Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Winds of Change

May 17, 2006 was the two year anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts. Tom Lang, his husband Alex and others gathered at the state house steps to hold a sign thanking, and reminding the people of this commonwealth of the responsibility to be ever vigilant in the struggle for freedom.

This fight has never been about marriage, it was always about prejudice against gays and lesbians. The arguments against discrimination have been played out on to their fullest, and go ignored and unanswered by the opposition to equality.

Some have said that gays should not be allowed to get married because it is against God. Citizens of the United States are given freedom of choice in religion, and because our citizenship is so very diverse we protect those choices. Laws are not to include religious bias, so that one group cannot have control over another, and we can keep the delicate balance that protects all of us from having to defend our beliefs.

One of those beliefs is not to believe. Atheism is a belief of some, and while I don't follow that belief I am left with a question pertinent to the argument over gay marriage. If you don't believe in God, why would you be held to believe by the law? The Christian right has bullied its way into the government, and one of the first things it has done is go after people's ability to choose paths that conflict with their beliefs. By putting into law that civil marriage is between a man and a woman our government would be saying to its citizens that they have to accept God as a reality in their lives whether they want to or not. That is not acceptable. Once this Pandora's box is open it will be hard to define where our limits should then be.

Thomas Jefferson, in his 1st inaugural address in 1801 said, "Although the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable. The minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression". Again and again this same sentiment is repeated in our constitutions throughout our states, all people are created equal, and given the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness for some is the choice to enter a same sex relationship, marriage, and have families. How important should the opinions of others be in this decision? The evidence suggests that morality is too subjective a matter for government to control or regulate. This is where this argument should end.

Our country has been made great by being free and by learning from our individualities. Ending marriage equality our society sends a clear message of hate to our children and the rest of the world. It implies that sometimes hate is OK, and we have nothing to gain from the gay community. The great majority of our country has not educated itself on this subject, but they are beginning to. The religious right and their allies against marriage equality do not simply want to end gay marriage, they want to put the gay community back in the closet. It is so very important to make that distinction so that we can see clearly their homophobic agenda. As people begin to see what is going on and understand what is at stake, I stand proudly with the winds of change at my back, welcoming the social progress our forefathers knew we had in us.

One day we will have a country that prides itself on social equality for all, not just the majority, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream will be fulfilled.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Is Marriage a Right?

Marriage is centered around a choice. Two individuals meet, court, and decide to wed. The actual marriage, whether it is religiously based or civilly based requires the willingness of each individual. In a civil marriage, the two individuals consent to the marriage by signing a contract. In a religious marriage (Roman Catholic is used in this example) the individuals are each asked if they consent to the marriage. If both individuals do not consent, marriage cannot occur. The choice of marriage is whether or not each individual is willing to marry the other individual and it is in this choice that marriage is constructed.

The individual has the ability to choose who his or her marriage partner is if the partner also consents. In fact, an individual can choose not to enter into any marriage at all. This does not preclude the possibility of that individual's marriage, but recognizes that the individual has no one who he or she would consent to marrying and would also consent to marrying the individual. All people have the ability to make the choice of to marry another individual or not.

This in turn leads to the question of how can marriage be considered a right if it is centered on choice. A right is "legal or moral entitlement to do or refrain from doing something or to obtain or refrain from obtaining an action, thing or recognition in civil society" (Wikipedia). Marriage can only be a right if it is not a duty or a privilege. Because someone can choose never to marry, marriage is not a duty because it is not all individuals enter into it. It might appear that marriage could be considered a privilege as individuals are limited in who they can marry.

Marriage is commonly not allowed when one or both of the individuals is under the age of consent. The reason is that they are deemed to be incapable of consenting properly to the union of the two individuals because they lack the maturity and understanding to enter into such an agreement. In fact, the younger individual may be more easily coerced into marriage. Not allowing such a marriage to take place, is not a prescription against these two individuals ever from marrying, but from the individuals marrying when at least one of them is under aged. Both individuals may choose to marry each other at some point in the future. The older individual may even consent to marriage with another of age individual. So society is seen as revoking marriage when it is not able to receive the valid consent of both parties.

