Friday, October 27, 2006

Debate on Prop 107

I went to a debate on Prop 107 (the proposed marriage amendment to the Arizona state constitution) last night (Thursday Oct. 26) at the University of Arizona College of Law. I didn't take notes or anything, so this is just from memory. Forgive me for not crediting the five student organizations that hosted as well.

The format was two speakers from each side. Each speaker was given nine and a half minutes to speak, and then after all four had spoken, each side was given two minutes to respond. Afterwards they took questions from the audience written on index cards and handed into the moderator. I was originally considered for one of the anti-107 speakers, but they had asked too many people so I backed out, and I'm very glad I did. Debates, even one as non-confrontational as this one, are not my forte. I can get pretty knee-jerk and defensive (if Unintentional Blogger is reading this, he's smiling and nodding his head right now) and need time to process stuff to come out with an intelligent response, so I would've been a poor choice. The two people who did speak against 107--Cindy Jordan from the "No on 107" campaign and Wayne Yehling from the law firm of DeConcini, McDonald, Yetwin & Lacy--did a fantastic job.

From what I could gather of the audience, most everyone had already made up their minds and were there to support their side and ask questions of the opposing side, so while it was an interesting debate, it may have been an exercise in futility. I'd estimate the makeup of the audience to be maybe 75% opposed to the amendment and 25% in favor of it, which is pretty representative for Pima County. I was a little disappointed in the audience while the first speaker, Monty Stewart from the Marriage Law Foundation, was talking. There were some shocked gasps and some catcalling over some things he said about children being raised by anyone other than married biological parents. To be honest, he did say some really offensive things that had me angry on behalf of my friends who are adoptive parents as much as for my gay friends, but still, I would have preferred a more respectful silence from the audience. It settled down after that, however, and everyone got a chance to speak uninterrupted.

I found Mr. Stewart's speech (when it wasn't offensive and patently false) confusing and rather circular. He talked a lot about "genderless marriage" as opposed to "one man one woman." I think that term is a bit of a misnomer and implies that gender is not important to people who advocate for same-sex marriage. His argument was that if we accept same-sex marriage, it makes all marriages genderless. This was the basis for all his other arguments, so if you reject the basis, which I do, then there's really nowhere else to go with what Mr. Stewart said. Personally, my gender is important to me. I love being a woman and I love that my husband is a man. It is an important part of our marriage. I think it's safe to say for most of the gay couples I know, gender is an important part of their relationship, too. The image I got whenever he said "genderless marriage" (and the image I suspect he was going for) was of pairs of plastic mannequins, the kinds you see in upscale fashion stores that are only vaguely human shaped with no discernable face or difference in shape or anything to distinguish one from another. That's not what anyone is fighting for. What I'm fighting for is for others to have the right to define their own relationships without me imposing my views on them. The idea that extending legal protections, rights and responsibilities to gay couples somehow makes my own marriage "genderless" is something I just can't wrap my mind around. The internet acronym "WTF???" springs to mind.

I don't really remember many specifics of what the other speakers said. Wayne Yehling, a lawyer who practices family law, talked about the legal ramifications and potential hazards of the vague wording of the amendment. Jordan Lorence from the Alliance Defense Fund was more well-spoken than Mr. Stewart and talked about why he believed the amendment would not take away benefits, was necessary to protect marriage from "activist judges," and that gay rights activists don't care about "family variety" (ie kids helping their elderly parents, a friend who is caring for a sick friend, any other relationships that aren't based on sex) just gay marriage. Cindy Jordan talked about how the issue was not about gay marriage since that's already illegal and that it has been upheld in Arizona.

There are several points that kept coming up that I do want to address. One is that the pro-107 speakers kept bringing up the Warren Jeffs polygamy case, asking how supporters of same-sex marriage can argue gay couples should be allowed to marry without extending that right to polygamists like Warren Jeffs. This really frustrated me because it's not comparing apples to apples. Warren Jeffs' crimes are heinous not because he had more than one wife and because he led a church that taught men must have more than one wife, but because the wives in question were mostly children. In fact, the actual charges Jeffs is facing in two states are sexual conduct with minors. That case has absolutely nothing to do with consenting adults. ZERO.

I'd also like to put the ball back in their court. The pro-107 speakers kept referring to a "long history where marriage has always been defined by every culture this way." Actually, for much of that history, marriage looked a lot more like Warren Jeffs' family than a modern American concept of husband, wife, 2.5 kids and a dog. Girls were eligible for marriage once they began menstruating and it was considered normal and common for 30something men to have young teens for brides. So if they really want to argue for that "cross-cultural long history of marriage definition," it seems to me they're on a lot shakier ground decrying Warren Jeffs than those opposed to the marriage amendment are.

