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Marriage – a human right

Michael Poffenberger | Sunday, August 29, 2004

Right-wing ideologues are whipping up a frenzy about the decline of Western civilization that is being heralded by the advent of same-sex marriage. They are not concerned with the discontent about a global economic system that distributes the benefits of the productive labor of all to only a few at the top; nor do they care about the modern obsessions with image and extreme consumption. But the loving and committed partnership of two people building community in the institution of marriage is more than they can bear.

This institution that they want to preserve allowed a drunken Britney Spears to get hitched Las Vegas-style in a partnership that lasted 10 days. It is being promoted on television shows by women competing to marry men with fabulous wealth. Where are the outcries from the champions of family values about these debacles? And why have they not been quicker to point out the devastating effects of poverty on family life? Actually, owner of Fox Network and proud supporter of conservative values Rupert Murdoch has been too busy making a fortune from these shows. Illinois Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Jack Ryan was forcing his wife to commit sex acts in public. And Vice President Dick Cheney is kept busy trying to keep quiet the voice of his lesbian daughter who promotes same-sex marriage, and that of his wife, who does also.

Authentic confrontation with social ills entails working to change the parts of ourselves that are complicit in them. But opponents of gay marriage have chosen an issue that conveniently allows them to point fingers. They display a fondness for achieving a sense of accomplishment by interfering in the personal lives of others. Lashing out in fear and not compassion, opponents of same-sex unions rally against these “others” who are to blame for all the problems of society. One such rallier, former President Richard Nixon, once stated, “You know what happened to the Greeks? Homosexuality destroyed them! Aristotle was a homo, we all know that. So was Socrates. You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags.” This is the bullet-proof logic that is a bastion of the anti-gay movement.

The most recent brainstorm of this movement was the Federal Marriage Amendment, which if passed would have defined marriage as strictly a union between man and woman. It marks the first attempt to take away specific rights of American citizens since Prohibition – and we all know what happened to that one; if you don’t, walk through Keenan Hall any night of the week. The amendment has failed to pass Congress once, though it will probably return. Supporters are working in overdrive, perhaps due to the fact that very soon Americans will begin to realize that gay marriage really isn’t destroying the future of our children at all; recently-married couples in California and Massachusetts have continued their lives together, existing in harmony with their families and local communities as they have for years.

The foundation of the United States’ rule of law rests on a profound respect for the sovereignty of individual human beings to follow their own consciences, as long as their choices do not have serious and proven negative consequences on the health of the greater community. This foundation helped us to recognize the injustice of slavery and institutionalized racism. It is also this foundation that will eventually help gay marriage. Opponents have yet to make a clear argument about how these unions will actually be harmful. Shouldn’t we welcome adults in stable relationships?

As for the Church, its ability to comment productively on sexual matters is questionable at this point in history. Does it have the authority to lecture the laity on sexual responsibility while it hasn’t cleaned up its own act? There is an urgent need for a more coherent understanding of human sexuality. Recent declarations from the Holy Inquisition (Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) condemning homosexuality have instigated such insightful comments as that from an Archbishop from Uruguay, who declared that “homosexuality is a contagious disease” and recommended the isolation of all “carriers.” It is difficult to understand how clergy, sworn to lifelong chastity, have achieved such an intimate and authoritative understanding of what defines healthy sexual practice, especially in light of widespread deviant behavior within their ranks. The Catholic Church at one time condoned slavery; could it possibly be wrong on this issue also?

Denying the right of marital union to homosexuals should be called what it is: discrimination. The government has no place interfering in the personal lives of American citizens. Individuals opposed to same-sex marriage need to realize that bonds of loving partnership and commitment are exactly what the United States is lacking right now when it comes to marriage, and then they should address the real problems of our society.

Michael Poffenberger is a senior anthropology and peace studies major who wants to recognize RFK for his campaigning words of wisdom, “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” He can be reached at mpoffenb@nd.edu.

The views of this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.