It would appear now that for marriage to be a privilege, it is based on the consent of each individual. The marriage in that example was not allowed because of the age and subsequently the inability of one of the individuals to consent to the union. However, the idea behind marriage is that each party consents. In the example, the under aged individual was unable to consent so the marriage could not occur. Indeed, if it had occurred it would not be marriage as it is intended because of the lack of proper consent. We find that society here is enforcing the importance of consent in a marriage and not restricting marriages as they are meant to be.

Another example of a time when marriage is not allowed is same sex marriage cannot. Here, the ability for two individuals to marry is revoked because each is of the same sex. Each of the individuals can validly consent to marrying the other, but the marriage is still refused because of the restriction of sex. What made a marriage valid is present but the marriage is not allowed. The reason for the prohibition is that the two individuals are of the same gender. If one individual was to change genders legally, then the marriage could occur. The same individuals would have consented as the only difference is the gender of one individual.

This analysis presents two possibilities. Marriage could be a privilege only offered to heterosexual couples or it could be a right denied to homosexual couples. Homosexuals exist as a class of citizens as they share a common orientation. This class of citizens is singled out without regard to the individuals. It is seen through the fact that the consent of each individual in a same sex couple may consent to marriage, but would be denied that possibility because of only their gender. The important facts surrounding each individual’s decision to get married is not considered. It would be little different form saying that individuals with a height difference of 6 inches, tattoos, or blue eyes could not marry. The individual is lost in the class making it discrimination.

In the United States, privileges do not legally exist through discriminating against a group. Privileges exist through earning them and are lost by abuse or misuse. One has the privilege to get a driver’s license, but will loss this privilege upon repeated DWI offenses. In removing a privilege, the individual is considered. To say that anyone who drinks is not allowed to have a driver’s license would be viewed as unjust. In denying the ability for two consenting same sex individuals from marrying because they are of the same gender, the right of marriage is doing exactly that. Not allowing same sex marriage is denying homosexuals their civil rights because of the class of citizens that they belong to.

Marriage is constituted of the conscious and valid consent of two individuals forming a union. What lies at the heart of marriage is consent as is shown by what marriages are and are not allowed. One problematic marriage that is not allowed is that between homosexuals. Valid and conscious consent is present here, but the marriage is not allowed because the individuals are of the same gender. The question of whether marriage is a right or a privilege is present in this prohibition. Marriage is denied to homosexual couples not because of the individuals they are and the quality of their consent, but the class of citizens to which they belong. Because the class is being singled out and not the individual this is considered discrimination and is not considered a revocation of a right to marriage. This claim is strengthened by the fact that each individual could marry a person with a different gender immediately after their marriage refusal and assuming shared consent would be allowed to. As such, marriage exists as a right present to all individuals who can consent valid and it is denied to homosexuals because of the homosexual nature of their relationship.

Friday, May 05, 2006

To Discriminate Against Homosexuality It Must be a Choice or Why Homosexuality's Origin is Debated and the Problems in the Argument

Homosexuality is considered by many to be fully natural. To prove this point, examples of homosexual behavior in nature are often cited because animals do not reason as we do. But if they do it, it cannot be considered wrong for humans to participate it. In fact, denying that certain humans are homosexual is denying part of nature and denying that we, humans, are another species on Earth. Different developmental studies are often cited that show that homosexuals and heterosexuals differ in genetics, prental neurohormonal levels, response to pheromones, and brain structures. These all attempt to show that the orientation is something that cannot be controlled or influenced by the environment. This acts to seperate behavior from disposition towards behavior. This is a valid approach however, bcause accepting one's determined orientation is to accept the behaviors that flow from this. I know I will recieve criticism from people citing criminal examples (e.g. someone predisposed to violence), but this question is not the purpose of this post so it holds little sway in the argument.

