Monday, January 16, 2012

We Shall Overcome, Someday

Michigan recently passed a bill to prevent public institutions from providing benefits to couples who are not legally married; here is an article on the topic. Although the bill is being challenged and I hope it is overturned, I am not interested, or able, to discuss its legality. I did not study to be a lawyer, I studied to be a philosopher, so what I want to talk about is how very wrong this bill is!

It seems clear that some of the support for this bill originates from an antipathy toward same sex couples; insofar as this antipathy wells out of some sort of Christian sentiment, this makes me sick. There is an incredible hypocrisy within the American "Christian" political movement when it comes to sexual mores. Although premarital sex and adultery are condemned from the pulpit they are ignored when Christians go political, in fact, I have noticed a surprisingly widespread sentiment among Christians that premarital sex "isn't that bad" or "is a fact of life." Perhaps premarital sex and adultery are easier to accept as facts of life because they are things that heterosexuals might desire, making this a classic case of trying to remove the splinter from the eye of the homosexual community whilst ignoring the plank in our own. To make it absolutely clear, I am NOT advocating that anybody attempt to legislate against premarital sex or adultery, simply that people who have somehow accepted that these things should be dealt with in the realm of morality, not legality, extend that understanding to same sex couples. Finally, I must admit that comparing homosexuality, premarital sex, and adultery is not the fairest of comparisons. Adultery seems, by fair, the most harmful and disrespectful of the three, so why are we taking benefits away from same sex couples and blithely permitting them to adulterers?

At best this bill might be described as a way for the state to save a little bit of money, which is something states always seem to need to do. However, even in this more charitable interpretation the bills supporters do not end up looking terribly moral. Now, instead of passing the bill in order to hurt a group of people with which they have a difference of opinion, they are simply looking for a group they perceive as unpopular enough that they can summarily divest them of benefits without office threatening repercussions. Less disgusting, perhaps, but still disgusting.

This bill also highlights why marriage for heterosexuals and domestic partnerships for homosexuals is not an adequate, effective, or moral solution. As long as different couples have different commitments binding them it will be easy and, therefore, tempting to set different standards and benefits for them. Perhaps we will simply have to abolish marriage as a civil institution and issue all couples domestic licenses to reach a compromise with the hard line religious movements, which, insofar as marriage is a religious ceremony, ought to be done anyway according to the Constitution. In the end, two different types of "marriage" for two "different" types of couples is morally untenable, separate but equal is still inherently unequal.

In my last sentence there is an implicit comparison between the Gay Rights movement and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, which is why I am writing this post on Martin Luther King Jr. Day specifically. I think that such comparisons are quite warranted, in fact I would be willing to call the struggle for Gay Rights the Civil Rights movement of our era, since it is, at heart, just that, a struggle for civil rights. By making this assertion I do not mean to imply that we have accomplished our struggle for racial equality and now we can move on. ("But we have a black president now, we must be done!" "No, BAD reductionist! The fact that we consider Obama black is itself something worthy of unpacking.") I simply mean that Gay Rights have been the focus of much public attention and legal action recently.

Although the struggle for racial equality may still be ongoing, I think it is entirely appropriate highlight another struggle on MLKJ Day, so long as one does not try to diminish the importance of racial equality, or any other form of equality. To borrow a concept that I have heard attributed to the Third Wave Feminist movement, in order for any of us to be free from oppression, we must all be free from oppression. I can think of two worthwhile ways to interpret that off the top of my head. As long as anyone is oppressed we must still accept the idea that oppression can be justified, which opens everyone up to the risk of becoming included in an underclass. Or, as long as anyone is oppressed, we must find ourselves entangled in the system of oppression, even if as unwilling oppressors, and systems of oppression hurt all moral beings, be they "oppressed" or "oppressor." I rather favor the second interpretation, but both are interesting.

So, today let us dare to dream of a future free of oppression, then do what we can to move toward such a bright future. We shall overcome, someday.

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