Friday, May 23, 2008

Organized Bigotry Ready for the Next Round (update)

Several days ago, I blogged about the fact that organized bigotry, in the form of gay rights opponents advocating for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, were ready to start spewing their drivel again. Well, unfortunately, I was right. Today's The Indianapolis Star contains a featured editorial from P. Eric Turner entitled "Let's protect the will of the people in marriage debate". As expected, Turner makes many of the arguments that I briefly addressed in my previous post.

A few things, however, are worth discussing. First, I found it somewhat curious that print edition of The Indianapolis Star identifies Turner as the assistant Republican leader in the Indiana House of Representatives while the online version of his essay omits that identifying information. Knowing that Turner is an elected official with a fair amount of power is, I think, important to know when reading his opinion; after all, he is not just a man in the street offering his proverbial two cents, but, rather, an elected legislator who has the power to introduce and vote upon legislation.

Second, I find it troubling that The Indianapolis Star would publish this essay in the first place, in part because of the allegation of malice that Turner ascribes to the California Supreme Court and in part because of the lack of a counterpoint essay offered for the sake of balance. I believe that when it comes to issues as divisive and charged as this one, a newspaper owes a duty of balance to its readers, especially to those readers who may read the words of an elected official and not have a sound understanding of the nuances of the issue or of the opposing position.

I also want to address several of the points that Turner makes in his essay. First, let's consider Turner's opening salvo: "We should be worried when the wishes of the electorate are willingly -- maybe even maliciously -- tossed aside by activist judges." Think, for a moment, about what Turner is really alleging. The California Supreme Court (the Chief Justice of which is, by the way, a Republican), found that a referendum adopted by California's voters impermissibly violated the California Constitution's guaranty of equal protection. In other words, the Court found that the people of California could not ignore their own Constitution and vote to discriminate against a class of citizens. Yet in Turner's bigoted worldview, the California Supreme Court acted "maliciously" when it decided to uphold rights protected by the Constitution. I contend that, if malice is being exhibited, it comes from those who don't believe that all people are entitled to live their lives without fear of discrimination and with all of the rights and privileges granted to their fellow citizens. I also think that it's malicious to intentionally mislead those who may not have a firm understanding of how our legislative and judicial systems work together. Apparently, Turner forgot his social studies lessons about checks and balances between the branches of government.

Turner then offers the standard right-wing diatribe against "activist judges" and proclaims: "California's justices decided to make legal what the people of California decided was counterfeit. The court stepped beyond its judicial role and legislated by fiat, making law rather than interpreting it." Once again, as I've noted several times in the past, the role of the judiciary is to do precisely what California's Supreme Court did: To examine whether a particular law is constitutional or not. When a court examines a law and compares that law to the protections granted in a constitution, that court is acting as it is intended to do. The California Supreme Court did not "legislate[] by fiat"; rather, the Court told Californians that they can't adopt discriminatory laws that contravene the express protections found in the State's Constitution.

Turner also, somewhat bizarrely, notes that "there are plenty of reasons to cite Judeo-Christian tradition in defending marriage and limiting its availability". First, not all of our laws owe their derivation solely to Judeo-Christian tradition (and we certainly ignore that tradition in many, many ways, not the least of which is the long-established right of citizens to ignore the Ten Commandments by believing in or worshipping any god of their choosing [or no god at all]). Thus, to suggest that all of our laws with regard to marriage must be somehow grounded in religious principles not shared by all citizens is both wrong and insulting (and doesn't Judeo-Christian tradition have a history of polygamy, one of the perceived evils that Turner claims will be an end result of allowing gay marriage?).

