Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Complete Failure To Empathize

Recently I was depressed over a feeling of helplessness about recent movements by the religious right regarding same-sex marriage and the very real harm it's been starting to cause queer citizens. For a while the common cry from the religious right has been "protecting the sanctity of marriage," but more and more states have used their shiny new constitutional same-sex marriage bans to successfully destroy benefits and rights that had been available to same-sex domestic partnerships for years now.

I've heard a lot of people say, "I've got no problem with gay people, just don't call it marriage," but clearly they're not just protecting their "sacred" word "marriage" anymore, instead they're systematically trying to deny basic protections and benefits to queer people because they lack, or have completely ignored, any amount of empathy that would connect them to the human level of this issue.

Honestly, when you ask yourself, what in the world does, say, inheritance rights for your partner have to do with the "sanctity" of marriage? I think a lot of people by now know about the story of Laurel Hester, a policewoman in New Jersey who, before loosing her battle with cancer, had to fight to get her pension left to her partner after her request was denied by all 5 members of an all Christian board who claimed that in denying her this simple act of compassion they were, in fact, "protecting the sanctity of marriage."

While I've always disagreed with the rhetorical and never well-defined "sanctity of marriage" argument to begin with, trying to use it to refuse benefits often given to married couples is...beyond me. These types of protections and benefits that exist with marriage aren't granted to couples just because they're married; lawmakers didn't just sit down one day and watch things like hospital visitation rights spring fourth from a magic silver box labeled "The Sanctity of marriage and all things pertaining thereto." These things exist because lawmakers sat down one day and thought,

"you know, people who share a bond like this probably care a great deal for one another. It might be, you know, nice of us, and hey, maybe even beneficial to society as a whole if we, as a government, help people in relationships by extending to them certain rights and tools that help them foster and protect the dignity of their union."

I say "beneficial to society" because I think that the religious right is partially correct when they say that the The Family® is the "cornerstone of society." I say partially right because I take huge issue with the religious rights assumed ownership of The Family®. One mother, one father, biological children, and lets hope that they go to church at least once a week. I believe that family is good for society, but by that I mean true family and all of the beautiful diversity and kinship which is entailed. Society is strengthened by community and by bonds, and family creates those bonds, and that includes The Family®, and it includes single mother and fathers, and same-sex couples, and the Mormon eternal family, and adopted children, and my brothers best friend who spends Christmas morning with us, and communes, and friends who are so close that they consider themselves family, etc, etc. Family and unions are bonds that are good for society as a whole, and when you foster a healthy family or a healthy union by providing tools and protections for their benefit, you foster a healthy society of rich interaction and community.

Of course, this is obviously the problem. What I may one day call my family or my marriage or union is not The Family®, nor is it The Marriage®, and so in the minds of many, my family or union is already detrimental to society from the get go, corroding it from its foundation on up. Thus, my family or my union is not deserving of basic acts of compassion, in fact, better I didn't exist at all. Seeing things from this viewpoint, you can see why the religious right feels justified in their complete failure to treat us as equals. There's nothing wrong with denying same-sex couples basic protections usually associated with marriage when you've failed to identify with them on the most basic levels: as fellow human beings in love, who value their bond, just like you.

Now isn't that just one of history's favorite themes: dehumanizing your target to feel better about the injustice taking place.

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