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Gay Marriage. Thumbs-up? Thumbs-down?

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The gay marriage question is really quite simple.  Despite the heated rhetoric of various anti-gay factions, despite the blatant lies and distortions of some on the far religious right and their willingness to use fear as a weapon of propaganda - fundamentally, gay marriage is a simple matter of civil rights.  Yes, I said “civil rights”.  What else do you call a social institution like “marriage” that has no legal effect until and if the parties of the contract fulfill the requirements set forth by their civil government?  It very well may also be a religious ceremony (though keep in mind that is not at all a requirement) but at its core, as long as a civil, secular government sets up rules, regulations and passes out specific responsibilities and benefits, then it is most fundamentally a civil matter. Marriage constitutes a special form of contract when viewed from a secular government point of reference.  It goes without argument that marriage, in most developed countries, is an institution regulated by government.  As long as government has its nose in the matter, it is by definition a “civil” contract. 


So how did we get to this place of haranguing and gnashing of teeth (mostly by the religious right) about gay-marriage?  How have we come to a point where the civil rights of a minority group of citizens gets to be voted “up or down” by the people?  I remembered learning in High School that it was the protection of minorities that prompted the founding fathers to insert the Bill of Rights into the US Constitution.  What happened to that quaint notion?   Isn’t this voting on personal rights by the “will of the people” pretty darn close to the way the life or death of a Roman gladiator was determined at the end of a sporting event by a show of thumbs “up or down”?  Is that all that the gay-marriage debate is for our citizens? A matter of thumb directionality? Is gay-marriage symbolically the contemporary gladiator whose fate is determined by the whims of an adrenaline pumped crowd? A sporting event where winners and losers are selected by the vacillating emotions and often uninformed mentality of a mob after it’s whipped into a fearful frenzied state by blabbering frothing-at-the mouth high priest of one sort or another?  


Well of course, in reality, those who want to cut off the heads of gay couples seeking to get married have simply refused to acknowledge that gay marriage is a civil - rather than a religious - matter. They willfully hide their intent and motivation behind the “Traditional Marriage and Family” banner without considering a comprehensive understanding of what that tradition really is.  They refuse to see and admit that gay marriage is every bit as much an individual civil rights issue as is the decision to follow this or that religion (or none at all) is a personal civil rights matter.  For these reality deniers, it’s somewhat like walking out into sunshine and then insisting it is dark.  As long as they can deny and convince others that gays have no such civil rights (none at all) but that instead gays are plotting to destroy the family and take over the world,  they then can harass fearful heterosexuals and bully legislators into introducing mean-spirited rights-stripping constitutional amendments to define marriage in it’s “traditional” way.  Never mind that most if not all of the biblical fathers of modern day Christianity had multiple wives and never mind that traditional marriage treated women as property and that marriages were arranged for political, power and property reasons. Never mind all that – just keep up the drumbeat about “traditional marriage” and count on the fact that there are enough lazy nearly brain dead voters out there and that they will see to it that gays are kept second class citizens.  The anti-gay groups continue to count on there being enough voters of this sort, voters who will not investigate or even think too deeply about all this and just react in accordance with their instilled and frequently fanned fear.  We only need look to the many states that have already fortified their constitutions with gay rights-stripping amendments and to the recent reversal of the California Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage to understand how very easy (though expensive) it is to do so.


How has the simple matter of gay people wanting to marry and enjoy the same benefits and protections offered by federal and state statutes become such a threat?  Is that threat real or mostly the product of feverish fundamentalist brains?


Arguably, gays constitute ten percent of the population.  It’s unlikely they all will want to marry so we are really talking about a very small number of people when contrasted with the numbers of opposite-sex married couples.  Gays getting married when they fall in love and wish to commit to one another for life is no threat to marriage and no downfall to family.  Rather gay marriage would enhance and strengthen the institution of marriage which, in its history, has grown and adapted to reflect current culture.  Have you noticed the old phrase “to love, honor and obey” has been modified in current ceremonies?  Guess which word has been dropped and then tell me that traditional marriage never changes.


So even traditional marriage has “evolved” and will continue to do so.  And someday, sooner than later I hope, gay marriage will no longer be an issue and people will be free to legally marriage the person they chose and the person with whom they have fallen in love.  It won’t be gay-marriage or straight-marriage anymore.  It will just be plane old wonderful marriage. Period.


But before that day arrives, we simply must get beyond the idea that civil rights in this democracy are an agenda item for a popular vote, be it in California or not.  When it comes to determining the civil rights of our citizens, such issues should be far above the crowds of the old Roman Coliseum.  They should be far beyond a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down showing by a restless, changing crowd of thoughtless and easily led voters.  Were this not the case, then civil rights for other minorities in the United States would have been delayed for years and then, in some situations and in some states, might never have been granted.

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Following 35 or so years of clinical, teaching and administrative practice as a psychologist, I am now semi-retired, or at least - trying to be. In addition to some years in private practice, I also taught undergraduate psychology courses full-time (more...)
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