9 Incredibly Important Things That Happened In 2013 That Most People Aren’t Talking About

In a media environment increasingly dominated by celebrity, scandal and various political horseraces, many of the most important stories receive scant coverage. I know it can seem depressing, but it really is important to know.  Here are nine hugely important things that happened in 2013 that are rarely discussed:

1. Human rights abuses in North Korean prisons reached a level not seen since the Nazi atrocities.

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CREDIT: AP

A new report from the U.N. released in January found that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are being subjected to historic human right abuses. Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge who took the lead in creating the report, told BBC News “They had to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and on grass and they were subject to cruelty, All in all it is a very horrifying story, the like of which I don’t think I’ve seen or read of since the Khmer Rouge [in Cambodia] and the Nazi atrocities during the second world war.” A former camp inmate “told investigators that he was lucky when a warden ordered the tip of his finger chopped off for damaging a piece of sewing equipment used to carry out forced labor — he could easily have been executed for the transgression.

 

2. The Tea Party became a major advocate for solar energy.

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

In Georgia, the Tea Party has teamed up with clean energy advocates to bring more solar energy to the state, over the objections of utility giant Southern Co. Tea Party, advocates are motivated not by reducing carbon emissions but by adding more competition to the energy market and reducing prices. Still, the atypical coalition could be a game-changer as renewable producers seek access to energy markets.

3. American cities criminalized homelessness.

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

In South Carolina, Columbia City passed an ordinance “to remove homeless people from the downtown business district.” Police officers are now specially assigned to patrol the downtown area and a hotline was set up “so local businesses and residents can report the presence of a homeless person to police.” In Los AngelesHarrisburg, and Raleigh authorities cracked down on good samaritans providing food to the homeless in public. New YorkPalo AltoTampa and Miami have focused on criminalizing sleeping in public. Overall, these efforts make it next to impossible for the homeless — a population of about 600,000 in America — to get back on their feet.

4. Thousands of people who worked their entire lives had their pensions stolen.

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CREDIT: AP

In Illinois and Michigan, thousands of working Americans had their promised pensions stolen from them, despite guarantees in their states’ constitutions that protected their benefits. Those impacted include “retirees who worked their careers as sanitation engineers and teachers, firefighters and police officers, public defenders and city clerks” — many of whom will now be thrown into poverty. As these two Midwest states appear to be getting away with it, many other localities may follow suit.

5. More people died in America from suicide than car accidents.

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CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

While mass shootings frequently land on the front page, many more people die of suicide each year. Data released in this year, covering 2010, found that for the first time more people died from suicide (38,364) than car crashes (33,687). While suicide is frequently associated with teenagers and the elderly, the growth has been fueled by “middle-aged Americans.” Experts speculate the rise might be attributable to middle-aged people “coping with the stress of caring for aging parents while still providing financial and emotional support to adult children.”

6. The oceans changed dramatically, transforming into an acidic stew inhospitable to marine life.

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CREDIT: AP

Much of the conversation about climate change focuses on rising temperatures. But carbon dioxide emissions is rapidly making the oceans inhospitable for marine life. Why? According to studies “the ocean absorbs about 30 to 40 percent of the atmosphere’s excess carbon, causing its pH to drop.” These acidity levels can corrode the shells of crustaceans, and have lead to an explosion in jelly fish populations. One Oregon fisherman reported, “Sometimes we’ll catch 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of jellyfish.” Another fisherman said that “he saw baby octopuses climbing up his crab line to escape the water. When he pulled up his crab trap, all the crabs were dead.”

7. The Supreme Court green-lighted the execution of people with severe mental disabilities.

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CREDIT: AP

In August, the State of Florida executed John Errol Ferguson, “a paranoid schizophrenic man who believes that he is the ‘Prince of God’ and that his execution is preparing him for ‘ascension.’” The Supreme Court has ruled that people with extreme mental disabilities are not constitutionally eligible for execution, but declined to intervene in Ferguson’s case and other cases like his. Last year, Texas executed Marvin Wilson, a man with an IQ of 61.

8. Vaccine conspiracy theories created localized epidemics of deadly, previously eradicated diseases.

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CREDIT: AP

In one Texas town a measles outbreak was traced to a mega-church pastor who preached against vaccines. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, more 1,200 people contracted measles. The outbreak was traced to “the country’s extensive Bible Belt where the majority of fundamentalist Protestants do not believe in having their children vaccinated.”

9. Cities and counties sought to boost their economy by attracting undocumented immigrants.

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CREDIT: AP

Much recent coverage has focused on states like Arizona and Alabama that have sought to make their states as inhospitable as possible to undocumented immigrants — with disastrous consequences. But other cities and counties have taken the opposite approach in an effort to boost their local economies, bucking federal guidlines and welcoming the undocumented. In Dayton, Ohio officials “make no effort to pursue residents without legal status, if they are otherwise law-abiding.” In Philadelphia, members of the city council are encouraging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop detaining undocumented immigrants who aren’t dangerous. Meanwhile, Newark Police announced they would “decline immigration detainers issued to the department” by ICE.

9 Incredibly Important Things That Happened In 2013 That Most People Aren’t Talking About | ThinkProgress.

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A Message For Mankind – Words To Live By

This speech is as amazing today as it was 70+ years ago.  Read, listen, watch it if you get a chance.  

A Message for Mankind: Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech, Remixed

“We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery.”

From the remix artist Alan Watts :  “A Message for Mankind” — a stirring mashup of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator and scenes of humanity’s most tragic and most hopeful moments in recent history, spanning everything from space exploration to the Occupy protests, with an appropriately epic score by Hans Zimmer.

