Hate 2000 Newsletter
"..change the world one heart at a time...The tendency that we all have is venting our anger upon the weak or pushing down the weak. In some ways, we don't want them because of the fact that they are fragile and in need of help." --- Jean Vanier, 16 May, 2002.
Dear Friends, Again, we find ourselves regretting the long time between newsletters. We hadn't intended it, but Murphy's Second Law applies to us as much as it does to anybody else. As everybody will recall, Murphy's Second Law has it that "everything takes more time and costs more money than you think it will."
So we have seen high summer come and go in the Northern hemisphere, while low winter has come and gone in the Southern. Some wits will say there's no difference between the two! Our excuse (such as it is) is that it's a time when it's either far too warm to anything but contemplate eternal verities, or too cold to do anything but warm up.
In our last two newsletters, we did carry on quite a lot about war and peace. The glories, miseries and hysterics of war tend to hide a fact easily forgotten. However, the past couple of months are bringing it back to mind. For the most part, war is a long, tedious, hard slog. We'll ignore a lot of other wars carrying on in this way, but note that a lot of hard slogging continues, and looks likely to continue for some time to come in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We carried on at such length because war poses particular problems to a democratic society. A democracy, as Adlai Stevenson Jr. noted, is one that allows people to disagree honorably. War tests such a society severely, in ways with which frankly undemocratic ones are not concerned. There, one need only be concerned with the security of the state. That is a necessary thing, but balancing that necessary security with the very nature of a democratic society is always a difficult and troubling exercise.
In looking at the past year, we've reflected that times of war does not so much create new tensions as it does aggravate normal ones. It can work the other way around as well. When issues arise which involve basic symbols of a society, and the values which those symbols embody, we can adopt the mindset of war. Patrick Buchanan's 1992 reference to a "cultural war" can be an apt description. And then we learn that our abilities to disagree honorably can be as hard-pressed in cultural wars as they are in military ones.
Instances of this have arisen in at least two North American countries very recently. In both instances a country's courts came up with rulings which involved basic views about a society's values. The two may be linked; certainly there are those who are certain that they are. In the United States, the Supreme Court concluded that Texas' law outlawing sodomy (as well as other states' laws to the same effect) was an unconstitutional limitation on what consenting adults can do. In Canada, a court just below that level concluded that a civil authority could not refuse to register a marriage on the ground that the partners were of the same sex.
The Canadian ruling came before the first, and it caught the attention of all nine of the American Supreme Court justices. Eight of them, regardless of the opinion the had about the case, saw the two issues as being completely separate, and took a lot of care in explaining why. Justice Antonin Scalia thought otherwise, and said so very vividly and publicly. He demonstrated that what people choose to hear can be more important than what is actually said: activists on either side used Justice Scalia's dissent as an argument that they are indeed linked. One may be allowed to ask whether Justice Scalia managed to create a situation which he wished to prevent.
We add that the two issues may be linked. At least one member of our group thinks the logic of the Canadian ruling must affect American legalities eventually. However, the combination of court rulings has made for some lively times, possibly even amounting to cultural wars, complete with demands for constitutional amendments or suspensions.
The lively times have been revealing some important things about the way we treat each other. Perhaps because the issues are symbolic rather than practical, they are more important rather than less. The symbols represent some definite and decided values, and they matter. This may be one of those times when the issues are intractable because they are less right against wrong than two contending versions of right.
Before taking sides, we'd like to explain the views of the two sides. Neither is completely without merit, and neither is completely without fault.
From the point of view of the proponents of what we'll call "gay marriage", a legal recognition would be the end point of a full acceptance of a long despised and persecuted minority. Memories of state laws forbidding interracial marriages come to mind as a late and almost the last barriers to racial integration. A section of the opposition would agree completely, although disagreeing that this would be a good or desirable thing. The proponents of such a recognition have a second reason: they see such a recognition as affirming the traditional mores of family, and bringing the gay (actually GLBT) community into it. The opponents think, of course, that the opposite is the case.
In considering this second ground, it is worth noting that quite a substantial part of the gay community is opposed to such a recognition, although the reasons are many and various. The grounds of opposition are enlightening and worth examining.
There is the ongoing radical part of the community which rejects such a conformist vision. In effect, having adopted a radical position about society generally and having preached it for about half a century, the demand for recognition of "gay marriage" is a capitulation to a fundamentally hostile and corrupt society. That's not entirely a homosexual perspective: the gay activists who have adopted that gospel adapted it from "free love" ideas preached by earlier radicals in a heterosexual context. One is not hard pressed to find examples among either heterosexuals or homosexuals who still hold that the free and unrestrained gratification of sexual desire is the highest and best good there can be, and that any limitation thereon is perverse and evil. The gospel is more lived than preached, but there are some hardy souls who can be found to preach it.