Another thing that really bothered me was how Mr. Lorence kept saying gay rights activists only want their gay marriage agenda, not health care benefits for all varieties of families such as siblings caring for each other or a young niece caring for her elderly aunt. I find this argument strange--gay rights activists tend to be fairly liberal and liberals tend to support universal health care. I don't know anyone who is fighting against this amendment who thinks families should be limited to couples who have sex with each other. But that's a completely separate topic. Prop 107 (which was initiated by their side, not ours) is about "relationships that are similar to that of marriage." How is taking benefits away from a committed gay couple going to help any of the non-traditional families he describes? It won't. It will hurt them further by making "married couple" THE standard in "family." So again, it's kind of a misdirection like the "genderless" thing or the polygamist thing.

My other big pet peeve is the whole "judicial activism" thing. 1. Judges in Arizona have already decided to let our Defense of Marriage Act stand. It's a done deal. 2. The amendment is so vaguely worded, it will be up to "activist judges" to determine what exactly it means to "recognize a relationship similar to that of marriage." Does it mean no health care benefits for domestic partners of government employees? Does it mean hospitals cannot treat domestic partners as "family" in terms of hospital visitation and health care power of attorney? Does it mean contracts between couples to protect their property in the event of one's death would be null and void? The truth is no one knows. Those supporting Prop 107 say of course it doesn't mean any of these things, but really, the interpretation will be left up to the same "activist judges" they're so worried about. If they really didn't want it to be up for judicial interpretation, why didn't they choose a more specific wording?

All-in-all, I think there were three out of four good speakers, but even from the good speaker in favor of 107, I found nothing of substance in his arguments. I still don't see where marriage needs "protection" from couples wanting to enter into it. (Cindy Jordan got applause from the audience when Mr. Lorence talked about how married parents are best and she said "So let them get married!" Amen, sister!) I still don't see where anyone should have the right to define for anyone else what their relationship is. I still don't see where taking benefits away from any family helps families. I still don't see where Arizona is in danger of "judicial activists" taking over. I still don't see where their religious freedom is more important than mine. I still don't see where any of this will do one single thing to protect marriage.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I've voted!

I've decided I really like voting by mail. It's much easier to do research with the ballot sitting right in front of me, and this year I already had a pretty strong opinion on the majority of the issues/races, so it wasn't like I needed to wait until the last minute. Sadly, most of propositions I felt strongly about I felt strongly NEGATIVE about. A lot of really mean propositions on the Arizona ballot this year. ::sigh::

Now if I could only find a way to let all those automated campaign calls know I've already voted so that they can stop calling me.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Desert Southwest Resolution against Prop 107

I posted this back in July, but with the election so close and because it so beautifully sums up many of the reasons I oppose Prop 107, I'm reposting the Desert Southwest Annual Conference's resolution opposing Prop 107.

Resolution 21.30
(Submitted by Church and Society)

Whereas Christians have always been people of the covenant,

Whereas nowhere in Scripture are people prohibited from making covenants or committed promises to each other.

Whereas people who live in covenant should be able to exercise that commitment in hospital visitations, inheritance matters, child custody and other family matters without interference from the state.

Whereas marriages are threatened by forces within marriage such as infidelity, violence, addictions, lack of communication and commitment, not how marriage is defined.

Whereas it is the responsibility of the Church to be in active ministry with homosexual persons, no less than heterosexual persons in all their respective challenges and dimensions of life, and

Whereas the Constitution of the State of Arizona has been established in an attempt to ensure the rights of all citizens of the State, and

Whereas the formation of families has been supported by many civil guarantees including protecting the rights of couple to health benefits, hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, child custody rights and many others, and

Whereas same sex couples of the State of Arizona are already denied many of these rights, and

Whereas the proposed Constitutional Amendment reads:

"To preserve and protect marriage in this State, only a union between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage by this state or it political subdivisions and no legal status for unmarried persons shall be created or recognized by this state or it political subdivisions that is similar to that of marriage."

Whereas Arizona voters are being asked to support a Constitutional amendment the result of which will prohibit the State, counties, cities and school districts from offering employee benefits for unmarried partners, straight or gay, and this ballot initiative targets Arizonans who live together for financial and other reasons. It would prevent such couples from obtaining any legal recognition, including policies necessary for medical safety and retirement. Further, it would seize the decision making authority of local communities and force repeal of domestic partner benefits now provided by the cities of Phoenix , Tucson , Scottsdale and Tempe .

Whereas the ballot initiatives currently being proposed to amend the State Constitution will further erode these rights,

Therefore be it resolved that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference oppose this Amendment and we ask the Conference Secretary to communicate this resolution to all elected State officials and major media in Arizona markets.

And be it further resolved that political leaders and faith communities be challenged to focus their energies on the forces such as those named above that are truly undermining marriages and destroying families.

Resolution Passed Saturday June 10, 2006
Scottsdale, Arizona

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I keep going back to James Madison

I've blogged this before, but I recently looked up The Federalist #10, written by James Madison in 1787 for a speech I was giving and it struck me once more how strongly it argues against initiatives like Prop 107 and similar marriage amendments in other states. For me, it all boils down to what Madison wrote 219 years ago (emphasis mine):

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

Despite what we may believe, America was never meant to be a pure democracy. We are a democratic republic (hence our representation in Congress) and we have a Judicial Branch that was created exactly for the purpose of combating the above. Our founding fathers recognized that a strict majority rules could (and has) become mob rules.

