Monday, October 13, 2008

I've got issues...

Let's revisit Proposition 8, shall we?

As is usual in my writing, I don't think the real point I'm trying to make is going to be right here in the beginning. Whether or not Proposition 8 should be passed or not is not really the main issue, but really, it's sort of a sub-issue, if you will. Shortly after I last wrote about Proposition 8, I had someone tell me that all good Christians should, as a matter of principle, vote against legalization of same-sex marriage. Assuming that you are a Christian who believes that same-sex marriage is a bad thing, there's some level of logic to this. As I myself have argued, "You can't legislate morality!" is a poor argument. I really do believe that morality is the only thing we really legislate, in one way or another. If you really believe that government has no place to pass laws that dictate moral choices, then may I suggest first that you really ought to be a Libertarian, and second that such a belief is really a moral choice itself. Make of that what you will.

For most of us, when we try to make choices about how we're going to vote, or what energies and/or donations we're going to give to various causes, we're thinking of moral choices much more overtly. I know a lot of people, usually Christians, who feel that the abortion issue is of tantamount importance, and will invariably vote for whichever candidate most strongly opposes abortions. Of course, there are also plenty of voters who take essentially the opposite tack. For many other people, the choices involve the weighing of various issues and finding the candidate or set of issues that best makes sense. For me, I tend to strongly favor propositions that support public transportation, and while there is a proposition on the ballot supporting the building of a new rail system here in California, in this case, I've been getting the feeling that the benefits may not warrant the amount of money being proposed for the cause, nor the manner in which the money is to be raised and spent. Even pet issues have to be tempered with an understanding of the bigger picture. At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, I'd like to point out that Hitler was against abortion; this is not to say that banning abortion is immoral, but that no matter how bad you think abortion is, I hope you realize there is potentially an overriding issue. (That does, of course, go for the other side, as well as potentially any other issue.)

Well, what is it about same-sex marriage that supposedly makes it one of the few cut-and-dry issues? The belief that the Bible treats it as such, saying that homosexuality is unambiguously immoral. If the Bible doesn't mince terms, then why should we, as believers in the Bible, do any less? Well, it's tough, because there are a lot of things that the Bible unambiguously calls immoral, and if we're going to deal with one, we have to deal with all of them. When I talk about this, I'm not taking the tack of some skeptics who point out that the Bible bans the eating of shellfish and wearing of mixed-fiber clothing; that's a red herring. Whether skeptics choose to recognize it or not, there are some parts of the Law (referring to rules given in the first five books of the Bible by way of Moses) that apply only to ancient Israel. I would argue that most of these laws still apply to Jews, although the manner of enforcement may be questionable; many of these laws do not apply to gentile Bible-believers. (One of the rules that I would argue still applies to all people is that blood should not be ingested, but I'll readily admit that I'm guilty of enjoying a bloody steak or a bit of gravy from time to time. Feel free to skewer my hypocrisy.)

One of the areas where the moral code of the Old Testament carries over to non-Jews is in sexual morality. While homosexuality does seem to be a part of this, I think a lot of people get very worked up over the supposed evils of homosexuality while winking at heterosexual sin. I do believe that if a married man in my church were to run off with another woman, his friends within the church would encourage him to break off the affair, and (if his wife was willing) to return to his wife and be reconciled. If the same man ran off with another man, I do think a few people would react in the same way, but suspect that there would be more than a few that would write him off as a loss. Depending on your point of view, it may be either a shame that people give up on such a person, or a shame that they don't simply accept his newfound sexuality. Anyway, people of many a personal philosophical bent find themselves unable to treat homosexuality the same as heterosexuality, even if they don't accept the spiritual concept of "sinfulness", although intellectually it's been assented (by some) that there is no difference.