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.

Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

4th (Self Help) Day of Xmas – Mankind

This speech is as amazing today as it was 70+ years ago.  Read, listen, watch it if you get a chance.  It is Sunday, take time to reboot and recalibrate and remember what is most important to you.

A Message for Mankind: Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech, Remixed

“We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery.”

From the same remix artist who brought us yesterday’s Alan Watts meditation on the meaningful life comes “A Message for Mankind” — a stirring mashup of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator and scenes of humanity’s most tragic and most hopeful moments in recent history, spanning everything from space exploration to the Occupy protests, with an appropriately epic score by Hans Zimmer.

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.

Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

via A Message for Mankind: Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech, Remixed | Brain Pickings.

Mia Farrow – Style Icon

NAME: Mia Farrow
OCCUPATION: Film Actress
BIRTH DATE: February 09, 1945 (Age: 67)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Los Angeles, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Mia Farrow is an American actress and human rights activist who starred in Rosemary’s Baby. She dated Woody Allen for more than a decade before the relationship ended in scandal.

Mia Farrow (born Maria de Lourdes Villiers Farrow on February 9, 1945) is an American actress, singer, humanitarian, and fashion model.

Farrow first gained wide acclaim for her role as Allison MacKenzie in the soap opera Peyton Place, and for her subsequent short-lived marriage to Frank Sinatra. An early film role, as the woman pregnant with Satan’s baby in 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, saw her portrayal nominated for many awards.

Farrow has appeared in more than forty-five films and won numerous awards, including a Golden Globe award (and seven additional Golden Globe nominations), five BAFTA Film Award nominations, and a win for best actress at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. Farrow is also known for her extensive humanitarian work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She is involved in humanitarian activities in Darfur, Chad, and the Central African Republic. In 2008, Time magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world.

Farrow was born as Maria de Lourdes Villiers Farrow in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Australian film director John Farrow and Irish actress Maureen O’Sullivan.

Farrow married singer Frank Sinatra on July 19, 1966, when she was 21 and he was 50 years old. During the production of Farrow’s 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, after she refused Sinatra’s demand that she quit the film to work on his movie The Detective, he served her with divorce papers on the Rosemary’s Baby set. The divorce was finalized in 1968.

Also in 1968, Farrow traveled to India, where she spent the early part of the year at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, studying Transcendental Meditation. Her visit received worldwide media attention due to the presence of all four members of The Beatles, Donovan, and Mike Love, as well as her sister Prudence Farrow, who inspired John Lennon to write the song “Dear Prudence”.

In 1970, Farrow married the musician André Previn. His former wife, songwriter Dory Previn, blamed Farrow for the end of her relationship with Previn and wrote a scathing song, entitled “Beware of Young Girls”, about the incident. Farrow and Previn had three biological children (twins Matthew and Sascha, born February 26, 1970, and Fletcher, born March 14, 1974). In 1973 and 1976, respectively, they adopted Vietnamese infants Lark Song and Summer “Daisy” Song (born October 6, 1974), followed by the adoption of eight-year-old Soon-Yi (born October 8, 1970) from Korea around 1978. André and Mia divorced in 1979.[citation needed] Lark died on Christmas Day of 2008.

In 1980, Farrow began seeing film director Woody Allen. Together they adopted Moses “Misha” Farrow (born January 27, 1978, adopted 1980) and Dylan “Eliza” Farrow (born July 11, 1985, now called Malone). On December 19, 1987, Mia gave birth to Satchel O’Sullivan Farrow, now known as Ronan Seamus Farrow. During their relationship, Farrow starred in many of Allen’s films, and several of their children also made appearances.

Farrow has set up her own website, Mia Farrow.org, which features a guide on how to get involved with Darfur activism, along with her photographs and blog entries from Darfur, Chad, and the Central African Republic.

In 2008, Farrow received three awards: the France Legion of Arts and Lettres award, the Refugees International McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award for “extraordinary service to refugees and displaced people”; and the Tiannamen Square Award.

In 2009, Farrow was the recipient of the Leon Sullivan International Service award. She testified in the trial against former Liberian President Charles Taylor in August 2010.

 

From Kristallnacht to the Berlin Wall.

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attack was inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he got the idea to stage a mass uprising in response. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country, and told them to attack Jewish buildings but to make the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims. Fire fighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent Aryan properties. Everyone cooperated.

In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims. The Nazis confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to Jews. They also imposed a huge collective fine on the Jewish community for having supposedly incited the violence. The event was used to justify barring Jews from schools and most public places, and forcing them to adhere to new curfews. In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, “Night of Broken Glass.” It’s generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.

Also on this day in 1989, the leader of the East German Communist party made a quiet announcement that the Berlin Wall would be opened for “private trips abroad.” Within days, millions of East Germans flooded into West Berlin, and citizens began to pull the wall to pieces. Fireworks went off, people from all over Europe jammed the checkpoints and drank champagne, and the East German police and the West German police traded caps.

Arguing Equality Chapter 9: Gay Marriage by Definition

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality. For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject with others. I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” President Barack Obama.

CHAPTER 9: 

DEFINITIONAL ARGUMENTS

For gay marriage opponents who are a bit less intellectually developed, here are a few topical statements.

BUT, IT JUST CAN’T BE!

