February 6, 2007

Clever tactic

Posted in Civil rights, GLBT issues, Reproduction at 1:15 pm by The Lizard Queen

Marriage is about procreation, you say? Okay then; why not put your money where your mouth is, so to speak?

The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance seeks to defend equal marriage in this state by challenging the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling on Andersen v. King County. This decision, given in July 2006, declared that a “legitimate state interest” allows the Legislature to limit marriage to those couples able to have and raise children together. Because of this “legitimate state interest,” it is permissible to bar same-sex couples from legal marriage.

The way we are challenging Andersen is unusual: using the initiative, we are working to put the Court’s ruling into law. We will do this through three initiatives. The first would make procreation a requirement for legal marriage. The second would prohibit divorce or legal separation when there are children. The third would make the act of having a child together the legal equivalent of a marriage ceremony.

Absurd? Very. But there is a rational basis for this absurdity. By floating the initiatives, we hope to prompt discussion about the many misguided assumptions which make up the Andersen ruling. By getting the initiatives passed, we hope the Supreme Court will strike them down as unconstitional and thus weaken Andersen itself. And at the very least, it should be good fun to see the social conservatives who have long screamed that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation be forced to choke on their own rhetoric.

Pam: “I love it. Take the DOMA laws and extend them to their illogical, immoral, invasive extreme.”

Ann: “The group even has a sweet anti-gay name! This is a great rhetorical argument against the point of view that the primary purpose of marriage is to create children, therefore gay couples shouldn’t be granted the right.”

Ann also brings up the point that “Most gay-rights supporters in the state say they’re unlikely to support the parody measure, saying ‘I don’t think anybody in the gay community wants to take someone else’s rights away,'” and that “The antis don’t really have a sense of humor, and I can see them trotting this out as proof that gay men and lesbians really do want to take away YOUR rights as a good, upstanding, heterosexual Christian citizen.”  However, if this gets even just a few people to reconsider their stance against same-sex marriage, I think it will have been worth it.

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6 Comments »

  1. DavidD said,

    And if it makes more people feel alienated by gays and lesbians not giving a damn about straight society, then will it be worth it? Any person who advocates childbirth to consumate a marriage, an end to divorce despite how much suffering that would cause, and the similar condition of having a child together meaning people are married without possibility of divorce is going to be seen as a nut, not an object for sympathy.

    Extremists on both sides of all sorts of issues have contempt for the court if the ruling goes against them. From any sort of losing party comes all this verbiage about how they should have won. Only it never means anything legally, or they would have won in court. A “state interest” doesn’t have to be absolute. It doesn’t have to be wise. It does have to be rational, but that takes very little evidence to prove. I don’t know if the Washington court considered the state interest that a child have a mother and a father, but if they did, that is a rational position. No matter how many of us think there are better positions, “state interest” doesn’t require the best possible position, not even a plausible one, but simply a rational one. With that the state legislature is entitled to act, wisely, foolishly, whatever. If this were my issue I’d read the actual court opinion to understand their logic, but I’m quite confident that the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance is missing some point in their reaction.

    There are so many issues where it’s a study in human nature to watch activists on either side go after each other, whether that’s about same-sex marriage, abortion, evolution, … These proposed initiatives are like so many other actions where it seems to be meant to be an “in your face” to the other side. The cleverness you cite in your title is in that context. This is not clever regarding winning a popular vote. How many people vote against same-sex marriage because they think marriage should be absolutely accompanied by raising children? Even those who say every child should have a mother and a father likely see marriage as having many benefits apart from raising children, benefits they don’t want to give to homosexuals. Whoever argues that marriage is for procreation isn’t the deciding factor in elections. It’s just an argument. It’s like the death penalty. Shoot down one argument that favors the death penalty, and people just switch to another one. The real reason isn’t rational. It’s cultural.

    I’m not sure what the biggest reason is that same-sex marriage does so poorly at the polls. I suspect it’s like the death penalty where none of the rationales for supporting it matter. It’s something underneath that. As far as same-sex marriage, it might be that the biggest reason for opposition is that people see gays and lesbians as perverts.

    You and I both know that gays and lesbians aren’t perverts, but I know people in your extended family who don’t know that. I’m not sure how much gays and lesbians want to get that message out, that homosexuality is more about who your love object is than who your sex object is. Certainly that’s the case with why gays and lesbians want same-sex marriage. Yet activists for this want to focus on some juvenile intellectual games instead of something more basic. I don’t get it.

    Maybe there’s something else more important than changing how many Americans see gays and lesbians as perverts. I don’t know. I’m just guessing. But it sure looks to me like advocates for same-sex marriage spend a lot of time repeating that this is undeniably right on the basis of equality, yet never get to why voters vote it down. This proposal of initiatives is just another example of that. It’s not smart at all. I think same-sex marriage has time on its side. That makes me hopeful for it, but not the tactics of its advocates.

  2. I think this very much presents the problem with satire, which I’ve brought up before: it’s all well and good for the people who get it, but what about the people who don’t? When I posted this, I wasn’t really thinking about the people who wouldn’t pick up on the absurdity of this proposal. As always, that’s problematic, and might well only fuel the fire of those who believe homosexuals are looking to destroy traditional society.

