for besides my dislike of such technique and value of reasoned thought, I recognize the differences and complexities of the events in regards to our own. I'm not saying that voting for the amendment is an act of support for what happened in Iraq. However, an educated decision to vote yes seems to suggest some small agreement with the fundamentals that were taken to such horrific extreams with Ahmed Khalil. Perhaps I am wrong. Still, I ponder how as a people we should respond in our lives, as citizens of a state thought of as "for lovers" and as part of the nation that self-proclaims itself the police of the world... however we are to present ourselves in light of such atrocities as those of last year, last month, and almost certainly this present, tarnishing our constitution with prejudice does not come to mind.

There are more immediate reasons to vote NO on November 7. Reasons more pertinent to our everyday lives. I've addressed them, as have others. At this moment though I simply cannot refrain from a feeling of shame in light of the late proceedings and considering regional issues of greater import and utility that this would be an issue considered for amendment. I guess some people will do whatever it takes to get a "moral" vote.

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