For many Americans, the very concept of same-sex marriage is puzzling and confusing: “It just can’t be!” Marriage has always been a union between one man and one woman – by its very definition, it is opposite-sex. By this line of reasoning, “gay marriage” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Believe it or not, definitional arguments have proven persuasive in courts. Take, for example, the Kentucky Court of Appeals’ reasoning in the case of Jones v. Hallahan. The court began its decision by quoting from Webster’s Dictionary, second edition, which defines marriage as:

A state of being married, or being united to a person or persons of the opposite sex as husband or wife; also, the mutual relation of husband and wife; wedlock; abstractly, the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence, for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family.

After citing this definition, the court ruled against two gay men who requested a marriage license with the following conclusion:

[M]arriage has always been considered as the union of a man and a woman and we have been presented with no authority to the contrary. It appears to us that appellants are prevented from marrying, not by the statutes of Kentucky or the refusal of the County Court Clerk of Jefferson County to issue them a license, but rather by their own incapability of entering into a marriage as that term is defined.

Straight up, the argument doesn’t work. It is, simply, illogical.

A) The Logical Incoherency of the Argument

Definitional arguments against gay marriage suffer three fatal flaws of logical consistency. First, they employ circular reasoning. Follow the logic:

Marriage is a relationship between two people of different sexes, therefore a same-sex couple cannot marry. But Why? Because marriage is a relationship between two people of different sexes.

The argument employs no outside moral, legal, social, ethical or historical rationale as to why the status quo should be retained, a prime example of circular reasoning.

Second, pay attention to the primary point being put forth: “Two people of the same sex can’t get married because marriage is for two people of different sexes.” In legal terms, this is referred to as ipse dixit reasoning – “It’s so because I say its so!” It may be impossible to question such reasoning, but it is hardly persuasive.

Third, the claim is non-responsive. The statement “this is the way things have always been” fails to address the argument that things should change. As one of the greatest legal thinkers f modern times, Oliver Wendell Holmes put it: “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”

Again, a little history lesson may be in order. The argument, when illuminated by the facts, doesn’t hold water.

A) Gay Love And Marriage Historically

The argument fails on a fourth ground as well: it simply is not true. Marriage is not naturally, normally, or even traditionally heterosexual in nature. Gay unions have been sanctioned in various historical eras and cultures from ancient Greece to 17th Century China to pre-colonial America. Indeed, a 1951 survey of sexual practices around the world drew the following conclusions:

In 49 (64 percent) of the 76 societies other than our own for which information is available, homosexual activities of one sort or another are considered normal and socially acceptable for certain members of the community…. In many cases this [same-sex] behavior occurs within the framework of courtship and marriage, the man who takes the part of the female being recognized as a “berdache” and treated as a woman. In other words, a genuine mateship is involved.

To illustrate the presence of gay love cross-culturally and historically, I will explore some of those civilizations which have recognized and accepted same-sex unions. Please keep in mind that this is meant solely as a cursory overview, and is by no means an exhaustive list.

Africa: “Woman-Marriages

In the 1930s, the phenomenon of “woman-marriages” in the Sudan and northern Nigeria, once dismissed as an odd curiosity, was given considerable attention when anthropologists Eileen Jensen Krige and Melville Herskovits researched and published a study of the Nuer tribe in Sudan:

What seems to us, but not at all to the Nuer, a somewhat strange union is that in which a woman marries another woman and counts as the “pater” [father] of the children born of the wife. Such marriages are by no means uncommon in Nuerland, and they must be regarded as a form of simple legal marriage, for the woman-husband marries her wife in exactly the same way as a man marries a woman…. We may perhaps refer to this kind of union as woman-marriage.

Anthropologist C.K. Meek described the institution as it currently exists in northern Nigeria:

There is a curious and ancient custom found among some of the Yoruba, Yagba, Akoko, Nupe, and Gana-Gana communities — that of a woman going through a regular form of matrimony with other women.

All the ceremonial of marriage is observed in these marriages of women to women, and a bride-price is even paid to the young girl’s father. The usual rules of divorce apply. The legal “husband” can divorce her “wife” and recover her dowry, and if the young girl runs off with a man she can claim the resultant children as her own. The marriage of women to women is not regarded with disfavour, and the chiefs will even consent to their daughters being married in this way.

Ancient Greece:

It is widely accepted that same-sex eroticism was common in ancient Greece, especially among the upper classes. In fact, a great deal of Greek art and literature represents gay love as the only form of love which can be lasting, pure, and truly spiritual – primarily because it reaches beyond procreation in purpose. For instance, the concept of “Platonic love” derived from Plato’s conviction that only love between persons of the same gender could transcend sex.

The Greek notion that homosexuality was an integral part of the spectrum of human sexuality is perhaps best exemplified in Plato’s Symposium, where Plato puts forth a theory on the origins of human love. According to this theory, all humans were originally giants who had four arms, four legs, two heads, and two sexual organs — either two male genitalia (male giants), two female genitalia (female giants), or one of each (androgynous giants). At some point, Zeus became angry with the giants and cut them all in half, yielding gay, lesbian and heterosexual humans respectively, all in search of their other halves.

Additionally, many of the Gods of ancient Greece, including Zeus and Achilles, had both same-sex and opposite-sex lovers. Indeed, according to Greek mythology, when Zeus returns up to the heavens, it is Ganymede, his male lover, whom he chooses to accompany him for all eternity.

Ancient China:

Gay male love was also fully integrated and accepted in the Fukien Province of ancient China. Indeed, among the ancient Chinese, same-sex love was commonly spoken of as “the love of the cut sleeve.” The phrase referred to the last emperor of the Han dynasty, Ai-Ti, who cut the sleeve from his shirt when called to give a speech rather than wake his lover, Tung Hsien, who had fallen asleep on it.

