Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The way it is isn't the way it has to be.

The New York Times and NPR have both been bumming me out lately. Not simply because being aware of what's going on in the world necessarily means being aware of a lot of nasty, terrible, and scary things, but because I've discovered a propensity toward certain biases in the opinion and news sections of both that I find disconcerting and frightening. 

With NPR it has been the recent realization that a lot of their food coverage is stunningly anti-veg and that their commenting base, which I would assume to be a relatively educated and socially aware group, is shockingly, often hatefully and violently anti-veg. I understand fully that going vegan or vegetarian isn't something that most or even many people will ever do.  Though, I do believe that I am not unreasonable to advocate for better farming practices and a re-evaluation of the sheer quantity of animal products the average American person consumes. I also understand that being vegan, vegetarian and a conscious consumer of food produced in a sustainable manner and grown close to home is tied up with a lot of class and race issues. (I blame our government and the ridiculous and illogical farm subsidies that favor factory farms over small farms for some of this...) It is a simple fact that just getting enough to eat is hard for a huge number of people in the U.S. and beyond. And, I think that if you're legitimately struggling to survive, its pretty obvious that when deciding what to eat where/how/and from what it was produced are not at the top of one's list of concerns. But, NPR just never seemed like it would be a place that would label me a freak because I'm vegan...Or a place that would defend consuming meat at the majority of one's meals as some sort of inalienable right.

With the New York Times, its been the coverage of the over-turn of Proposition 8  (Yay!) and the articles that they keep publishing on how special and amazing marriage (particularly hetero marriage) is. This one in particular really made me upset. I know that this is an opinion piece. And, I like opinion pieces. I like to see lots of opinions on major issues. I feel like by reading them all I'm getting something nearer the big picture than if I only read the opinion that I agree with or the "objective" front page story on the issue. However, Ross Douthat, is an ass who does not understand this country's constitution. And he is so painfully narrowminded in his thinking about what constitutes a significant relationship between human beings, that I wonder if he's ever left your gated Christian community. (I do not know that Douthat lives in a gated community, I doubt that he does, I'm just sayin'...) And he makes me upset because I know that a lot of people agree with him and have the same misunderstandings about the legally defined role of the state in U.S. law. A lot of people.

Here are just a few examples of the nonsense this wad decided to spew in the Grey Lady today:
Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.
But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.
But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.

Here's the thing. My parents are married, many of my friends are married, lots of people want to get married. That's great. I support and respect that. I love that those people are able to have a public celebration and easily explained set of terms, that are legally protected (if they're hetero, but hopefully for all couples very soon!) to define their relationships. But marriage is not the only or most significant of relationships between people. I hate to ever cite Sex and The City, but you may remember the episode where Carrie's Manolo's get stolen at a baby shower and her friend refuses to replace them because shoes are frivolous and then Carrie registers at the Manolo store because she is tired of being treated like less-than because she's unwed and childless? Yeah, well as hetero-normative and grossly consumerist as the SATC story arc may be, this isn't exactly a bad point. Why is it that, as a society, we prize marriages (especially hetero marriages that make babies) above all other relationships? 

Enter Glenn Greenwald, my hero for the day. His f*cking brilliant response to Douthat on brought tears to my eyes. He's so logical, so informed, so moderate and rational. Recognizing that Douthat, like so many opponents to gay marriage (and so many who believe that marriage and parenting is the most special thing any person can ever be involved in) argues that Judge Walker's ruling is ridiculous because it is making a moral judgment, Greenwald penned one of the most incisive and well-written take downs that I've ever read. Because, in fact, Judge Walker's ruling does the opposite of what Douthat claims, it overturns a law that is unconstitutional because it restricts the access of homosexual couples who want to be recognized in the eyes of the state on the grounds that there exists a moral difference between a hetero and a homosexual partnership. Here's Greenwald's eloquent explanation:

Douthat is quite confused about what Judge Walker actually ruled.  He did not decree that there are no legitimate moral, theological or spiritual grounds for viewing heterosexual marriage as superior.  That's not what courts do.  Courts don't rule on moral, theological or spiritual questions.  Such matters are the exclusive province of religious institutions, philosophers, communities, parents and individuals' consciences, but not of the State.  That's the crux of this judicial decision. 
Hear that? "Courts don't rule on moral, theological, or spiritual questions." 
The court ruled opposite-sex-marriage-only laws unconstitutional not because it concluded that heterosexual and homosexual marriages are morally equal, but rather, because it's not the place of the State (or of courts) to make such moral determinations.
Thank you Glenn Greenwald for explaining, in such clear terms, the role of the state. You are a gem and a gift to our times.

But, as great as Greenwald's article is, I don't know that it digs far enough into Douthat's argument about marriage being some sort of ultimate ideal of our culture. Marriage, whether gay or straight, is not some super-special-magic-civilization potion. There are a lot of ways to imagine a family. A family is not always nuclear and there are a plenitude of care groups that function like families without fitting into the norm of two people who are married, own property together and may also raise children together. Those other families should be recognized with legal rights and social acceptance as well. Here is a great source for some well-written opinions on the matter.
As for me, I think that if you want to get married, you should be able to.  No matter who you are. If we're friends and you get married, I'll come and celebrate and sincerely send you well-wishes for a lifetime of happiness. I believe in love and commitment and partnership. But, love takes all kinds and all formulas and all arrangements and none of them are any more important or any more special than any other. And, I don't think your wedding is a more significant an event than my (or anyone's) thirtieth birthday, birth and/or death, college graduation...Or any number of other exciting and important life moments that we chose to mark with parties and presents. It is super important, but not the ultimate ideal of important life things. There isn't one. For every life there are many amazing moments and many amazing commitments.

So, lets just go for broke and let love in all its forms be publicly sanctioned and important.

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