    I too would be interested to see what the full court decision said. I certainly agree that the move against same-sex marriage is more cultural than rational. It has more to do with people being afraid of change, I think, than it does with people genuinely interested in keeping homosexuals in their current place as second-class citizens.

    I agree that same-sex marriage has time on its side. I’m not sure it’s fair, though, to group all of its advocates in with the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance…

  3. DavidD said,

    I do think the problem I mentioned in the last paragraph is a general one, not just about promoting absurd initiatives. I’ve known for a long time that homosexuality is about who one loves more than sex. I learned that from patients and colleagues. I hardly ever see that publicized. I saw this in the pictures of gays and lesbians getting married, when they had that flurry of same-sex marriages. They weren’t just playing dress-up. But I wonder how many people thought they were. I can’t say I’ve heard a good effort to explain that to people who don’t already know.

    Instead I read only about gays and lesbians ridiculing the opposition and saying that the rightness of same-sex marriage is beyond question, that any court that rules against it is wrong, which I don’t think is satire, just like conservatives do when they lose in court, as they did in that Poway High School t-shirt case last month. I mentioned on my blog how the lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund there immediately blasted the judge’s competency on losing. OK, so that part seems to be human nature. People say whatever they want to say. I don’t think that’s the best way.

  4. DavidD said,

    I’m reminded how I’ve heard that the outrageous things Rush Limbaugh says are just misunderstood satire. I also remember a guest on Al Franken’s show explaining how the use of “fair and balanced” by Fox News is a satirical inside joke. I would label such things differently.

    I’m sure “satire” technically covers a broad range from good-natured ribbing to mean-spirited ridicule. The closer it gets to the latter the more I’d use many other words to describe it before “satire”. I might refer to Jonathan Swift’s work, A Modest Proposal, about how the Irish should manage the potato famine by eating their children as satire, but I suspect if someone wrote that strongly about a contemporary issue, I’d think of other words first, especially if it struck me as counterproductive.

    The San Francisco chronicle had a columnist in the seventies who sometimes wrote satirical conversations between God and a heavenly underling. I remember one column where some conflict over abortion was reported to God. I think it was framed as involving concern that an unborn child would turn out to be deformed. So God says something like, “Why not wait for the child to be born and kill it then?” Now I think there’s some utility in such a challenging question. It’s been worth it to me to consider why so many anti-abortion people equate abortion with infanticide, especially now that they’ve gone on to equate stem cell research and Plan B with infanticide. I’ve thought through why none of those things are infanticide, a good thing to be clear about. If only the anti-abortion crowd would do the same … Still I would have gotten to that anyway, without the jarring satire, and people who never have thought that through remain so despite such satire. Might a gentle way of raising this point be more effective? I can imagine the letters he got. I think he was in fact anti-abortion, so it was easy to see his satire as judgment rather than humor, maybe even an insult to God as well as to abortion. It’s not that people lack a sense of humor. It’s that our sense of outrage is often more important to us.

    The world is full of beauty. The world is full of ugliness. Just because the difference is subjective doesn’t mean the same word is best to describe some aspect of both. My clients suffer in part because of how many people see them as the object of ridicule instead of the object of compassion. Now if called to task about it, my experience with these purveyors of ridicule is that they will first say intellectually how they are right and I am wrong, but then they may turn to how I am too serious and too sensitive, that they were merely expressing some hyperbole, satire, something like that to make a point. But if that point is a lie, then what is it? It’s not funny, I can generalize that much. Then it’s also true that on some subjects, it’s evil to have a sense of humor. I know I’m not the only one who thinks that.

    I never use the phrase, “Just kidding,” in part because almost every time I’ve heard it, it’s been a lie. The oneupsmanship, lack of empathy, and meanness that someone tries to cover up with that phrase can be obvious to anyone who pays attention to more than mere words. Along with other forms that mean about the same thing, I think it’s one of the great lies of our culture.

  5. DavidD said,

    If you follow your links back to the WDMA website there are further links to the court rulings in question. The trial judge found for same-sex marriage, saying there was no reasonable explanation for why children would do better with their biological parents. http://www.wa-doma.org/rulings/AndersenvSims.pdf

    The Washington Supreme Court ruled against same-sex marriage, 5-4, saying that it is rational for the state to encourage procreation in households made up of a child’s biological parents. http://www.wa-doma.org/rulings/759341opn.pdf

    The difference between “rational” and “reasonable” in 14th amendment cases is huge. “Rational” requires very little, just a logical rationale. It doesn’t have to be demonstrated to be reality. “Reasonable” needs more than that.

    The trial court knew that this case needs only a rational state interest, as in the end that’s what he rules the state does not have, but when he discusses whether children might need biological parents, he uses “reasonable” several times. I’m sure he knows the difference between “rational” and “reasonable”, so he’s cheating a little. If it were a racial discrimination case, the standard would be a lot higher. That’s the way the US Supreme Court has established to look at civil rights with different levels of scrutiny.

    So the Washington Supreme Court said this was a mistake, that the state’s interest in encouraging procreation to biological parents is rational, 5-4.

    It’s a rather fine point, but that’s what our legal system is. If someone wants to make fun of that, go ahead, but before the US Supreme Court did this, the states were doing whatever they wanted. As someone who understand what that means, I would find satire on this point not at all funny.

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