Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gay Marriage in Maryland

I originally published this blog posting a year ago regarding the gay marriage debate in Maryland. In contemplating another blog posting on the subject, I went back and reread my earlier effort, only to decide that – except for some minor updating – I had nothing additional to say.

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As a blogger, I tend to avoid postings on public policy matters. Generally I respect the views of others – even those with opinions contrary to mine – if the view in question is rendered through reasoned deliberation or deeply held convictions. I feel no compulsion to change peoples’ minds. Nor do I think people want to read my droning on about philosophical matters.

However, I decided to break with my pattern and comment on the major issue driving debate in Maryland these days: Gay marriage.

A recent Washington Post poll found a 50 percent to 44 percent split in favor of gay marriage among Marylanders. But it identified a deep racial division on the issue. Among whites, 71 percent support same-sex marriage; 24 percent oppose it. Among blacks, 41 percent are supportive, while 53 percent are opposed.

My own thinking on the subject is rather complex – the result of contemplation and conversations with different people across the political spectrum.

The best way I can summarize my views is that, while I am not sure I personally believe a same sex marriage equates to a traditional one, I decided that this really doesn’t matter. Accordingly, I hope the Maryland General Assembly passes marriage equality legislation this session. And, if it does and it lands on the 2012 ballot, as I suspect it will, I am inclined to support it.   

Two separate forces drive my thinking.

First, being a libertarian, I am lacking the gene or chromosome which drives some people into worrying about how other law-abiding adults lead their personal lives. Maybe that comes from my generally secular outlook on things. In any event, I believe that the compulsion to police other consenting adults’ private business is a destructive, distractive force in society.

So, the bottom line is, if two gay people want to enter in a committed, legally-sanctioned relationship and consider themselves married, then I have no desire or inclination to interfere with them.  

Part of me supports their right to exercise personal freedom in their lives. The other part of me just doesn’t care what other people do.

If two people I personally knew found happiness through a same sex relationship and managed to build a life together, I would certainly feel happy for them. That’s a basic and a natural reaction when one’s friends are involved. And, I think they should have the legal benefits that committed heterosexual couples have.  I also do not think that the 2000-year-old institution of heterosexual marriage will be undermined, threatened, or delegitimized if gay marriage becomes legal.

To the extent I have qualms about gay marriage, it comes down to semantics.

Throw the word “marriage” at me, and I think of it in traditional terms - and likely always will. Throw the phrase “gay marriage” at me, and I think of something which is not an equivalent or extension of traditional marriage, but its own animal entirely. 

Not a bad thing…just a different thing.

Two of my friends from Ehrlich world – Shaina Vatz and Mariana Marques – are heterosexual, highly educated women in their twenties and early thirties. I have had deep philosophical conversations separately with them on this issue. Both are aggressive supporters of gay marriage. During our conversations about the issue, both seemed to regard my expressed doubts and qualms as being quaint.

Ultimately, I suppose I agree with their intellectual arguments, which centered on civil rights. But the difference is, while they started from the point of passionate advocacy, it has taken me a while to reach a point of intellectual acceptance.

Maybe the reason for this is generational bias. I was born in the mid-1960s, and my parents – both pre-baby boomers – would never have accepted the concept of legally-sanctioned gay couples.  Maybe generation Xers like me are the attitudinal bridge between the traditional past and the future when it comes to this issue.

Even if I am not sure same sex marriage equates to a traditional marriage, this does not impact my ability to support it. That’s because I recognize the fact that the most important definition of marriage stems not from what the law or the Bible says – but that imposed by the people in the marriage itself.

For this, I have to look no farther than my own parents.

My parents were divorced Catholics when they married in 1965. They had to get married at the Towson Courthouse because the church that dominated much of their earlier lives would not sanction their union. I always thought it ironic that the church which rejected them would still unquestioningly accept the two children which resulted from this renegade union, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway, they were married for 31 years. Society recognized their marriage. Their children recognized their marriage. Their friends recognized their marriage. And, most importantly, they recognized their marriage.

If gay marriage passes, gay couples will have a much tougher time than my parents did overcoming skepticism and doubts as to whether or not their marriage is really a marriage. But, in the final analysis, I would not want to deny them the opportunity to try.

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