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Fernand Léger, “Three Women” (1921)

Matrimony of Rights
Gay Marriage and “Illegals”

There’s hope for the United States yet. A bid by the bigoted right and Catholic wrongs to defeat gay marriage in Massachusetts failed. The Legislature needed 50 votes to put a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage before voters on the November ballot. The bigots got only 45 votes, with 151 against. Perfect timing: the similarities between opponents of gay marriage and opponents of amnesty for undocumented immigrants are not only uncanny. They’re almost indistinguishable. The Massachusetts vote spells much-needed relief for the notion of American rights, period.

Why do people oppose gay marriage? The most common answer is as fundamental as it is fundamentally irrational: because it’s against tradition, biblical, or religious, tradition especially. Gay marriage is where good, conservative, Bush-loving Americans join hands, if not tongues (for they speak them with the same forked verve) with the Taliban tribes of the world, with the Ahmanidejads of the world, with the Wahhabites and LePenistes of the world (Nabokov and Anthony Burgess would have had a ball with those two words, Wahhabite and LePeniste, in this context: Wahhabite rhimes with the French slang word for cock, or pecker, and LePeniste rhymes with the obvious; now if only someone could find, where-is-Elmo-like, the vagina in Ahmanidejad or the T&A in Taliban: no fanatically religious sect ever swings its long dong piety without its hidden desires and desired deviances.)

So, once again: why do people oppose gay marriage, which makes about as much sense as opposing short haircuts or blue jeans or green eyes? Because, religious cop-outs aside (you can excuse anything once you start relying on the supernatural and the cultish, which all religions are at heart), it would undermine civilization, it would go against tradition, because marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s what priests say. It’s what the president says. It’s what even the French Republic, a land created to defile marriage if there ever was one, says. Because that’s what we have agreed, as a society, that marriage ought to be, what we have practiced as a society for eons.

Really? We practiced grunts and squeals as a language for many more thousands of years than we’ve ever practiced any more elaborate language; does that mean the squeals and grunts had the inside track on the right way to speak? When has longevity in the practice of anything substituted for its rational, let alone just, correctness? By that reasoning we might as well say that slavery was and is a fine practice because innumerable societies practiced it for innumerable centuries. Longevity isn’t an endorsement for much except itself. It is the “I am therefore I am” school of philosophy, the one that predates the think of the equation. And it’s what those who would want to ban gay marriage, and so successfully have in most places, fall back on.

There’s nothing reasonable about it, nothing just about it. My neighbors’ gay marriage couldn’t possibly in a billion years affect me or my community one way or the other, any differently than my own heterosexual marriage could affect my community differently than theirs. Children? Please. My marriage may make them, but it also has adopted them (adopted one, anyway). Theirs could, too. Homosexuality doesn’t preclude procreation, at least for women, and never has precluded adoption (except in states like Florida, where the regressives still rule on that count). The world is sadly replete with children in need of loving homes and parents through adoption. Reproduction can use a break. But again, what else keeps adoptions from being less than the scaling of Everest but the same sort of religious bigotries that forbid gay marriage? Iraq is awash in orphans. Iraq won’t allow Iraqi orphans to be adopted by, say, Americans or Europeans. Why? Because Islam allegedly forbids it.

How close is all this to the rhetoric against giving legal rights to undocumented immigrants? Gay marriage would run counter to “our” traditions. Legalizing undocumented immigrants would run against what “we” have agreed “our” society ought to be like. Marriage is for men and women. Immigration is, like marriage, for people who are willing to use the right door, the front door. If the analogy sounds vulgar, it’s because it is, because irrational exclusion of any sort, when human beings are at the receiving end, is vulgar, and in this case bigoted.

In reality people oppose gay marriage not because their neighbors’ gayness could possibly affect them in any real sense of the term (if anything, gay couples generally lift the economic and artistic profile of the communities they live in). People oppose gay marriage for the same reason they oppose the notion of gayness. It’s a bigoted disgust, an opposition well beyond personal preferences. The opposition crosses the line into imposition of one’s preferences on others. Similarly, how on earth have undocumented immigrants affected the ordinary lives of Americans in ways other than for the better—both by giving this country more interesting mixtures of people, giving it a younger, more vibrant profile and a surer demographic future, by giving its economy a shot in the veins it could not have done without? But undocumented immigrants are rejected with the same slew of non-sensical rationales as homosexuals’ marriages are. They are not what we agreed on. They are not following the rules. They…

So for now Massachusetts remains the only place in the United States, and one of the few places in the world ( Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa, Canada and Spain are the others) where gay marriage, rather than that half-assed, half-pregnant legal perversity known as “civil unions” (the guest-worker equivalent of marriage) is legal. If the state’s bigots want to try again to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, they’ll have to start from scratch, and won’t be able to make it before 2012.

Maybe by then this breakthrough in Massachusetts will have sunk in a little bit, maybe by then the sodden bigotries of the Bush years, when rights were transformed into privileges, will have receded, and more enlightened habits of mind and hearts will have made their way to the various states’ ballot boxes. Maybe by then the nation will have discovered the commonalities between those whom it so derisively wished to exclude: gays and undocumented immigrants, who really are no different than the excluded masses of the past—blacks, Asians, Indians, Poles, Irish, Italian, Catholics, non-Puritans, and so on. In ever case accommodation and inclusion proved the stronger force. In every case the exclusion of old proved as stupid and backward as it had been bigoted.

Days like this make me glad to be an American. They’ve been few lately. They won’t be so few, if places like Massachusetts keep this up.

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