Friday, 27 April 2012

Isn't this enough?


"So the John Edwards trial is in Greensboro, across the street from the board of elections office. As I make my way for the second time today voters I find it truly ironic that the trial across the street is bc a man cheated on his wife who was dying of cancer and had a child out of wedlock w his mistress. He hid all this by "possibly" using campaign finances which is against the law. AND I'm having to vote on our state not amending the constitution to define marriage with a definition that excludes me, bc people think they are protecting the "sanctity of marriage" by blocking gays? AND if we win gays can't get married anyway but John Edwards is free to marry again and again and again if he so chooses. He can get married from jail if he wants to."
Quote from the 'Vote Against Amendment One' Facebook group, April 2012 


It was this quote that finally pushed me from actively shouting against Amendment One to wanting to write a full, thorough post about it. I can't vote yet, and won't be able to until I am a U.S. citizen (another three years from now), but last week I accompanied my dear friend Leah to the early voting for this Amendment, and wanted to say something more, even if it's just a blog. Before I get started (this is a cross-post from one I made on my personal Facebook page, so it would be bad written form to launch right into it as I did there), I want to briefly explain what Amendment One is. There is currently the potential for an amendment to be made to the North Carolina state constitution that would "provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized by this State". This means that not only are gay men and women 'doubly' banned from any legal union (as the law stands right now, same-sex partners cannot get a civil union here, never mind a marriage), but domestic partnerships and civil unions will no longer be recognised. To truly understand the impact that this Amendment would have, the video below explains it quickly and clearly.



As you can see, there are so many issues with this Amendment, and the effects would be incredibly widespread. This alone is worrying enough. The problem that I have, though, aside from being totally baffled at how anyone thinks this is a good idea, is the focus of the "for" campaign. It's basically been about protecting NC from gay people. I'm not kidding. A repeated theme of the pro-Amendment One side is getting the law passed in order to keep marriage sacred and "as god intended".

The "sanctity" of marriage is a concept, not a fact. Heterosexual couples are not somehow more able to appreciate the sacred bond of matrimony because they have opposite parts between their legs. See the quote attached to this rant - the man referred to is a heterosexual, and it doesn't seem to me that he was respecting the official union between him and his wife. If you have remarried, divorced, had sex out of wedlock, cheated... All of these are considered immoral by certain groups/doctrines. But that isn't the point. It isn't your business what anyone else does if it isn't breaking the law or directly hurting you (as in actually doing something to you, not that you just disagree because of a *subjective* belief - all beliefs are, no matter what book seems to back it up).

Ben and I were talking the other day and we agreed that part of what is so annoying is having to pussyfoot around when talking about the Amendment, because somehow it's become a right for people to vote on others' freedoms, and to say otherwise is unconstitutional. It's even been said that it infringes on people's "religious freedom" to not allow this prejudice to be expressed politically - in spite of the Constitution saying that religion and state should be separate.

Both Ben and I are atheists. I went to a Church of England school until I was 11, and realised at about age 9 that I didn't feel any substance behind the words of prayers or genuine meaning in the lyrics of the hymns. Ben says he doesn't remember when he realised he didn't believe, but it wasn't a sudden moment - more of a gradual thing. My brother terms any sensible atheism as "agnostic atheism" - an approach to non-faith that, while being totally convinced of the lack of existence of any deity, still holds that it would be unempirical to not allow for a margin of error. I'm not a militant atheist. I respect other people's rights to believe whatever they want to. I believe that in some cases, faith pushes people to be the best they can be; that some religions organise meetings that give people a sense of community and belonging, which in turn can foster a positive inclusiveness that spans generations. People getting together to do good is a good thing, no matter whether they are inspired to do so by their belief in a higher being, or because they simply feel that they can help. But to have clauses on being "good"... that's where the waters get a little murky.

