Saturday, August 16, 2008

Card Redux

I’ve often found it helpful to turn commonplaces around and see what sort of sense they make. For example:

Heterosexuals aren’t a real minority. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle choice. It’s not something you’re born with, and you can’t tell that a person is a heterosexual by looking at them.

The first objection to this might be that no one says that heterosexuals are a minority -- indeed, a major claim of heterosexual supremacists is that they are an overwhelming majority. This is supposed to prove that they are right, or at least that they’re better than homosexuals. But moral absolutists would insist that right and wrong can’t be put to a vote: no matter how many people want to do something wrong, it’s still wrong. Many feel quite comfortable denouncing what is worldly, what is held by most people to be acceptable – it’s an ancient Christian position, and by no means unique to them. I basically agree that right and wrong aren’t decided by numbers, and that the majority can be wrong, even on very serious matters. But if that’s so, then the numerical superiority of heterosexuals doesn’t establish their moral superiority to homosexuals, or even equality with us.

Heterosexual supremacists know very well, of course, that heterosexuals are the majority. (Hard-core, militant flaunting heterosexual supremacists may be a minority, though.) Why, then, do so many of them insist on presenting themselves as vulnerable, if not helpless victims of the Homosexual cabal? As Sarah Schulman pointed out in her brilliant book Stage Struck: theater, AIDS, and the marketing of gay America (Duke University Press, 1998), page 124:

Historically, dominant people have always been comfortable with the idea of oppressed people as secretly powerful. The easiest example, of course, is how for almost two thousand years, dominant groups of various stripes have convinced themselves that they were ruled over by a secret cabal of Jews.

… or Catholics, or Freemasons, or Communists. There’s even the term “Homintern”, possibly coined by the poet W. H. Auden as a campy play on Comintern, which was adopted by some heterosexuals sure that a homosexual Mafia had taken over the arts and was moving in on the State Department.

Orson Scott Card, like many heterosexual supremacists, claims (he has no arguments) that legalizing same-sex marriage is a lethal threat to the heterosexual many. I’m not the only person who wonders what kind of threat it could possibly be, given our numerical insignificance and the likelihood (even according to bigots) that only a few of us would give up our nonstop cavalcade of mind-blowing sex with thousands of anonymous partners in order to marry.

One response appears to be that we will marry anyway, to get Special Rights, which will bankrupt the country by their expense. Even if we all married, I can’t imagine how our Special Rights would cost the economy any more than the vastly greater numbers of heterosexual couples’ Special Rights do.

Or maybe when ignorant young heterosexuals see homosexuals marrying, they will decide that same-sex marriage is normal, which will either mysteriously devalue marriage itself in their eyes, or lead them to turn homosexual and marry same-sex partners. Since American heterosexuals began rejecting marriage in favor of cohabitation (‘living in sin’) long before homosexuals began to agitate for same-sex marriage, I’m not the only person who has wondered if heterosexuals hadn’t already devalued marriage before we decided to lay claim to it. (Sort of like buying rich folks’ castoffs at Goodwill. Some advocates of same-sex marriage actually say that heterosexuals have devalued marriage with their high divorce rate, etc. If it’s so devalued, why do they want it?) Maybe same-sex marriage would make marriage look “cool” in any configuration, seducing young heterosexuals into contracting mixed-sex marriages so they could be as “with it” as Teh Gay, just as they adopt our fashions and musical trends. If so, whether they marry heterosexually or homosexually, they may find that it doesn’t come easily or naturally.

Which brings me to the question of nature. Card wrote:

No matter how sexually attracted a man might be toward other men, or a woman toward other women, and no matter how close the bonds of affection and friendship might be within same-sex couples, there is no act of court or Congress that can make these relationships the same as the coupling between a man and a woman.

This is a permanent fact of nature. …

Human beings are part of a long mammalian tradition of heterosexuality.