Ancient Mesopotamia:

Finally, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the most celebrated of Near Eastern myths, illustrates the celebration of same-sex love in Ancient Mesopotamia. The epic describes the relationship between Gilgamesh — the powerful ruler of Uruk — and Enkidu, a beautiful male created by the Gods to divert Gilgamesh’s attention and keep him from wreaking havoc on the world.

As the story goes, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become lovers before Enkidu is killed by “the fates.” When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh mourns for him as a widow (literally translated from the epic as “a wailing woman”) would and veils his corpse as if he were a bride.

Pre-Colonial America:

Accounts by Spanish explorers and missionaries provide evidence of same-sex marriages in North and South America. For instance, in 1542 explorer Cabeza de Vaca recounted the five years he spent among the Timucua Indians of Florida: “During the time I was thus among these people I saw a devilish thing, and it is that I saw one man married to another.”  Similarly, Pedro de Magalhaes’s The Histories of Brazil, published in 1576, described women in northeastern Brazil who “give up all the duties of women and imitate men, and follow men’s pursuits as if they were not women…. [E]ach has a woman to serve her, to whom she says she is married, and they treat each other and speak with each other as man and wife.”

As may be gleaned from the tone of these accounts, same-sex unions were hardly looked upon favorably by the colonists. Indeed, gay marriages among the Native Americans were seen as evidence of the “barbarism” of these foreign cultures, and were denounced in the most vociferous of tones. As the engraving below illustrates, when the colonists ultimately conquered the Native-American tribes their denunciations took a more savage turn – countless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were brutally massacred.

1594 Theodor de Bry engraving of Balboa using dogs to massacre Native-American berdache.

Modern American History:

While gay marriages have yet to be formally recognized in the United States outside of Massachusetts, same-sex love and lifelong monogamous commitments have been documented for quite some time. One means by which two people of the same sex could live together without provoking suspicion was by having one partner cross-dress. Indeed, records kept by the Dutch East India Company reveal hundreds of women caught “passing” as men, and as many as four hundred women are known to have passed as men while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Franklin Thompson (Sarah Emma Edmonds) fought for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Among female cross-dressers, a substantial number sought female companionship, and hundreds legally married other women. For example, Mary Anderson, who died in 1901, “passed” as a man in New York City for thirty years. Hall ran a lucrative business, was active in Tammany Hall politics, gained a reputation as a “man about town,” and married twice — the first marriage ending in separation and the second by her wife’s death.

The industrial revolution brought great change to American culture, foremost among them being the advent of economic independence. For the first time in history, the family unit was no longer necessary for individual economic survival – men and women could work in factories, earn wages, and survive on their own. As a result, same-sex relationships blossomed as individuals could decide whether to marry (or not), or raise children (or not).

For women, these long-term monogamous relationships became known as “Boston marriages,” named after a female couple in Henry James’ 1885 novel The Bostonians. Boston marriages were popular among well-educated, professional women in particular.  For men, emotional and sexual needs were similarly gratified in “buddy” relationships during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Men in frontier communities without women tended to form personal and often sexual partnerships with other men, a phenomenon documented in countless communities of pirates, hoboes, cowboys and miners.

To put it succinctly, same-sex unions have long been recognized, sometimes formally and sometimes informally, in innumerable civilizations and eras throughout time. Any argument that marriage is, always has been, and therefore must be heterosexual in nature is normatively and historically fallacious.

via Gay Marriage by Definition.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.

Arguing Equality Chapter 8: Gay Marriage & Religion

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality.  For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject.  I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

CHAPTER 8: 

RELIGION

 For many, this is the be all and end all of the debate. Countless books have been written on the subject, and scholars on both sides have wrestled with the subject. Ready? Here we go…

GAY MARRIAGE IS PROHIBITED BY MY RELIGION

The argument is simple, and doesn’t require a whole lot of explaining. It is the single most frequently cited rationale for opposing the legalization of gay marriage.35 For many if not most Americans, marriage is thought to be a religious institution inextricably linked with the Judeo-Christian moral ethic. Since the grand majority of Jewish and Christian sects oppose gay marriage, many contend that it should remain illegal period.

The very definition of democracy.

A) America is a Secular State

The problem with utilizing personal religious beliefs to oppose state sanctification of gay marriage is that legally speaking, religious and civil marriages are completely separate institutions. Though many faiths currently perform same-sex marriage “ceremonies,” these ceremonies have no legal recognition as civil marriages. A heterosexual couple similarly can have a religious marriage ceremony, but unless they file papers with the state that ceremony has no legal significance. Conversely, a couple does not need the blessing of a religious institution to marry – atheists and others who choose not to have a religious ceremony need only fill out a marriage license at City Hall to legally wed.

Just as the state does not dictate which ceremonies a religion can perform or recognize, religious sects should not be able to dictate who receives a civil marriage license. Even if most Americans have a profound religious objection to same-sex marriage, denying even one gay couple the right to wed on religious grounds is a gross violation of our country’s commitment to the separation of church and state.

Not convinced by argument A? How about the opposite end of the spectrum?

B) Freedom of Religion

On the other hand, if one fails to note a disjunction between the religious institution of marriage and its secular counterpart, arguing the alternative — that the religious and secular components of marriage are inherently and inextricably linked — proves equally effective on religious freedom grounds.

At present, the Unitarian/Universalist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism all recognize same-sex marriage as an intricate part of their religion. If the religious and secular components of marriage are truly linked, then a strong case could be made that the government’s failure to sanction gay marriage is a violation of our constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. Moreover, the government, by not legalizing gay marriage, is valuing some religious ceremonies over others (for instance, a marriage ceremony performed by the Methodist Church rather than the United Church of Christ), an example of government favoritism clearly forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Below is a little history lesson. Christianity, historically, has valued neither procreation nor marriage all that much for most of its existence.

