Wednesday, May 9, 2012

NC Amendment One vs. History

I don't really have anything profound - or even useful - to say about this. (North Carolina just amended its constitution to define marriage as only existing between one man and one woman. I'm told that the last time North Carolina amended their constitution, it was to ban interracial marriage, but I haven't been able to find a citation to support that assertion. Update: Oh, look, a cite!)

As a political move against gay marriage, it was completely unnecessary; gay marriage was already illegal in the state, and gay marriages which took place in other states were not recognized by NC. If it was meant - as at least one supporter suggested - as a message to the rest of the country, then it's almost certainly a complete waste of time; at least, the message I hear is not "marriage can only exist between a man and a woman," but rather "the majority of North Carolina voters support institutionalized bigotry." If it was meant to close some loophole in the existing law - by, say, denying any possibility of legally recognized civil unions, which it does - then a full-scale constitutional amendment is massive overkill... and in addition, it seems likely to create difficulties in prosecuting domestic violence and similar issues. The whole thing is profoundly bad idea, and the absolute best I can hope for is that it isn't quite as destructive as I expect it to be.

Basically, I'm thoroughly disgusted that Amendment One was even introduced, let alone passed.

That said, let me go back to the idea that Amendment One was meant as a message for the rest of the country. From the Huffington Post article linked above:
Tami Fitzgerald, who heads the pro-amendment group Vote FOR Marriage NC, said she believes the initiative awoke a silent majority of more active voters in the future.

"I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that marriage is between one man and one woman," Fitzgerald said at a celebration Tuesday night. "The whole point is simply that you don't rewrite the nature of God's design based on the demands of a group of adults."
This is, frankly, delusional. I mean, first of all, these sorts of issues never 'awake a silent majority of voters,' thus showing that you're in fact a heroic figure bravely leading the way to a brighter future despite all opposition from the forces of Evil.[1] No, what happens is that people get worked up about this one issue, vote on it, and then go back to their lives, voting or not voting in much the same ways that they've always done.

What really caught my eye, though, was that last line: "...You don't rewrite the nature of God's design..." Even if we leave aside arguments about the existence of God and the nature of His Design (which are far from settled issues), from a historical perspective this is derisible nonsense, parochial and short-sighted.

Traditional marriage? Biblical marriage? King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Lamech, Abraham, David: all had multiple wives. In 2 Samuel 12:8; God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, He would have given David even more. (Source) Abishag was one of King David's concubines - at least in name, though the king apparently "knew her not" - and when his fourth son, Adonijah, asked to marry her, David refused to allow the match; he had the authority to do that. And yet, polygamy/polyamory remains illegal in modern America, and the idea of having formally-, legally-recognized concubine is, for most people, completely bizarre - a relic of another age. Over in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul states clearly that the Christian ideal is actually celibacy, with marriage as second-class fallback for people who can't remain celibate - "It's better to marry than to burn" is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Yet I don't see anyone advocating laws that would require people to prove that they can't remain celibate before being legally allowed to marry.[2]

Look, the definition of marriage is not some eternal, universal ideal that unrepentant sinners are only trying to change here in these Last Days. It's changed many times over the centuries, and it will again. (In fact, Amendment One to the contrary, it's changing now.) The closest thing to a consistent historical "tradition" of marriage is that marriage serves as an alliance of two families; love and even procreation are often secondary considerations, if they're considerations at all.

Yes, you can use the Bible to argue against marriage equality. The Bible was also used to argue against interracial marriage, and against the abolition of slavery. And I strongly suspect that future generations of Christians will find the former argument just as embarrassing as modern Christians find the latter two. God's word may be eternal and unchanging, but people aren't; people change, and societies change, and clinging to this idea that marriage can only ever be between one man and one woman - this revisionistic, non-traditional, not-particularly-Biblical idea - puts your Christianity on the wrong side the issue. It puts you on the side that's hurting people.

Is that really where you want to be?

Update: Christian writer Rachel Held Evans offers her own perspective on why initiatives like Amendment One are a mistake:
Regardless of whether you identify most with Side A or Side B, (or with one of the many variations within those two broad categories), it should be clear that amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and non-Christian—from the Church.

So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it?
Read the whole thing.

Second Update: What if this were a fairy tale?

Third Update: A friend of mine posted this on Facebook:
"[This type of union]... is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant to the very principles of...government. It is subversive of social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately...will bring this nation a conflict... Let us uproot and exterminate now this debasing, ultra-demoralizing, un-American and inhuman leprosy." ~Rep. Seaborn Roddenberry, of Georgia.

Arguing against interracial marriage in 1912. Sounds creepily familiar in light of North Carolina's vote today.

She adds:
And obviously, as a proud miscegenationist, this is a cause particularly dear to my heart; had Derek and I been born just one a generation before, we might not have been permitted to marry. That's just insane to me, and it's just insane that people are saying the same ignorant stuff about preventing gay people from getting married as well.

[1] That's almost exactly the same thing the Hutaree Militia apparently thought was going to happen after they attacked law enforcement officials, except with more voting and less bloodshed. Here's the money quote: "It is believed by the HUTAREE that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more wide-spread uprising against the Government." Yes, really.

[2] I'm tempted to add something about the long, proud history of arranged marriages here, but honestly this screed is long enough already.


  1. Your link to the princess poem is broken.


  2. D'oh! (How did that happen? Oh, well.) It's fixed. Thanks for letting me know.


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