Wednesday, November 5, 2008


After the election, it's time for a political post! Everyone else is doing it...

So firstly, it's not at all surprising, but it's certainly heartening to see Obama elected. I'm not going to spend any time talking about the significance of a black president because you've read that fifteen times over - I just wanted to give him a nod before moving on.

Of course, more was decided than just the presidency. More than a third of the senate was up for election, and democrats expanded their majority in both houses of congress. I myself would have liked to see democrats get a filibuster-proof 60 senators, but I'm willing to concede that it might actually be just as well that they didn't (or seem certain not to at this point). Yes, I actually believe in pluralism and all that jazz, and bringing Republicans into the innovative "sane government" strategy is going to be very important to securing the future of American democracy.

But congress isn't really what I want to talk about, either. I want to talk about Proposition 8, the real downer of the evening. For those who don't know, Proposition 8 is a proposed amendment to the California constitution that would ban gay marriage. Even though San Francisco is one of the most liberal cities in the country, much of inland California is conservative, and many liberals in California are also religious enough to vote yes on proposition 8 even while voting Obama into office (who officially opposes prop 8).

As I suggested above, I am a pluralist, and I fully support the right of people to hold whatever beliefs suit their fancy. However, in this country marriage carries with it legal as well as social benefits, which makes it fairly clear that this is a civil rights issue - a minority of the population is being denied legal rights by virtue of personal characteristics that have no impact on the rights of the majority.

That said, there actually is another reasonable side in the debate - it's possible to be for gay rights without being for gay marriage, and it's a not a separate-but-equal copout. Part of the problem is that marriage is a religious concept for many people. A marriage is a religious ceremony, and typically takes place in a church (or other religious structure). Then isn't it fair to say that denying gays the right to marriage is itself a right - the right to freedom of religion? I say sure, but that carries with it a cost, for if marriage is a religious issue, then it isn't the role of government to be dictating who can and can't marry in the first place.

So the obvious solution (well, obvious to me) is to get rid of marriage as a legal status altogether. All of the rights now associated with marriage would be instead associated with domestic partnerships (or whatever we want to call them), all current marriages between individuals are immediately converted to such partnerships (so married couples aren't affected at all), and marriages are purely understood to be religious affairs, meaning that any church is free to decide who it will or won't marry (and can even offer special marraiges or super marriages if they want - I really don't care). While we're at it, we won't just define a domestic partnership to include same-sex couples, but to include any group of people who are close enough to extend rights concerning themselves to the other members - so if a pair of close friends or siblings lived together, they could function as a family unit like a husband and wife can. After all, why should a sexual relationship between partners be a prerequisite for what amounts (when you remove the religious terminology) to a legal contract about sharing rights and resources?

Of course, at this point I've gone far enough to be considered radical, even though I maintain that this solution should please everyone. Religious individuals get to hold onto their religious freedom, churches GAIN religious freedom by not having their right to perform religious ceremonies restricted by the government, and currently unmarried family units gain equal legal rights. If everyone gets what they want, what's the problem?

The problem is that anyone claiming that "religious freedom" is their reason for wanting to ban gay marriage is lying. They don't want religious freedom. They want theocracy. They're not voting for prop 8 to defend themselves from anything - they're voting for prop 8 to make the lives of other citizens worse (as punishment for their devious behavior). This will seem obvious to many, but it's also important to point out (again and again), because words do make a difference. It's easier to argue that you're "pro-life" than to argue that you're for throwing women who have abortions in jail. It's easier to argue that we should teach the flaws in evolution than it is to argue that we should teach religion in science class. It's easier to argue that we should "protect marriage" than to argue that we should "punish heretics."

We need to take hold of the language if we want to take hold of the culture. Here's a short list of terms we should adopt:

Liberal > Progressive
Conservative > Regressive
Global Warming > Global Climate Change
Intelligent Design > Creationism
Pro-life > Anti-choice
Same-sex Marriage > The Rights of Families

-Silent Ellipsis

P.S. To everyone who reads this for my posts on video games, consider posts like this "bonus posts," or if you prefer, "sidequests."


Sam said...

So, from a descriptive perspective, I don't think it's the case that marriage is primarily a religious institution - marriage is important to lots of people who aren't religious, or who are only nominally religious. Consider the archetypal chick-flick wedding ideal - does that have any religious content at all? No, it's all about sappy fantasy love and validation of personal worth. I think that's the case for most people except for clergyfolk and defense-of-marriage bigots.

Your proposal is faced with two possibilities: either it has some meaningful discriminatory effect - i.e. "marriage" can only be conferred by religious groups, in which case I oppose it - why should we cede things of sentimental value to bigots? - or, it has no discriminatory value. In this case, anyone can get partnered, and anyone can get married, and they can probably do so at the same time. My suspicion is that this won't fool anyone, and will just refocus xtian hate on domestic partnerships.

I don't quite get what's going on with your list of terms; these are all over the map...