C) Marriage and Christianity

Finally, those who claim that marriage is a vital, fundamental and immutable facet of the Christian religion should be greeted with a healthy dose of historical skepticism. Despite its import in recent times, Christianity has been most notable for its insistence on the preferability of lifestyles other than family units – priestly celibacy, voluntary virginity (even for the married), and monastic community life. While it may seem like the biological family has always been the central unit of Christian life, this is simply not the case. As John Boswell noted above, Christianity was, for the most part, ambivalent about marriage for much of its history.

But even if in recent times marriage has come to play a vital role in the Christian religion, the idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies of the church’s position certainly work to undermine its credibility. Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church, for instance, notes that the church regularly blesses fox hunts, homes, and even warships: “The church has no problem blessing a vehicle whose sole function is to reign nothing but death and destruction, yet refuses to bless the union of two people who are in love.”

As an institution, Christianity remained overwhelmingly ambivalent about most forms of heterosexual marriage during the first millennium of its existence. This is hardly surprising for a religion whose founder was supposed to have had no biological father, whose parents were not married at the time of His conception, who was believed to have had no siblings, who Himself never married, and whose followers — in direct opposition to those of Judaism and most pagan religions — considered celibacy the most virtuous lifestyle. – John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

THE GOOD BOOK

LEVITICUS 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”

When addressing homosexuality and religion, biblical arguments inevitably come into play. As Peter J. Gomes explains: “Nearly every such person who acknowledges an aversion to homosexuality does so on the basis of what he or she believes the Bible to say, and in their minds there is no doubt whatsoever about what the Bible says, and what the Bible means.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth; what the Bible actually says and means about homosexuality is wildly disputed in both academic and religious circles. For a good read on the subject, I highly recommend my good friend Daniel Helminiak’s “What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, and John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.”

via Gay Marriage & Religion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.

Arguing Equality Chapter 7: Gay Marriage Destroy Marriage

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality.  For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject.  I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

CHAPTER 7: 

THE SANCTITY OF THE INSTITUTION

PROTECTING MARRIAGE

Inherently related yet subtly distinct from the slippery slope argument is the notion that same-sex unions would somehow undermine the institution of marriage. Proponents of this viewpoint can be expected to make the following empirical observations: Marriage is already in a weakened and precarious state; At present, over 50% of marriages end in divorce; An almost epidemic number of children are being born out of wedlock; Marriage is the “bedrock of ourculture”; It must be protected at any cost.

Gay marriage opponents go on to conclude their points with apocalyptic visions of the moral decay of our nation – legalizing gay marriage would threaten the sanctity of the institution upon which our very society rests. The editors of the Catholic magazine Commonweal, for instance, argued that: “[E]levating same-sex unions to the same moral and legal status as marriage will further throw into doubt marriage’s fundamental purposes and put at risk a social practice and moral ideal vital to all.”

[W]e are not predicting that there is going to be an erosion of marriage, but I think the melancholy point is this, that the notion of marriage may not be extended to take in, to accommodate the concern for gay marriage without setting off many other kinds of changes, and as a result of those changes, I think we would find that marriage would not have that special kind of significance that makes it an object right now of such craving.

A) Confronting the Stereotype

Unfortunately, a great deal of erroneous information has been disseminated in recent years involving stereotypical portrayals of gay people, the gay rights movement, and a so-called “homosexual agenda” to undermine American cultural standards. With respect to marriage specifically, these misconceptions often translate into a fear that once permitted to wed, gays and lesbians will make a mockery of the institution by treating the marital bond as less than sacrosanct, or, worse yet, will threaten the institution of marriage by deliberately sabotaging it from within.

Of course, these fears lie wholly unsupported in fact. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens who want to marry want to do so for much the same reasons heterosexuals do – ideas of mutual love, support, and commitment. Indeed, gay people would likely be the institution’s most “enthusiastic recruits,” seeking not to destroy the institution, but rather to take part in it, and thereby strengthen it.22 In the words of Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn: “I do not believe that encouraging commitment, stability, and openness undermines the institution of family — it enhances it.”

B) The Hypocrisy of the Argument

If conservatives are truly worried about the demise of marriage, why not target Las Vegas-style weddings, or no-fault divorce laws, or adultery? Why the fixation on the one group of people excluded from the institution, the one group of people who could not possibly be responsible for its decline? The answer is clear. As Stephen Chapman put it: “Conservatives say they abhor gay marriage because they value marriage. The truth is they abhor gay marriage because they abhor gays.”

C) The Cross-Cultural Analogy

It seems strange, if not hypocritical, that the same people who proclaim the institution of marriage to be “the bedrock of our civilization” also argue that it is so fragile that allowing gays access to it will endanger it forever. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands, which have all legalized gay marriage and are hardly racked by moral decay, provide concrete evidence that this fear is grounded in neither fact nor reason.

D) Strengthening the Institution

In some ways, one might expect that gay marriages would not mirror their heterosexual counterparts, an inevitable byproduct of gender differences between same-sex and opposite-sex unions. While some have theorized that this alteration in traditional marital structures would destroy the institution, a better argument would be that it would actually strengthen the institution by pushing marriage in its evolution towards being a partnership of equals.

