Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Mayor's Change of Heart

I find this story incredibly hopeful.

Indeed, I have absolutely no doubt that it’s stories like this that will make inevitable the extending of civil marriage rights to same-gender couples - both here in the U.S. and around the world. For as Joan Walsh perceptively observes, in this particular story we see “the way necessary social change happens.”

So what’s the story? Well, it centers on San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders – Republican, longtime opponent of civil marriage rights for same-gender couples and accordingly a supporter of Proposition 8, an initiative state constitutional amendment on the 2008 California General Election ballot that, if passed, would eliminate the right for same sex couples to marry in California.

Recently, however, Mayor Sanders had a change of heart. Just over a month ago, he and his wife held a press conference in which he explained to reporters how he had planned to veto a City Council resolution supporting efforts to overturn California’s ban on gay civil marriage, but changed his mind when the resolution reached his desk.

Said Sanders: “The arrival of the resolution to sign or veto in my office late last night - [pauses] please excuse us – forced me to reflect and search my soul for the right thing to do. I've decided to lead with my heart, which is probably obvious at the moment, to do what I think is right and to take a stand on behalf of equality and social justice.”

Sanders then told the gathered reporters that his daughter Lisa and members of his staff are gay, and explained: “In the end, I could not look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships – their very lives – were any less meaningful than the marriage that I share with my wife, Rana.”

Powerful stuff, don’t you think? And it’s even more powerful when you actually watch Sanders deliver his emotionally-charged testimony.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Fr. Geoff Farrow on Proposition 8
Same-Sex Marriage: Still Very Much on the Archbishop’s Mind
A Priest’s Courageous Act
Update on Fr. Geoff Farrow
Another Victory in Connecticut
The Same People
What Straights Can Learn from Gay Marriage
Good News from the Golden State
Love is Love
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
The Real Gay Agenda
Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
Separate is Not Equal
Mainstream Voice of “Dear Abby” Supports Gay Marriage
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
Just Love
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
Good News from Minnesota


CDE said...

In the end, I could not look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships – their very lives – were any less meaningful than the marriage that I share with my wife, Rana.”

So is marriage the only form of meaningful relationship? It still begs the question of what the meaning of marriage is.

This article by the Witherspoon Institute tries to explore the question from the point-of-view of history, economics, psychiatry, law, sociology and and philosophy:

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

Here's a passage from the introduction:

We are aware, of course, that the debate over the normative status of marriage in our society necessarily acquires an emotional edge. No one is untouched by the issue in his or her personal life, and we can readily agree with the critics of marriage that questions of sexual identity, gender equity, and personal happiness are at stake. In arguing for the normative status of marriage, we do not suppose that all people ought to be married or that marriage and family are the only source of good in people's lives. Nor do we wish to deny or downgrade society's obligation to care about the welfare of all children, regardless of their parents' family form. Still, we think that, particularly as university teachers and on behalf of our students, we need to make this statement, since marriage is above all a choice for the young: they need arguments to counterbalance the dominant arguments now attacking marriage as unjust and undesirable, and they need to know what marriage is in order to sustain their own marriages and raise their own children. Just as it did in earlier cultures, the marital family provides the basis for a settled pattern of reproduction and education that a large, modern, democratic society still surely needs. Our principles mean to summarize the value of married life and the life of families that is built upon marriage - a choice that most people want to make, and that society should endorse and support.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for the link.

I have a hard time taking this particular document seriously, however, when I read the following from its “executive summary”:

In recent years, marriage has weakened, with serious negative consequences for society as a whole. Four developments are especially troubling: divorce, illegitimacy, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage.

Hmm . . . The Witherspoon Institute doesn’t sound like the “independent research center” it claims to be when, off the bat, it describes same-sex marriage as “troubling” and equates it with divorce as a factor that's "weakening" marriage.

How exactly does same-sex marriage “weaken” marriage? I’m yet to hear a compelling (or even a credible!) argument for the contention that extending civil marriage rights to two people of the same gender will somehow threatening existing marriages between opposite-gender couples.

I personally appreciate the reasoning expressed in the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in the Goodridge case as it provides an excellent summary of the legal basis for civil marriage between same-gender couples.

Part of this decision reads as follows:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the Commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.

We are mindful that our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law. Many people hold deep-seated religious, moral, and ethical convictions that marriage should be limited to the union of one man and one woman, and that homosexual conduct is immoral. Many hold equally strong religious, moral, and ethical convictions that same-sex couples are entitled to be married, and that homosexual persons should be treated no differently than their heterosexual neighbors. Neither view answers the question before us. Our concern is with the Massachusetts Constitution as a charter of governance for every person properly within its reach. “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.” Lawrence v. Texas (2003) (Lawrence ).

. . . Barred access to the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions. That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law.



CDE said...

There are more details beyond the executive summary -- which is, by definition, only a summary of their conclusions. It's the standard format of such document to list one's conclusions at the beginning of the document before spelling out how the conclusions were reached.

The section that explains the concerns about same-sex marriage includes the following:

Same-sex marriage would further undercut the idea that procreation is intrinsically connected to marriage. It would undermine the idea that children need both a mother and a father, further weakening the societal norm that men should take responsibility for the children they beget. Finally, same-sex marriage would likely corrode marital norms of sexual fidelity, since gay marriage advocates and gay couples tend to downplay the importance of sexual fidelity in their definition of marriage. Surveys of men entering same-sex civil unions in Vermont indicate that 50 percent of them do not value sexual fidelity, and rates of sexual promiscuity are high among gay men. For instance, Judith Stacey, professor of sociology at New York University and a leading advocate of gay marriage, hopes that same-sex marriage will promote a "pluralist expansion of the meaning, practice, and politics of family life in the United States" where "perhaps some might dare to question the dyadic limitations of Western marriage and seek some of the benefits of extended family life through small group marriages..."

Our concerns are only reinforced by the legalization of same-sex marriage in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, and Spain-and its legalization in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Same-sex marriage has taken hold in societies or regions with low rates of marriage and/or fertility. For instance, Belgium, Canada, Massachusetts, the Netherlands, and Spain all have fertility rates well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. These are societies in which child-centered marriage has ceased to be the organizing principle of adult life. Seen in this light, same-sex marriage is both a consequence of and further stimulus to the abolition of marriage as the preferred vehicle for ordering sex, procreation, and childrearing in the West. While there are surely many unknowns, what we do know suggests that embracing same-sex marriage would further weaken marriage itself at the very moment when it needs to be most strengthened.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Interesting conclusions, though, in the final analysis, unconvincing.

I mean, the document itself acknowledges that "there are surely many unknowns," and only "suggests" that "embracing same-sex marriage would further weaken [opposite-sex] marriage."

I guess the main reason why I have difficulty taking the Witherspoon Institute's document seriously is that nothing in it demonstrates a direct, causal relationship between legalized same-sex marriage and declines in marriages overall and increases in out-of-wedlock births, or "illegitimacy".

Such births have indeed increased in, for example, the Netherlands, but that’s been happening for more than 30 years, long before anyone ever tried to legalize same-sex marriage.

Now here's an interesting fact: Massachusetts (which permits gay marriage) has the lowest divorce rate in the country, while Arkansas (which banned gay marriage in 2004) has one of the highest. How do we square this with the Witherspoon Institute's conclusions?

As for its "surveys" finding that "men entering same-sex civil unions in Vermont indicate that 50 percent of them do not value sexual fidelity" - well, there are other studies that show gay and lesbian couples are just as committed in their relationships as heterosexuals.

Also, I think infidelity is a male issue more so than a gay one. From my reading, fidelity is a challenge for many men - gay and straight.

And finally, I'm always a bit leary of studies purporting especially high rates of infidelity in gay male relationships, given how the so-called "Dutch Study" has been distorted by anti-gay activists.