Anyway, sometimes it may seem that there is some inequality in law as well. After all, heterosexuals are pretty much allowed to marry any member of the opposite gender, but homosexuals are not allowed to marry members of the same gender, or at least they weren't until recently, and they won't once again when Proposition 8 passes (assuming it does). If you take this from a conservative Christian point of view, there is some small validity to this claim of inequality, but very small. Marriage between two people of opposite gender can be used in the Christian view, to legitimize their sexuality, whereas homosexual sex is never legitimate. Where the sliver of validity comes in is in the fact that there are no laws banning, say, heterosexual cohabitation or extramarital sex. That's only a sliver, though, at least in California, as I believe that the only thing homosexual couples have been banned from doing is getting married. In states where homosexual intercourse is banned, it perhaps seems that it might make sense to give the same penalties to "illicit" heterosexual intercourse. I don't know though, there may be places where this is the case. (Actually, I could be wrong about California law!)

I think one of the real problems with letting our morality inform our political choices is that it's hard to avoid being hypocritical. On some level, I can actually accept the logic that we should vote against homosexual marriage because the Bible says it's bad, but this presents a conundrum. I can be in danger of overgeneralizing, I suppose, but it seems to me that when it comes to the issues of banning homosexual marriage and abortion, your supporters are largely going to be Republicans, conservatives, right? Okay, no surprise there, but what happens when we talk about issues like welfare?

The Bible teaches far more unequivocally than it teaches about homosexuality that we should be doing all we can to reach out to the needy and less fortunate and help them. Shouldn't we be voting for expansion of welfare programs, helping out the homeless, single parents and needy children? The argument I seem to most commonly hear is that the church should be taking care of this, and it's not the business of the government to be "redistributing wealth". Am I the only one who sees the problem with this logic? Once again, in itself, there's something to it. While a lot of us agree that something should be done about people on the low end of the economic spectrum, it does seem there ought to be something voluntary about the solution. If someone has no interest in helping out the homeless, then taking his money and giving it to a homeless person is hardly going to make him more sympathetic, and in addition to helping people out, increasing the general level of sympathy for those less fortunate seems like a good thing. If the rich (or the middle class) are being stolen from, or at least feel like they're being stolen from, there's something wrong with that on some level.

It comes together with the more overt moral issues to create a clash of rational viewpoints. If we are so adamant that it should be left to individuals and various benevolence organizations such as churches to determine how and in what manner the needy are to be helped, why can't we leave it to the same to determine sexual morality? If my church wishes to not recognize same-sex marriage, and the church down the road is just fine with them, can't we agree to disagree and leave the government out of it? The truth is, we're happy to let individuals and localities decide for themselves how to live their lives so long as we're convinced that they'll probably decide in a way we approve, aren't we?

This is a hypocrisy we all share, both Republicans and Democrats. The breakdown in logic goes both ways. Democrats believe in freedom: freedom of individuals to make their own choices in how they live their lives, but they'll raise taxes to make people with more money pay for the freedoms of those with less. Republicans believe in freedom: freedom of the market and allowing businesses to make investment choices, but they don't like people making individual choices that threaten the conservative values that they treasure, and their freedom to live life as they see fit. Both groups want to have their cake and eat it too, but it tends to feel like, "We want to have our cake and eat yours!"

Perhaps that's the real reason that despite the fact I've been a fundamentalist Christian for over 10 years, I'm still a Democrat. Like many of my friends, both Christian and non-Christian, have realized, neither party is really going to serve exactly the causes that you as an individual want them to serve. Every single individual among Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden has positions on issues that I respect and agree with, but none of them is exactly what I want in my government. Furthermore, while we tend to view the President as the single most powerful individual in the nation, to be responsible for the overall wellbeing of our nation, the federal government has two other branches that keep the President's power limited, and even the perfect Presidential candidate who agreed with me on every single issue isn't going to transform government into utopia in a single four-year term.

Furthermore, individual issues and propositions are in many ways in the same boat. If Proposition 8 passes, next year we'll see some group of people bring about Proposition 18 (or whatever) to repeal Proposition 8. If it fails, the same group that brought this one will bring Proposition 8 (with a new number) right back and try again. There will always be homosexuals that want to get married, and there will always be people who think they shouldn't be allowed to do so. Same-sex marriage may be a cut-and-dry issue with individuals, but I highly doubt it will ever be a cut-and-dry issue in the political arena within our lifetimes. My condolences to homosexuals and fundamentalists alike.

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