Professor Nan Hunter, for instance, theorizes that the traditional notion of marriage, with man as head of the household and wage-earner and woman as housekeeper and childrearer, would necessarily be challenged by examples of same-sex households where a woman is the wage-earner, a man is the housekeeper, or, ultimately, the partners share the roles.25 Recognition of same-sex marriages, she notes, “would radically strengthen and dramatically illuminate the claim that marriage partners are presumptively equal.” In this vein, Hunter and others theorize that heterosexual women could benefit from the legalization of gay marriage almost as much as gays and lesbians.

Lets put this all in perspective. What is this all really about?

E) A Note On Change

Finally, it would be wise to note that arguments which employ slippery slopes or refer to the “sanctity of the institution” are for the most part simply arguments of fear. People are always wary of change, and for many, gay marriage represents change of a particularly powerful kind. In this vein, as we explored with respect to slippery slope arguments, it might help to note that the institution of marriage has undergone tremendous transformations over the past few centuries; recognition of same-sex unions would not be the first, nor the most drastic, step in the evolution.

Here’s a brief history lesson: To begin with, African-American slaves at one time had no family rights and were not permitted to marry. As a nineteenth-century jurist put it, “whether [slaves] ‘take up’ with each other by express permission of their owners or from a mere impulse of nature, [their marriages] cannot in the contemplation of the law make any sort of difference.”

While African-Americans were later extended the right to marry, miscegenation laws remained on the books. Virginia’s antimiscegenation law, for instance, was first adopted in 1691 to prevent “abominable mixture and spurious issue,” and was not declared unconstitutional until 1967.

The institution of marriage has evolved in other ways as well. At one point, marriage was essentially a business deal which had little to do with love. Marriages cemented family ties, prevented feuding between rival clans or countries, and provided social status for men and economic support for women. Marriages were typically arranged, and bride-prices were bargained between the father of the bride and her future husband.

Vestiges of these business transaction functions of marriage remained a part of the marital institution until recent times, including those which treated women as the “property” of their husbands. In 1967, for instance, every state exempted from its criminal laws a rape by a husband of his wife – a woman was seen as the “property” of her husband and had a “duty” to provide him with sexual gratification. Ultimately, women succeeded in convincing legislators that the entitlements of marriage did not include a husband’s free reign over his wife’s body, and every state either curtailed or repealed its marital rape exemption by 1993.

Indeed, if one takes a broad look at the institution, very few aspects of marriage have stayed the same: Marriage is not “traditionally” monogamous (in the Old Testament, Jacob’s two wives and two concubines produced the head of the twelve tribes, and King Solomon is said to have had 10,000 wives); Does not “traditionally” involve a religious blessing (in early Christian unions, marriage was not yet a sacrament); and was not “traditionally” recognized by law (centuries of European “parole” marriages were conducted outside the law). As scholar E.J. Graff notes: “Each era’s marriage institutionalizes the sexual bond in a way that makes sense for that society, that economy, that class.… Marriage is – marriage has always been – variations on a theme.”

I talk, obviously as others do, to people in my district, and I have people tell me:.

  • “I am worried about losing my Medicare.”
  • “I am worried about losing my job.”
  • “I am worried about the lack of safety on the streets.”
  • “I am worried that there is not enough money now to continue with toxic waste cleanup.”

Never yet has someone come to me and said, “Congressman, I am terribly threatened. There are two women who are deeply in love a couple of miles away from me. And if you do not prevent them from formalizing their union, this will be terrible for me, and, in fact, will threaten my marriage.” I know of no heterosexual marriage, the form of marriage that we have that has sustained us, that is threatened by this.  – Congressman Barney Frank, during Congressional hearings on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

via Gay Marriage Destroy Marriage.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.

Arguing Equality Chapter 6: Gay Marriage is Slippery Slope?

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality.  For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject.  I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

CHAPTER 6: 

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

Gay marriage would be the “downfall of Western Civilization!!!” We’ve all heard this preposterous claim. Click here to explore it.

IF GAY MARRIAGE, WHAT NEXT?

Marriage has traditionally been defined as a union between: (1) two persons; (2) of different sexes; (3) that are over the age of consent; (4) and are not related. If we alter or ignore these restrictions and permit same-sex marriage, do we not risk opening the floodgates to the sanctioning of all types of familial arrangements? If society allows gay marriage, by what rationale could it stop polygamous marriages, pederastic marriages, or incestuous marriages?

This is called a “slippery slope” argument — in the words of William Eskridge, “Once you start going down the slope, you tend to slip to the bottom.”

Hadley Arkes, professor of political science, makes the case this way:

The traditional understanding of marriage is grounded in the “natural teleology of the body” — in the inescapable fact that only a man and a woman, and only two people, not three, can generate a child. Once marriage is detached from that natural teleology of the body, what ground of principle would thereafter confine marriage to two people rather than some larger grouping? That is, on what ground of principle would the law reject the claim of a gay couple that their love is not confined to a coupling of two, but that they are woven into a larger ensemble with yet another person or two? … [O]nce the arrangement is opened simply to “consenting adults,” on what ground would we object to the mature couplings of aunts and nephews, or even fathers and daughters…. All kinds of questions, once placed in a merciful repose, may reasonably be opened again. They become live issues once we are willing to ponder that simple question. Why should marriage be confined, after all, to couples, and to pairs drawn from different sexes?

A sarcastic response. Why stop at polygamy? Lets keep going and going…

A) Slipping To Absurdity

By taking this argument to its absurd albeit “logical” conclusion, one can see how silly it truly is. Look closely at the claim being made, that any alteration in “traditional” or “natural” restrictions on marriage will lead to the deterioration of all other marital restrictions. But if this were true, why stop at incestuous or polygamous marriages? If we are truly worried about these marital variations, why not necrophilic ones as well? What about bestiality, or even marrying an inanimate object if an individual claims to be in love with one and there are truly no restrictions on the form or function of marriage?

