Flavin’s Corner   February 2004

Gray Matters

It seems as if we’re being increasingly asked to casually express opinions on weighty issues.  I’m not convinced of the importance of making a guess as to what type of wine Jesus would drink.  We forget that absolutes are few and there’s much between right and wrong.  The achromatic black and white are separated by many gray hues, each with their own distinct character.  While a view of the world around us is understood to be a perceptual artifact entirely dependant upon the eye of the beholder, the world still exists even for the blind.  Such is the case with individuals who seek to enter into a legal same-sex partnership (also referred to as a civil union or gay marriage), as lawmakers may disagree with lifestyle choices on a personal level, but to deny protection based on those choices is meting out punishment without a crime.  I’ve chosen not to watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy because I prefer other television programs instead, though I’m well aware it’s quite popular and likely fun, informative and much discussed by the watercooler crowd.  It’s time we put aside fashion and remember why we get dressed in the first place.  The issue of same-sex partnerships should be a no-brainer for lawmakers, yet they consider it a gay matter instead of using their gray matters and understanding that just being different is not justification for punishment.

In a free society people form partnerships or get married because they want to and not because they have to.  The concept of ‘marriage’ (OFr. mariage, from LL. maritaticum < L. maritus, a husband) certainly extends back to prehistoric times and most anthropologists would suggest such intimate and devotional partnerships were present in the earliest humans and probably to some degree in our proto-human ancestors.  While life-long partnerships are not uncommon in certain animal species and usually originate from biochemical urges to reproduce (procreate or engage in sexual activity), not all partnerships contribute offspring, as is the case with human marriages.  Though some seek more than one partner or dissolve the partnership (divorce) because of a lack of offspring, often the relationship is revealed to be about more than reproduction and partnerships continue because of choice and not because of certain biochemical urges.  What makes us human is not simply our ability to distinguish between love and sex, but that we have the means to tell others about our distinctions.  Sadly, not all humans (i.e., Republicans and religious fundamentalists) care to use that ability in a positive way.

The human sexual menu is extensive and daily specials are sometimes remarkably delicious.  There’s something for everyone, although no single restaurant could possibly manage congenial seating arrangements.  Same-sex relationships were seldom distinguished as such in ancient Greece and Rome, as gender was far less important in a descriptive sense than the sexual act being committed, or the class and economic  association between participants or whether an individual was active or passive in the relationship.  Our modern terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘homosexuality’ are most often used to stigmatize behavioral or lifestyle choices in which any sexual activity with the opposite sex is avoided.  Such practices were not unheard of in classical times, but the explicit perversions mentioned in extant sources usually forgo criticism of gender preference and seek to vilify specific behavior or acts (e.g., Gr. kinaidos, an adolescent male who dared to express enjoyment when sexually used by an adult male, and Gr. tribades [< tribastribein, to rub], women who rubbed their genitals against one another or used an artificial phallus [occasionally applied to men]).  Same-sex relationships surely existed in the distant past, but are thought to have been rare because of social convention and the threat of death, much like the recent prohibition against blacks being able to marry whites in America.  As we extend the right of free speech to those who espouse views we personally oppose, we must also protect the rights of those who engage in different sexual practices than we do. 

Note:  Even Paul’s “worthy of death” rant against the sexual practices of Roman women and men (Romans 1:26-32) is sufficiently vague to be argued as aimed at specific actions and not gender preference, perhaps echoing the legend of the destruction of Sodom.  The exaggerated horror at anal sex, fellatio and masturbation arises from a policy of increasing the number of adherents and any sexual act which doesn’t involve procreation is judged as immoral.  Medieval and modern Jewish and Muslim authorities, though still against homosexuality, have allowed anal and oral sex between a married husband and wife as long as they don’t do it all the time and enjoy it too much.  Christianity, as a religious philosophy and lacking tribal origins, is much more desperate to continually increase its numbers to the point of openly preaching harm against those who don’t wish to harm anyone.  For shame!]

As society began to move away from the restrictions and punishments imposed by various religions and religionists, the concept of a civil marriage emerged which established a legal contract between partners regardless of any religious sanctioning or blessing.  Further removing constraints was the acceptance of common law marriages whereby partners are considered as married if they behave as if they’re married for an extended period of time.  These are relatively recent developments and an indication society is still exploring itself and examining what it means to be free to worship, as well as free from religious restrictions and punishments.  Simply put, certain actions by individuals to become a part of society and contribute are increasingly recognized and approved of by civil authorities.  Same-sex marriages may thus be regarded as socially sound and those who would deny such civil unions should be properly described as being anti-social.  We get dressed for protection and what we wear should be an individual’s choice. 

Walking in another’s sandals, shoes or heels is difficult, if not impossible.  Americans today are beginning to express outrage over the overreaching allowances of the so-called Patriot Act, as well as becoming more and more concerned at attempts to limit the reproductive rights of women, reintroduce the pseudoscience of creationism in public schools, as well as other issues which cater to the perceived morals of some Americans which inhibit or punish others for victimless acts.  Yet, the freedoms we do enjoy are an unabashed triumph of human rights and equality for all.  We’re far from perfect, probably never will be, yet moving forward is a grand adventure and the worthiest of endeavors.  The revolution continues with nonviolent and socially progressive steps and is not furthered by domestic terrorism or anti-social attempts to catagorize some Americans as less American (not entitled to full protection) than others.  Vote your conscience, not your tax return.