A larger body of opinion is opposed for different reasons. Part of the gay community has argued for some sort of "separate but equal" set of institutions for about a quarter of a century. Its intellectual roots and depth ought not to be underestimated. This group would hold that while same-sex unions or partnerships do not have to yield to any other in terms of fidelity, commitment or permanence, they exist in a very different context and for different reasons. It is therefore a mistake merely to imitate heterosexual institutions instead of developing parallel ones.
A less intellectual group within the gay community tend to support this opinion. A first reason is a desire not to be troublesome or to make waves. A second is born of a painful observation. In the larger community, especially that part of it which almost regards marriage as compulsory, divorce and dysfunctionality seem to be the most normal outcomes.
We here insert a footnote. As things presently are in Canada, same-sex couples can get married (at least in three provinces), but they can't get divorced!
This other source of dissension within the gay community reveals a lot about the proponents of gay marriage: they dislike the "separate but equal" option precisely because it is less than a full assimilation into larger society. Imitating it and its mores is exactly what is wanted. In this sense, imitation is no mockery but the highest form of flattery.
In the larger community, the grounds for agreement are straightforward: the full acceptance of a small and persecuted minority. There can be some hesitation about it, and the hesitations have hardened into opposition for some. We hope to explore and explain those hesitations.
In the larger society, of course, there are those who see the debate in precisely those terms of acceptance, and take the view that such an acceptance is in itself a bad thing. That group is much larger in number than those who are prepared to give voice to it. After all, one can sound uncomfortably like those who argued not too long ago that not all races of humanity are created equal. It does often leave one scrambling for more palatable arguments.
The more palatable arguments can obviously be covers for more unpopular and sustainable ones. But they are more palatable because they are seriously held by people who would otherwise wish to act with the best will in the world, and who are not in fact opposed to accepting the gay community.
For many, accepting "gay marriage" is responding to a demand which is greater than tolerance or acceptance. The demand seems to be for positive approval. It has to be said that the demand is frequently expressed by its proponents in exactly that way. legal recognition is a stamp of approval.
Let's change the context for a minute, and the point may become clearer. One might well be opposed to prohibiting alcoholic drink. One might well accept that one's neighbor or friend will have too much of it quite frequently. One might accept that, but it's another thing to approve of it. For a number of people who think in this way, a legal recognition of the fact is a formal statement of approval.
Turning the coin around, it is true that much of the argument behind "hate laws" is that they are a formal statement of disapproval.
As a point of positive policy, many opponents of gay marriage see no distinction between marriage as a sacrament, marriage as a social institution, or marriage as a legal concept. Among these people one will find many who would be willing to countenance legal recognition of sane-sex unions if they were called something other than marriage. But for these people, if you change marriage in law, you change it as a sacrament and as a social institution. The point, once understood becomes a recognizable point of honorable disagreement.
In the end, we respectfully disagree with this last opinion. Anybody who has the misfortune to get entangled with the courts in marriage and family law learns quickly that the legal concept of marriage is no affair of the heart and no sacrament. It is a property contract with special considerations for children. Nothing more. That's a cold-blooded assessment to be sure, and, for those who have had to learn it personally, it's a disillusioning one.
We find ourselves wondering if the demand would be pressed as hard as it is, or whether it would be as resisted as vigorously if either side understood this.
The law cannot make a thing sacred or unsacred. The law's say-so does not make people love each other. the law's permission does not mean approval. At least for Christians, St. Paul's observation that "all things are permitted, but not all things are good" is a useful text to consider.
But, then, symbols have their reality and meaning. And, to paraphrase President Carter, we may be going to "the moral equivalent of war" over the meaning and reality of a very important symbol.
Well, descending from the heights a little bit.
We have had some changes on our web site, some of which are most welcome, and some considerably less so. We have added some new links, including some new memorial pages, which we hope you will find welcome additions. Unhappily, we likely have lost our old message board for good, and possibly the guest book too. We have replaced the latter with what may be a temporary or permanent replacement. We must confess that we are less sure that replacing the message board would be as good an idea. We had found it helpful in getting some interesting articles or other ruminations, and even the ill-tempered postings we could attract showed that certain attitudes exist. However, we have noted that this has been possibly the least viewed part of our web site. We'd like to hear your views about this one.
Sorry to take so long in writing this letter, and be so long in the writing, but "better late than never, and better something than nothing." As we finish summer and look sadly at work and school, we wish everybody the best with those plagues of our lives, and better still with the more enjoyable things in life.