Having been in America for almost seven months now, I have learned that saying you are an atheist can sometimes be viewed in the same way as saying you like tripping up old ladies in the street and then laughing at them. A friend of mine from Indiana puts it best, as he describes being religious in America as being considered more of a character trait than a choice. That's why it's so surprising to some people that I meet that I don't believe in god - as though being decent is only possible through having faith, or perhaps even fear, to keep you on the right track. 

I say all of this because I want to be honest about where I'm coming from. I'm not anti-religion. I'm not pro-gay, per se. I'm pro-people. I believe people are all equal, should have equal rights, and have the freedom to do and believe what they want to do, except when it actively harms other people or breaks the law. The anti-gay argument used to promote voting for Amendment One is actively harming not only gay people, but all kinds of families in NC.

Aside from using a governmental process to make laws that are clearly prejudiced against one group of people (gay men and women), the use of this argument also masks the other people the Amendment will affect. This video explains how unmarried women (and men) would no longer have the protection of the law against domestic violence if Amendment One were to pass. This video tells the story of someone it has already happened to.

Children of unmarried parents would no longer receive certain health care benefits. Partners would not be able to visit each other in hospital. The parental rights of unmarried parents would be threatened. To term this the "anti-gay amendment" is not only downright disgusting, but it also glosses over the other effects it will have.

I am angry. I am sad. I am disappointed with this country, this state, for Amendment One even being considered here, and for the major part of the argument for it being about actively discriminating against one group of people. And I am aware that being angry and sad and disappointed can lead me, instead of to try to gently educate and show through the kindness that isn't shown to groups who will actually be affected by the Amendment if it passes (turning the other cheek, if you will), into screaming about the unfairness of it all, and thus causing yet more conflict. I don't often get angry, but I find myself increasingly bubbling over with the injustice of the Amendment One situation in NC.


There are so many, many arguments that I can employ against the "for" stance. Here are just a few: 

  1. Marriage comes with state and legal privileges that are awarded by the government. For equal rights to be fulfilled, this should be available to everyone. 
  2. If marriage is legally considered a religious institution, a) everyone would have to be the same religion (so that marriage meant the same thing), and b) no benefits should be awarded for being married, because religion and state should not be mixed.
  3. If the Bible or another religious text is quoted to back up the reason for not awarding these "privileges" to unmarried or homosexual couples (who don't have the right to even have a civil partnership here anyway, so is this some kind of belt and braces measure?), then people need to consider what else in the Bible/religious text is said to be an abomination or against god. I refer you to this clip from The West Wing, or this photo. If you're going to use this argument, be prepared for having to make some serious changes in your life in order to fully adhere to the scripture. Picking and choosing which bits to believe in, while you are free to do so, does not a strong argument make - and it certainly shouldn't be one that is seriously considered when making legal changes that affect other people's lives. I don't want to have the religious argument, as religion is a choice. Being gay isn't. Tell me, when did you decide to be straight?
  4. The hypothetical people argument: my good friend Steven puts this far better than me, and you can read his post here. This Amendment will affect real people, not a faceless group. Not only that, but by stereotyping such a group, you miss out on meeting some incredible people, and having your mind opened. As Steven says, "People are not hypotheticals. When we make statements about a person based on some opinion we may hold (or some “truth” that we pull out of a +1900 year old text), we invalidate their humanity in our own perception and many times in the perception of others."
  5. The idea that not allowing people to vote on gay marriage - if that's all you're using this vote for - is infringing upon religious freedom. No. No, it is not. Whether or not this Amendment passes, you are still free to dislike or disagree with homosexual relationships and justify that through your faith. You are free to not have a gay marriage. You are at your leisure to read your scripture and preach about your views on weddings, on being a good person, on how to live your life. You can not associate with gay people, and tell all your friends that you don't like them. You can do that now; you can do that on May 9th, whatever happens. You have that freedom. It is not your religious freedom to impose your subjective viewpoint (religion is subjective) in a legal way that will restrict the freedoms of others in living their lives in a way that does not affect you or break any law. 
  6. The unrelenting bigotry and hypocrisy I hear from "good" or "Christian" people. This page here is titled 'What same-sex "marriage" has done to Massachusetts'. I think it should be titled 'What same-sex marriage has "done" to Massachusetts' - it's made it easier to live like an equal human being for those in homosexual relationships. It is full of bile and anger and prejudice - not the words of a "good" person, in my book. It reminds me of the excellent post by Single Dad Laughing, "I'm Christian, unless you're gay" - well worth a read if you haven't already.  As a friend of mine said, in response to my lamenting that people of my acquaintance I know to be good planning on voting for Amendment One, "Good men don't perpetuate prejudice". You know what? She's right. No more pussyfooting. 