Is heterosexual marriage a matter of nature? If so, there’s nothing so special about it. The copulation of a male and female dog would be “the same” as heterosexual marriage on Card’s assumptions. Heterosexual supremacists almost admit this at times, when they claim that even animals “know” that you need a male and a female to produce offspring. Animals don’t know any such thing as far as I’m aware. Homosexuals know very well that our couplings will not produce children, and even the most militant heterosexuals do not want their every copulation to result in conception. I don’t see why an animal function needs the kind of hysterical defense Card and his ilk are trying to mount. Contrary to Card’s claim, animal copulation does not equal “heterosexuality,” an ideology which structures copulation into institutionalized forms. Heterosexual marriage is clearly not natural, but a lifestyle choice.

Perhaps Card considers heterosexual marriage superior on “spiritual” grounds. Not all religious believers have thought so. Jesus reportedly thought it better to refrain from any sexual relations, and perhaps that the abstinent had a better chance of attaining salvation. Paul certainly thought so: he warned the Corinthians that the married person cares about what his or her spouse wants, while the single person cares about what God wants, so that while marriage is permissible as a licit outlet for lust, abstinence is preferable. (Jesus went further, demanding that his followers put obedience to him before family obligations.) Many later Christian fathers agreed with him. The Mormons are not the only Christian sect to abandon these teachings of the two greatest Christian exemplars. Other world religions and numerous philosophers have held similar views, regarding sexual desire as a snare and the vagina as a grave.

If we accept, though, the view of heterosexual marriage as a spiritual good, one must ask whether only religious believers ought to be allowed to marry. Do heterosexual atheists travesty true marriage if they marry legally without benefit of clergy? Will just any religion do, or does marriage have to be contracted in the name of the Christian god? Perhaps only Latter Day Saints can mine the blessings of heterosexual marital copulation. In any case, these are questions which heterosexual supremacists should be expected to answer. Typically, Card equivocates, treating heterosexual marriage as something both “natural” (“older than government”, like slavery, rape, and warfare) and something so tenuous and fragile that it must be legislated.

Card goes further: he says that heterosexual marriage is something “very, very hard -- to combine the lives of a male and female, with all their physical and personality differences, into a stable relationship that persists across time.” As I pointed out before, this seems to imply that heterosexual marriage – perhaps even heterosexuality itself – is unnatural. Perhaps this is why so many heterosexual marriages fail, and why Card describes marriage as “a permanent or semipermanent bond”.

Maybe he thinks that producing such a bond would be even more difficult between two men or two women. If so, wouldn’t that make it an ideal even more devoutly to be sought? Maybe he thinks it impossible; I venture that it’s not for him to say, but even so he needs to provide compelling reasons why same-sex couples should not be allowed to try.

And here he runs into a serious obstacle. Probably he doesn't argue on religious grounds that marriage must be heterosexual-only, because that would ignore the First Amendment too blatantly, and give his game away. So he confuses marriage with reproduction and insists that marriage just naturally is heterosexual-only, one-man-one-woman-only. But reproduction does not equal marriage, as any single mother can tell you. Reproduction is a natural phenomenon (though of course being human, we humans have laden it with all sorts of symbolic meaning), and it's true that the state can't change that by legislation. On the other hand, human beings have always struggled against the natural limitations of our bodies, including in reproductive matters. Heterosexuals whose bodies won't spawn only accept childlessness as their god's will after exhausting the resources of prayer, magic, and medicine. Since marriage is a human institution that isn't naturally anything, Card and other heterosexual supremacists don't have an argument. (I feel the same way, incidentally, about gay marriage advocates who say things like, "if marriage is really about love..." It's not.)

In the end these considerations are beside the point. If two men or two women want to exchange vows sanctifying their couplehood, it is not illegal (yet) for them to do so. Under the U. S. Constitution, the State is not supposed to decide such matters. If a cult doesn’t want to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, that is its right, but it may not block other cults from recognizing them. (I notice again that nowhere in his rant does Card so much as mention polygamy; but I see he has addressed it here, with equal historical and theological dishonesty.) Card claims that if same-sex marriage is legally recognized, there will come a day when cults will be required to recognize them as valid. I doubt it, if only because Christian cults aren’t required to recognize heterosexual marriages that don’t meet their standards. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, doesn’t have to recognize civil marriages involving Catholics unless they also take place under cult auspices – and if one partner isn’t a Catholic, he or she must meet cult requirements, such as contracting to raise any children as Catholics, or the church wedding will not take place.