The very notion is manifestly ridiculous. Gay marriage is a legal and moral issue distinct from these others, and it as best disingenuous to argue that its legalization will force the government to recognize the sanctity of a human bond with an animal or a dead person. And will the state have to sanction polygamous, incestuous or child marriages. To intimate otherwise, Andrew Sullivan wisely points out, “is not an argument, it’s a panic.”

B) Slipping The Other Way

It would be wise also to keep in mind that slopes can slip in more than one direction, and can be used to support, rather than undermine, the case for same-sex marriage. For instance, if the state is permitted to cite “traditional restrictions” and ban gays and lesbians from marrying, what would prevent it from also banning other categories of people “traditionally” denied the right to marry? Not so long ago, people with mental disabilities and sexually transmitted diseases were “historically” denied access to the marital institution. If gay men and women are not permitted to marry on grounds of tradition, what could stop the state from denying these other groups the right to marry on grounds of tradition as well?

Going one step further, anti-miscegenation laws, on the books of some states from as early as 1691, are as “traditional” as any law in this country. Also part of our country’s tradition is a legal conception of marriage whereby a woman is considered the “property” of her husband. If the state opts to ban gay marriages because it wants to define marriage traditionally, as a matter of intellectual consistency do we not risk the return of these other antiquated, albeit “traditional,” definitions of marriage as well?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, slippery slopes don’t usually have much logical sway. Usually, they can be outright dismissed on their face.

C) Slippery Slopes in General

Within Harvard University’s Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society, students are taught “The Five Deadly Opps,” five arguments which can be used in virtually any situation to oppose virtually any proposal for change. They are:

  1. It costs too much (not necessarily economic costs).
  2. It does not solve the underlying problem.
  3. It targets the wrong people.
  4. It applies a short term solution to a long term problem (or vice versa).
  5. Where do we draw the line?

The problem with all of these “opps” is that, while useful for purposes of debate, in their extreme form they are intellectually dishonest and imply that no social reforms should ever be undertaken. The simple truth is that gay marriage will not lead to incestuous marriage. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands, and most recently Massachusetts have all legalized same-sex unions without legalizing polygamous or incestuous ones.

As I shall explore in the next section, marriage has evolved numerous times over the centuries. Women are increasingly seen as equal “partners” in a marital relationship. Persons of different religions and races are now permitted to wed. Mentally handicapped people and people with sexually transmitted diseases are also now extended that right. Indeed, the only consistent, traditional aspect of marriage is that it has constantly changed to reflect society’s understanding of the equality of individuals, and today we are coming to recognize that the choice of a marriage partner should belong to the individual, not the state.

In sum, if one believes in this line of argument, when talking with them you might not even need to address the issue of polygamy. Ppolygamous marriages should perhaps be legalized, and perhaps they should not. That is an issue which our legislators may or may not take up, and is an issue different than, and should be treated as distinct from, gay marriage. Marriage has evolved for the better many times over the years, and will likely evolve even further in years to come – each change, however, has been and must continue to be judiciously analyzed and judged on its own merits. It is disingenuous, and callous, to treat any potential change as part of some seamless process of an alleged disintegration of an institution.

The conservative view. Attacking polygamy and incest to promote gay marital monogamy.

D) Concept of Choice

Finally, in addition to the aforementioned reasons, a distinction between gay marriages and polygamous and incestuous marriages can be made based on the concept of “choice.” Andrew Sullivan makes the case this way:

Do homosexuals actually exist? I think so, and today even the Vatican accepts that some people are constitutively attracted only to members of the same sex. By contrast, no serious person claims there are people constitutively attracted only to relatives, or only to groups rather than individuals. Anyone who can love two women can also love one of them. People who insist on marrying their mother or several lovers want an additional (and weird) marital option. Homosexuals currently have no marital option at all. A demand for polygamous or incestuous marriage is thus frivolous in a way that the demand for gay marriage is not.

via Gay Marriage is Slippery Slope?.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.

Arguing Equality Chapter 5: Gay Couples and Children

This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality.  For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject.  I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.

CHAPTER 5:

GAY MARRIAGE AND PROCREATION

BUT GAYS CANNOT REPRODUCE

What purpose does marriage serve? Why should the government sanction it? Gay marriage opponents often utilize questions such as these to probe the heart of the marital institution, analyzing its essential form and function to demonstrate that marriage is – and ought to be – an inherently heterosexual institution.

Marriage, as the argument goes, is an institution created and celebrated for one all-important purpose — to sustain a healthy environment for raising children. As James Q. Wilson, author of The Moral Sense, puts it: “A family is not an association of independent people; it is a human commitment designed to make possible the rearing of moral and healthy children. Governments care — or ought to care — about families for this reason, and scarcely for any other.”

If the purpose of marriage is to raise children, then the question of same-sex marriage comes down to the biology of the sex organs. A man and a woman can have a child, but a woman and a woman, or a man and a man, cannot. Since same-sex couples cannot procreate, they cannot fulfill this basic function of marriage.

To put the argument simply, the purpose of marriage is to foster procreation. Gays cannot procreate. Therefore, gays cannot marry. This is not a matter of discrimination, it is simple human biology.

Below you will find the most popular ways of countering this supposition, and depending on your social and political outlook, you can choose ay one of them, or all. Click below to learn some of the basic arguments.