It comes down to this: if you are voting for the Amendment, you are contributing to the idea that one group has a right to control others. You suggest your views are somehow superior, and you may even refuse to look at any other perspective. You are not exercising your right to uphold values; you are misusing a democratic process to maintain your own values. You are a bigot.




bigot
noun \ˈbi-gət\
: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance


4 comments:

  1. Once again, a well-written and thought-provoking piece, that left me seething just as you are! Amendment One is important. So important, in fact, that as a person who does not and never will live in the US, I have been following the progress of the campaigns and been horrified from the sidelines.

    MassResistance - I would love to make a booklet of all the foul bigotry spewed forth on this site, keep it, and give it over to our children and grandchildren in fifty years. I don't know whether they'd laugh outright, or be shocked and horrified and then laugh. Either way, I know that in fifty years time this kind of thinking will be seen for what it is; backwards, harmful, and hateful.

    I am selfishly glad I don't live in any of those southern US states facing these same issues; I don't think I could handle having this small-minded, anti-progression crap shoved in my face with even a fraction of the dignity and empathy that you seem to have in the face of it all.

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  2. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post, and it is good to hear that the Amendment is being monitored across the globe. I am amazed sometimes that the US presents itself as so forward-thinking and some kind of example to the rest of the western world when basic prejudices like this are allowed to thrive to this extent.

    MassResistance is a disgusting site, and I hope you are right that the next generation (and the next and the next) would be horrified and full of derision for such hateful, idiotic and discriminatory thinking.

    I am less affected by it than so many people, so I count myself amongst the lucky ones. The only reason I am affected, I guess, is that I find myself caring so much about the outcome and because it affects people (some of whom I know personally) who have been robbed of their choice by what purports to be a democratic society because of a bigoted belief - a BELIEF!

    If the Amendment passes, I will have been made part of an elitist group of heterosexual married people with more rights than any other couples in the state - I do not want this. How anyone can is beyond me. But part of the reason I tried to stay mainly calm is for the point I made towards the end: getting full-on angry alienates people. Empathic, thorough education is probably the only way to effect real long-term change. However angry it really does make me that changes like this need to be made in 2012.

    Thank you for the kind comment. :)

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  3. The US conservative christians are an alien breed to us, we don't really have anything like that in the UK, certainly not in those numbers, or with the same amount of influence. I agree with you about the different attitudes to religion. Many Americans perceive church-goers as being more upstanding characters, and atheists as being extremists. Down here in the South, many people just automatically assume that you are a Christian, which wouldn't happen in the UK. The US generally prides itself (rightly) on its tolerence, but some of the attitudes to gay people are shocking to an outsider.

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  4. That's certainly true. The best description I've heard of politics in America (well, summary description anyway) is, "The left have gone to the right, and the right have gone to the asylum".

    The assumption is a strange one, for sure. A friend announced that she was probably the most progressive of the group of us sat around the table, as she classed herself as agnostic. Ben and I had to explicitly point out that we were both atheists, as did another friend who was with us, and two others said they still weren't sure what they believed. It's an odd default for an English person to get used to.

    I think the US can pride itself on its tolerance when it is tolerant. I know that some states have legalised civil unions and gay marriage, which is wonderful, but this is something that I think has to be judged state-by-state. I can't class a country as tolerant when there's outright and political bigotry like this, but it may well be mainly the southern states that have the worst of it. Shocking is definitely the word!

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Thanks for taking the time to write! I try to reply to everyone, and I love to read your comments.