I know that there are both heterosexuals and homosexuals who want the State to bend churches to their will. I hope they fail. Religions are not required by US law to be fair, just, or decent, and I would prefer that more people stopped expecting them to be. The State, however, should be just and fair and if possible, decent. (I said "should.")

What is being disputed now is civil marriage and the Special Rights with which it endows those who have access to it. There’s something about marriage – rather like patriotism – which makes people argue in bad faith. When the city of San Francisco briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, numerous couples asked the clerks to bless them as well. Some complied. (See Mark Jordan, Blessing Same-sex Unions [Chicago, 2005] pp. 1-5.) If a random city clerk would do, why do they need a priest or minister to bless them? Blessings are not a commodity for the State to dispense. Advocates of same-sex marriage seem to be as likely as their opponents to confuse civil and cult marriage, as though a City Hall ceremony will save them from 'living in sin.' If sin worries them, they’ll have to work for change within their respective cults, without benefit of government. As for those Special Rights they want so badly, I’d like to know why single people shouldn’t get them too. As M. le Ioz put it, if those Special Rights are human rights, why should you have to be married to get them?

Card asks rhetorically, “If a court declared that from now on, ‘blind’ and ‘sighted’ would be synonyms, would that mean that it would be safe for blind people to drive cars?” To see just how disingenuous this is, imagine another sort of religious zealot applying the same analogy to religious freedom. It’s not so far-fetched, really; some Christians have tried to argue that religious freedom in the US only protects Christian sects, with a special dispensation for Jews too, but letting Muslims and Hindus worship freely is going too far. So, if a court declares that from now on, ‘Mormon’ and ‘Christian’ should be synonyms… Card has not shown, though, how permitting same-sex couples to marry would be unsafe.

And I can’t help wondering how far he wants to go. As I pointed out earlier, there is no legal barrier to a same-sex couple’s exchanging vows and receiving a blessing – having a wedding, in other words – and then calling themselves married. Their marriage would have no legal status, but Card has already declared that the law doesn’t define marriage (though he also considers it vital that the State define marriage to suit him). Sectarian heterosexual supremacists need not recognize their marriage, any more than the Roman Catholic Church must recognize heterosexual marriages it doesn’t authorize. Does Card want the State to intervene in ‘defense’ of the institution of marriage against such guerilla weddings? Given his coy advocacy of armed heterosexual rebellion if same-sex marriage is legalized, and his earlier advocacy of the selective enforcement use of sodomy laws to keep homosexuals from getting too uppity (this was before sodomy laws were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003), I wouldn’t be surprised.

Bigots often try to excuse themselves by pointing out that their prejudices are based in their religion. I think it’s safe to say that in the West, at least, most bigotry has been based in religion, if only because religion is used to support social norms. Would Card argue that there was no bigotry in the 19th century persecution of Mormons, since it was based on the religious beliefs of the persecutors? The persecution of Jews by Christians was religiously based. The persecution of Protestants by Catholics, of Catholics by Protestants, of Quakers by Anglicans … all were justified as the defense of the Faith by Christ’s soldiers against Satan-worshiping infidels. Religious belief was used to justify racial segregation in the US in my lifetime – those Christian schools that proliferated in the 1960s were in large part an attempt to evade desegregation by hiding behind religion. (Consider the history of Bob Jones University, for that matter.)

Card has complained, “It’s just one of those things where I think, 'Why have I been singled out as your enemy?’” he says. “Why do some people call for a boycott of my books? I don’t make this a cause. I’m not attacking anybody.” Scott darling, I’m not singling you out, nor as far as I know is anyone else: you’re just one of many bigots out there. No doubt you have numerous causes, not just the demonization of homosexuals. You told that interviewer “I’m not attacking anybody” before you wrote your attack on same-sex marriage and advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, but you already had some attacks on gay people to your credit even then. “Disingenuous” is too mild a word: “out of touch with reality” comes a little nearer. If you stood alone, your bigotry might be considered merely eccentric, but the Latter Day Saints is officially engaged in trying to overturn legal same-sex marriage in California. It’s not just you; you’re part of something larger. And freedom of speech means not just your freedom to express your opinions, but the freedom of others to attack your opinions.