More importantly, what precisely does Turner mean when he talks about "limiting" the availability of marriage? Other than gays, who else shouldn't be allowed to marry? Interracial couples? After all, it took "activist judges" to overturn state laws that banned interracial marriages several decades ago. Perhaps Turner would prohibit divorcees from remarrying (after all, in his essay, he specifically notes that "marriage means one woman and one man uniting for one lifetime" [emphasis added]. Would the limited availability of marriage be open to infertile couples or to couples who don't intend to have children? What about those who don't come from a Judeo-Christian tradition and have different understandings of what marriage is (and is not)?And, even if these are not the types of limitations that Turner is referring to, why are we even discussing limiting civil rights? I'm curious to know if there are other civil rights that Turner would like to limit? Voting rights, perhaps? Oh, wait. He's already done that with his support for the voter ID law.

Turner also claims that Indiana's statutory prohibition against gay marriage "is based on millennia of accepted standards and has been shown to be reasonable and fair." First, those "accepted standards" are limited to Western Judeo-Christian traditions and may have nothing to do with the "standards" of other cultures that are just as much a part of America as Turner's. Second, as mentioned above, didn't those same "standards" (as described in the Bible) include polygamy? And just where have those standards been "shown to be reasonable and fair". Were they fair to women who were forced into arranged marriages for political gain (a common practice throughout European history)? Were the fair to women who could not get a divorce even when they were being abused by their spouse? Were they fair to women who could not own property or vote or engage in any of a host of activities that were reserved for men? Were they fair to the interracial couples who loved one another but were prevented from marrying because of bigots who wanted to keep the races segregated?

And just in case Turner's rhetoric doesn't sway enough people, he even resorts to a bit of fear-mongering (and note the use of the word "trashed" to describe the action of the California Supreme Court and "perversion" to, implicitly, describe homosexuality):
If Indiana's definition of marriage is trashed by activist judges, what stands in the way of other laws preventing other perversions of accepted Hoosier standards of decency? Once traditional marriage is felled, arguments against polygamy, adult-child marriages or even marriages between blood relatives become bolder.

For now, let me simply suggest that Turner is engaging in the worst type of fear-mongering on the basis of elusive slippery slope arguments. I'll take some time another day to address these sorts of arguments head on and in more detail (polygamy, in particular) and show them for the sham that they are. One thing worth noting is that these very same fears were used to try to keep bans on interracial marriage. Moreover, the ban against adult-child marriages is easy to defend on the simple basis of the fact that, unlike adults, children are not entitled to make certain decisions or to enter into contractual relationships precisely because they are children and, as children, are only entitled to a subset of the constitutional rights available to other citizens. Similarly, the ban on near-relations marrying is easily justified by the societal costs of birth defects that are frequent in these types of marriages. None of these concerns are implicated by gay marriage. And, just because Turner (or his religious tradition) views homosexuality as a "perversion" does not mean that all (or even a majority of) Hoosiers share that view; after all, we don't outlaw homosexuality (and, for the record, the United States Supreme Court has held that consensual homosexual sex is protected by the Constitution).

Finally, Turner attempts to play upon the nuclear family bias by claiming that "[r]esearch throughout the years has shown that the mother-father model works best at establishing and maintaining stable families and well-adjusted children." While this statement may be accurate, Turner ignores the fact that a two-parent family, without regard to the gender of the parents, has also, I believe, been found to be more stable and to produce more well-adjusted children than single-parent families. So, while giving every child a happy, healthy (health insurance, anybody?), stable, two-parent family is a laudable goal, it is certainly not a reason to oppose a system whereby more two-parent families might exist and where more children might be adopted into those two-parent families instead of being left in a foster care system that can't properly care for those children. If Turner is so concerned about families and a stable environment for children, he should be screaming at the top of his lungs to allow gay marriage precisely to encourage more stable two-parent families and to offer the possibility of adoption for more Hoosier children. The fact that Turner turns [sorry] that analysis on its head and uses the need for two-parent households as a reason to oppose gay marriage demonstrates that Hoosier children are not his real concern.

I'm still not sure why the issue of gay marriage resonates so strongly with me, but it does. And I will not be shy about standing up telling people like Turner why they are wrong and why their viewpoint is, in essence, bigotry.

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