In light of this, can someone please explain to me how things like Prop 107 can be even remotely constitutional? How is this not exactly the kind of thing James Madison argued against when he worried about "the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority" overruling "justice and the rights of the minor party."

Do I think James Madison had same-sex couples in mind when he wrote this? Of course not. He also didn't have people of color or women in mind, but we have since decided that if his arguments were true for white men, they were no less true for women and people of color. I don't think we can seriously argue that the fact that James Madison didn't have Prop 107 specifically in mind means that his argument doesn't apply.

So let's look at Prop 107 and similar amendments that not only redundantly define marriage as between a man and a women in states where there are already statutes in place that do just that, but preclude states, counties, cities, and towns from setting up or recognizing anything that would grant similar rights and responsibilities to unmarried couples, often taking away (as would be the case in Arizona) existing rights, benefits, and domestic partner registries.

One of the main arguments against same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships of any kind is that these relationships are inherently sinful. The problem is, for the purpose of making civil law, this is irrelevant. Even if the majority believes this to be true, that is not a basis, according to James Madison, to make civil law that adversely affects a minority population. There are lots of things Christian doctrine regards as sinful that are perfectly legal. Two of the Ten Commandments instruct us to honor our father and mother and to not covet our neighbor's "house... or anything that belongs to [our] neighbor." Parents are often dishonored and no one is arrested or fined for it, and coveting my neighbor's belongings is not only legal, it's encouraged in our capitalist system. How else is Toyota going to convince me to shell out a lot of money for an SUV unless they get me to covet one?

But when does dishonoring my parents or coveting my neighbor's 4Runner become a matter for civil laws? When my dishonoring takes the form of abuse or my lust over my neighbor's 4Runner means I hotwire it and take it for a joy ride. Basically, my American right as stated in the Declaration of Independence for the "pursuit of happiness" ends where other people's rights begin. My legal right to (sinfully) dishonor my parents ends when it harms them. My legal right to (sinfully) covet my neighbor's SUV ends where their ownership of said SUV begins.

In terms of laws that grant protections and rights (or conversely, bar protections and rights) to couples to name each other as next-of-kin, to visit each other in the hospital and make medical decisions for each other, to buy property together with rights of survivorship, my right to decide which relationships are worthy of these protections ends with my relationship. I don't get to decide for my brother or my next-door neighbor or the guy at my church or the stranger in a different city who their significant other is, and I don't get to limit the protections I receive to only people in relationships I approve of.

This is what Madison was arguing. That even if most of my friends and I all think same-sex relationships or other arrangements that don't involve civil marriage are sinful, the test for whether it makes good civil law isn't my interests, it's "justice and the rights of the minor party." The only justification for barring the minor party from their right to the pursuit of happiness (defining their own relationships and having those relationships protected in cases of illness or death of one partner) would be if their relationship inflicts some sort of tangible harm on someone else. Again, my (sinful) coveting of my neighbor's SUV is legal because it doesn't inflict on my neighbor's rights. My stealing my neighbor's SUV is illegal because it does inflict on his rights.

So exactly how does the infamous and oft-cited Adam and Steve entering into a covenant relationship and wanting to visit each other in the hospital, make medical decisions for each other, get health benefits for each other inflict on anyone else's rights? What business is it of anyone other than Adam and Steve? And how does Bob and Mary's decision to forgo a civil marriage (because they are living off Social Security, including Mary's deceased first husband's, and they would lose that if they married each other) inflict on anyone else's rights? Does Mary's first marriage become any less valid because she found love a second time?

I would like to hear one argument based on solid evidence that these relationships inflict on the rights of others. I would like to hear one example of a tangible harm these relationships create for anyone else. Because absent that, according to founding father James Madison, we're basing our decision on the wrong thing, even if it is favored by the majority.

For me, it all goes back to James Madison. Majority rules was never intended to be the blanket system for our country and we have no business voting on laws that inflict harm on others just because we don't like what they're doing or think their behavior is sinful. Absent any real harm to others, everyone should have a legal right to the pursuit of happiness, sinful or not. And considering the real, tangible harm that will come to families that will be affected if Prop 107 passes, "justice and the rights of the minor party" is exactly what's at stake.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The evolution of sexuality in the Christian Church

My church is doing a sermon series on human sexuality for three or four weeks in October. The first sermon, on how ideas about marriage and sexuality have evolved (yes, EVOLVED) throughout church history, is absolutely excellent.

Most people presume that our understanding of sexuality and marriage has pretty much been the way sexuality and marriage have been understood, that we are the interpreters of a long tradition. We would be wrong.

I learned a lot of things I didn't know about church history and official church doctrine of the past, and it challenged some of my long-held preconceptions. I highly recommend everyone take a listen. It's 40 minutes long (including the Scripture reading and one song), but it is well worth it. (Link is for the current sermon so will only be good Oct. 2 - 8, 2006.)