Most Americans believe that marriage is a union between two people who love one another and ignore the terrible history of arranged marriages which continue to this day.  If I could define ‘love’ with a simple phrase, I’d start my own greeting-card company, make a fortune, retire and spend my days composing haiku canned soup recipes.  My best guess at describing love would be to compare an individual’s heart with a combination safe -- the numbers to the left and right are unknown to those seeking entrance and it’s only with that nearly imperceptible ‘click’ that one knows that the attempted combination is correct.  Love is for lovers, used by artists and often regulated by authorities.  We need to separate history from the present and redefine love without the restrictions of past societies and antiquated institutions (i.e., Republicans and religious fundamentalists).

Lord Acton’s brutally truthful assessment that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men” needs application to past and current governments and religions.  That certain same-sex practices were commonplace and deigned conventional in ancient Greece and Rome because of class ranking demonstrates abuses of power and has little or nothing to do with sexuality.  Our modern understanding of rape as an act of violence and not passion is similar.  Comparisons to the ongoing sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church (predominantly homosexual acts by adult priests with underage males) are likewise exercises in power, as is the ongoing reluctance of the Church to substantially do anything about it.  They don’t have to, at least not yet.  It’s about power; a power many honest and moral Americans don’t understand that they have with their right to vote.

Often the basis for power, economics is the method whereby the rich get richer and the poor sell themselves, their children or commit any depravity to stay alive.  Russia and Malaysia receive much deserved attention for their crime syndicates which profit from underage prostitution and pornography.  Homosexual pedophiliacs seem to have developed sophisticated networks which rival the complexity of Al Qaeda and even offer tour-packages at exotic locales around the world.  Most Americans rely on Hollywood to occasionally film some tearjerker about a whore and her pimp and how drug addiction allowed sexual exploitation, but such efforts don’t begin to properly show true sexual slavery and the misery and violence which accompany the ongoing trade.  Real monsters exist who prey on innocents, both heterosexual and homosexual, and it’s an injustice to associate those with victimless sexual practices (nudists, swingers or those into group sex, and partners wishing to contract into a same-sex marriage) and the sick criminals who profit from evil.  I shouldn’t fault average Americans too much, as Oprah or Rush haven’t devoted any shows yet on modern sexual slavery and the economies which encourages it.  I hope this changes soon.

Religious law, dressed in Divine drag with a faux righteous outfitting, is an oppressive tool used to control and kill.  Examples needn’t be culled from history books, as Israel continues to practice “an eye for an eye” doctrine with regard to Palestinian Arabs, Catholics the world over lobby for laws which would require a pregnant woman to die rather than have an abortion, and Saudi Arabia is adamant for its right to cut off hands, feet and heads based on its interpretation of their scripture.  A god who demands blood better come get it personally.  Religions who threaten death and denial of liberties should be advised that the modern world has no place for you.  Any religion which discourages rather than encourages, no matter how many politicians proffer lip-to-butt service, is an affront to freedom and dignity.

Historians credit the English civil law charter of 1215, the Magna Carta, with being the first secular attempt to define the rights of citizens, what actions the government may take against them when laws are broken and, most significantly, that neither citizen or noble is above the law.  It was not an entirely fair document, but civility must begin at some point and it was a good start.  The Mayflower Compact, the English Bill of Rights and our own Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights continue to realize a true and even balance and expression of entitled liberties and duties due the state (nation or country).  It’s not a perfect world, as shown not that long ago with the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution which prohibited the sale and consumption of liquor from 1919 to its repeal in 1933.  Some call democracy an experiment, while I regard it as a system which constantly seeks to improve upon itself.

The Founders (specifically Thomas Jefferson) invoked the “laws of nature” and alluded to “nature’s God,” concepts discussed by John Locke (1632-1704) and William Blackstone (1723-1780).  As nature is more or less immutable, we use reason to better understand its laws, as humans we sometimes err in our reasoning, and laws must be defended as they stand and changed when they should be.  I’ve said before that it’s almost unconstitutional to be constitutional, as our Constitution is not stagnant and fixed, but alive and growing.  And, sadly, as with the current attempts to enact an amendment defining marriage as only permissible between a man and a woman, some growths, if they come to be, will need removal.

Of course, the central issue here is basic human rights.  It’s about doing the right thing and treating people fairly.  America has joined with the UN many times in protesting the mistreatment of homosexuals in other countries, yet we are currently denying law-abiding citizens the full protection and benefits of our laws.  This is wrong and on February 4, 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced that any civil contract which would grant rights and entitlements less than those awarded by marriage would impart an “unconstitutional, inferior, and discriminatory status for same-sex couples.”  There will probably be years of difficulty ahead, but a sure and steady first step has been taken.

Once upon a time in America women couldn’t vote, blacks were mistreated as less than second-class citizens, widows and families saw years of hard work and savings stolen by unfair estate taxes, and same-sex couples who wished to join society weren’t allowed to.  Pres. George Herbert Walker Bush was childishly inflexible about not eating broccoli and his son seems very much against same-sex marriages.  Neither one is considered well endowed when it comes to gray matters.  Fortunately, there are limits to what a president can and can’t do.  It’s a good time to be an American.

thinking about take-out,

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