An editorial appeared in a Tulsa newspaper several weeks ago and it caught my eye. The topic was same-sex marriage. Of course it doesn’t take a lot of hunting to find an argument on any side of the issue – the subject shows up in social media, in newspapers, on sitcoms – but this op-ed was different.
It was different because it was written by a distinguished Republican political and communications consultant named Matt David, who is also a native Oklahoman. Matt is a friend of mine, I’m proud to say, and his premise was that the Republican Party should get out of the business of regulating love. The party of less government, he said, “shouldn’t be fighting love.”
He had recently attended the New York wedding of a high school friend. His friend, a man, married another man, and Matt saw at the ceremony not an act of blasphemy but a joint public expression of love and commitment.
On the same Tulsa World editorial page as Matt David’s opinion piece was an opposing op-ed by an Oklahoma state legislator and Baptist pastor named Dan Fisher, also a Republican. Representative Fisher drew from a hackneyed arsenal of justifications for his view that same-sex marriage is an example – a cause, even – of a “massive culture war” and “moral free-fall.”
Both essays were accompanied by a Tulsa World poll asking, “Should Oklahoma voters reconsider a state ban on same-sex marriage?” The background is that in 2004 voters overwhelmingly passed “Question 711,” limiting marriage in that state to one man and one woman.
I have not had much opportunity to argue the subject with people who believe that my marriage to a man is harmful to society. To be fair, neither have I courted the company of the rabid opposition, because in my experience I haven’t been able to engage in a civil debate with them on intellectual terms. Instead, people with views different from mine tend too frequently to fall back on cliché. We must fight against the “gay agenda” and “activist judges,” they proclaim. Some people adopt a holy zeal in their crusade to “protect traditional marriage” and respond to the loss on a point of logic with, “Well, I still just think it’s wrong.”
I’d like to have a civil debate so it made sense for me to conduct it here, in my own forum, where I can maintain civility. I acknowledge that the back-and-forth might include a little less back and a little more forth, but I try to stick with arguments I’ve heard most often from the other side, especially Rep. Fisher’s (for which I credit him as DF).
“Traditional marriage” must be preserved. “Throughout recorded history, most societies have recognized marriage as one man and one woman. Marriage is God’s institution, and man has no right to redefine it.” (DF)
I could assert that the definition of marriage has changed over the years and that the Bible has shown marriage to us in many forms but I wouldn’t know chapter and verse. Conveniently, three biblical scholars in Iowa have done the work for me:
“…the biblical texts do not support the frequent claim that marriage between one man and one woman is the only type of marriage deemed acceptable by the Bible’s authors.”
“…while it is not accurate to state that biblical texts would allow marriages between people of the same sex, it is equally incorrect to declare that a “one-man-and-one-woman” marriage is the only allowable type of marriage deemed legitimate in biblical texts.”
“[I]f marriage can include same-sex partners, why could it not include multiple partners, or consenting incestuous partners, as well? What would prevent adults from legally marrying consenting children or humans from being legally united in holy matrimony with an animal? Where would it end?” (DF)
We do not grant children the right to consent to much of anything. We make laws to protect them but do not allow children to enter into legal contracts or consent to sexual relations with adults. There’s no such thing as a “consenting child” so your casual use of the term is senseless and stupid. That’s where it would end. As for animals, it shouldn’t need saying but animals don’t get to decide anything…ever. Don’t be an idiot.
And by the way, I haven’t said anything about “holy matrimony.” I’m talking here about civil, legal marriage, the kind over which government has a say. I don’t care what rules any church sets for itself (as long as children aren’t harmed).
Marriage is about procreation, and two people of the same sex can’t procreate. Therefore, they shouldn’t be married.
Are you prepared to demand a medical test for fertility before a marriage license can be issued? Or deny the right to marry to people past child-bearing age?
Marriage is the core of the family, the essential building block of our society.
Are you prepared to outlaw divorce? To enforce laws against adultery (which, in Oklahoma, is a felony) and impose penalties? To deny unmarried opposite-sex couples the right to rent an apartment or purchase a home together?
(By the way, Rep. Fisher, I looked for but could find no public criticism by you of former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts – a Republican – who fathered at least one child out of wedlock. Nor could I find any public criticism by you when evidence surfaced during then-Lt. Gov. Fallin’s 1998 divorce that she had exhibited – how to say? – carnal disregard for the sanctity of her “traditional marriage” by engaging in extra-professional relations with an Oklahoma state trooper.)
“…[C]ivilized cultures have considered such things as murder, theft, and lying wrong because they shared certain moral standards.” (DF)
It’s silly to include lying in that list because it is only sometimes illegal. To “consider” something wrong is not the same as banning it legally. As for murder and thievery, they are banned with the force of law because they have victims. Please tell me how my marriage has harmed yours and rendered you a victim.
Better yet, Rep. Fisher, please look your beloved wife-of-over-30-years Pam in the eyes and tell her how much less valuable your marriage to her is because my husband and I are married. I expect that she and I both would like to hear that quantified.
“[T]he majority of Oklahomans have already spoken about their view of same-sex marriage via our state Constitution.” (DF)
Indeed they did in 2004. But what do they think now?
One measure of their current attitude is the poll that appeared on the same pages where you chose to place your op-ed. The question posed to the readers was, “Should Oklahoma voters reconsider a state ban on same-sex marriage?” The results?
Yes: 85% No: 15%
Majority Rule must be a troublesome concept for you, Rep. Fisher. Our current president was elected twice by a clear majority, yet many Republican lawmakers have spent the last five years doing little but grousing about that majority opinion and using their disgruntlement as a reason to do nothing but try to prevent the government from functioning, from doing anything productive.
Aside from the public’s opinion about same-sex marriage, there is far broader support for the establishment of domestic partnerships or civil unions, yet you, Rep. Fisher, oppose even that.
As evidence of the “moral free-fall” that Rep. Fisher woefully decried, he wrote of a too-common “no one has the right to tell me what to do” mentality.
Oddly, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Mary Fallin, has adopted the same mentality that Rep. Fisher so detests. Despite instructions from the Department of Defense to allow same-sex spouses of members of the armed forces to receive certain benefits, Gov. Fallin instructed the Oklahoma National Guard not to process requests for those benefits.
What kind of statement of respect for America’s servicemen and women is it to unilaterally obstruct access to benefits they’ve earned and are allowed by the federal government? Gov. Fallin’s disrespectful behavior reminds me of Gov. George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama with his arms crossed. It’s not an attractive reference.
Rep. Fisher, where’s the outrage?
Moving back to politics, I’ll quote Matt David’s advice to his own party: “Republicans must drop this notion that we can shape culture and focus on things we can influence.”
That’s a smart, sensible approach, but too many influential people will hear this and take it as a call to wave a white flag and compromise their principles. But to compromise on politics in a particular moment, in the name of the advancement of a greater good, isn’t a dishonorable approach at all. On the contrary, that’s statesmanship.
Is it too much to hope that enough statesmen will emerge in this discussion, and at the same time leave my marriage alone?