14 November 2008

Notes of civility

Not all the activists supporting gay marriage and upset over the approval of Proposition 8 in California are being disruptive or otherwise taking what would seem to be a counterproductive approach if their goal is to change people's minds. Or perhaps there is a backlash to the backlash of the proposition's passage. In any case, there are encouraging signs that some advocates of same-sex marriage prefer to take a constructive, civil approach in the effort to win over hearts and minds:

  • One of the key groups organizing demonstrations nationally, Join the Impact, is urging same-sex marriage advocates to be positive in the way they interact with those who disagree: "We stand for reaching out across all communities. We do not stand for bigotry, for scapegoating, or using anger as our driving force. Our mission is to encourage our community to engage our opposition in a conversation about full equality and to do this with respect, dignity, and an attitude of outreach and education. JoinTheImpact, as an entity, will not encourage divisiveness, violence, or disrespect of others and we do not approve of this. We do not stand for pointing the finger at one group and placing blame. The LGBTQ community comes in all different colors, creeds, religious beliefs, and political parties. If we allow ourselves to place blame on one community or another, then we are no better than those who oppose us."
  • Perhaps there are no stronger words than those of blogger Ryan J. Davis, who says he has long been critical of the Mormon church but nevertheless compares some of those protesting outside Latter-day Saint temples as being comparable to the virulently anti-gay Fred Phelps crowd: "I'm a little scared of the anti-Mormon fervor that I'm seeing in the gay community. ... Seriously guys, cut it out. I know you're angry. I know you need some way to express that anger, but the Mormon Temple in NYC makes no more sense than your grandparents' retirement community in Sacramento or The Apollo Theater in Harlem. Can't we be better than this? ... While thousands and thousands of protesters gather outside the Mormon Temple, evoking scenes of Fred Phelps, we'll still be left with a simple fact: We were out-organized and out-fundraised in California. That's why we lost. ... This protest will just confirm the Mormons' fears about us and will certainly be portrayed negatively in the media. It's old, divisive politics. Politics I'd like to put behind us and had hoped we could after Obama's historic victory. ... It was the people of California who voted to put bigotry on their law books and it's shameful. So let's educate them. Outreach, not Anger. We have to actually spend time on this; we can't solve it screaming for two hours at people walking into a church."
  • Prop 8 supporter and San Francisco resident Darren Main, in a letter to the Berkeley Daily Planet, wrote: "This week I learned of plans by some in the LGBT community to protest at the local Mormon Church in response to their financial support of Prop. 8. To protest any religion, even those that actively oppose our rights, is counterproductive and harmful to our cause. If we truly want to stand up for our own rights, we can only do so by showing deference toward the rights of others. As much as we might disagree with some people of faith, that doesn't give us the right to disrupt their religious service or suggest that they should not be able to believe what they like, vote how they see fit, and financially support causes in which they feel passionate. ... I hope you will take to the streets and make your voices heard, but never lose sight of the fact that the only way we will lose this fight is if we follow the lead of those whom oppose equal rights by joining them in a shouting match rather than leading the way to a more enlightened future."

What the ultimate goal of civil discourse is, however, remains unclear. Is there any resolution other than the legalization of full-scale same-sex marriage that will please the activists? I'm doubtful. And the same is true for the other side, which appears to have reached its limit of compromise in its hesitant willingness to accept some sort of civil unions (which would have been anathema not all that long ago).

One possibility of compromise has surfaced quite a bit recently in the blogs attracting Mormons is that of basically abolishing marriage as a legal institution and have civil unions for all (see, for example, this comment), leaving the institution of marriage to the churches. (Such proposals have not come the church itself, which has has had a nuanced on civil unions.) Recently, Douglas Kmiec, a constitutional-law professor at Pepperdine University, proposed something very similar, suggesting that the California governor could by executive ruling, at least on a preliminary basis, make the state's civil-union law apply to all. Specifically:

The governor has administrative authority to have regulations issued interpreting family law, and nothing in Prop. 8 precludes him from ensuring that homosexual and heterosexual couples are treated equally under state law so long as he stays clear of "marriage." This could be accomplished by limiting the state of California prospectively to the issuance of civil unions for all couples, rather than marriage licenses, leaving marriage, which in origin is predominantly a religious concept and not the real business of the state, to religion.

A radical move? Certainly, and who knows what its unintended consequences would be? But it seems no less radical than the redefining of marriage as endorsed by the top courts of California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

No comments: