Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Prop 8 today (in case you haven’t heard). His decision includes a number of important findings that will shape both future debate and the appeals process. I’ve summarized a few of these findings below (summaries of findings are in red, my comments are in black).
Here’s a PDF of the decision.
[Note: Summaries of findings are from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/04/prop-8-overturned-gay-mar_n_671018.html.]
“Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as a characteristic of the individual. Sexual orientation is fundamental to a person’s identity and is a distinguishing characteristic that defines gays and lesbians as a discrete group. Proponents’ assertion that sexual orientation cannot be defined is contrary to the weight of the evidence.”
A little introspection should be enough to resolve this issue for anyone willing to approach the question honestly and who is capable of even minimal self-analysis.
“Individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation.”
What is surprising about this is that there are still folks out there that resist this conclusion. In my experience, most of the “it’s-a-life-style-choice” crowd operate within a religious framework that forces them to deny this fairly obvious conclusion. In the Mormon Church, for example, there is a document that is generally accepted as official doctrine called The Family: A Proclamation to the World. This document states that “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” There simply isn’t enough theological elbow room in this “family” proclamation for anyone in the LGBT community, and since Mormons believe this statement was authored by divinely inspired individuals (modern-day prophets), Mormons are forced to choose sides. They can either trust their own judgment–trust what they see in the real world, trust what gay and lesbian friends and relatives tell them, trust their own experiences (after all, how many straight mormons “chose” their sexual orientation?)–or they can put their own judgments in a box, and assert that individuals choose their sexual orientation (and that if an individual “chooses” to be gay, they are choosing to sin).
This choice reminds me of a scene in Liar Liar (1997, Jim Carrey). In the scene Jim Carrey (who is temporarily unable to lie) tries to assert that the pen he is holding is red (even though it’s actually blue). It’s a funny scene. Here’s a link to it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gblpZpkVE44.
For Mormons (and for other conservative religious folks), the situation isn’t quite as funny. It’s difficult. Mormons have a belief system that tells them that the pen is red (in other words, a belief system that tells them that ”gay” people don’t exist, because God doesn’t make people that are gay; people CHOOSE to be gay, and this “choice” is a sin, because God says it’s a sin, and therefore it has to be denounced as sin). But Mormons are confronted everyday with physical, tangible, right-in-front-of-you evidence that tells them that the pen is blue–and if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll acknowledge the obvious. But here’s the problem. If they admit that’s it blue, then what does that say about their belief system?
One way out is to simply deny the evidence. Another way out is to ignore the evidence (I suspect the temptation to “hear no evil” is at the root of religion-based home-schooling, but that’s a topic for another day). A third option might be to live with the contradiction (just say to oneself, “Well, I don’t understand it, or I don’t have enough information, or I’m just going to trust my belief system as an act of faith or as an acknowledgment that no individual is competent to question the system,” etc.). None of these options represent good long-term solutions.
In many cases, sooner or later, after enough evidence piles up, or life hits you upside the head, you realize that you’re competent enough–that you can trust yourself enough–to say (loudly and proudly, just like Jim Carrey) that the “goddamn pen is blue.” In this context (the same-sex marriage debate), the reality is that individuals do not choose their own sexual orientation (i.e. the pen really is blue).
“Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions. Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners. Standardized measures of relationship satisfaction, relationship adjustment and love do not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex.”
Amen. It’s unfortunate that we, as a society, have to rely on our judicial system to convince us of what we, as human beings, should already know.
“Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals.”
Ask anyone who’s tried it. It’s a tough row to hoe. And it’s fundamentally unfair to socialize gays and lesbians into trying it.
“Same-sex couples receive the same tangible and intangible benefits from marriage that opposite-sex couples receive.”
Yep, companionship, mutual support and intimacy, among other things.
“The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships.”
It’s not about the ”legalities” of it. Sure, some of the debate addresses legal issues, but that’s really not what it’s about. It’s about acceptance, respect, and equality.
“Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.”
Wanda Sykes puts it pretty well: “If you don’t believe in same-sex marriage, then don’t marry somebody of the same sex. I don’t understand people getting all up in arms about shit that doesn’t affect them.” Here’s the YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcnFnLkJbV8.
Let’s hope this decision (and the rationale behind it) brings a few more people over the fence to the right side of this issue.