"Liberal > Progressive"

This is one that many leftists have been pushing for some time, since the right seems to have made "liberal" a dirty word. But I think liberal is making a comeback now that the republicans are imploding along with the economy...

"Conservative > Regressive"

"reactionary" is the traditional opposite to progressive, but honestly I don't think that's an accurate description of most republican positions, which are pretty radical. I prefer "right-wing"

"Global Warming > Global Climate Change"

The only people who use "climate change" over "warming" are denialists. It's one of their buzzwords. I'd stay away from their frame if I were you.

"Intelligent Design > Creationism"

Intelligent Design and Creationism are two different sets of beliefs, although I must admit I'm fond of referring to ID as Intelligent Design Creationism (all one phrase), to emphasize the connection.

Pro-life > Anti-choice

Fair enough. I'm also fond of "Pro-birth," but that's a little sarcastic for everyday use.

"Same-sex Marriage > The Rights of Families"

I'm in favor of taking over the rhetoric of family values.

William said...

Full points! Sam, what he's trying to say (I think) is that marriage isn't primarily a religious institution, which means that blocking same-sex marriage on religious grounds is a violation of civil rights. It isn't primarily religious both for the reasons you point out, and the reasons in the post. Basically, it's either a civil issue or a societal (religious) one, and either way the religious objections aren't internally consistent.

As far as the terms, let's see.... I'm 100% in favor of the revival of the term "progressive"; most people in the US, even now, don't think of themselves as liberal, and I'm pretty certain there are many more self-declared Democrats than self-declared liberals. "Progressive" is a word people can get behind, now that "liberal" has lost its currency.

As hilarious as "regressive" is, it's unlikely to be adopted by conservatives. Then again, if we do manage to start calling ourselves progressives, we can use "regressive" in the same way that they've used "liberal" - technically accurate, and clearly derogatory.

"Global warming" as a catchphrase has taken on a whole spectrum of connotations, many of which are blatant alarmism. I assume you picked "climate change" due to the ICCC, in which case it's not a bad choice - it goes from a newsworthy political issue to a real scientific phenomenon being studied worldwide.

I won't even start on ID. It doesn't need a rebranding so much as it needs to settle back into the dark corners of the right-wing American subconscious, along with Sarah Palin.

Finally, I have to agree with Sam's comments about the rights of families. Just because they're the Moral Minority doesn't mean we have to be the Immoral Majority. The Democratic Party is much more about pragmatism than ideals these days, but there are compelling moral (not just legal) arguments behind things like same-sex marriage and abortion. We've spent too long on the defensive about anything and everything "moral", and even worse, we've let morality become synonymous with religion. On which subject, it's long past time for another rebranding, one that's been pushed for decades but still hasn't touched the popular consciousness: "atheism" to "humanism".

Ellipsis said...

Note that the archetypal chick-flick wedding ideal takes place in a church, and the couple is married by a priest even if the participants don't think of it as primarily a religious ritual. I think the "nominally" religious part is important, and a source of a lot of this conflict. The point is, as William suggested, that there is a conflict - marriage is a legal status that carries rights with it, but it's ALSO a religious ceremony, and by putting the two together we're creating a conflict whereby the religious feel that they have the right to exert a certain amount of control over what should be a secular, legal process.

As to the terminology, I'll respond one at a time:

Progressive: Not only will more people go along with this term, but it let's us use "in the name of progress!" as a slogan.

Regressive: This was mainly a joke, though I think I'll get into the habit of actually using it to describe conservatives in the future.

Global Climate Change: As William suggested, there's a good reason for this - it's more accurate. If you say "global warming" then it gives people the impression that the worry is about it getting too hot, when the real worry is that the climate is being thrown out of balance by the "slight" warming.

Creationism: I know there's a theoretical difference between intelligent design and creationism, but in reality, the intelligent design movement is entirely the work of creationists whose ultimately goal really is teaching religion in the classroom. I don't know anyone who is a serious "Aliens Invented Humanity" theorist, but let me know if you find one because I would love to talk to them.

And we seem to be in agreement on the last two, so yay!

Ryan said...

While I believe that the points you made are important, I'm not very fond of the terms that you used. Earlier in your post you say that labels don't really matter... marriage is just a domestic partnership. Yet you later insist on putting labels on things later in the post. I can understand that if you go by a referenced theory of meaning, but I don't think it's as good if you're just going to put more partisan labels on things.

All said though, what's the big deal with gay people getting married? Are that many people afraid that their marriages will be destroyed since their spouses will run away with other men or women?

Ellipsis said...

Actually, my point was that labels DO matter, and when there's a clash of ideology, the side that doesn't see that is at a disadvantage. The fact that we're referring to partnerships as marriage is providing religious conservatives ammunition to use in debate. My point is that labels can be misleading, and this has a big impact on perceptions.

Like I said "regressive" was a joke, but otherwise, I think my proposed terms are more accurate. Sure, my post is "partisan" in that it contains a one-sided opinion, but I'm not trying to hide my biases, so I don't see any harm in it.