Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Who gets to decide?

There's an interesting editorial in today's Arizona Daily Star about bigotry against GLBT people. The writer made some interesting points about her own (straight) orientation not having been a choice but something she's always known. She also made a point about defining marriage as between one man and one woman that I haven't seen discussed in a lot of places: the difficulties of defining gender.

Now there's a movement to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. If we can't trust people to identify correctly whom they should love, we certainly can't trust them to identify correctly their own genders.

So just exactly how will we define male and female? What criteria will we use? Chromosomes? Our Xs and Ys don't always pair up like biology textbook diagrams.

External features? Some babies have characteristics of both genders, and no one, at least so far, has accused these infants of choosing to be born outside the norms.

Interesting point. I'll admit that until I joined Arizona Together, I hadn't given a lot of thought to the "T" part of "GLBT" or the issues surrounding intersexed people. Since then, I've heard that one of every five hundred people is born intersexed, meaning they have ambiguous genetalia or some of both. This number can be higher or lower depending on how you break down the various types of intersexed conditions. But for the sake of argument, let's go with the one in five hundred number. When expressed in percentages (.2%) it seems very small, but when I think of a city like Tucson with around 500,000 people, that's one thousand intersexed people here. A surprisingly large amount. I remember when my triplets were infants and a woman asked me "How many are boys," and I answered "one" and she then asked "And are the other two girls?" She was embarrassed as soon as it popped out of her mouth an we both had a good laugh over the seemingly stupid question, but now it doesn't seem so stupid anymore.

So what about the "T"? If we're going to define marriage (or anything) by gender, what do we do with the people who don't fall into easy gender classifications? Who do they get to marry and who gets to decide?

There are other things about this editorial that interest me. I don't know that I buy the idea that because the writer didn't choose to be attracted to men, that means sexual orientation is not a choice. I don't believe it is myself, but I also think it's irrelevant to the debate on whether or not GLBT people should have equal rights and whether or not the government should be in the business of deciding which relationships are okay and which aren't. Some things about me I didn't choose: my race, my gender, the culture, class, and nation into which I was born. Some things I did choose, like my faith and where I live and whom I married. I don't want to be discriminated against based on any of these things, chosen or not. Whether or not sexual orientation is biological or a choice, one person shouldn't decide for another what is right for them.

Like me, the writer is a Christian and like me is appalled that bigotry is being advanced in the name of our God and our faith. I do want to say for the record, however, that I don't think believing same-sex relationships are inherently sinful necessarily makes one a bigot. We're all sinners and we can recognize that without looking down on each other. Where I think we do cross the line into bigotry, however, is when we try to make our own idea of sin a legal barrier for others. God said it, I believe it, that settles it. That settles it for you, but does that settle it for everyone? The question is, whose God? And whose interpretation of that God? Why should anyone get to decide for another whether their lifestyle is approved or denounced by God? That is between each of us and our Creator and simply can't be imposed from outside. I can argue with others about what I believe. I can try to change their hearts. But I can't force them to live my concept of a sinless life (impossible to do anyway) through the government and I don't want anyone else forcing their concept of sin onto me. The church can and should decide what is acceptable in God's eyes, but the government cannot and should not. That is the very essence of freedom of religion and the First Amendment. By denying the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples without any compelling civil reason (and for all CAP's claims that studies show that children are better off with parents of separate genders, there really is no such study), we are putting one group's religious beliefs over others, denying those of us who believe differently from fully practicing our faith.

What this whole issue boils down to for me is "who gets to decide?" Who gets to decide whether an intersexed person is male or female or whether they're some of both? Who gets to decide whether someone loves and wants to spend their life with a man or a woman? Shouldn't that be up to the individual and no one else? Certainly not the government.


At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A thoughtful entry on a rather difficult topic. Even within the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, the transgender issue is a continuing point of education. -Tom (Lutherans Concerned/Tucson)

At 5:34 PM, Blogger mosaic sue said...

A repeat of Oprah today brought up some of these same questions. (Stop rolling your eyes, Bad Methodist. I can spend my last days of summer break watching Oprah with a bag of potato chips if I want to!)

A man, 2 kids and a dozen years into his marriage, discovers that he is, in fact, transgendered and undergoes the years of therapy and surgery to become a woman. His wife sticks by and now, obviously, there are two women in the marriage. The wife is not a lesbian, so the marriage is celibate, but does that even matter? Are we going to have the government checking for penises? Spying on what people do in bed?

You make excellent points and bring up thoughtful questions, BM. I always enjoy reading your posts.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

Who am I to criticize watching Oprah when I've been watching mostly cartoons? With my kids, ya know. Being a devoted mom and all. ;)

I think the gender issues are amazingly complex and even when they aren't, I just don't think the government should be in the business of deciding which partners are acceptable for each other and which are not, not without a pretty darn compelling secular reason, otherwise what we're going to have is some kind of "Whose God is Bigger" contest. Maybe we need Elijah to call down some fire and settle the matter once and for all? Barring that, I don't see how we can decide as a state or a nation whose God or whose interpretation of God is right, which is why the government should stay out of spiritual issues in the first place.

Thanks for your comments, Sue. Not sure I wanna be known as "BM" though. Ew! ;)

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Conrad said...

In the big picture of History, the Church entered into marriage fairly late. For many years, people were considered married if they lived together. Marriage was mostly a contract for those with money.

Any pair of people that love each other deserve to have the rights and should also be required to have the responsibilities of marriage.

Civil Marriage is a state issue, religious marriage is a church issue. The state should grant equal marriage rights. There are churches that already perform same sex marriages, and some of these are large historically established churches. I do not see how the state can NOT recognize these marriages.


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