A) Gay People Do Have Children

The first flaw in this reasoning is that — contrary to popular opinion — gay people can, and do, raise children. Some gays and lesbians have children born from a prior heterosexual relationship, others adopt children, many go the route of artificial insemination or surrogate parenting. Indeed, what many refer to as the “gayby boom” is no small phenomenon — figures place the number of lesbian mothers in the United States at 1 to 5 million and the number of gay fathers at 1 to 3 million.

B) The Infertile Couple Analogy

There are far more sterile heterosexual unions in America than homosexual ones. The “anatomical possibility” crowd cannot have it both ways. If the possibility of children is what gives meaning to marriage, then a post-menopausal woman who applies for a marriage license should be turned away at the courthouse door. What’s more, she should be hooted at and condemned for stretching the meaning of marriage beyond its natural basis and so reducing the institution to frivolity. People at the Family Research Council or Concerned Women for America should point at her and say, “If she can marry, why not polygamy?” –Jonathan Rauch, For Better or Worse?

Procreativity speaking, there is no difference between a sterile heterosexual couple, a heterosexual couple who chooses not to have children, and a homosexual couple. Thus as a matter of logical consistency, if the government is to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry because they cannot procreate, then it must necessarily deny post-menopausal women and impotent couples that right as well.

As Mark Strasser notes:

It is at best disingenuous to hold that an essential precondition of marriage is that the couple plans to have children, but that the state’s requiring only certain people to meet that condition is a mere theoretical imperfection. In any case, no responsible legal authority believes that the desire and willingness to have children is an essential precondition of marriage except in the context of attempting to show why there can be no homosexual marriages.

Indeed, any argument that justifies an impotent heterosexual marriage also justifies a homosexual one, and thus if sterile or elderly couples cannot be denied the right to marry on procreative possibility grounds, than neither can gays or lesbians.

The argument laid forth below is for the conservative-minded. Quit simply, marriage, gay or straight, is good for society, and should therefore be encouraged. Many straight and gay single individuals would question why couples receive any benefits at all versus married or coupled individuals.

C) Insurance and Companionship

Of course sterile heterosexual couples can get married, a fact not likely to change any time soon. And for good reason. Despite the rhetoric of gay marriage opponents, marriage is widely considered to be “the bedrock of our civilization” for reasons as important, if not more important, than the rearing of children.

Marriage as Social Insurance

One of the biggest problems any society faces is how to care for an individual when they can no longer care for themselves. If single, an individual with Alzheimer’s or cancer might be fortunate enough to rely on friends or family. But then, again, they might not, in which case they will fall under the responsibility of the state – often at substantial cost.

The benefit of a marital “partner,” for both the individual and society, is to help guarantee that one will not have to rely on the government during times of need. As Jonathan Rauch notes: “If marriage has any meaning at all, it is that when you collapse from a stroke, there will be at least one other person whose ‘job’ is to drop everything and come to your aid.

From a purely economic perspective, marriage serves as a form of social insurance. Its participants are provided with a reliable partner “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” It is for this reason that elderly and sterile couples are permitted, indeed encouraged, to marry – not because they will bear children, but rather because marriage promotes individual and societal stability.

Marriage as Companionship

Of course marriage is more than just a machinization of social insurance; it is an expression of love. When men and women decide to wed, it is not usually because they are contemplating the insurance features of marriage, but rather because they are in love and want to make a binding commitment to be together for life.

From a religious perspective, this “companionship” function of marriage was present from the very first couple onward. Indeed, according to the Bible, God created a partner for Adam not for procreative purposes, but rather because: “God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18).” Jeffrey John notes:

“Complementarity and companionship are at least as much a part of God’s plan in creation as childbirth. Indeed it is remarkable that in the Genesis account childbirth emerges only as an afterthought, and in the rather negative context of God’s punishment of Eve (3:16). It is highly significant that Jesus and Paul, while both referring to the creation story, never once mention procreation or physical sexual difference in their teaching about marriage. On the contrary, their stress is entirely on the quality of the relationship, and in particular that it should be a covenant of total sexual fidelity and indissoluble union.”

Marriage is not just about procreation and child-rearing. It is a system of insurance and a guarantee of stability, an expression of love and a promise of lifelong companionship. To argue that gays and lesbians should be denied the right to marry because they cannot produce children or have the “wrong sexual organs,” then, fails to take the entire picture into account.

Point/ Counterpoint

While most would no doubt agree that companionship is a noteworthy goal of marriage, many opponents would add that gender differentiation is a material component of that companionship. A man is meant to complete a woman, it is argued, and a woman to complete a man – a theory known among Christian scholars as “complementarity.”

However, lifelong gay and lesbian couples provide demonstrative evidence that one’s companion need not be someone of the opposite sex. Indeed, a vast array of sociological and psychological literature reveals that the bond between same-sex couples can be as emotional and powerful as that between opposite-sex couples. Psychologist C.A. Tripp, for instance, reports that:

[T]he settled qualities of the homosexual couple tend to be precisely those which characterize the stable heterosexual relationship. The similarities evidenced in daily life are especially noticeable. The way the partners interact as they engage in conversation, the way casual affection is expressed and minor irritations are dealt with, as well as how visitors are treated, or dinner is served, and myriad other details of everyday life are all more or less indistinguishable.

“The heterosexuality of marriage is civilly intrinsic only if it is understood to be inherently procreative. And that definition has long been abandoned in civil society. In contemporary America, marriage has become a way in which the state recognizes an emotional and economic commitment between two people to each other for life.” – Andrew Sullivan, The Politics of Homosexuality

via Gay Couples and Children.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.

Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.