Monday, December 7, 2009

The Fight for Equality in New Jersey

Equal rights... The term is simple and straightforward in its architecture and uses a mathematical sign that is universally regarded as meaning "the same value as". It seems like a very cut and dry concept with a very American spin attached, yet there seems to be a great deal of confusion amongst those opposed to granting equal rights regarding same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

I have been listening to the arguments for a few hours now and it has been consistently made clear to me that the opposition to equal rights for same-sex marriages believes that their religious rights are more important than the religious and civil rights of same-sex couples in committed relationships. The vast majority of the arguments have to do with making the institution of marriage a holy union that transcends love and intent and commitment...

The many uses of "we" and "they" by the opposition have elevated the separationist philosophy of Us against Them to the top of the list for arguments. They have used the word "we" to describe an imagined or perceived majority of individuals who are perhaps more righteous or more deserving of equal rights than the people looking for equality in a state that denies them the same rights as the people they work with, pray with and sit next to on the bus or train.

Those looking to gain equal rights have a very simple stance that is difficult to argue logically. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle and it is not a personal decision. Loving someone of the same gender is no different than loving someone of the opposite sex in that the primary basis for the relationship is love. Just love. So, it stands to reason that we should all have the right to marry the ones we love, right?

Apparently not.

The opposition says that it is a matter of religion and that homosexual marriages downgrade "traditional" marriages and can lead to the deterioration of the morals and values holding society together. But then several Episcopal, Universalist and UCC clergy speak up and explain that if it is indeed a matter of religion, then let all religions have their rights met, not just fundamentalist groups against gay rights.

Then it is no longer about religion, the opposition says. It is about the institution of marriage that TRANSCENDS religion. It seems that the fundamental union between a man and a woman precedes and predates marriage and as such should be the model for what is now applied to the law. So is it a matter of religious belief and degree of righteousness based on self-applied guidelines or levels of right-ness? Or is it a matter of following laws of nature that predate marriage as applied to a union for the sake of procreation? Those defending denying the right to marry to same-sex couples repeatedly changed their defensive tactics to adjust to the same arguments.

We forward thinking progressive humans would like to see equal rights for all couples in a committed relationship. Those opposed would like to see the right to marry reserved only for themselves or for those that meet their criteria, even when their criteria is based on a shifting platform that sometimes defies logic.

The separation of church and state seems to be trivial element here as religion was cited several times on both sides. My only comments regarding the religion card are that Old Testament interpretations should make ALL of the elements deemed evil by Leviticus off limits to those who are using Leviticus to argue against gay rights, and all New Testament interpretations should look to Jesus who embodied love for ALL God's children. In a nutshell, either put up, or shut up.

So, is it God's will? If so, does the opposition judge with the mouth of God? Does that make the lawyer who attends services at Grace and Peace or Family First more holy than an Episcopalian Bishop? Does that make the individual who tells the Senate that a same sex parenting unit is "barbarous" more righteous than a UCC minister in that HE speaks for God in denouncing gay marriage? Apparently it is not as simple as I thought...

It is more about whether or not you believe homosexuality to be a condition, behavior, lifestyle or genetic predisposition. If you think it is a decision that can be changed through will and effort, you probably won't support gay marriage. If, on the other hand, you believe that we love who we love because it is cosmically ordained that there are people (not limited by gender) we feel affection and respect for, then you will likely support it.

Me? I believe we should be allowed to marry if we have the capacity to understand and appreciate what it means to love. Deny equal rights to any single group and we weaken our society exponentially. Show respect and love in the face of adversity and we set an example for future generations to follow in our footsteps down a path I would be proud to pave.