When people consider homosexuality to be unnatural, they focus on the behaviors associated with homosexuality, and completely ignore the underlying orientation. To back of this claim "ex-gays" are often cited as examples where someone partook in homosexual behaviors at one point, but through conversion therapy changed. Again, there are many criticisms of this fact, but it is not pertinent to the post. Additionally, this side states that homosexuality is against nature because it does not allow for reproduction and the passing on of genetic material to subsequent generations. As such, homosexuality is deemed to be unnatural.

The debate over the origins of homosexuality comes from the need to have a valid reason for discrimination or thinking less of homosexuals. The only valid reason for this would be that homosexuality is a conscious choice by the individual. The free will of the individual must play a role in their homosexual behaviors. If homosexuality is a conscious choice, then the act itself can be deemed to be moral or immoral and right or wrong. This distinction lies in contrast to an act being determined or coerced. If an outside source influences the actions of an individual, it becomes bery difficult to assign responsibility and impose limitations. Some examples of this are a man pulls your finger on the trigger of a gun and kills someone or you are attacked and killed a man in self defense. In either case, it is incredibly difficult to assign responsibility for the death of another to the individual because the individual lacked completely free will. By stating that homosexuality is a choice, the actions of a homosexual in same sex relations can be judged easily. In being able to judge the actions of a homosexual, rules and laws can be ethically passed that control them because they are solely based on the conscious choices made by the individual. Homosexuality becomes something little different than robbing a bank. The individual who robbed the bank chose to rob the bank. He was not forced or coerced, so is able to be held accountable by the law for the action. The homosexual chose his behaviors so can be restricted by law the same as another individual who has chosen a behavior deemed wrong by society.

If homosexuality was natural or fully determined it would be impossible to ethically pass laws restricting its practice, acceptance, or equality because the individuals would have no responsibility for their homosexuality and such, could not be held accountable for it. It would become something little different than passing laws against an individual because the individual's gender or race. An individuals gender or race is determined so cannot be discriminated against because the individual did not act freely to be that way. Additionally, any restriction on homosexuality would likewise not be ethical if homosexuality is natural because it would punish the individual for being different. Any restriction would act to restrict the individual's liberty to act out their nature, or imposing a restriction on the individual's free will (free will here in a Humian sense).

The question of whether or not homosexuality is natural is a question of whether or not it can be constricted like other conscious choices. Is homosexuality closer to race and gender or acting asocially through things like robbing a bank? By ignoring the orientation and focusing on the free will of the behavior, the people who view homosexuality as unnatural say that it can be restricted ethically. By looking at homosexuality as the determined orientation and the behavior as only a result of it, the people who view homosexuality as natural say that it cannot be restricted ethically.

To try to combine these two views makes the question rather difficult: behavior as a choice and orientation as determined. However, the conclsuion is one that would support the view that homosexuality cannot be restricted ethically. The orientation determines the individual's behavior. It is the innate attraction to homosexual or heterosexual partners that lead to the behaviors. Here, the behaviors become choices, but not freely determined choices. If an individual was forced to fire a gun and kill another individual, the individual is not held responsible for the death. Much in the same way, the orientation of the individual is forcing the behavior so the individual cannot be held responsible for the actions. In this light homosexuality behavior cannot be seen as a choice and so cannot be considered as the responsibility of the individual. So homosexuality should not be restricted or judged. Despite this, the behavior can be resisted, but resisting does not change the underlying nature of the individual. A homosexual does not have to engage in homosexual behaviors. However, he would still retain the homosexual orientation. But the choice here is not one that is truly and completely free. The individual can choose to resist his or her determined nature or to realize his or her determined nature. That is a choice up to the individual, but it is suggested that it is a forced choice and cannot be judged as harshly as other, completely free choices. The individual had no control over the events that led up to the necessity of the choice. Having to choose is a matter of situational or dispositional luck and therefore judgments on this have little to no moral responsibility. So, restrictions cannot be placed on the individual, whether he chooses to be a homosexual or a heterosexual behaviorally, because the necessity to make the decision to act or not act was out of the individuals control. So, in these two different conbinations, we see the same end results, the homosexual cannot be held accountable and responsible for his or her homosexual behaviors so cannot be restricted by the law.