It is, of course, much to my dismay that California voted in favour of Proposition Eight. It's only since the election, however, that I've become aware of some of the materials posted by the "Yes" campaign -- and I think they are instructive in understanding the real basis for objections to legislating same-sex marriage.
I have often said that I simply don't understand the argument about same-sex marriage as a threat to 'traditional' marriage. On some level, I assumed that this whole debate was about something metaphysical, some fear that if you let the gays into the Magic House of Procreative Marriage, they'll spread Sin Spores and everyone will get dirty. That kind of anxiety never made sense to me, and it left me feeling simply confused about the whole debate.
Then I watched this clip. It's predictably manipulative, in a lot of ways. The description of Jan and Tom and their family is an almost-amusing construct of the 'normal' family: they own a minivan, they have a dog, Jan cooks while Tom mows the lawn, and they sure do love their gay neighbours. (Though, G-d forbid, not too much!) The general tone of the ad is calm, and the language clearly tries to be neutral, creating the impression that these arguments against gay marriage are reasonable, and not based on blind hatred. Of course, they talk about homosexuality as a 'lifestyle choice', suggest that 'strong families' need a heterosexual nucleus, and talk about tolerance of homosexuality (as if it's something to tolerate?). If you're in the habit of reading this kind of language, you'll catch the nastiness under these euphemisms -- but perhaps not otherwise.
What I find instructive about this ad is not so much its strategies of manipulation, however, but the concrete objections that it voices in relation to gay marriage. First, they express concern about 'teaching gay marriage' in public schools; second, they suggest that legalizing same-sex marriage is likely to result in government interference in churches, who they suggest might be forced to perform same-sex marriages. I have to read these objections as showing, in part, a desire to maintain institutionalized discrimination.
Rather than simply labelling these objections as discriminatory, though, I want to understand them. The issue of government interference in the church is a clear extension of the conservative tendency to limit (or pretend to limit) the scope of government in general. This objection creates a bit of a feedback loop, of course. It declares a desire to maintain the separation of church and state -- but it wants to maintain that division by passing legislation that is in keeping with conservative Christian values. I can acknowledge that an individual congregation should have the right to determine its own collective values, and I quite agree that the state should have limited control over religious practices in general. But can't this objection be addressed by simply affirming the separation of church and state? If there is a provision that allows same-sex couples to be married in town hall, or in progressive churches, but still allows individual congregations to refuse to perform ceremonies -- well, that objection loses all validity, and we're back to the Sin Spores argument. (As I understand it, Canadian legislation still leaves this choice up to individual churches, and our society hasn't crumbled.)
It's the argument about 'teaching homosexuality' in schools that I find to be most revealing. Instinctively, I find this argument to be absurd. As I see it, there is literally no possibility that reading King and King is going to change the sexual orientation of a single second-grader. What it might do is make a child with same-sex parents feel a bit less excluded -- or, better yet, mean that when one of these kids hits high school and comes out (comes out anyway, to be clear), he or she will be a little less afraid, and a little less abused and persecuted by his or her peers. To me, that sounds like a good result.
Thinking about this issue a bit further, I asked -- why would a person be so concerned about what their children see and hear? Why not trust that your child will develop the skills to sort out right from wrong on their own terms, and with your guidance?
My best guess is this: if you accept the authority of religious doctrine without question, then perhaps you believe that's the only position a person can take in relation to authority, or in relation to information itself. Your concern then becomes teaching your children not to question authority, not to struggle to reconcile their beliefs and values and opinions with what they encounter in the world, but instead with controlling the authority to which your children are exposed.
I feel like this interpretation has given my some new insight -- though I'm not sure quite where it leads me. It does, at least, remind me how happy I am to have been raised as I was, to understand doubt and questioning as part of real faith.
(Christian to Christians: if the Spirit is alive, shouldn't we let Him move? And if God is love, isn't He there when two people declare it?)