Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not To Choose pt 2

No pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church has to bless the marriage of a member with a non-member. I disagree with the refusal. It is founded on a view of insularity that I don't share and it does little to strengthen marriage, even less to benefit the culture. But it's a policy based on a view of marriage that the government has no reason to challenge or affirm. The stance and practice need not be addressed by the state. The constitution stays silent on this topic and it should remain silent.

Here's the entire text of California's Proposition 8 (found here). The text is an important factor in evaluating Ron Osborn's argument for abstention from a vote.


This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the
provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution.
This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution by
adding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are
printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.
SECTION 1. Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the "California Marriage
Protection Act."
SECTION 2. Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution,
to read:
SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized
in California.

Distilling Osborn's argument to its basics:

  1. He supports, without reservation, the civil and human rights of same-sex couples.

  2. He does not support the right to state affirmation recognition or sanctioning or codifying or categorization or validation of sexual identity.

  3. He believes government must not limit the right of religious communities to preserve and label their institutions.

In his view:
Voting “Yes” violates #1 and #2.
Voting “No” violates #2 and #3.

Such a violation by a “No” vote relies on Osborn's argument that the vote not to approve the proposal is a legislative overriding of traditional cultural and religious norms. In fact such a vote is stopping the legislative branch from making any such statement in favor of or against those norms.

Osborn's next concern is that the lack of limitation of the word marriage is necessarily an avowedly 'secular' redefinition. In fact it's not a definition at all. It's a refusal to define. It's an acknowledgment that a word may be defined by many groups in many ways. Still he suggests that we let this language be something other than the language religious traditions have long claimed as their own.

Even if we agree that religious communities use these labels with certain limitations there is no encroachment on the rights of those communities to say that the government shouldn't impose those same limits. And tho Osborn can't abide by government redefinition of the word marriage, he doesn't explain how a refusal to define is a redefinition. A 'No' vote doesn't redefine the word and he should be fine with that. But even if the state did allow a group to use a new definition of the word, there is no religious right to un-contradicted use of a word. In the Seventh-day Adventist religion the word baptism refers to full immersion under the water. Just today in my office a colleague was insisting that full immersion as a cleansing of sin in his religion would have to be called something else. This difference of terminology is acceptable. And should the government have any say over what is not allowed to be called a baptism? Of course not. And not even if the government was to recognize certain rights that corresponded to a religious rite of passage.

Unless we want to get into patent law the government has no business regulating such basic language use. Setting apart a word like marriage as sacred is not the government's business. The most generous reading of the bill is that it allows the government to grant equal rights to heterosexual and homosexual unions but it denies homosexual unions the right of a label.

Osborn argues that refusal to vote is a creative way to avoid being trapped in the false dichotomies of America’s culture wars. It's a valid way but it's certainly not creative. He suggests that the reasons for refusal are important. I agree. But I have to point out that the argument as he presents it is not a false dichotomy. There are decisions that truly are either for or against. And in this case the vote is not between the government should say A or B. If so, Osborn could claim a false dichotomy because the option would be available that the govt should say neither: that perhaps the government should stay silent. But here the choice is government should say A or should not say A. We can argue later whether there is something else the gov't should say but it is fair to vote on whether or not the government should say at this point that marriage is only between man and woman. For the government to say so takes away a right. A right that so far when investigated has only been objected to either on religious grounds or based on an unwillingness to respect equal rights.

But we can't simply move on from one point. In so many of these arguments it is assumed that any definition of marriage that includes same-sex unions is a definition that disregards religion. But this overlooks a very important point: that some religions would use this freedom to use marriage to identify unions between individuals of the same sex. If this proposal were to pass, every religion would be denied the right to recognize these unions as marriages. Proposal 8 limits the right of all religions.

As Osborn suggests towards the end of his argument, government should remain neutral on the issue and view homosexual and heterosexual couples the same. A vote against Proposition 8 is the first step to take towards that. If he wants to make sure that the state doesn't itself use marriage as a label for any union, he should vote to keep the constitution from doing just that. It's not a vote to make any statement of affirmation to any couple or to extend any further power to the government.


Casey said...

Interesting -- I think I'm on your side here, Fenhopper. That stuff about saying A or B vs. saying A or "not-A" was persuasive...

I'm curious whether this is the first time that California's state Constitution has recognized marriage... is it? I skimmed their Constitution, but couldn't find anything.

Am I to infer that this was never an issue before because nobody but men and women ever wanted to be recognized as married in California until recently? In other words, has homosexual marriage been treated by the state as de facto legal?

I have always thought that marriage should've never been recognized by any government--neither state nor federal. But once the state gets in the business of granting tax breaks and such based on marital status, it seems obvious that...

...well, hm... that any two people can be married? Should the state limit marriage to a two person institution?

Sorry -- don't mean to get distracted. Just interested.

fenhopper said...

The prior statement regarding marriage, the statement that led to the proposition being developed, was the state supreme court's interpretation of the constitution as allowing same sex couples.

Of course we all know how fuzzy that type of argument can get. But of course I agree with the supreme court that the right is already protected by the current wording of the constitution: because equal rights means equal rights as far as the interests of the state can be preserved.

The argument that was taken to the CA supreme court was that the state had good reason outside religious concerns to not recognize the equal right of same-sex couples.

Because of my own study of the issue I disagree with that argument. I have great confidence in this view, which happens to be in line with the stance of the American Psychological Association.

Casey said...

Yep yep.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Indeed there are churches that would love to be able to marry gays - they already perform rituals for spiritual unions.

The easiest way out of this mess is to take the civil contract away from the preachers. You want a church wedding? Fine. But you want the tax and other legal things that come with marriage, you need a JP (or equivalent). It's already the case that some religious leaders aren't licensed to marry, and that plenty of people get married with no church involvement - or run off to Vegas and then have the "church wedding for the folks" later.

What 8 would do is deny the word to people because some other people, by no means all, don't want to share it. So let 'em have the word, and make civil unions the rule for everyone.

fenhopper said...

absolutely. granting all rights to a civil union and no special rights just because of a religious ceremony is exactly what needs to happen.

"they" can even have the word whoever they are. because I'm still going to use it whenever I want whether i'm talking about my heterosexual or homosexual friends' unions. and for the gov't not to respect the word differently is all i ask. i'll ask nicely if necessary.